The DeHavilland Blog

Monday, October 31, 2011

Aligning K-12 ed and public interests

I occasionally contribute to the National Journal's education page. I recently responded to a new question on encouraging both college and the teaching of financial literacy (response will soon appear here), but thought it worthwhile to repost my comment since it relates to the importance of collaboration and communication between the public and public education.

Here's what I wrote:

There is certainly a link between gauging the ROI of college and promoting financial literacy. But these issues also point to a larger problem: namely, the disconnect between our schools and the communities they were created to serve.

When it comes to postsecondary education, our schools are not preparing students for the opportunities they’ll be presented with upon graduating. We advocate college for everyone, but those going to college are not being prepared for, or directed to, the areas of greatest professional opportunity: the percentage of college students graduating with a degree in a STEM-related area has dropped from 11.1% in 1980 to 8.9% in 2009. And the reality is that many students don’t need to go to college at all: some of the greatest opportunities today for secure jobs with good incomes are found in the middle-skill positions, which more often than not don’t require a college degree. Why not let some students prepare for that path instead, rather than saddle them unnecessarily with an average $24,000 in student loan debt like their college-going peers? It’s past time that we align our K-12 efforts, and the message we send our kids, with the world they’ll encounter once they leave our halls.

Regarding personal finance, just about everyone thinks teaching financial literacy is a no-brainer. So why is it that today, only half the states even touch on it? (Specifically: four states require at least a one-semester length course to be taught in the subject, while 20 require a lesser treatment.) It’s because adding one more course requirement in K-12 education is like trying to put five pounds of flour in a three-pound sack: to get something new in, something else is going to have to come out. We have had no public discussion, let alone consensus, on our priorities, so there’s no way to decide what’s to be removed so this important topic can be introduced.

Both of these examples point to a great need to incorporate public input and circumstance into our K-12 decisions. Our students – and the schools that serve them – would be much better off as a result.

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