The New Twitter Edu-List is Here! The New Twitter Edu-List is Here!

It is that time of year again, when kids start going back to school and the adults in their lives complain about it. I know this from my Facebook feed, as many of unhappy kids (and gleeful adults) faced a new school year. Fortunately, the edu-family here has until next Wednesday, as September 2 is D-day in the Eduflack house.

It is also that time of year when Michael Petrilli and Education Next release the annual “Top K-12 Education Policy People on Social Media” list. The list is always good for a few reasons. One, it provides a check to make sure you are following those individuals who tend to be near the center of edu-discussions on Twitter. Two, it opens up a discussion on the role of people of color and even journalists play in such social media discussions (see Alexander Russo’s discussion of that here). And third, it opens up a social media free for all from folks who believe they merit consideration for the list (and as a corollary, we have those folks who want desperately to be on the list, and then attack Petrilli’s methodology because they fall short, either by Klout score or followers).

In past years, Education Next has looked at how edu-Tweeters stack up in a number of ways. There was the educator/policy-noneducator comparison list. There was the individuals and organizations comparison. But no matter how it was disaggregated, many just couldn’t get past the Klout score as a metric. Since so few understand how Klout scores are assembled (and many who do are frustrated they don’t have enough activity to gain a Klout score), they complain about the methodology, assuming it was done to help friends and punish enemies.

In this regard, the Klout score is like the state test. Yes, it is high stakes. Yes, it may be unfair to some. But at the end of the day, there simply isn’t another metric to measure performance. It is just too hard to compare Twitter feed to Twitter feed without having some sort of quantitative measure. And for education on social media, Klout is that measure.

But to help those who don’t believe in social media “accountability” and think things should be more democratic (with a little d) and driven by the Twitter users themselves, and not by the big bad corporate Klout developers who must be profiting from social media, Petrilli and company have also ranked based on followers. The most populist of populist metrics, whether folks like a Twitter feed enough just to throw it a follow.

So how do the lists stack up? First, let’s take a look at the Klout-driven rankings. The top 10 are: Arne Duncan, Diane Ravitch, Randi Weingarten, John White, Xian F’znger Barrett, Jose VIlson, Andy Smarick, Robert Pondiscio, yours truly, Julian Vasquez Heilig, and Andre-Tascha Lamme. As one would expect, six of those names boast total followers in the five figures. All have Klout scores at 67 or higher. Lamme, from the StudentsFirst organization, becomes the true outlier with only 687 Twitter followers. That likely means a Klout score driven by other very active social media platforms, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, Blogger, and the like. Pondiscio, for instance, is masterful at driving huge engagement on edu-discussions through his Facebook page.

And the list when we through Klout accountability out the window and look just at Twitter followers? The top 10 are: Arne Duncan, Diane Ravitch, me, Michelle Rhee, Alfie Kohn, Randi Weingarten, Dorie Turner Nolt, Valerie Strauss, Pasi Sahlberg, and  Michael Fullan. There we see followers range from the EdSec’s 217k to Fullan’s 22,600.

In looking to the second list, it is worth noting that eight of the top 24 Twitter feeds (based on total followers) do not have Klout scores. Don’t shoot this messenger, or the messengers at Education Next. Take it up with Klout, my friends.

And back to that pesky question about members of the media that Alexander Russo often raises. If we look at the Klout-based, accountable list of Twitter feeds, we see Joy Resmovits (formerly of HuffPo and now part of the L.A. Times’ new education focus) leading the list of mainstream reporters, coming in at number 12). Russo comes in at 16, the New York Times’ Motoko Rich steps in at 21, joined by Vox’s Libby Nelson.

We see more reporters on the just-the-followers list, with WaPo’s Strauss at number 8, USA Today’s Greg Toppo at 12, EdWeek’s Stephen Sawchuk at 13, Russo at 17, and Rich at 19.

Definitely give the EdNext article a read. Some items will surprise you. We see names like Campbell Brown and Joshua Starr (now of PDK) quickly cementing their reps on social media. We also see go-tos like EdWeek and Politico (on the education side) not represented as I would expect.

Social media is a fickle mistress. There are bound to be many changes before Petrilli offers up the 2016 edition. Eleven months to bolster your followers and Klout scores!

Moving from #STEM to STEEM?

Earlier this week, Eduflack was in a meeting talking about what could be. As is typical in such discussions, the conversation often shifts to STEM–or science, technology, engineering, and math–education. Sure, we often struggle with what technology and engineering look like in a K-12 setting, and some ask whether STEM is more important than great literature, but there is no denying that STEM literacy is important for virtually every student, whether they intend to be a rocket scientist or an artist.

One of the big trends lately has been asking whether it should be “STEAM” instead, with an A added for the study of the arts. But after some of the visits I’ve made to schools and educators in places like Indiana and Wisconsin, I’ve become an advocate for STEAM, only with the A standing for agriculture.

Today, though, something crossed my desk that has me wondering is perhaps we should be thinking of it as STEEM. There is no doubt that second E has a lot of attention and the focus on this current generation of students (and their parents, I would guess). The big question, though, is how one effectively teaches the environment and ecology in today’s K-12 universe (unless you want to be a true stickler and claim that such studies should fit under science, but another story for another day).

So I was intrigued when I saw a new curriculum offered by the Think Earth Environmental Education Foundation designed to help K-2 teachers instruct their little learners in the finer points of environmental education. The curriculum is being offered free of charge to schools, and focuses on subjects such as natural resource conservation, waste reduction, and the minimalization of pollution. Think Earth is even rolling out a third-grade curriculum for this coming 2015-16 school year, with plans to add fourth through eighth grade in the coming year. And to be environmentally conscious, it’ll all be available online.

According to its creators, the curriculum has already been used by more than 60,000 educators. And if we believe the small print, it is aligned with Common Core State Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, and the McREL Standards Compendium.

As I write this, I can already here the edu-wife laughing at me, wondering what liberal tsetse fly bit me overnight, resulting in me writing an environmentally conscious blog post. Yes, I’m that guy that complains about recycling (even though I seem to be the one hauling our sorted trash to the curb each week). And I have been known to say the Earth should toughen up a little, and it is awfully pompous of us to believe that a few decades of human consumption is going to ruin a planet millions of years in the making.

But I also think of my own kids, one who exited second grade two years ago and one who just finished her tenure in the second stanza this past spring. Both learned about the environment. Both came home preaching about my waste and our need to protect the environment. And neither really knowing what it all meant and definitely not seeing how it fit into what they were learning in class on a daily basis.

So if this curriculum and the work of Think Earth can help move us a little closer to relevance, while helping the youngest learners begin to collect the knowledge that will be useful when they are tested on science in years to come, I’m all for it. Added bonus if it means I don’t have to roll my eyes when my kids just choose to preach environment every April, And triple word score if maybe, just maybe, it means I’m not the only one in the house having to do the work because the rest of my family unit is worried about the environment.

Yes, We Need a Literacy Discussion at #SXSWEdu. Vote Now!

Last year, Eduflack had the honor of speaking at SXSWEdu, preaching on the importance of active, involved parents in the educational process. The talk came out of my award-winning Dadprovement book, a work I am particularly proud of.

This year, I am hoping to get back to SXSWEdu to talk about a topic that has been the central driver of my professional edu-career for nearly two decades. That subject? How best to teach children to read.

Earlier this year, Rowman & Littlefield published Teaching Children to Read: Continuing to Challenge the Status Quo in Education, a work I put together with two of my professional mentors, Reid Lyon and Phyllis Blaunstein. In the book, we look at some both the research and some very personal experiences regarding reading instruction, and what parents can do to ensure their kids are getting the very best, proven literacy approaches in their own classrooms.

To give you a little sense of what the book seeks to do, check out what Education Trust’s Karin Chenoweth wrote about it early this year on Huffington Post.

But I digress. From the SXSWedu Panel Picker, here is the description of what I want to talk about:

Despite the adoption of Common Core and the strengthening of learning standards, nearly a third of fourth graders unable to read proficiently. Too many kids can’t read, and we know why. Moreover, we know what we should be doing about it.

This session will provide an overview of what we know is most effective in teaching young children to read, while providing a specific path for teachers and parents on how best to get it into our classrooms.

By challenging the status quo in education, we can ensure that Johnny can read. And in doing so, we can shift from being a nation at risk to one where every child is truly college and career ready. (Spoiler, it requires literacy skills.)

– See more at: http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/47957#sthash.mjDp3v0Z.dpuf

Please vote for my session, Johnny Can’t Read, So We Remain a Nation at Risk. It takes just a moment to go to the SXSWedu picker and give my session a thumbs up (literally, you click on the up thumb and it goes green). And if you are so moved, write a brief comment on how brilliant and pithy I am, and how such a session is needed.

Thanks for your support. And as they say in Chicago, vote early and often.

#CommonCore, Through Teacher and Legislator Eyes

In the trenches of the Common Core State Standards battle, it is common to hear educators lament that legislators and policymakers just don’t understand what it is like to be a teacher or to know what is being asked of teachers when it comes to implementing Common Core.

On the flip side, many legislators have grown tired of teachers constantly saying that if you have never taught in a classroom, you have no business developing or even talking about laws and policies in the field of P-12 education.

Such realities set up instant showdowns, and, more often than not, have the educator and policy communities talking past each other, when they should be working together on important issues such as what we expect each and every student to actually learn.

That’s why Eduflack is so excited to announce that BAM! Radio Network has brought back Common Core Radio, the show I’ve been hosting since 2013. Now, I am joined by Cheryl Williams, the executive director of the Learning First Alliance, as we talk about what educators, parents, policymakers, and all those in between are doing to help successfully implement Common Core in their classrooms, schools, communities, districts, and states.

To kick us off, this week we have Eric Luedtke. Luedtke brings a fairly unique perspective to this discussion. First and foremost, he is a middle school social studies teacher in Montgomery County (MD) Public Schools. As an added bonus, he is also an elected member of the Maryland House of Delegates.

Imagine that, a teacher/legislator. In this episode, Williams and I talk to Luedtke about his experiences balancing both roles, and how he helps legislators understand the teacher perspective on Common Core, and how he helps reassure educators that their legislators are indeed listening to the classroom when it comes to standards and student expectations.

The episode, Debunking the Myths on the Path to Successful Common Core Implementation, can be found on the BAM! website or can be downloaded from iTunes. And for those who are always asking, there have been more than a million downloads of BAM! programming since the network was launched.

Happy listening! I promise you won’t be disappointed in Common Core Radio.

“The Strength of Street Knowledge”

Yes, I was one of the those fans that lined up this past weekend to see Straight Outta Compton, the bio-pic on the rise and fall of the musical genius known as N.W.A. And yes, I was one of those kids, one of those white boys from the suburbs, who was a huge fan of the powerful lyrics Ice Cube wrote about a world I would never understand.

As a kid, I didn’t listen to heavy metal. I wasn’t into alternative music like REM or U2 or Depeche Mode. No, I was into rap. As a young kid growing up in North Jersey, Run DMC was my gateway music. I was immediately taken by the lyrics and the poetry. As I got older, my preferences got a little harder. I loved the post-License to Ill Beastie Boys. I couldn’t get enough of Public Enemy. I cherished a bootleg cassette I had of 2 Live Crew (which I just told my mother about last week). And I got amped listening to N.W.A.

I looked at music like Public Enemy and N.W.A as I assume my parents’ generation looked at music by folks like Bob Dylan. It was protest music. It spoke truth to power. It gave voice to many previously without words. And to kids like me, it pulled back a curtain so we could catch just a glimpse of the world, of the struggles, and of the realities that were foreign to us, but important to our development into men (and into hopefully responsible men).

As I got older, my musical tastes matured. In college, I took a real liking to 3rd Bass (it was even on my college answering machine, where they sampled JFK). Jay-Z and Eminem and Snoop remain on my regular play lists today. But N.W.A and Public Enemy are still my go-tos.

I’ve introduced my kids to a little of it, namely Public Enemy’s Fight the Power. They sadly know Snoop from his work with Katy Perry. And they love Salt n Pepa from the Geico commercials (yes, I’ll wipe a tear).

Twenty-five years ago or so, I was taken in by the movie Do The Right Thing. Originally, the draw was the music (obviously). But I still regularly watch the movie (it is one of the staples on my iPad) because of the story it tells. As an Italian-American, I feel a personal connection. I still don’t want to accept that no matter how open-minded we all can claim to be, that we all have a break point, and we all have that inner Sal (or worse, the inner Pino) with us. I don’t want to ever be so blind to the realities around me.

So this weekend, I watched Straight Outta Compton, and was completely taken in. The music reminded me of my childhood, while the story was one I was aware of, but not completely familiar. In many ways, it was a Shakespearean story, as the lives of young men who would grow up to be the Dr. Dre of Beats headphones fame, the actor known as Ice Cube, the felon Suge Knight, the up-and-comers Tupac and Snoop, and the visionary Eazy E were intertwined over a relatively short period.

How does all of this relate to my regular writings here on Eduflack? I’m not exactly sure. I do know that my childhood, and the soundtrack of that childhood, is an important piece of who I have become and the work that I do. I know that the social, justice, and educational issues hit in those songs continue to be topics that we struggle with today. And I realize that there are still far too many kids, and they were kids back then, whose voices aren’t being heard.

This morning, I found myself listening to nothing but rap on my morning run. It gave me a lot to think about and a lot to reflect on. As luck would have it, I hit the home stretch as a song from Darryl McDaniels (of Run DMC fame) hit the shuffle. The song came out in 2007, just a few months before the adoption of my son was official. Every time I’ve heard the song since then, I think of my son. And those thoughts usually come with tears.

That’s why rap is the soundtrack of my life. It isn’t because I was a suburban kid thinking I was an OG. I wasn’t pretending I was understanding what it was like to come of age in South Central. It is because I happened to be listening to Public Enemy as I was driving back from a college internship interview, only to learn later that the Rodney King verdict had come in. And it is because in his song Just Like Me, DMC captures feelings about my kids and adoption that I couldn’t previously verbalize.

Taylor Swift (even when she tries to rap) and Meghan Trainor and even Katy Perry don’t make me think. Dre, Cube, and E do. each and every time.

Racism, Empathy, Liberals, and Baseball

As I’ve previously written, I am honored to be part of the Ashoka Foundation’s Changemaker Education effort, serving as an Ashoka Empathy Ambassador. This past week, I wrote over at Medium on a very personal experience from my childhood, where I heard supposedly liberal, open-minded parents demonstrate some textbook closed-mindedness when it came to busing and the impact of bringing kids from the inner city into their suburbs.

As I wrote, reflecting on my experiences as a kid:

I want to be empathetic about it. But I’m not necessarily talking about showing empathy for my friend. I want to better understand what in the world can motivate a supposedly liberal, educated adult male to be so thoughtless, so careless, and so ridiculous with his thinking. I want to know how adults who can preach tolerance and equality, and talk about the need for civil rights, can mean it as long as it doesn’t extend to their own local parks and schools.

I hope you’ll take the time to read the full piece over at Medium here, and to really spend some time with some of the great writing being offered through the entire Ashoka Changemakers effort.

Does Online Ed Lack Integrity? Seriously?

I don’t want to make Eduflack an ed-policy-check blog about the Hillary Clinton campaign. After critiquing the Hillary effort earlier this week, I pledged to myself I was done with presidential campaign edu-politics for a while.

Then Carl Straumsheim, a part of the terrific reporting team over at Inside Higher Education, has to go and discover and then write up what he did today about Hillary’s edu-speech this week and its remarks about online education.

As Straumsheim reported:

In a version of the plan distributed to the media this past weekend, the campaign said, “We must restore integrity to online learning and will not tolerate programs that fall short,” as though online education has recently lost its way. The campaign reworded the sentence before Monday’s announcement, however. The published version reads, “We must bring integrity to online learning” — as though it never had any in the first place.

Unfortunately, the Clinton campaign didn’t respond to IHE’s request for comment to the report. So we are all left guessing by what they intended and why what was written was actually written (and spoken).

I want to give the Clinton campaign the benefit of the doubt. I really do. I want to believe this was just a clumsy attempt to talk about the problems facing for-profit higher education today. It was a way to voice concerns about gainful employment and the collapse of Corinthian Colleges and the hope that a college degree has meaning, regardless of who’s name is on the top of the sheepskin.

But by using the words that she did, and editing them the way that she did, Hillary simply adds fuel to a fire that is already confusing far too many. She is using online education as a synonym for for-profit education. She is confusing instructional delivery method with the administrative mission and responsibility. And she is wrong in doing so.

There are a great number of traditional, not-for-profit colleges and universities that use online education. IHE mentions Hillary’s own alma mater, Wellesley College. We could add Bill’s undergraduate school, Georgetown University, to the list of colleges playing in online ed. And institutions such as Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and even my own University of Virginia make the list.

Surely we aren’t suggesting that these colleges and the hundreds like them that are using online delivery to reach today’s students lack integrity, are we? Does she really mean that every institution that currently offers blended learning or online platforms or even MOOCs lacks integrity? That a program “falls short” simply because it isn’t delivered through a traditional classroom setting, with a single professor talking before a lecture hall of hundreds of desks (many of which may have students sitting in them)?

If she meant to criticize for-profit higher education providers like Corinthian (and many of them do deserve criticism) then just come right out and say it. But remember that a provider like University of Phoenix provides far more “education” through its traditional, bricks-and-mortar storefronts that Hillary seems to embrace than it does through its online offerings. And don’t forget that, until earlier this year, Bill Clinton just wrapped up five years as the “honorary chancellor” of the Laureate International Universities for-profit and online chain (and earned millions of dollars for the honor, according to the NYT.)

Since 2007 or 2008, Eduflack has waxed semi-eloquently on this blog about the value and benefits of online learning. Much of it has been focused on K-12 blended learning efforts, but some of it has also been directed toward higher education. Today’s learners are not like those of a previous generation. Online learning allows all of us to ensure that tech-savvy students don’t need to unplug or de-skill when they enter a classroom. It ensures that a student is not denied an academic path of choice because of geographic limitations. It helps students pursue postsecondary education on their terms, building programs that work with the growing demands of families, work, and life.

Done right, online education empowers the learner. It puts the decision making in the hands of the student, and not just the provider. And it can require an education provider to improve instruction, delivery, content, and overall quality as a result.

Online education has enormous power when it comes to opening doors to those previously denied and leveling the learning playing fields.

Do some providers abuse that power and offer an inferior product? Absolutely. But the same can be said of bricks-and-mortar institutions that will enroll any warm body willing to take out loans to pay rising tuition costs. Our focus should be on the quality of instruction-however it is delivered-and not exclusively on the model being used to deliver it.

Mrs. Clinton, I hope you intend to continue to push on the discussion of integrity and institutional quality in higher education. But please don’t use such a broad brush in the process. Let’s look at grad rates and employment statistics. Let’s look at institutional costs and student loan debt. Let’s even discuss the merits, or lack there of, of for-profit higher education.

But let’s not suggest online education lacks integrity. Education, whether online or delivered in any other method, depends of the quality, values, and character of the person delivering it. Whether they do it in a classroom, online, from the town square, or at the local Dunkin’ Donuts, integrity is a measure of the quality of the product, not the means for delivering it.