Is the Charter School “Experiment” Truly Over?

Last week, President Donald Trump declared “mission accomplished” when it comes to charter schools and school choice, noting that the experiment is now over and charters have clearly won the day.

While one might be able to make such a claim in New Orleans, New York City, Chicago, or DC, are we really ready to declare victory across the nation? I look at the school district that gave me my high school diploma — in Shenandoah Junction, West Virginia — and wonder what charters would mean in a community like that, if charters even existed in a community like that.

With so few communities experiencing charter schools — and with most of those that have being limited to our large, urban cities — can we really declare the experiment over? Is it done when we simply have too few test subjects to render a full and complete decision?

These are some of the questions I explore on the latest edition of #TrumpED on the BAM! Radio Network. Give it a listen. You won’t be disappointed.

What’s Up on #TrumpED?

I’ve been remiss in posting many of our recent segments for #TrumpED on BAM! Radio Network. So for all of those who have been making our segments on education policy in the Trump Administration “must-listen” radio, let me point out a few recent segments.

What does the Trump “skinny” budget mean for education policy? We take a look here.

Here, we explore whether it is really that simple to say that our national policy is simply to return education decision making to the states and localities.

And here, we take a look at whether the proposed cuts to Title II and teacher professional development truly make sense for improving the quality and impact of classroom instruction.

Give them all a listen. And drop dear ol’ Eduflack a note on future topics you’d like to hear on TrumpED.

 

What the Field Says About Our Federal Education Priorities

A few weeks back, I had the privilege of hosting a roundtable discussion for BAM! Radio Network with the leaders of five key national education organizations. The topic? What should our education priorities be under President Donald Trump and his Education Department.

The discussion included AASA’s Dan Domenech, NASSP’s JoAnn Bartoletti, NAESP’s Gail Connelly, ASBO’s John Musso, and NAEYP’s Rhian Evans.

 

Give it a listen here. It is well worth the time. A lot of interesting perspectives from the organizations that represent many of the leading voices in our school buildings today.

Did Lego Just Diss #Teachers With its NASA Series?

As many have seen, earlier this month Lego announced a new series of its popular toys, this time honoring the Women of NASA. It’s an important collection, and a well deserved homage to the women behind the success of the space program. But it spotlighting five women, and not including Christa McAuliffe, did Lego show real disrespect for classroom teachers?

This is the question I explore this week for Hechinger Report, noting:

“McAuliffe was an educator who would do anything and everything to bring the joys of learning to her own students and her own classrooms. Following her own dreams, she showed a generation of students what was possible. And she likely inspired a generation of learners – both male and female – to follow their passions and to be inspired by both the good and the bad their experienced.

She is just as important to the storyline of NASA as Ride, Margaret Hamilton, and Mae Jemison. Some may say even more so, as McAuliffe’s role reinvigorated a generation that had grown complacent, just as it had at the time of Apollo 13.”

Give the full piece at Hechinger a read. Let me know what you think. McAuliffe and the Challenger disaster was an key moment in Eduflack’s childhood. It shouldn’t be glossed over just because it is a difficult topic to discuss with kids.

“Dream, Then Do” When It Comes to #STEM Teaching, Learning

For more than a decade, we have been talking about STEM (science-technology-engineering-math) education in the United States. For much of that time, though, our discussions haven’t evolved much. In too many corners of the conversation, we focus exclusively on how to teach math and science, mostly relying on the same methods and the same approaches we have used for generations.

It’s only been recently that we’ve acknowledged, for instance, the need to better address the T and the E in the conversation, particularly as we now look to add coding and computer science to the K-12 curriculum (and as we search for teachers prepared in leading such instructional pursuits). And we now embrace the idea of transforming STEM to STEAM, seeing how the arts (particularly music) can better connect the academics of STEM to the students of today. 
Eduflack has been fortunate to spend recent years looking specifically at how we can revolutionize teacher education to take full advantage of the opportunities available through STEM education. In states like Georgia, Indiana, and New Jersey, we have worked with dozens of universities to transform their existing STEM teacher preparation efforts, ensuring strong pipelines of effective educators for high-need schools that possess both the content knowledge and the pedagological skills to succeed. 

And through the work of the Woodrow Wilson Academy of Teaching and Learning, we are now taking that even a step further, exploring how gaming, assisted reality, rich clinical experiences, project-based learning, and a time-independent program void of credit hours and Carnegie units can do a more effective job preparing prospective teachers for the rigors of STEM education in both the schools of today and the learning environments of tomorrow. 

Recently, I had the privilege to travel to Israel to see how a “start-up nation” focused on technological opportunities is addressing STEM education today. The ORT Israel Sci-Tech Schools Network is essentially a network of nearly 100 charter high schools focused on STEM instruction. Everything is taught in a dual-language environment (English and Hebrew), with many of the schools in the northern part of the nation adding the third language of Arabic to meet the needs of their Arab students. 

At every instance, the educators at ORT seek to use personalized learning to help connect STEM lessons to the STEM learner. They embrace the use of technology in the classroom, including the instructional applications of students using their own smartphones while in class. ORT actively recruits teachers who have developed meaningful content knowledge in the private sector, bringing their experiences as developers and designers for names such as Microsoft and Google into the K-12 classroom. 

Visiting schools across the country, I witnessed STEM seamlessly integrated with English language instruction and literature and even the Bible. One educator remarked that “this is a creative thinking place for teachers.” In multiple schools, I heard educators speak of changing “the exclamation points to question marks in learning,” meaning to them that instead of teachers offering the definitive word on everything taught, they saw their role as inspiring their students to ask questions and seek answers. 

“Kids don’t have to change. Let them be curious,” one technology teacher told me. “Teachers need to change.” 

And one engineer-turned-educator summed up his direction to his students as, “today you can dream, tomorrow you can do.” 

The students respond in kind, seeing project-based instruction as, “relevant to us.”  

As I was meeting with a group of students in Northern Israel, I inquired whether they preferred this new, project-based, STEAM-focused instructional model to the previous ways they were taught, the room exploded with a combination of rapid Hebrew, followed by laughter from some of the teachers. Clearly my meager mastery of the English language and my pathetic understanding of Spanish wasn’t going to help me, so I asked one of the teachers for a little assistance. 


His explanation made me understand I was in a STEM classroom much like the classes I visit here in the United States. Most of the kids in the class were not aspiring rocket scientists or brain surgeons. Many of them didn’t want to be in high school at all. But they were saying that if they were required to be in school, this was really the only way they would want to do it. For them, there was no other school choice. 

The visit to these ORT Schools helped me see there are some universal truths when it comes to the future of teaching and learning, truths that I see with every school visit or teacher discussion I have here in the states. Teachers want to be empowered. Educators see the enormous value in mastering content as well as being adept at classroom management. That their success is measured by far more than a test score. That they are eager for the instructional opportunities ahead, and charting new ground to meet the needs of tomorrow’s learners. 

And for those learners, personalized instruction is king. Project-based learning inspires. The real-life experiences of their teachers mean something. And what they can do with the content and knowledge obtained is far more important than how it can be measured. 

As a community, we need to do far more to spotlight what is happening in American classrooms today. To capture how PBL is affecting both teacher and student. To demonstrate the impact STEM has on all students, regardless of expected career path. To call out how teacher preparation programs are breaking the old models to meet the demands of the future. To talk about the dreams of today, so we can do tomorrow. 

Of School Vouchers and Civil Rights 

For more than a decade now, we have heard advocates position the fight for education reform as the great civil rights battle of our generation. And there is little question that discussions of equity and equal pathways to college and career success for all students – regardless of their race, family income, or zip code – is a worthy fight.

It is on this fight that so much of the current school choice frame is constructed. The expansion and adequate funding of public charter schools is all about civil rights. And the renewed attention to vouchers is no different. 

As part of his first address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, President Donald Trump again tied school choice to civil rights. But at a time when actual civil rights – from Title IX to LGBT to IDEA – are front and center of current school and education debates, is it fair to position private school vouchers in the same manner?

This is the topic we explore on the latest edition of #TrumpED on the BAM! Radio Network.

Interestingly, immediate response to the segment began referencing the United Nations and Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. No one should question that access to free, high-quality public education education is indeed a right all around the world should advocate for. And ensuring that parents have a say in the educational path that is best for their children should be rightly included in such discussions. In crafting Article 26, did the UN really intend for such language to be used to provide cover for those choosing not to send their kids to a community public school or a local public charter school, and instead send them to a possibly expensive private school with the financial support of taxpayers? Particularly if those vouchered tax dollars largely exceed what that same family was paying in taxes to support the local schools?

You be the judge. Give the program a listen. I realize Eduflack won’t necessarily make friends with the reform community by posing such questions, but it is an important discussion to have.

 

Happy Happy!

On this day in history. Seventy years ago, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was established. Twenty-three years ago, Justin Bieber was hatched, err was born. Twenty two years ago, Yahoo was incorporated. And 10 years ago today, Eduflack was launched.

It’s hard to believe that it has been a decade. In that time, we have had well over a million page visits to this site. We have experienced three different presidents and four different EdSecs. We went from the height of NCLB to the rejection of NCLB to the passage of ESSA to now the start of the rejection of key ESSA provisions. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

When I launched Eduflack in 2007, I did so because I found the writing cathartic. I didn’t expect folks would actually want to read it (no, I’m not being self deprecating). I certainly didn’t expect major news outlets would quote posts (particularly when I hypothesized on potential EdSec candidates in 2008).

This site has evolved over the last decade, but I still try to keep it at that intersection of education communications, policy, politics, and research. Sometimes we lean more one way than the other. But with each post, we try to stay true to our roots.

This blog has led to the establishment and curation of a top education policy Twitter feed, @Eduflack (believe it or not, Twitter wasn’t even a thing when the blog was established). It has led to a regular podcast for BAM! Radio Network, with the current focus on education policy under President Trump (#TrumpED). And it has resulted in essays and commentaries bearing the Eduflack name in Education Week, US News & World Report, and many, many others.

It has even led to an upcoming book, currently late to my publisher, on the need to reform education reform.

And while I hate the term, it has also resulted in an Eduflack “brand,” which hopefully stands for something that is seen as contributing to a meaningful discussion, and not just adding to all of the meaningless white noise in public education.

Big thanks to all of those who read this blog, who encourage me to continue to do this blog, and to those who run into me at conferences and events and simply know me as Eduflack (granted, Riccards can often be too difficult for some to pronounce.)

Thank you all! And happy birthday Eduflack, truly my middle child.

 

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