By Emily Mann | Aspire Wire: Ideas, Conversation, Action | December 4, 2012
In the United States, educational accountability has become almost synonymous with the use of standardized metrics to assess student knowledge. Pushed by both state and federal education policies, this testing-based conception of accountability has elevated math and reading within the school day. The assumption of the testing culture is that a foundation of math and reading should propel students successfully into college and beyond. However, these core academic skills are not the only ones that colleges consider when compiling their freshman classes. Most colleges tell prospective students and parents that they want a student body that is “well rounded,” and active socially, politically, physically and academically. Yet, what we see in most primary and secondary schools, as a function of the test culture (and against the better judgment of passionate and dedicated teachers), is a push for perpetually higher test scores on a few major subjects. This is sending a mixed message to students as they transition from high school to college, and it is a disservice to all students.
Adams’ essay on college readiness discusses the need to move away from the test-obsessed track toward a multi-faceted approach to cultivating school success. In so doing, she highlights a more balanced approach that is informed by decades of research, and which has gotten a surge in recent attention due to the publication of popular books, such as Paul Tough’s “How Children Succeed.” The basic contention of the book, which synthesizes research from medicine, education, psychology and economics, highlights the need for students to have an educational foundation that is built on social and emotional readiness (non-cognitive or soft skills, such as “character: or “grit”), not necessarily academic knowledge. Both Adams and Tough highlight the foundation of soft skills as keys that motivate students to success, despite risks, setbacks, and obstacles. Soft skills can include problem solving, perseverance, emotional regulation, and working collaboratively. If these skills sound familiar, it is because these are the traits most valued both in higher education and the workplace.
The teaching of core academic subjects should certainly not be dismantled. But what the research shows is that there also needs to be time within the school day for soft skills development. While there are many ways to develop “character” and “grit”, one of the best mechanisms is through play. Play can be structured, unstructured, inside, outside, in small classrooms or large fields. Play can and should be a greater part of the school day, not only for very young children, but also for children of every age. Organizations in and around the Boston area specialize in the teaching of these kinds of soft skills, including a college student run program called Peace Through Play (http://www.peacethroughplay.org/), Playworks (http://www.playworks.org/), which offers structured recess activities to promote social skills, and the Playmakers (http://www.lifeisgood.com/playmakers/) , which uses play as a tool to foster resilience in children who have been impacted by poverty and trauma.
However, while these programs offer hope for a new and balanced educational agenda, this must not be used to obscure the structural problems that remain. The emphasis on teaching soft skills, while fundamentally necessary, does not address the core epidemic in American schools: inequality. Our focus on developing resilience in individual students, while needed, cannot take the place of an examination of the impact of poverty on the success of individual children as they progress from primary and secondary schools to higher educational settings. Children living in poverty are less likely to graduate high school, attend college, or graduate from college. According to the Boston Indicators Project, African American and Latino youth in Boston have less than a 10% chance of graduating college within seven years of gradating high school. These data suggest that educational inequality is not an individual problem with an individual solution.
What makes children successful is not just core skills in reading and math, nor is it grit (although all those things are relevant). What makes children successful is the opportunity to grow up without violence in their home or neighborhood, without hunger, without instability. What makes children successful is access to high quality and enriching school and community environments and access to opportunities to higher education and meaningful employment. Our single-minded focus on children’s skills (hard and soft) without the inclusion of environmental risk and protective factors will perpetuate our constant questioning: What makes children successful? We know the answer.
Emily Mann is an Associate Academic Specialist in the Human Services Program at Northeastern University. She received a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the State University of New York at Geneseo, a Master’s of Science in Social Work, and a Ph.D. in Social Welfare from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied the effects of early intervention on delinquency prevention. Dr. Mann spent two years as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Clinical Research Training Program (CRTP) at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, and was also a National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow. Dr. Mann’s teaching and research focuses on educational interventions and academic and social functioning.
Thursday, November 8
12:00pm to 1:30pm
Paul Tough is the author of the new book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. His first book, Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America, was published in 2008.
Paul has written extensively about education, child development, poverty, and politics, including cover stories in the New York Times Magazine on character education, the achievement gap, and the Obama administration’s poverty policies. He has worked as an editor at the New York Times Magazine and Harper’s Magazine and as a reporter and producer for the public-radio program “This American Life.” He was the founding editor of Open Letters, an online magazine. His writing has appeared in the New Yorker, Slate, GQ, Esquire, and Geist, and on the op-ed page of the New York Times.
- Sponsoring Organizations: College of Social Sciences & Humanities, Human Services, Northeastern Bookstore, Snell Library, School of Public Policy & Urban Affairs
By Laura Krantz | The MetroWest Daily News | October 19, 2012
Manufacturing is flourishing in Massachusetts, economist Barry Bluestone said Thursday, but community colleges and vocational schools should do more to prepare students for jobs in those industries.
The Northeastern University economist, at a business luncheon in Framingham, lectured on the results of a study he recently completed about the manufacturing industry, saying it is healthy and growing while other sectors in the state still suffer.
“The industry we had given up for dead is actually leading the recovery,” Bluestone said to about 75 executives in the Sheraton hotel. The talk was hosted by the MetroWest Chamber of Commerce.
Bluestone said manufacturing, which includes tech giants such as Raytheon and small bakeries and print shops, is the sixth largest employment sector in the state.
Companies in his study estimate they will hire 100,000 more employees in the coming decade, and they are increasingly looking to community colleges, vocational schools to get well-socialized workers with basic technical skills, Bluestone said.
“What we have not done a good job of is having the community colleges go out into the community and saying ‘let’s see what we can do,’” Bluestone said.
His study, Staying Power II, was conducted by Northeastern’s Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy, where he is dean.
His data showed $75,000 as the average annual earning for someone in manufacturing in Massachusetts. Earnings for unskilled employees have remained flat while the wages of skilled workers are rising, he said.
Although the state added 43 new manufacturers last year, today’s manufacturing isn’t the assembly lines that buzzed in downtown Framingham for so long. Many jobs now center around research and development of new products, many of which are produced out of state.
“There’s probably a lot less production,” Bluestone said about MetroWest after the talk. “But there’s still production going on.”
The 2012 report by the MetroWest Economic Research Center at Framingham State University found that manufacturing was the largest sector of the MetroWest economy, creating 26,600 jobs, or 15.2 percent of all employment in 2010.
That came after the industry lost more than 8,000 jobs from 2001 to 2010, MERC’s report found. Manufacturing had the largest payroll in MetroWest in 2010, at $2.8 billion.
Bluestone said that while Massachusetts has more managerial manufacturing jobs than the national average, three-fifths of the jobs in this state require less than a bachelor’s degree.
A third of the businesses surveyed said community colleges should incorporate industry standards into their curriculum or even create a certificate in manufacturing technology, Bluestone said. He said businesses reported that it is increasingly difficult to find skilled craftsmen and do most training on the job.
MassBay Community College recently announced plans for a new 160,000-square-foot campus in downtown Framingham. Spokesman Jeremy Solomon said the school can easily tailor its curriculum to meet the needs of businesseses.
“We understand the role that community colleges play in economic development,” he said. “We also understand that we need to re-focus our energies on reaching out to the businesses.”
Data for several yeas has shown the “middle skills gap” in Massachusetts and suggested technical schools as a good option for high school students who want to go right to work, said Joseph Keefe Regional Technical School Superintendent Jim Lynch.
He said Keefe Tech has added information technology and health care programs already.
“Perhaps now we’ll take another second look at the manufacturing cluster of programs,” he said.
Massachusetts offers research and development tax credits for both manufacturers and research and development companies.
“That’s where the state is having the biggest impact in helping these firms,” Bluestone said, pointing to data showing that more companies than ever are taking advantage of that incentive.
His study surveyed 696 firms and did follow-up interviews with owners or mangers at 56 firms.
By Alana Melanson | Sentinel and Enterprise | October 10, 2012
Thanks to agreements signed Tuesday morning, students interested in earning advanced manufacturing degrees will easily be able to transfer their credits between local community colleges and Fitchburg State University.
A bevy of state and local government and education officials crowded into FSU’s Mazzaferro Center on Tuesday to celebrate the landmark collaboration, which will allow a more seamless transfer of credits between Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner, Quinsigmond Community College in Worcester and FSU, as students and manufacturing-industry employees seek to further their education and their careers.
The collaboration also involves the state Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which identifies and implements growth opportunities for small and medium-size manufacturers through advanced manufacturing technologies and training, among other means.
According to Eric Nakajima, assistant secretary for innovation policy for the state Executive Office of Housing & Economic Development, the partnership also offers a pathway between work-training programs that don’t offer credit to degree programs.
Normally, those who want to earn degrees often have to “shop around” at different institutions to determine what programs they offer and if they will be useful in the long run, he said, and sometimes credits are lost when students transfer between schools as their career paths become clearer.
With these agreements, Nakajima said, credits will be easily transferred to assist those students in their pursuits and to create a more competitive industry.
Ted Bauer, manager of workforce development programs for MassMEP, said a changing manufacturing landscape has led companies to “refocus and reinvest” in advanced technologies to improve their productivity. That transition has had a direct impact on the workforce, and even entry-level jobs in the field are profoundly different than they were 15 to 20 years ago.
“We have moved from repetitive, task-oriented jobs to knowledge-based jobs,” Bauer said. “This not only raised the bar for those looking to enter the manufacturing labor force, but it also created a major training challenge for those incumbents in the existing workforce.”
“Part of the purpose of education is to prepare young people for employment, citizenship and to be lifelong learners,” state Education Secretary Paul Reville said. “If we’re going to prepare them to thrive in jobs for the future, we need real-time, up-to-date information on what those jobs require in the way of skills and knowledge.”
By partnering educational institutions with employers, the latter can give the former advice on what jobs need to be filled, and initiatives can be made to help prepare students to thrive in those fields, Reville said. That, he added, will ensure not only a prosperous future for individuals, but also for the state as a whole.
He and Nakajima referred to a recent report by Northeastern University economics professor Barry Bluestone that reveals that up to 100,000 manufacturing jobs will become available through retirements in an aging workforce.
Also, Nakajima said, the report shows that 70 percent of manufacturers expect to increase hiring over the next five years, and 65 percent expect to increase investment in their plant and expand production.
Manufacturing will grow where there is a skilled workforce, U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern said, so “partnerships like these are critical to economic growth and prosperity.”
Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Joanne Goldstein agreed. Fostering a dialogue and partnerships between the businesses that are looking for trained workers and the educators that can produce them is important, she said, but it is also necessary to involve those in workforce development who can identify the employees suitable for those jobs and to ensure that they have living wages with benefits.
Goldstein said her office also has some training funds available for companies through the state-funded $5 million Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund and the Workforce Training Fund, an employer-funded grant program that disburses about $21 million annually to businesses.
By Barry Bluestone | Boston.com | June 11, 2012
Nearly three years ago, the Boston Globe published an OpEd I had written about public sector unions. In that piece, I asked whether these unions would suffer the same fate of lost membership and diminished political clout to which my old union, the UAW, had succumbed. What happened in Wisconsin, San Diego, and San Jose last week seems to make that 2009 article more prescient than ever. Yet there is a now chance for organized labor to win back some popular support in Massachusetts if it follows the lead of the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA). The Teachers Union has just banded together with Stand for Children to push for groundbreaking state legislation that will help make teacher performance rather than strict seniority the means by which teachers are assigned to schools.
Let me explain what has happened and why this could signal a new era for public unions in the Commonwealth.
When I was a summer replacement worker on a Ford assembly line in the mid-1960s, the UAW had 1.5 million members and was widely respected for its efforts not only on behalf of its own ranks, but workers everywhere. As such, it had widespread political support.
By 2009, however, UAW membership had slipped to fewer than 465,000 as the auto industry collapsed. I noted that most of its demise was due to the “extraordinary blunders made by the auto companies” themselves. But the union was partly to blame. “It failed to press the auto companies to build high quality, innovative cars that could compete with imports. Often it insisted on job classifications and work rules that undermined efficiency and compromised the industry’s competitiveness.”
I asked back then, “Will public sector unions follow the same path?” I equated the UAW and the auto industry’s disregard of their customers’ demands for competitively priced, higher quality, more fuel efficient cars with the apparent disregard of public unions for reforms that could improve the quality of public services. Too often, union leaders seemed to flaunt their political power at the expense of building popular support for their cause.
What I feared back then is coming true. Antagonism toward public unions is exploding. Governor Scott Walker’s victory in Wisconsin provides the exclamation point to the growing movement to weaken or destroy public sector unions in the U.S. Sensing a growing wariness of unions, Mitt Romney’s attacks on organized labor have become ever more intense and shrill. Even before Walker’s victory, the Wisconsin outlawing of the automatic withholding of union dues that led to the recall campaign was taking its toll. According to the Wall Street Journal, one-third of the Wisconsin members of the American Federation of Teachers stopped paying union dues. Membership in Wisconsin’s American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) shrank by more than 34,000.
Wisconsin is hardly alone. Last week, voters in San Diego and San Jose overwhelmingly approved ballot measures to roll back municipal pensions. One suspects that this anti-union movement will spread across the country, especially given the continuing fiscal crises faced by cities and towns nearly everywhere. As communities face the choice of honoring union contracts versus providing basic public services, one can imagine an increasing chorus arguing the case against the unions and fewer and fewer standing up for them.
In the long run, this would be bad for workers everywhere especially in a period of falling wages amidst a rising Plutocracy. Unions have not outlived their usefulness in theory, but their tactics have often undermined their own goals in practice.
Fortunately, there is at least one union in Massachusetts now taking constructive action that should help counter the antiunion animus spreading from state to state. That union is the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA). Last week, the union came to an agreement with Stand for Children, an organization whose mission is to improve public schools throughout the state. Stand for Children has been sponsoring a November ballot referendum that would, if passed, require teacher staff reductions or reassignments be based on teacher performance rather than on strict seniority. Working with the MTA, the organization has agreed to withdraw this initiative in light of the union’s agreement to co-sponsor legislation in the State House that would give teacher performance based on honest and fair teacher evaluations precedence over seniority in teacher assignments. This legislation would help provide common standards for teacher assignments while ensuring that teachers continue to have an appropriate collective voice in their schools.
Unfortunately, the other teachers’ union in Massachusetts and the state AFL-CIO have vowed to oppose the legislative alternative. They are urging the leadership of the House and Senate to reject the legislation, and they hint at mounting a “fight” on Beacon Hill to defeat the bill if legislative leaders seek to advance it.
With all due respect to my friends at the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts and the AFL-CIO, I truly believe they fail to fully recognize that if they are successful with the Legislature, they will have won a Pyrrhic victory. The Stand for Children ballot initiative will almost surely prevail and the cost involved in trying to defeat it will be prodigious. In the end, the bruising battle will turn even more taxpayers and voters against organized labor even as it threatens to undermine the achievements that have made Massachusetts number one in the nation according to many educational measures.
In this age of enormous income equality and the unparalleled power of big business, we desperately need organized labor to preserve its strength to stand up for the 99 percent – not just the unions’ own members. Prevailing against the proposed legislation will undermine the much bigger fight on our hands. Building coalitions with parents, students and other community organizations will help restore the alliance of progressive forces in the Commonwealth and help reconstitute popular support for public unions. Without such coalitions, we all face much darker days ahead.