American Student Assistance® (ASA) recently joined with the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE) and Massachusetts State Senator Anne Gobi to host a legislative briefing at the State House on Innovation Pathways. This is an initiative to expand career and technical education (CTE) opportunities to more students without building new vocational high schools.
In 2017, the Massachusetts Workforce Skills Cabinet launched the Early College and Innovation Pathways school designations as part of the High-Quality College and Career Pathways program. The goal of Innovation Pathways is to connect student learning to in-demand industries and guide students to relevant post-secondary education and training.
“It’s critically important we create purposefulness in education and engage our students, so they don’t mentally check out,” Education Secretary James Peyser said in an address to the standing-room-only crowd, which included legislative staff, elected officials, and business leaders. “We’ve worked with our partners, and ASA in particular has been tremendously supportive, to create a new pathway that provides young people with access to technical coursework, work-based learning, career coaching, and a variety of other services and supports that can move them along towards a career and a better understanding and visualization of what their future might be once they get out of high school.”
Ed Lambert, MBAE Executive Director, echoed the dire need to step-up career readiness efforts in the state. “The talent pipeline continues to be important to the economic health of this Commonwealth,” he said. “Less than 50 percent of today’s ninth graders in Massachusetts will go on to get a degree or credential, and yet 72 percent of all jobs in the Commonwealth will require that. That is a gap we all have to take some responsibility for. Innovation Pathways is a very creative way to make sure that those 80 percent of students across the Commonwealth who don’t have access to career and technical education can find it in redesigned high schools in very significant and important ways.”
A recent study completed for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education found that demand for entrance to career and technical schools in the Commonwealth increased 33 percent over the last five years, but schools were unable to meet the demand of more than 3,200 students. Innovation Pathways programs are a solution to this problem by putting hands-on learning experiences and career exploration opportunities directly into general education schools.
To receive an Innovation Pathways designation, a general education high school must go through an extensive application process with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Once a school receives the IP designation, it can restructure the learning experience to offer coursework and experience in a specific high-demand industry, such as information technology, engineering, healthcare, life sciences, and advanced manufacturing.
“ASA is excited to see more high schools across the Commonwealth embrace this innovative approach,” said Jean Eddy, ASA president and CEO, during opening remarks. “We encourage lawmakers to communicate opportunities for expansion to schools in their district and to also support inclusion of these programs in the Chapter 70 funding formula.”
Massachusetts lawmakers are currently working on a consensus bill for education reform that would overhaul the 26-year old formula for funding the state’s public schools.
The briefing presentation also included a panel featuring Jason Colombia, Principal of Danvers High School; Dr. Lisa Dana, Superintendent of Danvers Public Schools; Jeannie Hebert, President & CEO of Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce; and Mike Rubin, Principal, Uxbridge High School.
Since receiving the Innovation Pathways designation, Uxbridge High School has seen reduced drop-out rates and decreased incidences of chronic absenteeism. “With this program, we’re giving kids a compass rather than a weathervane,” said Rubin. “We’re providing more specific direction on education and career steps beyond high school, students are making more explicit connections between their interests and the internships they seek, and they’re excited by these classes. These are the classes kids want to go to.”
“These classes ignite a spark in students,” said Hebert, whose Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce was an early Innovation Pathways partner. “They also help to educate parents, many of whom have outdated notions of manufacturing, on the viability of a manufacturing career today.”
“Innovation Pathways help kids find their passion in high school and make better decisions about college and career,” said Dana. “It’s a way for all students to achieve their own version of success,” agreed Colombia, “and to build a talent pipeline in Massachusetts.”
“I wouldn’t have missed this session for the world,” said Massachusetts State Representative Theodore Speliotis (D-13th Essex). “With programs like Innovation Pathways, we’re building new ideas, not just jobs.”