Ushering in Our Next Generation’s Workforce

June 25, 2013

As the United States emerges from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, top innovators in business, government, and the civic sector are developing inventive ways to tackle this country’s most pressing issues. This will be the first in a series highlighting potential solutions from the public and private sectors outlined at National Journal’s recent “Back in Business Forum.”

One of the most crucial challenges we face is sustaining a competitive workforce by reforming education and rethinking the ways we foster talent.

Many schools across the country are shifting to teach in ways that directly prepare students for college-level work. But, while that trend is common in schools with better-served kids, it’s too rare in those with underprivileged students. Because of this discrepancy, America ranks 16th globally in college attainment.

Surveying students who take the SAT, only 43% are considered “college and career ready” based on College Board measurements, according to Senior Vice President of the Board’s Career Readiness Division Tom Rudin. For African-Americans, the figure is 14% and, for Hispanics, it is even lower, at 12%.

“For many well-served kids there is an easy bridge to college, but for too many others, there is not,” Rudin said. “We want to identity kids who have great potential to be successful in college and move them into college, but much more needs to be done for underprivileged kids.”

He and the College Board strongly support the Common Core State Standards, a U.S. education initiative that seeks to bring diverse state curricula into alignment, as a way to bridge that gap.

Today, more than 90% of American children attend factory model primary and secondary schools, and, for many, specifically low-income students, that model is becoming increasingly less engaging for students. President Obama’s Special Assistant for Education Policy Roberto Rodriguez said the President is looking for ways to innovate high schools. In the President’s blueprint for the High School Redesign Initiative, he highlights schools like the P-Tech School in New York City, a partnership between IBM and the high school, where students earn post-secondary credit and learn critical technical skills in the field.

“We have a crisis of disengagement in our high schools, because we have not developed programs that provide professional skills and gain students’ interests,” Rodriguez said. “We have to look at how we can develop innovative alternative pathways to certifications that look at new ways of learning.”

Two examples of education innovation discussed at the forum come from Idaho and California. Californian Janet Abbott and Idaho resident Teresa Luna are ushering in new approaches to improve higher education in their states. Abbet, who heads the San Diego State University Compact Scholars Program, propelled the University to partner with high schools in Idaho’s Sweetwater District and help disadvantaged students graduate from college. The organization developed a set of benchmarks for students to meet in high school, and, if students met those, they were guaranteed admission to SDSU to ultimately graduate with a degree.

As the Director of the Idaho Education Network (IEN), Teresa Luna is helping to bring the best teachers into rural classrooms with teleconferencing over high-speed, broadband connections. IEN offers over 100 courses through this highly interactive system, where urban-area students collaborate with rural-area students across 217 different schools.  “IEN has showed rural students that they, too, can be successful,” Luna said.

Both Compact Scholars and IEN provide high quality education to students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to access it. These types of innovative programs are scattered in communities around the country, but we need more.

As we continue to recover from the economic recession, it’s imperative that we continue to innovate how we develop talent in this country.

J.R. Reed is a freelance writer.

Cross-posted from Free Enterprise.