Apologies for my truancy

My deepest apologies to Eduflack readers for not being active here in the past few weeks.  As I noted last year, dear ol’ Eduflack has been involved in some long-form content creation (meaning book writing).  It took up many months of my time last year (thus the hiatus) and has come back to require my attention over the past few weeks.

The great news is I’ll be able to announce the completion of a very personal and I think important book next week.  As one reviewer already put it, the book “ROCKS!”  So February is going to be a rockin’ good month, with this new book from Yacker Media.
I look forward to sharing the news with y’all next week or so, and will work to share free Kindle copies of the book with loyal Eduflack readers as soon as allowable.
I’m also in the process of wrapping up the second edition of the Why Kids Can’t Read: Challenging the Status Quo in education book that Rowman & Littlefield Education will be publishing later this year.  Back in 2005-06, I was a contributing author to the project.  For this edition, I am the lead editor, working in partnership with longtime colleagues and mentors Reid Lyon and Phyllis Blaunstein.  
Why Kids Can’t Read is an important story, particularly as we see that nearly 40 percent of the world’s school-age children are unable to read proficiently.  The first edition of the book, out in 2006, looked at the wealth of research we have on literacy instruction and how best to teach our kids to read, while offering practical guidance for parents for how to ensure that “what works” is what is being used in their child’s classrooms.  The second edition builds on that work, incorporating recent developments such as Race to the Top and Common Core State Standards into this important discussion.
So thanks for your patience.  Eduflack will be back to its regular schedule in the coming weeks. Happy reading (post-announcement, I hope!).

“The function of education …”

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.  Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I Have a Dream” — August 28, 1963
Letter from Birmingham Jail” — April 16, 1963
Where Do We Go From Here” — August 16, 1967

CCSS Through the Buzzfeed

Common Core State Standards are all too common on Eduflack.  It is a common topic, and one that seems to dominate much of public education’s attention these days.

But sometimes we just need to take a step back and be a little less serious about the whole thing.  Fortunately, yesterday “EdNerd” posted a great piece on the “16 Myths About The Common Core State Standards, Set Straight” over at Buzzfeed.
We don’t know who is using the pseudonym EdNerd (yet), but the post is both informative and downright entertaining, including some nice GIFs around myths such as:
  • The Common Core State Standards are a federal takeover of state education rights;
  • The CCSS are tools of the socialist machine, created to bend the minds of our children;
  • Teachers hate the CCSS;
  • Common Core is the brainchild of giant corporations in an effort to privatize and corporatize education; and
  • Standards aren’t important because you don’t use anything you learned in school in the real world.
If you need a good laugh or a reminder that some of our education battles are just a little too ridiculous by half, check it out.  It is a quick read, but definitely worth the price of admission.
Happy Friday!

Catholicism and the Common Core

Readers know that Eduflack is always up for a good discussion in the Common Core State Standards and their merits.  But for the past few months, I’ve been scratchin’ my head every time I read about a parochial school or a Catholic archdiocese rising in opposition to the Common Core and talking about refusing to adopt.

Did I miss something?  When the 46 states (including DC) adopted CCSS, did they pledge to apply these to private or parochial schools?  Were the standards developed with Catholic schools in mind?  Was their intent to regulate schools that the state and district have no role in?  Or are folks just ginning up another red herring in the growing attack against the standards?
On Common Core Radio this week, we talk to Father Jose Medina and CitizenshipFirst’s Robert Pondiscio on the origins and intents of CCSS and why this Catholic school issue is becoming an increased topic of discussion.  The full program can be heard on BAM Radio here.
Happy listening!

If Not VAM, Then What?

Yesterday, Libby Nelson and the good folks over at Politico Education reported a new American Federation of Teachers campaign, flying under the banner of “VAM is a sham.”  The target is the latest generation of educator evaluation models intended to increase accountability and ensure that every child has an effective teacher leading the classroom.

According to Politico, the impetus for such an effort was that AFT President Randi Weingarten, after negotiating and agreeing to a number of teacher evaluation systems that depend on value-added measures, or VAM, “found the process corrosive: The VAM score was just a number that didn’t show teachers their strengths or weaknesses or suggest ways to improve.  Weingarten said the final straw was the news that the contractor calculating VAM scores for D.C. teachers made a typo in the algorithm, resulting in 44 teachers receiving incorrect scores — including one who was unjustly fired for poor performance.”
Of course, supporting VAM only to later oppose it shouldn’t come as any big surprise.  Last spring, Governing magazine wrote about how an NEA-led lawsuit against Florida teacher evals was going to spread nationwide.  In New Mexico, the AFT has already filed suit against a system that isn’t even fully up and running.  In Boston, a district with nearly 5,000 teachers, the AFT recently filed suit to block BPS from taking action against the 30 lowest performing teachers, according to the evaluation system in place.
At the heart of opposition to VAM is including student performance — or test scores — in a teacher evaluation.  While no teacher evaluation system relies 100 percent on test scores, it is indeed a factor in every such evaluation.  After all, if an educator’s job is to teach, isn’t one of the measures of effectiveness whether the student has actually learned what has been taught?
Yes, we can argue about the fairness of one single summative test in a teacher evaluation.  But that can be navigated through the adoption of formative and interim measures into the process.  Simply saying that the outcomes have no place in the evaluation process just doesn’t make sense.
But Eduflack will set all that aside for a moment.  If we believe that “VAM is a sham” (a line actually used by Diane Ravitch last year), what should replace VAM when it comes to accountability and educator evaluation?  How do we truly measure if a teacher is effective or not without looking, in part, to student performance?
On its website, the AFT offers up a number of “standards” that should be included in the process.  Standards for a common vision of teaching.  Standards for professional context.  Standards for systems of support.  But these all seem to be about the inputs that go into instruction.  That’s fine and good.  But what about the outcomes?
When Eduflack was on the front lines of the education reform battles in Connecticut, the unions were strong opponents to any changes to the evaluation system or to increased accountability.  Ultimately, all sides agreed to test scores being 40 percent of the evaluation.  
Interestingly, one of the strongest arguments against the new model was that teachers were opposed to principal evaluation in the process.  They felt such observations were subjective and allowed administrators to play favorites.  It got so heated that one legislator actually suggested forgoing scores and supervisor evaluations to bring in teacher SWAT teams from other states who would know good teaching when they saw it.  Fortunately, such an approach went nowhere.  But are we now saying that test scores and supervisor evals are both off the table?
As we now see VAM in place in states like Illinois and Florida, Colorado and Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Mexico, what is the better mousetrap?  If AFT, NEA, and others don’t want a VAM reliant on a summative test score, then how do we effectively evaluate educators (and I mean both teachers and principals) by both the inputs they bring and the outcomes they achieve?
Sure, one has a right (and many feel an obligation) to stand up and oppose VAM.  But without a viable alternative, what are we saying?  Effective teaching can’t be quantitatively measured?  Good teaching doesn’t necessarily translate to student learning and mastery?  Or that we just don’t want to know the answer?

Some Digital Learning Food for Thought

In discussing the impact of value of digital learning, we often hear naysayers talk about the influx of technology and how it is “robbing” our kids of knowing core foundational elements.  We can’t spell because of spellcheck.  Sentence structure is gone thanks to texting.  You know the drill.

So I was particularly taken this week when my good friend Carol Rasco, the president and CEO of Reading is Fundamental, shared the following words, taken from a principals’ publication in 1815:
“Students today depend on paper too much.  They don’t know how to write on a slate without getting chalk dust all over themselves.  They can’t clean a slate properly.  What will they do when they run out of paper?”
After nearly two centuries, it is nice to know that no matter how things change and how many advances the education field may make, we still share the same frame of fear regarding change and its impact on students and learning.

Personal Agendas and Objective Reporting, Ed Style

“Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.  Journalists should … distinguish between advocacy and news reporting.  Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.”

Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics
In today’s day and age, it is often difficult to distinguish between real journalism and “citizen” journalism, between real reporters and bloggers, between real journalists and those who aggregate the news.  We expect our “respected” news outlets to hold their reporters and editors to the highest standards, and in return we come to trust those news items that appear on their front pages or at the top of their broadcasts as being unbiased and fair.
Since I was a child, after watching “All the President’s Men” for the first time, I put The Washington Post on that list of respected news outlets.  While I may not agree with all editorial or opinion pieces at the back of the A section, I always knew I could trust the news that was offered on A1.  Until now.
For those who missed it, over the New Year’s holiday the Post ran a page one piece titled “U.S. education officials lobbied against Starr for New York City schools post.” The topic is one that would interest virtually anyone involved in education policy.  Did the U.S. Department of Education inject itself in the new mayor of NYC’s choice for schools chancellor?  With Mayor de Blasio now looking to undo much of the reforms enacted under Mayor Bloomberg over the past 12 years, it is a fair and interesting question.
Only seems logical that such a piece would be written by someone like Michael Alison Chandler,  a terrific reporter who has done a great job covering national K-12 education news for WaPo.  Or Emma Brown, who has brought a great eye to covering DC Public Schools.  Or a number of other journalists who cover national news, NYC news, or politics for the esteemed broadsheet.
Instead, the byline belonged to Valerie Strauss, a veteran scribe for the Post.  Most know Strauss as the “author” of The Answer Sheet, a WaPo blog focused on education. I intentionally put “author” in quotes because so much of The Answer Sheet’s content is handing over the space to a range of individuals and advocates, reproducing their words.  Nothing wrong with that, it is all credited and sourced.  And The Answer Sheet fills an important role in our education news landscape.
The problem is objectivity.  For much of the past five years, The Answer Sheet has been focused on attacking U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the U.S. Education Department, and any and all associated with school improvement and education reform.  It is a bastion for the defenders of the status quo, and most who reach out to Strauss with an alternate perspective are left to spin their wheels.  The Answer Sheet borders on serving as an advocacy platform, and most in the field recognize that.  We accept that.  We know that Strauss has a particular opinion, their is a specific mission behind The Answer Sheet.  Her work has an agenda, intentional or unintentional.  Just as many would not accept Diane Ravitch’s blog posts as gospel, so too do we read Strauss with a large grain of salt.  
That doesn’t mean I don’t read it.  In fact, Eduflack often tweets out pieces from The Answer Sheet, believing they add to the public discussion and offer up a clear point of view (one I sometimes agree with, but often don’t.)
So my issue is the publication of a piece attacking the U.S. Department of Education and questioning to motives of the EdSec ran, without any actual source quoted in the piece.  After calling Duncan’s “lobbying” an “unusual move by the nation’s top education official,” Strauss reveals her smoking gun in all of this.  “Duncan spoke negatively about Starr to de Blasio in a discussion about a number of candidates, people familiar with the discussions said.”
That’s right.  Not a soul on the record.  Just “people familiar with the discussions.”  We don’t know if those are people in the room, people who heard from de Blasio after the fact, people listening against the door, or those who heard through their tin foil hats.  
Nor do we know what negative items were spoken.  Did Duncan go after Starr?  Did he run through a pros/cons list of the top five candidates?  Was he playing devil’s advocate?  Did such negative comments actually happen?  We just don’t know.
The SPJ Code of Ethics offers us two important items here.  The first is “Identify sources whenever feasible.”  The second is “Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity.”  From the piece, it looks like the only “source” Strauss looked to put on the record here was Duncan.  As for Duncan, Strauss says he “did not return phone calls seeking comment.”  When it came to de Blasio (the other guy in the room for all this) he got a much less pointed “could not be reached for comment.”
Without question, Strauss has every right to write such a piece and the Post has every right to publish it.  But we should hold our media to a higher standard.  With The Answer Sheet’s track record, such a piece belongs on a blog or on the opinion pages, not on page 1.  And if WaPo editors deem the piece worthy of the front page, it should be held to a higher standard.  Someone on the record.  One of those “people familiar with the discussions” must be willing to have their name attached, and get the credit for taking yet another shot at the EdSec, right?  Or else lede with the far less juicy stuff about an ED staffer talking to friends about his concerns.
Or perhaps Eduflack is just expecting too much from the media and “respected” media outlets.  Instead of us all wanting to be Woodward or Bernstein or take a stand like the NYT did on the Pentagon Papers, maybe we all just want to be Matt Drudge.