Inviting the Public Back into Public Education

Top photo: Iowa BIG student Ebony Watkins addresses her peers at Vault coworking space in Cedar Rapids.

How can we prepare students for the “real world” when many of the future jobs they will tackle have yet to be created, and those that currently exist, already experience radical upheaval and elimination? The answer is to invite the public back into public education. As a rapidly changing world increases the need for authentic and contextualized education, embedding students in real businesses, nonprofits, government organizations, and coworking spaces with real world professionals and opportunities represents the preeminent method of preparing high school students.

The Problem

Iowa BIG students Bre Dykstra and George Elossais address the Iowa STEM Advisory Council.

Iowa BIG students Bre Dykstra and George Elossais address the Iowa STEM Advisory Council.

Educators have historically been the repository for information and knowledge for centuries, however it has become increasingly difficult for educators to compete with the breadth and depth of readily available tools such as Wikipedia. Knowledge is now like air—it’s free and it’s unfair to teachers to expect them to know how all the knowledge from core classes will intersect in today’s workplace. If educators are dedicated to preparing students to succeed in life, then education needs to change to address the changing world. Focus now turns toward preparing students to use available tools and information in order to critically think, navigate, and excel in a future society that we can’t even imagine. 

The Solution

With oversight from instructors, students now embed with for-profits, nonprofits, government agencies and startups. By garnering authentic experiences from actual industry problems, students encounter real success and failure along with authentic outcomes and core class credit (if done right). Students tap into authentic industry problems as outside experts visit them in coworking or other public spaces as well as to engage them with their timely knowledge and understanding. 

Exposing students to real problems, career opportunities, and community networks serves to rapidly advance student preparation for whatever their future holds after high school. For college-bound students, they verify their hunches about a future major or discover a true calling that will save them from having to pivot and then attend a fifth year of college. A high school graduate’s college entrance application now holds something beyond a GPA. Some students now walk out of high school (or a coworking space) with a resume that is longer than most college graduates’ resumes.

For students pursuing vocational or entrepreneurial opportunities straight out of high school, they can build on their real-world experiences previously gained from within the safety of school. Their networks and personal brand, already known in their community, pave the way for their new career. 

The Outcomes from Iowa BIG

Iowa BIG graduate Kinzie Farmer with Iowa Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds with whom Kinzie is interning this summer. 

Iowa BIG graduate Kinzie Farmer with Iowa Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds with whom Kinzie is interning this summer. 

The results are game changing, as we’ve witnessed at Iowa BIG. Students declare, “I matter,” as they experience a new-found love for learning. One college President declared, “You’re going to force us to change—and that’s a good thing,” after experiencing students who have been liberated from the traditional time and seat-based educational model. University endorsement letters declare, “We want the type of students graduating from your program.” 

Teachers declare, “I love my job,” after interacting with students who are allowed to follow their passions in exchange for core class credit. When 100% of outgoing seniors confirm that they are confident in their ability to design solutions for real world problems, a teacher’s job satisfaction rate skyrockets.

When 100% of parents of out-going students claim that they perceived an increase in their child’s self-efficacy and educational ownership, public education meets its mandate hand over fist. All of these benefits can be attributed to inviting the public back into public education. 


PHOTO CREDIT: All photos provided by Troy Miller.