Recently, I signed on as a volunteer Operations Officer for a rather remarkable school. The school is called CERN (Center for Educational Resource Network), and it’s based in what is arguably one of the most dangerous and economically depressed cities in the country – Camden. CERN’s neighborhood is rife with gang activity – among them, the Latin Kings and Bloods. It is also a city where it has one of the highest crime and homicide rates of any urban center, regardless of country or locality.
And yet, standing in the CERN classrooms, you’ll find that there’s no shooting, no knifing, fighting, hollering or mayhem. Gang members from different associations sit in the same classrooms, doing their homework. Rather than violence, the rooms are abuzz with another sort of activity: students pounding away at their computer keyboards, reading their assignments, writing their essays or conversing with their colleagues as though it’s no big deal.
Like a real school should be.
“Here at CERN, we have a rule: ‘you don’t fight, you write'” as Angel Cordero, the Executive Director of CERN explained.
Founded in January 3, 2007, as a computer-based learning center serving between 20 to 30 high school level students, CERN has grown rather fast: in the past year it graduated over 400 students (and this apparently is a small year, as in prior graduations they’ve reached as high as over 800 students).
Leaving all this aside, what makes CERN stand out is its model approach: among other aspects of its programs, CERN works closely with job placement services and training schools; this is a very important point to consider – and here’s why.
There is a growing disconnect between what schools teach and what the workplace expects and needs. As reported in a McKinsey survey in December 2012 it was determined that only 42 percent of employers think students are prepared for work while 72 percent of educational institutions do. In another related recent GE survey, C-suite execs said linking schools with business was one of their top priorities.
To put it another way, 58 percent of employers do not think that schools are preparing students for the workplace while 72 percent of educational institutions think that they indeed are.
Can anyone say serious disconnect?
It begs one to ask: what is the purpose of all these conferences and seminars (with some in such cool locales as Hawaii – http://cait.hpu.edu/cait-staff-attend-google-apps-summit/)? Doesn’t anyone talk to each other? Apparently not – but with schools as CERN (and there are others as well) increasingly, the art of teaching is closely linked to the art of listening – i.e., listening to what employers need and want, what the students seek and are willing to learn – and making sure the two meet.
There are other schools out there that are making headway (and this despite the best efforts of some folks who are often critical or suspicious of these non-public school alternatives) but in CERN’s case, the Camden public school system is facing (conservatively) a drop out rate of approximately 60%: in other words, only 4 out of 10 students graduates from the Camden school system – and of those graduates, many still fail remedial reading and mathematical skills.
Mind you, the McKinsey report which raises these very issues of the disconnect between jobs and education didn’t just appear in some liberal-minded / soppy think tank: it came from that stalwart of capitalism, Forbes magazine. A good, solid education ain’t just soppy liberalism: it’s about having a good, strong solid american economy. Period.
And please, avoid couching this subject into the old, hackneyed argument of urban schools versus non-urban schools: it’s really all about the future as our nation’s labor force is going to increasingly draw upon those areas where schools are seriously lacking. Want to have a viable, taxpaying middle class in America? Think better schools because good education leads to stronger economic growth and social possibilities – and given that the workforce draw is going to rest increasingly upon those population segments traditionally lacking in education, you can kiss the American Dream goodbye: no middle class means a poor national future for us all and unless we recognize this, chances are we’re going to see – within our lifetimes – our nation fall from being a First World order to a Third World country.
Schools are ground zero for the future: we’d better make damned sure we’re meeting our goals otherwise everything goes to hell.
For more on CERN, check out the website: http://www.cerncamden.org
For more on the McKinsey report, check out this link: http://www.forbes.com/sites/joshbersin/2012/12/10/growing-gap-between-what-business-needs-and-what-education-provides/