What Happens When High Schools Become Accountable for Graduate Earnings?

I read an interesting statement today from Chiefs for Change, calling for public institutions to look at employment and wage data - connecting it to high schools and disaggregating by “key demographics.” So now I’m wondering what would that look like if we evaluated high schools based on whether their alumni are employed and earning family-sustaining wages?

What’s taking so long? It has been about a decade since districts have added college enrollment to school report cards. It takes just a few clicks to see what percent of students from ABC High School went on to postsecondary enrollment in 6 or 18 months post-graduation. There may even be data on military status post-graduation. However, for a couple reasons, I think we haven’t seen employment data: (1) We can’t tell if employment after high school is a good thing or a bad thing. In a wealthy community, college may be the only acceptable outcome (or a gap year), but in a poor community, is earning a living wage after high school an indicator of economic stability or a choice that will limit future mobility? I’ve had some tough conversations with schools where I shock them with the fact that only about 1/5 of students graduate from the community colleges they are sending their students to. (2) Technically, social security numbers are needed to link to wage data at this point - something districts don’t collect (and maybe shouldn’t). In schools that serve a high number of undocumented students, data would be less than complete.

My predictions. So what has been the impact of stretching the horizon of secondary outcomes to college, and how might that be a predictor of this new proposal? At the school-level, I’ve seen a mix of attitudes, from “We don’t even care about the diploma - it’s all about getting young people ready for college and career” to “How can we be held accountable for something that happens without us, and requires a lot of support?” The former mindset has led to new standards, pumped up college readiness/exposure activities, funding, and charter school buildings that are decoupaged with colorful college flags. The latter mindset reflects the reality that schools, especially those who serve students faced with more barriers, see that the task of getting kids through college requires postsecondary supports and resources (like CUNY ASAP’s wildly successful financial, social, and academic supports).

Overall, I say bring on the data! Starting small might be a fun idea that rarely happens in education. Start with a district or two and see what we learn. Hopefully, we’ll see an increased focus on connecting students to strong vocational programs and credit-bearing work-based learning in high school. We might also find that when we are focused on employment outcomes, we’re speaking the same language as young people.

Alison HolsteinComment