Giving Students the Business

Article excerpt

Taking their lead from the School-to-Work Opportunities Act, schools across the country are implementing reforms aimed at more closely aligning education with the needs of business and industry. The typical restructured curriculum calls for more students to learn at actual workplaces.

Now for the reality check: For 15 percent of American youth to be provided an apprenticeship, 20 percent of all U.S. employers would have to offer at least one slot, according to the 1994 report, School-Based Enterprise: Productive Learning in American High Schools.

It is not difficult to find examples of employers willing to participate in or contribute to the education of students. But at least one recent study, conducted by the National Center on the Educational Quality of the Workforce, noted that a group of employers who had not participated in youth transition programs believed there is "little demand for additional youth labor and minimal interest in launching a national school-to-work transition program in cooperation with public high schools."

Even employers who support the concept of school-to-work programs have said they may not be willing or able to provide extensive learning opportunities within the workplace. Employers frequently express serious doubts about safety, liability and insurance concerns as well as compliance with child labor laws.

How do reform-minded educators and policymakers reconcile those facts with the substantial employer commitment required to allow widespread participation in work-based learning?

A promising but historically under used source of work-based learning is the school-based enterprise (SBE). In this scenario the students open a business at school or otherwise produce goods or services that they intend to sell.

Researcher David Stern, one of the authors of the 1994 School-Based Enterprise: Productive Learning in American High Schools, found that students who had experience in traditional part-time work believed their jobs in school-based enterprises had stronger connections to their education than non-school jobs. These students said there are more frequent opportunities to learn new things and to think through problems in an SBE.

Kentucky, one of the first STWOA implementation grant recipients and a leader in the march toward education reform since 1990, sees SBEs as a logical way to involve more students in authentic work settings that are truly oriented to learning.

In the state, 22 regional school-to-work partnership teams have committed themselves to provide:

* 30 hours of work-based learning for elementary and middle school students,

* 200 hours of work-based learning for secondary students and

* 100 hours per year for postsecondary students.

Fifty hours of that work-based learning for secondary and postsecondary students is to be paid work experience. The partnership teams want half of all Kentucky students to participate in school-to-work activities by 1999--and 90 percent by 2002.

The low operating cost of an SBE makes it particularly attractive to school districts. Typically they get seed money from a sponsoring institution, grants or the school itself and then quickly become self-supporting.

Right now Kentucky is a long way from its goal of an SBE in every school, but the school-to-work partners are optimistic that these highly successful models will spawn enough offspring to meet the seven-year timeline.

At Marshall County High School, students run Star Bank under the direction of both a teacher/advisor and a representative of Benton Bank.

STUDENT BANKS

At Marshall County High School, students run Star Bank under the direction of both a teacher/advisor and a representative of Benton Bank.

The bank project began five years ago when Deborah Lutz, assistant vice president for marketing, approached the school board to propose a finance education course. …