Why Democrats Like Career Academies

Democrats are in the process of realigning educational reform to their beliefs. Their main goal is to move students out of schools which are failing students and which parents would not willing send their children. However, the real challenge for Democrats will be not to bow to political pressure to do things the way they have always been done, especially in Washington.

President Obama’s education initiative, Race to the Top, with a $100 billion increase in general federal aid to education, has been accepted by both parties all across the nation. His top two conditions for Race to the Top funding are charter schools (could be career academies at the high school level) and teacher merit pay. In fact, Arne Duncan, was probably chosen as Secretary of Education, because in Chicago he opened numerous charter schools.

These charter schools at the high school level, if they are structured as career academies, advocate thoughtful action for social justice, encourage parental choice, decrease the high school drop out rate, and endorse accountability by producing more students who are both ready for career and college. All of these initiatives that Democrats favor can be found in the current career academies.

The first initiative is advocating thoughtful action for social justice. All students should have equal opportunities in their education, but the space between the have and have-nots is ever-widening, even in schools. Career academies have both policies and teachers who care about all students along with a structure and curriculum in place that promotes student engagement, both in school and in the community. (For curriculum, read Sticky Learning, another book co-authored by Sandy Mittelsteadt.)

Parental choice is the second initiative. Because career academies are a school-within-a-school with a specific career theme or focus, academies must compete for students and make their program both attractive to students and parents in order for a student to elect to attend a particular academy. Competing academies have both improved the educational experiences and broadened the opportunities for their students.

Not dropping out of high school is another advantage of students who attend an academy. A more positive way to state this is that academy students are more apt to graduate from high school. Students in academies attend high school more often, probably because students elect to be in an academy, so they are more agreeable to attend school. The more students stay in class, the more they are motivated to learn. The more motivated students are, they more they are engaged in learning. The more engaged students are, the more they learn. This, them, becomes a circle: the more they learn, the more they are motivated to learn more. Students who graduate from high school are generally encouraged to attend college or post-secondary learning. This brings us to the next initiative.

The fourth initiative is that career academies endorse accountability by producing more students who are both ready for career and college. Students who feel they are college ready make an effort to attend college or receive post-secondary learning. Students who immediately go to work are more ready to learn and comply with company policy and any additional training that the company supplies.

Because career academies work is the major reason Democrats like career academies! They may require more time and resources in order to be successful, but Democrats feel career academies are well worth the effort. They are a time-tested strategy that results in more students who are successful in the real world.

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Engaging Research-Focused Staff in Higher Education in a Course in Teaching and Learning

There are some broad strategies that are already in place aimed at attracting research-focused staff to various formal and informal teaching and learning courses in many Higher Education institutions. For example, potential participants are exempted from a course module based on existing qualifications they possess; using a diploma course in teaching and learning as a prerequisite to a Master’s degree and/or linking the certification received by staff after completing a course in teaching and learning to professional status and a qualification such as fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA).

While these are pitched at the programme level and help to make the course attractive, the main strategy for keeping staff engaged in a course of study is to create a climate conducive to learning and their needs.

Firstly, creating a climate conducive to learning and participants’ needs involves a number of things. However, critical to this process is attending to the interests of the participants. As much as possible, gather information on past and present participants’ perceptions of the course and their research concerns and interests. This is important for a number of reasons. Engaging in this activity allows the teacher to

Get to know each participant and facilitate the building of relationship between teacher and participants.
Plan activities and utilise materials that are culturally and contextually relevant which makes it easier for participants to visualize learning transference in their respective contexts.
Present information on which there is some interest.
The insight participants will leave with from this data gathering exercises is that adults always appreciate being a part of their own development.

Secondly, creating a climate conducive to learning and the needs of the participant also includes finding out what they hope to gain by participating in each module and /or the entire course. This is best done during the first session of each module and via open discussion where appropriate questions could be asked. A variation on this approach is to ask them what they already know about the module or topic to be explored and what they would like to know.

Having gained their responses incorporate these in the lesson plans. During subsequent lessons prepare for, and discuss the areas or concerns raised by participants. What you will find is that ascertaining what participants’ would like to know and addressing these will allow them to become more attentive during the presentation. This is especially so, when their area of concern is being addressed. Also critical is involving them in developing and evaluating the curriculum by getting their feedback via feedback sheets given at the end of each module.

Finally, actively involve participants during lessons. This is very important because adult learners love to participate in the learning process (Jarvis, 1996). There are a variety of methods to be used such as: Reflection-on-practice and Reflective Journaling. These allow participants the opportunity to think critically and question their goals and values which guide their work, the context in which they teach, and assumptions they make about teaching (Zeichner and Liston, 1996). Action research. Participants could design and implement potential case studies/projects/research based on their teaching situation and publish the findings in relevant reputable journals. This contributes to the development of a scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL).

Problem base learning. Participants collaborate in the learning process using problem-based techniques to address issues/problems. Project based learning. Participants work in groups using multi-source information and creating authentic products or solutions. Professional Portfolio development. This allows participants to examine and articulate their personal instructional theory, and can be useful in accessing fellow status such as fellow of the Higher Education, Research Development Society of Australasia (FHERDSA) or fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA).

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Academy Schools and Selective Admissions: The Background

A report released in the New Year by the Academies Commission has proposed that some of the new generation of academy schools maybe using de facto selection methods to affect their respective intakes to the favour of their results and performance. There is no doubt that there have been some great success stories amongst the raft of new schools that have converted to academy status in the last few years but is there a question over how these results have been obtained and whether they are a true reflection of performance? The first installment of this article recaps what academy schools are and when selective admissions are permitted.

What are Academy Schools?

Academy Schools were introduced as City Academies by the Labour government in 2000 with the aim of transforming the fortunes of failing city secondary schools in England by providing them with the freedoms of self governance together with the ability to team with partners from the public and private sectors who have experiences of delivering success in their respective fields. In July 2010, the current coalition government embraced and grew the academy project passing the Academies Act passed shortly after the start of its term. The act opened up and promoted the possibility for all schools to apply for academy status and as a result there are now 2,619 currently operating in England.

At the heart of their definition is the idea that academies are schools which continue to receive funding from central government – the same funding per head as a traditional state school would receive via the local education authority (LEA) – but they are free from the control of said local education authorities. Therefore, they have the freedom to determine how the school is run to a significant extent; namely, how those funds are allocated on school resources (including staff pay), the length of the school day and the dates of school terms, uniforms, how the school is structured and, most importantly, what and how they teach as they are not required to follow the national curriculum fully. However, despite being afforded many of the freedoms of privately run schools, academies are still defined as state schools due to their funding and as such are subject to Ofsted inspections and are prohibited from charging fees.

The Rules Concerning Selection

Schools that convert to academy status can continue to use selection processes such as the 11 plus if they did so before their conversion. Many Grammar schools for example that were previously run under the grant maintained scheme, which also gave them autonomy from local government control but access to central government funding, found a natural fit with the academy structure and so made the conversion. These schools exist on the principle of providing tailored education to the highest achievers irrespective of their social background and so relied on using the 11 plus to select these children and can continue to do so following their switch to academies.

State schools that convert to academy status and that do/did not implement any selection criteria as LEA controlled schools, cannot subsequently become selective in their admission however, because this would undermine one of their stated aims, to drive up academic standards throughout their local communities.

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