Media Mentions

Hora on ‘Beyond the Skills Gap” in Insider Higher Ed

October 27, 2016

From the article:

Q: Many books with “skills gap” in the title tend to advocate that higher ed shift to a vocational orientation. Your book is different. How are you trying to redefine the skills gap?

A: We’re not necessarily attempting to redefine the skills gap idea, but instead choose to reject it altogether in favor of a counternarrative focused on a systemic and teaching-centered approach to dealing with the problems facing today’s college students, the higher education sector and society at large. The notion of a skills gap is problematic because it offers an overly narrow and inaccurate diagnosis of what ails the labor market as well as the role that higher education can and should play in society. It pins the blame for employer challenges with hiring (and sluggish economic growth) solely on higher education, especially the arts and humanities.

While some aspects of the skills gap narrative are true -- occupational shortages do exist in fields like nursing and career pathways could be better articulated for many college students -- many of its other premises are simply wrong. Hiring challenges are often due to low wages, the responsibility of employers to provide training is rarely mentioned, and labor economists point to issues with overly stringent hiring criteria and inadequate demand. If the skills gap were merely an academic debate, that would be one thing, but it is informing policy at the state and national levels, where the narrative of a failed higher education system dovetails with an ideologically driven attempt to reform the sector to operate more like private businesses.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the skills gap rhetoric, which unfortunately has become a bipartisan rallying cry, is that it ignores what our research shows is the central issue at hand when it comes to preparing college graduates for the challenges of the 21st century -- that of teaching and learning. The methods educators (and workplace trainers) use to design and teach their courses -- whether face-to-face or online, or in a certificate or bachelor’s program -- play a significant role in determining whether students and employees develop robust technical expertise, cultivate problem-solving and communication skills, transfer abstract knowledge to real-world situations, and foster a lifelong aptitude for self-directed learning. Thus, we aim to reframe the debate to focus on ensuring that all college students have access to experiential, inquiry-based courses that will not only help them get a job, but also expand their minds and foster a critically thinking, well-educated electorate …. So, many pieces of the puzzle are in place in terms of creating a learning-centered higher education, but what is missing is state support and a systems-oriented vision for change that links each of these areas of expertise and programming, celebrates teachers instead of blames them, and places the vocational, intellectual and civic purposes of education on equal footing.

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Reducing Wisconsin’s Achievement Gap Will Require Many Changes

October 18, 2016

Wisconsin has one of the nation's biggest disparities in student acehievment, with black students graduating at a rate of 64.1 percent, compared with 92.9 percent for white students in the 2014-’15 school year, reports The Daily Cardinal. Madeline Hafner, executive director of the Minority Student Achievement Network, says the achievement gap can be reduced with a multifaceted approach, including giving more students access to successful teachers, encouraging rigorous classes for all students, reducing stereotype threats and not holding preconceptions about what certain students can achieve.

Read more.

Is the Educational System Failing Black Males?

October 6, 2016

Speaking from the Fifth Annual International Colloquium on Black Males in Education, Jerlando F.L. Jackson says that instead of asking what’s wrong with black males, we should ask what’s wrong with the systems they must survive and thrive in?

From the article

"One of the education system’s predominant problems is the lack of access to opportunity it offers black males, he suggested. Barriers include a scarcity of mentors and distractions such as potential safety concerns and financial difficulties."

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Testing Benefits, Castro Published in Language Magazine

October 5, 2016

Mariana Castro, Director of Standards at WIDA, recently published an article on the benefits of testing in Laguage Magazine.

From the article:

"If you are an educator, chances are that you have had or will have a student who is learning English as an additional language. Some of these multilingual students are eligible for language support services if their English proficiency limits their access to learning academic content. Districts typically have specific policies for identifying these students. Once these students are identified, by federal law, they are required to take an annual language proficiency assessment to confirm their eligibility for additional support until they are considered English proficient. Language proficiency assessments are used to monitor eligibility and language growth over time vary by state. Some states, like California, New York, and Texas, have developed their own assessments. However, most states join consortia, like ELPA 21 or WIDA, for enhanced support."

Read more.

Hora Op-Ed Stresses Active Learning at Core of Workforce Development

September 26, 2016

Wisconsin's lawmakers should embrace the teaching and learning functions of Wisconsin’s colleges and universities as the centerpiece of the state’s workforce development strategy, Wisconsin Center for Education Research scientist Matthew Hora argues in a column distributed by the USA Today network of newspapers and websites. Read more.

Polarized Classrooms, Paula McAvoy Published in Teaching Tolerance

September 23, 2016

Paula McAvoy, the program director for the Center for Ethics and Education, published an article in the Fall 2016 issue of Teaching Tolerance, a Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

From the article:

"Discussing partisanship and income inequality in the classroom is difficult. Students struggle to understand these concepts. Teachers often worry about appearing partisan or upsetting families or administrators, and putting all of these issues together in even the most well-developed civics program is no easy task."

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Paula McAvoy on the Political Education of Young People

September 15, 2016

Paula McAvoy, Program Director for the Center for Ethics and Education, is the lead author of a study of whether state education standards prepare future voters to understand the basics of contemporary American politics, in particular, the role that parties and ideology play in our democracy.

From the press release:

“This generation has grown up in a vitriolic and polarized political climate. In order to sort through the noise, young people need to have a deep understanding of the ideological values that divide us and how those values do, and do not, map onto political parties,” reports Paula McAvoy, lead author of the study and program director for the Center for Ethics and Education at UW-Madison, who completed this study with Rebecca Fine and Ann Herrera Ward. “Our team’s findings show that state standards stop short of asking students to make meaningful connections between partisanship, ideology, and the issues of the day. If schools are to fulfill their mission of preparing young people for political participation, teachers need to be encouraged to bring these ideas into the classroom.”

Read more.

WCER Researcher Argues For A Nuanced Approach To Workforce Training

August 30, 2016

"It's the idea that sluggish job and economic growth is solely due to a failed higher education system — that idea itself has huge gaps" — WCER Researcher Matt Hora in WisContext.

From the article:

Matthew Hora, a scientist with the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, focuses on the concept of a "skills gap" and how it influences the growing political arguments about the value of liberal-arts education and vocational job training. He co-authored the book Beyond The Skills Gap: Preparing College Students For Life And Work, due out in November 2016 from Harvard Education Press. In the book, Hora and his UW colleagues dissect the prevailing narrative about the skills gap, which goes something like this: Post-secondary education is oriented too much on the humanities and the theoretical side of science, producing graduates without practical and technical skills that employers in manufacturing and the skilled trades desire, resulting in unfilled jobs and sluggish economic growth.

Read more.

Hora Discusses WI Skills Gap Findings on Wisconsin Public Television

August 29, 2016

New research published by WCER researcher Matthew Hora examines how Wisconsin is investing in job training. Hora talked to Wisconsin Public Television about what the skills gap is and how the state could be doing better.

Bradley Carl to Speak at Achievement Gap Panel

August 16, 2016

WCER researcher Bradley Carl will participate in a Capital Times panel discussion on early learning and school achievement gaps.

Wisconsin and Madison have the troubling distinction of having one of the widest school achievement gaps between white students and students of color in the nation. At the same time, new research suggests that intervention in early childhood could have a major effect on educational outcomes for children who might otherwise struggle in school.

Carl will participate in a discusson on whether early learning is the best way to close the achievement gap. The event will be 6-7 p.m., on Wednesday, Aug. 24, at the Urban League of Greater Madison, 2222 S. Park St.

Read more.

Enabling Effective Mentorship

August 8, 2016

Christine Pfund featured in the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) Today's Special Section on Education.

From the article

“We’re putting our precious trainees in the hands of folks who are well-intentioned but have had no professional development in the arena (of mentoring). It leaves a lot to chance,” says Pfund. “No matter how well-intended someone is and no matter how good they are, there is always room” to improve.

After earning a Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology, Pfund did a postdoctoral stint in the early 2000s in the department of plant pathology. She then switched her focus to improving classroom teaching and research mentoring.

Read more.

The Effect of Testing on Chinese Education and Parenting

July 27, 2016

Based on his recent experiences while conducting research in China, Matt Hora contributed to Education Week’s Global Learning opinion blog.

From the article:

On a recent visit to the eastern Chinese city of Qingdao to study the skills gap between higher education and the labor market, I had a different translator with me each day. They were mostly female English instructors in their early 30s, and they accompanied me on tours of cavernous manufacturing facilities, boardroom conversations with HR directors and recently hired workers, as well as interviews with college professors and administrators.


One of the biggest surprises of my trip, however, had nothing to do with the state of China's workforce—it was how my translators spoke so unambiguously about the negative aspects of the Chinese educational system and parenting culture, and yet, at the same time, seemed to embrace them.

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LEAD Center’s Kate McCleary on Feminist Epistemologies

June 21, 2016

A blog post in AEA365 features Kate S. McCleary's five central themes on feminist epistemologies. 

From the post:

Lessons Learned: For me, feminist epistemologies focus on…

  1. Women’s lives and the oppression of women and other marginalized groups: Feminist epistemologies explore difference and seek to know and understand the lived experience of those whose voices/experiences have been marginalized. Chandra T. Mohanty’s book Feminism Without Bordersexplores the plurality of contemporary, global feminism.
  2. Power, authority, and hierarchy: Feminist epistemologies seek to “decenter the center.” This is the title of Uma Narayan and Susan Harding’s book that explores the way feminism is enacted across borders, and in multicultural and postcolonial contexts.
  3. Relationships: The relationship that individuals have within their homes, communities, broader society, and the world hold meaning. Carol Hanisch’s (1969) claim that “the personal is political” holds true today.
  4. Facts and findings are all “value tinged”: Knowledge and knowing is socially situated; thus no one is ever able to get rid of one’s own values.
  5. Understanding the lived, quotidian experiences of women and other individuals: In 1987, Dorothy Smith wrote a book The Everyday World As Problematic that called on researchers to be attentive to the full spectrum of what constitutes women’s, and other groups, lives.

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How MSAN Superintendents Help Close Gaps

June 21, 2016

From the article:

All of the superintendents valued MSAN for its ability to bring together colleagues and their students from across the country to share ideas and stimulate each other’s thinking about how to address the persistent gaps that dog public education. They attribute many of their good ideas to stimulation that came from MSAN meetings, but no one believed that MSAN provided specific tactics to be implemented. Instead, sharing successes and setbacks and learning from peers, superintendents tended to focus on the principles undergirding shared initiatives rather than trying to replicate particular recipes or procedures. This approach led to innovations adapted and tailored to their specific school districts.

The common experiences of these superintendents highlight central challenges of the job for those who seek to have schools and school systems live up to their equalization potential in US society. The superintendents continually balanced competing demands on resources, shifting politics, and the need to demonstrate progress so that they could remain in their posts long enough to see the effects of their carefully crafted changes and programs. Not all of them stayed more than four or five years, but those who did were able to demonstrate important transformations in their school districts that were making a difference for students long marginalized in their systems. Their examples point to two important factors that are uncommon in public school districts today: 1) longevity in the superintendent role supports long-term improvement, and 2) meaningful reform is multi-faceted, requiring strategy, time, and resources to take hold.

Read more.

Jerlando Jackson Cited as Calling New Brown Plan “Bold”

June 6, 2016

Dr. Jerlando Jackson quoted in Diverse Edcuation artilce "Brown University Making Bold Bid to Assure Diversity and Inclusion."

From Diverse Education:

Dr. Jerlando F. L. Jackson, the Vilas Distinguished Professor of Higher Education and director and chief research scientist of Wisconsin’s Equity and Inclusion Laboratory (Wei LAB) at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, called the Brown plan “bold.”

“As someone who has assisted institutions with similar efforts, it appears that the key ingredients are in place to make a difference — key leadership commitment, diversity strategic plan, forthcoming assessment of the institution’s climate and dedicated resources to fund the institution’s transformation,” says Jackson.

“The nation should be watching with a careful eye, because if one of the nation’s best institutions by a host of metrics and one of the most well-resourced institutions who have taken a bold stance on inclusivity fails, what does that mean for other institutions that do not have any of those luxuries?”

Read the entire article here.