If You Can Read This …

Loyal readers of Eduflack know that I have spent far too much time, in far too many battles, over effective reading instruction. It still baffles me that we even need to have this debate, that parents and educators will fight having research-based literacy instruction in the classroom, instead advocating for a philosophy that doesn’t do a lick actually getting struggling readers reading.

But we do. And we regularly debate the merits of research over philosophy, of hard facts versus soft opinion. Then we wonder why our kids aren’t reading and why we aren’t seeing student achievement improve on virtually every literacy benchmark available to modern man.

The latest such benchmark is the PIRLS, which has now shown the United States to slip significantly, falling all the way down to 13th in the latest international measure of reading skills. It doesn’t need to be this way. It shouldn’t be this way. We know better. We just choose not to apply what is proven effective in the classrooms that need it the most, with the kids who would benefit from it the most.

On the latest episode of my program on the BAM! Radio Network, I take a look at our sad position when it comes to PIRLS and literacy instruction, and call on President Donald Trump to focus on teaching our kids reading … at least if he is serious about making America great again. Give it a listen!

 

Requiring Internships at College

Earlier this month, Gallup published a fascinating piece on why college should make internships a requirement. Noting that Gallup data shows that parents, students, and the public believe the top reason for higher education is to get a good job, reflecting on the fact that only about a quarter of students (27 percent) had a good job waiting for them after earning a bachelor’s degree, and determining that almost another 25 percent had to wait at least six months (6 percent waiting seven to 12 months and 16 percent waiting at least a year) before finding said good job, Gallup’s authors could come to only one conclusion. Gallup’s Brandon Busteed and Zac Auter determined that internships were key for student success, and it was up to colleges and universities to ensure it.

More specifically, Busteen and Auter noted:

the truth is, higher education institutions and accreditors are out of sync with what the public and students want most from a college degree. And nothing will improve this more than this one step: Making an internship — where students can apply what they are learning in a real-world work situation — a requirement to graduate.

I’ll admit, dear ol’ Eduflack gets into more than his share of rhetorical skirmishes regarding the ultimate goals of higher education. I appreciate those that believe the purpose of college is to instill a greater sense of learning and an appreciation for thought in those that pursue it. I’ll even acknowledge the points so many make, that studying the classics or a dead language or something of that ilk can make one a better person and a better citizen.

But it is equally hard for me to wrap my hands around someone taking out $100k in student loans to be the most well-read barista at the local Starbucks. I can appreciate the value of the liberal arts, but don’t possess the rose-colored classes that come with it that require one to believe the pursuit of such liberal arts are the key to a happy and profitable life, one that ensures food on the table and a roof over the head of the family for decades to come.

Confession time. I am the product of a liberal arts education. I spent four years at Mr. Jefferson’s University in Charlottesville. I majored in two fields. The first was government (not even political science, but the foundations of American government, foreign affairs, and political theory). The second was rhetoric and communications studies, a degree no longer available at U.Va. I was part of the last graduating class with RCS majors, as the university abandoned our pursuits of Aristotle and Machiavelli and the foundations of rhetoric itself and replaced it with the more practical communications that can be found at any university, where one can study TV 101.

I learned an incredible amount in both my majors, particularly in RCS. One of the first floor speeches I ever wrote for a member of the U.S. Senate was tracking the history of Independence Day here in the United States back to the early teachings of Aristotle. As delivered, the speech was more than an hour long. All because of liberal arts education from the University of Virginia.

But while I confess, I must also admit that I am not a fool. Even as I was graduating from U.Va., I was rarely asked what my college major was or even what my GPA might be. My experience at Mr. Jefferson’s University – and my perceived successes there – were shaped by two factors, factors that happened well outside the traditional arts and sciences classroom.

The first was the four years I spent at The Cavalier Daily, an independent student newspaper that provided no pay and no college credit for its journalists. As managing editor of The CD, I worked more than 100 hours a week supervising a volunteer staff of 150 and putting out a 16-page broadsheet newspaper five times a week. I was 21 years old. No college class prepared me for that experience, and no course could ever have captured all that was taught and learned.

The second was three summers of interning on Capitol Hill. A course during my first year in college led to a general legislative internship with my U.S. senator before my second year of college. I was bitten by the political bug during that month-long stint in DC. The following summer, I earned a three-month internship working in U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd’s (WV) press office. I repeated the experience the summer before my final year of college. Those three summers then led to a job offer on Capitol Hill, an offer that let me shelve plans for law school for, oh, going on 23 years now.

These experiences taught me about writing and critical thinking and management. They helped me learn to multitask. They forced me to question authority and push myself way beyond any comfort zones. They turned me into the professional I am today, equipping me with all of the 21st century skills, social and emotional learning, and other such attributes we eagerly seek in the professional world today.

I wasn’t required to do any of these things. My college degree did not change because of them (though I may have attended a few more actual classes if I wasn’t spending so much time at the college paper all of those years). But had I not taken those internships or worked for a newspaper, I would never have had the skills and abilities necessary to pursue the career path I’m on today. No question about it.

We like to tell high school students that the best way to prepare them for postsecondary education is to have them take dual-enrollment courses while still in high school, demonstrating that they are capable of doing college-level work. We should be doing the same for college students. The only way to demonstrate they are capable of performing in the professional work is by having them experience it as interns.

There is nothing wrong with using the college years to study dead languages, obscure poets, or unproven political theories. But at some point, those studies have to be applied to the real world, where students can see how their postsecondary experiences can be applied to their post-college worlds. That happens in an internship, not in a college classroom.

 

All About Eva (and Charters and Success)

It’s often not easy to have a thoughtful, meaningful discussion of charter schools, their goals, their metrics, and their impact on both students and society as a whole. The very topic of charter schools these days brings out the best and worst of most people, with the mere mention of the organizing structure polarizing a discussion to the cartoonish stereotypes of status quoers and the privatizing profiteers.

So one really has to hand it to Elizabeth Green (along with Chalkbeat and the Atlantic) for demonstrating that such a rich exploration of the minefields that are charter schools, Success Academy, and Eva Moskowitz is indeed possible.

That most will neither fully agree nor disagree with Green’s Atlantic piece is a testament to how impactful it can be. Green is particularly reflectful in connecting the impetus for K-12 education reform with her own work, writing:

I became disillusioned with the status quo too—but later, and with more trepidation. At the news organization I co-founded in 2008, now called Chalkbeat, reporters began covering reformers whose aggressive plans to close district schools and replace them with charters seemed to inflame the very parents whom the reformers said they aimed to serve. And the district-hating almost always came with a thuggish brand of teacher-bashing. I knew bad teachers existed, and I knew many of them were unfairly protected. But the idea that merely pruning the bad apples would save schools was unsupported by evidence or reason. Fire the rotten 10 percent, and who exactly did these reformers think would fill out a 3.8-million-person workforce? Vilifying teachers and their unions was surely counterproductive because it alienated the same overloaded foot soldiers who would ultimately be responsible for turning around poor-performing schools.

Pulling out quotes from the piece, though, just doesn’t do it justice. Everyone and anyone who is involved in K-12 public education needs to give Green’s piece a read. And we all need to look for how the conclusions she reaches, and even the stories she tells, reflect our own work and what we can learn from it.

Readers also need to head over to Chalkbeat to take a gander at Green’s companion piece on WHY she wrote the Moskowitz piece in the first place. It is just as illuminating to the entire discussion.

The full Atlantic story can be found here: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/01/success-academy-charter-schools-eva-moskowitz/546554/. Be sure to give it a real, deep read. It is worth the time.

Ultimately, we need to have more conversations like those that Green poses in her pieces. Personally, I continue to reflect on the lessons learned during my time in education reform, as well as my initial motivations, the hard realities I had to confront, and the behind-the-curtain moments that should give us all pause. If one isn’t self-motivated to pursue such topics, Green’s work is sure to spur it.

 

Fatherhood is About More Than Putting the Ball in the Hoop

What does it say when you disrespect your sons’ coaches, whether they be at UCLA or the Lakers? What does it say when you minimize the severity of the charges against LiAngelo, and insinuate that skills with the basketball trump adherence to the law? What does it say when you constantly call out and attack the very professionals your sons idolize? What does it say when you don’t make your kids suffer the consequences of their actions? And what does it say when you quit and storm off the first time things don’t go your way or you don’t like the resolution of a problem?

In my latest Medium essay, I reflect on how being a good dad is all about modeling good behavior and how that is missing from the current LaVar Ball family saga

Making Our Schools Connected Again

Last month, educators across the country rightly fretted over the potential impact of net neutrality and what it would mean for the use of the Internet in classrooms across the country. After all, who wants corporate providers determining which websites are more appropriate – and thus faster to load – than others in our schools?

Before we rally to the barricades to take on the FCC, perhaps we need to take a closer look at the e-rate and connectivity in general in our schools. While most of us have become used to having immediate access to anything on the inter webs from the palm of our hands, no matter where we are, recent data has shown thousands of schools across the country are still lacking the basic connectivity that the e-rate had originally promised them, and many of those school districts in need were denied needed connectivity dollars by the Obama Administration, not the Trump’s.

On the latest episode of #TrumpEd on the BAM! Radio Network, we explore this subject, trying to refocus the education community on the most pressing need first. Give it a listen!

Donald Trump as Social Media’s Howard Stern

Our national obsession with the Twitter habits of President Donald J. Trump continues. But as we rush to critique the latest overnight bursts, as former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama recently have, maybe we need to recognize that Trump has mastered the medium that so many of us merely play in.

Over at LinkedIn Pulse, dear ol’ Eduflack explores how Trump is using forums like Twitter as they are intended, shying away from the better angels calling for editing, review, and restraint when it comes to social media.

And as usual, I take it a step further, comparing Trump’s Twitter skills to the radio prowess of Howard Stern during the shock jock’s heyday at WNBC, while Michelle Obama’s model is far more akin to slices of processed cheese.

Give it a read here.