School & District Management Opinion

State Coalitions for Global Competence: Leadership Matters

By Anthony Jackson — October 14, 2014 5 min read
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Today, we kick off our “state of global competence” blog series with a look at changes in the field of U.S. state policy. Jennifer Manise, Executive Director of the Longview Foundation, shares some success stories and some of the challenges currently facing the field.

by Jennifer Manise

Being a state leader in education has many challenges. Just consider the political interests: friendly, oppositional, ambitious, lackadaisical—all can impact a leader’s ability to implement any agenda. Then there are the grassroots organizations, education advocates, member associations, regional providers, parents, and children—all of these voices are not usually singing in unison, but rather a cacophony of different needs, issues, and a set of real and immediate concerns. Navigating these interests and getting them to work for a comprehensive greater good is a small piece of why it is so challenging for state superintendents to focus on anything beyond the immediate goals of their position and put together a long-term global plan.

Yet despite the persistent nudge of crushing responsibility, there are groups of chief state school officers and governors who have made great strides in integrating global content into student expectations. Leaders have successfully juggled standards debates, political pressure, school safety issues, teacher evaluations and more, and still put forward a strategic vision that emphasizes global readiness. Why do they make the professional commitment and personal sacrifice to accomplish all of this and more? Because they know that at the heart of what they do, they want to prepare children for the future and the interconnected world in which they will be working and living.

Sometimes big changes happen after leaving office. When a leader proposes a big vision, it is often left in the hands of career staff to build it to fruition and embed the thinking and programmatic expectation for the future. Three examples come to mind of passionate advocates for global understanding at the state leader level: Utah, North Carolina, and Kentucky.

Gregg Roberts, the World Languages Specialist in Utah, took Jon Huntsman, Jr.'s bipartisan vision for language study in Utah and sustained the work far beyond Huntsman’s term as governor that ended in 2009. Today Utah has 100 immersion programs in five languages with more than 20,000 students participating. Building on this momentum, the Social Studies coordinator Robert Austin has created an online social studies professional development course around global understanding, which focuses on grades 5 and 10 but is available to all social studies teachers in Utah.

North Carolina has a distinguished history in bringing the world to their state, beginning with the leadership of Jim Hunt, the state’s longest serving governor. Education leaders have realized that if they want globally competent students, they need to have a teaching workforce who understands global content and can facilitate a host of learning integrated into a range of subjects (see the recent post on how global math is!). North Carolina is addressing this need by giving teachers professional development targeted at building their global competency, graduating teacher candidates from programs that value global competence, and integrating it into a rigorous teacher education curriculum. They have also developed tools to educate legislators and education leaders at the local level on precisely how global North Carolina is, and embarked upon an intensive increase in second language study.

Kentucky has a history of strong leadership and a vision of preparing youth to graduate ready for the global marketplace. The current commissioner, Terry Holliday, is a champion in this arena. In August, the Kentucky Board of Education unanimously approved what they see as “an important next step in preparing students to be globally ready"—a resolution to include global readiness as part of the board’s college and career-readiness plan. This is the second such resolution in the past six months and “builds on the board’s decision in June to implement a World Language Program Review in high schools this year and in middle and elementary schools in the 2015-16 school year.” (Editor’s Note: This will be explored in-depth in our next post in the series.)

Global competency isn’t built by a cult of personality like Terry Holliday or Jon Huntsman, Jr. or Jim Hunt. And there is no one approach that is the correct way to systemically and emphatically address the need for global competence among students and educators. One must take advantage of opportunities where there is leader support, and where there is a wealth of application tactics for new standards, assessments, and teacher development.

Other states and districts have taken a decentralized approach and let efforts grow from a grassroots level. In Wisconsin, Gerhard Fischer, the International Education and World Languages Coordinator has used the support from the chief and the districts to create a global competency certificate program that is available statewide. Districts have to sign up to participate, but any district can apply and give their students the opportunity to earn a global distinction on their diploma.

Ten districts in central Ohio, under the leadership and facilitation of the Columbus Council on World Affairs, have created their own global certificate program. This model is spreading to other parts of the state. Indiana is using Indianapolis as a catalyst to spur nine regional service centers into becoming global resources for districts in their communities.

What will the United States look like in 10 years with respect to integrating global competence? Longview’s goal is that global competence will become second nature as a part of the K-12 education experience. In fact, the founder had hopes that I might eventually work myself out of a job and even articulated this in the bylaws almost fifty years ago. When reviewing the past ten years in places like Utah, North Carolina, Kentucky, and others, I match his optimism that it is not only possible, but that we are on our way.

Discussion question: What policies would you like to see your state put into place to support global competence education for students or teachers?

Jennifer Manise is Executive Director, Longview Foundation. Follow her and Asia Society on Twitter.

The opinions expressed in Global Learning are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.