Highlighting First-Gen College Students

As we continue to talk about the importance of postsecondary education and the United States’ goal of (again) having the highest percentage of college graduates in the world, it becomes important to focus specifically on first-generation college students. After all, the only way to truly expand the pool is to bring in those who previously haven’t been able to enjoy the swim.

To that end, today is Proof Point Day, a concept created by Pahara-Aspen Education Fellow Chastity Lord. As the Aspen Institute details, “After years of witnessing the challenges first-generation college students face, Lord decided to use her Fellowship project to start the conversation about this issue.”
Eduflack can’t stress how important a discussion this is to have. In all of our talks on access and affordability of college, we can lose sight of the motivation, supports, and encouragement necessary to both get first-gen college students into postsecondary and then to help them ultimately earn their degrees. And it starts with making sure high school students recognize they are college material, regardless of their socioeconomic or educational backgrounds.
So I’ll take Proof Point Day (#ProofPointDay) to give a major shout out to my favorite first-generation college student, my mom. Neither of my mother’s parents earned their high school diplomas. My mother herself (the daughter of a GI) came to this country at age five without knowing the language. When she graduated from high school (the oldest of five children), it was assumed she would go down the street, get a job at the local biscuit factory, find a husband, and start a family.
She had other ideas, though. Something in her told her she needed to reach farther and earn a college degree. So instead of taking that factory job, she took three jobs, with one of them being a secretary at Rutgers University. Why? Because university employees could take one free course every semester. Slow and steady could win the college race.
My mother met my dad at Rutgers, as he was completing his doctorate. They got married and moved to Buffalo. He was a newbie political science professor, and she became a full-time college student. She had to take my dad’s Poly Sci 101 class (the only time in his teaching career he didn’t have essay exams). Her junior year of college, she was pregnant with me. He senior year, she had an infant in tow, and I began my academic career as a fussy, red-haired baby at Buffalo State. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology soon after my first birthday.
But she never received her diploma. Too many family demands to get the actual piece of paper she earned. Twenty one years later, I would track down that diploma, and give it to her on the day that I earned my B.A. from the University of Virginia.
This first-generation college student wasn’t done with her education, though. More than a decade later, as Eduflack’s youngest sister was entering the public school system full time, my mom earned her teaching certificate. She student taught at an Indian school in New Mexico, then had her first teaching job in one of the roughest school districts in the Land of Enchantment. And more than a decade after that, she would earn her master’s degree in education. 
She spent two decades as a high school English teacher, mostly offering 10th grade English. She taught in urban, suburban, and rural schools. She impacted, for the better, the lives of hundreds of kids, many of whom would become first-generation college students themselves.
So this #ProofPointDay, Eduflack offers huge kudos and major thank yous to Barbara Riccards, the most important first-generation college student in my life.

The EdSec and the EWA

On the closing day of the 2014 Education Writers Association National Seminar, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan (a regular speaker at the annual event) delivered the keynote address. 

After dispensing with the pleasantries, the EdSec launched into a speech that most in the room had heard, in one iteration, several times before. As he dove into his prepared remarks, the EdSec stated, “I often say that education is the civil rights issue of our generation. I want to elaborate on what that means and how the pursuit of equity runs like a ribbon through the Education Department’s programs and the initiatives launched by President Obama.”
The EdSec then launched into a passionate detailing of the work that his agency has engaged in for the past years. Some of the nuggets he offered:
  • “There
    is the outrage over our nation’s achievement gaps and the fact that millions of
    our children still don’t receive equal educational opportunity.”
  • “Today,
    we worry both about achievement gaps and opportunity gaps. Because we haven’t provided
    access to high quality early learning to all families, millions of children
    enter kindergarten already behind their peers at the starting line of school.
    That is profoundly unfair.”
  • “The
    bottom line is that students of color, students with disabilities, and English
    learners don’t get the same opportunity as their White and Asian-American peers
    to take the math and science courses that figure importantly in preparing for
    careers and college.”
  • “No
    one has been hurt more in recent years by low standards and a lack of accountability
    for student learning than our most disadvantaged students.”
  • “Without
    accountability, there’s no expectation that all children will learn. Without
    accountability, there’s no urgency. Without accountability, without meaningful
    assessments of student learning, parents don’t have an objective way to know whether
    their children are getting the education they deserve.”
  • “Unfortunately,
    in 2014, we don’t treat inequality and inequity in schools with the urgency and
    seriousness of purpose it deserves.”
  • “Too
    many Americans today have become complacent about our educational performance.”
  • “We
    have achievement gaps and opportunity gaps. But more importantly, we have a
    courage gap and an action gap.”

The full text of the prepared remarks can be found here, courtesy of Joy Resmovits of The Huffington Post.
All of these are great soundbites, and they were delivered with real passion. And following on the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board decision this past weekend, all are timely and relate to many of the issues those in attendance have been thinking, speaking, and writing about for the past week.
But for an audience that has heard the EdSec’s “civil rights issue” stump speech many times over the past five years, was it the right set of remarks to deliver? When so many in the room were eager to hear the EdSec relay some new information or news regarding the U.S. Department of Education and its activities, did these remarks deliver on the promise?
In a room that was looking for a little red meat and something new and shiny, they got the same appetizers they’ve been served many times over. Or maybe Eduflack missed something …

EWA Fun Happy Time!

It is a rollicking good time down in Music City — Nashville, Tennessee — for this year’s Education Writers Association National Seminar.

Too much fun, too much information, too much learnin’ happening down here on the campus of Vanderbilt University. If you aren’t down here and able to experience first hand, then head over to Twitter to catch the action. Those in attendance are burning up the Twitter feeds with all things EWA. Just check out #EWA14 to follow along!

Social Media in the Education Space

Eduflack is often fond of saying that the education community is typically one of the last to truly embrace new technologies. We lagged healthcare and other spaces when it came to moving onto the Internet and using websites to improve information sharing. We were slow to platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn, and some could say we still struggle with maximizing the reach and opportunity they afford, at least compared to other spaces.

Twitter seems to be a different story. In recent years (and recent months), we have witnessed the enormous education-focused power of Twitter. To get information out to teachers and school leaders and parents. To engage in conversations with individuals and organizations we might not regularly get to spend time with. To spotlight issues and concerns that may not receive the attention of the mainstream media. To raise awareness, understanding, and action on the key policy, research, and instructional issues of the day.
Connected Educators, an effort started by the U.S. Department of Education a few years ago, is the perfect example of the possibility. ESchool News named it one of the top 10 ed-tech stories of 2013. During Connected Educators Month (October 2013), there were more than 600 events and activities, with participation from more than 330 national, state, and local organizations. More than 13 million educators and others were reached via Twitter alone, generating an average of 4.6 million impressions a day. The numbers are more than impressive, but it is aksi a great example of the power of Twitter in advancing important issues, particularly with educators.
The education social media community is a great space to play in. Every summer, Education Next publishes its list of the Top Twitter Feeds in Education Policy. Eduflack is always in awe of the folks of this list, and is appreciative that he has been included on it each year. The wide range of voices, experiences, and perspectives one finds on this annual list (and on so many education-focused feeds that aren’t on the list), are just incredible. And some days it almost feels like a family (even if it is a family where you can’t stand that uncle across the country).
Why all the kudos for the education social media space? Next month, PR News magazine is recognizing its inaugural class of “Social Media MVPs,” an honor that will be awarded at its Social Media Icon Awards event in New York City. Eduflack is deeply humbled that he has been included on this list. And with all of the terrific SM voices in the education space, it seems I am the only education-focused voice on the list. I could start a long list of those who are far more worthy.
In announcing the list this morning, PR News noted, “The Social Media MVPs represent the innovators and trendsetters on social media. These professionals were nominated by colleagues and carefully selected by PR News to be part of this esteemed list.”
Now I don’t know about all that. But I do know that on the SM playground, I am so appreciative of all of the reporters and researchers and educators and others who develop the articles and reports and events on which I am so fond of focusing. And I owe big thanks to the 15,500 followers on the @Eduflack Twitter feed, particularly those who like to engage and have a little back and forth with me and to my colleagues at Collaborative Communications, who let me play in this fun space and give me so many great thoughts on issues and ideas to share on SM.
The 2014 class of Social Media MVPs is an impressive one, including:
  • David Armano, Edelman Digital
  • Danielle Brigida, National Wildlife Federation
  • LaSandra Brill, Symantec
  • Amelia Burke-Garcia, Westat
  • Erica Campbell Byrum, For Rent Media Solutions and Homes.com
  • Kevin Dando, PBS
  • Jim Delaney, Activate Sports & Entertainment
  • Scott DeYager, Toyota Motor Sales USA
  • Frank Eliason, Citibank
  • Sam Ford, Peppercomm
  • Joy Hays, AT&T
  • Brett Holland, Pepco Holdings, Inc.
  • Bob Jacobs, NASA
  • Leanne Jakubowski, Walt Disney World Resort
  • Evan Kraus, APCO Worldwide
  • Stacy Martinet, Mashable
  • Christi McNeill, Patron Spirits Company
  • Kristin Montalbano, National Geographic Channel
  • Christopher S. Penn, SHIFT Communications
  • Patrick R. Riccards, Collaborative Communications
  • Jennifer Stalzer, MasterCard
  • Lt. Stephanie M. Young, United States Coast Guard
  • Albe Zakes, TerraCycle
Kudos to all of those on the list. Social media is one of those things that you either love or you don’t. And from following many on this list, these are folks who truly love SM and the engagement that comes from it. 

Seeking Assessments That Matter

To paraphrase from the classic movie Major League, “in case you haven’t noticed, and judging by the chatter and recent urban legends you haven’t, student assessments have managed to have positive impact here and there, and are threatening to be seen as a positive part of the teaching and learning process.”
Sure, student tests aren’t the Cleveland Indians finally making it to the playoffs, but we have long seen the same negative feelings and concerns attached to testing as we did for the Indians before “Wild Thing” Vaughn pitched them out of the cellar.
The improving public perceptions of testing is best seen in a new research survey conducted by Grunwald Associates on behalf of the Northwest Evaluation Association. In Make Assessment Matter: Students and Educators Want Tests That Support Learning, NWEA surveyed more than 2,000 students and educators on their perceptions of assessment. Interestingly, this seems to be the first significant study that actually asked students what they think about the tests they are taking.
There are some great write-ups of the full survey, including this piece at Education Week by Catherine Gewertz and this article at Huffington Post by Rebecca Klein.
Some of the results may surprise you. Among the highlights:
  • 81 percent of students think student test scores reflect how well teachers teach
  • 95 percent of students agree that tests are “very” or “somewhat” important for helping them and their teachers know if they are making progress in their learning during the year
  • 80 percent of students say they have not heard of new state accountability tests, despite all of the CCSS hype we hear about
  • 81 percent of students think student test scores reflect how well teachers teach
  • 64 percent of African-American students, 65 percent of Asian-American students, and 61 percent of Hispanic students believe state accountability tests are very important to their futures, compared to just 47 percent of white students
  • 78 percent of students think taking tests on computers has a positive impact on their engagement during tests, with 95 percent of district administrators and 76 percent of teachers agreeing that adaptive technology-based tests are “extremely” or “very” valuable for engaging students in learning
  • 55 percent of teachers report they never took a course in assessment literacy in their teacher prep programs
  • 96 percent of teachers who say they use assessment results do so to improve teaching and learning in the classroom
So what does it all mean? We see that students and teachers both value testing, as long as it is the right type of test. We see that, while they might not be able to define it, educators find real value in interim assessments and see them very differently than the “high-stakes” summative tests that seem to dominate the headlines. And we clearly see that much work needs to be done to build better understanding of the types of tests, why they are used, and how the data is applied. Or more simply put, we like tests if they are relevant and student learning focused.
Based on its research, NWEA offered up five recommendations for policymakers, administrators, educators, and all those involved in the learning process to consider, including:
  1. Engage with students in policy development process, especially when making testing mandates at the state, district, and classroom levels
  2. Realign assessment priorities in support of teaching and learning
  3. Establish formal learning opportunities on assessment for every teacher, principal, and building administrator
  4. Improve student learning by making educator collaboration a priority in every school district
  5. Prioritize technology readiness in every district, focusing on infrastructure and addressing glitches
It is important to note that most of these reccs do not cost us big bucks, unlike the typical policy reccs we see in education. All are focused on ensuring we spend our resources wisely and are focusing our assessment efforts on student learning, not solely on accountability.
Specifically, we should all be doing the stadium wave for number four. As testing isn’t going anywhere, it is of value to all those in the teaching and learning process to be more assessment literate, to better understand the portfolio of tests available to them, to distinguish the good from the mediocre from the useless, and to ensure that results are put to use and put to use quickly.
As we know in today’s education space, perception is the new truth. Whether we agree or not with these findings, these are the perceptions of students, teachers, and district administrators from across the nation. The scientifically valid sample gives us a clear understanding of how folks are thinking about testing. And it provides us an important building block as we shift to ensure tests have meaning and utility.
Sure, testing is not going to win the triple crown every school year. But this data makes clear that good tests are positioned to have real impact come the end of the school season. 
(Full disclosure: Eduflack has worked with the folks at both Northwest Evaluation Association and Grunwald Associates.)