Friday, February 11, 2011

College and Career Readiness

The Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) has spent considerable amounts of time deliberating the proposed college and career readiness measures that are a component of the Senate Bill 1 (2009) accountability model.

Over the past few weeks, I have read numerous reports concerning the college and career readiness issue and how we as states and the nation must work to improve the readiness of our high school graduates -- or our nation faces loss of productivity and competitiveness. Of course, those of you have been in education for 40 or more years (like me) know that these challenges are not new. This issue has been around since the early 1800s, when Horace Mann was debating the purpose of schools. What is different now is the alignment of P-12 educators, businesses, government and higher education in promoting the agenda from one of access to opportunities for education to the new goal of universal SUCCESS for ALL children to reach proficiency and be prepared for success.

Some of the publications that I would recommend to readers are:
* Time magazine published an excellent group of articles in the January 17, 2011, issue entitled “Where the Jobs Are.”

* The Harvard Graduate School of Education published Pathways to Prosperity, which was released in early February. This report would seem to support the KBE focus on defining not only college-ready, but also career-ready.

* From ACT, Inc. last week, there was Breaking New Ground: Building a National Workforce Skills Credentialing System. This report also strongly supports the work of KBE in defining career-ready as well as college-ready.

Some statistics from the Time article caught my attention:
* Detroit currently has a 13.3 percent unemployment rate; however, businesses cannot find mechanical engineers to fill jobs.
* General Electric has a major expansion of jobs at Appliance Park in Louisville that will require postsecondary skills and training for the new “green” refrigeration systems.
* Consulting firm Deloitte is currently scouring college campuses for tax specialists, lawyers and auditors.
* Who is currently out of work? This recession has not impacted all segments of the population equally. The currently unemployment rates are 5 percent for bachelor’s degree holders, 10 percent for high school grads and 16 percent for those with less than a high school diploma.
* As the jobs are coming back, they will not be spread equally across all levels of education. More than 80 percent of new jobs will require some education beyond high school whether a one-year certificate or two- or four-year degrees. These jobs will be heavily located in professional/business services, education and health services, and most will have strong technology requirements.
* Who will get the existing jobs? Bachelor’s degree holders will get 38 percent; associate degree holders or higher, 10 percent; those with some college, 18 percent; and high school grads will get 26 percent. That means we need about 92 percent of the students who are currently in 8th grade to obtain a high school diploma, and we need at least 68 percent of current 8th graders to achieve education beyond high school.

These statistics highlight our challenges for Kentucky.
1. If we do not do something different in Kentucky, about 25 percent of our current 8th graders will not graduate from high school in 2015. That is more than 12,000 students who will not graduate and will be competing for about 8 percent of the jobs available -- and those jobs will most likely not pay a living wage. We NEED the dropout prevention bill that raises the compulsory attendance age and provides students with alternative programs and a stronger focus on career and technical education.

2. Currently, we project that only 34 percent or 17,000 of our current 8th-grade class will meet college and career readiness measures. That means our employers will be like Detroit -- they will not have a supply of workers with the skills needed for the jobs available. We have already heard this from the Chamber of Commerce in northern Kentucky and other business leaders across the Commonwealth.

3. The future of the Commonwealth and the future of our 8th-grade class and all subsequent groups of children is that we need to improve our percentage of high school graduates who are college and career ready from the current level of 34 percent to at least 65 percent by 2015. That means we need to better prepare at least 17,000 more students in our current 8th-grade class and subsequent groups of students.

We cannot wait until these 8th-grade students become high school seniors. We cannot ignore the students who are currently in high school. We cannot ignore students who are in preschool through 7th grade.

Over the next few months, the Kentucky Department of Education will have a “laser focus” on college- and career-readiness strategies. We will provide one strategy every two weeks that we are either implementing or plan to implement during 2011-12 school year. What is unique about our effort is that we will connect the strategies to the districts, schools, classrooms, teachers, students and parents.

I hope readers will help spread the word that Kentucky is focused on our children’s future and the future of our Commonwealth.

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