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  • How my past reflects my present...

    I like to share a story that relates to my own career pathway as a teacher. 

    It’s a story that goes back to 1989, when I accepted a position as an Education Field manager for an outdoor education and advocacy group called the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. My job was to live and work on a remote island in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay and create three-day residential field trips for middle and high school kids from around the region. (click on the image to learn more about this location).  Groups are 20 students arrived on a boat with a few teacher chaperones and I would lead the group for three days of exploration and study. This was my dream job. I had just graduated with a degree in Wetlands Ecology and grew up on an island off the coast of New England. Teaching science in an outdoor setting on a remote island with a boat… wonderful.  As I nervously prepared for the first group, I considered what type of science content I was going to teach. I prepared extensive notes and handouts for the evening lectures I added to the schedule.

     The 23 ninth-grade inner city kids showed up on a boat on that first morning in late March and were dropped off on Fox Island. The students and I explored the marsh together, went out on the boat to set some crab traps for the next nights dinner, recorded the current weather data, and wrote in science journals some of the things they noticed.

    After dinner was cleaned up, I prepared to stun them with my science content knowledge. As I laid it out for them in my best lecturing stance, I started to notice that their eyes were glazing over. Some students were restless; others were fast asleep. The teacher chaperones felt bad for me, and tried to keep everyone attentive but I learned some really valuable lessons at that moment. 

    I learned that teaching and learning requires engagement from BOTH teacher and learner. I learned that lecturing after a spaghetti dinner and a full day outside was not good option for teens.  But I think the most important thing I learned was that in order for these students want to save the bay (our goal for the program), they had to learn to love it before they cared enough to learn about it.   I had to reach their hearts before their minds.

    The story is important because I eventually ended up as a classroom science teacher, and then as a PhD student, and now as a university professor that works with beginning teachers.  My scholarly work centers on early-career teacher development. Early career refers to the continuum of development from pre-service through the first five years in the classroom. I am interested in how beliefs about teaching and learning impact practice.

     I began that job on Fox Island with a strong belief that kids learn best by listening to a lecture (and indeed, some do), but I was able to observe the resulting lack of engagement from a majority of them and change my style and beliefs to keep them motivated to learn.   Of course this story refers to one night, but I observed that if I invited students to explore the environment before applying terms and scientific concepts, they were able to relate and apply that knowledge more readily.

      The majority of work that I do for my own professional development tends to revolve around these questions.

    •  What happens as a teacher transitions into the classroom?
    • What factors influence her growth and retention?
    • How can I support and guide her in confronting her core teaching beliefs and invite her to explore contemporary ways about teaching and learning through everyday practice?

    A recent article in the SEU magazine called Save the Teachers describes one teacher that I have worked with for some time. She is part of the Noyce Scholars program, and learning about the beliefs and practices of that group has been a theme throughout my time here as evidenced by the conference papers, proposals, and articles I have published and attended. 

  • What is a 'Community of Practice'?

    My service to the the Teacher Preparation Program at SEU has included a multi-year induction program called the Texas Teacher Circles. These monthly meetings are loosely based on the Math Teachers' Circle model - a robust and engaging community of practice that centers on the examination, application, and evaluation of Mathematics content and pedagogy from different stakeholders interested in Math teaching and learning. 

    In the model I developed for our program, We have expanded the circles from STEM teachers to a wider audience through funding from both NSF and the Powell Foundation. The idea began in 2012 as I worked to fulfil the requirements for an NSF Noyce Program grant that included induction support for the 20 Noyce Scholars who graduated from the program. The STEM Teacher Circle is still active, and has been supplanted by additional circles in Literacy, Bilingual Education and Early Childhood and Adolescent Literature. 

    The infographic below shows the 2015-16 success of the program. 

    Some statiistics include: 

    • 207 participants enjoyed the different professional development options over the year
    • Faculty from our program led 18 circles in all areas. 
    • A wide range of participant type (Ex. Preservice, Faculty, Guests) participated in the circles. 

    Topics 

    Value

    Community of Practice

    Upcoming events 

  • left brain/right brain retreat

    I have a venture to share with you that started a few years back as a beer-to-beer chat with another University colleague as we lamented about how different things seemed than those first halcyon days when we imagined our lives in academia. We summarized that something seemed to be missing in our fragmented academic careers. This is shared by many - the work-life balance is a challenge for lots of folks, especially with families.

    There were three things that came up during our conversation. They all related to a healthy and balanced existence. You know - finding the space to stay alert and happy with all parts of ourselves.

    First, we felt stymied in our academic writing and wanted to build a time to focus on getting a product completed (article for submission, proposal for grant, etc). We both tend to work well when there is a dedicated time and space for writing, and if there are others who are also engaged in this at the same time.

    Second, I was curious about integrating creative personal work with professional academic work as a way to balance the intellectual aspect of my life. I used to build and work on boats. I started to think of boat building as a metaphor for personal and professional growth and wanted to pilot a community boat-building workshop to see if others took as much joy from building an organic shape from flat sheets of wood as I did.  My colleague was intrigued and asked if it was possible to create a boat in a few days. I assured him that it was; I once built a rowboat in 7 hours with another woodworker in a speed boatbuilding competition (we totally won).

    Finally, we both agreed that shared cooking and time for exercise or meditation were great ways to connect with ourselves and others and that having teams of folks responsible for kitchen duty was a good way to both build strong friendships and save some typical costs.  

    A rented house for 8-10 people, in an inspiring natural place, with sleeping, cooking and exercise options, that allows for creative outlets as well as focused intellectual work seemed like a logical solution to these three intersecting themes.

    This vision included: A) An opportunity to work for some time each day on academic writing. B) An opportunity to work on some creative project each day (like building a small boat, but could also be poetry or painting or dance) and C) An opportunity to spend time preparing and sharing and eating meals together.

    The goal would be that each person would bring something to the retreat to work on – draft of a paper, data to examine, book chapter to finish - and commit to the group to produce a product (for some accountability). Same with the creative endeavor – Bring a book/instructions/materials for some craft/art/creative endeavor you’d like to learn, commit to the group to show some evidence of the product, and then have at it.

    So….Fast forward to today. This project is actually going to happen!

    the LeftBrain/RightBrain Retreat will happen at two different locations - once at the beginning of the summer, and once at the end - bookended to give participants a jumpstart as well as a space to finish up some important work.



    I am in the planning stages of putting together two of these retreats for some fellow faculty as a pilot program. Can't wait to see how things go!

    I am also going to complete a short research study that will explore the value of this type of professional development. This will likely include qualitative data collection (short interviews, daily video self-diary entries, artifact collection) to contribute to the knowledge base in this area. There is no pressure for participants to participate in this.

  • Can teacher preparation programs work together?

    Community college and private university partnership challenges in the heart of Texas. 

    The promise is there. Imagine 45,000 students in the region, many of whom are considering service jobs like teaching as a career path.  Then imagine a grant that would provide over 30K in funding over two years for transfer students to finish their teacher training up in a local private University...Seems like a match made in heaven, right? 

    Wrong. 

    " I am sorely disappointed by the application numbers, particularly from Austin Community College.  This year I used a combination of table events and flyers and contacting the ACC organizations and Facebook posts. For the most part, we hoped to motivate the ACC faculty to encourage their students to apply. I contacted them many times over the course of the year and left flyers in each of their mailboxes at the Riverside campus. But this did not work. I am certainly sorry to see a drop in the applications for this round of scholars. " Email from Hannah in 2011 – Recruitment Coordinator SEU Noyce Program. 

                Hannah's email captures an interesting and vexing problem. As the principal investigator of a five-year $885,000 scholarship grant that partnered my University -( St. Edward's University or SEU) with Austin Community College (ACC) to train preservice math and science teachers on campus I had expected and hoped to be turning applicants away in droves each year. After all, a $31,000 scholarship seems like a sure bet for prospective math and science teachers, especially for candidates attending the local community college. However, as the above email indicates, the pool of applicants was consistently low from our partner institution. This is troubling, because the potential pool of transfer students is large (ACC has over 45,000 enrolled students) and could provide many highly qualified and enthusiastic science and math teacher candidates.

    Troubing numbers. 

                The SEU Noyce program accepted undergraduates from both ACC and SEU with 60 credit hours who carried a 3.0 GPA and were committed to teaching in high needs schools after graduation. We have filled our pool of 21 scholars but were not able to equally draw from both institutions (a major goal of the grant and one of the principal reasons that we were funded). We only carried three transfer students from ACC in the program - 33% of our stated goal. Internal recruitment into the Noyce program on the SEU campus was fine, but the external recruitment effort fell flat.  There are a number of factors that appear to contribute to the lack of transfer into the teacher preparation program here from ACC.

    BORDER CROSSING ISSUES First, the goals and vision of the partner institutions are different. SEU is a Catholic, liberal arts university with a strong global studies and social justice mission. ACC, like many community colleges, serves as an academic stepping stone for some, and a vocational training site for others.  And while SEU history evokes commitment to working with first generation students of color (we have the oldest migrant worker assistance program on campus and are an Hispanic Serving Institution), the nature of the campus (insular, percieved to be closed, overlooking the city) and the perceptions of our campus by many young ACC students create a difficult pathway for recruitment. The SEU transfer advisor remarked that our transfers from ACC are few and far between, and are generally older students who have specific academic goals.

    COMMUNICATION BREAKDOWN Related to this, different institutional cultures may be a factor.  Our working relationship with the community college has been strained at times. We have aligned with the school of education there in the past, but have found that this effort has led to few candidates moving up to the hill. Despite this, recruitment through individual contact and support from STEM faculty and transfer specialists at ACC have been an important recruitment tool in the past, yet there may be a cultural divide that I am not aware of between key informants to the program from both institutions. 
    Another issue relates to communication between institutions that relates to articulation agreements. Courses taken at ACC should count for coursework taken at SEU, but without careful advising and appropriate choices made early on, students will find they are having to spend extra semesters catching up after transfering. This can hurt the pocketbook, given the cost of attending SEU. 

    COST / BENEFIT RATIO  Cost is a real factor. SEU will cost over $20,000 per semester in tuition by the Fall 2016 semester.  In comparison, the University of Texas (with a strong program in STEM education) costs only $5000 per semester for in-state students. Despite healthy financial aid packages that bring the difference between the institions much much closer, the difference in cost is a real barrier despite some interested students wanting to be at SEU for the small class sizes etc. 

    Results from a 2011 study I did that explored factors related to low recruitment success at ACC

                

    I completed a preliminary study in 2011 to examine the gap in recrultment  and transfer between the two institutions and am in the beginning stages of a follow up to see if and how things may have changed. Stay tuned for details about this next stage of work. 

  • What does student-centered really mean?

    We are having another one of our Texas Teacher Circles this weekend at St. Edward's with a focus on sharing activities and ideas that relate to 'student-centered' learning. As I consider how I'd like to continue the conversation around this topic from our great closing circle today, I thought I'd share my thoughts in this blog. 

    Circle up! -Closing statements at a Texas Teacher Circle 

    I often ask the pre-service teachers in our program about their first memories of schools and schooling. There seem to be two trends to the responses. Some share memories of early childhood and of setting up 'classrooms' for stuffed animals and playmates. The students talk about giving lessons with mini chalkboards, coloring books, or other supplies.  For these students, teaching has become part of their identity.  "I've always wanted to be a teacher' is the common refrain. 

    For others, the memory they share is about emulating a favorite teacher from their past. When asked to describe what set this person apart, they often speak of teachers that listened; that cared; that taught with passion and excitement; and that put them in challenging learning situations with support. 

    I rarely hear memories that highlight authentic exploration of topics or content that center on the students lived experience. In general, schools and schooling are described as things that are done TO or FOR the student, but not as things that are built BY the student. 

     The role and identity of "Teacher" and "Student" are firmly shaped by the meaning we make and the experiences we've had with these roles. Throughout time, the identity of the teacher has been reinforced and shaped through print and other media as the center of the classroom. There are three historical examples that I'd like to share. 

    Consider the classroom setting in Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer - a common text for pre-teens of my generation to read that is set in the mid 1800's - the teacher (Mr. Dobbins) is stern, authoritarian, and firmly driven by the cultural norms of that community to play a role - yet mocked and completely removed from the humanity shown to other characters in the book.

    Schoolroom of the 1800's

    Consider the teacher (Miss Shields) in "A Christmas Story" , a popular holiday movie set in the 1940's that features a 4-5th grader who desperately wants a BB gun for Christmas. The teacher/student dynamic is still firmly entrenched in a teacher-centered perspective as Ralphie and his classmates live in a world removed from the teacher but still firmly directed by her. 

    Miss Shields

    Consider the teacher in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High"  - a coming of age movie from the 1980's. Despite the care shown by the teacher (Mr. Hand) for the eventual success and graduation of Sean Penn, the role of teacher as leader and sole director of the classroom experience is clear. 

    Mr. Hand

    In all of these examples, Teacher rules the class and transmits knowledge. Student receives knowledge. As young and impressionable adults, the messages about teachers and students that are perpetrated by media are quickly integrated into a fairly solid set of ideas about what it means to "be a teacher". 

    Fast forward to today, as we understand more and more about how children learn. Traditional roles of Teacher as the center of classroom energy and attention are outmoded and replaced by a new vision where the student is at the center of instruction. Not just as recipient, but as co-investigator into authentic problems and questions of value. The role of teacher shifts from that of director to that of guide. The problems being investigated are often messy and sometimes don't have an easy answer. Students learn to have stamina and follow-through when solutions are not evident. A visitor walking into a classroom like this may ask "Where is the Teacher?"

    Where's the teacher? A student-centered classroom is collaborative and peer-driven.

    My recent post about the role of teacher educators as architects of this style of learning offers a primer. 

    At our latest Texas Teacher Circle Induction meeting this weekend, eight current students and recent alumni from our program shared their work as facilitators of student-centered instruction.  These educators provide chances for their students to actively engage and explore ideas and problems related to class content in a way that provided rich moments for student learning.

    Over the next few posts, I'll be sharing some of the ideas that came from this session in more depth. 

  • A house divided? Why teacher education programs need to sort out a philosophical stance.

    I’ve been thinking about the overall coherence of our teacher preparation program here on the hilltop. Since joining St. Edward’s University in 2006, I’ve been thoughtful about how our program tells a story about what we as faculty believe about how people learn. I believe that the epistemological stance of individuals within a program does impact their perspectives on teaching and learning and this in turn impacts the stance or perception of that program to the world at large. 

    For example, if a lesson plan template that all preservice teachers use is grounded in a constructivist stance, it will likely follow the learning cycle ( most commomly used version of this is the 5E instructional model). In this model, the students first engage and explore the concept or material, and then work with the teacher to apply the needed vocabulary and explain the skill or concept. Finally, the students extend their new knowledge by applying it to a new or novel situation. The student is an active player in their own learning. The teacher is a guide or facilitator. 

    5E Instructional model

    If a lesson plan template is grounded in behaviorist theory, it may well follow the Hunter lesson plan template. In this model, the teacher models the appropriate response required by students after focusing them with his/her objectives for the day.  The teacher provides direct instruction or guided practice to train students to learn the skill or concept. Students then practice the concept or skill independently to learn the skill on their own. In all aspects of this model, the teacher is the driver of instruction and decides the content and process for learning. The student is the receiver of knowledge. 

    If the lesson plan contains both sets of thinking and learning protocols - in an attempt to mix and match constructivist and behaviorist theory, the result could leave beginning teachers puzzled as to the nature of the program they are in. Faculty create lesson plan templates. Faculty ultimately steer  program direction. 

    Mismatched program philosophy can lead to alarming clothing trends by faculty.

    Since my research relates to how beliefs about teaching and learning filter our experience and professional stance, this question of how we think our students learn and will teach most appropriately is an important one to consider. 

    This is especially important in a time when our US educational system seems hell bent on self-destruction. Finding and recruiting teacher candidates is a national concern, and protecting and supporting their growth into thoughtful and reflective practitioners who are given the professional courtesy to teach as they have been trained has been slowly eroded by a system that rewards more data collection and evaluation and less teacher autonomy in the classroom.  

    If newly minted teachers leaving our program are not provided with a strong conceptually solid framework to hang on to, their ability to stand as leaders who can stop some of the madness around testing will be weak. How can you argue for the best way to teach when you are shown models that are contradictory and inconsistent?

    I believe it is time for a serious conversation among my colleagues about our beliefs about teaching and learning.  And I believe that until we come to some consensus about the message our program sends to our students related to this system of beliefs and that we are not able to justify our pedagogical moves and instructional strategies using evidence from experts in this world, our program will be a mish mash of perspectives, and our students will leave without the understanding of how their beliefs about how learning occurs are crucial for building a strong foundational practice. 

    Of course all this hoo haa sounds fantastic as I type it, but I am also painfully aware that we are operating in a State that rewards a more teacher-centered instructional approach. Given the rapid cadence of testing and content requirements placed on K-12 teacher's shoulders, I can understand how outmoded models of instruction are still very popular here in Texas. 

    However, I think it is the job of the University to challenge those tired truths and produce teachers who refute the status quo for contemportary teaching methods that are commonplace and aligned with current research on how children learn. 

  • Rules to live by - How to be whole-hearted as a faculty member...

    I was honored to be asked to provide the convocation address for the 2014 incoming freshman class at St. Edward's University during one of our welcoming traditions called the medallion ceremony. I wrote the advice for myself actually, but the lessons hold equally well for incoming freshman...Sharing this here for faculty (or freshmen) who need a reminder of what is important.

    We are here at this place because we believe in our students. We look to them…

    • for hope in an increasingly complicated world
    • for inspiration to be our best as their guides
    • for guidance as we seek to understand how to unlock their talents and potential

     We strive to plan academic experiences for them that are:

    • Challenging and Comprehensive, preparing them to analyze information and articulate arguments across a range of subjects
    • Collaborative and Far-reaching so they learn to work with diverse groups, sharing insight and mobilizing action as they develop a social conscience and come to search for a greater good
    • Grounded in the belief of the dignity of each and every person as a first step toward a more just and humane world

    The mission of our University is to educate the whole person.  For the academics at our institution, this includes planning and implementing experiences that place an emphasis on being whole-hearted.

    What does it mean to be whole hearted?

    1. Live with purpose:  My first piece of advice is to strive to live an elegant life. When I say this, I don’t refer to fashion trends, dorm room furniture arrangements, or the type of car you drive. What I mean is to allow yourself to explore the various academic pathways that open with as much clarity and curiosity as you can, while still maintaining positive habits of body and mind.

    Chose habits that help refine your purpose – MAKE YOUR BED.

    Discard habits that harm your purpose. (Just a reminder that your purpose here is to learn all that you can)…

    For example, positive habits to help lead a more purposeful life might include:

    • keeping an academic planner and updating it daily with important deadlines and dates,
    • building a routine for regular sleep and exercise
    • keeping yourself and your belongings organized and clean.
    • paring down and simplifying the clutter (whether it is physical clutter or emotional clutter) in your life. Focus on your development as a whole person.

    2. Stay in Balance Related to living with purpose is to stay in balance. You will have moments in the next few years that feel overwhelming. In fact, you may be having one of those moments right now. Take care of yourself. What does this look like? Examples of staying in balance may mean

    • Avoiding behaviors and habits that can lead to more stress
    • Communicating with your colleagues about feeling overwhelmed and working out a plan together to keep you successful.
    • Taking a pilates or yoga class to regain focus.
    • Building a support network of friends/family to help you stay centered.

    3. Be Brave (intellectual risk-taking)

    Having a whole heart also includes taking some intellectual risks. You will likely be confronted with academic experiences that may seem challenging or foreign.

    Examples of intellectual bravery might include:

    • seeking help from your colleagues during their office hours,
    • networking with others in your field to work collaboratively on common challenges
    • seeking additional academic material (journal articles, additional sources) that can help you see the content from another perspective.  
    • Studying abroad for a semester to learn about another culture or experience

    Many positions in academia have rich opportunities for exploring other cultures and lands, for helping those in need, and for stretching students to their fullest potential. Take advantage of these opportunities to broaden yourself and your students.

    4. Be Generous of Spirit

    Finally, I want to mention one final puzzle piece that is central to building a community. This concerns cultivating a generosity of spirit. You know, we live in a magical time, when information, technology and innovation can allow for astounding creative and intellectual discovery.

    For example, in our personal and academic lives, we use social media to connect with others. Seriously, I love being connected in this way, but I find myself feeling isolated and alone also at times. If you’ve been in a public space lately, you’ve noticed that the majority of folks are engaged more with these devices than with each other.

    While we celebrate innovation and the use of technology here, we also remember that the soul of this institution rests on a firm foundation of active and engaged generosity of spirit to each other and our community. What does this look like?

    • Waiting to check your twitter feed until after conversation or class is over
    • Patience during ceremonies and celebrations by supporting the community by waiting until the end of an event to leave
    • Giving your whole attention to a friend in need
    • Volunteering to help with an event or activity
    • Finding five positive things to say for every one negative thing.

    So what does it mean to be whole-hearted?

    First, stay curious about your own growth as a human being. 

    Second, stay committed to working for the greater good of humankind – stay balanced and in perspective when it comes to finding your own pathway up the hill.

    Third, Nourish the soul of your institution by being generous of your spirit, as an academic, as a whole-hearted person, as a human being.

  • Using video in the classroom: A tool for professional growth.

    The SEU secondary teacher preparation program has undergone change in the past few years. In the past, our secondary teacher preparation program was characterised by isolated clinical practices, lack of coherence in progression through program and students out of sequence in completing coursework.  My early years as a newly minted Assistant Professor of Secondary Education included a shift towards clinical field practice and a concerted effort to build coherance in the program so that students felt a part of something. I brought my classes into the field and taught two field blocks at a local middle and high school for three years. I built novel assignments that placed students in the center of the school communities.

    Posing with Taylor Romero, who participated in a police 'ride -out' as a part of her teacher preparation. Source 2008 St. Edward's Magazine

    As the School of Education has evolved, the field work I took on expanded to the entire undergraduate teacher preparation program, with a series of courses for both secondary and elementary students in a variety of local school settings. Our field-based program has led to the restructuring of scope and sequence of coursework and benchmarking assessments to monitor beginning teacher development.

    In 2011, the secondary program was recognised by CREATE, a consortium of teacher education programs statewide for expemplary field practices.

    Poster that highlights the program goals and outcomes. (2011- CREATE Conference)

    One element of my current focus is to help teachers reflect on their practice. I have been interested in the use of videotape as a tool for self-reflection and analysis since my masters work at the University of Arizona. Capturing the complexity of the teaching environment on tape and being able to examine it more closely was fascinating for me.  After developing an assignment for my students to videotape a lesson, seek a vexing moment to share, and collaboratively work on possible solutions to this issue, I became more enthusiastic about this model for sustained teacher reflection. After conversation with my dean, I developed three assignments for students in the program that happened at different times, and captured their development as teachers through the use of video.

    Here is a summary of the three assignments with timelines.

    These assignments occur in sequence as the student progresses through the program and offer a research-based pathway for reflection. They also follow a model of teacher development that relates to the stages of concern for beginning teachers from concern with self (what do I notice?) to concern with task (What is a vexing issue in my teaching?) to concern with student learning (what is evidence that they learned?).

    A research agenda on this work will be forthcoming.

  • How the focus on STEM Education hurts US Global Effectiveness

    SEU Noyce Scholars work with local Austin high schoolers on STEM project at the Texas Coast

    I was walking down the hall of my institution the other day and ran into a colleague who rolled his eyes at me when I shared my good fortune at bringing in another STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Technology) education grant. As a literacy instructor, he had not seen grant money come across his desk in years, and my numerous successfully- funded projects that focused on STEM teacher education were not helping his mood. 

    As a Science Teacher Educator, I have had good fortune in funding opportunities for my preservice education students to move into the classroom with strong support and mentoring. Despite recent tightening of the belt by some Federal programs in STEM Education, the current climate is still STEM-friendly, helped by the Presidents promise of training 100,000 well-qualified science and math teachers by 2020, as well as producing 1 million additional STEM graduates.  

    This push is in part due to alarming reports of STEM teacher shortages, and a workforce ill-prepared for the rigors of the 21st century workplace. The US status as a global player is at risk and preparing STEM graduates and teachers is key for our global competitiveness, according to the President and others like ex-chair of the US House of Representatives Science and Technology Committee Bart Gordon.

    Don't get me wrong. I love the current attention to my field. I agree that we need a strong STEM workforce, and I am aware of the continuing teacher shortages,especially in my state of Texas. After all, I am able to investigate some great ideas, get some funding for the preservice teachers, and promote the beauty of science as a way of knowing.  But I do take issue with the bandwagon approach to viewing STEM education as the cure-all for global competitiveness.

    The term 'Global Competitiveness' is problematic in itself. What does it mean to be globally competitive? The Economic World Forum defines it as a measure of productivity in economic growth and ranks countries on a scale. The global competitiveness report for 2015-2016 shows the US in an alarming 3rd place out of 140 countries (insert sarcastic emoji). China is 28th.

    Figure 1. 2015-2016 rankings for Global Competitiveness
    (from: http://reports.weforum.org/global-competitiveness-report-2015-2016/competitiveness-rankings/)

    Only Switzerland and Singapore out-performed the US on a global scale. We are clearly not in the weeds as deeply as some would suggest in terms of our economic standing. But keeping the public a little unbalanced and anxious about our relative global merit is a political strategy that seems to continue to work today.

    What alarms me about the current trend of touting STEM education as the main pathway towards global economic competitiveness is that we are de-funding other equally valuable areas of education that also heavily contribute to a well-rounded and globally competitive workforce. And when I say that, I refer to a workforce that has habits of mind that are willing to consider many perspectives, evaluate and critically synthesize new knowledge, actively problem-solve using creativity, a deep understanding of history, and and an appreciation for how a well-rounded education builds kind, caring, and aware neighbors.

    Other disciplines are feeling the pain of the STEM funding bonanza, and some are hitching a ride on the STEM gravy train. Consider the current rise in popularity of a new acronym called STEAM - the "A" stands for Arts. Arts educators are well aware of the value of creativity when problem-solving, and this has led to a surge in related-ventures like the Maker Movement, Engineering practices as a cornerstone of the latest Science Education Standards, and other related arts-based STEM activities.

    English teachers are also frustrated by this trend. The funnyordie video below gets at the root of the issue (warning-not suitable for work /  lots of adult language).

    In the current educational funding climate, the recently-passed successor to NCLB bill called Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) places more control over the focus and standards for policy in individual State hands. This offers opportunities for State educational boards to re-define what a globally competitive workforce really looks like. My challenge to these groups is to consider the implications of their decision-making for shaping our future.