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.

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).

Our COVID-19 public education ‘Lesson Plan’ is badly flawed, and our instructional delivery system is equally ineffective.

As every principal who has observed a sizable number of classroom lessons knows, it is impossible for a teacher to “nail” a lesson if the conceptual and behavioral objectives are a set of ‘moving targets.’ The challenge of educating the public about a presently existing, highly infecting harmful microorganism, going through its natural seeking-to-live life cycles, e.g., advantageous adaptation and opportunistic reproduction, is not like teaching a lesson on World War II. Not only will the information change rapidly and often seemingly contradictorily; e.g., some vaccinated people will still get infected, but do amazingly better recovery-wise than the unvaccinated who get infected. Further, this public health lesson is not like some abstract pedagogical exercise; indeed, COVID-19 is negatively (in one way or another) affecting all of us student-citizens daily. Also, we scream at people that they should “listen to the science,” but that implies; and I am not proud to say this, that those of us in the K-12 public education community have adequately provided the majority of our citizens with the tools to effectively apply science knowledge and methodology to all of the real-science or pseudo-science information being thrown at them every day (just count the number of “likes” and “commentary endorsements” for the strong-but-wrong assertions of the many “Facebook and Twitter Scientist”; people who would not recognize the ‘Scientific Method’ if it sat down next to them at their breakfast table!).

We started this COVID-19 public education process wrong from the start. To add to this problem, we are (not learning from our mistakes) continuing down that not appreciating the rules-of-education path to this present day. Here in the US and in other places like Brazil and India, the public education problem was exacerbated by the ‘bad luck’ of having the worst possible leader at the initial moments when we faced one of the worse public health crises in our national history. Bad leaders make bad situations much worse. When I first began as a superintendent, I had to stop some principals in mid-explanatory sentences when they started with: “Well, we are outperforming such-n-such schools…”— Me (channeling the Motown Supremes: Stop! In the name of educating children): “Don’t even try it!”, I responded, “the performance of schools x, y or z are not the measuring criteria by which I am evaluating your school leadership capabilities!” For sure, Donald Trump did a lot of damage to our Covid-19 response and recovery efforts; but this is where we are. It follows then that Mr. Biden must do much better and go beyond “just not being Trump” I’m sorry, I like Mr. Biden, but that Trump-leadership-bar-standard is way, way too low!

I get that people are in love with the idea of bipartisanism (well, at least the Democrats are). Still, we need to face the reality that we are fighting both a highly-efficient virus and a high-powered and well-organized, pro-virus spreading elected and public leadership movement in our country…
In an email to two of my dear friends (Medical Drs. Sweeney & Walker), I recently proclaimed that the ‘mask mandates’ and ‘healthy social distancing’ battle is lost and over; they both sadly agreed. Unfortunately, the right-wing “business or bust” cynical Darwinian forces have succeeded in convincing a lot of people in the world (i.e., Germany, France, America) that there is some ‘natural’ or constitutional right to expose oneself or to potentially expose others to a deadly viral disease. In England, they marketed their largest-to-date COVID-19 exposure and spreading moment in the worst possible phraseological way: “Freedom Day!”
One British conservative commentator said in a PBS interview (I paraphrase here): “We can survive the small number of global deaths due to COVID-19, but the economic destruction and dislocation will be more devastating and long-lasting if we don’t fully open up now!” … I guess it’s good when you and your family have privileged person options! Perhaps, we should share his ‘uplifting message’ with “the small number” of the dead, dying and destined to die in the future, millions of people who live in those parts of the world where they don’t have access to COVID-19 vaccines or adequate medical treatment and facilities.

Republicans may not believe in science, but it does not mean they don’t believe in arithmetic!
Even though we now see some Republican elected leaders backtracking on vaccinations as they watch ‘their voters’ (the politically hardcore unvaccinated) bear the brunt of new deadly accelerated infections. But this vaccination epiphany they are displaying is not based on any principles of religion or human compassion; instead, they have come to realize the mathematical reality that a lot of GOP unvaccinated voters could very likely die before the 2022 or 2024 election cycle, thus possibly nullifying any expected advantage gained by the massive Black voter suppression laws they are putting in place nationally. If a politician can only do one thing, that one thing is count voters, or sadly, in this case, dead voters. The problem, however, is that they have taken their followers so far down the “ignorant-and-loving-it” path, I am not sure that these millions of people who think that Mr. Biden stole the election can now turn it around and believe that the COVID-19 virus is devastatingly real and not some “story” that was invented by the “deep liberal state.”

An effective response to an extraordinary public crisis requires extra-ordinary, unorthodox, and working outside of bureaucratic boundaries types of actions. (what those highly effective principals of successful Title-1 schools do every day!)…
Living in a nation with massive numbers of COVID-19 disease and vaccination deniers, the countless number of social media medical “experts” dispensing vaccination advice without conducting or bothering to reference peer-reviewed clinical trials data. And when you throw in the vast number of “don’t tread on my right and freedom to be covid-19 infected and to infect others!” folks, we can see how our present situation might look a little bleak. However, this challenging health crisis place we now find ourselves I believe logically presents us with the best and perhaps only viable option in fighting this COVID-19 viral siege; and that is to create the highest number of vaccinated citizens in the fastest, most efficient way possible; that objective should drive our pedagogy and all of our efforts.
Operational logistics aside (actually the easiest part), this extraordinary effort sounds to me to be, in large parts, like a major educational initiative. And, of course, professional education provides many models for achieving the greatest success in this type of mass teaching and learning effort.
(#1: “Know when your lesson plan isn’t working for some or all of your students!”) One of the attributes of a master teacher is having the ability to ‘decenter,’ assess student comprehension by observing student body-facial language and utilizing good questioning techniques during a lesson. Clearly, for reasons previously mentioned, our current vaccination information/convincing plan is not working. If too many states and localities like Alabama (34% vaccinated) have below 50% of their population vaccinated, then we are in for some challenging and troubling national health times ahead. And then there are also those citizens who are resisting taking the vaccine who live in those states and communities with higher general numbers of those vaccinated, e.g., Vermont 80% vaccinated; and yet, these vaccine resisters may be traveling locally or nationally, and therefore can serve as human petri-dishes of virus spreading. It seems to me that a national ‘one-size-fits-all’ vaccination education strategy won’t work here, and even worse, our present approach misallocates resources, people, time, and money.
Therefore, we need (#2: A differentiated methodological reaching people and teaching people process). This problem-solving methodology must include a standards-based, rubrics defined, pacing calendar vaccine education curriculum based on local infection and vaccination rates, geography, history, social and political science, anthropology (local customs), social-psychology, and demographical researched data. This qualitative/quantitative data-driven approach might sound ‘too technical’ to non-professional education readers, but it’s something the best educators do every day by putting efficacious scaffolding and supports in place for different cohorts of children (meeting them at the place of their learning need), and thus placing them in the best conditions and in the best possible positions to succeed educationally.

Part of this differentiated analysis is to separate those Americans who have legitimate concerns about vaccines in general and/or the COVID-19 vaccines in particular from those who are motivated by political anti-vaccine movements. Distinguishing between unvaccinated citizens who make great prophylactic lifestyle efforts not to get infected and not infect others and those immorally reckless citizens who are unvaccinated and don’t care if they get infected and if they infect other people. People who believe that some billionaire or the ‘government’ is inserting software data into the body of everyone who is vaccinated should not be blended (in the same Q & A information sessions) with people who in many situations are simply afraid, confused, and overwhelmed by an overabundance of both good and bad information.
And to be fair on the topic of providing information, the well-meaning, well-informed, and science-driven ‘explainers’ have not always been clear, unified, and ‘on-the-same-talking-points-message’ positions concerning the explanations of the ‘behaviors’ of microbiological organisms, infectious diseases specifically, covid-19 infection prevention protocols, and crucially, the pro-vaccine taking encouragement campaign. Another public information/communications problem: Pharmaceutical firms should be part of the “conversation,” but they should not frame and lead the conversation due to financial conflicts of interest. In my humble opinion, the natural leaders of this national health crisis response team, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), needs to ‘step up’ stronger and in a more (better expressed) transparently focused and definitive way, provide good and practical “laywoman-layman-friendly” information in all of their pronouncements and recommended actions!
And my message for the CDC I take from my principal and superintendent years; there are times when you just can’t ‘hedge or hint’ around a problematic issue. These are those moments when you must just tell folks the truth (as sensitively and gently as the situation allows), even if it’s a truth they don’t want to hear.

Time is not on our side…
We also need to keep in mind that ‘time’ is not an innocent bystander in a pandemic. So, how should we focus our vaccination educational efforts and resources? Should we first invest a lot of time on those whose hesitancy could be more easily removed by having access to small sessions with an excellent local information provider in their homes, a community-based organization center/site, or meetings in their affiliated religious institutions? A place where they can feel safe and comfortable in raising difficult questions and concerns.

Professional educators don’t see questions as the enemy…
True professional educators want more, not less ‘asking for clarification’ questions from students. And what educators really don’t want is for students to sit quietly in (and eventually walk out of) a classroom without fully understanding the lesson’s objectives or finding out that the students have carried their lesson ‘misunderstandings’ into the standardized testing exam room. As I have warned principals as a superintendent, a staff person raising a ‘difficult’ but fair question or requesting clarification on an initiative should not automatically be interpreted as someone who is in hostile opposition. We need (for time and limited resources reasons) to separate the unclear, questioning, reluctant vaccine taker from the unrepentant pro-covid-19 disease spreader. Understanding the underlying motivations for a concern is the leader’s responsibility, not necessarily those who are raising the concern; that’s the teaching/mentoring part of leadership. For example, Black Americans can’t be mistaken to have concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine based on their love of or faith in right-wing or Republican propaganda (even as these negative actors having extensive news media access are not helping the Black infection rate situation); rather, their mistrusting of America ‘operating-in-their-best-interest’ with a vaccine or anything else, is framed by centuries and up to the present days of horrible racial mistreatment, abuse, discrimination and denial (think of those Republican voter suppression folks trying to “clean-up” the voting process). I would go further in saying that as far as not trusting White America institutionally to do the right, just, and fair thing as it applies to the lives of Black people in America, is, in my view, perhaps a sign of a healthy Black psychological profile. And so, any pro-vaccine-taking educational approach with Black Americans should respectfully start from that understanding. Therefore, (#3: “Get the right instructional practitioners in front of the students who need them the most!”) Black Americans will, in my hypothetical view, only respond positively to those Black American pro-vaccine advocates (not just any black face presently in a prominent place), who they
genuinely trust to represent their best interest and well-being. Why not invest federal outreach funding in organizations and institutions like: The National Medical Association, National Black Nurses Association; Meharry, Morehouse, and Howard University medical/nursing/allied/public health schools to do a massive national on-the-ground (literally door-to-door, block-by-block, religious institutions-to-religious institutions) COVID-19 information campaign in Black communities across this nation? Employing an anti-rightwing/anti-vexers message or debate is less effective with Black Americans since they are already profoundly suspicious and cautious of any GOP (Trump-like or Trump-lite) motives. We need to stop sending the wrong messages to people and start sending the right messages to the right people.
For example, please, news media, stop ‘ambushing’ random professional athletes and celebrity entertainers and asking them if they’ve been vaccinated; beyond this not being any of our business, it’s not helping. Instead, let those self-selecting, highly influential celebrities, who choose as a service-to-humanity to publicly share their vaccination story, be part of an organized information campaign where their messages are vetted, professionally managed, and filmed/recorded in a strategically smart targeted way to specific audiences.

This targeted differentiated COVID-19 teaching method could also work for many other cohorts of Americans who live in places where I have spent a lot of time, places like Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Now don’t get me wrong, I have a profound respect for Dr. Anthony Fauci, and I think that future historians will designate him as one of our great national science-medicine heroes for this historical period. But the truth is that in places like Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi, for a large segment of the population in those states, Dr. Fauci’s “approval ratings” (believability-credibility ratings) are in the same ‘statistical neighborhood’ as Hillary Clinton’s favorable ratings. This means his message, no matter how well articulated, scientifically sound, or life-savingly clear, won’t be heard. These are the places where we need a new and different set of instructional personnel to take the lead in the vaccine ‘message delivering mission’; people like famous NASCAR drivers, college Football and Basketball coaches, country & western music stars, etc. In fact, I suspect that Nick Saban, Alabama University’s famous football team coach, if given a major state-wide professional PR, print, radio, TV, and social media communications campaign platform, could single-handedly significantly raise the vaccination rate numbers in the state of Alabama! (My apologies to Auburn fans—sorry everyone else, this is an inside Alabama conversation:-)

The right tools for the job and the right professionals for the job…
Finally, if you need electrical work done in your house, you don’t call a plumber; in need of a new roof, you probably won’t hire a brick mason. If America is going to embark (and it must) on a major vaccine-trusting-taking educational project; which I now believe is our only getting-out-of-this with the least amount of people dying option, then there must be a recognition that the word “education” is the center and centering objective and activity of such a campaign. Then why are we not utilizing professional educators as primary, not peripheral planners in this national COVID-19 response and recovery effort?… Just asking for a lot of very brilliant PreK-12 professional educators in this nation.

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

Principals, 2021-22 School Year Priority Assignment — Assessing Student’s COVID-19 School Year Learning Loss.

On the question of standardized assessments…

Unfortunately, and to the learning detriment of many students, professional commonly accepted content and skills learning curriculum standards and their related standardized assessments (test, exams) have of late fallen on hard times (and why even bother to have standards if they will never be assessed; we can simply declare anyone a plumber, lawyer, or a dentist!). This is due to a convenient coalition of adversaries who have managed to maneuver themselves onto the public education center stage conversation on standards and standardized assessment. One group has used “standardization” and its related assessments as a tool to deny access and opportunity to those disentitled citizen-children; aka Black, Latino, or poor White children who are exposed to a below standards pre-assessment educational learning experience, thus making them non-competitive when they take any exam based on the curriculum standards materials they never had the opportunity to learn. The second part of the anti-standards coalition (in oppositional response to their coalition partners) are admittedly well-meaning, even as their opposition to the principle of standardization and standardized assessments is pedagogically uninformed; and to be painfully honest, they are also hypocritical because many of these individuals (usually themselves part of the US entitled class), provide a high-standards option to their own children, and further, to my knowledge, tend to engage the services of a “certified” (taught and tested) plumber, seek the advice of an attorney who is licensed and has passed the bar exam, and only offer their teeth to dental school graduated and common core dental curriculum standards assessed dentist.

Now, with that out of the way, let me speak to the chief professional educators of the school building who have formally studied pedagogy, pursued the learning of graduate-level school leadership theories and practices, and were required to pass a state standardized school building administrator’s exam to receive a principals license. Therefore, you principal should understand the critical role of commonly accepted content standards and their ‘pacing structures’; for there is much child developmental learning sense-making in the sequential organization of grade-level content standards that allows us, for example, to take a PreK child from basic conceptual numeration to 12th-grade calculus. And we see the present terrible results, primarily affecting poor children and children of color, of what happens when individual states, school districts or schools, ‘make-up’ their own standards. You (certified) principal should also have a deeper and better understanding of the role and purpose of standardized assessments. You know, because you’re an ethical school administrator, that these important evaluative ‘tools-of-the-trade’ should never be used for:

A way of denying access or opportunity to students.

A way to lower the self-esteem or injure the psyche of students.

A way to ‘discipline’ or punish teachers.

A way to marginalize and dismiss the hopes and dreams of parents.

A way to put down, ‘negatively label,’ or ‘test-results-shame’ schools.

A way to punish school administrators.

A way to lower-the-expectations and denigrate particular groups of students or communities.

However, you should also know that standardized assessments should always be used for the purposes of:

A way to diagnose student deficiencies and strengths.

A way to identify the specialized support or educational enhancements needed to ‘grow’ student(s) learning.

A way to expand student(s) quality learning access and opportunities in opposition to socio-economic and political barriers.

A way to improve the methodological performance and efficacious quality of a teacher’s instructional practice.

A way to get Title-1 schools the necessary raising academic achievement resources and the social-emotional health and counseling personnel and support they (and their students) so desperately need to succeed.

A way to give disentitled parents and disenfranchised communities confidence in a fair and equal opportunity “playing-field” academic competition process.

A diagnostic data tool that principals use to determine the policies, procedures, and professional development ideas, interventions, and themes that they and their school staff require.

Ok, since we have addressed the unprofessional inauthentic use of standardized assessments versus the authentic professional use of standardized assessments, let’s move on to the main idea of this essay.

All informal educational (outside-of-school) learning is not equal, and all outside-of-school learning loss is not equal…
We need to start with the above hypothesis in a highly professional, compassionate, and ethically honest way, which means not bringing a denigrating and condescending attitude to the problem. The reality is that a great deal of the quality of a child’s informal-educational experience is driven by parental-push-power (PPP), e.g., financial assets, political influence, connectional human resources, level of education, access to information, and time. Morally speaking, professional educators should do nothing to diminish (instead enhance it) the amount of PPP a student receives at home. But we also have a moral obligation to step in as parent substitutes —In loco parentis, in supporting students who don’t receive adequate amounts of quality PPP at home. And to be clear (for our non-professional education readers), this lack-of-access to those beforementioned learning enhancing parent PPP resources and skills should not be confused with a parent not lacking in having a powerful passion and desire of wanting their child to be educationally successful, even if they personally lack the financial resources, english language skills, political connections, formal education, or “system” information to be more effective in making that happen.

So was the pre-COVID-19 School Year (SY) ‘education world’; so was the COVID-19 2021 School Year (SY) ‘education world’…
The COVID-19 SY did not ‘invent’ learning quality disparities in America; instead, it simply exposed the vast divide in the access-to-learning-resources gap that has always existed between social-economic groups of children in our society. However, COVID-19 did produce the undeniable public exposure conditions that would prevent us from hiding from the fact that our public school systems are, in reality, two separate and unequal, of have and have not systems. The technology access gaps between students, school districts, schools, and communities were fully displayed during the COVID-19 SY. We also realized that most public education systems could not neutralize (and democratize) technological advantages in a severe public crisis school year. In addition, they were incapable of dismantling learning disabling disadvantages. Although the COVID-19 SY was not helpful to any US student who was physically unable to attend school, what is also true is that the COVID-19 SY inflicted different degrees of educational harm on different cohorts of students. Principals must keep this factor in mind as you plan your “undoing-the-damage” 2021-22 school year strategy. This is (wearing my former superintendent’s cap) that school leadership defining moment when I believe that a principal must on a fundamental level “earns-their-stripes”; and on a higher level, symbolically earn those “above and beyond the call of duty medals” by developing an ‘all students’ educational reconstruction plan that contains the smart applications of balancing equity and equality in developing and applying schoolwide learning-support mechanisms.

The 2021-22 SY is what it is…
Just as I told many of my principals as a superintendent, “the students you have are the students you have, the parents are not hiding and keeping a better behaving and higher academically performing group at home!” So it is also true with this upcoming 2021-22 SY, the conditions are what they are, and you principal must deal with them. Make no mistake about it, things will be very challenging, but you must face these challenges in a strategically-smart programmatic way. And you should plan with the idea (if public education history is true to itself) that you probably won’t get all of the financial resources you need to be successful. As a principal facing these kinds of emergency learning-loss situations I assumed nothing; essentially I operated with the belief that all of the help I truly needed was not coming from the school system. It’s always easier to adjust to receiving “extra unanticipated” district resources support, then to plan-to-fail by designing a strategic response to a learning blocking crisis based on anticipated outside help that ends up never arriving. Every one of my 11 years as a high school principal of a Title-1 school I received a sizable number of students who in no knowledgeable educator’s estimation were prepared to do high school work. It was my job (not the district, chancellor or superintendent) to get them to a graduation ‘finish-line’ in four years and onto a positive and productive post-graduation career path. Therefore it is you (yes you!) principal, who must lead the charge in the 2021-22 SY to save your children!

The present and future COVID-19 SY educational danger…
I know after many years as a public educator that a lot of people would prefer that I get on board with the rosy “Good-Housekeeping” image many public (relations driven) education systems seeks to project to the public; but I can’t do that because that would mean selling out students, parents, and disenfranchised communities. Therefore, here is my not-happy-to-report 2021-22 school year hypothetical projection:

The approaching reality of the public education 2021-22 school year is that those entitled public school districts (and entitled schools inside any district) with rich tax bases; school districts that serve primarily as a community educational and not adult employment resource; districts (and schools) having the most well-informed and properly engaged elected officials (including those districts under executive-mayoral or elected school board governance control); those districts (and schools) enriched with well-endowed financial and ‘human-connection’ resources; the districts (and schools) with a financially well-off parental support system, will respond more effectively and positively on behalf of their students in the 2021-22 SY; and therefore the students attending those enfranchised public schools (and districts) will enter a school learning environment year where children will academically ‘recover’ faster from the COVID-19 SY, and as we advance into subsequent school years these fortunate students will out-learning-perform those unfortunate students who attend non-enfranchised school districts and schools! After forty+ years, I’ve come to the consistently observed conclusion that: In both “good” times and “bad” times, the schools that serve the entitled children of our nation fair better than the schools that serve the children of disentitlement. The schools of entitlement are the least negatively affected by any significant school district governance or superintendency change. And further, in a severe emergency, we don’t have a national public educational ethos that demands that “all boats rise equally” during an education-loss flood; the facts are that some boats are better constructed and situated than others to deal with the natural (ex. Covid-19) educational storms of life.

Make no mistake about it, Title-1 schools (and students) face grave educational dangers in the 2021-22 SY…
I have every reason to believe that most Title-1 schools in America will not have what I had as a principal; and that is a 501c3 extra-funds-producing foundation and extensive powerfully rewarding partnerships with major corporations, universities, national-state-local government agencies, federal and foundational grants, and philanthropic giving individuals; and without naming names, I also had a large number of district central office leadership staff that often ‘gifted’ me with a lot of extra resources. Having access to a large amount of financial and human resources far above my official school budget allocation would have allowed me if I were facing a 2021-22 school year, to put in place the necessary comprehensive and extensive, during the school day, extended and after-school day, weekends, holiday and summer break academic programs to get those students who suffered the most from COVID-19 SY learning loss up-to-speed academically. But I don’t think that our average Title-1 school will have access to such resources. And, unfortunately, an ‘ordinary’ or ‘normal’ 2021-22 SY will mean that a lot of students who are on or above grade/performance level will be permanently left behind in their present academic underperformance status while also facing future negative possibilities for engaging in advanced (specialized schools, gifted & talented programs, AP courses, etc.) learning opportunities. But a much harsher reality is the plight of the many disentitled and academically struggling children in this nation who absolutely cannot afford to lose any major part of, or definitely not an entire school year of learning. Those students must be ‘triaged’ to the front of the 2021-22 SY academic recovery line. As I stated earlier, most Title-1 schools won’t have the organizational additional (outside-of-budget) resources foundation and scaffolding help to address the 2021-22 SY challenges effectively. So, school districts will need to intervene in a big way to support those schools.

School districts (with federal assistance) must put principals in a position to win the 2021-22 School Year!
As we move forward, and this is a secondary thought (although with 2021-22 SY implications), principals need to devote some thinking-time, over the next year, for evaluating how their schools performed during the COVID-19 SY; and what do they need to put in place (e.g., creating a 501c3 school foundation, a laptop loan program, a more functional school website, etc.) to be able to address better both the ‘normal’ and abnormal challenges schools will continue to face. But for the immediate situation, any superintendent or principal who believes that the educational crises caused by the COVID-19 SY can be repaired (for all students regardless of academic performance level) with the standard school year approach is setting themselves and their students up for failure.

This brings me to my final point; school districts can’t solve this problem with their present level of financial resources. Principals need to understand (and you will when you become one) that superintendents can’t always publicly say what needs to be said. So I will: Our federal executive and elected national governmental leaders (one of the reasons we teach kids history) need to see and treat the 2021-22 SY as a “Sputnik Response” or “Marshall Plan” moment. School districts will need a 1-3 year special (one-time) massive allocation to get large numbers of US students back on some semblance of a productive educational learning track. Small compensatory ‘tutorial efforts,’ no matter how well-intentioned, won’t get us where we need to go, especially with our most COVID-19 SY negatively affected students; we need to go big!
Further, our 2021-22 SY recovery efforts would be greatly helped by the adoption of President Biden’s bold proposal (Infrastructure Bill) for radically expanding internet access capability (e.g., through municipal broadband capabilities), especially into several states that contain some of the poorest (based on per/pupil expenditures) and least internet-connected rural school districts in our nation (places like West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana…). This expanded internet capability and access in both urban and rural school districts would be extremely helpful in supporting our current efforts to navigate the 2021-22 SY successfully, but long term, it would also provide us with a tremendous technological learning asset for regular school learning, and a learning-loss ‘antidote’ if we ever face another COVID-19 like crisis or any emergency (e.g., illness) where students are forced to spend long periods of time out of school.

The key is to provide the sufficiently right amount of funding in the most efficaciously right way…
The caveat for this COVID-19 SY ‘learning reconstruction funding’ is that President Biden and his on-the-hill colleagues must (a chance for bipartisanship?) prohibit and prevent school districts from using the extra money to do the business-as-usual “school improvement,” “raising achievement scores,” “closing learning gaps” expensive programs that sound and feel good but don’t actually work; employing those past failed approaches would be a terrible loss of money and a tragic loss of an opportunity (I would be more than happy to give Mr. Biden a list of people who are sincere and really good at this work, seriously).
This 2021-22 SY is no time for “symbolic” or fancy-sounding ineffective initiatives. So, perhaps it would be helpful to employ the non-politicalized National Science Foundation (NSF) model for screening Request For Proposals (RFP) potential grantees (school districts, schools, and external school improvement consultants and companies). This means having independent educational expert peer review panels to screen and rank proposals; design RFP’s that require potential grantees to have pedagogical knowledge, professional educational certifications, and school based experience; and most critical, a documented proven track record of past “raising-achievement-scores” success, especially with our lowest-performing schools and students; and finally, having grantees who have a sound theoretical/strategic proposal that would suggest that the grantees know and can produce the promised project’s ‘deliverables.’ When dealing with other major natural or unnatural disasters (e.g., oil spills, forest fires, etc.), we don’t bring in entrepreneurial amateurs who have no proven past track record of success in solving the present emergency.

Real change takes place only when there is real change activity in play...
In those school districts (e.g., NYC, Los Angeles, Chicago, etc.) with a politically powerful teacher union presence, for the 2021-22 SY, there must be some “emergency conditions” negotiated contractual concessions (it’s been done before under less extreme crisis situations) that would lead to improved learning recovery and growth opportunities for both our ‘doing well’ and our most academically struggling students. For example, placing a brand new, inexperienced, or not-highly effective teacher with academically struggling students who have suffered an entire year of some or a lot of learning loss is a recipe for disastrous failure for both the teacher and students. Another option school districts may want to consider is to place their most academically vulnerable Title-1 schools into some form of the district controlled, guardianship and redesigned “charter schools” status (this also has been done on a limited basis before under less severe crisis conditions than covid-19) that would allow for the kind of rules and regulations flexibility-relief, and the necessary leadership authority the principals of those schools will need to make this critical school year work for their most vulnerable students. We will set principals up to fail this 2021-22 SY if we request that they act like the essential executive leaders they need to be and then don’t grant them the executive power to act with formal executive authority. Employment in these ‘district charter schools’ for both school administrators and staff should be by a voluntary application process and consist of the best-of-the-best practitioners, regardless of seniority. These Educational Special Practitioners (ESP) must be reasonably extra-compensated for the more extended school day, week, and school year they will need to work if the students in those schools have any chance of surviving COVID-19 SY learning setbacks. An ESP assignment must also be framed as a ‘resume enhancing’ possible future career promotion/advancement placement. These ESP staffed schools must also have additional funding to address the students’ socio-economic, health, and emotional counseling needs.

The first response for the 20121-22 SY, improve the quality of teaching and learning...
For reasons of child-learning urgency, on the district level as a superintendent, and having the appropriate amount of resources, I would start my 2021-22 SY recovery efforts with a robust strategic plan to drive large amounts of resources into immediately improving the quality of instruction. One area of attention would be instituting specialized and differentiated professional development exercises to improve teacher classroom instructional practices. I would create smaller class sizes, and in struggling schools, expand the daily instructional hours and increase the number of instructional school days (the present SY calendar is artificially short-structured to address a no-longer-relevant need to have children available to do farm work). A ‘struggling schools’ 2021-22 SY ‘Year-Round-School’ format can be innovatively creative (e.g., Summer STEM, computer, art, dance, or music concentrated programs, along with the smart inclusion-immersion of “academic work”). Put in K-8 specialized applied science, technology and mathematics labs and train a school-based team of F/T science specialists to teach in them. Expand music and art programs in all schools (for its own educational value but also because it raises academic achievement in other academic areas). A laptop lending program. A fully funded library and a full-time librarian in every elementary school. Place elementary reading teachers in middle schools (and yes, there is a need for a “teach them how to read” program in Title-1 high schools). Establish a gifted and talented program in every K-8 school, with a professionally developed teacher leading the class. Let elementary teachers “specialized” based on interest and ability to be able to “flip” (Math/Science & ELA/History) and teach each other’s classes (this also gives them fewer subjects to prep for). Fund and design many more SPED/REGED team-teaching classrooms, and in Title-1 schools triple the present number of classroom educational and behavioral paraprofessionals (and not limit this paraprofessional support to students with IEP’s); this will (I found) dramatically increase the amount of Quality Learning Time in classrooms; and further, establish in every Title-1 school a school-based teacher resource center and F/T instructional coaches with the number based on the size of the teaching staff; give all schools without one an Assistant Principal (AP), or an extra AP so they or the principal can give serious and dedicated attention to instructional coaching. For the emergency 2021-22 SY, we need a major concentration of effort on improving the quality of instructional practices district-wide if we are not to lose (forever) large numbers of children.
Most of the above strategies are in part or whole (depending on the needs of the school) what was utilized during the 2000-2003 School Years in Community School District 29 Queens, NYC in many of our schools. This led to our being able to raise academic achievement scores across all grades, student performance levels, and schools; faster and better than any of the other 32 NYC school districts. We did this by maintaining a laser focus approach on improving the quality of teaching and learning. Similarly, principals must be singularly focused for the 2021-22 SY on dramatically improving the learning environment for all students in the school building. All of their attention should be on lengthening the amount of Quality Learning Time (that classroom time that is truly dedicated to learning) while strengthening the ‘technical’ quality of teaching and learning in their schools. For just like it’s essentially and ultimately about the quality of the economy for many politicians; also true for school leaders who hope to survive and thrive in the wake of the COVID-19 SY, essentially and ultimately, it will be all about the quality of instruction!
And as for high schools, where there is already (should be) a school cultural imperative of needing to engage in serious academic reconstruction practices, that must also take place in a short window (4 years) of time, and further not having a next-level public school option to pass ‘unfinished’ students onto; well, I wrote an entire book on how to diagnose, treat and strategically raise the scores of those students who arrive annually and unrelated to any health crises to high school suffering from severe learning loss!

Inaction or weak actions will doom the dreams of many children and parents and damage our nation’s economic capacity...
If our national governmental leaders fail to act in a decisive and adequate resourced way in this COVID-19 educational emergency; then, as those COVID-19 SY learning-loss children reach adulthood workforce age (and for high school students, that will be sooner rather than later), American political leaders will be forced to address a severe and debilitating future skills and knowledge competency gap crisis that will exist between US potential and US production. In addition, large numbers of students, due to no fault on their part, will be robbed of the opportunity to place their inherent gifts and talents in the service of all of humanity; but paramountly, they will be unable to employ their extraordinary personal capabilities in the service of becoming all that they imagine and hope themselves to be.

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).

OK Parents: Some Basic Things for a Successful 2020 Covid-19 School Year (SY)

Part 1: The Basics

First, don’t panic; for sure, the 2020-2021 school year (SY) will be extremely challenging; but you are not (now or in the future) powerless. And so, let’s put things into perspective. It was not uncommon in my 11 years in the high school principalship to have students arrive to my school from a foreign country (often with limited english language skills), where one or more of their schooling years were interrupted due to war conditions, civil strife or some political crises; interestingly, these students (with our specialized and focused support) ended up being some of the top academically performing students and graduates in the school. This Covid-19 SY is not the optimum situation (and many school districts need to ‘upgrade’ and better think through their school opening plans). Still, it is not uncommon for students to lose significant ‘time’ out of school for many reasons. There are also many operational methods we professional educators have learned over the years that could make up for lost learning time.
Further, millions of US parents presently homeschool their children for most or all of the child’s PreK-12 school life. And based on my official review of their work as a superintendent, in my professional opinion, they do this homeschooling work to a very high level of effectiveness.

And let’s be entirely honest, it’s not like US public schools do such a great job with the disentitled, poor and ‘wrong-zip-coded’ students who do show up to our schools every day for 12-14 years (if they don’t get ‘pushed-out’ sooner)! The truth is that too many public schools and classrooms don’t practice high levels of productive quality learning time for the full or majority of the school’s (class periods, day, week) calendar year. One of the best open secrets of public education is the vast qualitative differences (the real and most profound “achievement gap” — A child’s access to a quality education) between schools. And that ‘gap’ is measured by the different amount of on or above standards-based, highly rigorous instruction and learning time students receive. These quality learning deficits can result in anything from months to years of learning lost time for some unfortunate children, and months to years of learning gain for other fortunately entitled children. As we (justifiably) raise hell over a ‘lost school year time,’ know that for some children in our nation, ‘lost school year time,’ is all of the time or most of every year they spend in school!

Pre-COVID-19 SY, During this Covid-19 SY and in the Post-COVID-19 SY; some things won’t (and should not) change when it comes to parental responsibilities:

• The parental support for the organization of a child’s schoolwork, homework, and study-work is critically important to that child’s chances for academic success! Students need a quiet and consistent time and place for doing regular schoolwork, homework, and study-work. As a principal, I made a home visit to one of my parent’s home who lived in a small apartment with three children. She (as we suggested in the parent orientation) established a daily homework and study period for every child in the house; no TV, music playing, friends visitations, telephoning, etc.; anyone who finished their homework had to study or read a book. She later told me that not just my student but all of her children’s grades improved dramatically! Homework is not study-work; rather, it’s the assignments given to the students by the teacher to reinforce the classwork, a form of teacher assessment to determine to what extent the student has mastered the lesson objectives; or to prepare the student for the next day’s lesson. Now some of my well-meaning liberal colleagues who are members of the ‘no-homework-club’ will come for me on the ‘homework question’; but these are the educators/parents who most-likely can provide rich home-learning experiences for their children; and besides, their children probably also attend schools with highly effective instructional programs, challenging and beyond-the-standards daily academic learning experiences. But be assured, all students are doing some form of school or non-school assigned ‘home-learning-work’; the only question is the type, amount, and quality of the ‘learning-work’ that is being done at home.

• Study-work (studying) is the post-homework activity that the students utilize to self-correct, gain a deeper level of knowledge of topics, skills, and concepts, and acquire a more advanced understanding of the classwork or course work. It is also the best way for a student to strengthen those topics and concept areas of learning where they are ‘weak,’ ‘underperforming,’ or want to excel.

• My experience working with High Performing Students (HPS) over the years is that they engage (often unconsciously) in many standard practices, which then turn into positive and productive habits that predictably leads to their realizing higher levels of academic achievement. In most cases, these principles of ‘good-studentship’ were taught to them by (possibly all) a parent, an older sibling through direct teaching or modeling behaviors, a school teacher, school administrator or guidance counselor. For example, HPS are well-aware of the significant and profound difference between homework and study-work. They are good classroom ‘lesson-note-takers,’ which then turns their notebooks into excellent, well-organized study guides. They know or have been taught how to utilize a textbook or any course-related documents/materials effectively. They somehow quickly figure out the teacher’s “grading policy” (even if a school has a ‘standard’ and official ‘grading policy’; how teachers understand and practice that policy can differ slightly from teacher to teacher); they learn the teacher’s standards, expectations, and the ‘rubrics’ (rules) the teacher uses to define and explain those standards. The same strategies of (and perhaps the reasons they are) good ‘test-takers’; who are able, in a matter of seconds to get ‘into-the-mind’ of the test designer and test-grader, and ask: “Now what am I being asked to do by both the test designer and the person grading the exam?” The answer to those questions is the correct answer to the exam question they are facing. It is not necessary for these students to ‘like’ or ‘be liked’ by the teacher or like any particular teacher’s ‘teaching style’; they are, in so many ways totally not ‘invested’ in the teacher’s personality, and only focused on getting an “A.” They won’t misbehave in class, but they will quickly seek out an administrator if they feel that a teacher is grading them ‘unfairly’; e.g., like this unprofessional silly idea of not giving students a rightfully earned first-marking period “A,” to “motivate the student”! Utilizing a system of ‘rubrics’ (the way to determine how close or far away you are from meeting a standard), they can independently ‘self-grade’ or evaluate (from the teacher’s perspective) any work-product before they turn it into the teacher. The ‘course syllabus’, requirements, exams dates, project, and assignment dates serve as an operational road map for these students, as they plan (with an “A” as the end objective) and organize their approach to work and study. The good news is that just about all of HPS’ skills’ can be taught and cultivated in any student!

High Performing Students invest a lot of study time in mastering those courses, topics, and concepts for which they are struggling or not in total ‘mastery’ over. Then they move onto those areas for which they are more capable of building on their academic strengths (leaving their ‘strongest academic areas’ for last). These students also engage in a form of “study neutrality-practicality,” meaning spending as much time as required in each subject area and course to get an “A” in every subject and course; they don’t just focus on the classes and subject areas they like or see as part of their future career choice prerequisites. These are the pre-medicine or pre-engineering students who work hard to get “A’s” in English and History; the pre-law or pre-professional artist students who strive to get “A’s” in their Science and Mathematics courses. They do this first to ‘strengthened’ their GPA’s (Grade Point Average) and secondly not to encourage and allow any ‘slackness’ or second-best attitude to enter into their high achievement ‘mind-set’ consciousness. These students want (and will fight for) an “A” in Physical Education (PE) because they are all about the “A’s.”

• Good study habits make and is the difference. The general rule I have observed is that consistent and effective studying beyond homework will make any student: ‘struggling,’ average, or high achieving, into a much better and stronger student!

• Smart, efficacious teachers (often working in Title-1 schools), who are aware that their students don’t know (have not been taught) how to study, and their parents may be willing but unable to help them; will assign functional study exercises ‘disguised’ as homework. Something the ‘no-homework’ crowd fails to appreciate.

• Remember parents, the syllabus or topics covered in a subject area, class or course are ‘finite,’ limited, have an end; which means that students can ‘overcome’ and perform well in any class or course by merely expanding the quality, intensity, and time of their study-work. For many years as a high school principal I have seen students arrive in the ninth grade with vastly different eighth-grade standardized reading and mathematics exams scores, and then watched as those students who scored lower on those 8th-grade exams outperform their peers who scored higher on those same 8th-grade standardized exams, and this was to a great extent due to the use of excellent study habits! An essential quality of good students is that they ‘attack’ (through good study habits) their schoolwork, rather than ‘passively’ let a class or subject area dominate and overwhelm them. Establishing early and consistently practicing good study habits can be the determining factor in the level of a student’s academic success.

HPS Get Better Organized And Therefore Get Better Grades! For all students, but especially middle & high school students, getting well-organized (early and consistently) is critical. And it is for this reason that they need a yearlong paper and electronic calendar based organizer-planner. Along with an excellent ‘filing’ (paper and electronic) system for all of the documents and numerous ‘papers,’ they will accumulate over a school-year. A separate for each class and subject areas note-taking (that turn into study guides) system. Online lessons could allow students to record or ‘cut and paste’ the written and ‘board-work’ parts of a teacher’s lesson into their class/study notes—and then re-watch and review the teacher’s lesson as many times as necessary. Students in every grade need subject/class specific-separate (color-coded) folders for returned & graded homework, essays, reports, quizzes, tests, assignments, and projects. Lack of organization is one of the significant ‘pitfalls’ for first-year high school students, a ‘fall and pit’ from which many don’t entirely escape. Over the years, whenever I had a meeting with the parent of an underperforming student in the principal’s office, without fail when the parent and I would go through the student’s school-bag and notebooks; we always found an unused or severely underutilized planning-calendar (which I gave to the student at the beginning of the year), a complete ‘mess’ of math, history, foreign language, etc. papers and notes thrown together in the same notebook, several single sheets of (some half torn) papers, returned and graded exams from different classes, homework, essays and book reports (and yes, even some not turned in completed homework!) all mixed up; including some now mangled and out-of-date ‘notes to the parents’ that the parent never received! Getting and Staying Well-Organized is the First Step to Getting Good Grades!

• Parent’s helping to organize the child’s out-of-school time is a major act. The ‘old folks’ said: “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Also correct, is that too much ‘idle’ time, alone, away from school time, can undermine and diminish any good teaching-learning done in school. Fill your child’s after and weekend out-of-school time with academically supportive, fun, character, and discipline-development activities. Again, I probably will get some push-back from the ‘entitled-ones’ who will tell you that your child needs to “chill” from learning. However, these are the same parents who create wonderful opportunities for their children to receive “chilled” productive informal and formal learning experiences outside of the formal school setting. There is no conflict between ‘fun’ and learning. There are a vast number of activities that can be both ‘fun’, enjoyable, and educational. Children are virtually non-stop biological ‘learning-machines,’ which means they learn (from you and the world) as long as they are awake. Learning through fun could be activities like Independent’ reading for pleasure’; many of the online math, reading, science, history, foreign language learning, and problem-solving thinking’ games and puzzles that don’t ‘feel’ like schoolwork. Online or safe-distancing in-person activities such as; scouting, chess, art, dance, acting, martial arts, vocal & instrumental music, hobbies, creative writing, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) books, magazines, kits, programs, and classes. Over the years, I have exposed students to many places and experiences that they initially swore “they did not like”; that is until they did! The category of ‘likes’ for young people is limited to what they know and experience, and therefore the ‘likes’ are flexible and open to adult influence. It is important to get boys connected to a positive male mentor/role model and supportive male peers who honor and seek to do well in school. Turn all of the cable and internet resources in the house into an after-school, weekend, and school break informal education ‘classroom’!

• Let’s keep it real honest; for sure, academic ‘achievement gaps’ (really learning opportunity gaps) will, unfortunately, widened during this Covid-19 SY. Those students who are the most self-disciplined, self-motivated, or have parents who can ‘monitor’ their regular school learning and support a rich out-of-school learning experience (aka ‘Informal education’), will make profound academic progress during this crisis. Thus, the primary reason for any district or school’s ‘reopening’ plans to take into account and respond to the tremendous differences in parent resources (time, money, technology) and access to information.

• During this very challenging school learning year, all parents must be a mentor-guide, coach, and high academic standards champions for their child (If you want a friend, find someone your age!). Young people will necessarily rise to the level of expectations placed on them by the significant adults in their lives. Don’t go Covid-19 SY AWOL (Away Without Oversight and Leadership); just because they hit the ‘independent (not)’ middle & high school years.
Only asking: “How was your schoolwork today?” and receiving the typical adolescent answer: “Fine” or “OK”; is a recipe for academic disaster. Have a real conversation with your child about what is going on with their school life. Be ‘educationally nosey’ especially this year, and especially if your child is not highly motivated and lacks disciplined; sorry, but this is a crisis SY. So I must speak in my: “Let’s not play with words” principal’s voice!

• This school year more than any other, school administrators and teachers may not have the kind of ‘up-close’ and personal, ‘putting-eyes-on’ contact and connections they would like to have with students; things can very quickly slip-through the academic expectations and production net, which could lead to some hard-to-repair academic ‘slip-ups.’ We are in some serious ‘educationally dangerous waters’ (e.g., district/school-wide PreK-12 distance learning during a pandemic); therefore, parents must expand their level of involvement in their child’s education; and be the ‘home-site’—oversight, eyes, and ears of the school.

• All children are different (including children in the same household), so you must carefully allocate your ‘super-vision’ responsibilities. If the school has organized an effective communication and ‘early warning’ link with school administrators and teachers through email, ‘parent-teacher journaling,’ text messages or phone, virtual conferences, and parent meetings, then, by all means, sign-up, join-up and participate! If you are discovering after report cards are issued, or after an exam has been taken that your child is underperforming academically, failing a course-subject area, or engaging in self-destructive online-learning misbehaviors, then that is a severe problem.

• Very Important! The 2020-2021 SY is still a school year (not a vacation year)! Students need to be well-rested (regular school day night’s sleep), eat a good breakfast, and get to physical school or online school on time and fully engaged for the full time. Encourage good ‘learning habits’ in your child, like daily (including weekends) studying, a ‘pride in what you produce’ attitude, and not waiting for the last minute to do homework, class assignments, or projects. Don’t let your child ‘play-to’ and with the many technical and operational gaps and problems that will inevitably occur during this Covid-19 school year. Thus, parents are ‘officially deputized’ as the home-learning Assistant Principals!

• Parent, this year, you are also the ultimate Super-Substitute-Teacher! There should be a daily (Mon-Fri) school period: ex. 9 AM-3 PM (with brakes of course for lunch, art, music, and exercise—heck let them dance!) If for instance an online lesson is technically interrupted or for some reason, the school day is in part or entirely canceled; your child should stay in ‘school-learning-mode’ for the duration of the school day! You can always fall back in an emergency on independent reading; ‘thoughtful’ film watching (e.g., “Stand and Deliver,” “Akeelah and the Bee,” “The Great Debaters,” etc.) followed up by a student-written review/report; journaling and creative writing, art, music, or workbooks. Parents, if you are not at home while the child is ‘attending’ online schooling (or alternate days of schooling); and depending on the level of the child’s age, ability to be self-directed and self-monitoring; then you will need a plan for what should happen if remote classroom learning stops for any reason. If the school does not do it, you may need to leave precise instructions as to what you want your child(ren) to do if, for some reason, the online instructional program is interrupted, or they are home for any reason (alternate days of school) during the school week. Remember, young folks are very good at ‘filling-in’ any gaps you provide by way of not-so-precise directions and instructions; don’t take it personally; that’s what they do! I’ve warned many teachers over the years that if you don’t have a comprehensive “bell-to-bell” lesson plan, I guarantee that the students will put their’ lesson plan’ into action, and their plan’ will most-likely not turn out well for you or them. Online socialization, fun texting, and social phone conversations with friends should not occur during the school day/class time, even if that school day is taking place in your house. If your child has an alternate days of instruction school’ schedule; this does not mean that your child is only learning 2 or 3 days a week (a disaster if that occurs). Learning in or out of school, in part or whole, is a Monday-Friday experience for a least 6-8 hours a day, depending on the individual child, grade level, or age. Some school districts have banned the wearing of ‘pajamas-like-clothing’ during the online school instructional day, and I agree with them. Students should get-up, put on comfortable ‘public’ clothing and go to school in their house and stay in ‘school’ for the entire school day, with a set time each day for lunch and after lunch a return to ‘classwork’ (check the homeschooling parents websites on various social media platforms; they have some excellent do’s and don’ts, practices, and procedures for creating an outstanding student learning environment at home.)

• If the parent or the school is sending the message, even unintentionally, that this is a ‘throw-away’ or ‘half-hearted’ school year, the student will give the 2020-2021 SY half of their interest, or completely throw the SY away! Keep in mind that some parents and students (at all social-economic levels) will turn this Covid-19 SY disadvantage into a long-term learning growth and academic achievement advancement advantage!

As for me and my house, education will be a priority! My mother always reminded me in those few moments when I happen to forget that: “I don’t care what so and so’s parents are allowing them to do or not do; in this house, you will do what I tell you to do!” This Covid-19 SY is the parental influence and power ‘championship game’, ‘super-bowl,’ show-us-what-you-got, make-it-or-break-it-time, moment! We are in an extreme emergency situation, and it is indeed, what it is, and to the extent possible, quality learning must go on! Parents must step-up, and regardless of the child’s age or grade, not allow this school year to turn into a year of learning lost. A loss of a significant part of or an entire school year would be bad for all students, but horribly devastating for those students who entered this year ‘barely’ meeting the grade/performance level standards, as well as those students who are seriously struggling far below grade level or performance standards levels!

READING, READING, READING IS AN IGNORANCE KILLER; A STRONG AND NECESSARY SKILL FOR DOING WELL IN ALL SUBJECT AREAS!

• Parents, you will be a significant force for determining the quantity and quality of your child’s learning for the 2020-2021 SY. Be honest, you know your child(ren), and so govern them accordingly. Like no other year, the concept of ‘parent as an educational partner’ will be severely put to the test.

• Some people are not going to like what I am about to say, but here goes. For a lot of reasons (I won’t go into), too many middle and high school students in our society don’t understand or fully appreciate that their present public school experience is a life-determining exercise and critical period in their lives. Then there are those fortunate others who (often via their parents) fully ‘get’ that reality! For many children in our nation, a good education is the only thing that stands between them and ‘generational’ poverty. Acquiring a good education could be their single most important act in breaking a cycle of social/economic/emotional pain and disappointment. These children, many of whom live in a nation where they don’t matter to the political or social society, can’t afford to lose any part of an entire school-year of learning. It’s not about participating in cookie, plants, or candy sales; or serving on symbolic ‘parent-engagement’ committees, this year is about the real parent participation/involvement ‘piece’ that highly effective parents’ get, and most importantly it’s what they get right!

• Effective Parenting does not take ‘having a lot of money,’ a college education, or even the ability to speak English, although all of those advantages don’t hurt. My mother did not step onto a college campus except to attend a graduation. However, her ‘mother-wit’ told her that this thing called ‘education’ was the #1 key to providing her children with the best opportunity to become positive and productive human beings. Know parents, it is not always the child’s ‘natural ability’ that will determine their ultimate academic performance level or career destination (there are a lot of very intellectually gifted and talented human beings sitting in prison); instead, it is very often the determination and focused will of the parents that will ‘lovingly-push’ a child to reach their best capability selves, as they guide them through, around and over the many distracting and destructive barriers of life.

• Don’t be “tricked” or deceived! I have spoken to several teachers around the nation, who have informed me that the students who ‘clowned’ last year during the pre-COVID-19 school days; are now ‘clowning’ with their present online classes. There was one case of a student not being able to ‘log in’ to the class; and then when the teacher contacted the parents to inform them that this student was very ‘tech-savvy’ and maintained an elaborate presence on multiple social media platforms, the next day he could suddenly log-in to class! Do children have rights? Yes, they do; but ‘acting-a-fool,’ destroying themselves or their future, are not parts of those rights! Stop enabling failure, the ‘just doing enough to get by’ attitude, weak excuses, and poor academic performances. They’ll thank you later, or maybe they won’t, in any event…

• Make it ‘OK’ for your child to be smart, want to learn a lot, and get high grades. During this Covid-19 SY boys especially, must be monitored very carefully. Are they putting forth their best efforts (personal capability best)? Are they surrendering to negative peer-pressure by only doing the ‘required’ minimum, or engaging in ‘dumbing-down’ actions? Contrary to popular belief, ‘Smartness’ is not a fixed condition and can be grown.

• This year it will be the parents who will be taking the ‘standardized exam’! This Covid-19 SY is the ‘standardized testing’ period for assessing your effective parenting skills. My great fear, based on countless observations of ‘normal’ school years. Is that like so many children in our nation’s public schools, we will find that there are a lot of parents who lack essential information, have not been adequately prepared, or lack the financial, materials, equipment, or available time resources, to successfully pass the “Covid-19 SY Effective Parent Involvement Exam”. This parental access to information and resources problems should be a major priority action-item for districts and schools reopening plans.

• With every challenging situation, there are always good solutions waiting to emerge! This Covid-19 SY is full of many existing and potentially difficult issues for educators and students. On the other hand, there will be some great opportunities for many different groups of students. The students who ‘like-learning’ are ‘grade-level-readers,’ self-starters, highly-motivated, very-disciplined, goal-focused, and school-success orientated thrive in any learning situation that requires independent and ‘reduced’ supervision actions. And remember those previously mentioned “High Performing Students”? These are also the students who are most likely to hate (so they often let me know as a principal) ‘group work,’ so working alone could be a ‘labor of love’ for them or any student who works better independently. Many students also, let me say (and I hesitate to use the term “anti-social” because of the negative meaning that phrase has taken on) are not ‘thrilled’ to be in a classroom with 20-33 other students; they will be overjoyed to work from home (on the other end-of-the-scale there are those students who are ‘hyper-social-interactors,’ who will find this school year very difficult and perhaps a little sad, and so parents you may need to think about that). A lot of students’ hate’ group work and prefer to work independently because perhaps in their perception it frustratingly ‘slows-them-up’; or, (and this is my interpretation, not theirs) because it hinders or interferes with their creativity, ‘quirkiness’ or inclined preferred learning and ‘intelligence’ style. Also, some students want to have total and singular control over their GPA and learning destiny. Therefore they resist anything that limits their power to shape their own educational experience and potential for achievement. And then there are those students (often with the help of their parents) who will find any and every possible positive value that is to be found in this 2020-2021 ‘modified’ online learning school year. I have learned from supervising school-building administrators; that there are just some people, who either through personality or training, are better at ‘working-through’ a crisis. This ‘effective crisis response’ attitude will also be true for some parents and students during this challenging COVID-19 school year. For those types of students, and there are many of them (high and medium performing) throughout every school system, this ‘independent’ online homeschooling opportunity is a beautiful gift for which they will embrace and take full academic advantage.

• For many other students, the classroom environment, no matter how well-managed by the teacher, can be ‘distracting,’ and in those classrooms that are less well-managed, that distraction can result in a destructive loss of learning for the students in such a class. Online home instruction could very well help these easily distracted students to thrive academically. Further, regardless of the school’s performance profile, the overwhelming vast majority of students come to that school every day to learn; they are at worst potential followers (not initiators or leaders) of a small number of lesson distracting “class-clowns” or “lesson-interrupters” (what I call the: “off-task-behavioralist”). Independent online learning could help a lot of easily distracted or students who like to distract or ‘derail’ the lesson, to learn better and more of what is being taught, particularly in those schools and classrooms that are “student disciplined challenged”.

• And then there are the students who attend schools where the administrators and staffs carry (conscious or unconscious) thoughts of low expectations and ‘dismissiveness’ of their student’s human worth and potential; or, those schools that distort, diminish, or destroy the culture and history of certain groups of students. What better opportunity than this 2020-2021 school year for these children to receive high levels of self-affirming and powerful self-esteem building instruction and ‘training’ (from a parent, grandparent, uncle, cousin, retired educator or family, neighborhood or online/book professional, etc.); and importantly these students could greatly benefit from the most-likely persons to have high hopes and expectations for their future—their parents, faith-based community and neighbors now being able to monitor, support and supplement their school learning!

• Indeed, online learning could help many students in our nation better learn and improve their academic performance (another reason not to rush them and adult educators into a poorly organized human pandemic experiment). A lesson I learned from my experience designing/leading Phelps ACE high school in Washington, DC; is that students taking online Microsoft and CISCO certification courses; as well as for those students participating on a Cyberforensics team, was that these students were judged on the content of their knowledge and the quality of their performance; not on how they look, their hair, their religion, their neighborhood, or the economic status of their parents. This fair and unbiased approach is essentially what should happen in a ‘prejudice-free’ public educational system.

The Terrible Acceptable Abnormality of ‘Normal’ School Years. Let us not forget, even during this educational crisis, that far too many children in this nation, who under ‘normal school conditions’ face a daily crisis of poor learning options and opportunities. These districts and schools fail terribly in their efficacy and adequacy to properly educate most of the children in those schools. This terrible pandemic season could, for many communities, be a ‘wake-up’ call of acknowledging that whether in ‘good times’ or ‘bad times,’ some children in our society never experience ‘good learning times’ (like how the Covid-19 disease hits some communities harder than others).
This COVID-19 2020-2021 SY could be the ushering in of a real and valuable ‘educational-reconstruction’ period where communities that have not been served well by the public education systems start to think seriously about taking their children’s educational destiny into their own hands.

The only real and meaningful promise of parenting is sacrifice. Over the years, I have talked to many Black homeschooling parents. Yes, the lack of quality and rigor of the public school’s academic work was an important motivational factor in their decision to homeschool. But also important was their child not having the opportunity to be in a humanity-confirming, culturally-affirming and high-expectations committed school learning environment, that pushed many homeschoolers to take that bold leap into homeschooling. Some of the homeschooling parents I’ve met gave up cherished professional careers or have chosen to live on a one-parent-salary income, simply because they believed that it was important that their Black child(ren) should matter educationally.

I will more fully explain the ‘winning-parental-strategy’ for a student to realize a successful high school COVID-19 2020-2021 SY experience in Part 2.

Michael A. Johnson has served as a teacher, principal, and a school district superintendent. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. He is the author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership (https://majmuse.net/report-to-the-principlas-office-tools-for-building-successful-administrative-leadership/ ).

There is no Greater Leadership Love…

“Navy fires USS Theodore Roosevelt captain days after he pleaded for help for sailors with coronavirus”

The first question I posed as superintendent/instructor to the participants in both of my (2000-2003) NYC CSD 29Q: “Teacher to AP” and “AP to Principal” courses was: “Why do you really want to be a school-based educational leader, really?” I did not acknowledge hands in both rooms. Because (as I said then) I believe that question is best answered in the private solitude of each aspirer’s heart. (And deciding to go forward, the next conversation you aspiring to school leadership person should have is with your family—For they will absolutely be drawn into/be part of, your challenging school leadership journey!)

I once took a group of students on a field-trip aboard a US Navy aircraft carrier. My first observation was that it looked and acted a lot like a city. And further, as someone very interested in organizational leadership; I hypothesized that there is perhaps no more dynamically and multilayered complex, dangerous (e.g. the nuclear elements) and challenging leadership position that one could sign up for. Unlike what does not happen enough in our public schools; there seem to be a collective understanding in every area of the ship, that the casual acceptance of failure could lead to catastrophic events. ( I experienced that same ‘professional understanding’ on a student trip aboard a USN nuclear submarine–But that’s an amazingly different story for another time!)

On that aircraft carrier visit I met with various members of the flight deck crew and the Naval Tomcat pilots in their briefing room; where they all described to me what sounded a lot like: “a wing and a prayer” plane take off procedure from the ship, and what essentially seem to be a “controlled crash” scenario when those planes returned to land on the ship (fully armed). Personally, having experienced the massive complexity of an aircraft carrier, the multi-skilled and diverse-knowledge required by its commanding officer; I did not then and do not now believe that the Navy would assign a “flake” to be captain of a “Nimitz Class” USN aircraft carrier. And so, any White House attempts to discredit the quality of Captain Crowley’s leadership abilities, somehow rings conveniently contrived and dishonest. And hopefully, a presidential change in November could lead to restoring this brave man to his rightful and well-earned position. But maybe there won’t be a change election in November and instead our captain will be further punished and damaged, at least for four more years.

A lot of folks like to profit from, play at and “sugar-coat” leadership. Many ‘educational leaders’ spout brave and courageous educational rhetoric on social media; but in their daily practice they do nothing to fight for the children and communities who can’t fight for themselves. Bookstores all over the nation have sprouted whole large book sections on the topic of “Leadership”, and I guess in a ‘motivational-technical-knowledge’ way that’s fine. But what a lot of very articulate “personal-power” consultants don’t tell you is that engaging in true and authentic principled leadership, could mean sacrificing oneself for the good and survival of the many. That’s the true nature, of the true and authentic leadership standards of practice that I wanted my CSD 29Q teachers and assistant principals to contemplate. The “price” of seeking to provide the disenfranchised children of our nation, with the same quality learning as their enfranchised peers, is not just an increase in your paycheck; rather it is an increase in the risk of losing everything.

Knowing what I know about the Navy, this man was probably on the “Admiral Career Track”; but there is no greater expression of leadership love then sacrifice. For he found himself standing between the safety of his crew and a crazed US president, who is doing everything in his power (for purposes of reelection), to minimize the horrible magnitude of the coronavirus plague that he so badly managed from the start. And as Captain Crowley watched his crew grow sicker and sicker each day, he made what I believe was the only choice available for an ethical leader—and that was to save a group of people, who despite their military titles, are also human beings and members of families.

As a leader you can easily reject the easy low-hanging ethical-practices fruit, like not stealing; but the challenge is when you consciously give up power, wealth, a cherished position; those ‘somethings’ you worked hard for, those ‘things’ you really wanted and honestly felt you deserved.

There is leadership ‘style’ and then there is leadership substance; and the latter defines the quality (and the quantity of that quality) of your character. That’s why I purposely led off with: “The Ethics of the Principalship” in by book: Report to the Principal’s Office.1 Because if you don’t get the Leadership Ethics part right; then nothing else really matters; since your leadership won’t really matter in the learning lives of children.

The curse of the common-core-careerist…

Without a powerful ethical/moral compass to keep you on the ‘higher best (not necessarily the easiest) path’, then you are just a person solely committed at your core to common careerism. The ‘common-core-careerist’ (public education is flush with them), are like most of those ‘leadership-management books’, they could be technically ‘competent’; but ultimately a leader will be tested and proven at the point of possible personal sacrifice. It is when you either act or don’t act on behalf of those who for whatever reason, can’t defend themselves against a system structured to destroy them. And it is in those character defining moments, that the confirmed common-core-careerist will either run out or sell out.

“Navy fires USS Theodore Roosevelt captain days after he pleaded for help for sailors with coronavirus”… https://news.yahoo.com/navy-fires-uss-theodore-roosevelt-210606455.html


1. Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Leadership. https://majmuse.net/report-to-the-principlas-office-tools-for-building-successful-administrative-leadership/

Note: At Phelps ACE high school, Washington DC, we were able to forge a partnership with the US Navy that included things like trips for students to many different Naval facilities and active duty vessels, support for our FIRST Robotics and Cyberforensics Teams and a hand’s on study experience at the Naval Research Lab with underwater robotics.

Notes from In-house exile: Long-term school closures will produce student winners and losers

Long-term school closures will produce student winners and losers

(6) March 23, 2020

Sadly, the U.S. Covid-19 virus pandemic will expose and expand the PreK-12 Educational Learning Opportunity Gap. It seems that many school districts around the nation are closing, for perhaps the entire school year. Let’s just be honest for a moment in stating that even during non-pandemic times, there is a huge formal (things learned in school) and informal (things learned outside of school) Educational Learning Opportunity Gap (ELOG), existing between school districts, schools in the same or different district(s), and even different students inside of the same school building.

This ELOG can amount to conceptual-knowledge and performance-skills learning differences that can stretch over many years, even though two students on either end of the gap spectrum are ‘technically’ in the same grade. Thus, two students in the same 8th grade, but in different schools, could mean that one student has not yet received or is not proficient in the 5th grade curriculum learning standards; while the other student has mastered the 8th grade curriculum learning standards and could in fact be taking high school courses in middle school e.g. Algebra; and yet officially both of these students are referred to as being “8th graders”.

A Gap by its real name…

I prefer the phrase Educational Learning Opportunity Gap as opposed to the more popular “Achievement Gap”; because the “Achievement Gap” suggest, albeit subtly, that the gap is somehow caused by the students themselves. The ELOG however speaks to the inherent capabilities of students who are artificially under-performing academically because they are exposed to inferior school-building leadership and/or ineffective/inferior instructional practices; and of course this ‘under-learning’ is always accompanied by the low expectations of the child’s gifts and talents. And as we now know very well, students will naturally rise or sink to the expectations levels of the adults assigned to educate them.
Now I am sure (having heard it for so many years) that this will send some of my colleagues to screaming about the ‘causal factors’ of: poverty, parent’s level of education, and the level of parent interest in their child’s education.
First, it is my 11 year principal experience that ‘poor parents’, parents who are limited in or speak no English, those who for whatever reason were not able to take full advantage of formal schooling themselves; are in fact, the most clear (not having a great deal of financial wealth to pass on to their children), about the power and necessity of acquiring an education. They may not express it in the ‘perfect-parent’ phrasing format that we professionals want to hear, and they may not know how to effectively play the ‘parent as educational partner’ role; but their desire to see their child succeed academically is absolutely there; and it always depends on how the professional educator ‘reads the situation’.
But educating, encouraging and empowering the emergence of ‘positive-parent-push’ behaviors is part of that highly effective principal’s job, and it is desperately what these students and their parents need; even when those same parents push-back against it.

The most powerful, confidence and competence building service you can perform for a politically and/or economically disenfranchised child, is to make them high academic performers. Which is why that highly effective principal must also strategically design initiatives and programs that can counteract the deleterious effects of poverty and that child’s possible lack of quality informal educational exposures (e.g. museums, cultural institutions, music, dance, art and STEM lessons, etc.) It’s the school-building leadership operationalization praxis of In loco parentis (in the place of a parent).

All of the above leads me to make my unfortunate hypotheses: That those children who already live on the ‘short end of the formal and informal educational stick’, will suffer the most from ‘learning lost’ during this closed down period.
Many parents will have (one or more): the money, time, contacts, information, connections, education and access to hardware and internet technology, that will allow them to provide anywhere from a decent to excellent ‘emergency’ learning experience for their child.
Further, there are vast difference between students in their ‘personality approach’ to the ‘taking of control’ of their own learning concept; you can see it in the eyes and attitudes of incoming 9th graders (others will ‘catch that fire’ in the 10th grade); it is those ‘on mission’ focused eyes that are saying: “OK, I will be here for 4 years, I know where I am going next, I know what I need to do, I’m not here to play, let’s go!” Those students,* who are highly self-motivated, and practice good learning habits will trust me, make a ‘learning feast’ out of this down school time; as they knowledge acquisition sprint pass their less motivated peers; especially in the middle and high schools levels.
Finally, parents exert different levels of authoritative and inspirational power over their children when it comes to home-learning; and so, the school can do a great job in placing ‘school-work’ (and many districts, schools and teachers are doing just that) online; and the child could have an internet computer (or phone) connection; but who is going to make sure that the child is doing the work?

After the plague, what must schools do?

I have given some thought of late as if I was a principal today and what strategies would I employ in this present crises. And of course I always think about how I would be worried-sad about my kids being ‘in those streets’. But when I thought ahead to next year, I imagined my school engaging in an academic recovery and reclamation project on a large school-wide scale; something that we actually employed every year on a smaller scale. And that is how we planned during the summer as to how we would bring students ‘up-to-speed’ who were performing below grade level in middle school; and also how we would address the academic needs of those few students who came from countries outside of the US and were missing significant years of schooling due to war or a natural disaster.
My staff and I would probably come up with some amazingly unprecedented phenomenal plan** to address all of the incoming 9th graders as well as the ‘rising’ 10th , 11th, and 12th graders, who all essentially lost a year of school. The good news is that we would already have the ‘boiler-plate’ plan that was used for those annually arriving under-performing 9th graders; who although they did not physically miss a year of schooling, they definitely arrived missing one, some or a lot of effective learning years of schooling.

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*Report to the Principal’s Office:Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership; chapter 28; pg. 441: “Profile of a Good and Effective High School Student”.

** The “School access to supplementary financial and human resources gap” is also being displayed during the Covid-19 school closing crises and will be made even more obvious when schools reopen and attempts are made to seal the learning loss breaches, which will cause all students, regardless of performance level or ‘entitlement status’, to suffer academically. Many schools like my own, had a school 501c3 foundation and a fundraising (‘real money’, not cookies, candy and pictures money) plan, which could supplement the school’s centrally allocated (but always inadequate) district budgets. I would be quite surprised (no, extremely surprised) if after facing this major health crisis, that state governments will have the extra money to give schools what they will really need to ‘fix’ a missed year of learning. Particularly for our severe academically struggling students, and those students with IEP’s who really needed, but did not receive, a modified version or the required support for those online instructional programs.