Think about that for a second. Not only are New Jersey’s inner city high schools only graduating half of its students, but half of those graduates attending community college are not truly prepared.
This fact is troubling on many levels, but the important point for me is that many of these students currently struggling to get started at community college should have had other, better options. We need to move beyond the current mantra that high school is seen as little more than the prerequisite for college, and that college is necessary for any student determined to improve his or her economic position.
Whether the field is health care, building trades, or other skills where training, but not necessarily a college degree, is required, our high schools do an extremely poor job partnering with the business community to create programs that prepare students for careers where college is not essential. You may not particularly like the European system, with its clear policies of tracking, but it does a much better job of preparing a greater cross section of its students for careers. It may be the historical connection to guilds that creates this determination to give students the skills to succeed, but our lack of a historical connection does not preclude our schools from doing the same thing.
Not all students should be steered towards college after graduation. For inner city students, given the current state of affairs, this is clearly the case. It is time to disengage our inner city schools from existing state mandates and allow them to independently create programs that address the particular needs of its student body. A visionary leader, one that is knowledgeable and respectful of student perspectives and needs, can establish a school culture that is challenging, focused, and buoyed by tangible opportunities for the student body borne out of meaningful connections between the school and the private and non-profit sectors in the region. Only then will there be true paths to success for our inner city students, rather than channel them into a system destined to result in frustration, debt, and disappointment.