Opinion

California must design education that keeps up with the times, Influencers say

Students fill the sidewalk at the University of California, Berkeley, the flagship campus of the UC system. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
Students fill the sidewalk at the University of California, Berkeley, the flagship campus of the UC system. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File) AP

Note to readers: Each week through November 2019, a selection of our 101 California Influencers answers a question that is critical to California’s future. Topics include education, healthcare, environment, housing and economic growth.

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California Influencers this week answered the question: What Can We Do to Make Sure Our Kids Get Jobs? Below are the Influencers’ answers in their entirety.

Monica Lozano – President and CEO, College Futures Foundation

“California has always been a state of boom and bust, big ideas, and seismic shifts. There is one known for us Californians: the unknown. When it comes to the jobs of the future, we can bank on change—even if we don’t know exactly what that change will be.

“Concerns about how artificial intelligence, automation, and outsourcing will affect our future workforce are reaching a fever pitch. However, business leaders and economic researchers agree: you cannot outsource creativity, critical thinking, and innovation. Those are the foundations upon which California’s economic and societal successes have been built.

“A college education sharpens those skills and produces adaptable, resilient, employable individuals who can succeed in an ever-changing labor market.

“College degrees matter. Those who hold bachelor’s degrees make $1 million more over a lifetime and are half as likely to be unemployed as those with only a high school diploma.

“What can we do to make sure our kids get jobs? Smooth the path for them to attend and complete college in a timely fashion without crushing debt.

“That will require leaders working in partnership across sectors to invest in real opportunities for young people to learn, work, and thrive.”

Linda Darling-Hammond – President, California State Board of Education

“There are currently more jobs available in the US economy than there are job-seekers to fill them. However, employers struggle to find qualified workers because our educational systems don’t always prepare students for modern work. In 1970, the top three skills demanded by Fortune 500 companies were reading, writing, and arithmetic. By 2000, they were collaboration, interpersonal skills, and communication. In an era of rapid knowledge expansion and technology changes, employers need critical thinkers and problem solvers who can work together to create new solutions and products, not just follow routines.

“Over the last decade, California has adopted new standards, curriculum frameworks, and assessments emphasizing more of the skills our modern economy requires — the capacity to evaluate and use knowledge to solve problems, and to learn independently. In addition, educators around the state are working to develop in students other important skills, like self-management, personal and social responsibility, and resilience.

“Looking forward, we need to deepen these efforts to prepare our young people for the 21st century economy by investing in educators’ knowledge and skills so they can create and spread the practices that will transform schools for these new demands.”

Christine Robertson – Executive Director, San Luis Coastal Education Foundation

“Our students don’t just need jobs. They need the right jobs. The workplaces of the future are being rapidly reshaped by advancements in automation and artificial intelligence. While these changes will create new centers of wealth and opportunity over the coming decades, this progress will come at the estimated cost of 40-50% of present day jobs that will be eclipsed by machines. Without thoughtful action by educators, industry leaders and policymakers, this coming workforce displacement will serve to further marginalize vulnerable populations and grow the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Preparing all of our students with the skills that will be in demand in the coming decades is an economic and social justice imperative.”

“Workforce trends in this Fourth Industrial Revolution suggest that technical and digital literacy will be necessary but not sufficient. Our students must be prepared to augment and direct technology with their uniquely human social, creative and collaborative capabilities. Moving beyond fact and skill-based instruction, a modern education will cultivate curiosity and challenge students to become agile lifelong learners who can evolve their skills to keep pace in a dynamic and changing world.”

Timothy P. White – Chancellor, California State University

“The California State University is the state’s leading source of career-ready graduates. In fact, one out of every 10 California employees holds a CSU degree.

“Because the future of work is changing – perhaps faster and more dramatically than at any other time in history – our faculty and academic leadership work closely with industry leaders. Together, we identify California’s evolving workforce needs and ensure that our curriculum stays in lockstep with traditional, contemporary and emerging industries.

“These partnerships with industry leaders also lead to internships and other hands-on learning experiences that not only help our students develop the skills today’s employers seek, but also to discover their professional interests, talents and passions.

“Over the next decade, the state will face a growing shortage of college graduates to meet its needs for an increasingly educated and sophisticated workforce. That’s why we’ve implemented Graduation Initiative 2025. We are adding new courses, faculty and academic support to serve more Californians and enable every student to graduate in a timely manner and help power California’s new economy.”

Cynara Lilly – Principal, RALLY Communications

“There are two simple things we must do well – and a million more great ideas ranging from ensuring that employers to their part, to changing the legacy sham in college admissions or addressing the institutional racism that keeps kids of color out of AP courses. But the reality (as catchphrase-y as it sounds) is that our education system is built for an 1800s reality and our current economy is barely 20 years old. No person, no job, no future is the same – yet our system drives to create students based on statistical averages that tell us nothing about skills needed, kids themselves, or what careers look like. On its face, this should drive us to reject blanket policies about the types of schools we allow or requirements on how teachers teach. Beyond point one – that we need to have more diverse education that reflects modern society — is also the critical truth that must stop graduating kids that are woefully unprepared. Students who can’t read, or write or do basic math are unlikely to succeed. We must invest in education, support students and reject the trope that failure is somehow related to a student’s background. This is a gross excuse steeped in racism that must be jettisoned.”

Ted Lempert – President, Children Now

“To make sure our kids get jobs, they need equitable access to high-quality education, including early childhood education. A high-quality education provides kids with a full-range of supports that promote their social, emotional, mental, physical and cognitive development, so they can graduate from high school ready to meet their full potential. An education rich in STEM instruction is one essential element. Through STEM education, kids gain problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, inquiry, and collaboration skills -- skills all employers say they need. STEM training is also associated with higher earnings, regardless of the type of job. And for students interested in a STEM career, the chances of getting a job are far better. Employment in STEM occupations has grown 79 percent since 1990, outpacing overall U.S. job growth, and government forecasts have STEM employment growing significantly faster over the next decade. Since about one-third of STEM workers have less than a bachelor’s degree, our community colleges play a major role here too. It is heartbreaking that California employers look elsewhere to fill STEM jobs because we are not properly preparing our kids for these jobs. Let’s truly prioritize education and do right by our children and collective future.”

Janet Napolitano – President, University of California

“The question should not be, “What can we do to make sure our kids get jobs?” Rather, we should ask, “How can we prepare our children for good jobs?” To that end, many will need access to a high-quality education, which requires greater state investment in our three higher education segments: California Community Colleges, California State University, and the University of California. At UC our role is to graduate well-educated students who have what employers say they want: the skills to think critically and creatively, work well in teams, and communicate effectively. Our students also will need to be agile, as most can no longer expect to remain with one employer throughout their lives, nor can they expect that today’s tools of the trade will stay the same in the years to come. And as educators, we must think deeply about how to prepare students for jobs that do not yet exist. After all, companies like Google and Facebook weren’t even around more than two decades ago, and now they employ large numbers of UC graduates. We can expect even greater changes to the workplace in the future, and our students will need to be prepared for the ever-evolving landscape of industries, technologies and professions.”

Connie Leyva – California State Senator (D-Chino)

“California must do a better job of providing opportunities for learning and training to students interested in pursuing non-traditional education and career paths. Not everyone wants or needs to go to college in order to fulfill their dreams or meet their personal needs. We must elevate career technical education training as an option for students, so they know that career options are as diverse as the people in California. Our state needs mechanics, doctors, social workers, nurses, custodians and engineers alike so California can continue to thrive.”

“From incentivizing career tech courses and pathways aligned to industry needs to working with local entities to develop internship programs (especially paid), we all have a role in getting students on the path to gainful employment. Workforce development efforts must be developed regionally, since areas like the Inland Empire have different employment needs and priorities than Silicon Valley or the Central Coast.”

“We must also ensure that students are financially and technologically literate since so much of future success now depends on those skill sets. The need for soft skills development—making eye contact, being punctual, having a problem-solving attitude, being able to work with co-workers, etc.—can also not be understated.”

Myrna Castrejon – President and CEO, California Charter Schools Association

“The disconnect between our public education system and the ability to empower knowledgeable workers seems wider than ever. We either narrowly focus on skills and competencies that are no longer relevant for a changing economy, or we focus on the humanistic aspects of teaching and learning like socio-emotional learning, trauma informed education, and supports in schools for students who increasingly depend on schools as the core public institution to connect with.

“The truth is that we need our public schools to be innovative places of both joy and rigor, allowing students to explore their passions while giving them the critical foundations that will help them be inquisitive and self-directed, while also teaching and modeling empathy, and fundamental life skills.

“So, what can we do to make sure our kids are getting jobs? By ensuring they’re getting a personalized education that encourages student voices and promotes innovative thinking, regardless of whether or not the post-secondary path includes technical education or a traditional 4-year college.

“Our public education system is woefully suspicious of and resistant to innovation. We must change the way we fund, deliver and think about our kids’ education. Personalization is key.”

Eloy Ortiz Oakley – Chancellor, California Community Colleges

“Californians must begin to recognize that in today’s economy, a college credential is required for meaningful employment that is able to lift up families and communities. At the same time, we face a crisis: More than 40 percent of students who go to college in this country never finish. For many students whose parents aren’t wealthy enough to buy their way into so-called elite colleges, the deck has been stacked against them.

“We must invest more in education -- from early childhood education to college and continuing education. We must change systems that have not been designed with students’ foremost in mind and which disproportionately put low-income students and students of color at a disadvantage. It’s time to eliminate the SAT and ACT admissions exams, which more accurately measure family wealth than college readiness. And it is time to be honest about college affordability. The true cost of attending a California community college – even with its low or free tuition - is often higher than UC or CSU. Expanding need-based financial aid to community college students will provide the help they need to succeed in college and create a more balanced system of aid in California.”

Ling Ling Chang – California State Senator (R-Diamond Bar)

“We should all be aware that Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) are in crucial demand nationwide and across many industries. As legislators, we need to encourage today’s youth to participate in STEM fields for tomorrow’s future.

“The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that jobs in the computer and information technology industry will outplace job growth in other industries, creating more than half a million new jobs with an annual median wage of $84,000.

“We need to help prepare students to be competitive in the workforce and become leaders in the technology and computing industry.

“We can do this by supporting computer science programs in our schools. Let’s increase the amount of State Lottery Funds that must be made available to public schools, and commit these additional dollars to computer science education.

“We also need to support female STEM students and researchers. Not only do women in STEM jobs earn 44% more than those in non-STEM occupations, but they also foster and open and diverse scientific community.”

Vernon Billy – CEO and Executive Director, California School Boards Association

“We must prioritize a high-quality education for every child, one where all students benefit from relevant curriculum, appropriate supports, expanded professional development for teachers, and a greater focus on instruction. To keep pace with technologically driven change, knowledge of basic computer science theories should be included across grade levels. These foundational changes require dramatically improved school funding levels and an even higher level of differentiated assistance for districts in need.

“We must pursue stronger public–private partnerships that give students a chance to develop their skills and use them in a real-world environment. We should also emphasize career prep that nurtures important skills like oral and written communication, critical thinking, and collaboration that hold increased importance in an era where more employees have non-traditional work arrangements or change jobs every few years.

“This important work is happening in schools across California, but it needs to be the standard and the state needs to provide the resources to make that feasible. In sum, we need to invest in the creation of a school system where young people can explore their talents, develop an action plan to realize their dreams, and acquire the skills needed for the workplace and society at-large.”

Kim Belshe – Executive Director, First 5 LA

“Start early. Today’s young children are tomorrow’s adults in the workforce. It’s a simple fact that should drive every single decision on every single issue government and business leaders make. We all want kids to be prepared for the jobs of the tomorrow. That means, we must all act today.

“Research tells us that developmental disparities emerge as early as nine months and can double by the time children are two. And, we know children who start kindergarten behind – disproportionately low income, children of color and dual language learners – tend to stay behind. Such inequities are unjust and have long-term implications for not only our children, but our workforce and economy.

“Governor Newsom gets it. His “cradle-to-career” proposals recognize that if we want to support our kids to succeed in school, attend college and be part of a dynamic workforce, we have to start early. So, let’s strengthen the workforce of tomorrow by supporting what young children need today to be successful – quality early learning, timely developmental screening and early intervention, and family-strengthening home visiting.”

Deborah Kong Program Officer, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation

“In my role at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, I’ve placed my bets squarely on early childhood. The first five years of a child’s life help build the foundations for a lifetime of health and success. Everyone who cares for children—from parents and teachers to pediatricians and neighbors—is part of a web of support responsible for ensuring every child grows up curious, confident, and healthy, with the best early education and health care we can give them.

“Research shows that children who attend high-quality early childhood education are more likely to have college degrees and jobs. And peek into a quality preschool classroom, child care, or play group, and you’ll find teachers and caregivers fostering the skills most valued in today’s workforce – children collaborating, learning team work, solving problems, and adapting to meet new challenges. Giving our babies and young children a strong, early start is the smartest thing we can do to set them up for success.”

Rosie Arroyo Board Chair, Hispanas Organized for Political Equality

“California youth and families are facing many challenges ranging from affordable housing to access to healthcare and transportation. To prepare youth to meet the current and future workforce needs of the state, we need to get serious about this issue and make equity a priority. We need courageous leadership to drive a bold, expansive vision and action plan that is focused on equity and meets the urgent and long-term needs of today’s communities – particularly communities of color which represent a significant portion of the state’s population.

Instead of building the human capital of our youth, we have a system that perpetuates systemic barriers that generate inequities and block access to opportunity thus creating greater economic disparities between those who have access and those who do not. We need to sound the alarm and take bold action to address the educational crisis of our state. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment.

“We need to catalyze a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach that is cross-sectoral and is grounded on the needs of communities. To start, we need government to step up and make serious investments in education to ensure our most vulnerable students have every opportunity to succeed in their educational attainment. We cannot be leaders in policy and keep our education system in poverty. We need to support smart policies that make education, from early education to higher education more accessible and affordable for low-income children and youth. Government and the business community, including emerging sectors, need to work together to make investments that support the development of career readiness pipelines. Corporations need to take increased leadership and make meaningful investments to engage youth in STEM fields, invest in accelerator and training programs that develop career pipelines and challenge employers to give opportunities to disadvantaged youth.

“This is beyond leveling the field. It is about giving the most disadvantaged youth a springboard to accelerate progress that is much overdue. As a society, we have much to gain from these investments. Investing in our youth is investing in the future of California.”

Mike Madrid – Principal, Grassroots Lab

“California is creating jobs for high and low income earners. We are losing middle class jobs - in fact, the middle class is shrinking for the first time in a century.

“A middle class requires high wage jobs for non-college educated families. These are in industries that California has been consciously pushing out of the state. By any reasonable standard our state is over taxed and over regulated. Those that suffer are those that need jobs the most.

“Curiously, just as Latinos are becoming a majority of the workforce - the middle class is shrinking and our policies have stunted economic mobility. 55% of Latinos don’t qualify as middle class.

“While we can and should focus on educational reform and workforce training as long term solutions, we can have an immediate impact in suffering workers today by dramatically revising onerous regulations on industries that employ working families without college degrees.

“An economy that promotes a middle class enables higher income workers to have more reliability in their employment while also creating pathways for economic advancement for the poor. That used to be the California Dream - it’s gone. It’s time we recommitted ourselves to being a state that provides opportunity and advancement for all - not just the wealthy and highly educated.”

Michele Siqueiros – President, The Campaign for College Opportunity

“If high schools, community colleges, universities and businesses worked beyond the walls of their own buildings and collaborated purposefully with each other, our students might experience a clearer pathway of support and connection from education through career. Too often, our students traverse a maze of disconnected experiences as they attempt to navigate their path from education to a job. We need stronger advising and clearer pathways in K-12 and higher education that ensure equitable access for all students regardless of race/ethnicity, gender or income. If we truly want to stop leaving many striving and talented young people behind, businesses need to provide greater access to social capital networks that currently only serve the well to-do and well connected.”

Dan Schnur, a veteran analyst and longtime participant in California politics, is director of the California Influencers series for McClatchy.
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