The School That Will Get You a Job

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by Rana Foroohar,

from TIME Magazine,

A new kind of education shows why four years of high school isn’t enough.

Kids at the school, Sarah E. Goode, which launched a year and a half ago, aren’t called students but “innovators.” They receive a hardcore focus on STEM skills (that’s science, technology, engineering and math). And they take six years to graduate instead of the traditional four; the extra two years means they walk away with an associate’s degree on top of their high school diploma.

There’s one more thing they take with them: a job. Every student at Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy graduates with a promise of a $40,000-plus opportunity at IBM, the school’s corporate partner and a key developer of the curriculum.

[There is] this school and seven others like it in New York and Chicago … With 29 more such academies set to open in two states over the next two years.

IBM has a big stake in their success–as does President Obama, who for two years running has heralded such schools as a model for the nation in his State of the Union speech.

The kids [are] African American except for a handful.

Despite Chuck D’s musical entreaties to “fight the power,” these kids don’t seem like revolutionaries; they just seem grateful to be given a chance to excel in a school that has no test-in exam or steep tuition and where educators seem genuinely happy to serve them. … this kind of school could help power the sort of great national leap forward that hasn’t happened since the post–World War II period, when state governments decided that high school, previously optional, should be mandatory, in order to ensure the kind of skilled workforce needed to compete in a new, higher-tech industrial era.

We’re once again at such a turning point. And many of these leaders are pushing the idea that when it comes to the length of secondary education, six should be the new four. In Tennessee, Republican governor Bill Haslam used his Feb. 3 State of the State address to unveil a proposal that would provide two free years of community college for any high school graduate. Oregon lawmakers are studying a similar proposal. Who pays? Pilot programs are one thing, but taking the six-year high school mainstream will require a substantial commitment in funding.

Evidence suggests that expanding education beyond 12th grade can be powerful. A four-year high school degree these days guarantees only a $15-an-hour future, if that.

But realigning American education for the jobs of the future isn’t just about the duration of school. It’s a question of what to study and how to encourage kids to see their education through.

In November, President Obama earmarked $100 million in new grant funds for schools like P-Tech to carry on their experiments in education, something he lauded in his past two State of the Union speeches. “We’re shaking up our system of higher education,” says the President. Of course, the final step in shaking things up has yet to be taken. The last time we had a reset of secondary education, leaders and voters made sure it was free to everyone. Now, with so much agreement that young people need more than four years of high school to succeed, the challenge once again is guaranteeing the right education for all.

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