Parent & Reed: Recommendations from State Senator and Mayor to Align Education with Workforce and Boost COVID Recovery of Students

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Eevery day we see signs that our country is recovering from the damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Unemployment has fallen from its peak and many schools have reopened. With the passage of the US bailout, more families can pay their rent and put food on the table.

But as a nation we still have a long way to go. While the pandemic has affected everyone, some Americans are bearing a disproportionate share of its impact due to systemic inequities long before this crisis. Simply put, low-income families and families of color have been hit the hardest.

We cannot simply aim for a return to the status quo of last spring. We must seize this opportunity to address some of the most intractable and long-standing problems in our country. This is especially true when it comes to providing educational opportunities that prepare all Americans for success.

We are co-chairs of a NewDEAL Forum sponsored working group of local and state elected officials and policy experts, which spent the past year working on policies to better align the future of the world. ” education on workforce opportunities, with support from the Alliance for excellent education. The group has been forced to turn to crisis response amid the pandemic, but COVID-19 has also underscored the vital importance of our initial mission.

The least educated adults suffered the largest and longest lasting job losses. Since March 2020, the unemployment rate for high school graduates has never exceeded 8.4%, while for high school graduates but not college, this rate has reached 17.3%.

This experience reflects a historical trend. During the Great Recession, unemployment for people with a bachelor’s degree never exceeded 5%. For those with a high school diploma or less, the rate was more than double.

It is well established that educational attainment can directly improve the professional performance of individuals, whether in crisis or not.

In Policy proposals to align the future of education with workforce opportunities, the forum’s Education Policy Group outlines the steps needed to prepare more workers for high-skilled, well-paying jobs – those that already exist and those on the horizon. With the influx of funds from the latest federal stimulus, there is a unique opportunity to meet this challenge.

Our report recommends expanding access to quality college and professional pathways. This means investing in preparing workers for growth industries in their own region. Simple steps like making labor market data available to schools, colleges, and employers can be a good place to start.

We also recommend facilitating the transition from high school to higher education. Funding for the US bailout could support training in careers identified by the state as high-demand, high-paying jobs.

A good example comes from Oakland, California. There, through a partnership with schools, community colleges and unions, a series of vocational academies prepare all students for highly skilled jobs. They complete college-level courses taught in a career-oriented fashion (allowing students who might not want to take trigonometry, for example, to develop an interest if they see how it applies to town planning. ) Oakland Health Learning Pathways students are 20 percentage points more likely to enroll in college than traditional high school students. At a time when the high school dropout rate is on the rise again, career academies can motivate students to return to the classroom after a year of online learning, a year in which many students have not fully participated. .

The bailout money can also allow more students to complete certain college courses while they are still in high school. Georgia has developed an extensive dual registration program, with Senator Parent as the main promoter. Students use the program, which pays for tuition and books, to enter college with up to one year of credit. Some students even graduate from high school with an associate’s degree.

Early entry into post-secondary education is essential for low-income students. Over the past two decades, only about half of high school graduates from low-income households have regularly enrolled in university. This compares to four in five students from high-income households.

During the COVID recession, college enrollment declined significantly, with the largest declines among students of color – 18.7% among black students and 19.9% ​​among Hispanic students.

It is essential to ensure that programs such as dual enrollment serve all students. Senator Parent has been a leader in moving Georgia to collect and analyze data on disparities.

While preparing students for a career, we must also tackle the learning loss that has affected almost all students. Those who were late last spring will be even more late next fall, and it is the most vulnerable children – low-income children, those learning English and people with disabilities – who have suffered the most. learning losses.

The national research and assessment organization NWEA estimates that some students may lose up to a full year of learning. As is so often true, students of color will fare less well. A study estimates that while white students will lose an average of four to eight months of learning, students of color could be 6 to 12 months behind when schools reopen next fall.

Cities and states must act aggressively to respond. In Montgomery, Alabama, several robust summer learning programs seek to support students who have suffered the most from virtual learning. Montgomery Public Schools will offer a plethora of courses in many schools, and to complement those options, Mayor Reed’s office is working with community partners to deliver a six-week academic enrichment program at community centers around the city. There, a rigorous and culturally relevant curriculum will help elementary students to compensate for academic losses. They will combine the fun of the camp with a high quality teaching, and this model has proven results.

And when students return to school in the fall, they will need extra support. We welcome the requirement that at least 20% of bailout funding be spent on helping students fill learning gaps. State and local decision makers should work with schools to provide the necessary community support.

The COVID shutdown has revealed another difficult truth: Many students lack computers and a reliable internet. Data collected by the alliance and national civil rights organizations found what we all expected: Students of color and children from low-income families were the least likely to have both the computer and high-speed internet access needed to participate in digital activities .

Fortunately, funding from the bailout and previous federal legislation provides the opportunity to build infrastructure where connectivity is not available and provide connected devices.

Our country will come together to recover from COVID, and with the leadership of state and local leaders, we can emerge from this difficult time by providing better opportunities for our students. We will work with stakeholders in our communities to implement the recommendations outlined above. With the US Rescue Plan funds available to support these types of initiatives, we hope our colleagues across the country will join us in this effort.

Elena Parent is a Georgia State Senator, representing Atlanta. Steven L. Reed is the mayor of Montgomery, Alabama. They co-chair the NewDEAL Forum Education Policy Group.

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