The New PDK Survey Is Here, The New PDK Survey Is Here

In the immortal words of Steve Martin from the movie, The Jerk, “The new phone books are here! The new phone books are here!” Only instead of talking the latest white and yellow pages, where the inclusion of our name shows we are somebody, we are talking about this year’s PDK/Gallup Poll, which validates all we’ve been thinking, hearing, and saying these past 12 months on the shifts in public education.

What do this year’s results tell us? A quick sampling:

  • Overall, only slightly more than a quarter surveyed (27%) give President Obama a grade of “A” or “B” for his performance in support of public schools. That’s down nearly 15 points from three years ago.
  • We have more fait in our local school systems. Half gave their local schools an “A” or a “B.” But when asked about our nation’s schools as a whole, only 17% give similar grades to ‘Merica.
  • As we hear more about the “federal role” in education, the public is starting to absorb it. More than half (56%) said their local school board should have the greatest influence on what is being taught (a big surprise to this former school board chairman who found that the vast majority wanted the school board out of such decisions, and to just focus on the basics like funding). Only 15% though the federal government should have the most influence (and we would ask who actually thinks the feds have much influence at all, let alone the most, on what happens in our local schools.)
  • More than half (54%) do not think standardized tests are helpful to teachers (though I am guessing they are talking about high-stakes, summative tests, and not the formative or interim assessments that even teachers say they want).
  • On the controversial issue of Common Core State Standards, 81% of those surveyed have heard of CCSS, up from about two-thirds last year. And six in 10 say they oppose CCSS. The biggest reason? Standards limit the flexibility of teachers ot teach what they think is best (not the testing issue we hear so much about).
  • And in those further depressing stats, only 30% were familiar with PISA. Only half believe that American students perform below the level of other students around the globe.

What do we take away from all of this? To be kind, we don’t know what we don’t know. Public school performance and President Obama’s education positions have been relatively unchanged in recent years, yet we see huge swings in what we think of both of those today. At a time when most school board meetings go unattended and few can even name who sits on their local board of ed, we now place the greatest trust (and presumed power) in the hands of those unsung officials. We lack an understanding of assessment literacy, and are now equating everything we’ve heard about “high-stakes testing” to anything that bears the name “test.”

And let’s not forget that, while we may have these positions, they still aren’t strong enough for us to act on them. Education policy remains one of those issues that we are all concerned with, until it is time to head into the voting places. We may believe our nation’s schools are headed into the crapper, but we still elect the same federal, state, and local policymakers to oversee those schools. And while we may be concerned about teachers not being able to teach what they think is best under CCSS, other surveys show we are enthusiastic in taking away their tenure and job protections, the very things that may allow them the power to actually do what they think is best in the classroom.

Yet the PDK poll is an important measure for understanding the populace’s temperature on these issues. While we are unlikely to act on them, we are seeing a steady shift that shows we are more cynical when it comes to public education in the United States. We are lest trusting. We remain fairly uninformed. And we seem content in carrying on as is.

Sigh …


Where Are the Parents in Education Nation?

With day one of the 2013 Education Nation Summit in the books, and day two offering up a terrific array of speakers, one has to be impressed.  Throughout yesterday’s program, participants heard from many of the nation’s leading education voices — superintendents, national organization heads, entrepreneurs, innovators, and all-around visionaries.

Spotlights were placed on new initiatives designed to spark new thinking.  There was even a constant reminder of an ongoing student competition, seeking to signal the best of the best in young education innovation.
Today promises tales from the celebrity sector of education, as names such as Tony Bennett (the I Left My Heart in San Francisco singer, not the I Left My Post in Florida state supe) and Goldie Hawn slated to address the audience.
In watching the 1 percent of the education community, if you will, though, Eduflack was left with a lingering question.  Where were the parents?  Where were the voices of those caregivers left to decide which school provides the greatest opportunity for their kids?  Where were the mothers worried about school safety or the fathers concerned about their son dropping out without employment opportunities?  Where were the parents in the academical village?
As a lead up to the two-day summit, NBC now offers two town halls to address some of these stakeholder issues.  Education Nation first offered up a summit with students, which is always an eye-opening and interesting development.  It also provided a town hall for teachers, letting educators discuss many of struggles and concerns they are facing each day in the classroom.
One can argue that these two voices also needed to be front and center during the two-summit itself.  No, I’m not talking the celebrity teacher who is trying to make a name for himself with his latest crusade.  Nor am I talking about the student who is on the cusp of curing cancer before being named homecoming queen and student body president.  I’m talking about those very real voices who can speak to the struggles and the victories that we see in classrooms across the nation.
Those are the voices that should be in there at the New York Public Library.  As those in the know are discussing the impacts and intents of Common Core State Standards, we should also be hearing from parents concerned with the amount of testing their children receive and whether any of those assessments measure if their child is ready for the rigors of college or not.
As the leaders in the field are discussing blended learning, its merits, and how it presents itself, we should also be hearing from parents who wonder how they provide it to their child when they don’t have internet access at home or can’t afford the latest tablet that everyone is gushing about.
Yes, Education Nation plays a valuable role in these ongoing discussions that drive our community.  It is important for the movers and shakers to get together and hear these discussions and understand many of the policy and instructional issues facing our schools.
But it is just as important for voices from the rest of the nation to be heard.  It isn’t enough to say that parents and local school boards and other such actors can watch Education Nation on the Internet.  We need engagement, not just information.  We need a give and take of ideas, not just the consumption of data.
Eduflack doesn’t mean to pick on Education Nation. The same could be said about virtually any education conference or summit these days.  At least Education Nation makes the effort at convening students and educators beforehand as part of the kick-off town halls.
In reality, Education Nation is made up of millions of parents and caregivers and volunteers and educators and other stakeholders who are unable to get into the room.  How do we ensure that their voice is heard during the process?  It is a challenge NBC and its partners are up to, and it is a puzzle that the entire education community should be committed to solving.

Covering School Board Elections

There is no question about it.  One of Eduflack’s greatest professional honors was representing the families of Falls Church, VA on its school board.  As chairman and vice chair of the board during my tenure, I am enormously proud of what we were able to, particularly in navigating difficult budgetary times by doing our best to keep cuts from impacting the classroom.

We were also able to lead a major effort to expand our facilities, securing a federal bond to expand our upper elementary school.  And we were able to focus in a smart way on teacher evaluation and the other policy changes that were affecting our small school district.
But anyone who has served on a local school board knows it is a relatively thankless job.  It is a lot of work, and a lot of hours.  One does it because of service to the community and belief in the public schools. If that isn’t your motivation, you have no business serving on a school board.
So I was a little tickled to see the latest from Ballotpedia.  The site now offers a new portal that is watching school board elections in the largest 1,000 school districts across the country.
Every now and then, we hear about school board races (think to the recent Los Angeles campaigns).  But such efforts are often overlooked, as these municipal elections are so far down the ballot that most don’t pay attention to them.
Readers of Eduflack don’t need me telling them how important local decisionmakers are, particularly as we are focusing on CCSS, CCSS assessments, NCLB waivers, NCLB waiver waivers, t-val, and all of the other policy issues hitting our school districts.  So Ballotpedia’s initiative is a welcome addition to the discussion, hopefully offering some additional insight into these races and the issues and individuals at the center of them.
Happy doorknocking and neighborhood coffees to those included in the portal  Ah, the good ol’ days ….

Eduflack Yack – Vallas and Licensure

As we head into August, Eduflack is launching a new feature — a new Podcast called “Eduflack Yack.”  A couple of times a week, I’ll opine on the education issues of the day.  Sometimes it’ll be on a topic written about on the site; sometimes it will just be a topic that deserving a little rant. But every time we will try go against the grain and take a different look at the issue.
Give it a listen.

Do We Get CEUs For This?

Down in Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal has offered an education reform package that leaves most other state reform packages in the dust.  Eliminate tenure.  Overhaul how teachers are paid.  Offer families vouchers to send their kids to private and parochial schools.

And like most states that face such reform proposals, Louisiana’s teachers’ unions are none too happy.  Unions leaders are standing up to the reform proposal.  They are speaking out.  They are rallying the troops.
But in a new twist, the unions are also getting local school districts to close their schools so that teachers can go to the state capitol to protest.  Officially, these newly decided days off are billed as “professional development” days, as the Advocate reports.
According to Learning Forward, the nation’s premier organization focused on educator effectiveness, the definition of PD is “a comprehensive, sustained, and intensive approach to improving teachers’ and principals’ effectiveness in raising student achievement.”
Now Eduflack is all for everyone having the right to exercise their First Amendment rights and ensuring that their voice is heard during the legislative process.  But all this begs an important question.  Does protesting pending legislation, waving signs, speaking out to protect your benefits and the like, serve as a “comprehensive, sustained, and intensive approach” to raising student achievement?  Does it demand that taxpayers, through their local school boards, cancel school days for students and pay teachers to go exercise their lobbying rights?
And if it does, can one get CEU credits for lobbying state legislatures or marching against the governor?

Lessons Learned from the School Board

Earlier this week, the Falls Church City Council honored dear ol’ Eduflack for his “dedicated service” on the Falls Church City School Board, noting “the City is grateful for your serving the students of the City and making the City of Falls Church Public Schools one of the highest-ranking school systems in the United States.”

I am very proud of my school board service.  It was a privilege for me to serve in elected office, particularly when my charge was to ensure that every child received a world-class public education.  I was fortunate to work with two great superintendents, a phenomenal group of educators, engaged parents, and terrific fellow board members.
As a result, I come away with several key lessons learned:
1. Teachers are the engines of successful schools.  Teaching, particularly today, is one of the most challenging jobs out there.  For schools to succeed and children to achieve, we need excellent educators in every classroom.  Those educators must be empowered to do what is best for the students.  And those successful educators must be paid fairly.
2. If teachers are the engines, then parents are the gasoline.  In Falls Church, we benefited from intense family engagement, with parents eager to be a part of what was happening in their child’s classroom, school, or the community at large.  For ultimate success, teachers and parents must work in partnership to educate the child.
3. No excuses.  In our community, we expected all students to achieve.  We competed every year to have the highest high school graduation rate in the state or to be rated the highest achieving district in the DC area (at least according to The Washington Post).  We encouraged all students to take AP and IB courses throughout their high school careers.  AND we made it a school board priority for the school district to pay the fees for those AP and IB tests.  We could not let family income be a barrier to student achievement.
These are lessons that every community — urban, suburban, or rural — can all learn from.  The value of great educators.  The need for engaged parents.  The true belief that all can succeed.  Imagine how much could happen in public education if we all could adopt these simple lessons.

Advocating from the School Board Bench

In the era of No Child Left Behind, we’ve heard a great deal about how local school boards have no productive role in 21st century education.  Some see the power shifting toward the states and the federal government, with school boards simply left to rubber stamp what comes from on high.  Others, like the Fordham Institute’s Checker Finn, seem to think such boards are just a breeding ground for political wannabes or former district employees with an axe to grind.

But as someone who actually serves on one of those local school boards, Eduflack can say there is a real role for local school boards to play in advocating for policies that can improve opportunity and success for all students.  There is a place to champion effective instruction and learning.  And there is a way to help build a better mousetrap to to address those directives coming from the feds or the state.
Don’t believe me?  I’m ok with that.  But you should believe Fred Deutsch.  Mr. Deutsch is a member of the Watertown School Board in South Dakota.  We actually became friends over this blog years ago, as he would provide insights on how my national opining here was playing out on the ground in his community in South Dakota.  And as I’ve learned over the years, he really is dealing with the very best and the very worst in local public education, with the latest being plans to cut back to a four-day school week in South Dakota due to budget shortfalls.
Despite those challenges, Fred has been a passionate advocate for school board member advocacy.  His work has been featured nationally, and he has led presentations to help local school board members find their advocacy voice.  And since I posed a question to EdSec Arne Duncan for his Twitter town hall today on what the role of local school boards should be in our post-NCLB, waiver environment, I thought it appropriate to highlight some of the recommendations offered by Fred:
* At the heart of school board advocacy is the belief that people that know best are those closest to the child
* Part of the job of school board members is to represent the best interests of our children to those that make the laws
* We must share our stories.  Legislators must understand how the decisions they make impact our children at the local level
* The “Foundation of Effective Advocacy” is to develop one’s “relationships, facts, and passion”
* Invest yourself into development relationships with lawmakers — but not just during session.  To win the advocacy game, we need to develop and nurture relationships throughout the year
* Understand the data
Deutsch also focuses a great deal on passion.  Passion: It’s what drives us.  It is what stirs us to action.  It overcomes roadblocks.  It persists through failure.  And it persists through crap.
For those who would like to see Fred Deutsch’s full PowerPoint, it can be found here.  The deck is also full of many useful links for finding information, with a distinct South Dakota flavor.
As local school boards prepare for yet another unpleasant budget cycle, Deutsch’s points are important ones for us to consider.  He paints a picture of a school board that is informed, engaged, and involved.  It is a snapshot of a board with a mission and with clear goals.  And it is a diagram of a school board that serves the community, the schools, and, most importantly, the students.
Important lessons to digest and employ.  And kudos to Fred Deutsch, the Watertown School Board, and the many school boards like it that serve to have a real impact on the learning and achievement of all students.