The National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research, in collaboration with the American Youth Policy Forum and the Educational Policy Improvement Center, hosted an invitation-only “College and Career Readiness Symposium: The Role of Technical Assistance in Actualizing College and Career Readiness,” in Washington, D.C., on April 24, 2012. Throughout the College and Career Readiness Symposium, technical assistance (TA) providers were asked to consider how they think about their work in light of the day’s conversations. Presenters and participants identified several implications for providing technical assistance, including rethinking their role as TA providers, tailoring TA to the needs of the state, supporting collaboration, using data, and developing stronger student support structures.
Rethinking the Role of TA Providers
Participants discussed how to best provide TA to help states tackle college and career readiness. TA can include sharing knowledge on emerging best practices, developing resources, coaching, convening and providing direct instruction. Several states shared their appreciation for TA providers who were good listeners, and who were timely and responsive to requests. They valued TA providers who built an environment of trust, who provide both professional and personal support, and who are willing to get into the weeds.
When asked what the role TA providers might play in promoting CCR, Dr. David Conley suggested that TA providers can be thought partners for the states and can put resources in front of the right people at the right time. He described guiding states through incremental changes that lead to transformational systems change. At first, states will need scaffolds, like tools and resources such as those being developed and shared by the National High School Center. Eventually, as states become more proficient, those tools can fade away. Another participant suggested that TA providers could be the “institutional memory” as state staff come and go. TA staff should inform and remind state staff of the project’s goal and why the state started on the journey.
Finding ways to support collaboration was one of the most universal recommendations among Symposium participants. Supporting collaboration could be evinced through one or more avenues: facilitating collaboration among staff within state education agencies; across agencies within the same state; across states and regions; and even among the TA providers themselves.
Collaboration within state agencies was viewed as a way to sustain work across time. One participant suggested connecting not only with the leadership, but also with staff at the middle and lower levels to ensure a lasting connection. To sustain a vision beyond the leadership of one individual, participants noted the importance of creating buy-in, a shared definition, and alignment of efforts amongst stakeholders at all levels within and external to the state education agency. Participants recommended building a “CCR alliance,” which would include a diverse group of trained stakeholders that could continue to function despite turnover in the state. Conversations need to be facilitated between K-12 education agencies, institutes of higher education, career and technical education advocates as well as workforce development personnel and other stakeholders. For example, Texas holds a state-wide conference annually with informal education providers, like museums and state park personnel.
TA providers should connect their states with other states that share a geographic region, size, or demography. These kinds of meetings allow states to learn about the practices in other states and problem-solve as a group. Some participants noted that even their multi-state conversations were helpful in bringing new state staff up to speed in cases of turnover.
It was also recommended that TA providers need to collaborate with each other. One participant suggested developing a mapping process to map stakeholder priorities and roles in relation to CCR, and to map current and possible TA provider collaboration to meet those needs. Participants also thought inter-TA collaboration was crucial build the capacity of the TA network and to avoid mixed and fractured messages coming to states. TA needs to be well coordinated so the recipients are not struggling to create coherence themselves. Participants agreed that to be successful in supporting CCR, TA providers would need to ensure that funding cycles do not drive their work. If TA providers are overly concerned with protecting their own funding, they will not have meaningful collaboration.
Participants suggested conducting a needs assessment in a state or district to identify what is already going on before adding new pieces. One participant suggested that TA providers begin their work with a state by leading a facilitated conversation that uses the data to identify priorities and questions, as well as defines the roles of the state and TA providers. They emphasized the need to engage practitioners with the data process because the people running data reports can pinpoint trends, but do not always feel prepared to make recommendations.
Tailor TA to the Needs of the State
Once a needs assessment has been completed, the support provided to each state should be differentiated according the specific needs of the state. TA providers should listen to the needs of their partners and support them through the process of examining data, articulating their needs, and then listen to how the state requires help. As one state representative said, “It is hard when you get bombarded by people who want to ‘help,’ but they want to do it their way or they want to tell you how it should be done.” And yet, participants also noted that sometimes TA providers can be the “critical friend” who pushes states to think differently or more deeply about CCR. Other TA providers who work, for example, with schools in villages in Alaska or in the Pacific Islands thought the definition of CCR would need to be modified to fit the realities and needs of rural and remote villages. TA providers from several southern states agreed that there will need to be several definitions, but that TA providers should work to make sure that the definitions align and are designed to best meet the needs of students. Participants also felt that technical assistance on CCR needed to be inclusive of multiple populations, including English language learners and special education students.
Develop Strong Student Support Structures
Dr. Conley discussed the need for greater structures to be put in place so that large decisions in the academic lives of students don’t hinge on happenstance. Simple mistakes on course selection in high school, misinformation, or missing registration deadlines should not be possibilities for students. With the current system as it is, he believed that students, especially first generation college students, are set up to make mistakes in postsecondary institutions due to the lack of preparation in high school and safe guards in place. He recommended a shift in focus on admitting students who have the skills to successfully attain their goals without remediation in a postsecondary institution, and not on if students simply meet eligibility requirements.
Note: This blog post was originally authored under the auspices of the National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The National High School Center’s blog, High School Matters, which ran until March 2013, provided an objective perspective on the latest research, issues, and events that affected high school improvement. The CCRS Center plans to continue relevant work originally developed under the National High School Center grant. National High School Center blog posts that pertain to CCRS Center issues are included on this website as a resource to our stakeholders.