McConduit-Diggs says the community is more engaged now than it was prior to the storm. “The level of civic engagement that has occurred in the post-Katrina context, not just in education but across the board, is really fascinating. It has been driving change and accountability in a different way than I’ve seen.â€
“What Is the Purpose of Education?â€
Education reform is still so hotly debated in New Orleans, McConduit-Diggs says, because “now we’re 10 years in, and people want to see even greater change than the positive gains we’ve seen to date.â€ One stubborn statistic: the unemployment rate for African American men is a dismal 52%; the Katrina recovery is clearly leaving some behind.
“When you still have a very high unemployment rate among working-age African American men, people question the results. We also have very high numbers of disconnected youth, which also raises questions. In a decentralized environment like the charter landscape, what kinds of challenges does the structure itself present? Does that allow for certain students to fall through the cracks?â€
McConduit-Diggs sees a disconnect between innovation and education reform and employability, particularly for African American men. “How are we directly focusing our investments and attention on that statistic [the 52% unemployment rate of working-age African American men], because what’s the purpose of education? Is it just to help individuals academically, or is it to broaden and create a more informed and educated civic community that is employable and that can contribute to society in a positive way.â€
Education and Workforce Development
McConduit-Diggs wants to see a greater connection between education and workforce and economic development because they are what drive community, she says.
“So we are just now pivoting some of our education reform work to focus on greater alignment from a workforce opportunity standpoint. We’re looking at our region and asking where are the demand sectors? Where is the projected job growth for the next 20 years and beyond? How do we better inform our young people of opportunities, and how do we create a pathway so they can walk into those demand sectors? We’re having a conversation in this region around increased focus on career and technical education.â€
Career and technical education, abbreviated CTE, is an alternative to the four-year degree that is generally considered mandatory to achieve anything close to middle-class stability. Yet, at this year’s U.S. News STEM Solutions Conference, it was made clear that STEM careers sit on a spectrum: You don’t need a Ph.D. in chemistry to pursue STEM; many are enjoying high-paying STEM careers with a two-year degree and less. At the conference, the importance of CTE was emphasized: students with associate degrees or specific technology training and credentials–sometimes provided by employers or at community colleges–can earn handsome, livable wages. McConduit-Diggs spoke of the unique needs in the greater New Orleans area.
“Nationally, a lot of education reform has been focused on attaining a four-year college degree. However, drilling down into the Gulf Coast region, many of our good jobs require only a two-year degree, and some good-paying jobs only need certifications and different credentials. So how do we build that into what we’re doing in education reform?â€
McConduit-Diggs wants to see not just increased high school graduation rates, but diplomas and degrees that directly connect to the workforce, that, she says, is success.
For more information about the Urban League of Greater New Orleans’ Rise Katrina 10 conference which, in addition to education, is exploring housing, health, the environment, workforce and economic development, civic engagement, and criminal justice, go to it’s website.