Federal Educator Quality, Take 62 1/2

Today, Arne Duncan and the U.S. Department of Education announced its new “Excellent Educators for All Initiative.” A likely response to much recent data (including that from Ed Trust) that students from historically disadvantaged backgrounds are least likely to have the best teachers leading their classrooms (and likely in partial response to change the subject from the divisive Vergara decision in California, ED is seeking to turn a new page on teacher quality and the equitable distribution of our most effective educators.

In making the announcement, EdSec Duncan said:

All children are entitled to a high-quality education regardless of their race, zip code or family income. It is critically important that we provide teachers and principals the support they need to help students reach their full potential. Despite the excellent work and deep commitment of our nation’s teachers and principals, systemic inequities exist that shortchange students in high-poverty, high-minority schools across our country. We have to do better. Local leaders and educators will develop their own innovative solutions, but we must work together to enhance and invigorate our focus on how to better recruit, support and retain effective teachers and principals for all students, especially the kids who need them most.

Perhaps more interesting, though, was the communique that Team Duncan shared with the nation’s chief state school officers in rolling out the new initiative. Included in the letter:

Over the past several months, the U.S. Department of Education (Department) has conducted outreach to Chief State School Officers, school districts, civil rights groups, teachers, principals, and other stakeholders to explore ways to tackle and resolve the disparities in access to great teachers that we know continue to exist. Through this outreach, we heard that there is no single solution to this problem; we need a broad and systemic focus on supporting and improving teaching and learning, especially in our highest-need schools and for our highest-need students, including students with disabilities and English learners. We heard that the best efforts will not only include recruiting, developing, and retaining great educators with the skills to teach all students, but will also build strong school leaders, create supportive working conditions, and address inequities in resources and supports for teachers.


This is not the first time that states, districts, and the federal government have tried to grapple with the complex challenge of ensuring equitable access to excellent educators, but previous efforts have not fully addressed the challenge. Our continued collective failure to ensure that all students have access to great teachers and school leaders is squarely at odds with the commitment we all share to equal educational opportunity. I thank you for your ongoing and tireless work on behalf of America’s schoolchildren, and I look forward to working collaboratively and supporting SEAs and districts as part of a nationwide effort to close this unacceptable opportunity gap.

The new initiative is initially focusing on three key areas: 1) New State Educator Equity Plans; 2) Educator Equity Support Network; and 3) Data Release and State Profiles.

At face value, it all seems well meaning. These are three areas that all those, whether they be “reformers” or defenders of the “status quo” should be able to get behind. Maybe some consensus on the one area — effective teaching — on which we need the greatest collaboration and commitment.

But it does raise one unanswered question. How will this new effort interact and build on the work that has already happened on this topic? How does it build on the existing research? How does it move forward from past ED efforts, like teach.gov? How does it build on the teacher-focused philanthropic efforts led by everyone from Gates to Ford? How does it learn from upstart efforts such as the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellows and STEM mid-career programs? How will it bring together colleges of education and alt cert programs in a meaningful way?

How does it learn from all that came before it? Or will it simply be another effort that seeks to reinvent a wheel that already has plenty of road miles on it? Only time will tell …

The EdSec and the EWA

On the closing day of the 2014 Education Writers Association National Seminar, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan (a regular speaker at the annual event) delivered the keynote address. 

After dispensing with the pleasantries, the EdSec launched into a speech that most in the room had heard, in one iteration, several times before. As he dove into his prepared remarks, the EdSec stated, “I often say that education is the civil rights issue of our generation. I want to elaborate on what that means and how the pursuit of equity runs like a ribbon through the Education Department’s programs and the initiatives launched by President Obama.”
The EdSec then launched into a passionate detailing of the work that his agency has engaged in for the past years. Some of the nuggets he offered:
  • “There
    is the outrage over our nation’s achievement gaps and the fact that millions of
    our children still don’t receive equal educational opportunity.”
  • “Today,
    we worry both about achievement gaps and opportunity gaps. Because we haven’t provided
    access to high quality early learning to all families, millions of children
    enter kindergarten already behind their peers at the starting line of school.
    That is profoundly unfair.”
  • “The
    bottom line is that students of color, students with disabilities, and English
    learners don’t get the same opportunity as their White and Asian-American peers
    to take the math and science courses that figure importantly in preparing for
    careers and college.”
  • “No
    one has been hurt more in recent years by low standards and a lack of accountability
    for student learning than our most disadvantaged students.”
  • “Without
    accountability, there’s no expectation that all children will learn. Without
    accountability, there’s no urgency. Without accountability, without meaningful
    assessments of student learning, parents don’t have an objective way to know whether
    their children are getting the education they deserve.”
  • “Unfortunately,
    in 2014, we don’t treat inequality and inequity in schools with the urgency and
    seriousness of purpose it deserves.”
  • “Too
    many Americans today have become complacent about our educational performance.”
  • “We
    have achievement gaps and opportunity gaps. But more importantly, we have a
    courage gap and an action gap.”

The full text of the prepared remarks can be found here, courtesy of Joy Resmovits of The Huffington Post.
All of these are great soundbites, and they were delivered with real passion. And following on the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board decision this past weekend, all are timely and relate to many of the issues those in attendance have been thinking, speaking, and writing about for the past week.
But for an audience that has heard the EdSec’s “civil rights issue” stump speech many times over the past five years, was it the right set of remarks to deliver? When so many in the room were eager to hear the EdSec relay some new information or news regarding the U.S. Department of Education and its activities, did these remarks deliver on the promise?
In a room that was looking for a little red meat and something new and shiny, they got the same appetizers they’ve been served many times over. Or maybe Eduflack missed something …

Personal Agendas and Objective Reporting, Ed Style

“Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.  Journalists should … distinguish between advocacy and news reporting.  Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.”

Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics
In today’s day and age, it is often difficult to distinguish between real journalism and “citizen” journalism, between real reporters and bloggers, between real journalists and those who aggregate the news.  We expect our “respected” news outlets to hold their reporters and editors to the highest standards, and in return we come to trust those news items that appear on their front pages or at the top of their broadcasts as being unbiased and fair.
Since I was a child, after watching “All the President’s Men” for the first time, I put The Washington Post on that list of respected news outlets.  While I may not agree with all editorial or opinion pieces at the back of the A section, I always knew I could trust the news that was offered on A1.  Until now.
For those who missed it, over the New Year’s holiday the Post ran a page one piece titled “U.S. education officials lobbied against Starr for New York City schools post.” The topic is one that would interest virtually anyone involved in education policy.  Did the U.S. Department of Education inject itself in the new mayor of NYC’s choice for schools chancellor?  With Mayor de Blasio now looking to undo much of the reforms enacted under Mayor Bloomberg over the past 12 years, it is a fair and interesting question.
Only seems logical that such a piece would be written by someone like Michael Alison Chandler,  a terrific reporter who has done a great job covering national K-12 education news for WaPo.  Or Emma Brown, who has brought a great eye to covering DC Public Schools.  Or a number of other journalists who cover national news, NYC news, or politics for the esteemed broadsheet.
Instead, the byline belonged to Valerie Strauss, a veteran scribe for the Post.  Most know Strauss as the “author” of The Answer Sheet, a WaPo blog focused on education. I intentionally put “author” in quotes because so much of The Answer Sheet’s content is handing over the space to a range of individuals and advocates, reproducing their words.  Nothing wrong with that, it is all credited and sourced.  And The Answer Sheet fills an important role in our education news landscape.
The problem is objectivity.  For much of the past five years, The Answer Sheet has been focused on attacking U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the U.S. Education Department, and any and all associated with school improvement and education reform.  It is a bastion for the defenders of the status quo, and most who reach out to Strauss with an alternate perspective are left to spin their wheels.  The Answer Sheet borders on serving as an advocacy platform, and most in the field recognize that.  We accept that.  We know that Strauss has a particular opinion, their is a specific mission behind The Answer Sheet.  Her work has an agenda, intentional or unintentional.  Just as many would not accept Diane Ravitch’s blog posts as gospel, so too do we read Strauss with a large grain of salt.  
That doesn’t mean I don’t read it.  In fact, Eduflack often tweets out pieces from The Answer Sheet, believing they add to the public discussion and offer up a clear point of view (one I sometimes agree with, but often don’t.)
So my issue is the publication of a piece attacking the U.S. Department of Education and questioning to motives of the EdSec ran, without any actual source quoted in the piece.  After calling Duncan’s “lobbying” an “unusual move by the nation’s top education official,” Strauss reveals her smoking gun in all of this.  “Duncan spoke negatively about Starr to de Blasio in a discussion about a number of candidates, people familiar with the discussions said.”
That’s right.  Not a soul on the record.  Just “people familiar with the discussions.”  We don’t know if those are people in the room, people who heard from de Blasio after the fact, people listening against the door, or those who heard through their tin foil hats.  
Nor do we know what negative items were spoken.  Did Duncan go after Starr?  Did he run through a pros/cons list of the top five candidates?  Was he playing devil’s advocate?  Did such negative comments actually happen?  We just don’t know.
The SPJ Code of Ethics offers us two important items here.  The first is “Identify sources whenever feasible.”  The second is “Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity.”  From the piece, it looks like the only “source” Strauss looked to put on the record here was Duncan.  As for Duncan, Strauss says he “did not return phone calls seeking comment.”  When it came to de Blasio (the other guy in the room for all this) he got a much less pointed “could not be reached for comment.”
Without question, Strauss has every right to write such a piece and the Post has every right to publish it.  But we should hold our media to a higher standard.  With The Answer Sheet’s track record, such a piece belongs on a blog or on the opinion pages, not on page 1.  And if WaPo editors deem the piece worthy of the front page, it should be held to a higher standard.  Someone on the record.  One of those “people familiar with the discussions” must be willing to have their name attached, and get the credit for taking yet another shot at the EdSec, right?  Or else lede with the far less juicy stuff about an ED staffer talking to friends about his concerns.
Or perhaps Eduflack is just expecting too much from the media and “respected” media outlets.  Instead of us all wanting to be Woodward or Bernstein or take a stand like the NYT did on the Pentagon Papers, maybe we all just want to be Matt Drudge.

Duncan: ESEA “Outmoded and Broken”

For those keeping score, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was slated for reauthorization in early 2007.  These acts are supposed to be reupped every five years.  And like clockwork, we tend to forget about the clock and leave existing laws in place long after their expiration date.

The five-year cycle allows us to recognize that the work changes around us.  The K-12 education space is vastly different today than it was when the law was written in 2001.  From the stronger role of technology in the classroom to the growing needs of addressing a growing ELL population, circumstances change.  The Federal law governing our public schools should change as well.
But it has now been a dozen years since the current law was written.  We should be preparing for our second revision, and not still waiting for a re-up that is more than six years past due.  But we wait.
A few years ago, Eduflack opined that EdSec Arne Duncan didn’t need reauthorization.  That the Administration could and would adjust Federal education law through the introduction of new programs (like Race to the Top) and through greater flexibility to NCLB (as we’ve seen with the NCLB waivers and the waiver waivers).  And to date, Duncan and company have done a good job playing the hand they’ve been dealt, recognizing that Congress was not looking for another major bipartisan lift on education policy, so one just lives with the law that brought ’em.
Sure, we’ve seen both the House and the Senate debate and even pass some reauthorization legislation.  But the differences between the two chambers has been significant.  And there seems be a lack of urgency in either side of the Hill to really move major legislation that will improve educational outcomes and opportunities for our kids.
Today, though, Duncan took to the pages of The Washington Post to call for a refocus on ESEA and a demand for its reauthorization.  Taking aim at a recent House bill out of sync with Obama/Duncan priorities, the EdSec is using his bully pulpit to refocus the spotlight on our need for ESEA reauthorization.
Some of the highlights include:
The vision of American education that President Obama and I share starts in the classroom – with fully engaged students, creative and inspiring teachers, and the support and resources needed to get every child prepared for college and career.  Students in our poorest communities should enjoy learning opportunities like those in our wealthiest communities.  Zip code, race, disability and family income should not limit students’ opportunities or reduce expectations for them  The progress of U.S. students should remain transparent.

Washington’s role is to protect children at risk and promote opportunity for all.  The federal government is not, and will never be, in the business of telling states or schools what or how to teach.  But it cannot shirk its role of ensuring that schools and students meet the high bar that prepares them for the real world.  History shows that, without some kind of accountability, states and districts do not always need the needs of the most vulnerable students.
He continues:
In the months ahead, I will ask Congress to listen to those doing the real work of education change.  Principals, teachers, governors, state education chiefs, superintendents, parents and students themselves know what is and isn’t working. They can guide us to a better law.

Lawmakers in both chambers and parties should agree on a bill that raises the bar, protects children, supports and improves effective teaching and school leadership, and provides flexibility and supports good work at the state and local level.  We should give them the resources and the flexibility and make sure we all are accountable for the job we are doing on behalf of our children.

We are fighting not just for a strong education system but also for our country.  A good law is part of that fight.
Kudos for Duncan and the folks down on New Jersey Avenue for seeking to regain congressional attention on ESEA reauthorization.  But will it help?  With issues like accountability, testing, and Common Core State Standards under attack from both the left and the right, it seems unlikely that Congress will find the gumption to take a meaningful stand and do the right thing here.  But we can hope, can’t we?

Racing Locally

This afternoon, the U.S. Department of Education formally announced the latest round of the Race to the Top competition.  After directing significant dollars to states to drive wholesale school improvement efforts and to assessment consortia to develop new tests around Common Core State Standards, ED is back focusing on individual buildings and classrooms.

The latest Race is a competition for $120 million in new funding “to support bold, locally directed improvements in learning and teaching that will directly improve student achievement.”  Full details can be found here.
The local focus is an important one, with ED reminding key decisionmakers that reform and innovation requires local buy-in and classroom-based leadership.  We saw some state RttT apps fall short because of failures in collaboration, but there are strong districts in those states that can and should benefit from an injection of competitive dollars to support their reform efforts.
Right now, ED is casting a large net, stating “The Department plans to support high-quality proposals from applicants across a variety of districts, including rural and non-rural as well as those already in a State with a Race to the Top grant and districts that are not.”
Of course, the devil is always in the details.  With Congress resistant to expand RttT, the $120 million pool can be limiting.  ED officials say the grants will be for four years and will range in value from $4 million to $30 million.  That means two large districts who win the big one could knock out half the pool’s value.  Ain’t that what competition is all about, though?
But the real challenge is giving districts the full four years to use grant dollars appropriately and effectively.  With the average urban superintendent on the job for less than three years, that means we likely will have districts that will have two different supes governing the administration of this award.  While we all know, in theory, that one needs four or five years of good longitudinal data to know if a new program is working, how many districts may look to scuttle their RttT grant when a change comes in the big district chair?
Then again, there are worse things than worrying how you will spend your $4-$30M and if you will do so with fidelity or not.  
As the saying goes, you need to be in it to win it.  Districts planning to apply are asked to submit a letter of intent by August 23.  Final apps are due to the Feds by October 3, with decisions coming in December before we close the books on 2013.

Common Core Math, Common Sense Approach

Earlier this week, EdSec Arne Duncan issued one of his strongest defenses of Common Core State Standards to date, taking CCSS haters to task for spreading misinformation and and offering “imaginary” criticisms of the non-federal standards issued in by the Federal government through Race to the Top and other new programs.

His defense is laudable.  Duncan is a firm believer in common academic standards for all students.  A fifth grader in Connecticut should be learning at the same pace as a fifth grader in Chicago or in Tuscaloosa or in Denver.  And like it or not, a state or a locality can still protect their academic autonomy even with CCSS as the guide.
But with so many folks focused on CCSS’ black helicopters and its role in leading an international takeover of our public schools where every child will be speaking French and using the metric system, and with critics on the other side of the ideological spectrum fearing CCSS assessments and believing that testing our kids in any way, shape, or form will destroy our children from the soul outward (despite decades of children who took California Achievement Tests, Iowa tests, Stanfords, SATs, ACTs, drivers tests, IQ tests, and Pepsi taste tests without too much damage), not much public discussion is being directed at HOW we actually go about teaching to the CCSS and ensuring that are kids are hitting the math and reading benchmarks we expect to see.
Last week, the State of Louisiana waded into this discussion, issuing guidance on what resources were best for teachers in teaching to the Common Core.  Interestingly, Louisiana’s Office of the State Superintendent did not recommend any specific math textbooks, finding that “none were sufficiently aligned to the Common Core State Standards.”
But it did recommend a new P-12 math curriculum created by a not-for-profit organization, praising it for its rigor and and alignment to CCSS.
The curriculum of note was developed by a national not-for-profit called Common Core (interestingly, the group was created years before the CCSS were ever adopted and is in no way affiliated with the CCSSI, though both share some words in their names).  Common Core “creates curriculum tools and promotes programs, policies, and initiatives at the local, state, and federal levels.”
Some might recall the K-12 ELA curriculum maps Common Core released in 2010 as part of its Curriculum Mapping Project.  To date, those ELA maps have been viewed more than 6 million times, with 20,000 educators from across the country formally joining the Mapping Project to ensure a “well-developed, content-rich curriculum.”
The math curriculum boosted by Louisiana is Common Core’s latest effort.  It was developed in partnership with the New York State Department of Education and is currently available on the Common Core website and through NYSED’s website.  The Common Core math curriculum will be available in print through Jossey-Bass at the end of the summer.
Why is this so important?  For one, Common Core’s efforts (in both ELA and math) are a direct response to the question of how do we teach to the CCSS.  They are real approaches to meaningful curricula that align to the standards, go beyond the basics, and really promote student learning and intellectual development.
Equally important, this is a curricular approach developed by educators for educators.  It wasn’t done “to” teachers, it was done by teachers, created with classroom needs and instructional improvement as a central driver. 
Clearly, we are still at the beginning of the CCSS implementation journey.  But Common Core’s efforts, starting with the ELA maps and rolling into this new P-12 math curriculum, is moving us beyond the CCSS rhetoric and vitriol toward some meaningful discussion and action in how to improve teaching and learning and how to ensure all students are meeting expectations.
(Full disclosure: Eduflack has worked with Common Core for years, including helping roll out the ELA Curriculum Maps.)

Evaluating Teacher Prep Programs, NCTQ Style

At the stroke of midnight last evening, the National Council on Teacher Quality released its Teacher Prep Review 2013 Report.  The long-anticipated report provides a deep look at how more than 1,100 colleges and universities prepare prospective teachers and where our deficiencies may be in teacher preparation for the elementary, middle, and secondary grades.

In addition to the media coverage the report has received, it has also resulted in quite a number of interesting comments on the findings and the ratings that NCTQ provided these institutions of higher education.
Fortunately, NCTQ assembled some of the more interesting nuggets of endorsement for the Teacher Prep Review, including:
“Teachers deserve better support and better training than teachers’ colleges today provide, and school districts should be able to make well-informed hiring choices.” EdSec Arne Duncan in today’s Wall Street Journal.
“I think NCTQ points is that we are probably underequipping teachers going into classrooms.  We did not fare as well on this review.  We need to do a better job of communicating both with our students and NCTQ where our content can be found.  in some cases, we have some work to do.” Southern Methodist University Ed School Dean David Chard in today’s Associated Press piece.
“You just have to have a pulse and you can get into some of these education schools.  If policymakers took this report seriously, they’d be shutting down hundreds of programs.” Fordham Institute’s Michael Petrilli, also in the AP.
“Teacher preparation needs to be reformed from top to bottom.” Houston ISD Superintendent Terry Grier, in today’s Reuters piece.
“A key part of raising the education profession is related to who we attract the best candidates into teacher preparation programs in the first place.  We look to Singapore and Korea, and 100 percent of their teachers come from the top third of their college graduates.  The equivalent figure in the U.S. is 23 percent. ” Delaware Gov. Jack Markell in Huffington Post.
“It’s widely agreed upon that there’s a problem [with teacher training].  The report points out that California has an acute set of problems.” LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy in the Los Angeles Times.
But one statement that didn’t make the NCTQ highlight reel is that released earlier today by American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.  In coming to the defense of teacher prep programs, Weingarten noted (on the AFT platform):
“Best-of and worst-of lists always garner attention, so we understand why NCTQ would use that device.  While its ‘do not enter’ consumer alerts will make the intended splash, it’s hard to see how it will help strengthen teacher preparation programs or elevate the teaching profession.  We need a systemic approach to improving teacher preparation programs and ensuring that every teacher is ready to teach …
While we agree with NCTQ on the need to improve teacher preparation, it would be more productive to focus on developing a consistent, systemic approach to lifting the teaching profession instead of resorting to attention-grabbing consumer alerts based on incomplete standards.”
Game on!
And for those interested in who gained top honors in the NCTQ ratings, four programs (“all secondary”) earned four stars — Furman University (SC), Lipscomb University (TN), Ohio State University (OH), and Vanderbilt University (TN).  Top honors seem to go to The Ohio State University, which also got 3 1/2 stars for its elementary school prep.

The Top 30 Edu-Tweeters Are Back!

Last year, Michael Petrilli and the folks over at Education Next put together a list of the top edu-Tweeters out there in the Internets.  The list instantly generated a great deal of discussion, with some Tweeters demanding they be included on the list and others surprised by those who were included.

Last week, Education Next revealed its 2012 list of the Top 30 Education Policy Tweeters.  For this year’s list, Petrilli used the newly formulated Klout scores, featuring a new algorithm that is supposed to provide a stronger look at one’s true online influence.  A lot goes into those new Klout scores, making it one of the few real measures of online reach.
Last year, @Eduflack was 22 on the Top 30 list.  This year, we were honored to check in at number 21, sharing the ranking with EdWeek’s Politics K-12, Education Trust, Education Sector, Students First, New Schools Venture Fund, Dana Goldstein, the Frustrated Teacher, Nancy Flanagan, and Petrilli himself.  
As Petrilli and company were releasing this year’s list, another interesting news story broke — that of “phony” Twitter followers.  According to recent digging, 71 percent of Lady Gaga’s Twitter followers are fake, and similar estimates put upwards of 70 percent of President Obama’s Twitter followers on the fiction list.
So EIA’s Mike Antonucci decided to take a look at how the Top 30 Education Policy Tweeters stack up when one accounts for those “faker” Twitter accounts.  The list almost flips itself, with EdNext #1 @arneduncan slipping to #24, with only 68 percent of his followers active, real members of the Twitter universe.
Surprisingly, yours truly came in #1 on the EIA list, with 91 percent of my followers genuine, active followers on Twitter.  (For the record, I do a regular purging of my Twitter account via ManageFlitter to remove the fakes and unfollow those who have left the beloved Twitter wilderness.)
So with EdNext, EIA, and others, should we be following Klout scores?  Total followers?  Real followers?  Or does it even matter? 

Advocating from the School Board Bench

In the era of No Child Left Behind, we’ve heard a great deal about how local school boards have no productive role in 21st century education.  Some see the power shifting toward the states and the federal government, with school boards simply left to rubber stamp what comes from on high.  Others, like the Fordham Institute’s Checker Finn, seem to think such boards are just a breeding ground for political wannabes or former district employees with an axe to grind.

But as someone who actually serves on one of those local school boards, Eduflack can say there is a real role for local school boards to play in advocating for policies that can improve opportunity and success for all students.  There is a place to champion effective instruction and learning.  And there is a way to help build a better mousetrap to to address those directives coming from the feds or the state.
Don’t believe me?  I’m ok with that.  But you should believe Fred Deutsch.  Mr. Deutsch is a member of the Watertown School Board in South Dakota.  We actually became friends over this blog years ago, as he would provide insights on how my national opining here was playing out on the ground in his community in South Dakota.  And as I’ve learned over the years, he really is dealing with the very best and the very worst in local public education, with the latest being plans to cut back to a four-day school week in South Dakota due to budget shortfalls.
Despite those challenges, Fred has been a passionate advocate for school board member advocacy.  His work has been featured nationally, and he has led presentations to help local school board members find their advocacy voice.  And since I posed a question to EdSec Arne Duncan for his Twitter town hall today on what the role of local school boards should be in our post-NCLB, waiver environment, I thought it appropriate to highlight some of the recommendations offered by Fred:
* At the heart of school board advocacy is the belief that people that know best are those closest to the child
* Part of the job of school board members is to represent the best interests of our children to those that make the laws
* We must share our stories.  Legislators must understand how the decisions they make impact our children at the local level
* The “Foundation of Effective Advocacy” is to develop one’s “relationships, facts, and passion”
* Invest yourself into development relationships with lawmakers — but not just during session.  To win the advocacy game, we need to develop and nurture relationships throughout the year
* Understand the data
Deutsch also focuses a great deal on passion.  Passion: It’s what drives us.  It is what stirs us to action.  It overcomes roadblocks.  It persists through failure.  And it persists through crap.
For those who would like to see Fred Deutsch’s full PowerPoint, it can be found here.  The deck is also full of many useful links for finding information, with a distinct South Dakota flavor.
As local school boards prepare for yet another unpleasant budget cycle, Deutsch’s points are important ones for us to consider.  He paints a picture of a school board that is informed, engaged, and involved.  It is a snapshot of a board with a mission and with clear goals.  And it is a diagram of a school board that serves the community, the schools, and, most importantly, the students.
Important lessons to digest and employ.  And kudos to Fred Deutsch, the Watertown School Board, and the many school boards like it that serve to have a real impact on the learning and achievement of all students.  

The ESEA Doomsday Scenario

After years of “will they/won’t they.” it appears the U.S. Department of Education is finally ready to move forward with its Plan B for reforming No Child Left Behind.  In a release sent out over the weekend for public consumption today, ED announced its intention to “fix” NCLB.  The announcement can be found here, courtesy of Politico.  Also note the Politico story on the matter.

Back in June, when EdSec Arne Duncan first raised the possibility of a regulatory Plan B for reauthorization, Eduflack was one of the few that actually saw it as a possibility/good idea.  Since then, little has changed.  Senate HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (IA) is still primarily focused on the higher ed side of the education coin.  House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (MN) is still looking to break ESEA into small chunks that can be consumed by members of his committee.  And the education space, as a whole, is still demanding real changes to components of the current law, most notably the accountability provisions (the dreaded AYP).
So with Duncan long promising reauthorization before the start of a new school year (and Eduflack still believes such reauthorization can happen, before the start of the 2013 school year), the EdSec had to act.  And he seems to be acting from the best script he could find, using terms like “flexibility, reform at state and local level, bridge.”  And for good measure, Duncan and White House DPC Director Melody Barnes are even tying these moves to “America’s future competitiveness.”
In the public statement, Barnes even makes not of accountability flexibility provisions coming down the pike, with each and every state in the union having the opportunity to “apply” and “succeed” for states seeking “flexibility” with regard to accountability.
Suffice it to say, this morning’s announcement will likely not go over well with Congress.  Many will see this as an end run around our legislative branch, essentially giving the executive branch the power to make law, at least with regard to ESEA.  But we’ve been waiting on congressional reauthorization of ESEA since 2007.  It is now 2011.  If Duncan and company are prepared to live with NCLB as it is mostly written, and make a few changes to address specific issues or concerns from states and localities, it is their prerogative to give it a go.  It will then be Congress’ job to either codify those changes or reverse them.
Duncan is one again declaring “game on,” trying to make education a central focus of the Obama Administration’s domestic policy agenda.  While few can think that weakening the accountability provisions is a sexy issue that will capture the hearts and minds of voters, it is a move that is responsive to a particular constituency, demonstrates a real change from the previous administration, and shows some leadership with regard to education policy.  Only time will tell if such an approach is effective, both in addressing the growing challenges in our schools and as a means of jumpstarting some real K-12 action in Congress.