Career readiness

McQueen announces task force to examine workforce preparation in schools

Candice McQueen

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has announced the formation of a Career Forward Task Force, a group of mostly education leaders who will examine ways to ensure that Tennessee students exit high school ready for or moving toward the workforce.

Candice McQueen
Candice McQueen

“Many students are still not adequately prepared to take advantage of opportunities after high school graduation,” McQueen said Tuesday in a news release. “This group of leaders will bring diverse perspectives as we discuss concrete ways we can strengthen the integration of postsecondary and workforce readiness throughout K-12 education, ultimately preparing our students to meet the demands of the real world.”

McQueen has spoken passionately about Tennessee students who are mired in poverty and low-wage jobs, even after receiving a high school diploma. Students who entered Tennessee high schools in 2008 and went straight into the workforce after high school make less than $10,000 a year on average, McQueen has said.

The 28-member task force is comprised primarily of education leaders and government officials, as well as a Nashville student, a Knoxville parent, and a handful of business leaders. It builds on the state’s efforts to ensure students are “career and college-ready,” the basis of the bulk of Tennessee education reforms in the past decade, including new academic standards and the Tennessee Promise scholarship program, which allows most high school students to attend community college for free.

The new task force will convene for the first time on Thursday and will meet monthly throughout the spring and summer to craft recommendations to strengthen the connection between K-12 and postsecondary education and the workforce. They will work to define career readiness and the milestones necessary to prepare a student.

Task force members are:

  • Burns Phillips, commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development
  • Mike Krause, executive director, Tennessee Promise and Drive to 55
  • Sara Heyburn, executive director, Tennessee State Board of Education
  • Russ Deaton, interim executive director, Tennessee Higher Education Commission
  • Ted Townsend, chief of staff, Department of Economic and Community Development
  • James King, vice chancellor, Tennessee Board of Regents
  • Tristan Denley, vice chancellor, Tennessee Board of Regents
  • Eddie Pruett, director, Gibson County Special Schools
  • Jerry Boyd, director, Putnam County Schools
  • John Faulconer, principal, Knox County Schools
  • Arlette Robinson, career and technical education director, Bradley County Schools
  • Susan Farris, career and technical education director, Lauderdale County Schools
  • Stacey Kizer, information technology teacher, Williamson County Schools
  • Celeste Carruthers, assistant professor, Department of Economics, University of Tennessee
  • Harry Brooks, chairman, House Education Committee, Tennessee General Assembly
  • John Forgety, chairman, House Education Committee, Tennessee General Assembly
  • Jeff Frazier, principal and dean, Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing, Eastman Chemical
  • Cal Wray, executive director, Clarksville-Montgomery County Economic Development Council
  • Suzanne Payne, director of corporate social responsibility, Unum
  • Tony Cates, human resources manager, Gestamp
  • Coral Getino, parent, Knox County Schools
  • Kristina McClure, parent, Hamilton County Schools
  • Catherine English, student, Metro Nashville Public Schools and Vanderbilt University
  • Debbie Shedden, Tennessee School Board Association President, Hawkins County School Board
  • Kristen McGraner, executive director, STEM Prep Academy, Metro Nashville Public Schools
  • Missy Blissard, school counselor, Rutherford County Schools
  • Jade Grieve, senior director, America Achieves
  • Becca Leech, special education teacher, Warren County Schools
  • Mark Norris, Senate Majority Leader

path to college

Nearly 60 percent of New York City students are heading to college, new data shows

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder

Nearly 60 percent of New York City students continued their education after high school last year, maintaining an upward trend, according to statistics released Wednesday by the city’s education department.

Among city students who entered high school in 2012, 57 percent went on to enroll in college, vocational programs, or “public-service programs” such as the military, officials said – a two percentage-point uptick from the previous year. City officials also noted that more students are prepared for college than in prior years, though more than half of New York City students are still not considered “college ready.”

“More of our public school graduates are going to college than ever before,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “That is great news for our graduates and their families, and for the future of our city.”

The statistics are welcome news de Blasio, who has made college access a priority by providing funds and coaching to 274 high schools to help students plan for college, which can include college trips or SAT preparation. The city also eliminated the application fee for low-income students applying to the City College of New York and started offering the SAT for free during the school day.

New York City’s statistics also compare favorably to the national average. Among city students who graduated high school in 2016 (a smaller number than all those who entered high school four years earlier), 77 percent enrolled in a postsecondary path. Nationally, about 70 percent of students who recently graduated from high school enroll in college, as of 2015. It is slightly lower than the percentage of students statewide who finished high school and pursue postsecondary plans.

Still, while the city appears to be helping more students enroll in college, students still encounter problems once they arrive. Slightly above half of first-time, full-time students pursuing a bachelor’s degree in New York City’s public college system graduate in six years.

That is likely, in part, because not all students are prepared for college-level work.

Only 46 percent of New York City students met CUNY’s benchmark’s for college-readiness last year (students who don’t hit that mark must take remedial classes). The figure is higher than in previous years because CUNY eased its readiness standards, dropping a requirement that students take advanced math in high school. But even without those changes, the city estimates that college-readiness would have increased by four percentage points this year.

The gap between college enrollment and readiness is not unique to New York City

 Over the past forty years, the country has seen a spike in college enrollment — but that has not always translated into diplomas, particularly for students of color. Among students who entered college in 2007, only 59 percent graduated college in six years, with black and Hispanic students lagging far behind their white and Asian peers, according to a 2013 report by the National Center for Education Statistics.


For almost half of Memphis graduates, formal education ends after high school

Just over half of 2016 graduates from Shelby County Schools went on to some sort of college training, according to a new report spotlighting whether Memphis students are preparing for the work of the future.

In all, 56 percent of the district’s 6,905 graduates enrolled in post-secondary education, compared to 63 percent statewide. And the percentage of students going on to community college — a big push under the state’s free tuition initiative known as Tennessee Promise — was 9 percentage points lower than the state’s average.

Here’s the breakdown for Shelby County Schools:

  • 38 percent went on to a four-year college or university (compared to 35 percent statewide);
  • 16 percent went to community college (statewide was 25 percent);
  • 1 percent went to a technical college (statewide was 3 percent)

The data was shared by the Tennessee Department of Education in its first-ever district-level reports on where students are going after graduating from high school. The reports were distributed recently as part of the state’s Drive to 55 initiative to equip 55 percent of Tennesseans with a post-secondary degree or certificate by 2025. Currently, that number stands at 40 percent.

Scroll to the bottom for the full reports acquired by Chalkbeat for Shelby County Schools, the Achievement School District, and Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools.

“This was actually pretty revolutionary – it was not something that districts necessarily ever knew, or at least not in any comprehensive, data-driven way,” said spokeswoman Chandler Hopper of the department’s new reports.

“We think this data can help districts and the state learn more about how to better support students on their journey to post-secondary, particularly in targeting support for key groups of students, and how to better partner with higher education institutions so that ultimately students are successful.”

The information is a welcome resource for Terrence Brown, a former principal who recently became director of career and technical education for Shelby County Schools. Brown called the data “surprising,” especially that only 1 percent of 2016 graduates went on to technical college.

In his new role, Brown is helping to develop the district’s new academic plan with a focus on career readiness.

“We track (students) until the day (they) graduate, and after that it becomes a matter of state tracking,” Brown said. “So, this data is helpful. … We need to make sure students first of all have a good plan and vision for where their best skill set lies and start to put in pipelines early for them. We can use (the data) to backmap and inform how we do this.”

The percentages for post-secondary enrollment were lower for the Achievement School District, which seeks to turn around the state’s lowest-performing schools. In all, just over 40 percent of 2016 ASD grads went on to college training, up from 31 percent in 2015. (The report for the state-run district is based on data from only two of its four Memphis high schools, since the Pathways alternative schools did not have enough students to graduate, according to state officials.)

For the 227 graduates of Fairley and Martin Luther King Preparatory high schools:

  • 29 percent went to a four-year college or university;
  • 11 percent went to community college;
  • 1 percent went to technical college

“(The report is the) first time we’re seeing a comprehensive and contextualized set of results about post-secondary opportunities in Memphis,” said Sean Thibault, a spokesman for Green Dot Public Schools, which operates Fairley as a charter school.

Most of Fairley’s students are considered economically disadvantaged, and Thibault noted that the school outpaced the state average for students in that category. “We are proud of the rate at which our graduates are heading to four-year universities,” he said.

PHOTO: Mike Brown/The Commercial Appeal
Gov. Bill Haslam visits Southwest Tennessee Community College in 2015. According to a new state report, 16 percent of recent graduates of Shelby County Schools went on to community college.

For both Shelby County Schools and the ASD, the most popular in-state option was Southwest Tennessee Community College in Memphis. The reports also break down the districts’ graduates by individual high school, ACT score, subgroup and opportunities for early credit, such as Advanced Placement courses or dual enrollment.

The district-level reports come on the heels of this year’s statewide report on bridging the gap between high school and college. It was based on months of interviews with high school students who said they aren’t receiving adequate resources or guidance to set them on a path to college or career.

That report recommended more support for high school guidance counselors, as well as ensuring that more schools have college credit-bearing courses like dual enrollment or advanced placement classes, or have vocational programs that fit with industry needs.

District-level reports are below: