Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself.—John DeweyOnly since the end of World War II has high school attendance been mandatory. Back in 1945, we understood that while college could be important, finishing high school wasn't optional—it was essential. But in 2012, the stakes and requirements are much higher. To gain access to 21st century careers, workers must be significantly better educated than in generations past. And to prepare our children to participate in the global economy, our schools must do a better job of connecting education to employment.[ See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]Sixty-three percent of American jobs will require postsecondary training by 2018, and our economy will create more than 14 million new jobs over the next 10 years for people with at least a community college degree. Workers with postsecondary training already out-earn high school graduates by 84 percent. Despite this, a startlingly low percentage of college students—30 percent at four-year colleges, and only about one in four at two-year colleges—finish their degrees. Lack of finances certainly can limit opportunities, but the biggest problems are inadequate academic preparation and the absence of a clearly delineated pathway from education to career.Forward-thinking mayors like New York's Michael Bloomberg and Chicago's Rahm Emanuel understand this problem, and are exerting leadership to correct it. Starting this September, the City of Chicago will open five grades nine through 14 schools that will confer both a high school diploma and an associate degree. Each school will operate as a public-private partnership among the school system, the community college system, and a corporate employer. Students will be exposed to innovative curricula that include the development of workplace skills and will be prepared for entry-level positions in high technology and other growth industries. Upon obtaining their degrees, graduates will be first in line for jobs with their schools' corporate partners. It's a smarter approach to education, to strengthening the American economy, and to making our cities better places to live and work.[ Read the U.S. News debate: Is a College Degree Still Worth It?]Chicago's initiative to connect education to employment is based on the Roadmap for Career and Technical Education created by IBM technical experts as part of A Smarter Cities Challenge grant, and on the STEM Pathways to College and Careers School Guide—developed after the opening of the Pathways to Technology Early College High School, or P-TECH, in Brooklyn, N.Y. With no special admissions requirements, the P-TECH grades nine through 14 model represents a new paradigm for public institutions that connect education to jobs.As announced a few weeks ago, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology has identified a need for four million STEM graduates over the next 10 years. Accordingly, President Obama's budget called for more than $100 million to prepare 100,000 new science, technology, engineering, and math teachers to help fill the STEM pipeline. And Congress has held several bipartisan hearings exploring how to more effectively prepare our students in STEM fields.Praised by President Obama at a town hall meeting last September, the grades nine through 14 model launched by the New York City Department of Education, the City University of New York, and IBM works within existing budgets in any locale where parents, students, and the public and private sectors are open to an innovative approach to improving education and strengthening the economy. As Chicago announces its plans for five grades nine through 14 schools based on the P-TECH model, New York City is tripling down with three additional schools because of the success of the first one.
Corrected on : Corrected 2/28/2012: A previous version of this article misstated the number of STEM graduates that will be needed over the next 10 years, according to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. The council has identified the need for four million STEM graduates.