The importance of social studies and information literacy

As someone who grew up in the Washington, D.C. suburbs and whose parents worked for the federal government, today’s events have been… challenging.

I think that what I will say here is:

  1. Policymakers, you know how you’ve minimized the importance of history, government, and civics in all of your education reform efforts over the past couple of decades? Yeah, that was probably a big mistake…
  2. Superintendents and principals, are you ready yet to pay more attention to information literacy throughout your P-12 curricula?

Judging school success by test scores. And only test scores.

John Merrow said:

Apparently it’s pretty simple for the folks administering the Broad Prize in Urban Education: Successful School Reform boils down to higher test scores. There is no public sign that anyone at the Foundation is questioning whether living and dying by test scores is a sensible pedagogy that benefits students. There is no public evidence that anyone at the Foundation has considered what might happen if poor urban students were exposed to a rich curriculum and veteran teachers, which is essentially the birthright of students in wealthy districts. Just the dismal conclusion that traditional districts are incapable of reform, followed by its decision to double down on charter management organizations, despite the truly offensive record of some of them of excluding special needs children and driving away students who seem likely to do poorly on standardized tests.

via https://themerrowreport.com/2017/05/12/the-canary-in-the-mine

Where do we set the bar?

A few weeks ago we were talking about school ‘accountability’ in one of my classes. I mentioned that I didn’t think that most schools were yet producing ‘future ready’ graduates. If they were, we would see more school environments that immersed students in deeper learning, student agency, authentic work, and rich technology infusion opportunities.

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There seems to be fairly wide agreement that schools that aren’t achieving minimum levels of proficiency on standardized tests of lower-level – or, for PARCC & SBAC fans, arguably mid-level – knowledge are ‘failing’ or should be ’turned around.’ But even broad, schoolwide success on most current assessments is still a pretty low floor for how we judge the efficacy and success of our schools. If we raised the bar up to preparation for true life readiness, wouldn’t most schools do pretty poorly on the four shifts noted above? (and other fronts, like information literacy and global awareness) When do we as a society care about and have a sense of urgency about that?

Some questions for Betsy DeVos

The Washington Post collected some questions from educators for Betsy DeVos, nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education. Here are a few of my favorites:

Would you please state, concisely, any relevant experience you have had in public education, either as a student, a teacher, a school leader, a public school board member, a parent of a public school child, a PTA member, a volunteer in a traditional public school or as someone who once drove past a public school?

AND

What will you use as a basis for your initiatives and policy-making decisions regarding pedagogy and best practice, having neither studied nor worked as a teacher or principal in any school? From what, where, or whom will you draw expert knowledge on the art of teaching and learning?

AND

What if parents’ first choice, as it is for most American families, is to send their children to a clean, safe, well-resourced, professionally-staffed, local neighborhood public school? How would the voucher and charter school schemes you advocate support this kind of choice?

AND

What will you do to gain the trust of public school teachers?

AND

How will you attract teachers to the profession given the unrest and uncertainty of public education right now?

The importance of watching and naming

Watching you

This past weekend our minister asked us to consider what it meant to be ‘present’ within a community. Among other actions, she articulated two concepts – watching and naming – that she thought were particularly important for members of a community who wish to be deeply involved and fully present.

Watching includes the acts of staying informed and of being a participant observer. Naming includes the willingness to label things as they really are. The example she used was the so-called ‘alt-right.’ She exhorted us to be vigilant against both hate and discrimination and to be aware of their existence in all of their numerous, varied, and often-hidden forms. She also reminded us that whoever controls the rhetoric controls the mindspace and that we need to call the alt-right for what it really is: a white nationalist movement based on bigotry and hatred.

I think that the concepts of watching and naming are relevant to educational contexts as well. Educators are losing political battles all across the country because they’re not able to influence the overall mindspace of policymakers or the general public. Whether it’s anti-union rhetorics or pro-voucher rhetorics or grade-level retention rhetorics or ‘no excuses’ discipline rhetorics or statistically-invalid ‘accountability’ rhetorics or any of several dozen other antithetical rhetorics, we see firsthand that the end result of educators’ inability to substantively impact high-level conversations is policy that harms children and schools. Despite the heroic efforts of bloggers and school advocates, many educators STILL continue to be unaware of how think tanks, private foundations, corporations, astroturf groups, and government actors work together – often behind the scenes – to formulate harmful laws, policies, and advocacy campaigns. Many educators are woefully ignorant of how state and national policy is made and/or feel completely helpless to positively impact policy conversations. We need more educators to follow educational reform conversations and to read more actively than an occasional mainstream news story and/or association newsletter (hint: social media can be a great way to accomplish these goals). We also need more educators who are willing to speak up – publicly and visibly – and name things for what they are. Right now fierce conversations are occurring around terms like ‘personalization’ and ‘pro-children’ and educators are losing.

Watching and naming are relevant concepts inside a school too. Are educators within your schools paying attention to transformational societal trends? Are they watching with a keen eye and critically interrogating the instructional practices that occur within their buildings and classrooms? Do they even see existing inequities? Are they willing to identify and call out outdated or ineffective school mindsets, structures, and processes?

How might you utilize the concepts of watching and naming to enhance your own policy and/or instructional work?

Image credit: I’m watching you…, Christine Krizsa