“I Have a Dream” a Half Century Later

Fifty years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech before hundreds of thousands of civil rights advocates, supporters, and believers in our nation’s capital.

A half century later, his words are still enormously powerful and inspiring (particularly when one reads the history and learns the “I have a dream” part was improvised and wasn’t part of his prepared text).
The text of the speech is well worth a read, and can be found in its entirety at the National Archives.  One of Eduflack’s favorite sections remains:
We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind American of the fierce urgency of now.  This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.  Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.  now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.  Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.
For those who would rather hear the words of Dr. King, his August 28 speech can be watched here.
While many will continue to argue about what Dr. King would have believed about this issue or that issue were he still alive today, such arguments should be left for other days.  Today should be one to reflect on his words of 50 years ago, and to realize how far we have come, yet how much further we still must travel.

Duncan: ESEA “Outmoded and Broken”

For those keeping score, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was slated for reauthorization in early 2007.  These acts are supposed to be reupped every five years.  And like clockwork, we tend to forget about the clock and leave existing laws in place long after their expiration date.

The five-year cycle allows us to recognize that the work changes around us.  The K-12 education space is vastly different today than it was when the law was written in 2001.  From the stronger role of technology in the classroom to the growing needs of addressing a growing ELL population, circumstances change.  The Federal law governing our public schools should change as well.
But it has now been a dozen years since the current law was written.  We should be preparing for our second revision, and not still waiting for a re-up that is more than six years past due.  But we wait.
A few years ago, Eduflack opined that EdSec Arne Duncan didn’t need reauthorization.  That the Administration could and would adjust Federal education law through the introduction of new programs (like Race to the Top) and through greater flexibility to NCLB (as we’ve seen with the NCLB waivers and the waiver waivers).  And to date, Duncan and company have done a good job playing the hand they’ve been dealt, recognizing that Congress was not looking for another major bipartisan lift on education policy, so one just lives with the law that brought ’em.
Sure, we’ve seen both the House and the Senate debate and even pass some reauthorization legislation.  But the differences between the two chambers has been significant.  And there seems be a lack of urgency in either side of the Hill to really move major legislation that will improve educational outcomes and opportunities for our kids.
Today, though, Duncan took to the pages of The Washington Post to call for a refocus on ESEA and a demand for its reauthorization.  Taking aim at a recent House bill out of sync with Obama/Duncan priorities, the EdSec is using his bully pulpit to refocus the spotlight on our need for ESEA reauthorization.
Some of the highlights include:
The vision of American education that President Obama and I share starts in the classroom – with fully engaged students, creative and inspiring teachers, and the support and resources needed to get every child prepared for college and career.  Students in our poorest communities should enjoy learning opportunities like those in our wealthiest communities.  Zip code, race, disability and family income should not limit students’ opportunities or reduce expectations for them  The progress of U.S. students should remain transparent.

Washington’s role is to protect children at risk and promote opportunity for all.  The federal government is not, and will never be, in the business of telling states or schools what or how to teach.  But it cannot shirk its role of ensuring that schools and students meet the high bar that prepares them for the real world.  History shows that, without some kind of accountability, states and districts do not always need the needs of the most vulnerable students.
He continues:
In the months ahead, I will ask Congress to listen to those doing the real work of education change.  Principals, teachers, governors, state education chiefs, superintendents, parents and students themselves know what is and isn’t working. They can guide us to a better law.

Lawmakers in both chambers and parties should agree on a bill that raises the bar, protects children, supports and improves effective teaching and school leadership, and provides flexibility and supports good work at the state and local level.  We should give them the resources and the flexibility and make sure we all are accountable for the job we are doing on behalf of our children.

We are fighting not just for a strong education system but also for our country.  A good law is part of that fight.
Kudos for Duncan and the folks down on New Jersey Avenue for seeking to regain congressional attention on ESEA reauthorization.  But will it help?  With issues like accountability, testing, and Common Core State Standards under attack from both the left and the right, it seems unlikely that Congress will find the gumption to take a meaningful stand and do the right thing here.  But we can hope, can’t we?

Covering School Board Elections

There is no question about it.  One of Eduflack’s greatest professional honors was representing the families of Falls Church, VA on its school board.  As chairman and vice chair of the board during my tenure, I am enormously proud of what we were able to, particularly in navigating difficult budgetary times by doing our best to keep cuts from impacting the classroom.

We were also able to lead a major effort to expand our facilities, securing a federal bond to expand our upper elementary school.  And we were able to focus in a smart way on teacher evaluation and the other policy changes that were affecting our small school district.
But anyone who has served on a local school board knows it is a relatively thankless job.  It is a lot of work, and a lot of hours.  One does it because of service to the community and belief in the public schools. If that isn’t your motivation, you have no business serving on a school board.
So I was a little tickled to see the latest from Ballotpedia.  The site now offers a new portal that is watching school board elections in the largest 1,000 school districts across the country.
Every now and then, we hear about school board races (think to the recent Los Angeles campaigns).  But such efforts are often overlooked, as these municipal elections are so far down the ballot that most don’t pay attention to them.
Readers of Eduflack don’t need me telling them how important local decisionmakers are, particularly as we are focusing on CCSS, CCSS assessments, NCLB waivers, NCLB waiver waivers, t-val, and all of the other policy issues hitting our school districts.  So Ballotpedia’s initiative is a welcome addition to the discussion, hopefully offering some additional insight into these races and the issues and individuals at the center of them.
Happy doorknocking and neighborhood coffees to those included in the portal  Ah, the good ol’ days ….

The State of Science, Fordham Style

As Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and their assessments continue to dominate our thinking and our grousing, it is only natural that we are keyed in on math and reading performance.  After all, that is what CCSS focuses on.  

And while NCLB promised to bring student science scores up to 100% proficiency after it finished its work on reading and math, we never quite got to NCLB: Science Edition.
So it is refreshing to see a new report, released earlier this week from the Fordham Institute, that takes a deep dive into what the individual states are doing with regard to science.  Its latest state-by-state comparison can be found at Exemplary Science Standards: How Does Your State Compare? 
The report builds on Fordham’s evaluation of next generation science standards, released back in June.
While an in-depth look of science standards is hardly the topic that wins big headlines or captures the media sizzle like t-val or high-stakes testing, it is an important subject that lies at the heart of meaningful student achievement.  For all of the talk about critical thinking and the analytical skills that so many bemoan being lost in our current testing culture, science is where we can find it.  So it is essential that our states are continuing to push their great science expectations so that students are knowledgeable and able on all things science.
And for those who just can’t get enough of the CCSS, Fordham also offers up a document looking at how science standards align with CCSS-math.  And thanks to Politico and its Morning Education platform for placing a spotlight on this important subject.
Happy reading!

Parent Survey (or Statistics are Dangerous)

We began the week reflecting on an AP poll on parent sentiments about public education.  As we roll into hump day, we now have the 2013 edition of the Gallup/PDK poll of “what Americans said about the public schools.

This year’s Gallup/PDK highlights:
* As we’ve heard for decades, most Americans give the public schools a “C” grade, but give their own schools an “A” or “B”
* 62 percent of parents have never heard of Common Core State Standards
* 36 percent believe increased testing has hurt school performance, 22 percent say it has helped, and 41 percent said it makes no diff at all
* 58 percent oppose using standardized test scores in teacher evals, up from 47 percent in last year’s survey
* 52 percent said teachers have a right to strike (yes, that really is a question PDK asked)
* 88 percent say their child is safe when they are in school
* 66 percent favor educating children whose parents are in the United States illegally
* Only 29 percent favor sending kids to private schools at public school expense
Overall, the survey results aren’t that big a surprise.  They seem to jive with what PDK reports annually in this survey, and they aren’t too big a deviation from what AP released earlier in the week.
What’s disappointing is how PDK decided to present this year.  One would think that a semi-intelligent human being could take a look at polling toplines and understand that when only 22 percent say high stakes testing helps school performance, the majority doesn’t believe it to be so.  Unfortunately, PDK dumbed it down a step further, putting out a “highlights” document that makes sweeping statements without providing any statistical backup,  While one can track down the supports, it is definitely a dangerous document in the hands of the wrong folks.
Some of these self-proclaimed “highlights include:
  • Common Core – “Most Americans don’t know about the Common Core and those who do don’t understand it.”
  • Standardized Tests – “The significant increase in testing in the past decade has either hurt or made no difference in improving schools.”
  • Charter Schools – “Charter schools probably offer a better education than traditional schools.”
  • Online Learning – “High school students should be able to earn college credits via the Internet while attending high school.”
  • Biggest Problem – “Lack of financial support continues to be the biggest problem facing public schools.”
Let’s just take the last item.  Per-pupil public school funding is at its highest rates ever in the history of United States public education.  Do we honestly believe that is the biggest problem facing the schools?  More so than the obscene achievement gap?  More so than a third of all fourth graders unable to read on grade level?  More so than our inability to address the needs of a growing ELL population in our classrooms?  More so than ensuring that good teachers remain in the classroom and get the support and respect they need?
They again, sometimes poll results are just poll results.  But looking at the latest PDK release, Eduflack is left with two thoughts.
“A little information is a dangerous thing.” Albert Einstein
“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.” Mark Twain

High Stakes? We Laugh at High Stakes

Despite the tall tales told by some about parents opting their children out of standardized tests en masse and folks marching by the millions against “high-stakes tests,” it appears that the average American parent is just fine with the amount of summative tests given to their sons and daughters.

According to a new Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll, we all seem to be OK with those high-stakes tests and the frequency with which they are offered.  According to the survey:
  • 61% of parents think their children “take an appropriate number of tests,” compared to 26% who think there are too many
  • 72% want to make it easier to fire teachers who aren’t performing (with 56% saying classroom observation should be part of teacher evals)
  • 75% believe standardized tests are a solid measure of student abilities, with 69% saying it is a good measure of schools’ quality
  • 93% say standardized tests should be used to identify where students need extra help
And interestingly, for all of our hand-wringing over Common Core State Standards, more than half of parents say they have heard little or nothing about CCSS.  When told about what CCSS was, half said it would improve things, 27% said it would have no effect, and only 11% said it would make things worse.
Such findings definitely don’t align with the tales being spun about the state of public education and our growing resistance to testing and CCSS, for instance.  But then feeling fine about the current state of assessment just doesn’t make for a good story line or dozens of angry posters to a blog.
On Wednesday, PDK and Gallup will release their annual survey on public attitudes toward public education.  Let’s see if they match up, or if we are telling AP one thing and PDK another.
UPDATE: This poll was actually sponsored by the Joyce Foundation, which now has the whole survey available up on its website.  

13th Grade Dual Enrollment?

We often bemoan the lack of connection between K-12 education and higher education.  While we like to talk of the P-20 education continuum, we still can’t get away from the reality that these are two very different, very separate systems.

Over at Hechinger Report, Joanne Jacobs relays the story originally reported in Community College Times of school districts in Oregon and Colorado that are strengthening the connections between K-12 and higher education, offering a fifth year of high school while earning a first year of college credits.

On the latest Eduflack Yack, we opine on the importance of dual enrollment and maximizing those high school years, while asking some important questions on who should be paying for that first year of postsecondary education …

Some Inequitable Food for Thought

We are often quick to look at how the United States stacks up to other countries around the world when it comes to educational performance.  We scrutinize PISA and TIMSS numbers.  We ask what Finland and Singapore and Korea have that we don’t.  And some of us even look for positives in a tapestry that often lacks a silver lining.
But some recent studies from OECD provide some important data the education community should be scrutinizing, particularly since it further spotlights the inequities in these here United States and how we continue to slip in some of those international comparisons.
So some inequitable food for thought:
When it comes to income inequality, the United States ranks fifth.  We offer more significant gaps than countries like Spain, Greece, Estonia, and France.  But at least our gap is narrower than those in Mexico and Chile.
In terms of literacy, we again place fifth.  Worse than Austria and the Czech Republic, but better than the Slovak Republic, Mexico, and Sweden.
When it comes to infant mortality rates, only Turkey and Mexico have higher rates than the United States.
We are tops in one category — the percentage of single-parent families.  Estonia and Great Britain (numbers two and three) have their work cut out for them if they want to knock us off the top of the list.
Why do we highlight these numbers, particularly as others are buzzing about declining test scores in New York and the impact of bringing Common Core State Standards online?  Because it is all interconnected.  And its a cryin’ shame that too many folks fail to recognize how income disparities or household structures impact student academic performance.

The Beginning of the End for CCSS? Hardly

There are those who believe that the recent resignation of Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett signals the beginning of the end for Common Core State Standards and all those who believe in it.  They are likely the same naysayers who believe in things that go bump in the night.
But the recent actions in Florida and Georgia do raise some significant questions about WHAT we need to focus on with our ongoing push toward CCSS.  Today’s Eduflack Yack opines on the issue that really matters — HOW we fill the gaps between identifying the standards and testing against it.

Eduflack Yack – Vallas and Licensure

As we head into August, Eduflack is launching a new feature — a new Podcast called “Eduflack Yack.”  A couple of times a week, I’ll opine on the education issues of the day.  Sometimes it’ll be on a topic written about on the site; sometimes it will just be a topic that deserving a little rant. But every time we will try go against the grain and take a different look at the issue.
Give it a listen.