Nicole Yohalem and I started out in this field nearly two decades ago as youth workers who cared deeply about helping young people develop skills that mattered. Working in separate programs (later becoming colleagues at the Forum for Youth Investment), we knew in our hearts that the work done by our nonprofits helped young people gain practical, real-world skills, such as collaboration, communication, perseverance and decision-making. We tried our best to come up with proof to back that belief – but we lacked tools sophisticated enough to make the connections.
What image comes to mind if I ask you to imagine students learning? Young people in small groups focusing on projects they designed? Or slouching at their desks in class, looking bored?
Sadly, the second image is more common. Each year, almost half a million 5th through 12th graders complete the Gallup Student Poll. In recent years, more than four in 10 reported that they were either "not engaged" or "actively disengaged" with school. The percent who are engaged decreases steadily from 5th to 10th grades. The longer kids stay in school, the more they tune out .
What happens when you give youth an opportunity? It all depends on the kind of opportunity.
There are programs all over the country focused on helping disconnected youth get real-life training on the job, in addition to critical soft skills. These programs are providing the key. Some are run nationally with local chapters, while others are born and grounded locally by community members who are masters at identifying the kinds of opportunities these youth need in order to unlock their passion, drive and success.
In this dual blog posting, the Forum’s Karen Pittman and Stephanie Malia Krauss weigh in on an article about competence-based vs. traditional education. Pittman and Krauss reflect on their own experiences and offer suggestions on how schools can break free from the status quo.
We know that America’s education system needs to be revamped, but is the answer to “unschool” our young people? Disturbingly, some people think so.
We know that kids learn best when they are motivated and interested. We see that providing more choice for students in how, where, when and at what pace they learn helps them succeed. We applaud parents, educators and policymakers who are building on this knowledge to redesign education in various ways across the country.