HM - May 2019 - Reflections on Education Summit


Reagan Institute Summit on Education (RISE)

Education: A National Priority, A State Responsibility

by Todd Wigginton, NCHE Vice-Chair

I recently had the pleasure of representing NCHE at the Reagan Institute’s Summit on Education (RISE).  The summit program consisted of a series of 7 bi-partisan interviews and panel discussions by government officials and educational leaders and one networking breakout session with four options and a closing plenary session. Throughout the day,  several themes surfaced, beginning with the idea that education is a national priority, but a state responsibility. Senator Tim Kane encouraged states to reflect on innovations from each other, and then adopt and refine the best practices.
Education- Worforce Connections
Another major theme from the summit is the need for stronger connections between the workforce and education. Our robust economy was acknowledged, and it was noted that for the first time in history, we have a million more jobs than job seekers. This creates an all-time high in people willing to make changes in their jobs. With the growing economy, we should be asking ourselves what’s the right education is for the modern workplace.  We cannot denigrate or stigmatize workforce entry decisions, nor elevate any level of education over another. The number of students who are accepted into college should not be the end measure. We need to think about:
  • Are there better signals of success and can we map how they got there?
  • Should success be based on what people have accomplished or created instead of their GPA five years ago?
  • Should it be by outcome or credential?
  • Would it better to spend 6 years getting a 4-year degree while accruing $30,000 in debt or pursue an industry-recognized skill with on the job training and $0 debt?.      
We need to be helping students explore how their interests can lead to the workforce. Recognizing that K-12 education and community colleges are doing a better job at incorporating workforce skills than most 4-year universities should lead us to embrace this moment of anxiety for higher education and explore the need to redefine itself to include careers. Local Industries should be collaborating with universities to strengthen the connection and ensure the most up-to-date methods are being taught.  One example given was the fact that it takes 5 years for an industry to teach an engineering graduate how to really be an engineer!
Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)
Yet another theme emerged from a spirited discussion centered around Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). Perhaps the primary reason for this need becoming so great is that in our obsession with high stakes assessment, we have decreased our focus on the whole child. Although we must be mindful of the risk of overemphasizing SEL at the expense of academics,  its importance is undeniable.  Our ability to measure SEL to scale has not kept pace with the enthusiasm for it. However, teachers deserve to know the expectations and how it is measured. We are asking so much of teachers already so we should leverage partners to assist with this need. We should consider combining discipline, safety, civics, and character education with SEL to its maximize effectiveness.
What about History Education?
By early afternoon, the only real concern I had was the absence of humanities in the discussions. As if she had read my thoughts, Diana Chen, a Computer Science Major from Arizona State University, the only college student serving on any panel declared that “we should not diminish the humanities because we don’t know where the future is going.” She expressed the need for knowledge and skills, saying, “Humanities will become more valuable as A.I. grows.  We will need to understand the lessons from history.” One of the four breakout sessions did focus on Civic Education, a topic emphaisized as a need by former Secretary of Education, Rod Paige later in the day. In the breakout session, the table discussion centered around what resources and leadership are needed to prioritize civic education, from whom should these come, how do we prioritize civic education in an already crowded education system, and what can you do to help prioritize civic education in your state/school/community.  With a summit focused on education, I would hope that the humanities would have been more of a focus of the conversations.
Looking back on the Summit, I remain concerned for lack of focus on the humanities, particularly history education. Decisions have consequences, and I fear the inevitable results of the diminishing focus on social studies in our schools. As our social studies instruction continues to be pushed out of the instructional day, so has our best chance for modeling civil discourse and creating responsible citizens. Perhaps it’s time to demand that it be crowded back in giving it the time it deserves.

About NCHE

The National Council for History Education provides professional and intellectual leadership to foster an engaged community committed to the teaching, learning, and appreciation of diverse histories.