VOL. 9 | NO. 31 | Saturday, July 30, 2016
The Memphis News Editorial
Editorial: Six-Year High School Model is Promising
The real test of an economic development strategy is how well it holds up when the economy takes a downturn and more people begin losing their jobs.
Leaders behind the strategy have to be flexible when courting new jobs and expansions of existing businesses. But taking calls from site consultants, and reaching out to them when they don’t call us, is far from a complete strategy.
We should do what we have to do when times are tough and people need jobs.
But that’s also the time when we have to stick with the longer-range plan.
The one currently underway is nothing short of revolutionary: prepare high school students for good-paying jobs as a gateway to bachelor’s degrees and beyond.
The model is six-year high schools where students would earn both an associate degree and high school diploma at graduation.
This isn’t your father’s blue-collar job we are going for.
It’s a new kind of blue-collar job that requires a base of technology skills that high school students have not received in years past.
Less than 30 years ago, many of our civic leaders were touting the city’s “cheap labor” – using that exact term. It was a philosophy entrenched over generations that we have paid dearly for.
We talk of higher expectations for our students, and rightfully so. Diplomas, certificates, pomp and circumstance aren’t an ending, they are a beginning.
So are the jobs that many of us take right after graduation. Those jobs will be how we discover not only what we want to do with our lives, but a path to that.
If we can’t offer that beginning to more Memphians, our graduates will find it someplace else. They already are.
Glen Fenter, president of the Greater Memphis Alliance for a Competitive Workforce, is right when he says this shift is expensive to start and maintain but that it’s worth it in the long run.
We would add that the time has never been better to commit to this, with secondary and post-secondary education continuing to change dramatically at the local and state levels. More change is already on the way. We can shape it, or we can continue to be shaped by it.
For those who don’t ultimately strive to advance themselves academically or obtain a college degree, a baseline of job readiness still needs to be achieved.
The efforts of GMACW are profound in that way, because good-paying jobs in manufacturing and other industries are continuing to become more influenced by technology. If high school graduates here can learn industry-specific skills while earning their diplomas, they’re less likely to struggle to find work like so many do today.
If the organization is successful in better preparing these graduates, it will create a paradigm shift in how employers see Memphis-area high school graduates. It will open more doors. It will provide that baseline of job readiness that will give more young people better prospects for creating their own futures.