When It Comes to American History, Show Me

As part of dear ol’ Eduflack’s continues efforts to improve how American history is taught and learned, I was privileged to spend a half hour discussing the issue with Missouri’s National Public Radio affiliate.

It was a good discussion, moving beyond the data on how little we know about history and beginning to discuss what we can and should do about it. You can find the full segment here.

Much thanks to KCUR in Kansas City for hosting the segment, and gratitude to KUT Public Radio in Austin, TX for allowing me to broadcast live out of their studios this week.

Improve History Instruction? It’s a Locke

If Americans don’t know their history, who is the culprit? Is it the fault of k-12 or higher education? Is it lack of interest or lack of focus? And can phenomena like Hamilton just solve it all?

Dear ol’ Eduflack discusses these topics and many others on the most recent episode of Head Locke, the podcast of the John Locke Foundation. Give it a listen here.

No, We Don’t Know Much About History

We often hear that kids today just don’t understand American history. But it seems adults in the United States don’t fare better. Earlier this month, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation (where dear ol’ Eduflack lays his professional head) released the results of a 41,000-person survey that provided scientifically significant results for those living in all 50 states and the nation’s capital.

Those surveyed were given 20 questions from previous years’ sample question (and answer) banks for the U.S.citizenship test. Passing grade to earn citizenship in the United States is 60 percent. Approximately four in 10 nationwide were able to hit that mark. Only one state (Vermont) had a majority of residents pass the test, with 53 percent of Vermonters winning a passing grade. All in all, the results were pretty dismal.

The intent of this work was, and is, not to suggest that Americans are stupid or that history instruction is some how falling down on the job. On the contrary, in 39 states, American history is a high school requirement. Millions of American students pass that course in order to earn a high school diploma. And they are taught by highly qualified teachers with history content knowledge, not by the “sports coaches” that so many would want to blame for our historical knowledge shortcomings.

With all we know about cognitive science these days, one needs to ask what happens between high school and adulthood that has us forgetting those names, dates, and places needed to pass American history? And if we can’t remember those basic details, how are we supposed to build on it to be informed, engaged participants in our representative democracy?

Surely, we can see far too many in this country fail to see the relevance of the history basics they initially learn. It isn’t interesting. It isn’t personally important. It doesn’t reflect our families or our backgrounds. It isn’t engaging. It is simply memorizing specifics for a specific purpose, soon to be put out of our memory banks.

I’m excited that the Woodrow Wilson Foundation is seeking to change that, to look at how we can make American history more relevant, interesting, and personal. I’m amped up that we are looking to do so by making history learning more experiential, using a wide range of engagements to move beyond the dusty textbook. And I’m thrilled that we are looking at history instruction not about the information needed to pass a bar night trivia contest, but instead one that helps learners, throughout their lifetimes, learn to ask questions, to probe information, to pursue issues, an generally to begin to think like historians.

It is no surprise that the media has taken note of our 50-state survey. It is always interesting to see how states stack up, particularly at a time when history, politics, and civics seem so important. In the coming weeks and months, Eduflack looks forward to continuing this discussion and looking at what is possible when it comes to transforming American history learning. For now, I’ll share just a taste of some of the media coverage on this survey, and this topic, over the past week or so.

The New York Post – https://nypost.com/2019/02/15/americans-dont-know-much-about-nations-history-survey/

Huffington Post – https://www.huffpost.com/entry/american-citizenship-exam_n_5c6add96e4b05c889d221d43

Fox News – https://www.foxnews.com/politics/why-civics-education-matters

Slate – https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2019/02/the-political-gabfest-trumps-national-emergency-bernie-sanders-amazons-hq2-in-new-york.html

Washington (DC) Examiner – https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/washington-secrets/doh-only-1-state-passes-us-citizenship-test-dc-fails-big

Miami (FL) Herald – https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/national/article226427115.html

Burlington (VT) Free-Press – https://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/news/2019/02/15/vermont-named-only-state-u-s-pass-civics-test-exception-after-all/2868373002/

Detroit (MI) Free Press – https://www.freep.com/story/opinion/2019/02/19/michiganders-citizenship-test/2904395002/

Texas Public Radio – http://www.tpr.org/post/could-you-pass-us-citizenship-test-well-63-percent-texans-couldnt

The Tennesseean – https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/education/2019/02/15/people-tennessee-arent-very-good-u-s-history-survey-says/2868329002/

Axios – https://www.axios.com/happy-presidents-day-history-is-hard-8dbed5a2-07f6-43f4-bfab-0836597bfba8.html

 

 

Building an Edu-Brand

Earlier this year, Eduflack was honored to be named the winner of the SPOKEie in non-profit education, recognizing the top spokespeople in key industry sectors. As part of the award, I was fortunate to do an video segment with the CEO of the Girl Scouts of Greater New York, the winner in the non-profit youth category.

In our show, we talk about the importance of branding, particularly in the non-profit arena. You can watch the full segment here.

For those that prefer the written word, the full transcript can be found here.

Happy watching!

 

It’s Historic!

Apologies for this site being relatively silent recently. Dear ol’ Eduflack has been hard at work on a major effort focused on the teaching and learning of American history. The full announcement from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation can be found here.

The headline is that, why many of us say history and social studies were our favorite subjects while in school, we don’t seem to be retaining what we’ve learned. In a national survey of 1,000 Americans, conducted by Lincoln Park Strategies, the WW Foundation discovered that only about a third of Americans could pass an American history test based on questions found on the actual U.S. Citizenship Test. A whopping 64 percent of those surveyed could not get a 60 percent on the test, failing to answer at least 12 of the 20 questions correctly.

What is more sad is that we don’t seem to know who the United States fought during World War II, when the U.S. Constitution was written, or even why we broke from Great Britain during the Revolutionary War. Despite our addiction to the musical Hamilton, we believe that Thomas Jefferson was an author of the Federalist Papers. Far too many thought Ike was a U.S. general during the Civil War.

And while it was a Woodrow Wilson Foundation study, most didn’t know what dear ol’ Woodrow was president during World War I.

The story on our collective lack of historical perspective has taken off like wildfire.

The Oregonian has an interesting take here.

The Washington Examiner got the party started here.

The Miami Herald began the drumbeat for McClatchy newspapers here.

The Wall Street Journal took to its editorial pages on the topic. It was joined today by the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Washington Times this morning.

All of this points to one important fact. We need to do a far better job when it comes to the learning of American history. We need to make history more interesting, more relevant, and more engaging for the learner. Hopefully, we will see such efforts coming in 2019. These survey results show it is clearly needed.

 

If We Only Get Three Great Mentors …

In the movie A Bronx Tale, Chazz Palminteri’s Sonny explains that we each have “three great ones” in our lives. While Sonny waxes on about the belief that we all only have three great loves in our life, recent news has me wondering if the same holds true for professional mentors.

I was incredibly fortunate to have two absolutely incredible mentors early in my career. The former executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Education, Phyllis Blaunstein, was my first. Phyllis first showed me there was more to successful communications that simply “PR.” She introduced me to the concept of public engagement. I learned from her days at what is now the U.S. Department of Education when she helped pass the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), thus ushering in special education as we now know it. Phyllis taught me how to be a professional. She taught me how to engage in active listening. She helped me become a qualitative researcher. And she has guided me through far more professional twists and turns then I can ever imagine.

My second was Reid Lyon. A former Army Ranger, Reid is the Godfather of research-based reading instruction. Reid gave me a practical Ph.D. in education earned on the mean streets of the Reading Wars. He taught me how to disaggregate data and how to tell good research from bad. He also taught me how to dream big when no progress was thought possible. In DC, I was fortunate enough to work with Reid on the National Reading Panel and the federal Partnership for Reading. I then followed him to the private sector as we sought to revolutionize teacher education and the high school-to-college pipeline.

Phyllis and Reid have had an enormous impact on my life. I was lucky enough to co-edit a book – Why Kids Can’t Read: Continuing to Challenge the Status Quo in Education – with them, a primer for parents on how to move research-based literacy instruction into their local schools. Reid was a personal reference as I went through the adoption of my son. And Phyllis continues to be a source of advice, wisdom, and inspiration, 20 years after we first met. I considered myself fortunate to have both of them in my life, and to be able to call both of them mentors. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to enjoy the luck and fortune that would give me that third great mentor in my life.

That changed when I joined the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. For many years, I had heard the legend of Arthur Levine, particularly as he fought to improve schools of education from his perch as president of one of the most well known teachers colleges out there. I had read his work and had seen him on panels and giving plenary lectures.

Four years ago, Arthur brought me in to head communications and strategy for the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. There, he had created two ambitious programs — the state Teaching Fellowship and the MBA Fellowship in Education Leadership — and sought to expand them. He yearned to strengthen the reputation of the Foundation and its impact on educator development and school improvement. And he planned to launch a new graduate school of education — one based on competencies and content mastery — intended to successfully prepare teachers for both the realities of today and the possibilities of tomorrow.

For the past 1,455 days, I have worked alongside Arthur to help bring those dreams to reality. Each of those days, he has served as a mentor and teacher. I have learned about organizational management and successful fundraising. I have learned about innovation and strategic planning. I have about the history of higher education and about what the future can hold for the field. And I been able to strengthen my belief in the importance of the customer (the student) and of outcomes in education, particularly when one looks to transform institutions and systems that may be in need of change, but is resistant to it.

Earlier today, it was my job to announce Arthur’s intentions to step down from his perch at the Woodrow Wilson Foundation next summer. After 13 years at WW, Arthur is allowing a new voice to write the next chapter in the organization’s history. He does so leaving the Foundation in a much stronger financial and programmatic position than the one he found it in. And he does so showing eight states and more than 35 institutions of higher education that change is both possible and achievable when it comes to improving how we prepare educators, particularly those for high-need schools.

In 340 days, my third “great one” will step aside. I’m far enough along in my career to know that A Bronx Tale may indeed be correct, and we only get three great mentors. For now, I get to make the most of the time, working feverishly to accomplish all of organizational goals we have laid out for the next year.

In the long term, I can only hope to hold on to all of the lessons I have learned from all of those who have made me the (hopefully successful) professional I am today. And I need to try to continue to examine and better understand what I have learned, knitting together those lessons and new reflections on them so that I can continue to become a better educator, a better strategic communicator, and a better not-for-profit executive.

Words can never express all that we have taken from our mentors, all that they have taught up, and all that we appreciate from the experiences. I can only hope that the next chapters in my own professional life show to Arthur (and Reid and Phyllis) what sort of impact they truly have had on me.

(This piece was also published on LinkedIn Pulse.)

The SPOKEie Word

I’m honored, humbled (and quite excited) that this week dear ol’ Eduflack was named a winner of the inaugural SPOKEie awards. Recognizing the best spokespeople in the field, DS Simon Media and its crew of expert judges recognized me as the top non-profit education spokesman in the land.

With so many terrific personalities in the education field, it is a true honor, particularly when I think of so many who are far better than I am. But I am proud of the work I’ve been able to do with the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and proud of the continued evolution of the Eduflack platform for a discussion of all things education.

I hope you’ll wish all of this year’s winners a hearty congratulation. Despite how it appears on TV or in the movies, what we do is neither easy nor glamorous. Being a flack is fairly thankless, as you bear responsibility for the challenges and provide the limelight for others when it is time to shine. But it is necessary work and, when done correctly, incredibly valuable.

Congratulations to all my co-winners. And thanks to all of you, and those like you, for helping make communications a noble profession.