WASHINGTON — High schools should provide more educational and career-related opportunities to students to help them transition better into college or the workforce, former Education Secretary John B. King Jr. said Thursday.

“We give the kids who need the most less access to effective teachers, less access to advanced course work, less AP classes, less quality career and technical education, less access to school counselors, less access to a well-rounded education,” King said. “Less access to resources and those opportunities gaps then translate into achievement gaps.”

Speaking at an event sponsored by the Urban Alliance, a nonprofit funded by companies and foundations to help low-income students get internships and training, King said that nonprofits and schools should focus on providing career resources for high school and college students who don’t have other ways to get that help.

“If we fail as a society to educate low-income students, students of color and English learners, we have no future … our economy has no future, our democracy has no future,” King said.

The Urban Alliance created a high school internship program in 1996 that targets high school seniors who maintain between a 2.0 to 3.0 grad point average and places them in paid internships and offers coaching and mentoring services.

A 2017 report by the think tank Urban Institute found that the Urban Alliance program had a strong impact on male college attendance.

“Approximately 70 percent of males in the Urban Alliance program attended college similar to females in either the program or control groups” compared with 55 percent of men in the control group, the report said.

It noted, however, that the program needed to consider other services for youth not going to college, like helping students find jobs after their internship or additional program alumni services.

Urban Alliance CEO Eshauna Smith said that high schools also need to rethink how they prepare students past the classroom because “we’re stuck in a very traditional structure.”

Smith said she sometimes has a hard time persuading schools to let students out early to complete their internships.

“The job is actually going to complement, supplement and support everything that they’re learning in the classroom. It might be the thing that maybe unlocks their potential,” Smith said.

Jennifer Brown Lerner, assistant director for policy and partnerships at the Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional and Academic Development, said schools, policymakers and researchers need to get to the bottom of what works and who needs help most.

“It means looking hard at the data that we have, that means looking hard at opportunity gaps and that means potentially allocating resources against very different categories and strategies than we’ve done in the past,” Smith said. “I do think we are demonstrating a demand from students and their families. They are no longer willing to put up with the status quo.”