When It Comes To Reopening Schools, There Is No One Answer

President Donald Trump and EdSec Betsy DeVos want brick-and-mortar schools open for business this fall. Teachers, their unions, parents, and many others want to keep them closed, with teaching happening virtually, until their are guarantees on health, safety, and vaccines.

If we know anything, it is that a one-size-fits-all approach to schools just doesn’t work. There are too many variables, too many issues, and too many reasons why we prefer to leave education decisions to states and localities.

On the latest episode of TrumpEd on the BAM! Radio Network, we explore for topic of reopening and why we shouldn’t look to the feds for all the answers. Give it a listen here.

“A Historical Reality Check”

With statues continuing to come down around the nation, the need for understanding the history of why those statues went up in the first place becomes more and more important. One only needs to look at recent actions that tore down a statue of abolitionist  Frederick Douglass as proof of that.

On a recent epidote of TrumpEd on the BAM! Radio Network, we explore how we don’t need to waste too much time lamenting the loss of statues, particularly those honoring Confederate generals, and instead need to focus our efforts on dramatically improving how we teach our nation’s complex history and how we make sure today’s learners and activists understand both what has happened in our history and why.

Give it a listen here.

Literacy as a Constitutional, Civil Right

Earlier this year, the federal courts ruled that learning to read was a Constitutional right. For decades now, those (including dear ol’ Eduflack) who have advocated for scientifically based literacy instruction and who believe that virtually all learners can be taught how to read with proven instructional approaches have discussed literacy skills as a civil right.

With those declarations – and with decades of research clearly articulating how to teach reading and how to learn literacy skills – why are we still struggling to get learners reading at grade level by fourth grade?

On the latest episode of TrumpEd on the BAM! Radio Network, we explore the issue. Give it a listen here!

 

Declaring Our Independence from Ineffective History Instruction

Two hundred and forty four years ago, our nation first celebrated its independence. Had July 4, 1776 happened in our current environment, we likely would have watched Paul Revere’s ride via a Facebook Live video. Thomas Jefferson would have offered up the Declaration of Independence through a YouTube post. And Alexander Hamilton would have issued a call to arms to his colonial brothers and sisters on TikTok.

What we see as history should adapt to the time and mediums in which it occurs and also in which it is taught.

While George Washington and John Adams delivered their State of the Union addresses orally to the U.S. Congress, Thomas Jefferson changed the protocol and simply submitted a written address. That tradition continued until Woodrow Wilson in 1915. Harry Truman’s 1947 SOTU was the first to be broadcast on television. Lyndon Johnson’s 1965 address was the first to be broadcast during prime time, and 1966 was the first opportunity for the opposition party to also be granted a prime time slot.

FDR was known for his fireside chats, bringing the radio to presidential history. JFK introduced the nation to televised press conferences. And Donald Trump will go down in history as our first “Twitter” president. All adapted to the mediums that were most popular with the people at the time.

Despite all of these changes in how U.S. presidents have told their stories, how we teach history has largely remained the same as it was when public education was optional and provided in little red school houses. American history is taught through dusty textbooks. We still spend the first semester teaching about the American Revolution, and teaching it primarily through the lens of the white, male landowner. The winter and early spring are a lesson in the Civil War, taught through that same lens. Then after state testing, classes do a quick run from Reconstruction through modern times.

So we should not be surprised when those lessons don’t stick with today’s learners. Last year, I led a national research effort that explored what the average American knew about American history. Using multiple-choice questions from the practice tests for the U.S. citizenship exam, we surveyed 41,000 people nationally. We found that fewer than four in 10 could pass the test (meaning getting at least 12 of 20 questions correct). Passage rates were even lower for women and for people of color. And for those under the age of 50, only one in four could demonstrate a basic understanding of historical facts.

Late last year, I followed that history test with a national poll of American high school students about their attitudes towards American history. The results were disappointing, but not surprising. The average high school student found the learning of American history both boring and irrelevant. Historical knowledge played little value in their plans for college or for life.

Of course, learning American history isn’t about passing a multiple-choice test or doing well during a trivia night. Recent events have demonstrated how important it is for all of us to know our history – no matter how complex, confusing, or ugly it may be – and to think like historians. It is about asking tough questions and analyzing even tougher responses. It’s about beginning to understand what figures and moments and movements in American history we aren’t learning in class and asking why not and exploring what else hasn’t been taught. It’s about learning to think critically and focus less on just what happened and more on why things happened and the impact it had.

It’s about teaching a different type of history in a different way.

That’s why I am proud to officially announce the launch of the Driving Force Institute, a startup non-profit organization committed to transforming the teaching and learning of American history. This important work is based on a few key principles. First, video is the most powerful medium for teaching history to young people today, particularly video that is modeled after the YouTube videos learners are watching in their leisure time. Second, it is about making history more interesting and provocative for today’s learners. And finally, it is focused on telling our full history, with a particular emphasis on those important historical figures and moments that have been neglected for too long in our public school classrooms.

To launch this important work, DFI has collaborated with XQ Schools and its Rethink Together Forum to explore some of these important historical questions. We begin the month looking at the significance of the year 1619. Each week in July, XQ will share new DFI videos on the forum, exploring a range of issues important to today’s discussions of civic engagement.

I’m also proud to formally unveil “Untold,” a project of DFI produced and distributed by Makematic in collaboration with the USC Center for Engagement-Driven Global Education. We will provide an open-source collection of short, compelling history videos and animations designed to start new conversations shining a light on the stories that don’t always make it into the classroom and questioning what we think we know about those that do.

As the son of an historian, I was raised to appreciate the importance of history and to constantly ask questions about what happened and why. As the father of a teenage son whose lack of interest in history can be tracked to how poorly it has been taught in the classroom, I’m committed to seeking solutions to make history more interesting and relevant to young people today. And as an education advocate and agitator, I’m committed to breaking the learning models that have failed too many students for too long.

“Complaining about a problem without proposing a solution is called whining,” Teddy Roosevelt once said. Our collective lack of American history knowledge is indeed a problem. Hopefully, the Driving Force Institute is a solution for improving the teaching and learning of history.

Tearing Down Statues, Remembering History

These voices called out curriculum experts who they believed limited the study of anyone who wasn’t a white male landowners to February — Black History Month — and to only use those 20 or so days of instruction to study the same stories of Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King, Jr. every year, ignoring the vast contributions that Black America has made to our nation, our history, our society, our community, and our nation. Ignoring the importance of weaving those stories into the context of the times they lived and happened, and not as stand-alone examples to check a box.

In essence, these young leaders were calling for a learning environment that moves beyond the basic names of generals and battles and the dates where they happened. They wanted an approach to American history that allowed them to ask why. An approach that explores understanding what happened, questions why society allowed it to happen, and probes what we can learn from it so it doesn’t happen again. They were urging educators to let them think like historians.

From Eduflack’s latest on Medium, Removing Statues Does Not Abdicate Us from Teaching History

Watch Out History Ed, The Video Revolution is Coming

Over on Medium, dear ol’ Eduflack opines on how our current emergency virtual eduction provides the perfect opportunity to use multimedia — particularly video – to engage students through their computer screens. But even in topics like history, content areas tailor made for interesting and relevant video content, we are falling short on what we provide educators and what we pass along to students.

It doesn’t have to be this way. As I write:

It is insufficient to think we can simply take a Ken Burns video or a documentary from the History Channel, chop it up, and then use the pieces as meaningful content to connect with today’s learners. To ensure that young people embrace American history, we need to commit to create and distribute online content that focuses on: 1) what is relevant and interesting to the student; 2) what is attractive to learners who will vary widely in both interest in history and knowledge of history; and 3) what is adaptable based on changes in learner preferences.

In calling for the adoption of “three legs” to the American history instruction stool, I also note:

Whether our public schools “go back to normal” this fall or whether periods of virtual education become the new normal for k-12 in the United States, we need videos that capture the attentions and interests of today’s students, offering content that often isn’t found in dusty history textbooks. We need content that teachers can successfully use in a virtual environment and that students will want to access in their free time, using a changing learning environment to provide fun, engaging, and proactive content intended to improve both the teaching and learning of American history.

Please give the full piece a read here. It’ll be worth it.

It’s Time for Reading Rights

“Producing a strong research study that collects dust on the shelf can hardly win the day. For generations now, we have fought ideological skirmishes over literacy instruction, watching the pendulum swing as classroom educators simply waited it out until the latest “hot” thing lost favor and classrooms returned to what they were previously doing. If we truly want to declare a reading victory and tout our collective instructional successes, we need to commit to some basic truths.”

From Eduflack’s latest for The 74 Million

How Important, Exactly, Is Learning Today?

For weeks now, we’ve seen experts declare “victory” when it comes to virtual education in the time of Coronavirus. Voice after voice has taken to social media claiming to have solved the puzzle and gotten students learning again.

In reality, there probably isn’t a great deal of new learning happening online these days. In the Eduflack homeschool, we are seeing a lot of reviewing of last lessons and a lot of digital busywork. And we are only doing a half of a traditional school day each day (and that’s following the 10-day virtual spring break we just had).

And maybe that’s just fine and dandy. According to a new survey of parents across the United States, they aren’t expecting or desiring new learning between now and the end of the school year. They just want their kids to survive the lockdown, both psychologically and emotionally.

On the latest episode of TrumpEd on the BAM! Radio Network, we explore this new student data and how it is OK to just be OK, education wise, these next few months of school.

Give it a listen.

Who’s Looking out for IDEA?

It’s very easy to say we just need to do as much as we can for as many students as we can. That tends to be the mantra for public education, as has been for generations.

But when dear ol’ Eduflack gets into a Twitter fight with a teacher about how special education is both unnecessary and gets in the way of what public schools ahold be focusing on, we are clearly losing something in the IDEA translation.

Over at the BAM! Education Network, I explored the topic, discussing why it is even more important today than usual to make sure we do not lost sight of special needs families during such an educational crisis. Hard times don’t mean we abdicate our responsibilities to the students and families who need us the most.

Give it a listen here!

What About Special Education in the Age of Corona?

As so many rightfully praise classroom teachers for quickly adapting their instruction for a new, virtual environment, advocates need to be sure that such desperate times do not provide school districts the opportunity to shirk their duties when it comes to IDEA and students with learning disabilities.

Big kudos to Emily Richards and USA Today for placing a spotlight on this important issue, and for speaking with dear illl’ Eduflack about his district’s decision to suspend IEP and 504 meetings for an undetermined period (read until next fall).

For students who already receive accommodations and special services to catch up because of the years their families fought to get them the adequate educations they are guaranteed under the law, lack of leadership by the US Department of Education and adversarial relationships with school districts that have denied special needs learners is a potential recipe for disaster.

“I get that this is the first week. But everything we have fought for in my son’s (individualized education plan) now gets put on hold,” Riccards said.

Read the full article here: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/education/2020/03/19/coronavirus-online-school-closing-special-education-teacher-distance-learning/2863503001/