“News” Overload Has Left Us Numb

We’ve gone from humble-bragging about our kids and sharing photos of our food to using every waking moment of every day sharing every tweet, every slam, every late night comic diatribe, every propaganda piece, and every doctored photo that seems to support our belief system. And we do so by feeding it into our own echo chambers, sharing with those who already share our beliefs in hopes of strengthening the tribe. No discourse happens. No dialogues are pursued. No debates are engaged. Instead, we are in search of the almighty likes, loves, and supportive comments.

Eduflack’s latest on LinkedIn Pulse, looking at a recent Pew study and how it has affected our political discourse and our social media usage

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’

Trump’s Higher Ed State of the Union

Yeah, yeah, yeah. We all know that the President of the United States rarely uses the State of the Union to focus on education issues. For every year that George W. Bush sought to ensure No Child Left Behind or Barack Obama looked for a Race to the Top, we’ve heard far more addresses where education is a passing mention at best.

A recent Politico poll found that 46 percent of Americans believe it is “very important” POTUS address education issues in tomorrow night’s address to Congress, while another 29 percent said was somewhat important. And while voters tend not to vote in national elections based on education issues, it is a good sign that Americans seem to want to elevate the rhetoric on topics of the classroom.

Over at BAM! Radio Network, dear ol’ Eduflack explored what a Trumpian address on K-12 education issues could look like. Highlighting the power of education to make America great again and expressing ire over other nations beating the U.S. of A on key international benchmarks, it isn’t a stretch to see how President Donald J. Trump could focus on elementary and secondary education issues.

But what could a focus on higher education look like? As rare as P-12 education is in the State of the Union, postsecondary education discussions are far rarer. By now, we all realize that Trump is hardly a politician of convention. So maybe it isn’t too late to drop this proposed section of “Trump-speak” into the address currently being finalized.

My election in 2016 was a sign that the American people were deeply concerned with their jobs, pocketbooks, and families. Voters rallied around the notion of ‘making America great again,’ recognizing that the strongest way we can make America great is by ensuring all of her people have well-paying jobs, both today and tomorrow.

Recently passes tax cuts are already having a direct impact on American works, as companies like Walmart and Disney and our leading banks are providing bonuses, incentives, and even college tuition assistance to their workers. So many of those businesses that are already rewarding their workers have one key thing in common. As companies, they have made the necessary adjustment to meet the needs of tomorrow. They have reimagined their businesses for the digital, Information Age in which we now all operate. These employees recognize the importance of workers with the knowledge and kills to do both the jobs of today AND of tomorrow. As a result, they will have huge successes under the new tax code.

It is time to bring that vision and that innovation to education, particularly to our colleges and universities. For the past year, Betsy DeVos and her team have been grappling with issues such as growing college tuition and the financial operating structures of individual universities. In communities across the country, colleges are shutting down because they lack the students and the impact they once had. All of this demonstrates a higher education system that is largely broken.

Unlike our businesses, higher education is still largely focused on process, not on outcomes. It rewards based on past achievement, not on future success. It prioritizes the needs and preferences of the provider, not the learner or customer.

That is why tonight I am directing my Education Department to chart a new course for postsecondary education in the United States, a course that takes us to our next destination, not our previous stops. We need to build them schools of tomorrow, preparing the workers of tomorrow with the skills of tomorrow for the jobs of tomorrow.

What does that mean?

First, we need to incentivize, not discourage, innovation in higher education. Just because a program or a school is doing things in a way that has never been done does not mean it should be prevented from doing so. That means empowering regulators and accreditors to encourage new models of thinking and instruction.

Second, we need to better understand the students of today – and tomorrow – while ensuring our institutions of higher learning are meeting their needs. The demographics of college students today are vastly different than those from a generation ago. How we teach those learners must also be different.

That requires a more personalized approach to college education. It is time to throw out the lecture halls and blue books. Instead, we look to advances like artificial intelligence, simulations, and virtual reality to help students learn in the ways that make the most sense to them. And we look for what students know and what they are able to do with that knowledge.

And finally, we need to ensure that classroom instruction meets real-world needs. That requires equipping every young learner today with the STEM skills needed to succeed in the jobs of tomorrow. And that requires forward-thinking classroom teachers able to teach those STEM skills in ways that are both relevant and interesting to today’s kids.

Across this great country, families are seeking a better life for their kids. In the 1950s, hardworking Americans sought the same, determining that sending their kids to college was the best path to that better life. In recent years, we have lost that sense of trust, seeing higher education instead as a playground for dilettantes and those without life direction. No more.

My Administration is committed to restoring American higher education to a position of greatness around the work. That is only done through innovation and an embrace of what is possible. It is done by breaking the restraints of over-regulation. And it is done by recognizing the future direction of higher education belongs not to the learner, not just to the provider. Only then can our colleges and universities become great again.

Imagine some applause lines like that in the 2018 SOTU.

The New PDK Poll is Here, the New #PDKPoll is Here!

Last week, the good folks at PDK released the results of the 48th Annual PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. So what do we think?

The most interesting number each year is how we grade public schools. In 1974, 48% of Americans gave their local schools an A or B grade. Today … 48% are still giving As and Bs to their local schools. The grade for our nation’s schools as a whole doesn’t fair nearly as well, with only 24% giving As and Bs to the nation, but that’s on par with grades over the past three or so decades. (Good thing ESSA is handing over authority from the federal to the localities, huh?)

On the purpose of education, 45% of those surveyed say the purpose is to prepare students academically, 26% say its to prepare students to be good citizens, and 25% say its to prepare students for work. So despite recent-year pushbacks, it seems school ensuring all kids are “college and career ready” is winning the day.

When evaluating the public schools, parents offer a significantly higher opinion on what’s happening than non-parents. Whether its providing factual evidence (47-37), preparing students to work well in groups (43-33), or enhancing critical thinking (36-28), those adults closer to the learners in the classroom are far more likely to say local public schools are doing extremely or very well.

When it comes to learning standards, only 7% think standards are too high, while 43% say current standards are too low. Interestingly, “too low” scores high with urban residents, adults in households earning more than $100,000 a year, and Republicans/conservatives.

Those surveyed still see “lack of financial support” the top problem facing local public schools, coming in at 19%. That’s more than double “lack of discipline” or “concerns about quality,” and almost three times the number who worry about the “quality of teachers.”

Continuing on the money trend, there were a few head scratchers. Of those who were confident higher taxes will help schools improve, nearly 30% said they oppose raising such taxes. And of those not confident higher taxes can result in school improvement, more than a third (35%) said they would support increased property taxes for the purpose. And if those taxes are raised, 34% of all those surveyed want to see it go to teachers.

When presented with an “either/or” decision on ideas to improve the schools, those surveyed:

  • Overwhelming supported more career-technical or skill based classes (68%) over more honors classes (20%)
  • Leaned toward raising teacher salaries (50%) over hiring more teachers (40%), even though smaller classes beat larger classes 51-40
  • Emphasizing more “traditional teaching” and using more technology battled to a draw, 43 all

The full survey results, found here, are definitely worth the read. Of particular interest for all should be a deep dive into thoughts on parent/school communications.

What does this all tell us? The public’s perceptions of public schools, both locally and nationally, aren’t as bad as many have made them out to be in recent years. Like our collective test scores on NAEP and international benchmarks, it seems our views — good or bad — about the schools have largely stagnated. Even with all of the ugliness in recent years about Common Core and testing, things are pretty much holding constant.

More importantly, we see those closer to the classroom — the parents — have more positive views on what is happening. And those parents are eager and hungry for additional information and greater interaction with their public schools.

While there is a lot to parse here, and many will cherrypick those data points that prove their own beliefs (or disprove the thoughts of those they rail against), the PDK poll provides an important foundation for discussion on where we are, where we are headed, and where we want to be.

(Full disclosure, Eduflack served, proudly, as a member of the PDK Poll Advisory Board this year.) 

Think Education is a 2016 Campaign Issue? Think Again.

Every election season, the same debate seems to happen in edu-circles. We discuss how important education issues are in this particular election. Such talk often will refer to a recent Gallup poll that places education fifth or eighth on the list of things people most care about. We mention the role of unions, particularly teachers unions, in turning out the vote. And we convince ourselves that education policy will matter this election year.

Earlier today, EdWeek’s Andrew Ujifusa provided a nice dive into what the Democrats’ education platform looks like, while last week his partner Alyson Klein reported on Donald Trump’s eduspeak at the GOP convention. We even have multiple edu-bloggers writing in recent days on the WikilLeaks DNC email dump and DNC staff referring to Common Core as the “third rail” this political season.

A lot of words, yes, but how does this translate to the average voter and the average campaign issue? To be fair, I don’t expect national campaigns to be running on campaign issues. I’d be shocked if Trump even mentions education again over the next three-plus months, other than have some of his surrogates mention Common Core and federal takeovers of our schools (and maybe bathrooms) as red meat for the base.

And while I don’t believe the key to Hillary Clinton picking up enough undecided voters to secure a plurality of voters come November is going to be edu-speak, I do expect education to be part of the discussion for the future. I believe a strong society and a strong future depends on a strong educational infrastructure. Whether that is managing student loan debt, improving access to postsecondary options including career and technical education, enhancing early childhood opportunities, and, yes, raising student test scores. Education is a key strand in the DNA of what so many are seeking when it comes to their futures.

So I was quire surprised when I received an email from the Hillary Clinton campaign this morning, asking me to fill out a survey to share what issues matter most to me and my family. I was asked the issue that mattered most to me, and was provided 14 choices (plus an other box). As you’ll see in this photo, choices included everything from gun violence prevention to criminal justice reform to climate change to Wall Street reform to disability rights. But no education.

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When I checked “other,” I didn’t get a free-fill box to write in my choice. So what “other” means to be will never be revealed to those tabulating what is most important to my family.

And when asked what the second-important issue was to my family, I got the same list.

I can only hope that those compiling the results from this survey (and from similar surveys being done by Team Trump) recognize that education is the non-negotiable in all of these. Looking at the 14 options provided, Eduflack can’t see how any of these issues cannot be fully addressed without improving the P-20 educational systems available to our families.

But I’ve also done enough political campaigns to know that subtlety and nuance are not things found to be effective in such efforts. When lists like these are provided to the average voter, we internalize that these are the issues most important to the American people. And we subconsciously acknowledge that education just isn’t on our list of the top 14 issues the country is facing.

And that’s a cryin’ shame.

 

A Failure to CCSS Communicate?

The Eduflack family lives in a PARCC state. For months, we have heard from our school district about preparing for the upcoming PARCC assessment. This has been a particularly “interesting” time for our house, as it will be the first time one of the edu-kiddos is slated to take a state exam.

In recent weeks, the talk shifted to the edu-son and his plans to take two rounds of PARCC tests this spring. The first will begin in just a few short weeks, and will run through much of March. The second round will come a month or so after completing the first round.

When dear ol’ Eduflack inquired about why the two rounds for a third-grader, he got the most curious of answers. Yes, I am aware that the PARCC test is intended to be offered in two parts, the first being the performance-based component and the second being the end-of-year component. As I understand it, it is two parts to the same exam. Part one looks at “critical-thinking, reasoning and application skills through extended tasks such as reading an excerpt from a book and writing about it.” Part two is designed to “measure concepts and skills.”

But that wasn’t the explanation we received, and I’m guessing it isn’t what our district is telling other parents who may not know better. Instead, the line was “PARCC is both a formative and summative test, so we offer the formative in March and then the summative in late April.”

Granted, I’m no psychometrician, but I’m not quite sure that’s how formative and summative assessments are supposed to work, at least not in the primary grades. And if it is, I don’t see how any schools or classes are going to show student learning outcome gains on a summative test just a few weeks after benchmarking with the formative.

And it should be no surprise that, as we have these confusions on assessment types, that the state teachers’ union is running TV spots on how horrible testing is and how there is nothing a test can tell a parent that a teacher can’t already relay.

To borrow from Cool Hand Luke, what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate. Earlier this week, The Washington Post reported on significant parent misperceptions about Common Core State Standards, particularly with regard to the content and subjects covered by the standards. But we have also seen a major assault against the standards because of the tests, with attacks coming on amount of testing time, stress of the test, technology issues, and all points in between. And it is the assault on assessment that has really chipped away at CCSS over the past several years.

Today’s example is just another one of how misperceptions–or lack of understanding–continue to hurt what are intended to be standard instructional guidelines in English and math. It gives one more thing to blame CCSS for, and one more reason to buy into the “over tested, over stressed” argument.

Instead, we should be taking opportunities to educate parents (and teachers and policymakers and just about everyone) on the different types of tests. What are the benefits of a formative assessment versus an interim versus a summative? How are they different? How can we tell when any one of the three is of high quality (as PARCC seems to be) and how can we decide when a test is just crap? And how do we ensure teachers and parents get test data in quick turnaround so it can be used to improve the teaching and learning process?

Until we address these types of questions, it will remain open season on testing in general, and CCSS assessments in particular. And until we ensure high-quality assessments focused on student learning, real efforts to improve public schools and ensure students are college and career ready will struggle to gain the hold they need to succeed.

How About Those Edu-Elections?

If anything, yesterday’s midterm elections were entertaining. We saw incumbents defeated. We saw incumbents previously left for dead winning big. We saw darkhorses win in the end. We races long written off come in within recount range. For those without a vested interest in a specific candidate, it was a heckuva night.

While yesterday’s results will be deconstructed ad naseum in the coming days and weeks, let’s take a look at some of the edu-implications.

The Power of Teachers’ Unions

It was the best of times and worst of times for the teachers’ unions. Teachers were able to start the night by crowing loudly about Tom Wolf’s win for the Pennsylvania governorship, knocking off an incumbent Republican governor who had slashed state education spending and sought to cancel out teacher contracts in Philadelphia. The unions also got to wrap up Election Day wit a big win, as Tom Torlakson was re-elected as state superintendent for public instruction in California, turning back reformer-backed Marshall Tuck. (And we will set aside the fact that the job has very little actual power in California education, with the real strength lying with the state board of education).

But what happened in between will have many people questioning the political power of the teachers’ unions. AFT and NEA put major dollars and major GOTV muscle into taking the governorships in states like Wisconsin, Illinois, Florida, Georgia, and Colorado. All went Republican. Strong union support couldn’t even help true-blue states like Massachusetts and Maryland elect Democratic (presumably pro-union, pro-teacher) governors.

Those Dems that did win the big chairs have some “history” with the teachers’ unions. In Connecticut, Dannel Malloy barely won re-election, and likely owes his win to teachers after just two years seeking to eliminate teacher tenure. In Rhode Island, Dem Gina Raimondo won the race, largely because she took on unions as part of a pension reform push she led.

Put all together, and the unions had limited impact in statewide elections, particularly in those states they targeted.

The Role of Ed Reformers

Yes, the AFT and NEA had a rough night. But it wasn’t all rainbows and lollipops for education reformers either. They lost their biggest prize of the evening when Torlakson beat Tuck in Cali. Reformers only won half the prize they sought with a big spend in the Minneapolis school board race.

Ed reform Dem governors like CT’s Malloy and NY’s Andrew Cuomo only won by seeking to reframe or rewrite their past support for reforms, as Cuomo practically came out as anti-CCSS.

In fact, reformers seemed most proud by Raimondo’s win, believing pension reform is a sure path to more education reform.

While much of the edreform community tends to focus on Democratic reformers, it was a good night for GOP edreformers. NM Gov. Susana Martinez., MA Gov.-elect Charlie Baker, and GA Gov. Nathan Deal to name but a few.

Common Core Impact

When it comes to the political impact of Common Core, support of opposition seemed to be neither help nor hindrance. The Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli says that half the Republican governors are pro-Common Core. For those like Ohio’s John Kasich, such support didn’t hurt him at all. School Reform News reported that nine of the 10 GOP govs up for re-elect yesterday were against Common Core. For those like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker or Florida’s Rick Scott, opposition to the Core helped. (Though I have to question School Reform News’ math, as with OH’s Kasich and NM’s Martinez, I already have two of the 10 GOP govs pro-CCSS, without adding voices like NV’s Sandoval and GA’s Deal.)

Those Pesky Statehouses

Over the weekend, John Oliver ranted about how few were paying attention to state legislature elections. And he is absolutely right. For education, that’s where the action will be, from CCSS to testing, from teacher evaluations to school funding. We still need to wait for the dust to settle, but the initial returns seem to show that GOP governors will have more supportive legislatures behind them, while Dem governors will have a few less supporters on their benches. Issue coalitions may very well win the day in state capitals, particularly on issues such as education.

No doubt there is more to come. The one thing we know with certainty? With Sen. Lamar Alexander taking over as chairman of the Senate Education Committee, it is safe to say we have a Senate chairman who, as a former gov, former EdSec and former university president, knows a thing or two about the issue of education.