As a first step, Ohio must shift more K-12 dollars to classrooms. Ohio ranks 47th in the nation in the share of elementary and secondary education spending that goes to instruction and ninth in the share that goes to administration. More pointedly, Ohio’s share of spending on school district administration (rather than school administration such as principals) is 49 percent higher than the national average. It appears from projections in other states and from actual experience in Ohio that school district consolidation, or at the very least more aggressive shared services agreements between existing districts, could free up money for classrooms.
This statement if part of a set of recommendations made by Brookings in a report entitled, Restoring Prosperity, Transforming Ohio’s Communities for the Next Economy
The report makes specific recommendations urging the state to:
- Make the costs of school district administration transparent to Ohioans
- Push school districts to enter aggressive shared services agreements
- Create a BRAC-like commission to mandate best practices in administration and cut the number of Ohio’s school districts by at least one-third
The state also needs to catalyze local government collaboration. Ohioans live and work amid a proliferation of local governments. The state has 3,800 local government jurisdictions, including 250 cities, 695 villages, and 1,308 townships. Ohioans have the ninth highest local tax burden in the U.S., compared to the 34th highest for state taxes. While the proliferation of local governments and the fragmentation of the state into tiny “little box” jurisdictions may satisfy residents’ desire for accessible government, it also creates a staggering array of costs, such as duplication of infrastructure, staffing, and services, and a race-to-the-bottom competition among multiple municipalities for desirable commercial, industrial, and residential tax base. Perhaps most damaging is the fact that fragmented regions are less competitive than more cohesive metropolitan regions. To encourage collaboration, save costs, and boost competitiveness, the state should:
- Change state law to make local government tax sharing explicitly permitted
- Create a commission to study the costs of local government and realign state and local funding
- Catalyze a network of public sector leaders to promote high performance government
- Support the creation of regional business plans
- Reward counties and metros that adopt innovative governance and service delivery
The top tier of the administrative-heavy Ohio Education bureaucracy will probably take a very very long time to address some of these critical issues. It is delightful to go out to the field and find places where shared resources ARE taking place, due to the initiatives of teachers and good administrators who are working on the ground. Just this past month, the foundation I work with provided a grant of $100,000 to initiate a county-wide shared curriculum for the nationally respected science curriculum known as Project Lead the Way.
Lorain County, Ohio is currently in desperate need of a skilled, knowledgeable workforce that will help attract new industry to Northeast Ohio. In order to successfully meet the challenges in the years ahead, it is very important that young students are encouraged to pursue careers in science and technology. This is especially critical when one considers the growing gap between the increasing demands in the workforce and the shrinking supply of professionals in science, engineering and technology.
Established in 1971, The Lorain County JVS provides career-technical training for both the high school and adult populations of Lorain County. The JVS is located on a 10-acre campus on the corners of State Route 58 and 20 in Oberlin, Ohio. It is one of the largest career-technical facilities in the state of Ohio and offers some of the most outstanding, nationally accredited career development programs in Northern Ohio. The JVS serves 13 school districts: Amherst, Avon, Avon Lake, Clearview, Columbia, Elyria, Firelands, Keystone, Midview, North Ridgeville, Oberlin, Sheffield-Sheffield Lake and Wellington.
The high school annually serves over 1,100 students on campus. In addition, the JVS provides satellite programs for an additional 700 students in 13 associate school districts. These satellite programs include Network Communications Technology, Consumer & Family Science, Teacher Education Exploration, Career Connections, Career Based Intervention and GRADS.
At the JVS, high school students can explore over 30 career options through a wide range of exciting career and technical programs available in the following academies: Building Trades, Business & Marketing, Culinary, Manufacturing & Pre-Engineering, Transportation, Service, and College Tech-Prep.
The Adult Career Center was also established in 1971. It annually serves approximately 4,500 adults from all cities in Lorain County. Many adult students prepare for their careers in 17 full-time career development programs. In addition to the career development programs, the Adult Career Center offers a large number of career enhancement and special interest courses which include customized training, job profiling, and assessment services for business and industry. Services are provided on-site or at the JVS. For on-site training, a self-contained mobile training unit can be taken to the worksite to provide machine trades and computer training programs.
Project Lead the Way© (PLTW) provides unique opportunities to use cutting edge technology and software in activity, project, and problem-based learning. Teachers must attend summer training where they complete each lesson that they will teach during the course of the school year. PLTW provides teachers with ongoing support as they implement the program. PLTW pre-engineering curriculum is a three-year sequence of courses which, when combined with college preparatory mathematics and science courses in high school, introduces students to the scope, rigor and discipline of engineering and engineering technology prior to entering college. Not only is it important to attract students to engineering degrees, this is an opportunity to prepare students for the rigors of college.
Eight school districts in Lorain County (Avon, Avon Lake, Amherst, Firelands, Clearview, North Ridgeville, Wellington, and Oberlin currently participate in the curriculum; (Elyria is interested in joining in 2011 once their building project is completed). Additionally, Lorain County Community College (LCCC), early-college students will have the opportunity to study pre-engineering principles and computer aided design beginning in their sophomore year of high school. PLTW was chosen because of its nationally tested qualities that encourage student success:
- Receiving necessary extra help and support to meet higher standards
- Experiencing relevant and engaging learning experiences in academic and career/technical classes.
Avon, Avon Lake and North Ridgeville will provide their own instructors. The JVS will provide instructors to Clearview, Firelands, Wellington, Oberlin and Amherst.
The PLTW Planning Committee is comprised of eight school districts, community and business partners. Some of the school districts have teachers ready to attend training this summer. All districts involved have signed a school agreement with Project Lead the Way with the national offices. In the first year of this collaboration, 200 students will be enrolled in the first course.
Once students have completed the first course at their home school, four PLTW pre-engineering courses will be offered at the South site of the JVS and the North satellite location at Lorain County Community College. Pathway options include an Associate of Science degree, Associate of Applied Science, or a Certificate of Proficiency. Students can choose an engineering school of their choice. Courses planned at the JVS and LCCC include Principles of Engineering, Digital Electronics, Computer-Integrated Manufacturing, Engineering Design and Development and a capstone course where students partner with a business in Lorain County to solve an open-ended engineering problem. A plan of action is in place to implement PLTW pre-engineering curriculum in eight districts in 2010 (contingent upon computer equipment) and PLTW biomedical science curriculum in 2011.
Once the site labs at the eight districts are in place, the JVS will use these facilities in year two to initiate the PLTW Biomedical Sciences curriculum following the same collaborative design. To move forward, the JVS needs to purchase the computers that have the capacity to support the engineering software and graphic programs at each host site.
The JVS Project Lead The Way pre-engineering program is in its second year. Two JVS students completed summer internships at NASA in 2009. Senior Katie Fallon spoke at the Ohio PLTW luncheon on November 4, 2009 in Dayton, Ohio. Each school district has 25+ students who want to take the Introduction to Engineer course in fall 2010. The JVS is slated to earn national certification in spring 2010. The JVS will graduate its first PLTW pre-engineering students in June 2010. This grant will help expand the program to eight additional school districts in Lorain County. Lorain County Community College is ready for the 2011 school year when the first class of juniors will arrive at the satellite site. The first biomedical sciences course will start in 2011 at the district site. Each district has completed a signed agreement with Project Lead the Way at both the national and state levels. The partnership with Lorain County Community College has been established. This coalition supports implementing the PLTW biomedical science curriculum in 2011.
- Job Placement/Post Secondary: 2008 Grads — 6 months after graduation
- 52% were pursuing post-secondary education
- 54% were employed in careers related to their JVS program
- General Operating Budget: $25 million (58% local funding/42% state funding)
- Educational Foundation Scholarships, Incentives and Grants: $69,375
Despite the exciting potential for this program, Project Lead the Way will scramble to have to find the additional $150,000 needed to see it to completion. The Race to the Top frenzy, disqualifies projects like this because a Joint Vocational Services Center is not considered a Local Educational Authority (LEA). Even the federal funding system works out of an old district model that works against many of the recommendations set forth by the Brookings report. Nonetheless, the teachers will continue to try and find the funds from private and corporate sources to make this program work.
I have had the great honor to spend a few hours with teachers from the PLTW at the JVS. I was so encouraged by our conversation I did two things. I want to share with you some of the quotes from our conversation. And secondly, I asked the faculty to play with a tool called Voicethread.
In a very informal session, I asked two teachers and one administrator from the Lorain County Joint Vocational Services to share their thoughts on what contributes to successful teaching and learning in a world where technology is changing the very foundations of how students learn.
Dr. Cathy Pugh: Education has changed dramatically since I began teaching some 30 years ago. We still have a hard time getting over the “factory model” for educating young people. Getting kids through an assembly line of courses in order to graduate is a model that no longer works. Other teachers and I are excited about encouraging youngsters to focus on learning rather than just getting a grade. A new approach to teaching, supported by technology allows us as science teachers to encourage them to take risks. Our approach is to help them to understand it is o.k. to fail as long as you learn from mistakes.
Jim Pavlick: We are trying to reintroduce the concept of “play” into learning, especially in the sciences. Kids come up with some crazy ideas, but a wise teacher knows this is where really good teaching opportunities arise. My theory is, ‘if you throw it out, you have to be ready to catch it, so it is ok to respond to new ideas with ‘I don’t know, so let’s find out.’ A lot of kids want to have the answers ready for them. The exciting educational moment is to help them take responsibility for their learning by explaining to their peers, as well as their teachers the process they used to prove or disprove why their idea can or cannot work.
Mike Bennett: I worked as an engineer for 25 years before moving to teaching. When I first started in business a young engineer could work in isolation. Technology has changed that paradigm. Today, companies encourage collaboration. These are changes I try to impart in my teaching high school students. Working in teams, encouraging people to come up with creative solutions to problems is the way to go. Communication – being able to speak and write well are critical to science, math and engineering skills today. Computer technology such as 3D programs used for engineering and drafting has changed the way teachers and students learn in that discipline. Thirty-years ago, a student had to memorize theorems and later apply it to drawing. Today, the 3D programs allow students to readily apply the theory with practice. Even more exciting is the fact that engineering becomes art with its unique and language. These are very exciting times to be a teacher. I love my job.
These teachers are an inspiration to the profession. It is my sincere hope that the education bureaucracy will see to it that projects like this will get the federal and state support they need to serve the young people of our country.
If you want to listen to the teachers talking about the program, you will probably have to sign up for a voicethread account. It is worth it!