Online Trade Schools: Can Experience Be Earned Online?
Online Trade Schools are becoming more common. In the process though, many employers are wondering just how practical online experience can be. While online courses can often assist education that is still routed in real world classrooms and curriculum, a degree from a completely online trade school seems unlikely.Yesterday, we posted the following news as it relates to trade based education - and it's certainly worth a second read...Trade schools educational plans are always being debated, based on what seemingly works here and there. When the dust settles though, the primary issue is ensuring that trade school students receive adequate hands on training. Provided that this happens, students attending trade schools are more successful.When it comes to making drastic changes to school culture, it's easier to do in a small school system such as Whitfield County Schools than in a large one. That's according to Larry Rosenstock, founding principal of the internationally-recognized High Tech High campus in San Diego. Rosenstock spoke to about 150 educators and community leaders Monday night at the Whitfield Career Academy.The Whitfield school district of about 13,500 students for several years has studied High Tech High, paid to send educators to visit the campus, and designed lessons and teaching philosophies that model the same approaches as the California school. High Tech High spends $5,800 per student and boasts a 100 percent graduation rate while Whitfield spends about $8,000 per student and an 82.8 percent graduation rate.High Tech High began in 2000 as a single charter high school launched by a coalition of San Diego business leaders and educators. High Tech High now includes nine schools (five high schools, three middle schools and one elementary school), about 3,500 students and approximately 350 employees.The key to success at High Tech High is creating an educational culture entirely outside the norm of the traditional public education, Rosenstock said. There are no bells. Students just change classes when it's time. Honors students and traditional students enroll in the same classes, but those with more advanced skills do more advanced work. Adults show respect to students and receive it in return, Rosenstock said. There aren't bathrooms only for students and bathrooms only for adults -- there are just bathrooms.In fact, teachers there think having fun is one of the most important elements of school. Take "fun" a step further to include a determination to succeed even when the going gets tough, and you have what educators call the highest pinnacle of motivation: engagement."Engagement means not just 'fun' but that you care, that you want to do it," Rosenstock said.Westside Middle School Principal Stanley Stewart is convinced that project-based learning is key to engagement for many students. All of the sixth-graders in Whitfield County Schools last year had heavy doses of project-based learning, and educators plan to incorporate the same approaches in the seventh grade this year.At Westside, sixth-graders studied World War II through traditional lectures and reading but took it a step further by building their own era-style trenches, researching the kinds of artillery that were used, then presenting their projects at an open house."I think that 10 years from now, my kids will still remember that," Stewart said.Does it work?Not everyone is convinced project-based learning is key to success. Board of Education candidates Rodney Lock, Jessica Swinford and Tony Stanley have campaigned on platforms that include some concerns with project-based learning, the amount of money spent to train teachers in using it, or both.Some parents critical of the style of learning complain their children aren't given enough homework and don't use textbooks in class. Not all educators support the changes in teaching methods, saying that some concepts are better communicated by traditional methods.Even Rosenstock said not every lesson at High Tech High does or should include a project. He also acknowledged the school needs to work harder on strengthening students' reading and writing skills in preparation for college.Based only on test scores, the local results of project-based learning and High Tech High-like methods have been mixed. For example, students met standards in math, reading and language arts on the Criterion Referenced Competency Tests at Westside Middle this spring. So did sixth-graders at New Hope Middle. Based on preliminary results that will be updated in the fall to include summer retests, sixth-graders at Valley Point and Eastbrook fell short in math, reading and English while sixth-graders at North Whitfield fell short in math.Also, Cedar Ridge Elementary -- a first-year school that prides itself on project-based learning and creating a fun and engaging environment -- fell considerably short on CRCT math. Only 52 percent of students met or exceeded math standards, causing the school to miss making Adequate Yearly Progress, a federally-mandated set of performance standards.At the Career Academy, every freshman was enrolled in the 21st Century Learning Academy where many of the High Tech High concepts were implemented, including a heavy emphasis on project-based learning. The school missed making AYP after falling half a percentage point short of the required 80 percent graduation rate, but officials have said they expect summer graduations and retests will bring the school up to standards. The school met standards, however, in academics.High school students do not take the CRCT, but a county-wide writing test administered this spring shows 86 percent of 21st Century Learning Students passed the tests while 66 percent of students system-wide did so. The 21st Century Learning Academy expands to the 10th grade this year.'We can do anything we want to do'Phillip Brown was principal of the Career Academy since it opened in 2005 but is serving this year as the district's career and technical coordinator. Key to making change, he said, is getting out of the mindset that schools are tied to state and federal regulations in everything they do."From 8 o'clock to 3 o'clock, we can do anything we want to do ... If we realize we can do anything we want to do, what is it we want school to be for our students?" Brown said. "What attracted me to what's happening at High Tech High right now, is that's probably the purest integration of academics and career tech I've ever seen."Rosenstock said there's a heavy focus on learning through internships, a concept that hearkens back to the days when students learning a trade -- like candle-making or printing or pharmacology -- would learn it by working with someone already in practice. Students also publish research books each year in fields such as geology, and local scientists visit the school to critique their projects.A High Tech High-like school can be created anywhere, Rosenstock said, but community buy-in is essential. In San Diego, High Tech High emerged amid larger schools that were not performing as well as the public wanted and as the economic landscape began to shift toward industries that demand a high-tech workforce."The question is whether you really feel that the way things are right now are good enough," Rosenstock said. "... It's a question of wanting to do it."June Montgomery, who taught at Northwest Whitfield High School for six years, is entering her first year as a ninth-grade science teacher at the Career Academy and said she was inspired by Rosenstock's talk. Montgomery said she's received little training in project-based learning and nontraditional teaching methods besides a crash course from other Career Academy educators the last three days of post-planning last spring."That's going to take some getting used to," she said, "but it sounds exciting."