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Things I wonder after reading Governor Terry Branstad’s recent comments on teacher leadership

Iowa state flag

Here are a few things I wonder after reading Governor Terry Branstad’s recent comments on the teacher leadership program here in Iowa… (I also left these as a comment to the article)

  1. I wonder how many Iowa educators would say that “it’s cool” and “it’s neat” to be a teacher leader as they watch over a thousand teaching positions statewide be eliminated or go unfilled due to inadequate funding because of the Governor’s recent veto.
  2. I wonder how many Iowa educators would say that they “feel respected and appreciated” right now.
  3. I wonder how many Iowa educators “see that [the Governor] is listening to them,” particularly when they contrast his July veto of school funding with his proposed rule change that would remove even more state revenue by granting additional corporate tax cuts.
  4. I wonder how many educators feel that the Governor is “rais[ing] the bar and attract[ing] people / top talent” to the profession right now.
  5. In our democratic society that’s supposed to represent the voice of the people – and given the Governor’s recent stance on school start dates (despite nearly unanimous opposition from school districts) and his funding veto – I wonder how many educators and families are grateful for his top down approach in order to (in his words) remedy the fact that “Iowa [is] stuck with our local control system.”
  6. I wonder why the Governor thought that a sit-and-get education summit would be enough to gain traction on teacher leadership.
  7. I wonder how many actual examples the Governor can provide of teacher leaders “revolutionizing what’s happening in classrooms across Iowa.”
  8. I wonder if the Governor realizes that helping “Iowa again [to] be a national leader, known for giving our students a globally competitive education” probably isn’t going to happen with reduced school district and AEA budgets, declining educator morale, and top-down leadership that fails to reflect both the voice and expertise of the front-line educators who are charged with returning Iowa to greatness.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome…

Image credit: Iowa flag, Chuck Thompson

Why Ohio can’t reduce student testing load

Michael Petrilli said:

Last year, [Ohio] State Superintendent Dick Ross published a report on the testing load in the state’s schools that showed strikingly similar results as the new Council for Great City Schools study. It found that about one-quarter of the testing in the Buckeye State was linked solely to the need for data for teacher evaluations in subjects other than math and reading. To his credit, Ross proposed that districts simply dump those tests. He made a choice, in other words.

Regrettably, the Ohio General Assembly did not go along with his recommendation – but for an understandable reason. Because of Ohio’s federal waiver, Buckeye State districts couldn’t just move to evaluations based on teacher observations and the like. If they had gotten rid of excess tests, they would have had to use reading and math scores to evaluate all teachers – gym teachers, art teachers, the whole crew. This is quite obviously inane, and it demands a change in federal policy.

The Obama administration is trying to have it both ways. It wants fewer tests but isn’t willing to give up on test-based teacher evaluations. Meaning that, alas, it has failed this test.


Michael Bloomberg on testing

Michael Bloomberg

Here are some quotes from Michael Bloomberg about testing students, with my annotations in italics…

  1. “Many companies (including mine) use tests in hiring.” Really? The hiring ’tests’ for your financial software, data, and media company are multiple choice tests of factual recall and procedural regurgitation?
  2. “Students will face tests throughout their life. They must learn to cope with the emotional stress that comes with the experience.” Just curious: Do your workers cry, get stomach aches, or wet themselves when they face emotional stress in your workplace? (like some of our elementary students do at testing time) If so, must be a fun place to work!
  3. “Test-taking is no one’s idea of fun, but it is part of life.” Quick. Name other areas outside of school and college admissions where taking multiple choice exams and writing short, formulaic essays that are graded in 1-2 minutes are a regular part of life.
  4. “In the ultracompetitive global economy, the U.S. is facing a terrible mismatch between high-skill jobs and our labor pool.” How, exactly, do standardized tests of low-level knowledge lead to high-skill jobs? How, exactly, does an emphasis on low-level thinking work foster higher-level thinkers? What’s your theory of action?
  5. “The biggest threat to American might is not any one country or terrorist group. It is our collective unwillingness to confront mediocrity in our schools.” Many of us ARE confronting mediocrity in our schools. We are confronting the mediocrity of our continued emphasis on assessments of low-level thinking work instead of assessments of critical thinking, creative problem solving, effective communication and collaboration, and other higher-level skills.
Your thoughts?

Image credit: Wikimedia

Time to find other employment

In the past decade, most everyone with access has experienced what it's like to learn from anyone, anywhere at any time. In everyday life, this is no longer an event to behold but the way we learn. Any policy maker or leader who doesn't understand and live this needs to find other employment. - Dean Shareski

Dean Shareski said:

In the past decade, most everyone with access has experienced what it’s like to learn from anyone, anywhere at any time. In everyday life, this is no longer an event to behold but the way we learn. Any policy maker or leader who doesn’t understand and live this needs to find other employment.


It’s not just a poverty issue

Banksy In Boston: Follow Your Dreams (CANCELLED)Ta-Nehisi Coates said:

The lives of black Americans are better than they were half a century ago. The humiliation of Whites Only signs are gone. Rates of black poverty have decreased. Black teen-pregnancy rates are at record lows – and the gap between black and white teen-pregnancy rates has shrunk significantly. But such progress rests on a shaky foundation, and fault lines are everywhere. The income gap between black and white households is roughly the same today as it was in 1970. Patrick Sharkey, a sociologist at New York University, studied children born from 1955 through 1970 and found that 4 percent of whites and 62 percent of blacks across America had been raised in poor neighborhoods. A generation later, the same study showed, virtually nothing had changed. And whereas whites born into affluent neighborhoods tended to remain in affluent neighborhoods, blacks tended to fall out of them.

This is not surprising. Black families, regardless of income, are significantly less wealthy than white families. The Pew Research Center estimates that white households are worth roughly 20 times as much as black households, and that whereas only 15 percent of whites have zero or negative wealth, more than a third of blacks do. Effectively, the black family in America is working without a safety net. When financial calamity strikes – a medical emergency, divorce, job loss – the fall is precipitous.

And just as black families of all incomes remain handicapped by a lack of wealth, so too do they remain handicapped by their restricted choice of neighborhood. Black people with upper-middle-class incomes do not generally live in upper-middle-class neighborhoods. Sharkey’s research shows that black families making $100,000 typically live in the kinds of neighborhoods inhabited by white families making $30,000. “Blacks and whites inhabit such different neighborhoods,” Sharkey writes, “that it is not possible to compare the economic outcomes of black and white children.”

Having been enslaved for 250 years, black people were not left to their own devices. They were terrorized. In the Deep South, a second slavery ruled. In the North, legislatures, mayors, civic associations, banks, and citizens all colluded to pin black people into ghettos, where they were overcrowded, overcharged, and undereducated. Businesses discriminated against them, awarding them the worst jobs and the worst wages. Police brutalized them in the streets. And the notion that black lives, black bodies, and black wealth were rightful targets remained deeply rooted in the broader society. Now we have half-stepped away from our long centuries of despoilment, promising, “Never again.” But still we are haunted. It is as though we have run up a credit-card bill and, having pledged to charge no more, remain befuddled that the balance does not disappear. The effects of that balance, interest accruing daily, are all around us.

The high point of the lynching era has passed. But the memories of those robbed of their lives still live on in the lingering effects. Indeed, in America there is a strange and powerful belief that if you stab a black person 10 times, the bleeding stops and the healing begins the moment the assailant drops the knife. We believe white dominance to be a fact of the inert past, a delinquent debt that can be made to disappear if only we don’t look.

Be sure to read the whole article at

Image credit: Banksy in Boston, Chris Devers

Principles for school districts’ social media policies


My newest article is out. This one is about some general guidelines and principles for school districts to consider as they formulate their social media policies. A segment is below. You can read the full article online or in AASA’s School Administrator magazine.

Consider your tone. Districts everywhere are doing everything they can to put digital tools into the hands of students and staff because of the powerful learning opportunities that they enable. And then they usually create policy documents that hector and admonish youth and educators about all of the things they shouldn’t do. Tone is important. You don’t want to undermine your own efforts.

Consider what policies of empowerment and encouragement might look like versus districts’ typical lists of No’s and Can’ts and Don’ts, particularly if you want to encourage innovative, technology-using educators to work for you instead of someone else.

Don’t be agoraphobic. Humans are inherently social and we make meaning together. Connection to each other and the outside world often is educationally desirable. The learning power that can occur in environments that are “locked down” less tightly is vastly greater than those that filter or block outside experts, communities of interest, or other classrooms.

Happy reading!

Imagine that you wanted to slowly kill public education

Pine box label

Imagine that you are a policymaker who is generally anti-government, anti-union, and pro-privatization. Public schools conflict with all of those, don’t they?

So you’ve got a challenge. Citizens and communities generally like and strongly support their schools. Somehow you have to create a narrative over time that erodes citizens’ support for public schools and counters their incredible historical legacies of college and career preparation, citizenship development, cultural socialization, economic opportunity creation, and facilitation of intergenerational income mobility. 

Here are some things that you and your like-minded colleagues might try to do:

  • underfund schools so that they can’t keep up with operational costs, will struggle to meet educational mandates, and will have to reduce personnel (bonus: fewer union members!)
  • maintain claims about ‘fiscal accountability’ and future revenue concerns, even when they require ignoring strong revenue generation and projections
  • reduce existing revenue streams in order to bolster claims of fiscal hardship (bonus: less government!)
  • employ bait-and-switch funding mechanisms that supplant rather than supplement and/or disappear at the last minute
  • ignore legal requirements to timely establish school funding levels that would allow districts to adequately plan and budget
  • implement new, supplemental ‘bread and circuses’ initiatives (say, STEM or financial literacy) that distract the general public from the year-to-year erosion of base school funding
  • give as little policy attention as possible to the known educational needs of students who live in poverty or don’t speak English as their primary language (and thus struggle academically), even as those student and family populations increase markedly within the state
  • deflect the blame for your underfunding of schools by alleging schools’ inefficiency and superintendents’ mismanagement
  • frequently change state standards and assessments and/or make them more difficult so that educators and students struggle to keep up and have less chance of hitting the moving targets
  • use selective data (say, NAEP scores) to manufacture educational crises that feed your rhetoric of public school failure
  • create school grading and ranking schemes that shame struggling schools, demoralize the educators within them, and alarm parents
  • implement teacher evaluation schemes that are guaranteed to be unfair, demoralize educators, and confuse the public
  • pitch tax credits and private/religious school vouchers or ’scholarships’ (‘money that will follow students in their backpacks’) to the general public as natural recourses to the failures of public schools
  • write legislation that expands public school alternatives such as charters or homeschooling, particularly ones that can siphon funds away from public schools
  • create double-standard school and educator ‘accountability’ provisions that apply to public schools but not non-public alternatives
  • accept policy proposals, money, and political influence from seemingly anyone other than actual educators
  • affiliate with anti-public-school organizations (say, ALEC) that will feed you ‘model’ legislation proposals, connect you with successful players and tactics from other states, and provide ongoing encouragement to stay the course
  • hold yearly education summits at which educators can only listen passively to carefully-vetted speakers who feed your desired agendas
  • publicly dismiss, disparage, intimidate, or try to silence educators, parents, researchers, and others who speak out against your policies

and so on, year-after-year, all under the guises of ’transparency’ and ‘accountability’ and ‘global competitiveness.’ Heck, you might even co-opt the journalists that used to ask tough questions about your educational policymaking (by, say, hiring them).

Here in Iowa? Checkmarks on all fronts, I believe (and we’re not as bad as many other states). There’s an evolving playbook out there, folks, and we’re seeing it being implemented in every state.

More of this to come in the years ahead… Do you care? If so, what will you do about it?

Image credit: Pine box, Todd Ehlers

Dear Governor Branstad, we need both


Governor Terry Branstad, from the Des Moines Register:

“We gave all this across-the-board money with no accountability and Iowa kind of stagnated while other states put a focus on things that increase their standards that improve their student achievement.” [Governor Branstad] has defended his veto of $55.7 million in one-time funds by saying the solution to improving student performance is not to simply throw money at the problem. He doubled down on that Monday, saying he prefers the state make more targeted investments in high-priority education programs rather than making a blanket allocation of dollars.

This is like telling a poor, unemployed person:

Hey, I know you’re barely getting by and don’t have enough money to live or eat but you’ve been living and eating for years with no appreciable improvement in your life situation. What you really need is some job training. So we’re going to cut back even further on your food and housing assistance in favor of some targeted funding for job training.

Governor Branstad is asking Iowa schools to choose between subsistence or improvement investments when, of course, they need both. Easily understood, but apparently not easily enacted.

How does losing 1,100 teaching positions make Iowa schools ‘best in America’ again? And when did basic, essential funding of schools become ’throwing money’ at them?

Image credit: ISEA

It’s not that you don’t have enough money, it’s that you don’t spend it wisely

Man with empty pockets

Like Kansas with its poor, Governor Terry Branstad wants Iowa schools to be more accountable for their spending of state dollars. Citing years of ‘across-the-board money with no accountability [while] Iowa kind of stagnated,’ he decided to teach our schools a lesson and took some of their money away so that they will learn how to operate more efficiently under austerity conditions, much like Greece and its European Union creditors. His theory of action is that by reducing school funding, Iowa ‘will become best in America again.’

It’s not that you don’t have enough money due to four historic years of inadequate education funding, it’s that you don’t spend it wisely…

I completely agree. I think we should start cutting the wasteful fat from our incredibly-bloated school budgets immediately. We’re already below the national average when it comes to per pupil funding but that is still too high. We can do better!

Let’s start with those useless administrators and their fat cat salaries. And of course those teachers that 1) hardly do anything, 2) join those damned unions, and 3) have huge salaries and summers off. Your district already is sharing a superintendent with two or three others? You’re already whole grade and/or teacher sharing? Your class sizes already are bulging at the seams? Keep trimming the fat… We can do better!

Next up: art, music… heck, any and all electives. Gone! Don’t you know how poorly Iowa is doing on NAEP reading and math scores? We need to focus, people! Along with our recess cuts, that’s more time that we can allocate toward scripted reading and math lessons and additional drill-and-kill activities. We can do better!

Let’s cut extracurriculars while we’re at it. All sports, all clubs, all leadership opportunities… Why are you angry? Have you already forgotten our quest to be ‘world class?’ Look, Asian students don’t have extracurriculars. After their school day they go to even MORE school, every afternoon, evening, and weekend. That’s whom we’re competing with these days. We can do better!

Now we’re getting closer to some real efficiency. But let’s don’t stop there! Let’s cut Social Studies. What? You think we want an active, engaged citizenry? NO!!! We want sheep who will passively believe whatever we tell them! And of course we’ll cut science classes. We have extracurricular STEM programs that will make up the difference. Plus we don’t really believe in science anyway…

Look, I know this upsets some of you. But it’s a tough road to becoming America’s best again, particularly since we have to face up to Iowa’s dire budget situation. We simply cannot be irresponsible with our taxpayers’ money. Plus we need hundreds of millions of dollars to give to companies so that they can create a dozen or so jobs. The solution to improving school outcomes is not to ‘throw money’ at schools. It’s to grade and rank them! Can we find ways to get rid of those pesky students with special needs? They’re expensive!!!!

[Or we could point the accountability arrow the other direction and hold our elected representatives ‘accountable’ for meeting the clear desires of Iowans for a strong education system and a solid future for our state. What will we choose?]

Image credit: Empty Pockets, Dan Moyle

The P in public education

Sign: Welcome to our ool. Notice there is no P in it. Let's keep it that way.

Policymakers are fond of noting that teachers are the number one school-level influence on student learning outcomes (note: non-school influences are far more significant). Despite politicians’ claims that they value and appreciate teachers, however, we are seeing the following from legislatures all across the country:

  • rhetorical attacks on teacher unions
  • rollbacks of educators’ collective bargaining rights
  • elimination of teacher tenure
  • public disparagement of educators, teacher preparation programs, and colleges of education
  • scripted lessons, lockstep behavior management techniques, and other attempts to ‘teacher-proof’ the education of children
  • underfunding of public schools
  • underfunding of public universities
  • legislation favoring of – and spending of public monies on – alternative teacher preparation programs, charters, vouchers, homeschooling, and other non-public school options
  • mass firings in so-called ‘failing schools’
  • enactment of ‘parent trigger’ laws
  • teacher evaluations based on statistically-volatile (and thus unfair) ‘value-added’ assessment systems
  • public shaming through publication of teacher evaluations
  • school evaluations based primarily on bubble test scores
  • public shaming through publication of school ‘letter grades’
  • repeated attempts to institute ‘merit pay’ systems (despite decades of research-proven failure)
  • double-standard school and educator ‘accountability’ provisions that apply to public schools but not charter or private schools
  • acceptance of policy proposals, money, and political influence from seemingly anyone other than actual educators
  • public disparagement of parents, researchers, and others who speak out against harmful ‘reforms’
  • and so on…

As a result, states now are seeing big drops in teacher morale, teacher turnover that’s even greater than historically-horrible rates, and often-severe teacher shortages. 

All of this is simple, really. If we keep pissing in the public education pool, don’t be surprised when no one wants to swim in it.

Image credit: Welcome to our ‘ool, Delwin Steven Campbell

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