The Blue Bird of Ed Advocacy, 2017 Edition

After a year’s hiatus, Education Next magazine and the Fordham Institute’s Michael Petrilli today released its annual list of the Top Education Policy People and Organizations on Social Media. The lists are definitely worth a gander.

As someone who spends a great deal of time on the education policy Interwebs, I was pleasantly surprised by how this year’s rankings shook out. We are seeing more voices of color on the respective lists than in previous years. We continue to see members of the media strongly represented. And, from dear ol’ Eduflack’s perspective, we tend to see fewer members of the “education reform” community, both individually and as organizations, on these lists than we did in previous years.

Petrilli and EdNext smartly included a list of “Other Educators to Follow,” which provides a terrific list of classroom voices who are providing important insights, as they should, into the education discussion.

The top five education policy people on social media (meaning Twitter and measure by Klout score) are: 1) Diane Ravitch; 2) Randi Weingarten; 3) John White; 4) Xian Franzinger Barrett; and 5) Patrick Riccards (they really like me) and Andy Smarick.

Based on total Twitter followers, the top five education people are: 1) Ravitch; 2) your Eduflack; 3) Weingarten; 4) Alfie Kohn; and 5) Betsy DeVos.

The top five education organizations on social media (by Klout score) are: 1) NEA; 2) U.S. Department of Education; 3) Edutopia; 4) Teach for America; and 5) Ed Surge.

Based on followers, the top five orgs are: 1) U.S. Department of Education; 2) Edutopia; 3) Education Week; 4) Huffington Post Education; and 5) US News Education.

Yes, the ranking still uses Klout scores. Folks can get all over Petrilli for this (as they do every year), but if you do, how about offering another quantifiable metric? In this instance, Klout is like VAM scores. It is a vastly imperfect measure, but it is still the best one available.

And yes, the focus is on K-12 education folks and organizations. So those focused on higher education are not the focus of these lists.

A huge thank you to all of those who follow @Eduflack on Twitter and find enough value in what I offer to retweet and like my randomness. Just about everything on Eduflack is education related. I try to stay way from personal opinions, and instead focus on news articles and research studies in education. From time to time, I will offer personal opinions. And from time to time, I will include posts on the NY Mets, MMA fighting, and Guatemala. I strive to make it a relatively impartial clearinghouse of education policy info.

Please check out all of the lists on Education Next. And if you are on Twitter but aren’t following someone on those lists, be sure to add them to your feeds immediately!

 

Is It Too Much to Ask for a Little Civility

As Hurricane Harvey was bringing devestation to Texas over the weekend, EdSec Betsy DeVos did what most public officials do during such disasters. DeVos tweeted her thoughts and prayers to those affected by the hurricane, noting that the US Department of Education is prepared to help. 

It’s what is expected. It usually gets little notice. It’s what we do. 

But this tweet was different. What was a pro forma statement by a government leader became a lightning rod. Sportscaster turned talk show host turned Resistance instigator Keith Olbermann saw a need to respond. Knowing that DeVos remains controversial was too much for Olbermann to pass up. So he tweeted this response. 


The Saturday Olbermann message has been, as of Monday morning, been retweeted more than 17,000 times and favorited more that 48,000 times. Anti-Trumpers across the country celebrated the former ESPN newsreader for being so bold. 

Really? Have we gotten to the point where using a tragedy to both personally insult a government leader and use some of the vilest language possible in the process? Is this the new normal?

I get that the Resistance believes that shocking, ugly language is the best way to make its point. Dear ol’ Eduflack has written about the dangers of such an approach previously. But what are we really saying here?

If a teacher used such language in the classroom, would we now be OK with it? What if it was said in relation to the President? Or to those who organize nazi rallies? Would that be ok?

What if a teacher used it in relation to Robert E. Lee? Or slave-owning Founding Fathers? What if a conservative teacher used it in relation to Obama? Or to Hillary?

We quickly forget that our kids watch us closely and model our words and our actions. When we, as parents, cheer over the use of such language, we tell our kids it’s permissible. We condone such ugliness with our kids. Heck, we celebrate it. 

At the end of the day, Olbermann got exactly what he wanted. He was cheered by the left Nd celebrated on social media. But he has added nothing to the debate, nor has he contributed to the discourse. All Olbermann has done is take a rhetorical level we thought was as low as it could get, and drive it deeper into the mud and muck. 

And that’s a cryin’ shame. Our political discourse deserves better. And so do our kids. 

Are We Coming for Surnames Next?

I also worry about letting our sensitivities and concerns for “what if” drive our decisionmaking. We cannot embrace free speech or assembly if we believe it only applies to those with whom we agree. We cannot embrace a free press if we do not acknowledge that includes media with stark biases that may conflict with our personal beliefs. And we cannot embrace inclusiveness if we are afraid a surname will engender concern or outrage.

From my latest on LinkedIn Pulse, exploring ESPN’s head-scratching decision to remove a broadcaster from a U.Va. football game because of his “Robert Lee” name

Chasing Social Media Squirrels 

The public can attack President Trump for Twitter behavior that is beneath the office, but it shouldn’t ignore that while we let an entire media cycle get dominated by a Tweet about a morning show host on a cable network, the Trump Administration put into place new regulations regarding the profiles of people who can enter the United States from certain countries and what they are allowed to bring with them when they enter our borders. And we might want to question what really deserves our limited, ADHD attentions.

From Eduflack’s latest on President Trump and the public responses to his social media activities 

A 40-Something Fat Guy, Learning Life Lessons in an MMA Ring 

Most guys of my age and my physical “stature” likely spend their sunny Sunday afternoons on a golf course. Or sitting in a baseball park or at a movie theater. Maybe they just spend the afternoon on the couch, recovering from a long week and preparing for a longer one.

Instead, I spent my last Sunday at a civic center in Central New Jersey. I was there to cheer on my daughter, competing in her first “Challenge of Champions,” a regional grappling and kickboxing tournament sponsored by Tiger Schulmann’s MMA. My mini-me has been training with Tiger Schulmann’s for two years now. On Sunday, she earned a silver in grappling for 9-10-year old girls, and a gold for kickboxing.

But I was also there for me. I’ve been training a few months longer than my daughter. As a result, I spent my Sunday strapping on my gear to kickbox against the old, fat, and unskilled bracket (those over 40, more than 200 pounds, and with white, blue, or yellow belts). Unlike my daughter, I left with no celebratory hardware. Instead, I walked away from my bouts with two fractured ribs, bones broken 30 seconds into my first fight, and that remained broken throughout my entire second bout.

 
Which begs the question, why in the world is a guy like me spending his Sunday getting kicked and punched to the point of breaking? Why do I spend much of my free time sparring with men half my age and with (at least) twice the skills and athletic prowess? Why do I suffer from broken toes, fractured tibia, and more bruises than I care to count, and respond by thinking of how I can do better and how I can avoid suffering the same injuries in the future? I should be pedaling a stationary bike or strolling around the neighborhood. Instead, I worry about the quickness of my left cross and the strength of my roundkicks.

Why?

I do it because it forces me to do something that doesn’t come easy to me. Not everything should come naturally. Not everything is covered by our personal skill sets or lives in our personal wheel houses. When we are challenged to break those comfort zones, we learn who we truly are as individuals.

I do it because it eliminates the word quit from my vocabulary. Parents know how often kids want to stop doing something because it might be a little challenging. If I’m not traveling for work, then I’m on the mat training. I don’t come up with excuses to skip, and my kids (both of whom train) similarly can’t offer excuses. 

I do it to be healthier. Yes, kickboxing is an incredible workout. I’m a man who once weighed more than 400 pounds. Today, I am in the best physical shape of my life. I’m stronger. I have far greater physical stamina. More importantly, I am healthier so my kids see the importance of a healthy lifestyle and staying physically active. If dad (and mom) can do it, then the kiddos can definitely do it.

I do it to clear my mind. It may sound silly, but the hour on the mat is the one hour in a given day when I don’t think about work or family or finances or any of the other thousand and one things that weigh on me most days. I need to focus on the task at hand. If my mind drifts to a work issue, I’ll take a blow to the body (or worse, to the head). So I need to stay focused on me and my opponent. All of those professionals who embrace the philosophy of “deep thinking” or who bemoan the impact of multi-tasking fully understand the benefit.

I do it because it is a pure meritocracy. No one cares what one does for a living. It doesn’t matter how much money one earns, how big one’s house is, or what car one drives. What matters is commitment, focus, and skill. It’s about the color belt around one’s waist and the number of days one trains. As a result, my community is one that we strive for in the 21st century. It is male and female. It is black, white, brown, and yellow. It is Christian and Jewish, Muslim and atheist. It is young and old. At the end of training, we are all just brothers and sisters, working toward similar goals.

And I do it because it provides a sense of family. It may sound incredibly corny, but our little Princeton school does indeed become a family. I care for many of the other kids there as I do for my own, watching them train and develop. We have a tight group of families that train, with both parents and all kids working. It provides a sense of belonging that it harder and harder to find these days. We help each other through training issues, through work issues, through family issues, and through personal issues. And we do it because we choose to, not because of a sense of obligation.

I have no grand aspirations. I recognize that Dana White is never going to come knocking on my door, because he has been looking for someone just like me to join the UFC. I know that, no matter how much time I put in, my skills will never be great. Sure, I know they will improve over time, and I want them to improve, but few will ever look at me and use the words “skilled fighter” without adding a “not a” before it. I’ll continue to work through the bumps and bruises and breaks, using them as motivation instead of reason for surrender.

I do so because it makes me a better, more complete individual and because it makes us a stronger, more capable family. I’m reminded of that when I see a group of people cheering their hearts out for my daughter as she took home the gold. I’m reminded of that when I see those members of my Tiger family who waited until the very last fights of our friends were fought late on Sunday evening. And I’m reminded of that when I see the resiliency, commitment, and respect my young children demonstrate on a daily basis because of it all.

At the end of the day, I am a writer, a father, an advocate, an agitator, a strategist, an innovator, and a fighter. And through all of the ups and downs all of those identifiers bring me in both my personal and professional lives, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

(Eduflack is a high blue belt training at Tiger Schulmann’s MMA in Princeton, NJ. A version of this piece also appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.)

Happy Happy!

On this day in history. Seventy years ago, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was established. Twenty-three years ago, Justin Bieber was hatched, err was born. Twenty two years ago, Yahoo was incorporated. And 10 years ago today, Eduflack was launched.

It’s hard to believe that it has been a decade. In that time, we have had well over a million page visits to this site. We have experienced three different presidents and four different EdSecs. We went from the height of NCLB to the rejection of NCLB to the passage of ESSA to now the start of the rejection of key ESSA provisions. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

When I launched Eduflack in 2007, I did so because I found the writing cathartic. I didn’t expect folks would actually want to read it (no, I’m not being self deprecating). I certainly didn’t expect major news outlets would quote posts (particularly when I hypothesized on potential EdSec candidates in 2008).

This site has evolved over the last decade, but I still try to keep it at that intersection of education communications, policy, politics, and research. Sometimes we lean more one way than the other. But with each post, we try to stay true to our roots.

This blog has led to the establishment and curation of a top education policy Twitter feed, @Eduflack (believe it or not, Twitter wasn’t even a thing when the blog was established). It has led to a regular podcast for BAM! Radio Network, with the current focus on education policy under President Trump (#TrumpED). And it has resulted in essays and commentaries bearing the Eduflack name in Education Week, US News & World Report, and many, many others.

It has even led to an upcoming book, currently late to my publisher, on the need to reform education reform.

And while I hate the term, it has also resulted in an Eduflack “brand,” which hopefully stands for something that is seen as contributing to a meaningful discussion, and not just adding to all of the meaningless white noise in public education.

Big thanks to all of those who read this blog, who encourage me to continue to do this blog, and to those who run into me at conferences and events and simply know me as Eduflack (granted, Riccards can often be too difficult for some to pronounce.)

Thank you all! And happy birthday Eduflack, truly my middle child.

 

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For Schools, Spelling is Serious Business

As many students were coming back to school after the winter break, communities on the East Coast experienced their first real winter weather of the year. Ice and snow forecasts had students flushing ice cubes down the toilet, parents worried about childcare coverage, and school districts watching weather patterns like tornado hunters.

In Maryland, one student even went to social media to ask for time away from the little red schoolhouse, tweeting the Frederick County Public Schools to “close school tammarow PLEASE.”

Responding with the type of levity we expect to see on Twitter (at least when we aren’t experiencing vitriol), the school district’s social media coordinator tweeted back at the student, ““but then how would you learn how to spell ‘tomorrow’?” So that no one would mistake her humor for snark, she closed the message with a smiley face emoji.

Now, according to The Washington Post, that social media coordinator has been fired. The termination came after the district demanded that she delete all that the district deemed as “inappropriate” tweets and after the system’s communications director issued a public apology to the FCPS student who can’t spell tomorrow.

Overreact much, Frederick County Public Schools?

Now Eduflack gets that the school system as worried about potential backlash. As a former school board chairman, I get that the district feared parents concerned students were being called stupid or were being mocked on social media and that is could become a “thing” at the next school board meeting. But this is Twitter, folks. It is designed for interaction and give and take. A student tweeting at his or her school district is expecting a response.

One has to only look at the tweets from the school district since the incident to understand that, while the system may think it has built a “model for the state” when it comes to social media, it just isn’t the case.

  • “Schedule reminder: schools are closed on Monday, January 23rd.”
  • “All FCPS activities are canceled for Saturday, Jan 14 due to weather forecasts.”
  • “Academic Tournament continues with ‘Human Diseases’ as the special topic.”
  • “Reminder: schools are closed on Monday in observance of Martin Luther King Day.” (one has to wonder if someone is getting suspended for leaving the “Jr.” off that tweet)

Model Twitter feeds are those that happen in real time and generate discussion and sharing. They aren’t automated, nor are they approved weeks in advance on a schedule. If anything, the now former social media coordinator for FCPS provided a little personality to the site, and in doing so, ensured that students across the district were actually checking it out (if only for a little bit). She showed how school district social media feeds can actually interact with the very students they are supposed to be serving.

Unfortunately, the actions in Frederick County will have more districts pulling back that getting into the scrum. Instead of using Twitter to engage and build community, they will use Twitter as a bulletin board, thinking that a single line they post on scheduling will stay top of mind to their entire community for perpetuity. And that’s a crying shame.

If school districts are going to use Twitter, they need to use it for all it is worth. Otherwise, they may just take their messages and chalk them up on the old slate and hang it outside the little red school house. It’ll be just as effective communicating with families.