"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.
Author - John Morris, President