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January 31, 2001


Shock spread across the country recently about the 8th graders in Minneapolis having to apply for a career path by January 15th of this month under the new "Small Learning Communities" system.

In St. Paul, however, the same Small Learning Communities structure is being set into place, only St. Paul's timeline is a little slower. (See "Decoding St. Paul's 'Education Blueprint,' ")

By the 2002-2003 school year, all St. Paul high schools will have determined which small learning community they will be, that is, which career paths they will be focused around. How will students determine which high school to attend? Their career pathway will determine their school.

"In St. Paul, the deadlines for applying for next school year are quickly approaching. The middle school, junior high and senior high schools application deadline is February 28th... If you do not apply on time, your choices may be limited."

Their choices have already been limited, first by forcing middle and high school students to determine their career path, and, secondly, by limiting their menu of options to the needs of local businesses.

This Saturday, February 2nd, the St. Paul School District is inviting parents to attend an "Information Fair" from 9:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium, with free shuttle buses provided. This is part of getting into their career paths.

How are students to know?

"Go to the school's open house. Talk with staff and other parents, find out what programs the school offers."

"Does your child like things orderly in a predictable routine or do they constantly like to try new things? Does your child like to touch things and take them apart or does your child like to work quietly doing art?" (From their website)

This is how students are to choose their careers?

Just to mix things up a lot, the "Information Fair" includes lots and lots of pre-school, K-6 schools and elementary schools, all of which are also available through public school choice in Minnesota. Nowhere, however, is it stated that for students in high school, career-centered "small learning communities" are the only "choice."

Excerpts from the St. Paul Small Learning Community Plan:

Mandatory work-based learning: "The Saint Paul Public Schools is committed to ensuring growing percentages of student and teacher participation in work-based learning opportunities directly connected to classroom learning."

"The percentage of students participating in comprehensive, relevant work and community-based learning opportunities will grow ... to 100 percent by 2005-06."

"Every student will be engaged in a small learning community by 2005-2006."

"Career clusters will help students focus in their preparation for careers ..."

"Learning must also be more closely connected to industry standards, ... and the careers for which students are preparing."

"Students will participate in structured career education starting in elementary school."

"All students participate in a variety of career exploration opportunities including job shadowing, mentorships, internships and service learning connected with their life plan."

"Each student has a comprehensive life plan, which is considered in planning learning experiences."

"Students identify a career cluster through which their work on standards is made relevant ..."

"Students maintain a portfolio that reflects academic and applied skills within the context of their life plan."

"Portfolios and exit interviews will be a graduation requirement for students in the class of 2005 and beyond."

"Every student will have a mentor/advocate by the 2005-06 school year."

How it's moving forward

"During the 2002-2003 school year, each of St. Paul's seven comprehensive high schools will finalize and begin to implement their plans for creating small learning communities for all students by 2004."

The Profile of Learning is aligned with School-to-Work like fraternal twins -- one is inextricably intertwined with the other. Such is "school reform," "high standards" and "local control" in the new education and workforce system

Small Learning Communities are funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and by the federal Department of Education.

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