Paul Ryan Reminds Us Dads Need to Explore Work/Life Balance Issues

Earlier this month, my grandmother passed away. She was 100 years, four months, and 20 days old when she left us, meaning she possessed more life knowledge than most of us can ever imagine. A week or so before her last day, I was fortunate enough to spend a little time with her. That afternoon, I had made an unscheduled stop to just see how she was doing. As I usually did, I updated her on the lives of her great grandchildren. I assured her everything was fine with me and that my wife was doing well. Just a typical visit, like those I’ve had with her for more than a decade.

As I was leaving, my grandmother looked at me and said, “you work too hard.” It’s a statement I hear often from many people all the time, so I didn’t give it much thought at that moment. But I’ve reflected quite a lot on it over the last week, as I realized that was the last thing that she ever said to me.

I brought this up in a conversation with a mentor of mine this week, noting that I hadn’t taken a vacation day in a year now, and that I hadn’t actually gone away on a vacation in almost two years. In fact, because of work demands I had missed the last three “family” vacations, leaving my wife and kids to enjoy themselves without a distracted dad.

His advice to me? Don’t look back and regret that you weren’t there to be a part of your kids growing up.

So when Paul Ryan announced he was retiring from Congress and from his position as Speaker of the House because he wants to be there for his family, I want to believe him. I, too, know what he may be feeling when he said it seems like his wife was doing 90 percent of the parenting for their children.

It’s easy to attack Speaker Ryan, and to question why he is really stepping away. Back in 2015, when Ryan’s arm was twisted to assume the speakership in the first place, he voiced concern for his ability to find the appropriate work/family balance. On cue, critics attacked him for his statements. Some saw it as a sign he wasn’t sufficiently hungry enough for one of the most powerful positions in government. And others used it to critique Ryan’s past stances on issues such as family and medical leave, the same critiques used this week when he announced his retirement for family reasons.

Maybe, just maybe, the past three years have taught Paul Ryan about the incredible strains being a national politician can have on being a husband and a father. Or maybe he’s realized that those election results he waits for every other November aren’t quite as significant in light of the development of his children and their futures.

Regardless, it is unfortunate that we see nothing wrong with questioning the motives of a man who wants to ensure he doesn’t lose focus on his family obligations, particularly after realizing he had strayed from such in recent years. When PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi or Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg preached a few years ago about the need for women to sacrifice on the personal and family front in order to be the business and career success, we applauded them for doing what it takes. Yet when a man says there is more to his personal success than his professional status, he faces scrutiny and potential ridicule.

Make no mistake, Lean In was an important lesson for those of us with daughters, particularly as we want them to see they can do anything with their lives if they set their minds to it and work hard. But it also offered a message that bought into a cultural stereotype that continues to dog men in our modern society. And it begs us to issue a national call for men to “Dive In” when it comes to our own families. It calls for more fathers to ask the types of questions and wrestle with the same issues that Paul Ryan and many men like him struggle with day in and day out.

Historically, families were positioned with fathers as the primary “professional” and mothers caring for the family. The end of the traditional nuclear family half a century ago began to change the dynamic. Single parent households and those where both parents work are now the new normal.

But the gender stereotypes from the 1950s remain. We expect the male head of household to put career and the job first. He’s still expected to be the one to work long hours. He is the one to miss family events. He is the one on his smartphone the entire time he is at a little league game or a dance recital, if he can get to them in the first place.

Lean In and the calls that have followed it are based on the notion that women can and should be just as focused on their career as men are perceived to be. That women need to recognize that they need to make sacrifices, particularly on the personal front, in order to be professional successes. Or perhaps it simply means their priorities can be just as out of whack as their male counterparts.

Instead, we should be sending the opposite message. As a society, we still marvel at that “stay-at-home” dad, viewing him largely as an oddity worth questioning. We question the motives of those fathers who volunteer in their children’s schools, holding them up as heroes for simply making the time. We doubt the motives of those men who would prefer to spend their Saturdays at the local park with their kids rather than at the golf course with their buddies. And we ridicule those like Paul Ryan who just may prefer time at home in Wisconsin with the kids, rather than on the road raising tens of millions of dollars, while trying to manage a dysfunctional Congress that grows more dysfunctional by the day.

The time is long past for us to begin to refocus America’s men on what is truly important. We regularly speak of fatherhood, without fully appreciating what it really means. Even today, we equate being a good father with the ability to financially provide for a family. Pay the rent, feed the family, and watch a movie together every Friday seems to be nomination for Father of the Year. It shouldn’t be.

It is well past time for fathers to look closely at what is truly important and focus his time and energies on what really matters. Is it easy? No. Does it require tradeoffs? Absolutely. Is it for every man? No, but it should be.

America’s fathers must stop making excuses for why we can’t be a larger part of our children’s lives and we must stop punting responsibility for our families to the women in our lives. We must spotlight those men, like Paul Ryan, who ask the right questions and make the right choices, seeking the right balance, and trying to do what is right for them and for those that truly love them.

In years past, politics used to be full of jokes about what “scandal” lurks behind a public resignation that results in a man declaring he wants to spend more time with his family. Instead, we need to start asking why more men aren’t making the same decisions. We need more men asking how much family commitment is worth sacrificing for professional success.

No, most men don’t need to lean in when it comes to work. They need to dive in when it comes to family. We need to ensure that we aren’t absentee fathers and that we don’t miss being there, really there, as our kids grow up. We need to publicly acknowledge there should be more to working fathers than a family picture on a desk. And we need to be willing to talk more, as fathers and as men, about how we struggle to find that life balance each and every day.

(The above post also appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.)

Monolos Don’t Guarantee Political (or Education) Success

Ravitch and the disciples of Ravitch are quick to condemn Teach For America (TFA). TFA is portrayed as a band of dilettantes, individuals of privilege who are seeking to inject themselves in to the schools for a few years without proper preparation or without having paid their dues. To them, the TFA badge is thrown around as a brand of unpreparedness.

Can’t the same be said of Nixon?

From dear ol’ Eduflack’s latest piece for The Education Post, Cynthia Nixon’s Run for Governor is Looking a Lot More Like ‘Hypocrisy in the City’

Transforming Concerned Students Into Powerful Voices of Advocacy

We are now seeing students wanting to take a greater role whether it be in elections themselves whether it be in issues like school violence. I think we’re also seeing very slowly but we’re seeing that same thing happen in education itself where we’re seeing that for centuries now whether it be our colleges or K12 systems, schools are built largely around the system, they’re built around the adults who are there to deliver the education. And we’re seeing more and more from students that the learners themselves want to be in control. They want to be the ones that decide what is best for them. It’s why you see the rise of personalized learning in schools. It’s why you see the rise in mastery based education. I think you’re seeing the same thing as students are beginning to talk about the type of atmosphere that they want. You know we’ve we’ve seen it now as students have begun to dip their toes in issues like bullying and cyber bullying. And we’re now seeing it specifically with school violence. I think the challenge to students is we have this belief that today’s students have a shiny object syndrome that they’re focused on this right now and next week they’re going to be focused on something completely different.

From Eduflack’s recent interview with Doug Simon and DS Simon Media on The Power of Social Media Live and the Modern Education System. Come for the transcript, but really just watch the video. It is far more engaging (and it shows that Eduflack doesn’t just stay in his basement)

Schools and Guns

Across the nation, students are preparing to exercise their First Amendment rights in support of the students in Parkland, Florida and their response to school shootings and gun violence. Just this morning, Eduflack received his notice from his local school district in New Jersey on how my son’s middle school (sixth grade) and daughter’s elementary school (fifth grade) will acknowledge the March 14th National School Walkout. (The edu-son will march, the edu-daughter will engage in age-appropriate activities focused on “kindness and peace.”)

For the past two weeks, I’ve used my platform over on the BAM! Radio Network to talk about the issues of guns, schools, and kids. I hope you’ll give both a listen.

In the first episode, we explore how it is well past time to declare that gun violence is a public health crisis in our schools … and in our communities.

In the second, we look at what a sad commentary it is that we are now talking about financially incentivizing teachers to be armed and weapons-trained in the classroom, particularly after doing away with so many incentives (like National Board certification) that recognized teaching excellence in those same schools.

The issue may drop off the front pages to make room for other, sexier political stories, but until the laws change — and until school shooters aren’t turned into cults of personality by the media — the issues will keep coming back.

Let’s see what comes from the National School Walkout. Perhaps these kids can lead in a way their elected leaders cannot.

 

“Will the last teacher to leave West Virginia please turn out the lights?”

“Will the last teacher to leave West Virginia please turn out the lights?”

Nearly 30 years ago, one of my teachers held that very handwritten sign. She, along with my mother and dozens of other educators from my high school were picketing in Shenandoah Junction, West Virginia as part of a statewide teachers strike. The sign became iconic, running on the front page of newspapers across the state and the nation.

In 1990, those teachers were striking because of poor teacher benefits and worse pay. West Virginia was paying its public school educators less than 48 other states. The situation became so bad that unions in all 55 counties in the state organized a work stoppage. After two weeks, a true-blue legislature and a Democratic governor finally saw things the way those teachers wanted them to. Benefits were improved, and West Virginia committed to raising teacher salaries to the middle of the pack when it came to state averages.

Fast forward to 2018, and we are seeing the same scenario play out in a state that has largely become a microcosm for America. The state is gripped by opioids. The jobs of the old, industrial economy are drying up. West Virginia’s legislature is now shockingly red. The state is now led by a Republican governor (though one who was just elected as a Democrat in 2016). But again, West Virginia’s teachers are almost the lowest paid in the nation.

Currently, the minimum salary for a public school teacher in West Virginia is $26,000. To put more simply, if one accounts just for student days – overlooking required teacher work days, evenings, weekends, summers, and all of the other times teachers actually work – the minimum teacher salary is about $14 an hour. Or about what teachers in the Northern Panhandle would make in Pittsburgh or those in the Eastern Panhandle would make in the DC suburbs if they gave up teaching and became baristas at Starbuck’s.

During the 1990 strike, I was all too aware that teachers in my high school needed to hold second jobs in order to make ends meet. It was a frequent sight to see a teacher working as a bartender or waiter at a local restaurant or as a desk clerk at one of the nearby motels. During the strike, it would have been very easy for these teachers to turn to their second jobs, pick up additional hours, and ensure that they would make the rent or car payments that week. But they didn’t. Each and every day, they were out there on the picket lines. They were marching for their profession. And they were ensuring the entire community saw them.

That year, those teachers won because they had public support. Yes, the closure of schools is always an inconvenience for families in the community. But each day, parents and children brought the teachers water and soda and food. Neighbors honked their car horns in support. And even when the handful of teachers who refused to strike told students their records would be noted and student activities would be pulled if we failed to cross the picket line, not one student went into the schools during those weeks.

Fast forward to 2018, and we see a different story. The state legislature is now advancing a package for teachers that would boost teacher pay by about 4 percent over the next several years, far from the jump their fellow educators saw three decades ago. Public support for union strikes, even in strong union states like West Virginia, is not nearly as strong as it once was. And with the Supreme Court now considering the Janus case, labor unions and their memberships are likely to be weakened even more.

It’s quite sad that, at a time when we all recognize that a strong education is key to success in the digital, information economy, we still have to fight to ensure that educators are paid like the high-stakes professionals that they are. It is sadder that we, as a nation, are now talking about bonuses to teachers who come into the classroom armed, but still can’t pay many of them a living wage. And it is even sadder when teachers need to technically break the law and engage in a statewide work stoppage to gain the respect and recognition that they well deserve.

As a child, I romanticized my grandfather and his Teamsters jacket. I imagined he received it as a reward for backing Jimmy Hoffa and his agenda to play rough with short-haul trucking companies. To me, the Teamsters were a true union’s union.

Then I watched my mom and many of my high school teachers walk the picket lines, putting their livelihoods on the line. I saw them walking for what they believed in. And I saw the community stand behind them. I saw that light. So did many others.

Today is school day number four of the 2018 West Virginia teachers strike, and the request asked 28 years ago may still be pertinent. WV Gov. Jim Justice and the legislature will see that light too, and show teachers across the state the respect they deserve.  Otherwise, they may indeed be turning off the lights for West Virginia’s students.

Really!?! You’re Going to Make Me Defend PARCC Again?

I really didn’t want to spend this week defending PARCC tests, but the universe is working against dear ol’ Eduflack. Yet again, I’m forced to take up rhetorical arms against those who either fail to understand, or choose to prey on, concerns regarding the Common Core and the assessments used to measure student progress against those standards.

This week, an Eduflack reader shared a screen shot of a recent web page. The below was created for parents in a highly resourced, high-performing school district. It was shared as one would share promotional materials for the latest summer camp or child social activity. And it preys on the helicopter parents’ worst fears.

IMG_0420

Yep, its time to send your little ones to “PARCC Preparation Camp.” Over the course of a month and a half, your child can spend their summer days in test prep, preparing for an assessment that one is not supposed to do test prep for. You can drill and be told those areas where you need to purchase additional tutoring because the schools clearly aren’t cutting it. And I’m not even sure what you are getting when your 12-year old will receive “all guidance regarding writing PARCC tests,” but clearly that is important (it is the second selling point in a list of just four!).

And one enhances the offerings by highlighting to a STEM-obsessed parent community that additional tutoring in robotics and coding is also available. That makes it a downright party!

This is why we just can’t have nice things in the education community.

One would be hard pressed to find a parent who wouldn’t seek to give his or her child every possible help available when it comes to school. We are constantly inundated with television ads for the latest tutoring services, as for-profit companies pledge to turn the most struggling of learners into a future Nobel laureate. We purchase the latest technology, buy the latest software and apps, all in the name of giving our kids a leg up. As parents, one of our jobs is to ensure our kids are getting the best educations possible. We use the resources we have to do the best we can at that job.

But when companies are taking advantage of that parental concern — and playing up community concerns around a specific test or particular instructional content — it just makes the blood boil.

And it is should come as no surprise that such ads are populating parents’ social media at a time when the local community started to learn that the PARCC test is being used to determine whether middle schoolers get into the gifted math classes sought by so many parents. Now, if your kid doesn’t get into the math class necessary to create the next Google or Bitcoin, it is your fault as a parent for not sending them to PARCC camp when you could. (And don’t even get me started on the PARCC test prep books that are now available. I can even find them that are specific to the “New Jersey PARCC.”)

As parents, we need to do a far better job of educating ourselves on teaching and learning. Assessments like PARCC are not tests that one should be doing test prep for. They are tests meant to serve as a milestone for how the student is doing. Is my kid at a proficient level, compared with other fifth graders across the country? If not, I need to be talking to the teachers and the schools to understand where the deficiencies may be and address them appropriately and in partnership with the teacher. It isn’t a time to enroll my kid in PARCC boot camp or have them take the walk of PARCC shame.

Sadly, a great number of parents will likely sign up for this camp, and others like it across the country. They will believe these strip-mall tutors will have the cryptex necessary to crack the PARCC code, win the game, get into the Ivy League, and become the smartest, most successful person in the history of persons. Even more sad, parents will credit PARCC gains to test prep and their foresight, not to the hard work of the teacher throughout the academic year.

Or they could just have their kids do some independent reading over the summer. And play outside. And identify, develop, and pursue some of their passions during the summer months.

P.T. Barnum allegedly claimed there was a sucker born every minute. Imagine what he would have said seeing test prep outfits take advantage of parent concerns over testing and the school achievement of their kids.

What We Have Here Is a Failure in Parent Communication

Last week, when announcing his incoming secretary of education, new New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy noted his intentions to “stop using PARCC tests.” The statement was hardly controversial. Across the Garden State, parents have spent the past three years voicing frustrations with the student assessment, reading from the talking points of Common Core and testing opponents.

So when the then governor-elect joined with parent advocates and the teachers unions in calling for the state to “create new, more effective and less class time-intrusive means for measuring student assessment,” it was no surprise that social media lit up in celebration.

Outside of Princeton, in my little Mayberry RFD, parents rejoiced. For days, Facebook has lit up with messages of parents bidding the state test adieu. They celebrated the end of PARCC. They applauded that their kids wouldn’t have to take the weeks-long tests this winter. They cheered going back to the good ol’ days. They thanked the incoming governor for finally taking action. And in doing so, their premature jubilation reveals our failures to adequately engage parents in the policy process and communicate with them on important issues.

So dear ol’ Eduflack spent the weekend being the proverbial skunk at the garden party. Pointing out that the governor’s works have to be translated into legislative action by the New Jersey state legislature. Noting that New Jersey must still administer annual assessments on almost all of its K-12 students, and that PARCC has to be replaced with something else. Highlighting that if the state doesn’t use PARCC or Smarter Balanced, then it would need to pay to develop a similar test that would have to be approved by the federal government. And making clear that, even if such actions were taken this spring, it would be years before our kids would be free from PARCC assessments in the classroom.

Yes, parents across the state and throughout the country are well intended. Yes, they are paying enough attention to the issues that they are able to share anti-testing talking points like the length of tests, the use of technology, and the absence of early childhood experts in test development. But we are doing a great disservice when we only share part of the process – and part of the solution – with families.

One can’t throw a rock in education policy discussions without hitting someone speaking of the importance of family involvement and parental voice in the discussion. Just as we like to declare the Simpson-eque, “what about the children?” in such discussion, so too do we ask where the parents are in the debate.

But too many are selective in how they want that parent voice present. We don’t want them involved in curricular discussions because that is the purview of the educators. We don’t want them to have too much power with regard to school choice, for that should be a decision of policymakers. We don’t want them involved in teacher evaluation, for they are unaware of the challenges and nuances of what happens in a school and classroom.

So we largely welcome parents twice a year to short parent-teacher conferences, we applaud when they show up for PTA meetings and school concerts, and we hope we won’t need to see them otherwise for disciplinary actions. We certainly don’t want them showing up on the school doorstep with their concerns regarding what is happening behind those doors.

Years ago, I was fortunate to collaborate with a group of tremendous researchers, scientists, educators, and parents on the book, Why Kids Can’t Read: Continuing to Challenge the Status Quo in Education. The book was designed to serve as a primer for parents to get involved in improving reading instruction in their kids’ classrooms. By focusing on what the research tells us, what is working in schools, what other parents have dealt with, and what tools can make a successful parent advocate, Why Kids Can’t Read was written to empower parents in their quest for a world-class education for their kids, for all kids.

In writing it, and since in dealing with my own struggles as a special education parent, it is clear we largely don’t want empowered parents in the schools. If we look back through history, there are only a handful of moments where education policy truly changed because of the power of parents. Instead, we prefer to keep parents at arm’s length, giving only the illusion of involvement.

If we are serious about parents as partners in the learning process, we need to figure out how to truly educate them on it. It is insufficient to equip them solely with the talking points found on social media, and then expect them to be active partners in improvement. Better, stronger educational opportunities for our children can only come when parents are better educated on the processes and policies themselves.

Otherwise, parents are simply the proverbial dog chasing the squirrel, reacting to the latest buzzwords and urban legends shared on social media with the same buzzwords and urban legends they heard the week or month before. And that’s no way to improve teaching and learning for our children.