Monday, January 19, 2009

Diminishing Enrollment

In case you missed it (and could not predict it), Iowa's enrollment went down for the 11th straight year.

The news of course is not all bad, not when Microsoft is coming to West Des Moines, IBM to Dubuque, and Google to the Council Bluffs area. Those three will bring many high-tech positions to the state. But what do you do if you are Olin and you lost 14% of your students this past year? What do you do when your community is hemorrhaging citizens?

Our rural districts don't have to be destined for extinction. Communities can specialize in certain needs, such as TPI Composites windmill blades in Newton. What's more, with the portability of knowledge and the ability to work from distances, small communities do not need a corporate headquarters.

What they do need is collaboration with the K-12 district. If Newton High School, for example, provide courses that help prepare students for TPI, the corporation will have a higher trained work force in its own backyard and won't have the difficulty of recruiting. Which, they can repay by assisting the school with equipment for those courses. Pella has worked very closely with both Pella Windows and Vermeer Manufacturing, and both have helped Pella schools keep modernized.

We could say that schools should not be subject to the local community's industry, that they provide education for students encompassing the whole world's choices. But the reality is, if they don't partner with the local community, their best and brightest leave. Which, ends up driving down enrollment.

This is one respect where the Iowa Core lets us down. Despite its good qualities, the Core doesn't draw heavily upon the input of business leaders, and certainly not outside an Urban 8 setting. Fully implementing the Core will not bring students into your seats. And in this respect, it is forseeable to see rural districts paying more attention to its survival.

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