For #SmartParents, It’s About Getting Smart

I’ll admit it. I get into far too many Twitter fights where someone asks me what right I have being involved in education policy or even talking education and classroom instruction, having never been a teacher myself. Sure, I can offer the resume, detailing two decades of experience in education policy and education research. I can cite my tenure as a school board chairman, school volunteer, and advocate. But more often than not, my immediate response is, “I’m a parent.”

During my time in the education trenches, I have seen too many parents who seem to abdicate responsibility for educating their children. The common line is that it is the school, and more important, the teacher, who is responsible for instruction. That what happens behind the schoolhouse doors or between the hours of 8 am and 3 pm is the responsibility of the educator, and not the parent. But we all know that just isn’t true.

The most successful of schools are those where educators and parents work in partnership. It isn’t the adversarial relationship, where parents come in when there is a perceived problem with the teacher or the student. It isn’t the absentee relationships, where parents don’t come in at all. And it isn’t the “Facebook” relationship, where parents pretend they are active parts of the school community to impress their friends, but in reality could never find their way from the office to their child’s classroom without a guide.

No, the success comes from parents and teachers working together. It comes from parents being smarter about how school work, what is expected of teachers, what is expected of students, and how parents can support all of the above. It is about parents understanding what teaching and learning really means. And yes, it is about a keen understanding of assessment and how good tests should be used (and how to determine when a lousy or unnecessary test is presenting itself).

I’m proud of my role as a parent. One of the reasons I wrote my book, Dadprovement, was to issue a call to arms to have fathers more involved in their children’s lives. That means more than just putting down the iPhone during the weekend soccer game or asking “so how was your day, sport?” on one of the few evenings when the family is actually having dinner together. Real involvement means knowing your kids’ interests and friends and teachers and classroom lessons and general progress in the learning process.

Earlier this year, I was part of an important project from Getting Smart called #SmartParents. It was developed, with the support of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, to provide both guidance and personal stories from parents to parents about how we can be more active and positively involved in our kids’ learning process. The final product of that effort is a new book, Smart Parents: Parenting for Powerful Learning.

I am incredibly honored to be a contributing author to this book, offering an essay based on my SXSWEdu talk earlier this year on parental engagement. But I’m even more excited by the total product and the inspiration, the guidance, the support, and the sense that we are not alone that it provides to parents, all parents of school-aged children. It serves as a true unifier for those parents who understand the power of public education, for those who know how important a positive experience in the classroom and with the teacher is, and who are committed to being a part of that learning process.

As I recently said about Smart Parents:

There is nothing more powerful than an engaged, informed parent. Smart Parents: Parenting for Powerful Learning provides all families – regardless of race, socioeconomic status, or zip code — the tools and resources they need to be effective advocates and inspiring teachers for their kids. Successful learners need smart parents supporting and encouraging them.

Check out the book. You won’t be disappointed. And I guarantee you will see your own family in at least one of the stories told. If you don’t, I’ll personally buy the book back from you.

Happy reading!

History Can Be Fun and Games

While we may look to the history books to see the chronicling of the past, we don’t have to limit how we teach history (or civics or social studies, or any subject, for that matter) to those same books. New technologies, new instructional approaches, and even the embrace of the old role-playing styles, have opened up new doors when it comes to how we teach — and learn — history.

Over at Medium this week, I write on how history instruction can be transformed through a gaming approach to teaching. USA Today reporter Greg Toppo has literally written the book on the topic, with his The Game Believes In You telling some incredible stories of how educators are using games to better reach their students.

In my piece, I look at some of the specific efforts to use gaming to bring social studies instruction alive, everything from iCivics to the teacher-focused simulations at Ted Kennedy Institute to the new Woodrow Wilson HistoryQuest Fellowship program.

As I write:

Simply put, we cannot expect 21st-century students to truly learn from history — and civics and social studies in general — in the same way and through the same approaches that may have worked for Santayana, Winston Churchill, and others concerned about repeating history. The methods of old, those with experienced educators lecturing in front of a class of students all sitting at desks in straight rows, is quickly becoming a thing of the past. If the students of tomorrow are to truly “learn from history,” they require instructional approaches that better reflect their own interests, learning styles, and experiences.

And as I conclude:

And that is the role gaming now plays in my kids’ classroom. I want a teacher who has been part of the HistoryQuest program to make social studies come alive for my kids in a way a paper-and-ink textbook simply can’t. I want a music teacher that is channeling my son’s love of Minecraft to help him appreciate his grandfather’s love of opera. And I want an educator who can use the simulations of the Kennedy Institute to help my daughter better understand what I did all those years when I worked on Capitol Hill.

Give the piece a read. Think of it like a game …

The Teacher of the Future

The teacher of the future? That future might be now. It is an important discussion that policymakers and practitioners should be having. What are our expectations for teachers in the future? What should incoming educators know and be able to do? And what do we do when our expectations don’t match the realities in the classroom?

Earlier this month, KCUR public radio in Kansas City, MO dedicated an hour to the topic, offering up a wide range of perspectives. The segment included Arthur Levine, President of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation; Cristin Blunt, teacher at an alternative school in Shawnee Mission; Colleen Power, homeschool mom and teacher; Matthew Oates, involved with Friends of Hale Cook and candidate for Kansas City Public Schools board; Sylvia Maria Gross, Senior Producer of KCUR’s Central Standard and former teacher; Tony Kline, Superintendent, University Academy; and Kyle Palmer, KCUR reporter.

You can hear the full story here on the KCUR site. It’s definitely worth the listen.

Can We Learn Empathy from the Clock Incident and #IStandWithAhmed ?

Now that the dust has settled some on the controversy out in Texas where a high school student was arrested and then suspended for building a digital clock at home and bringing it into school, it is time to start asking what we can learn from this experience (and from many like it when school rules seem to conflict with a student’s love for learning).

Over at Medium, I explore this topic as part of Changemaker Education and Ashoka’s Start Empathy Initiative. As I write:

No, we don’t know what would have happened if the student’s skin was Northern European white instead of Middle Eastern brown. We don’t know what difference it would have made if his last name was “Michaels” instead of “Mohamed”. But we do know that our public need to stereotype and give in to phobias may have stifled a potentially strong scientific mind from pursuing his full potential.

What becomes most frustrating about the experience is that, while we talk about the importance of empathy in the schools, we instead see a classic case of “defending” discrimination. Authorities could have taken a step back and tried to look at this through Ahmed Mohamed’s eyes; the pride of building a digital clock on his own, the confusion of being discouraged by a trusted teacher. The fear of being interrogated by police and then placed in handcuffs. All for building a digital clock.

I hope you’ll give it a read.

Thanks, Bulldog Reporter! #bulldogawards

Just wanted to take a quick second to thank Bulldog Reporter and all of those who are involved in the Bulldog Awards process. Earlier this week, Bulldog Reporter announced the winners of its 2015 Bulldog Not-for-Profit PR Awards. I’m honored to announce that dear ol’ Eduflack won the gold for Outstanding Non-Profit Communicator.

Specifically, Bulldog recognized my work with the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, where we are seeking to transform teacher education. Communications has been an important part of the Foundation’s work over the past year, and I’m fortunate to work with a number of terrific individuals on this effort. Communications is now integrated in all of the Foundation’s programmatic work, and the mutual benefits of this relationship can be seen in Woodrow Wilson’s successes.

So thanks to Bulldog, to the judges, to the Woodrow Wilson Foundation team, and to all those across the nation who are part of a shared effort to transform teacher education. We are building a movement, and I am fortunate to be a part of it.

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Talking Public/Private Partnerships on Twitter #ANPRSA

Just wanted to share this notice from the Public Relations Society of America. On Thursday, September 24 at 8 pm ET/5 pm PT, I’ll be part of a Twitter town hall that PRSA is hosting on “Best Practices in Managing Nonprofit-Corporate Partnerships. Following are all of the deets. Hope you’ll be able to join us on hashtag #ANPRSA for the discussion.

The Association/Nonprofit section’s next Twitter chat will bring folks together to discuss Best Practices for Nonprofit and Corporate Partnership — what challenges to anticipate when building and managing these relationships, what outcomes you can/should expect, and what resources are available for nonprofits who want to engage more in this kind of work. We hope you can join us! 

Best Practices in Managing Nonprofit-Corporate Partnerships

Thursday, September 24, 2015
8 PM Eastern / 5 PM Pacific



Patrick R. Riccards (@Eduflack)
Chief Communications and Strategy Officer, Woodrow Wilson Foundation

Tom Greer (@tompgreer)
Director of Communication, TASBO
Denise Bortree (@dbortree)
Director, Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication

Does Accountability “Eradicate Goodness?”

As a nation, No Child Left Behind has been the law for more than 13 years now. Good, bad, and ugly (and with the occasional waiver from any of the three), NCLB governs K-12 education in the United States.

Listen to any of those who were responsible for bringing it into law, or those who were responsible for implementing the law, and you’ll hear one of the most important components was “accountability.” NCLB was designed to hold states, districts, schools, teachers, and students themselves for learning. Test scores determined if adequate progress was being made. If it wasn’t, then federal dollars were at risk and great public shame could come to those put on the “list” for failing to make AYP.

We all recognize that, at some point in the near future, NCLB will be replaced with some variation of the current “Every Child Achieves” bill that is currently working its way through Congress. A great many legislators, organizations, individuals, advocates, agitators, and the like are all look to make the changes that help them the most or reflect their own dreams and desires for federal K-12 governance.

And we will see change. We likely will see a number of changes. We will likely see changes that aren’t even warranted (or may not be demanded). But one thing should be clear. We aren’t going to see federal law do away with accountability.

I understand there are a great number of people who want to accountability go the way of the dodo. Those that want to see all the sticks replaced with carrots and federal law governed by the philosophy that we are all a success and we’ve earned trophies just for participating in the schooling process.

But results count. There are clear benchmarks of what students should know and be able to do at the conclusion of each grade. There are clear expectations of what it means to finish the fourth grade or to graduate from high school. And when students enter fourth grade unable to read at grade level or head into 12th grade functionally illiterate, someone needs to be held accountable. The state. The district. The school. And the student himself.

So it a cryin’ shame when we see folks who should know better thinking that a redo of the ESEA law can and should mean the total elimination of any and all accountability. Particularly when they frame it as, “Doing anything punitive in nature eradicates what goodness is going to come out of this bill.”

For those keeping track, those are the words of Sheila Cohen, the president of the Connecticut Education Association. They were spoken, as captured by the Connecticut Mirror, in response to U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy siding with civil rights groups who want to see accountability provisions remain in the federal law, including the NAACP.

“The principle of accountability is not negotiable to us,” said Leslie Proll, director of the Washington office of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “This was the raison d’etre of the original act. Educational systems must be held responsible for narrowing and eliminating gaps in opportunity and achievement for students of color.”

Proll is right on point here. Educational systems must be held responsible. They must be responsible for both the inputs and the outcomes. They must both admit there are serious concerns when it comes to achievement and opportunity gaps AND that we need to everything possible to close those gaps. And no, simply blaming “poverty” is not going to get us there.

There cannot be accountability without some sort of punitive action. Otherwise, there simply is no accountability. Are we to simply say, borrowing from the old Robin Williams routine, “improve the schools, or we’ll ask you to improve them again?” Decades have shown us it just doesn’t work that way.

Instead of believing that something punitive eradicates all that is good in nature, perhaps we should borrow a little from Newton’s third law of physics. For every act of accountability, there is an equal and opposite act of achievement. That the possibility of a negative impact will actually lead our schools to make the requisite change to close those persistent gaps that need to be closed.