Education Panel Address Value of Meaningful Partnerships for an Educated Workforce

A panel of highly qualified educators, facilitated by Dr. Nia Woods Haydel, discussed how best to prepare children for today’s workforce, urging involvement from a wide range of stakeholders throughout the community.

Dr. Lou Anna Simon, president of Michigan State University (MSU) cited what business and industry is seeking in the way of technology capabilities, but also skill sets in the humanities, and how MSU is configuring the university to address these diverse needs, given the significant cultural and educational diversity of incoming students.

Erika McConduit-Diggs, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater New Orleans discussed the expanded pathways necessary for students to be successful, which can mean more than technology capabilities.

Elliot Regenstein, who leads the Ounce of Prevention Fund’s national policy consultation practice focused on the importance of the first five years of life and the nature of the interaction with parents during those years.

“The research shows that the language gap is measurable at nine months, and by kindergarten it can be huge,” he said.

Creating language-rich environments is essential in the early years, but “as a society we have not addressed this need.”

Dr. Toya Teamer, Vice President for Student Success at Dillard University, addressed the need for determining “where we find ourselves in that pathway” that students travel, from the early years to K through 16.

She addressed aligning workforce needs at the local level, where the challenges may be less overwhelming than trying to determine collaborative potentials statewide.

Venita Richardson, who leads the US Department of Education’s Teacher Quality Programs Division in the Office of Innovation and Improvement, focused on the issue of equity accountability.

The Department of Education is looking at the issue of equity across the country, and trying to determine at the state level whether the issue of equity is being addressed

Dr. Teamer suggested that the barriers to success involve how many people need to be reported to on accountability needs and how much time educators must devote to matters other than education. “Who has the resources?” she said, “and that’s a tough question to answer.”

She noted the need for persistence in “trying to get over all the hurdles to stay persistent in trying to reach your goal.

Erika McConduit-Diggs avered that “educators are stretched too thin. We also have to remember organizational capacity,” with regard to the participation of social service agencies, which are often non-profits.

She also said the business community is saying what they need, “but they are standing on the sidelines and not participating. How are they actually participating and sitting at the table to pipeline children into the process.”

Dr. Simon cited a number of projects being conducted by Michigan State, noting that its necessary to redeploy assets in a flexible way without the bureaucracy standing in the way.

Elliot Regenstein suggested that the accountability system being used, which begins with third-grade testing, encourages administrators to focus later on the path, rather than in the pre-school years.

Venitia Richardson asserted that “the people who are in front of our children get the training and the professional development that they need. What do these educators need to have to mitigate the challenges they’re being confronted with?”

Test scores, she noted, don’t tell the story of what’s happening in the children’s home, “what happened that morning before they came in to take the test.”

Dr. Woods Haydel noted that there’s an expectation that when children arrive at college, they’re prepared. But, because of the high levels of poverty from which they come to Dillard, “they have no cultural context for dealing with the experience.”

“How do we incorporate a discussion about community?” she asked, in discussions about creating the collaboration necessary to maximize resources and opportunities.

Regenstein said his organization views using their center he works for as “a hub of the community. How do you build those partnerships? Invest in our parents? How do we create those relationships so that they know what will be involved in the K-12 setting?”

Dr. Simon noted their efforts, in addition to dividing the school into neighborhoods, have involved health centers and provided food so that children can eat whenever they want to, “so that they won’t be categorized.” The results have been a significant increase in the academic persistence of MSU’s freshmen classes.

Ms. McConduit-Diggs said that the Urban League is seeking a goal of having all high school seniors participating in a paid internship by 2018.

Dr. Teamer urged “not reinventing the wheel, because there are best practices out there in the states” for aligning the various levels of education with the needs of the business community. She also suggested looking at the goals of the various collaborating groups and agencies to see how they overlap in order to create the diverse pipelines that may be needed to meet the community’s needs.

Ms. Richardson said the Obama Department of Education takes pride in funding ideas that are “grass rooted.” She said they do take into account the value of partnerships at that level with regard to discretionary funding.

AFSA Secretary Wendi Caporicci asked the panel how receptive the unions are to allowing students in their programs into their ranks? Dr. Teamer responded that it depends entirely upon the union involved, so she suggested focusing on the union partners that are more receptive, rather than pursuing a cookie-cutter approach.

Ms. Caporicci responded that President Diann Woodard’s position on the AFL CIO Executive Council, where she interacts with the presidents of other unions, has proved very helping in building a broader understanding of the education community’s needs.

Dr. Simon noted that business leaders can be found who are progressive about finding work for potential employees who had been convicted of felonies. She also referred to a Texas employer who paired special needs students with 21st century technologies used on the job with considerable success, suggesting that the hands-on nature of their education offered more opportunities for learning than convential models currently in place in most school systems.