Preparing the next generation for success

by Jack M. Stewart
Jan. 13, 2009
Ran in the Fresno Bee

California employers are finding it increasingly difficult to find qualified people to fill blue- and white-collar positions. The reason: a shortage of skilled labor in virtually every sector of the state’s economy.

The cause is obvious. California students are dropping out of high school at an alarming rate — and even those who do complete school are entering college and the workforce without the academic and job-related skills they need to succeed.

To meet the needs of the 21st century economy, we must do a better job at preparing our students to enter college and the workforce. To accomplish this, we must do a better job of connecting skills required for success in the world of work to the skills developed and taught in our public education system. Finding a practical way to make this connection has eluded well-intentioned policymakers and educational leaders. What is needed is a better method to measure student achievement, identify what’s working in our classrooms and to correct or eliminate practices that are failing our students.

Incredibly, California— birthplace of information technology and home to the Silicon Valley — has an outdated, inadequate system for collecting and reporting information about what is going on in our schools. For example, the state currently has no empirical data that shows how many public school graduates go on to college or head directly into the workforce. If we cannot accurately quantify the problem, how can we ever hope to solve it.

Although the state is making important improvements to its K-12 data reporting, we need to expand the information that we collect about our schools and link this information to data about our workforce. In this way, we can help ensure that the skills taught in the classroom are the ones students need to succeed in college and on the job.

There is some good news on the horizon. A new report from the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company outlines how California can improve, expand and link data about our K-12 schools to information about our higher education system and our workforce needs.

California needs a state-of-the-art education data system to ensure that every student in this state is on the path to success, whether headed to college or directly to a career. The McKinsey report provides a sensible roadmap to follow in the development of such a system.

We urge the California Legislature to join Governor Schwarzenegger and State Superintendent of Public Instruction O’Connell in implementing the recommendations outlined in the McKinsey report — to help ensure that all students obtain the necessary skills to graduate and become successful beyond high school. Developing a first rate education data system is an essential investment in the future of our students and our economy.

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