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High School Unemployment Hits 24%, Education Department Pushes Reform

by Kelly Petty, published
credit: John F. Williams, U.S. Navy

High School Redesign Initiative

The Obama administration set out last Friday across the nation to promote the High School Redesign Initiative. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited Aviation High School in Long Island City, New York, to highlight the success of the high school in an effort to promote transforming the way students are prepared for the workforce once they graduate.

Focusing on several changes — including mentorship, dual enrollment, and counseling for college — the administration hopes to align the goals of high school with the need to better prepare students for careers post-graduation, or the transition to college.

In his State of the Union address in February, President Obama highlighted his reasons for improving secondary education through the initiative:

"...I'm announcing a new challenge to redesign America's high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy... We'll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering and math."

The High School Redesign Initiative will offer several competitive grants to school districts that partner with local businesses, nonprofit organizations, and local colleges, among others, to develop opportunities for students to gain job experience and potentially career credit while in high school. Three hundred million dollars in grants have been set aside to spur mentorship and apprenticeship projects, and special consideration will be given to school districts who serve urban and rural students or any other disadvantaged groups.

The other part of the Initiative involves expanding and improving Career and Technical Education. The Obama administration wants to reauthorize the Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE) program by allotting $1.1 billion to encourage states to align their education goals with the needs of employers and high-demand industries.

The Education Department has also proposed additional funding to academic achievement programs such as Upward Bound, GEAR, and TRIO, which reach out to low-income students to prepare them for college placement and post-secondary education.

With recent unemployment numbers revealing that people between the ages of 16 and 19 are sitting at a rate of 24 percent, the need to ensure youth can find gainful employment right out of high school is significant.

Duncan hopes these efforts are bolstered by success stories like Aviation High School. The high school trains students on Aviation Maintenance Technology by allowing students to gain hands on experience and earn certification so that by the time they graduate, students can either move into the workforce or enroll in college with course credits.

This initiative comes at a time when the administration is pushing states to completely turnaround current education models to move the nation’s school systems into the 21st century. Starting with offering No Child Left Behind waivers in favor of the Common Core State Standards initiative, President Obama has worked to seize an opportunity to make America’s workforce more competitive with emerging nations and economic powerhouses like India, China, and Japan, who are forging the way in engineering and technology production.

However, it is uncertain whether all of America’s more than 24,000 high schools will be able to make the necessary changes considering many states are struggling to maintain adequate budgets in the face of an unwavering economic crisis, limited revenues, and lean budgets.

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