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.

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.

College for ‘justice-involved’ (criminal) students

Don’t ask college applicants if they have a criminal record, advises the U.S. Department of Education in Beyond the Box: Increasing Access to Higher Education for Justice-Involved Individuals.

“We believe in second chances and we believe in fairness,” U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. said in a speech at UCLA, which doesn’t screen applicants for a criminal record. “The college admissions process . . . should serve as a gateway to unlocking untapped potential of students,” he said. That includes “those involved with the criminal justice system.”

Applicants for federal jobs aren’t asked about a criminal record in the initial screening and the Obama administration is pressuring employers to “ban the box.”


“There are better ways to ensure campus safety than stigmatizing those who are trying to better their lives through higher education,” University of California President Janet Napolitano said.

“Campus safety is absolutely paramount in this process,” declares a Department of Education press release. Campuses that screen for criminal justice history don’t seem to be any safer than those that don’t, according to the DoE, but there’s little research on the issue.

When college applicants have to admit and explain their criminal record, many just give up, according to Beyond the Box.  A study found 62.5 percent of State University of New York applicants who checked the box for a prior felony conviction never completed their applications, compared with 21 percent of applicants with no criminal history.

The report recommends “delaying the request for – or consideration of – criminal justice involvement until after an admission decision has been made to avoid a chilling effect on potential applicants whose backgrounds may ultimately be deemed irrelevant.”

In addition, the report calls for offering counseling, peer mentors, college coaches, jobs and support groups for “justice-involved students.”

Last July, the Education Department announced the Second Chance Pell Pilot program to test new models to allow incarcerated Americans to receive Pell Grants and pursue a postsecondary education with the goal of helping them get jobs, support their families, and turn their lives around. In November, the Department also announced up to $8 million in Adult Reentry Education Grants to support educational attainment and reentry success for individuals who have been incarcerated.

The Common App, used by more than 600 colleges, asks about misdemeanor or felony convictions, but no longer will ask about other crimes.

“Ban the box” campaigners cite racial disparities in arrest rates and the “school-to-prison pipeline,” writes Juleyka Lantigua-Williams in The Atlantic.

“Students of color are the most likely to be harmed by putting these questions on the application,” said Natalie Sokoloff, professor emerita of sociology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Most students with criminal records go to community colleges and other open-admissions public schools, she found.

I doubt that would change significantly if applications to selective universities were more welcoming. Most “justice-involved youth” are not on the honor roll. Adults coming out of prison, who may pose a danger to classmates, aren’t likely to be qualified for selective universities.

College prep for all lowers grad rate

Requiring all students to take college-prep courses — and earn C’s or better — is raising the number of students eligible for state universities in San Diego, concludes a Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) report. It’s also lowering the graduation rate.

About 10 percent more students in the class of 2016 will meet the minimum requirements for University of California and California State University campuses, researchers estimate. However, 16 percent more students may fail to graduate from high school, pushing the graduation rate down to 72 percent,

Career academies challenge college for all

Most 12th graders aren’t prepared to succeed in college, according to NAEP, but nearly all are told it’s the only path to a decent job. Nearly two-thirds of high school graduates go directly to college. Two-thirds of high school graduates go directly to college. Those who fail to earn a degree — about 45 percent — will struggle to earn a living and pay back student loans.

Students including Joshua Espinosa, left, steady the head of Jacqueline Villalobo during an exercise in EMC First Responder class as emergency medical technician Gretchen Medel, background left, supervises at Dozier-Libbey Medical High School in Antioch, Calif. Photo: Ben Margot, AP

Students practice paramedic skills at Dozier-Libbey Medical High School in Antioch, Calif. Photo: Ben Margot, AP

“Vocational education is “making a comeback,” reports AP. However, the goal of new “career pathways” programs isn’t to get students from high school to the workforce. Often the aim is to motivate students “to pursue some post-secondary education — whether it’s a certificate from a two-year school or a four-year degree.”

Educators are afraid that the new career-tech will be a lesser alternative to the college track.

“I think we can identify 9th grade students who have career interests and build a rich, challenging curriculum around those interests,” Kevin Welner, who directs the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder, said.

“What’s not smart is to identify 9th grade students who are academically struggling and then track them into these separate academic programs that have watered-down expectations and watered-down instruction,” he said.

That concern is the focus of Melinda Anderson’s story on career academies in The Atlantic.

Often a school within a larger school, “career academies generally feature small learning communities, integrate business and industry partnerships, and provide students with a curriculum blending traditional and technical courses,” she writes.

Eighth-grader Keller Wessel works on a project in his Gateway to Technology class at Deer Park Junior/Senior High School in Cincinnati.

Eighth-grader Keller Wessel works on a project in his Gateway to Technology class at Deer Park Junior/Senior High School in Cincinnati.

For “students at highest risk of dropping out, participation in career academies improved attendance and the likelihood of graduating on time,” a 2008 MDRC study found. Several years later, male students had found higher-paying jobs.

However, high schools that serve predominantly white, middle-class students are more likely to offer career pathways that lead to college, she writes.

At Cincinnati’s Deer Park Career Academy, students in grades seven through 12 choose from career pathways that include digital design and civil engineering.

At Atlantic High in Delray Beach, Florida, where a majority of students come from lower-income, non-white families, the career academy is devoted to law enforcement careers.

75% of seniors aren’t ready for college math

Only 25 percent of 12th graders are prepared for college math and 37 for college reading, according to the latest Nation’s Report Card from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). Math scores fell over the last two years, while reading scores have been flat since 2009.

Remember that the weakest students have dropped out by 12th grade.

Low performers are doing worse while high achievers are improving, notes Liana Heitin on Ed Week. The percentage of students scoring at the “below basic” level was higher in both reading and math, compared to 2013.

That may be a side-effect of the rising graduation rate, which hit 82 percent in 2014.

Racial/ethnic gaps are huge: 64 percent of blacks and 53 percent of Hispanics score as below basic in math; only 7 percent of blacks and 11 percent of Hispanics score as proficient or better. By contrast, a third of whites and nearly half of Asian-Americans are proficient or better.

Here’s more on the knowledge and skills required to score “basic” or “proficient” on NAEP’s 12th-grade math exam.

In reading, 49 percent of Asians, 46 percent of whites, 25 percent of blacks and 17 percent of black 12th graders are proficient or better.

“College for all” remains the mantra. Nearly two-thirds of high school graduates will enroll in college immediately: 55 percent will complete a degree within six years.

‘Top colleges’ for who?

“College For All” . . . reinforces the ridiculous notion that college is for people who use their brains, and trade schools are for people who use their hands, writes Mike Rowe on Facebook. “As if the two can not be combined.”

Mike Rowe hosted Dirty Jobs.

Mike Rowe hosted Dirty Jobs.

From presidential candidates to parents, Americans think everyone needs a college degree, he writes.

Yet “hundreds of thousands of highly educated twenty-somethings are either unemployed or getting paid a pittance to do something totally unrelated to the education they borrowed a fortune to acquire. Collectively, they hold 1.3 trillion dollars of debt, and no real training for the jobs that actually exist.”

He was asked to comment on a list of America’s “Top Jobs” and “Top Schools” that include no trade schools or skilled trade careers, Rowe writes.

Would a sensible person recommend The Godfather to someone who hates violence – just because it won Best Picture? Would a sensible person recommend a Steakhouse to a vegetarian, just because Yelp gives it 5-stars? Would a sensible person recommend The Ritz to a traveler on a budget, just because Trip Adviser says it’s the best hotel in the city? Of course not. But every year, lots of otherwise sensible people recommend a four-year college to kids who would be far better served by Trade School. They defer to someone else’s idea of what a Top School is – regardless of suitability and cost.

“Millions of teenagers” are told that college is a “right” and encouraged to pay whatever if it costs, writes Rowe. “Is it any wonder some politicians want to fix the problem by forgiving the debt altogether and making college free for everyone?”

Arkansas students who take career tech courses are “more likely to graduate from high school, enroll in a two-year college, be employed, and earn higher wages,” concludes a new Fordham study. They are just as likely to pursue a four-year degree as similar students.

Gains are greatest for boys, students from lower-income families and those who focus on a career field.

‘College for all’ includes learning disabled

Amanda Carbonneau (in pink top) laughs with friends at University of Central Florida. Photo: Red Huber, Orlando Sentinel

Amanda Carbonneau, 21, who reads at the fourth-grade level, is enjoying her first year at the University of Central Florida. A new program for students with learning disabilities has made it possible for her to live in a dorm, learning independent-living skills, and participate in campus activities, reports Gabrielle Russon in the Orlando Sentinel.

“We’re paying for a college experience,” said her mother, Janet Carbonneau.

Amanda Carbonneau is living away from home for the first time. Photo: Orlando Sentinel

Disabled students who aren’t seeking a degree can live in University of Central Florida dorms.  Photo: Orlando Sentinel

Amanda has taken an early childhood education course and study skills.

Students in the program take low-level classes (often P.E.) and have access to tutors, but are not working toward a degree. UCF may award a special diploma or certificate.

A new state-funded center in the College of Education and Human Performance “will grant $3.5 million annually in scholarships to students with disabilities.”

I know this is supposed to be a feel-good story, but . . . Shouldn’t the “college experience” including higher education? Florida will spend $3.5 million so young people who lack the ability to do college-level work can live in a dorm and hang out on a university campus.

How to help working-class kids

Poor and working-class Americans are falling further behind college-educated workers, writes Mike Petrilli, editor of Education for Upward Mobility. Their frustration, expressed in the improbable rise of Donald Trump, is finally drawing attention.  We need ways to help kids from left-behind families “learn the skills they need to compete for middle-class and high-wage jobs.”

Earning a four-year degree is one route to upward mobility, but it can’t be the only option.

Only 14 percent of students from lower-income families will complete four-year degrees, estimates Andrew Kelly. There’s a big pay-off for those who graduate, but what about everyone else?

“High-quality career and technical education, culminating in industry-recognized post-secondary credentials” is a viable path to the middle class, writes Petrilli.

But most students follow the “bachelor’s degree or bust” model. For disadvantaged students, that often leads to remedial classes at a community college, frustration and failure.

Petrilli also makes a pitch for paying attention to the learning needs of high-achieving, low-income students and encouraging young people to follow the “success sequence.”

Even young people with just a high school diploma can make it into the middle class if they complete high school, work full-time and delay parenthood until they are 21 and married, writes Petrilli, citing research by Isabel Sawhill and Ron Haskins.

What can schools do? Persuading students they’re on the path to a decent job is a good first step.