June 23, 2021
Cheryl A. Oldham
Vice President of Education Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Senior Vice President of Education and Workforce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation
The shift to remote learning amid the pandemic was challenging for students and teachers alike. However, the negative effects were amplified for students who were already vulnerable to learning loss and negative educational outcomes, including traditionally underserved or marginalized students.
As part of the Chamber of Commerce’s National Summit on Equality of Opportunity, leaders in the education and business community came together to discuss how to ensure all students receive the opportunities they need to succeed.
Aligning Students’ Skills with Future Workforce Needs
Transforming the educational system begins with ensuring that students have the skills they need to succeed once they graduate.
“Our current students are our future leaders, our future workforce,” stressed Charlotte Lysohir, Manager of Education Strategy & Insights at IBM. “We need to … ensure that there’s alignment of the skills students are going to need when they enter the workforce to not only land a first job, but really be successful in their career.”
This skills alignment begins with ensuring students have mastered the foundational skills to succeed, noted Penny Schwinn, Education Commissioner of Tennessee.
“We’re really focusing on literacy in all grade levels, but certainly that elementary space,” Schwinn noted. “[Once] students have those foundational skills mastered, we see much more acceleration when they get into those middle school and high school programs that allow them to have those meaningful partnerships [such as] work-based learning [and] internships.”
Supporting Educational Opportunities to Bridge the Gap for Underserved Youth
While the gap of opportunity was widened amid the pandemic for minority youth, structural inequities have long existed in education. Businesses have risen to the occasion to help support educational opportunities for these typically marginalized students.
“We launched a program called Future Youth in April of 2019 that is a partnership with Discovery Education and [offers] online free resources for educators,” said Sam Whiting, Director of Boeing Global Engagement. “Once schools closed and educators [and families] were looking for online resources, we saw a huge uptick in it … We are really working hard to create new content all the time.”
In 2011, IBM launched its P-TECH high school model, which allows students to earn both their high school diploma and an associate degree linked to competitive STEM fields. The program has no testing for admission and no cost for post-secondary degrees, eliminating many barriers to access.
“Hopefully [these initiatives] will continue to be part of the real fabric of public education moving forward,” noted Lysohir. “That really calls for a need for funding for higher education CTE and dual enrollment.”
How Education and Business Can Work Together to Create Pathways for Students
Partnerships between educational and business leaders are crucial to creating pathways for marginalized students to succeed.
“Lessons learned from the pandemic show [the importance of] equity and access to rigorous content and opportunity,” stressed Schwinn.
For example, students without internet access for online dual enrollment classes might have limited access to necessary coursework. Schwinn suggested that businesses could enter schools to teach the courses and provide financial support, opening pathways of opportunity for students.
Perhaps most crucially, minority and traditionally underserved students should see themselves reflected in the educational and business spheres.
“As we diversify our staff, I would look to the business community to diversify their staff,” advised Dr. Luvelle Brown, Superintendent of Ithaca City School District. “Our young people need to see themselves in those spaces being successful, just like we want to model that in our schools.”
From the Series