Examine the mission statements in schools across America, and most will inevitably have statements pertaining to preparing students to be lifelong learners, responsible citizens and productive workers. As a society, we can all agree these are worthwhile goals and aspirations for our schools. Unfortunately, we cannot always agree on how to achieve these objectives. This issue is further complicated in an effort to hold schools accountable. In Illinois:
- Schools feel pressure to produce students who perform well on standardized tests.
- Legislators are feeling pressure to reign in a budget that is in the red.
- The Illinois State Board of Education was forced to make severe cuts in educational programs due to declines in its budget.
Topping this off is the impression from some in business and industry that our educational system is not preparing students for the workforce. Illinois—and our nation as a whole—has some serious challenges to address in our educational system. School accountability is a good thing, but standardized test scores designed to gauge college readiness are probably not the best way to measure a school’s effectiveness. They should be a part of a more comprehensive approach. Good educators and educational systems do not have an issue with accountability and are constantly looking for ways to improve.
What is an Education for Employment system?
EFEs were established in 1985 to provide leadership for Career and Technical Education programs in Illinois public schools. Education for Employment systems oversee state and federal grants for career and technical education. Local district administrators govern the 58 EFE systems in Illinois. Each system employs a director who serves as a liaison to the state board of education. EFE systems serve as one of the state’s primary data collectors, providing assistance in the areas of accountability and the development of system performance standards.
Locally, the Peoria Education Region For Employment and Career Training and Tazewell County Area Education for Employment System work together to promote a variety of opportunities for students and educators. These opportunities include, but are not limited to, a variety of work-based learning programs, professional development for educators and career exploration activities.
These issues are things I am passionate about. I have been fortunate to have a diverse set of experiences in my professional life. I have held securities licenses and raised millions of dollars for business ventures, consulted in the medical industry, and owned a glass and lock business for eight years. I have had the pleasure of hiring everyone from receptionists and shop clerks to managers of multi-million dollar imaging centers. I understand businesses and the challenges they face. I know the frustrations of hiring individuals who do not possess the appropriate skills for the workplace.
My passion is for students and education. Like so many educators, it is in my blood. I have worked in education in a variety of capacities since 1994. I recently took the position as the system director for the Peoria Education Region for Employment and Career Training (P.E.R.F.E.C.T.) to try to assist schools in addressing some of the challenges mentioned above. Impressive things happen in education when schools and businesses effectively partner to bring relevance to learning.
Future articles will highlight some of the ways business and industry are working with schools to create authentic learning opportunities and career awareness for our students. Last month’s iBi highlighted the great things that are going on in our Construction Work-Based Learning Program. This is the result of local schools, Education for Employment systems, and our construction trade unions working together to create opportunities for area students. There are other such programs and examples of this type of cooperation. I encourage educators and businesspeople alike to ask themselves what they can do to improve the educational process.
Our world of work requires us to be lifelong learners and make adjustments along the way. Some of the most important skills we can teach our students are critical thinking and problem solving in the work environment. Practical examples from the workplace help students learn in a more engaged manner. This is an essential component to engaging kids in the learning process and attaching relevance to the subject matter. In short, it answers the “Why do I need to know this?” question that is so often asked.
This is a complex process and is not easily integrated in our schools. Change is not always easy. We are here to help and to celebrate those successes along the way. iBi