Our National Obsession With 'Going to College' -- We Might Have a Bigger Problem to Solve

The changes we are seeing taking hold in every type of community provide evidence that investing in innovation pays off when the commitment includes adequate time, and sufficient training and coaching.
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As a country, we want the best for our youth ─ our own children and those in our communities. We dwell on the 'going-to-college' problem ─ wanting to go, getting accepted, paying for it. Yet there is an even bigger challenge we just don't acknowledge: In the U.S. we graduate far too many students who are not 'ready-for-college.' Research shows that only 30 percent of students graduate high school with the minimum skills necessary for college or career. This means far too many graduates go to college requiring remediation or are simply ill-prepared for the rigor of college work, with many of them not knowing how ill-prepared they are until they get there.

Doing something about the 'are they ready?' challenge means having completely different kinds of public discourse ─ starting with a willingness to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the typical, traditional K-12 educational experience. You know the drill ─ to solve a problem, you need to start by defining the problem and aim for specific solutions. I say 'solutions' as there is no silver bullet or a singular pathway to success for every community. Like it or not, we are a country built around locally governed school district design. There are more than 14,000 public school districts in the U.S. They have to answer to their constituents and also to state and national policies and regulations. These challenges are a national problem that will, ultimately, be solved locally.

All roads to improvement start with a deep understanding of the student needs and an appreciation that re-inventing public schools first requires a transformation among the adults (principals, superintendents and teachers) who need, themselves, to become learners. The ingredients to this transformation? Culture, instructional pedagogy and smart use of technology to enable teaching and learning.

At New Tech Network (NTN), our goal is to prepare every high school student to graduate ready for post-secondary paths of their own choosing. We do this by partnering with school districts in 25 states. Our most recent data demonstrates we are making solid strides in achieving these goals, for the fifth consecutive year.

The 2015 NTN Data Report shows a higher than national average rate of high school graduation and college enrollment from NTN schools located in diverse communities across the country. The report also shows our graduates are staying in school and succeeding at rates above the national average.

The strong student performance continues a trend from previous years' outcomes that is noteworthy as the number of NTN schools has expanded to more than 160 public K-12 schools.

There are no secrets to this progress, although there are many lessons learned and even more learning ahead. Here are some keys to the student success we are seeing:

  • Locally driven transformation includes all stakeholders.

  • Measure success by demonstrating growth among students.
  • Demonstrate a commitment to continuous learning.
  • The changes we are seeing taking hold in every type of community provide evidence that investing in innovation pays off when the commitment includes adequate time, and sufficient training and coaching. I can't emphasize enough that this is hard, and often messy, work. We talk about wanting to develop 'grit' in our students; well, I can assure you this is an essential skill that adults need to develop as well.

    Leading schools and districts through systemic change requires constant attention to all sorts of data and every stakeholder. When this happens something beautiful emerges ─ vibrant learning environments that challenge and reward students and teachers.

    As educators, the biggest lesson we've learned is that a systems approach works and may just be the only way to affect lasting change. It is our hope that the success NTN schools are demonstrating can serve as evidence that we don't have to demolish the public education system to build new systems. We do need to transform the current systems, and with urgency, if we are to truly serve our children so that they have real chances at the life we dream for them.

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