Addressing the Skills and Graduation Gap

by Jesse Moyer on October 5, 2012

Tuesday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke at the National Press Club (you can find the text of his full speech here).

The Secretary discussed many of the major education reforms currently underway, including:

  • College and career-ready standards in 45 states and D.C.
  • State-designed accountability systems in 33 states serving more than 60 percent of students; more local decision-making around interventions in low-performing schools.
  • Nearly 10 million students attending college with Pell grants – up from 6 million; rising college enrollment and completion.
  • Greater labor-management collaboration around issues like teacher and principal evaluation, compensation, and career pathways for teachers.

What I thought was most interesting was Mr. Duncan’s mention of a skills gap, “With more than 3 million unfilled jobs in this country, they understand that we have a skills gap that can only be closed if America does a better job training and preparing people for work.”  With no more than 75% of our high school students leaving with a diploma, we also have a graduation gap.  That’s the bad news.  The good news?  Both of these issues can be addressed by scaling programs that make learning more engaging while providing students with the skills they need to succeed in college and their careers.  Sure, this is an obvious answer but you might be asking yourself, “What do these programs look like?”  Well, I’ll tell you.

EDWorks’ Fast Track (think early college high schools) provides students with a “four-year academic roadmap that accelerates them through a rigorous high school course of study and up to 60 hours of college credit before graduation.”  Giving students an opportunity to earn college credit while in high school puts a college education within reach while teaching skills that can be directly applied in the workforce.  Fast Track schools report an average graduation rate of over 91% while more than one third of students graduate with both a high school diploma and two years of college credit or an associate’s degree.

New Tech Network infuses a project-based learning pedagogy with the smart use of technology to create an engaging environment that promotes trust, respect, and responsibility.  Pairing this culture of engagement with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) curriculum has produced very good results including a 97% annual graduation rate, and 86% 4-year cohort graduation rate, in 2010-11.

By scaling effective programs like EDWorks and New Tech, we will ensure that more students leave high school with a diploma and the skills and knowledge needed to fill those three million jobs Secretary Duncan referenced.

Jesse Moyer About Jesse Moyer
Jesse Moyer is the Director of State Advocacy and Research with KnowledgeWorks. He is a believer in public education working and passionate about family, sports and fishing.

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Deborah Howard October 8, 2012 at

Students enrolled in our Fast Track early college high schools are young people for whom college was not previously an option. Our students are not typically in “honors” or “advanced” tracks at their home schools. They may not have experienced academic success in the traditional school setting. The vast majority of our Fast Track students come from low income households and are the first in their families to attend college; most are minority students. In addition to the statistics Jesse provided, it is important to note that that 79% of the students graduate from a Fast Track early college with one-to-two years of college credit and a high school diploma — in FOUR years. In fact, some Fast Track sites have 100% of students graduating from high school with an Associate’s degree tied to workplace needs in their local community. That’s an economic boon for the community, as well as those students and their families.


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