Core Talk: Five Takeaways from Oregon CTE conference

High Five: Five Takeaways from the 32nd Annual Oregon Association for Career & Technical Education Conference

The Oregon Association for Career and Technical Education (OACTE) held their Annual 2012 Spring Conference in Sunriver, Oregon April 11-13 with the theme CTE: Working for Oregon in the 21st Century. The following statement set the stage for the event:

“Today’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) systems are evolving to meet the needs of students and employers in the 21st century. While these robust systems have always provided support and guidance to students seeking rewarding careers, many are also leading innovation, initiating transformational school reform efforts, and blurring the lines between CTE and traditional academic instruction.”

The conference hosted over 450 attendees, a mix of teachers and faculty, counselors and advisors, administrators and business and industry partners. While attending sessions, the pervasive message was that a shift is in order. CTE needs to become more mainstream, public perception needs to be changed, and leaders in CTE need to become more immersed in the “politics” of education (i.e. lobbying for funding).

The School Reform Taskforce from the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) shared two points as their mantra, both points speak to this shift and the first certainly rallies the call: All education is career and technical education. Secondly, they suggest that Education needs to redefine “teachers vs educators,” with the reasoning that we are all educators — teachers , though, are the expert professionals and lead facilitators of the education experience.

Our main takeaways from the conference, our Friday Five — (we are sneaking in a # 6)  is a list of Best Practices for a highly successful CTE program:

1. Provides project based learning opportunities

2. Offers real world and direct applicability

3. Defines a clear sequence of learning and skills

4. Facilitates self-directed learning

5. Maintains high community involvement

6. Ensures students receive a great deal of the “hidden curriculum”

Core Talk: Three Ideas on STEM, “Sputnik” and Standards

Three Ideas on STEM, “Sputnik” & Standards: Invigorating the 21st Century American Economy

An NPR “Science Friday with Ira Flatow” broadcast treated the controversial subject of STEM education in the USA and its implications for future American economic competitiveness.  Panelist participants included:


The following narrative is an amalgam of the panel discussion’s most salient points and my reflections on three overarching themes.

The USA’s Modern-Day “Sputnik” Moment

In his 2011 State of the Union address, President Obama presented the nation with a choice to make the forthcoming few years America’s next “Sputnik” moment. As emerging economies advance and even begin to dominate science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) sectors, President Obama contends that Americans can refocus policy and funding on STEM education and development or destine themselves to fall behind in the proverbial STEM “space race.”[i]

In his STEM call to action, President Obama includes an injunction to increase science and math public education spending by at least 3%.[ii]  This political context set the stage for the panel’s discussion on the impact of STEM education on jobs, teachers, K-12 education, higher education, and the future of the economy.

Hiring the Right K-12 Teachers   

While American policymakers have already begun to incorporate STEM deficiencies into the purview of their agendas, the past five years have misguidedly focused on STEM in higher education.  Improving American presence in the STEM sectors needs to start in the K-12 arena—beginning at the teacher level.

A recent study found that 93% of K-12 STEM field teachers do not have a certificate or specialization in science, technology, or math.  Future STEM teachers will require STEM degrees in order to ensure that students stay ahead of the global “curve.”  K-12 schools will have to recruit their teachers from new STEM graduate pools, which will position the education sector in direct competition with the lucrative private sector for these graduates.

Thus, education experts and administrators will have to put their heads (and/or checkbooks) together to attract graduates with such high earning potential.  Even if salaries could not compare to the private sector, other incentives such as student debt forgiveness or easier paths to citizenship and work visas for foreign-born STEM graduates could be incorporated into the teaching profession.

This policy option for citizenship addresses another looming phenomenon in the American STEM sector—the majority of STEM graduates from American universities are currently foreign-born; however, foreign-born STEM students have begun to seek their higher education elsewhere or bring their newly-acquired STEM expertise back to their native countries’ economies.  [iii]

Furthermore, we cannot fill the vacancies in American universities’ STEM departments by seeking new generations of foreign-born students, as the US Department of Defense and other public high-security-clearance STEM agencies are obliged to hire strictly American citizens for security reasons.  American K-12 schools must produce enough motivated and curious college-bound students to fill the STEM university classrooms.

Standards, Curriculum, and PD for Better STEM Classrooms

With diminishing classroom time and student attention spans, teachers have a smaller window with their students to stimulate interest in the STEM fields. The panel’s participating 8th grade science teacher, Ms. Pena, posited a switch to more inquiry-based STEM curriculum and standards.

She explained that inquiry models help ensure that students view the curriculum as relevant to their lives and interests, thereby perpetuating their curiosity for the discipline. Any STEM standards must also be flexible enough by design to align to inquiry-based curriculum.

Additionally, students typically respond well to experiential learning opportunities, particularly in the STEM fields.  Ms. Pena advocated more professional development (PD) opportunities for STEM teachers to conduct/design experiments and engage in STEM-related activities that they can bring back to their classrooms.

Field trips, lab experiments, and other “hands-on” lessons require immense PD time and resources, but these units usually elicit the best student responses. For example, Ms. Pena took a zero-gravity flight that she shared with her classes via digital video and used to demonstrate concrete and exciting applications of a career in the STEM sectors.

Teachers like Ms. Pena and other STEM education stakeholders like those participating in this panel generally disagree on the current “state of affairs” in the STEM field but seem to concur on one point: the future of US STEM industries depend on K-12 education now.

[i] For the full text of this State of the Union address and further context for the Sputnik analogy, see

[ii] For context on the 3% educational spending increase, see

Core Talk: Takeaways from CA Language Teachers’ Conference

Five Takeaways from the California Language Teachers’ Association Conference 2012

The 2012 CLTA Annual Conference held in Los Angeles, California March 15-18 was a hotbed of information with the overall theme: Not the End but the Beginning — A Multicultural, Multilingual World. The conference certainly inspired, especially the presentation by ACTFL’s Teacher of the Year Yo Azama — we couldn’t help but share this video clip of his classroom in action with our colleagues back at our headquarters in Portland, Oregon. The video is so engaging, we’ve already watched it twice!  It was hard to narrow down all we gleaned from the CLTA; however, our top five themes, tips and takeaways are below.

1. Anything you’re aiming to learn/teach can be a “target language.” The applications of ACTFL and Language Standards are endless in any classroom.

2. New teachers: There is always a support group of experienced teachers that are willing to help. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and learn from their years of teaching.

3. When planning your theme-based units, start with the goals in mind.  Have a clear picture of what World Language Standards and Proficiency Levels you are trying to target.

4. World Language teachers: If you are 21st-Century minded, you will love the P21 World Language Map!

5. Are you seeking ways to lower your students’ Affective Filter? You might want to consider using stuffed animals in your class.  Students who are too shy to speak in a foreign language may be more willing to speak through a stuffed animal friend.

 *Teachers, you really ARE artists!


Take a peek at World Language enthusiasts at the annual California Language Teachers’ Association (CLTA) Conference in Los Angeles where our colleagues were able to not only make meaningful connections with those in the classroom but also take away great ideas and knowledge to share with the team back in Portland. Above, is a brief slideshow, presented based on ACTFL’s 5 C’s, of the fun and learning from the conference.


Core Talk: Mindmap for Developing School-specific Standards

“The Standards Development Process”

It’s hard to navigate a city without a map, be it the voice-navigated Google Map, or an old-fashioned printed version; it’s a daunting task to develop school-specific school standards without a mindmap.  Over the years, our team has worked with many schools during their standards-developing process.  We have drawn from those valuable experiences to create the mindmap below.  It is not meant to determine your path to a well-articulated set of standards, but rather serve as a reference when you embark on the journal of developing standards for your school.


Core Talk: Career Readiness or College Readiness?

College and Career Readiness or College Readiness?

Since their release, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have been viewed as progressive and “just what public education needs” in America. At the center of their aim is the goal to prepare students in public schools for college-level education and careers. The College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards (CCR) are applied to every grade level to ensure that this happens. But wait. The main focus seems to have shifted a bit.

The frenzy of implementing these standards has turned our attention to getting kids into universities and careers post college. Although the Common Core initiative aims to “provide a high level of rigor to prepare students for college and careers,” an important question is raised in the wake of its release. Is the CCSS placing too much emphasis on the “College” and casting a shadow over programs that focus on careers?

The concern for this neglect was expressed early on in the CCSS buzz. In May of 2011, The National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEC) stated that “[the CCSS] do not fully address the critical ‘career’ component that is essential to every student’s education.” They noted that the CCSS needs to incorporate aspects such as Employability Standards to allow for a more comprehensive education.

Last February, Harvard Graduate School of Education released a major report highlighting the flaws of the American education system. The report contends that “our national strategy for education and youth development has been too narrowly focused on an academic, classroom-based approach. It is now clear that this strategy has produced only incremental gains in achievement and attainment, even as many other nations are leapfrogging the United States.” (Ed. Magazine 2011)

In response to Harvard’s “Pathways to Prosperity,” Secretary Arne Duncan stated that “For all its importance, the role that CTE plays in building the nation’s economic vitality often gets overlooked. Too many educators assume that Career and Technical training is for the last century, not this one. Many reformers treat CTE as ‘old school’–rather than as a potential source of cutting-edge preparation for careers.”

The aforementioned study suggests that although the US is expected to see 47 million newly created jobs in a one-year period ending in 2018, only a third of those jobs will require a bachelor’s or higher degree. Meanwhile, US state and national legislatures have been focused on funding the implementation of the Common Core State Standards while cutting Career and Technical Education programs to make up for deficits.

Recent action from Boards of Education and Legislatures begs the question: What kind of message are we sending to the young people of America?

We see a growing disconnect between the direction our nation is headed in and where we are driving our country to go. Who will fill the roughly 31 and half million other jobs in 2018?

As economic trends point one direction and our educational agenda heads another, we may be taking away student’s freedom of having options. Whether a high school graduate decides to attend a university or enter the work force, the Common Core should offer equal opportunities to equip students for whatever future they choose.


Report Calls for National Effort to Get Millions of Young Americans onto a Realistic Path to EmployabilityHarvard Graduate School of Education, 2 Feb. 2011. Web. 26 Mar. 2012.

Duncan, Arne. “The New CTE: Secretary Duncan’s Remarks on Career and Technical Education.” U.S. Department of Education. 2 Feb. 2011. Web. 26 Mar. 2012.

William C. Symonds, Robert B. Schwartz and Ronald Ferguson, February 2011. Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century. Report issued by the Pathways to Prosperity Project, Harvard Graduate School of Education.


Core Talk: Virginia Opts Out

Virginia Opts Out

Virginia has officially joined the cohort of states that have applied for flexibility from the Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA) of 1965. As of February 9, 2012, the flexibility application for ten states including Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Tennessee was accepted. On February 23, 2012, the Virginia Board of Education (BOE), which boasts both a reputation of independence and high academic standards, unanimously voted to finalize their request for a waiver.

ESEA, which was more recently revised as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), was re-implemented by President Bush with overwhelming bipartisan support in 2002 in an attempt to raise US academic performance and reduce achievement gaps. Under NCLB, schools are required to prove that all students are performing at grade level in reading and math by 2014. As this deadline approaches, states such as Virginia are beginning to question their ability to reach these federally regulated accountability measures. If schools fail to meet these conditions, they could face severe consequences including replacing staff and closing schools. [Read more...]

Core Talk: The Land of Shakespeare? How about the Land of Gaga?

In recent years, there has been a surge of need for Engineering and Science professionals. Gadget firms are racing amongst themselves to create the newest and smallest toys, all the while furthering research and development for things like semiconductors and sustainable energy sources. Sadly, Americans aren’t the first in line to fill the jobs that are opening up in these sectors.

So far, a foreign workforce from India and China has been dominating in the STEM field and has thus been filling all those jobs that corporations need to progress their work. These countries have obviously proven themselves to be very good in all the areas that Americans are not. The American ego has been injured and to make things just a little bit worse, this foreign workforce is getting post-graduate degrees right here in the States before taking American jobs. Our education policymakers are en route to change this. The new trend is to push for educating individuals to be better qualified in the STEM areas. State Departments of Education are funneling funds to further the development of STEM-related standards and raise rigor in the classroom. Public schools are allocating what they have in their budgets to support the implementation and teaching of these standards, whether that means hiring better Science and Math teachers or investing more in Career and Technical Education programs.

In the midst of all the mayhem, I can’t help but question our motives for this urgent push and also wonder whether or not this will ultimately help America’s bottom line. Are we sure we aren’t poised to put all our eggs in one basket? Surely Engineers and Mathematicians won’t be the only ones with jobs in the coming years. Perhaps this is a time for us to think about where are strengths really may be. As we prioritize STEM education and curriculum, what is being neglected?

[Read more...]

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