The Values of #TeachStrong, Seen in Places Like Indiana

Improvement, however, must not breed complacency. How do we ensure that all of Indiana’s schools — particularly those in high-need communities — have the teacher pipeline to meet the needs of the 21st century? How do we make sure that every child in the Hoosier state has strong teachers leading their classrooms, from the earliest learning days up through high school graduation.

– Eduflack writing on TeachStrong and the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship, in the South Bend (Indiana) Tribune


We Need Your Help: Letters for Latino Students

Today, I am want to give a shout out to a new initiative that Eduflack has recently launched. As loyal readers know, I am incredibly proud of my family and the story of how we became a story. As chronicled in my award-winning book, Dadprovement, both of my kiddos were adopted from Guatemala. They are full birth siblings. And we are all incredibly proud of their heritage.

Next week, the entire family is headed out to Missouri as part of a national gathering of families who have adopted from Guatemala. MoGuat provides families like ours a sense of community and of belonging. And it helps our children, in particular, to see that they are not alone.

It’s no secret that now is not the ideal time to be young and brown in America. Talk of walls and sending families “back to their own countries” sends the wrong message to kids. It can also be very difficult for young people to understand, as they feel they aren’t wanted. That is why I launched Letters to Latino Students. I want to begin a national movement that shows what a bright future our young people have ahead of them. The first phase of this is seeking encouraging words from leaders across the country — Latino or not — on what is ahead. The call for these letters is below. I ask all Eduflack readers to please share this post with any and all who can contribute. All notes will be posted to the Letters to Latino Students website and will be shared as part of a broader effort.

Instead of walls, let’s build some bridges. We need those letters, folks.

You understand how important it is for children to have quality role models. But in the U.S. today, millions of Latino students hear far too often that they are part of the problem and that their dreams count less than those of many of their classmates. I am writing to you not seeking money but simply asking for your inspiration for those students who need to hear that they can be successful and that they are as important as their more privileged counterparts.

Through Letters to Latino Students, we are seeking motivational works for so many of today’s young people. So I write to ask you for a favor. Can you share with us some motivational words for today’s students? Can you offer a story from your own childhood that inspired you to finish school, go to college, or seek your passions? Can you share those quotes or movies or songs or books that gave you the inspiration to become the success you are now today?

Too much of today’s media communicates – intentionally or otherwise – that brown children are somehow at fault for many of our nation’s ails. They are told we need walls to keep them away and that they should “go back to where they came from.” And while they will soon represent the single largest group of students in our public schools, Hispanic students are too often made to feel inferior.

Let me be honest with you, this is a very personal subject to me. As the father of two Latino children, I have heard, seen, or experienced what can be said or done to kids that look like my beloved children. I know how brown students can be seen as a burden in the public schools, having heard from my own elected officials that we need to “do less” in our public schools to make them less attractive to “those families.” And while I know that my children can achieve anything, many others don’t share that view.

Letters to Latino Students seeks to share with all Hispanic students that anything is possible. It hopes to show today’s young people that there are generations before them that have succeeded, embracing and proud of where they come from and who they are. We hope to ensure that all Latino students can be inspired to persevere, regardless of the options placed before them.

I hope that you will take a few moments to write some inspirational words that can be shared with today’s Hispanic young people. All responses will be shared on our website, and all will be heavily promoted through social media. You can send your letters or thoughts to

My kids, and the millions of children like them, look forward to your response.

Transforming Teacher Ed in Michigan

If Eduflack had a nickel for every time I heard that it is just too difficult and too time-consuming to transform and improve teacher education, I’d have … sacks and sacks full of those Thomas Jefferson-portraited coins.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Late last week, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation (an organization near and dear to Eduflack’s time and focus) hosted a national convening of its Teaching Fellows in Detroit. The convening provided prime examples of how teacher ed can and has been addressed to meet the demands of the 21st century classroom. Educators from Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, New Jersey, and Georgia gathered to talk about the value of their preparation at 28 universities through the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship and how that preparation has translated into success in their classrooms.

In delivering remarks to the gathering, Stephanie Hull, EVP and COO of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, spotlighted the specific efforts in Michigan, the host state for this year’s event. In her speech, Hull noted:

Here’s a snapshot of the work that took place through the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship in Michigan:

  • Every one of WW’s partner institutions transformed its teacher preparation curriculum to focus on a yearlong clinical experience and rigorous coursework tailored to that experience.
  • Every one of these partner universities established school-centered clinical placements and helped place Fellows in positions in high-need schools.
  • Every one of them created a double mentoring system, working through both the university and the school to support Fellows throughout their three-year teaching commitment.
  • Every one of them developed new partnerships between the education school, the arts and sciences, and in some cases the school of engineering to make all of this work.
  • Four of the six collaborated with the Detroit Public Schools to create a shared approach to mentoring, including the preparation of mentors and the kinds of support that mentors would receive in working with Fellows.
  • Of all the Fellows enrolled in the Michigan program, 80 percent were certified;
  • By the time Michigan’s last cohort of Fellows was admitted in 2014 — that’s the group of Fellows who are finishing their second year of teaching this year — we were seeing 100 percent placement rates; and
  • Retention of WW Teaching Fellows in the program has consistently been in the 90 percent range.
  • Among the schools where these WW Teaching Fellows teach, 95 to 98 percent of these schools are high-need schools, with about two-thirds of the students in these schools on free and reduced lunch, and 60 to 70 percent are students of color — so the Michigan Fellows have absolutely found their places in the schools where great STEM teachers are most needed and can make the most difference.
  • Finally, all six of the partner institutions reported to us that they had diffused the WW Teaching Fellowship model into their other graduate-level teacher preparation programs, and three had also extended it to their undergraduate STEM teaching programs as well.

These are impressive results, particularly when all we seem to hear about Michigan is the problems and struggles its educational institutions face. It shows anything is possible. And it demonstrates that tomorrow’s exemplary teachers are already being prepared today.


#EdReform Orthodoxy

Many in the education reform community have been engaged in quite a debate on what reform is, who is involved, and how we should respond to one another. Eduflack wrote about this some last month, but not nearly as eloquently as others.

Over at Education Week this week, the esteemed Rick Hess took his electronic pen to the issue, noting that from his perch, education reform is the new education school. Hess makes a number of keen observations, including:

  1. Orthodoxy reigns without being formally demanded or commanded
  2. Open disagreement about values is deemed unpleasant and unnecessary
  3. Inconvenient critiques are seen as a failure to “get it”
  4. Faddism reigns
  5. Race, poverty, and privilege are the “right” way to think about school improvement

In reflecting on his our disillusion with the education school community, Hess concludes:

Yep. It all feels eerily familiar. That is a huge problem for reformers. It has undermined the healthy competition of ideas. It has weakened the ability to sustain bipartisan cooperation. It has rendered the space less hospitable to young minds who may not share the current orthodoxy. I hope that school reformers will find ways to address this. After all, at the turn of the century, the “reform” community offered an alternative to the ed school orthodoxy. I don’t know where today’s disenchanted reformers might look for refuge.

I wish it wasn’t the case, but as someone who once was on the front lines in the education reform fights, I can say that his five key observations are right on the money. And for the future of education and school improvement, that’s just a cryin’ shame.



The Possibilities of TeachNY

Earlier this month, the TeachNY Advisory Council issued an important report on how New York State can transform teacher education, ensuring a pipeline of strong, dedicated teachers for generations to come.

Over at the Albany Times-Union, Arthur Levine — a member of the advisory council former president of Teachers College Columbia University, and current president of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation — offers some inspiration for how the Empire State can more this report from recommendation to action.

As Levine writes:

There is compelling evidence that the recommendations will work. States like Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and New Jersey have already adopted some of the key recommendations from the TeachNY report. They have created the strong statewide partnerships necessary to transform teacher education. They have established bipartisan coalitions, led by governors and consisting of legislators, state higher education and K-12 system heads, universities, school districts, unions and other stakeholders to drive change, provide mutual support, assure accountability and enable third party-evidence based assessment.

These states have created a number of model teacher education programs of the type called for by the TeachNY report. They are characterized by four common features: high admissions standards, rigorous academic curricula, intense clinical experiences in the schools and three years of mentoring for beginning teachers.

In each case, the result has been a strong pipeline for recruiting, preparing and supporting excellent beginning teachers for hard-to-staff subjects in high-need schools. Be these urban or rural classrooms, these schools are now getting the effective science and math teachers they now need.

Give it a read!


Learning (and Winning) By Losing

Today, I write as a matter of personal privilege. Yes, this post isn’t like most of my others. But bear with me, I promise I’ll try to bring it back to the edu-thinking you come to expect.

About a year and a half ago, I took my first kickboxing class. To this day, I couldn’t quite tell you why I did it. But I did. I enjoyed it There was something about hitting a heavy bag that was so much more satisfying than driving a golf ball.

I quickly learned that my time on the mat was the one hour in a day when my mind was completely clear. For 60 minutes, I couldn’t think of work or family or the writer’s block my latest book had triggered. I could only focus on the task at hand. For someone who spent the first 42 years of his life engaged entirely in rhetorical sparring (and spent 40 of those years staying as far away from physical activity as possible), it was a big change.

About six months after I started, the edu-daughter decided to give it a go. This week, she earned her blue belt, inspiring her to now want to “be more serious” about it. Her older brother began earlier this year. And even the edu-wife is giving it a go.

This past weekend, I participated in the Challenge of Champions. Yes, participated as in competed. I strapped on my gloves, stepped onto the mat, and gave it my all. I even have the video to prove it.

Yes, I got hit. But I also landed some of my own. Yes, I got knocked down. But I got back up. Yes, I lost. But I hung in there the whole fight.

And yes, I was fighting an opponent who was about a foot taller and a good 30 pounds heavier than I was, but I didn’t use it as an excuse. Sure, it completely threw my gameplan out the window. But it also helped me see what I need to work on and how I need to improve.

Those who know Eduflack professionally will likely be quite surprised by the video. Surprised to know that I even think of doing such a thing in my limited free time. But what might be a surprise is an incredible learning experience as well.

Each day, I watch the very definition of personalized learning at its best. On the mat, Sensei Billings is able to teach a wide range of students with a wider range of skills and knowledge. Sensei is able to know, on a daily basis, which students need positive reinforcement and which need tough love. And he knows how to get the most out of each and every student.

On the mat, one sees knowing and being able to do and apply what you know are two very different things. It’s one thing to practice the repetition of a single move on a heavy bag. It is very different to throw combinations as a classmate is holding the pads. It is far different to put it all together and spar with your brothers in the school. And even more different to put it all together as you go against a complete stranger with the single goal of beating you on the mat.

As MMA is now a family affair, the experience also provided an ideal moment of teaching by doing. After watching my fights, my kids can no longer say that something is too hard for them to do. They know it would have been very easy for me not to show up this weekend, or to use an injured foot as an excuse, or to avoid engagement once I saw my opponent. I did none of that. Instead, I just brought it. And both the kiddos know that’s what I expect from them. I don’t care if they win or lose. I don’t care what grade they get. All I care about is whether they did their best and worked as hard as they could.

But the most surprising lesson I learned from all of this, and one I should have known from all my years of education advocacy, is the importance of family and community. I’m incredibly fortunate to train at Tiger Schulmann’s in Princeton. With all sincerity, I can say it isn’t a gym and it isn’t a school; it is a family. We are all of different races, ethnicities, and religions. We all come from different backgrounds and different career paths. But at TSMMA Princeton, we are all one family.

At the CoC, I was cheering as hard for classmates and their children as I would for my own wife and kiddos. And i received similar enthusiastic support and encouragement from my mates. Those I spar with are now my brothers and sisters, pushing me harder as I hopefully push them. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

After my fights this weekend, I was originally down. I had lost. Watching the videos afterward, I felt a little better about the situation. I had hung in there and fought good fights. But it was my brothers and sisters at TSMMA in Princeton who truly helped me see all that I accomplished. And it is their words that already have me thinking of what I need to work on and how I need to strategize before I compete in the next CoC.

I get that MMA isn’t for everyone. But the lessons I have learned from Tiger Schulmann’s, particularly in my most recent defeat, are incredibly important to me. They are important not only to what I might do on the mat, but they are important to both my professional and my family lives. Osu!


Making a Difference as a #STEM Teacher

“I always felt that STEM is a field that we really need more African-Americans working in and I felt that I could make a difference in that aspect.”

Woodrow Wilson Georgia Teaching Fellow Darryl Baines, at a State Capitol announcement where Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and Woodrow Wilson Foundation President Arthur Levine announced the 2016 Georgia Teaching Fellows. The program is designed to help Georgia recruit, prepare, and support exemplary STEM teachers for the state’s high-need schools.

The full story, written by Janel Davis, is in the June 2 Atlanta Journal-Constitution.