Wow, We Did Put Reading First After All

Five or eight years ago, after Reading First (and NCLB ) had been the law of the land, districts were implementing scientifically based reading research, and publishers were revising their curricular materials to meet the new rigor of RF, we started to see an uptick in student reading performance.  Test scores were on the rise, and they were on the rise for all students.

At the time, RF haters declared that any bump in student achievement was the result of kinder, gentler instructional policies implemented in the mid-1990s.  There simply was no way we could see the results of Reading First in a matter of years.
A few years after that, we again saw modest upticks in student reading performance for all demographics.  This time, the haters declared that it was further proof that RF was a failure, as it hadn’t closed the achievement gaps yet.  Forget that we saw increases for Black, Latino, and white students.  RF was about closing the gaps, not boosting the performance.
So what is going to be the argument this week?  The latest NAEP scores are out, and what do we see?  Reading performance for both 9 and 13 year olds is up.  For those students who have only been taught reading in the public schools since RF has been the law of the land, we are seeing an improvement in reading scores.  And we are seeing the gaps close.  The Washington Post and USA Today have the full story in today’s editions.
Without question, there are a lot of people who opposed directing the public schools to teach young children to read through methods that were proven effective.  People resisted doing what works when it comes to literacy.  But these latest numbers from The Nation’s Report Card don’t lie.  Like it or not, Reading First worked.  As a result of ensuring that curriculum and PD and instructional materials and assessments and interventions were all tied to proven research and were all based on what was most effective in teaching children to read, we are seeing improvement in student reading performance.  And we are seeing it across all demographics, as we actually begin to narrow our horrific achievement gaps.
Do we still have a lot of work to do to eliminate those gaps and get the third of fourth graders unable to read at grade level up to par?  Absolutely.  But clearly, we are headed in the right direction.  Educators across the nation have invested the time and resources to utilizing the proven effective and getting kids reading.  And out nation’s middle schoolers are now better for it.
Haters will continue to hate, and point out that RF is essentially dead and classrooms have moved on from it.  But we can’t deny that SBRR (until Common Core comes on line) continues to drive the development of instructional materials, the supports offered teachers, and the standards we set for our schools.  And that these students — today’s third and seventh graders — are the products of the NCLB environment and an SBRR focus.  
Who’da thunk?  We actually did put reading first, and we are no seeing the results of all of that hard work.

Common Core Math, Common Sense Approach

Earlier this week, EdSec Arne Duncan issued one of his strongest defenses of Common Core State Standards to date, taking CCSS haters to task for spreading misinformation and and offering “imaginary” criticisms of the non-federal standards issued in by the Federal government through Race to the Top and other new programs.

His defense is laudable.  Duncan is a firm believer in common academic standards for all students.  A fifth grader in Connecticut should be learning at the same pace as a fifth grader in Chicago or in Tuscaloosa or in Denver.  And like it or not, a state or a locality can still protect their academic autonomy even with CCSS as the guide.
But with so many folks focused on CCSS’ black helicopters and its role in leading an international takeover of our public schools where every child will be speaking French and using the metric system, and with critics on the other side of the ideological spectrum fearing CCSS assessments and believing that testing our kids in any way, shape, or form will destroy our children from the soul outward (despite decades of children who took California Achievement Tests, Iowa tests, Stanfords, SATs, ACTs, drivers tests, IQ tests, and Pepsi taste tests without too much damage), not much public discussion is being directed at HOW we actually go about teaching to the CCSS and ensuring that are kids are hitting the math and reading benchmarks we expect to see.
Last week, the State of Louisiana waded into this discussion, issuing guidance on what resources were best for teachers in teaching to the Common Core.  Interestingly, Louisiana’s Office of the State Superintendent did not recommend any specific math textbooks, finding that “none were sufficiently aligned to the Common Core State Standards.”
But it did recommend a new P-12 math curriculum created by a not-for-profit organization, praising it for its rigor and and alignment to CCSS.
The curriculum of note was developed by a national not-for-profit called Common Core (interestingly, the group was created years before the CCSS were ever adopted and is in no way affiliated with the CCSSI, though both share some words in their names).  Common Core “creates curriculum tools and promotes programs, policies, and initiatives at the local, state, and federal levels.”
Some might recall the K-12 ELA curriculum maps Common Core released in 2010 as part of its Curriculum Mapping Project.  To date, those ELA maps have been viewed more than 6 million times, with 20,000 educators from across the country formally joining the Mapping Project to ensure a “well-developed, content-rich curriculum.”
The math curriculum boosted by Louisiana is Common Core’s latest effort.  It was developed in partnership with the New York State Department of Education and is currently available on the Common Core website and through NYSED’s website.  The Common Core math curriculum will be available in print through Jossey-Bass at the end of the summer.
Why is this so important?  For one, Common Core’s efforts (in both ELA and math) are a direct response to the question of how do we teach to the CCSS.  They are real approaches to meaningful curricula that align to the standards, go beyond the basics, and really promote student learning and intellectual development.
Equally important, this is a curricular approach developed by educators for educators.  It wasn’t done “to” teachers, it was done by teachers, created with classroom needs and instructional improvement as a central driver. 
Clearly, we are still at the beginning of the CCSS implementation journey.  But Common Core’s efforts, starting with the ELA maps and rolling into this new P-12 math curriculum, is moving us beyond the CCSS rhetoric and vitriol toward some meaningful discussion and action in how to improve teaching and learning and how to ensure all students are meeting expectations.
(Full disclosure: Eduflack has worked with Common Core for years, including helping roll out the ELA Curriculum Maps.)

“Higher-Quality Assessments”?

Lost in the excitement of this week’s NCLB waiver waivers and NCTQ’s teacher prep scorecards was a new report coming out of Stanford University’s Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, or SCOPE.  The report offers up the thought-provoking title, Criteria for Higher-Quality Assessment.

With a tip of the cap to Common Core State Standards (CCSS), Criteria for Higher-Quality Assessment offers up some guidance that “can be used by assessment developers, policymakers, and educators as they work to create and adopt assessments that promote deeper learning of 21st century skills that students need to succeed in today’s knowledge-based economy.”
Obviously not as sexy as the wavier waivers (or the non-waiver of waivers, depending on who you talk to), it is an interesting topic.  And it definitely helps when this guidance is coming from a team of authors who have been or currently are involved in CCSS or the development of Common Core assessments.  The SCOPE report offers a who’s who of authors, including Linda Darling-Hammong, Joan Herman, Eva Baker, P. David Pearson, and Lauren Resnick (all told, the piece boasts 20 “authors”).
And what does the esteemed panel offer up?  Noting that “No single assessment can evaluate all of the kinds of learning we value for students or meet all of the goals held by parents, practitioners, and policymakers,” the authors advocate five criteria that should be applied in the development of assessments moving forward:
  1. New assessments should tap the “higher-level” cognitive skills that allow students to transfer their learning to new situations
  2. Assessments should evaluate the critical abilities articulated in the standards, such as communication (speaking, reading, writing, and listening in multimedia forms), collaboration, modeling, complex problem solving, research, experimentation, and evaluation
  3. Assessments should be as rigorous as those of the leading education countries, in terms of the kinds of tasks they present as well as the level of performance they expect
  4. Assessment tasks should also represent the curriculum content in ways that respond to instruction and have value for guiding and informing teaching
  5. An assessment should represent well the knowledge and skills it intends to measure, be used appropriately for intended purposes, and have positive consequences for instruction and for test-takers, guiding better decisions rather than restricting opportunities
All of these points seem reasonable.  All of these points seem like something the entire education community should strive for.  The big question, then, is whether any of the current testmakers — particularly those who construct and sell the dreaded “high-stakes tests” would say they don’t already adhere to these five criteria and won’t continue to follow as they develop new summative tests aligned to the Common Core.
Anyone, anyone?

Take Me Home, Country Roads

Today is the 150th anniversary of the establishment of West Virginia.  The Mountain State is one of Eduflack’s adopted home states (as this morning demonstrated, though, you can take the boy out of Jersey, but you’ll never take Jersey out of the boy).  I graduated high school from West Virginia (Jefferson County High School in Shenandoah Junction) and I was able to proudly serve the state for several years as a staffer to the legendary Robert C. Byrd.

But my very first job on Capitol Hill was as a staffer for U.S. Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV.  I interned for Senator Rockefeller 21 years ago in his DC office, and even had the privilege of helping staff him at the 1992 Democratic National Convention in New York City.  I still remember running around the City That Never Sleeps at 3 in the morning tracking down floor signs that read “Rocky IV” for the crowd to wave during Rockefeller’s speech at Madison Square Garden that summer.
The first thing I “professionally” wrote was a floor statement for Senator Rockefeller to give on June 19, 1992 to celebrate West Virginia’s 129th birthday during the 102nd Congress.  The text, autographed by the Senator, still hangs on my office wall today.  As so many of my fellow Mountaineers celebrate the anniversary (with some refusing, still baring the family scars of The Civil War), it seemed appropriate to offer up those words again, as given by Senator Rockefeller.
Mr. President, today I rise to speak to you in honor of the people of the great State of West Virginia in recognition of our State’s 129th birthday.
On the 20th of June in 1863, the State of West Virginia was born.  The product of a crisis between the States, West Virginia earned its place as the 35th State to join the Union, through incredible bravery and initiative.
This spirit of initiative has remained with our fair State since its inception.  The proud people of West Virginia have consistently served this country through the good times and the bad.  We have fought valiantly for our country, we have provided for our families through hardship and prosperity, and we have worked to establish the greatest community, State, and country that we possibly could.
Mountaineer pride is evident still today, throughout the State.  This pride has attracted hundreds of thousands of vacationers to our fair State.  They have fallen in love with our majestic mountains ideal for skiing, our racing white water rivers, and our beautiful national parks.  One only needs to open any local West Virginia newspaper to see the numerous letters written from vacationers commending the State on both its attractions and its people.
THis feeling has led many people to continue to visit the Mountain State and has brought many more to relocate permanently in our fair State for good.  Thanks to the hospitality and kindness of West Virginia’s native residents, our Mountain State quickly becomes home for her new citizens, and remains a place where pride and hard work thrive.
So, on this, the 129th birthday of our State, I ask you, Mr. President, and my other colleagues, to join me in recognizing this important day for West Virginia, and for all her citizens who have made West Virginia a State that I am proud to represent and call home.

Leadership Lessons, Sopranos Style

Last night’s unexpected passing of actor James Gandolfini has many talking The Sopranos this morning.  The HBO series was probably one of the best-witten shows ever to appear on television.  And Eduflack would even say it was better than the beautifully written Aaron Sorkin masterpieces SportsNight and The West Wing.

The Sopranos was as good as it was because the writing told a real story.  It connected with the viewer on an emotional and intellectual level, allowing us to connect with the protagonist (Tony Soprano) in a very personal way.  While few of us knew what it was like to be a Jersey mob boss, many of us could relate to the struggling father and husband, the man with anxiety disorder, the CEO fighting to keep his company together with a team of individuals resisting his efforts and resenting his role of authority.
As we think about successful communications in the education space, there is much we can learn from the writing of The Sopranos and how those words were delivered by Gandolfini and the other members of the fine cast.  It perfected the art of storytelling, truly affecting our hearts and minds.
Today’s New York Daily News has a wonder compilation of some of Gandolfini’s best quotes while performing as Tony.  And some of these provide us an interesting glimpse into some of the needed qualities of leadership, whether one is leading a crime family or a school improvement effort.  Some of the highlights (as culled by Politico):
“All due respect, you got no f****ng idea what it’s like to be Number One.  Every decision you make affects every facet of every other f****ng thing.  It’s too much to deal with almost.  And in the end you’re completely alone with it all.”
“Those who want respect, give respect.”
“A wrong decision is better than indecision.”
“Oh, poor baby.  What do you want, a Whitman’s Sampler?”
“If you can quote the rules, you can obey them.”
“It’s good to be in something from the ground floor.  I came too late for that and I know.  But lately, I’m getting the feeling that I came in at the end.  The best is over.”
Bada bing, y’all.

Evaluating Teacher Prep Programs, NCTQ Style

At the stroke of midnight last evening, the National Council on Teacher Quality released its Teacher Prep Review 2013 Report.  The long-anticipated report provides a deep look at how more than 1,100 colleges and universities prepare prospective teachers and where our deficiencies may be in teacher preparation for the elementary, middle, and secondary grades.

In addition to the media coverage the report has received, it has also resulted in quite a number of interesting comments on the findings and the ratings that NCTQ provided these institutions of higher education.
Fortunately, NCTQ assembled some of the more interesting nuggets of endorsement for the Teacher Prep Review, including:
“Teachers deserve better support and better training than teachers’ colleges today provide, and school districts should be able to make well-informed hiring choices.” EdSec Arne Duncan in today’s Wall Street Journal.
“I think NCTQ points is that we are probably underequipping teachers going into classrooms.  We did not fare as well on this review.  We need to do a better job of communicating both with our students and NCTQ where our content can be found.  in some cases, we have some work to do.” Southern Methodist University Ed School Dean David Chard in today’s Associated Press piece.
“You just have to have a pulse and you can get into some of these education schools.  If policymakers took this report seriously, they’d be shutting down hundreds of programs.” Fordham Institute’s Michael Petrilli, also in the AP.
“Teacher preparation needs to be reformed from top to bottom.” Houston ISD Superintendent Terry Grier, in today’s Reuters piece.
“A key part of raising the education profession is related to who we attract the best candidates into teacher preparation programs in the first place.  We look to Singapore and Korea, and 100 percent of their teachers come from the top third of their college graduates.  The equivalent figure in the U.S. is 23 percent. ” Delaware Gov. Jack Markell in Huffington Post.
“It’s widely agreed upon that there’s a problem [with teacher training].  The report points out that California has an acute set of problems.” LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy in the Los Angeles Times.
But one statement that didn’t make the NCTQ highlight reel is that released earlier today by American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.  In coming to the defense of teacher prep programs, Weingarten noted (on the AFT platform):
“Best-of and worst-of lists always garner attention, so we understand why NCTQ would use that device.  While its ‘do not enter’ consumer alerts will make the intended splash, it’s hard to see how it will help strengthen teacher preparation programs or elevate the teaching profession.  We need a systemic approach to improving teacher preparation programs and ensuring that every teacher is ready to teach …
While we agree with NCTQ on the need to improve teacher preparation, it would be more productive to focus on developing a consistent, systemic approach to lifting the teaching profession instead of resorting to attention-grabbing consumer alerts based on incomplete standards.”
Game on!
And for those interested in who gained top honors in the NCTQ ratings, four programs (“all secondary”) earned four stars — Furman University (SC), Lipscomb University (TN), Ohio State University (OH), and Vanderbilt University (TN).  Top honors seem to go to The Ohio State University, which also got 3 1/2 stars for its elementary school prep.

Around the Edu-Horn, June 17, 2013

Graduates from low-performing D.C. schools face tough college road via

Arne Duncan Calls Slow School Internet ‘Morally Unacceptable’ – via
RT @sgermeraad OH’s most effective teachers get results by setting high standards for all kids, motivating them & making class fun
RT @KnowledgeAll Spurred By Lawsuit, Fla. Tweaks Teacher-Evaluation Requirements via

I’m back!

Did you miss me?  Earlier this year, Eduflack announced that he was taking a bit of a sabbatical from this blog to focus on some other writing projects and some new ideas.  Well, now I back and ready to relaunch Eduflack in earnest.

I’ve learned a lot over the past five months (more than I ever expected and more than most would ever believe).  And my editorial pursuits have been inspired by two important lessons.  The first is from Thomas Edison, the Wizard of Menlo Park.  “I have not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”  There are few phrases that adequately define the creative writing process, at least for me, like that one.
The second is a long-time favorite of mine from Nelson Mandela.  “It always seems impossible until it is done.”  That quote was an inspiration for me in 2012, and it continues to serve me well as I push on to the next phase of my professional life.
For those who have asked, there are actually two books in the works.  The first is Reforming Education Reform, which I hope will serve as a platform for reframing and refocusing communications in the school improvement debate.
The second is actually a new edition of a book I was honored to be a contributing author many years ago.  In 2006, Roman Littlefield Education published a great volume called Why Kids Can’t Read: Challenging the Status Quo in Education.  Why Kids Can’t Read provides an in-depth look at the scientifically based reading movement from multiple perspectives, with a chapter from me focused on effective communications.  I’m now working with the book’s original editors on a second edition, where I am leading efforts to spotlight Race to the Top, Common Core, and related issues and their impact on proven effective literacy instruction.
While both of these remain works in progress, it is time to pick up the Eduflack pen once again.  So I’m back.  While it may take me a little bit to get back into the full swing of editorializing, opining, reflecting, and criticizing, I’m back in the on-deck circle ready to take my hacks.
Game on!