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No Such Thing As The Kids Table in Education Reform

by Decker Ngongang

November 9,2010

For the first time in the 21st century, the current generation of college-aged Americans will be less educated than their parents. Fewer than 46% of students at four-year universities complete their degrees within six years, and only three out of ten students attending community colleges complete their two-year associate's degree within three years.

Higher education is a primary factor in improving the state of our communities and our country. Individuals who complete some form of postsecondary education are able to earn higher wages, likely increasing the financial stability for themselves and their families. But if the current student population, all members of the "Millennial Generation," is somehow falling short of achieving its educational goals, our country faces a significant problem with consequences impacting our nation for decades to come.

As a graduate of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and N.C. State University, I understand the increasing challenges faced by students in NC education system. My mother taught for over 30 years in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School system, across several high schools. With each one, my mother brought home countless stories and issues of students who had no food at home, or students who were taking care of their siblings. While certain students may not have always excelled, they were often fighting amazing obstacles. We would do well to first understand the challenges they are facing before jumping to solutions.

To my mother, education wasn’t political issue, but a value. Education is a human right, and as we seek to perfect how our society administers education we must intentionally engage a crucial element of our education system – students. Students enter the education conversation not worried about property values or political power, but whether they are receiving a good education. Education for too long has been limited in status to a political wedge issue, and it threatens the sustainability of our communities and the country.

Analysis of the Current Population Survey (CPS) shows that high school dropouts and high school graduates who do not attain post-secondary education are losing their middle-class status. The socio-economic ramifications of educational attainment are intrinsically tied to the health of our communities across the country. Education is the mechanism that best equips us to revive our economy, strengthen our workforce, and secure our standing in the world. The Millennial Generation holds an endless potential for civic innovation while facing overwhelming socio-economic obstacles. We must tap into the leadership of this generation to solve some of our greatest problems.

As the Gates Foundation concludes in a recent brief on post-secondary success, “It is no longer enough to say more young people are accessing college – for the sake of their futures and our country’s future, we have to make sure more young people go on to complete college.” The most fundamental question, though, will be the one that only young people can answer: What do you need from your community to successfully complete your education?

In 2010, my organization launched its newest Democracy 2.0 Summit, “Target 2020: My Education. Our Future.” These summits help Millennials and communities around the country to see value in equipping students with the tools to identify the barriers they face in completing their education, and will provide access to the resources they need to address these barriers. These Democracy 2.0 summits facilitate discussion and idea generation among Millennial-age students, and will focus on collaborative, community-based solutions.

For Charlotte to effectively address issues in our education system, we must intentionally involve the young people who are uniquely affected. We must work with Kids Voting and our student councils. We must engage students in serious dialogue, not just to discuss with students how they are “suffering,” but also hear their ideas on solutions. Young people are interested; they just lack the access to the conversation and resources to implement their solutions.

I challenge parents, teachers and the CMS Administration to convene a student summit on the future of Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools. This is a generation that will face entitlement reform, an environment that is growing more polluted, has lived knowing only terrorism and war, and will be economically worse off than their parents; they will need all the practice they can get solving complex issues – why not let them start by figuring out what schools to close?

If you liked this column, you'll enjoy:

Citizenship in Difficult Times

A Crisis in Our Midst

Millennial Engagement

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