Talking workforce development innovation at the State House
The Gateway Cities Journal
The topic was workforce development at the Gateway Cities Legislative Caucus last week. MassINC shared recent research findings showing one in five Gateway City residents is struggling in the labor market, working in very low-wage employment, unemployed, or no longer actively seeking a job. A slightly larger share of the young adult Gateway City population, almost one in six residents age 16 to 24, is either not enrolled in school and not working, or they hold low-wage jobs with little hope for advancement and they are not continuing their education.A number of experts joined the discussion at the State House to talk about how innovative change will be required to address these challenges.
Change starts with developing a true understanding of whether our workforce development strategies are making a difference. With limited resources, information on program effectiveness is crucial; currently we know appallingly little. Legislation (S. 674) introduced this session by Senator Donnelly with support from the Workforce Solutions Group will tie wage record data to education data. With the passage of this bill, Massachusetts could join a growing number of states that look at how well graduates fare in the labor market to improve schools and allocate investment in training programs.
In November 2016, MassINC published three case studies, each examples of collaborative Gateway City leadership, as well as an “action guide” as a helpful playbook for local leaders looking to engage in efforts to transform these systems. This analysis is perhaps even more relevant today than it was just a few months ago, as we are presented with the opportunity to reflect college and career readiness as a priority worthy of a measure in our state accountability system. It was on this theme that the conversation turned to ESSA.
Current high school accountability measures provide little indication of student readiness for college and career. For the most part, schools are held accountable for high school graduation rates and proficiency on tests taken in tenth grade that provide a very weak signal of whether students are prepared for more rigorous post-secondary coursework.
Findings from MassINC’s workforce development study clearly show that Gateway City residents with only a high school degree struggle in the labor market, with most in low-wage work and many not working at all.
Many states are proposing ESSA plans that offer much more robust accountability at the high school level to ensure that students are prepared for success after graduation. In Connecticut and Maryland, the percentage of students who go on to post-secondary education is a measure of high school quality. Many states are also looking at career readiness. For instance, Kentucky’s system rewards schools for graduating students with industry-recognized credentials that have demonstrated value in the labor market. Colorado is developing assessments to determine whether students are ready to pursue work in the career pathways they have personally selected.
The need for more robust measures became clear as the Barr Foundation’s Jenny Curtin spoke to the caucus about work underway to rethink high schools, pointing to recent redesign efforts in Holyoke as one model. The new model will ensure that every student crafts a unique pathway toward college and career success. For example, more than half of Holyoke High freshman now take an exploratory course at Dean Technical School that introduces them to a variety of career pathways. Unfortunately, neither our current accountability system, nor the state’s proposed redesign would encourage this kind of outside the box thinking.
In speaking to the caucus about the role of community colleges preparing Gateway City students for success, North Shore Community College President Pat Gentile made it clear how important it is for Gateway City high schools to make a greater effort to graduate students ready to immediately land jobs with decent wages.
Ninety percent of her students at NCCC are working and 60 percent are caring for dependents as they pursue their post-secondary degrees. Completing their coursework is difficult given their economic circumstances: nearly 70 percent struggling with food and/or housing insecurity.
For Gateway Cities, workforce development is an essential component of economic growth. MassINC heard this echoed in every city we visited in the past two months to discuss the opportunities presented by ESSA. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has released a full draft of the state plan, and with that has opened a public comment period which will run through March 9.
We encourage you to read the plan and share your thought via the survey – including the need to borrow from leading states and incorporate direct measures of college and career readiness in the future.
– Ben Forman
A poll conducted by the Rennie Center finds Massachusetts residents are not confident that students graduating high school are being adequately prepared for college and careers.
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Several Worcester restaurants shut down to participate in the nationwide “Day Without Immigrants” protest.
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