Opinion

Let’s establish a cradle-to-career education policy

Students on the campus of UC Berkeley. (Photo: cdrin, via Shutterstock)

“Our role begins when babies are still in the womb and it doesn’t end until we’ve done all we can to prepare them for a quality job and successful career.” Those were the words Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom used to describe his “cradle-to-career” education platform during the 2018 campaign.

We agree. For both social and economic reasons, we need a paradigm shift to improve the state’s educational outcomes, one that starts before birth and extends through school, college and into the workplace.

California ranks near the bottom of all states (47th) in the share of recent high school graduates who enroll in four-year colleges or universities…

Shortcomings in the state’s education systems are a major contributor to California’s increasingly stratified society, with people of color experiencing the greatest negative impacts. Opportunities are abundant for people with CTE certificates, associate and bachelor’s degrees.

By 2025, California is projected to have a shortfall of 2.3 million skilled workers, a gap that will increase as automation and artificial intelligence play an increasing role. Californians are not being prepared for good, family supporting jobs and employers are having to import skilled workers to meet their needs.

California ranks near the bottom of all states (47th) in the share of recent high school graduates who enroll in four-year colleges or universities, transfer to a four-year college or earn 60 transferable credits within six years.

If we are going to close this gap, the work cannot begin in higher education. We know that children who enter kindergarten unprepared and cannot read at grade level by the third grade are more likely to end up in the prison system than enrolling in college.

The gap must be addressed in a coordinated way across the entire continuum of our education system, from pre-Kindergarten through post-secondary education and into the workforce.

Because governance of our education system is structured in silos — pre-K, Kindergarten and the tripartite system of post-secondary education — coordination behind shared goals will happen only if it is led by the Governor’s office or because of voluntary cooperation between the segments, or because of voluntary regional efforts. We suggest the correct answer is to allow for all three.

The governor’s office is the right place in which to house such a data system,

The governor can begin by setting clear statewide goals and expectations. We suggest the overarching goal should be to prepare all Californians to succeed in the 21st century economy.  We must commit not only to close the 2.3 million skilled worker gap, but to anticipate our future workforce needs, and we must especially focus on closing the racial divide so all our young people are prepared to thrive in a dynamic economy.

The governor can create a coordination mechanism to help ensure that we are linking, aligning and leveraging all segments of our educational system behind shared objectives:

–All children are prepared to enter kindergarten.
–All children are reading at grade level by the third grade.
–All children are doing math at grade level by the eighth grade.
–All children have had an opportunity to learn the life and workplace skills needed to succeed.
–All children graduate from high-school prepared for college.
–Community colleges and CSUs massively increase timely completion rates.
–California has the physical and online post-secondary capacity to serve all students.
–Adults who have not completed a post-secondary course of study have an opportunity to do so.
–Incumbent workers have opportunities to upgrade their skills to keep up with changes in the economy.

The requisite spine for a “cradle to career” policy is a longitudinal, intersegmental data system that will provide students the help they need, in real-time, to successfully navigate their way to and through some form of post-secondary education and into good, family supporting jobs.

Additionally, researchers, policy makers and the public at large need visibility on what is working (and what is not) so appropriate system changes can be made and so we can measure progress across all dimensions.

The governor’s office is the right place in which to house such a data system, not only because there is no other natural place in which to house it, but because education is the Governor’s single most important responsibility.

About $72 billion (52 percent) of California’s General Fund goes to education — plus another $23 billion from local property taxes.  It’s entirely appropriate that the governor have direct responsibility for a system that can help optimize the efficiency and effectiveness of the system on which government spends so much of our taxpayer dollars, and so appropriate protocols can be put in place to protect sensitive individual information.

We do not need to start from scratch.

The California College Guidance Initiative (CCGI) has already deployed a system that helps students navigate their way from middle-school through high-school and into-post-secondary. The Educational Results Partnership (ERP) has collected much of the data that will be required. Linking of these two into a single platform provides a starting point from which we can map backward to pre-kindergarten and forward to the workplace to develop an open-source data system that will be available to students, parents, educators, researchers, policymakers and the public at large.

For those who are skeptical of the complexity of this undertaking, we point out that there are regions of the state where there are institutional leaders from across the education continuum who are not only willing but eager to serve as beta sites for the introduction of a fully integrated P-20 approach.

Let’s capitalize on their enthusiasm and show the rest of the state what is possible.

Editor’s Note: Lenny Mendonca and Pete Weber are co-chairs of California Forward, a nonprofit, nonpartisan reform group that advocates for better decision-making by government.


  • Andi Liebenbaum

    It is hard to argue with the merits of this piece and the need for comprehensive education. Still, I worry that if we fail to address issues of poverty, under employment and depressed wages, we miss one important element: Parents who are unavailable, simply not present, to help and encourage their children, make it harder for their children to succeed. We have to spend quality time, energy and money on helping parents be present and engaged in their children’s education, from the womb forward. THEN we will see shifts in economic achievement.

  • Don

    Nope. Government has shown itself to be incompetent in providing education at an efficient rate – our system is being extorted by teacher unions who are putting their own interest above effective education. We should switch to privatized system powered by vouchers that allow consumer choice

    Stop being naive. Government fails at everything it does but promoting endless war industrial complex and taxing you from the cradle to the grave

  • Tranquilasola

    I don’t see parent responsibility in this piece. It can’t all fall on schools.

  • Sonja Luchini

    Until I see details, I’d be dubious. Who will be supporting this and how? Other cradle to career programs involve the need for private donors (usually corporate reformers with more financial interest for themselves than for our children). These things tend to be data-mining opportunities for privatizers at the expense of students with little to no real, meaningful support – especially if involving a small child spending time at a computer and sitting for long periods of time. Children need to play, laugh and be curious about the world, not tied to a screen with an off-site teacher who may or may not be properly credentialed.

    Any pilot program in a small district will be difficult to translate into a huge one like LAUSD, the second largest school district in the nation. Will this address the needs of the disabled, English language learners, homeless and Foster youth AND their parents? Poverty has been the biggest problem that is not properly addressed. Testing will not solve poverty. Parent supports in the community are as necessary as a plan for the child in school: affordable, safe housing; safe neighborhood for walking to school and back; affordable and accessible health clinics; and living-wage jobs for the parents so children will be well-fed and able to go to school ready to learn.

    How will our disabled students be included? Present system is pitiful as these children become adults and waiting lists for crappy housing in bad neighborhoods is an 8 year wait for those who live on disability stipend as they are not allowed to have decent work without losing the needed assistance to help them have a quality life. They need both assistance AND a decent living-wage job if able to work.

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