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There have been a great many comments and posts recently on both the successes and shortcomings of the BAMMY AWARDS. I was recognized at the ceremony as a Co-Founder of #Edchat and an innovator in education. There were some blatantly obvious mistakes made at that ceremony, but it should also be recognized that the entire event was set up to recognize and celebrate educators. I do not want to enter the fray on this, but I do need to take issue with one criticism that I have seen in a few posts that I think is off the mark.
If there is one subject I have consistently written about for years, it is the idea of what a modern connected educator is. If there is one thing we should strive for as connected educators, it is collaboration. It shares, questions, refines and improves ideas. Collectively, we are smarter than we are individually. Collaboration makes education more transparent. It enables educators to examine, and explore what is relevant in their profession. It highlights the best and exposes the worst in education. Connected educators are educators who engage in this collaboration with the tools of technology to efficiently maximize their collaboration in ways that were never before possible.
The Bammy Awards were set up to recognize and celebrate that very aspect of education, the successful collaboration of educators. Why then are educators criticizing the Bammys for recognizing connected educators?
Some blog posts were critical that this was a popularity contest with the most popular connected educators. If an educator is a successful collaborator in social media, he, or she will attract a following. That following however is based on the ideas that the educator shares, and not on who likes them personally. There are many educators who have social media accounts, but that does not make them connected educators. I have a list of over 200 superintendents on Twitter. Most have barely tweeted 100 times, and I suspect they were more for PR than for collaboration. They have followings as well, but that is not necessarily based on their collaboration and most are not substantial.
Many of the connected educators at the BAMMY AWARDS, which was probably less than 50 or 60, are educators who do more than just tweet for collaboration. Most of them Blog, some of them have written books, many have done webinars, speak at conferences, and conduct sessions at Edcamps. All of these actions are forms of collaboration, and the result will be a following of educators, who recognize and appreciate the value of each of the contributions of each of these individuals. These connected educators are going beyond what we have now come to expect from educators, doing exactly what we need them to do to improve our profession through collaboration. Why would anyone then question or criticize them for being too popular. Why would anyone want to discount the validation of these educators? The number of followers is the very measure that validates their efforts.
If we did not want educators to be recognized for their ideas and have people publicly stand behind them, we should not put any names on any work. If the rule is to be that we need to collaborate, but not be recognized for that collaboration, then we should all write and collaborate anonymously. No names on books, posts, speeches or any work that is public collaboration.
Connected educators cannot control their “popularity”. This following or “Popularity” is a consequence of how their ideas are vetted and approved by other educators and in so doing, their names are recognized. This to me is a good thing. I can name the best people who can model what it is to be a connected educator based not just as my opinion, but one born out by other educators as well. It makes no sense to me to say that we need to recognize collaboration in education and then condemn connected educators for being successful for doing it. It is a fact in collaboration in social media that one measure of successful collaboration will be the “popularity”, or following of the collaborator.
We are each entitled to our own opinions on how we measure and value things. I am becoming more and more aware however, that the forms of measurement that we use for things may need to be adjusted, or even scraped, as we change the way we do things. I would offer that advice to both the organizers of the BAMMY AWARDS as well as their critics.
One of my reasons for becoming active on Social Media was to engage people of influence in the discussion of education. I soon found out that there were several circles of influence that were driving the discussion, but educators had very little influence in any of those circles and Social Media had even less influence on them. Business people, politicians, and people were driving the education discussion interested in entering the education industry for profit. Educators, whether by choice or circumstance, were not involved in the very reform discussions that were affecting their profession. Although educators are educated and experienced in the area of education, education expertise was claimed and permitted for the most part by those without either.
Many of these people used Social Media to put out a one-way information campaign to support their ideas of reform. It was not a discussion of ideas, but rather a statement of position. Teachers were praised as they were targeted. The public education system was condemned as a failure and alternatives were presented as a better, and cheaper. Standardized testing became a goal in education and an annual Billion-dollar industry in short order.
Educators were openly discussing ways to improve education and continue to do so on Social Media. Twitter is a mainstay for exchanging sources and discussing ideas of educators to improve and expand teaching and learning. Few of the non-educator reformers were actively engaged in these exchanges. The power of Social Media has yet to be discovered or used by many. Recognition of the fact that many education bloggers, authors, speakers, and thought leaders engage in thoughtful discussion and reflection on education in social media is just not a reality.
It was in the face of all of this that I happened upon The Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan tweeting on Twitter the other day. I was familiar with his tweeting pattern, since I have been following him for quite a while. I also follow his assistants and PR people. He and his team would often tweet out positive tweets about his initiatives. It was rarely an exchange with educators, but usually a one-way conversation. I was also aware that his follow list included politicians, business people and organization leaders, many referring to themselves as education reformers. He followed few, if any connected educators, which was very ironic, since we are entering the Connected Educator Month in October for the second year in a row. Here is how the exchange went:
Arne Duncan @arneduncan
As a nation we’re still spending $7-9B each year on textbooks that are obsolete the day we buy them. Why?
@tomwhitby Done. Thanks for the suggestion Tom.
The list I provided was a list of about 100+ connected educators that I exchange information with most often from among the 2,500 educators that I follow. Of course I have left off some educators who belong on that list, but that is a problem inherent with any made-up list.
The Secretary did as I had asked; He followed every educator and me on that list. He more than doubled his Follow list on Twitter. Educators immediately responded on Twitter in astonishment that The U.S. Secretary of Education was following them on Twitter. They were wondering why they were selected. Obviously, they were not following me, as closely as I was following them.
It was at this point that I began to see a problem. People were openly questioning whether or not Secretary Duncan was really going to engage educators. They were openly asking what they could DM the Secretary to affect the education discussion. They had expectations of the Secretary that they would not have of anyone else after just entering the culture of connected educators. They were already expecting too much. There is no tweet or comment that could so profoundly affect the education discussion to turn it all around making everyone hug and dance in jubilation.
To make this even more interesting some of The Secretary’s team tweeted me hoping that he hadn’t made a mistake connecting to educators who had a potential of haranguing him. I only hoped that I was right. I would hope that people would give The Secretary time to acclimate to the culture. He has not engaged with connected educators to any great extent and now he is connected to over 100 of the most active and most passionate. It could be the best effort yet to engage connected educators in the national discussion of education reform, or a disastrous conflagration. I am hopeful that the patience of these educators will allow Secretary Duncan to observe, enter and participate in the connected culture with the same respect offered to any other member of that community.
Thirty years ago, there was a 31 percentage point difference between the share of prosperous and poor Americans earning bachelor’s degrees. Today, that gap is 45 points.
-Martha Bailey and Susan Dynarski, University of Michigan (taken from article by Jason DeParle)
This past weekend I had the opportunity to read a heartbreaking and gut-wrenching piece written by Jason DeParle in the New York Times. This article depicts the rise, and subsequent fall, of three promising students from Galveston, Texas. These three young women, all excellent students, seemed to have overcome the challenges brought on by their financially poor background. They were in excellent standing within their school, had earned high marks both academically and socially from their teachers and school staff, and, by all accounts, were “college and career ready.” Yet, as DeParle goes on to describe, this designation did not, in fact, prepare them for college and their future careers.
If you were to go by the Common Core State Standards Initiative’s designation of what “college and career ready” truly means (at least for ELA) you would likely find that these three young women were quite qualified to earn this title. In their school lives, they exhibited all of the tenets necessary. Yet, as their stories exhibit, it was what was happening outside of their school (and what occurred once they entered post-secondary education) that truly put them at a disadvantage.
This article, along with an in-depth discussion with my Superintendent (my thanks to Dr. Langlois for helping to turn my reactions to the article into a blog post) helped me come to the realization that college and career readiness is all but meaningless if it is seen as an endpoint, and not a benchmark along a much longer road. The story of these three promising young ladies shows that currently, a “college and career ready” designation is as much edubabble and jargon as it is truly beneficial to students. To truly help students ready themselves for college and be prepared for the challenges once they enter the workforce, much is left to be done. Here are three steps that I believe must be taken to put us on the right path:
If we truly believe that students must be “college and career ready” to succeed in life, our education system must prove it. We can’t assume that it is only the responsibility of K-12 institutions to do this, nor can we truly state that college and career readiness is only built in the classroom. Let’s stop adding to educational jargon, and put meaning behind the terms we use. I encourage you to read DeParle’s piece and see how it makes you feel, and then think about how you would view education as a whole if you were these students or if they were your children.
DeParle, Jason. (2012, December 22). For Poor, Leap to College Often Ends in a Hard Fall. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/23/education/poor-students-struggle-as-class-plays-a-greater-role-in-success.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
National Governors Association. (2012). ELA-Students Who are College and Career Ready. Retrieved from: http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/introduction/students-who-are-college-and-career-ready-in-reading-writing-speaking-listening-language
It’s that time of year again. The emails are already starting to roll in from the Test Prep companies offering gigantic gains on state assessments if you purchase and implement their products. Everybody wants a piece of the Race to the Top pie and they know that test scores are the cherry on top.
In his recent State of the Union Address, Barack Obama told the audience that teachers should not be teaching to the test. Then he turned and said that No Child Left Behind waivers would require teacher evaluations based on high stakes tests. Arne Duncan recently thought it would be a great idea to link teacher preparatory programs and high stakes testing, exploring how we can get teachers to really hone in on what it takes to do well on these tests.
Enter “fix it” companies to sell a product to help teachers help their students master the tests. (Not master the content or skills--just the test.) Sigh.
What if, and I know this may sound radical, but what if we just engaged in Deep Teaching? In a previous blog post I talked about Andrew Chen’s quote,"in America, the standards are the ceiling. In most other countries around the world the standards are the floor.”
There are many lenses through which we can look at curriculum practice and curriculum design and one of the big ones is being prepared for any test at any time. In many of the curriculum mapping books or curriculum texts I’ve read, this is one of four lenses along with readiness, leverage, and endurance through which we prioritize the content and skills that we will teach. In Larry Ainsworth’s book, Rigorous Curriculum Design, he explains that the “Any Test, Any Time” lens is about, “those concepts and skills that are most heavily represented on external, high-stakes assessments.” (2011)
In terms of ditching test prep, I’d like to re-frame the “any test, any time" lens to refer to teaching at a level of complexity and depth that the kids are prepared no matter when the assessment happens or what the assessment includes.
But teachers will say that they have no time. They will say that there is too much to cover. That may be true, but it seems a large number of schools find the time to do weeks of “test prep.” It is time to ditch these traditionally held notions of getting ready for the assessment. Teach Deeper. Uncover the curriculum.
Test prep is wasted instructional time. There is absolutely no reason in the 21st century for students to learn how to take a test. While I do believe that there are good reasons for teaching students test taking tips embedded within instruction throughout the course of the year, I do not think that it is at all good practice to stop instruction to beat information into a kids head when we could be using that time for learning.
Test prep is good for one thing: lining the pockets of the companies that are taking advantage of teachers and their students. Deeper and more rigorous instruction are what’s needed in America's classrooms. The testing situation that we have is out of control. Unfortunately for the time being, it doesn't look like our method of assessing children is going anywhere.
What is actually happening is that NCLB waviers, Teacher Evaluations as a part of the Race to the Top grants, and the newly formed opinions around teaching teachers to teach to the test are going to have unintended consequences when they are based solely or even in part on high stakes testing:
Our current system of assessment is borderline cruelty but at the moment there is little that can be done about it, until those in power see that they are funneling America’s children into a drone-like state of testing compliance. I’m not saying that there aren’t good assessments out there or that assessment is bad. I’m saying that we are wasting time and resources buying test prep materials and shutting down instruction for test preparation because we are driven by that one score captured in one moment.
Those resources and time could be better spent digging deeper in instruction, concentrating on more formative assessment moments multiple times through the school year that could guide students and shape instruction well before the high stakes testing moment.
Ditch the test prep. Ditch the testing pep rallies. Ditch the focus on the high stakes test. (Don’t Ditch Assessment, though!)
Focus on deeper and more rigorous teaching. Focus on learning that is explorative, authentic, and meaningful for students. Focus on increasing complexity from one learning moment to the next--day to day, month to month, year to year. Focus on frequent assessments for the sake of individual student growth and performance, not the one size fits all summative test.
Ainsworth, L. Rigorous curriculum design, how to create curricular units of study that align standards, instruction, and assessment. Lead Learn Pr, 2011.
On Twitter: @fisher1000