03.05.2013 | Posted by Amy Shapiro, Senior Program Associate, STEP-UP Achieve
Our STEP-UP on-line applications closed on March 4 and over 4,300 young people applied to be part of our 2013 program! This concluded one season in the life of our STEP-UP Achieve staff and quickly ushered in the next one. Now that we’ve wrapped up intern recruitment we're now jumping right into work-readiness training and job placement mode!
From December-March, STEP-UP Achieve staffers were busily in and out of Twin Cities high schools and middle schools. We made STEP-UP presentations to students in classrooms, stopped by lunchrooms to distribute flyers and answer questions and worked hard to make sure that all eligible students heard about the great opportunity to be part of our 2013 summer program.
Students are often excited to see us return to their schools and remember us from years past. I’ve become accustomed to hearing “Hey, you’re the STEP-UP lady!” in the hallways of Roosevelt High!
This year we launched a brand new STEP-UP video for our classroom pitches. We also introduced some new “I Applied” stickers to our recruitment process and they quickly became hot commodities in schools. Students were proud to wear a sticker and show their peers that they applied to STEP-UP.
Another big change this year was our move to an on-line application, which made the application process much easier and quicker for students. As a result we received far more STEP-UP applications much earlier in the process than ever before and fewer students waited until the last minute.
At the high schools we visited many students had never heard of STEP-UP before and at first had trouble wrapping their minds around the fact that they could get a real professional job this summer. “Wait, do I pay them, or do they pay me?” was one of the cutest questions I received this year. As soon as we tell students they could earn $1000 to over $2000 this summer, they are all ears!
It’s such a privilege to speak to students about the opportunity to participate in STEP-UP, gain essential work-readiness skills and receive a paid and professional summer job in a career field that interests them. It’s so exciting to see their eyes light up as they begin to picture themselves in professional settings this summer.
Chairman Marquart, representatives, and members of the public, thank you for the opportunity to speak before you today.
My name is Pam Costain. I am the President and CEO of AchieveMpls, the independent, non-profit partner of the Minneapolis Public Schools. The mission of AchieveMpls is to increase career and college readiness for all students in Minneapolis schools and to provide opportunities so that every student – regardless of family income, ethnicity, personal circumstances or zip code – has the tools, support and guidance they need to plan for and achieve post-secondary success.
We are deeply committed, as are you, to the elimination of our state’s shocking achievement gap, a gap which is impacting low-income, minority and immigrant students in ways that are unacceptable both for our students and for the future prosperity of our state.
I want to address three issues today. First I want to discuss the achievement gap in relationship to workforce development, the economic future of our state and the high stakes facing poor children and families. Second, I want to share strategies for career and college readiness being implemented in Minneapolis Public Schools that are making a difference in the lives of young people and which can be replicated. Finally, I want to discuss a specific policy issue that could have a major impact on secondary education moving forward.
Historically Minnesota has been a national leader in understanding the direct correlation between a highly educated population and economic prosperity: it pays to invest in our young people because that investment will return to us hundred-fold.
Minneapolis is home to more Fortune 500 companies per capita than any other city in the nation due in large part to the knowledge-based economy of our region and the high level of education of our citizens. Minnesotaitself ranks third in the nation in its need for a highly-educated workforce.
The often-cited 2010 report from the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce predicts that by 2018, 70% of all jobs in Minnesota will require post-secondary education. But unfortunately supply is not keeping up with demand. As early as 2010, the Governor’s Workforce Development Council warned of a “growing skills gapwithenormous implications for Minnesota’s economic competitiveness.”
Across Minnesota, and particularly in the Twin Cities, the skills gap is directly linked to the academic achievement gap. People of color are the Twin Cities’ fastest growing population. Their numbers have increased 38% since 2000, compared to a 3% increase among whites.
As the demographics of the Twin Cities change dramatically, we are also experiencing the worst employment gap between black and white residents in the nation. And this employment gap is directly correlated to educational disparities and the gap in academic attainment. In 2011, 67% of white students graduated in four years from Minneapolis Public Schools, while only 38% of black students, 34% of Hispanic students, and 22% of Native Americans graduated in four years.
AchieveMpls focuses on increasing career and college readiness and addressing the opportunity gap that exists for many low-income students as one distinct way to address the achievement gap. I would like to describe three of the most promising strategies we use which could be replicated across the state.
First, “My Life Plan” is a curriculum which helps students in grades 6 – 12 develop appropriate academic, post-secondary and career goals. We have worked closely with Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) to develop and implement this tool, an electronic portfolio of activities and milestones that enables every MPS student to identify interests, skills, talents and attributes that will lead to appropriate career choices and plan for post-secondary success. 100% of high school students in Minneapolis access this tool, as do a majority of middle school students. The U.S. Department of Education has identified five key recommendations for students successfully completing high school. Having a college and career plan is one of the key factors they cite.
In my opinion the State of Minnesota needs one consistent planning tool like My Life Plan that can be used by every student in the state and that follows that student across grades and school districts. Such a portfolio would be a key tool for post-secondary success and would provide consistency, guidance and a set of best practices to be used by all.
In addition to My Life Plan, Minneapolis has developed a system of Career and College Centers in every high school. These full-time centers provide a full spectrum of services to help students negotiate the transition from high school to college and careers. They are especially critical for young people whose families have no knowledge of or experience with college. They provide a basic infrastructure to support career and college readiness and access, even if those supports do not exist at home. They directly address disparities which compound the achievement gap and provide a place for volunteers in the community to directly support students. Research affirms that providing one-to-one connections for students has proven to have a powerful impact on learning and desired college outcomes. (Source: Student Engagement Evidence Summary, Trowler, 2010)
One key activity in the Career and College Centers I would like to highlight is increasing the number of students who complete the FAFSA, the federal student financial aid form. The U.S. Department of Education has identified a direct correlation between completing the FAFSA and attending college the year following high school. As a result they are doubling down on FAFSA completion as a key strategy to assist low income students to get to college. In 2011 79% of the MPS graduating class that completed the FAFSA went directly to college. Utilizing the career and college centers as community hubs, volunteers work with students to eliminate these and other barriers to college access.
The third strategy to increase career and college readiness and eliminate the achievement gap is to provide more youth access to work experiences and internships. Research shows that young people who work are more likely to graduate, less likely to be involved with crime, less likely to become teenage parents, and more likely to achieve greater lifetime earnings (Source: Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, 2011). “Overall, employment, education, and training in job skills equip adolescents with the ability to secure jobs and assist them in becoming self-sufficient adults. (Source:Jekielek, Cochran & Hair, 2002).
Each year AchieveMpls collaborates with the City of Minneapolis and the private sector to provide more than 1500 jobs to young people through the STEP-UP youth employment program. Nearly half of the jobs are employer-paid internships with some of the largest companies in the city. Why is an employment program like STEP-UP critical to addressing the achievement gap?
First, it provides exposure to the world of work, introducing young people to careers they do not even know exist and opportunities they could never have imagined. This is particularly critical for low-income youth. Second, it trains young people in the soft skills they need to be successful, and that employers decry as absent in so many younger employees, – skills such as perseverance, team work, critical thinking, problem solving, conflict management, appropriate communication and more. These skills lead not only to success on the job, but also success in school. Finally, internships make the academic work of high school come alive for many students, especially those who may be struggling to see the relevance of high school to their future aspirations.
I implore the members of this committee to begin to shape an education system that recognizes work experience and internships as one particularly critical factor to help eliminate the opportunity and achievement gap for low-income youth.
Finally I would like to address a policy issue with major implications for the future of high schools. That is the issue of using “seat time” as the basis for measuring educational attainment, rather than “competency-based learning or proficiency”. The Alliance of Excellent Education issued a report just this week describing innovative work being done in New Hampshire to rethink the high school experience. As they state, “For a century, most students have advanced from grade to grade based on the number of days they spend in class, but New Hampshire schools have moved from ’seat time’ and toward ’competency-based learning,’ which advances students when they have mastered course content.” (Source:Strengthening High School Teaching and Learning in New Hampshire’s Competency-Based System.)
Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education commented on this trend: “When people are buying a new car, they don’t ask how long it took to build. Instead, they ask how well it performs. For too long, the nation’s education system has promoted students based on how long they spent sitting in a classroom rather than what they have learned. New Hampshire’s experience, although still evolving, holds tremendous promise as an approach for improving student learning outcomes in a system that encourages advancement by demonstrating competency instead of completing seat time.”
This issue is critical for the legislature to examine because it has everything to do with how we will organize our high schools for the future. In my opinion, school districts need much more flexibility to meet the needs of 21st Century learners. A more open and flexible system based on mastering competencies would allow Minnesota students to utilize internships, community service and alternative pathways to gain and demonstrate skills. Our future workforce will need to be highly adept at moving between education and work, between the workplace and the community, between cultures, and between the local and the global.
I believe that Minnesota has the will and the resources to address the achievement gap, the opportunity gap and the gap in career and college readiness, but this task will require resources, greater openness to innovation, increased flexibility and an integrated vision of the connection between school, work and the community.
If we want a strong state in five, ten or twenty years, we will have to invest in young people now and operate from the belief that each and every one of youth in our state must be prepared to access additional education and career-oriented opportunities after high school. That is the only path to prosperity for our youth and for our state.
Thank you for the opportunity to present AchieveMpls’ ideas and solutions to you today.