[The Act funds] education programs that look a lot like what the U.S. embraced more than 50 years ago. These funds provided equipment, instruction and related costs to connect education to careers, but the careers they connect to often no longer exist….First, the [over $1 billion in Perkin Act] funds ought to require business involvement to link education to careers. Second, the funds ought to require connection to higher education coursework and curriculums so students can have the workplace skills and the educational preparation and credentials required. Finally, these funds ought to require connection to where the jobs are and are likely to be, as opposed to careers that no longer exist.
Litow’s broad prescription points to a specific kind of program known as “early college.” We’ve written about P-Tech, an early college high school that is a collaboration between the City University of New York and IBM. After six years, its students graduate with real skills, an associate’s degree, and a top spot in line for a job at IBM. These kinds of programs are popping up all over the country. WRM’s own Bard College opened a similar school in Newark. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has adopted the model in a few schools in his city. Today, more than 230 early colleges are spread across 28 states.And they’re showing early signs of success. Many of these schools serve disadvantaged students, who tend to graduate from high school and college at lower rates. So far, early college schools have a 92 percent graduation rate, and 86 percent of their graduates enroll in college.Litow does have a point—whatever our public schools are doing, they’re not experiencing much success. 75 percent of high school graduates need remedial education in college, and just over half manage to graduate at all within six years. Early college might provide one remedy to problems like these. Or, it might not. But with more innovation and fresh air circulating through the public school system, we might just discover what works.[Classroom image courtesy of Shutterstock]