Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century

How can America effectively educate the “forgotten half” of her
children (non-college-bound students)? In Pathways
to Prosperity,
a team of researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of
Education view current drop-out trends as evidence of the failure – not of the
quality of education – but of the “college-for-all” standard currently embraced
in the US. Rather than calling for higher standards, higher graduation rates,
and overall increased performance, the report labels the high bar
(college-for-all) flawed, simply because students are currently not meeting it
(i.e. obtaining a bachelor’s or associate’s degree). They admit that students
need some sort of post-secondary certification to obtain a job with a
middle-class salary, but assert that vocational education would be much more
practical and appealing than a traditional college for many students. The
researchers subsequently call for a massive vocational education initiative guided
by the following principles:

  1. Multiple pathways: Middle and high schools offer
    vocational training, especially in-workplace training, in order to help
    students earn a career/technical training certificate.
  2. An expanded role for employers: Businesses partner
    with schools to provide middle and high school students with vocational
  3. A new social compact with youth: The government
    requires students to achieve certain academic outcomes (high school graduation,
    etc.), providing “as much support as necessary” along the way. If students fail
    to meet the requirements, they may face consequences, such as the loss of
    social benefits.

Interestingly, the researchers consistently lift up northern and
central European nations’ education systems as ideals in career and technical
training, but they allot very little ink to Japan and Korea, which have adopted
college-for-all models and lead the world in high school graduation rates.

Speaking of college for all, the researchers need to look no further
than Geoffrey
and the Harlem Children’s
to see that holding high expectations works (to the tune of a 90%
college admission rate),even
in the most economically challenged communities in the US. Certainly,
vocational education is important, as the authors of Pathways to Prosperity indicate, but the college-for-all model is
more practical than they admit.

Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the
Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century

Harvard Graduate School of Education
February 2011