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.


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