Learning About Race From My Son

Those who have read Eduflack over the years know that my kiddos are an essential part of my life. And they know that my children are adopted from Guatemala, and that the edu-family is quite proud of that.

Over the weekend, as we celebrated my son’s ninth birthday, the unrest in Baltimore over #FreddieGrey was just starting to build. At my son’s party, though, I saw a group of kids undefined and unconcerned by race. Instead, it was just 20 kids having fun and enjoying their collective friendship.

At Education World, I opine on what I learned, wondering at what point we teach the sort of hate and racism we see too often in our society. I write:

On Sunday afternoon, I watched my son and his friends just have a grand time. Nearly two dozen kids–boys and girls–enjoying themselves and enjoying each other. Huge smiles, lots of physical contact (in a good way), and pure, childhood glee.

Of course, we expect to see that sort of fun at a party. If not, then why bother to come. But what struck me was the collection of kids. My two children were the Latino contingent. We had Black kids. We had Indian kids. We had Asian kids. And we even had a few white kids. While some of the adults may have noted race, none of the kids did.

So it begs the question for me–at what point do we teach racism? When do these kids become the ones singing racist songs at a frat party? When do they become the ones using the n-word? When do they become the ones who can’t grab a slice of pizza or shoot hoops with a friend because the skin pigment is different?

I conclude:

As we watch scenes like those playing out in Baltimore happen again and again, perhaps we as parents need to ask what we are doing. Maybe we need to ask what we are teaching our kids and why. And maybe, just maybe, we need to stop.

There is a great deal I still need to teach my son. But I can learn a great deal from this great little nine-year old’s view on race. He honestly couldn’t tell you a person’s race. He doesn’t see the difference between black or brown or white. He just sees friends.

I hope you will give the full piece a read.

#Studentdata and #highered

We spend so much time talking about the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (or the replacement of NCLB, whichever term you prefer), that we can forget that reauthorization of the Higher Education Act is waiting in the wings as well.

Earlier this spring, Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate HELP Committee, issued a series of white papers on some of the top issues the Senate would consider as it began to dig into HEA reauth. One of those topics was consumer information, what many of us better know as student data.

Last week, I submitted a formal response to the Senate’s higher education student data call. In doing so, I noted: “As a nation, we have long said that information is power, using the call for greater knowledge to rally support for education. But our educational infrastructure itself has not provided the powerful information we need. Higher education has fallen short in its ability to both capture and apply data that can be used to improve how students learn, how they are taught, and how we measure it.”

This should come as no surprise. In talking about the work of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and its focus on linking student outcome data to determine the effectiveness of its own programs I stated:

All have a right to know the difference between a successful school of education and a not-so-successful one. That difference really can only be revealed through the collection, analysis, and utilization of outcome data. It is not enough to know that future teachers entering schools of education bring a certain high school class rank, GPA, or SAT/ACT score into the process. Yes, the inputs are important. But far more important is what they do with those tools. And we cannot measure that impact based simply on academic performance leading to the award of a college degree. It requires post-graduation data that can be tracked back to the degree-granting institution.

My full statement, including responses to a number of specific queries from Senator Alexander’s staff can be found here. The initial white paper from the Senate HELP Committee on consumer information (and other topics like accreditation) can be found here.

Is It Really Spying?

This week AFT President Randi Weingarten was in London. She wasn’t there to enjoy the sights and sounds, though. She was there for the Pearson shareholders meeting. And you can see her full remarks here

It should come as no surprise that she spoke out against high-stakes testing and the sheer number of assessments going on in classrooms across the country. But she also focused in on one of these themes ther has been popular on social media these days–cyber spying on students. 

Specifically, the issue is tracking what students on social media platforms are saying about Pearson and about the tests Pearson is responsible for. The story has become its own beast, and WaPo’s Emma Brown had one of the more level-headed stories on it. 

Granted, student privacy and cyber stalking are big issues right now. But the whole topic begs an important question. Is social media monitoring really spying?

Every student who posts to Twitter or Instagram or Facebook (though not so much FB, as there is more for his or her parents) does so because they want people to see it. They want attention. They want the clicks. They want the eyeballs. If folks aren’t watching, it might as never even happened. 

So when you put your views, even about testing, out there for all the world to see, should we get worked up when the testing company you are writing about is watching? Should we be surprised there a multi-billion-dollar company is taking note of what is said about their product?

Personally, I rarely post about companies on Twitter. Instead, I focus on education issues. But this month, I praised one company and shamed another. I offered laurels to Wicked Good Cupcakes because they offer a great product and even better customer service. I swung brickbats at Frontier Airlines because of the opposite (just awful customer service). Both were clearly monitoring Twitter. Wicked Good responded right away. It took Frontier the good part of a day to respond with a CYA response. 

I offer it as reminder that all watch social media. That’s sorta the point. So why get all worked up when companies are found to actually watch and respond to socials media? That’s what we are looking for. That what everyone who makes a post hopes for. Social media is for the attention seeker. 

Student privacy is a serious issue. It demand real policies and careful oversight. But we cheapen the issue, and risk losing control of it, when we throw the label on all sorts of issues that don’t deserve it. 

Social media monitoring isn’t a threat to student privacy. It is just good business. The threat is students who share too much information in the first place. If we don’t want testing companies to know what students are thinking, we need students to stop posting about their tests. 

Asking Why on ESEA Accountability

Instead of asking which superintendents and jurisdictions would sign onto such a belief—that we need strong standards, tests to measure students’ learning those standards, and test data getting into the hands of teachers do so something with those learning outcomes—we should be scratching our heads wondering which school district leaders AREN’T signed onto this and why.

Patrick Riccards, in Education World’s Those Held Accountable for Standardized Tests Want Greater Accountability

Urban Supes: We Want Greater Accountability

While all the things that go bump in the night tell us that tests and standards and accountability are responsible for the complete and utter fall of western civilization as we once knew it, a large and impressive group of superintendents (present and former) representing some of the nation’s largest school districts have a different view. They believe strong standards, assessments, and accountability are required if we are to provide all kids with a top-notch school experience.

Over at Education World, I write about how this group of school district leaders is calling on Congress to ensure a great public education for all kids. In asking Congressional leaders not to lose sight of the gains many of their districts made because of accountability measures in place, these educators offer a very simple equation for success. As Eduflack writes, these supes are telling us:

We believe in strong academic standards. We need annual tests in core subjects to determine student progress in meeting those standards. Those test results need to get back to teachers quickly, so they can adjust classroom instruction accordingly. States need to make sure this happens as intended. If it doesn’t, the feds need to step in. That’s how we make sure all kids—regardless of race, family income, or zip code—get a world-class public education.

It’s an important lesson from an impressive list of education leaders on the front lines of school transformation and improvement. I hope you will give it a read.

Maybe We All Just Need a Hug

My mother taught at the same high school that I graduated from, in Shenandoah Junction, WV. I was fortunate never to have her as my English teacher (my youngest sister was far less fortunate). As a teacher, my mom was tough. She was a “no excuses” teacher before such a label existed in education reform (though for the record, my mom would never call herself an ed reformer EVER). She held all of her students to high standards, and she expected the best they could bring.

It was true in how she taught American literature, and it was true in the behaviors she expected in her classroom and in the hallways. On more than one occasion, she jumped in the middle of a fight to break it up. On more than one occasion, I saw her, all five-feet-nothing of her, get into the face of a football player or other student who towered over her, demanding said student respect the school and respect the rules.

When she got into the scrum on a fight between a couple of guys, they pically stopped as soon as they saw her in the mix. But at least once, when she tried to break up two fightin’ girls, they weren’t so quick to get to their respective corners. But it never stopped Mrs. Riccards from seeking the discipline her schools demanded. And she taught in all types, urban, rural, and suburban.

So when I read Eva Moskowitz’ piece this week in the Wall Street Journal on changes to the NYC schools’ discipline policies, I was at first amused, and then a little troubled. In it, she writes of the introduction of “restorative circles” as a key component to discipline in our nation’s largest public school system.

And what are “restorative circles?” As Moskowitz writes: “It’s a ‘community process for supporting those in conflict [that] brings together the three parties to a conflict—those who have acted, those directly impacted and the wider community—within an intentional systemic context, to dialogue as equals.'”

Is this really where we have gone, where school discipline has devolved into a group hug, where the person throwing the punch and the person getting hit are considered equals and equally wronged in the process? Where a bully and the bullied need to come together with the larger community to understand why one feels the need to terrorize or attack a fellow student? Where we need to explore, understand, and feel empathetic toward the aggressor?

Shaking my old man fist, in my day, there was no need for restorative circles or kumbaya moments in the disciplinary process. You start a fight or throw a punch, there are consequences. You get caught cheating or skipping school, you get disciplined. There was no “systemic context” to understand. Break the rules, get punished. No excuses, no exceptions.

Should we really be endorsing bad behavior as long as one has a good reason for it? If so, we are telling our kids that our discipline policy is no discipline at all. Forget accountability, all we need a good hug.

“Broad”-ening Ed Leadership Opportunities

As Eduflack has written previously, some research shows that a good school principal can account for 25 percent of a school’s total impact on student achievement. In the education space, we talk a great deal about the importance of having top-notch principals and superintendents and central office personnel in place, but we do so with the same, sometimes lame ed leadership programs serving as their training grounds.

We know that many of these ed leadership graduate degree programs aren’t of the highest quality. We know that many enroll in them just to move up the salary scale and get a bump in pay. And we know that few of these programs are providing aspiring leaders with the skills, knowledge, and support they need to be both the managers and instructional leaders we seek and that so many of our kids need.

It’s one of the reasons I get so excited about the work I’m involved with at the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, where we are now working in three states, and with many more universities, to provide aspiring school and district leaders with a high-impact MBA program for education leaders. I know our model works because I witness the impact. I can see how an MBA path steeped in a strong academic program, an equally robust clinical experience, and multi-year mentoring can transform a great teacher into a tremendous ed leader.

And I get equally excited when I see announcements like I did this week from the Broad Center for the Management of School Systems. For those following from home, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges’ Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities granted Initial Accreditation to the Broad Center.

This is an important announcement because it demonstrates there is more than one path toward being an effective school leader. Through its Broad Residency in Urban Education, the Broad Center provides a two-year management development program for career-switchers looking to move into top levels of K-12 urban public education systems. They come out of the Broad program with a master’s of education in educational leadership, and now, thanks to WASC, they graduate with an accredited degree, ready to take on the world and help run an urban school system.

Yes, some of the haters will continue to crow about Broad and ask how this could happen. But let’s remember, WASC isn’t a “reform organization.” It is the quasi-governmental body that oversees higher education institution in California, Hawaii, Guam, and the Pacific Basin. It is the West Coast equivalent of NEASC, which oversees the likes of Harvard and MIT. in the Northeast. It is a long-standing, established institution embedded into the very fabric of American higher education.

In granting the Broad Center this important approval, the WASC Educational Effectiveness Review Team, according to Broad, commended The Broad Residency for “a very rich data-driven program of unusual depth,” “reflecting a pervasive spirit of inquiry and a commitment to continuous improvement” and for being “painstaking and comprehensive in its assessment of its programs, residents’ learning and satisfaction during the residency period, and through the residents’ career preparation.”

I get that accreditation decisions rarely grab the headlines and public attention. But let’s not overlook the significance of Broad joining the WASC accreditation club. It is a strong acknowledgement that there are different ways to effectively prepare school leaders, and it is an even stronger nod to the need for new, innovative approaches to educational leadership preparation.

No, this isn’t your grandpa’s ed leader prep program, and that’s a good thing. As our needs continue to change, as our demands continue to grow, and as our hunger for accountability and quality continues to expand, we need better prep mousetraps that truly develop a cadre of diverse, effective ed leaders. This is another step toward that.