A New Era of Teacher Activism?

For the past year, we have watched state after state, city after city, address teacher strikes. Originally, these labor actions were about increasing school resources – boosting teacher pay, reducing class sizes, and ensuring counselors and nurses were available in the schools.

But lately, we are seeing a new side to such strikes. Teachers in West Virginia struck last year to boost pay and benefits. Last month, they took to the state Capitol to protest proposed state policies, including expansion of public charter schools.

So one has to ask, are we entering a new era when it comes to teachers activism? Dear ol’ Eduflack explores the topic on the latest episode of TrumpEd on the BAM! Radio Network.

Click here to give it a listen.

When It Comes to American History, Show Me

As part of dear ol’ Eduflack’s continues efforts to improve how American history is taught and learned, I was privileged to spend a half hour discussing the issue with Missouri’s National Public Radio affiliate.

It was a good discussion, moving beyond the data on how little we know about history and beginning to discuss what we can and should do about it. You can find the full segment here.

Much thanks to KCUR in Kansas City for hosting the segment, and gratitude to KUT Public Radio in Austin, TX for allowing me to broadcast live out of their studios this week.

And Now We Have … Choice Tax Credits

The education community has been waiting two years to see a major education policy initiative come out of the Trump administration. And now the wait is over.

No, it isn’t focused on charter schools. No, it isn’t higher ed related. No, it isn’t even tied to past Trump rhetoric around early childhood education or career/tech education.

The major initiative is about providing $5 billion in tax credits to families. More specifically, it is providing billions to families who choose to send their kids to private schools. Essentially, they are offering a financial cousin to school vouchers.

But with the vast majority of school-aged kids attending traditional public schools, can we really have the tremendous impact on education that EdSec Betsy DeVos promised by offering tax breaks to private school families?

We explore the topic on the most recent episode of TrumpEd on the BAM! Radio Network. Give it a listen here . It’s your choice.

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.

No, We Don’t Know Much About History

We often hear that kids today just don’t understand American history. But it seems adults in the United States don’t fare better. Earlier this month, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation (where dear ol’ Eduflack lays his professional head) released the results of a 41,000-person survey that provided scientifically significant results for those living in all 50 states and the nation’s capital.

Those surveyed were given 20 questions from previous years’ sample question (and answer) banks for the U.S.citizenship test. Passing grade to earn citizenship in the United States is 60 percent. Approximately four in 10 nationwide were able to hit that mark. Only one state (Vermont) had a majority of residents pass the test, with 53 percent of Vermonters winning a passing grade. All in all, the results were pretty dismal.

The intent of this work was, and is, not to suggest that Americans are stupid or that history instruction is some how falling down on the job. On the contrary, in 39 states, American history is a high school requirement. Millions of American students pass that course in order to earn a high school diploma. And they are taught by highly qualified teachers with history content knowledge, not by the “sports coaches” that so many would want to blame for our historical knowledge shortcomings.

With all we know about cognitive science these days, one needs to ask what happens between high school and adulthood that has us forgetting those names, dates, and places needed to pass American history? And if we can’t remember those basic details, how are we supposed to build on it to be informed, engaged participants in our representative democracy?

Surely, we can see far too many in this country fail to see the relevance of the history basics they initially learn. It isn’t interesting. It isn’t personally important. It doesn’t reflect our families or our backgrounds. It isn’t engaging. It is simply memorizing specifics for a specific purpose, soon to be put out of our memory banks.

I’m excited that the Woodrow Wilson Foundation is seeking to change that, to look at how we can make American history more relevant, interesting, and personal. I’m amped up that we are looking to do so by making history learning more experiential, using a wide range of engagements to move beyond the dusty textbook. And I’m thrilled that we are looking at history instruction not about the information needed to pass a bar night trivia contest, but instead one that helps learners, throughout their lifetimes, learn to ask questions, to probe information, to pursue issues, an generally to begin to think like historians.

It is no surprise that the media has taken note of our 50-state survey. It is always interesting to see how states stack up, particularly at a time when history, politics, and civics seem so important. In the coming weeks and months, Eduflack looks forward to continuing this discussion and looking at what is possible when it comes to transforming American history learning. For now, I’ll share just a taste of some of the media coverage on this survey, and this topic, over the past week or so.

The New York Post – https://nypost.com/2019/02/15/americans-dont-know-much-about-nations-history-survey/

Huffington Post – https://www.huffpost.com/entry/american-citizenship-exam_n_5c6add96e4b05c889d221d43

Fox News – https://www.foxnews.com/politics/why-civics-education-matters

Slate – https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2019/02/the-political-gabfest-trumps-national-emergency-bernie-sanders-amazons-hq2-in-new-york.html

Washington (DC) Examiner – https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/washington-secrets/doh-only-1-state-passes-us-citizenship-test-dc-fails-big

Miami (FL) Herald – https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/national/article226427115.html

Burlington (VT) Free-Press – https://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/news/2019/02/15/vermont-named-only-state-u-s-pass-civics-test-exception-after-all/2868373002/

Detroit (MI) Free Press – https://www.freep.com/story/opinion/2019/02/19/michiganders-citizenship-test/2904395002/

Texas Public Radio – http://www.tpr.org/post/could-you-pass-us-citizenship-test-well-63-percent-texans-couldnt

The Tennesseean – https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/education/2019/02/15/people-tennessee-arent-very-good-u-s-history-survey-says/2868329002/

Axios – https://www.axios.com/happy-presidents-day-history-is-hard-8dbed5a2-07f6-43f4-bfab-0836597bfba8.html

 

 

How Do Dems Spin Education?

Patrick Riccards, a communications and education policy consultant who’s worked with both Democrats and Republicans, said one strategy for these and other candidates would be to avoid getting into the nuts and bolts of their views about schools.

“I would wrap the issues of education into the larger issues that will rally [Democratic] voters to primaries and caucuses,” Riccards said, including “the larger social justice and equity discussions, as well as talk of guns and safety; weaving it into economic policy, as part of a stronger commitment to workforce development.”

From Andrew Ujifusa’s Spin Class: These Democrats Could Face Tricky Questions About Education, in Education Week

 

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.)