More than 100 Lawrence high school students wrote their first cover letter this week. Yes, some of them made up the positions they sought and the credentials that qualified them, but nonetheless it was a realistic exercise of a question adults often pose to children: What do you want to be when you grow up?
On a visit to the Lawrence College and Career Center on Thursday, I accompanied members of the Jayhawk chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management, who were giving presentations on writing cover letters to LCCC students. The students included juniors and seniors at Lawrence High School, Free State High School and the Lawrence Virtual School.
Some of the students, taking classes at the center in subjects such as robotics, certified nurse aide or forensic science, were able to line up skills with a potential career to write cover letters they could use in the near future. Others wrote as more distant versions of themselves, naming degrees they earned from colleges they’d like to attend.
But regardless of how much or little realism was at play in their letters, they were at least thinking. Thinking about how their education links up with something they could do for a living. Thinking beyond the canned advice we sometimes give to kids to just follow their passions or dreams.
When we took a break after the first sessions with students, we had a lunch of Reuben sandwiches — with homemade sauerkraut, sides and dessert — made by the LCCC culinary students, who gave a small introduction to the meal they'd made before boarding buses back to their high schools.
This is the first school year for the center, which was completed over the summer with funds from the construction bond issue approved by Lawrence voters in 2013. Students enrolled in LCCC classes attend four days per week for two hours. Transportation to the center, located at 2920 Haskell Ave., is provided or students may drive themselves.
New courses at the LCCC are available to high school juniors and seniors in seven areas: Health & Emergency Care, Innovation & Engineering, Law & Government, Bio & Forensic Science, Manufacturing & Robotics, Computer & Network Technology, and HVAC & Construction. Course offerings are available at the USD497 website.
There will be a ribbon-cutting and dedication of the center at 10 a.m. Sept. 26.
Roughly six years after the law was set to expire, Congress now seems to be moving on legislation to overhaul No Child Left Behind.
NCLB was the 2002 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the basic law that provides funding for Title I, special education and a variety of other kinds of federal funding.
Passed early in the George W. Bush administration, it put in place new accountability standards that states and schools had to meet in order to qualify for federal money. The most notable, and controversial, of those was the requirement that all students be tested in reading and math.
It also required that schools make measurable progress each year in raising achievement levels and closing achievement gaps between subgroups of students, or else they would face sanctions. And it mandated that by 2014, all students had to be scoring proficient or better on those tests.
Historians will probably be arguing for decades about whether the law did more harm than good. But suffice it to say that nearly everyone — teachers, parents and students alike —has been clamoring for change since NCLB's originally expiration date in 2007.
Partisan gridlock in Washington prevented that. Finally, in 2011, President Barack Obama's administration began offering states waivers from NCLB on the condition they agree to adopt "college and career-ready" standards in reading and math, along with other kinds of reform measures that would still hold states and schools accountable for showing continued improvement.
In the past week, however, the relevant committees in the House and Senate both advanced bills to reauthorize ESEA while doing away with most of the onerous requirements of NCLB.
The Washington Post reports that the House Republican plan would shrink the federal government's role in setting K-12 education policy.
The website MinnPost says the bill from the Democratic-controlled Senate looks a lot more like Obama's waiver program.
Education Week produced a side-by-side comparison on its Politics K-12 blog that summarizes the Senate Democrats' bill, the Senate Republicans' alternative, and the House Republican plan.
The Kansas Association of School Board's Mark Tallman posted this week that the national school boards group is leaning more favorably toward the Republican plans because they would impose fewer federal requirements and give more flexibility to states.
But he says the national group still has problems with some GOP provisions, and would likely withdraw its support if Republicans add amendments offering federal funding of voucher and charter school programs.