Preparing students for tech and “middle skill” jobs

The Brookings Institution offers new insight into the often-overlooked opportunities available in “middle skill” careers. (Blog post here; brief here.) There’s been much concern expressed regarding the shrinking middle class. What’s welcome about the Brookings report is the specificity of forward-looking policy prescriptions. 

Three sets of policies should help address these problems:

  1. Providing more resources to community (and lower-tier 4-year) colleges but also creating incentives and accountability by basing state subsidies on student completion rates and earnings of graduates;
  2. Expanding high-quality career and technical education plus work-based learning models like apprenticeship; and
  3. Assisting and incentivizing employers to create more good jobs. 

As we’ve noted, 70 percent of Washington jobs in 2020 will require postsecondary education and training. Many of them will be the middle skill jobs that expand economic opportunity and security for the majority of Washington households. Brookings has it right.

So, too, does former Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Scott Carson, who advocates for more STEM education, particularly for young women.

Targeted investment in education that produces positive outcomes must continue to be the state’s priority. It’s both likely and proper that lawmakers, then, will set aside funding for Initiative 1351 until voters approve a way to pay for it.

The Everett Herald today editorializes in favor of sending the measure back to the voters. The Senate approved a referral Monday; House Democrats see problems with that approach (though they agree full funding is not likely).  

An Elway Poll finds that voters still like the idea of smaller class sizes at every grade level, the 1351 mandate, even if higher taxes are required. But because the poll did not specify which taxes or how much money would be necessary, lawmakers are justified in believing voters would show buyer’s remorse should they have a second chance to consider the measure. 

Pollster H. Stuart Elway noted that the lead for I-1351 evaporated last year as opponents hammered on the cost.

“This smaller lead might be vulnerable once real dollars are attached,” he said.

More important than worrying about how to pay for I-1351 is the real priority: Aligning incentives, accountability and funding to assure that every Washington student has the opportunity for career and college success.


Washington #3 in Online Jobs Market for College Graduates

Washington ranks as the third best state in the nation for online job opportunities for college graduates, according to a new report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. From the press release:

Massachusetts, Delaware, and Washington State provide college graduates with the best odds of landing a job, according to a new report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

Washington does remarkably well on a several critical measures, as the graphic below from the Washington State page in the executive summary shows.

Georgetown WA page

One reason for Washington’s strong performance:

Washington State ranks high due to the presence of tech giants like Microsoft Corp., the largest online retailer, Inc., and related services.

Nationally, technical skills offer graduates the best prospects.

Quarterly, there are 1.24 online job ads per 100 college-educated workers in the overall economy … STEM jobs offer the best prospects for college graduates, with about three job ads per 100 workers. Managerial and professional office occupations and healthcare professional and technical occupations also offer good prospects. 

There’s a lot to mine in the report, which reinforces observations we have made. 

By 2020, estimates are that 70 percent of jobs in Washington will require some form of postsecondary education (compared to 65 percent nationally).

Although Washington ranks 13th nationally in private sector job creation, 25,000 job openings in our state went unfilled for three months or more in 2013 because of a mismatch between the skills needed by employers and the qualifications of prospective employees. These openings were heavily concentrated in high-demand fields such as health care, information technology and engineering. Absent concerted action to address this skills gap, that number is expected to increase to 50,000 unfilled jobs by 2017.

The opportunities are here, now. We need to make certain that Washingtonians have the training and education they need to succeed in the 21st Century economy.

Growing the economy and expanding opportunity through education and innovation

GeekWire reports today on a letter sent by dozens of tech, education and business leaders urging support of legislation to expand computer science education in the state. The measure, HB 1813,  has passed House committees on education and appropriations. From the letter:

There are currently 20,000 open computing jobs across all industries in Washington, and these jobs are growing at three times the state average. In 2014, there were only 1,200 computer science graduates at the university level, and among high school AP Computer Science test takers, only 260 were female. Only 48 were black or Hispanic. We compare that to 20,000 open jobs and wonder: why is this course only offered in 7 percent of our high schools?

Besides the jobs, computer science is foundational for all students. Every student learns about photosynthesis and electricity, without pursuing careers as botanists or electricians. For today’s students, it’s equally relevant to know what an algorithm is or how the Internet works.

The effort is also discussed in this op-ed in the Seattle Times by Hadi Partovi.

More evidence of the importance of a solid tech education comes from a recent study for the Washington Technology Industry Association. The report, by Community Attributes, Inc., examines the economic and fiscal impact of our Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry. Among the findings (it’s worth reading the whole thing):

For the foreseeable future, the ICT sector will create jobs at a faster rate than the State’s public and private education institutions can produce workers qualified to perform those jobs. As a result, Washington State ranks as the highest importer of ICT talent in the nation. The State’s continued economic success is tied to developing and attracting the talent needed to serve the opportunities created by the ICT sector. State investments in ICT training and company support are needed to keep pace with the opportunities.   

This dovetails nicely with today’s article by Joel Kotkin in the New Geography blog, in which he examines the changing geography of education, income growth and poverty in America. Kotkin points out that the states with the largest concentration of educated residents historically, primarily on the East Coast, are not necessarily seeing the fastest growth. Instead, they are being overtaken by states that have rapidly increased their numbers of educated workers. He looks at the transformation created by advanced education, particularly in the South, and its effect on poverty and economic growth.

Some might think that states with a higher proportion of educated workers would do better at creating new jobs. But since 1991, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in both Massachusetts and New York has grown at 0.4% annual rate, and 0.8% in California. In contrast, Arizona’s annual job growth averaged 2.4% and Texas 2%.

This suggests that having a high percentage of educated people is not enough to grow a jobs-rich economy… It might seem tautological, but expanding economies  attract new educated workers.

Washington has done relatively well, ranking 14th in its increase in population of college grads, according to Kotkin’s data. But, as we’ve pointed out, Washington still imports much of its educated population and ranks just 38th in bachelor’s degrees awarded per capita

With a strong tech sector and a strengthened commitment to computer science education in our public schools, we are poised to do better. And we must.

Support for Common Core, STEM education and assuring great teachers in every classroom

Evidence of the importance of making real progress in education performance and finance this session continues to accumulate. We also see more indicators of the complexity involved in getting the policy right. 

For example, we face a significant teacher shortage. The Spokesman-Review account paints a stark picture.

A teacher shortage is looming across Washington.

The addition of full-day kindergarten along with smaller class sizes through the third grade will require more teachers next school year.

Factors driving up the need for more teachers in other grades include new graduation requirements that add more science, world languages and social studies courses starting this fall in high school; and Common Core, the national curriculum implemented this year.

A strengthening economy and retirements are creating slots, too.

Pay, professionalism, opportunity all factor into the decision to join and remain in the profession. With respect to pay, Melissa Santos reports on the complicated interplay between state compensation policy and the budgets of local school districts.

Paying for cost-of-living raises for teachers is a key piece of Gov. Jay Inslee’s budget proposal, but school district officials are worried that his plan will hurt their bottom line.

Many school district leaders are saying the proposed school employee raises would increase salary and benefit costs for local districts, sometimes to the tune of millions of dollars.

It’s likely that when voters approved Initiation 732 in 2000, they had little understanding of the fiscal implications. (One reason this has become a popular legislative proposal.) Compensation is important, but it’s just one element of assuring that there’s a great teacher in every classroom.

In the Opportunity Washington research report we wrote, 

This last reform is especially significant, as research and anecdotal evidence tell us that teacher quality is the critical classroom factor impacting student achievement. As a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation study recently found, “Effective teaching can be measured.” And, as the Rand Corporation and Partnership for Learning have noted, teachers matter more to student achievement than any other factor.

Washington must take steps to ensure that the very best teachers are in every classroom, every day. The state can meet that challenge by continuing to assess teacher performance, providing opportunities for current teachers to enhance their skills, making assessment of student outcomes a factor in personnel evaluation, and ensuring principals have authority to hire the best teachers.

Such reforms have a proven track record. The implications for the next generation of Washingtonians are profound. In particular, research shows that STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills open wide the doors of opportunity.

For lawmakers casting an eye to popular opinion, there’s strong evidence that the public wants to see improved STEM education. (More survey information here.)

Finally, another piece of encouraging popular support for reaching our ACHIEVE objective: Washington is not joining the revolt against Common Core.

Closing the education gap boosts incomes and the economy

The New York Times reports on new research that demonstrates the widespread benefits of increased education, particularly for those at the bottom of the income distribution.

Study after study has shown a yawning educational achievement gap between the poorest and wealthiest children in America. But what does this gap costs in terms of lost economic growth and tax revenue?

That’s what researchers at theWashington Center for Equitable Growth set out to discover in a new study that concluded the United States could ultimately enrich everybody by improving educational performance for the typical student.

As our research report found, our state lags many states on some important education metrics.

In 2012, Washington ranked 32nd among the states for high school graduation rate, with a rate of 77 percent. Washington’s four-year high school graduation rate in 2013 (for students who began ninth grade in 2009-10) was 76.0 percent. The Washington State Board of Education has established a goal of increasing that number to 89 percent by the end of this decade. The state must meet or exceed this objective to become one of the top 10 states for high school graduation.

The NYT story reports, 

When it comes to math and science scores, the United States lags most of the other 33 advanced industrialized countries that make up theOrganization for Economic Cooperation and Development, ranking 24th, far behind Korea, Poland and Slovenia.

Moving up just a few notches to 19th — so that the average American score matched the O.E.C.D. average — would add 1.7 percent to the nation’s gross domestic product over the next 35 years, according to estimates by the Washington Center, a nonpartisan, liberal-leaning research group focused on narrowing inequality.

That’s just one reason we’re committed to improving STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) performance at all levels of education.