School Leadership Learning Skills: The Positiveness or Destructiveness of Social Media Platforms.

The Social Media Platforms (SMPs) communicative culture seems to encourage the angriest voices to dominate and lead the conversations, shouting down and shutting down kinder, more thoughtful voices; the objective of the commentating angry mob is to silence or hurt, and not educate others. I’ve also noticed that people on SMPs pay little intellectual attention to the ‘main idea’ of the commentary being offered (if they even bothered to read it at all). There is often no attempt to provide a logical counter-argument. This act of engaging by disengaging from an analytically sound reasoning approach to responding on SMPs, seems to carry elements of bullyish behaviors.

My interaction with SMPs is a little different but is consistent with what I have taught students for decades:

(1) When I read something on SMPs for which I initially feel that I, in part or whole, disagree. (or even feel a little angry). I ask myself, could there be a lesson to learn here? As an educational leader, I found that many learning opportunities were not packaged and delivered in a format that made me feel good or happy. A necessary learning experience often took me out of my emotional comfort zone. I could feel unsettled by being forced to confront and challenge those things I cherish as being absolutely “true” –Any learning awakening (by way of art, reading, a classroom, SMPs, etc.) could be perceptually jarring, but it’s well worth the ride!

(2) My first automatic response to negative feelings about a SMP post or comment is to ensure that my hands don’t go anywhere near the keyboard! This is because I accept that there are things in this world I may not know or know incompletely. And I always (perhaps the science educator in me) want to leave open the possibility of being wrong.

(3) I strive to think open-mindedly about the point being made. I also think metacognitively about my own thinking response to what is being posted: “Why am I responding in the way I am responding?” – (and if appropriate) “What is the (internal, not external) source of my anger about this post?” I’ve learned over many years that my feelings of anger are never really about what the other person said or did.

(4) I fight the cynical financial objectives of SMP companies, who “hold the coats” of their fighting customers for ‘engagement marketing stats’ that they could sell to businesses seeking advertisement sources. Also, because I’ve written (more than most people) so many professional articles, memos, books, journals, newspapers, and magazine writings, I don’t feel the urgent need to comment on a post just because I disagree with it.

(5) I make sure to read the post carefully, including thoroughly reading an article that could be associated with the post. How many times (too many) have I read responses to a post on SMPs and found my response (not-typing, but in my mind) being: “Wait, that’s not what she said!”—Or, again not daring to type, less I get ‘canceled’: “If you bothered to read the article he was referencing, then his post would make better sense!”

(6) If I do make an SMP comment (which is rare), I fall back on my teacher, principal, and superintendent operational standards; is what I am saying: positive, informative, helpful, encouraging, educative; and the most crucial rubric: “Is this something I would feel comfortable saying to the person if they were standing in front of me?”

(7) The power of sensitivity and compassion. Or, how about just act like a decent human being! A few years ago, a gentleman posted on a SMP that the parents of R. Kelly’s child victims should have known and acted to stop the abuse. A young lady (in a non-aggressive/no name-calling way) posted in response: “As a child victim of sexual abuse by a close adult family member, I can tell you that the situation is not always that simple and straightforward.” Her words rang true for me (in part because of my professional experience). But even on a non-professional humane level, the response that was clearly needed here, was compassionate and supportive words. But some other folks did not think so; they tore into the young lady for her “naiveite” until she wisely went silent and exited the conversation.

These many hurtful and destructive SMP practices are in contradiction to several of the primary ethical responsibilities of professional educators:


-To reduce and eliminate the socially and environmentally damaging effects
of ignorance.

–To be highly effectual in our feelings of empathy for others.

–To fight for people who can’t fight for themselves.

–To give a voice to those whose voices have been stifled or silenced.

–To educationally empower the politically disenfranchised.

–To supply recognition, aspirational hope, and opportunity to those whose
humanity has been diminished or nullified.

–To bring the “other,” the “outsider,” the “ostracized,” and the “omitted”
into the safe and protective arms of a school environment.

The Moral Hypocrisy and Cynical Contradictions Concerning the Sacredness of American Children.

“I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.”― James Baldwin.

I’m sorry, but I’ve spent decades observing (and going to battle with) how this nation’s disenfranchised and the American dream disinherited children are treated educationally and societally. I see our dream-canceled young people filling our prisons to overflowing. The many homeless, hungry, destitute, and desperately poor Americans ―Did our interest and advocation for them disappear once they were born? Did the “give birth at all cost” folks ever practice a culture of compassion and caring extending beyond the birthing room walls, or did they chant “build the wall” to exclude the babies born in our neighboring countries? Will they join the Texas governor in seeking to ban non-US born (but once babies who were born) children from attending our public schools? This act of US public educators taking in and educating all children, regardless of where they were born (come just as you are “though tossed about, with many a conflict, many a doubt”); this welcoming principle is one of the noblest attributes of our profession. But, in our present widely popular and politically rewarding zeitgeist of “punching-down” on the less fortunate, who will choose to care about and defend our children nationally after they are born and lose their “political advantage value“?

What does it mean, and what would we be willing to do as a nation spiritually and practically to be truly “pro-life” on behalf of mothers before and after they give birth and for all of the babies who are born; can we continue our sacred caring work at each developmental stage of their lives, continuing as they reach their seniorhood?

If most people who claim some form of foundational religious thinking knew the cost of selecting a “Pro (before and after the child is born) Life” discipleship, they would probably choose a more pleasant path, even if that path was spiritually contradictory and hypocritical.
This challenging and uncomfortable humane call to really and totally be “Pro-Life” is not attached to (and rejects) any rhetorically convenient or political posturing position; rather, it is our genuine, authentic calling and purpose as individual human beings and also our collective purposeful calling as a human family.

And so, you can pardon me if I am not convinced (based on their past and present behaviors) that many of the most passionate advocates for the “sanctity of life” actually believe that all of the children who enter our world and our public school systems are divinely sacred and inherently worthy of our most passionate protection and committed concern. Up to this point, they have given me no evidence that they even have the internal capacity or inclination to think and behave beyond their religion of exclusion and malicious nullification; and therefore, to quote Pauline Johnson: “Both the devil and you’ll are liars, and the truth is not in you!

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NYC Mayor Adam’s Five Borough Specialized High School (SHS) Expansion Plan could be an educational game-changer and save a lot of children.

I do hope that one of those schools will be a STEM-Applied Computer Science CTE SHS!(1)

For many of us veteran Title-1 (poor) schools urban (and rural) professional educators, the questions have never been about our student’s intellectual abilities, their passionate aspirations, or the hopes and dreams of their parents and communities. Instead, it has always been about expanding and extending the empowering exposure of high-quality teaching-learning experiences, “good atmospheric” and enriched resources conditions to larger cohorts of very capable students. This means those students have the opportunity to enter a clean, calm, and productive school environment; having access to adequate health, social-emotional, and counseling services; their teachers have the appropriate equipment, learning-support resources, and supplies, and the school follows a curricular approach that is rich in rigor, and strategically undergirded and guided by a team of skilled efficacious adults, inspired by a love of unconditional high expectations.

Young people have the amazing ability to rise and meet the academic challenges presented to them, often even shocking themselves when they perform at an exceedingly high level. But this can only happen if they are given a chance and learning conditions that will allow them to demonstrate the full range of their innate repertoire of skills, gifts, talents, and one or more expressions of the “multiple intelligences” (e.g., logical-mathematical, musical, physical, interpersonal, creativity, etc.) they possess.
This is why as a former NYC superintendent (CSD29Q), I “broke” the rules and decided on my own to dramatically expand the district’s limited Gifted & Talented (G&T) classroom “allocations,” including adding some of our “underperforming schools” to the list! And, of course, some of the folks who were centrally “in charge” of G&T programs were very upset with me (“turf-protectionism” is a big deal in school-district bureaucracies and can often take precedence over students’ needs); however, the then NYC Chancellor (Harold Levy) wonderfully supported my decision. That decision “paid” for itself by raising the standardized exams proficiency levels of all students, at all proficiency-performance levels, in every newly minted G&T school! You see, (something else the present mayor got right) the mere presence of elementary and middle school G&T classes (like high school I.B., A.P., exciting advanced electives, academic teams, and programs) will cause an entire school to “think-of-itself” and be seen by prospective parents more differently and positively! This is why as a CSD29Q superintendent, I saw a dramatic drop in parent requests for transfers or the parent’s use of “unofficial transfer” methods when I placed a G&T program along with an exciting applied STEM lab in a so-called “underperforming” school building.

But it should also be understood that the unfortunate and imprecise term “underperforming school” can be misleading since in every school, regardless of a school’s lackluster academic performance data, you should know that there are cohorts of students in that school building who are, in fact, performing well and in some cases “overperforming” and so, what are we to do with those children? (There are a lot of students who are actually “underperforming” in so-called “good” or “high-performing” schools, but that’s a topic for another day).

We should stop defining and dismissing students’ naturally high and perhaps undiscovered capabilities based on the neighborhoods where they live, their family’s income, their racial or ethnic identity, their parent’s level of education, or mastery of the english language.
I don’t believe that whoever is “in transcendent charge” of distributing talents to newborns is using any of the abovementioned socio-economic criteria (all out of the child’s control) as a determining factor of who does or does not get a talented gift(s) at birth. And suppose you don’t believe that all children are provided at birth with a special and unique contribution to the world. In that case, I don’t know what to tell you, except that I just hope you are not working or plan to work in the education field!

The mayor has also suggested that the new Specialized High Schools (SHS) admissions process will utilize a more comprehensive inclusionary focused approach rather than an exclusionary focused admissions process. This could mean assessing the multiple modalities (e.g., visual, verbal, touch, hearing, etc.) by which children learn and express that learning. This opens the SHS admissions opportunity door to a much wider pool of students than is allowed with the present SHSAT(2) process; this will further provide NYCDOE educators with a tool to ‘discover’ those young people who are not great at or who are ‘naturally nervous’ test-takers. These “challenged-test-takers” under new and improved screening procedures would be able to demonstrate their high levels of skills and knowledge outside of a “high stakes,” win/lose, one-day, one-chance exam. But that won’t stop those critics who are opposed to any form of standards of assessment from engaging in soapbox sophistry; that is, of course, unless they are talking about the standardized assessments that have enriched their own (or their children’s) personal and professional lives like the: SHSAT, NYS Regents Exams, Advance Placement Exams, SAT, ACT, GRE, PRAXIS, LSAT, MCAT, etc.

Create more successful outcomes on the back-end by creating more opportunities on the front-end.

I believe this expansion of SHS sites in NYC could save a lot of young folks if organized in a strategically smart way. These students will gain access to a high school experience that will push them to their best academically performing selves and raise their competitive academic capacities. Too often, many on or above grade and performance level young people in Title-1 high schools are fighting on two learning-fronts; first, trying to master the academic material and secondly, trying to navigate the very common learning distractions occurring in their schools and classrooms; this is too much to ask of an adolescent.

We need to absolutely improve the quality of education in all high schools in the city and, at the same time, allow academically advanced (especially those who are traditionally disregarded) students to demonstrate and perform in a high-expectations, peer-challenged, less stressful, and “safe-to-be-smart” learning environment. This work must be done as public school systems simultaneously improve (equalize) the quality (and quantity of that quality) of pre-high school learning in all elementary and middle schools. A student’s high school “opportunity-options” (e.g., advance, elective, AP courses, etc.) are ultimately determined and/or significantly influenced in their PreK-8 learning years, thus limiting or expanding their post-high school range of possible choices. Transitioning to a public high school should not be a quality learning survival-obstacle course, especially for children forced to cross an inferior pre-high school learning-less minefield.

(My warning to Eric Adams) The political pushback on this SHS initiative could get ugly and loud.

One of the argumentative attacks will be (and this is solely applied to high performing Black and Latino students): “If you don’t immediately ‘fix’ the entire system (or school), then no (Black & Latino) students should experience an educational program that meets their learning proficiency level needs.” And so, welcome to the club Mr. Mayor, for I have been on the receiving end of this kind of racially selective call for group mediocrity and collective underachievement thinking for many years; this line unfairly paints a lot of children in public education as “deficient learners” when they are not; it just could be that they, unfortunately, live in the “wrong” low-expectations/low-quality learning zip code.

One of the main reasons we in public education don’t do a better job with all children, including those struggling academically, is that we have not even figured out systemically how to do a good job with Black and Latino children who are on or above grade and performance levels; especially our Black and Latino boys who are members of that “on and above” group.
I challenge any leader or public education stakeholder to speak (as I have) at a state youth correctional facility; you will probably share the same alarming and sad thoughts I had as I drove home on that day:
My goodness, those are smart and talented kids; how on earth did we fail them so badly!
Unfortunately, specific segments of the US population send large numbers of their very capable, creative, inventive, and intellectually talented kids into the prison system; this is where they do successfully learn to apply their talents in the most personally destructive and societally harmful ways possible. We need to offer these young people (and ourselves) a more promising and positively productive future.

Mr. mayor, there will be push-back-hell to pay! (or maybe a ‘critical-mass’ of NYC parents will rise up and make their hopes and dreams for their children known!)

Interestingly, I’ve found, as an educator doing this: “equality of quality learning” work over the years, that the vast majority of these politically correct “push-backers” (yes, it purposely rhymes with bushwhackers) on anything relating to Black and Latino students receiving any type of “academically advanced” learning will be people who either themselves and/or their children enjoyed, or are enjoying some kind of public or private “specialized enriching educational exposure” — It’s a cynical attitude of: “what’s good for thee (the masses) is not good for me (the entitled ‘leader’ of the masses)!
But I say push forward Mr. Mayor, because, if this works, many NYC children will win, meaning they will at least have a better chance at having a decent and rewarding post-high school life. And ultimately, regardless of the cost, we must always be in the saving the children “business” and not in the business of supporting adults who want to create hypocritical PC hashtags or who want to pontificate on news and social media platforms, where they engage in meaningless and simplistic soliloquies that have nothing to do with real students in real public schools.
The public high school experience is our last chance in the PreK-12 system to make a significant and lasting difference in a young person’s life; let’s take every opportunity to make that difference powerfully impactful!

(1) See: REPORT TO THE PRINCIPAL’S OFFICE: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership; Chapter 16 on establishing: “An Effective Career Technical Education (CTE) Program”; and Chap. 18 on; “Building the model schoolwide technology program and department”… https://reporttotheprincipalsoffice.net/about-the-report-to-the-principals-office-book/

(2) SHSAT: Specialized High School Aptitude Test presently in use for screening students admissions to gain access to several (but not all) of NYC’s specialized high schools.

Principals, (let’s start with this) if you really want to raise the self-esteem of Black students, then make them proficient academic performers!

“Change the joke and slip the yoke”—Ralph Ellison.

An often news media quoted “liberal education professor” once remarked “that what I was doing was not progressive education” in response to a very positive NY Times article on my (getting kids to successfully pass NYS Regents exams) work as a principal of Science Skills Center High School, Bklyn NY. Of course, many people took offense to his remarks, but my favorite “apologia” was offered by one of my esteemed mentors Dr. Asa Hilliard who said: “Michael’s students are always progressing academically, and so why is it not “progressive education!”

It’s very easy for school-based educators to get distracted and taken “off mission” by outside gibberish. Part of the problem is that everyone who had a K-12 experience is thoroughly convinced that they absolutely know how public schooling should be executed. For sure, we have opened this “everybody has the answer door” by refusing to adopt an ethical “prime directive” that places student needs over adult comfort and employment needs, a no excuses, no blaming parents, communities, or poverty for the reasons we fail to effectively educate so many children (and yet succeed at sending so many of them to prison).

We can also get distractedly caught up in the larger societal political debates (e.g., integration) that have nothing to do with what a school-based team of educators is facing and are required to do for those students arriving to their school building every day. We educators can’t bring societal racial integration into reality, solve the problems of a broken national immigration system, eliminate poverty, etc. All that we can do is educate the young people sitting in our schools to the best of our courage and abilities. But for too many “liberal” or “conservative” actors, public education is a platform for political war games; however, for the dedicated professional educators working in the trenches, it’s their life work and sacred called service. After all, real (not theoretical) children’s lives are at stake, and we must protect them from the collateral learning damage that various political warring factions would inflict on them.

This is why I say let the governors and state legislative opponents of human progress pass all of the anti (does not exist in any state curriculum) “Critical Race Theories” (CRT) laws they want. Let these same lovers of history ignorance seek to block the analytical teaching of our nation’s complex (sometimes joyful and sometimes painful) historical story. Teaching historical “lies” or omitting “unflattering” or uncomfortable for some citizens events; means removing the necessary scientific approach to the study of history; this action will ultimately educationally damage all students regardless of racial identity or ethnicity and destroys public education’s credibility. And just like we can’t help if some folks are unnerved because we can’t “low-ball” the age of our planet to fit their theology; we also can’t construct a historiography that avoids the “difficult” to acknowledge events of the past. Further, historical-truth-telling builds moral character; learning about those horrendous Japanese internment camps of the 1940s can lead students to not repeat such an act when they become policy-deciding adults. Educationally speaking (as is the case with mathematics education), any acquisition level of content knowledge can’t be built on a previous premise of untruths incorrect or false information.

If “professional commentators” want to duel-it-out on the editorial pages of major newspapers and on cable news programs about a topic (e.g., CRT) that again does not exist in any state’s curriculum, let them have at it! Professional educators need to stay focused on what we need to do with and for our in-the-present-moment students. We can start with staying out of the “mess” that other people create. As a principal, I shut out all of the “political posturing” outside noise that most often had nothing to do with why my Title 1 school students showed up (and their parents sent them) every day, which was to improve their life chances through the formal educational experience. Our first professional, ethical task then is to ensure that our students are academically “whole,” viable, and proficient by providing them with a (yes, standards based and beyond) rigorous learning foundation that we efficaciously make happen. This means that they are proficient and above in all academic content areas, from reading skills to research skills. And any school that fails at that primary objective is sadly engaged in some form of miseducational theater.
My position as a superintendent vis-à-vis my principals was this: “Yes, by all means, have nice Black History Month programs, but I also want your students to make their own “modern history” by becoming high academic achievers!”

Principals should listen to their own professional-pedagogical instincts, suggesting that: The quickest, surest, and most sustainable path to raising any student’s self-esteem is to help them become strong practicing proficiency participants in this experience we call schooling. You then double-down on their high academic capabilities by approaching all curriculum content areas by way of authenticity, diversity, honesty, and truth. The best principals know how to accomplish this feat without using “fancy” slogans or phraseologies that could become the political weapons of any outside-of-the-school-building battle groups, whose conflicts are often the enemy of real educational progress and success.

First, they went after the uncomfortable truths of US history related to Native, Latino, and Black Americans… Then they went after the uncomfortable truths of my own history.

“A school district in Tennessee banned the use of “Maus,” a Pulitzer-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, in its middle school classes, citing the work’s profanity and nudity in a 10-to-0 vote.”—Washington Post

The problem of proto-fascist movements as they evolve into full fascist movements is that they ultimately have no limits; in the end, there is them, and then there are victims. There are no “prior agreements” they feel honor-bound to respect. Their normal routine is the extreme acts of personal and the people’s democratic rights disqualification. Their ideology is the full universal expansion of horrific ideas. Book banning paves the way for book burning. Book burning is the rehearsal stage for people burning. Honest historical deniability is linked to economic exploitation and will always lead to some form of human negation. Today it’s the otherization of Mexicans; the next day, it’s the next in line “others” who will be relegated to a place of denigration and dismissal. It’s not a matter of if; it’s only a matter of when your turn will arrive.

The national GOP effort to deny and restrict Black voter participation is a rehearsal to expand those disenfranchisement efforts to those segments of White America who have maintained some ethical concerns about wanting to see their nation “Great” (pre-civil rights era) again. Doing the right thing should not require that the evil being done is being done to you.

There is a reason that history is both a target and tool of depraved and diabolical leaders. They are highly skilled in the art of transforming a real or imagined “grievance” into organized and politically sanctioned self-destructive acts of hateful hooliganism and malicious mob violence, and ultimately, verbal and physical violence as a vehicle to obtain (by legitimate or fraudulent means) elected political power. History will expose them in their earlier historical iterations and could serve as a moral inoculant that could prevent these proto-fascist from philosophically reinfecting us in our own historical periods. But a collective courageous and principled personality is needed as opposed to a “not-my-problem” attitude.

False glorification (a right-wing personality disorder) can, if not countered, be an effective tool of human nullification. The symbols of the southern confederacy are, in fact, symbols of false hope for those who wish to see the official authorization of discrimination, exploitation, and no consequences acts of violence against Black Americans. One then is forced to ask: “What exactly is it that ‘conservatives’ are trying to conserve?”… If it’s an age of exploitation, then the only rational and righteous response of the targets of exploitation is resistance!

The great myth of this world was tragically explained by the words and sacrifices of people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer (The Cost of Discipleship). The lie we are told and sold is that we can look away from the suffering and pain of the “not me,” not my family, nationality, religious affiliation, community, or nation. That I can somehow strike a separate peace bargain with the human elements of evil. The dynastic nature of evil (did we not learn anything from the history of German Nazism) is not satiated until all of humanity is under the power and pain of its wicked rule. And thus the reason they seek to prevent the positive power of true-history-telling; which provides every one of us with a way into realizing our full compassionate humanity; we only need to read (and be moved to action by) the words of a contemporary and fellow 1930’s German clergymen of Bonhoeffer, Martin Niemöller:

“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

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 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.

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).