Part 1: Why our public schools are in serious need of more enhancing technology capacity infrastructure upgrading.
Recently I was honored by my former school, Science Skills Center High School (SSCHS), in a ribbon-cutting ceremony recognizing the major technological upgrading of the school’s library to a Research and Media Center (R&MC). This new resource-rich facility will give students access to a vast world of reading and study resources covering high school students’ intellectual, inner-attainment/enjoyment, and social-emotional needs. At the same time, the R&MC will offer study research resources for term papers and projects in all academic subject areas, especially science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The R&MC will also complement the student’s in-school Advanced Placement classes and outside of school university-based college-level courses. This powerful project was championed and received ($1 million in) funding from Brooklyn Borough President (soon to be NYC mayor) Eric Adams.
The good news for the entire city looking forward is that in my conversations with Mr. Adams, I strongly sense that he understands the need for the technology-based R&MC model to be available to all children, not just at SSCHS or NYC, but indeed, throughout our entire nation.
This understanding by Mr. Adams is critical for NYC children, because, to be honest, I have not always been successful in getting elected officials, civic leaders, and sadly, even some educational leaders, to be able to wrap their brains around the crucial need to combine STEM education, research skills, personal resilience capabilities, good self-discipline/study habits, academic knowledge, information, and algorithmic competencies; and further, students having highly-adaptive performative skills (in classwork and on standardized assessment instruments). And then having all of these student scaffolding conceptual and behavioral qualities delivered by a highly-skilled and high-efficaciously gifted school staff. Equally important is that this high-quality ‘teaching and learning experience’ is fairly given to all students, without prejudice, bias or neglectful malice; a zip code should not be a quality-future life-determining number.
Finally, this approach to building students’ intellectual and emotional empowerment capabilities can only be accomplished through the determined work of a strongly ethical school building leader and a committed staff that is strategically smart and morally compassionate in the application of the principles of equity and equality.
America, our public schools, have a technology infrastructure problem.
I am happy that President Biden’s “Infrastructure Bill” passed, and for sure, it will do much good for our nation.
To fix and build our economy, we must build and fix bridges better, expand and upgrade roads, and improve the many modes of human and commercial transportation. But, we must also build better technological learning access bridges and roads that could transport our young people into a highly-skilled, competent and confident workforce prepared future.
And of course, there’s some irony in play here; because based on my professional work, observations, and travel experiences in places like Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and West Virginia; the political leaders from those states should have been the legislation’s (with Biden’s original proposal format) greatest champions; but such is our present political state of national self-destruction.
Unfortunately, the Infrastructure Bill, in my view, was nowhere close to what is needed for upgrading the technology infrastructure in the most technology-framework deficient school districts in our nation. This bill would need to be twice as large to begin to address the tremendous educational technology and internet soft and hardware upgrading that many of the school districts (and public libraries) in those states mentioned above (and many others) so desperately need.
Further, for US rural public educators, there is a never-ending struggle to match the present and future American workforce competencies demands that could be solved in part by those school communities having access to state-of-the-art, high technology capacity learning environments that could provide their students the access to research/library services links, online/virtual courses, particularly in those subject/content curriculum areas where there is an acute shortage of certified teachers (STEM, foreign languages, the Arts, college-level/AP courses, etc.). In addition, and specifically, on the high school side of the equation, having better hard and soft internet technology infrastructure could allow students to gain access to Career Technology Education (CTE) certification courses for private sector companies like Microsoft, CISCO, and governmental agency job opportunities in skilled technical areas like robotics and cyberforensics.
The ‘endangering-our-future-economic-growth’ technology capacity gap between rural and urban America and the secondary and equally deleterious lack-of-access-to-opportunity gap that separates communities inside urban localities is one of the greatest threats to the US being able to maintain and enhance its international competitive and international cooperative favorable economic development status.
Finally, we have painfully been taught (but have we learned?) by our Covid-19 school years’ experience that the technological capabilities and infrastructure gaps between school districts, and the enfranchised students versus the students of disenfranchisement access to technology resources gaps existing between cohorts of students inside of school districts, has most-likely led (by way of learning loss/learning gain factors) to an unfavorable increase in an already severely existing academic learning and achievement gap situation.
We have met the #1 enemy of our future national economic development capabilities…and that enemy is our inability to employ all of our national human resources!
I found it strikingly symbolic that Presidents Joseph Biden and Xi Jinping held a summit the day after the signing of the US Infrastructure Bill. I, for one, don’t buy the many current fear-mongering commentaries making the news media rounds proclaiming that China is the greatest threat to America’s future social, political, and economic success; after all, China is not passing US state-level voter restriction laws, and it does not direct or manage the dismal academic achievement outcomes of US public school systems. But educationally interesting, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), to its credit, does clearly understand that closing their rural/urban, poor/more affluent families STEM structural/infrastructural divide is an essential key to any plan for a PRC national economic development strategy that would lead to future “first-world” status success.
Now I know this because PRC regional commissioners of education, superintendents, and principal delegations visited both (SSCHS/PHELPS) of my high schools. And so, why would the PRC invest so much in sending education delegations to visit two US urban Title 1 high schools? First, I understood their unstated objective as an educational leader who appreciates an effective information gathering plan for gathering valuable information.
It appeared that the focus of all of their questions could be reduced and framed into one fundamental question:
“How are you able to get students from communities that were traditionally excluded from STEM learning opportunities and representation to embrace, succeed and exceed in their STEM studies?”
One of the critical parts of my answer to them was this:
First, you must challenge any anti-STEM cultural beliefs that may exist in the minds of the students (their parents and the community), by affirming that STEM is historically and presently very much a part of universal (everybody’s) culture; STEM learning, achievement, any real or imagined “STEM-giftedness” is not the restrictive territory of any particular social-economic class, nationality, ethnicity, gender, or geographical location.
Secondly, ‘nail early’ (elementary school) the student’s ability (prerequisite arithmetic skills) to take and master that critical ‘STEM-gateway’ algebra course. You must have (our high school program) four years of lab science courses and four years of mathematics. Design STEM electives (e.g., computer-assisted art and design), teams, and clubs (e.g., robotics, meteorology, game design, etc.). You must surround and immerse students in highly-effective STEM instructional practices (and then continually professionally develop those teaching talents); make sure students have access to modern college/industry level STEM equipment and building structures (supported and strengthened by the necessary external infrastructure); insist that the students are being engaged with a robust and rigorous STEM curriculum and standards-based assessments program that reflects and ‘rehearses’ the students in those advance STEM technological knowledge and application skills you want them to learn and later practice as graduated (STEM professional) adults… Essentially, what the PRC presently succeeds at doing with their specialized professional athletes’ development schools!
But suppose any nation’s (US or the PRC) leaders want to produce more and better specific categories of students, e.g., STEM competent, from the ranks of the “traditionally” ignored, excluded, or underserved populations. In that case, there must be a profound (game-changing) pedagogical/political thinking shift in how they will make investments in technological institutional structures and the necessary supporting civic infrastructures that will lead to the growth in the qualitative and quantitative numbers of those dispossessed and disconnected students; it won’t happen by accident. A public civil service educational bureaucracy left to its own job justifying/persevering “playing-it-politically-safe” inertia culture will naturally incline toward predictively producing unimaginative, uninventive, and mediocre educational outcomes.
The critical question for America is: Will we finally realize too late (by ignoring the recent demographic predictive math of the 2020 census) that the denial of STEM school structural learning opportunities and infrastructure enabling capabilities to the disentitled children (the majority population) of our public school systems, will eventually inflict serious economic, social, and psychological harm on the country’s future developmental aspirations; a situation that will cause even the nation’s children (and adults) of entitlement to be rendered unable to avoid the resulting collective psyche pain.
In Part 2, I discuss a second major public school (and the nation’s) infrastructure upgrading problem. And that is the problem caused by US public education’s “stuckness” in an old and timely-unsuitable “vocational school” model. Our current approach is not imaginative, robust, or dynamic enough to meet the country’s modern need to produce skills trades apprenticeship-school-ready, allied health career prepared-for-internships, and applied technology certified industry and governmental agencies work-force ready high school graduates. For these reasons, we need to upgrade from the traditional “vocational education” model to a modern version of the Career Technical Education (CTE) model, intellectually, pedagogically, and structurally, and do it expeditiously.