The Emerging Issues Forum at N.C. State University on the connection between a high-caliber teacher corps and the state’s economic competitiveness couldn’t be timelier.
A national discussion is underway – many say it’s a crisis – about the growing gaps in wealth and income between Americans at the top and the bottom. Many worry that we are developing a bifurcated economy and a bifurcated society. However, it is within our power, in communities across North Carolina, to defy conventional thinking, set big goals and drive the institutional changes and business behaviors needed to help prosperity become a reality for everyone.
If we agree about the importance of young people as our future workforce – as our nation’s economic lifeline – then we obviously have a lot at stake. All of our businesses depend on having a strong, motivated workforce.
But the larger economic problems created when our young people are unprepared for good jobs are a challenge to all of us. Teachers, even exceptional ones, certainly cannot by themselves ensure their students are ready for today’s jobs. They are part of a bigger picture, and the bigger picture is how all of us can make sure our youth are prepared for the competitive, high-skilled economy in the Research Triangle and beyond. Our teachers need the support of the entire community – particularly the business community.
So how do we build a reliable supply of high-quality workers ready and able to perform at the levels of excellence required in a competitive society? How can we do that in a way that creates genuine opportunities for young people to excel and develop skills in and for the workplace?
Two efforts are under way in Durham that I believe will help answer those questions. “Made in Durham,” still early in its development, is a partnership of top business, education, public sector and community leaders who are forging a strategy that we hope will transform the opportunities for all young people, particularly low-income young men and women of color. The goal is to provide a better chance for students to complete high school, achieve a post-secondary credentials and enter rewarding careers.
That’s a great benefit to the students themselves — and to Durham’s employers.
Research by our partner organization, Durham-based MDC, which is led by David Dodson, found that despite strong pockets of excellence in Durham’s education-to-career continuum, too many young people were not achieving academic success and acquiring the practical experiences necessary for the workplace. As a result, they were missing out on the robust economic and employment opportunities in Durham, disconnected from the chance to thrive in a buoyant economy.
The other effort is already delivering promising results. City of Medicine Academy, a Durham public school at Duke Regional Hospital, is opening opportunities for students interested in health care careers by giving them direct experience in the real world of medicine. Duke provides assistance in funding, tutoring and mentorship. Students extend their learning through internships and job shadowing experiences throughout Duke Medicine. Of its first four graduating classes, the school has achieved an impressive graduation rate of at least 95 percent, and this year it is on track for a 100 percent graduation rate.
Teachers, too, are expanding their own learning – within the school and beyond it. They will be participating in externships with health care organizations such as Duke Medicine, gaining valuable insights from the field that help inform their instruction. These health care organizations have helped lead the development of curriculum that crosses traditional disciplinary lines to make learning more engaging and more relevant and to better reflect the way students think about the world around them.
The strong success of City of Medicine Academy is helping show the way. With Made in Durham, we are working to demonstrate the kinds of innovative approaches that can bring about systemic change necessary to make these experiences the norm and focus on employment sectors – like health care and life sciences – that drive the vibrant Durham economy.
For this to work, employers – who have much to gain – will have to do their part. We must build a culture in which we recognize that this is not something teachers can do by themselves. Every employer has a responsibility to participate and make a contribution. Because when we as businesses do that, we all will succeed.
Dr. Victor J. Dzau, M.D., is president and chief executive officer of Duke University Health System.