By Thomas Ultican / Tultican
A story of intrigue, real education reform and wealthy ignorance.
A film maker, Rita Grant, called asking me to join an expert education panel at San Diego State University (SDSU). She said she found me when reading Diane Ravitch’s blog and thought I would be a good fit. The event was a screening of the film “Go Public” at EnCorps’ Summer Residential Institute, followed by question and answers with the panel. I was not familiar with EnCorps, “Go Public” or Rita but nothing ventured nothing gained. So, I went.
I arrived at the Aztec Student Center in time to see about 150 people in matching EnCorps tee-shirts posing for pictures. Apparently, all of them had worked in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) field and were recruited by EnCorps to enter the teaching profession. I was pleased to learn that it wasn’t another fraudulent path to becoming a teacher. Encorps recruits STEM professionals to become teachers or tutors. If they choose to teach, they must complete an accredited teacher certification course.
I met a wonderful group of people, but their organization’s reason for being is misinformed. It’s another education reform organization created by a well-connected misinformed rich person with little relevant training or experience in education, Sherry Lansing.
To be fair unlike many wealthy education philanthropists, Lansing does have some experience. Her foundation web site says, she “spent four years after college teaching high school English and math at public schools throughout the Los Angeles area.” Lansing graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree from Northwestern University in 1966. Her short experience is from five decades ago, an era with slide rules, mimeographs and typewriters. Maybe that experience is why – uniquely among wealthy school reformers – she seems to be a friend of public schools.
Lansing is known mainly for her career as a motion picture executive. Her bio at Huffington post says:
During nearly 30 years in the motion picture business, Lansing was involved in the production, marketing, and distribution of more than 200 films, including Academy Award winners Forrest Gump (1994), Braveheart (1995), and Titanic (1997). In 1992, she was named Chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures and began an unprecedented tenure that lasted more than 12 years. In 1980, she became the first woman to head a major film studio when she was appointed President of 20th Century Fox.
Lansing writes about founding EnCorps:
California students rank 43rd in the nation in mathematics and science, according to the California STEM Learning Network. There are fewer than 1 in 6 in-state college students majoring in STEM, despite the fact that there are currently 1.5 million unfilled jobs in STEM fields in California, the STEM epicenter of our nation. How do we explain such sobering statistics?
The solution to our STEM crisis is both obvious and exciting: Recruit and transition experienced STEM professionals into second careers as math and science teachers. They can both lead and revolutionize our most underserved school districts. Who better to teach and inspire our next generation of engineers and innovators than STEM professionals who have invaluable insight and real life STEM experience?
This is the mission of the EnCorps Teachers Program, which I founded in 2007.
Like the studies from the milk industry saying, “it does a body good” or drug companies selling us modernized snake oil, Sherry is citing statistics generated by an organization financed by Google, Cisco, Battelle and Time Warner. It’s wrong. There is not now nor has there ever been a shortage of STEM trained workers in California or America. Just a shortage of STEM trained workers willing to work as cheaply as some CEOs would prefer.
Here is a quote from a 2013 article in the Columbia Journalism Review and this is not an outlier:
Figures from the National Institutes of Health, the National Academies, the National Science Foundation, and other sources indicate that hundreds of thousands of STEM workers in the US are unemployed or underemployed. But they are not organized, and their story is being largely ignored in the debate over immigration reform.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers magazine, Spectrum proclaimed “The STEM Crisis Is a Myth.” They counselled, “Forget the dire predictions of a looming shortfall of scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians.”
Writing for the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, Jay Schalin observed:
Everybody knows that the best way to get ahead today is to get a college degree. Even better is to major in one of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects, where the bulk of the jobs of the present and future lie. Politicians, business leaders, and academics all herald the high demand for scientists and engineers.
But they are, for the most part, wrong. The real facts suggest that, in many STEM specialties, there is a labor glut, not a shortage.
The apparent misinformation continues to this day. Microsoft founder Bill Gates has been particularly vocal about supposed shortages of skilled labor in the computer industry.
We clearly don’t have a STEM shortage. If we did, rudimentary economics would kick in and show either low unemployment for new majors or a rising price of computer science labor. People wouldn’t say they’re out of the industry because of no jobs.
Michael S. Teitelbaum wrote a piece for Atlantic magazine titled “The Myth of the Science and Engineering Shortage.” He reported:
A compelling body of research is now available, from many leading academic researchers and from respected research organizations such as the National Bureau of Economic Research, the RAND Corporation, and the Urban Institute. No one has been able to find any evidence indicating current widespread labor market shortages or hiring difficulties in science and engineering occupations that require bachelors degrees or higher, although some are forecasting high growth in occupations that require post-high school training but not a bachelors degree. All have concluded that U.S. higher education produces far more science and engineering graduates annually than there are S&E job openings—the only disagreement is whether it is 100 percent or 200 percent more.
So, Sherry there is no STEM crisis, but even a blind old squirrel is rumored to get a nut now and then. There is a looming national teacher shortage. Your organization is contributing to solving that situation and your people are wonderful. I was impressed by the recruits I met at SDSU.
The main event of the evening was the screening of “Go Public,” a 90-minute long documentary to which Rita Grant was a contributor. “Go Public” is the story of one day at the Pasadena School District. Fifty film makers contributed segments that started with 5:30 a.m. alarm clocks going off in student homes and ended with those same students going to bed. It chronicled in detail a May Day in 2013 from the janitor unlocking school gates to students performing in after-school sports and music programs.
If you get a chance, see “Go Public.” For any teacher, the scenes will be as if pulled directly from our own life experience. “Go Public” shows how amazing public schools are and makes the point that everyone — parents, certificated staff and noncertificated staff — is key to the school’s success.
Rita told me that before she started making documentaries about public schools, she “had been drinking the Kool-aide.” I could relate. Before I started teaching, I believed that many teachers had become low quality burnouts who were failing students. Rita saw through the lenses of her cameras the reality of how amazing public schools are.
I believed I was on a quest to save public schools from “bad teachers.” At my first teaching assignment, I was startled to find nothing but dedication and professionalism. I have taught in both wealthy communities and poor ones, but the one constant has been the high quality of the teaching and dedication of the public-school staff.
Trauma Informed Education
The third member of our three-person panel was Godwin Higa, principal of Cherokee Point Elementary School. Godwin is committed to “trauma informed education” for which his school is a model. Cherokee Point Elementary, part of the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD), is in a low-income ethnically dominated neighborhood known for many social problems: gangs, drugs, domestic violence, poverty, murder, incarceration, deportation, etc.
One hundred percent of the students at Cherokee Point qualify for free and reduced lunch and all of the children have been exposed to adverse childhood experiences which are root causes for many issues including cognition being compromised. Principal Higa wrote about his school in EdWeek:
The impact of childhood adversity and trauma–such as physical and emotional abuse or neglect, or mental illness, addiction or incarceration of a parent or close family member–can last through adulthood. Research shows that children exposed to adversity are at higher risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes, learning difficulties in school, contact with the justice system, as well as addiction and economic hardship.
Rita Grant has pointed her camera toward Principal Higa and the work he and his staff are doing. In this short video, the concept of a trauma informed school and restorative justice are highlighted. Instead of punishment, trauma informed is discipline through respect, dialog and understanding. Higa makes the point that knowing the students, their families and the issues they are living with is vital.
When Higa first arrived at Cherokee Point, he was receiving hundreds of student discipline referrals from teachers and others. In addition, there were several district level policies that mandated suspensions for certain categories of violations. Higa successfully lobbied the district into only enforcing the state mandated automatic suspension for bringing a weapon to school.
During our panel session, Higa said that he did not suspend any students for the past three years and referrals have reduced to about 20 per year. Some of those twenty referrals were for things like, “Phillipe missed breakfast this morning and he seems really hungry.”
“Those are the kind of referrals, I don’t mind getting,” Mr. Higa said
Higa goes on to describe their method at Cherokee Point in his EdWeek article mentioned earlier:
We follow a trauma-informed model and restorative justice practices that help students learn to cope with adversity and resolutions in a healthy and compassionate way. All of our teachers are trained to proactively engage students and their parents, and collectively create a plan to address both the conflict and the deeper underlying issues. Parent leaders are training other parents about trauma-informed care at monthly workshops. We also have trauma-informed and trained counselors on site who provide intensive support to students who suffer from major traumas that teachers alone are not trained to handle.
In 2015, SDUSD adopted a plan to became a trauma informed district. Superintendent Cindy Martin was asked if she could see a difference at the pilot schools where trauma informed is in place.
She said, “The minute you walk on the campus you can tell. The warmth of the school, the energy of the school and connectedness and kids that want to reach out and talk to you.”
Unfortunately, SDUSD is in a financial crush between the huge stranded costs associated with unplanned charter school expansion and spending on technology. The Voice of San Diego reports on the implementation of restorative justice and trauma informed schools:
A lack of human and financial resources seems to be behind the slow rollout of San Diego Unified’s restorative justice program, in which students who’ve done something wrong work together with their victims to listen and heal. One district official said San Diego Unified allocates fewer financial resources to restorative justice programs compared with other school districts around the state.
For more information about trauma informed schools visit the adverse childhood experiences web presence, Aces Too High.
There are some genuine school reforms that excite education professionals and trauma informed schools with restorative justice programs being one of them. It is too bad the billionaires are intent on computer based depersonalized education, blaming teachers for poverty and privatizing public schools. Their enormous wealth could do some good if they listened to professional educators instead of obsessing over their own biased uninformed opinions.
Thomas Ultican taught high school physics and mathematics in a school with more the 50 percent English Language and 75 percent Title 1 students. He said, “In 1999, I got tired of doing research in Silicon Valley and decided to teach. It is the hardest job I ever had and I liked it!”