The new marching orders for K-12 educational systems are to make our students “college and career ready,” and that’s something very difficult to argue with. These are both high and valuable expectations, and the preparation and effort necessary to achieve these goals should begin early in every child’s life.
This is why we now consider an expanded educational continuum, from preschool and early learning through college; otherwise known as “P-16.” We also recognize that if students wait until high school to consider career choices and develop appropriate proficiencies, it may be far too late. In today’s world, things move fast — and continue to accelerate. For example, the 10 jobs most in demand in 2010 did not even exist as recently as 2004. When today’s kindergartener walks across a university stage in 2027, what will his or her world be like? What skills and competencies will be needed? With all of this uncertainty, there is one thing we are sure of — the No. 1 requirement of higher education and the working world will remain that students be proficient in both written and oral communication. Before one can unlock the secrets of our genes, reach the stars, or just figure out how to get along with one another, we must be able to effectively read and write. Sadly, the results of the Early Assessment Program test, which our students take in the 11th grade, indicate that less than 40 percent on average are prepared to pass college-level English, regardless of school or socio-economic status. Further, according to Dr. James Meznek, chancellor of the Ventura County Community College District, approximately 25 percent of their resources are now dedicated to remedial coursework. One of the reasons behind this is that teaching and practicing writing is hard work, especially so in a culture of sound bites and mouse clicks. In a 21st century curriculum, this is an integral component and an absolute necessity. However, while we hold teachers accountable for quality instruction and our students responsible for their own learning, there’s one other critical factor. If you consider the student and the school as two legs of a stool, it can’t balance without a third pillar — parents! Preparing for college and career is a shared effort and parents can help by reinforcing literacy at all levels, not only during the school year but also through self-directed study and/or enrichment activities to offset summer learning loss. Reading books, keeping a journal and even writing stories to supplement structured learning all help augment vocabulary and understanding context. Not surprisingly, a new study out of Vanderbilt University confirms that writing supports reading and reading development as well. While our schools are busy redefining rigor and relevance there is much for students and their families to ponder, which has resulted in a renewed awareness of the middle grades and the opportunity for more forward thinking at that level. There are many pathways to success, and an equal number of resources available to our sixth, seventh and eighth graders. The Ventura County Community Foundation and Ventura County United Way are both invested in adding value to education. The Ventura County Workforce Investment Board has implemented a campaign for youth entitled “Look Ahead/Get Ahead,” virtually all of our school districts offer after-school enrichment, and many operate Advancement Via Individual Determination programs designed for middle and high school students who may be the first in their family to attend college. Our own Ventura County P-16 Council, comprised of education, social service, military and business leaders, is increasingly active in promoting and supporting these efforts. We know that education is both a public and private good, whose intrinsic and societal value far exceeds its cost. This also holds true on the more practical side of life, as evidenced by the following numbers: the unemployment rate for those without a high school diploma — 14.6 percent; high school graduates — 9.7 percent; and for those with college degrees — 4.6 percent. There are also a variety of mid-level jobs in areas such as allied health and computer science available to those willing and prepared for college or advanced technical training. Considering that young people today between the ages of 18-38 will have more than 10 jobs in their lifetime, this is rich territory indeed. So, as Pa Ventura might say to our students and their parents, “You will inherit a complex and evolving world. Do your homework and be prepared to make it better.” Stan Mantooth is Ventura County Superintendent of Schools.