How to succeed without a degree

High school graduates with “high credentials” — but no college — earn almost as much as four-year college graduates at the age of 26, concludes a Center for Public Education report. High-credentialed workers earn higher wages and are more likely to be working full-time than those with two-year degrees or “some college,” according to Path Least Taken III: Rigor and Focus in High School Pays Dividends in the Future.

In high school, they completed Algebra 2 and advanced science, earned a C-plus average or better and completed three or more related career-focused courses. After graduation, they earned a professional license or certificate in the same career field.

New ways to do high school 

At Omaha’s Bryan High, students may plant potatoes, care for chickens, tour Union Pacific headquarters or sort and ship books at a school-based distribution center, reports Education Week.

“Students can choose from 16 career clusters and two pocket academies—one focused on urban agriculture and natural resources and another on transportation, distribution, and logistics—or TDL, for short.”

Katrina Whitford, another junior, holds a chicken in her lap as she works in an animal science class at Bryan.

Katrina Whitford, a junior, holds a chicken as she works in an animal science class. Photo: Ryan Henriksen, Education Week

The story is part of Ed Week‘s Diplomas Count report, which focuses on new ways to do high school.

Another story looks at a new Denver high school that’s struggling to make its model work.

Northfield High was designed to place all students, regardless of past achievement, in rigorous International Baccalaureate classes. Students can pursue “pathways” in the arts, business, biomedical sciences and other subjects of interest.

The school also pledged to base grades on mastery, rather than homework completion or class participation.

Teachers were supposed to help run the school and share counseling responsibilities.

However, the principal was forced out in October after complaints about discipline. A majority of teachers will not return next year. The advisory program has been changed.

The second year’s incoming class will be predominantly Latino with fewer white and black students choosing the program.

The four-year graduation rate is up to 82 percent, notes Ed Week. Neerav Kingsland adds: “Expected to hit 102% with new credit recovery program.”

From high school to the workforce

Politicians promise to make college affordable for more people, writes Jeffrey Selingo in the Wall Street Journal.  Yet many won’t earn a degree and nearly half of graduates are working jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree. What young people really need are

Young people need alternative routes to the education and training required for high-quality jobs. writes Selingo, author of There is Life After College.

Apprentices at Siemens’ gas turbine manufacturing facility in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Apprentices at Siemens’ gas turbine manufacturing facility in Charlotte, North Carolina.

For example, Siemens and other manufacturers “developed a high-school apprenticeship program in North Carolina when they couldn’t find enough workers with advanced skills.” Students who complete a three-year apprenticeship earn an associate degree and qualify for a $55,000 starting salary.

At Walla Walla Community College in Washington state, John Deere trains students to “fix million-dollar farm equipment,” a high-paying job that requires
“advanced math and mechanical skills.”

Only 20 percent of teens have a job while in high school, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s down from 45 percent in 1998.

To make youth apprenticeships work in the U.S., policymakers should study Switzerland, where employers take the lead, and Singapore, where the government has created very effective career tech education, writes Marc Tucker of the National Center on Education and the Economy.

Gatsby meets Dale Carnegie

At the Business & Tourism Academy in Los Angeles, 10th graders read To Kill a Mockingbird — and Dale Carnegie, writes Gail Robinson on the Educated Reporter blog. Eleventh graders read The Great Gatsby and Jonah Berger’s Contagious: Why Things Catch On. 

Hieu Nguyen, Kyrene Aganon and Madalyne Salud built a prosthetic arm in their aerospace engineering class, part of a Linked Learning program at Cabrillo High in Long Beach. Photo: Scott Varley, Daily Breeze

Hieu Nguyen, Kyrene Aganon and Madalyne Salud built a prosthetic arm in their aerospace engineering class, part of a Linked Learning program at Cabrillo High in Long Beach. Photo: Scott Varley, Daily Breeze

Combining college-prep academics with an industry-themed career “pathway” is the key to California’s Linked Learning initiative, writes Robinson.

Linked Learning students are 3.7 percentage points more likely to graduate and just as likely to complete a college-prep sequence as students in traditional high school programs, according to a 2015 SRI study.

More than 90 percent of students at Business & Tourism Academy, part of the Miguel Contreras Learning Complex, come from lower-income Latino families.

Much of the school’s focus is on professionalism. Throughout their four years, students work on business projects and interact with outside professionals. They “dress for success” — wearing business attire —  every Wednesday. Business people critique videos of mock job interviews with the students and provide other feedback. Many students have internships.

Along with a complement of traditional academic classes aligned with the Common Core State Standards, every year students take a course geared to the school’s theme, such as cultural geography in their freshman year and ecotourism as sophomores. Juniors study entrepreneurship, working on computers to plot a firm’s fixed and variable costs and develop risk analyses for companies. The final project is to create a business plan for a tour company. Seniors run a virtual company and participate in the Virtual Enterprises International competition.

The school’s 80 percent graduation rate is higher than the district’s 74 percent rate, reports Robinson.

Los Angeles Unified will have 44 Linked Learning schools by fall, including programs geared to health and medicine, engineering, design, manufacturing and media studies.

Get practical: ‘A BA in every pot’ is a fantasy

Credit: Christopher Corr, Getty Images/Ikon Images

Vocational education, now known as “career tech ed (CTE),” is back in vogue, says Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. Young people need a “middle path” to middle-class jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, he tells KUNC reporter Claudio Sanchez. However, Carnevale wouldn’t want his own son or daughter in CTE.

. . . a huge number of technical certificates that take a year to complete, pay more than a [four-year] college degree. You can make a lot more money with a certificate in heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

Still, “high school to Harvard” is the “tried-and-true path” to success, says Carnevale. “Until we invest enough to build an alternative pathway and respect real work in the U.S., I wouldn’t risk my child’s [education], even though I know that learning by doing is more powerful than learning with your head alone in school.”

Thirty to 40 percent of young people say ‘school is irrelevant.’ But saying to [parents], ‘I’m going to send your kid to trade school,’ will not appeal to people.

CTE will succeed if it develops a broad set of skills while teaching technical skills, Carnevale says.

In Europe and Singapore, businesses help design training programs and hire the graduates. That’s a “long shot” in the U.S., says Carnevale.

For more than 30 years, the U.S. has rejected practical, applied learning.

Every year, more than 400,000 young people in the top half of their high school class go to college, and eight years later they have not earned either a two- or four-year degree or certificate. So at some point, failure matters. Education reform in pursuit of academic excellence is floundering. We need to change our curriculum. The notion that the Common Core will make people college and career ready is largely a fantasy.

“Politicians want to put a BA in every pot,” says Carnevale.

Students need skills that lead to middle-class jobs

Seventy percent of young Americans will not earn a bachelor’s degree, write Michael Bloomberg, former New York City mayor, and Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, in Bloomberg View. Most community college students drop out without earning a degree or certificate. Schools must provide “effective programs that prepare kids who are not immediately college-bound for middle-class jobs,” they write.

For many students, the college-prep track is a dead end, they argue. Students don’t master the academic skills needed to earn a two- or four-year degree or the technical skills needed to gain entry to a job with chances for advancement.

In New Orleans, education, business and civic leaders have created YouthForce NOLA to help students qualify for “jobs such as EMT, junior software developer and manufacturing process technician,” write Bloomberg and Dimon. Schools will provide career-tech classes and businesses will offer paid internships aligned with students’ coursework and goals.

JPMorgan Chase and Bloomberg will invest $7.5 million in YouthForce NOLA, and plan similar investments in Denver and Detroit.

Black, brown boys need change — not grit

Schools are pushing “soft skills” such as “grit,” compassion and a “growth mindset” to prepare students for college and careers. Black and Brown Boys Don’t Need to Learn Grit; They Need Schools to Stop Being Racist, writes Andre Perry, an education consultant and writer, in The Root.

Soft-skills training is disguised bootstrapping, which insidiously blames youths for failing in racist systems designed to block their success, and it absolves the middle class of any responsibility to uproot inequality. It is racism that really keeps students out of college and careers, not a child’s lack of resilience. Students are ready for college and jobs. Postsecondary institutions and employers are not ready for black and brown youths.

“Men and boys of color need to learn how to deconstruct systems rather than adapt to broken ones,” writes Perry.

Louisiana students called for the state to stop prosecuting 17-year-olds as adults in an April 6 protest at the State Capitol.

Students called for juvenile-justice reform on April 6 at the Louisiana Capitol in Baton Rouge.

For example, the Louisiana Youth Justice Coalition organized teens to call for juvenile-justice reform at the State Capitol. They urged legislators and the governor to support a bill that would end the practice of prosecuting 17-year-olds as adults.

“Saying that a kid from Baltimore, St. Louis or New Orleans needs grit is like saying a mountain climber needs to get rid of her fear of falling,” Perry concludes.

That’s a good line. But is it really true that black and brown youths are ready for college and jobs, blocked only by racism? Do they already have the academic skills — and grit — needed to succeed?

61% of grads aren’t ready for anything

Most high school graduates aren’t prepared for college or a career, concludes Meandering Toward Graduation, a new Education Trust report by Brooke Haycock and Marni Bromberg.

Forty-seven percent of 2013 graduates didn’t take a coherent college-prep or career-prep sequence of courses, a study of transcripts showed.  If “mastery” is defined as a 2.5 academic grade point average, only 39 percent of graduates were college and/or career ready.

The dental program, huh?” the community college admissions counselor asked as she looked over Tre’s high school transcript. “Then why didn’t you take more science?”

. . . “I just took the classes my counselor put me in,” Tre stammered. “She knew I wanted to be a dentist.”

. . . The admissions counselor looked at him with empathy as she described the course entry requirements for the dental program, including high school biology, chemistry, and college preparatory math — all passed with a C or better. Tre nowhere near met these requirements, despite passing all of his classes and earning a diploma.

A majority of not-quite-college-prep students missed more than one requirement,commonly Algebra II, a foreign language and chemistry or physics.

Lower-income, black and Latino students were less likely to complete the college-prep sequences and less likely to achieve mastery, according to the report.

Among those who’d completed a college-ready curriculum: 82 percent of white graduates had a 2.5 academic GPA or higher, compared with 51 percent of black graduates and 63 percent of Latino graduates.

What does a high school grad need to succeed?

Many years — perhaps 25 — ago, I was asked my advice on a school district’s new graduation requirements. I said, “Go to your local community college and to employers who hire high school graduates. Ask what skills and knowledge one of your graduates would need to have a chance of passing an entry-level course or qualifying for an entry-level job. That’s what your diploma should require.”

Remedial math instructor Robert Fusco teaches at Bergen Community College in New Jersey. (Photo by Elizabeth Redden)

Remedial math instructor Robert Fusco teaches at Bergen Community College in New Jersey. Photo: Elizabeth Redden, Hechinger Report

A high school diploma should signify the graduate is ready for the first year of college, writes Marc Tucker in Education Week. That “is a far higher standard than most high school diplomas are set to currently.”

He envisions states setting the syllabi for required core courses and writing the exams, which would be graded by outside teachers. That’s a radical power shift.

Well-prepared students could complete the core in two years, he believes. Some would have two years for Advanced Placement or other high-level courses. Others could learn high-level technical skills, like vocational students in Singapore and Switzerland, at a community college or their high school.

Everyone would be expected to pass by the end of 12th grade.

We would be doing high school in high school, not in college, and therefore saving enormous amounts of money for both states and families.  We would have more brain surgeons and more specialty welders.

High schools could be held accountable for the proportion of students who earn the new diploma and the proportion who complete two-year and four-year degrees, Tucker writes.

What do you think? Is it doable? Should it be tried?

High school vs. lobstering

Boys start lobstering in their early teens on Deer Isle, Maine. They can be millionaires by age 30. So how do you keep them in high school? asks Sarah Butrymowicz. A marine studies program is showing future fisherman that high school matters.

The island’s small high school had the lowest graduation rate in the state at 57 percent, writes  Now it’s up to 90 percent.

A Deer Isle-Stonington High School student works on a model of a boat hull he created in a marine studies math/science class.  Photo: Sarah Butrymowicz

A Deer Isle-Stonington marine studies student builds a model of a boat hull for math/science class. Photo: Sarah Butrymowicz

Principal Tom West added a 45-minute “intervention” period to help students catch up. Some also are required to attend before- or after-school tutoring.

Then teachers designed courses with a marine studies focus. They talked to marine-based nonprofits and fisherman to see what graduates will need to know, such as how to handle the financial end of a fishing business.

Fifteen-year-old Elliot Nevells, who makes good money lobstering in the summer, was planning to drop out till he enrolled in the marine studies program.

. . . Elliot and the other 15 marine studies students are taking math and earth science with a marine twist. Sometimes that means solving math problems with hands-on projects, like building Styrofoam boat hull models to scale. Other times, the class looks more traditional, with students working their way through algebraic expressions.

“Last year, three-quarters of graduates either enrolled in college or got their lobster license, up from two-thirds the previous year,” writes Butrymowicz.

In addition to marine studies, the school has designed courses with an arts focus and plans to add a pathway for students interested in health careers.