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College and Career Readiness through Blended Learning

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Career and college readiness

Cracks in the Bedrock, The destabilizing effects of inequality

by Gary Kaplan

History doesn’t repeat itself, Mark Twain observed, but it often rhymes.

Because of our peculiar history, the current calls for redirection of police funding to social programs fall with a familiar cadence at JFYNetWorks.

We are often asked what JFY stands for. It stands for Jobs For Youth, the original name of the nonprofit organization. Jobs For Youth was founded in 1976 with a Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention grant from the US Department of Justice. Our original mission was to help high school dropouts find jobs. Low-income youth were dropping out of high school at rates rising toward 20% nationally and 40% in the cities. In the early 1970s the Nixon Administration, predating Reagan, thought the best social program was a job. And so, our history began as a juvenile justice delinquency prevention program.

Those early years focused on “job readiness training,” which included time management, professional dress, manners and speech, and interviewing skills. The program also covered job applications and resume composition, which led to tutoring in reading and writing, which blossomed into a GED alternative diploma program and eventually into one of the first alternative high schools. In Massachusetts, economic enfranchisement through education was the antidote of choice to injustice.

Through the 1980s and 90s we kept pace with the labor market by creating high-skill training programs in biotechnology, financial services, health care and environmental technology in collaboration with universities that had expertise in the fields. These programs required higher levels of academic skills, so we developed prep courses using educational software. We found self-paced computerized instruction to be effective in raising reading and math skills. When standards-based education came to K-12 in the late 1990s we adapted our methodology to the state high school curriculum. Software-based instructional support to high schools and then middle schools soon became our largest program.

The link between education and earnings was clear then and is even clearer now. As we have noted many times, an associate degree is worth $275,000 more in lifetime earnings than a high school diploma, and a bachelor’s degree raises the ante by a million. As the 2000s progressed, it became clear that the most effective way to promote economic and social justice was to focus on high school graduation and post-secondary education or training, the widest and straightest path to economic stability and social mobility. In 2009 we formally adopted the rubric “College and Career Readiness.” This new policy language of government and philanthropy accurately described what we had been doing since 2000.

Have our efforts produced results? At the micro level, yes. We provide academic support to urban schools where the gaps are widest and the needs greatest. We have raised skills and scores for thousands of young people every year for two decades. We have saved students millions of dollars in remedial college tuition. We have helped schools raise graduation rates and college enrollment rates. Our track record looks very good.

But the macro level does not look as good. The Times ran a sobering piece last week on inequality (“Quantifying The Inequity Many Face In Finance,” NYT 6.10.20). In the echo chamber of articles and books and TV specials on this subject over the last few years, this broadside reverberated jarringly. To paraphrase the lede, “We cannot quantify injustice… but we can measure the economic inequity that serves as backdrop.”

The story catalogued Black-white inequity in household income, college graduation, student loan debt and default, wages, home ownership, retirement funds and inheritance. All these gaps have widened since the 1970s. The home ownership gap is the widest in 50 years. Many other indicators could be added to the list. The Boston Globe series on race in December 2017 unearthed the most shocking: median net household worth. The number for white households in Boston was $247,500. The median net worth of African American households was $8.00. The Globe had to run a follow-up to clarify that wasn’t a typo—it really was eight dollars.

Justice can be an elusive concept. But no one can call the gap between $8 and $247,500 an equitable distribution of wealth. No one can say that 40 years of widening inequality is good for the civic health of a society. All the vehicles of social funding in the US—youth programs, jobs programs, welfare, education, even food stamps—have been decimated since Nixon’s burst of pragmatic liberalism. Police department reform alone cannot correct systemic economic injustice.

The Times article offered a blunt summary: “An imbalance of societal power cannot be separated from cradle-to–grave economic inequality.”

JFYNetWorks was founded on the belief that all young people can find their own unique path to success in our dynamic economy– if they acquire the right skills. We have no magic trowel or miracle mortar to tuckpoint the fissures of inequity in the foundations of our society. What we do have is an education program that helps young people develop the skills that open the doors of opportunity.

We still believe that economic empowerment through education is the path to social justice. We will continue to put that belief into practice as long as equality remains a bedrock American value. Forty-four years after our birth under the sign of Justice, we still hold this truth to be self-evident. It’s in our DNA.

Gary Kaplan is the executive director of JFYNetWorks

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Education and Workforce: What’s New?

Old Year, New Year, New Decade. Same Story.

by Gary Kaplan

For readers of education and workforce journalism, the turn of the decade was neatly bracketed by two articles that summed up the year’s main themes: low student performance and labor shortage. First was a New York Times piece on December 28 headed “Year in Education: Stalled Test Scores…” Under the sub-head “Stagnant Student Performance and Widening Achievement Gaps” it reminded us that the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), our “gold standard” nationwide assessment, had found only one-third of fourth and eighth-graders proficient readers, while student achievement in both reading and math was flat over the past 10 years. That wasn’t all: the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), an 80-country international test under the auspices of OECD, found that American 15-year-olds have been stagnant in reading and math for two decades. Both tests noted widening achievement gaps between low-performing and high-performing students. The article did not delve into the demographics of the gaps, but we know all too well how that maps.

A Jeffersonian Solution for a Jeffersonian Problem: Inequality

All people may be created equal, but all schools are not.

by Gary Kaplan

Inequality will be a pervasive topic in the new decade. It won’t be a new topic. It’s been a front page story ever since Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century came out in English in 2014. But it seems to be coming up more frequently, and in more contexts, from the World Economic Forum in Davos to the sports page of the Boston Globe. Yet for the millions who live it every day, it’s hardly breaking news.

Summertime Studytime

Math and English Review

by Joan Reissman, MCAS Maven


The weather is finally nice. You’re sick of school. Going to the beach and hanging out with friends seems like a great idea. After ten months of stuffy classrooms, the last thing you want to think about is next school year. I hear you! You can have fun! But, if you use just a little of your precious summer time to do some studying, you will hit the ground running in September (or August). A little preparation over the summer can really pay off when you head back to class in the fall.

The Year in Review - Looking back on a busy 2018-19

Looking back on a busy 2018-19

by Gary Kaplan

The end of a school year is a traditional time for reflection. This year offers a wider than usual range of events to reflect on.

Education occupied an unusual amount of front page real estate. The quarter-century anniversary of Education Reform last year kicked off a long process of re-evaluation that continues to the present moment. The Legislature is still working on a new funding formula to correct the flaws in the old formula that widened the gaps in resources between wealthy towns and poor cities. These dollar gaps correlate with longstanding student performance gaps. There is a wide opinion gap on the degree to which correlation is causation, and on how to ensure that increased funding produces higher performance in the places where it is most needed. The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education are untangling the strands of three competing proposals and weaving them into a tapestry of consensus.


Meet the new MCAS with confidence and success

by Eileen Wedegartner, Blended Learning Specialist

I started teaching in 1998. My first year I filled in for a teacher in a Boston exurb. The school was my alma mater, so English department staff took me under their wings to help me do the best one could hope for a first-year teacher. They gave me lesson plans, coached me on practice and helped me develop some good curriculum. By all measures, I had a great year in my first year of teaching.

Thank you for your continued support

Dear Friend of JFYNetWorks,

You may remember a young man named Joey whom we have featured before. Joey was a pleasant, affable high school student with a winning smile and a low opinion of himself. “I want to go to college,” he said, “but I’m not sure I can do it. There’s too much to learn. How am I ever going to make it?” We have recounted how we helped Joey work his way through our College Readiness course by showing him the periodic reports that documented how much he had achieved and how much closer he was to the goal. Our blended learning specialist, Melissa, even counted the number of software modules he had to complete and checked them off as he did them. By the end of the year, he had learned enough to pass the college placement test. In the fall, he was admitted to community college without having to take any remedial courses. We’ll never forget his charmingly modest expression of triumph to Melissa: “I got this, Miss.”

Minding the Gap… GAP Year that is

Should you take a year off after high school?

by Joan Reissman, Blended Learning Specialist

If you’re a senior, you are probably thinking about college. The traditional pattern has been to attend college right after high school, but many students now are taking a year off before enrolling in college. The so-called “gap year” got a lot of attention when Malia Obama decided to wait a year before attending Harvard. Her decision attracted both praise and criticism. Was it a good decision? Let’s examine the gap year option.

Of Engines and Mountains-little engine that could


Teaching students to think they can

by Cathie Maglio, Blended Learning Specialist
Illustration by George and Doris Hauman

In the classic children’s story “The Little Engine That Could,” the little blue steam engine is asked to pull a train full of toys and gifts to boys and girls on the other side of the mountain. Even though the engine is the smallest in the train yard, she gives it a try. She encounters many obstacles on the way up and each time she says, “I think I can, I think I can.” And in the end, as all children know, the little blue engine does make it over the mountain to deliver the toys to the children.

Summer Study for Math

by Joan Reissman, Blended Learning Specialist

My last blog post discussed the fact that students don’t understand the connection between Accuplacer scores and remedial college courses until they meet with an advisor and see how many non-credit-bearing courses they will have to take. Although some colleges allow a good high school GPA to substitute for remedial math courses, using high school courses as a proxy is much more common for English than math. It’s generally easier to study English on your own than math, but that doesn’t mean you can’t improve your math skills. You may not be pursuing a STEM major, but you will still need to take math courses. Not only do you need basic math skills for everyday living, but you will need math skills for many majors including accounting, trades and social sciences. Keep in mind that the skills you build now are the foundation of success in college.