Reinventing Texas Education

Texas Students Choose Career Paths As Early As Middle School

Students must pick career paths, or endorsements, with Texas’ new education plan.

counselor Danette Maldonadoin stands in front of students
Counselor Danette Maldonado is preparing eighth graders at Burbank Middle School for high school. That involves trying to answer the question: What do they want to do when they grow up?


Ten eighth graders are skipping homeroom at Burbank Middle School.

They’re sitting in front of computers in a lab, all lined up against the wall.

“So you know I need your eyes either on me or up here!”

Counselor Danette Maldonado is getting them ready for high school.

To do that, they have to answer a really big question: “What do they want to be when they grow up?”

This isn’t a career fair. It’s a new requirement for high school.

“You’re kind of going to pick your plan of study and you pick it based on your interests and what careers you have in mind at this very young tender age in life,” Maldonado explains.

That plan of study is called an endorsement. It’s like a high school major or career track. Many eighth graders have to pick an area before they start high school.

There are five areas to choose from:

  1. Arts and humanities
  2. Business and industry
  3. Multidisciplinary
  4. Public service
  5. STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

counselor Danette-Maldonado checking computerTo prepare for high school, counselor Danette Maldonado is having eighth graders take a career quiz. It matches their personality to different career fields. All students now have to pick career tracks, or endorsements, when they start high school in Texas.

What students choose impacts what they study in high school, if they’re on track for college and potentially their future job.

So counselor Maldonado is trying really hard to get these kids thinking about the big picture.

Some of them look a little bored; others, a little sleepy. So she hams it up as she reviews a career test.

“Oh wow! These are all the kind of jobs I can do because I’m conventional. Ooh, cost estimator! Ooh, finance! Ooh, hospitality and beauty, oh!”

This might have you thinking something along the lines of this:

“Well, geez, how does a 14-year-old know what they want to do?”

That’s state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Kingwood. He helped write this new education plan and he’s used to that response.

He’s quick to point out students can change their minds — at least through 10th grade. Huberty says it’s not about students deciding the rest of their life.

“We’re trying to get the kids engaged in their own education. We’re trying to get the parents engaged and making sure that the counselors are making sure they’re getting the right education. And we do that by talking to the students and saying, ‘What interests you?’”

That’s the vision.

Here’s a real conversation at Burbank Middle School in North Houston.

Fourteen-year-old Mario Carrizalez is exploring architecture on a career quiz that matches his personality to different jobs.

His counselor Maldonado goes over the results with him.

“What about knowledge and skills? What do you got to be good at? Active listening, ah! Listen to your customers, what they want … So these are some the important abilities that you need to have. Can you visualize something?”

Mario does like to draw. And working on computers. And he’s interested in trucks.

But high school?

“I don’t know. I just want to go through high school already. Just get it done,” he says.

Mario is the kind of kid the lawmaker Huberty wants to reach — get him interested in school, get him thinking about his future.

Heavenlee Gonzalez
Heavenlee Gonzalez, 14, does know what she’s interested in: business. When she grows up, she wants to be like her dad, who owns his own company. Heavenlee, however, is more interested in selling fashion than construction equipment like her dad.

Some of his classmates do know what they want to do. Take Heavenlee Gonzalez, 14. She wants to study business because she wants to be like her dad when she grows up.

“He sells parts for cranes. He practically owns, like, his own everything. So he’s like the boss of everything and it makes me think, ‘Wow! I want to be like him one day!’”

(Except Heavenlee’s more interested in selling her own fashion line than construction equipment.)

Still, some education experts worry that if kids pick a career path so early on they could have problems down the road.

“Unfortunately, a lot of freshmen have no idea what they want to do with their life,” says Bob Sanborn, CEO of the advocacy group Children at Risk.

“And sometimes as freshmen, you just say, ‘Well, what’s the easiest thing to do?’ And you do that.”

With these changes to Texas high school, students now have more choices to study areas where industry says they need workers to grow the economy.

Think vocational school for jobs like welding and auto technology.

Sanborn worries that kids who are smart enough for college will end up in jobs that don’t require a four-year degree, especially students of color and low-income students.

They make up about 60 percent of the students in Texas public schools.

“But I don’t think we need to divert children who should be going to college now into technical education just because they are brown and black and are low-income,” Sanborn says.

As a teenager, Sanborn says he would never have picked a college track himself because his own parents didn’t go to college.

Turns out he earned an Ivy League PhD.



Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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