A dismal trend

By From page A4 | December 28, 2012

A couple of stories we printed painted a discouraging portrait of the youth in this country and this state.

“More than 850,000 California teens and young adults, ages 16-24, are neither in school nor working,” according to a new Kids Count report released Dec. 3 by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Children Now.

Calling them “disconnected youth,” the foundation’s report noted that these comprise 18 percent of this age group and it has grown 35 percent since the year 2000.

The foundation cited two programs called “linked learning” — a Law Academy in Richmond and a Digital Media nd Design School in San Diego. Linked learning connects students with real world experience.

Two schools in the entire state just isn’t going to make a dent in the disconnected youth.

The report noted that low-income and minority youth have a higher propensity to be “disconnected.”

The ratio for African-American youth ages 20-24 is one in three, while the national average for all youth in this age group is one in four.

There is a social disconnect for a significant portion of the African-American youth in urban areas. Too many come from single parent homes that lack a father. That’s the bottom-up view. But the top-down view doesn’t look so good either. State legislators and officials have been pushing the idea that every high school student should be taking college preparatory courses. And that is also the mantra from President Obama on down. Obama thinks every high school grad should go to college and he is going to spend all our tax money getting them there. Playing into this college prep track is the absurdity of the No child Left Behind Act where schools have reached the 90 percent level and may be labeled as being in “performance improvement status.”

Ninety percent proficiency in educated students in math and English is pretty good. What is needed is a return to vocational education and a lot more of it, starting in middle school.

“For these students (the 850,000 ‘disconnected’ youth) education alone may not be sufficient relevance,” said Von Ton-Quinlivan, vice chancellor of workforce and economic development with the California Community College Chancellor’s Office. “We need more earn-and-learn strategies, like apprenticeships, where individuals can be brought into the workforce and we build skills in partnership with their employers.”

The McKinsey Center for Government issued a report that said employers, educators and youth “live in parallel universes.”

“Seventy-two percent of the educators surveyed think their graduates are ready for the workforce, while less than half of the employers and youth that were interviewed across nine countries believe that to be the case. Worldwide 75 million youth are not working. The worldwide figure gives a clue why youths are always rioting in Egypt and other Arab countries.

It has been useful to pressure schools to work harder to bring all the students up to a prescribed level of performance. But it is equally important to provide a variety of vocational opportunities. Those opprunities need to be connected with some sort of apprenticeship or intern program to orient young people to the world or work. We need to connect them before they become “disconnected.” This dismal trend can and must be reversed.

Mountain Democrat

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