A Failure to CCSS Communicate?

The Eduflack family lives in a PARCC state. For months, we have heard from our school district about preparing for the upcoming PARCC assessment. This has been a particularly “interesting” time for our house, as it will be the first time one of the edu-kiddos is slated to take a state exam.

In recent weeks, the talk shifted to the edu-son and his plans to take two rounds of PARCC tests this spring. The first will begin in just a few short weeks, and will run through much of March. The second round will come a month or so after completing the first round.

When dear ol’ Eduflack inquired about why the two rounds for a third-grader, he got the most curious of answers. Yes, I am aware that the PARCC test is intended to be offered in two parts, the first being the performance-based component and the second being the end-of-year component. As I understand it, it is two parts to the same exam. Part one looks at “critical-thinking, reasoning and application skills through extended tasks such as reading an excerpt from a book and writing about it.” Part two is designed to “measure concepts and skills.”

But that wasn’t the explanation we received, and I’m guessing it isn’t what our district is telling other parents who may not know better. Instead, the line was “PARCC is both a formative and summative test, so we offer the formative in March and then the summative in late April.”

Granted, I’m no psychometrician, but I’m not quite sure that’s how formative and summative assessments are supposed to work, at least not in the primary grades. And if it is, I don’t see how any schools or classes are going to show student learning outcome gains on a summative test just a few weeks after benchmarking with the formative.

And it should be no surprise that, as we have these confusions on assessment types, that the state teachers’ union is running TV spots on how horrible testing is and how there is nothing a test can tell a parent that a teacher can’t already relay.

To borrow from Cool Hand Luke, what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate. Earlier this week, The Washington Post reported on significant parent misperceptions about Common Core State Standards, particularly with regard to the content and subjects covered by the standards. But we have also seen a major assault against the standards because of the tests, with attacks coming on amount of testing time, stress of the test, technology issues, and all points in between. And it is the assault on assessment that has really chipped away at CCSS over the past several years.

Today’s example is just another one of how misperceptions–or lack of understanding–continue to hurt what are intended to be standard instructional guidelines in English and math. It gives one more thing to blame CCSS for, and one more reason to buy into the “over tested, over stressed” argument.

Instead, we should be taking opportunities to educate parents (and teachers and policymakers and just about everyone) on the different types of tests. What are the benefits of a formative assessment versus an interim versus a summative? How are they different? How can we tell when any one of the three is of high quality (as PARCC seems to be) and how can we decide when a test is just crap? And how do we ensure teachers and parents get test data in quick turnaround so it can be used to improve the teaching and learning process?

Until we address these types of questions, it will remain open season on testing in general, and CCSS assessments in particular. And until we ensure high-quality assessments focused on student learning, real efforts to improve public schools and ensure students are college and career ready will struggle to gain the hold they need to succeed.

Building a New Principal Prep Moustrap

Sadly, current school leader preparation programs — those that typically offer an M.Ed. to successful principal candidates — are generally poor. Admissions and graduation standards are often the lowest among programs offered by education schools, a reality detailed in my own research for the Education Schools Project. Coursework is largely unrelated to the positions prospective school leaders are preparing for, and the clinical portions of the program are often weak. These programs are thought of as the easiest route to a master’s degree, the quickest path to the salary bump they bring.

Both higher education and K-12 have known for far too long that the vast majority of school leadership preparation programs are inadequate. Yet they’ve done little about it because demand for such programs remains high.

Woodrow Wilson Foundation President Arthur Levine in Real Clear Education School Principals Should Be Trained Like MBAs

Engagin’ in Austin

We’ve talked about SXSWedu in this space before. It is part Woodstock, part prom for all of those who spend their waking hours thinking about education issues and how technology and innovation and social change can influence what is happening at our educational institutions.

Well, I’m thrilled to announce that Eduflack will be speaking at this year’s SXSWedu conference in Austin in March. On Tuesday, March 10, I’ll be leading a solo session on the importance of parental engagement. More specifically, my Forget Leaning In, We Need to Dadprove session looks at how we “need to inspire a generation of men to realize what they can and should do as dads, being active in their children’s lives and involved in their learning processes.”

The presentation will be based on my Dadprovement book, which examined the topic from about as personal a perspective as possible, me and my own family.

We’ve all heard the stories. Women are told they can’t have it all, so they need to “lean in,” and all but forget about families if they want to be successes. Men pretend they have both, but largely go through the motions on the home front (or on forums like Facebook” to appear like the ideal. And what happens when a father falls from a high-profile position? He inevitably announces he is departing for “family reasons,” until we can regroup and get back on that career ladder.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. And it shouldn’t. When we talk achievement gaps and student learning outcomes and college/career ready and our hopes and dreams for our kids, we can only help our children achieve it when we are all truly active and engaged parents. We need to be active, invested participants in the process, recognizing that parenthood is the most important job we will have, or at least the job with the greatest potential impact.

If you’re down in Austin for SXSWedu, be sure to check out my session. I’m the solo act for the 1:10 slot that Tuesday. You’ll never forgive yourself if you miss it. (and I’ll even have some free books for those who check it out)

Free College, With Caveats

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama announced his plans to provide all “hard working” students with two years of free community college. But such a grand promise comes with a great number of questions, questions that we just aren’t getting a lot of answers to at this point.

Over at Education World, Eduflack opines on some of the many questions that come out of a promise to free college. Impact on dual-enrollment programs and proprietary colleges? Improved quality of community college programs? Impact on Pell? Future of competency-based education? And are we putting the emphasis on the right higher ed items?

As I write at Education World:

Will this be another good idea that only gets tossed aside because it lacks the funding and the changes it calls for are too hard (or too ambiguous) for institutions and policymakers to take on? Or is it just the innovation needed to begin to shake up higher education policy and place greater power and focus on the students, and not just on the institutions?

Give it a read. And please, offer answers if you have any …

Jeb Bush and the Politics of Education Policy

Over at the New Yorker this week, there is a terrific deep dive from Alec MacGillis on former Florida Gov. and potential GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush and his deep work in education reform, both in Florida and nationally.

MacGillis does a great job of really telling the tale of the breadth of Bush’s efforts in education, how his thinking has evolved, and how one action or issue led to his involvement in another. It’s definitely worth the read.

And dear ol’ Eduflack is included in the piece:

Some friends and associates saw personal motivations behind Bush’s initiatives. Patrick Riccards, who, as counsel for the federal government’s National Reading Panel, discussed education reform with Bush, said, “As the father of Hispanic kids, you become far more sensitive to disparities—kids who look like your kids not getting the skills they need or getting into the right colleges.” (Bush’s children attended private schools in Miami and Jacksonville.) Others detected a competitive desire to surpass his brother’s agenda in Texas.

I’m speaking personally in the above. As the father of two Latino kids, talk of achievement gaps grew far more personal to me. It was no longer just a rhetorical point, but it affected my kids and kids just like them. Having engaged some with Jeb over the years, I have to believe it has had the same impact on him. If not, he wouldn’t be as passionate about the topic as he is.

Definitely take the time to read MacGillis’ piece in the New Yorker. There is a lot flying around about Jeb and Common Core, but this is the first piece I’ve seen in a good long while that really takes a thorough look at a complex issue.

Common Core Test Camp?

One of Eduflack’s favorite streams on Twitter these days is @ThanksCommonCore (also with #thankscommoncore hashtag). With each passing day, it seems more and more that leads to the potential downfall of western civilization is being blamed on Common Core.

We, of course, know it isn’t actually Common Core’s fault. Those who actually take the time to read and understand what is in the standards realize Common Core that Common Core really isn’t to blame for all of the horrors in the world. And neither are the Common Core tests. A good assessment measures the progress of student learning. It isn’t something that is prepped or crammed for the evening before.

But back to today’s story. Over the weekend, the edu-family decided to check out a summer camp fair at the local shopping mall. Being new to the area in New Jersey, we wanted to see what local day camps were available for the summer, hoping to avoid the “free-range children” approach we took to last summer.

And much of what we saw was what we expected. Several nature camps. A number offering Minecraft and robotics. Camps run by the YMCA. Fabulously expensive day camps run by local private schools. Even summer camps run by our daughter’s gymnastics school. But I was sucked in by a banner from a local “learning center” trumpeting PARCC Preparation Camp.

Yep, you read that right. We now have folks looking to turn a summer buck cashing in on parents’ fears about the dreaded Common Core test.

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“Spaces are limited!”

The marketing materials go on to say:

We know PARCC is on everyone’s mind. We are actively working to make sure our students are prepared for whatever the test throws at them this March and May. If you’re not sure what you can do to help your child prepare, come speak with us. We can diagnose your child to see where there may be some areas of weakness and put together a game plan on how to fill those gaps in understanding.

That’s right. For all those parents worried about the dreaded Common Core test, have we got a product to prey on you. And we do it with the big logo and image that PARCC uses, so you think it is official. Worried the test will doom your kid to a life of flipping burgers? Have we got a program for you. Concerned the neighbor kids will do better than yours? Enroll today. Fear that some of the top public schools in the nation are falling down on the job? We are here to help.

They also offer to supplement the Common Core Test Prep Camp with other programs to better your kids in English, math, literature, creative writing, and critical thinking. And they throw in essay writing to ensure your kids can get into college once they’ve mastered that dreaded Common Core test.

Eduflack realizes that companies looking to profit on changes in education is nothing new. A decade ago, I spent far too much time dealing with new companies looking to cash in on the Reading First largesse. It seemed everyone had a new product “aligned” with scientifically based reading, and was more than happy to take money from the state, a school district, or a parent to ensure that all kids were reading. Unfortunately, too many of them were smoke and mirrors, magical elixirs and silver bullets that had no basis in what works and just wanted to score a quick buck while the going was good.

And now we see that in Common Core. Everything from Common Core-aligned (and Star Wars-themed) workbooks for parents to purchase to now CCSS test prep camps. It’s just shameful how often we look to take advantage of the legitimate concerns of parents and teachers to make a quick score and pick up a few more bucks in the process.

My kids won’t be going to Common Core camp this summer. There is likely Minecraft and gymnastics camps in our future. Our son (a third grader) also wants to go to one that will help teach him to make his own Lego movie. But he won’t be cramming on things that most likely aren’t even found in the Common Core State Standards.

And they may even go to one of those nature camps. Should they get sunburn, I’m just going to blame Common Core.