Here’s Why Every American Should Oppose Vouchers.

Did all y’all catch Betsy DeVos’s — Donald Trump’s pick as Secretary of Education — confirmation hearings?  

It was a helluva’ show indeed.

Not only did DeVos need Al Franken — a former Saturday Night Live star — to explain the difference between proficiency and growth to her, she had no real idea how IDEA works, she suggested that she supports privatizing public schools, and she used the threat of grizzly bears as reason enough to question federal laws banning guns on school grounds.

Really.  Grizzly bears.  Look it up.

#sheesh

But the thing that should concern us the most about DeVos is her longtime support of vouchers — which allow parents to use public monies to send their children to private and religious schools — as a reform strategy.

The simple truth is that every American should oppose vouchers.  

Here’s why:  Public schools do more than educate our kids.  They provide opportunities for students to share experiences with people who are drastically different from them.  Rich students work side by side with students from poor neighborhoods.  Gay students befriend kids who are straight.  Deeply religious students meet atheists.  Children of immigrants learn with children whose ancestors have lived in America for generations.  And every kid interacts with peers of a thousand different colors and cultures — perhaps for the first time in their lives.

Do you have any idea how important those experiences are?  

One of the fundamental purposes of education has always been to prepare students for effective participation in a democratic society.  “Effectively participating in a democratic society” depends on our willingness to believe in the power of “the common good” — and believing in the power of the common good can only start when we recognize that others see the world differently than we do.

THAT’s what’s missing from the kinds of homogeneous schools that vouchers promote.  The risk of homogeneous schoolhouses is that students will study in intellectual bubbles — attending classes with kids who look and live just like they do, unaware that their core ideas aren’t always embraced by the people they are sharing this planet with.  Sure, homogeneous is easy and safe.  After all, there’s no need for compromise and no source of external challenge when everyone thinks just like you do.  But it’s not reality.

We live in a fractured nation, y’all.  You know that.  

Instead of looking for common ground, we concentrate our energies and our efforts on the ideas that divide us.  We shout one another down in person and online.  We heap scorn on anyone that we see as different.  We use our political power to pass laws that openly discriminate against anyone who doesn’t live like we do — and we elect leaders from the fringes who would sooner shut down the government than compromise with people on the other end of the political spectrum.

Becoming united again can only start when we find value in others — and for kids, finding value in others can be reinforced in the beautiful diversity of our nation’s public schools.

#simpletruth

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Related Radical Reads:

Here’s Why Competition Doesn’t Work in Public Education.

Breaking Public Education to Pieces.

In Praise of American Educators

 

Is Goal Setting Pointless?

Lemme ask you a question:  What role does goal setting play in your school’s culture?  

If your building is anything like mine, goal setting is probably a regular part of your daily routine.  There are goals in your school improvement plan, right?  And each learning team has their own SMART goals to pursue.  Teachers write goals for personal development as a part of their evaluation protocols — and goals litter individualized education plans for students with special needs.

That’s why James Clear’s bit titled Forget About Setting Goals caught my eye this morning.

Clear’s argument is worth considering:  Goal setting can be intimidating — and can result in feelings of failure or fear that leave people paralyzed.

Here’s an example from my personal life:  One of my goals is to lose 25 pounds in the next three months.  Frankly, I’ve got a closet full of clothes that I don’t fit into anymore — and I don’t have the cash to buy a “fat guy wardrobe” right now.

But losing 25 pounds right now seems next to impossible.  Mathematically, that’s 87,500 calories I have to lose.  If I burn about 600 calories per workout (which is what the ol’ treadmill keeps telling me), I’ll need 145 workouts to lose 25 pounds — and that’s ONLY if I quit eating like a Buffalonian in the winter-time.

Just reading that paragraph makes me want to quit before my “healthy living” kick even begins — and the minute I miss a workout or down a dozen wings while watching a playoff game, I’m going to feel like I’ve lost.  Those are pretty high stakes, right?  So in order to protect myself, I’m going to either set easier goals or completely ignore the goals that I’ve set to begin with.  That’s human nature.  We are good at self-preservation.

Clear would argue that the solution to my growing waistline ISN’T to set some kind of big, hairy audacious goal for losing weight.  Instead, it’s to concentrate on systems that result in weight loss.  

My attention should be focused on thinking carefully about what I am going to eat for every meal or building time for regular gym visits into my personal schedule.  Doing so concentrates my attention on practical steps that I can take to lose weight — and gives me a thousand opportunities to feel successful.  Each scoop of hummus that I choke down or trip to the gym that I take becomes a victory for me — and victories build momentum that will eventually help me to achieve the goal that I would have set for myself in the first place.

It’s an interesting argument, isn’t it?  

Goals are destinations.  Systems are vehicles that keep you moving forward — and moving forward is essential to winning.   “When you focus on the practice (systems) instead of the performance (goals),” writes Clear,  “You can enjoy the present moment and improve at the same time.”

Now I’ve got to figure out how to apply Clear’s argument to the work that I am doing in my school.  How can I prioritize practice over performance in order to drive my own professional growth, the growth of my learning team, and the growth of my students?

#thinking

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Related Radical Reads:

Three Tips for Building Teacher Buy-In

Does Your School Have an “Avoid at All Costs” List?

Pockets of Innovation = Lack of Focus

I Support Kyle Williams for Secretary of Education.

Yup.  THAT Kyle Williams.  Defensive Tackle for the Buffalo Bills:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Image licensed Creative Commons Attribution by Jeffrey Beall)

Now I know what you are thinking:  Why the HECK would we ever want to name an NFL player to such an important position in the federal government?  How is THAT guy qualified?

My snarky answer:  “Come ON.  Qualifications?  Did you see who we elected president?”

(I didn’t say that out loud, did I?)

But if you’re the kind of person that IS all hung up on qualifications, check out how Williams — an impact player for the Bills for over a decade who wasn’t given much of a chance at a meaningful career when he was drafted out of LSU in 2006 because his arms weren’t as long as they were supposed to be to play defensive tackle in the NFL — described the role that metrics should play in judging NFL prospects in a recent interview with the Buffalo News:

“So I really didn’t much care what anybody’s opinion was about whether I could or couldn’t play because nobody else knew. ‘All right, well, his arms are an inch and a half short.’ There’s a lot more involved in this game you can’t measure than what you can. That’s what makes players great. What gives guys longevity are the things they can’t put their finger on or put their stopwatch to.”

Williams is right, isn’t he?  Success in the NFL isn’t dependent on the length of  some guy’s arms.  But as ridiculous as that may sound, that’s EXACTLY why Williams slipped to the fifth round in the draft. 

Now translate that argument to education.  In our quest to rank and sort and rate schools and teachers and kids, we’ve put a hell of a lot of weight on metrics (read:  standardized test scores).  We celebrate schools and teachers and kids who do well on those metrics — and we shame and punish those who don’t.  But ask ANYONE with common sense and a bit of experience and they can give you a LIST of schools and teachers and students who were remarkably successful in spite of their “scores.”  Better yet, they can also give you a LIST of schools and teachers and students who earned the highest marks but were complete failures.

So what’s my point?  

Simple:  There’s a lot more involved in OUR game that you can’t measure than what you can.  What’s more, the things that make schools and teachers and kids great are rarely measurable — and the things we CAN measure aren’t all that important.

That’s a message that every #edpolicy maker needs to hear if we are going to create the kinds of learning spaces that students deserve.

#trudatchat

#gobills

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Related Radical Reads:

Lessons Schools Can Learn from the Pittsburgh Steelers

I Wouldn’t Want to Work with Walter Payton.

Lessons #edpolicy Nation Can Learn from Andrew Luck

 

My New Year’s Resolution? Comment More and “Like” Less.

So here we are, 2017.  Pretty glad to see you, if you want to know the truth.  2016 was a year full of more turmoil and tragedy than I care to remember.  

I bet you are buried in promises today, right?  Doesn’t EVERYONE wake up on January 1st ready to make new commitments about how they are going to choose to live during your 365 days?  My guess is that you probably roll your eyes every time that someone casts their promises towards the heavens, knowing full well that most of those promises will be abandoned by the end of your first month.  Don’t believe me?  Go ask 2016.  He’s BOUND to tell you that promises made in the first minutes of a new year aren’t worth a hill of beans.

But I AM going to make a promise to you whether you like it or not:  I promise to spend more of my time behind screens reading and commenting on blogs and less time liking and retweeting the content that I consume.

Now I know what you are thinking:  “Nice promise, Bill.  Really ambitious.  So thankful that you are committed to making our world a better place by commenting more than liking.  You are a real Mother Teresa, aren’t you?!  Sheesh, these people.  So selfish with their resolutions.  Can’t SOMEBODY come up with a promise that matters?”

Here’s the thing, 2017.  I REALLY believe that commenting more and liking less WILL make the world a better place.  It’s NOT a selfish act.  

Here’s why:  No matter what people say, social spaces are decidedly antisocial nowadays.  Most of our interactions in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest are shallow on a good day.  We think mashing the like button or sharing someone’s post out in our own social streams is some kind of meaningful endorsement of the people we are learning from, but those acts require nothing of us — and show nothing to the creators who are sharing content in our streams.

I’m not trying to be all judgy here.  I know why we like and pin and share instead of comment.  We do it because it is fast and easy.

But make no mistake about it:  “Fast and easy” acknowledgement cheapens the value of the very spaces that we’ve embraced.  

Content creators stop seeing their audiences as people they are connected to and start seeing their audiences as people they are trying to sell their ideas to.  And audiences stop seeing the content creators that they follow as actual people who are reflecting transparently and pushing conversations forward.  Instead, content creators are just another brand in the marketplace shouting for attention.  What was supposed to be “networked learning” has become “a network for buying and selling ideas about learning.”  Each Tweet or Pin or Post or Favorite or Share is a transaction instead of a contribution.

Need a different way to think about it?  Likes and pins and retweets are nothing more than the digital equivalent of the Gingerbread soap you gave your grandmother for the holidays because you just so happened to be in the Bath and Body Works the week before Christmas.

Sure, Gingerbread soap is a gift.  No argument there.  But it’s not a thoughtful gift that you put time and energy into.  It was the easiest step you could take to fill your part of the gift-giving bargain and everyone — grandma included — knows it.  While you may not realize it at first, that bar of Gingerbread soap fundamentally changes your relationship with grandma because it is a sign of just how little you really want to think about her.  You’ll do it because you are supposed to — it IS a social expectation, after all — but not out of any real sense of gratitude for Grandma.

Am I making any sense, 2017?  

I guess what I’m saying is that I am making a commitment to LEARNING WITH rather than LEARNING FROM people this year.  I’m going to read and react to the ideas being shared by others.  I’m going to ask questions instead of look for answers.  I’m going to start conversations instead of share content.  I’m going to show people that I’m really listening — and that I’m grateful enough for their efforts and ideas to spend time wrestling with and responding to those ideas in their comment sections.

My bet is that every comment will strengthen the connections that I have with people.  Instead of seeing me as just another icon in their feeds, they’ll see me as a person with a voice who cares enough about them to react to what they’ve written.  Our relationships will be strengthened — something that can only happen one thoughtful interaction at a time — and stronger relationships matter.

Sure, it means that I’ll end up following fewer people.  I can’t magically double the amount of time that I have for interacting in social spaces.  But those fewer people will mean more to me — and hopefully, I will mean more to them.

So there’s my promise, 2017.  I’m going to be a better learning partner to people this year — and while it won’t solve global poverty or keep the Russians from taking over the rest of the world, it WILL encourage and empower more of my peers.  

That has to have some value, doesn’t it?

Respectfully,

Bill Ferriter

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Related Radical Reads:

I’m Going #toplessin215!  Who’s In?

In One Word, I Will Challenge.

 

Top Five Radical Reads of 2016

One of my favorite things about the end of December and the beginning of January are the summaries that bloggers share with their networks detailing the posts that drew the most attention in digital spaces.  By pulling the best pieces to the forefront, they make it easy for me to quickly find important thoughts that I missed in my feed reader during the course of the year.

Since 2011, I’ve done the same here on the Radical, spotlighting the five posts that had the highest number of page views during the previous calendar year.  For 2016, those posts were:

Writing Student Friendly Learning Goals — This bit, which was written way back in 2008, details the reasons that converting the jargon-heavy standards detailed in our curriculum into student friendly learning targets makes sense.  It also goes on to explain a simple process for converting objectives into student friendly learning targets and introduces Unit Overview Sheets — a tool that I use to communicate essential outcomes to the students in my classroom.

I’m jazzed that it is one of the most read pieces of the year simply because it shares a process that I believe should be the starting point for moving from a culture of grading to a culture of feedback in schools — an essential shift that every school needs to start making and the topic covered in my newest book, which came out in November of this year.

 

Technology is a Tool.  Not a Learning Outcome — This post has been in darn near every Top Five Radical Reads lists for as long as I can remember.  Sharing a simple hand-drawn image that expresses my core belief that technology CAN’T be the starting point for our conversations about changing schools, this post and its companion image on Flickr have been viewed over 50,000 times in the last few years.  Something about this bit resonates with all y’all — and that’s cool.  I know that it keeps challenging my own thinking about teaching and learning with technology.

 

What are YOU Doing to Teach Students to Spot Fake News Stories? – Let’s start with a simple truth:  No matter what side of the political aisle you stand on, you HAVE to be troubled by the fact that fake news designed to peddle lies and influence voters is having an impact on elections in America.  That’s not the fault of crappy news outlets.  That’s the fault of lazy voters who do almost nothing to check the credibility of the sources that they are consuming.  In this bit, I detail the scope of the fake news problem, offer a series of tips for verifying news sources that I think every student should be taught, and then point readers to a complete lesson that you can purchase from my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

 

A Parent’s Reflection on School Letter Grades — While it has gotten me in trouble more than my fair share of times, I often write bits here on the Radical that point out the very real impact that destructive #edpolicy choices have on teachers and students.  I’ve been told more than once that doing so is a bad idea because “I’m turning off important people.”  This was one of the pieces that made those “important people” uncomfortable this year.

In it, I openly wonder about the impact that a C rating under our state’s “Excellent Public Schools” letter grading system will have on the culture of the school that my second grade daughter attends.  My goal in writing it was simple:  To point out that the things that I want out of a school as a parent go WAY BEYOND the things our state has chosen to measure and monitor.  Someone needs to say that out loud, right?

 

The Most Important Interview Question I Bet You’ve Never Asked — Let’s start with a simple truth:  I am a huge believer in the power of professional learning communities to change the practice of individual classroom teachers.  That’s because my OWN practice has been changed in deep and meaningful ways by the opportunity to reflect with peers.  But here’s the thing:  Ask most teachers and they are likely to tell you that PLCs are pointless — just another initiative that they hope will be passed over and thrown on the scrap heap of change.

One of the reasons for that pessimism is the failure on the part of school principals to fill their schools with people who truly are OPEN to the notion that there is real value in learning from others.  That’s an argument I make in this piece — which offers up the only question that I think is worth asking in an interview for a new teacher:  Describe a time when your thinking was deeply influenced by a colleague.

Some of my favorite posts of the year didn’t make it into the top five.  Give ’em a look, though.  You’ll get a sense for who I am as both a person and professional:

Are Grades Destroying My Six Year Old Kid?

Wonder = Joy (and Joy Should be Shared!)

Pockets of Innovation = Lack of Focus

The Best Feedback is Gathered, not Given

“The Curse of Our Online Lives”

After _______, What’s OUR Role in Promoting Peace?

 

In the end, 2016 has been nothing short of a wild ride — filled with new opportunities, new instructional experiments and new lessons learned, both personally and professionally.

Through it all, Radical Nation has been there — reading and reflecting and challenging and questioning.  For that, I continue to be incredibly grateful.  Here’s to hoping that you’ll stick with me into 2016.  I’d miss you if you were gone.

#gratzi