Sunday, November 20, 2011

Prichard Rethinks 21st Century Education Reform

There’s rising concern that our 
test-based accountability system is broken…
Some experts argue that key elements of the US system,
especially annual testing and tying consequences for low scores
to schools and increasingly to teachers - and you know that’s
just a huge mess - are a far cry from the practices embraced
by these leading countries… I’m not sure it’s a particularly
healthy way to look at [teacher evaluation.] In many cases,
top performing countries do not test annually, and their approach
to accountability rests on gateway exams in high school with clear
consequences for students. 
--Virginia Edwards

The keynote speaker at Friday’s Prichard Committee Fall meeting was Virginia Edwards, Editor-in-Chief of Education Week the nation’s top source for national education news. She spoke on the topic: 21st Century Education Reform: A National Perspective. Edwards, was a long-time friend of Bob Sexton’s, having met him as a freshman at UK in 1973 when he was the new-ish head of UK’s Office of Experiential Education. She double majored in journalism and political science and became the editor of the Kentucky Kernel. Edwards went on to report and edit for the Courier-Journal before a brief stint with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning.

Now as President of Ed Week’s parent group, Editorial Projects in Education – where Sexton served as a board member - she says she has the perfect job, one that combined four “important-to-me things:” journalism that helps build political will through communication; a chance to improve education for kids; she gets to “run something;” and is part of the nonprofit sector.

From her unique perspective Edwards tells a familiar tale, that “Kentucky has been a national beacon of education reform” over the past quarter century, after languishing at the bottom of the heap for so many years. But, Edwards has been uniquely positioned to see education reform in other states mirror Kentucky’s efforts.

Edwards’s topic was “21st Century Education Reform: A National Perspective,” and she zeroed in on six “big picture” themes for the current year:

1. A difficult academic transition is taking shape: The common-core standards are different and hard, and the move to a new generation of assessments will be a challenge. The new standards and tests have implications across the board for everyone but it remains to be seen how well the supporters of the common core can sustain the momentum of the past year as the “real work” gets going.

2. Early Literacy: by which Edwards means early childhood education up to the third grade. Education Week will focus on cradle-to-career coverage, Edwards said. She underscored the importance of community support and parental involvement.

3. Tough budget times are getting tougher: The “funding cliff” was real; the end of most of the stimulus aid that “partly cushioned the blow of the Great Recession for states and districts.” In many states, the budget squeeze has reduced school funding and cost jobs while districts are challenged to offset significant losses with greater efficiencies.

4. Watershed political and policy changes are still being assimilated (or resisted) as the 2012 election looms. The K-12 system already had a full plate with the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act; the competitive-grant and school improvement initiatives of the Obama years have introduced another driver of policy; and schools in many states are now being whipsawed by dramatic changes enacted by a resurgent GOP. Against this backdrop, educators face the unknown timing and provisions of a new ESEA and the uncertainties of an election year with control of the White House, Congress, (most other states’) governorships, and state legislatures in play.

5. A conjunction of new entrepreneurship and new forces for innovation is reshaping the “education industry” and - maybe – education itself. “New programs, products, and services are emerging through the efforts of private investors, a new generation of philanthropists, and retooled older companies (with a nudge, in some cases, from federal dollars). New technologies are enabling much of this ferment, which could be “disruptive” as well as “sustaining” innovation in the field. Many educators are eyeing these developments warily; others see opportunities to rethink a century-old K-12 system.

6. The international dimension in education is more significant than ever: The financial and economic crisis of the past three-plus years has only heightened the urgency of seeing American education in its global context. How well the United States performs academically compared with overseas competitors is a first-tier concern in policy circles.

Edwards then shared a partial list of issues Ed Week is following:
• Teaching and Learning
     o Standards and Assessment (a favorite focus of business and policy circles)
     o Teacher Effectiveness
     o Teacher Preparation
     o Expanded learning (out-of-school)
     o College access
• Leadership, Districts, Research & Special Needs
     o Leadership development
     o Get-tough management
     o Zero-tolerance (questioned)
     o Nutrition standards
     o ELLs and Common Core
     o Special education and charter schools
     o Special education expenses
     o Neuroscience in the classroom
     o Research and entrepreneurship
• Government and Politics
     o Whither ESEA?
     o RTT, SIG, i3 implementation
     o The impact of state policy change and cuts
     o The new players (PIE Network, Stand for Children, Students First, DFER, others… flex muscles in state policy)
     o Campaign 2012 (See Politics K-12)
• Technology and E-Learning
     o Online learning goes mainstream
     o Bring your own device (portable digital technology)
     o Games and education
     o Research questions remain
• Education Week Priorities
     o Develop and launch a business and innovation/ “education ventures” channel
     o Expand the presence of Commentary online through our evolving “opinion channel”
     o Build on our 2011-12 successes by disseminating even more of our work to new audiences through content partnerships or other means
     o Build on our recent advances in social media by making more effective use of Facebook or Twitter to promote our work and engage readers
     o Increase our skills and content knowledge by attending PD events and beat-area conferences

The Gist

America’s leaders and much of the public have come to realize that an education system born in the Industrial Age can no longer effectively serve students in a complex, rapidly changing Information Age…Students need a combination of content knowledge, cognitive strategies and learning behaviors…high-quality education will increasingly become a necessity for building a successful adult life…must think creatively and critically…adapt…leverage technologies…work collaboratively… communicate clearly…

Yet, in 19th century fashion, we continue to rely on tests, and textbooks that are poorly conceived and inconsistently taught… This can be traced to teachers’ inadequate subject-matter knowledge… PD does little to make up for teachers’ deficits… too many students are unprepared as innovators, creative thinkers, problem solvers or leaders…

Recent years have seen unprecedented developments in the policy environment…growing momentum toward a very different educational experience… Most states have aligned with common core and high expectations… federally funded consortia developing next generation assessments…

“If the past two years can be characterized as a time of massive movement on the policy front, we believe the coming years will be occupied by the hard work of implementing these ambitious policies, bringing the new vision to the classroom, and making it real through curriculum, instruction and assessment, both formative and summative.”

Edwards told the Prichard gathering that Quality Counts 2012 will take on an international theme, and that the trips she joined to Finland, Toronto, Singapore and Shanghai were “not junkets.” Her observations taught her that high quality education was an important goal in those places, and that educators were held in high regard for civic and economic reasons.

Quality Counts will feature
• Career: focusing on college readiness
• Testing: “A recent report by the National Research Council suggests there’s little evidence to date that the current approach – with its high stakes for teachers and schools, but little for students – will produce the kind of academic gains hoped for.” …and they are not the practices of our leading competition
• Testingbox: An infographic with PISA and TIMSS
• Teaching: Teachers are universally seen as crucial but “in the US continue to be viewed largely through a pink-collar lens…”
• Curriculum: how international schools approach curriculum

Ed week is launching a new “channel” of coverage looking at innovation in a rapidly-evolving high tech education industry. Well established players, like Pearson, are aggressively staking new claims in the market, and Ed Week hopes to be an independent national resource to chronicle and analyze the changes in “the business world of K-12 education.

The idea is being shaped by the notion of “disruptive innovation,” change that alters the fundamentals of how we look at teaching and learning.

Ed Week online: 
25 million page views last year

Edwards on the reauthorization of ESEA: 
“I don’t think any of us think it’s going to happen quickly.”

“We’ve got to start telling our story better – 
about why good schools are needed…” 
“Education has suffered and continues to suffer from people 
who are telling the story in a negative way.”

I’m a big fan of the democratization of information. 
The internet is not going away. 
Social media’s not going away…
so trusted media brands are more valued than ever.”

I think there is a common vision of where we are going 
to the extent that the political ends have come around to meet 
(on the possibility of other forms of education 
that don’t have to be the cookie cutter of one teacher to 22 kids).

If four things could happen tomorrow, 
here’s what I think could change the education system over night:
1. If we got rid of seat time
2. If we got rid of textbook adoption 
(to help teachers become more creative 
about the curriculum materials)
3. If we could figure out how to deploy 
our human resources differently 
(Who says you can’t sit with a 150 kids in a classroom, 
particularly in AP?)
4. The technology piece. 
(There are tons of teachers doing innovative things…
and people are not fretting over the possibilities as they were two years ago.)

“We’re on the verge of big change in education.”


Anonymous said...

So sad...Poor, poor, Viginia who is quoted as saying, "There is rising concern out test-based accountabilty system is broken." Is she just now noticing this? And would she tell Dr. Tom Shelton!

Richard Day said...

Are you kidding? If so, I don't get it.

"Sad? ...Poor Virginia? ...just now noticing? ...Tell Tom Shelton" - as if he's unaware?

Do you know how dumb that sounds?

You apparently agree with what Edwards said but seem to be rejecting her support on this important issue. How smart is that? I don't get it.

Further, nobody covers national education better than Ed Week. Nobody. To suggest somehow that you caught on to the problems associated with test-based instruction some time before she did takes balls the size of Alpha Centauri.

Tom Shelton is keenly aware of the issue.

I like a little righteous indignation as much as the next person, but... my goodness!

It's probably a good thing you post this one anonymously.

Anonymous said...

All accurate and compelling observations. My concern is that educators took the full brunt of poor student performance which facilitated the Assessment/Accountability movement often constructed by non-educators. So are teachers now ready and skilled to take a more proactive and practical role in leading toward a refocused approach. I hear a number of teachers point out the flaws but I don't see a lot of teacher generated solutions or see significant engagement in making change by the profession.

I think one unquantifiable yet significant casualty over the years has been the cultivation of a generation of teachers who have been conditionsed to be spoon-fed mandated curriculum and standardized external assessments, rely on vendor created programs and products, and generally lack the skill sets to be effective elements of change; to be educational leaders, not victimized complainers

Seems like those characteristics are the hallmarks of all good teachers; advocacy for what is best for children, engagement in that which serves children, creativity, vision, independence, willing to take chances, etc. The current system of standardized education has quashed or devalued many of these traits and skills, especially when they came in conflict with the packages being imposed by state and national organizations through local leadership which equally, lacked the strength or ability to say "enough".

I worry that those who had the skills to lead the empowerment of teacher influence and contribution have long since given up or even left the profession. Equally, I don't see strong skills or perhaps even an intrinsic desire or calling amoung many of our young teachers who have been indoctrinated to current standards of operation. They have no unified voice and instead continue down the assigned path which they know is not leading to the right destination and quitely complain to one another but have not the ability, strength nor courage to stand up for those they are suppose to be serving -children.

We underestimate both our influence, public support, ability, strength and most importantly, our responsibility.

Richard Day said...

I agree that "educators took the full brunt of poor student performance" under post-Nation at Risk reforms. As Edwards points out, that's not how our leading international competition does it, and I might add, it's not how America did it previously.

I agreed with a lot Edwards had to say, including her prediction that the next couple of years will be marked by teachers grappling with common core implementation.

Your comment relative to spoon-feeding of teachers is interesting. In my classes (college sophs and jrs) a significant percentage of students felt spoon-fed in high school, and as a result, not particularly ready for college themselves.

The death of independent thinking in our schools is a lamentable result of high-stakes assessment, right? As the thumbscrews were tightened on administrators, many hit the panic button and, apparently not knowing what else to do, grabbed a hold of every idea that oozed out of central offices and force fed it to the faculty. This, it seems to me, is no way to grow capacity in the teaching corps.

strength + ability = courage?

My hope is that once a stake is driven through the heart of punitive assessments we will all be better able to see some of the good reforms that are in the works. We ought to be able to look at student achievement data for what it is. We ought to rethink instruction in light of new technologies, and combine the tried and true with the nouveau. Rethink seat time and the Carnegie unit. Common core makes some sense if we can implement it, and then leave it alone to work for a while. The fundamentals are still the same - and we're still in the people business.

Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Day,

You are normally very nice and polite in your responses. Using profanity doesn't seem to become you, however. "Balls the size of..." I know you don't do that to your students at EKU, and I don't think you did that to your teachers at Cassidy. While I've never been the recipent of one of your scoldings, boy do I know how Mr. Innes feels! I am certainly realizing now that I should have been more supportive of his right to express an opinion I disagree with.

You have always seemed to respect those who post anonymously...until now. You know that many teachers are frightened to post by giving their names. (Yes, I know you have told me countless times that if the compaint is articulated fairly, there will probably not be retaliation, but somehow I don't believe that.)

I do actually think many teachers noticed the problems associated with testing before Virginia
Edwards. Was there a specific date that Virginia Edwards noticed the problem? As for Ed Week, no, I don't read it, but I have no problem with the it. Actually, I prefer the Chronicle of Higher Education for a number of reasons. I've always felt that those in higher education were accepting of opinions that might run contrary to their own.

Skip Kifer said...


I think you are being a little tough on anonymous. The Edwards stuff is the same old stuff: no sense of history, no data, no argument. Lots of assertions, cherry picking, and "in" stuff.

The problem is not test-based accountability; it is accountability. That is, putting more control in the hands of those who manage rather than those who teach.


Anonymous said...

First I didn't mean to come off being hard on my colleagues or imply that "strength + ability = courage" in the third entry. I just know that there are thousands of us across this state who collectively hold strong influence, make significant contributions and garner genuine support from the communities and counties for which we serve. We need to stop sitting in our classroom individually complaining about KDE, ETS, assessment, funding or whatever and become proactive as a group of professionals by engaging in the larger, meaningful conversations about education in our state as well as cultivating ideas and endorsing alternative appoaches for consideration by our leaders which we feel best serve our kids beyond our own classroom efforts. I guarantee that Kentucky teachers can come up with implementable ideas which will intellectually stimulate as well as show academic growth more effectively than a handful of ETS or Prentice Hall test/curriculum publishers in California or New Jersye, or educational bueracrats in the capital.

I have become a frequent reader and contributor to this blog over the last few months and though I only served briefly in Fayette County a number of years ago, it is troubling to read some teachers in our second largest district voice multiple complaints about various aspects of the system and its former superintedent (folks he is gone, let it go and pull yourselves forward). Once again, I am not an educator in that system, however it does seem that the ideals and expectations which we as KY educators share are quite similar, though the operational conditions may be slightly different. I suppose I just tire of hearing educators complain yet are not willing to do something about it in a collective sense. Not to be insensative, if you know there is a problem but you aren't willing to do anything about it, then you become a contributing factor in that problem through your inaction.

Seriously, how many times do you read entries from educators on this blog which genuinely propose solutions or seek engagement from colleagues to discuss alternative paths or offer unique answers? Mostly it is a "bitch session" (my appologies to the first contributor for the course term) with people complaining but not tendering any worthwhile alternative like some stagnant, smoke-filled teachers lounge from days gone by (hopefully). Come on, we are better than that.

Once again, not to be presumptuous of my colleagues but we must endeavor to be proactive on a grander scale and engaged through individual, group and professional action. How can we expect to move education in the direction which we feel it should go if we are not willing to come to the table as a group of professionals, contribute and, justifiably, lead the discussion. Twenty-eight years is a long time to do something at a place you are not happy or do not share a common vision or operational values and ideals in the service of children.

Over twenty years ago a group of educational leaders fought against an inequitable system supported by a state educational leadership which threatened to have these educators removed from their positions and they won a historical legal, educational, professional and even cultural battle for us as Kentuckians, educators and parents embodied in KERA. Our students' needs now are no less important, the resource conditions no less challenging nor our professional obligations no less compelling. If we are not willing to step forward to contribute and lead, then who will?

For the record, Thank you Dr. Day for offering this forum. Your interjections always add value to the dialogue and I enjoy the opportunity to express myself in this venue and read colleagues' observations and opinions.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Day,

I appreciate this forum, and I will continue to read it. I do use it to vent because my critiques are not welcome at school. The previous reviewer is correct: we anonymous posters seldom propose solutions.

Now here are a few proposals: Get us a Board of Education of Education that listens to the teachers. Hire a superintendent that listens to FayetteABC. And let there be a way for FCPS teachers to resolve their problems via a legitimate grievance system that people are not afraid to use.

Anonymous said...

Beware of the argument "Folks, he is gone..." So is Hitler (no comparison to a former superintendent) but if you look in any library or bookstore there are many books about him. Why is that?

We need to study leaders who abuse power, and for those who remind of Mr. Silberman's misdeeds, I guarantee there is superintendent out there who is choosing to opt out of that leadership model. We also need to remind the public that so-called reformers often do not reform, but bully until they get their way.

Richard Day said...

November 22, 2011 7:28 PM: Well first, you may be right. But I’m not sure “balls the size of Alpha Centauri” rises to the level of profanity. If it did, wouldn’t you have said, “B*** the size of Alpha Centauri”? I just thought the expression was funny. (And I stole it from somewhere in my past…Douglas Adams perhaps…can’t remember.)

Still, I suppose I did scold. One of my students teased me about “going off” on Anonymous.

That said, I do respect KSN&C readers but there is never an expectation that everyone will agree. I’m sure Dick Innes appreciates your sympathy, but he gives as good as he gets.

Skip: I take your point. If teaching in America were truly seen as a profession perhaps we wouldn’t be having the conversation.

As one who aggregates and comments on news stories I suppose I feel some kinship with the journalistic endeavor. We do report the same general stories over and over again.

November 22, 2011 11:30 PM: Thanks.

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