One year on from the outbreak of COVID-19, schools, students, and families all over the nation continue to face a wide range of issues due to the pandemic's continuing impacts on every aspect of education.
As the President of a national organization that has been working with the nation's most vulnerable youth for more than four decades, I have a deep – and daily – appreciation of those challenges. They are urgent; however, based on our four decades of experience, we fear they will also be with us for years to come.
Jobs for America's Graduates (JAG) currently operates in 1,450 locations across 40 states and has served more than 1.5 million of the nation's most vulnerable youth in its 40 years. In order to help other organizations seek ways to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic, especially on some of the most vulnerable youth in the nation, JAG leaders have carefully assessed "what works." The following list of Top 10 Lessons Learned are derived from our experience.
JAG's consistent outcomes, through recessions and recoveries, from rural Eastern Montana to Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta, to the inner cities of St. Louis, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Atlanta, demonstrate that solutions do exist. Proven solutions that are affordable and consistently effective, regardless of socioeconomic status or geography.
We are grateful to NSBA for giving us the opportunity to present our lessons learned and hope that they will be of genuine help to you and your teachers as you search for proven tactics to help the most challenged youth succeed.
Top 10 Lessons Learned
#1 First and foremost, we know what it takes for the most challenged students to succeed in high school, employment, and post-secondary education consistently, at scale, and over time, based on the results of our service to 1,500,000+ youth.
#2 Policy matters – a lot. With the right state and school policies and metrics, state-level policymakers and local school board decision-makers can make a decisive difference in consistently improving outcomes for the most challenged K-12 students and other populations by focusing on "what works." The key is to create incentives or requirements to ensure that the most vulnerable population has the benefit of proven strategies that address their special challenges, which have been greatly compounded by the pandemic.
#3 By focusing on effective solutions for the most challenged high school students, JAG has proven it can boost a district's overall graduation rate to a much higher level. Simply stated, participation in JAG results in an average graduation rate of 90%+ through our specific focus on serving the lowest-performing 25%-40% of students.
#4 A once-in-a-generation challenge — and potential opportunity — exists for students who have faced major challenges in entering and succeeding in the American economy in the past and now face the most massive disruptions in the economy in 100 years.
Therefore, now is also the time to bring to scale proven solutions to capitalize on the remarkable combination of economics and demographics that has created this great challenge for youth; to take advantage of the new opportunities in the emerging economy.
#5 States can braid multiple funding sources to increase efficiency and effectiveness at scale to achieve better, more cost-effective results by focusing on what works. Under the leadership of many Governors, JAG has proven that states can bring coherence out of the confusion of myriad state and federal funding streams for education, employment, college and career readiness, and job training. The secret is mobilizing that state and federal funding around a single, coherent, consistent statewide strategy focused on success for the lowest-performing youth in the K-12 and out-of-school systems.
#6 The right programs bring both consistent and compelling success that achieves genuine equity in youth achievement and equality of outcomes. Proven programs/strategies serving the most challenged youth greatly increase graduation, post-secondary education, and job success rates, exceeding those of the average student.
#7 Long-term success requires well-defined metrics that incorporate (a) accountability for results; (b) sustained financial support; and (c) programmatic stability. Among the key lessons JAG has learned, one of the most crucial is the importance of consistent, sustained commitments to "what works." Long-term commitments are one of the major reasons JAG has been so successful. Many JAG states have a legacy of 10-30 consistent years of achieving dramatic success at scale. The keys are clear metrics, accountability for results, and consistent funding.
#8 JAG students have proven that they can be responsible for their own success. Almost all young people are determined to succeed, and they will, if they gain the skills and receive the support they need. The students JAG serves are inherently talented. They are resilient and determined to succeed. With the right guidance and resources, which JAG provides, students become excellent workers, leaders, and citizens.
#9 JAG's Job Specialists are key to the program's impact. The Specialists serve as the local, on-the-ground teachers, coaches, and mentors who are accountable for school and work success and dedicate themselves to helping students succeed.
#10 Based on our experience, we believe a federal investment of just $1 billion, to be matched by state funding, would result in one million more youth succeeding in the labor market.
Never has help to succeed in the labor market for the single-largest group of unemployed Americans been more necessary.
Over our four decades of operation, the frontline JAG teachers and Specialists working with groups of 30-50 of the most challenged youth in the nation's high schools and middle schools have consistently delivered compelling results:
• Consistently averaging a graduation rate of 90% or higher while serving the lowest-performing 40% of the high school and middle school populations. In fact, the graduation rate for the Class of 2019 was a truly remarkable 95.6%, while the national average was 84%.
• JAG more than doubles the chances its students will find work and doubles the rate they are likely to secure full-time jobs. Youth of color who participate in JAG programs have nearly three times the chance of securing full-time jobs.
• Reflecting the value employers see in JAG, 19,000 employers regularly hire JAG students because they are better prepared, have mastered key employability competencies, and are ready to work and learn.
We are honored that 14 Governors serve on the Board of Jobs for America's Graduates – the most Governors serving on any Board in the country. They do so because each has seen firsthand the impact of the program in their own states. Also serving on our Board are a dozen C-Suite Executives of the Fortune 500 and national leaders such as Marc Morial (President of the National Urban League) and Johnny Taylor (President and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, SHRM).
More information on JAG can be found on our website. The site will take you to our 40 individual state organizations, where you can learn more about the program in your state and who to contact. We are anxious to help in any way we can!
Kenneth M. Smith, President and CEO
Jobs for America's Graduates, Inc. (JAG)