School Choice – Graduating Students with Career-Ready Credentials for Reshoring Good Paying Jobs

The COVID-19 pandemic learning loss has forced this generation of students to face challenges that could shape the rest of their lives. Following a year of pandemic induced school closures, it is essential that communities, educators, and families are equipped with resources and flexibilities that enable students to continue pursuing the career goals of their choice.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) measures what U.S. students know and can do in various subjects across the nation. The latest report shows that only about 30 percent of students tested are proficient in math, reading, and science at graduation. The 2019 ACT tests, taken by more than 1.78 million graduates, 52% of the U.S. high school graduating class, show that only 37% met at least three of the four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks. Thirty six percent met none of the benchmarks.

To address these academic achievement challenges, every community should form public-private partnerships to prudently invest the $122 billion coronavirus aid fund for K-12 schools along with the unspent relief money that was given to state departments of education last year. If wisely invested, these funds can transform the current education system and close the existing achievement gap by offering students new educational opportunities and options to graduate with career-ready credentials.

School Choice

The American Federation for Children released their fifth annual National School Choice Poll. The survey of 1,200 likely November 2020 voters showed that 67% of voters support school choice. School choice is a way the government can allow educational tax dollars to be used to enable parents to choose whatever education option they feel is best for their kids. It breaks the cycle of forcing families to send their kids to under-performing schools because of where they live.

John Schilling, President of the American Federation for Children reported: “Most parents want a different option for their child and are willing to make sacrifices to go to a better school if they had the option. Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and communities of color are all demanding greater choice in K-12 education. It’s time for policymakers to listen to these voters and pass legislation that gives more families the freedom to choose the best educational environment for their child.”

Government schools are funded through income tax, sales tax, property tax, and a whole host of other creative ways to tax residents. For most parents, the only option is to send their child to the public school closest to their home. If they live in an underperforming school district, this can be disheartening. Worse, it can crush a child’s future opportunity right out of the gate.

Graduating Career-Ready Citizens

The Institute for the Future estimates up to 85% of “new-collar” jobs do not yet exist so having transferable skills will be more important than a degree. Advances in artificial intelligence, cognitive technologies, and robotics are upending time-honored assumptions about jobs, careers, the role of technology in the workplace, and the way work gets done. These changes are needed to deal with the “‘new normal” and achieve a lasting economic recovery.

Most of the new-collar jobs are accessible, requiring a high school diploma, a foundation of math and science, along with some additional training offered by an apprenticeship and other workforce development programs for success in school, work, and life.

Now, employers and educational leaders are reevaluating the need for Career Technical Education (CTE) as an educational strategy that equips learners with the academic and technical skills they need to be prepared for future careers. Today’s CTE delivers real options for college and rewarding careers, helps learners build real-world skills and enhances the high school and college experience. CTE is having a positive effect on career-ready graduation rates: 95% of CTE students graduate high school, 10% higher than the national average. Seventy eight percent of CTE graduates enroll in post-secondary education full-time.

In Virginia, New Horizons Regional Education Centers (NHREC) is the largest of the nine regional centers in the state and serves 1,500 public school students and 1,200 adult learners annually. New Horizons is a public-private partnership striving to become a state-of-the-art regional education center, nationally recognized as an authority on specialized educational programs and services that support the development of a world-class workforce.

Nonprofit organizations like Project Lead the Way and SkillsUSA are partnering with school districts and businesses across America to provide students with authentic pre-engineering and pre-business experiences. High school students who complete these programs have a more solid foundation for understanding manufacturing through STEM and business lenses, closing the skills gap, and enabling them to land that first job or enter college.

The Pathway Forward

As the unemployment rate skyrocketed during the pandemic, manufacturers continue to report difficulty filling open positions with career-ready candidates. According to a report published by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, the 2020s will create approximately 2 million new manufacturing job openings. These new jobs plus retirements could leave 4.6 million jobs unfilled due to a lack of skilled workers. If we reshore a fraction of the 5 million jobs targeted by President Biden and the Reshoring Initiative, the gap will grow to six or seven million.

The U.S. educational system, along with its community public-private partners, need to focus on an educational transformation initiative with a goal of graduating career-ready citizens with employable skills. The objective is to prepare students for their first job and to continue with a post-secondary education and/or apprenticeships/credentialing for success in work and life. For years parents and students have been seeking educational options offered by a government, charter, or private school of their choosing. They seek the best educational opportunity to graduate with career-ready credentials, to achieve their “American Dream.” Let’s make that dream a reality!

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Glenn Marshall, Newport News Shipbuilding Career Pathways (retired), is on the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) Management Team initiative for leading a “Manufacturing Renaissance” and a member of the Reshoring Initiative and Job Creators Network. For more information contact marsh8279@aol.com.

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