Yes, We 50CAN!

For years now, Eduflack has written about how real, meaningful educational change happens at the state level.  Yes, the Feds have the bully pulpit, as evidenced by today’s expected White House announcement to provide waivers to those state willing to play ball with regard to AYP and student achievement.  But it ultimately falls to individual states to set the agenda, develop the policies, fund the plan, and implement real improvements with fidelity.

Programs like Race to the Top help jumpstart the process, but after the last check is cashed, it falls to those governors, state departments of education, and state boards of education to follow through.  And don’t forget about the superintendents, school boards, teachers, and advocates who make it happen.
Even the most well-meaning state, though, can use a little support, assistance, encouragement, and, if necessary, someone to hold feet to the fire.  
Yesterday was the official launch of just such a broker, with the formal unveiling of 50CAN, the 50-state campaign for achievement now.  50CAN’s new website is chock full of information on what is possible when it comes to real, state-level education reform.  It also spotlights four state CAN organizations — Maryland, Minnesota, New York, and Rhode Island — which have been built upon the groundbreaking work of ConnCAN in Connecticut.
In rolling out 50CAN’s new website, 50CAN President and Co-Founder Marc Porter Magee says it best:

50CAN’s mission is to identify and support local leaders who build movements within their states to ensure that every child has access to a great public school.  As 50CAN board member and National Council of La Raza Senior Vice President Delia Pompa says on our new website, “The job going forward is to create a larger podium for those who are guided by the interests of children.”

That’s what 50CAN is all about. We provide amazing local leaders with the tools to build powerful advocacy movements in their state, including national-caliber communications and research such as websites, lobbying strategies, policy expertise and social media savvy. By empowering local leaders, we are helping create a lasting, research-grounded education reform movement capable of tackling 50 sets of education policy challenges in 50 states.

The website and 50CAN’s twitter feed (@fiftycan) are well worth the look if you are serious education reform.  And the work being done through the CAN network is where the lasting state-based school improvement work will be percolating first and offering real longevity.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Teacher Eval?

For the past year, we’ve seen the topic of teacher evaluation quickly evolving into a West Side Story-like knife fight.  With dramatic flourishes and emotional highs and lows, the status quoers and reform community have been circled each other on how to effectively evaluate teachers. 

Amid all of the snapping and jazz hands, most teachers walk away with a “satisfactory” rating, as anticipated by the current systems.  And while some may say teachers can’t (and shouldn’t) be effectively evaluated, and we should just trust that all teachers are doing the best jobs possible, we know that simply isn’t the case.
Today, the good folks over at Education Trust released Fair to Everyone: Building the Balanced Teacher Evaluations that Educators and Students Deserve.  In is policy paper, EdTrust issues the call to eliminate current “drive-by evaluations” and instead focus on evaluation systems that “provide specific, timely, and actionable feedback against clear standards of professional practice.”
Noting that teacher evaluation systems can vary across states and districts, EdTrust focuses its recommendations on two primary components that should be found in any eval system worth its salt:
1) Multiple visits by well-trained observers who evaluate teacher practice based on a clear set of performance standards
2) Measures of teacher impact on student learning, such as multiple years’ worth of value-added data
By focusing on value-added measures (and EdTrust’s descriptions of how value-added works is particularly valuable to those new to the discussion), EdTrust helps spotlight that there is real science behind effective teacher evaluation, but such effective evaluations require a comprehensive approach that ultimately benefits the schools, classrooms, teachers, and students involved.
So it begs a few questions.  What states and districts are doing it right?  What specifically can we take from their experiences — good, bad, and ugly?  How do we drive more to adopt those best or even promising practices?  What obstacles are keeping us from embracing the sorts of teacher evals that can make a difference?  And how do we demonstrate real ROI, particularly for the teacher and students involved?
As is typical, the questions are easier than the answers.  But clearly, we must do something.  With The New Teacher Project citing data that only 43 percent of teachers agreeing that the current evaluation systems help teachers improve while nearly three-quarters agree that “how much students are learning compared with students in other schools” is a good indicator of success of a teacher, too many of the current teacher eval systems simply aren’t getting to the heart of the matter.  EdTrust again provides a compass.  Now we have to begin to chart a course.

Some Ed Reform Tweetin’

The tweeting coming from the education community seems to be getting louder by the day.  What was once a handful of sparrows trying to find voice has now become an army of eagles (and some vultures) all seeking additional attention and acknowledgement for their respective causes.

This week, the folks over at released their list of the Top 50 Essential Twitter Feeds for Education Reformers.  The list is a who’s who of education tweeters, broken into five categories — News, Government, Reform Groups, Teacher Advocates, and Education Policy.
Eduflack is honored to be one of the six Tweeters named to the Essential Twitter Feeds/Education Policy category.  @Eduflack tops the list, joined by @rgwahby , @saramead , @AEIeducation , @edvoters , and @TCBGP .
Whether you are a true reformer or a status quoer, the full list is worth a look … and forth a follow.

“Trust”-ing Ed Accountability

At this point in time, only the truly cockeyed optimist believes that ESEA reauthorization will be moving any time soon.  After missed deadlines, political roadblocks, budget showdowns, and the enacting of executive authority, it seems a safe bet that honest to goodness, comprehensive reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act won’t be a reality until 2013.

But that doesn’t mean we cannot focus on some of the key issues embodied in the reauthorization fight.  Chairman John Kline (MN) and the House Education and the Workforce Committee are trying to pick off specific policy topics, one by one, with the most recent action coming on charter schools.
In Getting it Right, Ed Trust reiterates the need for true accountability in K-12 education, whether such efforts are established through congressional reauthorization, administration waivers, telethon or local bake sales.  In refocusing our attentions on accountability at a time when so many states are struggling with meeting AYP, Ed Trust reminds us that good intentions are not enough in public education.  We need to get it right, close the gaps, and do what it takes to have every child succeed (or get out of the way).
Among the reccs coming from Ed Trust:
* Fix what the current law got wrong, including a better balance of federal, state, and local responsibilities.
* Preserve what current law got right, especially its laser-like focus on raising student achievement and closing gaps.
* Build on the real-world lessons of high-improving schools to establish challenging, yet realistic, goals for states.
In her letter releasing Getting it Right, Ed Trust President Kati Haycock noted:
In preparing for our second reauthorization in 2001, Ed
Trust looked hard at lessons learned from leading states and our work in
schools and districts. We also probed the limited data on student achievement
patterns that were available at that time. This research and preparation
suggested that the law’s provisions in two particular areas needed improvement:
accountability, on the one hand, and teacher quality and assignment patterns,
on the other. In the former category, which is the subject of this paper, we
sought to end the widespread practice of sweeping the underperformance of
certain groups of children under the rug of school-wide averages, ensuring to
the extent possible that the law held schools accountable for improving the
performance of all their students.

These are important words from an organization, and an executive, that were instrumental in moving the current ESEA into practice, particularly in historically disadvantaged communities that ESEA had long ignored.  Despite all of the chatter in recent years on the problems with accountability, the call to roll back current accountability provisions and the like, Ed Trust is clear that the debate is not more or less accountability.  The real issue, if we are concerned with our kids and the achievement gaps that separate them, is the quality of our accountability.
Whether the future of ESEA is one governed by congressional reauth or executive edict, accountability must remain front and center.  Federal and state, local and school, classroom and parent, all must be held accountable for the quality and outcomes of our public education system.

The First Day of School

Today is a very special day in the Eduflack household.  This morning, the edu-son started kindergarten.  As we walked up North Oak Street toward his elementary school, he was getting a little apprehensive.  For weeks, we had been excited about going to the “hippo school” (the school’s mascot is a purple hippo).  We did a week of “kindergarten orientation” and went last week to meet his new teachers.  But as we walked up the steep hill, I could tell the previous excitement was giving way to some fear about the new.

All those worries evaporated once the edu-son entered his classroom.  Warm hugs from the three teachers who will be manning classroom three this year.  His own hook and cubby to house his new Captain America backpack.  And a seat at the “Lego table” where he immediately started the building process before class even began.
Before this morning, we talked about what the edu-son wanted to learn now that he was in kindergarten.  His expectations were specific and direct.  He wanted to learn to build a robot.  He wanted to learn about outer space, penguins, and sharks.  And he wanted to learn how to make pizza.  After all that, he wanted to learn math.  Sounds like a full academic year.  I just hope his teachers are up for the challenge.
I’ll admit, I was a little misty eyed when I dropped my son off this morning.  He didn’t quite understand what the big deal was (and certainly didn’t know why dad had a tear in his eye).  But as I watched him start his public school career today, I am reminded of a blog post I wrote nearly three years ago, when we brought our daughter home from Guatemala.  At the time, I reflected on my educational hopes and dreams for the edu-daughter (and by extension, my son, who is 18 months older).  
At the time, I laid out 10 tenets for the education I wanted my children to experience.  Three years later, they seem even more appropriate:

What is my vision for my children?  Let me nail Eduflack’s 10 tenets to the electronic wall:

* I want every kid, particularly mine, reading proficient before the start of the fourth grade.  Without reading proficiency, it is near impossible to keep up in the other academic subjects.  And to get there, we need high-quality, academically focused early childhood education offerings for all.

* I want proven-effective instruction, the sort of math, reading, and science teaching that has worked in schools like those in my neighborhood with kids just like mine. 

* I want teachers who understand research and know how to use it.  And I want teachers to be empowered to use that research to provide the specific interventions a specific student may need.

* I want clear and easily accessible state, district, school, and student data.  I want to know how my kids stack up by comparison.

* I want relevant education, providing clear building blocks for future success.  That means strong math and technology classes.  It means courses that provide the soft skills needed to succeed in both college and career through interesting instruction.  And it means art and music right alongside math and reading.

* I want national standards, so if my family relocates (as mine did many times when I was a child), I am guaranteed the same high-quality education regardless of the state’s capitol.

* I want educational options, be they charter schools or magnet schools, after-school or summer enrichment programs.  And these options should be available for all kids, not just those struggling to keep up.

* I want schools that encourage bilingual education, without stigmatizing those students for whom English is a second language.  Our nation is changing, and our approach to English instruction must change too.

* I want a high-quality, effective teacher in every classroom.  Teaching is really, really hard.  Not everyone is cut out for it.  We need the best educators in the classroom, and we need to properly reward them for their performance.

* I want access to postsecondary education for all.  If a student graduates from high school and meets national performance standards, they should gain access to an institution of higher education.  And if they can’t afford it, we have a collective obligation to provide the aid, grants, and work study to ensure that no student is denied college because of finances.

As we all experience the start of the new school year, aren’t these tenets that we should expect from all of our schools?   


It is rare that Eduflack is at a loss for words.  I make my living speaking and writing, providing observations, analysis, and recommendations at that intersection of education policy, research, and communications.

But last week, I was truly at a loss for words.  On Friday, Bulldog Reporter — the PR/communications industry’s largest circulation publication — announced its 2011 Bulldog Stars of PR Awards.  Stars of PR recognizes “outstanding achievement by communications agencies and professionals.”  Winners are added to the Bulldog Awards Stars of PR Hall of Fame.
I am humbled and honored to announce that I was named Bulldog Reporter’s 2011 Nonprofit/Association Communications Professional of the year.  Somehow, despite all of the great work being done across the not-for-profit sector, Bulldog Reporter determined my body of work from 2010 was tops in the industry.
According to Bulldog Reporter, I was “chosen exclusively by working journalists from hundreds of entries representing the very best strategic and tactical prowess that PR/corporate communications has to offer.”  Further, the selection was based on an “ability to achieve extraordinary visibility and influencer opinion, as well as on … creativity, command of media and technology, and tenacity.”
Yes, I am overwhelmed by the recognition.  I also realize that this honor truly belongs to all of the terrific education nonprofits and associations I have been fortunate to work with over the years.  The education space is a special challenge, with growing white noise and countless organizations seeking to be heard and bring influence.  Being saluted for my work in the field is really a royal bow to those organizations I’ve been fortunate enough to partner with.
That includes research organizations like American Institutes for Research, Stanford University School of Education, and Knowledge Alliance.  Education improvement groups like Aspen Institute, Bellwether Education Partners, KnowledgeWorks, and New Leaders for New Schools.  Foundations like Broad Foundation, Lumina, and Team Pennsylvania Foundation.  Associations like American Federation of Teachers, International Society for Technology in Education, and National Governors Association.  And content groups like Common Core, Pennsylvania STEM Initiative, and EdWorks.  All part of an enormous patchwork of which I am extremely proud.
So a big thank you to all of the organizations I’ve had the pleasure of working with, all of the groups I’ve partners with, and all of the nonprofits, associations, and advocacy groups that are committed to real, lasting school improvement.  This Bulldog Award belongs to you, and is further proof the strength, impact, and and high expectations facing the education sector and the nonprofits that are leading its reform.