Integration: Paradigm Shift
While expectations for the K-12 schooling system have soared, the vast array of overburdened infrastructure, staffing, and skill remains ill-equipped to handle the demands.
There is clearly a mismatch between what the K-12 system could accomplish as opposed to what the K-12 system is currently architected to accomplish. The good news — there are better ways to equip and utilize the existing human and physical assets of the public K-12 system to meet children’s and parents’ needs, while allowing the dedicated educators in the system to focus on education. Specifically there are two variables we frequently overlook:
- After school time can be a game-changer in terms of making a difference between student success and failure.
- Schools’ needs for critical stakeholders (like employers) to provide substantive assistance to further the schools system’s mission.
K-12 Talent Supply Chain
The challenge: We need a more holistic and integrated view of how the K-12 system feeds the larger talent development pipeline.
Let’s start with what K-12 was designed originally to accomplish. The system was created when the US was primarily an agricultural economy and survived intact through the industrial revolution. The long summer holidays (in which students were meant to help with the harvest) continued, as did much of the structure — grades, classrooms, the limited school day were set up to produce compliant factory laborers and clerical workers. It is an understatement to argue that society has transformed significantly since then. Without a radical transformation of the original design, we can enhance the schools’ ability to meet its customers’ goals. The reform we are talking about is targeted at the heavily underutilized block of time between 3-6 pm. Forty percent of employers are saying that high school students are not prepared for work and as far more students are graduating without either employment, college or training, we must recognize that urgent action is necessary.
K-12 Getting Back On Track
To move forward in this direction, K-12 educators must first acknowledge their prime customer is not the college — which since the beginning of high schools has imposed its academic view of the world on the curriculum, both in terms of the number and nature of the Carnegie units that must be assembled to graduate and in terms of ensuring that somewhere between 50 to 60 percent of their students at least make it to their tuition-dependent doors. Four-year colleges are not the only (nor primary) customer that K-12 schools should be thinking about. Instead, they should refocus on employers, who need to be near the top of their lists for at least three reasons:
- First, the cost of a four-year college (an average of a quarter of a million dollars per student) has been and continues to be increasingly prohibitive for a large majority of families.
- Second, from the standpoint of return on investment of time and money, the payoff is not clear for many of these institutions, other than some of the most elite. As an Aspen Institute educator states, “A four-year college is not a magic bullet, yet it is ingrained in us from a very young age, this cultural perception that having a prestigious college on your resume is your ticket to great opportunity. This is not true; facts do not support it.”
- Third, there are alternative — some would argue better — approaches to preparing an under-experienced job-seeker towards meaningful and lasting employment. As Jeff Selingo writes in Life After College, “While some sort of degree after high school remains the foundation of a successful life and career, other coming-of-age, real-world experiences in the late teens and early twenties—particularly apprenticeships, jobs, or internships — actually matter more nowadays in moving from college to a career.
K-12 Building Strategic Partnerships
In short, schools need outside partners to make progress. To begin down this path schools must listen and engage with employers, staying nimble enough in their thinking to adjust with shifting demands in the labor market. If one simply puts in a program and expects it to work into perpetuity, we end up with the status quo. In turn, the business community need to use the tools at its disposal — the Community Social Responsibility (CSR) provision of the tax code that requires corporations to give back to their host communities. We know from Badgett’s research that businesses want to be more than an ATM for school initiatives designed without their input. The failures that lead to this “ATM” feeling are largely because the CSR investments are neither strategic, nor centered around talent acquisition. If given programs that shift to a talent supply chain model, K-12 suddenly becomes viewed as the largest supplier of talent for these employer/CSR-investors.
CSR investments are neither strategic, nor centered around talent acquisition.
As we noted in the outset, the administrators and teachers are doing what they can. Their landscape and expectations of them have shifted dramatically. They are under-equipped, under-appreciated, and skilled at delivering knowledge. We noted above there are non-academia approaches taken to great success around non-core functions. We’ll soon discuss in greater detail some of those approaches. We’ll also look at some of the execution tactics and tools required for success in a more integrated approach.