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.

 

 

A Steady Hand for Trump EdSec

Last month, Eduflack wrote about his dream, that the next U.S. President would select a family advocate as the next Education Secretary. Now that the election dust has settled and we start to see the names being put forward as possible EdSecs in President-elect Trump’s administration, I become a realist. We may not get a parental engagement beacon as EdSec, but I can still hope for a new assistant secretary for family and community engagement, can’t I?

So it begs the question, who will become the next EdSec? The current parlor games have “sexy” candidates like Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz or former DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee dominating headlines. School choice advocates like Betsy DeVos and Jeanne Allen are also frequently mentioned. Former state chiefs like Gerard Robinson (of VA and FL) and Tony Bennett (IN and FL) also gain mention. In fact, of all those who have been mentioned, only surgeon Ben Carson seems to have taken himself out of the running.

What do we make of all this? If we look to when Trump selected a vice president, most folks were willing to bet that either New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich were jockeying for the number two slot. It wasn’t until the final hours that some started seeing Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as a possibility.

We know that Donald Trump likes to be the big dog. That means an EdSec who dominates the spotlight (and the media coverage) is likely not what he is looking for. We know he believes in state and local control, so a DC power broker seems unlikely. And we know that education is not likely a top concern of the Trump administration, so ED needs a steady hand that understands policy, can work with the Hill, and can get things done without too much drama.

Or more simply, ED needs an adult who both understands how a bureaucracy like the Education Department operates, who knows how to get the most out of all the career employees embedded over on Maryland Avenue, yet understands how and why to continue to push decisions and actions to the states.

With all that, the Eduflack shortlist for EdSec includes:

Bill Evers – Evers is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He was assistant secretary of education for policy in the George W. Bush administration. Evers served on several academic standards commissions in California and is a former elected board of education member and charter school board member.

Bill Hansen – Currently the President and CEO of USA Funds, Hansen was the deputy secretary of education in the George W. Bush administration. He brings significant private sector education experience, while serving on state education commissions in Virginia. Hansen brings a mix of both K-12 and higher education experience.

Hanna Skandera – Skandera has severed as New Mexico’s Secretary of Education since 2010. She was previously Florida’s deputy commissioner of education, undersecretary of education in California, and as a senior policy advisor and deputy chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Education.

While I could keep going, listing a number of congressmen, governors, university presidents, and corporate executives, I couldn’t say any of them would be better choices than one of these three. Each are steeped in K-12 and higher education knowledge. Each understand the federal/state/local balance. And each is a workhorse, unlikely to upstage the boss on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Who am I missing?

BAM! Listen Up!

Over at BAM Education Radio, I’m the guest on two recent shows that look at the intersection between politics, rhetoric, and the classroom.

Most recently, I guested on Jon Harper’s show, My Bad, where we talked about being biased and judgmental, and how we can move beyond that to actually achieve some real progress. I reflected on my time serving on a local school board, and entering discussions with some preconceived notions about some of the constituencies I represented.

I also joined Brad Gustafson and Ben Gilpin on TweetED, where we spoke specifically about how to deal with politics in the classroom, whether that politics is brought in by the teacher, the student, or the parent.

Both are great shows (and are great because of their respective hosts, not because of their poor choice in guests). But give them a listen and a like. You won’t be disappointed.

 

A Family Engagement Advocate for EdSec!

Last week, Education Week published an interesting look ahead at what could be when a new Education Secretary is selected. In her piece, the always terrific Alyson Klein asks what might be if Hillary Clinton bucked tradition and selected, as her next U.S. secretary of education, an individual coming from the higher education side of the realm.

Historically, we are used to EdSecs coming from the K-12 perspective. That’s definitely true of the past four, with Rod Paige, Margaret Spellings, Arne Duncan, and the current EdSec John King all cutting their teeth on the mean streets of K-12. Before that, we had governors like Dick Riley and Lamar Alexander, who brought a policy perspective but whose educational lens — due to the nature of a state chief exec — was far more primary/secondary ed than higher education.

Sure, it is fun to throw out names and rank this state chief over that urban superintendent over this university president over that former governor or congressman, to talk about who the unions will give an approval to versus who some of the big money reform donors can live with. It can even be interesting to envision what an EdSec with a higher ed focus might bring to the bully pulpit when it comes to topics like student loans, for-profit education, and even the threatened reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

But what if maybe, just maybe, we went in a different direction? What if instead of looking at the two sides of the coin — P-12 and higher ed — we instead looked at the ridged edge that brings the heads and tails together? What if we took the cabinet search in a completely different direction, and instead looked for a parent voice, a family engagement advocate who could talk with some authority on the full continuum, from early childhood education through adult professional learning and all points in between?

Imagine a family engagement voice who could lead on the value of high-quality early childhood and the linkages between health and education …

Imagine a family engagement voice who could lead on K-12 issues well beyond “the test” and instead key in on what students should know and be able to do to succeed and how families can be a part of the learning process along with educators …

Imagine a family engagement voice who could lead on higher education issues, bringing real-life experiences to fights over student loans, free college, and gainful employment …

Imagine a family engagement voice who could lead on the role continuing education plays after finishing formal P-16 pathways, or about the importance of career and technical education, or about how education and labor can work together to address workforce readiness issues …

There is a reason groups like the National Assessment Governing Board insist of having specific parent voices on their boards. Parent and family advocates bring a particular focus to a range of education policy issues. They can be the link between practitioner and policymaker. And they can ensure the work focuses on both the inputs and the outcomes, with every action focused on how it impacts the learner.

Sure, we’ve had discreet projects like the Parent Information Resource Centers (PIRCs) that sought to give voice to such parents. And sure, a new EdSec could always appoint a special advisor for family engagement. But such an appointment can be empty. Without a formal voice, and without a formal budget, those special advisors can be hamstrung from bringing the best of ideas into practice.

So let’s forget this East Coast/West Coast style battle of K-12 and higher ed. Instead, let’s look to place the first honest-to-goodness parent advocate in the biggest chair on 400 Maryland Avenue. Let’s give the rostrum to a family voice who can work with teacher and policymaker alike, one who can see that P, K-12, and higher ed are deeply connected and should never be separated.

And if we can’t have such an EdSec, and we have to fall back on tradition, can that new EdSec at least create a new Assistant Secretary for Family Engagement position? Please? Pretty please?

 

The Trump-ization of Local Edu-Politics

When Eduflack first ran for local school board six years ago, I remember questioning my own sanity. I spent countless hours knocking on doors, wanting to talk education policy with voters who just weren’t looking for such deep dives. Instead, they just wanted the promise that our schools would stay as strong as they had been, that taxes wouldn’t grow astronomically, and that their kids would continue to have the same opportunities that students before them did. They wanted soundbite politics, like they got in other political campaigns.

As a member of the Falls Church (VA) Public Schools Board, I served as both vice chair and chairman. I spent almost as much time working with the public and the schools as I did in my day job. Much of that time was spent talking with families about their own experiences and challenges. And much of it was informing the community of the limited role of a local school board – to approve an annual budget, to hire a superintendent (if necessary), and to review the performance of said superintendent each year. Many failed to realize that a good school board member was one who let the superintendent, the administrators, the principals, and the teachers do their respective jobs. It was to provide the resources to those entrusted with our kids; it wasn’t to micromanage every action, every decision, and every thought that occurred in the district.

I was reminded of this last week in seeing the horrible actions coming out of Bridgeport, CT, where an exemplary superintendent by just about all measures resigned from a challenging urban district. There, the supe didn’t resign because she received a better job elsewhere, or because she struggled managing the budget, or even because of test scores or student behavior issues. No, she resigned because of the school board. One particular board member, actually. There, a member of the board of education dramatically overstepped her role, and  allegedly made it her mission to regularly harass and malign a superintendent who was doing a strong job. Playing the role of the bully, the school board member has now dealt a painful blow to every child and every teacher in that district.

I’d like to chalk it up to a once-in-a-blue-moon experience, but I hear too many stories of school board members who fail to understand their roles, seeing the board as an opportunity to stick it to a supe they disagree with or dislike, or general seeing board service as a stepping stone to world domination. In many of these instances, we see local school board races now taking on the tone, tenor, and vitriol of a Donald Trump presidential campaign, with those seeking a school board seat hurling insults, falsehoods, and blame, all in the hope of securing a job that pays nothing and demands long, thankless hours.

In fact, I’m seeing such a Trump-istation of local edu-politics in my own local school district in New Jersey. Earlier this year, Eduflack wrote about the growing discord in my community on the future of our highly rated public schools. That community infighting has now spilled into next month’s school board election, with some candidates doing their very best to “make WW-P schools great again.”

Most communities would celebrate being a high-ranking school district, particularly in a competitive state like New Jersey. According to the most recent high school ratings in NJ Monthly, our community’s two high schools are ranked number 2 and number 9 in the state. Yet we have two candidates, running as a ticket for school board, condemning the current district leadership for “lowered educational standards and learning.” As an “example” of such mismanagement, they note that “High School South was always ranked in the top 10 high schools in NJ. Now South is ranked 35.”

It’s a terrific soundbite for two candidates seeking to run as change agents and against the system. It’s also a soundbite that warrants four Pinocchios by any political fact checker. That 35th-ranked high school is actually the ninth best high school in the state. But we shouldn’t let the facts get in the way, should we?

This Trumpian duo is also quick to attack “teacher resignations,” noting that educators leaving the job are a reflection that “teachers are unhappy, and leaving in droves.” Of course, these highly educated individuals don’t note how many of those teacher resignations are actually retirements, earned by teachers after decades of service. And they certainly don’t note that many teachers postponed retirement after the collapse of markets (and retirement plans) in 2008, and that we just happen to see the markets now back up to pre-2008 levels. Such distinctions just muddy a good “damn the establishment” talking point.

Sadly, the campaign has also taken on the tenor of a Trump rally, as the two look to scapegoat and blame others for perceived wrongs. The superintendent is to blame for focusing on social-emotional learning and the whole child, and is regularly attacked because he — <shudder> — actually hires administrators to help manage a complex district. The state is to blame for taking away “final exams,” (yes, they are actually campaigning to “restore final exams.”) Technology is blamed for many of our ills, with the added wrinkle of the candidates wanting to “focus on children as individual learners,” but failing to note the very reason technology is used as part of a strong personalized learning program in a district like ours.

The most egregious of the attacks and scapegoating is directed at supposed bleeding heart parents who are concerned about the mental health and general well being of their kids and of students throughout the district. These candidates and those who stand up for him actually have attacked the notion AP classes should be available to all those who wish to do the work. Instead, they say it should just be for the elite of the elite.  The candidates accuse misguided parents for watering down the AP program and costing kids like theirs a chance to get into Harvard or Princeton. The candidates allege that our community has so destroyed the value of AP classes that’s 80 percent of the district’s students are in honors language arts classes, when the actual number is half that (just 40 percent). I guess it is just far easier to attack “those kids” who are devaluing honors classes and denying “our kids” what is rightfully theirs.

Typically, Eduflack chooses to stay out of such local education politics, wanting to keep my views to myself. It’s a tough job serving on a local school board. Those who choose to pursue such public service have to do it eyes wide open, for the right reasons. They have to do so seeking to speak for the community and do whatever is necessary to support a superintendent and all of those who work for the school district. And they have to do so fully not understanding what is — and what is not — the appropriate role for a school board member.

So it is unfortunate when one sees the negativity, blame, and vitriol playing out on the national presidential campaign stage seep into the local edu-politics in a community that would be the envy of most cities and towns across the United States. It is sad to see candidates put forward incomplete stories, whispered innuendo, and downright falsehoods to try to justify a narrative of a school system in crisis. And it is disheartening to see individuals try to heighten an “us versus them” thinking in a community where all should be focused on our kids, what we do well, and how we can do it even better TOGETHER.

Hopefully, such political shenanigans are an anomaly. Hopefully, we see that positivity trumps negativity and that a “rising tide lifts all boats” philosophy beats out “they are out to deny us what is ours” approach. Hopefully, we put the interests of kids above the personal grievances and petty politics of the adults in the room. Hopefully.

But the recent actions in Bridgeport tell us that “hopefully” isn’t a synonym for likely. Sadly, we may soon see many more Donald Trumps in waiting using local school boards to practice the politics of blame, negativity, hatred, and lies to forward their own personal agendas. And it will be great superintendents, exemplary educators, and our own kids who will ultimately pay the price.

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.

IMG_2613

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.

 

Envisioning a Trump Education Stump Speech

There is no question that the rhetoric (or supposed rhetoric) of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has taken on a life of its own. The perception of Trump’s campaign words seems to have generated extreme emotions on both sides of the political spectrum.

But when one takes a closer look at some of his prepared remarks, we actually see a political candidate who tries to walk the middle ground. A businessman who enjoys talking in the collective “we” and focuses largely on positive themes. Don’t believe me, take a look at some of his prepared remarks.

Yes, Trump’s education platform is a virtual blank slate. Being opposed to the Common Core, when the president really has nothing to do with its implementation, is hardly administration-leading policy. But even if we don’t know “what” education policy under Trump may look like, we have a good sense of “how” he would talk about it, particularly in the early going.

Trump’s celebratory remarks following his wins on Super Tuesday earlier this month provide the perfect template for a beginning Trump education policy speech. So let’s use it as an education speech Mad Lib, if you will. Just imagine, when the references to the economy and the campaign are substituted with education-specific content, what he’d sound like (with edu-edits to the actual Trump speech in italics). The result is surprising, and quite in line with the current edu-debates:

Thank you very much. I appreciate it. And I appreciate all that parents are doing to help make American public education great again.

I want to congratulate Ben Carson on his confirmation as my Education Secretary. He worked hard, I know how hard he worked actually, so I congratulate him and look forward to all we can now do working together.

We are going to make American education great again, folks. We’re going to make it great again.

I’ve watched the leaders of our teachers’ unions talking about how teacher pay is poor and teacher working conditions are poor and everything’s poor and everyone is doing badly, but that they are going to fix it. The NEA and AFT have been saying the same thing for so long long. If they haven’t straightened it out by now, they aren’t going to straighten it out in the next four years. Our schools are just going to become worse and worse.

The unions say they want to make American public education whole again, and I’m trying to figure out what that is all about. Make American public education great again is going to be much better than making American public education whole again.

This is going to be a tough four years for Randi and Lily. They had a tough election in November, but worked hard. They spent a lot of money. But we won the election, despite them. I know that a lot of groups, a lot of the special interests and a lot of the lobbyists and the people that want to have their little elected officials do exactly as they want. They’re going to continue to put millions into efforts to try and stop my policies. I think that’s fine. As far as I’m concerned, it’s fine. Had Hillary won, the unions and their lobbyists would have had total control. But we saw what happened.

Our win was just a great win because America is a place that is just spectacular. America is an amazing place to go to school. It’s been amazing to see so many focused on improving our schools. It’s been just so beautiful to watch this administration grow and to watch it grow so strongly, so quickly.

Throughout the campaign, some questioned how great this administration would be. They questioned the great company we built, and whether we would be able to put that same ability into doing something for our nation. Our nation is in serious trouble. We’re being chilled on student performance, absolutely destroyed. China is just taking advantage of us. I have nothing against China. I have great respect for China, but their teachers are too smart for our teachers. Our teachers don’t have a clue, and the student performance gaps just continue to grow. The learning gaps seen on TIMSS and PISA are just too much. It won’t be that way for much longer. We have the greatest education leaders in the world in my administration and, believe me, we’re going to redo how we teach our kids and it’s going to be a thing of beauty.

You look at countries like China, Finland, Canada, where they’re killing us on international benchmarks, absolutely destroying us on these tests. They are destroying us in terms of student performance in subjects like science and math. Even Poland is killing us on these tests. Poland. We have to stop it, folks. I know how to stop it. We are going to create schools for the 21st century economy. We are going to create schools like you’ve never seen. We are going to improve student test scores. I have a plan that parents and teachers and so many others think is the best plan they’ve seen. We’re going to improve learning for the middle class. Kids of middle class parents have been forgotten in our education debates. These kids were the predominant factor in making our country into a country that we all love so much and we’re all so proud of, but we’ve forgotten the middle class. So we are going to improve their schools and get more of them to college. Get more of them into good jobs.

We’re going to improve our schools. You look at all of those families that are moving out of their neighborhoods. When you see the Andersons moving from Detroit and you see so many other families now constantly moving. They used to move because the parents got better-paying jobs. Now they are moving to get away from failing schools. Doesn’t matter what part of the country they live in, even here in fabulous New York City. Ben understands the problem, fully understands. Families are leaving from places where they and their parents used to go to school into other communities looking for better. We shouldn’t let that happen.

We’ve lost high-quality schools. We’ve lost our good schools. Millions and millions of students, thousands and thousands of schools. We are losing so much. We can’t let that happen.

I tell the story often about a friend of mine with three children. He always intended to send them to the same community school that he and his wife attended in New York City. And recently, he and his wife decided to send their kids to a charter school. Charter schools value education so much that it is virtually impossible for the local public school to compete. I don’t want that to happen. That’s not going to happen. Every school should be like a charter school.

As parents, we have tremendous power over everybody because we are really the source of decisions. We have great, great power. The problem is we have politicians and teachers unions who truly, truly, truly don’t know what they’re doing. So we’re going to work very, very hard.

I’m so honored to be here today. It takes tremendous courage for parents to commit to changing their schools. Many of us have never done this before. We’ve focused on our own jobs and our own families. This is something we’ve never done, but we all felt we have to do it. When you look at the incompetence of the public schools and the state tests, where are spending billions of dollars and we get absolutely nothing. When you look at all of the problems our schools have and you look at our pool of good, committed teachers, which is really being depleted, rapidly depleted. We’re going to make our schools better and stronger than every before, and nobody, nobody, nobody is going to mess with us, folks, nobody.

Together, we are going to make American public education great again.

Parent empowerment. Stronger performance on international benchmarks. Standing up the the unions and those who lobby for the unions. It’s like many a speech we have heard before. And no mentions of walls at all …