Arizona’s education system is leaving too many young people “aimless” about their futures and lacking a connection between their goals and how to achieve them.
These initial findings were reported last week by the Arizona Minority Education Policy Analysis Center as part of its To Learn and Earn 2010 study. A full report will be out in August.
Nancy Welch, associate director of Morrison Institute for Public Policy, which helped prepare the information, said the group did in-depth interviews with adults ages 19-29, randomly selected in the Phoenix area.
“From those interviews, we really saw the aimlessness,” Welch said. The working adults were trying to support their families, but “did not have the background and the looking forward that would help them get on a good career path,” she said.
The report was presented to business leaders, who may be the driving force behind making changes, said Jaime Gutierrez of the Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education.
“If it’s going to get done, it’ll get done by these folks,” Gutierrez said of the business leaders who heard the report during the Arizona Business & Education Coalition 2010 Conference. “These folks are the true believers. Times are tough right now, but hopefully, the conversations with the stakeholders — students, counselors, business folks — will lead to further discussions and hopefully action in the future.”
The study included a list of what Arizona needs to do in order to improve the situation for students, from adopting a “college- and career-ready” definition that includes academics and employable skills to restoring postsecondary scholarship funds to creating a certificate system that allows students to receive “credentials” based upon workforce skills they have mastered.
Welch said that’s an important step for Arizona. Other states have adopted similar programs. With such a system, adults could go into career and employment centers and take a test that shows they’ve mastered skills, such as communication.
That piece of paper can then be presented to a potential employer.
Welch said it’s also important to set up an office that communicates with adults, students and educators on what skills are needed in the workforce.
Arizona did mandate high schools help students create an Education and Career Action Plan to point them to the right classes to take based on their interests. Several East Valley school districts have jumped on board, even expanding it to the middle-school grades, which was another recommendation of the study.
Cathleen Barton, education manager for Intel in Arizona, was on a panel at the study’s presentation. She said one of the best things that can happen for students in kindergarten through 12th grade is preparation to be a lifelong learner. That can lead to multiple job opportunities.
“People like me, who have been at a company a really long time, aren’t going to happen,” she said.
Students need not only academics, but critical-thinking skills that can apply to different areas.
“It seems the shelf life of 13 years of education ought to serve me for more than that first decision that I make,” to go to college, technical training or into the workforce after high school, she said.
And no matter that first decision, most jobs classified as giving a “family-sustaining wage,” will require some postsecondary education, Barton said.
Seventy percent of high school graduates end up in the higher education system, she said, adding, “Why not prepare them to do that?”
Gutierrez, an associate vice president for the University of Arizona Office of Community Relations, said he hopes the report will start a conversation about Arizona’s education system and lead to steps taken to “minimize or eliminate that educational achievement gap.”
“I think we know we’re not doing well,” with education in Arizona, he said. “I think we know that there are a lot of things we need to do, but if this report — once it’s published — can act as a catalyst or act as an engine for some change, then I think it makes sense.”