Getting Students Ready for College and WorkGetting Students Ready for College and Work

Getting Students Ready for College and Work

A new year brings new opportunities for teachers, counselors, administrators and, of course, students. As the calendar changed to 2010, educators of all kinds gathered at Montclair State University on January 13 to talk about the LearnDoEarn program, which gives students and their parents information they need to make the best academic, career and financial decisions in middle and high school.

Few people realize, however, that LearnDoEarn is but one school initiative on the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce’s education priority list this year. “We offer three programs that will help all schools improve but we focus a lot of our capacity delivering our programs in urban districts to make sure school leadership knows how to use each program,” says Dana Egreczky, senior vice president, workforce development at the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce and president of The Business Coalition for Educational Excellence (BCEE). Here is a quick glimpse at each program:

KnowYourSchools.org. Slated to launch in early 2010, KnowYourSchools.org is an online database of comparative school performance. “We’re going to be able to see how schools compare against each other, but also how urban schools compare to urban schools, apples to apples,” explains Egreczky.

Take, for example. Abington Avenue School, an elementary school in Newark. Data appears on the KnowYourSchools site that shows the performance of Abington students on standardized tests, like NJASK (Assessment of Student Knowledge) and compares that to an aggregate score of up to 10 schools with similar student populations, based on income levels and non-English speakers. You can see that “Abington is performing well above schools with similar populations—particularly in math with advanced proficient students,” notes Egreczky. “Therefore, Abington becomes a 'benchmark school' that other schools can study and imitate best practices.”

MATHNext. “The biggest challenge of even successful urban districts is helping kids get through the math,” says Egreczky. The BCEE has partnered with Rutgers University-Newark to deliver MATHNext (www.mathnext.org), which provides teacher professional development in middle-school math.

The program, operating in Newark schools for the past six years under a different name, is “achieving unprecedented results,” adds Egreczky. According to the December 2009 article “Let ‘Em Sweat” in Edutopia, a magazine for educators, the key to the program’s success rate is allowing students to struggle with challenging math problems, which Rutgers’ researchers have found can lead to “dramatically improved achievement and test scores.” Since 2003, when Newark schools first launched the program, the average standardized math test scores among fourth graders in Newark schools rose 45 percent to 79 percent in 2009.

Those results prompted the BCEE to partner with Rutgers and provide a federally funded series of MATHNext webinars to math teachers across New Jersey. That, too, has yielded success, notes Egreczky. “Almost 90 middle school math teachers from 19 New Jersey school districts participated in a scale-up project funded by the New Jersey Department of Education,” she explains. “Teachers who participated for a minimum of 30 hours of MATHNext professional development over a period of four months made statistically significant gains in content knowledge for teaching mathematics as measured by a national assessment developed for that purpose.” Stay tuned to the website and the BCEE (http:/www.bcee.org) for future MATHNext professional development.

LearnDoEarn. The mission of LearnDoEarn (Learn More Now, Do More Now, Earn More Later) is to convince students in all school districts that they have to work harder in middle school and high school if they want to be prepared for college and work. The program, in place for more than four years, now operates in 170 New Jersey schools as a result of corporate sponsorship, says Egreczky, and was launched nationally in December 2006.

LearnDoEarn (www.learndoearn.org) delivers information to help students improve their educational, career, financial and life options, and to ensure they know how academic decisions and personal behavior will impact their employability. “The New Jersey Chamber of Commerce developed LearnDoEarn in response to employer concerns about mounting pressure from global competition and the limited availability of qualified American workers,” notes Egreczky.

The program includes 29 PowerPoint presentations for students in grades 6 through 12. Middle-school presentations in grades 6 through 8 focus on academic preparation for high school and developing appropriate work ethic, such as attention to homework, attendance and punctuality. High school presentations cover three specific areas: World Class Students, which focuses on the need for academic achievement in rigorous courses, particularly in math and science; School Counts, which deals with work ethic, attendance and punctuality; and Work the Money, which deals with financial literacy as one of several behaviors that increase a student’s chance of becoming employed.

LearnDoEarn has had favorable results, says Egreczky. In one blue-collar district that has been using the program for four years, many more students are taking rigorous math and science, including chemistry, and schools report an increase in achievement levels on state testing and in college acceptance and attendance rates.