The Quest for More Engaging History Instruction

Ultimately, fostering each student’s curiosity and sense of agency leads to habits of mind that support lifelong learning and civic engagement—and it is never a bad outcome when mastering required curriculum is exciting and fun. Teachers are also happily about the ease with which games can be tied into curriculum and standards and used to enliven content delivery and assessments while maintaining academic rigor. They are also committed to taking the lesson back to their colleagues—teachers teaching teachers, to make learning more dynamic throughout their schools.

– The Woodrow Wilson Foundation’s Stephanie J. Hull, writing about the importance of gaming in social studies instruction in The “Great Game” of Teaching History for GettingSmart.

What Edu-Reporting Can Learn from the 2016 Campaign

What [the election] means for us is both calling out racism when we see it, and also speaking to people who don’t necessarily see common ground with each other. I don’t know that we weren’t doing that before, but going forward we are intending on making sure our language is as honest and accurate as possible, and holding people accountable.

– Hechinger Report’s Sarah Garland, in Alexander Russo’s Make [Education] Reporting Great Again

Revisiting Four Key EduConcerns for a New Presidential Administration

Back in January, Eduflack wrote for Education Post on the four key education concerns the few dozen folks seeking the presidency need to consider. More than 10 months later, these four issues were barely touched in the 2016 campaign at almost every level. But they remain essential, particularly as President-elect Trump begins to shape his education policy and chooses a leader to head his U.S. Department of Education.

The four areas I continue to hope we focus on include:

  1. The proper federal/state role when it comes to education policy;
  2. 21st century education and real 21st century learning;
  3. Accountability, and how to effectively hold education institutions, particularly colleges and universities, accountable; and
  4. The future of teacher education.

In each of these areas, I pose a number of questions that we must consider. Each question was relevant at the start of the calendar year. Each is relevant today. And each will be even more relevant at the start of a new administration and a new Congress.

I just hope someone (or someones) is starting to explore answers and responses.



A Steady Hand for Trump EdSec

Last month, Eduflack wrote about his dream, that the next U.S. President would select a family advocate as the next Education Secretary. Now that the election dust has settled and we start to see the names being put forward as possible EdSecs in President-elect Trump’s administration, I become a realist. We may not get a parental engagement beacon as EdSec, but I can still hope for a new assistant secretary for family and community engagement, can’t I?

So it begs the question, who will become the next EdSec? The current parlor games have “sexy” candidates like Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz or former DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee dominating headlines. School choice advocates like Betsy DeVos and Jeanne Allen are also frequently mentioned. Former state chiefs like Gerard Robinson (of VA and FL) and Tony Bennett (IN and FL) also gain mention. In fact, of all those who have been mentioned, only surgeon Ben Carson seems to have taken himself out of the running.

What do we make of all this? If we look to when Trump selected a vice president, most folks were willing to bet that either New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich were jockeying for the number two slot. It wasn’t until the final hours that some started seeing Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as a possibility.

We know that Donald Trump likes to be the big dog. That means an EdSec who dominates the spotlight (and the media coverage) is likely not what he is looking for. We know he believes in state and local control, so a DC power broker seems unlikely. And we know that education is not likely a top concern of the Trump administration, so ED needs a steady hand that understands policy, can work with the Hill, and can get things done without too much drama.

Or more simply, ED needs an adult who both understands how a bureaucracy like the Education Department operates, who knows how to get the most out of all the career employees embedded over on Maryland Avenue, yet understands how and why to continue to push decisions and actions to the states.

With all that, the Eduflack shortlist for EdSec includes:

Bill Evers – Evers is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He was assistant secretary of education for policy in the George W. Bush administration. Evers served on several academic standards commissions in California and is a former elected board of education member and charter school board member.

Bill Hansen – Currently the President and CEO of USA Funds, Hansen was the deputy secretary of education in the George W. Bush administration. He brings significant private sector education experience, while serving on state education commissions in Virginia. Hansen brings a mix of both K-12 and higher education experience.

Hanna Skandera – Skandera has severed as New Mexico’s Secretary of Education since 2010. She was previously Florida’s deputy commissioner of education, undersecretary of education in California, and as a senior policy advisor and deputy chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Education.

While I could keep going, listing a number of congressmen, governors, university presidents, and corporate executives, I couldn’t say any of them would be better choices than one of these three. Each are steeped in K-12 and higher education knowledge. Each understand the federal/state/local balance. And each is a workhorse, unlikely to upstage the boss on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Who am I missing?

Blocking Jeffersonian Lessons at Mr. Jefferson’s University

Loyal readers of Eduflack know that I am a proud alumnus of the University of Virginia. As a Wahoo, I spent my college years believing the University’s founder was a deity. We spoke of Mr. Jefferson has if he had just stepped away to grab some lunch on the Corner. We revered the Jeffersonian ideal and what we thought it stood for.

In recent years, it hasn’t been so popular to be a fan of Thomas (nor has it been particularly popular for Eduflack to have many of the heroes he has, as I wrote about last year.) In our zeal to judge leaders of the past by today’s standards, we are quick to condemn.

I get that Thomas Jefferson is a complicated figure in our history. And I get that he is completely dissed (and mischaracterized) in the smash Broadway hit Hamilton. But Jefferson is a Founding Father. He was our third president. He helped expand the fledgling United States into the country that we largely recognize today.

Despite all of that, he noted three accomplishments on his tombstone, which reads, “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia.”

Yes, founding U.Va. was one of the Jefferson’s top three accomplishments, more significant to him that serving as president. Thomas Jefferson is the University of Virginia, and U.Va. is TJ.

So it was shocking to see a group of University professors write to U.Va. President Sullivan asking that she stop quoting the University’s founder and father. My alma mater, The Cavalier Daily, reports that these professors noted:

We would like for our administration to understand that although some members of this community may have come to this university because of Thomas Jefferson’s legacy, others of us came here in spite of it. For many of us, the inclusion of Jefferson quotations in these e-mails undermines the message of unity, equality and civility that you are attempting to convey.

Almost a year to the day, I wrote about how college campuses need to stop being so cavalier about First Amendment rights. That we needed to stop promoting this “do as I say, not as I do” approach to free speech, recognizing that such rights are absolute and not based on what an individual may find in contrast to their personal life mission or sensibilities.

I’m not naive. I get that many these days would not put Jefferson on their personal Mount Rushmores. But I would hope that those individuals would also recognize that Jefferson’s stands as one of the most influential writers and thinkers in the founding of this nation. I’d particularly hope that college professors, particularly those at Mr. Jefferson’s University, could respect the words of Jefferson helped establish this nation, helped shape modern thinking on political liberty, and that cemented the divisions between church and state.

I’d also hope that those who take no issue in drawing a paycheck from Mr. Jefferson’s University yet take every issue with his words would be a little more open-minded about reading some of the words he wrote nearly a quarter of a millennia ago.

As a student at the U.Va., I spent more hours than I can count working at The Cavalier Daily, the independent daily student newspaper of Mr. Jefferson’s University. Each morning, we would publish a new edition under some poignant words written by Jefferson:

“For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.”

These words become particularly important in light of President Sullivan’s letter and her message of bringing the University community together. It is unfortunate that the sensitivities of some professors would seek to shut down such a dialogue by finding offense in the words of one messenger, the most important messenger in the University’s history.

We can only hope that reason continues to thrive at the University of Virginia, and that the lessons of its founder can be used to lead important discussions and guide equally important actions.

Seeking to restrict speech by removing Jeffersonian quotes from communications is an affront to the lessons of freedom and liberty that the University of Virginia was built on, and of ideals we would hope college professors were teaching on campuses throughout the country.

School Board Elections Shouldn’t be MMA

Over at Hechinger Report, I have a new commentary on how our local school board races can often reflect the worst of our national political discourse … and how that can do a true disservice to the kids and communities our school boards are seeking to serve.

While the job of a school board member isn’t necessarily to serve as a rubber stamp for a superintendent, it is a job that requires working with a disparate electorate. It requires finding common ground with everyone from a headstrong superintendent to the most vocal of activist parents.

One simply cannot begin that service through a political campaign of blame, scare tactics, or fear. And it cannot be done by pitting one part of the community against the other in the hopes of cobbling together enough of the community to secure the necessary votes to win.

I hope you’ll give it a read. It becomes an important topic of discussion as more control is returned to the localities.



BAM! Listen Up!

Over at BAM Education Radio, I’m the guest on two recent shows that look at the intersection between politics, rhetoric, and the classroom.

Most recently, I guested on Jon Harper’s show, My Bad, where we talked about being biased and judgmental, and how we can move beyond that to actually achieve some real progress. I reflected on my time serving on a local school board, and entering discussions with some preconceived notions about some of the constituencies I represented.

I also joined Brad Gustafson and Ben Gilpin on TweetED, where we spoke specifically about how to deal with politics in the classroom, whether that politics is brought in by the teacher, the student, or the parent.

Both are great shows (and are great because of their respective hosts, not because of their poor choice in guests). But give them a listen and a like. You won’t be disappointed.