Must Reading. Check out the cover story in the February 22, 2014, issue of Time magazine entitled "The Diploma that Works: Inside the Six-Year High School." The article concentrates on the skills gap being experienced by many high school graduates and describes how new models that combine high school with a two-year college (hence the "six-year high school") to provide graduates with both a high school diploma and an Associates of Arts degree. Further, the two years of college provide the dual benefit of intensive technological training that may be amenable to finding employment and also cutting the cost of college tuition.
The article does an excellent job outlining the challenge facing the American economy. According to Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce predictions, a high school diploma "guarantees only a $15-an-hour future" and only that in the rosiest of circumstances. Two-thirds of the estimated 47 million job openings that will have been created in the decade ending in 2018 will require some post-secondary education. Only 36% of jobs are projected to be filled by people with only a high school diploma, half the percentage that held jobs in the early 1970s.
Several different models are discussed in the article, but the lion's share of the discussion centers around P-Tech, which stands for Pathways in Technology Early College High School. The IBM corporation played a central role in the development of P-Tech along with the New York City Department of Education and the City University of New York. Students are schooled in academic subjects and score well and also receive technological training. The fusion of the subject matter is done in a way that prevents technical education from becoming a dumping ground for students who do not perform well academically.
The stigma against technical education is a long--and misguided--one. The article briefly discusses a reform undertaken by Oregon twenty years ago that tried to tie the needs of business together with high schools and require students to focus on "career majors." What killed the reform is that parents objected to the system as they believed their children were being pushed off the "academic" track. I can remember the same objection to aspects of the Profiles of Learning that Minnesota tried to implement in the 1990s when the effort to improve quality across the curriculum was somehow turned into the "failed Soviet system" that pushed students in directions against their will.
This is certainly well trod territory. The recently-completed Career Pathways and Technical Education Task Force convened by the Minnesota Department of Education covered much of this discussion and that is reflected in its final report. But the fact remains. There are jobs to be had and while not all of these jobs require a four-year college degree, they more often than not require some post-secondary training. Guiding, but not directing, students toward these opportunities will require greater definition of what employers truly seek by the business community and a keen ear and deft touch on the part of school boards and school administrators in putting together these learning opportunities.
Time Magazine Article (subscription required): http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2165479,00.html?pcd=pw-magic
Career Pathways and Technical Education Task Force Final Report: file:///C:/Users/Brad/Downloads/Career%20Pathways%20and%20Technical%20Education%20Advisory%20Task%20Force%20Report.pdf