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.



Finding Value in VAM 2.0

Sure, we’ve all heard about the shortcomings in teacher evaluation systems, particularly when it comes to using value-added measures in the mix. Some states have pulled back fro using VAM for the time being, while others are exploring excluding the process for the long term.

But there is real value in factoring in VAM scores … if we improve the methods by which we collect and apply those VAM numbers, writes Woodrow Wilson Foundation President Arthur Levine in a new commentary for Education Post. As Levine, the president emeritus of Teachers College Columbia University, notes:

In order to determine teacher effectiveness in the years ahead, we need to supplement VAM scores with other measures of student growth, further develop state data systems on student achievement, and create more advanced and sensitive 2.0 versions of VAM assessment.

We need to apply what has been learned and develop a next-generation VAM that will help strengthen teaching and learning for the nation’s children.

In pointing out some of the specific problems with VAM 1.0 — lessons Levine learned by using it to evaluate the success of his own Teaching Fellowship program at the Woodrow Wilson Foundation — he offers some specific lessons for both why and how VAM can be improved to be useful and fair.

It’s definitely worth the read. While some are quick to get rid of VAM entirely, we know that it will ultimately be replaced by something else. It makes far more sense to take the lessons learned today to improve the existing model for tomorrow, rather than repeating current mistakes.

Give the piece a read. You won’t be disappointed.



On #EdData, It Is Time to Act

I’ll proudly admit it. Eduflack is a strong advocate for data in the learning process. I make no apologies for believing that we need good research and data to determine how effective teaching and learning actually is. Without such data, we are just wishin’, hopin’, and prayin’ that we are getting it right.

Our kids deserve more than just a wish and a prayer. When it comes to their educations, we need to both trust and verify. And education data is the only way to do that.

Of course, that means educators, parents, policymakers, and others in the mix must be able to distinguish between good data collection and lousy. It means ensuring that, if data is collected, it is promptly provided to teachers so they can use it to improve teaching and learning in their classrooms. And it means eliminating those tests that are simply done to check a box, without linking back to our students and their demonstrated knowledge.

The topic of #eddata is usually (one of) the third rails of education policy. For many, assessment is the third circle of Dante’s inferno. They preach of how testing (and the data coming from it) is destroying our schools, stressing out our kids, and stripping the joy of learning from our classrooms. It is also seen as the guillotine in a results-oriented system, used to punish schools, teachers, and kids who are not where we want them to be.

In the battle for edu-hearts and minds, such a false narrative can be incredibly powerful. It can lead parents and educators to forget that data has always been an important part of our K-12 system, and that while specific tests may come and go, not testing our kids just isn’t an option. And it ignores the truth that teachers speak each and every day, that they need data to effectively lead their classrooms, and the question should be what data is collected and how are we assessing student learning (not if we assess it at all).

For the past decade, the Data Quality Campaign has worked across the country to address the false narrative and help policymakers and educators see the importance of educational data quality (thus the name). Because of their work, we see states that have created incredibly strong data systems focused on the learner. We are seeing policymakers and leaders asking the right questions when it comes to data and accountability. And we are seeing where good data is improving instruction, particularly for those communities that need it the most.

Earlier this week, DQC launched an important new report and all to action, Time to Act: Making Data Work for Students. In Time to Act, DQC lays out four key priorities when it comes to ed data:

  • Measure What Matters: Be clear about what students must achieve and have the data to ensure that all students are on track to succeed.
  • „ Make Data Use Possible: Provide teachers and leaders the flexibility, training, and support they need to answer their questions and take action.
  • „ Be Transparent and Earn Trust: Ensure that every community understands how its schools and students are doing, why data is valuable, and how it is protected and used.
  • „ Guarantee Access and Protect Privacy: Provide teachers and parents timely information on their students and make sure it is kept safe.

In issuing this important call, DQC President Aimee Guidera noted that education data should be seen as a flashlight to guide teaching and learning, not as a punitive hammer for teachers and students. As correct as Guidera is, I propose we take it a step further. Ultimately, ed data needs to be our Bat signal (of course the good, Michael Keaton kind, not the Ben Affleck model), one that we signals when we need help and one that makes clear to the community at large that we are watching over those who need our help. That even in dark hours, there is an incredible collection of tools and data and commitment available on the edu-utility belt to help all those who need it.

No, are schools are no longer waiting for Superman. Batman has taught us the right tools can turn a regular guy into a superhero. When that ed data light is shown in the right way, it can illuminate the path to help all educators and kids succeed. We need to make sure that that light is as strong as possible, equipping all educators with the tools to be the superheroes they are.



For Students’ Sake, Let’s Look to Student Data

Over at Education World, I have a new piece that looks at the important role student research and data can play when gathered and utilized properly. From Data Quality Campaign to ACT to NWEA to Project Tomorrow to ERCA, we can see the value data plays, particularly in understanding student perceptions on key issues, including their college and career aspirations.

As I wrote:

For years, we have grappled with the notion of “assessment literacy,” where educators, families, and policymakers can better learn the importance of data collection and the ability to distinguish a valuable data-gathering tool from a lousy one. At the same time, educators have demanded that any student data collected needs to be used to help the student, and not just as the impetus for punitive action.

Teachers are right. We probably don’t focus on what is helpful to the student nearly as often as we should, particularly when it comes to student data. And that’s a cryin’ shame. The student perception information coming from organizations like Project Tomorrow and NWEA is incredibly important. It provides a glimpse at how what is taught in the classroom aligns with student interests and passions. It helps us better understand the path today’s young learners are on as we encourage them toward college and career success.

I hope you’ll give it a read.



Chaos, Coherence, Better #TeacherEd

If we want our children to be critical and creative thinkers, individuals who possess a true love of learning and a deeper ability to demonstrate it, we must ensure they have like-minded educators guiding them through the process. They need teachers who both know and do, instructional leaders who are able to adapt to the individual learner and specific lesson. They demand educators who personify the balance of both inputs and outcomes.

From “Out of ‘Chaos,’ A Call for Improved Teacher Education,” Eduflack’s latest on Medium

Data Literacy and Teacher Ed

When one thinks about the pieces that go into effective teaching and effective teaching education, much comes to mind. Content knowledge. An understanding of effective teaching techniques. Classroom management skills. Teamwork. The ability to wear about a zillion different hats, depending on the situation, the student, and the desired outcome.

Yes, we expect classroom teachers today to be educators and guidance counselors. Nurses and social workers. Juvenile justice surrogates and substitute parents. And now, of course, with such an emphasis on student testing and the use of assessment data in the classroom, we now look to educators to also serve as psychometricians.

Unfortunately, too few teacher preparation programs really do an adequate job in preparing aspiring educators with the knowledge and abilities to both understand the data provided to them by the school district and then put it to use in their classrooms. And even when a teacher is data literate, too often they are given student achievement data too late in the term (or after the term is completed) for them to even attempt to tailor instruction to meet the needs of their particular classes or students.

Step one in the process is understanding what it means to be “data literate.” What do we expect teachers to both know and be able to do with student assessment data? And how do we make sure that today’s classroom educators have the preservice and inservice supports to actually do what so many of us are asking of them?

The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation recently released a series of case studies that look specifically at this topic. In partnership with WestEd, the Dell Foundation examined what teacher preparation programs like those at Western Oregon University, Relay Graduate School of Education, Boston Teacher Residency, and Urban Teachers are doing to key in on the data literacy need. (Full disclosure, Eduflack has worked with Urban Teachers in the past, and just thinks the world of the program they have built.)

Coming out of these case studies, Dell — along with WestEd and the Data Quality Campaign — offered a set of nine skills that 21st century educators must possess to be “data literate” in today’s classrooms. They must:

  1. Define “data” broadly to include standardized test data as well as broader academic, socioeconomic, situational, behavioral and environmental data that affect student performance.
  2. Understand how to identify and apply critical grade-level standards in the context of individual students’ needs.
  3. Prioritize and validate relevant student data as it relates to learning and standards mastery.
  4. Develop high-quality informal and formal assessments in order to collect usable data on students’ progress against those standards.
  5. Administer assessments on an ongoing basis to monitor student understanding.
  6. Develop responsive lesson plans and differentiate instruction based on assessment and other contextual data.
  7. Use data-informed insights to communicate student achievement and needs to students and their families.
  8. Use data appropriately, knowing what conclusions can be drawn from what types of assessments.
  9. Understand that, although data is important, data alone does not define a student. Empathy and relationships matter.

Without question, this is asking an awful lot from teachers, particularly from those who never signed up for such “data-literate” priorities when they themselves first went through their own ed school experiences. But it isn’t too much to ask when one thinks of the students in their classrooms, what we expect of them, and the aspirations they may have for their own futures.

One can question the Common Core and its assessments and still believe in the need for data literacy. One can support the opt-out movement and still believe in data literacy. And one can demand the most stringent of student data safeguards and protections and still believe in data literacy for teachers.

At its core, data literacy is about improved teaching and improved learning. It is about further empowering teachers to do all they can to connect with that student or students who are struggling. It is about getting the most out of the classroom setting, and being able to demonstrate that the most has been achieved.

Testing has always been and will always be a key component of the K-12 learning experience. Regardless of what happens to a particular assessment instrument, assessments in the general sense will always be part of the learning process. It is the responsible thing to do to make sure those assessments are put to good use.

No, we don’t test kids for testing’s sake. We assess so we can improve the instructional process for a given class or child. And we can’t do that — or at least can’t do it well — if educators are not data literate.

Can We Have a Little Prez Dialogue on Education Issues?

While it may be fun to some to watch the current cross between kabuki theater and Keeping Up With the Kardashians (otherwise known as the presidential campaigns), it is an understatement to say that the current crew of candidates seem to be a little light on policies and big issue discussions (unless you count walls and guns).

Over at Education Post, I make my plea for the candidates to get serious about a little education policy speak. In fact, I urge them to move beyond the low-hanging fruit of being anti-Common Core and pro-free college and instead offer a little insight into some deeper edu-issues that demonstrate what they really think of the role of instruction and learning in our society and our democracy.

After highlighting topics (and offering some specific questions) on topics such as the federal/state role in education, competency-based education, the true meaning of accountability, and the future of educator preparation, I conclude:

It is not enough to simply seek to “disrupt” current systems or to shift authority from one entity to another. Instead, the nation needs a clear vision of accountability, teacher preparation, modes of learning and expectations for all.

Collectively, we must work to identify those areas of significant agreement, while highlighting those topics that may require additional discussion and exploration. This work is not limited to local communities or states or Congress. It requires leadership at all levels, particularly from those seeking the presidency.

For more than a decade, we’ve seen the power of presidents who offer those strong visions. Whether through the bully pulpit or legislative action, whether we agree or disagree, presidents can impact policy at both the highest and most grassroots of levels. With public education affecting everything from home prices to tax coffers to social program costs, don’t voters deserve more than just knowing if a candidate is against common standards and for college education?

Give the whole piece a read. What am I missing? What edu-discussions will help us look beyond the talking point and more toward the true thinking (and priorities) of the future leader of the free world?