A Personal Dream, Shattered

Those who know Eduflack well know that one of my life dreams is owning and running a small-town weekly newspaper. Perhaps it was having my first written work published in the Sharon (MA) Advocate when I was seven years old. Maybe it was all my dealings with weekly newspapers in West Virginia while working for U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd. Or it could be I just love how newspapers remain a hub of community in small towns across the country.

A few years back, I came really close to buying a weekly pub in Connecticut (after kicking the tires on another one in Tennessee). But the timing just wasn’t right. Don’t you hate when life just gets in the way?

We’ve all seen those contests every few months from someone who is raffling off a bed and breakfast. Write an essay, submit a $200 fee, and you could win your own B&B. I’d look at those ads and wonder, who wants all of the work of actually running a B&B (and having all of those strangers in your house all the time)?

Earlier this year, though, I read an article on a similar contest. Only instead of a B&B, the price was the Hardwick Gazette, a small-town weekly newspaper in northern Vermont. I immediately romanticized the idea of owning the Gazette. I penned  a beautiful essay. I was the next publisher of the Hardwick Gazette.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. A few months ago, the owners alerted all contestants that not enough submissions were in to make the contest go. So they extended the deadline. Then they added a Kickstarter campaign to try and add enough charitable contributions to make the deal worthwhile for the family. Today, I got word that none of those worked as intended, and the contest was cancelled.

As they noted in their email, “The quality of essays received to this point is outstanding. I am heartened by them. The essayists have journalistic and business experience. They convey an appreciation for independent, local journalism, an understanding of community and a knowledge that hard work and thick skin go with the territory. Their passion for newspapers shines through.” But it just wanted meant to be.

I wish the Hardwick Gazette the best of luck as they now try to find a traditional buyer for their paper. I hope they get what they are looking for. I just need to see it as a dream deferred. There may still be a newspaper in my future yet.



Let’s Mess with Texas Teacher Ed

Over at the Houston Chronicle, yours truly has a new commentary on the challenges of teacher retention both across the United States and specifically in Texas and what the Lone Star State can do to improve the teacher pipeline.

As I write:

When it comes to many of the major factors driving teacher shortages, Texas is no different than most states. The politics surrounding teaching and the demands on teachers aren’t too different in Texas than they are in other states, particularly since Texas isn’t part of the day-to-day, vitriolic churn of Common Core. Yet retention problems seem far more significant than in other states.

One reason is teacher preparation. Texas currently has a higher percentage of inexperienced teachers than other states. And with high turnover rates, that percentage of new teachers continues to climb. In its zeal to address teacher shortages, the state has opened its doors to a range of low-quality, new, and alternative teacher preparation efforts, resulting in vast discrepancies as to the rigor of teacher prep here.

I also highlight three things that Texas can do to boost teacher education and teacher retention, including creating a clear set of performance measures for pre-service teachers, better root teacher education in clinical practice, and invest in strong mentoring for new teachers.

Give it a read. I promise it’ll be worth your time. You can find it here.


A Diverse Group at #EPNL2016

Over the weekend, Eduflack wrote on the personal value I found in engaging and learning from a group diverse in its thinking and its experiences. In the coming weeks and months, I’m sure to reflect here on some of the specific lessons I learned at the Stanford Graduate School of Business’ Executive Program for Nonprofit Leaders (EPNL). But I wanted to share some of the demographics on the program and its range of views.

In terms of participant citizenship,  we had 31 from the United States; nine from Australia; two each from Hong Kong, India, Pakistan, and Singapore; and representatives from Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Mauritius, New Zealand, Nigeria, and Peru.

Industries represented included 16 from social services, eight from education, six from both art & culture and healthcare, three from energy/environment and investing/philanthropy, two from food/agriculture, and representatives from economic development, government, media, and technology. Also a huge number (7) who simply claimed they represented “other.”

Five represented organizations with annual budgets less than $500k, 13 from orgs with a $500k-$1M budget, 14 in the $1M to $5M range, 20 in the $5M to $50M range, and three with annual budgets of more than $50 million.

Age was also interesting distributed. Eight were under the age of 35, with 12 between 35 and 39. Twelve of us were between the ages of 40 and 44, with another 8 between 45 and 49. And 15 were over the age of 50. Women comprised a (slim) majority of the group.

For those curious, here is the 2016 EPNL2016 class. I’d suggest we play Where’s Waldo, but it seems pretty easy to find dear ol’ Eduflack in this pic.


Cultivating #STEM Teachers in Michigan

It is only because of the commitment of states like Michigan that there is now a critical mass of educators experienced enough to mentor others. Collectively, Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellows demonstrate the potential and power of the opportunity for teachers to learn from peers, one example of the way in which teachers at various points in their career path can and should enjoy incentives to collaborate and lead. When teachers collaborate with each other, they leverage the investment of time and preparation each teacher has made into a return for thousands of students beyond their own classrooms.

Woodrow Wilson Foundation EVP and COO Stephanie J. Hull in the Detroit News

A Million Thanks!

Nine and a half years ago, I started Eduflack as cathartic tool. I was looking for an outlet to express my thoughts, I wanted to write more, and the idea of education blogging was just taking off. I wrote my first post in March 2007. It was before I joined Facebook. It was before I signed up for Twitter (even though I thought it was an incredibly silly platform at the time, after all, who wanted to blog in fewer than 140 characters). It was even before my daughter was born. 

So it is with extreme gratitude that I want to thank everyone who has read and shared this blog. As of this week,  there have been 1 million visitors to Eduflack. What I once thought no one would ever read has attracted enough eyeballs to win an election in a questionable country. 

I’m truly humbled by the continued readership and interest. I recognize I font wrote nearly as frequently as I once did, and that my @Eduflwck Twitter feed gets far more attention these days. But I am grateful for every single reader and will work harder to share thoughtful, thought provoking posts in the future. 

A million thanks to you! 

Broadening One’s View of True Community

For the past week (and for much of the next week), Eduflack is out at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business (yes, it truly is a hard-knock life). I’m incredibly fortunate to be a part of the GSB’s 2016 Executive Program for NonProfit Leaders. For someone who spends most of his days focused on the topic of adult learning, it is a fascinating experience, being part of a cohort of 55 Type A individuals who are all trying to solve the problems facing their organizations and their sectors.

Half of the cohort represents organizations here in the United States, half represent NGOs around the world. The class is about equally split between men and women. Age distributions range from superstars in their early 30s to seasoned experts likely closer to the ends of their careers instead of the starts.  It’s safe to say that no two people share the same story, or at least one that is wholly similar.

And that’s likely what makes this program so valuable. Don’t get me wrong, I love all (or at least most) of my friends and frenemies in the education policy sector. But we have to admit that our communities, and our engagement with said communities, are fairly homogeneous. I often feel like the same people have been having the same conversations for years now. It doesn’t matter if it is a harsh reformer versus status quoer debate, a fierce discussion between the P-12 and higher education sectors, or even a scrum among educators and advocates with no teaching experience. We are largely comfortable in our community, and remain comfortable even when we have significant disagreements.

In recent years, the only true time of uncomfortability was earlier this year, following the NSVF conference and the discussions on where Black Lives Matter and other social justice issues fit in the education reform movement. For the first time, new voices and perspectives were injected into the process. But even there, comfortability has largely returned. As the NAACP called for a freeze of public charter schools, the same battle lines and the same allied groups returned to their comfortable roles.

A few years ago, the Broad Center’s Becca Bracy Knight launched an effort called Just Have Coffee. Her idea was a simple yet important one. If we are truly committed to improving public education opportunities for all kids, we need to build bridges with those we may not always agree with. Just having coffee with a supposed enemy, and building a personal relationship with someone on the other side, can go a long way toward making meaningful progress and just getting things done. Knight was right then, and she is still right today.

In just a week, I have likely learned more about how to move ideas forward than I did in two years running an education advocacy organization. And that is largely because I am learning beyond the traditional education echo chamber in which we all operate.

During my stay here on The Farm, there are no other higher education voices here. In terms of K-12 education in the United States, I have one colleague (who runs a program in Los Angeles to get first-generation college students into the best institutions possible) and one who runs a small charter school network in Northern California. I have no one worried about what we meant for ESSA to say out when HEA is going to be reauthorized or whether the recent Connecticut school funding court decision is a blessing or curse for the school choice movement. 

Instead, I am learning from those who are running major social service organizations in countries like Austalia and New Zealand, heading youth development efforts in Colombia and Hong Kong, leading women’s health issues in India, Africa, and here in the States. I’m gleaning great insights from those developing justice reform media outlets and micro lending organizations. I’m even learning much from those selling toilets in Kenya and turning waste into fertilizer to strengthen farming efforts in central Africa.

We are able to have very uncomfortable conversations about race and gender and class with no boundaries. More importantly, we are able to discuss our own mistakes and failures in such a way that we can learn from one another. I’m able to push new friends on organizational change and disruption efforts. I’m able to learn, without worrying about sharing too much or of how what I share will be used later.

The challenge before me is taking the lessons learned here, and actually applying them to my own efforts moving forward. It is easy to listen and to talk, yet fart more difficult to use what was heard and said to change (and improve behaviors). It becomes a goal, a goal I hope to achieve.

But I would also challenge Becca Bracy Knight and those who embraced the #JustHaveCoffee concept to evolve the idea. How do begin to reach out to those beyond the education echo chamber? How do we engage and learn and build community with those in health, social services, and social justice communities? How do we build communities that allow for failure, even on high-stakes issues, as long as we learn from those failures? How do we have those uncomfortable conversations, where we discuss our own failures and our own misperceptions in a space of learning and not of judgment? How?    

The New PDK Poll is Here, the New #PDKPoll is Here!

Last week, the good folks at PDK released the results of the 48th Annual PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. So what do we think?

The most interesting number each year is how we grade public schools. In 1974, 48% of Americans gave their local schools an A or B grade. Today … 48% are still giving As and Bs to their local schools. The grade for our nation’s schools as a whole doesn’t fair nearly as well, with only 24% giving As and Bs to the nation, but that’s on par with grades over the past three or so decades. (Good thing ESSA is handing over authority from the federal to the localities, huh?)

On the purpose of education, 45% of those surveyed say the purpose is to prepare students academically, 26% say its to prepare students to be good citizens, and 25% say its to prepare students for work. So despite recent-year pushbacks, it seems school ensuring all kids are “college and career ready” is winning the day.

When evaluating the public schools, parents offer a significantly higher opinion on what’s happening than non-parents. Whether its providing factual evidence (47-37), preparing students to work well in groups (43-33), or enhancing critical thinking (36-28), those adults closer to the learners in the classroom are far more likely to say local public schools are doing extremely or very well.

When it comes to learning standards, only 7% think standards are too high, while 43% say current standards are too low. Interestingly, “too low” scores high with urban residents, adults in households earning more than $100,000 a year, and Republicans/conservatives.

Those surveyed still see “lack of financial support” the top problem facing local public schools, coming in at 19%. That’s more than double “lack of discipline” or “concerns about quality,” and almost three times the number who worry about the “quality of teachers.”

Continuing on the money trend, there were a few head scratchers. Of those who were confident higher taxes will help schools improve, nearly 30% said they oppose raising such taxes. And of those not confident higher taxes can result in school improvement, more than a third (35%) said they would support increased property taxes for the purpose. And if those taxes are raised, 34% of all those surveyed want to see it go to teachers.

When presented with an “either/or” decision on ideas to improve the schools, those surveyed:

  • Overwhelming supported more career-technical or skill based classes (68%) over more honors classes (20%)
  • Leaned toward raising teacher salaries (50%) over hiring more teachers (40%), even though smaller classes beat larger classes 51-40
  • Emphasizing more “traditional teaching” and using more technology battled to a draw, 43 all

The full survey results, found here, are definitely worth the read. Of particular interest for all should be a deep dive into thoughts on parent/school communications.

What does this all tell us? The public’s perceptions of public schools, both locally and nationally, aren’t as bad as many have made them out to be in recent years. Like our collective test scores on NAEP and international benchmarks, it seems our views — good or bad — about the schools have largely stagnated. Even with all of the ugliness in recent years about Common Core and testing, things are pretty much holding constant.

More importantly, we see those closer to the classroom — the parents — have more positive views on what is happening. And those parents are eager and hungry for additional information and greater interaction with their public schools.

While there is a lot to parse here, and many will cherrypick those data points that prove their own beliefs (or disprove the thoughts of those they rail against), the PDK poll provides an important foundation for discussion on where we are, where we are headed, and where we want to be.

(Full disclosure, Eduflack served, proudly, as a member of the PDK Poll Advisory Board this year.)