Blame the Parents?

Who, exactly, is at fault for poorly performing schools?  Based on what we read and hear and see in the media, there seems to be more than enough blame to go around.  The feds are at fault for high-stakes testing.  The state is at fault for inadequate funding.  School districts are at fault for a host of reasons.  And teachers are to blame for not teaching the right things or understanding the kids or lacking the qualification to lead the classroom.

It isn’t every day that we put the blame on another primary stakeholder in the learning process — the parents.  For decades, we have seen moms and dads wash their hands of what happens behind the schoolhouse doors.  They get their kids to school.  It is up to everyone else to do the teaching and ensure the kids are learning, retaining, and applying.

That’s what makes today’s Washington Post poll so interesting.  There are few that will come to the defense of DC Public Schools in general.  Seven in 10 surveyed believe DC public schools are inadequate.  Surprisingly, 76 percent say that parents are to blame.  See the full story at:

Eduflack isn’t one who celebrates the blame game.  But DC residents must be applauded for speaking truth.  DCPS spends more dollars per student than most school districts in this country.  They’ve implemented reform after reform, with few making a lasting impact.  Teachers are run through a grinder, not knowing if they will even be paid month to month. 

Over the weekend, DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee announced a new Saturday tutoring program to help struggling students catch up and succeed in the classroom.  Of course, such programs are not mandatory.  Saturday programs are optional, offering the potential for another great idea to be lost in the execution.

If we are truly going to improve schools like those in DCPS, we need and require increased parental participation.  This means more than getting parents into the schools to complain to teachers and administrators about why their kids can’t do their homework or pass the test.  True parental involvement has mothers, fathers, grandparents, and such involved in the learning process.  They know what’s happening in the classroom.  They ensure their kids are doing their homework.  They identify learning experiences in the home or in the community.  They take responsibility for their kids, and hold them accountable For maximizing their school hours.

Parents are our first teachers and our most consistent ones.  Small kids will pattern their words and actions after what their parents do.  We read because our parents do.  We do our homework because our parents prioritize it.  We bring home good grades because our parents encourage it.  And if they don’t, we don’t care.  

Many of the problems our schools face — rising drop-out rates, limited reading and math skills, truancy, etc. — can all be attributed, in part, to parent apathy.  Eduflack has done a number of focus groups with eighth and ninth graders recently on dropping out.  Student after student said they wouldn’t drop out because their parents won’t let them.  THat’s parental involvement.  It may come in the form of carrot or stick, but it makes a difference.

Parents are key to improving our schools, improving our community, and boosting student achievement.  Thankfully, citizens in our nation’s capital now recognize that.  Identification is the first step.  The challenge now, is for DCPS to take this data and put it into action.  If we ID parent apathy as a root of DCPS problems, what do we do to boost parental involvement?  Once Chancellor Rhee answers that question, she may have a winning strategy for improving the schools, engaging the public and building support and interest for what is happening in each and every schoolhouse in the District. 

“One of These Stories Doesn’t Belong … “

Any devoted student of Sesame Street knows the segment — “One of these things is not like the other, one of these things doesn’t belong.”  We used it to differentiate shapes or to separate the dogs from the cats.  Who knew it would come in handy with regard to recent NCLB commentary in two of the top papers in the nation.

So let’s look at those three articles.  First we have an editorial in the Aug. 7 Washington Post calling for reauthorization of NCLB, with a particular focus on Congressman George Miller’s recent comments of his push to improve NCLB.  Second, we have an editorial in USA Today the day before, also calling for the reauthorization of NCLB and support for increased accountability in our public schools system.  And finally, we have NEA President Reg’s Weaver’s response in USA Today, where he claims our students are worse off today than they were five years ago when NCLB was signed into law.

Obviously, Weaver’s sentiments are not like the others.  Surprisingly, both USA Today and WaPo have written articles recently about some of the shortcomings of NCLB.  Both entered into their commentaries with their eyes wide open, knowing the strengths and weaknesses.  And both came away calling for a continuation of the law, recognizing the long-term benefit of increased accountability and a commitment to boosting student achievement across the board.

The past few months have provided all involved in education reform the opportunity to identify ways to strengthen NCLB.  How can we make assessment more meaningful?  How do we cultivate and support effective teachers?  How do we ensure our kids are leaving school with the skills they need to succeed in life?  How do we truly improve our K-12 system?

All good questions.  All questions that deserve strong public debate and meaningful consideration by key stakeholders.  And all questions that should be front and center when communicating on the needs of NCLB 2.0.

Yet, despite these needed discussions, Weaver decided to play the same ole record of opposition.  He says school administrators are saying teaching science is a waste of time, which is laughable since science assessments will be introduced nationally next year, joining our reading and math tests.  We’re giving subjects other than math and reading short shrift, he says, at a time when states and school districts are investing major energies into STEM education efforts and relevant high school instruction.  And then the king of urban legends — our focus on student achievement doesn’t improve student learning.

Some rhetoric just gets stale before its time, and that is definitely the case here.  Weaver represents nearly 3 million teachers across the nation.  Those teachers deserve better.  They deserve more.  They deserve a singular focus on how they can help improve NCLB, improve the quality of teaching in the United States, and improve the professionalism of the profession.  That only happens when you are committed to improve, and when you are committed to have that improvement measured, analyzed, and shared across the industry.  Accountability is the key to all.

Instead of fretting and grousing about a law passed five years ago, NEA should be focused on improvements that benefit their teachers and benefit their schools.  Weaver should be talking about how NEA would want to see teachers evaluated and how best to tie student achievement to teacher effectiveness.  The rhetorical focus should be on what can and should happen, not on what did or did not happen.

One of these things clearly doesn’t belong.  Weaver is trying to rehash the educational skirmishes of 2001 that NEA and its breathren lost.  USA Today and WaPo are talking about moving forward and improving a well-intentioned law.  The latter is the only way we can get to the sunny days of NCLB 2.0 Street.  

Telling a Good Story

We’re all familiar with the phrase, “if it bleeds, it leads.”  The thought behind it is if something horrible happens (particularly something horrible with great art), then it is front-page worthy.  A tragedy makes great news.  Scandal makes great copy.  An official getting caught doing something wrong is a great news hook.

Over at This Week in Education, Alexander Russo has a list of the education-related news stories from the past month (  It should come as no surprise that this list is full of scandal, wrongdoing, and general negativity.  NCLB reauthorization and Capitol Hill hearings figure prominently, as do schools closing, programs being abandoned, and teachers being fired.  There are some exceptions, but pointing out the failings in our education system seems to be driving education coverage as a whole.  And Eduflack is just as guilty.

Are there no “good” stories out there on education reform?  I’ll be honest, I’ve been struggling for the last week to find some examples of reform done good anywhere.  Maybe it is the end of the school year.  Maybe folks have tired of education issues for now.  Maybe the current NCLB struggles have sucked all of the oxygen out of the room.  But I am desparate for a good story.

Why should we care?  Don’t we have an obligation to seek the truth?  With taxpayer dollars going into education reform, isn’t it a moral imperative that keep a watchful eye on the field and point out where we take a wrong step or where we may be headed down a rabbit hole we simply cannot emerge from?

At the end of the day, communications is good storytelling.  You need a protagonist.  You need a challenge he is trying to overcome.  You need obstables that may prevent him from succeeding.  And then you need SUCCESS.  Take a look at any good children’s book or Disney movie, and you’ll see those steps are the key to telling any good story.  Likewise, they are the key to effectively communicating education reform.

I’ll beat the dead horse.  Let’s take Reading First as our example.  The U.S. Department of Education can clamor about longitudinal research statistics and disagregated data until they are blue in the face.  The most successful RF story is one President Bush told several years ago at a town hall meeting at NIH.  He introduced a teacher from the South.  Her class was struggling.  Virtually no students were reading at grade level.  School district was poor.  Students weren’t necessarily getting the encouragement and support they needed from home.  But this teacher was determined they would read.  She implemented scientifically based reading instruction, knowing the research showed it would work with kids like hers.  She provided one-to-one interventions when necessary.  Over time, she started to see the results.  Soon, all of her kids were reading.  They had found a passion for learning.  They had an opportunity to succeed in both school and life.  The could achieve … thanks to Reading First and scientifically based reading.

Sure, it may be a little sappy. But personalization and storytelling make it compelling.  And it talks about complex policy in a way the average American can understand.  And it stays positive.  There may be challenges.  There may be obstacles.  But our protagonist perseveres.  That’s successful communication, and that’s a story many of us would want to read each morning with our coffee (or Diet Coke).


Teach our Children Well

Anyone involved in education knows that children look to model their behaviors after the adults in their lives.  We watch what we say, what we do, and how we interact with others.  Even the youngest of children can start parroting the behaviors of parents and authority figures.  And I say that as a proud father of a one-year-old boy who will try to mimick and action or sound I make.

At the same time, those in education policy know the value of modeling “best practices.”  We learn from what others do well.  We benefit from their experiences, crafting our actions and words around what has worked, and what has not, for those in similar situations or those dealing with similar demographics or similar concerns.  When enacting reforms, we inevitably talk about who has done the same thing and reaped the benefits.

But it is just baffling what DC education officials have done.  For those who have missed it, The Washington Post led the charge in pulling the curtain back on this doozy.  The Mayor’s famed takeover of DCPS seems to be well rooted in the bustle of North Carolina.

No one is questioning the merits of Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s strategic plan.  They are a top school district.  But what does it say to the teachers and students of DCPS when Mayor Fenty and his staff can’t do their own work?  What message does it send when you are cribbing from the better prepared school system in the room?

I recognize the Mayor has issued his apologies.  And I know that his staff has been run through the ringer by the media, by elected officials, by the education blob, and by just about anyone who seems to care about the fate of DCPS.  They made a mistake.  And their words and actions sent the wrong signal to those who are trusting them to do right. 

But what does all this mean for DCPS?  How does one effectively talk and write about the future of DCPS after an “issue” such as this?  How does the Mayor effectively communicate his plan for the future of DCPS at this stage?

First, he needs to publicly embrace the notion that DCPS should be modeling their words and actions after a number of school districts.  His error was limiting himself to Charlotte.  Charlotte-Mecklenburg is a good district.  But it is not Washington, DC.  There are size differences, budget differences, demographic differences, and vast political differences.  What may work in Charlotte might not work in DC.  So let’s not put all of our eggs in become Charlotte-Mecklenburg Version 2.0.

Instead, DC should be modeling and promoting the best practices of a multitude of school districts.  Let’s assemble a Frankenstein of plans.  Borrow the charter school successes of Los Angeles.  The testing efforts of New York City.  Career academies in Miami-Dade.   Or the programs and accountability efforts found in any number of Broad Prize winners.  Take the best from everyone, and do so intentionally and publicly.

Second, and more importantly, credit those who are doing well, those you are “borrowing” from.  Not only does this help avoid issues like those raised in The Washington Post, but it gives DC and Mayor Fenty a little credibility.  The takeover of DCPS is just the latest in a long line of “last ditch fixes” for the public schools in our nation’s capitol.  The revolving door of superintendents, the constant shifting of final-say authority, charter schools, vouchers, magnets, and everything in between has turned DCPS into a glittering target for the latest silver bullets.  DC residents (and those in the surrounding areas) are sick of it.  At the end of the day, the District needs a strong investment in what is proven effective.  And implementing those programs that have worked in other cities — cities with high poverty, struggling schools, and a desire to improve — is the best way to do that.  Using those best practices, and publicly crediting those cities for “lending” those best practices for the improvement of the public schools in our nation’s capitol, is the best way for the Mayor to gain some gravitas on his schools ideas.

At the end of the day, though, words are much easier to use at the start of a reform that in the middle or end of it.  Mayor Fenty can be bold about intentions, but he needs to quickly talk about results.  Let’s hear about the impact charter schools have had in DC, particularly with regard to graduation rates.  Let’s hear about the impact vouchers have had in improving opportunities for DC students.  And let’s hear how the Mayor is going to implement the accountability measures so we know that DC, and U.S. taxpayer, dollars are being wisely spent on reform efforts proven effective in boosting student achievement in schools like Washington’s.

Mayor Fenty, feel free to crib away form those cities who have done well, just be sure to credit them.  But at the end of the day, be sure we are also modeling their assessment and their impact.  It is the end result, and not the process that matters.  We’re watching your actions, and we are hoping you’ll give other cities something to model.

Reading First: Congressional Punching Bag?

Reading skills are non-negotiables when it comes to student achievement.  If you can’t read at grade level by fourth grade, academic struggles start to expand exponentially.  Kids start falling behind in math, social studies, science, and every subject in between.  You can’t learn if you can’t read.  And you certainly can’t succeed without reading.

Sure, we all know this.  And Eduflack has written until he has been blue in the knuckles about the fact that Reading First works.  Putting research-proven instruction in the classroom works.  And successful implementation of SBRR boosts student achievement.  No ifs, ands, or buts.

That’s why it is so disheartening to see members of Congress — our elected representatives — to continue to use Reading First as a PR punching bag.  Need to make a rhetorical point?  Attack RF.  Need to gain PR attention?  Attack RF.  Want to secure some extra federal dollars for the folks back home?  Attack RF.

In previous postings, I’ve commended Secretary Spellings for pointing out the error in Chairman Obey’s RF-slashing ways, reminding him of how much he would cost the good people of Wisconsin.  Madame Secretary, it’s now time to step up and remind the good people of your home state of the same.  The Texas Congressional delegation has come out swinging.

Late last week, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas got an amendment passed in the House that cuts nearly $50 million more from Reading First.  Not huge money, no, but a symbolic stroke that sends the wrong message to her constituents in the greater Dallas Metroplex.  In Dallas, reading must no longer be fundamental.

Johnson’s reasoning — she wanted level funding for the Safe Schools and Citizenship Education program.  Read her press release ( and she is proud of the new funding she has secured, in an attempt to restore level funding for social skills training.  But notice she never says what pot of money she is taking from?  Don’t want to tell those kids or their parents in Dallas or DeSoto that you’ve just taken away money for that reading coach, huh?

I don’t doubt that it is important to teach kids that drugs are wrong.  But isn’t it more important for kids to be able to read the brochures and websites promoting safe schools?  Shouldn’t a child be able to read a label to know its drugs, and not candy?  Of course.

As Congress looks to reauthorize NCLB, I’ve got a novel approach to NCLB PR and marketing.  Let’s focus on the positive.  Let’s talk about results.  Let’s key in on replicable programs that can be implemented in schools and classrooms around the nation.  It’s time to let Reading First stand on its achievement merits, and not on its administrative mis-steps.

It may very well be important to level fund safe schools.  But what message do you send to schools, advocates, and the education community when you are doing it at the expense of a program that has already been slashed nearly 40 percent?  And when you do it from a program that is proven effective? 

There’s $63 billion currently in the proposed Education budget.  How many of those dollars are earmarked for programs that are proven to work?  How many of those dollars are going to programs that are essential building blocks for every child, in every school, in every community across the country?  Reading First needs to stop being a rhetorical punching bag for the doubters and the critics.  It is time for RF to hit back.

Grade the Parents!

There seems to be a little battle brewing in Connecticut over report cards in Manchester School District.  What makes this fight a little different from the norm is that these report cards are intended for parents, not for students.  A member of the school board, Republican Steven Edwards, is calling for report cards for parents, evaluating them on everything from their children’s homework to appropriate dress to breakfast.

The local PTA, along with the school district itself, is opposed to the idea, believing that any issues can just be resolved if parents had more face time with teachers.  When asked what she would think if parent report cards were put in place, the president of the PTA (according to Fox News) said: “I’d be ticked … They’re telling you what to do with your kid.”  (,2933,306003,00.html)

What’s so wrong with that?  Why shouldn’t the schools instruct parents on what they can do to increase the effectiveness of classroom time?  And more importantly, what message are we sending with such strong opposition to looking at the parent’s role in student achievement?

In 2007, we assess virtually everyone.  Students take tests to judge their abilities and competencies.  They are compared to other students in the district, state, nation, and world.  They take multiple assessments each academic year, and we take those numbers seriously.

Likewise, we use that student data and other measures to evaluate the effectiveness of teachers.  In our necessary push for qualified, effective teachers, we regularly judge our teachers.  Fairly or unfairly, our teachers are measured by the performance of their students.  Parents use that report card to help select teachers or schools for their kids, and some school districts use that report card to determine performance bonuses.

And we keep moving up the chain.  We assemble report cards on our schools and school districts, measuring them again other schools and districts.  Each year, we get national report cards on how our states measure up compared to our neighbors, our peers, and such.

Education is all about report cards.  They measure achievement.  They measure progress to date.  They are a constant in the process that we expect, depend on, and use as a tool for improvement.

So it only seems natural that report cards could and should be extended to parents.  We know that parents are just as important an influence, if not more so, on their kids’ academic achievement as teachers.  A parent is a child’s first teacher, and is often one of the last.  And like it or not, children model their behaviors after their parents and do what they say.

In the perfect world, parents and teachers should be working together, and assessed together.  It shouldn’t be an adversarial relationship, nor should it be a once a year meeting for 20 minutes.  Parents should want to be engaged in what is happening in the classroom and should monitor closely.  And the schools should be able to help parents improve the learning time at home, making sure that all students have the support and encouragement they need to maximize their time behind the schoolhouse doors.  Such a dynamic is the quickest, easiest path to opportunity for all students.

Parental influence should lend itself to some sort of accountability.  But the status quo will continue to fight the concept.  And that’s a real shame.  As long as the measurement tool is fair, and not subjective, parents should embrace a report card.  We boast when we coach our child’s sports team.  We proudly display our student’s honor roll bumper sticker.  We should equally embrace a great report card showing we are a key influencer in our kid’s school success.  

We tell our kids grades matter.  We tell them they have to work hard for high marks.  Maybe we need to lead by example, and let them see us working hard for the gold star on the parent’s report card.  Just imagine all those kids who can ride around on their bikes, with bumper stickers declaring, “My Mom is on the Parent’s Honor Roll.”

Excuse me, but what?

There’s no way to soften it.  I was saddened to see Gerald Bracey’s piece in today’s Washington Post.  Those who have read Bracey in the past recognize that he has been opposed to most reforms in recent years.  He’s a particularly vocal opponent of NCLB and all that it stands for.  And he has long stood again many of the accountability and assessment reforms that so many districts and states are now embracing.

So I shouldn’t be surprised when I see a Bracey piece that attempts to malign a significant number of organizations and institutions, including NAEP, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in particular.  In Bracey’s attempt to protect the status quo of lagging test scores, lacking student achievement, and absent accountability, he has assumed a stance that may work at a faculty senate mixer, but clearly does not fly in today’s education improvement-focused society.


First, the ultimate target for his vitriol is NAEP.  NAEP (along with TIMSS and PISA) is one of the few measures we, as a nation, have to truly understand how our students measure up against like-minded students.  School districts and states are able to use this strong assessment tool to ensure that instruction in Alabama stands up to instruction in New Jersey or Wisconsin or Arizona or Oregon.  It provides a common benchmark, a benchmark that helps educators, policymakers, and parents know that their kids are gaining the academic skills needed to succeed, both in college and in career.

If not NAEP, then what?  Bracey is good at tearing down, but he has offered no alternative solutions.  If you are seeking, rhetorically, to take away a valuable tool like NAEP, you better offer a better option.  One of the reasons our schools are in the predicament they are now in is because we have torn down well-intended and effective solutions out of personal politics, without building a better mousetrap.  But we need NAEP, particularly this 21st century global economy.

Second, Bracey almost seeks to say that everyone else is under par, so why should we aspire to improve?  Ask virtually any person on any street in the United States about education.  Our goal is to be the best in the world.  The smartest kids.  The best colleges.  The top scores.  Our goal is not be in the “great majority” or to coming close.  We aspire to be the top.  As a nation, we have the resources, the knowhow, and the motivation to exceed expectations in the classroom.  The rhetoric shouldn’t be about how we measure up to Sweden or Singapore or India, but rather how they measure up to us.  By believing we aren’t that bad, in comparison, Bracey has already given up.  Why reform if we don’t seek to truly improve?

Third, he mistakes our nation’s desire to succeed and to ensure that ALL students are prepared for good jobs as some sort of fear tactic.  There is often a fine line between fear and truth, particularly for those who fear change.  Those seeking to improve our schools are speaking truth.  When Bracey began his career as an educator, high school graduates and even dropouts could move onto careers that would allow them to support a family, buy a home, and lead a happy life.  But times have changed.  We now know that some form of postsecondary education is necessary to get one of those good 21st century jobs.  The truth is that we all bear some responsibility for ensuring our high schools serve as the gateway to those jobs, providing both a relevant and a rigorous curriculum.  And we need tools like NAEP to ensure that those high school students have the academic tools to move to postsecondary education and thrive in whatever career they choose.

Instead of the negative, common-denominator, defeatist rhetoric coming from Mr. Bracey, we need more of the bold words and bold actions necessary to truly improve the system.  We need to know what our presidential candidates will do to strengthen our schools.  We need to know how our states measure up against other states in terms of educational effectiveness.  We need to know how our students measure up against students across the country and around the world.  We need information (and advocates for it) to inspire us and drive us to action.

Education reform is ultimately about improving student achievement.  We don’t do that by calling for the abandonment of key assessment tools, by settling for second best, or by making ascribing false motives to our opponents.  We do it by continuing to talk about the need for reform — for us, for our children, for our community, and for our nation.  And we do it by empowering every interested individual and organization to take specific actions that will make a specific difference.  That’s how you break through the white noise.  That’s how you stop talking around a problem and start enacting the solution.

How Do I Rank?

We all like to know how we are doing, particularly compared with others.  The cornerstone of NCLB is assessment, providing the tools so we can compare our schools with those in the next district or the next state.  But what do rankings really say?  How effective a communication tool are school rankings?

Today’s WaPo has a number of respected colleges and universities calling for major changes in the ever-popular US News & World Report college rankings.  At the same time, Newsweek magazine announces it Top 100 high schools.

As for Eduflack, I went to a West Virginia high school who’s experience with the Newsweek rankings is limited to receiving the High Schools issue each year.  But I also graduated from U.Va., regularly rated the top public university of the nation.  So I’ve been part of the best of times and the worst of times, if you will.

Such rankings, like all data, have their merits if scientifically sound and used properly.  And such rankings, like any communications tool, can be effective if communicated appropriately.  How do we do it?

1. Use it to support the overall message.  Students aren’t attending a college because of its ranking.  They want a good school that provides for their academic and social needs.  They visit campus, they like what they see.  When the rankings come, it validates the decision.  It supports the belief that X College is a good school, a school worth attending.  A student feels good about the choice because USNWR (and the respected folks who create their rankings) have agreed with their view of X College.  It comes with a seal of approval, and a seal that teachers, parents, and guidance counselors respect.

2. Use it aspirationally.  Rankings are motivation.  Want to rise from third to second tier in regional colleges?  See who is in the second tier and try to emulate their programs and their marketing.  Same goes for high schools.  Enhance AP or IB offerings.  Mirror what those above you are doing.  The best thing about such rankings is they provide a spotlight on best practices, practices that our K-16 system desperately needs.

3. Promote, promote, promote.  Everyone believes they are doing a good job.  And everyone wants to be recognized for it.  But those schools that “rate” do so because they know how to effectively market their goals, they actions, and their successes.  Such rankings are an honor you must seek.  Look at the Newsweek high school rankings.  For months, Jay Matthews has been soliciting recommendations of schools who are doing it right, interesting schools that could be featured as part of the Top High Schools issue.  Part of any school improvement plan, whether it be K-12 or higher ed, should be effective marketing and communications.

Yes, some will say it sends the wrong message to rank high schools, particularly since most students don’t have a choice where they attend.  And others will agree with the college prezes that IHEs shouldn’t be using USNWR to promote their institutions.  But both can be a valuable communications tool.  And as we look to improve our schools, we can use every piece of data and information we can get, particularly those schools that are doing it right.


<a href=”; rel=”me”>Technorati Profile</a>

Standing Up to the Anti-NCLB Bullies

Eduflack is just sick of NCLB bashing.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it.  How can anyone be against boosting student performance, ensuring that what works is what is used in our classrooms, that teachers are qualified to teach, and that we actually measure how effective we are?  This should be a no-brainer.  Folks should be lining up 100 at a time to ensure that NCLB is implemented with fidelity in their school and in every school across the country.  A high-quality education is the greatest gift anyone can receive.  And everyone should receive it.

That said, I felt a warmness in my heart yesterday when I saw the launch of NCLB Works!  For those who have missed it, check it out at

For now, let’s give the media the benefit of the doubt that they will give the creation of this group the media attention it deserves.  After all, NCLB critics seem to get banner headlines and 20 inches whenever they want to grouse about the law.  Only seems fair that a group with this gravitas, coming together to “reauthorize and strengthen No Child Left Behind,” should garner equal time.

Regardless, the NCLB Works! initiative deserves some early round high marks.  Based on the preliminary stages, it is clear that the group’s organizers get it, at least communications-wise.  Why?

* They assembled a broad coalition of business, policy, civil rights, and community groups, erecting a large tent to show the genuine, large-scale support for NCLB’s goals
* They offer clear messaging.  NCLB Works! has nailed their eight theses to the schoolhouse door.  Clear goals.  Goals that touch multiple constituencies.  Goals that are both achievable and necessary.
* They’re starting to personalize the story.  By gathering and distributing success stories, NCLB Works! is moving this from a debate of researchers to a discussion of the people.  They remember that at the end of the day, NCLB succeeds when kids achieve.

Eduflack gives them a gold star for their communications prep work.  Now let’s see how they perform in the lightning round.  It’s one thing to assemble a strong introduction, as they have.  The real communications challenge is how they move this forward.  How do they boost their ranks of supporters?  How do they get the media and policymakers to take notice and act on their recommendations?  How do they ensure that NCLB is strengthened?  How do they cement NCLB’s legacy as a driver of student improvement and long-term academic success?

Looking at its roster of members, NCLB Works! is definitely up to the rhetorical and political challenge.  And I bet there are many others (including Eduflack) who are willing and eager to raise a flag for the cause.

2 + 2 = controversy

Sometimes, it just isn’t as simple as two plus two.  Case in point, the current brouhaha down in Texas, where the State Board of Education is rejecting the third grade Everyday Mathematics program.  The program currently has 20 percent marketshare in Texas, and its been credited with turning around the math scores in New York City’s public schools.  Despite that, Texas is expelling the program, citing its failure to prepare kids for college.

The full story is in the New York Sun — — courtesy of <a href="


Texas educators should be allowed to do what they think is right for Texas students.  Just because it works in New York or anywhere else doesn’t mean it will work in the Lone Star State.  Sometimes, what happens in New York needs to stay in New York.

Be clear, we do know it is working in New York City.  Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein will clearly tell you that, as will the folks who decided the Broad Prize this year.  And NYC’s math scores have improved since the curriculum was implemented almost five years.  Both opinion and the data seem to point to the effectiveness of the program, at least in the Big Apple.

What makes this interesting, particularly from a communications perspective, is WHY folks are standing up in opposition to Everyday Mathematics.  It comes down to two issues — rigor and readiness.

Rigor, of course, is the new buzz word.  Here at the end of 2007, it is now being used in place of scientifically or evidence based.  Called progressive or fuzzy, Everyday Math is getting caught in the crosshairs of the math wars (a far more dastardly battle than any reading war skirmish).  Funny that, since it comes from McGraw Hill, the publisher usually beaten up for its overemphasis on research and methodology for its Open Court reading programs.

Regardless, the U.S. Department of Education, according to the Sun, judged “Everyday Math more effective than some more traditional programs but calling its impact still just “potentially” positive.”  So it must have some rigor to pass IES’ WWC filters.

So we move on to readiness.  The public criticism is that Everyday Math is not preparing kids for college.  Some Texas officials rejected it because the book doesn’t include multiplication tables.  And an NYU computer science professor has attacked the curriculum for not preparing kids for the types of college courses he teaches.

Eduflack is the first to recognize that college readiness is all the rage these days.  But how many of our third graders are planning on matriculating to postsecondary institutions this coming fall?  Are third-grade math courses designed to prepare us for the rigors of college, or the rigors of middle school?

Yes, states and school districts should be given the flexibility to do what is best for their students.  Even in NYC, Klein has provided waivers to those schools looking to use an alternative elementary school math curriculum.  But when we attack third grade textbooks on the college readiness issue, aren’t we starting to play Chicken Little?

College readiness is an important, even a critical, issue for our nation’s public schools.  But if we use it as a rhetorical strawman to turn back each and every program, curriculum, and initiative we oppose, we remove the soul and value of the issue.  Sure, everything from preK on in some way gets our kids ready for college.  They are building blocks of learning.  Does this now mean that if don’t provide our kindergartners with phonics and phonemic awareness, we are not effectively preparing them for college?  Technically, yes, but rhetorically, of course not.

Students become math-ready for college by taking Algebra, Algebra II, geometry, and trig in their middle and high schools.  Third grade prepares some of the building blocks to get there, but even the most successful, beyond this world third-grade curriculum will not make today’s average nine-year-old college ready.  It doesn’t take a math Ph.D. to see that.

The Texas State Board of Education should be making sure that its elementary school mathbooks are providing the foundations every kid needs to succeed.  If not, stand up and say so and propose a better solution.  If Everyday Math isn’t cutting it for Texas kids, just say it isn’t the best choice for Texas classrooms.  That’s the Board’s prerogative and their responsibility.  But do it for the right reasons.  Otherwise, we aren’t too far from hearing that this Play-Doh may not be a college-ready supplemental learning tool.