Another year about to go down in the history books. Are we any closer to truly improving our public schools? For every likely step forward we may have taken in 2010, it seems to be met with a similar step back. For every rhetorical push ahead, we had a very real headwind blocking progress.
I’ll admit it. Eduflack is not a big fan of texting. I am pretty wired to both my iPhone and my iPad that I get emails just as fast as I get texts. And any reader of this blog knows I tend to be a little wordy. So other than those Tweets at @Eduflack, my writing — emails and texts — run a little long. At this point, my texting is pretty limited to my wife (who doesn’t monitor her email as I do); my younger, hipper sister; and a few friends who drop a text occasionally.
Years ago, when Eduflack was working in the proprietary university space, he had a boss who could market just about anything. He was the sort of salesman who could get you to slay dragons with a butter knife, believing that the right brochure, an effective website, and the right messaging platform could sell just about anything. And with him leading the pitch, he usually could sell anything to anyone.
A few months ago, one of Eduflack’s college buddies, David Kazzie, hit the viral big time when he launched an online video entitled So You Want to Go to Law School. Kazzie was one of the hardest-working sports writers I knew at The Cavalier Daily, and although he turned to the dark side by getting a law degree, it was terrific to see those writing skills finally put to use with an incredibly funny series of videos on all that is wrong with the law profession.
It is the holiday season, and the gifts just keep finding their way under Eduflack’s tree. This week, the good folks over at DistanceEducation.org unveiled their Top 20 Education Influencers You Need to Follow on Twitter in 2011 … and Why.
Without question, K-12 virtual education opportunities are gaining more and more attention as late. Earlier this month, the Digital Learning Council — under the leadership of former governors Jeb Bush and Bob Wise — released its Digital Learning Now! report. In it, the new group offered up its 10 elements of high-quality digital education.
This week, the good folks over at DIY Learning released their list of “The Top 50 Education Pundits Worth a Follow on Twitter.” Believe it or not, deal ol’ Eduflack is actually on the list, identified as one of 14 education policy Twitter feeds to follow, joined by folks like the US Department of Education, the Education Equality Project, AEI, and the Center for American Progress.
The new PISA scores are here, the new PISA scores are here! As we all know by now, the latest edition of PISA is now out, and it isn’t the prettiest of pictures. Much of the day of/day after debate seems to be focused on the performance of China, which entered this year’s countdown at the top of the charts. While some may want to fault the sample size (of Shanghai) or look for other reasons to discount China’s positioning, there is no getting around the truth. The students in China who took the test did better than the students in other countries who took the test. Blame cherrypicking of students, overprepping for the tests, or a host of other excuses, but Chinese test takers still did better than everyone else.
Today, Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of DC Public Schools, officially unveiled Rhee 2.0. A cover story for Newsweek (no broom this time) and an Oprah segment was the perfect intro for Students First, a new 501(c)(4) led by Rhee to “to build a national movement to defend the interests of children in public education and pursue transformative reform, so that America has the best education system in the world.”
* Great teachers can make a tremendous difference for students of every background; all children deserve outstanding teachers.
* Public dollars belong where they make the biggest difference—on effective instructional programs; we must fight ineffective practices and bureaucracy.
* Parent and family involvement is key to increased student achievement, but the entire community must be engaged in the effort to improve our schools.
Most interesting in all of this, though, is the underlying structure. Right now, the org is an advocacy group of one — Rhee. It sets an audacious goal of raising $1 billion to create “a movement to transform public education.” The goal seems to be to work with states and school districts across the nation on real reform efforts. But the group seeks to garner its funding through a combination of corporate and philanthropic support, small donors, membership dues, and merchandise sales (someone needs to tell Rhee how successful the retail sales effort worked for the Stand Up effort back in 2005).
There are many unanswered questions here. In launching such an effort, Rhee clearly has some significant seed money to launch this effort. You don’t announce such a fundraising drive unless you already have significant commitment to back up the promise. So Eduflack suspects there has to be tens of millions of dollars already committed to the effort.
So who will join with Rhee, staff wise? What organizations will Students First officially partner with? What SEAs and LEAs will be first on the client list? Besides the $1 billion what are the measures of success? Where will the group be located? Will it have local chapters (like the successful DFER?) What groups will she take on (besides the unions)? How soon before she goes after federal funding (any subcontracting opps in RttT, i3, TIF, or SIG, anyone)?
Eduflack is always heartened by efforts that try to amplify the voice of parents and students in the school improvement process. Too often, we exclude these key stakeholders, leaving them to simply accept what those who “know better” decide needs to be done. As a result, we have a self-fulfilling circle of status quo, where little changes and those end users — the families and students — are left to just deal with the fact the more things change, the more they stay the same … at least with student achievement numbers and a persistent achievement gap.
It is a little surprising that Rhee doesn’t want to get into the ESEA reauthorization mix, but it is a good thing. Even if she threw the full weight of her group into reauth, she would never get the full credit for the changes she could ultimately be responsible for. So now is the time for an agenda. How will we measure the success of Students First in six months? In a year? What are the key policy issues she will focus on? And how will they translate those policy issues into real advocacy felt at the state or local level?
As Eduflack has noted many times, PR is easy. The cover of Newsweek just gets the ball bouncing. Now comes the hard work for Rhee, and an opportunity to demonstrate she understands the true power of advocacy and meaningful public engagement. First, help better diagnose the problems in public education in a way that all stakeholder audiences understand. Then make clear there are real, workable solutions to those problems. And wrap up by showing that Students First and its network are the holders
of the best, most actionable solutions to those problems.
Rhee does that, and this new group of hers can launch a national movement. Without it, we may have yet another in a long range of non-profits with noble goals, respected ambitions, and nothing left to show for it but a depleted checkbook and a lot of unfulfilled buzz. There is already too much of that in ed reform, we don’t need any more.
Back at the start of the fall, the ed reform community was all atwitter about the movie documentary, Waiting for Superman. Throughout the spring and summer, we had special previews of the movie for reform-minded audiences. The national release of the movie in September brought effusive articles in national publications on the movie, its message, and the impact it would have on public education throughout the United States. It seemed everyone was waiting for Superman.