K-12 Schools Must Improve to Help East Bay Economy Stay Competitive

Last month Contra Costa County Supervisors were briefed on the region’s future job outlook by representatives from the Contra Costa Community College Districtthe county’s Workforce Development Board and the Contra Costa Council. These groups work with leaders from local industry to develop job training programs to meet employer needs. The discussion focused on job growth in the context of developing Contra Costa’s 75 miles of northern shoreline and its harbors between Richmond and Oakley.

Presenters acknowledged that technology and global competition are driving dramatic workforce changes. The current shortage of local, skilled workers is expected to grow in this dynamic environment. Over the next five years most East Bay job growth will be driven by jobs in the professional, scientific and technical areas, including fields such as computer systems, scientific research, engineering, management consulting, architecture, law and accounting. In addition, employment in manufacturing, which currently represents over 25% of East Bay jobs, is expected to remain strong.

 To meet the region’s long-term economic growth, job training agencies and community colleges in Contra Costa, Alameda and Solano counties are pursuing a $14.9 million initiative to “stimulate transformation of the regional community colleges and East Bay workforce system.” This program is designed to improve coordination of the region’s career training programs by integrating efforts of high schools, community colleges, CSU East Bay, UC Berkeley, state and local job training agencies, trade associations and employers. Over three years it is anticipated that 2,000 individuals will be trained for advanced-level jobs in manufacturing, transportation/logistics and engineering.

 However this grand vision ignores the proverbial elephant in the room: chronic underperformance of the region’s K-12 schools. Local community colleges affirm their role has changed from teaching college-level courses to remediating high school graduates unable to read and write. “Some students don’t know the fundamentals of constructing a sentence,” Contra Costa Community College District chancellor Helen Benjamin recently told the Contra Costa Times.

 Presenters at the briefing mentioned a January 28, 2013 Contra Costa Times column about the growing numbers of California high school graduates ill-prepared for the workplace or college. However, they failed to acknowledge the reality that an East Bay “regional career training system” cannot succeed without addressing the root cause of the region’s worker shortage: K-12 schools whose performance is ranked among the nation’s worst, with fewer than 25% of students proficient in English and math.

 Given the growing sophistication of work in our technology-intensive world, fixing the state’s broken K-12 educational system is an increasingly urgent need. Throwing more money at a failed system only perpetuates the status quo.

 New approaches are needed that focus on what works for people rather than what benefits institutions.  Administrators and principals must overcome public education’s risk-averse “culture of can’t” and master the policy and legal aspects in which schools function.

 Until K-12 academic performance improves dramatically, potential for economic development cannot be realized.  And no amount of adult education courses, student remediation and job training programs can change that fact.

This article was cross-posted at FoxandHoundsDaily.com and WatchDogWire.com.

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Author: Wendy Lack

Wendy Lack worked in city government human resources management for over 25 years. Wendy blogs on Contra Costa Bee on local government. Her articles have been published at American Thinker, Fox and Hounds Daily, WatchDogWire.com and other blogs focused on California politics and local government. Wendy has a B.S. in Public Affairs from the University of Southern California and an M.B.A. from Golden Gate University, San Francisco. She lives in Contra Costa County, California and can be contacted at wendymlack@gmail.com.

22 thoughts on “K-12 Schools Must Improve to Help East Bay Economy Stay Competitive”

  1. Why Contra Costa must improve its K-12 schools . . . lest it end up like NYC:

    “Nearly 80 percent of New York City high school graduates need to relearn basic skills before they can enter the City University’s community college system. The number of kids behind the 8-ball is the highest in years . . . .

    “When they graduated from city high schools, students in a special remedial program at the Borough of Manhattan Community College couldn’t make the grade.

    “They had to re-learn basic skills — reading, writing and math — first before they could begin college courses.

    “They are part of a disturbing statistic.

    “Officials [say] that nearly 80 percent of those who graduate from city high schools arrived at City University’s community college system without having mastered the skills to do college-level work.

    “In sheer numbers it means that nearly 11,000 kids who got diplomas from city high schools needed remedial courses to re-learn the basics.”

    See: http://cbsloc.al/XtvPkL

  2. Here’s a link to a new Reason article on U.S. education:


    Excerpt: “. . . Meta-analysis of all the major voucher studies conducted by the Foundation for Educational Choice pointed out that nine out of 10 random-assignment studies—the most rigorous possible—found that vouchers improved reading and math outcomes of voucher kids. (The studies included in the Foundation’s sample were conducted by such right-wing hacks as the New York Federal Reserve, Economic Policy Institute, and Department of Education!)

    “Voucher opponents allege that vouchers hurt public school kids by draining resources. The exact opposite seems to be the case. Indeed, out of 19 studies examining this impact, 18 found that competition by vouchers actually improved education outcomes in public schools too. ‘Every empirical study conducted in Milwaukee, Florida, Ohio, Texas, Maine and Vermont finds that voucher programs in those places improved public schools,’ the Foundation’s analysis concluded.”

  3. Another tough question to ponder: Is there anything the government can really do to improve learning by disadvantaged children?

    Exploring this question, this piece says: ” . . . the practices that endow children with lasting educational benefits begin at home. Low-income families are less likely to engage in those practices. And the research on Head Start shows that there is not much these programs can do to overcome what isn’t present in the home.”

    “When parents hold positive attitudes towards reading, they are more likely to create opportunities for their children that promote positive attitudes towards literacy and they can help children develop solid language and literacy skills.

    “When parents share books with children, they also can promote children’s understanding of the world, their social skills and their ability to learning coping strategies. When this message is supported by child health professionals during well child care and parents are given the tool, in this case a book, to be successful, the impact can be even greater.

    “This effect may be more important among high risk children in low income families, who have parents with little education, belong to a minority group and do not speak English since they are less likely to be exposed to frequent and interactive shared reading.”

    Read it all here: http://bit.ly/YfvQGr

  4. BGR:

    We differ. I see this as a single issue because I reject the K-16 educational construct used by institutions. In a classroom setting there is much wasted time. The institutional one-size-fits-all system doesn’t suit most learners.

    Much of the day is not “instructional time” — it’s wasted time during which students are “housed” but not necessarily learning academics. While there may be less wasted time in some schools and classrooms, as compared to others, the classroom is fundamentally inefficient for learners because it is not tailored to individual needs and pace of learning.

    K-12 can be significantly condensed if time is used efficiently. It doesn’t take to age 18 to achieve a 12th grade education, if instruction is tailored to the student. That’s why homeschooling requires less elapsed time to yield the same in applied “instruction” time — a couple of hours a day often suffices to meet or exceed grade level standards, or learning can be accelerated to suit the child’s interests.

    The degree inflation described in this article is a consequence of grade inflation and social promotion through an institutional school system that primarily serves a child care function — not an educational one.

    I don’t know what sources you’re citing re middle school, but quality education is based on a solid foundation of learning established in K-5. Without this foundation — especially in math — there’s nothing to build on. And remediation — at middle school age or beyond — is a poor second to a solid K-5 education.

    Kids from disadvantaged circumstances get hurt the most by institutional learning. They’re the ones who won’t be able to get hired as a file clerk out of high school — nor necessarily be prepared for or able to afford college.

  5. An undergrad college degree has become the new high school diploma, as this New York Times article illustrates: http://nyti.ms/Vydemi

    This hurts disadvantaged kids and stratifies society — an unhealthy cultural trend.

    1. That’s too broad a brush, Wendy. Let’s not conflate poor performance of government run K-12 with College level learning where numerous, but different, opportunities to fail exist as well. Sure, some colleges, and many more employers, are forced to do some remedial education, especially in English and Math. But on the whole I see it as two different issues.

      There is irrefutable evidence that Middle School is where kids learn to fail.

  6. How can K-12 schools improve when grammer school kids in my neighborhood in the past month have had one day off for teacher education three for holidays and a shortened Wednesday session each week for whatever reason. While this is going on educators are scratching their heads wondering why the kids are not learning fast enough. In the words of Bob Dylan “You don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind is blowing.”

    1. Rich, public k-12 schools in California aren’t about kids and learning, its about creating a secure revenue stream (dues) from a state sponsored make-work program for the benefit of teacher union bosses promoted by their sock puppets like Tom Torkleson and his fellow travelers that take their money and watch out for the union interests in the legislature.

  7. John Stossel had a good program touching this subject. The best point was Bill Gates involvement.

  8. The schools will never improve unless there is competition among them. Otherwise, except in a few towns, the schools will be dominated by reactionary forces unwilling to change how education is admministered. In South Carolina, there is a BMW factory. BMW might want to set up an academy to train the company’s future workers. The academy could be tuition-free on the condition that anyone who attends the academy work for BMW for a certain number of years. The time has come to end the education-government monopoly that now dominates puplils’ education between kindergarden and 12th grade.

    Richard Colman
    Orinda, CA

    1. @ Richard:

      Agreed. Competition offers incentive to innovate, continuously improve. Without it bureaucracies stagnate.

      More conversation about this topic has been ongoing over at Theresa Harrington’s blog on the ibabuzz.com/onassignment website at: http://bit.ly/Y3ztyW

    2. These sorts of wide ranging proposals remind me of the predictable semi annual peace vigils and had wringing in Richmond to address violence. Ineffectual and misdirected.

  9. I would suggest that we need intervention at every level of education and even pre-kindergarten and pre-birth. Women need great prenatal care. Parents at every age of a child need education how to encourage age appropriate development. We don’t teach how to raise children. We just assume parents will know. We need to encourage turning off the television. We need to have after school programs, summer school programs, and assistance for any child. When we make children a priority over everything else, that’s when we will have highschool graduates who do not need learn math or english!

    1. Fund students equally and let parents choose the education of choice for their kids. This is a perquisite necessary to fix failing schools. But the ruling establishment from Torklsen on down must protect their benefactors eg the all powerful teachers unions. These people are frauds and have done nothing in their wasted careers to truly improve education in california. Its one thing to waste their own legislative and bureaucratic career but they have consigned generations of children to failure as well.

  10. This week City of Pleasant Hill, Mayor Michael Harris unveiled a new initiative. Below is the City’s write-up about it. Question: What will be the likely impact of this program on Pleasant Hill’s K-12 schools in the Mt.Diablo Unified School District?
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    The Pleasant Hill Chamber of Commerce hosted the “Mayor’s Breakfast” event on Thursday, February 7th during which Mayor Michael Harris launched a new program: The Pleasant Hill Education Initiative.

    The intention of The Initiative is to establish a community-wide volunteer effort to enhance the quality of education for students in Pleasant Hill. The Initiative would include programs such as
    mentoring and tutoring students, volunteering in schools, career counseling, job shadowing, community teaching labs and afterschool enrichment programs.

    Mayor Harris is seeking to form a Steering Committee to plan and oversee The Initiative. This committee would be comprised of representatives from various organizations including City Commissions, the Pleasant Hill (PH) Recreation Park District, Mt. Diablo Unified School District, PH Library, Foundation for PH Education, PH Chamber of Commerce, Construction Trades,
    and the PH Community Foundation.

    Those interested in being on the Steering Committee or wishing to be a volunteer in the program can sign up online at http://www.pleasant-hill.net/phei. For more information on The Initiative, contact Martin Nelis at mnelis@ci.pleasant-hill.ca.us.

    1. Too wide a scope. Should focus just on Middle Schools as that’s the documented great divide where kids get shunted into failure or success.

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