A Flashlight, Not a Hammer, When it Comes to #EdData

For years now, the education community has debated the proper role of “education data” in the process. What started off as important information to help teachers tailor and improve their instruction quickly became a blunt instrument to punish students, teachers, classrooms, and schools. As with most things, the abuses of a valuable tool became the focus.

With a greater emphasis on testing and the use of testing information, ed data has gained even greater scrutiny. In Eduflack’s own school district, there is a growing call for eliminating all technology from the schools out of fear of education data and its impact on student privacy (among other things).

And that’s just a crying’ shame. And it doesn’t have to be that way.

Last year, the Data Quality Campaign hosted a national summit focused on the importance of education data. In it, DQC CEO Aimee Guidera spoke of the importance of using education data as a flashlight — to illuminate the way to improvement and success — rather than as a hammer to strike those who are struggling.

This week, DQC released From Hammer to Flashlight: A Decade of Data in Education. Noting that “although much work remains before education becomes a truly evidence-based field,” great work has already been undertaken to use data to better inform both inputs and outcomes in the classroom.

Education data isn’t going away. If anything, we need to become more savvy in its application to learning. That’s why From Hammer to Flashlight is such an important read.

 

An “Alternative” View of Trump’s Edu-Remarks

Sure, we never expect to hear much about education during a presidential inaugural address, and last week’s speech certainly didn’t change that. Yes, President Donald Trump did offer a small tip of a cap to education issues, but just in passing.

What if those remarks he delivered, though, could have a different meaning than how so many have taken the edu-speak? What if we could envision an “alternate” meaning for what was said?

Over at BAM! Radio Network, the latest edition of #TrumpED explores that very question. Give it a listen here. You might be surprised.

The Importance of the DeVos Team

With the initial confirmation hearing of EdSec-designate Betsy DeVos in the books and with Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander making clear there will be no follow-up hearings? What comes next.

Sure, we can parse everything that was said (or not said) at this month’s hearing. But the really important questions likely settle on who will be on DeVos’ squad. Who will lead elementary and secondary ed? Who will run point on higher ed? Who will be in charge of student loans? Who will head OII and its leadership on school choice?

In the latest installment of #TrumpED on the BAM Radio Network, I explore this a little more Give it a listen!

 

For Schools, Spelling is Serious Business

As many students were coming back to school after the winter break, communities on the East Coast experienced their first real winter weather of the year. Ice and snow forecasts had students flushing ice cubes down the toilet, parents worried about childcare coverage, and school districts watching weather patterns like tornado hunters.

In Maryland, one student even went to social media to ask for time away from the little red schoolhouse, tweeting the Frederick County Public Schools to “close school tammarow PLEASE.”

Responding with the type of levity we expect to see on Twitter (at least when we aren’t experiencing vitriol), the school district’s social media coordinator tweeted back at the student, ““but then how would you learn how to spell ‘tomorrow’?” So that no one would mistake her humor for snark, she closed the message with a smiley face emoji.

Now, according to The Washington Post, that social media coordinator has been fired. The termination came after the district demanded that she delete all that the district deemed as “inappropriate” tweets and after the system’s communications director issued a public apology to the FCPS student who can’t spell tomorrow.

Overreact much, Frederick County Public Schools?

Now Eduflack gets that the school system as worried about potential backlash. As a former school board chairman, I get that the district feared parents concerned students were being called stupid or were being mocked on social media and that is could become a “thing” at the next school board meeting. But this is Twitter, folks. It is designed for interaction and give and take. A student tweeting at his or her school district is expecting a response.

One has to only look at the tweets from the school district since the incident to understand that, while the system may think it has built a “model for the state” when it comes to social media, it just isn’t the case.

  • “Schedule reminder: schools are closed on Monday, January 23rd.”
  • “All FCPS activities are canceled for Saturday, Jan 14 due to weather forecasts.”
  • “Academic Tournament continues with ‘Human Diseases’ as the special topic.”
  • “Reminder: schools are closed on Monday in observance of Martin Luther King Day.” (one has to wonder if someone is getting suspended for leaving the “Jr.” off that tweet)

Model Twitter feeds are those that happen in real time and generate discussion and sharing. They aren’t automated, nor are they approved weeks in advance on a schedule. If anything, the now former social media coordinator for FCPS provided a little personality to the site, and in doing so, ensured that students across the district were actually checking it out (if only for a little bit). She showed how school district social media feeds can actually interact with the very students they are supposed to be serving.

Unfortunately, the actions in Frederick County will have more districts pulling back that getting into the scrum. Instead of using Twitter to engage and build community, they will use Twitter as a bulletin board, thinking that a single line they post on scheduling will stay top of mind to their entire community for perpetuity. And that’s a crying shame.

If school districts are going to use Twitter, they need to use it for all it is worth. Otherwise, they may just take their messages and chalk them up on the old slate and hang it outside the little red school house. It’ll be just as effective communicating with families.

 

A Few Future-Looking Qs for DeVos

As Washington and the education community gear up for Betsy DeVos’ confirmation hearings to become the next EdSec, over at BAM Radio Network I explore a few areas we really should look into, but likely won’t.

Sure, we could spend the entire hearing discussion past actions on charter schools, vouchers, reform advocacy, and reform dollars. But rather than just talking the past, what if we actually explored the future and how the U.S. Department of Education can impact the entire education community.

The nation needs a clear vision of accountability, teacher preparation, modes of learning and expectations for all. Now seems like as good a time as any to start asking. Give it a listen here. You won’t be disappointed.

AFT’s New Battleground

Earlier today, AFT President Randi Weingarten delivered a barn burner of a speech at the National Press Club. In remarks that were clearly crafted to go after Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos before her confirmation hearings later this week, Weingarten also laid our her “four pillars of public education,” spotlighting the importance of promoting children’s well-being, supporting powerful learning, building capacity, and fostering collaboration.

While one can (and should) quibble that much of the four pillars seem to focus on the the adults in the room, and not the kids receiving said public education, the speech is an interesting read. 

Dear ol’ Eduflack feels the need to question the title of the remarks, and the entire setup. In speaking under the banner of “Four Pillars to Achieve Powerful, Purposeful Education … Or Reigniting the Education Wars,” Weingarten posits that the education wars were put to bed after the passage of ESSA in late 2015, even noting, “despite the extraordinary political divisions in the country, and after the damaging failures of policies like NCLB, we finally reached a strong bipartisan consensus on a way forward to improve public education in America.”

Clearly, I’m spending my time on a different battlefield. With continued, harsh rhetorical battles on everything from Common Core to testing, teacher evaluation to technology, school choice to alt cert, bathrooms to the Pledge, it seems quite a stretch to suggest that the education wars were ever extinguished. For a speech that is almost entirely inside baseball, are there any individuals who attended the speech or might read the remarks who can honestly say we believed the education wars were continually burning in some way, shape, or form?

Regardless of your perspective, the speech is worth the read. You may agree with all of it, you may see it as a blueprint to understand how others will attack all you hold near and dear. 

So I ask you to join with us as we stand up for the well-being of all children. For powerful learning. For capacity building for teachers. For community collaboration. Please join with us as we stand up for the promise of public education, and for the public schools all children deserve. 

AFT President Randi Weingarten, January 9, 2017

Is Free College Really a Good Thing?

Last week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, joined by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, announced a plan to provide “free” college to all New Yorkers with a family income under $125,000. This isn’t the first time politicians have announced plans for free college, and it likely won’t be the last.

In making the announcement, Governor Cuomo noted that postsecondary education is a necessity in the current global, information economy and that many NYers graduate with “$30,000” in debt to secure a degree. “That is not fair. That is not right,” the New York Post quoted the Empire State governor as saying.

Yes, Cuomo is absolutely right that a postsecondary education is a must for all these days. And while we can get into the discussion on whether such programs end up throwing shade on community colleges and lead more individuals to pursue four-year degrees that don’t open many doors in that information economy, I’ll leave the fight over what “postsecondary education” means for a future post.

Instead, dear ol’ Eduflack wants to take issue with the notion that it isn’t right or fair that individuals take on student debt obtaining a four-year degree. According to the Institute for College Access and Success, the average graduate of a four-year college (excluding the for-profits) leaves school with $30,100 in debt.  That works out to student loan payments of about $300 a month for the average college graduate.

That’s less than the monthly payment on an average car loan the recent graduate is likely paying. It is likely less than the average rent. And unlike the car and the rent, it is an asset that the graduate will carry with them throughout his or her life.

We can often forget that when we make things “free,” particularly things that one used to pay for, we reduce the perceived value of the item. When it is free, we don’t see to care as much about what we received. It was free, after all, so it is no biggie if we lose it, forget about it, or fail to use it.

When we pay for something, we see value. With a college education, we are forced to make choices. What postsecondary path is of most interest to us. What areas do we have the most skill. Where do we see potential careers. Are we willing to do the work necessary to turn our investment into a tangible product (our degree)?

When we take out loans, take on jobs, or even have families who can pay the tuition, we are less likely to seek that degree in underwater basketweaving and instead choose paths that are aligned with our interests, talents, and future goals. And that is a good thing.

Instead of free college, why not instead focus on college affordability? Why not ask if so many of those universities need the ever-growing endowments they have? Why not ask how colleges and universities are reducing costs to their students, and not just their operating costs? Why not ask when a two-year degree may make far more sense than a four-year degree? Why not ask whether it makes sense for that “free” college to essentially go to pay for remediation? Why not ask how we ensure it takes students four years, and not six or seven, to earn a four-year degree? Why not ask how we ensure college focuses on the student, and not the institution? Why not ask how we ensure a college education is about what is learned, and not just what is taught? Why not?

After World War II, about 5 percent of Americans held a college degree. Today, we are up to about 40 percent. Are those millions and millions of Americans chumps for personally sacrificing, taking on debt, and gaining college degrees when they could have just waited around for someone to give it to them for free?

I don’t mean to be the skunk at the garden party, but if we think free college is the answer to all that ails us, we are going to be severely disappointed. Not only does free college diminish the value of a postsecondary degree, but it also begins to draw further distinctions between where one earned that degree. How long before employers begin asking whether that free degree from the state college is as valuable as the paid-for degree from the private college up on the hill?

Efforts to bring equity to postsecondary education through free college could end up bringing a whole new era of inequity to the discussion.