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Global Education Is Contagious in Ohio

How one state is giving students ready for college and the internconnected world beyond--and how those ideas are spreading.

By Donna Nesbitt

Jonah Berger's book, Contagious, explains how ideas catch on and go viral. Educators in Ohio watched as enrollments in Chinese language programs went from fewer than 400 in 2005 to 27,000 during the last school year. Why did it happen?

According to Berger's book, ideas that are contagious share certain characteristics: social currency, practical value, and visibility. When Chinese language classes debuted in forward-thinking districts, savvy educators and parents in neighboring districts wanted the same opportunity for their students and so they started programs staffed with visiting teachers from China and native speakers who trained in alternative licensure programs. The media recognized the social currency and practical value of these classes, and gave them even more visibility.

Now educators are witnessing similar growth in global education programs.

Suburban high school students in Oak Hills have collaborated with their sister school in France on environmental issues. Rural middle school students in Kenton and suburban students in New Albany are connecting with students in Haiti to learn about the need for clean water. Urban students in Columbus who are native French and Spanish speakers or have developed proficiency through immersion programs, are enrolled in social studies classes taught in their target language. The Academy of Global Studies at Winton Woods hosted a summer camp for students from China and will visit their guests in China this school year. These are just a few examples of students across the state investigating significant global issues, recognizing diverse perspectives, communicating their ideas, and taking appropriate action.

How did global education become contagious in all of these schools? In 2006, when the Ohio Department of Education created an International Education Advisory Committee (IEAC) there were no internationally themed public high schools, only two or three language immersion elementary schools, and a few isolated international studies programs around the state. Through several statewide and regional summit meetings and the development of a strategic plan, conversations began. Universities hosted some of the regional meetings and started offering summer institutes for teachers.

By the time the Race to the Top (RttT) grants became available, the momentum was building; districts knew that they needed to do more to prepare students for a global future but they weren't sure where to start. Because of the work of the IEAC, the Ohio Department of Education included the Asia Society's International Studies Schools Network (ISSN) as one of the options for the RttT innovation grants. Five of the schools awarded grants adopted that model because of its emphasis on global competence and college readiness. Two other schools not awarded grants adopted the model because they saw the practical value. In 2013, a principal who left one of the network school districts brought the program to her new school.

For other states that are at the beginning of a movement, here are some lessons learned:

Bring a diverse group of stakeholders together to assess and plan what is right for your state's future. The champion of global education in Ohio has been Dr. William Hiller, Executive Director of the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation who chaired the statewide IEAC. In addition to chairing the statewide committee, Dr. Hiller launched a regional network in the Cleveland area and contacted the Columbus Council on World Affairs (CCWA) and the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio (ESCCO) to work with schools in the Columbus area. The partnership of a community organization and an educational consortium has been key to the development of the GlobalEd Network of Central Ohio. The member school districts realize that the economic welfare of their region is dependent on global companies and global markets. They also recognize the advantage the globally competent students will have as they prepare to enter higher education.

Build broad-based support for this vision by sharing the message and goals, increasing demand among parents, and let it be contagious with the help of the media. The GlobalEd Network has been strategic about focusing on a small number of visible goals. They developed a community engagement toolkit, including a video, Get on the Map for Global Education in Ohio. In June they held a Global Education Showcase to help educators and community members learn about local programs and to be inspired by the ideas presented by Dr. Yong Zhao of the University of Oregon. The ultimate goal of the network is the development of a voluntary credential for high school students called the Global Scholars Diploma.

Always consider the elements that make a model replicable, then try a small pilot. As network members discussed the diploma requirements, they considered a menu of courses and extracurricular activities that students would complete. They considered several approaches and chose the competencies developed by the Asia Society and the Council of Chief State School Officers because they were the most thoroughly vetted and contained the knowledge, skills, and dispositions they wanted students to develop. Diploma components will be piloted during the 2013-14 school year by several of the member districts. The students in the pilot cohort will reflect on their learning as they participate in events focused on careers, cross-cultural experiences, service learning, and global issues. The pilot will culminate with a Global Scholars Showcase in June 2014 where students will present their work and self-assessment of progress towards the competencies.

It looks like global education is about to go viral in Ohio. Stay tuned togoglobalohio.com to find out just how contagious it becomes.

Donna Nesbitt is the coordinator for the International Studies School Network in Ohio and the GlobalEd Network of Central Ohio. Follow Ms. Nesbitt and Asia Society on Twitter.

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