Saturday, March 15, 2014

5 Things Teachers Wish Parents Knew

I value the opportunities I have on the weekends when I have a little time to myself and can work through a number of things that I have been waiting to read.  One of the teachers at NFVHS shared the link below with me and after reading it I thought I would share it with you.  We just came off parent-teacher conferences a couple of weeks ago, and I thought that this is fitting.  This writer from the New York Times shares some things that teacher often want to say, but find very difficult when they meet face-to-face with a parent.  We should not have this barrier, but sometimes it is easier to let someone else articulate some true feelings.  So, please read the article and if you are so inclined, let me know what you think!

5 Things Teachers Wish Parents Knew: Your Children Can Do More Than You Think

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Why Do We Still Want Our Kids to Go to a 4-Year College?

A little over a year ago I attended the STEM Connections Conference in Des Moines and listened to some very interesting speakers, including business leaders from John Deere, HON, and National Instrument.  STEM is one of those education acronyms standing for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.  So, how does the fact that I went to a conference on those four topics relate to the title of the article which would lead one to believe I am questioning why kids should go on to a traditional four-year college?  Aren’t science, technology, engineering, and math subjects for those really smart, high achieving students?  Yes, but they are also topics that are very important for the highly skilled workforce that our country so desperately needs.
Since that conference, I have become more convinced that a very strong, viable option for all of our students, especially those who are strong in math and science, is to attend a community college or trade school, or enter into the workforce and apprentice in a skilled trade.  This is a hard adjustment in perception and belief for many people to make.  I continue to struggle with this quite a bit, particularly when it comes to my own children.  I have had conversations with staff members at school who have the same difficulty.  For a couple of generations going to a four-year college or university was the pathway for future success.  Parents and grandparents, particularly in the Midwest, could take a great deal of satisfaction if their child or grandchild went off to Iowa State or Luther, because in many instances, that would be the first family member to take that step.  In conversations with our guidance counselor, we have both struggled with how we say to parents that they should not want their child to go to a four-year institution.  That is so different from the message and position we have taken for years!
However, from my perspective, there are two fundamental reasons that this makes sense.  First, when one looks at the future of the job market, there will be a huge demand for highly skilled workers, particularly in the manufacturing industry.  In fact, the demand for occupations requiring a two-year degree is very high right now.  Couple that with what is currently happening with graduates of four-year programs and one needs to really keep their eyes open to future choices.  According to, about 41% of 2011 and 2012 college graduates  are “stuck in jobs that don’t require their degrees, and nearly two-thirds say that they will need more training in order to get their desired job.”  In addition to these underemployed individuals, 18% of graduates from the same two years were either unemployed at the time of the survey or had not had a job since graduating.  A 2010 Federal Reserve Bank study showed that only “62.1% of U.S. college graduates had a job that even required a college degree, and just 27.3 percent of college grads had a degree that was related to their major.”
The second reason that this makes sense is because of the amount of debt that college students are accruing.  In this country college debt has exceeded $1 trillion, and with college graduates struggling to find jobs for which they were trained, it only multiplies the problem.  In 2011, six million graduates are still living at home with their parents.  According to The Project On Student Debt, 7 of 10 college seniors who graduated in 2012 had a student loan debt with an average of $29,400 per borrower.  In Iowa, the average debt of 4-year college graduates in 2012 was $29,456, which ranks the state 6th among public colleges and 3rd for private institutions.  According to a recent article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the graduating class of 2012 is in a deeper hole with student loan debt than any class before.
From the time of that conference in Des Moines, we have made adjustments at NFVHS, including the addition of the Project Lead The Way program, Virtual Reality Educational Pathways classes, adjustments in our science and math courses, training of teachers for the Introduction to Engineering Design, the formation of partnerships with members of business and industry, and numerous other changes.  It is our goal to provide direct instruction and support to students so that they have the preparation to choose to either go into training for a highly skilled occupation or go to a four-year institution.  We are also working to develop a system to place focus on employability skills, often called soft skills and non-cognitive skills, so that our students have some foundation as they move forward in life.
The world of work is changing, but we are slow to change our attitudes, particularly in rural areas.  With two kids of my own in high school, and one trying to make college decisions right now, this is a very difficult time to be making life-changing choices.  As a school administrator who has spent the vast majority of his life pushing kids to go to college, as well as one who grew up with the belief that a four-year college degree was the key to success, I find myself conflicted as I don’t want to ever “sell a kid short.”  But at the same time, I have seen families struggle with debt as well as college graduates forced to take any job they can to earn a paycheck.  It is time to keep eyes open.