How Denver Public Schools Are Rethinking High School
As 2020 presidential candidates release policy proposals, their ideas to increase school funding and raise teacher pay have gotten lots of attention. More than half the campaign websites also discuss the importance of college and career readiness, but their ideas to better prepare students for the future of work have mostly flown under the radar. These issues, and how candidates would address them, deserve more attention, as they are a priority for American students and voters.
Nearly 15% of high school students nationwide don’t graduate in four years, and that number is even higher for Black, Latinx, and Native American students, as well as students from families with low incomes. What’s more, too many of those who do graduate are not engaged with their coursework and unprepared for what’s next. High school graduation requirements only match college entrance expectations in four states, and despite evidence that they improve graduation rates and future earnings, career and technical education (CTE) opportunities have historically been underfunded. Even where CTE does exist, many young Americans lack information and resources to access it, unlike countries like Switzerland where more than two thirds of students are in high quality apprenticeships that have expanded access to the country’s highest academic and career tracks.
Denver Public Schools’ (DPS) CareerConnect programs are a promising example of how communities can improve student engagement and the connections between school and the workforce. These efforts start even before high school with project-based courses and industry introduction programs. DPS offers courses in a range of career pathways, as well as extensive opportunities for career exploration, mentorship, and internships, including what could be considered a flagship youth apprenticeship program where students spend up to half their week on-site with industry partners working for pay and earning college credit.