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Bice talks education at EDA meeting

Published 11:48am Saturday, April 27, 2013

Businesspeople and educators gathered Friday to hear state superintendent Tommy Bice share how industry and education can come together for the benefit of both.

Bice was a guest speaker for Friday’s Lake Martin Area Economic Development Alliance annual luncheon in the Betty Carol Graham Technology Center.

Upon taking over as state superintendent, Bice said he saw a unique opportunity.

With Alabama set to be released from No Child Left Behind, Bice said the chance to redefine what a high school graduate is in the state and better prepare students to join the workforce presented itself.

“The reason we needed to do it is because we realized, under No Child Left Behind, for the last 10 years in public education we’ve been preparing children to take a test rather than preparing them for a future,” Bice said.

Bice said the change in definition was important because now it sets the stage for changing how students are prepared for their future in the state’s workforce.

And to find out what the workforce and industry needs from those students, Bice said he worked closely with those in business.

“In the first six months I spent far more time with business and industry than I did with education because I needed to hear from our customers, what it was they were not getting,” Bice said. “And I spent an equal amount of time with our friends in post-secondary and higher education asking those same questions – ‘What is it about Alabama high school graduates that’s not there when you get them?’”

Bice said the each group is seeking those in the workforce who can actually apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to the real world.

“Starting this year every child in Alabama is working toward a new endgame,” Bice said. “A child that graduates from high school in Alabama and succeed in a two-year or four-year college class, a workforce-training program or a technical school without the need for remediation. But probably the most important part is that those graduates are able to apply what they’ve learned to real-world situations.”

With these changes and a state goal to have a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020, Bice said producing better-prepared students through the partnership of schools, higher education and businesses can help solve economic problems.

“In one year we made a 3 percent gain, which may not sound like a lot to you, but that means 1,800 more high school graduates than we had the year before,” Bice said. “And if you look at the economic professionals, they say that the difference between a non-graduate and a graduate over their lifetime is average take-home pay of $250,000 over a 30-year work life.

“If you multiply that times 1,800 new graduates, we just put $450 million back into Alabama’s economy. And if we reach a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020, we’ll be putting back into the economy $2.7 billion of more earning power because they’re high school graduates.”