Securing their prosperity and ours
September 25, 2012 - By Tony Habit --
North Carolina's high school class of 2012 set a new high-water mark that deserves repeating: Eight of every 10 students graduated on time. Just four years ago, only seven in 10 members of the class of 2008 reached that all-or-nothing milestone. This comes as a result of hard working teachers and administrators who, despite the pressure placed on families and children during the economic downturn, remain focused on better results for kids.
At NC New Schools, we believe that every student deserves to graduate able to provide for themselves and their families and to contribute to their community. This means that real success beyond high school requires the skills and strength to persist and to learn and relearn for a lifetime. Since dropouts confront limited prospects, every student must be equipped for a two- or four-year degree or industry related certification.
But every graduate need not enroll in a four-year college to lead a fulfilling life, support a family and fully participate in civic life. Too many students now begin college to earn a four-year degree, or even a two-year degree, and never finish. A high-profile report issued last year by the Harvard Graduate School of Education challenged the belief in "college for all" with a prescription for creating more options, starting in high school, that lead to productive careers. The report, Pathways to Prosperity, urged a more robust focus on the kind of high-caliber career and technical education that creates more opportunity for students rather than fewer options.
The report draws on examples from Europe for models of vocational education that it says are effective in providing options to students through strong apprenticeship programs or other work-based learning.
The conclusions and prescriptions of the Pathways report are now being applied in several states, including North Carolina, with the goal of increasing the number of students who not only graduate from high school, but who also earn a postsecondary credential that's proof of a marketable skill. The Pathways to Prosperity initiative, led by Harvard and Jobs for the Future, a Boston-based policy organization, includes the involvement in North Carolina of the Department of Public Instruction, North Carolina New Schools and businesses. A team of state leaders from industry, education and government is co-chaired by AT&T President Cynthia Marshall and Duke Energy Senior Vice President Jeff Corbett.
North Carolina and the five other states that are part of the effort will build career pathways from 9th grade through a 14th year of postsecondary education that are aligned with high-growth sectors of their regional economies. The aim is to combine rigorous academics with powerful technical education. As a first step, underway this fall, teams of education and workforce experts from Harvard and JFF are visiting two regions of North Carolina - one an area in the central part of the state and the other an area in the northeast - to assess gaps, strengths and challenges. The participating states will then convene later this fall at Harvard to identify common challenges, learn from each other's strengths, and take advantage of resources provided by JFF and Harvard's assistance teams.
High school students in North Carolina already are gaining from concerted efforts to rethink secondary school education so that students graduate truly ready for success in the 21st century. This includes our state's strong Career and Technical education program. Now the work begins to create a seamless ramp from high school into careers and continued study that promises to increase their future prospects-and ours. Every student deserves no less, and our state's economic development depends on it. The Pathways initiative is one more effort that holds promise for students as well as the state's quality of life.