DALTON, Ga. - Teenagers who want to become doctors should take anatomy and physiology classes, and veterinarians-to-be would benefit from cleaning out cages, according to Georgia's state school superintendent.
"We need to give students the opportunity to experience a career, to learn whether or not they want to do it," John Barge said. "Right now there are no clear connections between the [educational] program of study and opportunities in the labor market."
Barge spoke Tuesday to dozens of educators and business and community leaders at the Whitfield Career Academy about his new state initiative "Making Education Work for all Georgians." His changes in approach will be rolled out for ninth-graders entering high school in fall 2012, Barge said.
For more than 50 years, educators have taught toward mass-producing graduates and with the expectation that students will go to college, Barge said. A new model should embrace teaching toward career choices, he said.
"We've focused pretty much all our efforts on the head," he said. "We need to understand the value of both academic skills and technical skills."
America has the world's highest rate of college dropouts, Barge said, and about 70 percent of students enroll in a post-secondary school within two years of high school graduation, but less than 33 percent will complete any type of degree.
Barge wants Georgia to create multiple pathways to careers, in which students are introduced to careers as early as kindergarten. By high school, students will choose a field from 16 clusters that encompass most careers. They then will choose a pathway from those clusters and take classes to put them on route toward a particular career.
The choices will not lock them into a career, nor will the career be determined by test scores like some European models, Barge said. Rather, the program will allow students to do internships and job shadowing to help them see if they enjoy the work they've selected as a career.
The state also would work with businesses in local communities to develop programs based on local business needs, he said.
"This is not a vocational or technical initiative," Barge said. "We will still offer the same courses, but it is more an organizational model for students."
Brian Anderson, director of the Dalton Whitfield Chamber of Commerce, said he believes local businesses will embrace the changes Barge is promoting. The Chamber already is working with local carpet manufacturers to promote different careers available in the industry.
"We need to find a more effective use of educational resources," Anderson said. "Families and students need to understand the job environment and what their choices are."