Improving Education Through Effective Communications

"Common Sense on the Common Core"

With states, districts and educators working to ensure that all students graduate from high school “college and career ready,” we are hearing more and more about Common Core State Standards and their impact on the classroom, particularly with regard to testing. What seems to be lacking from that discussion, though, it a meaningful chronicling of what successful implementation of the standards means. Until now.

This week, the Learning First Alliance rolled out a new podcast series—Get It Right: Common Sense on the Common Core. In LFA’s own words, “to help those committed to the standards ensure the proper implementation, the Learning First Alliance is spotlighting those communities that are working hard to get Common Core implementation right. These podcasts tell their stories.

The Get It Right series launches with three interesting discussions, all of which the importance of proper planning and collaboration in the implementation process. These podcasts include:

In addition to the podcasts themselves, LFA has also provided resources from each of the states profiled, as well as from its member organizations.

If we are serious about ensuring every learner is college and career ready, it is essential that we get CCSS implementation right. LFA’s new effort helps all those involved in the process better understand what “getting it right” really looks like in our states, district and schools.

This post originally appeared on the Collaborative Communications blog.

Full disclosure: Eduflack has worked with the Learning First Alliance and many of its member organizations over the years.

Problem solving and PISA

OECD is out with the latest PISA results. This time, the focus is on the problem-solving skills of the world's schoolchildren. As we typically see, the U.S. students tested score above average, but definitely aren't leading the class.

Check out my look at the topic here on a new blog launched by Collaborative Communications Group. And watch for interesting posts from a collection of smart, forward-thinking individuals there.

The Imposing CCSS "Alignment"

Are today's classroom materials aligned with the Common Core State Standards?  That is the question that professors from University of Southern California and Michigan State University discussed at a recent Education Writers Association seminar. After analyzing "40-50 textbooks covering first through ninth grades — books that are used by roughly 60 percent of U.S. school children," there answer to this important question was a strong "no."

On the latest edition of Common Core Radio on BAM Radio Network, we talk with Grant Wiggins and Student Achievement Partners' Sandra Alberti about this latest analysis and what educators should expect when it comes to instructional materials and CCSS alignment.

Check out the full show here.  It is a great forward-looking discussion.

Anti-CCSS "Tin Foil Hats"

There is little question that yesterday's announcement from the National Education Association has issues with the Common Core State Standards and are calling for a "course correction"will be dissected and debated with enough electronic ink to drown a thousand digital ships.

How do the NEA and AFT pullbacks affect the notion that CCSS advocates are part of a big tent?  What does this mean for union-friendly states that are already having concerns about CCSS and their related assessments?  Are we again at that stage where we are asking if this is the beginning of the end for the Common Core?

The talk on delays or slowdowns of implementation on Common Core are not likely to go away.  But through all of the concern and consternation, no one seems to be offering a viable alternative.  Are we to return to the Old West days of the 1990s, when it was virtually every SEA or LEA for itself?  Are we suggesting that we shouldn't have standards and accountability at all?

Yes, the CCSS standards movement should be focused on constant improvement.  We should be looking at ways to improve implementation, improve learning materials, improve related PD, and, yes, improve the testing that goes with it.  But at some point, we just need to accept that CCSS is a positive step forward for our public schools and focus on how to make sure all of our students are meeting expectations and learning to those standards.

But if we are going to continue to believe in the urban legends and grand conspiracy theories and of things that bump in the Common Core night, then maybe we need to consider what a committee chairman in the Missouri State House finally did.  According to the Associated Press (and courtesy of Politico's Morning Education), in response to all of the "sky is falling" chatter about CCSS, Mike Lair, a Republican and retired teacher offered an $8 appropriation for "tin foil hats."

Or more specifically, according to the AP, "two rolls of high density aluminum to create headgear designed to deflect drone and/or black helicopter mind reading and control technology."

I'm all in.  I'll even splurge on the first two rolls for all of the CCSS deniers and haters here in Eduflack's home state.

"We Have Met the Enemy, and …"

In education, we seem to deal in absolutes far too frequently.  Positions are black or white.  You are either with us or against us.  Friend or foe.  Right or wrong.  There is far too little gray.  And we are far too dismissive of those with different opinions or a different take on the same perspective.

When I was on the front lines of education reform in Connecticut, I used to often say I actually agreed on far more with "enemy" than I disagreed.  And I meant it every time.  Most of those who commit their days to education and education reform are in it for the same reason — we all want to improve opportunity, learning, and the odds of success for all students.  We may disagree on how to measure those improvements or what it means for a particular student or community, but are motives for engagement are quite similar.

Yet we continue to see education as a battle of absolutes.  For good or bad, we think more is gained by fraternizing only with those of like mind and by engaging only with those who are drinking from the same pitcher of Kool-Aid.

But it doesn't have to be that way.  Some of the most meaningful conversations I have regarding education are with those who hold an "opposite" viewpoint than I do.  I always learn a great deal when I speak with AFT President Randi Weingarten.  I am always forced to think about urban education in new ways after a discussion or email exchange with Oklahoma City teacher and blogger John Thompson.  And I am constantly amazed with what I learn about what really happens in the classroom when talking with my mother, a (now retired) terrific high school English teacher and passionate NEA member. 

So I was absolutely thrilled when I read of a new education challenge from Becca Bracy Knight, the executive director of the Broad Center.  It seems Becca and I are of similar mind in understanding the value (and the potential power) of engaging with all corners of the discussion and looking for those areas of commonality or those opportunities to construct a new bridge.

As Bracy Knight recently wrote:

I need your help with a maybe dumb idea that could also maybe make a difference.

Earlier this week I met up with someone for coffee and we talked about the latest happenings in Newark, education policy, and the slippery slope of putting heavy cream into hot beverages. It was fun – I like connecting with other people in education and talking about big and small issues. What might surprise you is that the person I was talking and laughing with has been publicly critical of The Broad Foundation and “ed reformers” and was involved in a process that resulted in a confidential memo I wrote to board members ending up on the internet. So, yeah, Ken Libby was an unlikely edu-BFF for me. But I was following him on twitter, saw that he made a lot of really good points, had a sense of humor, and lived in my city. I emailed him and asked if he wanted to meet for coffee. I admit I was a little worried this might not go well, but I figured it was worth a shot. I was getting sick of the increasing cyber-snarkiness and general lack of dialogue among people in education and wanted to have some human interaction and perhaps even find some common ground. Turns out we agree about a lot more than we disagree about. And we have confirmed that neither of us is or works for the devil. Phew.

We both agreed that the simple act of more people actually talking in person one-on-one with someone they see as being on an opposing side or someone they assume they disagree about everything with or someone critical of their work would do a lot of good in an increasingly toxic environment in education. Personal attacks, dragging people’s families into the debate, refusing to open your mind even a little to an alternative viewpoint, refusing to acknowledge that you or your organization ever makes mistakes – all of that is inhumane and ineffective.

We want to start an informal campaign to encourage anyone working in education to meet up with 3 people they do not normally talk with, see as allies, or even agree with. Just go out for coffee with 3 different people. Talk with them. See what happens. If you feel like it, share how it goes. It might not change the world, but then again…it might.

I’m writing to you since you are someone I know and respect — and someone who other people in education respect and listen to. If you and everyone else who is getting this email does this and writes/posts/tweets about it, we can get a lot more people on board! While this is not a formal thing, we do have two things that might help it spread – a hashtag and a tumblr account: #justhavecoffee and (which I’ll put some other thoughts on as soon as I figure out how to use tumblr).

What do you think – good idea? dumb idea? Will you try it? #justhavecoffee

If you’re in, please share the idea with folks in your network and maybe 2014 can be a better year for everyone.


P.S. As Ken pointed out, some people may be so isolated in their respective “camps” that they don’t actually know people to just have coffee with. We’re playing around with the idea of using the tumblr site or some other way to actually help match people up who want to broaden their circles. In the meantime, if you’re fired up for coffee but don’t know anyone to ask, email us and we’ll try to help from our networks.


Whadda ya think?  Will you join with Bracy Knight and Libby and Eduflack and others who are committed to #justhavecoffee?  Can we make this more than just an informal thing, and actually look for ways to build some of those bridges and encourage meaningful discussion and collaboration in the pursuit of improve student performance and learning?  

In the immortal words of Miracle of 34th Street's Susan Walker, "I believe.  I believe.  It's silly, but I believe."

Common Core Outside the Classroom

We are hearing a great deal these days about the Common Core State Standards and what educators, students, parents, and just about everyone else needs to do to successfully implement (or intentionally block) their implementation in the classroom.

But what can be done to support the learning of the Common Core beyond traditional school hours and outside of the traditional classroom?  That question is the subject of a new report out from the National Center for Time and Learning, Redesigning and Expanding School Time to Support Common Core Implementation.  And it is the topic of our latest Common Core Radio segment.

On BAM Radio, my cohost and I explore the new NCTL report and how outside-of-school-time activities can help better implement the learning expectations of the Common Core.  For this edition of Common Core Radio, we speak with NCTL's Jennifer Davis and Jennifer Reinhart of the Afterschool Alliance.

You can hear the full segment here, as well as visit some of the previous Common Core Radio segments.

Happy listening!

Apologies for my truancy

My deepest apologies to Eduflack readers for not being active here in the past few weeks.  As I noted last year, dear ol' Eduflack has been involved in some long-form content creation (meaning book writing).  It took up many months of my time last year (thus the hiatus) and has come back to require my attention over the past few weeks.

The great news is I'll be able to announce the completion of a very personal and I think important book next week.  As one reviewer already put it, the book "ROCKS!"  So February is going to be a rockin' good month, with this new book from Yacker Media.

I look forward to sharing the news with y'all next week or so, and will work to share free Kindle copies of the book with loyal Eduflack readers as soon as allowable.

I'm also in the process of wrapping up the second edition of the Why Kids Can't Read: Challenging the Status Quo in education book that Rowman & Littlefield Education will be publishing later this year.  Back in 2005-06, I was a contributing author to the project.  For this edition, I am the lead editor, working in partnership with longtime colleagues and mentors Reid Lyon and Phyllis Blaunstein.  

Why Kids Can't Read is an important story, particularly as we see that nearly 40 percent of the world's school-age children are unable to read proficiently.  The first edition of the book, out in 2006, looked at the wealth of research we have on literacy instruction and how best to teach our kids to read, while offering practical guidance for parents for how to ensure that "what works" is what is being used in their child's classrooms.  The second edition builds on that work, incorporating recent developments such as Race to the Top and Common Core State Standards into this important discussion.

So thanks for your patience.  Eduflack will be back to its regular schedule in the coming weeks. Happy reading (post-announcement, I hope!).

"The function of education …"

"The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.  Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education."

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"I Have a Dream" — August 28, 1963

"Letter from Birmingham Jail" — April 16, 1963

"Where Do We Go From Here" — August 16, 1967

CCSS Through the Buzzfeed

Common Core State Standards are all too common on Eduflack.  It is a common topic, and one that seems to dominate much of public education's attention these days.

But sometimes we just need to take a step back and be a little less serious about the whole thing.  Fortunately, yesterday "EdNerd" posted a great piece on the "16 Myths About The Common Core State Standards, Set Straight" over at Buzzfeed.

We don't know who is using the pseudonym EdNerd (yet), but the post is both informative and downright entertaining, including some nice GIFs around myths such as:
  • The Common Core State Standards are a federal takeover of state education rights;
  • The CCSS are tools of the socialist machine, created to bend the minds of our children;
  • Teachers hate the CCSS;
  • Common Core is the brainchild of giant corporations in an effort to privatize and corporatize education; and
  • Standards aren't important because you don't use anything you learned in school in the real world.
If you need a good laugh or a reminder that some of our education battles are just a little too ridiculous by half, check it out.  It is a quick read, but definitely worth the price of admission.

Happy Friday!

Catholicism and the Common Core

Readers know that Eduflack is always up for a good discussion in the Common Core State Standards and their merits.  But for the past few months, I've been scratchin' my head every time I read about a parochial school or a Catholic archdiocese rising in opposition to the Common Core and talking about refusing to adopt.

Did I miss something?  When the 46 states (including DC) adopted CCSS, did they pledge to apply these to private or parochial schools?  Were the standards developed with Catholic schools in mind?  Was their intent to regulate schools that the state and district have no role in?  Or are folks just ginning up another red herring in the growing attack against the standards?

On Common Core Radio this week, we talk to Father Jose Medina and CitizenshipFirst's Robert Pondiscio on the origins and intents of CCSS and why this Catholic school issue is becoming an increased topic of discussion.  The full program can be heard on BAM Radio here.

Happy listening!

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