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Full Speed Ahead: Widening the Pathway to College and Career Success



Commentary:

Full Speed Ahead: Widening the Pathway to College and Career Success

By Dean Alford

Our “flat” world is a global economy in which other nations race to surpass American dominance in every area, including higher education. The c…

Commentary:

Full Speed Ahead: Widening the Pathway to College and Career Success

By Dean Alford

Our “flat” world is a global economy in which other nations race to surpass American dominance in every area, including higher education. The competition is rapidly intensifying, the stakes are enormous and the implications are sobering.

Countries including India and China (which just surpassed Japan as the world’s second-largest economy) are measuring their economic futures by the scope of their investment in education. Today’s measure of power is no longer a simple matter of military might but is rooted in a country’s ambition and plan to educate its youth. Today’s children are tomorrow’s highly skilled 21st-century workforce that will steer a nation’s fortunes. Yet Americans and Georgians still struggle to diverge from the narrow, one-size-fits-all pathway from high school to college.

This path leads many bright and ambitious high school students to miss out on early opportunities for advancement to college-level courses, and far too many at-risk students to drop out because they do not see their education as interesting or relevant. In between, there are too many students who do graduate from high school and enroll in college only to discover, too late, that they need remediation.
The cost of learning support pulls millions away from Georgia’s HOPE funding that is intended to help advance children’s education, not help them catch up. Creating multiple pathways to college and career success, however, helps improve student achievement, raise graduation rates, and ensure that every student has the opportunity to grow and be a vital part of the workforce
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Expanding the narrow education career pathways between the high schools and postsecondary institutions was among the recommendations of Gov. Sonny Perdue’s “Tough Choices, Tough Times” working group, which I co-chaired. The Move on When Ready Act of 2009 was a significant step in that direction. The law gives rising 11th- or 12th-grade students the option of taking all of their courses through a state college, university or technical college.

The law was landmark, but it can be improved upon in two ways to accelerate learning and college and career preparation to Move on When Ready-Full Speed:
• Add a mandatory test for all 10th-grade students to determine their level of readiness for college.
• Build in a career academy component into Georgia high schools that elevates the campus to a small, centralized learning community.

The test is existing: The COMPASS test, a skills assessment for students entering their freshman year in college, helps administrators place those students in classes. Moving the testing to the 10th grade will provide Georgia’s high schools with an early-warning measure of each student’s reading, writing and mathematics skills as they relate to readiness for entry-level college courses.

The test results would be shared with the parents, and students deemed ready can begin taking a college or career curriculum in line with their goals and interests. An accompanying report would explain college and career options open to the student, including Move on When Ready, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, traditional dual enrollment and more.

Students the test identifies as needing additional support will receive the resources and attention that they need to graduate and advance to a postsecondary education. Learning support will be addressed in high schools where it needs to be, instead of in college or, worse, not at all.

The entire cost of the testing materials for all of Georgia’s 125,000 10th-graders would be a little over $500,000 a year. That is, the average cost for a 10th-grade class of 500 would be about $2,000 a year, a minimal investment in their future.

Move on When Ready enables a qualified a student to take courses on a college campus. But for the college-ready student who prefers to attend classes at the high school, the solution is to take the college to the student. The College and Career Academy component of Move on When Ready-Full Speed is based on the career academy model that has demonstrated exceptional success in Georgia.

Through a contract, the post-secondary institution – college, university or technical college – would provide classroom instruction, online learning and other experiences not normally available in a traditional high school, and the college credits earned also count toward the high school graduation requirements. Overall, the cost is for the high school is low, which does not have to hire a full-time teacher and instead contracts with the college only for the instructor’s time in the classroom. The high school retains a large part of its QBE and local funds while successfully providing high school and college dual enrollment credits.

Among the many benefits of this approach are the advanced curriculum for the 11th and 12th grades and expanded learning opportunities to keep school relevant and interesting to the student, increasing graduation rates. More of those graduates, too, would have a head start at college on both their credits and less remediation would be required for college freshmen. College would be completed faster, at less overall expense to the students, their families and the state.

This global economy makes no allowance for foot-dragging. It’s time to move full speed ahead along pathways to educational success that better prepare Georgia’s children to take their place as leaders of the 21st century workforce.

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Dean Alford, a former member of the state Board of Education and current chairman of the State Board that oversees the Technical College System of Georgia, wrote this commentary for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. The Foundation is an independent think tank that proposes practical, market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.

© Georgia Public Policy Foundation (Feb. 18, 2011). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and his affiliations are cited