Reconstruction is Occurring in Education: Innovative Cradle-to-Career Pathways are Essential

What will be build tomorrow? We know that the care of many children, and more children yet unborn, are in our hands.

What we build tomorrow depends on what we reconstruct today. As an education leader, I know that one of the biggest rooms in our educational house is the room for continuous improvement. A commitment to continuous improvement is essential in education; yet, improvement alone is not enough.

If you tell a person the time, you inform him/her for the moment.
If you train a person to tell time, you forever empower him/her to act.
If you teach a person to tell time and build an accurate clock, you equip him/her to think and work.

Building a clock is not enough. K-12 education systems must make it the standard to teach students how to program computers and build machines that build clocks and more using 3D printing, AutoCAD, and other software.

Art McCoy speaks to elementary school students
on literacy, life success and leadership.

Schools can be direct forces of social change. To sever the attainment gaps of today educational institutions must advocate for the redesign of the educational system for social change, student empowerment, and skills and innovation. Together, communities, educators, and industry experts must rebuild this system to help ensure that all citizens receive an education and experiences that properly prepare them for postsecondary education, productive careers, and satisfying lives.

A cradle-to-career approach with a variety of options provides for comprehensive structural supports and workforce pathways for education and business.

  1. Preschool and primary years. In the preschool and primary years, students must gain the foundation for academic success through strong literacy, numeracy, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills. Children in poverty start school with at least a two million word-usage gap. For the rest of the child’s life that gap is nearly impossible to close.
  2. “Soft” skills. In addition to building academic knowledge, students at this age must develop the executive function behaviors and character for success. This includes learning how to focus and increase self-control, team work, perception taking, making connections, self-directed engaged learning, and the grit to succeed. Lastly, role models and mentors from parents to professionals re-enforce personal motivation, determination, empathy, courage, and leadership.
  3. Middle school through community college. From 7th grade through 14th grade, education must include developing softs skills and technical skills as a normal part of the coursework and time in school. Students must not be forced into either technical or traditional college prep education. Instead, students deserve the right to both, simultaneously. While learning about the work world, students gain great insights through working to learn—internships, apprenticeships, and programs like Workforce Investment Act (WIA) and Jobs for America’s Graduates. Early college and dual enrollment programs through community colleges, trade programs, and universities must increase and become more of the norm from 10th grade onward.

With much help and many mentors, this was how I graduated with my bachelor’s degree a year and a half after receiving my high school diploma (with over 40 college credit hours). Shortly after, I was recognized as the youngest certified teacher in Missouri at age 19. So much more is possible for all students if we build structures and pathways today of what we expect to see more of tomorrow.

In learning environments with such cradle-to-career supports, a culture of success thrives. Children can and have overcome obstacles created by poverty, systemic oppression, language barriers, and learning disorders.

Individuals and organizations have specific roles to play. A few of the organizations that I see making a tangible difference:

  • MIND Research Institute aims to lead a learning revolution that fulfills the mission of ensuring that all students are mathematically equipped to solve the world’s most challenging problems. So far, through ST Math in classrooms, it’s reaching 800,000 students and thousands more parents, teachers and students through MathMINDs programs outside of the classroom.
  • S.A.G.E.S., which I founded, aims to sever achievement gaps in the education of students and to sever attainment gaps that exist in society. SAGES has helped raise millions of dollars for innovative programs to benefit students.
  • The Construction Forum STL, aims “to knock down the walls and make a room big enough for everyone in the region to participate in addressing issues like diversity, political fractionalization, education, and workforce.” This includes promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education among public and private primary and secondary schools in St. Louis, where I call home.

To make this a greater reality or take it to scale, we must take it to heart, put our heads and hands together.

We must advocate for and support transformative programs and conceptual learning opportunities for millions more students to experience creativity, problem solving, technical skills, adaptability, perseverance and critical thinking. Equipped with these skills, students will embark on a path of success that extends through high school, post-secondary education, careers, well into tomorrow’s competitive knowledge economy.

A version of this article was originally published in the Construction Forum STL Winter of 2014 Journal.

Art McCoy

About the Author

Art McCoy, Ph.D., was Chief Academic Officer and Superintendent-in-Residence at MIND Research Institute. He is also the founder of Severing the Achievement Gap in Education of Students, SAGES, a consulting and professional development organization.


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