Consortium Matters

Dr. Cecilia  L. Cunningham, Executive Director MCNC

Dr. Cecilia L. Cunningham, Executive Director MCNC

Early College High School: A Seamless Pathway to Graduation and Career Success


As the school year drew to an end and we closed out a very successful Summer Conference, I found myself struck by the old adage, the more things change, the more they stay the same. I just read the new report produced by the Pathways to Prosperity Network, led by Jobs for the Future (JFF) and Harvard Graduate School of Education, which highlights the need for closer alignment and opportunities to combine high schools to real work preparation and experience. The report, written by Nancy Hoffmann, a vice president and senior adviser at Jobs for the Future, cites grim realities about youth’s preparation to enter the workforce. Among 2012 high-school graduates who didn’t enroll in college the following year, only 45 percent found work of any kind, and only half of those jobs were full time. Census reports from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics found young Americans were found to be unemployed at about twice the rate of older workers.
This trend has moved the high school improvement agenda to recognize the need to include work-based learning as it did during the school to work era of the 1990’s. The JFF study identified three reasons for this shift: misalignment of school to work skills-jobs match, the rising cost of college and brain research which show that adolescents engage and flourish when they see concrete return on their time and effort investment. According to Robert Halpern, internship and work-study experiences open “a window to the adult world by blending academic and applied learning through introduction of apprenticeships, project-based learning and other real world applications.”
Of course high schools are not the only ones responsible for providing opportunity. Contributing to the problem is the “disengagement of American businesses” from the task of educating the next generation of workers, said Nancy Hoffmann. She lists early-college high schools as one of several networks of schools that are part of the solution. Allowing students to start earning college credits while they’re in high school is one way to provide momentum and schools like Career Education Center Middle College High School of Denver has long demonstrated the value of providing hands on career certification in motivating students towards graduation and post-graduation success. Up until recently, LaGuardia and International ECHS in New York City required internships of all their graduates. These meaningful work experiences were preceded by one to two courses of pre coursework and scaffolded apprenticeships with accompanying seminars for debriefing. Students became contributing members of teams, tested their skills and received honest feedback and instruction on important skills. As students in early colleges required more time for credit accumulation and academic skills acquisition, internships took a back seat. With changing times, we may need to revisit our roots.
The report makes several recommendations that we might consider, as we integrate STEM into our schools in a conscious effort to be relevant in the 21st century:
1. Permeable pathways through post secondary education allowing young people to transfer credit from one level to the next and move between sectors of the economy.
2. Require students to apply sophisticated theory and application to real-world problems to include STEM as it relates to other disciplines.
3. Develop STEM competencies and work skills, complex problem solving and expertise in communication, teamwork and presentation skills.
4. Respond to developmental needs of adolescents, including building a work identity in multigenerational workplace outside of school.
They also list key pathways to implementation, which sound familiar as we think back to early MCNC models:
1. Career counseling and information
2. Engaged employers, work based learning opportunities and curricular support
3. Intermediary links between educators and employees
4. Committed state leaders and favorable policy environment
Ten states have joined the Pathways to Prosperity network, including Arizona, California, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York and Tennessee. I encourage you to find ways for us to go forward by going back and partnering with local business, policy makers and educators to implement, share and provide students with pathways to their futures.