A Disconnect Between the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education: Highlighting GIS as a Profession Without to Funding Geography Education

July 9, 2010

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Just this month, the U.S. Department of Labor (DoL) approved the recently completed Geospatial Technology Competency Model (GTCM) that I discussed in an editorial several weeks ago. The GTCM acts as a blueprint for those developing curricula within higher education for certificates and degrees in GIS, and for companies looking to hire capable geospatial technologists where the skills of the potential employee must match the critical job functions of the employer. The process to complete the GTCM took several years and is important in that it recognizes geospatial technology as one of only a handful of professions identified by the DoL's Employment and Training Administration (DOLETA) as expecting to experience higher than average growth over the next few years.

But there seems to be a disconnect between the high profile of geospatial technology in DOLETA's domain and the U.S. Department of Education (DoE) which is failing to fund geography education in the next round of reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind. This is according to a recently published editorial by Doug Richardson, president of the Association of American Geographers (AAG) in Esri's ArcNews (Summer 2010, page 43). "The AAG has been actively engaged with key officials on Capitol Hill regarding No Child Left Behind in recent years. Our biggest concern is that geography is the only core academic subject identified within the law that does not receive a specific funding allocation for implementing programs to further the teaching of geography at the K-12 level. The AAG and many others throughout the GIS community have been working with individual members of Congress, as well as the leadership of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) and the House Committee on Education and Labor, for several years now to respond to their requests for information, and we have gained some traction."

The AAG's Blueprint for Geography Education (PDF) details what the organization believes should complement the Obama administration's strategy when ESEA's reauthorization debate continues. The AAG states, "...It is also clear that one of the major flaws in No Child is the lack of attention paid to geography education... All of the other core subjects receive millions in federal funding annually - including over $1.25 billion for reading and English programs; approximately $180 million for math and science partnerships; and almost $120 million for Teaching American History grants. While these are certainly worthwhile investments, it is critical that the reauthorized ESEA also contain funding for geography education."

The AAG is seeking comments on its blueprint and asking for geospatial professionals to contact their congressperson to indicate the importance of geography education in K-12 and at the college level. But more is needed prior to ESEA’s reauthorization. I think it will take a more unified effort on the parts of AAG and many other geospatial professional organizations. Just as I have suggested on these pages in the past that the major conferences be aligned toward a singular event, the organizations must also do likewise in this matter. It is critically important that education in geography be wholly aligned with career development in geospatial technology and receive the same level of prioritization within each government agency.

If DOLETA is going to shine a spotlight on geospatial job training and development then it needs to articulate the essential pathway back to K-12 geography education, and the required funding within ESEA and the Department of Education. In addition, I think the AAG needs to amend its blueprint to recognize the GTCM, and the work of the National Geospatial Technology Center of Excellence, specifically its ongoing efforts to develop occupation-specific requirements as it begins working with DOLETA on career pathways. All of these efforts must be coordinated. I recommend a special task force to foster career development and education that should be comprised of representatives from each of the professional geospatial organizations, the GTCM, as well as the National Geospatial Advisory Board (NGAC). It’s important to articulate this linkage and to develop a coherent message to express to members of Congress. The task force needs to underscore the disconnect that exists and prescribe, in a white paper, the specific provisions that DOLETA should recommend to the DoE. These provisions should help secure funding for geography education and suggest ways to promote careers in geospatial technology. The time to act is now.

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