In the drive to improve students’ reading and math achievement in the elementary grades, science has sometimes fallen by the wayside. This despite widespread acknowledgement of the importance of STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math — to current and future workforces.
Things are tough for college students right now. The COVID-19 crisis, which has disrupted life everywhere, is “quite possibly the single most disruptive event in American higher education in at least a half century,” according to the Atlantic, one that has “left students scrambling to wrangle flights home and pack up their dorm room.”
After weeks of struggling with the fallout of COVID-19 — working remotely, social distancing, helping neighbors when we can — I’m quite sure no one needs to be told that we’re living in “unprecedented times.” That seems clear enough.
Our teachers are coping with a digital environment that most were not trained for, trying to maintain their focus on equity to be sure every child has a chance at a quality education, meanwhile managing houses and budgets and families and concerns about their health, as we all are. It’s more than anyone was prepared for.
Fred Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” In this unprecedented time of crisis, many are rising to be helpers. All across the United States, healthcare workers are leaving their families and risking their lives to take care of all who are suffering with the coronavirus. Schools and career and technology centers are also coming together to donate much-needed resources and use their equipment to make face masks for those on the front line.
As we move further into the COVID-19 crisis, rural schools across the U.S. are struggling with how to continue students’ learning amid school closures. In recent weeks, SREB instruction coaches have been collaborating with educators in our region on how to deliver learning virtually, and we’ve learned about the specific challenges rural schools are facing.
As we enter our second and third weeks of school closures and social distancing, I am amazed and proud of our educators. I see school systems scrambling to feed children. I see teachers preparing lessons, packets and online resources. I see principals giving weekly messages, reading bedtime stories online, leading virtual parades and calling every teacher for weekly check-ins. I see heroes. But to be quite honest, I saw these heroes before the advent of COVID-19.
Right now, our teachers need extra support.
The last two weeks have certainly required flexibility, innovation and problem-solving for educators not just in SREB states but across the nation and the world. Those of us at SREB who support teachers and district- and school-based coaches have been flooded with emails, texts and phone calls asking for help. In an effort to support all of you from afar, we offer some tips and strategies for how you can navigate the road of e-learning.
We know that this is a challenging time for teachers across the country. Many of you have been plunged into the world of virtual learning without a lot of time to prepare. Following sudden school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you’ve had to move quickly to shift your carefully planned lessons online so your students can continue learning at home. And those of you who are STEM and career and technical education teachers in particular face unique challenges as you work to adapt hands-on learning experiences to a virtual format.
A thriving economy and a workforce prepared for it will increasingly demand that more adults earn postsecondary credentials. Ensuring that students successfully move from middle grades into high school, then into college or technical education programs, is critical if states hope to boost their adult educational attainment levels.
“Thank goodness for Mississippi.”
It used to be that this was something you heard from people who were grateful that Mississippi kept their own states from the dubious honor of last place in education rankings. Those folks may not have noticed that, since 2005, Mississippi has been making steady gains.
And now, after Mississippi offered a rare bright spot on the Nation’s Report Card earlier this month, we have a new reason to be thankful for Mississippi: We can learn from their success.
Real progress takes time.
Another school year has started, and nearly every state in the SREB region is facing major human capital challenges including teacher shortages. Schools now face shortages not only in STEM courses and special education but in most subject areas.
States face an uphill battle in meeting the needs of adult learners, especially at a time when technology is advancing rapidly. Adults can turn to adult education programs to improve their skills, but enrollments have fallen in recent years.
The SREB Teacher Preparation Commission has called on state leaders to build data systems that will improve preparation programs. The commission identified three groups that would benefit from robust and accessible data:
- Individuals choosing where to enroll
- Preparation providers interested in improving their strategies
- Policymakers considering changes to state requirements
Technology is advancing at unprecedented rates. Though there have been grand transformations in information technologies, including computers, cell phones, automated services and customer-facing machines, these changes will likely be dwarfed by others in the coming decades. Automated vehicles and artificial intelligence have the capacity to reshape not only our workforce but our social and political systems. Machine learning will create work tasks in the future that can only be imagined today.
Joan Lord has always put the and in “policy and practice.” In nearly twenty years at SREB, Lord has overseen policy research and analysis, worked with her share of policy commissions, and written innumerable policy briefs and recommendations, always with the second half of the pair — practice — firmly in mind. Policy is not, to her mind, an empty intellectual exercise but an action plan, a living document to improve the region’s education from top to bottom.
SREB state legislators introduced over 4,600 education bills in 2019 regular sessions. At least 850 of these bills will become law, with roughly one hundred this year relating to teachers and principals. Here’s how seven notable bills align with SREB’s Teacher Preparation Commission recommendations.
The Eisenhower Matrix can help busy leaders make the most of their limited time to get things done. During World War II the matrix helped General Dwight Eisenhower plan and carry out the most complex military operation in history, the D-Day invasion of Normandy. He used it as a tool to ensure that he spent his time on the right work.
Workforce changes are coming quickly, across the nation and especially in the South. In fact, they’re already here. Education and training across the SREB region will need to respond just as quickly to avoid severe economic outcomes.
The SREB Teacher Preparation Commission called on state leaders to consider ways to improve the quality of teacher candidates’ classroom experiences. After consulting the research, Commission members learned that the length of a clinical experience is less important than ensuring that candidates are supported by effective mentors and supervised by university faculty who have experience in the classroom.
Giving Elementary Teachers the Tools to Teach Math Well
Broad preparation can leave math-specific knowledge lacking
It’s no secret that aspiring teachers with strong math backgrounds tend to be drawn toward the secondary grades, where they can just teach math. In fact, results of the 2018 National Survey of Science and Math Education showed that just 3 percent of elementary teachers surveyed held a degree in mathematics or math education, compared with 45 percent of middle grades math teachers and 79 percent of high school math teachers.