Parents, to the #CommonCore Barricades

I find I have to be more and more careful when talking with local parents in my community about education policy questions. A few weeks back, I got into a long an drawn out fight on how horrible state tests here in New Jersey were, and how the only real measure of a student’s performance were their classroom grades. When I pointed out grades can be subjective and an A in my town could be very different from an A in nearby Trenton (at least in terms of whether a high school A equated college-level ability) I was shunned by many of the group.

So it should come as no surprise when I saw what I saw being distributed in our local public library. For the record, I live in West Windsor, NJ. Our regional school district serves just under 10,000 kids, with a per-pupil expenditure of more than $17,000 per. It is one of those districts that is regularly ranked very high compared to others in the states. According to the most recent demographic data, a third of the student population is white, with 7 percent African America, and 5 percent Hispanic. The majority of students are Asian American, either Indian or Chinese. This is also a community where nearly four in 10 residents are foreign born.

To put it mildly, it is a high-achieving district and parents have sky-high expectations for their kids. At Back to School night last year, I watched as parents began lining up in front of a special education teacher, figuring she was yet another service their child should have access to, without knowing what special education really was.

But back to the local library. It is a popular place, as local public libraries should be. In the lobby, you can find stacks of shiny bookmarks for any parent to pick up.

The headline? CALLING ALL MOMS & DADS — PLEASE JOIN IN OUR FIGHT & CHOOSE TO REFUSE COMMON CORE

And then it offers its reasoning. Each point offering enough inconsistencies to drive a fact-checking big rig right through.

“Because Common Core …

  • is ILLEGAL! Under the U.S. Constitution, education falls under the domain of the States, NOT the Federal Government
  • Causes suspicion because children are not allowed to take home worksheets, and teachers are not allowed to discuss what is being read in class.
  • Has never been tested prior to implementation.
  • Means lower academic standards due to inadequate math and literature standards.
  • Excessive testing and homework causes TREMENDOUS STRESS TO OUR CHILDREN, resulting in psychological issues, lower self-confidence and lack of creativity.
  • Hinders individualism and success due to its “one size fits all” approach.
  • Is an invasion of student and family privacy laws, utilizing Data Mining.
  • Standards are determined and are under copyright of private groups that does NOT include educational professionals.”

If you have a fear or worry about something that goes bump in the educational night, this group has a reason to back them for you? Federal encroachment? Check. Anti-teacher. Check. Lower standards. Check. Testing stressing your kids? Check. Hinders success and creativity? Check. Data privacy? Check. Corporate takeover of education? Check.

Now if we wanted to put any of these charges through a fact checker like they use on political candidates, we’d find that they don’t hold water. But that doesn’t mean much. The term “Common Core” is toxic. And those organizing against the standards know that SO they can use the fear and hatred for Common Core to turn it into whatever devil they want it to be.

Over the weekend, Alexander Russo was asking on Twitter about the PDK survey results and whether those outcomes are outliers or truly represent the shifting feelings of the American people. And the answer is yes to both questions. It does indeed represent public feeling toward the brand “Common Core,” and whatever it represents to the individual. For most, Common Core means high-stakes tests. For others, it is anti-teacher. But for very few, does “Common Core” actually mean the learning standards we expect every student to master each academic year.

Now if you asked the same questions, without using the dreaded Common Core name, and instead talked about teaching and learning standards and expectations, you’d get a MUCH different reaction. You might even find some appreciation for efforts to ensure that a public school education has value, regardless of the state or zip code where it is offered.

Sadly, I won’t be joining the Facebook group that is asking my to man the barricades and fight against the horrible beast known as Common Core. You see, I believe we should have learning standards. I believe we should hold our states and districts and schools accountable for what should be taught. I believe teachers and parents should have a clear understanding of what should be taught and what a student should be able to do each school year. And I believe in Common Core.

Maybe I need to make some bookmarks of my own. Or hats and t-shirts, everyone loves swag, even if it is pro-Common Core …

#Edtech and E-Learning Influencers

This seems to be the time of year for rankings and lists in the edu-space. In addition to Education Next’s annual list of the Top education folks on social media, Onalytica this week released a fascinating read, Edtech and Elearning: Top 100 Influencers and Brands.

In teeing off their study, Onalytica notes:

Blended with traditional teaching is the use of advancing technology to support learning. Institutions are behaving more like brands, looking to spur innovation in the same way that businesses can, utilising entrepreneurial and startup practices to improve learning. Being ahead of the game in the field edtech and elearning is one of the best ways to make yourself more attractive to prospective students and increase your reputation.

I’ll let you read the full report. The mapping out of the networks is particularly interesting. But let’s jump right to the rankings. First up are the influencers. For this list, Onalytica looked at normalized page ranks. And like Education Next, they are using Twitter feeds as the base.

Sylvia Duckworth (@sylviaduckworth) comes in first, with the top 10 being rounded out by David Anderson (@elearning), Alice Keeler (@alicekeeler), Jeffrey Bradbury (@TeacherCast), Scott McLeod (@mcleod), Monica Burns (@ClassTechTips), Tom Murray (@thomascmurray), Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher), Mark Anderson (@ICTEvangelist), and Kasey Bell (@ShakeUpLearning). Yours truly, @Eduflack, comes in at number 46 (somewhat remarkable as I don’t focus on edtech the way most on the list do, thought I do favor it).

And what of the brands? We see a top 10 that includes: EdSurge, EdTech K-12 Magazine, eLearning Industry, Mindshift, Education Week, ISTE, EdTech Higher Ed, Edutopia, jisc, and Edudemic.

The role of education technology and e-learning in discussions, policies, actions, and outcomes in education is only going to continue to grow. As we all try to navigate this world, the primer offered by Onalytica is a great place to start. So many of these influencers and brands are on my go-to Twitter read list. And now I have a few more to add.

The New Twitter Edu-List is Here! The New Twitter Edu-List is Here!

It is that time of year again, when kids start going back to school and the adults in their lives complain about it. I know this from my Facebook feed, as many of unhappy kids (and gleeful adults) faced a new school year. Fortunately, the edu-family here has until next Wednesday, as September 2 is D-day in the Eduflack house.

It is also that time of year when Michael Petrilli and Education Next release the annual “Top K-12 Education Policy People on Social Media” list. The list is always good for a few reasons. One, it provides a check to make sure you are following those individuals who tend to be near the center of edu-discussions on Twitter. Two, it opens up a discussion on the role of people of color and even journalists play in such social media discussions (see Alexander Russo’s discussion of that here). And third, it opens up a social media free for all from folks who believe they merit consideration for the list (and as a corollary, we have those folks who want desperately to be on the list, and then attack Petrilli’s methodology because they fall short, either by Klout score or followers).

In past years, Education Next has looked at how edu-Tweeters stack up in a number of ways. There was the educator/policy-noneducator comparison list. There was the individuals and organizations comparison. But no matter how it was disaggregated, many just couldn’t get past the Klout score as a metric. Since so few understand how Klout scores are assembled (and many who do are frustrated they don’t have enough activity to gain a Klout score), they complain about the methodology, assuming it was done to help friends and punish enemies.

In this regard, the Klout score is like the state test. Yes, it is high stakes. Yes, it may be unfair to some. But at the end of the day, there simply isn’t another metric to measure performance. It is just too hard to compare Twitter feed to Twitter feed without having some sort of quantitative measure. And for education on social media, Klout is that measure.

But to help those who don’t believe in social media “accountability” and think things should be more democratic (with a little d) and driven by the Twitter users themselves, and not by the big bad corporate Klout developers who must be profiting from social media, Petrilli and company have also ranked based on followers. The most populist of populist metrics, whether folks like a Twitter feed enough just to throw it a follow.

So how do the lists stack up? First, let’s take a look at the Klout-driven rankings. The top 10 are: Arne Duncan, Diane Ravitch, Randi Weingarten, John White, Xian F’znger Barrett, Jose VIlson, Andy Smarick, Robert Pondiscio, yours truly, Julian Vasquez Heilig, and Andre-Tascha Lamme. As one would expect, six of those names boast total followers in the five figures. All have Klout scores at 67 or higher. Lamme, from the StudentsFirst organization, becomes the true outlier with only 687 Twitter followers. That likely means a Klout score driven by other very active social media platforms, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, Blogger, and the like. Pondiscio, for instance, is masterful at driving huge engagement on edu-discussions through his Facebook page.

And the list when we through Klout accountability out the window and look just at Twitter followers? The top 10 are: Arne Duncan, Diane Ravitch, me, Michelle Rhee, Alfie Kohn, Randi Weingarten, Dorie Turner Nolt, Valerie Strauss, Pasi Sahlberg, and  Michael Fullan. There we see followers range from the EdSec’s 217k to Fullan’s 22,600.

In looking to the second list, it is worth noting that eight of the top 24 Twitter feeds (based on total followers) do not have Klout scores. Don’t shoot this messenger, or the messengers at Education Next. Take it up with Klout, my friends.

And back to that pesky question about members of the media that Alexander Russo often raises. If we look at the Klout-based, accountable list of Twitter feeds, we see Joy Resmovits (formerly of HuffPo and now part of the L.A. Times’ new education focus) leading the list of mainstream reporters, coming in at number 12). Russo comes in at 16, the New York Times’ Motoko Rich steps in at 21, joined by Vox’s Libby Nelson.

We see more reporters on the just-the-followers list, with WaPo’s Strauss at number 8, USA Today’s Greg Toppo at 12, EdWeek’s Stephen Sawchuk at 13, Russo at 17, and Rich at 19.

Definitely give the EdNext article a read. Some items will surprise you. We see names like Campbell Brown and Joshua Starr (now of PDK) quickly cementing their reps on social media. We also see go-tos like EdWeek and Politico (on the education side) not represented as I would expect.

Social media is a fickle mistress. There are bound to be many changes before Petrilli offers up the 2016 edition. Eleven months to bolster your followers and Klout scores!

Moving from #STEM to STEEM?

Earlier this week, Eduflack was in a meeting talking about what could be. As is typical in such discussions, the conversation often shifts to STEM–or science, technology, engineering, and math–education. Sure, we often struggle with what technology and engineering look like in a K-12 setting, and some ask whether STEM is more important than great literature, but there is no denying that STEM literacy is important for virtually every student, whether they intend to be a rocket scientist or an artist.

One of the big trends lately has been asking whether it should be “STEAM” instead, with an A added for the study of the arts. But after some of the visits I’ve made to schools and educators in places like Indiana and Wisconsin, I’ve become an advocate for STEAM, only with the A standing for agriculture.

Today, though, something crossed my desk that has me wondering is perhaps we should be thinking of it as STEEM. There is no doubt that second E has a lot of attention and the focus on this current generation of students (and their parents, I would guess). The big question, though, is how one effectively teaches the environment and ecology in today’s K-12 universe (unless you want to be a true stickler and claim that such studies should fit under science, but another story for another day).

So I was intrigued when I saw a new curriculum offered by the Think Earth Environmental Education Foundation designed to help K-2 teachers instruct their little learners in the finer points of environmental education. The curriculum is being offered free of charge to schools, and focuses on subjects such as natural resource conservation, waste reduction, and the minimalization of pollution. Think Earth is even rolling out a third-grade curriculum for this coming 2015-16 school year, with plans to add fourth through eighth grade in the coming year. And to be environmentally conscious, it’ll all be available online.

According to its creators, the curriculum has already been used by more than 60,000 educators. And if we believe the small print, it is aligned with Common Core State Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, and the McREL Standards Compendium.

As I write this, I can already here the edu-wife laughing at me, wondering what liberal tsetse fly bit me overnight, resulting in me writing an environmentally conscious blog post. Yes, I’m that guy that complains about recycling (even though I seem to be the one hauling our sorted trash to the curb each week). And I have been known to say the Earth should toughen up a little, and it is awfully pompous of us to believe that a few decades of human consumption is going to ruin a planet millions of years in the making.

But I also think of my own kids, one who exited second grade two years ago and one who just finished her tenure in the second stanza this past spring. Both learned about the environment. Both came home preaching about my waste and our need to protect the environment. And neither really knowing what it all meant and definitely not seeing how it fit into what they were learning in class on a daily basis.

So if this curriculum and the work of Think Earth can help move us a little closer to relevance, while helping the youngest learners begin to collect the knowledge that will be useful when they are tested on science in years to come, I’m all for it. Added bonus if it means I don’t have to roll my eyes when my kids just choose to preach environment every April, And triple word score if maybe, just maybe, it means I’m not the only one in the house having to do the work because the rest of my family unit is worried about the environment.

Yes, We Need a Literacy Discussion at #SXSWEdu. Vote Now!

Last year, Eduflack had the honor of speaking at SXSWEdu, preaching on the importance of active, involved parents in the educational process. The talk came out of my award-winning Dadprovement book, a work I am particularly proud of.

This year, I am hoping to get back to SXSWEdu to talk about a topic that has been the central driver of my professional edu-career for nearly two decades. That subject? How best to teach children to read.

Earlier this year, Rowman & Littlefield published Teaching Children to Read: Continuing to Challenge the Status Quo in Education, a work I put together with two of my professional mentors, Reid Lyon and Phyllis Blaunstein. In the book, we look at some both the research and some very personal experiences regarding reading instruction, and what parents can do to ensure their kids are getting the very best, proven literacy approaches in their own classrooms.

To give you a little sense of what the book seeks to do, check out what Education Trust’s Karin Chenoweth wrote about it early this year on Huffington Post.

But I digress. From the SXSWedu Panel Picker, here is the description of what I want to talk about:

Despite the adoption of Common Core and the strengthening of learning standards, nearly a third of fourth graders unable to read proficiently. Too many kids can’t read, and we know why. Moreover, we know what we should be doing about it.

This session will provide an overview of what we know is most effective in teaching young children to read, while providing a specific path for teachers and parents on how best to get it into our classrooms.

By challenging the status quo in education, we can ensure that Johnny can read. And in doing so, we can shift from being a nation at risk to one where every child is truly college and career ready. (Spoiler, it requires literacy skills.)

– See more at: http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/47957#sthash.mjDp3v0Z.dpuf

Please vote for my session, Johnny Can’t Read, So We Remain a Nation at Risk. It takes just a moment to go to the SXSWedu picker and give my session a thumbs up (literally, you click on the up thumb and it goes green). And if you are so moved, write a brief comment on how brilliant and pithy I am, and how such a session is needed.

Thanks for your support. And as they say in Chicago, vote early and often.

#CommonCore, Through Teacher and Legislator Eyes

In the trenches of the Common Core State Standards battle, it is common to hear educators lament that legislators and policymakers just don’t understand what it is like to be a teacher or to know what is being asked of teachers when it comes to implementing Common Core.

On the flip side, many legislators have grown tired of teachers constantly saying that if you have never taught in a classroom, you have no business developing or even talking about laws and policies in the field of P-12 education.

Such realities set up instant showdowns, and, more often than not, have the educator and policy communities talking past each other, when they should be working together on important issues such as what we expect each and every student to actually learn.

That’s why Eduflack is so excited to announce that BAM! Radio Network has brought back Common Core Radio, the show I’ve been hosting since 2013. Now, I am joined by Cheryl Williams, the executive director of the Learning First Alliance, as we talk about what educators, parents, policymakers, and all those in between are doing to help successfully implement Common Core in their classrooms, schools, communities, districts, and states.

To kick us off, this week we have Eric Luedtke. Luedtke brings a fairly unique perspective to this discussion. First and foremost, he is a middle school social studies teacher in Montgomery County (MD) Public Schools. As an added bonus, he is also an elected member of the Maryland House of Delegates.

Imagine that, a teacher/legislator. In this episode, Williams and I talk to Luedtke about his experiences balancing both roles, and how he helps legislators understand the teacher perspective on Common Core, and how he helps reassure educators that their legislators are indeed listening to the classroom when it comes to standards and student expectations.

The episode, Debunking the Myths on the Path to Successful Common Core Implementation, can be found on the BAM! website or can be downloaded from iTunes. And for those who are always asking, there have been more than a million downloads of BAM! programming since the network was launched.

Happy listening! I promise you won’t be disappointed in Common Core Radio.

“The Strength of Street Knowledge”

Yes, I was one of the those fans that lined up this past weekend to see Straight Outta Compton, the bio-pic on the rise and fall of the musical genius known as N.W.A. And yes, I was one of those kids, one of those white boys from the suburbs, who was a huge fan of the powerful lyrics Ice Cube wrote about a world I would never understand.

As a kid, I didn’t listen to heavy metal. I wasn’t into alternative music like REM or U2 or Depeche Mode. No, I was into rap. As a young kid growing up in North Jersey, Run DMC was my gateway music. I was immediately taken by the lyrics and the poetry. As I got older, my preferences got a little harder. I loved the post-License to Ill Beastie Boys. I couldn’t get enough of Public Enemy. I cherished a bootleg cassette I had of 2 Live Crew (which I just told my mother about last week). And I got amped listening to N.W.A.

I looked at music like Public Enemy and N.W.A as I assume my parents’ generation looked at music by folks like Bob Dylan. It was protest music. It spoke truth to power. It gave voice to many previously without words. And to kids like me, it pulled back a curtain so we could catch just a glimpse of the world, of the struggles, and of the realities that were foreign to us, but important to our development into men (and into hopefully responsible men).

As I got older, my musical tastes matured. In college, I took a real liking to 3rd Bass (it was even on my college answering machine, where they sampled JFK). Jay-Z and Eminem and Snoop remain on my regular play lists today. But N.W.A and Public Enemy are still my go-tos.

I’ve introduced my kids to a little of it, namely Public Enemy’s Fight the Power. They sadly know Snoop from his work with Katy Perry. And they love Salt n Pepa from the Geico commercials (yes, I’ll wipe a tear).

Twenty-five years ago or so, I was taken in by the movie Do The Right Thing. Originally, the draw was the music (obviously). But I still regularly watch the movie (it is one of the staples on my iPad) because of the story it tells. As an Italian-American, I feel a personal connection. I still don’t want to accept that no matter how open-minded we all can claim to be, that we all have a break point, and we all have that inner Sal (or worse, the inner Pino) with us. I don’t want to ever be so blind to the realities around me.

So this weekend, I watched Straight Outta Compton, and was completely taken in. The music reminded me of my childhood, while the story was one I was aware of, but not completely familiar. In many ways, it was a Shakespearean story, as the lives of young men who would grow up to be the Dr. Dre of Beats headphones fame, the actor known as Ice Cube, the felon Suge Knight, the up-and-comers Tupac and Snoop, and the visionary Eazy E were intertwined over a relatively short period.

How does all of this relate to my regular writings here on Eduflack? I’m not exactly sure. I do know that my childhood, and the soundtrack of that childhood, is an important piece of who I have become and the work that I do. I know that the social, justice, and educational issues hit in those songs continue to be topics that we struggle with today. And I realize that there are still far too many kids, and they were kids back then, whose voices aren’t being heard.

This morning, I found myself listening to nothing but rap on my morning run. It gave me a lot to think about and a lot to reflect on. As luck would have it, I hit the home stretch as a song from Darryl McDaniels (of Run DMC fame) hit the shuffle. The song came out in 2007, just a few months before the adoption of my son was official. Every time I’ve heard the song since then, I think of my son. And those thoughts usually come with tears.

That’s why rap is the soundtrack of my life. It isn’t because I was a suburban kid thinking I was an OG. I wasn’t pretending I was understanding what it was like to come of age in South Central. It is because I happened to be listening to Public Enemy as I was driving back from a college internship interview, only to learn later that the Rodney King verdict had come in. And it is because in his song Just Like Me, DMC captures feelings about my kids and adoption that I couldn’t previously verbalize.

Taylor Swift (even when she tries to rap) and Meghan Trainor and even Katy Perry don’t make me think. Dre, Cube, and E do. each and every time.