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For Tri-County high schools, ‘knowledge’ jobs are the big challenge

Posted on May 5, 2014 by in Education

Summerville HS students, 2014There’s a big but narrowing gap in how well Tri-County high schools are preparing their graduates for jobs in the Charleston region’s emerging “knowledge economy.” Thirteen of the region’s 26 high schools met the performance target developed by Local America.

A school hit the target if atHow school district rank on 'knowledge' job targets least 50% of its graduates achieved a “Proficiency” or higher score in both English and Math tests. “Proficiency” is the level of learning that’s the foundation for most knowledge-based jobs.

Knowledge workers aren’t just those who mostly think, like scientists, engineers and lawyers. In today’s changing job world, knowledge workers include a broad spectrum of employees in all industries and at all staffing levels and pay grades, many of whom use both their hands and minds, like computer technicians, lab analysts and  physical therapists. A Fed-Ex driver, for example, does more than maneuver a truck through traffic and drop off and pick up packages. He or she has to scan packages with hand-held computers to line up an efficient delivery schedule. Drivers have to make split-second judgment about whether to drop off a package when there’s no answer at the door. Finally, they have to complete paperwork accounting for the outcome of each package and perhaps flagging issues with their field office. All this work requires brawn and brains.

Under South Caroline rules, a high school student can earn a diploma by achieving Level 2 performance in English and Math tests. The state Department of Education says Level 2 shows “competence in skills in knowledge.” But the department identifies several major learning limitations with Level 2 performance, including these under writing skills: “Central idea may be unclear; details may be sparse; more information is needed to clarify the central idea; focus may shift or be lost causing confusion for the reader.”

Any one of these problems could impair a knowledge worker’s job job performance. Most knowledge jobs require Level 3 skills — “Proficiency” — and that’s why Local America used Level 3 as the baseline for measuring how successful local high schools were in graduating students prepared for the more demanding knowledge economy transforming the Charleston region.

How Tri-County HS grads rati in hitting 'knowledge economy' targets, 2013The three major Tri-County school districts — Charleston and Berkeley counties and Dorchester County 2 — did much better when the “Proficiency” performance of their high schools was measured system-wide. In Charleston, for example, the “Proficiency” rate for all county students in English was 66.7% and in Math it was 57%. Driving these numbers was Wando High School, whose 900 generally high-performing students accounted for close to a third of the 2,841 students who were tested at all 15 county schools.

Local America’s analysis also showed that Tri-County high schools produced a 30% increase in Level 3 performance in 2013 compared to 2009 when only 10 schools reached that target. Furthermore, at most schools, student test scores that determine levels of achievement were consistently higher in 2013. This trend, if it continues, will mean more schools will produce Levels 3 and 4 graduates as early as next year.

The percentages of Level 3+ graduates among blacks and Hispanics is far lower than among whites (chart at right), but minorities are, overall, closing that gap, and at high rates in some cases. Reinforcing that trend, is the major progress that minorities are making at the elementary and middle school levels. As Local America reported earlier — 56 schools at the grades 3 to 8 levels are likely to close or significantly narrow their achievement gap in English or Math by 2016. How well minorities perform academically is important not only for equality but also because blacks and Hispanics make up half of the total enrollments in Tri-County schools. Regional businesses are heavily dependent on local schools producing a well-educated workforce.

Edge Academy at Fort Dorchester HS, 2014The Tri-County school systems have programs aimed at producing more graduates who will be prepared for the “knowledge” job market. The Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, for example, has created seven “Edge Academies” within five high schools — Ashley Ridge, Fort Dorchester, Timberland, Goose Creek and Summerville.

The academies, where 24 business partners work with students and teachers, are focusing initially on three of the fastest-growing job areas in the Charleston region — health, hospitality/culinary arts and science-technology-engineering-math (STEM). The academies’ goal is to help produce high-performing graduates from the five schools who not only will go on to two- and four-year colleges but also “starting careers right after graduation.”

Lowcountry Technology Academy, Charleston Copunty SD, 2014With STEM jobs being central to the region’s high-tech economy, the Charleston County school system is trying to close its science-technology-engineering-math gaps. The system has set up a partnership with businesses and the federal government to bring STEM learning into its schools.

It has also created the Lowcountry Tech Academy, (image at right above), which has 130 students in grades 7 to 12. LTA is, as the Charleston system emphasizes, a program, not a school. It initially is offering training in cyber security, green energy and construction, green energy and construction, computer service technology and tablet repair, computer networking and innovative digital graphics. The training is geared for graduates who will go directly into tech-related jobs as well as those who will pursue post-secondary education.

Credit for photo at top of page: Summerville High School students, Dorchester County 2 School District.


The story told in data
  • This bar chart shows how Tri-County high school graduates rate in “knowledge” scores by race and ethnicity.
  • This table shows how Tri-County high schools rate in meeting the “Proficiency” target in preparing graduates for jobs in knowledge economy. 

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