Because Fed Ed Isn’t Meant to Be Creative

Earlier this month, the good folks over at Bellwether Education Partners released their review of the state implementation plans for the most recent version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, ESSA. In its review, Bellwether found that that the states were largely unimaginative in responding to the new federal mandate. The minds at Bellwether were looking for innovation and the unexpected. Instead, they got what was largely expected.

But isn’t that the point? We’ve seen time and again that the feds aren’t looking or the most unique thinking when looking for state responses. Whether it be No Child Left Behind and Reading First or Race to the Top, we want creativity that isn’t too creative. We want unique thoughts that align with the non-unique checklists of reviewers. We want the what we expect.

Over on dear ol’ Eduflack’s BAM! Radio Network, we take a look at the responses to the state ESSA plans, and how the critics are looking for far more from state ESSA than they should expect.

When it comes down to it, state ESSA plans are meant to serve as a floor, not a ceiling. They are intended to make sure that every state is expending the required minimum effort when it comes to ESSA implementation. It now falls to the field to push them harder, to seek ceilings on what is possible that are always beyond reach.

If we look to bureaucratic responses to formulaic funding plans for innovation, we will always be left disappointed. Maybe it is time to read between the lines at what states might now be able to do.

 

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!

 

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.

 

A Win for Education Research

For nearly a year now, the education community has been waiting for key nominees for President Donald Trump’s Education Department. Some have been holding their collective breaths to see who get the nods for some of the “sexy” posts, including assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education.

Last night, President Trump announced the nomination of Mark Schneider to head the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). No, IES is hardly considered a sexy post by most in education. But it is an incredibly important nomination … and job.

If one believes in the identification, understanding, and use of education research, then IES is important. If one believes in scientifically based education, then IES is important. If one believes our schools — both K-12 and higher ed — should be focused on what is proven effective, then IES is important. If one believes data should trump philosophy when it comes to education, then IES is important.

It’s equally important that someone like Dr. Schneider is getting the nod for this job. Mark is both a terrific education researcher and a keen education policy person. He served as commissioner for the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in the George W. Bush Administration. Perhaps just as important, he is the nation’s foremost expert on the data surrounding the cost of college — the true cost of college — at least as it applies to students and their families.

I don’t just offer this hearty endorsement based on Dr. Schneider’s reputation. Eduflack has had the opportunity to work closely with the new head of IES, particularly in helping him launch College Measures, an American Institutes of Research center focused on improving higher education outcomes by better understanding higher education data.

At Dr. Schneider’s side, I gained a far greater appreciation for both the data and for its true meaning. I was able to explore how costly some community colleges truly were, when one looked at the cost of actually earning a degree. I had to do rhetorical battle with a university president who thought his eight-year graduation rate (for four-year undergraduate program!) of less than 30 percent was something to be applauded, not concerned about. And I came to appreciate the costs and benefits of college are best looked at through the lens of the consumer, not necessarily the provider, that we need to look at the cost of degree for a student to obtain, not for the university to offer.

I’m fortunate to call Mark Schneider a friend and a mentor in the ed data space. And from nearly two decades experience working with IES — working with the Institute since its inception in 2001 — I’m grateful we will have an experienced, knowledgeable, results-focused leader at the helm.

We may not always know who is leading an agency like IES, but when it isn’t someone of the caliber of Mark Schneider, we feel the impact.

 

Is All Golden in #EdReform? Hardly. 

Just as we seek from schools, teachers, and students, we need quantifiable goals and clear metrics for measuring their achievement. Ed reform needs to hold itself accountable, even if that means admitting to setbacks, losses, or achieving bupkis. It means focusing on what is needed—even messy issues such as instruction—not just on cut-and-dry operational issues.

From Eduflack’s latest for the Fordham Institute’s, Flypaper, questioning whether the past year can truly be labeled a success for the education reform movement 

How Protected Should Our College Students Be?

As it was preparing for the Charlottesville showdown, Eduflack’s alma mater, the University of Virginia, urged its students to remain in their dorms and not join in the protests against the nazis marching through town. 

While it is a college’s top responsibility to keep its students safe, is this really the message an elite university should be sending? Shouldn’t dear ol’ U.Va. be teaching its students to speak out and speak up instead?

This is the topic we explore on the latest episode of TrumpED on the BAM! Radio Network. Give it a listen. Give it a shout out!

My Fellow Americans: Reflections on Charlottesville 

As a proud graduate of the University of Virginia, Eduflack was disgusted by the terrorist actions in Charlottesville this weekend. I was also frustrated by the lack of a meaningful address from President Trump on this important topic. 

So dear ol’ Eduflack decided to record his own alt presidential remarks on the situation. My apologies for the stutters and stumbles, but this is from the heart, with no script and no notes. 

Give it a watch, and then please give it a share.