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Students at Haas Automation Inc. in California take part in a lesson. Haas supports SkillsUSA and manufacturing education, and is considered a best practice by the Manufacturing Institute.

When career tech students in 21 West Virginia districts returned to school this fall, they didn’t head to classrooms. They went to work.

Through the state’s Simulated Workplace pilot program, high school students learn in classes that are restructured to feel like workplace environments. For instance, students will clock in upon arrival, take random drug tests, and be evaluated based on their “company’s” bottom line.

For years, schools have focused on preparing students for jobs that require a four-year degree from a university, and federal and state education policies “have prioritized college preparation over career preparation,” says Ashley Parker, spokesperson for the Association of Career and Technical Education (ACTE).

As it becomes clearer that many high-paying jobs are remaining unfilled—and that many university-educated job seekers are not prepared to fill them—that focus has started to change. But to get students and parents on board, districts must start early.

School district leaders must ignore the politics of Common Core and focus on the practical realities of implementation.

As widespread adoption of the Common Core State Standards moves ever closer, the initiative is coming under attack from both the left and right. But school district leaders must ignore the politics and focus on the practical realities of implementation: costs, technology, and training, K12 leaders say.

More students in Fairfield Community Schools in Goshen, Ind., are taking the bus due to tougher economic times. It increased ridership from about 2,700 in 2009 to more than 2,800 this year. In turn, rides are longer for students. Above, one New Paris Elementary School bus ride is 55 minutes long.

Innovations ranging from on-board music to digital mapping and alternative fuels are making long bus rides better experiences for students while also helping districts make transportation more efficient.

Experience shows that children who spend more time on buses are likely to get bored or behave badly. For rural districts, where hour-long rides are not uncommon and some may exceed two hours, the situation can be especially problematic.

Opponents of the Common Core State Standards say they have a variety of concerns about the effects the standards will have on school districts’ curriculum.

Math standards under Common Core will push the teaching of algebra back a year, from eighth to ninth grade, in many districts, say Lindsey Burke, educational policy fellow at the Heritage Foundation and Jim Stergios, executive director of the Pioneer Institute. Both also insist that the teaching of literature will take a backseat as emphasis shifts to informational texts.

Driver Dawn Lemaster, above, reads to Lake Orion students. She was the Thomas Built Essay Contest Winner 2012—North American School Bus Driver of the Year.

When a bus driver for Lake Orion Community Schools in Michigan grew concerned that riders were bored, she began bringing books and games on board for students to use while in transit.

That became the first step in the development in a special program to promote reading and other learning activities. Through an initiative dubbed BusSTAR (Support Teaching by Assisting in Reading), drivers now assist teachers in the classroom and provide other support during the part of the day when they are not transporting students.

PreK students in Detroit Public Schools perform at the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix through the PNC Bank ‘Grow Up Great’ Program.

The Council for Corporate & Schools Partnerships offers districts a how-to guide on forming alliances with business. Here are highlights from its step-by-step list:

Accordian-style lifts work well in multipurpose rooms or gyms, where balls or other objects cannot be trapped under the machine.

Products such as automatic doors, mechanical lifts, and low, touchless trough sinks increase accessibility in schools. Design elements can also increase accessibility beyond ADA requirements, says Karen Braitmayer, an accessibility consultant.

“A big trend right now is school buildings that have a clarity of organization,” she says. “Good wayfinding is useful to students with cognitive, hearing, and sight impairments.”

Each portable Ascension wheelchair lift has a control panel outside and inside, which allows passengers to operate the lift themselves unless they have assistance.

Districts need to train teachers and paraprofessionals on assisting students with disabilities without injuring themselves or the student. Part of that training must include being aware of every students’ specific needs, says Kathy Espinoza, assistant vice president, ergonomics and safety for Keenan, an insurance brokerage firm.

Espinoza trains teachers and school staff to properly lift students with mobility impairments. “Students may have brittle bones or attempt to go limp when being lifted,” she says. “These are things to be aware of and prepare for.”

Kansas City Public Schools in Missouri lost accreditation in January 2012. As part of the effort to improve schools, district leaders asked MindMixer to create an engagement platform, the KCPS Forum. Parents can access the forum through a web browser or app on their phone and pitch ideas for improving the district.

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