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Americans agree that the College Glow is gone from K-12 education


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The Center Square

The new K-12 opportunity program includes more options and pathways to jobs and careers.



The pandemic changed what the American public wants from K-12 education.

Rather than preparing young people for college, Americans want K-12 to help young people learn more practical, tangible skills and outcomes. This view includes ensuring young people have more choices or pathways to opportunity rather than only the college pathway. That’s the heart of a recent Purpose of Education Index report by Populace, a Massachusetts nonprofit.

Populace used interviews and focus groups to identify 57 attributes describing the purposes of K-12 education. It then interviewed nationally representative groups of a general population and parent sample using the attributes.



Three themes dominate the Index and imply the need for what I call a new K-12 opportunity program.

First, K-12 schools need a priority reset. The Index reports that “getting kids ready for college” dropped from a pre-pandemic 10th highest priority to 47 out of 57. Priority one is students “developing practical skills” – only one in four (26%) think they do – followed by “problem solve and make decisions,” “demonstrate character,” and “demonstrate basic reading, writing, and arithmetic.” This leads seven in ten (71%) to say more things should change in K-12 education than stay the same, with two in ten (21%) saying everything should change.

Two, Americans want a personalized approach to K-12 education with more options and pathways. The Index reports that Americans place a high priority on giving students the unique support they need (number 5) rather than giving each student the same level of support (number 34) or having them study the same advance thing (number 54). Americans are strong believers in mastery learning, where students move on to the next subject after having demonstrated that they have mastered a subject (number 7). These views suggest the need for more K-12 options and pathways for young people, what the report calls “individualized and tailored approaches that recognize students’ unique needs.”:snip:

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