AT&T Makes the Call

Late last week, telecommunications giant AT&T announced it was investing $100 million into solutions to our nation’s high school dropout problem.  The funding is to be directed into four key areas — school grants, job shadowing programs, research, and dropout-prevention summits.  Education Week has the full story at http://www.edweek.org/ew/2008/04/17/34att.h27.html.

Of course, AT&T isn’t the first to dial into this conference call.  The Gates Foundation (through Microsoft money) first placed the call years ago.  Since then, it has been joined by groups such as the Dell Foundation, State Farm Insurance, and Boeing.  All have signaled the importance of a rigorous and relevant high school experience.  All have put their money in to solve the problem, as they see it, and offer improvements to a long-neglected secondary education system.

What AT&T is proposing to fund isn’t breaking new ground.  Gates has become the king of school grants.  Local company after local company have long offered shadowing programs in partnership with their local high schools.  States like Arkansas and Indiana have conducted successful dropout-prevention summits over the last year.  And anyone who is anyone is funding “research.”

But this announcement is indeed significant.  Why?  It is all about the end game and all about the outcomes.  Some folks don’t like to hear it, but today’s high schools are necessary prep zones for tomorrow’s workforce.  We hear Gates and others talk about relevant and rigorous curriculum.  What does that mean?  It means high school courses relate to student interests and future career paths.  It means that high schools are equipping students with the skills –critical thinking, reading, computational, teamwork, etc. — to succeed in the postsecondary environment of their choice and in a meaningful career.

At the end of the day, this is all about the workforce.  Does anyone truly think you can get a good job without a high school diploma?  In an industry like telecommunications, can AT&T put a high school dropout to work without having to significantly invest in worker training and education?

Like many employers, AT&T is looking down the road, anticipating what happens as Baby Boomers prepare for retirement over the next decade.  At the same time, they’ve watched their industry evolve, with even blue-collar jobs requiring more knowledge, more know-how, and more skills.  They know the sorts of employees they need in the coming years.  And they know that high school dropouts can’t fill the need.

Let Eduflack be clear, this is not a criticism.  In fact, I wish more companies would think and act with the same interest that AT&T does.  Over the years, we have seen significant movement happen in K-12 education, and much of it is driven when the business community joins forces with K-12.  Public-private partnerships have been invaluable.  And the recent philanthropic investment from corporate charities provide resources that simply cannot be offered from other entities. 

Business knows what it needs from our future workforce.  They know the costs of recruitment and training.  They know the skills they are seeking.  And they see that they just aren’t getting what they know they need.

In most circles, we talk about the need of corporate America to adapt.  They adapt to the global economy.  The adapt to the eco-economy.  They adapt to population shifts and increased regulations and higher costs and greater competition.  They adapt because they need to.  It is the only way to succeed … or just to survive.

Those lessons of adaptation can also be adopted by our high schools.  In most communities, our high schools still operate under the model that worked 50 or even 100 years ago.  Then, a third of students dropped out and found a job or joined the military.  A third graduated high school and moved into the workforce.  And a third graduated and pursued a postsecondary education.

Today, we now those numbers can’t hold.  According to the U.S. Department of Education, 90 percent of new jobs will require postsecondary education.  That means a high school diploma.  And that means a high school experience that is both relevant and interesting to all students, not just those looking to go to college.

So kudos to AT&T and those who have come before it for investing in their futures by investing in our high schools.  They clearly are putting their money where their mouths are.  Now it is up to our school districts and high schools (particularly those now tagged as dropout factories) to answer that phone call and take meaningful action.  And don’t worry, AT&T is picking up the charges.
 

One thought on “AT&T Makes the Call

  1. DEAR FLAKOK, ATT IS GIVING MONEY TO SCHOOLS. BUT MEANWHILE IT IS LAYING OFF EMPHOYESS WITH HIGH SCHOOL AND WITH COLLEGE DIDPLOMAS. KIDS HAVE A RIGHT TO ASK ARE THEIR GOING TO BE JOBS AVAILABLE AT THE END OF THE ROAD AND ARE THEY GOING BE JOBS WITH A DECENT WAGE ANF REAL BENEFITS. ONCE UPON A TIME, MOTHER BELL TOOK CARE OF ITS PEOPLE. BUT NOW IT IS LIKE GM AND EXXON: INTERESTED IN ONLY THE QUARTERLY STATEMENTS. WHAT JOBS CAN THEY GUARANTEE TO HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATES AND WHERE ARE THEY GOING TO BE LOCATED. IF THEY WERE ABLE TO MARRY TEH LAST TWO YEARS OF HIGH SCHOOL WORK TO THEIR TRANING PROGRAMS WOULD THEY GUARANTEE THAT THE JOBS WOULD BE READY FOR THEY AND WOULD LAST AT LEAST FOUR OR FIVE YEARS.

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