A Personal Dream, Shattered

Those who know Eduflack well know that one of my life dreams is owning and running a small-town weekly newspaper. Perhaps it was having my first written work published in the Sharon (MA) Advocate when I was seven years old. Maybe it was all my dealings with weekly newspapers in West Virginia while working for U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd. Or it could be I just love how newspapers remain a hub of community in small towns across the country.

A few years back, I came really close to buying a weekly pub in Connecticut (after kicking the tires on another one in Tennessee). But the timing just wasn’t right. Don’t you hate when life just gets in the way?

We’ve all seen those contests every few months from someone who is raffling off a bed and breakfast. Write an essay, submit a $200 fee, and you could win your own B&B. I’d look at those ads and wonder, who wants all of the work of actually running a B&B (and having all of those strangers in your house all the time)?

Earlier this year, though, I read an article on a similar contest. Only instead of a B&B, the price was the Hardwick Gazette, a small-town weekly newspaper in northern Vermont. I immediately romanticized the idea of owning the Gazette. I penned  a beautiful essay. I was the next publisher of the Hardwick Gazette.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. A few months ago, the owners alerted all contestants that not enough submissions were in to make the contest go. So they extended the deadline. Then they added a Kickstarter campaign to try and add enough charitable contributions to make the deal worthwhile for the family. Today, I got word that none of those worked as intended, and the contest was cancelled.

As they noted in their email, “The quality of essays received to this point is outstanding. I am heartened by them. The essayists have journalistic and business experience. They convey an appreciation for independent, local journalism, an understanding of community and a knowledge that hard work and thick skin go with the territory. Their passion for newspapers shines through.” But it just wanted meant to be.

I wish the Hardwick Gazette the best of luck as they now try to find a traditional buyer for their paper. I hope they get what they are looking for. I just need to see it as a dream deferred. There may still be a newspaper in my future yet.



Social Media in the Education Space

Eduflack is often fond of saying that the education community is typically one of the last to truly embrace new technologies. We lagged healthcare and other spaces when it came to moving onto the Internet and using websites to improve information sharing. We were slow to platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn, and some could say we still struggle with maximizing the reach and opportunity they afford, at least compared to other spaces.

Twitter seems to be a different story. In recent years (and recent months), we have witnessed the enormous education-focused power of Twitter. To get information out to teachers and school leaders and parents. To engage in conversations with individuals and organizations we might not regularly get to spend time with. To spotlight issues and concerns that may not receive the attention of the mainstream media. To raise awareness, understanding, and action on the key policy, research, and instructional issues of the day.
Connected Educators, an effort started by the U.S. Department of Education a few years ago, is the perfect example of the possibility. ESchool News named it one of the top 10 ed-tech stories of 2013. During Connected Educators Month (October 2013), there were more than 600 events and activities, with participation from more than 330 national, state, and local organizations. More than 13 million educators and others were reached via Twitter alone, generating an average of 4.6 million impressions a day. The numbers are more than impressive, but it is aksi a great example of the power of Twitter in advancing important issues, particularly with educators.
The education social media community is a great space to play in. Every summer, Education Next publishes its list of the Top Twitter Feeds in Education Policy. Eduflack is always in awe of the folks of this list, and is appreciative that he has been included on it each year. The wide range of voices, experiences, and perspectives one finds on this annual list (and on so many education-focused feeds that aren’t on the list), are just incredible. And some days it almost feels like a family (even if it is a family where you can’t stand that uncle across the country).
Why all the kudos for the education social media space? Next month, PR News magazine is recognizing its inaugural class of “Social Media MVPs,” an honor that will be awarded at its Social Media Icon Awards event in New York City. Eduflack is deeply humbled that he has been included on this list. And with all of the terrific SM voices in the education space, it seems I am the only education-focused voice on the list. I could start a long list of those who are far more worthy.
In announcing the list this morning, PR News noted, “The Social Media MVPs represent the innovators and trendsetters on social media. These professionals were nominated by colleagues and carefully selected by PR News to be part of this esteemed list.”
Now I don’t know about all that. But I do know that on the SM playground, I am so appreciative of all of the reporters and researchers and educators and others who develop the articles and reports and events on which I am so fond of focusing. And I owe big thanks to the 15,500 followers on the @Eduflack Twitter feed, particularly those who like to engage and have a little back and forth with me and to my colleagues at Collaborative Communications, who let me play in this fun space and give me so many great thoughts on issues and ideas to share on SM.
The 2014 class of Social Media MVPs is an impressive one, including:
  • David Armano, Edelman Digital
  • Danielle Brigida, National Wildlife Federation
  • LaSandra Brill, Symantec
  • Amelia Burke-Garcia, Westat
  • Erica Campbell Byrum, For Rent Media Solutions and Homes.com
  • Kevin Dando, PBS
  • Jim Delaney, Activate Sports & Entertainment
  • Scott DeYager, Toyota Motor Sales USA
  • Frank Eliason, Citibank
  • Sam Ford, Peppercomm
  • Joy Hays, AT&T
  • Brett Holland, Pepco Holdings, Inc.
  • Bob Jacobs, NASA
  • Leanne Jakubowski, Walt Disney World Resort
  • Evan Kraus, APCO Worldwide
  • Stacy Martinet, Mashable
  • Christi McNeill, Patron Spirits Company
  • Kristin Montalbano, National Geographic Channel
  • Christopher S. Penn, SHIFT Communications
  • Patrick R. Riccards, Collaborative Communications
  • Jennifer Stalzer, MasterCard
  • Lt. Stephanie M. Young, United States Coast Guard
  • Albe Zakes, TerraCycle
Kudos to all of those on the list. Social media is one of those things that you either love or you don’t. And from following many on this list, these are folks who truly love SM and the engagement that comes from it. 

Apologies for my truancy

My deepest apologies to Eduflack readers for not being active here in the past few weeks.  As I noted last year, dear ol’ Eduflack has been involved in some long-form content creation (meaning book writing).  It took up many months of my time last year (thus the hiatus) and has come back to require my attention over the past few weeks.

The great news is I’ll be able to announce the completion of a very personal and I think important book next week.  As one reviewer already put it, the book “ROCKS!”  So February is going to be a rockin’ good month, with this new book from Yacker Media.
I look forward to sharing the news with y’all next week or so, and will work to share free Kindle copies of the book with loyal Eduflack readers as soon as allowable.
I’m also in the process of wrapping up the second edition of the Why Kids Can’t Read: Challenging the Status Quo in education book that Rowman & Littlefield Education will be publishing later this year.  Back in 2005-06, I was a contributing author to the project.  For this edition, I am the lead editor, working in partnership with longtime colleagues and mentors Reid Lyon and Phyllis Blaunstein.  
Why Kids Can’t Read is an important story, particularly as we see that nearly 40 percent of the world’s school-age children are unable to read proficiently.  The first edition of the book, out in 2006, looked at the wealth of research we have on literacy instruction and how best to teach our kids to read, while offering practical guidance for parents for how to ensure that “what works” is what is being used in their child’s classrooms.  The second edition builds on that work, incorporating recent developments such as Race to the Top and Common Core State Standards into this important discussion.
So thanks for your patience.  Eduflack will be back to its regular schedule in the coming weeks. Happy reading (post-announcement, I hope!).

PR People, Education Style

This week, PR News magazine recognized its PR People of the Year.  One of the leading communications publications in the nation, PR News seeks to honor the best of the best in the field, everything from community relations to media relations, social media to agency leader, top agency to top PR team.

It also recognizes the top 30 communications professionals under the age of 30, naming them as the “ones to watch” in the field.  (And, gulp, it was 13 years ago now that Eduflack was named to that list, back when his professional focus was on defending not-for-profit hospitals from corporate takeovers.)
As part of its PR People Awards, PR News also names the Public Affairs Professional of the Year, a recognition given annually to “a leader in political and public affairs who has successfully spearheaded advocacy initiatives and influenced policy and public opinion.”  I am honored and humbled that I am the recipient of the 2013 award.
The judges awarded me the honor, noting that “In one year as CEO of the education reform group ConnCAN, Patrick Riccards propelled the organization further than its previous seven years put together, became the voice of education reform in Connecticut and was instrumental in the passage of the most comprehensive education reform package in the state’s history.”
While I don’t know who to thank for putting me up for the award in the first place, this is definitely a shared recognition with all of those who have helped advocate for school improvement in Connecticut and all of those individuals and organizations who helped us pass such a significant reform bill in 2012.  I’m deeply proud of my work at ConnCAN, the eight years of progress the group has made since its founding, and the terrific team of which I was but a part (and equally proud of my team at Collaborative Communications Group, where we are having real impact, every day, improving learning opportunities in communities across the nation). I also remain hopeful for the impact those reforms can and should have on students across the state.
Thank you, PR News, and thank you to all of those committed to improving public education.  We are fortunate to have so many well-meaning and committed individuals and organizations focused on influencing public affairs and public opinion in the education space.  Whether one is a “reformer” or a “status quoer,” there is much good work happening, and much one can learn from colleagues, partners, and opponents.

Girls, Science, and Awesomeness

For decades, we have collectively wrung our hands about how to get women (as well as minorities and low-income students) interested in science and math.  In the late 1990s, when I was first starting to work in the education space, I remember the controversy over a new Barbie doll that proclaimed “math is hard,” a sentiment that many felt would set progress back another generation.

In 2008 and 2009, I was fortunate enough to help lead the Pennsylvania STEM Initiative.  More than a decade later, one of our major charges was how to better engage women (both K-12 and higher ed) in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics areas.  We were always looking for that one big idea that would completely change the way folks thought about STEM and STEM skills.  But it was never discovered.
And now that I am a father, I look at my daughter, a precocious first grader, and wonder what I can do to make sure she gets the math and science background that virtually all students will need to succeed once she graduates from college and prepares to take on the world. 
So I was particularly tickled to see a piece on Slate today that features a new commercial for a product from a company called GoldieBlox.  Typically, I don’t like to write about companies and their products.  But the commercial offered up by GoldieBlox requires me to break my own rules and sing the praises of this terrific piece of edu-marketing.
The goal is simple (I assume).  GoldieBlox is looking to sell a tinkertoy/connex-like product to parents of young girls.  But how the did it is far from simple.  GoldieBlox made engineering cool why empowering women.  Seeing the different pieces and how they work was fun to watch, even with the computer’s sound off.
But what really made my day was the soundtrack.  The company took The Beastie Boys’ “Girls” song (as a child of the 1980s, Eduflack was particularly proud of that) and rewrote it as a power anthem for girls’ ingenuity and the necessary breaking of the pink princess stereotypes.  
Check out the commercial.  You can find it here on YouTube.  And kudos to GoldieBlox for refusing to buy into the stereotypes and making a meaningful contribution on how to make STEM cool.

Communicating in a Crisis

One of the hats Eduflack has worn over the years has been that of crisis communications counselor.  There is nothing more potentially devastating to a well-meaning organization than when a crisis (or a potential crisis) strikes.  How one handles those challenges can have implications far beyond the here and now.

When the communications sector discusses crisis strategies, though, the education space is typically overlooked.  Instead, it is sexier to focus on big corporations or technology or political crises.  But that won’t be the case next week at the National Press Club.
Next Tuesday, November 12, dear ol’ Eduflack will be part of a panel discussion at the esteemed Press Club.  When a Crisis Goes Viral: How Social Media Has Become Inseparable from Crisis Communications will offer a range of views from social media experts such as Leslie Aun (VP of communications at Venture Philanthropy Partners and former VP at Susan G. Komen for the Cure), Wendy Harmon (director of information management and situational awareness at American Red Cross), Jan Lane (director of federal government services at Deloitte Consulting), and following up the rear, yours truly with a couple of edutales to spin.  The session will be moderated by Jane O’Brien of the BBC.
It should be a fun time to discuss crisis situations spun out of control because of feeding frenzies on social media platforms.  If nothing else, you can hear me wax nostalgically about having to defend bomb-planting dolphins from a grassroots uprising led by a young Bill O’Reilly (yes, a true, and interesting, story).
If you are in the nation’s capital next week and want a great way to be entertained and to learn a little something something in the afternoon, register for When a Crisis Goes Viral.  Entertainment guaranteed.

Is Anyone Pro-Privatization? Anyone?

Earlier this week, MSNBC posted a new video on its website.  It is from the Melissa Harris-Perry Show, with special guest Diane Ravitch touting her latest book (which in fairness, Eduflack hasn’t read).

While I don’t usually stop for such video segments, I was taken by the headline that MSNBC (the Lean Forward network) was putting on the segment.  The piece led with the screamer, “The Case Against School Privatization.”
Those who know Eduflack know that I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the education reform movement.  During that time, I got pretty immune to what folks would say about me or about reformers in general.  And over time, the repeated accusations of “privatization and profiteering” started to sound like the adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon to me.
But I paused when I saw it on a supposed unbiased news network.  And it leads to a very important question.
Is anyone out there actually advocating for the privatization of our public schools?
I offer this as a serious question.  Who is pro-privatization?  At least more privatization than we already have.  We have already privatized transportation (bus service) and school lunches and textbooks and professional development.  And last I checked utilities and such are still provided by private companies (many of whom actually draw a profit from it as well).
But is there anyone out there looking to turn public schools into private ones?
And please, don’t give me the charter school argument.  Whether one wants to accept it or not, charter schools are public schools.  Yes, they are an alternative to our traditional public schools.  But they are still public schools.  
So where are they?  Who are these horrible beasts that are looking to take our well-meaning public schools and turn them into private schools?  Who is seeking to take a neighborhood school and turn it into a home for J. Crew and the country club set?  Who is actually out there converting all of these public schools?  Who are these privatizers we should be so fearful of and who we are creating all of these supposed white knights to slay the privatization beasts? 
Truth be told, the only thing we have seen in recent years is private schools going public.  Look to our nation’s capital.  After the U.S. Congress pulled the plug on voucher funding, many of the Catholic schools that were serving the vast majority of voucher kids decided to convert from parochial institutions into public charter schools.  These Center City schools saw the need to continue their service to the community and to the kids they were educating, and publicized (if that is the right word) themselves.
While there is plenty in public education that we can debate and argue about, do we really need to throw privatization in the mix?  It is a cheap rhetorical trick meant to win over an uneducated population.  No one is rushing to convert public schools private.  Practically no one (at least no well-meaning reformers) are even talking about it. So why frame what should be an intelligent, well-meaning debate that way?
We need to spend more time engaging in meaningful dialogues about our schools and what we can do together to improve them.  Ad hominem attacks, fake arguments, and phony straw men works against that goal.  it may sell some books, but it does very little to help ensure that all our students receive a high-quality, meaningful public education.