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2011 InterACT in Retrospect

December 30, 2011

In the past week I’ve reviewed some of the best blog posts here at InterACT, organizing them by author (prior installments include best guest posts, and best posts by Martha Infante and Kelly Kovacic).  For the final post of 2011, I’ve picked out some of my posts that I hope are worth another look, and provided either a quick explanation of why I selected that post, or a short quotation to pique your interest.

SOS March

photo by the author

• The most exciting part of my edublogging year was probably the Save Our Students March and Call to Action in Washington, D.C.  I was able to be in Washington that week because of the 2011 conference for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, but I managed to divide my time a little bit.  I composed Sending Out an S.O.S. more quickly than anything I’ve ever written of similar length, and posted it within minutes of leaving my hotel room to take in the rally.  I concluded that post as follows:

President Obama and Secretary Duncan have failed as educational leaders.  I’ll offer credit where its due on some initiatives relating to technology, community colleges, and preserving teacher jobs during a difficult economy, but I refuse to lower my expectations for our students and our public education system as a whole.

Gentlemen, we have assessed your education priorities and policies for over two years, and found your efforts are below proficient.  There is a higher standard, and the stakes are high.  Considering that you have the power in this situation, and the pulpit from which to demand the changes we really need, the buck stops with you, but you refuse to engage in an honest evaluation of your failures and correct your course of action.  I understand that; you’re politicians.  That is why people are sending out an S.O.S.  The improvement of public education depends on applying political pressure against you, because dialogue has proven fruitless.

See you on the Ellipse.

•  Another stroke of good fortune in 2011 was being invited to address a meeting of the U.S. Department of Education’s Equity and Excellence Commission, which convened in San Jose on April 21st.  My remarks to the commission were not composed for the purpose of the blog, but I ended up with enough material for two blog posts: Equity and Excellence, Part One, and Part Two.

•  A blog post I’m particularly proud of came in response to a thoroughly misguided policy in a pair of Orange County high schools that used color-coded identification cards and a variety of incentives and shamings to try to motivate students to score well on state tests.  Eugenic Legacies Still Influence Education was the longest and most thoroughly researched blog post I’ve ever composed, and it generated the most comments as well.  I almost didn’t write it:

“I’d have thought the policies were so obviously wrong, so insensitive, so counterproductive and so poorly aligned with what we know about motivation and performance, that it would almost be unnecessary to write a blog post about the incident.  I’m glad that Anthony Cody did, but I didn’t think I’d have much more to contribute.  Until I mentioned eugenics – first on Anthony’s blog, then on Twitter.  In a series of exchanges with someone I respect, I was repeatedly challenged on my claim that this policy had connections to eugenics.  So here we go.”

•  The most read InterACT post of 2011 was Common Core Confusion: ASCD Edition – which received a nice boost in readership from ASCD Smartbrief.  However, months later, I see that post and its predecessor, Common Core Confusion, still showing up in our daily and weekly blog traffic.  I attribute that fact entirely to interest in the topic rather than any particular insights I’ve offered.  Common Core standards, implementation, and assessment will also be the subject of my first blog post in 2012, I anticipate, when I have the time to synthesize a wealth of information and opinions that arose in an education policy summit I attended a couple weeks ago.

• Another significant education policy issue this year was NCLB waivers, which prompted me to write Duncan Seeks Cheap Conversions“In recent news, we learn that Duncan may be willing to waive NCLB provisions and penalties, in return for states’ compliance with his favored policies.  I thought Race to the Top was an overreach, but this time, Duncan’s move brought quick criticism from wider quarters.”  

• Federal policy relating to school turnarounds did some damage here in California, which I discussed in The Illogic of School Turnaround Models“San Francisco will implement an unsanctioned approach to an illogical policy that replaces most local decision making to conform to inflexible federal policies.  It makes little sense educationally, but this policy couldn’t be any more politicized.  It might appeal to some of President Obama’s supporters in the so-called education reform camp, but it didn’t please civil rights leaders and organizations, and I doubt it’s going to win over many voters who are just wondering why the their kids’ principals and teachers had to be replaced in an arbitrary manner.”

• The political and economic climate around the country put unions in the news quite a bit this year, leading me to address the topic twice.  First, I recalled my great-uncle Phil and wrote Union Proud, and then I joined in EduSolidarity with some other bloggers and wrote Why Teachers Like Me Support Unions.

• In What’s Missing in Discussions of Children’s Interests? I wrote: “Another simplification I hear and read often is that school reform must be carried out with the interests of children placed ahead of the interests of adults.  Most recently, I found it (and commented on it) in a blog post by John Merrow.  What a beautiful sentiment!  You can’t argue against that, can you?  Well… I’m going to.”  

• Maybe 2012 will see some improvement in education reporting.  I was not in a charitable mood regarding education journalists when I wrote Appeal to Education Writers: Evaluate Opinions – “It’s been said that everyone is entitled to their opinion, and you’re entitled to report it.  But they’re not entitled to their own facts, and it would help if you would report which side has an opinion backed by facts.”

• Back in 2010, I found myself repeatedly writing about the application of business and management principles in education; I guess 2011 was the year I dabbled in law a bit.  First, I imagined a court case tackling the issue of value-added measurements used in teacher evaluations, and wrote the cross-examination I would love to hear some day: Turning the Tables: VAM on Trial.  Then I read through portions of the judge’s ruling in the case of Lobato v. Colorado, and hoped that the implications of that ruling for similar cases in California might finally mean that it’s Time to Throw Money at the Problem of debilitating education budgets.

• On a lighter note, I put out a small wager to Checker Finn this year, responding to his Half-Baked Teaching Analogy, I but never heard back from him.  No deadline, so I’ll repeat the offer and anyone interested can click on the link for details: “Mr. Finn, I feel a little bad for critiquing your analogy so thoroughly, so here’s an offer in case I’m off-base: if you can find a classroom teacher who will send me a guest blog post preferring your analogy of teaching and learning over mine, then lunch is on me next time you’re at Stanford, and I’ll have learned a culinary lesson.”

Thanks for reading, and come on back in 2012!  Happy New Year!

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