While education plays a tremendous role in shaping individual life outcomes, the number of students in Georgia who do not advance beyond K-12 remains astronomically high. Over 1 in 5 young adults in Georgia are not attending school, not working, and have no degree beyond high school. Additionally, in 2014, more than 33,000 students did not graduate. Of those who go on to college, nearly 40 percent do not finish in four years.
To promote solutions that will give more Georgians a real chance to prosper, GCO convened a working group of education professionals as part of the College and Career Pathways Initiative. Comprised of K-12, postsecondary, and local business leaders, the group sought to contextualize barriers faced by students, parents, and schools of varying circumstances across the state.
Through a series of nine meetings, the group not only considered the academic needs of readiness, such as rigorous learning standards, and systemic barriers, such as recruiting and preparing quality teachers, the group also considered the philosophical underpinnings of readiness such as the relationship between education and fulfilling one’s purpose in life.
The following report serves as an overview of the themes and key issues covered by GCO’s College and Career Pathways working group. Major themes include the importance for Georgia to:
- Move away from big policy as a means of education reform
- Empower schools to take the reins of innovation and reform
- Help students develop healthy habits through strong relational ties
Through the lens of the themes described above, GCO plans to publish over the coming months a series of reports addressing key issues impacting college and career readiness in Georgia. These issues include:
- Measuring noncognitive variables in school and building small-scale relationships
- Improving accountability measures in Georgia’s schools
- Education reimagined through blended learning models
- Increasing experimentation and creativity in teacher preparation: Creating “the missing institution”
To read the full report, click here: Fortifying Pathways: Themes to Guide College and Career Readiness in Georgia
Elementary pupils outside classroom talking to teacher. Courtesy: nspt4kids.com
Hidden beneath academic benchmarks, league tables, and other measures of success in education, are the relationships and personal traits that fuel positive and negative outcomes for students. Attending the College Access Challenge Grant Georgia Conference earlier this week, I realized this theme as presenters with extremely challenging backgrounds–such as one man who was abandoned at a bus station when he was 5 years old–shared their stories of trial and triumph. Relationships–both the ones we build with others, and the one we nurture with ourselves–are the true challenge of preparing students to be successful in school and in life.
Prefacing the College Access Challenge Grant Georgia Conference, Georgia Center for Opportunity hosted a meeting focused on the non-academic needs of students earlier this week. Presenters Reginald Beaty and Tony Owens, independent consultants and Co-Deans of Students at Paine College in Augusta, Ga, enlightened the College and Career Pathways working group with trend leading research on non-cognitive variables.
If I just lost you, non-cognitive variables, more commonly referred to as “soft-skills,” are the qualities such as self-awareness, resilience, and even time management that bridge testable knowledge with actual successful outcomes. Notable scholars such as Angela Duckworth, and William Sedlacek, Ph.D have led the conversation on how these skills can be fostered within traditional and nontraditional school settings to transform individual students’ mindsets to ensure they are better prepared to overcome adverse learning challenges.
Paring my experience at the conference with the meeting on non-cognitive variables, I gained 2 important take-aways this week:
Personal experiences with adversity can build “soft-skills” such as self-perception and grit (the ability to preserve past challenges to reach long-term goals) that aid academic success. However, the framing of these vital skills in a negative context can potentially render them useless to students.
Actively working to connect with students on an individual level, in some cases weeding through the traumas of a student’s life, can change the context through which students utilize these traits to close achievement gaps and reach personal redemption.
Ruby K. Payne, Ph.D notes in her acclaimed book A Framework for Understanding Poverty, that “support systems are simply networks of relationships.” From both meetings, the consensus was that more streamlined support systems are needed to empower students, and there is still much debate around how to deliver a more relationship-focused infrastructure. Seeking a solution for this issue will continue to be at the heart of the College and Career Pathways working group.
Below is a guest blog by Dr. Eric Wearne of Georgia Gwinnett College and formerly with the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement. Dr. Wearne currently leads GCO’s College & Career Pathways working group.
By: Dr. Eric Wearne
What it means to be “college ready” has been a popular topic of conversation among educators in school systems, state agencies, and even at the national level for several years. Local schools certainly think about this, though they are not directly held accountable for their graduates’ outcomes (other than graduation itself). The Georgia Department of Education and the University System of Georgia have worked on college readiness definition and alignment issues for several years. SAT and ACT publish their opinions of what constitutes “college readiness” (based on their respective tests) every year. And the federal report that was meant as a “blueprint” for reform of no child left behind very clearly discusses USED’s desire to increase “college readiness.”
Over the past few months, GCO’s working group on college and career readiness has met and started defining its research agenda in the area of improving college readiness outcomes.
In its first few meetings, the group has looked specifically at college readiness. The group has chosen to focus its efforts in this area by looking at the particular issues of three sets of students:
a. Students in college but not prepared for it;
b. Students currently in high school and in danger of dropping out;
c. Students in high school (not in danger of dropping out), but not on track for college or careers.
Today, the group will meet at Georgia Gwinnett College, and will hear presentations about issues related to students in need of remediation and first-generation college students. SAT, ACT, and USED have suggested college readiness standards or goals, as noted above. More practically for Georgia schools, the University System of Georgia has defined what it means to be “college ready” through its Required High School Curriculum. The requirements are reasonable, and both public and private schools in Georgia know what these requirements are and help their students meet them. But the fact remains that large numbers of students who would like to attend college, and work toward (and often attain) these credentials are still not college ready. How might colleges support students who they have admitted, but who are not really college ready? What can K12 do to ensure that their graduates are able to do what they want to with their lives, or, as GCO often puts it, reach “middle class by middle age?” This ground is where GCO’s working group will conduct its research and find recommendations.
This is just the first stage in the group’s work. In the coming months, the group will look more specifically at career readiness, broadly-defined: career academies, vocational education, apprenticeships, etc. Other areas the group will explore as it works toward policy recommendations are: looking at the impact of teacher effectiveness, teacher training, and teacher career responsibilities on college- and career-readiness outcomes; exploring the possibilities that may come from online learning technologies and related strategies such as competency-based learning; and other areas the group finds necessary and worthwhile.