I am proud to have been part of the amazing event “Designing the Next Generation” at the Liberty Hotel by the Over My Shoulder Foundation. The people attending represented the city’s best and brightest professionals representing the design community to the top lawyers and civic leaders. The very personal story of Rick Dyer was shared. Most people would write off that a boy so lost and pretty much a permanent resident of jail. Rick’s story is an inspiration about the power of not only being given a chance but the power of mentorship in giving him something powerful and positive to fight for. He is a prominent lawyer advocating for kids so they too can have something positive to fight for. There are so many different ways the story could have turned out if he was not given a chance, if he did not receive a pardon from then Governor Dukakis.
Kids like this are lost and wander our streets and in our school halls. They are smart and with amazing potential that have either been taken over by bad influences or snuffed out with uninspiring and non-engaging school environments. They have gone too long without any adult showing care or concern whether they do well or not. It is no wonder that every school day, about 7,000 students decide to drop out of school – a total of 1.2 million students each year – and only about 70% of entering high school freshman graduate every year. Approximately 2,000 of America’s high schools produce half of the nation’s dropouts. Without a high school diploma, young people are less likely to succeed in the workforce. Each year, our nation loses $319 billion in potential earnings associated with the dropout crisis. (Whitehouse Press Release, March 10, 2010).
Too much energy is focused exclusively on fighting what we are against–bad budgets, bad bureaucracy, bad teachers, and bad unions to a point that we do not know what we are fighting for. It’s time to fight to a great school in every neighborhood that prepares our children for the best opportunities in the world. It is time to fight for a great school in every neighborhood that knows how to inspire—and knows how to value mentorship not as a side program but integrated into the core of school. Schools like this will cut the dropout rate in half almost overnight. This may all seem like wishful thinking but there are nationally replicating school models. Around the country, communities are catching on and transforming and starting dozens of schools in a short period of time.
Imagine Boston in five years if the twice the number of children are successfully graduating with options to attend the best universities and colleges. Imagine Boston in five years if it were to double or even quadruple the number of students graduating with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) related degrees and entering the workforce. Boston would have to spend significantly less on social services and on the criminal justice system. Companies will have access to a larger qualified workforce to grow their business-making Boston an even more of an attractive place to locate and grow increasing revenues to the region.
We want schools that are truly modern and vibrant. Forget the boring lectures and teaching to test. Imagine where students are solving tough real world problems as part of their learning…where mentorship with industry professionals is not some add on program but integrated into their learning experience. At these schools, students will not only master the highest academic standards but also practice being leaders, using critical thinking skills to solve tough problems, develop a global perspective, and be master communicators…the skills needed to thrive in the best careers internationally.
This is achievable through the following specific actions:
1. Create or convert public schools into a cluster of 15 high performing STEM public middle and high schools using nationally replicating proven school models like New Tech Network, Big Picture Learning, Expeditionary Learning, International Baccalaureate schools. These models are capable of serving children with the toughest backgrounds and helping 90% or more graduating high school and getting them into college with double the rate entering STEM related degree programs and careers.
2. Provide these STEM cluster schools the autonomies and conditions on the ground that help these schools thrive and implement the models with high fidelity. Boston’s history of its Pilot Schools can be leveraged as a good start to provide this positive environment.
3. Create or leverage a strong community coalition to drive the creation of these schools, ensure the school models are delivering, create an education transformation fund, and to ensure that the District is providing an environment that supports and does not get in the way of implementing these models with fidelity.
Let’s dream big, Boston, and turn the dream into reality. Sometimes true transformation that creates the future and makes history requires bold action.
-Ted Fujimoto, Founder, Right to Succeed Foundation