A Dr. King history and current events teachable moment…

A Dr. King history and current events teachable moment…

Listening to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s (D-Arizona) speech yesterday caused me to slip into educator mode. So here is my imagined compare and contrast teachable moment for her and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) lesson-plan prompt: Sen. Sinema’s call for “regular order” is similar in either (or both) tone or substance to the same one made by (allegedly sympathetic to civil rights aims) White Alabama Christian ministers to Dr. Martin Luther King.

And so, I think both Senators should read Dr. King’s response to those ministers in his: “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” where he offers a counter perspective that asserts that “regular order” will not work in the face of evil forces that thrive on the hypocrisy of ‘irregular-disorder-order’ as it enables the mistreatment and disenfranchisement of other human beings (e.g., slavery, segregation, discrimination, voting rights suppression, and violent “officially sanctioned and excused” oppression).

And in my teacher notes-to-self: It would seem that history and human moral progress (e.g., stopping Nazi Germany, ending South African apartheid) clearly align with Dr. King’s perspective. Extra-ordinary actions are needed to address extra-ordinary inhuman and immoral behaviors.

I am presently reading a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy), and it occurs to me that the operational definition of “public” (not private) courage is standing up (regardless of the consequences) and standing against the normalization and the regularization of the ugly acts of dehumanization.

Part 5 of “Who Will Do The Work Of Upgrading America’s Infrastructure?”: Recruiting and building a highly-effective CTE teaching staff; and the profile of a successful CTE high school student and graduate.

Part 5 of “Who Will Do The Work Of Upgrading America’s Infrastructure?”: Recruiting and building a highly-effective CTE teaching staff; and the profile of a successful CTE high school student and graduate; both are reflections and manifestations of the school’s philosophy of CTE education.

Successfully recruiting and developing a highly-effective CTE teaching staff. Start with a strong strategic professional development plan in mind.

One of the critical components of a successful CTE high school program or school is the expanded commitment that must be invested in instructional coaching. In almost every situation, a CTE program/school will need (depending on its size) to employ a few or many non-traditional teachers. These teachers may have spent a previous work life in a particular career field or industry (e.g., plumbing, carpentry, nursing, EMT tech., etc.). However, the best CTE teachers to recruit are those presently or who have taught in the past, in a skills trade apprenticeship or professional preparation program (they will at least have some “teaching experience” upon which to build on).
But the school must still craft a comprehensive pre-teaching assignment training and ongoing professional development plan for these teachers. This is particularly true since teaching in a post-high school adult program is very different from teaching teenagers in a high school. I understand a popular US notion that is held by many outside of professional education, is that anybody can teach. For sure, the myth that anybody can teach (or be a principal, superintendent…) has done great harm to the profession and even greater damage to our most vulnerable students. Teaching is a complex and challenging craft, even for those “new teachers” who have graduated from a conventional 4-year undergraduate teacher education program. Obviously, the long-term and sensible plan for the development of “non-traditional” CTE teachers is to provide ongoing professional development that covers (in a condensed and concentrated way); many of the fundamental knowledge and skills of a professionally trained, “certified track” teacher, such as lesson planning, instructional (delivery) practices, questioning techniques, developmental psychology, pacing, classroom management, executing during-the-lesson and post-lesson student assessments, etc. This intense pre-appointment professional development must continue throughout the first few years of teaching, in-school, after school, and on weekends to the greatest extent possible, mirroring the essential course offerings found in traditional teacher education programs. This formal teacher training must be combined with (depending on the size of a CTE program) a dedicated Teacher Instructional Support & Resource Center with an F/T (dedicated to the CTE teachers) instructional coach. Ideally, these “uncertified” CTE teachers can earn official teacher certification if the project is done in partnership with a local college that offers an “on-school-site” teacher education program in partnership with a district. Perhaps the “financial-tutorial-agreement” between the seeking to be certified CTE teacher and the district could be something like: For every tuition subsidized year the CTE teacher spends in the joint district/college teacher education program, they must, in turn, commit to work in the district/school for a year or repay the tuition. And “super-ideally” in a proactive way it would be very helpful for public education for colleges to set up a 4-year teacher education program specifically focused on producing a teacher certification program for (STEM and) non-traditional CTE teachers! But in the present and immediate future, CTE schools more than likely will need to recruit CTE teachers who have no prior training in K-12 pedagogy or instructional methodology. And so, the school must set up an “in-house” concentrated professional development series of “mini-courses” if these teachers are to be successful. These courses should start over the summer before the fall semester of their teaching assignments. The prospective CTE teachers will need to be paid (another necessary program cost) for attending the “for credit” summer teacher training institute. And it would be beneficial for those prospective CTE teachers to earn college credit toward an undergraduate education degree during their summer months of classes.
A little later, I will discuss the best approaches to finding and recruiting these teachers, which is not separate from the school’s overall philosophical thinking about how the principal operationally should effectively manage a CTE program, department, or school. But first, as things should proceed (but often does not) in public education, the learning needs of CTE students should frame (dictate, define and determine) the skills and knowledge capabilities required of their CTE teachers.

The profile of a successful CTE high school student and graduate reflects and manifests the school’s philosophy of CTE education. With high school CTE programs, we can, academically and operationally, both bake “bread” and contemplate the artistic and poetic beauty of “roses,” which is why it’s essential to integrate CTE courses and the school’s other rigorous and enlightening academic offerings to create a “dual-diploma” graduating CTE student.

As with any effective high school academic department, the place to begin the forming of an overarching departmental philosophy, standards, objectives, structure, staffing needs, and operational strategies is to ask this critically essential question: “What are the explanatory competencies and characteristics (rubrics) that describe and define a graduate of our CTE department?” You cannot separate teaching and learning and organizational practices from programmatic and student achievement objectives/outcomes; pedagogically speaking, there is an “equal-sign” situated between and links program function/structure and program end-products/production. Therefore, for that student who completes a four-year CTE major program, the following brief bulleted outlines describes the primary programmatic and student conceptual and behavioral objectives that should be (necessarily) jointly realized in a four year CTE program or school:

• All CTE students must take and pass a first (ninth grade) full year CTE rotational survey of CTE “majors” class. The rationale and purposes of this class is to allow students to become familiar with a wide spectrum of CTE areas of study, and ultimately careers. Students were surprised at PHELPSACE* (a STEM-CTE school I designed) that during the ninth grade CTE survey class they discovered an unknown passion for a heretofore not-very-interested-in or not aware of an interest in CTE course of study. Anyone who has spent any considerable amount of professional or parenting time with teenagers, will know that they will often announce (demonstrably) that they “don’t like” something until they “do like” that something; that is, after being exposed and experiencing it! Thus, one of the teaching and career guidance objectives of the CTE survey class (and schooling in general) is to help students to clarify, sharpen and expand the perimeters of their “like” perceptions. The CTE survey class also offers students a “time and transcript-safe” chance to re-select their area of intended CTE concentration that was stated on their 9th-grade application and in their admissions interview (Yes, applying CTE students must be interviewed; the programs are educationally fulfilling and wonderfully engaging, but many of these programs carry a higher degree of potential safety-danger; and therefore, you must “lay eyes and ears on” every prospective CTE student to ascertain their level of attitudinal commitment and safe behavior discipline and comportment capabilities). The CTE survey class also offers students the chance to see the interaction and inter-relatedness of seemingly different CTE “specialties” and careers. For example, how a building, a bridge, tunnels or any other structure is built by applying multiple skilled tradespersons (practice officially utilizing school-wide, the term: “tradesperson” rather than the commonly used “tradesman”). It also gives students the opportunity to think about combining two presently existing career objectives, e.g., construction trade + engineering = construction (civil) engineering, creating a completely new job description, or pursuing an entrepreneurial opportunity. A ninth grade, one-year CTE survey class will allow students to rotate and take an introductory class in each of the CTE content specialty areas (electrical, masonry, plumbing etc.) of the CTE program. Based on this one-year experience, at the end of the year students will be asked to select a CTE “major-concentration” path of study. This survey class can take place in a normal forty-five minute class period, and the credit earned in this class will go toward satisfying the CTE graduation “diploma” requirements. This will of course add an additional class to every ninth-grader’s schedule (one of many reasons a longer school day is required). The only exception would be the engineering CTE sequence; this should start in the ninth grade, preferably with students who have taken algebra 1 in the eighth grade or algebra 1 in the high school’s pre-school year Summer Bridge Program. The reason is that high school students seeking to be admitted to an undergraduate engineering program should have taken calculus (and physics) no later than the twelfth grade (you don’t want students to encounter that first year daunting engineering major college course: “calculus for engineers” without having a high school calculus course “under-their-belt.”). Also, the pre-engineer college sequence will take the full four years of high school study because it covers a diverse syllabus objectives of the student learning about and experiencing many engineering specialties (e.g., civil, mechanical, chemical, electrical, traffic/transportation, etc.)
Back to the general CTE survey/rotation classes, which can last anywhere from two days to 2 weeks per career area, based on the information and skills requirements for that study topic ( e.g., drafting, CAD/CAM will take a couple of weeks of syllabus time). The CTE course should include a broad spectrum of presenters from specialty areas within that CTE career category. For example, carpenters who make furniture and those who work in building construction. Or masons who work on general housing-related structures like retaining walls and paved walkways, and stonemasons who do historical building restoration. The key here is to expose students to CTE careers they may not even know exist (e.g., theater: set design, construction, sound, lighting, and costume design). In this way, the students can be exposed to the full diversity of job categories in a wide spectrum of CTE fields. All of these ninth-grade introductory classes can be co-taught utilizing a skilled (working or retired) practitioner in the particular CTE job-category along with a traditionally licensed teacher or paraprofessional working in the CTE department; or, the “introductory survey classes” could be part of a school-building assigned CTE teacher’s course assignments if there is room in their schedules. All outside-of-the-school visiting instructors should receive a brief orientation to familiarize them with the school’s practices/procedures, rules, and regulations that govern public school education (all should have a “co-teaching” certified teacher or a very good and experienced paraprofessional in the room at all times).
Outside of school, trips to actual CTE work-sites are a necessity. Therefore, the success of this survey class also depends on the school/CTE department building strong outside-of-the-school collaborative partnerships with the organizations and trade/professional unions and associations that will supply the “teaching venues” and volunteer teachers. Although these professional expert presenters are volunteering their time, the school community should appreciate the tremendous donated sacrifice and cost these individual’s companies and governmental agencies are making by providing their paid employees time off to teach on-sight or at a public school.
As you seek to raise the necessary extra-funding for a CTE program or school, there is something you should know principal, and that is the vast majority of governmental and non-governmental organizations/institutions, their executives and employees, actually want to see public schools succeed; the “brake-down” in the “relationship” is on the public school end because after acquiring massive amounts of tax money from individuals and businesses, we continue to send so many “half or poorly prepared” high schoolers into the adult world of work or unemployment (the exception, of course, would be the Criminal Justice Industry, which benefits greatly from, and is sustained by, our ineffectual practices). For example, one large electrical firm in partnership with PHELPSACE donated a professional master electrician full-time to teach our sophomore-senior electricity courses for an entire school year; which saved me the cost of a whole teaching position, and the fact that he was an African-American male in a school that was 90%+ Black American was an added inspirational plus! This brings me to my next point: Although it is not a qualifying criterion for the success of the CTE survey course, if, at all possible, the school and CTE department should “hint carefully” that diversity of professionals (e.g., presenters of color and women) would be greatly “value-added” appreciated; but the “who” these presenters are should not be a “deal-breaker” after all their services are free to the school; but it has been my experience that all of the “sending volunteers” organizations, trade unions, professional associations, and institutions have all been sensitive and positively responded to our “representation and diversity” learning objective concerns.
Finally, in the construction trades sections of the CTE survey class, many girls will discover how talented and gifted they are in areas often identified as “male careers” (and their male peers will also learn how skillfully good these young ladies are and will begin to “put-some-respect” on their names!). I have seen girls excel in areas like welding (see the picture of the young lady top welder-of-the-class on this blog page’s platform), masonry, carpentry, plumbing, etc., in sections of the yearlong CTE survey class and then continue to excel as they move into the concentration phases of their sophomore-senior school years CTE “major” studies. The principal, CTE director, and AP of guidance must be ever vigilant in making sure that girls are unconsciously (and perhaps not maliciously) excluded, “self-exclude,” or discouraged from pursuing a construction skills trades career pathway. Making the CTE work-study space “gender-neutral” (same standards and expectations for all students) is a necessary volunteer and CTE staff orientation and departmental meeting conversation since many of the male survey class volunteer instructors and even the school-based full-time CTE construction trades/mechanics faculty members may not have extensive (or in some cases any) experience of either teaching/training or working in the profession with women.

• There must be a link between program “student profile” objectives, program functionality, and the physical structure of the instructional spaces. For example, if a district is building a brand-new CTE high school or refurbishing an existing school building (e.g., PHELPSACE), the investment must be made to make the architecture and construction of the building itself a significant part of the CTE teaching curriculum and that would include putting the school in a position to pursue and achieve the ultimate LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) platinum status.

• There is a required dual-certification graduation goal (a high school rigorous academic diploma & the appropriate CTE certification), which will mean that the student has met all of the academic requirements for gaining admission to either a two-year or four-year college. All CTE students should apply to a college program (perhaps closely related to their CTE major); the school should cover all application fees, even if they don’t plan to attend college or have decided to delay college attendance for some date in the future. It’s always better (and some former “reluctant” CTE students thanked me for “pushing” this mandate years after they graduated) for a student to have a 2 or 4 year college acceptance letter “in-their-pocket” and then communicate to the college that they are delaying the start of their college studies for a post-high school work-study CTE program (e.g., a construction trade apprenticeship school); then to “scramble” 1-2 years after their high school graduation to acquire (a now more difficult) admission to a college.

• A CTE student must be emotionally disciplined, highly organized, and “highly-efficient” academically. The school’s CTE four-year course of study follows a prerequisite (required classes) and cohort-track format. Ninth graders, in particular, generally face that “standard” challenge of mastering the organizational skills to navigate any high school academic program successfully; CTE programs will present additional challenges for those ninth-graders who are in pursuit of dual-diploma graduation status. High schools too often assume wrongly (or under assume) the degree of “mental-preparedness,” and the required high school culture “soft skills” awareness capabilities of ninth graders. The CTE program must set aside some time (possibly the first week of the 9th grade school year) in the CTE survey class to teach students organization skills “best practices,” productive study techniques, general (all subject areas) study prioritization/optimization skills; test-taking skills, how to manage short and long-term projects and assignments, and academic time management; or these students are going to struggle (and perhaps fail) in a high school CTE program; a sequence of study that is highly rewarding, but leaves little room for course failures, especially in the case of CTE courses where there is most likely no summer school make up classes.

• Students should be exposed to the many different CTE employment “promotional” skill levels, “soft” and “hard” skills and knowledge requirements (e.g., “trainee,” “extern-intern,” certified, “mastery,” and supervisory/managerial job categories in a given industry or trade. And also, be exposed to the numerous present and possible future “sub-specialties” inside various CTE professions (e.g., underwater welding and robotics, nurse anesthetist, electric cars maintenance, etc.)

• The CTE program must utilize the (costly) actual tools and equipment used by professionals working in the CTE field they are studying; and where that is a challenge (e.g., heavy construction vehicles and equipment), field trips and computer simulation technology should be employed.

• A senior CTE project should always be required (and evaluated) in any CTE program. For example, a creative performance/art work, culinary presentation (with invited professional chefs and food critics), original fashion designs, architectural “green building” design, or engineering innovation service projects. Or, the students could do a group/team senior-year CTE project across multiple (4 is the best working and assessment number) different CTE major areas of concentration, like designing and building a school campus greenhouse.

• Students should successfully pass the CTE major certification exams (e.g., CISCO), end-of-course assessments, written and practicum qualifying exams for admission to a CTE post-high school training program, and/or a specific construction trades apprenticeship school.

• Outside of class, program, and school enrichments. Optimally, a CTE student will be able to spend at least one school-semester, or during the summer, in an applied project mentorship program, on-site extern or intern-ship, work-study experience, a summer job connected to that student’s CTE area of concentration. (In cooperation with a wise city administration, the SYEP program could be integrated into this objective).
In addition, CTE students (in developing their portfolios) should engage in a CTE career-related school team or club. For example, for the pre-engineering students NSBEjr and/or the FIRST Robotics team; for CISCO or Microsoft certification students, the Cyber Forensics-Security Competition Team. In that CTE course of study where there is no national high school club, association, or competition, the school should create an in-school or inter-school expression of competitions, clubs, or junior professional associations.

• Students will be proficient in thinking and linking CTE “conceptual” and “behavioral” skills competencies. The CTE program’s instructional model will challenge, but ultimately empower students to be equally proficient in theoretical and performance-based learning. There is no learning they engage in that is not connected to practice and no practice disconnected from the theoretical learning they study. The CTE department is essentially the praxis heart (reflective model) and the practiced art (creative example) of the entire school’s pedagogical commitment to a Project-Based-Learning-Approach for schooling generally, and operationally for teaching and learning in all academic areas.

• All CTE students must complete (a CTE diploma requirement) some community/school service project before graduation, for example, serving as an assistant coach for a middle school robotics team; technical support for the drama club, a mentor for ninth graders joining the computer club, membership on the school’s LEED team; beautifying, upgrading, renovating, and restoring parts of the school building and the school building grounds, etc.

• All CTE students must build a 4-years in the making, electronic and paper senior portfolio (expanded CV/resume). Including information highlighting the student’s participation in both CTE and non-CTE school activities, programs, or teams. This senior portfolio should reflect the intellectual and skills capacity of a “well-rounded” student. Don’t be shy about building a dynamic “CTE-PR Package” (senior portfolio) for students; after all, the best high school athletic programs do it all of the time!

• The model CTE student will be thoroughly grounded in non-STEM-CTE subject areas such as fictional literature, poetry, history, plays and essays, creative design, and performance arts. (again, for reasons to create a “rich senior portfolio profile”). In other words, a “well-rounded” and rigorous-rich transcript. In addition, given the financial resources, schools should offer “CTE/Liberal Arts” elective courses, e.g., “computer-generated art,” “history of technology,” “archeology and architecture,” and “biomedical engineering.”

• Work force-place-site experiential knowledge. Over four years, the school’s CTE graduates would have participated in many individually assigned or school-sponsored/organized CTE careers-related trips. “School Trips” as a learning tool have fallen out of favor (especially in high schools). But with good school leadership organization, this teaching and learning vehicle can be of tremendous academic achievement and career enlightenment value, particularly for those students who don’t have the opportunity to interact with a diverse spectrum of successful professionals and have access to informal education institutions.

• CTE graduates will be well informed and well-rehearsed in resume writing/job interview standards and techniques. The CTE department will also familiarize students with the professional work environment “soft skills” and “cultural-linguistic code-switching” skills required to succeed in an internship or future employment setting. The CTE departmental objective is to have the student psychologically and attitudinally “job-ready” by graduation.

• (And here is where the Entrepreneurial Principal must show up) All CTE construction skills (and some other CTE programs, e.g., EMT,) trades students should receive a complete set of personal, professional tools (from the culinary arts to carpentry) upon graduation.

High School Career Technical Education (CTE) allows us to move away from disempowering dueling diplomas and move into empowering dual diplomas.

In closing, it is unfortunate that too often in public education, in too many ways, and with too many students, we fail to establish a positive, adaptive, and valuable after graduation path for students to achieve short-term motivational career accessibility and long-term societal financial sustainability. The high School CTE dual-diploma graduation objectives allow us (starting in the 9th grade) the opportunity to provide ourselves and students with a 4-year end-of-process plan that equips young people with the knowledge and skills to confidently take the next step in the adulthood and career maturation process. Even if a student chooses at the end of 4-years of high school to delay or completely abandon a CTE career option, it will not hurt their chances of utilizing the CTE skills they learned in other career endeavors; and it surely won’t hurt their resumes since they will have the profile-resume advantage of being a highly-effective dual diploma achiever. And besides, if public schools provided their CTE graduates with more and not less post-high school graduation options to choose from, then that is a “problem” that our nation and our children are in dire need of having.

*Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School, DCPS, Washington DC.

Part 4 of: “Who Will Do The Work Of Upgrading America’s Infrastructure?”: The Basics For Establishing or Reimagining a High School Career Technical Education (CTE) Program or School.

The organizational commitment and foundational work required for establishing or the revisional re-establishment (upgrading) of a high school Career Technical Education (CTE) program or school.

All CTE program students should face three critical challenges on their path to high school graduation. Yet, at the same time, these “3-challenges” will double as better life-after-graduation favorable advantages for learning options, and further, produce highly promising future professional career opportunities.
The first challenge is to satisfy the state and school district’s “general” credit linked to grade promotion guidelines, standardized exams passing, and high school graduation requirements.
The second challenge is to successfully pass all of their CTE “major” (area of concentration) requirements of a sequence of courses, navigate written and performance CTE certification standardized exams, earn a community service credit, and finally, develop, complete, and present a final senior year CTE project.
And the third challenge is that all CTE graduates must go beyond the state/district standard “general graduation” requirements and be transcript “college-ready” eligible to gain admission and be able to successfully complete a two- or four-year college program, even if they choose to not do so.

The school must establish these three CTE graduation requirements if they expect to operate and function as an authentic and highly successful CTE program or school in deeds, not just words. This academic profile and departmental objectives automatically demands that a CTE program/school not be bound by the stifling-standard staffing, labor, and work schedule agreements and restrictions that burden many existing public school districts. The most obvious reason is that CTE students can’t possibly complete all three of those graduation requirements in a “typical” school daytime schedule. Also, the 10th-12th grade sequence of CTE classes requires a minimum of 90 minutes to be meaningfully (educationally) productive, when combined with a maximum class size of twenty-four students; principals should immediately be able to hypothetically calculate (class size/minutes/personnel), the higher than regular classroom cost involved; clearly a great deal of “rules and regulations” relief + extra-funding is required for any CTE initiative to work effectively.

An additional operational requirement of a CTE program or school is that they must have the flexibility to employ CTE departmental teachers with specialized skills that may not fit the public school official licensure requirements or professional teacher pathway. Optimally, a CTE program/school with a department of many “non-traditional” teachers should have a director, chairperson, or AP with a certified teacher (strong instructional) background, and if budgetarily possible (highly recommended), a dedicated CTE department F/T instructional coach. Why is it essential to provide extra-instructional support for “non-traditional” CTE teachers? Because PreK-12 teaching in general, but in this specific case, high school teenagers, is not as easy as many who are outside of the profession imagine it to be! (Real principal talk: You must prepare for the possibility that a “non-traditional” CTE teacher may quit before the end of the semester or year, as they encounter the natural “full beauty” of the adolescent attitudinal worldview!).

A further administrative hurdle to overcome in establishing an exemplary CTE program/school is that generally, they cost more money as “start-ups” and are more expensive over the long-term than non-CTE programs and schools; this is based on their unique and essential operational, organizational and structural requirements. This extra cost includes the beforementioned class size maximum of twenty-four students for optimum safety and learning purposes (24 also works for instructional reasons as a great deal of CTE classwork is paired and quartet group assignment projects). In addition, CTE programs/schools must meet many unique but necessary architectural (specially designed learning spaces) requirements. Further, CTE schools require specialized teaching stations, tools, furniture, specialized machinery, structural safety designs, and CTE course-specific safety equipment, and often unique (and extensive) electrical wiring. There are machine and equipment servicing contracts that are needed. In addition, there are costly teaching/learning materials annual replenishment supply costs. Also, the expenditures for CTE programs and schools are higher because of the building operational schedule (extended school day) and maintenance (custodial extra-cleaning). Alas, there is just no way around this financial investment reality, which is why it’s critical to any CTE programmatic success that the school district make a serious long-term pedagogical and budgetary commitment to the program or school.

Additionally, any school district hoping to create or redesign a CTE program/school must include for both academic and financial reasons a strong industry partnership program, the school’s (501c3 foundation) must have access to a grant writer who could also help coordinate multiple fundraising campaigns, a resource, and materials acquisition Rolodex of supporters and donators, and help in the recruitment of ongoing external human resources volunteer-mentoring efforts.
The (Entrepreneurial) principal assigned to the school must have (along with a lot of other CTE-specific leadership abilities) extraordinary fundraising capability skills. The funds raised by the school’s internal and external fundraising efforts should not substitute (a bad public school habit) for the district’s long-term additional funding for the school; all funds raised by the school (and necessary for the program’s success) should supplement and not replace the required district’s “special allocation” for the program or school! (Real principal talk: As a principal, I never told any central district office person the amount of funds we raised outside of my official district budget allocation; this was not illegal since the annual reports of my 501c3 foundation were filed with the state and therefore was public information. The reason for my not providing that information is that in public education, we can often get the concepts of “equity” and “equality” mixed up and confused to the determent of students).

And then there are the final “heavy lift” political/communication issues for creating effective CTE programs/schools: It is critically important that a board of education (local school district), district leadership officials, unions, elected officials, parents, and the community at large understand how CTE schools/programs are and why they must be very different from “regular programs or schools,” and importantly what that difference means for prospective students admission requirements, graduation requirements, summer and weekend programs, staffing, organization and scheduling, school building leadership, budgeting, labor-contract agreements, instructional and non-instructional staffing support, and professional development.

The good news about all of that extra start-up cost, extensive planning, professional development, “rules-regulations-relief,” and additional annual higher operational expenses (e.g., classroom materials replenishment costs are subject to increases in national/international building and construction “market forces” cost increases), will more than pay for itself with more-better student: attendance, punctuality, “course passing rates” (avoiding costly “credit recovery” programs, e.g., summer school) good behavior, academic achievement outcomes on report cards and standardized exams; and additionally, higher, more meaningful and “societally adaptable” graduation profiles and rates. Finally, a good CTE school (as is the case with any highly-functioning public school), will partly “pay for itself” by having the ability to “pull” students away from private schools and thus increase the district’s per/pupil local, state and federal funds allocations (not to mention making those presently “double-taxed” parents happy to be free of paying a private school tuition cost). All of the things that are not accomplished by the many much, much more expensive “school improvement,” “closing gaps,” and “raising achievement” habitually bad high priced schemes* that school districts are so fond of engaging in.

And by the way, if this counts for anything, CTE initiatives will produce happier and more satisfied parents and students (and employers). In addition, it will, to a great extent, deprive and diminish our criminal justice system of its “poor education recipients” human material supply. And finally, CTE programs, when done right, offer the beautiful possibility of young people who live in our most employment-challenged communities the ability to have a better job and entrepreneurship options and opportunities future.

*These programs essentially don’t work (despite their often sexy/well marketed and worded acronyms) in major part because:

(1) they don’t dare infringe on the politically sacred zones of adult job guarantees, comfort, and the comfortable assurances of no consequences for failure (only designated students, their parents, and specific communities suffer a loss).

(2) Secondly, these doom-to-fail “distraction programs” (some of these bad ideas are pushed by the pedagogically asleep “woke” crowd) don’t really get at the core challenge of creating and expanding the sustained quality of teaching and learning opportunities for larger populations of students.

The NYC mayor-elect Eric Adams correctly asks the question: “How can a system spend so many billions of dollars and produce such poor outcomes?”… Well, there it is (a large part of the answer), summed up in those previously stated #’s (1) and (2) assertions!

Part 5: Building a highly-effective CTE staff and the profile of a successful CTE high school student and graduate; all are the ultimate reflections and manifestations of the school’s philosophy of CTE education.

“Who Will Do The Work Of Upgrading America’s Infrastructure?” Part 3: Creating the theoretical foundation for building effective Career Technical Education (CTE) high school programs.

The “shop” classes at my 1960s Brooklyn middle school taught me an early lesson about public education’s approach to “physical” and “mental” work. “Shop Class” was an opportunity for the gifted and talented students to connect our academic and creative educational experiences into some innovative, practical application (e.g., building bird feeding boxes). But for some classes (and students) in the school, the shop class experience was seen as an entry portal into some kind of vocational field characterized by physical, not mental, skills.
That experience reflected the terrible and destructive divide that existed and still exists in public education to a lesser damaging extent. This is the false divide between the work people do with their hands as opposed to the work done with their brains. This artificial division has severely limited the emergence and development of a promising effort in the educational field that recognizes that “hands” and “minds” can’t be disconnected.
That idea is one of the core assertions of an excellent Career Technical Education (CTE) program. I realized painfully in one city school district how hard it is to move the public’s (and professional educators’) misunderstanding and collective belief system away from the traditional “vocational educational” model into the modern ideas of Career Technical Education. At this very moment, professional “experienced educators,” working and retired, all over this nation are saying, with good intentions, that for those students who are struggling academically, poor readers, unable to pass standardized exams, etc., that we need a program that will allow these students to “work with their hands!” This is basically the modern version of the 1960s vocational educational thinking era.

Part of the problem is that the overwhelming majority of us working in the education profession are more than likely the products of a liberal arts education with a strong emphasis on the humanities. Now, I actually believe that an educational program rich in the arts and humanities is essential for the education of all students. But often wrongly and quietly embedded in this approach is a pronounced bias that falsely favors mental labor over physical labor, the “speculative-imagined” over the “practically-applied.” In public education, our primary currency is books and reading (in all subject areas), theoretical math algorithms over functional math applications—the “college track” has always been the “major leagues” of public high school learning, despite our pronouncements to the contrary.

And we professional educators are also probably the products of a private or public school system that promoted the idea that “smart kids” should focus on academic classes (working with their brains) and “slower kids” need to focus on shop/vocational courses (working with their hands). Notice that “smart” is linguistically juxtaposed to “slow” instead of “slow” being measured against its true opposite “fast.” And despite the passionate protestations of our current national anti-authentic histography movement, race and class are always in play in American educational history; therefore, the kids who were more likely to be better at working with their hands than their brains, and assigned to a vocational program track, would, of course, be students who were poor/working class White, Black, and Latino kids. But ironically, we now find ourselves in a position of asking for an authentic CTE learning approach that would rescue our nation from a severe applied technical skills readiness “shortage” hole in which our public and professional misconceptions of how academic knowledge is expressed have placed us.

We have dug ourselves into a pedagogically destructive divide; now, how do we get out?
In public education, the false division between “brain” and “hands” work has hurt our efforts to successfully educate all children by ignoring the different biophysio-modalities and multiple-intelligences that students use to receive, process, and demonstrate curricular information and knowledge effectively.
We have also lost all sense of the many ways in which art, science, and mathematics are utilized to solve real-world, day-to-day problems. As a teacher taking students on a 1980s college tour, I fully appreciated the tremendously applied STEM-CTE work of those 1890s Tuskegee University students in designing and building the still-standing structures on that campus. But my experience of seriously learning about the unbreakable link between theoretical and practical work would fully emerge when I became principal of a STEM-CTE high school, for there is no better classroom for an educator to better understand and appreciate the level of complexity found in many educational initiatives than when you are responsible for a young person’s future life success or failure. At that moment, I came into a complete understanding of the pedagogical mess we professional educators made of “vocational education.” We wrongly sent out mixed and wrong messages that are still deeply embedded in our professional language, which means that it is fully embedded in the cultural-linguistic thinking and speaking of the general society. For example, a common phrase voiced by educators, “All students (re: the “dumb and dumber”) need not or should not go to college!” This statement is dangerous because, on the surface, it appears to address individual students’ needs and interests (which is an essential concern of any high school career-guidance program). However, the concept is really motivated by an underlying belief that the primary reason for not being “college worthy” is due to a “natural lack of academic capability.” This is why this assertion is always connected to “expectations,” which again, is always connected to class and race. The entitled and wealthy parents of our nation are not recommending that their children become plumbers or electricians, although they might want to reconsider that advice given the amount of money I spent each time I needed the services of either of those two tradespersons!

And then what is also often connected to that “not college material” assertion is a second well-meaning, but poorly thought out belief, that we need to provide “academic” programs that would allow the chronically truant, “intellectually slow,” SPED, ADHD, and the persistent and incurably misbehaving students the ability to have a pathway to graduation and a useful work-life after high school. But two central problems emerge from these two wrong thinking assertions. (1) Pursuing a professional career in any applied technology-construction skills field does, in fact, require high school-level mathematics and reading literacy skills, the ability to apply (even if it is not named) the scientific method, discipline, creativity, and thoughtful problem-solving skills. And with computer-related technology entering every aspect of the construction trades, there is a requirement that skills trades’ persons also grow their technical skills, as the role of technology increases in their profession. (2) With such a negative recruitment criteria (the “academically slow,” or the behaviorally/disciplined challenged) for admission to vocational education, it should not be a surprise that a large segment of parents and/or students would not find these programs attractive.
The hope and promise of CTE programs going forward are that we can revisit, restart, and revolutionize our entire thinking and approach to “vocational education.” And based on my previous experience with this effort, no CTE program can be truly successful in a school district (or school) unless that superintendent (or principal) engages in a system-wide (school-wide) and community-wide explanation and education process as to what CTE is and what it is not.

Clarifying the differences between vocational and career/technical education!

One of the great challenges we face (and too often fail at) in public education is the organization of our pedagogical practices and curriculum theory in such a way that it matches up with the world and the society the student will be facing in the near and far future after they graduate from our school systems. It is challenging to identify new careers that will be added, or in many cases, modified and/or completely eliminated in the next five to ten years; so, projecting twenty or thirty years into the future is really difficult. This is why an effective school’s academic program will seek to equip students with a bank of conceptual and behavioral (tactile) skills and competencies that are flexible enough to transfer over time to many different possible career opportunities. Further, for many of us, former school based/district leaders, who are now possibly in college teaching or education policy formation positions; our “baby boomer” way of thinking might prevent us from fully appreciating the incredible seismic shift that has occurred in the world of careers and work. My professional work life-path of entering a specific profession early in life (’20s); following a particular career ladder (e.g., teacher to superintendent), in essence, sticking with that same career until retirement, may, in fact, become a societal behavioral artifact; indeed, most of the young people in the 2022 high school graduating class will probably face a future where employment is translated to mean being engaged in multiple and perhaps radically different assignments on a single job and/or being employed (including self-employed) in numerous ways simultaneously, as well as completely changing careers several times throughout a work-lifespan.
This “new employment profile” requires the ability to transfer and translate a “survey” of diverse applicable skills in multiple employment settings. As a result, there could be a declining interest (or need) to stick with one specific undergraduate and graduate/professional school degree. Instead, a greater emphasis could be placed on how well individuals can creatively “stretch” their degree or prior training to cover multiple new and rapidly developing job requirements. For sure, specialized training (e.g., nursing, carpentry, computer coding, forest ranger, environmental biologist, anthropology, or civil engineering) will still exist. However, individuals may decide to take advantage of longer and healthier life spans by spending a third or half of their employment life in a particular field; and then switching to a completely different field, where the skills and competencies of both areas can be either integrated or expanded upon. It is also clear that technology will continue to assert its ever-growing presence in the world of “all” work-spaces.
The great present danger we face in public education is not only that we send too many unprepared and under(soft & hard)skilled students into the present job market, but it’s also our failing to graduate students equipped with a set of skills and competencies that will make them “employment relevant” for future job markets.

Science, Technology, Applied Engineering, Mathematics, the Creative and Liberal Arts; will continue to exert their innovative and formative influences in many present and future careers.

Think of all of the diverse “job categories” that are engaged as “teamwork” in a Kanye West production or in Rihanna’s multifaceted conglomerate projects that stretch across multiple business enterprises. Narrowly “knowing” one thing (even if you know it well) and not being able to at least have active and functional conversations across professional fields could make any potential employee or manager a liability rather than an asset.
Science, technology, applied engineering, mathematics, the creative and liberal arts will continue to influence and drive the speed, efficiency, and effectiveness in many fields, including the traditional construction trades like plumbing, welding, HVAC/R, electricity, and masonry. The above curricular learning principles and practices will also gain a more significant theoretical foothold into the training (e.g., use of computer simulators) of skills trades apprenticeship students and the day-to-day (CAD/CAM) operational procedures of the construction career fields. And further, “outside” of skills trades learning will be required to respond to ever-expanding connective/intersecting areas of health, politics, public safety, law, and environmental studies/concerns; the invention and innovative ideas for tools and equipment. The use of laser technology and robots; sophisticated technical probes and measuring instruments; and the almost universal expansion of computers in construction equipment; and the “on-the-worksite” computer usage by desktop, laptop, and handheld machines.
Further, for those CTE students who want to translate their CTE skills trades knowledge into an opportunity to serve in a supervisory and/or an entrepreneurial role; this will require a strong “liberal arts” academic foundation to expand into other applicable competencies, such as job proposal writing (“bidding”), business management, human relations psychology, customer service, effectively working with architects and engineers, the ability to read, interpret, and respond to codified labor agreements as well as governmental laws and regulations; and mastering the rubrics of budgeting; time management; and cost analysis. It is also probably true that the best creative, dynamic managers and entrepreneurs are those individuals who have been exposed to the arts, literature, philosophy, psychology, history, and ideas, people, and cultures other than their own. As international (and national) communication and human interaction increases, a leader’s success in the business world could increase the need for managers who have high levels of cultural-literacy skills.
Finally, there is without a doubt a growing societal and economic need for the development of a cohort of people in our labor force whose knowledge, abilities, and capabilities consist of having a full academic spectrum (“liberal arts”) of a high school education, a CTE program high school education, and a two-year technical/community college skills professional certification degree. In addition, there is a tremendous need for applied engineering technology manufacturing positions in STEM product or performance companies that cover everything from biomedical engineering, construction materials, machine and tool making, computer-aided manufacturing, automated farming, and food production; and further, for employment in computer-based delivery of information and products services corporations and service with governmental agencies. Even with the introduction of more computer-aided automated manufacturing production lines and robotics, we will still need a lot of humans who can code, develop, maintain, improve the performance, “troubleshoot,” and repair these semi(not wholly)automated systems. Needless to say, all of these high-demand employment opportunities require students to have more than the basic “hands-on-only” skills. For example, in medicine, our rapidly expanding (and longer-living) senior population could mean that we may want to expand the number of nurse practitioners and physician assistants to meet our growing medical needs (particularly in our rural areas); but that would require high schools to establish and strengthen existing pre-nursing school CTE programs. The positive growth of complex technology-based solutions to everyday human needs will also require greater problem-solving skills from technical support and maintenance practitioners. As our society creates an environment where more and more US citizens find themselves (voluntarily or involuntarily) in an expanded integrated relationship with “hard” and internet technology, outsourcing “technical support” to foreign nations may not be a viable (proximity) option, customer-friendly, customer-satisfaction desirable, or even in some cases, “legally feasible” for personal or national security reasons. So, where will these skilled US workers come from?

Career Technical Education should not be a “fallback-backup” or a “failing-falling-off” of the academic capability track option.

As a STEM-CTE principal, I was once invited to speak to a group of middle school eighth-grade students; and to my disappointment and horror, the principal gathered what could only be (keeping-it-professional) described as an “interesting” cohort of students. The group was made up of (primarily Black boys and a few Black girls) who had a collective “school profile” consisting of chronic absenteeism and lateness, multiple suspensions, fighting and bullying behaviors, the repeated disregard for school rules, and continuous disrespect for school staff, below proficiency performance on standardized exams, and academic classroom and report card grades. These are the middle school students we systemically/cynically cause to eventually “age out” of middle school (but in reality, they are not prepared to do high school work). Many of them have already repeated a grade in elementary school. These were the students presented to me by the well-meaning administration and guidance counselor, who thought that these young people were best suited for a high school CTE program. In other words, students who needed to: “work with their hands.”
I did not walk out, only because it would have been disrespectful and unfair to the students. Instead, I gave them (and they deserved) my standard-best middle-school/high-school “articulation” presentation. But the next week, I invited that principal and a few of his (I suspect, equally under-informed) middle school principal colleagues to meet with me after-school in my school.
Since most of what you need to know for your school leadership life you learned in your teacher-life, I thought this was a great time at the beginning of the lesson (meeting) to employ visual aids as a lesson motivator.
In my office, I pulled from the bookshelf the various high school “CTE majors” textbooks our students would utilize during their four years at the school. I also shared a few texts used in the post-high school trade union apprenticeship programs. I also informed the group that our students would also need to complete the district’s “college-ready” requirements for graduation; thus, the shock and awe began.
Because they were professional educators, there was an immediate, enlightened awareness of the required reading level of the high school pre-apprenticeship CTE textbooks, the extent of necessary safety information (and behavioral safety standards needed) to be learned and performed, the massive amount of technical knowledge being taught to students studying welding, carpentry, and the electrician, or plumber’s courses sequence. And further, the amount of general science and mathematical, conceptual (e.g., decimals, fractions, percentage, place value, etc.) knowledge that is needed. In addition, the algorithmic (e.g., competency in applying the rules of multiplication, division, etc.) skills that are required of the students.
I spent that day, and many of my days, in Washington, D.C., explaining to people that preparing young people to be successful in a high school (where they essentially had to earn “two diplomas”) and at the same time being ready to enter a post-high skills trade apprenticeship program was a serious and challenging task as students had to master a vast body of both theoretical and practical (application) learning objectives. Students who chronically failed classes had poor attendance and punctuality, exhibited a lack of discipline, and engaged in chronic behavioral problems were not the standard requirement profile for a high school CTE candidate. An individual student with severe control and behavioral issues constituted a greater danger to themselves and other students if they pursued a CTE program. I then took my principal guest on a tour of our CTE labs. They saw the very complex (and potentially dangerous) machinery and the many tools students used daily, tools for which a student in another high school would be suspended if they brought that item to school. I finally explained that standardized assessments work in the CTE world are equally divided between written Q&A short and extended answers exams and the individual demonstration of practical proficiency in their trade; the CTE students are required to pass all of these different and challenging assessments tools before earning a “CTE diploma” and being admitted to a post-high school 2-year technical/community college CTE program or a construction apprenticeship school. They were in such a saturated state of shock that I did not even bother to share the CISCO/Microsoft certification programs part of our CTE career path course offerings with them; alas, I did not want to “pile-it-on” as I compassionately sensed that they had seen enough! I believe at the end of our CTE “lesson,” those principals left with a better understanding of what CTE is, is not, and what CTE, if done right, requires of students. But how many educators in our nation were absent from my “lesson” on that day, and what does that mean for US students?

Admission to a CTE high school program should be a “gift,” not a “punishment” for students.

The greatest gift of CTE programs to students is that, unlike the old vocational educational model that existed on the outskirts (in exile) of the public education mission, Career Technical Education, if done correctly, forces itself to be placed in the center of the school’s academic work and mission. Students who are enrolled in CTE courses and programs, more likely than not, have a strong sense of what they want to do after high school graduation. Linking high school work to a career in the world after high school is that critical connection every effective high school educator is passionately working hard to establish. And having a “CTE-major” team of teachers and fellow students gives the CTE student a sense of camaraderie, shared purpose, and mutual support on the high school path to graduation. The special presentations and lectures, internships, industry-related summer jobs, and CTE-focused field trips, along with the continual exposure and interaction with powerful and influential industry leaders and skilled professional practitioners, provide students with a daily reminder of that goal they are pursuing. I would even go further here and say those students I observed who were seriously focused and fully engaged in a CTE program were the most goal-orientated and “end objective” minded students in my high school! The structure of the CTE program positively affected their punctuality, attendance, and behavior during the school year. The CTE program was also an excellent incentive for the enrolled students to successfully pass all of their academic subjects since the CTE classes are rigidly and sequentially structured for each of the four grade levels, and CTE students move along a 4-year path as a cohort. Any student failing a class and then being forced to take that class the following semester when a CTE-required course could be scheduled at the same time could cause havoc on a student’s schedule and even create a danger of not being able to acquire the CTE certification by the twelfth grade. I have employed many techniques over my eleven years as a principal to get students to pass classes; however, one of the most powerful influencing factors was when the students exhibited a self-directed and self-managed response to the high school experience. And no one was better at this than that CTE student who feared falling out of the CTE program completion sequence by failing some non-CTE course. Failing any class on their schedule placed a CTE student in danger of not receiving a CTE diploma, thus weakening their chances of admission to the competitive post-high school trade skills apprenticeship programs.

Technological progress and international economic realignment need not be the enemy of US employment…

The challenge is for our political leaders to have a brave and honest discussion with the American public (and thus their children), and say that those factories that have moved to places like Mexico and Viet Nam (and paying those nations workers’ salaries unrealistically feasible in the US) are never coming back; and further, in the case of some jobs like coal mining, where for multiple reasons (worker health, market forces, and environmental challenges/changes), won’t offer American workers a promising future job option. But a parallel version of that “brave and honest” conversation must also take place in our public schools; we must ask ourselves: “How do we best prepare our students for the “real” world that is and not the world we nostalgically imagine to exist (if it ever fully existed); and most importantly the world-of-work that is to come?”

The U.S. will need to step up its public schools CTE game to stop the denigration, degradation, and loss of CTE employment skills required to meet the needs of “Build Back Better Act” type infrastructure projects that the US must undertake in the future. Let’s face it, many of our national bridges, clean water delivery systems, shipping/receiving ports, roads, tunnels, rail lines, etc. have reached their “maximum-time-usage-capacity”; at some point, we are deciding (and in some places like Flint, Michigan have already tragically decided) to put the citizenry at safety and health risk. At the same time, we are seriously harming ourselves economically.

President Biden’s Build Back Better Act (BBBA), although “wounded” ironically by elected officials whose states and citizens could have significantly benefited by the bill’s original (2.3 trillion dollars) tremendous scope, is still a potent job-producing project. And despite the undermining efforts of some political forces to reduce its efficacy, the 1.75 trillion BBBA will still create a long-term national need for a significant number of applied technology and construction skills trades trained and certified workers. The question (I’m going to keep asking): “Who will be trained, certified, and qualified to perform those jobs?”

In Part 4 of “Who Will Do The Work Of Upgrading America’s Infrastructure?” — With high school CTE students, we can, academically and operationally, both “bake bread and contemplate the artistic/poetic beauty of roses”: Why it’s essential to integrate CTE courses and the school’s other academic offerings to create a “dual-diplomaed” graduating student.

Who Will Do The Work Of Upgrading America’s Infrastructure?…Part 2

Part 2: We must prepare & produce more & better professional, technical, trades, and “straight-to-employment” career skills opportunities for high school graduates.

A Principal’s Trick: Title-1 school district schools are notorious for not going on school trips. And so, every year, I contacted the district official responsible for trip buses and asked for extra (unused) bus money, which I always received. One year he teased me: “Do you realize that your school goes on more trips than any other high school in this city, and even more than most elementary and middle schools!”
One benefit of having hyper-rigorous teaching and learning school environments is that your students can take advantage of that “plus-time” to engage in an often underappreciated learning activity —educational school trips. One of the objectives for our many trips was to expose students to the world’s vast numbers of careers and job opportunities. For example, taking students on a trip to the Office of Naval Research (ONR) labs allowed students to see the division specializing in underwater robotics research. Students were able to meet a broad spectrum of job categories and a career-tiered group of scientists, engineers, technicians, and other support personnel that constituted the whole comprehensive “lab team.” One student in teenage speak said: “You mean all of these different people get paid to have this much fun?” The key learning objective was her observation of the many different “job categories” for a career field that she found interesting.

For every music/dance/instrumental entertainment performance, TV-Radio show/program, professional sports events, theater play, movie, circus, etc., there are literally thousands of “behind-the-scenes” well-paying interesting jobs that most students have no idea even exist. Unfortunately, many young people may never be exposed to that job or career that is inspiringly well-suited for their individual gift, talent, and interest. And this is where public high schools, especially their Career Technology Education (CTE) programs, can be helpful.

CTE initiatives could radically raise the level of students’ career awareness and appreciation in a way that could lead to committed preparation and future participation…

High school pre-engineering (e.g., “Project Lead The Way”), applied technologist, mechanical/architectural drawing, airplane, car, train or bus mechanics, construction skills trades, the fashion arts, culinary, hospitality, graphic and performing arts programs, all fall under the vast programmatic umbrella of CTE. The key component that links all CTE programs is the high school concentration of courses offered, specialized professional instruction, projects/performance-based future career activities, mentoring, externships, and internships which can prepare students for a next-level professional certifying or qualifying career training program, or students being able to step directly into an employable or guaranteed employment opportunity before or after graduation.

Where did we go wrong?
Now somewhere in the devolution of our pedagogical thinking and wrong communication to the public, we went off track and created two categorical false divides: School and Work, and Hands and Brain work.
The School and Work divide problem is perhaps a “first-world” issue of having an overabundance of wealth coupled to a deficiency of strategic wisdom. The vast majority of the world (even in some so-called “first-world” nations) don’t allow high school students to treat high school as a place to “hang out” for four years; there is an urgency (lacking US financial resources) of asking students a societal collective question: “Ok, so where is this high school education you are acquiring going?” especially in those places where government funding for “public schooling” is very limited, and high school attendance for an individual could mean a sacrificial loss to the family of agricultural, manufacturing, and family-business labor support; and/or a student having a high school experience could also come at a great financial cost (school fees, uniforms, books, etc.) to the family.
Of course, high schools must always be places where young people can grow their intellect, creativity, civility, knowledge-information base, and invite the development of the best values of ethical and moral principles; but there is an adult-life-world of work and service waiting for them after high school graduation, and as professional educators we can’t ignore the realities of that world to which they are called to contribute their unique gifts and talents (Or, are we suggesting that they all live with their parents forever —Uh, probably not a popular idea!). But in the end, the high school building should not be that place where you “store” large numbers of young people, keeping them off-the-streets, and out of the job market; which means that the time spent attending high school should lead to some meaningful, fulfilling and financially productive post-high school life experience.

The Hands and Brain school learning divide in public education meant creating a college path (brain) diploma and a “vocational” physical-labor (hands) diploma. (There was an equally problematic “commercial” track, but I will put that to the side for now). Even today, I hear professional educators (including, oh my goodness, guidance counselors) who should know better say some educational laypersons version of: “We need more ‘Vocational Education’ for those kids not suited for, or incapable of going to, college” thus framing “vocational” (hands) aspirations as a negative, the anti-academic, anti-smart path; and the college-track (brains) as the more desirable, admirable, society endearing and worthy of respect, track.
Clearly, these individuals have never (as I have) observed an electrician or HVAC-R apprenticeship class or seen the syllabus and textbooks utilized by surface/underwater welders, or written (as I have) a curriculum for a solar-power installation and repair technician trainee program; all of these career areas require a lot of science, a lot of problem-solving, lots of thinking-skills, a lot of math, a lot of adaptive-creativity skills; and the ability to consume and analyze an amazing amount of governmental and professional regulations, industry rules and standards, safety protocols, and then internalize and actualize all of this information while learning the applied techniques of the job!

Unfortunately, we (professional educators) have messed things up with our intellectually lazy use of definitional language; attending an engineering school, theological seminary, social work school, school of education, or learning to be a physiotherapist are all, in essence, the acts of training for a vocation!
This is why I sought to destroy the faux Hands and Brain divide (vocational-academic) myth as a STEM-CTE principal by insisting that all students be fully prepared (transcript and diploma wise) to pursue, upon graduation, a four-year college path, including those students who would enter immediately upon graduation into a skills trade apprenticeship program, F/T business/industry employment, entrepreneurship, the military or a civil service path. By preparing every student with the “full high school academic learning package,” we don’t risk limiting their future career options for entering 2-year CTE programs offered at community colleges or 2-4 year technical schools, career promotion-supervisory opportunities in their chosen field, starting-a-business, or them just deciding to change their career or minds at some point, and opting to enroll in a 4-year college program.
Further, it was our belief that the exposure to rich and rigorous liberal arts courses in history, science, foreign language, english language arts, the arts, mathematics, etc. would make our graduates not only better in their chosen professional-path, but also better citizens, parents, and human beings. Therefore, a test for all high school principals is that your graduates who selected a non-college employment/career path (construction skills trade, civil service, the military, etc.…) should, if they so choose, have a transcript profile that will give them the ability to gain admission to a 2 or 4-year college or university program. And your students opting to follow a college path have some practical work experience, knowledge, and technical skills competencies.

Where are the US students who are being effectively prepared in high school to step into a post-graduation career training program?

Fortunately for US hospitals (and our good health), a large percentage of our health care system’s nursing needs are being met by nurses born and often trained in nursing schools outside of America; and thank goodness for them! But as an US educator, and specifically as a US STEM-CTE focused educator, I had to ask myself a question: “If it were necessary (by the absence of these foreign born nurses) could we public K-12 US educators adequately produce the required numbers of prepared high school students, who upon graduation could enter and succeed in a 4-year US college nursing school program?” This would of course mean that we adequately prepared those students for admission to and success in a college level nursing program by providing them with a strong and focused 4 year high school CTE pre-nursing program. This type of program, if done right, could be a game-changing practice that presents public education at its best. After all, nursing is a career path that could positively change the personal life profiles of people, families, and improve the employment conditions of communities that are presently under severe economic stress. Further, nursing is a very wonderfully rewarding and beautiful profession, with so many specialties, private/public, career advancement and teaching options, and because we are living longer as US citizens, it’s not like this is a career that is going away anytime soon!
And so, with one of the wealthiest PreK-12 public education system (with many nations in the world being unable to offer the Pre or K components to their student-citizens) budgets in the world, why are we not more successful at producing more certified nurses? And this same question could also ask be asked of our high school preparation programs for students entering other allied health fields, and construction skills trade apprenticeship training programs. And then there are the many applied science, computer technology related certifications (e.g., Microsoft/CISCO) programs where students could actually become fully certified while attending (before graduation) high school.
Allowing high school students to “major” in a 4-year CTE building/skills trades program in plumbing, carpentry, CAD/CAM, masonry, dental and emergency medical technicians, heavy machinery, etc., would create a careers pipeline leading directly into a post-high school training school or program, or directly into a P/T or F/T work experience. These students could also maximally utilize their high school “CTE certificate of completion diploma” to their financial advantage by being able to work full or part time to offset and prevent the long term college student debt that is haunting the futures of so many of US college graduates.

“When is a job opportunity not an opportunity?” —When it is not!

President Biden’s great Infrastructure Bill Initiative (IBI) can make significant economic, transportation, institutional, and structural improvements across multiple sectors of our society. But my study of the facts of US history and my decades of experience with public education informs and cautions me that whenever a major employment, education, or economic opportunity is introduced by local, state, or the national government, specific Americans are purposely or “accidentally” made unaware of its presence and possible benefits; in some cases prevented by law or just cynically excluded by “unwritten laws” from being able to obtain their fair, rightful and just participation in those programs. For example, Black veterans were prevented from accessing the great resources of the GI bill (aka The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944) that was due them for their military service to the nation. Perhaps, many (but not all) of the “legal discriminatory” barriers have been eliminated, even as we see them being reinstituted by state legislatures in the area of voting rights all over the nation. But the disempowerment and disqualification caused by the insidious practices of providing some US children with: a poor/inadequate K-12 education, marketable skills training insufficiencies, STEM knowledge deficient school exposures, chronic “soft and hard” skills, employment unpreparedness, and the lack of job category licensing and certification qualifications, carries a devastatingly nullifying effect that is in many ways is more powerful and deadly than the use of out-in-the-open discrimination laws.

When the IBI calls (and it will call) goes out requesting a widely diverse job category of certified skilled craftspersons, too many of our public high school “graduates” concentrated in particular zip codes will not be able to step forward. We can’t continue to condemn whole communities of children to a fate of always being educationally “informationally a day late and knowledge and skills short” whenever major employment opportunities show up.

When the time comes (and it’s coming), some communities will clearly be overrepresented in IBI job acquisitions, and some communities underrepresented. There will, of course, be the standard protest rallies, the obligatory angry press conferences; those passionate cries of designed “discriminatory outrage” by folks whose own children are well educated but who don’t see how having a quality education could be of great value to other people’s children. There will be the clutching of the proverbial hypocritical pearls (“You mean to tell me that Black and Latino youth are not prepared to enter the certified construction and technology skills trades IBI job market?”). Then, the blistering avalanche of editorials and op-ed articles on IBI job inequality will arrive in full force: “The Construction Trades Skills Divide!” — “The Engineering & Applied Technical Support Employment Racial Gap!” — The “experts of explanations” will make the rounds of news media outlets “decrying that (but not understanding the reasons why) large numbers of Black and Latino young people can’t interview for IBI employment opportunities!” (that requires skills they were never taught in school, which has led to them now to a place of wanting jobs they are not trained or certified to do).

Sadly, many of the talented people we need to build back America more better, beautiful, and “great again” are sitting in US prison cells (but I digress). None of the bombastic IBI employment outrages to come will even get close to solving the real problems (and quite frankly, all of the actors in the drama aren’t interested in addressing the real issues) of US public schools being unprepared or unwilling to provide better career path opportunities for larger numbers of our students. Better learning experiences and exposures will produce higher (and better diploma quality) graduation rates and better outcomes for post-high school employment and education. And until we decide to solve this problem at its “not-hashtag-sexy” root causes, which means improving the quality of public school leadership, teaching and learning experiences and environments for all public school children, regardless of zip code, then when the “Build An Even Better Future Infrastructure Bill” is proposed 20 years from now in 2041; we will sadly be having the same useless outrage passion performances.

In Part 3, let’s look at a CTE educational program, curriculum, and operational/structural high school model that has the potential of producing the numbers of highly skilled Americans needed now, in and after 2041; a way to create large numbers of competently capable and confidently empowered citizens, who can both build-back and build-forward better!

Who Will do the Work of Upgrading America’s Infrastructure?

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.

Science Skills Center High School Library Naming and Ribbon Cutting Ceremony.

On Friday, November 12, 2021, 1:00 PM ET, the Hon. Eric Adams, NYC’s Department of Education (NYCDOE) Science Skills Center High School (SSCHS), will ‘cut-the-ribbon’ on its new state-of-the-art Research Library and Media Center (RLMC). The RLMC will be named after the school’s founding principal, Michael A. Johnson*.

I would first of all like to thank Dr. Dahlia McGregor, the SSCHS principal, for developing a dynamically inspiring library facility and proposing that I be honored in such a fantastic way. I would also like to thank former NYC Chancellor Richard Carranza and present NYC Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter for graciously waving the NYCDOE regulation that prohibits the naming of any part of an NYC public school facility for a person who is still living (I am, by the way, very much alive, fully vaccinated + booster shot!).
As a former NYC superintendent, I understand the “political risk” of taking such a bold action; and so, I will always strive to honor their decision and work hard never to disappoint them.

Further, and in every significant way critical to this project, I would like to thank the Honorable Eric Adams (now mayor-elect of NYC), Brooklyn Borough President, who provided encouragement, material, and spiritual support for this new library facility. I am highly honored that Mr. Adams would recognize me, a humble son of Crown Heights Brooklyn, in this extraordinary way. And in addition, with all of the things he must have on-his-plate, that he has decided to attend the event personally. It is my hope and prayer that SSCHS will make his future public leader-servant mission work easier, and that SSCHS will forever remain (in the words of several former NYC Mayors and Chancellors, and specifically quoting one former NYC Chancellor Harold Levy): “One of the great bright and shining stars of the NYC public school constellation!”

I am also proud to announce that the Research Library/Media Center will be managed by the very competent and experienced hands of SSCHS Librarian, Ms. Sandra Echols. I sincerely hope that my former American Library Association and Brooklyn Public Library Trustees colleagues, and all of my many elected officials, corporate, private foundations, and city, state, and federal governmental agency friends will give this great new Library the support it deserves.

Finally, as you have probably noticed, the word “Science” is prominently situated in the school’s name; but it also takes the lead in the school’s extraordinary sense of respect for the principles of science; therefore, this event will be virtually broadcast so that we can encourage medically safe distancing. I am hopeful that at some point in the future, after everyone gets vaccinated (sorry, you know once a principal, always…), and we have defeated this Covid-19 scourge, we will be able to gather as a community and celebrate in this beautiful facility. But, until then, and with special thanks to SSCHS Technology Coordinator Mr. Andres Villar; here is the virtual viewing information:

Subject: Library Ceremony Zoom Meeting.
Topic: MICHAEL A. JOHNSON LIBRARY RIBBON CUTTING CEREMONY & OPENING
Time: Nov 12, 2021, 1:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86881150113?pwd=bmtIMjhtTS82b1JHWTk4ODRmTTBTZz09

Meeting ID: 868 8115 0113

Passcode: 470375

One tap mobile
+16465588656,,86881150113#,,,,*470375# US (New York)
+13126266799,,86881150113#,,,,*470375# US (Chicago)

Dial by your location
+1 646 558 8656 US (New York)
+1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)
+1 301 715 8592 US (Washington DC)
+1 253 215 8782 US (Tacoma)
+1 346 248 7799 US (Houston)
+1 669 900 9128 US (San Jose)

Meeting ID: 868 8115 0113

Passcode: 470375

Find your local number: https://us02web.zoom.us/u/kqK1Chipy
If you have any technical viewing questions please contact Mr. Andres Villar at: (718) 243-9413

For all those who are ever watching and forever watching over us from the ancestral realm, my mother, family, and friends; my growing-up-in church family, the community/neighborhood elders of my youth; my childhood Cub/Boy Scout, Sunday school, Acolyte, and P.A.L. leaders, the kind and wise Hasidic (a WWII Holocaust survivor) grandmother who daily provided me with warm milk, cookies, and words of encouragement during those very cold dark winter days on my before-the-start-of-school Eastern Parkway newspaper route (Oh my, route #18!).

To all, both living and dead, of my great K-12 NYC public school educators. Please know, all of you, that I have failed and fallen short of my own expectations at times, but rest assured that I have always strived to be worthy of your hopeful dreams and aspirational belief that the unfolding promise, “under-divine-construction,” ever inquiring, and in so many ways awkward and discontented adolescent you thought warranted your attention would someday make all of your hard work, support, and sacrifices worthwhile.

My young world was (and the world still is) full of many morally and efficaciously excellent, gracious, kind, and caring adults, wrapped in all colors, religions, nationalities, and ethnicities; these are those who sincerely want to see all of the children of this world survive, succeed and enjoy life to the fullest; and without them, our species is despairingly doomed.

I was that societally disenfranchised “latch-key” kid who was able to survive into adulthood because of two safe sanctuaries; P.S. 9 elementary school and the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL), where I went every day after school and stayed until my mother came home from work. The BPL’s unofficial childcare program allowed me to escape the many dangers of the Brooklyn streets. And yet, (as the old folks would say: “the devil can’t know what’s on God’s mind”), that escaping danger experience allowed me to spend hours on hours of intellectual seed-planting reading time with great enlightening books, across many different topic areas. That “falling-in-love” with books period of my adolescence would lead to a life-long love of reading, learning, and enjoying the knowledge prizes that waited at the end of every intellectual inquiry. P.S. 9 (and later JHS 294’s Gifted and Talented program) and the BPL learning sanctuaries also provided a constantly in danger Brooklyn Black boy with that critically crucial safe space to be smart. I would eventually share my love-of-learning, and seek to protect and inspire that learning-love in thousands of young people; and who would imagine (surely not me) that the BPL free after-school “childcare kid” would one day serve as a Trustee for the entire BPL system; and as a professional educator, create a nationally and internationally highly acclaimed after-school STEM learning center in a wing of P.S. 9! It all almost sounds—well, miraculous!

To my many friends and supporters, my professional education community colleagues, in the U.S. and from around the world (especially my former students who, to my great joy, are now my professional colleagues), to all of my former students in whatever career they pursued, to all of the outstanding school staff members, school administrators, principals, teachers, and the many school district staff members I worked with as a superintendent. Having gained a more wise and greater time-granted experiential understanding of life, I can now, with profound and humble sincerity, fully appreciate the many years of love, support, and positive teamwork accomplishments we have seen together; for surely your names are forever joined to the single name on the wall above the doors of this library—Peace and Blessings on you all. And to everyone, please stay well, stay safe, stay smart and follow the science!
M.A.J.

*Michael A. Johnson is a former teacher, principal, and school district superintendent. An internationally recognized formal (school-based) and informal (outside-of-schools) Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and Career Technical Education (CTE) educator; and a School Leadership Educationalist. He served as an expert peer-review panelist for “request for funding” proposals submitted to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the National Science Foundation. A member of the Educational Testing Service (ETS), National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Science Assessment Exam Development Committee, designers of the first NAEP national science exams. A presenter and panelist at numerous professional conferences, symposiums, and meetings like the NYS Governor’s Conference on Developing New York State’s Action Plan for Science and Engineering Education, Research and Development, Albany, New York; 1990, the American Association for the Advancement of Science Meeting: “Science and Mathematics Assessment in the Service of Instruction,” the National Press Club, the National Urban League National Conference: “Science and Mathematics Education, Tools for African-American development,” Philadelphia, PA, the New York Academy of Sciences, and as the keynote speaker at the International Conference for STEM Administrators and Educators, City College, Norwich, England.

The subject of many international books, dissertations, research studies, electronic and print media stories, and articles including PBS’s “Crisis: Who Will Do Science?” (1990) and the Nightly Business Report, PBS: “Phelps: An example of a school of the future”, 2008. The New York Times Magazine, “Scores Count.” Bulletin, National Association of Secondary School Principals – “Standards-Based Education”: Are Academic Standards a Threat or an Opportunity, 1997, Cross and Joftus pgs. 15-16; Savoy Magazine 2012: “CISCO/Phelps High School Developing the Next Generation of IT Leaders.” “Bridging the gap between cultures”; Li Xing and Tan Yingzi; China Daily; 2011. The Washington Academy of Science; Journal (v. 97, no 3); “STEM/CTE Education: Phelps as a new model”; Dr. Cora Marrett (NSF); Dr. Sylvia M. James (NSF); 2012. Johnson also serves as a consultant and grant writer/reviewer for universities and school districts’ STEM-CTE projects/programs funding proposals. In those efforts, he is working hard to build strong and sustaining STEM-CTE operational and systemic pedagogical “bridges and infrastructure” for the PreK-16 educational systems role in building and expanding the national STEM-CTE career “pipelines”.

The author of many newspapers, magazines, and journal articles, including two American Association for the Advancement of Science Journal articles: “Assessment in the Service of Instruction” and “Science Assessment in the Service of Reform.” Johnson was appointed a member of the NYS Education Department Commissioner’s Advisory Council on Equity and Excellence in Mathematics and Science Education (1989-1990). The recipient of hundreds of awards, citations, and proclamations, for example, Resolution of Recognition U. S. Senate Floor; Congressional Record-Senate; S9581; U.S. Member of the Senate; Mary Landrieu (La); The Global Diversity Innovation Award; World Diversity Leadership Council; Boston, Mass; U.S. Department of State Award: “For Contributions Fostering Global Understanding Through Language Learning and Support of the National Security (Chinese) Language Initiative,” Washington DC. Multiple Proclamations in Recognition of Dedication and Excellence in Education, U.S. House of Representatives, NYS Senate, NYS Assembly, and the City Council of New York.

As a principal, he created the first majority Black and Latino students national F.I.R.S.T. Robotics and Cyberforensics academic competition teams. As a superintendent, he extended STEM learning to the early childhood, elementary, and middle school levels by building dedicated applied STEM Labs and assigning specially selected and professionally developed science teachers to those labs. As a superintendent, he also provided access to larger numbers of Black and Latino students to the district’s expanded Gifted and Talented, International Baccalaureate (IB), and Advanced Placement (AP) programs; while building lower-grades “STEM capacity” by significantly “ramping up” the quality and efficacy of elementary mathematics education; thus having more students prepared to take 8th-grade Algebra (the “STEM gatekeeper”).

He is a former NYC Mayoral appointee as a Trustee of the Brooklyn Public Library. Instrumental in leading the designing, development, and building of two Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics—Career Technical Education (STEM—CTE) high schools: Science Skills Center High School, NYC and Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School, Washington DC. In addition, Johnson has served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. An author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership.; and is presently completing his second book on school administration and leadership: Report From The Principal’s Office (Fall/2021).

The 2020-21 Coronavirus—a painful, teachable moment for professional educators.

What shows up as leadership in a crisis is already present in the person who occupies the leadership position. COVID-19 didn’t make our educational leaders into ineffective leaders; instead, those who performed inadequately brought their gross ineptitudes and disqualifying leadership qualities into the deadly reality of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A plague exploringly invades, probes, and reveals the fragile parts of our personality. A plague, any plague, invites and requires an individual response from all those upon whom the epidemic imposes its ugly omnipresence. The microscopic world’s impact, like the unseen mind, is demonstrably expressed in the macroscopic world of our words and actions. The plague does not “steal” bravery from the heart; instead, it allows the already present, dominant spirit of cowardliness in the individual to emerge. Plagues “smoke us out” of hiding those artificially crafted representations we offer as “us” to the world and what self-deceivingly we present falsely as ourselves, to ourselves.

And like a viral plague, the plague of horrible educational outcomes won’t let us hide in rhetorical rifts, “slogan-isms,” and false, insincere affirmations of how “we care about all children!” Public education can however, “hide” our failures from a less attentive and poorly informed public citizenry. Still, we can’t hide our negative results, as everyone can see U.S. prisons overflowing with public education’s failures. Further evidence of our failure is that large segments of the U.S. public who can’t wrap their brains around the most basic middle/high school grade concepts in environmental science and the behaviors of microorganisms (e.g., a virus). The plague of poor education produces, in too many brains, an underappreciation and a disregard for knowledge, logic, science, and expertise produced information.

Contrary to popular belief, a quality education is not only for employment purposes. An academically diverse, thought-provoking, and sound PreK-12 educational experience is required if we hope to enjoy a good society, and a peaceful and healthy democracy. Science, logic, thinking, and problem-solving skills must be enhanced, or how will those presently in our schools deal with future political, health, and environmental crises?

Further, our civics education can’t be some half-a-semester course students take when they have one foot out the high school door. Our civics curriculum must reach down to PreK-8 grades expanding in intellectual rigor as it reaches high school. Students should not leave high school thinking that the right not to wear a protective health mask during a deadly pandemic is one of the amendments to the US constitution.

It’s also making sure students have a better understanding of topics that already exist in the present biology syllabus. “What is a virus?”, “How and why does it reproduce?”, “What is a vaccine, and how does it work?” Why is there such an information gap on the efficacy of vaccines in “defeating” many of the world’s most debilitating and deadly diseases (e.g., polio, smallpox, malaria, diphtheria, etc.) And how the shortage or absence of these vaccines means that “previously defeated” diseases are currently starting to devastate countries (especially the children) in many less-wealthy nations in the world.

And then there is the PreK-16 deficient teaching of the scientific method; how could so many of our high school (and sadly) college graduates not be conversant with what constitutes a legitimate scientific process or a “peer-reviewed” research study? I’m happy that so many people are “doing their own vaccine research,” but shouldn’t they know something about science and the scientific methods of research?

The massive lack of understanding of how scientists think, inquire, hypothesize, experiment, problem-pose, problem-solve, and eventually “peer-review” each other’s research has opened up a path for many death-causing “faux-experts” to dominate the societal (especially on social media) science and health information conversation. Biological viruses are harmful, but the vast amount of physical and emotional harm caused by our national ignorance virus is a major problem that professional educators must study and solve, or we are in severe future trouble as a nation.

Michael A. Johnson is a former teacher, principal, and school district superintendent. An internationally recognized science educator who served as an expert peer-review panelist for the National Science Foundation. He was part of the team that designed the first NAEP national science exam questions. Johnson led the design, development, and building of two Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics—Career Technical Education (STEM—CTE) high schools: Science Skills Center High School, NYC and Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School, Washington DC. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. An author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership. And he is presently completing his second book on school administration and leadership: Report From The Principal’s Office (Fall/2021).

The 2020 US Census Report: Presenting critical challenges for US public education and the American political-cultural mindset.

In my Bernie Mac voice: America, don’t say I didn’t warn you!

As a principal and superintendent, I’ve learned that uncomfortable “facts on the ground” are difficult for many people to work with when those facts painfully shift them out of their emotional comfort zones. Intelligence embraces facts. Education, at its core, is a force of radical disruption in the process of the peaceful surrender to ignorance and the ignoring of facts. The formal act of growing intelligence (schooling), when done right, can produce thinkers, and those thinkers can become questioners of the status quo: “Why must it be like this?” — “Why must we continue to do something that is not working?” Formal educational learning can stretch the learning modalities intelligences of children and thus produce students who can be effective analyzers of objective facts, which will lead to them becoming first-rate formulators of reasonable hypotheses. The present intellectual power drain on our nation, and the cause of much painful social-psychological trauma, covid-19 illnesses and related deaths, is the rejection, lack of appreciation, and diminishing power and influence of factual (aka scientific and mathematical) information.

The 2020 US Census Report presents us with some very excellent sociological and numerical facts. One, in particular, is the nation’s demographic projected calculations of birth rates based on race and ethnicity. This exciting body of data could lead us to arrive at several hypothetical possibilities. Our response (or lack of) to these hypotheses could very well determine America’s international competitiveness capabilities, national economic strength, and the US global influencing-events power status in the future.
Let me go straight in: One objective fact of the 2020 census is that the White American percentage of the population is shrinking and is projected to continue to shrink over time. So, putting aside that the assumed classification of “White Person” is problematic from a genotypical and phenotypical scientific analysis point of view, let’s work with its present commonly understood social-political construction of what being “White” means in America.

The numbers are what they are…
#1 Challenge: The national ability to face facts; and then act as if those facts mattered. Honestly, a major fairness and justice for all paradigm movement shift and the ending of a biased-based belief-system culture are required if the U.S. citizenry is to succeed and prosper in the future collectively. And even the ugliest legislative actions of the shredding-of-the-constitution through voter suppression laws is a false permanent fix for maintaining an unfair advantage; for no acts of denying voting rights, or the most creatively designed gerrymandered maps, will, in the end, affect the present and projected low birth rates of US White citizens. The problem is that if your survival plan is dependent on you permanently keeping your knee on another person’s neck, then you can’t move and walk forward down a life path to a full and fulfilling future human experience. Therefore, if America is to survive and thrive entering the upcoming decades, then she must liberate herself from the dependence on separate and unequal high-quality educational opportunities; not an easy thing to do when the simple suggestion to teach U.S. history accurately is seen as an existential threat and generates a major national rhetorical slugfest.
And to add additional painful awareness, insult, and political injury to the cause of the deniers of equal opportunity gang’s game-plan, as well as others who want to conserve racial segregation in our nation; is the fact according to the 2020 census, that there is a rapidly increasing number of Americans who probably stayed awake in their high school biology class, and thus they know that the designations of “Black” or “White” people are political inventions and not the descriptions of two-separate species; as a result, more and more of these U.S. citizens are getting married and having children (Who knew, science education inspiring romance!). But, what is public educational systemic racism to do with this growing phenomenon? Because they can’t create schools that can deny a quality education to only the black-side of these children! And even if the children of “mixed-race” parentage self-select or, because of systemic societal racism, are forced to identify as “Black,” their mere tremendously growing presence is going to change all of America’s (ready or not) thinking about this unscientific thing called “race” and how it’s discriminatory applications damages America’s capacity to be genuinely powerfully great!
I am afraid that more bad news is coming for those for whom “American Greatness” seeks to exclude Black and Latino students. Wearing my school district superintendent’s hat, and therefore knowing that student behinds in seats drives a district’s budget. As we hit the 2030’s, 40’s…, school districts will not be able to financially sustain school buildings (there is a high operational expenditure-cost “floor” whether a school building has 500 students or 1,000 students) full of phantom white kids; this means that school integration, based on demographic reality pressures (not political or social reasons), will eventually become a budgetary imperative. In addition, the high cost of living in many areas of the nation (mainly cities) will probably remove the private school option for a lot of working-class (or even middle-class) white parents.

There is a statistical birthrate price to pay for financial well-being and a college education…
This White birth rate decline phenomenon should not surprise anyone who took a college economic or sociology 101 class and probably learned that as factors of wealth and education increase, those women who are the beneficiaries of that increased wealth and education tend to have fewer children. Therefore, let us accept that the present birthrate trend outlined in the 2020 census holds steady, and going forward, the socio-psychological laws of finance and education and their effects on the number of children born to a family stays true, then that means America is possibly heading for a series of troubling hypothetical events. And so, here now are two additional theoretical warnings that the 2020 Census Report offers.

#2 Challenge: As we advance into the future and think about our nation’s necessary employment skills and workplace competencies requirements. America will not be able to prison-its-way out of the problem of providing poor quality public education for massive numbers of Black and Latino children, who will represent the majority of our public school population. Presently the US utilizes its international record-breaking (in the number of incarcerated persons) Criminal Justice System (CJS) to primarily serve as a place-holder-station for those citizens who fail to master the required ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ market-able, marketable skills and knowledge that would allow them to function in a highly professional and competitive job environment. These grossly uneducated and under-skilled individuals will often get cyclically caught up in the CJS for the duration of their lives.
Secondarily, the CJS serves the purpose of being a civil service, good-paying, benefits-rich, relatively secure employment outlet for millions of US citizens. And the primary survival rule of any government civil service bureaucracy is never to undermine and raise reasonable questions that might eliminate its reason for existing, even if those questions could be helpful to the practical success of that bureaucratic organization’s primary mission. A U.S. public education system that does not successfully educate its majority Black and Latino student population (soaring rhetoric notwithstanding), is essentially in a philosophical and operational partnership with the CJS that requires a continuous flow of failed public education recruits.
Unfortunately, this humanity-destructive bureaucratic partnership has worked well for many years because the economically poor, “American Promise” disinherited, and the politically disenfranchised populations of our nation are the communities who are offering their children as the “raw feed” of this failed-education to successful-incarceration process?
But, here is the problem that the 2020 Census Report forces us to confront. What happens to the nation when these CJS feeder population children become the numerical foundation and primary participants for the country’s future economic development skilled-workforce needs? Simply throwing them away (by throwing them in prison) won’t work in the nation’s best economic and internationally competitive interest.
Over the years, I’ve had, both as a principal and superintendent, enjoyed very positive and productive partnership relationships with the corporate sector and with many national governmental agencies (e.g., US State Department, NSF, USDOT, the Office of Naval Research, etc.). Those partnerships were so successful and extremely helpful for my students because I always framed my ‘ask’ request (proposal) in the language they spoke and understood. But I have come to accept that many people who want to help Black and Latino students succeed may or may not share my moral rationale for effectively educating those children. However, beyond the moral imperatives of expanding educational opportunities to diverse cohorts of children in this nation; it’s also true that for practical reasons, the country can’t succeed or survive based on its current trajectory practices of the successful incarceration of so many of its citizen-children, and thus losing out on the gifts, talents and potential contributions of these quality-education-denied children.
A nation will undercut its own social and physical infrastructure development; stifle economic expansion possibilities; weaken any response to national health or environmental crisis; limit technological capabilities and innovation; comprise its national defense; incapacitate international business cooperation and competitive efforts; if the plan starting-off includes a strategy to exclude the majority of its student population from high-quality liberal arts, the creative and performing arts, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (S.T.E.M.) and a skills trades Career Technical Education (C.T.E.) learning opportunities.

#3 Challenge: As we advance into the future, our nation will require more, not fewer, professional S.T.E.M. and Career Technical Education (C.T.E.) skilled labor (electricians, solar/wind power technicians, allied health professionals, roboticians, welders, etc.) trained personnel.
On the S.T.E.M. high-tech level, many of these job positions face ‘state security challenges’ (e.g., in the military, the nation’s numerous security organizations, the many U.S. intelligence organizations; and in private companies with military and intelligence organizations contracts); these entities will require a U.S. citizenship status from their employees and managers. In a practical case of numbers not lying, the 2020 National Census informs us of the racial and ethnicity profiles of the growing numbers currently attending or will enter our public schools in the 2022, 2023, 2024,….2030 years ahead. If in the future we plan to prepare Black and Latino public school students for careers in S.T.E.M. or C.T.E., the way we are presently preparing them, then we are in serious trouble as a nation. Our only rational option is to radically change our thinking and methods for preparing (our majority) Black and Latino PreK-12 public school children population. As a superintendent, I warned principals of the “Lake Woebegone” defective vision syndrome. “You must,” I said, “work and succeed with the students and parents you have, not the students and parents you wished you had!” America is about to face a similar significant decision-making moment in the area of future PreK-12 S.T.E.M./C.T.E. education.
There is a very straightforward question I kept asking for so many years in the past (1970-90s.) while speaking before groups like the New York Academy of Science or the American Association for the Advancement of Science: “Who will do science in a future America?” I would ask. And of course, my audiences being in many ways, numbers-driven thinkers, were perhaps not alarmed by my question because back then and to a large extent now, our hospitals, corporate, and university research vacancies were being adequately filled by huge numbers of S.T.E.M. practitioners arriving from other parts of the world (e.g., Asia, Africa, Europe, Central, and South America, the Caribbean, etc.) And in the spirit of full and honest disclosure, even those of us working in the K-12 public and private education systems community, in cooperation with U.S. Emigration Agencies and The State Department, we worked with many foreign nations to facilitate the fast-track recruitment and hiring of their nationals to fill our S.T.E.M. and other critical content area staffing shortages. But my question of: “Who will do science in a future America?” was not based on the U.S. demographical data of the 1970-90s, but rather on future demographic profiles. What happens as nations like China become hyper-S.T.E.M. competitive with the U.S. and at the same time they build their own powerfully modern S.T.E.M. governmental and commercial infrastructures, research facilities, K-12 and university programs that can teach and absorb their own homegrown S.T.E.M. professionals (or maybe some Chinese S.T.E.M. professional might, wait on it— just enjoy living and working in China!). America needs to get its S.T.E.M. education act together and rely more on our public school K-12 home-grown, very capable but presently ignored and disempowered S.T.E.M. career able Black and Latino future stars. Just take a glance at the long list of the last twenty years of Noble Prize wining stars in science, where we see that the gap between American and other nation’s S.T.E.M. labs “sophistication” has closed dramatically. For example, even a small country like Israel is amazingly over-performing (despite the American GNP/GDP, population and the number of U.S. universities differential advantage) in advanced chemistry research and the wining of Noble Prizes in chemistry.
And then there is the family and quality of life issues for many of those internationally recruited S.T.E.M. professionals we Americans have grown accustomed to receiving. Perhaps you wonder why a S.T.E.M. scientist-researcher practicing in their home country of the Netherlands, Scotland or Japan, might want to live and work in labs there; after all, what’s not to like about those beautiful environments and rich cultural experiences? And, (I don’t know why I am feeling the “Wiz” this morning) there’s no place like home!
I remember doing a science education workshop for teachers in Trinidad & Tobago; while there, I was introduced to a Trinidadian civil engineer who worked for the government and studied and received his engineering degree from an American university. I will never forget his comments as he had me over for lunch at his house (and large surrounding land), for which I can’t think of any other descriptive words except a lovely small mansion. He really did not need to say what he eventually said because his beautiful home (a short distance from a stunning beach) said it all. “Of course, I could make more money in the U.S.,” he said, but I could not enjoy the quality of life there that I enjoy here. And that quality-of-life included things like professional educators and the society in general not having low expectations of his children, and not worrying about someone calling the police if he was working in his garden, bird watching in the forest near his house, or jogging in his own neighborhood. “Further,” he continued, “I am near my aging parents, friends, and other family members (particularly the young folks still in school), and my being here means that I serve as a role model for young people who travel abroad to acquire skills, and should think about coming back to help develop our country.” And so, how long will we be able to convince people like my young Trinidad & Tobago engineer to sacrifice the quality of life issues, quality high-expectations education for their children, personal racial safety, and the ability to fulfill a patriotic duty to their nation, in exchange for an American high price tag living expenses residency? I get that (and am a proud product of) our “nation of immigrants” story narrative, and it is indeed a powerful potential admirable strength. But it becomes a national weakness when we let life-success blocking bigotry and discriminatory denial practices drive public educational decisions. At some point, motivated by either moral or demographic realities, we will need to stop discarding our American-born talent simply because they live in the ‘wrong’ neighborhood, look like the other-than-my-child, or don’t have access to political or financial power.

And let’s be completely transparent about the “facts”…
Since we are in the being-totally-honest mode and speaking of real deleterious facts-on-the-ground; we will specifically need to confront and dramatically change our way of doing things in those school districts/localities with majority Black and/or Latino students, where the local civil governmental political leadership (consistently Democratic), school district leadership, and the school governance control is in the hands of people who look like and share the ethnicity of the children. And yet, the Black and Latino students in those public schools chronically fail, underperform, drop(pushed)out at an amazingly alarming high rates, and suffer from gifts, talents, skills and intellectual under-stimulation and discouragement. Too often these already struggling school districts are (wrongly) primarily focused on: Engaging in personal self-serving, hurting, or ignoring students’ needs political behaviors (aka shenanigans); acting as educational mission distracting local economic development projects; the overreliance and over-indulgence on annual highly-expensive poor-outcomes “school improvement” and “closing achievement gaps” consultant services and programs; and functioning as local community employment centers. Further, many of these (Black majority-controlled) districts have an unbelievably high, quick, educational progress damaging and destructive turnover of their superintendents, usually for political reasons only. Ineffectual educational policies or practices inflicted by elected or appointed leadership persons of color are not less educationally devastating to the deserved opportunities, high hopes, and future dreams of Black and Latino students.

“Don’t nobody bring me no bad news!” — Evilline; Job Title: Wicked Witch of the West (of the “Wiz” fame) before the eventual dramatic end of her reign.
Ignoring the factual data of challenge #1 will lead to a series of miscalculated acts of unpreparedness that will produce too little or too late responses to address the #2 and #3 challenges. I genuinely want to be optimistic and believe that as a nation, we will see the light that the 2020 Census Report’s statistical data is shining on our present and future demographic reality. But then there’s that troubling recurring histography curriculum knowledge problem that suggests former empires and people who were in positions of an unearned and unprincipled power advantage, even when passionately and continually warned, will predictively fail to listen and act in a proactive, positive, and productive way. They only get it (or they don’t) when the angry teeming masses are at and ripping down their protective gates, or the guillotines of history are being rolled out to separate their delusional heads from their body politics of false entitlement. Always tragically too late because as conditions worsen, there is the strong inclination to ignore or reject all factual information; it’s that fateful historical self-defeating moment when great efforts are made to silence or kill their patriotic prognosticators and truth-producing prophets; eventually, there are the last-ditch delusory verbal affirmations of braggadocios exceptionalism pride, and an overabundance of overconfident sloganeering pronouncements; all before the final, fatal and dramatic fall.

Michael A. Johnson is a former teacher, principal, and school district superintendent. He led the design, development, and building of two Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics—Career Technical Education (S.T.E.M.—C.T.E.) high schools: Science Skills Center High School, N.Y.C. and Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School, Washington DC. An author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership. He has served as an adjunct professor of science education in the St. John’s University School of Education. Mr. Johnson is presently completing his second book on school administration and leadership: Report From The Principal’s Office (Fall/2021).