It’s disconcerting that new State Department of Education data show that not enough Kansas high school students go on to college or career training programs to fill the state’s future employment needs.
Deputy Education Commissioner Brad Neuenswander told the Kansas State Board of Education that by 2020 71 percent of the jobs in Kansas will require some level of postsecondary education or training. Yet, only about 44 percent of students from Kansas high school classes of 2011 through 2015 had achieved a degree or certificate or were enrolled in a postsecondary program two years after graduation. The numbers were compiled by the National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit that tracks student data. It should be noted that students who enter the military are not counted as being enrolled in postsecondary programs.
For the Lawrence school district, 49 percent of students had completed or were enrolled in postsecondary programs two years after high school graduation, slightly better than the state as a whole but well below the numbers needed.
The State Department of Education recently began tracking the number of students who go on to college or career training programs as part of developing a new process for accrediting school districts. Currently the state does not accredit districts, but officials said the new system is intended to bring about greater accountability.
The new accreditation system is intended to go beyond standardized test scores. In addition to postsecondary education rates, the system also is expected to factor in kindergarten readiness rates, graduation rates and students’ social and emotional well-being.
Developing a new accreditation system that works to align education outcomes with long-term employment needs is a smart move. After all, the availability of skilled labor is the most critical factor in economic development.
It is troubling to know that more than half of Kansas students are not pursuing any education or job training beyond high school two years after graduation. That’s a problem that needs to be addressed quickly. And accountability should not only fall on the state’s public schools but also on the legislators who decide school funding and on the schools charged with providing postsecondary training and education.
Kansas can do better. It must do better.