Let’s Resolve to Improve Edu-Communications in 2018

Speaking at the University of Baltimore’s commencement last month, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos reflected that, “we will do well to first listen, study, ponder, then speak genuinely to engage those with whom we disagree.” She continued, “voices that are quiet at first, grow in strength while those who rush to shout are humbled.”

The start of a new year is often viewed a a time to reset and to offer resolutions that result in improvement. Yes, we can spend our time ranting about what was — or was not done — under the first year of DeVos’ leadership at the U.S. Department of Education, but instead we should take this time to reflect on how we can improve public education. We should use this opportunity to highlight the big ideas that we can speak genuinely about, the ideas that, while they may face fierce disagreement, are ideas that could have real impact.

So instead about mocking the threat of bears or wringing hands over the perceived belief that we continue to privatize and profiteer from public education, let’s put forward some educational resolutions in 2018.

Let us resolve to recognize that learning — and learners — are not homogeneous. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to student learning and achievement. All students come to the classroom with varied skills, knowledge, perspectives, and life experiences. They enter the learning process at different points with different abilities and challenges. Because of this, teaching and learning must be personalized. In 2018, we need to seek out far more ways to ensure that learning is matching the needs of the student, and that teachers are empowered to tailor their teaching to meet the needs of the classroom. To do this, and in recognizing it all can’t be done via technology, we must ensure that all teachers are provided the pre-service and in-service education to deliver such differentiated instruction.

Let us also resolve that the learning environment itself is no long homogeneous. The days of the little red schoolhouse are over. Learning today is a 24-7 environment. Just as we must ensure that our traditional schools are properly resourced and supported, so too must we acknowledge the need to support out-of-school-time learning. Be it in a museum, a community center, a place of worship, or an online environment, what happens outside of school is just as important to the academic development of today’s learner as what happens in the traditional classroom.

Let us resolve to transform pre-service teacher education to meet the needs and opportunities of the classrooms of tomorrow. With each passing year, we ask more and more of our teachers. We look to them to educate, guide, assess, and support. We place greater and greater emphasis on the outcomes of their practice. That means ensuring pathways to preparation that emphasize what they will experience in the classroom, that focus on outcomes and demonstrating that they can apply all that they are taught, and that give them every opportunity to succeed as a teacher from day one. We can’t shortchange teacher education, nor can we expect that the preparation pathways of decades past will still meet the needs of classrooms in 2018.

Let us resolve that school choice is not the magic elixir that will solve all that ails k-12 education. Yes, options are important for families. But we cannot overlook that the vast majority of school-aged kids today attend traditional public schools and will continue to attend them. Our attentions and resources – both financial and human – should be directed proportionally, based on where kids are today.

Let us resolve that a college degree in the liberal arts is not the solution for every child. Yes, postsecondary education is a non-negotiable today. But that education can be found at community colleges. It can be discovered in career and technical education programs. It can be found in STEM and computer science. College is just as much about equipping learners with career skills and opportunities as it is helping them become lifelong learners. We mustn’t let our focus linger on the latter, to the detriment of the former.

And most importantly, in the words of Secretary DeVos, we must resolve to engage those with whom we disagree. As we look to 2018, there are many big ideas on which we can and should be focused. Building the schools and classrooms of tomorrow. Personalizing learning for all, based on both learner interests and needs, and doing so beyond just the computer screen. Expanding our worldview of assessment beyond the summative. Strengthening our educational systems to best serve special education and ELL students. Enhancing career/technical education and STEM offerings to keep up with the ever-changing reality of our digital, Information Age. Real investment in these areas only happens when we are able to break down the walls, and engage in tough yet meaningful dialogues on what our schools, our educators, and our learners need to succeed in the future.

Such dialogue on these essential issues is required if we are to look to the bigger, bolder, dream issues that education can face. How do we empower educators to design the right learning opportunities for all those they are teaching? How do we effectively use assisted and augmented reality offerings to improve the learning process? How do we demonstrate that learning is about mastery and doing, and not just about ticking off items on a prescribed checklist? How do we bring educators and parents together as partners in the learning process? How do we enlighten all those in the process to see the value in high-quality assessments? How do we embrace the notion that standards — whether for teachers or learners — are intended to be floors and not ceilings?

When it comes to education, the new year is one chock full of both challenges and opportunities. Yes, we can muddle through another year, making some incremental gains or slippages, based on the perspective. Or we can acknowledge that we, as a community, agree on far more than we disagree with. Even the most hardened status quoer and the most indignant reformer can and should agree on 75 percent of all that faces education today. It is in that remaining 25 percent that we have our most robust discussions and disagreements.

In that 25 percent, we must heed the advice of the EdSec and speak genuinely and engage on those important topics. No, we won’t agree. We probably shouldn’t agree. But we if disagree in a respectful and thoughtful manner, and continue to have those dialogues over the areas of disagreement, we can move toward a better teachers, better learners, and a stronger educational tapestry for virtually all.

It may seem awfully simplistic, but our big idea for education in 2018 should be improved communication. Our resolutions for the new year should focus on how we improve the substance and depth of our conversations. And our engagements should reflect active listening, where we actually hear those we may disagree with, rather than think about what our next dazzling talking point should be. If we are serious about improving education, the simplicity of communication may be our most effective tool.

(A version of this post appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.)

 

 

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.

 

Is It “Blood Money?”

Recently, it was revealed that former EdSec Arne Duncan advised a group of education reformers to refuse new dollars coming from the Trump Administration intended to further support charter schools. In his thinking, Duncan referred to it as “blood money,” suggesting that charter school operators should not accept these dollars if it meant hurting the traditional public schools they share a community with.

In the latest episode of TrumpED on the BAM! Radio Network, we explore the sentiments offered by the former U.S. Education Secretary and former CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. And we ask if the same could be said to those who benefited from program consolidations under the Obama Administration, and if efforts like Teach for America should have refused new dollars from Obama because it was taking from other programs in the field.

Give it a listen here.

Moving On From Latest Charter School Showdown

The dust is finally settling on the latest showdown between EdSec Betsy DeVos and AFT President Randi Weingarten on charter schools, their history, and their potential. The rhetoric earlier this month got ugly. But it can provide a real opportunity to look at school choice in a meaningful way … and to use charter schools as a channel for driving school improvement on the whole. Sorta like what was conceived decades ago (and supported by Weingarten predecessor Al Shanker). 

We explore the dust up and the potential on the latest edition of #TrumpED on the BAM! Radio Network. Give it a listen. 

It’s Time To Do Something, Anything, EdSec DeVos!

We are now six months into the Trump Administration, and when it comes to education policy, we must finally ask, what is the strategy, folks?

Just last week, we saw former governor, former U.S. Education Secretary, and current Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander call out the DeVos Administration for failing to understand what ESSA says about state decisionmaking.

We saw the head of the Department’s Civil Rights office state that most Title IX complaints are the result of the woman regretting a night of alcohol and a subsequent breakup with the accused.

And we witnessed supposedly sympathetic Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives pass a federal education budget without the needed funding for the EdSec’s signature school choice effort.

While the Administration continues to struggle to find individuals to take top education positions, the “successes” from the past six months include stripping billions in Title II teacher support dollars from the budget, and freezing action to absolve students from paying back loans to attend failed proprietary colleges.

One may not agree, ideologically, with the Trump/DeVos Administration, but we should all want to see it success when it comes to improving teaching and learning across the United States. And as we complete the first eighth of President Donald Trump’s first term in office, we all should wonder what the plan is here.

Despite what some may want to believe, the concerns facing public education in America are both wide and deep. We struggle to find qualified teachers for our high-need schools, particularly in areas like STEM, ELL, and sped. And we do so as the teaching profession itself has been stripped of the respect it had long enjoyed and deserves.

We fail to see the problem with continuing to pursue a homogenous approach to K-12 education at a time when our population of learners couldn’t be more diverse. And we do it by resisting the incoming wave of personalized learning and differentiated instruction. 

We ignore where we really stand when it comes to student performance, making excuses for the United States placing 38th out of 71 in PISA math and 24th in PISA science. And we do it while criticizing learning assessment itself, rather than focusing on a new generation of better, more effective tests.

The DeVos administration came into power without owing anything to those individuals, organizations, and interests beholden to the status quo and the way things have always been done. There is no benefit to defending flat test scores as other nations experience significant rises. There is no gain in ensuring the protection and support of dropout factories. There is no win in ensuring another generation of short-term educators without the knowledge, skills, and support to succeed in the classroom.

It is now past time for DeVos and her skeleton crew to take real action, be it with the power of the checkbook or the strength of the bully pulpit. What could this action look like?

  • A whistle-stop tour to discuss the true value of school choice, particularly in those communities that don’t already enjoy a robust charter sector. This could be particularly appealing to the special education community, giving it a deep dive on what Florida’s McKay vouchers have meant to sped families in the Sunshine State.
  • A collaboration of the Education, Labor, and Commerce Departments, supported by corporate partners, to make a major investment in career and technical education, with an emphasis on the STEM skills and jobs that will be needed for a strong economy 20 years from now. This can even include the apprenticeship push announced by the President earlier this year.
  • A reinvestment in early childhood education, building on the family leave and support efforts of First Daughter Ivanka Trump. This could include finally having the Federal government recognize that early childhood education is the purview of the U.S. Department of Education, and not Health and Human Services.
  • A refocus on teacher quality, offering even stronger executive action on teacher prep provisions than the recently revoked Obama language. Through a “return on investment” lens, this could include returning Title II dollars for efforts that raise the quality and results of teaching, looking at the outcomes of the teaching profession, not just the inputs.

Six months in, and federal education policy is still stuck in neutral. And based on the state of public education in the United States, neutral means that millions of kids are losing ground. Losing ground when it comes to reading proficiency. Losing ground when it comes to 21st century skills. Losing ground when it comes to required remediation.

It is past time to roll up the sleeves, seize the rostrum, and get it done. If this Administration is seeking to shake up the status quo, if this Administration is serious about breaking from the failed policies of the past, and if this Administration believes that traditional public schools are indeed failing, then do something about it. You are now steering the ship. Take us somewhere. Anywhere.

 

A Step Closer to School Vouchers

As it closed its 2017 session, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that private religious institutions could receive public taxpayer dollars when the provide public services. While many were quick to say that the Court offered a particularly narrow finding in its ruling, it seems clear SCOTUS has provided a legal opening for those seeing to dramatically expand school vouchers in the United States. 

This is the topic we explore on this week’s #TrumpED program on the BAM! Radio Network. Give it a listen!

Home Schoolers Don’t Want to Be a “Choice”

Earlier this week, EdSec Betsy DeVos continued to tease the details of the big school choice plan that is likely to come from the Trump Administration. The next day, the President’s budget reflects that same commitment to dramatically expanding access (and dollars for) public charter schools and vouchers for private education.

In all of the discussion, though, an interesting voice has spoken out asking NOT to be included in the expanded school choice plan. That voice? The homeschool community. As Eduflack explains in the most recent edition of #TrumpED on BAM! Radio Network, the reasons for this make a great deal of sense. With federal dollars comes federal oversight and regulations.  And while the homeschool community may largely trust President Trump and his administration on the topic, there are no guarantees that a future President or EdSec will hold the same level of respect for homeschoolers.

Give it a listen. I promise it is an interesting examination of an equally interesting topic.