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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

They earned a diploma, but they need help to succeed in jobs, college

How do you judge a high school's effectiveness? Graduation rates don't mean much: It's easy to raise the graduation rate by lowering standards.

Photo: RFStudio/Pexels

High schools should receive funding to track and support their graduates and be held accountable for their post-diploma success, write Pagee Cheung and Arthur Samuels, co-founders and directors of MESA Charter High in Brooklyn. Do graduates qualify for jobs or job training? Do they succeed in college?

Their school, which graduated its first class in 2017, soon realized its graduates' families were struggling to help them navigate college or figure out how to qualify for a job with a future.

MESA now offers a post-secondary success counselor, and runs a “13th grade” workshop "to help alumni who are out of school and unemployed either re-enroll in college or a high-quality job training program," Cheung and Samuels write. Over 18 months, "we have helped dozens of alumni transition from poverty-wage, dead-end jobs to preparation programs that will lead to a financially sustainable, personally satisfying career."

But alumni support costs money, they write. If the state provided funding -- perhaps to support students for two years after high school -- schools should be required to report what percentage of alumni are enrolled in college, in a trade program or employed in a "good job" two years after receiving a diploma. (New York state defines a "good job" here). “Measure the outcome you actually care about, and fund schools to provide it” shouldn't be a radical idea, they argue.

The essay is part of Fordham's annual Wonkathon, which this year is asking for ideas on reinventing high schools.

Consultant Christi Martin also proposed focusing on student outcomes. Some states are moving in this direction, she writes.

Texas awards outcome bonuses to districts based in part on college enrollment. Louisiana commissioned a Mathematica study that evaluates the “promotion power” of its high schools. The report assesses a high school’s impact on the long-term success of its students (including success in the job market). Massachusetts recently published a new report that clearly presents employment and earnings of high school graduates (at the district level for now). The state board is contemplating implications for accountability.

Jobs for the Future is pushing what it calls the Big Blur, a single funding system for education, training and career development for 16- to 24-year-olds.

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