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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 4, 2010

Moment of truth for new graduates

By Robert Witt

Graduates of the Class of 2010: this is for those of you not going on to college or enlisting in the military. Your moment of truth has arrived. Your search for meaningful employment here in Hawai'i will bring some of you face-to-face with golden opportunities, while for others the brutal facts of our 21st century marketplace will be daunting.

There are living-wage jobs available in our community for those of you ready to launch careers right after high school, especially for those who heard and heeded your teachers' encouragement to select, study and do well in the more rigorous courses offered at your school. You are the ones who applied the knowledge that "career ready" and "college ready" are increasingly the same in the 21st century.

So what exactly does it take to join the workforce and earn a living wage in Hawai'i in 2010? Let's look at a few examples. Careers in banking, construction, mechanics (think shipyards) or small business with tasks such as calculating loan amortization, laying sewer pipe, building a wheelchair ramp, managing inventory, or cutting sheet metal require a much higher level of mathematics than you may think. These jobs require high school graduates to:

• Use algebra to solve geometric problems

• Use basic right-triangle trigonometry to solve problems

• Compute statistics including mean, median and standard deviation

• Apply the Pythagorean theorem to solve problems

• Understand coefficients of a linear equation, slope and intercepts

To join the carpenters' union for entry-level work, you must pass their basic mathematics test. Same for plumbers and fitters. The test is at about the 8th grade mathematics level, yet about 40 to 50 percent of carpentry apprentices fail the test. The plumbers and fitters test requires basic algebra. Pass rates are low and some unions conduct their own mathematics training.

The Navy shipyard administers the ACT ASSET test to screen entry-level applicants, which must be passed to be considered for an apprenticeship. The test is pretty basic, but the pass rate is just 27 percent.

And nearly all entry-level jobs that lead to a living wage require good communication and reading comprehension skills.

Beyond basic skills, the enduring values and basic dispositions taught by all Hawai'i schools are in high demand: good work habits, effective oral and written communication skills, and an ability to work in teams. One Hawai'i employer commented that prerequisites for new hires these days include "teamwork; ability to take direction; ability to handle stressful situations; ability to handle very time-sensitive, hard deadlines ... We can teach almost everything else."

Our inspiration and primary resource for this article is a report commissioned by the Hawai'i P-20 Partnerships for Education in 2007, in which author James Koshiba of 3Point Consulting concluded that "expectations should be set such that meeting them gives students access to the best career path they might reasonably pursue without a college degree. Setting standards any lower shuts the door on good career opportunities as a matter of public policy."

(Policymakers and education leaders might also want to read the full text of Koshiba's "Hawai'i Career Ready Study," available at www.p20hawaii.org.)

There already exists in Hawai'i a set of standards powerful enough to catalyze high levels of student success during high school and sufficient to empower a graduate with skills and competencies.

These standards are known as the General Learner Outcomes (GLOs) established by the Board of Education in the 1990s; they describe what students need to know and be able to do for success in both college and careers:

• Self-directed learner: the ability to be responsible for one's own learning

• Community contributor: the essential understandings for human beings to work together

• Complex thinker: the ability to be involved in complex thinking and problem solving

• Quality producer: the ability to recognize and produce quality performance and products

• Effective communicator: the ability to communicate effectively

• Effective and ethical user of technology: the ability to use a variety of technology effectively and ethically

More than ever, the notion that "what gets tested is what gets taught" serves as a call to action. Let's unleash the power of these GLOs by mandating the use of one of several new "performance-based" assessments that measure student attainment of the skills and dispositions needed to access and succeed in both college and work. The College and Work Ready Assessment is the most promising of these assessment tools; it is already under study with funding by the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation and was pilot tested in four Hawai'i high schools this past year by Academy 21. Assessments such as the CWRA help focus our schools and our students on the truly important outcomes of education.