Of Vocational Schools, Career Tech, and Learners

Years ago, I worked for an education entrepreneur who drilled in me the notion that American high schools were fundamentally broken, built for an era that was long gone. Today, we know that postsecondary education – in some form – is a non-negotiable. For one to have a successful career, to be able to take care of a family and keep a roof over their heads, a high school degree alone was no longer sufficient. High schools needed to become passageways to the successful pursuit of postsecondary education.

It wasn’t always this way. One can look back to the post-World War II era and see a time when only a third of high schoolers went on to college. A third of students graduated from high school to directly enter the workforce or pursue military service. And yes, a third would fail to earn a high school diploma, but still were able to obtain and keep employment.

Recently, President Donald J. Trump spoke longingly on those good ol’ days, noting how America’s future economic success may very well lie with a return to vocational schools. And while most do not use the term anymore, he may indeed be correct. It’s tough to deny that career and technical education is more important than ever. But it is careerteched that is vastly different than the shop class that President Trump may remember from high schools of decades past and is calling for. And it is at a time when we now look to community colleges to provide much of what those good ol’ voke ed schools used to offer.

It’s career and technical education that today is largely delivered by community colleges, either to recent high school graduates seeking that non-negotiable postsecondary education or to career changers needing to update their skills and knowledge to compete in a digital, information economy. It’s for those who recognize that the future economy demands a strong blend of all of the educational buzzwords we’ve heard over the past decade or two, whether it be STEM, 21st century skills, or the like.

It is also a reminder that the education offered and the students pursuing it are not nearly as homogenous as we’d like to believe. Sure, we all have this picture of the “typical” college student pursuing a “typical” liberal arts education at a “typical” four-year college. But there is nothing typical about students today, their aspirations, or the pathways one takes to get there. Nothing typical about the K-12 experience, and certainly nothing typical about the postsecondary experience.

I was reminded of this, yet again, this morning when watching Good Morning America. As a transition, Robin Roberts spoke briefly with student representatives from the Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America, or FCCLA. It was an organization that the edu-wife, the product of a private high school in New England, was completely unfamiliar with. And she works in education.

But as the product of Jefferson (County Consolidated) High School in Shenandoah Junction, West Virginia, I knew the organization well. Or rather I knew the organization as it once was known, the Future Homemakers of America. In my high school, FHA was a more popular student group than the Future Business Leaders of America. It was almost as strong a student organization as our Future Farmers of America contingent, which spent every fall missing classes to make apple butter out in the high school parking lot.

In my day, our county high school had about 1,200 students in total. About a third of our high school graduates went on to college. We weren’t a large enough school district to have a fully functioning vocational high school or career/technical education program. At the time, we didn’t even have a community college in our part of West Virginia (my father, when he was president of Shepherd University, actually created the community college that is now the state’s largest and most successful, to meet the growing demands).

So career and technical education was largely supported by clubs like FFA, FHA, and FBLA. Such organizations supplemented what was learned in the classroom. They provided much of the “vocational” training that President Trump now seeks, and did so largely because of teachers who were willing to give their time and knowledge to do so.

In the nearly three decades since I graduated from Jefferson High, those organizations have adjusted their approach and their services to their members. They’ve continued to serve as a gateway for so many seeking postsecondary career and technical education. And they’ve turned out generations of individuals with the skills, knowledge, and passions to pursue a wide range of careers.

When we debate the successes or failures of K-12 education, it is easy to get bogged down in test scores and growth measures. It is easy to focus on those learners who beat the odds to get accepted into a dozen Ivy League schools. And its easy to point out how much that used to fall to K-12, from remediation to career and technical ed, has now been pushed onto our local community colleges.

It is far harder for us to recognize, acknowledge, and celebrate the ways communities do come together to provide for their students. It harder to see the value in the student who will soon run his family’s farm also knowing how to code (and knowing the comedies and tragedies of Shakespeare).

Preparing for a strong economic future does not mean needing to return to the bricks-and-mortar good ol’ days of voke ed. Instead, it means recognizing the importance of instilling a wide range of skills, knowledge, and ability with today’s learners, and recognizing that such lessons can – and should – be taught beyond the traditional classroom in the little red schoolhouse. And it means seeing how community colleges and clubs and OST programs can contribute.

(A version of this post also appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.)

Investing in the Future of #TeacherEd

As a community, we spend so much time thinking and talking about what the schools, classrooms, and students of tomorrow may look like, but we often overlook an essential component to the equation. What will the teacher education of the future look like, the educator prep necessary to ensure we have the classroom leaders for such future K-12 environments.

For the past four years, dear ol’ Eduflack has been privileged to be part of the development of the Woodrow Wilson Academy of Teaching and Learning, and initiative of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and MIT to completely reinvent teacher preparation and education schools in general.

Last week, the good folks over at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative announced their significant support for the WW Academy and its efforts. Benjamin Herold over at Education Week referenced it as CZI investing in “personalized learning for the whole educator.” Caitlin Reilly noted that “teaching K-12 is brutally hard” and this was one of the ways CZI was “offering support.”

No matter how one cuts it, I’m incredibly honored to be a very small piece of the initiative and to have the support of innovators like those at CZI. Chan Zuckerberg joins with notables such as the Bezos Family Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Carnegie Corporation, Amgen Foundation, Simons Foundation, and Nellie Mae Education Foundation in believing in the WW Academy’s mission of transforming the preparation of the nation’s teachers and school leaders.

 

I say it far too often, but change is hard. Changing systems is even harder. These organizations, and the many other partners who have joined with the WW Foundation and MIT in this effort, see that as an opportunity, not an obstacle.

The future of teacher education is now!

 

Can We Make America Great With Education?

Standing before Congress and the nation last week, President Donald J. Trump delivered his first State of the Union address. Depending on your perspective, it was either one of the greatest policy addresses ever delivered or a dumpster fire. Like everything else, it’s all in the eye of the beholder.

Yes, the President spent a great deal of time talking about the future of our nation, the quest to Make America Great Again, and his intended focus on the economy and the jobs that drive it. But one important thing was missing from the story. Education.

Over on the BAM! Radio Network, we explore the absence of education from the 2018 SOTU, and how the lofty goals expressed in the speech can never be fulfilled if we don’t get serious about the future of school and education here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Give it a listen. It is one of the ways we can make education radio great again.

 

From CAP, How to Leverage #ESSA to Elevate Teaching Profession

For much of the past year, the education community (yours truly included) has opined on how proposed federal budgets and actions coming from our nation’s capital pose a clear and present danger to teaching and teacher preparation. After all, when you essentially look to zero out all Title II moneys for teachers and their continued support, what is one supposed to think?

All hope may not be lost, though. The good folks at the Center for American Progress lifted the curtain on an important project in which it has been engaged. The first is a new interactive tool developed to spotlight specific efforts to elevate the teaching profession. On the site, users can click on a given state and choose a particular focus (compensation, career pathways, licensure, recruitment, retention, and the like) to see how individual states are innovating and meeting the specific needs of educators in its jurisdiction.

The second is a white paper that takes a deep dive into what specific states are doing to use ESSA and its Title II provisions to modernize and elevate the teaching profession. There, CAP explores hot-button issues such as recruitment and diversity, teacher prep and new teacher supports, licensure and certification, compensation and loan forgiveness, data support, and pipeline-spanning initiatives.

What’s particularly terrific about that issue brief is it spotlights the work in states that often don’t get the shout-outs when it comes to innovation and teacher supports, but are states that are really doing tremendous work. All serve as examples of what can be done and what should be done in an environment where we believe that change and innovation really isn’t possible, based on legislative restrictions.

Give both a gander. You won’t be disappointed.

Ed Tech is Not the Enemy!

Yes, there are a great many in the education community that look to attack and tear down just about everything that EdSec Betsy DeVos says. So when she starts off 2018 singing the praises of personalized learning, it should be no surprise that the resistance immediately lobbed charges of wanting to turn our schools over to the machines.

This tends to be a common misperception about personalized learning. We’ve bastardized the phase, wanting to believe it means simply plugging every child into a computer and letting the tech do the teaching. And while that might be how some personalized learning is indeed done today, it certainly isn’t what was intended and it certainly doesn’t represent the best of what personalized learning does and can offer, both to the learner and the educator.

At the same time, technology need not be the enemy to learning. Effective personalized instruction isn’t about putting the tablets in charge. At its heart, it is about providing educators with a tool that can be used to effectively reach some of their students. In the hands of a great teacher, technology can be empowering, not limiting. And yes, it can improve the learning process.

Over at BAM! Radio Network, I explore the topic, praising personalized learning and asking us to cut ed tech a break when it comes to the classroom. Give it a listen.

And for those who say personalized learning is just a tool of the technology companies and doesn’t actually work, give a look over to special education programs and IEPs. An IEP is just personalized learning in a different wrapper, folks.