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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

College- and Career-Ready? Keep it going

To some, the phrase "college- and career-ready" has probably reached worn-out-cliche status, but it's an idea that deserves to live a long and happy life, especially in Arkansas.
An Education Week article posted today reminds us of that. It reports that during the recent economic downturn, folks in the U.S. who didn't hold high school degrees were three times as likely as college graduates to face unemployment. (That's a statistical fact, by the way, that paints a picture far different than the one projected by all those woeful, anecdotally based articles about degree-holders couldn't find work.)
More frightening than that reality, though, is the projection by ACT and others that by 2020, 75 percent of jobs will require some level of education beyond high school. That alone should raise warning flags in the Natural State. Why? When you couple that forecast with the fact that, as of 2010, only 25 percent of Arkansans 25 and older had completed at least two years of college, it's easy to see that a huge gap yawns between the supply and demand of qualified workers.
Luckily, a lot is going on in Arkansas at the state and local levels to address this workforce shortage. Governor Beebe's two-term focus on education and economic development has done much to improve on the reform strides made earlier by legislators and Gov. Huckabee. Rep. Roebuck's commission and resulting report on College Access have also made inroads as many colleges and public school districts have taken its recommendations to heart. And that's just skimming the the top layer of the surface of the positives in Arkansas education.
That's why it was interesting to see the wide range of reactions a few weeks ago when the state's progress was recognized by Education Week in its 2012 Quality Counts issue.
You'll remember that we received a fifth place ranking for educational policies, our highest ranking in Quality Counts so far.
Sure, we still got a bad grade on student performance, but here's the caveat too many critics seemed to miss: student performance HAS IMPROVED over recent years despite the other indicator for which we received low marks -- the indicator based on social measures like poverty and educational attainment of parents, factors that will take a generation of years to turn around.
The real story told by this data is that our policies, and the implementation of those policies, is trumping those stubborn realities that schools have no direct control over but with which they must deal every day as they try to educate Arkansas students to be college- and career-ready.

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