To Usher In an ‘Age of Agility’ in Education, We Must Talk Less About Schools – and More About Students

Writing for The 74, Beth Hawkins recently reviewed innovations that shake up the high school to college pipeline emerging from the symposium celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Center on Reinventing Public Education. Excerpts of the piece appear below:

The symposium explored ways in which the traditional concept of school could be challenged, pushing particularly on the notion that the traditional high-school-to-college continuum leaves too many talented people behind. About a third of Americans have a four-year college degree, yet an estimated 6.3 million jobs are going unfilled for lack of skilled candidates.

After nine years of compulsory schooling, in Switzerland, every student has the opportunity to opt in to a national system of apprenticeships. Winning one is prestigious, and 70 percent of Swiss teens participate, choosing one of 250 career pathways. They continue to go to high school part time, and many later earn a college degree.

Swiss businesses contribute 60 percent of the $6 billion annual cost and receive a return on their investment of up to 10 percent, LeVine said. Business sees the expense — the equivalent of 1 percent of the GDP when state and federal contributions are added — as an investment, not an act of corporate responsibility.

Despite the system’s seemingly enormous price tag, the apprenticeship model is actually 40 percent less costly than full-time attendance at a traditional high school. Students who finish the equivalent of high school without completing an apprenticeship are on an academic track that leads directly to college.

The magic, which is difficult to communicate to anyone steeped in the American concept of school, is that there are no dead ends for students. One may earn a graphic design credential as an apprentice, yet go on to become a doctor.

Hand in glove with doing away with the notion of high school and college as two separate — and lengthy and expensive — experiences, other ideas advanced at the symposium and in a series of accompanying essays published by CRPE explored tying education funding much more closely to individual students, who could use funds to pay for everything from out-of-school enrichment activities to special education services; creating system navigators to help families choose an array of educational options to best meet their child’s needs; and finding ways to design evaluations that measure success in such highly individualized environments. Communities can start, à la Switzerland, by tapping local businesses and civic organizations interested in ensuring the right talents are being nurtured.

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