August 31, 2016

Saying Thanks.

Andy Smarick

Photo by Toby Jorrin.

Today is my last day at Bellwether. It’s been a terrific four years. I’ve been very lucky to have had such top-flight colleagues and to have had the chance to work with so many exciting and inspiring partner organizations.

It’s been a daily delight to work at a fast-growing organization dedicated to helping improve America’s schools. My teammates taught me a great deal and took on our work with smarts, energy, and good cheer. Whether we were working on standards, assessments, accountability, charters, choice, educator evaluation, facilities, transportation, or something else, the members of the Bellwether team always prioritized the needs of America’s disadvantaged kids. We might’ve been producing a business plan, a financial analysis, a report, an article, or a blog post; it was always a rewarding experience.

Bellwether’s leadership team imagined, created, and rapidly expanded a unique and successful organization. They continue to lead a group of exceptional professionals that contribute mightily to the field. I’m lucky to have been a small part of this adventure.

I’m also thrilled, though, about the opportunities ahead. I’ll be joining the exceptional team at American Enterprise Institute and will share more information on what’s next for me in the weeks ahead. Until then, just a final thanks to Bellwether and the great groups we’ve worked with. You’ve enabled me to do the work I love while helping students and the adults working on their behalf.


August 26, 2016

Agreeing with Trump, Sort of? Political Correctness and Segregation

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a child’s zip code shouldn’t determine the quality of her education. It seems to me this idea should go without saying. But people keep saying it.

The President has said it on numerous occasions. Hillary Clinton has made that point a central part of her K-12 education platform. Even Donald Trump agrees, writing in his most recent book, “Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again”:

Photo by Gage Skidmore

I’m not concerned about the kids growing up in wealthy communities, where high property taxes have allowed them to build great schools, hire the best teachers, and provide all the supplies they need. Those schools are doing fine. In many urban areas, however, schools must fight for every tax dollar and are forced to have teachers and students bring in their own basic supplies such as pencils and paper. That’s a national tragedy.

Why, with so much bipartisan agreement, is so little being done about the fact that a family’s wealth is, in many cases, what determines whether their child gets a good education? Continue reading


August 23, 2016

Don’t Sell Us Short, Dilbert

Dilbert

Book cover image from Amazon.com

Today the bespectacled, techie character Dilbert sprang from his longstanding, corporate comic strip existence into my inbox. In response to a piece I recently wrote about Trump’s character deficit and his disconnect with the movement for social emotional learning in education, a colleague forwarded this Wall Street Journal article that highlights thoughts from the cartoon’s creator, Scott Adams.

My article discussed how educators should double down on working with children to enhance their own social skills and emotional development, and help them identify those that deviate significantly from reasonable social norms — limiting the damage they can inflict. But Adams’ position is more futile, in keeping with the social commentary within his strip. He argues that Trump’s ability as a “Master Persuader” appeals to people’s fears and undisciplined emotions. People are incapable of thinking rationally, he suggests, and this has paved the way for Trump.

He’s partially right.

What Adams points out is pure psychology and represents what we know about cognition. In fact, it reinforces the work being done by educators (and, I might add, parents, coaches, and other caring adults) to shape our children into thoughtful human beings ruled not simply by base instincts, but also by reason and morality. Emotional, and at times, irrational response is consistent with the geography of our brain: Emotion and memory, residing in the amygdala and the hippocampus, are next-door-neighbors. Fear and emotion often drive our decision-making because they make immediate and searing impressions on our brains. Reason is not part of that equation. It’s the rationale behind so many commercials and yes, campaigns. And while fear and emotion are important to decision-making, unless we’re in a real fight or flight situation, they’re not enough.

When people stop there, they often make decisions based on limited and faulty information that reveal themselves as life gets complicated, nuanced, and real. After all, much of life is highly ambiguous and requires analysis and problem-solving. From classroom projects to organizational strategy, personal relationships to international partnerships, and parenting to policymaking, we must lean on the decision-making calculus performed in our frontal lobes, our mind’s “executive.”

This is where the support of educators can help move children from responding exclusively to emotions as they are generated to behaving with emotional regulation. Social and self-awareness, self-management, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making are competencies that develop over time within the context of a child’s environment, which includes homes and schools. Social emotional skills that engage our ability to process, synthesize, and analyze information can be taught and reinforced, allowing us to move beyond knee-jerk reactions and decisions to more considered thinking that capitalizes on the actual power of the human brain. Making an effort to develop these skills in children reaps both social and academic rewards.

The success of Adams’ Dilbert series relates to his incisive analysis of human behavior as it intersects with personal and professional politics. He then sprinkles this with a dash of humor, appealing to our emotions. That’s linking our base instincts to our executive functions.

If Dilbert can do it, so can our kids.


August 22, 2016

What Does it Mean to “Raise the Bar” for Entry Into the Teaching Profession?

In a report last spring, Ashley LiBetti Mitchel and I wrote that there’s simply no magic cocktail of teacher preparation program requirements or personal characteristics that will guarantee someone becomes a great teacher.

Since we wrote that report, there’s been even more evidence showing the same thing. I like pictures, so I’m going to pull some key graphics to help illustrate one basic point: There’s really no definitive way to tell who’s going to be a good teacher before they start teaching. Continue reading


August 16, 2016

ESSA Didn’t Settle Federal Education Policy. Far From It.

Image via Arizona Governor’s Office of Education

Why aren’t politicians talking about education this year? One justification I’ve heard is that last December’s passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) took education off the table.

This is wrong, or at least incomplete. It’s true that federal K-12 education policy is settled at the moment from a congressional standpoint, but it’s far from settled at the presidential level. In fact, our next President will be forced to make a number of important education policy decisions almost immediately upon taking office. Continue reading