The “Every Student Succeeds Act” offers New York a critical opportunity to focus K-12 accountability on college and career readiness

Part two of an ongoing series based on our recent PPI report: Bridging the STEM skills gap: Employer/educator collaboration in New York

The priorities of our K-12 education system are not always in sync with economic opportunities—an insight repeatedly noted by the employers and STEM experts who participated in the Public Policy Institute’s 2017 research on the skills gap.  Not only do our schools sometimes funnel students toward courses and credentials that lack value outside the academy, the education establishment may also (albeit unintentionally) perpetuate the stigma associated with career-oriented courses and programs.

Whereas business people are accustomed to designing products and processes to satisfy the needs and wants of particular customers, and success is measured by the bottom line, our education system is more complex.  It must prepare students not only for academic success, but also to be ready to join the workforce, shoulder the responsibilities of citizenship, and live well-adjusted, fulfilling lives as members of their community.  To help ensure that they are preparing students in all of these areas, schools have to look not only at whether students are getting through their classes.  They also need to look beyond themselves to see how their alumni are doing when they get to the next level, whether it be higher education or the workforce.

Bruce Hamm, Director of Business Engagement at the Manufacturers Association of Central New York, underlines this point: “The metric for high school success is graduation.  They’re not asking are they going to be successful in college, they’re saying, ‘Let’s get them out of high school.’”  The same problem applies to post-secondary institutions. “The colleges are asking, ‘Is our enrollment good enough?” and they’re getting some pressure now to graduate people, but it’s not enough,” says Hamm.  “The question colleges are not asking is, ‘Are these kids getting jobs?’”  In other words, what gets measured gets done.  Currently, Hamm says, “you have a set of metrics that almost ensure that all of this is in silos.  You need people that are able to cross boundaries and start meaningful conversations—people in education that understand industry, educators that are willing to talk to each other as well as to the business community.”

Recent changes in federal law provide the business community with an unprecedented opportunity to ensure that schools are held accountable based on outcomes that are important to student success in today’s economy.  The bipartisan federal law that replaces No Child Left Behind, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), gives states flexibility to craft their own systems to hold schools accountable for student outcomes —most importantly, whether students are graduating college- and career-ready.  Right now, state leaders are making big decisions about what it means to be a successful school, what rate of academic progress is acceptable, and what to do when schools are not meeting our expectations.  By itself, a well-designed school accountability system cannot solve New York’s skills gap, but these decisions have significant implications for our employers, workforce, and economic competitiveness.

So how can employers and the business community make our voices heard? With support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, The Public Policy Institute and The Business Council of New York State have convened an unprecedented coalition of civil rights, education, parent, and business organizations to advocate for a strong accountability system that promotes college and career readiness for all New York students.

To ensure that college and career readiness is the main driver of school performance ratings and improvement strategies, New York State’s accountability system must:

  • Maintain high academic standards;
  • Ensure that schools are rated primarily based on academic outcomes (supplemented by early-warning indicators) that are closely linked with students’ ultimate success in college and the workplace;
  • Include measures of college and career readiness, designed with input from the business community.

Would your business or chamber be willing to host or participate in a regional meeting or testify at a public hearing on ESSA? Click here.

Read part one of the series here.

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