Accolades and Gratitude

Allow me a few moments of self-congratulation here on the pages of Eduflack. In recent weeks, I’ve learned that my book, Dadprovement, has been recognized by two major organizations as part of their 2015 book awards.

The book is a finalist for the 2015 Next Generation Indie Book Awards in the parenting category, and will be recognized at a ceremony at the end of the month.

And I’ve just learned that Dadprovement is also a finalist in the 9th Annual Indie Excellence Awards in the personal growth category.

I honestly wrote the book as a form of therapy. I had been telling the first part of the story for years, the part about how our family came to be, and folks would regularly tell me that I should write it down before I forget it all. So I finally took them up on it. But as I was writing that story, a whole new story came out of me. Chapter after chapter, I was better understanding how my role as a father and husband was evolving. And it seems just as important a part of the story. Consider it how we came to be to what we can become.

When Turning Stone Press wanted to publish the book, I was beside myself. Now, when I hear that someone has read the book or that they learned X about themselves or when I am asked to write or speak on the topic of fathers and parental engagement, I am reminded just how lucky I am. Lucky to have the family that I have, and lucky that I’ve learned what I’ve learned before it is too late.

So to now have groups like these decide that Dadprovement was one of the best books of the year on topics like parenting or personal growth, I am just moved beyond words. And I am very, very grateful to all of those who have helped make it possible, both for me as an author and as a person.

Focusing On Family … And Winning

Most readers of the Eduflack blog know that I am both a proud father and an author of a book about the adoption of my children and the evolution of my view on what a good dad truly means. That book, Dadprovement, was the topic of my SXSWedu speech in Austin earlier this year, and it is a big part of my writing and my thinking each and every day.

Folks are noticing this call for more engaged fathers. Exhibit One? This month’s issue of WorldClass magazine.

Yours truly is actually on the cover of the issue (yes, I realize that means it is unlikely to sell many copies). But the content of the piece is one that is particularly touching. The full article can be found here, but let me give you a taste:

Riccards emphasizes that balance in our lives brings us greater happiness and health, as individuals, and it benefits our children, as well. For example, he points to a study that shows that “in those households where daughters saw their fathers washing dishes at home, those daughters were going to be more ambitious and were going to push and achieve more in their own lives.” That kind of yin and yang between the personal and the professional is important for everyone in the family, both genders.

“We have been hearing for years now . . . that if women want to truly be a professional success, then what we need is for them to behave more like men, and they need to focus on their careers and not so much worry about the personal or worry so much about the family. At the end of the day, we are selling everybody this horrible lie,” Patrick Riccards.

Riccards explains that, too often, men become overly intimidated by the fatherhood process, “We need to recognize, we are going to make far more mistakes than we are going to get things right. What is important is that we continue to push that, continue to try. Mistakes make better fathers, make better families.

I hope you will take a few moments and give the article a read. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Following the CT Charter Money

Up in Connecticut, they are slogging it out over the future of charter schools. As part of education reforms signed into law in 2012, the most significant school reforms legislated in the state’s history, lawmakers pledged to both increase the number of charter schools and available charter seats. At the same time, they put in place a plan to increase the per-pupil payment to said charter schools, bringing financial commitments closer to the per-pupil costs of the traditional public schools in those cities.

The financial realities set in. In 2014 and again this year, Connecticut has experienced lighter state coffers than anticipated. Reductions in revenue have meant cuts to budgets. And charter schools have been on the block for such cuts.

It is important to note, though, that when the ed reform law was originally passed, there were only 17 charter schools in 10 cities across the state. Those schools educated less than 2 percent of the total K-12 public school population.

Anyone who has followed the education reform battles knows that charter school advocates do not go quietly when their programs are slated for cuts or even freezes. And Connecticut is no different. In today’s Hartford Courant, ed reporter extraordinaire Kathleen Megan, along with Matthew Kauffman, has a great piece that looks at where the charter school funding comes from. In a small state like Connecticut, when millions of dollars is spent to advocate for less than 2 percent of the public school population, following the dollars becomes an important and necessary exercise.

Full disclosure, Eduflack served as CEO of one of the groups that Megan and the Courant write about. In fact, I led the ed reform org when we helped pass those major gains for reforms and overall school improvement. And I led both a 501c3 and a 501c4 in the process.

Those who know Eduflack know I’m never one to shy away from a question. So while it seems the CT ed reform community doesn’t want to talk about the “follow the money” storyline, I was happy to oblige.

Patrick Riccards, a former chief executive officer for ConnCAN, said that when he was there — from 2011 through 2012 — most of the funding came in equal parts from board members, the hedge fund community, and local foundations.

He said that in general many of the same names turn up as contributors to several education reform groups.

For many of those givers with an entrepreneurial leaning, Riccards said, it is far more appealing to fund new schools — charters — than to try to fix failing schools when there is so little agreement about how best to do that.

Riccards, who is now chief communications and strategy officer for the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, said he is convinced that ConnCAN’s donors were “true believers” who were donating funds because they believed they were improving education for children. “They don’t make any money off the schools,” Riccards said. “It’s one of those great urban legends. There’s no grand conspiracy.”

A fair assessment? Read the piece. Check it out. Let me know.
UPDATE: For more on the topic, also check out this piece from the Connecticut Mirror. 

Learning About Race From My Son

Those who have read Eduflack over the years know that my kiddos are an essential part of my life. And they know that my children are adopted from Guatemala, and that the edu-family is quite proud of that.

Over the weekend, as we celebrated my son’s ninth birthday, the unrest in Baltimore over #FreddieGrey was just starting to build. At my son’s party, though, I saw a group of kids undefined and unconcerned by race. Instead, it was just 20 kids having fun and enjoying their collective friendship.

At Education World, I opine on what I learned, wondering at what point we teach the sort of hate and racism we see too often in our society. I write:

On Sunday afternoon, I watched my son and his friends just have a grand time. Nearly two dozen kids–boys and girls–enjoying themselves and enjoying each other. Huge smiles, lots of physical contact (in a good way), and pure, childhood glee.

Of course, we expect to see that sort of fun at a party. If not, then why bother to come. But what struck me was the collection of kids. My two children were the Latino contingent. We had Black kids. We had Indian kids. We had Asian kids. And we even had a few white kids. While some of the adults may have noted race, none of the kids did.

So it begs the question for me–at what point do we teach racism? When do these kids become the ones singing racist songs at a frat party? When do they become the ones using the n-word? When do they become the ones who can’t grab a slice of pizza or shoot hoops with a friend because the skin pigment is different?

I conclude:

As we watch scenes like those playing out in Baltimore happen again and again, perhaps we as parents need to ask what we are doing. Maybe we need to ask what we are teaching our kids and why. And maybe, just maybe, we need to stop.

There is a great deal I still need to teach my son. But I can learn a great deal from this great little nine-year old’s view on race. He honestly couldn’t tell you a person’s race. He doesn’t see the difference between black or brown or white. He just sees friends.

I hope you will give the full piece a read.

#Studentdata and #highered

We spend so much time talking about the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (or the replacement of NCLB, whichever term you prefer), that we can forget that reauthorization of the Higher Education Act is waiting in the wings as well.

Earlier this spring, Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate HELP Committee, issued a series of white papers on some of the top issues the Senate would consider as it began to dig into HEA reauth. One of those topics was consumer information, what many of us better know as student data.

Last week, I submitted a formal response to the Senate’s higher education student data call. In doing so, I noted: “As a nation, we have long said that information is power, using the call for greater knowledge to rally support for education. But our educational infrastructure itself has not provided the powerful information we need. Higher education has fallen short in its ability to both capture and apply data that can be used to improve how students learn, how they are taught, and how we measure it.”

This should come as no surprise. In talking about the work of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and its focus on linking student outcome data to determine the effectiveness of its own programs I stated:

All have a right to know the difference between a successful school of education and a not-so-successful one. That difference really can only be revealed through the collection, analysis, and utilization of outcome data. It is not enough to know that future teachers entering schools of education bring a certain high school class rank, GPA, or SAT/ACT score into the process. Yes, the inputs are important. But far more important is what they do with those tools. And we cannot measure that impact based simply on academic performance leading to the award of a college degree. It requires post-graduation data that can be tracked back to the degree-granting institution.

My full statement, including responses to a number of specific queries from Senator Alexander’s staff can be found here. The initial white paper from the Senate HELP Committee on consumer information (and other topics like accreditation) can be found here.

Is It Really Spying?

This week AFT President Randi Weingarten was in London. She wasn’t there to enjoy the sights and sounds, though. She was there for the Pearson shareholders meeting. And you can see her full remarks here

It should come as no surprise that she spoke out against high-stakes testing and the sheer number of assessments going on in classrooms across the country. But she also focused in on one of these themes ther has been popular on social media these days–cyber spying on students. 

Specifically, the issue is tracking what students on social media platforms are saying about Pearson and about the tests Pearson is responsible for. The story has become its own beast, and WaPo’s Emma Brown had one of the more level-headed stories on it. 

Granted, student privacy and cyber stalking are big issues right now. But the whole topic begs an important question. Is social media monitoring really spying?

Every student who posts to Twitter or Instagram or Facebook (though not so much FB, as there is more for his or her parents) does so because they want people to see it. They want attention. They want the clicks. They want the eyeballs. If folks aren’t watching, it might as never even happened. 

So when you put your views, even about testing, out there for all the world to see, should we get worked up when the testing company you are writing about is watching? Should we be surprised there a multi-billion-dollar company is taking note of what is said about their product?

Personally, I rarely post about companies on Twitter. Instead, I focus on education issues. But this month, I praised one company and shamed another. I offered laurels to Wicked Good Cupcakes because they offer a great product and even better customer service. I swung brickbats at Frontier Airlines because of the opposite (just awful customer service). Both were clearly monitoring Twitter. Wicked Good responded right away. It took Frontier the good part of a day to respond with a CYA response. 

I offer it as reminder that all watch social media. That’s sorta the point. So why get all worked up when companies are found to actually watch and respond to socials media? That’s what we are looking for. That what everyone who makes a post hopes for. Social media is for the attention seeker. 

Student privacy is a serious issue. It demand real policies and careful oversight. But we cheapen the issue, and risk losing control of it, when we throw the label on all sorts of issues that don’t deserve it. 

Social media monitoring isn’t a threat to student privacy. It is just good business. The threat is students who share too much information in the first place. If we don’t want testing companies to know what students are thinking, we need students to stop posting about their tests. 

Asking Why on ESEA Accountability

Instead of asking which superintendents and jurisdictions would sign onto such a belief—that we need strong standards, tests to measure students’ learning those standards, and test data getting into the hands of teachers do so something with those learning outcomes—we should be scratching our heads wondering which school district leaders AREN’T signed onto this and why.

Patrick Riccards, in Education World’s Those Held Accountable for Standardized Tests Want Greater Accountability