Sunday, November 29, 2015

Supporting our schools is everyone's business - not just for those with kids in school

I'm an involved parent - some might say I'm too involved!

When I first began as a volunteer in my child's school, I was in a partnership mindset and the school was, too. The school principal set that tone and fostered the culture to support it, engaging families and community members in a process that was defined and well-communicated. This isn't the case for all schools.

High quality public education may be the focus of local, state, and national policy, but it's not yet a civil right. There are tremendous disparities in funding, facilities, and instructional resources across our nation's school districts, and this inequity underlies the poor outcomes that the No Child Left Behind law attempts to address.

But, learning happens everywhere: in before-school programs, after-school programs, in school, in pre-kindergarten programs, in community-based programs and faith-based programs. We can think of learning happening across a continuum.

As a result, our schools need everyone's help: parents, family members, community residents, local organizations, and anyone else whom we can engage in children's learning. From early childhood through high school, families make key contributions to student learning.

Family, school, and community partnership is not some "nice to have" - it's a necessity for school improvement and student success.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Collaborating with the community in support of your child's education*

There are many ways to engage in a child's education: at home, at school, and in the community. Here are some ideas for collaborating with community organizations in support of children's learning:
  • Make local agencies and businesses aware of what's happening at your child's school.
  • Help coordinate and participate in events that support community groups.
  • Talk with employers about co-sponsoring parent meetings or parenting workshops on site.
  • Encourage employers to adopt flexible work schedules and time off so that employees might attend school functions.
  • Help organize and/or participate in community career, art, or health fairs.
  • Recruit community members (seniors, business people) to volunteer at school.
  • Serve on local community advisory councils and committees.
  • Work with local authorities and public officials to sponsor community events.
  • Encourage and help facilitate your child's participation in community service.
  • Be a role model; be active in community service yourself or together with your child.
- - -
* This refers to any adult who serves a care-giving role in a child's life.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The brain, poverty, and education

In 2006 I attended an Americans for the Arts evening at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. William Safire delivered the Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy. He talked of a three-year study begun by The Dana Foundation to examine whether early arts training by young children can cause changes in the brain that enhance other aspects of cognition. The goal was to find correlation between the two. Safire was chairman of The Dana Foundation at the time. (Results showed plenty of causation but no correlation. Check out the subsequent report about the Learning, Arts, and the Brain (Neuroeducation) Summit).

Anyway, that was when I first heard of The Dana Foundation and their work in neuroeducation. I signed up for their publication, "Brain in the News" - a digest of published studies, articles, commentary, etc. about the brain. (My interest in brain research stems from a college project on the topic involving a halved cauliflower, labeled "Left" and "Right", as a visual aid.)

This summer, "Brain in the News" published a study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Researchers reported a direct correlation between poverty and the brain development of children: poverty hampers the growth of gray matter, impairing their academic performance. Poor children tend to have as much as 10% less gray matter in several areas of the brain associated with academic skills (study published in JAMA Pediatrics).

Now, poverty is no longer "just a social problem".

One of the most challenging and troubling aspects in education and public policy is poverty. President Lyndon Johnson declared "war on poverty" more than 50 years ago and introduced a set of social programs to combat it, including the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965.

Poverty among children younger than 18 began dropping even before the war on poverty:

  • 27.3% in 1959
  • 23% in 1964
  • 14% by 1969
Since then, however, the childhood poverty rate has risen, fallen, and, since the 2007-08 financial crisis, risen again.

Today, a majority of children in US public schools live in poverty. The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 is a response. Within the law is a "community eligibility provision" which allows districts and schools with high poverty rates (40% or higher) to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students. Breakfast in the classroom, along with summer learning, early learning, and expanded learning time are strategies known to have a positive impact on children in poverty and their learning.

While it's an improvement for students to receive these meals, and in spite of the fact that there is no real change in poverty status, the student low-income data (i.e., free and reduced lunch) used in the foundation budget calculation, in the allocation formulas for other state and federal grant programs, and in our school and district accountability system must transition to other income data sources to determine what it means to be poor in Massachusetts.
- - -
Researchers make 5 recommendations for standardized test designers

Why We Fail to Address the Achievement Gap

Addressing the College Readiness Challenge in High Poverty Schools

Annual Accountability

President Obama on Poverty

The Real 21st-Century Problem in Public Education is Poverty

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday - it's four days long and (most times) I'm able to spend it with my children and extended family.

I'm grateful for family.

Coming when it does - at the end of November, long after the audaciousness of leaves, when most have fallen and what remain on branches are crisped and brown, bronze, and russet - it's a reflective time.

I'm grateful for seasonal change.

There's so much that's scary and challenging in the world right now. And, while many parts of the world have been living this reality for too long, more and more people are waking up every day, committing to changing hearts and minds in communities.

For that, I'm grateful.

I'm sharing the Paul Simon youtube here because I've loved "American Tune" since I first heard it and it's something of a Thanksgiving Day classic in our house. His lyrics capture the heart of America - the impact of each individual, hard work, imperfection and compromise, heartbreak, poverty, struggle, immigration "in the age's most uncertain hour".

I'm grateful for the poets.

"Gorky's Zygotic Mynci - Spanish Dance Troupe", shared with me by a longtime friend and artist in Virginia, is a happy little piece. It reminds me of the Hallowe'en party seven of us went to at that button factory in New Hampshire when we all dressed as the "Finalist Dance Troupe". Great memory - I want to live in this film's landscape because of it.

I'm grateful for faraway friends (and memory) and the abundant technologies available to me that keeps us connected.

And, finally, I'm sharing another song sent by a friend in Nova Scotia - it's Adele singing "Hello", accompanied by Jimmy Fallon and folks from SNL playing classroom (do they mean simple percussion?) instruments.

This joyful expression reminds me how grateful I am for teachers, the availability of public education in the US, and, especially, of the importance of making the arts available to all of our children.

I'm grateful for all of the artists who share their gifts and visions and hopes and dreams.

What are you grateful for?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Family engagement isn't a checklist

I'm a proud parent of three: two sons, now college grads, and a daughter in high school. I became active in their education at school when our first child entered kindergarten (lo those many years ago...) and it's what keeps me engaged during those long Board of Ed meetings each month.

Back when they were little, the family-school partnership inspired and motivated me to contribute my skills as an artist and musician to further the educational goals of students and the school. I was happy to do things other than fundraise. Besides, it was fun connecting with other families and teachers and staff in the process.

Family engagement isn't a checklist; it's about a school's openness to a relationship with all of its families for student success.

More than 40 years of research shows that students with families actively engaged in their education at school and at home do way better at school and in life - and this holds true regardless of a parent's level of education, country of origin, or socioeconomic status.

Modern school culture uses the language of "partnership" to describe the mutual relationship of schools and families to co-construct opportunities for learning. This is intentional, as it acknowledges the child at the center of decisions in schools, families, and communities. It's a statement about the shared responsibility of all who make those decisions and that they're focused on children's development and learning success. This focus impacts student skills, grades and achievement, health and safety, discipline, and other attitudes and behaviors, and includes encouraging students to develop talent in art, sports, music, technology, and other areas.

As the Parent Representative on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, I'm one of 11 voting members appointed to provide oversight of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education by virtue of my parent lens. 

That parent lens isn't only important for some things, it's necessary on all of the issues that have an impact on our children, our schools, and our communities. It's in all children's best interest to have families represented all across and up and down the educational enterprise and, by the time they're in high school, to have students represented, as well.

- - -
Notes, quotes, tweets

I've blogged before about my experience in a global book study with the book, Beyond the Bake Sale: The Essential School Guide to Family-School Partnerships. Some of the parents and educators from that group have gone on to have the book study with parents and educators at their school.

Learn from the mistakes of others. You can't live long enough to make them all yourself.
~ Eleanor Roosevelt

When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.
~ Malala Yousafzai

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Ideas for partnering with the school to support your child's education

There are many ways to be engaged with a child's education - if you're the adult responsible for the care-giving of a child, you're probably doing some of these things already.

  • Learn about school and district policies and practices that affect children.
  • Voice your support or concerns on any issue that will affect your family.
  • Participate in meetings to determine special educational needs and services.
  • Attend workshops on problem-solving, conflict resolution, and public speaking to develop your advocacy skills.
  • Encourage and support children to serve in student leadership positions.
  • Work with teachers and school administrators to develop a parent involvement policy.
  • Learn candidates' position and participate in school committee elections.
  • Participate in petition drives or letter-writing campaigns to Congress on legislation affecting public schools and other child-related issues.
  • Give testimony at public hearings in support of or in opposition to proposed education legislation.
  • Vote in local, state, and federal elections for public officials who support education.
More ideas HERE and HERE. Please share other ideas by posting a comment below.

Monday, November 23, 2015

How do you know if your school is "family friendly" and why does it matter?

How family friendly is your school? How do you know?

Sometimes it's really easy to overlook things that may be unintended barriers to family engagement because seeing them day after day can make them invisible to you. One way to address this is to have a welcoming walk-through of the building. How will families and community members engage with school leaders and staff in the process?

Henderson, Mapp, Johnson, & Davies suggest that even before families enter the school building, they're looking for signs that they will be welcomed:

  • friendly signs (in all major languages spoken by families at the school) point out the entrance and say that families and visitors are welcome;
  • parking spots for parents and visitors are clearly marked and are near (or at least not very far from) the entrance;
  • school staff and parents greet visitors in a friendly way and ask if they can help;
  • teachers, administrators, and other school staff go outside the building to greet and talk with parents.

Once inside the building, how welcoming is it? What do you see? What impressions do you come away with? And, once you have identified barriers, what's the process for removing them?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Tentative Board Agenda Items for December

Board members received this list of tentative Agenda items for December back in September:
  • Accountability Determinations (interested in this item, given the Board's support of Margaret McKenna's amendment at the November meeting)
  • Competency Determination (now that there's a new hybrid test in the works)
  • Submit Budget to Secretary of Education (probably other budgetary/fiscal announcements, including an update to the Board about the Foundation Budget Review Commission's final report)
  • Safe & Supportive Schools report

December's Board meeting is planned for Tuesday, 12/15. Board members receive the Agenda and back-up for meeting items about 10 days before.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Charter School Public Hearings

Five charter school hearings have been scheduled within the first 10 days of December - all from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM:

  • Springfield: Tuesday 12/1
    • Springfield Public Library/Brightwood Branch, 359 Plainfield Street, Springfield
  • Brockton: Thursday, 12/3
    • Massasoit Community College/Conference Center, 770 Crescent Street, Brockton
  • Sturbridge: Monday, 12/7
    • Tantasqua High School Auditorium, 319 Brookfield Road, Fiskdale
  • Lynn: Tuesday, 12/8
    • Lynn City Hall/Council Chamber, 3 City Hall Square, 4th Floor, Lynn (rescheduled from 11/23 due to unforeseen circumstances at the Lynn City Hall)
  • Fitchburg: Thursday, 12/10
    • Fitchburg Public Library/Auditorium, 610 Main Street, Fitchburg

Please refer HERE for some of the information about the proposed Commonwealth Charter Schools.

Approval of new charter schools is scheduled for February (including discussion at the special meeting of the Board on Monday evening):

Monday, 2/22/16 - 5:00 PM (location TBD) - last year at DESE
Tuesday, 2/23/16 - 8:30 AM (location TBD) - last year at DESE

Public hearings provide an opportunity for feedback on the applications. At least one member of the BESE will attend each hearing and report back to the full Board on the testimony provided. Members of the public may also submit written comments about the final applications through January 6, 2016:

MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
c/o Charter School Office
75 Pleasant Street
Malden  MA  02148

or by eMail to:

When writing or eMailing, please remember that the Secretary of State's Office has determined they are a public record.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Schools that Work

When we think of being involved parents* at school, what comes to mind? Is it to volunteer in the classroom? Fundraise for needed items? Attend a program, event, or meeting?

These are only part of what it means to be a modern, engaged parent today. Parents are working, juggling family, extra-curricular activities, and other commitments. Certainly, our students and schools win when parents are meaningfully involved in classrooms and schools. And, while it's true that an engaged parent may be a school volunteer:

  • he may also be interested in learning how school events actually link to learning, so that he may better support learning at home;
  • or, she may want to participate in decision-making opportunities in the school or in the district;
  • or some may wish to advocate not only for their child and her classroom, but for all of the children in the school, city, or town, by speaking out on school-wide issues before local, state, and/or national elected representatives and policymakers.

Between government mandates, increasing class sizes, and shrinking budgets, public schools today are challenged to provide every child with opportunities to meet their educational needs.

Our communities, along with the Commonwealth, and the federal government as a critical third partner, have a shared responsibility for maintaining public schools and ensuring that all children have access to a high-quality public education.

The parent partnership extends beyond the school walls and includes our elected representatives at the local, state, and national levels. We must let them know how they can make a difference for our children by showing up to advocate for resources.

Across Massachusetts, schools lack resources for critical programs they need to close gaps and overcome barriers to learning that threaten the quality of education for every child - and leave our most vulnerable children behind.

To keep the promise of public education alive is to renew our partnership with policymakers and to promote a more fruitful collaboration on behalf of every child in every public school in every city and Town.

I'm dedicated to building family, community, and statewide partnerships that work for our schools and children.

Yes - family engagement is about partnering with our child's teacher and school -- and, yes, it's also about packing healthy lunches for them, monitoring their screen time, and talking with them about their goals and passions.

But, that's not the whole picture.

We all need to work together - beyond the classroom and school - to help our schools obtain the resources they need to fulfill the promise that public education holds for every child.

Advocacy is like an ever-flowing river - one that you may step into at any place, at any time. And whether you choose to dip your toe in at the edge of the shore, or wade all the way into the deep - your presence has changed the course.

Now is the time. We must partner together because these are our children, our schools, our future and they deserve no less.
- - -
* Throughout this post, "parent" refers to any adult who serves a care-giving role in a child's life.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Parents as Partners in Shared School Decision Making

I truly believe that when parents are fully respected and engaged as partners with schools, schools do better. When our youngest was in elementary school I served on the school's Site Council for two years (2006-2008), elected through a representative process. Site councils give parents the opportunity to shape school policy by giving them an equal voice in school decision making, along with teachers, principals, and community partners. Serving on the Site Council was an engaging, pragmatic way to partner with the school in students' academic and social-emotional life.

Our Site Council was comprised of four parents whose children attended the school; each parent served overlapping terms of two years each, with two parents elected each year. Three school staff members were elected by staff. Then, one parent was nominated by members of the council to serve as Co-Chair; the principal served as the other Co-Chair and also appointed one member from the community at large.

We met monthly in a conference room at the school, before the start of the school day, and for about an hour. The issues we took up had an impact on the annual school improvement plan:

  • the impact of class size on student performance;
  • school safety and discipline;
  • the school handbook;
  • family engagement;
  • enhancing the school grounds, and more.

HERE's what's on the DESE website about Site Councils. Among other things, the Massachusetts Education Reform law requires School Site Councils to:

  • adopt educational goals for the school;
  • review the annual school building budget;
  • develop a school improvement plan which must correspond to the district improvement plan.

The relationship between School Committees and school Site Councils provides for a unique opportunity to improve and strengthen community engagement within public education governance. The law provides an oversight role for School Committees and further states that elected School Committees at the district level may grant additional authority to School Councils in the area of educational policy. During my years on the Lexington School Committee, and in partnership with MASC, we met with representatives from the Town's 9 School Site Councils twice a year to strengthen their awareness of their roles and responsibilities.

The most important work of the school Site Council is the development of the School Improvement Plan (SIP). In this work the entire school community develops goals and plans strategies to address identified needs. Parents can have an important impact in this process by making sure that issues important to them and their children are addressed. These might include:

  • establish a welcoming school environment;
    • training to help school staff work effectively with families;
      • class size, its impact on student learning, and a plan to reduce class size;
      • design and implement parent/family engagement activities;
      • meeting the learning needs of diverse students, including students with disabilities and students who are English language learners.
      Once developed (annually), a Site Council submits their SIP to the School Committee.

      I learned a lot about our school during my time on the Site Council. I found it an informative and empowering way to take part in a collaborative process that had a positive impact on the students and school culture. The experience led to my running for Town Meeting, then the School Committee, where I ultimately advocated for all of the Town's public school children. 

      If you're still with me here, having read this far, and it sounds even a tiny bit interesting, I encourage you to look into the process for serving on a local Site Council.

      Wednesday, November 18, 2015

      Some reflections on the Board's vote for a new statewide test

      I don’t know about you, but I’m a little burned out on arguments about statewide assessments. I accept that we need them, but we’re spending way too much time on them just because students from other countries are "out-performing" students in the US on standardized tests.

      It bothers me that we've been angsting over these assessments for so long when there are many other areas in need of our attention and dollars. Plus, I’m more interested in the larger educational context that is our vision and our plan for learners. (I'm not going to call it "21st c learning" because, 2015...!)

      Across the discussion of “how to do tests in Massachusetts", I’ve observed a tension between what, on the one hand, is essential for child/student well-being and learning and what, on the other hand, strikes us as essential for the future economy. I will argue that until and unless we are dedicated and accountable to child/student well-being, teaching and learning may have little relevance for many children, thus we contribute to a problem we're trying to solve while putting students at risk of being unprepared - not only for their role in the future economy, but for their lives. Education is more than a talent pipeline for employers, after all, it's an end in itself.*

      Beleaguered by the political morass, teachers and learners are losing ground. The teacher/learner relationship is the most essential and everything Principals, District Leaders, School Committees - and State Boards of Education - do must be to support that primal relationship in the learning environment, and build capacity for that relationship to thrive for effective teaching and learning. 

      We're seeing how education must be personalized for each student no matter who they are, where they live, what language they speak, or how they present. The skills and dispositions they must possess require a multi-dimensional approach of the kind not undertaken before in K-12 education. A lift of this magnitude requires resources in the form of educational and economic investment from federal, state, and local partners in government, as well as deep and sustained alignment with all components of our educational eco-system, including true partnership with families and communities.

      To be truly effective (and more than a blunt instrument of accountability), assessment might be part of a wholly supported, integrated system that's realigned with structures not only for technology and education, but also organizational development and capacity, school climate and culture, budgets, and School Committee policies. Why place the standardized assessment ahead of our needs for high quality professional development, student-family-community engagement, social-emotional learning, and teaching and learning? How can we move forward with an assessment system that's not critically aligned with these in partnership with local districts?

      We’re already working from a technology deficit because we lack effective technology in every classroom, in every school, in every district across the Commonwealth. Where that technology isn't present or aligned as part of a strategic framework for educational transformation, it hasn't been identified as a priority and/or committing scarce dollars is a reality. Some business and education leaders suggest that getting online assessments in place first will, therefore, leverage meeting our compelling technological needs.

      This thinking isn't correct.

      Technology is a part of realizing our vision for learning and student success, not apart from it. Partnering with districts to move toward digital learning environments is more than having the requisite test-taking technology. We're absent a grounding vision that not only supports the learning eco-system, but sustains it with time for learning, teaching, collaboration, and reflection.

      Fewer than 25% of people living in communities are families with children in schools. Education, progressive in that it's always moving into the future, should be a source of pride in all communities. These are our schools, our children, our future and we all need a voice in shaping them.

      The mission of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is to strengthen the Commonwealth's public education system so that every student is prepared to succeed in post-secondary education, compete in the global economy, and understand the rights and responsibilities of American citizens, and in so doing, to close all proficiency gaps.

      How will the Board achieve its stated mission? How do we set up the right conditions for all learners and educators? It's not with a standardized test. Standardized tests have not driven us to higher achievement. They've driven us to higher test scores, but not to higher achievement.

      And therein lies the rub.

      Many children do very well by these tests, and will continue to do well with the new test, especially if they're white and from affluent families, but not all children and schools are well served by them. Poor children do much less well.

      The decision the Board has made is tiny compared to its mission and to the other important things I've mentioned.

      I agreed with 6 of my Board colleagues who voted (7-4) to support a two year "hold harmless" provision for districts while a new test is developed, but I prefer that we go further.**

      Whether we're in a knowledge economy, an innovation economy, or a purpose-driven economy, learning is life-long. There's a lot to be done to prepare our students for life and the future, including knowing exactly what part assessments are to play to inform instruction and improve learning with their timely data and feedback to skilled, knowledgeable professionals with the people, financial, and technological resources to identify learning gaps, modify curriculum, and adjust instruction for whole child and student success.

      - - -
      Notes, Quotes, Posts, tweets
      * A reference to John Dewey's 1893 essay, "Self-Realization as the Moral Ideal". (The Philosophical Review, Vol. 2, No.6 (Nov., 1893), pp.652-664; Published by: Duke University Press on behalf of Philosophical Review; DOI: 102307/2176020; Stable URL: The embedded link in the above post should lead directly to page 660 of the journal - which provides the context for the oft quoted, "Education is not preparation for life but life itself."

      ** I support bill H.340 of Rep. Marjorie Decker's calling for a 3-year moratorium on the high-stakes punitive nature of testing in Massachusetts.

      If you pass a test, didn't you learn something?

      Sustaining Improvements in Urban Schools

      You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.
      ~ Toni Morrison, from Song of Solomon

      So much of our work depends on taking time away from students to be the best teachers possible.
      ~ The JLV

      Tuesday, November 17, 2015

      All Eyes on Door #3

      We have the commissioner's recommendation on student assessment. We have results from last spring's PARCC test administrations. Now, the Board must balance all of the testimony it has heard and read - and call the question.

      But, how might standardized assessments for K-12 be designed to aid learning? What if, instead of keeping with the same high-stakes testing regime that has always been done, we took a different approach (as NH and CA have done) in the design and administration of something that unlocks deeper learning opportunities for students?

      NASBE Update to the BESE

      As the MA delegate to NASBE's annual conference last month, Chair Sagan has asked me to provide an update to the Board at today's regular Board meeting. I've blogged about some of the sessions I attended during the conference, beginning with the visit to the Halstead Academy; links to those posts may be found in the sidebar at right (they're near the bottom of the page, in "October", and all have "NASBE" in the title; some are embedded links below). At today's meeting I'll be sharing, more or less, from here:

      Overall, NASBE put on an impressive conference. Excellent presenters and featured speakers led high quality sessions on key issues before us, including:
      • Re-thinking the achievement gap
      • ESEA reauthorization
      • Student data privacy
      • Changing demographics and their impact on education and the workforce
      • Teacher equity plans (what's next, now that they've been filed)
      • Social-emotional learning
      • Engaging students in deeper learning
      • Strengthening state policies for high-quality early childhood education
      • Focusing on career and civic competencies (not only on college competencies)
      As is common at such conferences, there were many networking opportunities with partners and colleagues in member states, as well as an awards luncheon to recognize outstanding contributions of education and elected leaders.

      Business of the conference included the election of a new executive committee and board members, updating of the association's bylaws, and votes on new association positions. I was honored to be elected by colleagues in the Northeast member states to NASBE's Board of Directors as the Northeast Area Director. The term is for two years beginning January 1, 2016. The Northeast Area includes the six New England states, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. It will be my role to liaise to these states, participate in monthly conference calls, and attend Board meetings in Alexandria, VA four times a year.

      Some take-aways from the conference:

      • DEMOGRAPHIC CHANGE: Change is coming to schools and the workforce. From the 2000 to 2010 Census:
        • Hispanic population grew by 43%
        • Asian-American population grew by 42.9%
        • White population grew by 1.2%
        • an aging population is retiring and living longer
      States need to be actively thinking about and planning for these changes.

      • ALL MEANS ALL: The society of children about to enter the education system will be very different, including:
        • very many more children who will not have English as a first/primary language --> it's impact on reading for all children
        • many children being raised by grandparents and in other non-traditional family configurations, which has an impact on the history that gets taught (i.e., Rethinking Columbus and History UnErased)
        • more importance to be placed on cultural competency and non-cognitive learning
      Education is important but insufficient; also need to include non-cognitive aspects.

      • TECHNOLOGY: How, where, and when students learn is changing much more dramatically. Technology is changing faster than states can decide what to do.
      State Boards of Education (SBEs) can provide guardrails.
      • FEDERAL LEGISLATION: Issues around student data privacy are challenging because they are trying to fit into a law from 1974 (FERPA). ESEA is critical and is 14 years out of date. 
      Current compromise legislation doesn't do everything we all might want, but it's important so that all of our diverse students can achieve at high levels.
      • NAVIGATING CHANGE: The work of SBEs is going to get a lot harder. NASBE has our back with policy experts, excellent publications, resources.

      Announced NASBE Dates:
      2016 Legislative Conference: April 4-5, at the Liaison Capitol Hill Hotel, Washington DC to which I hope BESE members will consider joining me in attending.
      - - -

      Tuesday, November 3, 2015

      What's Behind Door #3? [PARCC::Part II]

      We've been reading (for example, HEREHERE, HERE, and HERE, among other places, like HEREHERE, and HERE) that a recommendation is pending from Commissioner Chester to the Board of ESE about how to move forward with statewide assessments in ELA and maths. He's been floating around his idea for a third way since October 19th's Board meeting, sharing his change of view and describing his process for how he will inform the Board of his recommendation. We assume said recommendation will be similar to what we've been reading and hearing about. Time will tell.

      At October's meetings, the Board learned that tech upgrades to infrastructure were estimated to be $3.1 million; another $12.3 million estimated for additional technology in schools. Many schools may be ready for computer-based testing but very many more are not at all equipped with equitable, effective digital learning environments.

      Acknowledging our tech deficit across the Commonwealth in this regard, I'm concerned that technology for learning is being driven with an eye to test-taking instead of blending future focused, student-centered, content-rich interactive curricula. What's the plan to align and effectively integrate those environments, while ensuring great teaching and learning?

      • How are we supporting practitioner-led professional development that's framework-aligned and tech-integrated? 
      • Are all educators in regular and frequent conversations with the rest of the team? Is the instructional technology team part of grade-, course- and/or department-level PLCs?
      • How are school staff collaborating with families and community partners to connect students and families to expanded learning opportunities and community services in order to support achievement and civic participation? 
      • Is the organization developed sufficiently with integrated tools and resources, including non-cognitive supports for all learners, no matter the language he speaks or where she lives?
      • Do educators have what they need when they need it to support all students, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds?

      To live in a media-rich, technology-driven environment, the entire educational enterprise must have command of the essential skills of collaboration, communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, and reflection through the integration and effective use of technology.

      The point is this: no test ensures great teaching and learning. Teachers in the learning environment are the true catalysts for change. A more effective statewide assessment system in 2015 might be focused on seamless integration with its complementary parts, not on the sturm und drang over the standardized assessment tool.

      Educators are skilled professionals - practitioners working to inform their practice so they can nimbly respond to a learner's needs, modify curriculum, and improve instruction. The urgency isn't about getting everyone in a 1:1 relationship with a device for test-taking. It's about remaining focused on great teaching and learning for our digital age, providing opportunities and time for reflection and collaboration, aligned with a vision that holds student-learning at the center of all decisions.

      - - -
      Resources, quotes, tweets
      See HEREHERE, and HERE for the Department's vision and support for digital learning in MA K-12 schools.

      Great read on the Obama administration's changing views on standardized testing.

      Those bills in the Massachusetts Legislature calling for a moratorium on testing and on other accountability measures.

      Read and heard elsewhere: recent references to "door number three thinking":

      • The Secret History of Thoughts - Dark Thoughts that aired on The Invisibilia Podcast on January 9, 2015, rebroadcast on WGBH-FM, November 2, 2015, which is when I heard it

      PARCC::Part I

      Note: The Board will hold a final public comment session on PARCC -->Door #3 (?) Monday, November 16, 4:00-7:00 PM at Malden High School auditorium (in lieu of Public Comments at Tuesday morning's regular BESE meeting, 8:30 AM).

      Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.
      ~ Albert Einstein

      A great obstacle to discovery is not ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge.
      ~ Daniel Boorstin

      Our best measures of educational performance are cognitive because that's what's easiest to test. If the things that are harder to test matter more, that presents something of a conundrum for people trying to formulate educational policy.
      ~ Megan McArdle in Bloomberg View (Note that Ms. McArdle's article describes key takeaways of an experiment in parent engagement undertaken by Roland Fryer, Stephen Levitt, and John List; Roland Fryer is now a member of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education).