Over at Hechinger Report, Joanne Jacobs relays the story originally reported in Community College Times of school districts in Oregon and Colorado that are strengthening the connections between K-12 and higher education, offering a fifth year of high school while earning a first year of college credits.
At its heart, is e-learning about improving educational opportunity or lowering instructional costs? Last week, Eduflack was talking with a school district in West Virginia. Following a growing wave, school districts in the Mountain State are prohibiting new textbook purchases in a tough budget environment. As an alternative, districts are being directed to use e-learning to replace textbook adoptions and ensure students have up-to-date learning materials.
During his first official address to Congress back this winter (remember, trivia folks, it was not a State of the Union), President Barack Obama made the bold promise that, by 2020, the United States would have the highest percentage of college degree holders in the world. Recognizing that postsecondary education is quickly becoming a non-negotiable for success in today’s economy (let alone tomorrow’s), it is a promise we need to back up. And Obama did so recognizing that to get there, we need to turn out millions upon millions of additional college graduates on top of current levels.
e the same thing, albeit with less fanfare and public enthusiasm, with his promise to be tops in the world when it comes to college degree holders. With Kennedy, we couldn’t just go halfway to the moon and back. It was all or nothing.
The power of STEM, science-tech-engineering-math, instruction is virtually limitless. In our 21st century workforce, we know that all employees need both a common knowledgebase and key skills. What may have sufficed a few decades ago, or even a few years ago, just does not cut it these days. If one is to contribute to the economy, one needs an understanding of technology and abilities in critical thinking, teamwork, and problem-solving. Virtually every new job being created these days requires some form of postsecondary education, those career certificate programs or college degrees that ensure successful students are proficient in core subjects such as math and science. If one is looking for the entrance to a successful and productive career, these days it is starting with that STEM entrance sign.
TEM (at least not all of the time), but sometimes we need to sing loudly from the STEM hymnal. Today’s students need STEM as part of their educational pathway, providing the knowledge and skills they need both in school and in career. Today’s employees need STEM to stay relevant and adaptable to a changing economy. And today’s employers need STEM to ensure they current and future workforce possess the skills to contribute to a thriving, growth-focused economy. STEM education is at the heart of all of it. We just need to ensure that community colleges and industry keep the blood pumping.
Over at the Washington Post this AM, Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt asks the multi-billion-dollar question, How would Bill Gates repair our schools? Reflecting on a recent interview Gates had with WaPo, Hiatt opines that Gates is an advocate for the sort of reforms that EdSec Arne Duncan and DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee evangelize. He points to the status quo — collective bargaining agreements, tenure, resistance to charter schools, and opposition to pay for performance — as some of the great roadblocks that Duncan, Rhee, and even Gates face in their quest to improve public education.
They supplement, they don’t compete. Yes, that may have been the way we have traditionally worked, but does it need to be that way? Do philanthropies need to simply serve as advisors, consultants, and checkbooks, or can they get more active?
By now, Eduflack readers know two evident truths about successful communications. The first is we must raise awareness about the problem and what people know about it. The second is we must drive audiences to action, getting them to change their behaviors to fix said problem. It is modern-day advocacy. Being informed is no longer enough. If we aren’t taking the action steps to improve student achievement, then any “PR effort” isn’t worth its salt.
We like to believe that the federal level is where all the action is when it comes to education improvement. It’s easier to wrap our hands around, with one national policy to keep an eye on. And it is cleaner when it comes to funding, as we just watch federal funding streams and an annual appropriations bill that has stayed relatively level-funded for much of the past few years. In reality (as EdSec designee Arne Duncan will soon realize), the feds only account for about eight cents of every dollar spent in the classrooms. The federal level may be the rhetorical brass ring, but the real action (especially these days) is happening at the state level.
Earlier this month, we had the American Council on Education release data showing that today’s students are attaining less education than their parents. At the time, I took that to mean that many students stopping at their BAs have parents with advanced degrees, the kids of BA parents are wrapping up at the associates level, and some children of college grads are settling for just a high school diploma.
ndard we set or the potential we have.
Thanks in large part to the funding and attention provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, much of the past five years in education reform has focused on improving high schools. We’ve seen programs large and small looking for ways to improve rigor and relevance of high school instruction. We’ve looked at small schools. We’ve tried to tackle the high school dropout rate and the issue of dropout factories. We’ve even looked at career education and career academies. Lots of great ideas that have worked in a lot of well-meaning communities. But much of it steps along the path of finding a high school improvement model that can truly be implemented at scale.
By now, the numbers are ingrained on the souls of most education reformers. Nearly a third of all ninth graders will not earn a high school diploma. In our African-American and Hispanic communities, that number statistic rises to nearly 50 percent. Imagine, a 50/50 chance of earning a high school diploma of you are a student of color. The statistic is so staggering, there must be something we can do.
In today’s USA Today, we have the dueling editorials on a potential solutions — raising the drop-out age. The line of thinking here is that if we raise the age a student must be in order to drop out of high school to 18, we can turn this crisis around. Think of it. Require, by law, every kid to stay in school until they are 18, and the drop-out rates will dramatically shrink.
Of course, 17 states already have such compulsory school attendance laws, with one more going online next summer. Do we believe that those states — which include California, Louisiana, Ohio, and Texas — are not struggling with dropouts? Are grad rates not an issue in LAUSD or New Orleans or Cleveland or Houston? Of course not. Those cities are facing the realities of drop-out factories, just like most major urban centers, even if drop-outs need to be 18 to officially leave school.
If we know anything about teenagers, it should be that mandates don’t change behavior. A 17-year requirement doesn’t keep the average 10th grader from seeing an R-rated movie. A 21-year age requirement doesn’t keep seniors from taking a sip of beer or a slug of Boone’s Farm. We have underage driving. We have illegal drug use. Kids will go after what they want, regardless of the prohibitions or the consequences. The challenge — and the opportunity — is to convince them to make a good decision. We don’t chain them to their high school desks, we need to demonstrate to them that they want to stay and they need to stay.
So how do we do that? Last month, I made reference to some focus groups I did with students on the value and need for high school. Robert Pondiscio and the folks over at the Core Knowledge Blog (http://www.coreknowledge.org/blog/) hoped they would soon learn a little more about Eduflack’s experiences. So here goes.
Back in the fall, I spent weeks meeting with eight, ninth, and 10th graders from a state that is pretty representative of the United States. Strong and not-so-strong urban centers, along with booming suburbs, and struggling rural areas. A strong commitment to K-16 education, yet major industry leaving the cities and towns that have long depended on it. Educators and business leaders committed to improvement, yet students not sure what opportunity would be available to them.
My goal was to learn what low-income students thought of their high school offerings and their opportunities for the future. I didn’t spend my time in the suburbs or with the honors or college prep students. I met with poor urban students, and I met with poor rural students. Most came from families where college had never been an option. And all came from homes with a very real fear that this generation may not be as successful as the generation before it.
I planned for the worst. I expected students to justify, or even respect, dropping out. How good union jobs could be found without a high school diploma or how gangs and other outside influences made school a lesser priority. But what I heard during this experience gave me hope, and made it clear we can improve high school graduation rates simply by boosting relevance, interest, and access.
What did I hear? In general:
* Students understand and appreciate the link between high school and “good” careers.
* For virtually all students, dropping out is not a productive option. For many, they don’t even think you can get a fast food job today without that diploma.
* Students know relevant courses such as those found in STEM programs are key to obtaining meaningful employment after school.
* They are eager to pursue postsecondary opportunities while in high school. They may not know anyone who has taken an AP or dual enrollment course, but they know it has value.
* Students want more career and technical education offerings. They know these are relevant courses that link directly to future jobs.
And what more did Eduflack learn? The greatest obstacle we face is awareness. This isn’t about requiring kids to stay in school. This is about opening opportunities and helping them see the choices and the pathways available to them. Today’s high schools are not one-size-fits-all. And that’s OK. Today’s students want to know what’s available to them and what aligns with their aptitudes and their interests. They want a consumer-based educational experience.
Parents still play a key role in this little dance, as does the business community. Students expect their parents to push and guide them. They may not always listen, but students know they need their parents with them as they head down those pathways. With businesses, students just want to learn about the opportunities. What is needed to become a physician assistant or a manager at the local manufacturing plant or a graphic designer. Today’s students do have career aspirations, but most of them have never met someone who holds that job nor do they know what is needed to achieve such a position. Now is the time for businesses to educate their future workforce.
I’ve done similar focus groups across the nation over the last decade, and the findings have been remarkably similar. Students have a far better sense for their futures than we give them credit for. They know it will be hard. They know they’ll need help. But they know there are multiple pathways available to them. They just need their teachers and parents and priests and community leaders to see it to.
These kids aren’t dropping out of high school because it is too hard or because they are finally old enough that they can stop going to school and stay at home and watch TV all day. They leave because they don’t see the relevance. They don’t see how the classes they are taking crosswalk to their career or life goals. They don’t believe postsecondary education may be possible for them. They don’t believe they have the ability to gain access to those multiple pathways.
Raising the drop-out age won’t change that. If we want more students to stay in high school, earn their diplomas, and pursue postsecondary education, we need to inspire and motivate them. We need to give them hope. We need to demonstrate that high school is the first step toward a happy and successful life. It needs to be relevant. It needs to be interesting and engaging. And it needs to lift up all students, not talk down to them with mandates and lowered expectations.