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Learning Matters: Career-education options could be closer than once thought

Six weeks ago, in a column lamenting the slow advance of career education opportunities in our schools, I shared what I thought was a long-shot vision of industry experts and classroom teachers working more regularly together: “What if, in this gig-based, tech job market, our schools kept a door open for a cadre of career technical education-credentialed professionals who, between jobs, could partner with classroom teachers to enrich teaching and learning for all?” (GNP, June 24, “Can schools attract teachers from technology fields?”)

Turns out, it’s a long-shot vision shared by quite a few people around the country, at least two of whom came across my column and contacted me about participating in efforts to make the vision a reality.

Kevin Kennedy is a rising senior at USC, spending the summer as an intern for Rep. Robert Pittenger of North Carolina.

The congressman is interested in legislation that would ease the way for college professors and industry experts to teach in high schools. Kennedy saw my column and emailed me for more information. Then we spoke by phone.

First, I shared with him a little about our local efforts, such as the dual-enrollment classes through Glendale Community College that allow high school students to get both high school and college credits in classes such as advanced manufacturing.

I told him about the California Department of Education grant that has made it possible for middle and high school students to study with CSU Northridge professors on Saturdays.

That grant has also supported nearly 40 students this summer in paid internships managed in partnership with the Glendale Youth Alliance and the Verdugo Workforce Development Board.

Given what I consider my peripheral experience in these matters (I’m a promoter rather than a practitioner of career education), I directed him to Glendale Community College’s dean of workforce development, Jan Swinton, who has been facilitating collaborations among local school districts, industry and college for years.

Swinton was quick to email her welcome of Kennedy’s inquiry and share one of the basic hurdles in forming such partnerships:

“One point is that K-12 rules and community college rules for teaching are different,” she wrote.

She explained that community colleges require faculty to hold a subject area master’s degree or its equivalent as determined by the academic senate.

Kennedy emailed his thanks for the contacts and input from California.

Meanwhile, an education researcher in Silver Spring, Md., also found my column and invited me to participate in a series of conversations designed to follow up on a 2016 report called “State of Career Technical Education: Increasing Access to Industry Experts in High School.”

Over the next several months, this working group of representatives from at least eight states will be brainstorming how to bring industry experts into secondary schools in part-time roles.

Objectives include building “effective policies and programs to implement new strategies that still ensure quality instruction,” and inspiring action in states to address the challenge of providing students with “access to knowledgeable experts who can link what is taught in the classroom to what is applied in the real world.”

The topic presents all sorts of possibilities to consider, even as I brace myself against worries about the over-expansion of charter schools, threats of privatization and the challenges felt by teachers and their unions.

I’m excited about opportunities to smooth the path for experts in many diverse professions who want to share their experience with students and teachers to enrich teaching and learning.

Schools already have a variety of less-than-fully credentialed teachers supporting instruction.

Substitute teachers are authorized on emergency credentials. Could industry experts be authorized in a similar way, if not to teach a class, then to partner in teaching it?

Schools with well-funded foundations regularly pay noncredentialed “experts” to offer enrichment classes during and after the school day, with little formal requirement other than a recommendation and a background check.

I know because I once taught such a class. Every kindergarten through second-grade class at the school came with their teacher on 11 Fridays for half an hour of music.

Students enjoyed it, and teachers appreciated having someone else address the music strand of the arts standards.

The “innovative roles for experts” working group will be holding virtual meetings throughout the fall. I would love to share input from readers.

JOYLENE WAGNER is a past member of the Glendale Unified school board, from 2005 to 2013, and currently serves on the boards of Glendale Educational Foundation and other nonprofit organizations. Email her at jkate4400@aol.com.

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