Preparing Learners for the Future

Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce produced a report, America’s Divided Recovery, proving that “Over 95 percent of jobs created during the recovery have gone to workers with at least some college education, while those with a high school diploma or less are being left behind” (https://cew.georgetown.edu). They warn that the recent job recovery focuses on high-skilled professional and managerial jobs, while the low-skill blue-collar jobs lost have not rebounded. Clearly education has a significant impact on lifetime earnings, and, according to a new report by the Lumina Foundation and Gallup, “the benefits of higher education go far beyond employment and earnings; a postsecondary degree can improve outcomes in everything from personal health and character to civic engagement and relationships” (insidehighered.com). How, then, do we re-engage students in their education and offer them a better life because of it? Student-centered classrooms are a potent start, but considering the options for our students after schooling has never been more important. Not all students can or should go to college. The job market has changed, and schools need to prepare students for the new realities they will face.

Ryan Craig, author of Apprentice Nation, points out that we’re last among developed countries for apprenticeships, with only half a million, which equates to only 0.3% of the workforce. He argues that apprenticeships, because they are real, paid jobs and allow students to check the fit of a potential career, are the best pathway, especially for underprivileged and first-generation students who tend to be bogged down with student debt (the74million.org). In the United Kingdom, apprenticeship providers go to big companies to set up and run apprentice programs where high school students work for a reduced apprentice wage and get experience (Ibid.).

Opportunities are few and far between in this country, but California has established “Apprenticeship Innovation Funding” that offers employers $3500 for every apprentice they hire and train (dir.ca.gov). The state of Indiana is transforming public high schools “by making career skills a major focus through more internships, apprenticeships and a drive to earn career credentials before graduating” (the74million.org2). Indiana will offer $5,000 Career Grant Scholarship Accounts for grades 10-12 to pursue career training.  State Rep. Chuck Goodrich, a sponsor of the bill that created the scholarships, said, “We want our students to graduate with not only a diploma, but also a credential, currency they can take with them” (the74million.org3). In Indianapolis, Victory College Prep High School “has placed every 11th and 12th grader in internships with companies or nonprofits for 10 school days a year the last five years, other than some pandemic adjustments” (the74million.org2). Staff acknowledge the need for more worksites to participate, and they are building the program.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis argues that, “A fragmented approach—where high schools, postsecondary institutions, and employers all work in their own silos— shortchanges everyone” (the74million.org4). Colorado has been a leader in preparing learners for the world of work: “roughly 53% of high school graduates in Colorado earn college credit or industry credentials through dual and concurrent enrollment while in high school, saving them an estimated $53 million annually on tuition costs. A growing number also participate in apprenticeship and “learn while you earn” models” (Ibid.). Although the state already has intermediaries pairing businesses and youth as well as Pathways in Technology Early College High School models, it has created a task force “to develop and recommend policies, laws, and rules to support the equitable and sustainable expansion and alignment of programs that integrate secondary, postsecondary, and work-based learning opportunities” (Ibid.).

Some individual schools around the country are beefing up their Career and Technical Education programs. John Handley High School in Winchester, Virginia, offers programs in Business, Information Technology, Health and Medical Sciences, Marketing, Technology Education, and Trade and Industrial Education (www.wps.k12.va.us). Elgin, Illinois, just received a YouthBuild grant for 16-24-year-old students who didn’t graduate high school; it provides mentoring and on-the-job training (haeelgin.org). In Georgia, the German-inspired Georgia Consortium for Advanced Technical Training (GA CATT) starts students in Coweta County south of Atlanta as apprentices sophomore year, likely the youngest members of any apprentice program in the U.S. For example, Walker Reese finished his three-year apprenticeship as a maintenance technician as he finished high school last spring and walked into a full-time job at Blickle Wheels and Casters in the city of Newnan. (the74million.org5). Such programs are common in Germany.

I am a big believer in a liberal arts education that empowers learners to think and to problem solve, but such an education on its own may not be enough for many students. The American “college for all” mentality does not serve all students well, as many fail to graduate or end up underemployed and in debt. It also does not serve the country well, as it fails to feed the pipeline for skilled workers in specific fields. We should learn from other developed countries and build apprenticeship programs and meaningful career and technical education. Then we will be serving both our students and our national interest.

A Blueprint for Meaningful Educational Reform

Words are inadequate to describe my excitement when I discovered XQ Institute, an organization “dedicated to rethinking high school” (xqsuperschool.org)! I’ve been poring through their material, and they promote everything I believe about how to redesign schools.

XQ Institute was co-founded by board chair Laurene Powell Jobs, founder and president of Emerson Collective, and Russlynn Ali, XQ’s CEO and former U.S. assistant secretary of education for civil rights. XQ’s board of directors also includes Geoffrey Canada, Marc Eckō, Jimmy Iovine, Michael Klein, and Yo-Yo Ma.

XQ Institute maintains that a school that bases its rethinking on this set of design principles “fully realizes its potential to achieve a bold, holistic, student-centered school design”:

  • Strong mission and culture
  • Meaningful, engaged learning
  • Caring, trusting relationships
  • Youth voice and choice
  • Community partnerships
  • Smart use of time, space, and tech (xqsuperschool.org)

These principles encourage shared values to drive change, interdisciplinary and engaged learning strategies, effective personal connections, student-centered learning with some level of autonomy, and the expansion of non-traditional approaches and flexible use of technology tools. What’s not to like?!!

I believe this framework effectively incorporates best practices that could transform schools and leads naturally to the XQ Learner Outcomes:

  • Masters of all fundamental literacies
  • Holders of foundational knowledge
  • Original thinkers for an uncertain world
  • Generous collaborators for tough problems
  • Learners for life (xqsuperschool.org2)

XQ Institute offers this ultimate goal: “students who are deeply engaged in their own learning and fully prepared for all that the future has to o­ffer” (xqsuperschool.org3). Doesn’t this description fit the needs of students, schools, and the country?

This set of outcomes reminds me of the Glenbard Essential Qualities I’ve written about previously. In the 1990s, they were knowledgeable person, critical thinker, effective communicator, quality producer, collaborative worker, responsible individual, and socially responsible citizen. They’ve evolved in important ways, and now include the following:

  • Practices responsible decision-making and considers impact on others
  • Creates, monitors and reflects upon ambitious and realistic goals 
  • Builds and sustains strong, healthy relationships 
  • Advocates for self and others in a socially responsible, empathetic manner
  • Employs a growth mindset that includes self-regulation, motivation, and resiliency
  • Communicates
  • Thinks Critically
  • Embraces Diversity
  • Creates
  • Collaborates (glenbard87.org)

The shift to verbs instead of nouns makes the qualities more proactive, and the new list seems even more aligned with my values as an educator and with the XQ Framework I admire.

The XQ Institute provides specific tools and materials to help schools undertake a serious self-evaluation and work toward change. Just imagine how a school might evolve to serve its students and community better if it shapes its curriculum and pedagogical design around these principles!

Change is hard, and school systems suffer from inertia. Visionary leadership from a thoughtful organization, accompanied by materials to lead schools through self-exploration, offers a real opportunity to transform schools to meet the needs of today’s students and the world. I would love to see school systems embrace the XQ Institute Approach. Our students, our schools, and our country badly need – and deserve – these changes.