A Coalition of the Willing

As the new Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos possesses an incredible – and rare – opportunity to truly transform public education. Returning decisionmaking to states and localities. Empowering parents to get more involved in decisionmaking. New ways to better use existing federal dollars. The bully pulpit. All are valuable tools in reshaping the next generation of K-12 education.

If we have learned anything from education policy transformations, it is that the best of intents will fail if those idea come via fiat instead of through collaboration. How many times have we seen the latest and greatest of policies never fulfill their potential because educators, parents, or both weren’t part of the process that brought proposal to policy?

Real, lasting reform demands a coalition of the willing. It requires all corners to come together and buy into the goal – improving student learning and boosting student success – and work together to achieve it. And while it is impossible to have all sides agree on all details, at least if it is meaningful change, all sides are working as they best can to achieve, not undermine, that ultimate goal.

We can often forget that in education and education reform. The coalition of the willing is forgotten in the pursuit of being the smartest person in the room, and then assuming all will just follow. We fail to see that by not having teachers buy into the process, and instead have them see improvement as something happening to them, it becomes near impossible for them to embrace the change, own the change, and ultimately be responsible for the improved outcomes on the other side.

Sure, one can tinker in operational issues without having the teachers’ involvement, but it is impossible to have real impact on the teaching and learning in the classroom without having educators – and parents – at the table helping plot the course to a shared destination.

Despite all of the vitriol and all of the negativity directed at her in recent months, DeVos now has an opportunity to assemble that coalition of the willing. While many may be concerned by her laser-like focus on school choice, few can question DeVos’ lifelong commitment to provide better, stronger opportunities to kids, particularly for students in need. And few can question her embrace of parents in educational decisionmaking. That provides something to build on.

If we can all agree on that ultimate goal: a strong education for all kids – regardless of race, family income, or zip code – maybe, just maybe, we can agree to try to work together on how we get there.

The next move belongs to the new Education Secretary. She has the opportunity to reach out and bring together a coalition that, while unsure, is willing to try. DeVos has the chance to extend an olive branch and work with parents and teachers to plot that new course. And they have a chance to accept it.

In the process, DeVos has the ability to both empower teachers and better involve families. She has the ability to truly transform teaching and learning for all, instead of just tinkering around the edges.

The big question now is whether the EdSec will take that chance. It is incredibly easy to talk to one’s friends on agreed upon issues. Impact only comes by engaging with your perceived opponents to find some common ground to make the positive changes that could impact generations of learners.

 

A Flashlight, Not a Hammer, When it Comes to #EdData

For years now, the education community has debated the proper role of “education data” in the process. What started off as important information to help teachers tailor and improve their instruction quickly became a blunt instrument to punish students, teachers, classrooms, and schools. As with most things, the abuses of a valuable tool became the focus.

With a greater emphasis on testing and the use of testing information, ed data has gained even greater scrutiny. In Eduflack’s own school district, there is a growing call for eliminating all technology from the schools out of fear of education data and its impact on student privacy (among other things).

And that’s just a crying’ shame. And it doesn’t have to be that way.

Last year, the Data Quality Campaign hosted a national summit focused on the importance of education data. In it, DQC CEO Aimee Guidera spoke of the importance of using education data as a flashlight — to illuminate the way to improvement and success — rather than as a hammer to strike those who are struggling.

This week, DQC released From Hammer to Flashlight: A Decade of Data in Education. Noting that “although much work remains before education becomes a truly evidence-based field,” great work has already been undertaken to use data to better inform both inputs and outcomes in the classroom.

Education data isn’t going away. If anything, we need to become more savvy in its application to learning. That’s why From Hammer to Flashlight is such an important read.

 

AFT’s New Battleground

Earlier today, AFT President Randi Weingarten delivered a barn burner of a speech at the National Press Club. In remarks that were clearly crafted to go after Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos before her confirmation hearings later this week, Weingarten also laid our her “four pillars of public education,” spotlighting the importance of promoting children’s well-being, supporting powerful learning, building capacity, and fostering collaboration.

While one can (and should) quibble that much of the four pillars seem to focus on the the adults in the room, and not the kids receiving said public education, the speech is an interesting read. 

Dear ol’ Eduflack feels the need to question the title of the remarks, and the entire setup. In speaking under the banner of “Four Pillars to Achieve Powerful, Purposeful Education … Or Reigniting the Education Wars,” Weingarten posits that the education wars were put to bed after the passage of ESSA in late 2015, even noting, “despite the extraordinary political divisions in the country, and after the damaging failures of policies like NCLB, we finally reached a strong bipartisan consensus on a way forward to improve public education in America.”

Clearly, I’m spending my time on a different battlefield. With continued, harsh rhetorical battles on everything from Common Core to testing, teacher evaluation to technology, school choice to alt cert, bathrooms to the Pledge, it seems quite a stretch to suggest that the education wars were ever extinguished. For a speech that is almost entirely inside baseball, are there any individuals who attended the speech or might read the remarks who can honestly say we believed the education wars were continually burning in some way, shape, or form?

Regardless of your perspective, the speech is worth the read. You may agree with all of it, you may see it as a blueprint to understand how others will attack all you hold near and dear. 

So I ask you to join with us as we stand up for the well-being of all children. For powerful learning. For capacity building for teachers. For community collaboration. Please join with us as we stand up for the promise of public education, and for the public schools all children deserve. 

AFT President Randi Weingarten, January 9, 2017

Seeking the Teachers to Succeed in Today’s, Tomorrow’s Schools

Over at Forbes magazine, Dr. Arthur Levine – the president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and president emeritus of Teachers College, Columbia University – has a provactive piece on the need to better prepare educators for the challenges of both teaching in schools today and leading the creation of the schools of tomorrow.

In it, Levine looks at five important shifts that need to come to teacher education, including:

  1. A shift from teaching to learning
  2. A shift from classrooms to learning environments
  3. A shift from planning to learning design
  4. A shift from instruction to facilitated learning
  5. A shift from professionalism to leadership

 The full piece is here, and it is definitely worth the read. At some point, the preparation programs of tomorrow will be completely insufficient for the needs of today. Better to prepare for the future than to have it thrust upon us.

 

Transforming Teacher Education 

When we talk about the future of education, it can often be challenging for many of us to truly understand what the “tomorrow” actually looks like. We just can’t stop seeing things through the lens of the now, and thus can’t conceive what true reinvention or reimagining might look like. 

For the past three years, I’ve been fortunate to work with the Woodrow Wilson Foundation on its efforts to transform teacher education. We are doing little things, like collaborating with MIT, replacing credit hours with content mastery, using assisted reality to enhance the clinical experience, and actually build a new graduate school for prospective educators unlike any before it. 

These meager undertakings can often be hard to digest. So to aid the process, I helped produce a short video outlining our work. Give it a watch. Let me know what you think. And if you want to be involved in the process, let me know that too. 

You can find the video here — https://youtu.be/pqt58H8EY4A. 
Happy viewing!

The Quest for More Engaging History Instruction

Ultimately, fostering each student’s curiosity and sense of agency leads to habits of mind that support lifelong learning and civic engagement—and it is never a bad outcome when mastering required curriculum is exciting and fun. Teachers are also happily about the ease with which games can be tied into curriculum and standards and used to enliven content delivery and assessments while maintaining academic rigor. They are also committed to taking the lesson back to their colleagues—teachers teaching teachers, to make learning more dynamic throughout their schools.

– The Woodrow Wilson Foundation’s Stephanie J. Hull, writing about the importance of gaming in social studies instruction in The “Great Game” of Teaching History for GettingSmart.

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?