Community Education

Expanding the Dialogue: What Do Kids Need to Succeed in the 21st Century?

As college drop-out rates rise and young adult unemployment reaches levels unseen since the Great Depression, a growing consensus of business and academic leaders are asking whether a traditional four-year college education is always the best path to a successful career. The mission of the Pathways to Prosperity Project at Harvard Graduate School of Education is to get this question out in the open—and encourage Americans to explore new approaches to education reform that offer multiple paths to career fulfillment.

This question was explored at the October 11th NEF symposium, “Expanding the Dialogue: What Do Kids Need to Succeed in the 21st Century?,” the first in the 2011–2012 NEF Community Education Series.

Featuring a panel discussion including Needham Public Schools superintendent Dr. Daniel Gutekanst and keynote address by Pathways to Prosperity director William Symonds, “Expanding the Dialogue” encourages discussion of why our existing education model fails to prepare many young adults for the workforce. In a more promising vein, it invites the audience to consider alternative ways to better prepare our kids to make a smooth transition from adolescence to adulthood.

Says Symonds: “Going to college for four years is not the best answer for all young people. We need to provide other pathways for them to succeed. I’ve spoken with parents a few years after their children graduated from college, and many of those students are struggling. These parents have a growing sense that going to a four year college doesn’t necessarily guarantee success in today’s economy.”

In addition to Dr. Gutekanst, symposium panelists include Dr. Edward A. Bouquillon, Superintendent, Minuteman Career and Technical High School and Patricia Eagan, Senior Staff Consultant, Verizon State Government Relations and Board Member, Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education.

NEF Presents “Let’s Talk: Keys to Your Child’s Academic Success”

The Needham Education Foundation (NEF) is bringing groundbreaking research in children’s education to the Needham community on Wednesday evening, February 24, 2010.

“Let’s Talk: Keys to Your Child’s Academic Success,” will be presented by Harvard Associate Professor Nonie Lesaux and members of her research group. For her trailblazing work, President Obama bestowed the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) upon Lesaux in July 2009.

Dr. Lesaux will focus on the critical importance of higher level vocabulary and dialogue in children’s education, presenting results from a large‐scale study of middle school students in San Diego, California. Analysis of the data from year one of the study is soon to be published in the top reading research journal, Reading Research Quarterly. Lesaux and her colleagues, Perla Gamez and Joan Kelley, will present these findings as well as the latest information from year two, highlighting the relationship between vocabulary knowledge and reading achievement, and discussing how the results support the need to build children’s vocabulary at home and at school.

The NEF requests those interested in attending, RSVP to info@nefneedham.org by February 17, 2010. Admission is free and the program will run from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. in Milas Hall at the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering. Light refreshments will be served before the discussion and a question and answer session will follow.

Lesaux, Gamez and Kelley will explain that encouraging your children to read is essential, but it is only a piece of the academic puzzle. Their research concludes that children need exposure to academic vocabulary and practice using academic words in order to read and understand middle school and high school textbooks, and ultimately achieve in school.

“Challenging our children with rich dialogue is integral to their school success,” said Lesaux. “My research team is going to address what constitutes the kind of dialogue that has an impact on children’s learning, and how parents and caregivers can infuse meaningful, educational conversation in today’s fast‐paced family lifestyles.”

“For example, we’ve all heard we need to have dinner as a family but what needs to take place while we’re sitting at the table together? Our discussion will offer ideas for having conversations with your children that will have them thinking about new concepts and ideas they’ve never contemplated before. With innovative thinking comes higher level vocabulary and comprehension that then crosses over into children’s studies.”

“This is the first time that NEF has sponsored this kind of event,” said Frank Fortin, co‐president of the NEF. “It is rare for professionals of this caliber to present their research to the general public and even more unusual for this research to be shared before publication.” Harvard Graduate School of Education Dean Kathleen McCartney has said Lesaux’s work is “already changing education policy in the United States, and making an impact on the training of many education professionals.”

Watch a video news story of the program, produced by the Needham Channel: