Wednesday April 24, 2013

A lot has been said in recent decades about the inadequacies of America’s public education system, with the criticism coming from multiple sources. Business leaders complain that young people entering the workforce don’t have the skills that companies need, students question the real-world application of the courses they’re forced to take, parents grumble about what value they’re getting for their tax dollars and the high cost of post-secondary education, and educators lament about the lack of support they receive from parents, businesses and the community in general.

A series of statewide discussions on developing and promoting innovative practices in high school learning aims to address all of these issues and concerns. The Vermont Agency of Education is bringing one of those community forums to Brattleboro on Thursday, along with a free dinner.

The purpose of Thursday’s meeting at Brattleboro Union High School is to share ideas the agency has been exploring to change how high school students receive credits, and also talk with business and community members about what they want to see from a redesigned high school system.

"We want communities and families to talk about what they think high school education should look like in the 21st century," said Education Secretary Armando Vilaseca.

Meg Powden, the agency’s School Effectiveness Coordinator and Co-Lead to the League of Innovative Schools, said this discussion could lead to very big changes in how students receive their high school credits.

Some students at BUHS are already taking advantage of a duel enrollment program that allows them to receive college credit for their work. Getting that head start on earning college credits would certainly help reduce the cost of a college education. Powden said Thursday’s information session is a chance for the agency to hear from students, parents, teachers and administrators on how that program is working.

Powden said the Agency of Education wants to give students even more options, and have them design the programs that make the most sense to them. Along with the collegiate high school program, Vermont high schools might offer more online learning and get kids involved with internships or community-based learning so they can see that real-world application of the more formal instruction they’re receiving in the classroom.

"We want high school to more meaningful for all students," Vilaseca said. "This is not watered down education. It is a way to get every student more engaged and motivated to learn."

Agency of Education spokeswoman Angela Ross said it’s important for high school students to come out to the information session and be fully involved in this discussion. It’s equally important for business leaders to talk about their needs, and how they want Vermont’s high school students to be prepared for life beyond secondary school.

The agency has been gathering information from the sessions it has hosted around the state. A report will eventually be put together for legislators and the State Board of Education to help implement changes that can be adopted at all of the high schools across Vermont.

This is a great opportunity for all those with a vested interest in educating young people, and our future workforce, to step up and get involved in the conversation instead of simply complaining from the sidelines.

Thursday’s event is free but the state is asking participants to register so food can be ordered for the dinner. Register at education.vermont.gov/community-dinners or call Powden at 802-828-0262.