Innovation, Ed Tech, and ISTE

In most education circles these days, the focus is on school improvement, common standards, and, most importantly, innovation.  Doing things the way they have always been done (albeit with additional dollars) is simply not on the current agenda.  From the EdSec all the way down to building leaders, we are looking for new ideas, new approaches, and new solutions to break the hold of the status quo and bring lasting improvement to our schools.
When the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was signed into law, much was said about the proposed investment in education technology.  Some tallies put the investment in technology at $900 million, particularly when one factors in the dollars going to the creation of new state data systems.  Those dollar signs had many people immediately dreaming of new computer labs, smart boards, and other pieces of hardware to strengthen the learning environment.
But those who have been around the block a time or two on ed tech realize that simply putting more computers in the schools does not necessarily yield the student performance gains we’re all seeking from our new education investments.  It isn’t the technology as much as what we do with the technology that matters.  Its the outcomes that are important, not the inputs.  
That point is being driven home this week at the International Society for Technology in Education’s National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) in Washington, DC.  This is the 30th anniversary for both ISTE (an organization for which Eduflack advises) and NECC.  Many of those outliers in the ed tech field would say that the glory days of education technology are behind us, enjoyed in the late 1990s when we invested in broadband and one-to-one computing.  But if NECC turnout and energy is any indication, the true glory days for education technology have yet to come.
In recent months, we’ve heard how education conferences are in a downward spiral.  Shrinking budgets have resulted in school districts slashing conference budgets and eliminating out-of-district travel.  Yet NECC’s attendance this year is UP compared to last year.  More than 12,000 educators are gathered in our nation’s capital to explore ed tech topics.  And many of those educators are here on their own dime, realizing that the conference may be one of the strongest content-based professional development opportunities available to them.  For those who can’t get over to NECC, you can check out a wealth of resources at  
As part of this year’s NECC, Eduflack sat down with ISTE CEO Don Knezek to talk about some of the policy issues the education technology sector is facing, including:
Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT)
Established nearly eight years ago by Congress, EETT is a Title II-funded program designed to “improve student achievement through the use of technology in elementary and secondary grades.”  Much of EETT funding has gone to professional development programs and public-private partnerships designed to enhance the use of technology in the classroom.  It sounds like a terrific program, and one that closely aligns with federal priorities around school improvement and innovation.
Unfortunately, EETT has never been fully funded.  The program was intended to be a $1 billion a year effort, a vision never realized.  This year, the President’s budget allocates EETT at only $100 million, a figure that is also being offered by appropriations leaders on Capitol Hill.
“The battle for the dollar amount of EETT is not over,” Knezek said.  While he is concerned about current EETT funding, Knezek said ISTE members and educators across the country will work to get Congress to act and raise the funding for this necessary program.  (ISTE is actually sending 500 educators to the Hill this week as part of its Storming the Hill effort, and EETT is likely a hot topic for these concerned educators.)  “I’m disappointed with the [President’s] recommendation, but I hope it doesn’t represent a backing off of technology as a priority.”
Common Standards and 21st Century Skills
Citing technology’s role in “enriching accountability systems,” Knezek conceded that we are “pretty far away from addressing 21st century skills and technology” in the current common standards debate.  “It will be a long time before they get to a set of standards that address 21st century skills,” he said, ” but if they develop common standards that address change in the disciplines, yes we will see it.”
Specifically, Knezek sees a pressing demand to redefine current academic disciplines (all subjects, not just math and science) so they are framed in a 21st century environment.  If we can do that successfully, we’ll be in a position to integrate technology and 21st century skills into a national academic standards framework.
Knezek also raised some interesting questions for policymakers, decisionmakers,and influencers as we move forward.
* How does the education technology field show enough leadership for change?
* How do we demonstrate the key role technology plays in improving learning and student engagement?
* How do we successfully promote appreciate for co-learning, where both teachers and students benefit from the use of new technologies?
* What do students need to achieve to demonstrate 21st century skills?
* How do we really incorporate technology in STEM education?
It is hard to imagine we are in a position where we need to identify the relevance and impact of education technology on school improvement, but that is really where we are.  Groups like ISTE are now fighting to demonstrate that they are part of the improvement and innovation solution.  Ultimately, success may come if we move from discussions of hardware to discussions of its applicability.  How are we using new technologies to improve instruction?  To improve teacher training and support?  To better track students?  To better target interventions?  To generate real student achievement gains?  And when we do, how do we know we’ve done it?  Those are the sorts of questions we need answered for ed-tech to move from a third or fifth priority in minds of most superintendents to a first or second priority.
“We are clearly changing the structure of where are going for instruction and instructional experiences,” Knezek said.  If he is right, then those who are most able to adapt to the constant changes in standards, demands, and expectations will be those making the most difference.  Unfortunately, the best and brightest are not necessarily those who survive.  Like most fields, evolution is the name of the game when it comes to education technology in the 21st century.

The Effectiveness of IB

Each year, we see the high school “rankings,” finding that those schools with a high preponderance of Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB ) programs tend to do the best.  The greater the penetration of such programs and priorities, the higher a high school ranks.  Over the years, though, the education community has begun to ask the question about true results or the true impact of these programs. 

A decade ago, many a high school student collected AP courses like baseball cards, knowing that AP today meant college credit tomorrow.  The eduwife actually entered Stanford University as a sophomore because of all of the AP classes she took (and the fives she secured on the exams), allowing her to spend her fourth year out at the Farm gaining her master’s degree.
But times have changed.  Many colleges are now saying that even a five on an AP course is not the same as successfully completing the college course.  We’ve shifted from awarding college credit to simply allowing students to waive out of core requirements.  
The situation has always been even more murky with IB.  IB was never intended to provide college credits in a way AP does.  Designed decades ago, the program was created to ensure that students received a rigorous, comprehensive, and relevant high school learning experience.  By maximizing the time in high school through the IB curriculum, young people would become better students, better scholars, and better citizens.  
So how does all that translate when it comes to postsecondary education?  Many a college admissions officer knows that an IB graduate means a strong college candidate.  They are prepared for postsecondary work.  They are motivated.  They’ve been challenged.  They are inquisitive.  And they are able to do more than fill out bubble sheets or choose from a list of five answers.  They are scholars and learners, not merely the processors of information.
In past years, Eduflack has had the privilege of working with IB on a number of issues.  Being me, I would always ask about the research.  How do we know IB is working?  IB would say that the proof is in their alumni network.  One knows IB works when you see the complete IB graduate.  It is not just what they know, but how they apply it.  Those who complete an IB program usually move on to college.  And the IB high school instructional model has been so successful in teaching and motivating students that it has resulted in the development of both elementary and middle grades IB programs.
IB has never been about longitudinal research models.  They know the program works.  Their scholars know it works.  Their teachers, who undergo rigorous training and ongoing support, know it works.  And the schools that adopt it know it works.  They don’t need a medical-style research model to prove what they already know.  No, IB isn’t for everyone.  But those who do adopt it are better for it.  And despite the urban legends, IB isn’t just for the rich schools in the suburbs or for the uber-motivated.  IB works for all students who are motivated enough to seek a high-quality, rigorous educational program that provides the content and the skills to perform well after the IB program is completed.
But this is an era of research and of doing what is proven effective.  One’s word or one’s track record isn’t enough.  We need third party data to prove our effectiveness.  And now, IB has some of that as well.  In recent days, IB announced the Education Policy Improvement Center (EPIC) findings of its International Baccalaureate Standards Development and Alignment Project.  What did EPIC find?  
* IB is “highly aligned” with the Knowledge and Skills for University Success (KSUS) college-ready standards
* The IB Diploma’s key cognitive strategies — critical thinking skills, intellectual inquisitiveness, and interpretation — were found to be fully aligned with the expectations of university faculty
* IB math (algebra, trigonometry, and statistical standards) were completely aligned with KSUS
* IB science (chemistry, biology, and environmental science) were completely aligned with KSUS
Alignment is important.  But the data on results is even more compelling.  As part of the EPIC announcement, IB revealed that more than 80 percent of those completing the IB high school program graduate from college within six years, a rate leaps, bounds, and high jumps above the national average for high school students.  IBers are college graduates.  And there are few, if any programs, we can make that statement about with higher certainty.
IB has been one of the best-kept secrets in school improvement and innovation.  We don’t talk about it, but IB’s year-on-year growth in the United States over the last year has been the stuff on which folks write Harvard case studies.  Those teachers who have gone through the training are true believers.  Those students who secure the Diploma are real-life success stories.  And those districts who make the investment quickly realize that the cost is worth it, gaining both quantitative and qualitative return on investment almost from the get-go.
Perhaps IB’s greatest challenge is how it fits into the current environment of improvement, reform, and innovation.  IB succeeded in the NCLB years, in part, because of the misperceptions of who it was targeting.  Since many didn’t see its applicability for those students who were being left behind (despite some tremendous case studies of how IB programs have turned around schools and really helped students from historically disadvantaged groups), the program was left to operate on its own.  It connected enough with AYP and with state assessments that it was a viable alternative for those wishing to pursue it.  But it simply wasn’t seen as a solution for that bottom quartile of students, particularly with NCLB’s focus on the elementary grades.
Today, IB is at a crossroads.  As a nation, we have set hard goals for improving high school graduation rate and college attainment numbers.  The EPIC data demonstrates that IB could be one of those solutions custom-made for rising to the occasion.  The IB training and development model is one that can be used as we look to new ways to improving instruction and preparation for all teachers.  The real challenge, though, is how IB fits into the new call for common standards.  How will the IB framework align with the high school standards currently being pursued?  How do IB assessments dovetail with the assessments that will come out of common standards?  How does IB demonstrate value-add, and not add-on?
Only time will tell if IB is up to the challenge.  It has the opportunity.  It has the track record.  It can display its strengths.  Now is the time for International Baccalaureate to show it is an exemplar of best practice, and not merely a niche program.  It has the pieces.  IB just has to bring them all together for a compelling story that solves the problem so many school decisionmakers are facing.

Bolder, Broader Accountability?

The announcement last month about common standards and the work undertaken by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers seems to have captured the attention of most in the education community.  For those entering their first rodeo, they are worried about how these new standards will be applied and are worried about how they will be applied next year, even before the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Those who have done this dance enough times know that the work is only just beginning.  The current common standard focus on high school exit expectations will have be walked back to first grade or kindergarten, providing common standards for the full K-12 effort.  With those standards, we’ll also have to build the assessments that go with it, how we measure both what is being taught and what is being learned in the classroom.
One of the top concerns about common standards is that the current framework seems focused exclusively on reading and math skills, much as NCLB’s AYP provisions were.  We assume that science will be added.  We hope to fold in social studies and other academic subjects.  And the recent release of the arts NAEP last week gives us hope that there is a chance that we will truly gage student proficiency on all of the issues and topics addressed during the school year.
Adding to this discussion is a new report out today from A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education.  BBA’s approach is a simple one.  School improvement cannot be measured by test scores alone.  There are additional quantitative measures, as well as a number of qualitative pieces, that should be factored into current efforts to improve the schools and support our students.  (Full disclosure, my company has been providing counsel to BBA and its leadership on these issues.)
The full BBA Accountability Report can be found here.  But I’ll recap the highlights:
When it comes to accountability, BBA calls on the federal government to:
* Collect state-level data — from an expanded NAEP or from other national surveys — on a broad range of academic subjects, as well as on the arts, student work habits, physical health and fitness, mental health, citizenship habits, and other appropriate behaviors that will enable students to achieve success in a pluralistic society and complex global economy.
* Improve the disaggregation of NAEP and other survey data, where appropriate, to include immigrant generation, parent education, and national origin.
* Maintain NAEP’s low-stakes character to preserve its validity as an indicator of relative state performance, barring its use as an individual-level test for accountability purposes
* Require states to develop accountability systems that rely upon scores on states’ own academic tests and other key educational, health, and behavioral indicators, along with approved inspection systems to evaluate school quality.
And for BBA, it falls to the states to:
* Improve the quality of state assessment, particularly in reading and math, so that assessment results can plan an appropriate role in school evaluation.
* provide for the inspection of districts and schools to ensure that contributions to satisfactory student performance in academic subject areas, as well as in the arts, citizenship, physical fitness and mental and physical health, work, and other behavioral skills that will enable them to achieve success in a pluralistic society and complex global economy.
Provide for the inspection of districts and schools to ensure that appropriate resources and practices, likely to produce satisfactory student achievement, are being followed and promoted.
* Intervene for the purpose of improving schools and district performance where it is unsatisfactory.
There are few that are going to feel lukewarm or ambivalent about BBA and its recommendations.  EIther you’ve drunk the Kool-aid or you are a true nay-sayer/doomsdayer.
True believers are going to embrace this as the fix to what is perceived as a severely flawed accountability system in NCLB, a model that only looks at reading and math, a model that only looks at grades 3-8, a model that fails to account for other academic subjects, other social developments, and other factors that impact the potential and success of the student and the school.  The broader, more comprehensive approach to assessment gets us closer to the multiple measures many states were pursuing before AYP became a primary word in their vocabulary.
Others will absolutely hate the approach.  They will fear that BBA is looking to weaken current accountability models, and are claiming that adequate assessment of math and reading proficiency should no longer be a priority.  It “softens” our current measurement efforts.  It places the qualitative over the quantitative.  And it turns back the accountability clock to when it was every state for itself, with each jurisdiction offering up some version of the good, the bad, and the ugly.  it seeks to deal a setback to one of the real successes of the NCLB era.  And the idea of an “inspectorate” that will parachute in to evaluate our schools will win few friends in the “reform” movement.
Will these recommendations become the centerpiece of ESEA reauthorization, either this year or sometime in the next decade?  Probably not.  But by throwing a spotlight on accountability at this stage of the game, BBA begins a very important debate when it comes to reauthorization.  How do we effectively measure school improvement?  What are the inputs and the outcomes we should be focused on?  How do we define success?  How do we measure success?  How do we capture the full picture, knowing that curricular changes alone cannot get us to the intended destination?  How do we take issues like 21st century skills and STEM and figure out how to effectively layer them into the common standards and the assessments that will come along with those standards?  How do we ensure that all parties, from the classroom up and the feds down, are actually being held accountable for student learning and student achievement?  All are important debates we must have now, if a reauthorized ESEA is indeed an improvement over the current.
Debate is a good thing.  Discussion is a good thing.  Even disagreement is a good thing when it comes to school improvement.  We need choices and different ideas.  We need devil’s advocates and loyal soldiers.  We need to seriously consider our choices (as well as weigh what has worked and what has not in the past) if we are to put real, lasting, meaningful improvement in place.  So if BBA is lighting the match to start some of these debates, we are better for it.
And for those who think that these accountability recommendations won’t hold any water with the Obama Administration and EdSec Arne Duncan, take a look at the following video clips.  Both candidate Obama’s and President Obama’s rhetoric seem far more like that of a true believer than a nay sayer.  This may have more legs to it than it originally appears.

Reauthorization Timetable?

It is always a fun game to ask those “in the know” when they expect the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to be reauthorized.  In 2007, we saw several draft bills that some thought were indications that reauth would happen before the elections.  Those drafts quickly stalled, and we started talking 2009, 2010, 2011, and beyond.

Recent reports had been tagging ESEA – and yes, most are now referring to it as ESEA and not NCLB – reauthorization for as late as 2011.  The thinking has been that 2009 is slated for healthcare reform, 2010 has a student loan priority, so ESEA must be coming along in 2011.
The reauthorization waters have only been muddied further with discussions on economic stimulus, Races to the Top, common standards, and such.  Some will even go as far as to say that common standards is the priority, and the push for national standards will simply be put into place through EdSec caveat, without the need to codify under ESEA.  After all, EdSec Arne Duncan has made it pretty clear that he is relatively content with NCLB, needing just some minor tweaks to funding priorities and programmatic emphasis.
But Eduflack is starting to hear a different story with regard to reauthorization.  It is a major priority for the EdSec and his senior staff.  So much so that the current plan is to make ESEA reauthorization a Capitol Hill priority this fall, with hopes of signing the new law into the official record in the early part of 2010.  So we are facing a possibility of 2009 reauthorization after all.  The game is back on.
If the schedule holds, many are going to be caught by surprise with the accelerated schedule.  The education chattering class is thinking reauthorization is months away, and is putting their attention on other issues and other priorities.  If the new ESEA process is really just months away, the education blob has a great deal of thinking to do.  Summer school is in session, and those who want their voices heard during reauthorization better be ready to advocate loudly and clearly when the new school year starts this fall.  Otherwise, they could be left behind for another five to eight years. 
(And as for the new name, today’s WaPo made clear that NCLB moniker has been put to bed.  Earlier this year, Eduwonk held a rebranding contest, receiving more than 700 entries.  Check out the best of the best here.  If only naming were our biggest concern.)

Reading First, Last, and Forever

Sometimes, it is just tiring being Eduflack, particularly when it comes to the area of reading instruction.  Time and again, I’ve pledged that I’ve written my last post on Reading First.  Between the IES study and Congress’ dismissal, RF has been written off for dead more times than a cat on her ninth life.  It seems the final nail in the coffin has been hammered time and again over the last year or two.

But then along come a series of actions that just make you see that while the Reading First brand may be dead and buried, its impact and its infrastructure are not going anywhere.  The bright spot is Understanding Reading First, a new white paper from MDRC.  The piece is worth a quick read.  No, there is no groundbreaking data or unread news in the document.  But it is a strong summation of RF, its foundations, and some of the results.
And read in the current context, it also shows that scientifically based reading research may indeed have a longer shelf life than any of us, including those stalwart supporters, ever thought was possible.  Thanks to the economic stimulus money in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, states and school districts are now discovering they can use their newfound education riches to extend RF-based programs for another year or two.  In fact, some could say the spending on reading coaches, scientifically based instructional materials, and professional development for reading teachers is exactly what ARRA is intended for.
Then we have the data, including the state research that has come from bellwether states like California, Texas, Ohio, and others demonstrating the positive impact that RF has had on student achievement.  Couple that with last fall’s RF study from the US Department of Education’s Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development (OPEPD) and there is more than enough strong data to show that the original IES study was flawed and one has to look at its nil finding with skeptical eyes.
Now we can mix in the K-12 reading instruction bill that has been circulating around town, which I am still trying to brand “Yes, We Can Read.”  Thanks to key education groups and key congressional leaders, we are actually working on a literacy bill that will build on RF’s elementary school focus and offer a reading continuum from preschool through high school graduation.  Even more important, the draft language being circulated around Washington, DC reflects a strong crosswalk with the SBRR language in the original Reading First.  An expansion here, some rewording there, but the intent and the embrace of the research is still there.
Hopefully, Understanding Reading First will get more attention and play than those that came before it, particularly the OPEPD study.  There is a growing pool of research demonstrating that RF worked, particularly when you factor in the positive impact it has had on schools and classrooms that didn’t receive specific dollars for Reading First programs.  Across the nation, all schools adopted scientifically based reading instruction and materials.  All teachers were trained in the research methods.  And virtually all kids benefited from it.  And for those who don’t want to listen to the state data, the NAEP results, or the results of other such assessments, MDRC reminds us of that once again.

DCPS, Interstate Tests, and Such

Although Eduflack is spending the week with the larger family of 11 (including three children under the age of three) at an undisclosed location about 120 miles from our nation’s capital, that doesn’t keep me from thinking education thoughts.  Tops, this morning, is the data release coming from NAGB and NCES.  This morning, NAGB released its NAEP scores on music and the visual arts.  For those who say that all we, as a nation, are assessing is math and reading achievement, it is worth checking out.  The eighth grade data on the arts, including the information and school data related to student achievement in the arts is worth checking out.  The full The Nation’s Report Card: Arts 2008 can be found here.

But there are other issues rattling around the Eduflack mind:
DCPS and Michelle Rhee
A good chunk of yesterday’s Washington Post was dedicated to Michelle Rhee.  The reason — her second anniversary at the helm of District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS).  The full story can be found here.  The piece definitely depicted a softer tone and rhetoric for Rhee, refocusing on her commitment to the kids and academic achievement, and softening her stance on getting rid of “bad” teachers and principals and the infamous Time magazine cover story, with the chancellor “sweeping up” schools in our nation’s capital.
Most recognize the power of charter schools in DC.  As part of her charge, Rhee was expected to slow the exodus to charter schools and keep DC’s students in the traditional public schools.  That’s why she’s been looking to close persistently struggling schools, giving students a better chance of attending a better public school.  But since Rhee’s takeover of DCPS, the school district has lost nearly 10 percent of its total students (a 4,000 drop of 49,000 original students).  We don’t need disaggregated data charts to tell us that those students are moving into charter schools, particularly with the transformation of the city’s Catholic schools into public charters.  Education is one of those few businesses where losing 10 percent of your customers in two years doesn’t seem to cause any concern.
Anniversaries are nice, but the true measure of Rhee’s reign will be the student achievement data to be released this summer.  This would be the second achievement report for Rhee.  Last year, scores were up, and the Rhee administration took full credit.  Fact of the matter, former superintendent Cliff Janey deserves some of the credit, as his programs, put in place years before, bear some of the responsibility for improvement.  Rhee does get some credit, simply because teachers and students embraced what was new and demonstrated a new enthusiasm for learning in the first year.
Personally, I don’t have similar hopes for year two.  The closing of schools, the removal of principals, the fights between DCPS and the teachers union, and the lack of “newness” don’t bode well for 2008-09 student data.  Reformers need to be prepared for the fact that there may be a dip in DCPS student achievement.  We’ve seen it time and time again, where years two and three are the struggle, and the true measure of reform is seen in the out years — years four, five, and beyond — once the reforms have truly taken hold and can have a longitudinal impact on a wide number of students.  Here’s hoping Rhee bucks the trend, but we need to be prepared for the fact that DCPS scores may not demonstrate the steady rise so many presume is a given.
Duncan and Interstate Testing
Speaking before many of the nation’s governors last night at an education summit hosted by the Hunt Institute, EdSec Arne Duncan spoke on his plans to obligate $350 million to go toward the development of interstate reading and math assessments.  This is step two to the common standards movement announced by NGA and CCSSO at the beginning of the month, the first step toward national education standards.  Without question, these commons standards are likely becoming the fifth pillar of Duncan’s priorities.  He is throwing his rhetorical weight behind the plan, using the bully pulpit to maximum effect.  The big question that many ask is whether he will just implement the standards through his executive authority or actually codify them in Elementary and Secondary Education reauthorization.
For Eduflack, it is a very different question.  Right now, the focus is on interstate assessments in reading and math.  How are these assessments going to differ from our current NAEP assessments, other than filling in the gaps between fourth and eighth grade and eight and 12th grade?  Will these common standards align with NAEP, or will NAEP need to be realigned to meet these new interstate standards?
To his credit, Duncan is already moving the ball before the other team has set their defense.  We’ve gone from standards to immediate talk about testing and assessment.  If he quickly pivots from assessment over to accountability, we may have a real national standards ballgame.

Charter-ing the Race

There seems to be little question about it.  Charter schools are front and center when it comes to the federal government’s new approach to school improvement and student achievement.  EdSec Arne Duncan has been promoting charters as a core part of successful Race to the Top grants and as necessary components to comprehensive district turnarounds.  Duncan can even point to his use of the charter tool in Chicago as the justification for his new push.

The Gates Foundation has announced its plans to go in and do a “deep dive” in four school districts across the nation, focusing $125 million per district on improved professional development.  On the short list for the final four, an unnamed charter school district in the Los Angeles area.  Only the village idiot doesn’t realize that Green Dot is the intended target for these funds.
We’ve seen greater interest and appreciation for what KIPP has done, due in large part to Jay Mathews’ recent book on that charter system.  And the number of ED employees with ties to the NewSchool Venture Fund, one of the top thinkers on the effective development of high-quality charter schools (and part of New Leaders for New Schools’ model for teacher incentives under their TIF-funded EPIC program) continues to grow by the day.
So for those who thought charters may take a back seat under a new Democratic administration, they have been sadly mistaken.  The economic stimulus package called for states to raise their charter caps.  Other states are being pushed to actually maximize their current laws (like my home state of Virginia, which has a decent charter law, but just doesn’t allow any charters to actually get started under it, thus failing to live up to the promise).  And others still are being asked to establish flexible, growth-oriented charter laws that demonstrate the value-add charters can play to a school district on the rise or a school district in need of improvement.
But who is doing it well?  A decade ago, charters were tagged with a reputation of low quality and low results.  We had images of individuals running schools out of their homes and their basements, trying to take advantage of available funding or looking to thrust a particular political or religious point of view on a select group of students.  Many still subscribe to that stereotype, despite the hard work undertaken by groups like NACSA to ensure that states have strong charter establishment and accountability laws and by organizations like the Center for Education Reform for continually providing new data on how well our charter systems are doing.
CER actually has a new report out, this one called Race to the Top for Charter Schools: Which States Have What It Takes to Win, Rankings and Scorecard 2009.  In the study, CER provides some interesting data, grading our states on issues such as the number of charter operators, number of schools allowed, operations, and equity.  We see that three states earn As from CER — the District of Columbia, Minnesota, and California.  Four states earn Fs — Kansas, Virginia, Iowa, and Mississippi.  D seems to be the most popular grade when it comes to charter scores.
When you couple this data with recent CER data on charter school achievement and the costs involved (showing that charters are putting up equal or better performance when compared to their traditional public school peers for nearly half the per-pupil dollars), it gives you a strong sense for why Duncan and company are emphasizing the opportunity available under charters … and how much work we really have to do before we effectively integrate charters into the public school network.
Most states want to get their Race to the Top dollars and the chances that come with it.  In the process, hopefully they will recognize that good, effective charter networks are designed to supplement, not supplant, our traditional public school systems.  They aren’t the magic bullet for struggling schools, but they sure are a useful tool.  And that like most in school improvement, charters only work when we focus on quality, proven research, assessment, and accountability.

A True “Opportunity Equation”

In recent months, we have significantly raised the stakes when it comes to education improvement.  The economic stimulus bill makes clear that the success of our economy depends on the improvement of our schools.  The Data Quality Campaign (along with additional stimulus dollars) have focused on the need to improve data collection at the state level.  The recent release of NAEP long-term data pointed to the push for continued accountability.  And the most recent announcement of progress in the national standards movement — namely the National Governors Association/Council of Chief State School Officers push — have only increased the volume.

But what, exactly, are we improving?  A little more than a month ago, President Barack Obama spotlighted the need to redouble our commitment to science-technology-engineering-mathematics, or STEM, education.  Today, the Carnegie Corporation of New York-Institute for Advanced Study Commission on Mathematics and Science Education amplified the instructional content call even further.  In releasing The Opportunity Equation: Transforming Mathematics and Science Education for Citizenship and the Global Economy, Carnegie provided a useful blueprint for moving our rhetorical commitment to improvement and STEM education into actionable items, issuing a true call to action to policymakers and educators committed to improving our nation and our economy by strengthening our academic offerings.
Specifically, Opportunity Equation issued a clarion call on four key issues:
* The need for higher levels of mathematics and science learning for all American students
* Common standards in math and science that are fewer, clearer, and higher, couple with aligned assessments
* Improved teaching and professional learning, supported by better schools and system management
* New designs for schools and systems to deliver math and science learning more effectively
Surely we have seen reports like these before.  Many issue broad platitudes.  Others are chock full of process, with little in terms of outcome.  And others still simply preach in a vacuum, demonstrating a glaring lack of understanding about our schools, particularly those students that need STEM the most.  So what makes Carnegie’s report so different than those that have come before it?
First, Opportunity Equation clearly identifies those stakeholders most important to STEM education and assigns them specific responsibilities in the improvement effort.  Throughout its report, Carnegie lays out the action stems that the federal government, states, schools and school districts, colleges and universities, unions, businesses, nonprofit organization, and philanthropy must play.  School improvement is a team game, and Carnegie has drawn up specific plays so that every stakeholder — particularly teachers and schools — has a chance to get on the court at some point during the game.
Second, it combines the requisite inputs with the necessary outcomes.  Too often, reports like this are forced to either embrace the status quo, essentially serving as a consensus document designed to make all parties happy.  Such papers focus on inputs, talking about what is possible, but ignore the outcomes that are necessary to measure true improvement.  Carnegie makes clear that process is important.  But it makes clearer that the best intentions in the world are meaningless if we aren’t delivering measurable results on the back end.  Student results, data, measurement, and accountability are key components to the Carnegie plan.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Carnegie recognizes that STEM education is for all students, and that all students should be held to higher, clearer standards (with similar accountability).  For years now, Eduflack has heard many an educator and policymaker push back that STEM education isn’t for everyone.  Our future rocket scientists and brain surgeons may benefit from STEM, but it is unnecessary for the “average” student.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Every student benefits from STEM education, particularly if that student is interested in going on to postsecondary education or holding a job after finishing their schooling.  Carnegie puts this fact front and center.  Effective STEM instruction is not about cherry-picking.  It is about a rising tide lifting all boats, providing all students — particularly those who have been left behind or neglected in the past — with the skills and instruction they need to achieve in the 21st century global classroom and workplace.
Opportunity Equation also demonstrates a nimbleness that we rarely see in studies of this sort.  The report boasts a Who’s Who on its roster of Commission members.  Usually, such a roll call means this report was in the can for months, undergoing proofing and design and gut checks to make sure all were comfortable with the language.  But Carnegie has done two things here to dispel the pattern.  First, its four priorities align with the four policy pillars put forward by EdSec Arne Duncan and the US Department of Education.  Second, Opportunity Equation calls on stakeholders to endorse the NGA/CCSSO Common Standards effort, and effort that just went public a little more than a week ago.  Relevancy is always a good thing.
In Opportunity Equation, Carnegie Corporation has clearly informed audiences on what is necessary to improve math and science instruction in the United States, building a stronger pipeline for both the economy and the community.  As Eduflack has lectured far too often, that is merely step one of effective public engagement.  Now that the inform stage is completed, it now falls to Carnegie and its supporters to build commitment to the model laid out by Carnegie and then mobilize stakeholders around the specific actions called for in the report.  
Carnegie offers yet another GPS unit for guiding us through the complexities of school improvement toward a final destination of a STEM-literate society equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary for academic and life success.  It is now up to the wide range of stakeholders (those identified by Carnegie) to actually plug the unit in and let it guide us.  Opportunity Equation provides those turn-by-turn directions to get us to the results we seek.  We just need to follow the guidance.

Lessons Learned from Ed in 08

Paraphrasing from Major League’s legendary Harry Doyle, in case you haven’t noticed, and judging by the attention we haven’t, Strong American Schools has managed to win a few ball games, at least according to SAS.

Two years ago, the Gates and Broad Foundations announced a $60 million initiative designed to make education a major focus of the 2008 presidential campaigns.  Launched under the dual banner of the parent Strong American Schools organization and its Ed in 08 campaign, SAS issued a simple goal — “Use the presidential race to highlight the crisis in American public schools.”
It did so by issuing three key “pillars:” 1) common education standards; 2) an effective teacher in every classroom; and 3) extended learning time for students.
Yesterday, SAS offered up its summary report on the success of its two-year effort tilting at educational windmills.  After both the Democratic and Republic primaries showed little interest in education issues, and then as the bottom fell out of the economy during the general election, SAS never quite got the traction and influence it sought.  Then again, neither did similar efforts to highlight the crisis in healthcare, the environment, and a host of other issues.
None of us are foolish enough to believe that the 2008 presidential campaign was decided (or even debated) on education issues.  Both sides offered up comprehensive education plans.  Eduflack summarized the two here last fall.  Good ideas across the P-16 education continuum.  Now President Obama is being held accountable for promises on preK, teacher quality, incentive pay, and affordable college.  He’s also raised the ante by throwing a spotlight on STEM education, charter schools, and increasing the number of college graduates by 2020.
So what impact did Ed in 08 have on the current state of educational affairs?  How has ARRA and the presidential budget been shaped by the tens of millions of dollars spent by Ed in 08?  Honestly, we still don’t know.  When we look at the SAS successes, they don’t crosswalk cleanly with current policy or promises such as common standards.
According to Strong American Schools, its accomplishments were many, including:
* Obama supported (and continues to support) all three of the campaign’s policy pillars.  John McCain supported two.
* Ed in 08 had “significant input” on the education efforts of John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, and Rudy Giuliani.
* Changed the debate on performance pay
* Made education a bipartisan issue
* Produced more than 150 pages of research and policy materials
* Created an 86-page Policy Toolkit
* Commemorated the 25th anniversary of A Nation at Risk with a research update
* Published an examination of the cost of college remediation
* Created a network of 200 organizers and advisors across the country
* Received thousands of media hits
* Used the Internet and other new media tools to engage the public
These “wins” are a mixed bag.  Some are clearly process issues.  Some are stretches (did Ed in 08 change the debate on performance pay, or was that the result of a combination of programs such as Denver’s ProComp and Obama taking a tough stand on incentive pay early in the process?).  Some are just puzzling, such as education being a bipartisan issue (both sides have made education an issue for decades, they just do so from different perspectives).  
What is most interesting in the SAS summary report is the explanation of the obstacles, those challenges that prevented Ed in 08 from achieving its bold objectives.  These challenges include:
* Structure, as a not-for-profit, some activities were restricted, including claims that staff members could not take a position on any legislation, could not directly question candidates, nor could compare candidates’ platforms to SAS recommendations
* The media, and its failure to cover a sustained debate on education and its inability to “push policymakers to consider the failures of our current education system”
* The teachers unions, protecting “the interests of their members” even if it conflicted with reforms
As for structure, wasn’t it up to Broad and Gates to establish the most effective structure possible to achieve the goal?  If SAS was structurally prohibited from advocating for specific policies and holding candidates accountable, shouldn’t it have been built to allow for true advocacy?  Why build a ship that we can’t sail?
As for the media, did we really see the role of media, particularly that of the education media, to “push policymakers?”  If Ed in 08 can’t advocate an agenda, did we really expect reporters to do so?
And as for the unions, did we expect them to do anything other than protect their constituency, the group they are created to protect?
SAS should be given credit for better organizing new media and social networking outlets around education issues.  Their blogger summit in the spring of 2008 is but one example of this.  The drumbeat picked up by Richard Whitmire and others to keep the spotlight on education issues is another.  So there are successes.
More importantly, though, SAS has helped provide a blueprint that future advocacy efforts can learn from.  As part of its final report, SAS is handing the baton off to the Education Equality Project, looking to Joel Klein, Al Sharpton, and company to carry the torch on the issues of standards, teacher quality, and extended learning.  It could have also claimed credit for the current common standards movement, as Roy Romer’s clarion call for national standards and how to get there looks dangerously similar to what NGA, CCSSO, and other are engaging in right now.
So as groups like EEP, Broader and Bolder, Opportunity to Learn, Extended Day, and others look to build advocacy efforts around national education policy, reauthorization, and related issues, they should look closely at SAS.  What can they build on and improve?  What can they learn from and avoid?  What can they throw cold water on?  What can they aspire to?  What’s possible?  What’s a pipe dream?  
Personally, I think SAS was a good idea that was never fully realized.  It didn’t live up to the hype nor to the potential.  But that doesn’t it mean it couldn’t.  The model can work, with the right tweaks and the proper attention. Education advocacy is a must these days.  For all those looking to get in the game, let’s take a close look at Strong American Schools, learning from its forward steps and its missteps.  Rather than starting new each and every day, we need to build on those that come before us.  That’s the only way that real, lasting educational improvement can come.

From the Ed Trenches to the Real Ones

It doesn’t happen every day, but we have some breaking education news on Capitol Hill today.  Rep. Buck McKeon of California has been named the new ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.  For those who haven’t worked on the Hill or drunk the Kool-Aid, this is a huge deal, particularly as we are dealing with troop expansions in Afghanistan, withdrawals in Iraq, and future commitments we can never foresee.  McKeon will now be working with Chairman Ike Skelton of Missouri on issues of military personnel, armed services support, terrorism, and a host of other issues related to the protection of our nation and security around the globe.

So how does this affect our little ole education world?  Unfortunately, the move means that McKeon must now give up his position as the ranking member of the House Committee on Education and Labor.  After all of his work on higher education issues, cleaning up in the aftermath No Child Left Behind, and the advocacy of greater accountability and quality in our public schools, McKeon will pass the top Republican education chair to a new voice, likely Tom Petri of Wisconsin or Mike Castle of Delaware.  The full story can be found here, courtesy of The Hill.  
Even though Eduflack only worked for the Dems on Capitol Hill, I’ve had a soft spot for McKeon since launching this blog a few years ago.  His staff was one of the first congressional staffs to ensure that I was getting information and updates regarding what was happening on the committee, and this was after he lost his gavel following the 2006 elections.  So I appreciated that he (or his staff) understood the need for continued communications to a wide range of stakeholders.
I also appreciated the stances he took, even on “unpopular” issues.  To this day, I still think the Miller/McKeon version of NCLB reauthorization may end up the law of the land.  Last year, I even advocated for McKeon as a potential EdSec candidate.  Congressman McKeon worked hard on education issues, doing what he believes was best for improving our schools and boosting student achievement across the learning continuum.  That commitment will likely transfer into a new commitment to our men and women in uniform.  That’s a win for the Armed Services Committee and for the nation.
So what does this mean for the House Education Committee?  Chairman Miller is still ruling the roost, and nothing is going to change that (and his staff has gotten even better and more sophisticated at sharing information and keeping the blogosphere apprised of Committee doings).  Clearly it is a signal that Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization is not on the immediate horizon.  But it also offers a little glimmer of what is possible.  If Congressman Castle can rise to the top slot, he and Chairman Miller could do a lot of good for our public schools, working on improvement efforts in a bipartisan fashion.  It may even be enough to make national standards and such a reality.  Now wouldn’t that be something.