Opinion: Life beyond high school is different | PostIndependent.com

Opinion: Life beyond high school is different

Dan Dougherty
Free Press Opinion Columnist

Life beyond high school is different from what it used to be. This difference is the main driving factor behind the transformation happening in Mesa County Valley School District 51. Most jobs now, and increasingly in the future, will require additional training or education beyond high school. By 2020, three out of four jobs in Colorado will require education or training beyond high school — that’s estimated to be three million jobs! Currently, Colorado employers cannot find enough skilled workers to fill openings in manufacturing, health, technology, and science-based industries.

In the near future, School District 51 will be engaging the community about changing graduation guidelines intended to address these challenges. In May of 2013, the state legislature passed a new law that increased the requirements for high school graduation and gave communities the opportunity to address their own graduation guidelines. The key is that the local guidelines must meet or exceed the state requirements. We will choose from a menu of options what we believe best reflects our students’ acquisition of knowledge.

In the meantime, middle school is the time when students should start planning for life after high school — which may include jobs, military service, or college. It is essential for families to speak with their children about their passions and interests, to think about their careers, and to understand the world of work. Our community offers many comprehensive career fairs, with college campus tours, to help students start this process.

We are already on our way to preparing students for 21st century jobs.

One-third of Colorado high school students enroll in career and technical education course that provide real world jobs skills.

90 percent of those students get jobs in their field within a year of graduation.

One in five juniors and seniors take college courses while in high school. A passing grade counts for both high school and college credit.

More than one-third of Colorado high school students take an AP class. If they pass the AP exam, then they also get credit for high school and college.

In some cases, high school students can take college courses in the summers and graduate from high school and college with an associate’s degree at the same time. This is like getting two years of college for free.

Unfortunately, most people believe that their experience in school was good enough, and they don’t see a reason to change. The problem with this perspective is that the state and global economies have changed dramatically in recent years. To be successful in our transformation, we need our community to be supportive of innovation.

Here’s why:

Colorado ranks 48th in available jobs for high school graduates or dropouts.

Colorado ranks 3rd in the proportion of 2020 jobs that will require a bachelor’s degree.

Between 2010 and 2020, new Colorado jobs requiring postsecondary education and training will grow by 716,000 jobs — compared to only 268,000 for high school graduates who have no additional training.

Jobs requiring training beyond high school are growing three times faster than those requiring only a high school diploma.

In 2020, 74 percent of all jobs in Colorado will require education beyond high school.

26 percent will require a high school diploma or less.

32 percent will require some college, an associate’s degree or certificate.

29 percent will require a bachelor’s degree.

12 percent will require a master’s degree or higher.

So what does a successful graduate look like in the 21st century?

Flexible enough to adapt to changing expectations;

Able to make sense of complex problems;

Knows how to find and synthesize information;

Competes with peers across the country and the world;

Understands that mistakes provide the best opportunities for learning;

Works collaboratively with teammates, sharing best ideas and practices; and

Takes ownership of their learning and pride in the work.

What about academics? Academics and acquisition of knowledge are foundational and integrated with the above expectations. The difference is that it’s no longer about what kind of facts and formulas one can remember, but instead how one applies conceptual understanding of facts and formulas to solve new and emerging problems.

Grand Junction students are among the best prepared in the state. Our knowledge bowl teams, speech and debate teams, and music programs consistently rank high in state and national competitions. With continued community support and open communication about our transformation, our students will achieve monumental success

Free Press columnist Dan Dougherty is director of communications for School District 51: Mesa County Valley Schools. Comments and feedback are welcome at dan.dougherty@d51schools.org.

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