What Can the Rest of the World Teach Us about Career Pathways?

Back in 2014, I went to Switzerland and met a young man with a big smile and a ponytail named Luke Rhine. He was a new employee at the Delaware DOE and who knew at the time that that trip would be so catalytic in helping the state build out a new effort that we collectively called, “career pathways.”

Today, we are at a new pivot point and I’m excited to exercise a couple of Rodel’s core values—“listening” and “learning”—by going out and seeing what we can learn from some of the world’s leading-edge countries.

Back then, we were there to learn about the Swiss VET (Vocational Education and Training) system. Mark Stellini, a Delaware employer and school board member, and about 25 other education leaders from around the U.S., joined us. That trip, coupled with trips to Germany and Singapore, gave our team a glimpse of some of the best systems in the world in terms of helping young people transition from high school into a career.

The timing was good in that we were also in the midst of working with the Vision Coalition leadership team in engaging some 4,000 Delawareans in the creation of Student Success 2025, a 10-year plan for world-class schools. As a part of that work, we built an international advisory group that included amazing leaders from Singapore, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, and France, chaired by Joanne Weiss, former chief of staff to former U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. Andreas Schleicher, the head of the Education and Skills group at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), was an important member of that group in that he brought a deep knowledge of what was happening to improve public education globally.

I kept in touch with Andreas, and this spring, through the generosity of Rodel’s board and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, I plan to take some time to learn about another mix of countries, in partnership with the OECD, to deepen our understanding of how to help our young people “launch.” Here’s a link to a synopsis of the project, but in short, from April 7 to July 7 of this year, I will be “on loan” to the OECD, learning about where we are as a nation on career pathways and getting a chance to see firsthand what’s working in several other countries.

This project builds on the first-of-its-kind longitudinal analyses by the OECD that shows “career pathways,” broadly defined, can routinely be associated with better employment outcomes for youth. This new project will mark the first time that a comparative international study has been attempted.

Over the course of the next three months, I’ll be working with my team at Rodel, the OECD, and Robert Schwartz at Harvard, to better understand what’s happening in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Scotland, and here in the U.S. These countries are not only doing some leading-edge work, but their governance models are more similar to the decentralized context that American policymakers find themselves in, so the lessons learned might be more transferable. Later this year, we’ll share what we learn in some publications, podcasts, and webinars.

A decade after that first trip, Delaware and the U.S. are at another important moment. In Delaware, we launched Pathways 2.0 in 2021 and by 2024, we’re hoping to expand our work into the middle grades, deepen the work in our vocational schools, engage 80 percent or 32,000 of our high schoolers (from 27 back in 2014), and strengthen our collaboration with employers through new sector partnerships like the Tech Council of Delaware. See here for a snapshot of where that works stands today.

And as I discuss in Pathways’ American Moment, there are amazing pockets of excellence throughout the U.S. and exciting efforts, like Launch, looking to accelerate innovation and impact across states. This broad body of work is supported by leadership from the top-down (see U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona’s comments), and even in this polarized political world, this is one of the few things that leaders in red states and blue can agree on from the bottom up.

In parallel, what we call “pathways” are exploding all over the world. Just like in the U.S., countries often have more jobs than job seekers. With billions of new dollars going into green jobs and infrastructure (for which training pipelines are often not yet built), the competing pressures of climate change, the need to build a more diverse workforce, and an economic landscape that seems to shift hourly, the need to rethink how we create more seamless connections among school and work (what Jobs for the Future describes as “the Big Blur”), has become more important than ever.

Moreover, it’s important to step back and acknowledge that the world our young people are entering today is far more uncertain, volatile, and polarized than it was in 2014. It is our collective responsibility to do our best to help them navigate and thrive in this new world. My hope is that, in a modest way, this project contributes to that effort.

I look forward to bringing these findings back to Delaware and continuing to learn from and with our partners from across the country and overseas.

If you want to keep tabs on this project, listen to podcasts from the road, weigh in on what’s working here, or raise a question about what you want to learn from these other countries, please send a note to info@rodelde.org and we’ll keep you in the loop.

Note: During this time out of the office, I’ll be keeping in touch with my team weekly, but won’t be responding to most emails. Nancy Millard (nmillard@rodelde.org) on our team will be able to reach me in the event of an emergency or to connect to the appropriate person on our team to follow up, but otherwise,  Madeleine Bayard will be leading our work on policy, advocacy and communications, Mark Baxter will continue to lead our work on pathways and diversifying the teacher workforce, and Nancy will be my overall point of contact and manage our operations.

Career Pathways and the Future of American Education

In the last couple weeks, Opportunity America, in concert with the Walton Family Foundation, released a compendium of essays entitled, “Unlocking America’s Future.” See here for the 12 essays and a video of the release. This is a provocative mix of perspectives from the right and the left. I wrote one of them, here, entitled, “Career Pathways: An American Moment.”

This is a strong collection of work, and many of these big ideas may just stick, but as I was reading these essays, I was reminded of what David Tyack and Larry Cuban shared with us in their 1995 book, Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform.

The message I took away from their work was not that change was impossible, but that in any complex, democratic system, large-scale transformation is often slower and more incremental than most of us want to see.

This is especially true in a time of divided, polarized government. As I write this, I’m taking the train from Washington, D.C. and was reminded of the battles that are brewing in our Supreme Court around college access and that the divide in the House and Senate doesn’t bode well for sweeping change.

However, there’s something to be said for steady, incremental change. While progress often feels glacial at the time, the system has moved. Standards, and disaggregation of data by race and gender are now accepted practice. We now have universal kindergarten and are expanding toward universal pre-K. Online courses for K-12, and college-level courses and industry-recognized credentials in high school are now common place. Access for all races, language speakers, and abilities, after hard-fought civil rights legislation, are now the norm. These are major shifts, but they didn’t happen overnight.

Career pathways is an idea that, in relative terms, is fairly rapidly changing what it means to become a young adult in this country.

We’re seeing our middle schools rethink their approach and the walls separating high school, college, and work melt away. Parents and educators are seeing this play out in real time. Students are engaging in meaningful work-based learning experiences, earning advanced college credits and industry-recognized credentials while still in high school.

So, even in divided government, when there is bipartisan support and the incentives for parents, students, policymakers, practitioners and employers make sense, things tend to move. As I wrote about in the American Moment, the recent growth of the career pathways effort nationally has been powerful, but there’s still a lot we don’t know.

For instance, since the ratios of students to guidance counselors are often 300:1, we don’t tend to do a very good job of helping young people make informed choices about their lives, what some call “career navigation.” And because the world of work is moving so fast, we often don’t do a great job of collaborating with employers to ensure that what we’re teaching is current and relevant.

To that end, this April, I’m going to be visiting some countries outside the U.S. to see what we can learn. More about that in the coming weeks.

Education Funding Improvements Gaining Momentum in Delaware

School funding is complex and can be difficult to change, but change is coming. As the subject of a lawsuit settled in 2020, Delaware’s system is getting a closer look and more attention. Here are five reasons we think change to our education funding system is coming in the near future.

1. The agreements made in the lawsuit settlement by the Governor and his Administration are being met and exceeded. In response to the 2018 lawsuit– brought by Delawareans for Educational Opportunity, the NAACP, and the ACLU–that challenged the constitutionality of our current funding system, Governor Carney settled the case in 2020 and has exceeded his required commitment to additional funding for low-income and multilingual learner students each year by several million dollars. In his proposed FY24 budget, he recommended $53M for these students. In early learning, his proposed budget will double our state pre-k program and increase funding for special education pre-k for the first time in decades.

2. Legislators are showing interest. Last year’s General Assembly instituted a mid-year student count and allocated additional funding to supplement September 30 student count that determines school-year funding. This year, HB 33, lowers pre-K special education child-to-teacher ratios to align with K-three and four-12 grades as agreed upon by the lawsuit. During this past election cycle, funding and teacher compensation were hot topics on the campaign trail: six senators and four representatives included these in their campaign platforms.

3. Related policy areas are gaining significant momentum. The funding system supports policy goals in education, and a few that are gaining momentum are teacher pay, pre-k and multi-lingual learner funding. Last year’s SB 100 created the Public Education Compensation Committee to address a wide range of salary scale issues – and a year before their recommendations are due, the Governor has proposed a 9% increase in his budget. Pre-k will be increase for the first time since it was created in the 1990s; a coalition has been pushing for a broad expansion for several years. And, the Governor’s Advisory Council for English Learners recently released their final report and a coalition issued fact sheets, both requesting state investments in student supports and educators.

4. The Independent Assessment underway is required to make recommendations to improve outcomes for students, equity and efficiency. American Institutes of Research (AIR), a national research firm, was selected as the vendor for the independent funding assessment and they are conducting an analysis of the current system, comparison with other states, and developing recommendations with timelines. To supplement the data in the report, AIR will also be conducting educator panels to incorporate educator voice and to determine funding levels necessary to educate each student. In similar projects, AIR has recommended a student-based funding system with more resources to adequately fund special populations of students. The report is expected to be completed between November of 2023 and January of 2024.

5. Education system leaders and community-based advocates are coming together to advance the issue. The Vision Coalition is planning a series of information sessions featuring local and national speakers, to lay the groundwork for the funding assessment coming out at the end of this year. This group represents the broadest coalition of stakeholders: superintendents, charter schools, the

Delaware State Education Association, higher education institutions, the Department of Education, school boards, community-based organizations, faith community, and businesses. The Student Success 2025 plan, published by this group, recommends increasing funding system equity by factoring student needs into funding allocation and updating the system so that funding follows the student. They also recommend allocating more into flexible funds, allowing districts and schools to use funding to address their individual needs. In a 2018 report conducted by the group, there was consensus among Delawareans on a focus on how funding is spent—not just how much funding is spent; the importance of building on the strengths of the current system; and prioritizing equity, flexibility, stability, and transparency. Will we join other states like Tennessee and Maryland, that have made significant shifts in how and how much they support students and educators? As we get closer to the 2024 gubernatorial election, school funding action will be ready to go– with analysis and recommendations made public, advocates engaged, and stakeholders better aligned. The window of opportunity for greater equity and excellence is now, and Delaware will find its own unique way to learn from other states and build on the strengths of its current system. To learn more about Delaware’s funding system and to keep up on online and in-person events to engage, please visit the Vision Coalition site at https://visioncoalitionde.org/.

Remembering MLK Through the Next Generation

I was honored last Sunday to serve as a judge for the latest installment of the MLK Voice4Youth program, a spoken-word competition for middle and high school students. Their charge was to follow the trail blazed by Dr. King by speaking up for change through their performances.

An eighth-grader named Ayomikum Adeojo from Newark Charter Junior High took this year’s competition by storm, winning the middle school competition and the overall competition.

All seven finalists were amazing. Some used soaring rhetoric, others rap. All of them involved a deep analysis of King’s life and work. They had clearly studied his speeches well beyond his more well-known, letter from Birmingham Jail or the “I Have a Dream” speech, and not only interpreted them, but brought personal reflections on how his words impacted their lives and are still relevant today. We in the nonprofit/advocacy space can do more to uplift the voices of our students when it comes to making policy and shaping our shared priorities.

Check out all the 2023 finalists’ speeches here. Ayomikum’s comments begin at about minute 54, he was announced as Contestant Four, but I recommend you taking a look at all seven. They are only about five minutes each. As we move into 2023, I hope it renews your faith in the power of the next generation. It did for me.