Expanded learning opportunities for high school students through methods such as work-based experiences, innovative technology, and personalized lesson plans have the potential to help address projected skill and knowledge shortages in the nation’s workforce, according to a new policy brief from the Alliance for Excellent Education.
“More so than with students in elementary and middle schools, ‘anytime, anyplace’ learning has especially strong potential for high school students, whose unique needs and challenges are often best met outside the traditional high school structure,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Surpassing traditional boundaries of education is essential in order to help more students graduate college and career ready in the twenty-first century, which in turn aids the nation’s future economic outlook.”
The brief “Expanding Learning Opportunities: A More Comprehensive Approach to Preparing High School Students for College and a Career” suggests that schools consider a variety of innovative strategies as they strive to graduate more students who are ready for college and a career. Possible methods include allowing flexibility regarding time, location, and delivery of education; providing opportunities for students to apply knowledge in real-world situations; and ensuring social and academic supports.
According to the brief, a survey of high school dropouts shows 32 percent said they did not graduate because they took a job, 26 percent said it was because they became parents, and 22 percent said it was because they had to help their families. An “anytime, anywhere” learning strategy that allows students to take credit-bearing courses online or provides workplace learning opportunities for students to apply their learning can help create a more personalized system of learning that is both aligned with rigorous academic standards and suited to meet the unique needs of today’s high school students.
The twenty-first-century global economy is demanding more from educators than just employing traditional teaching methods. Employers increasingly want to hire individuals who can apply knowledge in creative ways, and schools need to prepare students for this new job market. Unfortunately, the nation’s schools are falling behind in this regard. According to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce (the Center), the U.S. economy is estimated to require 22 million new employees with postsecondary education in the next decade, but the nation is expected to fall 3 million degrees short.
“The Center’s projections highlight an unfortunate long-term economic trend—one that places a particular focus on the nation’s high school students,” Wise said. “The economy now requires a knowledge- and innovation-centered workforce, and as the composition and demands of the American workforce continue to evolve, so too must the American high school.”
Expanded learning opportunities engage students in creative means of education that apply directly to real-life situations through service learning, work-based learning, technology-based learning, and other methods, the brief finds. An innovative approach that focuses on relating students’ learning to their futures can be particularly helpful for low-income students or students of color who may not otherwise have access to postsecondary experiences or real-world role models.
“Expanding Learning Opportunities” provides case studies from California’s Linked Learning initiative, United LA, Big Picture Learning, and the National Academy Foundation that show examples of successful expanded learning initiatives.
To learn more about how states and school districts can better prepare students through expanded learning opportunities, read the full brief here.