A college prof called yesterday. He said, “College sucks.” He’s taking a couple courses as a humbling market research project. He found dated content and tools and disengaged students. I said, “If you want to see disengagement, you should try a high school algebra course.”

Brandon Busteed, the Executive Director of Gallup Education wrote a fascinating piece for the Gallup blog where he discusses that there may be something far more important to this country right now then the fiscal cliff and that is what he called the “school cliff.”

The poll mentioned in his blog shows the decline in student engagement, specifically by stifling learning environments and the “overzealous focus” of standardized tests. The poll also states that this is the time that students show high entrepreneurial spirit.

The solution to disengaged students is people, policies, pathways, and tools.

The Future Project models a human capital solution to the engagement problem. “The Future Project is a national experiment in education reinvention out to turn ordinary high schools into Future Schools, where students become passionate, innovative, and entrepreneurial — and turn their dreams into action, left, and right,” said Future Project CEO Andrew Magino.

The policy solution, outlined for K-12 by Digital Learning Now!, is a high-tech, show-what-you-know system where student have more ownership over learning and progress as they demonstrate mastery.

At Enstitute we are creating an example of a new pathway to careers—an apprenticeship model to entrepreneurship with wrap around learning opportunities. We think high school students should have exposure to entrepreneurship and access to alternative pathways to careers. Enstitute is aligned and was founded on the theory that not everyone learns the same way and should be encouraged to follow an educational pathway that best suites them.

And finally, students should have full time access to online learning resources and blended learning experiences from high school to work. Next gen pathways will combine new tools with real work experiences—on the job learning, mentorship and a personalized playlist of online curriculum.

Given more student apprenticeship opportunities, this could also be the way that many companies recruit and develop talent.

The disengagement issue is a national problem for the US education system and economy. Our schools and universities bear little resemblance to life and work in the real world. We need to mobilize people, reshape policy, form new pathways, and use new tools to create new schools. As Brandon Busteed suggests, let’s please attempt to overhaul our education system before we go over “the school cliff.”

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