Brookings, Ed Media, and Missed Opps

They’re back!  The good folks over at Brookings Institution have returned with their third study on the United States and how it covers education issues in the media.  If you’ll recall, in 2009 we learned that only 1.4 percent of national news coverage in the dear ol’ U.S. of A was about education issues.  Last year, the trio of Darrell West, Russ Whitehurst, and E.J. Dionne came back for a return engagement to tell us how key leaders are seeing the future of education media.

First off, the people seem to care most about the issues that are pretty much getting the most coverage these days.  Teacher performance (73 percent).  Student academic performance (71 percent).  School crime or violence (69 percent).  School finance and school reform (66 percent).  It is just shocking!  The most important education policy issues for those polled are those issues they constantly hear about from President Obama, EdSec Duncan, governors, and the mainstream media that still covers K-12 issues.
Who do they get their information from?  Family and friends is tops, at 75 percent.  Then comes daily newspapers (60 percent), school publications (56 percent), local television (54 percent), community groups (42 percent), national television (38 percent), Internet sites (37 percent), radio (33 percent), and school Facebook or MySpace sites (14 percent).  (Who knew we were even still using MySpace??)  Of those sources, family and friends were deemed the most highly regarded (62 percent), with radio coming in at 24 percent, Facebook at 12 percent, and just 7 percent regarding those phone texts as valuable.
This is all important data, as it helps flesh out the picture of how one successfully informs stakeholders — namely parents, as far as this survey is concerned — about developments in local and national education.  But it also raises some concerns:
* Do we really believe this is a true representative sample of Main Street USA?  Setting aside the concerns of telephone polling and who has land lines these days, just take a look at the numbers, take a look at the school communities you know, and compare.  Are we really getting local education information from daily newspapers and local television stations?  
* Does this even provide us an apples/apples comparison?  I look at the first bucket — “the areas they wanted more coverage of their local schools,” and teacher performance comes in first.  Then we ask them how they are getting news, and we are scoring things like texts?  Who texts about a complex issue like teacher evaluations?
* When asked how to improve communications, the most popular response was more printed newsletters.  Second was more information through the Internet (despite it ranking seventh in preferred sources).  Seems we really don’t know what we want, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, Brookings didn’t offer up some recommendations on what to do with this data.  Instead, it concluded its report with the following:

Although Americans feel reasonably well-informed about schools and do not sense a decline in the amount of information available to them, they do want more information than they are getting, especially on the most basic educational questions: teacher performance, student academic achievement, curricula, finances, and reform efforts. They are also concerned about violence in the schools. To a remarkable degree, they still rely on daily newspapers for educational information, and that is true even among young Americans who are more open to newer technologies. This points to an opportunity for newspapers eager to expand their readership among the young. Education blogs on newspaper websites are a growing and vital source of education news. Expanding and building on them would be helpful to the education policy debate, and good for newspapapers.

But Brookings’ loss is Eduflack’s gain.  Let me offer us a few observations/suggestions:
  1. We need to define what “news” is.  The first set of questions address high-brow policy discussions related to ESEA and other national debates.  But the news source information seems to focus on “information,” not “news.”  There is a big difference between learning about teacher incentives and knowing how the girls’ soccer team did.  But those are lumped into the same question as equals.
  2. We need to separate discussion of education policy issues from local school issues.  Here, respondents were focused on the policy issues driven by the mainstream media.  But their answers regarding media sources reflect what they are hearing about schools in their local community.  How many of us have family and friends who can talk about teacher performance issues?  And what printed newsletter is going to enlighten us on that issue?  We need better data on the separation of the two issues.  And quite frankly, knowing how people learn about their local schools and their concerns regarding those local schools is far more valuable.
  3. While the information regarding what 18-29 year olds think about these topics is interesting, how many 20-year-olds really care about what is happening at their local schools?  Along similar lines, how many really care about student academic performance information?   
  4. We need data on “who” is providing the information to the sources in question.  Is it earned media from news organizations?  School-generated print and web information?  Community-generated blogs or radio programs?  All information is not created equal.  Are people looking for more fact-based, trusted news, or are they looking for the snarky, the provacative, or that that simply relates back to them and their families?  
  5. Finally, the big issue is SO WHAT?  What do we do with this data?  Is it a problem of information not being out there, or people not knowing where to look?  Is the information folks are not finding in their local newspapers available on the Internet?  Is the data people want from printed newsletters available on school web or Facebook sites?  We need both educated and informed customers of education information.  We need to understand what they need, information wise, and then help them see where to find it.   
Ultimately, the data provided by Brookings makes for lovely water cooler or cocktail party chatter for those in ed policy circles, but it does very little, if anything, to help advance improving communications in the education arena.  
UPDATE: Apparently, the report’s authors have said a second document, focusing on reccs from the telephone survey, is in development.  But in these days of instant gratification, who waits to deliver reccs??

It’s Common Core-tastic!?

As the great Yogi Berra is reported as saying, it’s like deja vu all over again!  

This past weekend, dear ol’ Eduflack was out in San Francisco for the ASCD Annual Conference.  On Saturday, I had the privilege of addressing more than 100 folks who came out on a monsoon-like Saturday morning to learn more about how to build, execute, and measure a successful public engagement campaign in the education space.  A good time, I hope, was had by all.
After the conclusion of that merriment, Eduflack wandered over to the exhibit hall to see what companies, non-profits, IHEs, and government agencies thought ASCD attendees would be most interested in.  It was a full hall, comprised of many of the same organizations that make the rounds during the spring education conferences.
But the one thing that caught my eye was how many booths and vendors bore the supposed blessing of the Common Core State Standards Initiative.  We had “Common Core approved” and “Common Core certified.”  For those not quite willing to go out on the limb, we had even had quite a few “Common Core aligned.”  The label could be found on curriculum and supplemental materials, professional development and assessment tools.  It seemed to be applicable for everything short of the tote bags and candy giveaways.
Yes, I realize that most states have signed onto Common Core and are currently in the process figuring out how to move that adoption to implementation.  Yes, I realize the embrace of Common Core was a requirement of Race to the Top and is likely to play a role in ESEA reauthorization.  And yes, I realize the importance of having a one national yardstick by which we measure all U.S. students.
But we also have to be clear here.  States are adopting relatively general standards in just two subject areas.  We have no curriculum to go with those standards yet.  We have no tests to go with the standards yet.  We have no textbooks or workbooks or cookbooks that go with those standards yet.  in fact, we don’t even have the full standards yet, as all states have the ability to add 15 percent of their own priority standards to the common ELA and math standards currently in play.
So it just seems far too premature for us to be peddling the “Common Core approved” when we still don’t know what Common Core looks like in the schools and THERE IS NO ONE TO APPROVE ANYTHING ON BEHALF OF COMMON CORE!  No one is certifying or approving on behalf of CCSSI.  At a time when states and districts are worried about Common Core (and many at ASCD were), we have vendors marketing their wares to those concerns, promising the magical elixirs that will fix everything.
And that’s where the deja vu comes into play.  It was only seven or eight years ago when we saw the exact same scene unfold around scientifically based research.  In 2002, 2003, 2004, just about anyone who was anyone at an education conference was selling an SBR-based product that was aligned with NCLB.  Didn’t matter if it was true or not, everyone was scientifically based.  Everyone had an evidence-based core.  You could talk to a dozen reading programs on conference row in 2003, and they were all SBR.  Ask them what their research was, and most handed the same document to you — the National Reading Panel report (or the NCLB legislation itself).
The problem here is that people understood the expectation (everything needed to be scientifically based) but they didn’t understand (or didn’t care) what that meant.  The type of research required under the law took four or five years to develop, and the sales cycle didn’t allow for that sort of time.  So take the NRP report, slap a focus group or two together, put together some bar graphs, and there was your research base.  Add a colorful “checklist” aligning your product with the NRP and you were really excelling.
(As an aside, perhaps my favorite vendor at ASCD this weekend was one peddling a product labeled as “scientifically researched based.”  I don’t know what scientifically research is, but I’m guessing that extra “ly” makes the research extra good.)
Here we go again.  We all saw how successful it was to sell vapor and snake oil as SBR in the last decade.  It cost us another generation of students.  It killed a potentially strong program in Reading First and wasted millions (if not billions) of dollars in the process, as we couldn’t distinguish between the real deal and the posers.  
Before we rush to reach for the Common Core label, can we just take a moment to actually digest CCSSI?  Can we let states ID their 15 percent add on?  Can we see how districts apply it to instructional expectations?  Can we see how the assessment consortia begin developing their products?  And can we see, please, if these standards actually move into the classroom or if they just hang out there as a good idea that we agree to, but don’t actually implement?
Of course, there is one difference between SBR and CCSSI.  WIth SBR, the federal government established a new pot of money, $1 billion a year under RF, to help fund the acquisition of those new SBR products and services.  With Common Core, there doesn’t appear to be any new money.  Perhaps, as districts and states are spending their own funds from existing obligations and aren’t playing with house money, that they will scrutinize their purchases a little more, ensuring they are buying the real deal.  
There are some great products and services out there that do match up well with Common Core and can help districts and schools meet their current and future obligations.  But anyone can slap a label on a product.  It is up to educators to discern the strong from the squishy.  

Moving Good Ideas to Real Results

Late March is always fun because it means the start of the K-12 education conference gauntlet.  This weekend, Eduflack is out at ASCD’s 2011 Annual Conference in San Francisco.  On Saturday, I’ll be leading a session entitled: “Moving Good Ideas to Real Results: Public Engagement and School Improvement.”

The session will focus on a lot of what I write about here on this blog.  Advocacy.  Social marketing.  Changing both thought and action when it comes to school improvement.  Along the way, I’ll use specific examples from the field, including my own experiences in “changing the game” when it comes to reading instruction, teacher preparation, STEM, high school improvement, and turnaround schools.
If you’re out in the land of cable cars, Ghirardelli chocolate, and the World Champion Giants this Saturday morning, stop by the 8 a.m. session at the Moscone Center, rooms 250 and 262.  If you’re not, and you want more info, just drop me a line and I’ll give you the Cliffnotes version.

Oh, Those “Government-Run Schools”

Have we really gotten to the point where we are going to attack the very existence of public schools as a way to score political points in the presidential primaries?  Apparently so.  Over at The Education Debate, my latest post looks at recent rhetoric from GOP presidential contenders attacking U.S. schoolhouses.

“Government-run schools.”  “Attempts to socialize our children.”  “Government monopoly system.”  Imposing “one fixed set of political beliefs.”  All real quotes in recent weeks.  And all real quotes from folks who have been elected to serve as U.S. senators, congressmen, and state governors.
Sure, everyone is entitled to their opinions.  But in one’s zeal to attack the “status quo” or lay waste to teachers unions, has no one told these White House aspirants that their beloved charter schools are public schools too?
Check out the piece (as well as a lot of other great content) over at The Education Debate.  And realize the likely political rhetoric on the schools is only starting to heat up. 

Racin’ to the College Tops

When we talk about grad rates, the discussion immediately centers on high schools.  Drop-out factories and GEDs.  Dual enrollment and AP/IB.  ELLs and special needs.  For most, graduation rates are simply a K-12 game.

Two years ago, though, President Obama declared that the United States would produce the highest percentage of college graduates in the world by the year 2020.  In the course of this declaration, many uncovered U.S. education’s dirty little secret.  College grad rates are atrocious.  At many campuses, particularly our state colleges and universities, the norm is a six-year graduation rate (meaning giving students six years to graduate from a four-year program) south of 60 percent. 
Yesterday, the Obama Administration decided to take a step forward in its confrontation of postsecondary drop-outs.  Citing a need to graduate 8 million more college students by 2020, Vice President Joe Biden announced new funding to deal with college graduation issues.
The announcement included $20 million to colleges to “implement plans that can increase success and improve productivity in postsecondary schools.”  It also proposed $123 million competitive funds to “support programs that embrace innovative practices” in higher education.  A proposed College Completion Incentive Grant programs throws another $50 million in the kitty for IHEs “undertaking reforms that produce more college graduates.”  The full package is being referred, by some, as a Race to the Top for higher education.
Let there no mistake.  The mission and goals articulated by Vice President Biden are both noble and necessary.  Billions of dollars are underutilized each and every year by students who enroll for a first year of college, but never return for a second.  And that is just in grant money, not including loans or savings.  After decades of preaching the importance of a college education, it is high time we started putting our money behind a sermon on the importance of actually earning the sheepskin.
The problem with such an ambitious and well-meaning agenda, though, is data.  In that, we have very little data, and the data we have is pretty poor.  The U.S. Department of Education captures higher ed data through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System — or IPEDS — but such data is self-reported by the colleges and universities themselves (and many colleges actually disavow the very data they provide).  if a student drops out of our institution and re-enrolls in another, we have no idea.  We know college A has a dropout.  We know college B has an enrollee.  But our data systems don’t let us know that that dropout/enrollee is the same person.  Put simply, IPEDS is the best, worst, and only higher ed data system we have.
Last fall, I was fortunate to work on the development of College Measures, a website developed by American Institutes for Research and former NCES Commissioner (and thus IPEDS overseer) Mark Schneider.  Using IPEDS and other higher ed data sources, College Measures places a magnifying glass to key outcome measures for more than 1,500 four-year colleges and universities across the nation.  The results are startling.
The U.S. college graduation rate is just 57.6%, with public colleges posting a 55.1% grad rate and for-profits posting a 16.6% grad rate.  The first retention rate (meaning first-year students who return for a second year of college) is just 78.4% nationally.  That’s right.  More than four in 10 students enrolled in college won’t earn their diplomas.  And nearly a quarter of students who started college this past fall won’t return for year two this fall.  And don’t even get me started on what you see for particular IHEs.
Why are these numbers, as well as the wealth of information on state and individual institution performance found on College Measures, so important?  
Baseball philosopher Yogi Berra is famous for saying, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might just get there.”  While this may be true for baseball, it is the furthest thing from the truth in education, particularly higher education.  Noble goals, without the data to support them, are destined to fail.  If we are serious about improving college graduation rates, we need to be crystal clear on current numbers, current problems, and the general state of affairs.  if IHEs are going to innovate and reform, they need a clear understanding of the available data, need to determine the additional data necessary to declare mission accomplished, and then need to actually gather AND ANALYZE that subsequent data to truly determine the impact and return on investment.
Unfortunately, many of our colleges and universities just aren’t in a position to undertake such data efforts.  Initiatives like College Measures or Education Trust’s College Results Online are essential data pieces for connecting the rhetorical goals articulated by the President and Vice President with the realities happening on college campuses throughout the nation.  We know where we want to go when it comes to college grad rates.  But it’ll take us good data (and good people to analyze and interpret that data) to actually get us there.

Top Academic Educator Blogs

We often hear the question, can educators effectively use new media and social media to help improve instruction?  Today, it looks like we have a new resource to help inform the question.  The good folks over at eCollegeFinder announced their Top 50 Academic Educators in the blogosphere.  Surprisingly, Eduflack is one of the blogs recognized.
When asked to provide advice to teachers out in the wonderful world o’ blogs, I opined:
“Avoid the jargon.  Education issues, particularly online education issues, are complex topics requiring serious discussion.  Jargon simply limits the debate while stifling true engagement.  When we communicate in terms that primary and secondary stakeholders can understand, we can ultimately improve the reach and impact of the education reforms we are trying to deliver.”
Regardless of what you may think of this blog and its impact on teachers, the list is worth checking out.  There are some terrific blogs, many of which don’t necessarily get the edu-spotlight but all of which offer some terrific content and guidance for those on the front lines of school improvement.
And special thanks to eCollegeFinder, a great little organization that helps folks find online teaching degrees from accredited colleges, for compiling the list and showing us some love.  Always appreciated. 

All the Edu-News …

Back in late 2007, when Twitter was first coming on line, Eduflack thought it was one of the most ridiculous formats I had seen.  Who could communicate anything of value in just 140 characters?  And who would want to read such communications?

Of course, I was terribly wrong.  As 2009 started, I was forced to embrace Twitter, primarily because I had a number of organizations I was advising on social media and it seemed wrong to counsel them on Tweeting when I wasn’t doing it myself.  So I invested in the process.  The @Eduflack Twitter feed was launched.  And I’ve truly come to love it.
I entered the Twitter-sphere with a particular purpose.  I wasn’t going to use it to opine or be snarky (that’s what this blog is for).  Instead, I was to use Twitter to share all of those news articles, opinion pieces, research studies, projects, and events that I found interesting, but may not be able to blog about.  By taking this just-the-facts approach, and focusing only on education issues (instead of my personal issues), I like to think I’ve built something.  And my followers seem to think so to.
I realize, though, that no everyone has time to sift through countless Tweets to find the education ones between those from Charlie Sheen and Lady Gaga.  So I’m happy to announce the launch of The Eduflack Daily.  Through the terrific application, I’m able to launch a daily online newspaper that focuses on the top education stories found in the education posts I make and feeds I follow.  The Eduflack Daily comes out seven days a week, and you can subscribe to it so it is delivered to your email box each and every day, requiring zero actual effort (other than opening or deleting the email).
So if you want to see what those 6,000+ folks who follow @Eduflack are looking at, sign up for The Eduflack Daily.  Happy reading!