Improve History Instruction? It’s a Locke

If Americans don’t know their history, who is the culprit? Is it the fault of k-12 or higher education? Is it lack of interest or lack of focus? And can phenomena like Hamilton just solve it all?

Dear ol’ Eduflack discusses these topics and many others on the most recent episode of Head Locke, the podcast of the John Locke Foundation. Give it a listen here.

Of Robots, Jobs, and #CareerTechEd

Are robots coming for our jobs? Recently, more and more media reports are highlighting how jobs from retail cashiers to radiologists may soon be taken over by robots, while noting that college degrees and careers in music, watch repair, or midwifery may be the best bets for ensuring that today’s young people have dependable careers in the future.

For decades now, we have lamented the shift from the industrial age to the digital one. Experts talked about the loss of factory jobs and the need for postsecondary educations for all who look to contribute to the economy. Some forecasts of the future have been incredibly accurate; others have painted a future that only seems to exist in science fiction movies.

That digital age is now. As media rightly note, we are entering a time that will be built on the foundations of robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and other advances that until recently were only considered part of that same science fiction. The shift does mean that robots will be part of the workplace far more than ever before. But instead of planning for a technological overtaking, our educational institutions have a real opportunity to ensure that today’s learners are the ones creating, building, programming, and overseeing those robots.

The impending age makes clear that we need to prepare the students of both today and tomorrow in ways that were different from the past as we ready learners for the possibilities and the jobs of the future. For some, it may mean the traditional college degrees so many call for, while others may find the same teachings in a range of postsecondary offerings, including career certificates. Regardless, it will mean that all learners will need problem-solving skills and the ability to adapt to changing technology, whether they are computer engineers or nurse midwives. 

We have witnessed Congress reauthorize the Perkins Act and the White House establish a Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion. A wide range of media outlets have explored the growing importance of career and technical education and how future careers can be obtained through apprenticeships, internships, and work study. In doing so, we acknowledge that while the economy and job possibilities continue to evolve, how we provide learners with the skills and knowledge they may need for those careers also must change and evolve for the times.

We now see communities and school districts truly focusing on the impact of accelerating technological advancements on learning. CTE that once focused on engine repair and other industrial pursuits are now focused in the robotics, 3D printing, and biotech that some are starting to fear. STEM (science-technology-engineering-math) education has become a non-negotiable for all students, not just those seeking careers in medicine or the hard sciences and not just for those seeking university degrees. 

Yes, these changes are driven by policy changes and economic forecasting. But they are also driven by families and the learners themselves. As more and more high school students explore the full range of career opportunities available to them – jobs that their parents may not even be able to conceive – they are quickly seeing what skills, knowledge, and abilities they will need to pursue those careers. Yes, those learners are looking to two- and four-year colleges to help them in attaining that knowledge, but they are also looking to secondary schools to put them on the right paths.

We achieve this by building the right systems for tomorrow’s industry leaders to thrive today. That means high school classes that equip students with the necessary skills and knowledge. It means postsecondary opportunities relevant and interesting to the leaders of tomorrow. And it means clubs, student organizations, honor societies, and internship programs that support this K-12 and postsecondary development.

We need not fear the robots, nor should we. At this time of economic transition, we need to work together – industry and educational institutions, educators and learners – to embrace the future and ensure that our educational offerings match both future career pipelines and current student interests and passions. And where there is a disconnect, we must work together to better connect those interests with the opportunities of tomorrow.

(The above essay also appears on LinkedIn Pulse.)

My Advice for Latinx Students at UVA

As a college student, I was both honored and completely overwhelmed to attend the University of Virginia. I arrived at Mr. Jefferson’s University as a proud graduate of Jefferson County (Consolidated) High School in Shenandoah Junction, West Virginia. Less than a third of my graduating high school class went on to any form of postsecondary education. Only a handful of us left the state for college.

When I arrived at UVA, I was utterly lost. I quickly learned that there were more students in my first-year class from Sri Lanka than there was from my home state of West Virginia. I would hear countless students talk about how they were from “Nova,” and had no idea where that city was and how it sent so many kids to UVA (I later learned it was the shorthand for Northern Virginia, the wealthy, DC suburbs). And I was too introverted and too unsure to ask the sorts of questions or find the sort of guidance that would make my transition to college what it really should have been.

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit my alma mater and speak with a collection of a wide range of student groups, including the Bolivar Network, designed to support Latinx students there. The visit forced me to reflect on some of those more painful times, while allowing me to celebrate those experiences in a way I hadn’t previously.

It’s always special to go back to one’s alma mater, and doubly so when you are asked to impart some wisdom. For me, though, it was even more exciting as I brought my 12-year-old son with me. He had never been to UVA before. And he had never before seen a gathering of smart young people on the path to success who, as fellow Latinos, looked just like him. That’s why it was so, so important to me that he join me, beginning to see what his future might be like.

As I looked across the room that evening, I saw a collection of faces sharing many of the same emotions I had more than a quarter century ago. I also saw a group of amazing young people who needed to hear truth, learner to learner.

I never turn down the opportunity to talk to students about their futures and about the opportunities ahead. Whether it be in formal events or in one-on-one conversations resulting from a LinkedIn message or a career office connection, I will always take the time to do what I can to help. I also know that most of the advice they get is boring. A lot of it just doesn’t relate. Too often, students just receive the trite responses adults think they should receive – study hard, plan your future, be careful what you put on social media, earn top dollar.

I learned long ago that that just isn’t me, and that was reflected at the University of Virginia last week. Over the course of two hours, I offered some advice today’s students often don’t hear. But there were three items in particular that seemed to resonate.

First, don’t obsess over grades. Grades mattered when it was time to apply for college. Now is the time to make the most out of college. For me, that meant investing all of my time and attention working for The Cavalier Daily, one of the nation’s top collegiate newspapers. By the end of college, I was the managing editor of a daily newspaper, overseeing 150 volunteer staff and a $500,000 annual operating budget. We published 16 pages of news five days a week. That experience – and the internships and writing that came with it – led to my early jobs. One has to make the most out the college experience, and that includes diving deep into experiences outside of the classroom. In the nearly 24 years since I graduated from college, I have never once been asked my GPA as I pursued a new job.

Second, life isn’t fair. The perfect job likely won’t be offered. The salary you think you deserve may not be available. A great professional opportunity may end up being a living hell, as you work for a bully of a boss. It’s not fair, but it is life. Remember, you can do anything for a year as you plan the next step. In the early stages of your career, you need to practice the mantra of “positive and flexible.” Find the positives in a not-so-great experience. Figure out what you can learn from even your worst mistakes. I can look back at a truly horrible work experience I once had and can say I would do it again because of what it taught me. I may approach it a little differently now, knowing what I know, but even if the experience wasn’t fair, it was important in shaping who I am, professionally, today.

Finally, you be you. True success in life comes from knowing who you are and where your interests and passions lie. One of the worst things you can do is head down a professional path because you think it is what is expected of you. As I was leaving college, I fully expected I’d go to law school because that was what most arts and sciences grads at UVA seemed to do. Fortunately, the summer between college and law school taught me that I could do what I loved without earning a law degree. My career highlights have been the result of following my true passions. My career lowlights have been the result of just chasing a paycheck or a job title. My work has to be about me and what drives me, not just about what I majored in.

As we were walking away from the student union, I asked my son what he thought of the evening. A quiet boy who usually doesn’t share much, he opened up by telling me, “that was awesome.” He then explained that no one had ever told him some of those things and that he had never thought about a lot of what he heard. We began talking about his own postsecondary education, and how he will be empowered with more choices and options than he could ever imagine. That is mom and I would be there to help guide him, but the decisions would ultimately be his. I could see he was both enthralled and overwhelmed, probably just the mix he should have as a seventh grader.

We talked mostly about him needing to be him, and how he needs to continue to learn where his interests and passions lie, and we will help him find pathways to pursue them. If I got the wheels in his head turning – as well as the wheels in many of the Latinx students I met with – then I am doing my job and acting on my own professional passions.

Wahoowa!

 

Some New Thinking on Higher Education?

It has now been a decade since the U.S. Congress last reauthorized the Higher Education Act. Back then, we still believed the “average” postsecondary student was an 18-year old fresh out of high school. No one knew what MOOCs were. Free college was barely a glimmer in some policy wonk’s eye. No one foresaw that liberal arts colleges, particularly those in the Northeast, would face potential closure because of financial concerns.

Back then, we didn’t know all that we didn’t know. But in the past decade, it is safe to say that higher education in 2019 is vastly different than higher ed in 2009.

So with all of those changes, isn’t it time we start looking at reauthorizing the Higher Education Act and start rethinking what higher education really is today?

We ask the question and explore the topic on the latest episode of TrumpEd on the BAM! Radio Network. Give us a listen.

 

For Safer Schools, Let’s Look to Students’ Views, Not Parents’ Fears

Last week, I received notification from my kids’ school district that new security provisions were being put in place. Armed Class III police officers were being assigned to every school in the district, including lower elementary schools, with new patrol cars purchased for each officer. “Eyes on the door” visitor management processes were being enhanced, as the driver’s license of every visitor is to be scanned, run through sex offender databases and against child custody orders. Security “vestibules” are now being built at each of our 10 schools. School common areas, hallways, and identified exterior locations are being equipped with security cameras. Classroom phones are to be installed. Door swipes and strobe lights are receiving upgrades.

All of this is being done in a highly resourced school district. All being done in schools that have had no security issues (that the community has been made aware of). Much of this being done because a $115M schools referendum passed in the name of increased student enrollments and classroom needs now provides the financial means to strengthen security. And all done because school shootings in other parts of the country have local district leaders seeking to do something, anything, to demonstrate they are serious about school safety. It doesn’t matter if there is no direct threat, we will respond with our checkbook, buying peace of mind for those who ask, “but what about the children?”

Setting aside the failures of a school-located armed officer at a high school in Parkland, Florida earlier this year, we like to believe that embedded police are the answer to our school security concerns. But Samuel Sinyangwe, noted data scientist and co-founder of Campaign Zero, recently noted that more than 10,000 school police officers were hired (often with federal dollars) following the Columbine school shooting in 1999. According to Sinyangwe, “Two decades later, they haven’t stopped a single school shooting. Instead, they’ve arrested over 1 million kids, mostly students of color, for routine behavior violations.”

Responding to school shootings with armed officers and enhanced security measures shouldn’t surprise us, whether it is a response in a community directly in the line of fire of such violence or a community far removed from ever experiencing an active shooter. The fear of a worst-case scenario means we need to act, act now, and act in whatever possible way is available to us. We will ensure that Class III officers are well trained and have the temperaments to work in a public school. We will make assurances to the community that this about safety, and not about identifying and suspending students for behavior violations. And we will quietly note that we are successful as long as such officers and such security provisions never have to actually be relied on in an actual event.

Sure, parents like me can bemoan the fact that decisions were made to place armed officers in the schools or spend millions on security improvements without any real community input. Truth be told, it was one of the driving reasons I decided to jump into an ultimately unsuccessful race for school board this year. I quickly learned that most in the community didn’t want to discuss the data or didn’t want to answer the question about proof points demonstrating the efficacy (or lack there of) of guns in the schools. No, we want to trust our leaders will ensure our babies are safe. Do whatever it takes to ensure we aren’t the next school gun headline on the evening news.

The true missing piece in the discussion and the decision, though, is the perceptions of the very students we are trying to protect. In October, students from across the nation gathered to develop a “Students’ Bill of Rights for School Safety.” In that Bill of Rights, young people articulated 15 key provisions they want and need to see from their local schools. They asked that qualified counselors be provided in the schools. They called for cultural competency and de-escalation trainings. They sought federal legislation allowing for firearm restraining orders. They sought to reduce the stigma of mental heath/illness issues. They demanded greater regulation of the gun industry and greater focus on responsible gun ownership. And they called for additional CDC research specifically focused on reducing gun violence.

Nowhere in the Students’ Bill of Rights for School Safety is there a call to place armed officers in school buildings. Nowhere in the Bill of Rights do they seek security vestibules or brighter strobe lights. Nowhere are they seeking reactive actions that assume the worst. Instead, students see the enormous value of proactively addressing the root issues while advocating for a safer, healthier school community.

I was the parent of a Connecticut kindergartner when Sandy Hook happened, and watched as my son engaged in active shooter drills without him knowing why. I sought a seat on my local school board after the district quickly budgeted $1 million annually for Class III officers, and my sixth grade daughter insisted I “had to win to keep guns out of her school.” Now I’m watching as millions of dollars a year are being spent on officers, equipment, facilities, and infrastructure enhancements in our school district of 10,000 kids, money that could have far greater impact if were being spent on guidance counselors, school nurses, community partnerships, and actual instruction.

For the past year, I have pressed far too many people to present the research on the efficacy of armed police officers in the schools. In response, I’ve received decade-old marketing PowerPoints and educated guesses. I’ve had the question deflected, as I was told Class III officers improve student-police relations (which I do agree with) and can be an effective instrument in addressing drug and vaping issues in the schools (which was never the intended goal). But no one can adequately answer the root question.

In my local community, the course has been set and there is no likely diversion from the intended destination. Millions will be spent on armed officers and enhanced security, with proponent and opponent alike hoping beyond hope they will never be needed. It’s a cryin’ shame that my town isn’t using those available resources to address the concerns and reasonable recommendations found in the Student Bill of Rights. But it is my hope that other communities like ours will see the light, and will direct their attentions to what the students need, and not what makes the adults in the room feel a little bit better.