"Connecting the classroom to industry is exactly what is needed to improve our failing education system. " - John Morris, President, Ohio Valley Construction Education Foundation
Teachers and their union officials all across the state of Ohio have officially declared that they oppose the idea of asking teachers to spend some time with local businesses as a part of their licensure requirements as recently proposed by Governor Kasich. They find the idea completely preposterous and argue that only those who “spend time in a classroom” should come up with new ideas on how to improve our failing education system. In some recent “op-ed” pieces, they have gone so far as to ask that parents and fellow educators “make their voices heard”. Well, let me be the first to publicly ask parents and business leaders to let their voices be heard – this idea makes perfect sense for all the same reasons the teachers are arguing against it. Let me thank them for making the point.
First, let me start by pointing out that I HAVE spent time in the classroom. I was a teacher and principal in Cincinnati Public Schools. 95% of my students were on free or reduced lunch; 35% were special needs. We did not let our challenges stop us from student success; we embraced the business community and invited them into our classrooms. Later, I was an Economics Professor at the University of Cincinnati. I have also owned my own businesses. Connecting the classroom to industry is exactly what is needed to improve our failing education system. Many teachers have an unfortunate and complete misunderstanding of the purpose of public education. This is not their fault – it is the way they are being taught at whatever college of education they attended. You see Teacher’s Colleges train teachers “how to teach” very well. What they fail to do well (or at all) is to teach subject matter content and more importantly CONTEXT.
Connecting teachers to a local business so that they can stay connected to the world of work is critical to the true mission of schools. Public Schools exist to prepare students for success in life, to be productive members of society, to use their god given talents to improve economic conditions, to work toward the pursuit of happiness, to be more attractive to employers. Unfortunately, most teachers simply want the world outside of schools to stay away. In one opposing article, a public school teacher wished that employees could be sent into schools to teach about their businesses with hands on programs.
The Ohio Valley Construction Education Foundation worked with a group of teachers to create a series of standards based lessons, "Building MAS Skills," that teach students the practical applications of math and science that are used every day in the world of construction. We then recruited over 100 industry professionals to be trained by teachers on best practices for delivering the lesson. With a full plan in place, we then sent emails and made phone calls to teachers asking for them to allow volunteers to visit their classroom. We asked for no money; we didn’t need to increase the state budget to get this done. Every teacher that opened their doors LOVED the lesson. Every single student participated in the lesson and learned (100% engagement). This was in public and private schools; high performing classrooms and ones filled with special needs students. While the successes were many, we were dismayed that over 90% of our requests to teachers were ignored. Many teachers, even after hearing of our lesson’s success said, “No thank you, I already have my lessons planned for this YEAR”. This is the reality of most classrooms – teachers claim to want help; but they really want to be left alone. A local business wants to be engaged; but is turned away. Schools call businesses for sponsorships and donations; but rarely ask for help teaching the context of lessons.
To think that every business and every industry is equipped to do what the construction industry has done with its model lesson plans is not practical. What does more sense is to better train teachers about how what they teach is used in the world of work, the world outside of school, the world where their students will spend their lives, the world where they will be employed. This can be accomplished through Governor Kasich’s idea of asking teachers to spend a week a year with a local business. This idea is not about getting teachers to better understand business; it is about creating better community relations, better partnerships and better teaching context. No teacher interested in improving results should oppose this idea. Parents and business leaders need to wake up and support this idea or our schools will continue to fail us.
When the presidential election finally comes around this year, regardless of the two candidates, it is very likely that it will be close race. Presidential Races are always hotly contested and rarely ever result in “blowout” victories. In history, there have been times when one candidate wins the popular vote; but loses the election in the Electoral College process. In others, the winner received less than 50% of the popular vote. Regardless of how they won, whether by millions of votes or hundreds, or on technicalities, the winner has ALWAYS immediately proclaimed that the country has given them a “mandate” to move forward. The loser concedes the race and the country moves on. Oh, how I wish that were true in local politics.
In November 2015, there was an election in which the citizens of Miami Township were asked to vote on a proposed increase in their taxes to fund additional moneys for road maintenance and construction. The Township Trustees, elected by the people, put forward their recommendation for an increase and asked the people who elected them for permission to proceed – by putting a tax levy on the ballot. As many have said before, elections have consequences and in this one, the voters gave their elected officials a clear mandate. By election standards, an overwhelming majority of voters (53%) voted AGAINST the township requested 2mil tax increase. The voter’s message was clear. They did not believe that that Miami Township needed additional funds to proceed with its plans for street resurfacing. Many even argued that the township has a long record of poorly spending the money already funded to them. Regardless of why, the voters heard the Township’s arguments and subsequently voted NO. So, how did the Township Trustees react to this mandate given to them by those same people who elected them? In January 2016, with the last election barely over, they voted to put the EXACT SAME 2mil roads levy back on the ballot!
Even after losing the election, Miami Township officials are so arrogant that they have not even bothered to change their argument for passing the levy. On the current Miami Township website, they have simply re-posted the same “study” that was shared prior to the defeat of the road levy in November. The message that these elected officials in Miami Township are making here is clear: “Hey, all you guys who voted in November – you are clearly stupid. Read what we posted last time and get it right this time.” Or perhaps they are saying, “We don’t care that you elected us to work at your request, We request that you give us more taxes to do what we (3) first term trustees decide is right.”
Imagine if after the Presidential election in November, the losing party had a quick meeting and was given the chance to force another vote in March. Ludicrous right? Yet, it happens all the time with local issues and tax levy requests. Well, I am hoping that way more than 53% of the folks in Miami Township send the same message back to Miami Township in March and vote NO - AGAIN. Then, perhaps when those Trustees are up for election, they can be replaced for clearly ignoring the mandate of the voters. Elections have consequences.
The race for the 2016 White House has started early and thanks to Donald Trump heated up to the point of captivating the attention of most breathing Americans. Even my 14 and 19 year old children have stopped texting, tweeting, and snap chatting to take a glance as part of the 24 million who watched the first debates.
Trump has stood out for his no holds barred, politically incorrect style and it will be interesting to see how long he lasts before finally saying enough to offend literally everyone. Love him or hate him, one of his comments of late around the topic of immigration is correct; but not for the reason he thinks. Mr. Trump, like many current candidates, has said we need to close our southern border to illegal immigrants. Trump’s bombastic solution is to “build a great wall and make the Mexicans pay for it”.
As an advocate for the construction industry, I am in favor of most all building projects though I’m not sure how he or anyone will get the Mexican government to pay for it. Trump is correct on involving the Mexicans, because given the massive skilled labor shortage in the United Sates construction industry; it is unlikely we alone could build the project without their help.
The Construction Users Roundtable (CURT) is an organization that tracks upcoming construction projects and then analyzes the availability of skilled labor for the purposes of projecting shortages which lead to delays for owners. CURT is currently projecting a 2 million construction worker shortage in upcoming years that will get worse as even more retire. Look at the person who comes to your home for repairs – they are generally not young. The age of the AVERAGE carpenter in this country is 55, HVAC technician is 56 meaning 50% of all workers are older than that age. Neither Trump or any of the candidates are paying attention to this; nor do they understand the more frightening reality that the pipeline of future construction workers is empty, if not completely broken.
Our country used to embrace the skilled trades and there were numerous pipelines of talent. We had middle school shop classes which fed into strong vocational education. Those classes are mostly gone and when we find a child interested in construction, we push them away and into college engineering, completely forgetting the strong math and science based construction industry. We once had strong rural communities and family farms which produced hard working young people interested in the trades; they have been replaced by automated corporate farms with few workers.
We were once a nation proud of its generations of craftsmen. Grandpa was a plumber, so was dad, so was son. 30 years ago we broke that when we started telling all of our children that the only path to success in this nation was to go to college rather than out to work with them. Now we have children saddled with debt, facing unemployment with no skills, useless college degrees and no idea that they are genetically predisposed to success in the construction trades.
People skilled in the construction trades never face long term unemployment and their skills transfer easily into other industries such as manufacturing. Most tradesmen are entrepreneurs who start companies and get the satisfaction of setting their own hours and wages. It is time we again became proud to say our sons and daughters are skilled trades workers. Perhaps one of these candidates will make that happen.
Written by, John Morris
Published in the Dayton Daily News, A7
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
Author - John Morris, President