Competing in a Global Economy

Why college and career readiness matters to our students.

GUEST COLUMN| by Blair Milam 

CREDIT The Learning Curve PearsonThe United States is a leader in the global economy, yet ranks 14th in the world in cognitive skills and educational attainment. As other countries continue to outperform the U.S., the scrutiny on our public education system grows. Simply put, the one-size-fits-all education approach has proven itself to be insufficient in today’s market. Leading school districts such as Chugach School District, School District of Philadelphia, and Taylor Country School District are challenging the status quo by embracing a “culture of accountability” that has been adopted by our global counterparts. These districts and other key players in the K-12 space are banding together to forge a reform path towards individualization of education.

Schools need research on how to implement data-based programs and benchmark current academic performance.

By only preparing students to achieve higher education at four-year institutions, we are missing opportunities to help students succeed in niche markets, blue-collar jobs, and specialized vocations. Today’s superintendents are no longer pushing for a 95 percent matriculation rate to a specific type of university. Instead, they focus on preparing students so that they can apply their education to become productive, contributing citizens.

There is no such thing as blanket readiness. Therefore, we need to develop an individualized approach to education that allows students to pursue unique postsecondary pathways.

What is “Readiness?”

Broadly speaking, readiness is a student’s ability to take a cumulative set of skills and critically apply them in a kinetic and fluid manner. Students can demonstrate readiness by achieving competency in specific skills or learning standards at each grade level. In theory, mastery of the skills associated with each subject’s curriculum would be either required or strongly recommended for a student to advance to the next grade level. That way, schools can ensure that students not only understand the academic fundamentals, but can also apply their acquired skills in a complex, real-world setting.

What Can Educators Do Now to Promote Future Student Success? 

Readiness is a simple idea but a complicated mandate. Academic, financial, and structural factors typically create barriers to successful implementation. Below, I’ve outlined the major challenges and shared three exemplary approaches to addressing them:

  • Academic: Achieving readiness requires vertical alignment and coordinated support. Yet, districts often layer programs which make it difficult to base instructional decisions on merit – leading to resource inefficiency. Classroom environments also influence the success of individualized learning, which rising class sizes can negatively impact. Finally, learning engagement is just as critical outside of school hours as it is within the classroom. Socio-economic demographics often prevent students from accessing the support services they need to stay on pace with their peers.
  • Financial: Budgetary restraints often cause unequal technological or personalized instruction access. Even the schools that can afford technological devices may lack the accompanying district-level technological investments, such as Internet bandwidth.
  • Structural: School boards must be in agreement on the future direction of the district. Without securing consensus, superintendents and senior cabinets find enacting change challenging. Thus, the most successful schools implement an aligned strategy because the board empowers the senior cabinet to enact their vision. 

Readiness efforts are typically spearheaded within a district’s curriculum or entitlement department. States like California, Georgia, and Ohio have created strategies to overcome existing challenges:

  • Ohio prepares learners through secondary-postsecondary programs of study that include high-level academic and technical skills in real-work contexts. The state recently enacted legislation that requires the Department of Education to conduct a review of all Career-based Interventions across 2015. The state department acts as an accountability measure to assure that students in these programs have the best opportunities for success.
  • California overcame structural challenges by implementing The Local Control and Accountability (LCAP) plan, which requires schools to develop a community-wide strategy for college and career readiness. In support of this initiative, the California Department of Education is earmarking over $3 billion dollars in one-time funds to support initiatives including: common core implementation; expanding adult education and apprenticeship programs; and enhancing career technical education.

Before moving forward with a readiness initiative, administrators should understand what has and has not worked previously. Schools need research on how to implement data-based programs and benchmark current academic performance. In a research-driven model, accountability data forms the basis of all decision-making, which helps schools respond to such heightened scrutiny.

Educators are making huge strides to move the entire ship forward. Their efforts are changing the U.S. education system from the ground up to prepare students to compete in the global 21st century. Moving forward, a renewed focus on executing efficient, relevant, and individualized programming is critical to future success.

Blair Milam is Managing Director of K-12 Education at Hanover Research, a global information services firm providing knowledge support to both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Within the field of education, Hanover Research works with a diverse group of over 300 educational organizations, supporting their research and planning needs through quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis, surveys, and benchmarking reports. By operating on an affordable, fixed-fee model, Hanover helps K-12 organizations overcome challenges that impede their ability to close student achievement gaps, meet workforce demands, attract external funding, and report performance outcomes. Learn more by contacting Blair through LinkedIn.

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