Author: erickalenze

husband, father, educator, writer, reader, packer fan, songwriter

Let’s build a learning library (slight return)

This is the back part of a longer post from last week, which requested readers’ participation on a crowd-sourced reference guide/library for those seeking more info on evidence-supported education practices. (If interested in the long-winded justification/set-up, see here.)

Have had some takers, but am throwing it out there again. (And yes, I’ll be adding some of my own in due time.) Please consider adding some names!

Please use this format: 

  • Respond in the comments here with names, internet accessibility (Twitter, blog, org, etc.), brief description of each person’s expertise, and where they’re based (if available). A model might look like this:
  • Please make sure that the folks you offer up base their practical guidance on a sound basis of evidence, not just innovation for innovation’s sake or things that ring sentimentally but haven’t produced much good. (And if you don’t know the difference, do poke around a bit. You may be surprised how many ‘experts’ out there are really saying really profound, instructionally empty things.)
  • This is not an anti-reformer board. Like I’ve said before, some of the best people out there on practice are actually from reform’s ‘adult table’. (Reference to earlier piece.)
  • Through the comment approval process I’ll do my best to keep up on the submissions and check to make sure about things like evidence bases and such.
  • And, of course, if it’s all a huge mess we’ll call this first attempt a 1.0 and I’ll figure out a better way to do it.

READER RESPONSE REQUESTED: An interactive resource guide for evidence-supported ed practices

In the past few weeks, two very respected voices in US ed-reform — NCTQ President Kate Walsh and Fordham Senior Fellow Robert Pondiscio — published pieces that were pretty thrilling for a little-r ed reformer like me. Like a knockout combination, Walsh’s Has the Education Movement Lost its Way? caught US ed reform under the chin before Pondiscio’s  Education Reform is Off Track. Here’s How to Fix It slammed in from the side with definitive assertions like this one: ‘If ed reform is to regain its momentum and become not merely a disruptive force, but a broad, effective, and enduring one, it must reinvent itself as a practice-focused movement.’

Now to be clear, the thrill I felt didn’t really come from the ideas. I mean, they were great to read and all, but I (and many, many others) have argued similar ideas myself for quite some time now. Plus, while reform’s been off doing all the structural and social-justice stuff Walsh and Pondiscio are right to question, I’ve been working on drumming up a ‘practice-focused movement’ for a few years (see, for instance, the researchED US conferences I’ve organized).

So yeah: great ideas, but I get it. Have for a long time, working on it, all that.

What was thrilling, though, was that these reform critics were emphasizing such themes from within reform. This I saw as rather huge.

For while I may have banged out similar ideas in a bunch of places, I am very much at the ‘kid table’ of the US ed reform’s ongoing dinner party. Some folks at the ‘adult table’ occasionally acknowledge that I and others have good points, but mainly they pat me on the head and give me that look like, ‘Oh that’s so cute! You think you know as much about education as we do!’ before turning back to their fellow adult-tablers. To put it in Twitter terms (as this is a place it often plays out): to most adult-tablers, the takes I offer after 20 years working in, studying, and writing about education are worth an occasional Twitter ‘like’ or, when they have a question, private message, but rarely a retweet or follow. I am definitely, in other words, not in the club.

Walsh and Pondiscio, though, are totally at US ed reform’s adult table. And they don’t just attend all the conferences reformers seem to spend all their time at, they’re the types to sit on expert panels. In short, Walsh’s and Pondiscio’s work gets people all across education’s policy-making, think-tanking level to sit up and listen. Hell, their ideas sometimes start spats, even.

And with that in mind, it was kinda fun (and kinda infuriating) to watch Walsh’s and Pondiscio’s pieces get passed around on social media in the days following each’s publication. The Ed Wonk Sector’s responses ranged from the dumbstruck (‘Whoa…you all really gotta see this. Maybe this is worth thinking about’) all the way to, ‘Interesting viewpoint, but we’ve never been wrong. It’s all as it ever was: Lazy. Bum. Teachers’. Faults.’ (See TNTP’s very self-reflective and humble Dan Weisberg, for instance: )

I did my best to not get caught up in it all, though, as I chose to focus on the good part. The good part is that Walsh and Pondiscio seemed to hit nerves in the US’s ed-reform community that needed hitting for a long time about what actually needs improving — nerves those of us at the kid table aren’t taken seriously enough to get a clear shot at. As easy as it can be to get mad at reformers for looking at the wrong things for so long, it’s not real productive in the end. I’m choosing instead to be thankful it’s been recognized and called out by some very respected people at the adult table, and I’ll gladly add this gratitude to the tentative hopefulness I expressed in this piece for Rick Hess’s ‘Straight Up’ blog earlier this year. For indeed, if the nerves Walsh and Pondiscio hit can move some adult-tablers to get better information and focus on the right things, we could be on the edge of something get pretty exciting in little-r reform. (And hey, no matter how you feel about US ed reform’s adult-tablers, you’ve got to hand it to them: they’re really pretty good at moving ideas and actions — and, in turn, funding, which is crucial — around.)

With that said, we have to start getting good information to those ‘adult-tablers’ who showed an interest in the Walsh and Pondiscio.

More specifically, I’m picturing adult-tablers who found themselves knocked a bit woozy by Walsh’s and/or Pondiscio’s essays; people who read them and decided to wander away from the reform bubble’s dogma and conferences to find out more about this whole evidence-supported practice-improvement thing.

I know that’s not everyone, but we have to focus on the ones who might be ready first. I’ve tried the whole arguing-down thing, but I’ll be honest: (1) a lot of these folks are absolutely not open to changing their mind, even when they have very little or very weak evidence to support their beliefs (it’s kinda scary, actually), and (2) convincing huge amounts of people is something I have neither the means nor the time to do. Kids and teachers need things to be better sooner, not later, and that means getting down to work with those who are willing to learn now. As for widening the learning (or for going to scale with it, in reformer parlance), let’s call that an issue for the next stage.

(NOTE: To those of you like Dan Weisberg, who are so sure about issues’ root causes that you’ve already dismissed Walsh’s and Pondiscio’s concerns/advice so you could continue on your track, best of luck to you. Even though I doubt your hypotheses and methods, I hope the One Day you envision actually arrives. Please know that you’ll always be welcome over here with us little-r reformers.)

How I’m proposing we help, reader, is by opening this post and making it a crowd-sourced reference guide for our new seekers wandering away from the ‘adult table’. I haven’t had a lot of luck with this reader-response thing, but I’m willing to try again. I guess I see it as like a blog-borne, always-open #FollowFriday kind of thing, or somewhat like a researchED if it were an online library. (And who knows, maybe something like this can help me construct the next researchED US program — we’re working on the date/location for 2018 right now, y’know…)

So here’s how it will go: 

  • Respond in the comments here with names, internet accessibility (Twitter, blog, org, etc.), brief description of each person’s expertise, and where they’re based (if available). A model might look like this:
  • Please make sure that the folks you offer up base their practical guidance on a sound basis of evidence, not just innovation for innovation’s sake or things that ring sentimentally but haven’t produced much good. (And if you don’t know the difference, do poke around a bit. You may be surprised how many ‘experts’ out there are really saying really profound, instructionally empty things.)
  • This is not an anti-reformer board. Like I’ve said before, some of the best people out there on practice are actually from reform’s ‘adult table’. Robert Pondiscio is a perfect example.
  • Through the comment approval process I’ll do my best to keep up on the submissions and check to make sure about things like evidence bases and such.
  • And, of course, if it’s all a huge mess we’ll call this first attempt a 1.0 and I’ll figure out a better way to do it.

Now, let’s see what rolls in. (I have about a thousand names in mind right now, but will back away.) Do check back often to fill out your evidence-supported practical resource library!

Pieces for #RHSU, book 2 updates

Happy December, Ed Cases. I hope you’re doing well, wherever you are. Taking a quick break from riding the badass machine in the featured image to send some updates.

First, I did a series of pieces for Rick Hess’s ‘Straight Up’ blog at Ed Week that appeared last week. No need to cross-post, but you can link to them here:

Working together, the three pieces cover themes I’ve covered elsewhere but that I feel are always worth repeating: it’d be a good idea to be more evidence-driven in education, we’re really really bad at it but there are signs of life, a good first step would be to start from classrooms up (as top-down approaches are unlikely to be good — and for lots of reasons), etc., etc. As always, feel free to have a read and be in touch about them, pass them on to folks you think would find them interesting, and all that.

Also, I’ve begun researching and drafting my next book in earnest (which I’m doing with the fine John Catt Educational, by the way — a thrill, as they’ve put out some of the last few years’ best ed titles). It’ll be quite a lot different from Education is Upside-Down, in that it’ll be directly based in an experience I had as a classroom teacher — not to produce one of those annoying and navel-gazing ‘I am a teacher…and this is the real story’ stories that somehow don’t say anything*, but as a springboard into (1) research and exploration of current debates and (2) some recommendations for how real improvements can move forward in schools, both individual-practically and organizationally.

*NOTE: Not all views from the classroom are annoying and navel-gazing. See Barry Garelick’s books, for example, which walk the line between memoir and prescription-for-improvement better than pretty well any I’ve seen.

So yeah, I’m hoping with this one to follow through on the inspiration I mentioned in this post a few months back. I hope it all continues as I’m envisioning it, as the early-stage work has already been very fulfilling. I’ve been able to re-connect with several former students and former teaching colleagues, and, well, it’s an experience I really recommend if you haven’t tried it. I look forward to learning more from them and building on it in the months ahead. I’ll check in as I can (as, naturally, a lot’s bugging me lately — surprise!), but may be a bit dark around here until spring or so. Take care and be in touch!


Wrapping #rEDNY17: Some reflections & my talk slides

If you know this blog, my Twitter account, or my Facebook page, you know that researchED US took place this past weekend and, well, that researchED means a helluva lot to me. I feel so fortunate for the movement Tom Bennett built up and keeps alive, and even more fortunate that I get to play a part in bringing it to US educators.

I’m not here to do a full breakdown of speakers and ideas, mainly because as an organizer, my conference day is more about running around than taking it all in. If you’re interested in some of what participating folks were seeing, though, do check out this Storify I put together, which includes some pretty high praise.

Check out NCTQ’s Kate Walsh, for example, who said…

…or the Ed Trust’s Karin Chenoweth, with…

…or The Writing Revolution‘s Sherry Lewkowicz, who co-presented Saturday but felt compelled to keep learning into the evening:

And please, just know that it was awesome. I wish I could’ve stayed longer in every session, but was particularly intrigued by these:

  •  Morgan Polikoff sharing recent research — and doing some much-needed straight talk — about the importance of curriculum to ed-improvement; here’s to hoping, again, that reformers catch on
  • The Learning ScientistsMegan Sumeracki sharing about the work she and the other Learning Scientists are doing to spread cognitive science into K-12 classrooms
  • Efrat Furst on some critical reminders to teachers applying retrieval practice strategies
  • David Steiner — also on curriculum, but in an engaging and brilliant manner I could’ve watched for hours
  • Bryan Penfound/Yana Weinstein sharing — with an assist from Yana’s 5-year-old daughter — an experiment about interleaved practice they collaborated on
  • Media Panel with Chalkbeat’s Matt Barnum, EWA’s Emily Richmond, and Nonpartisan Ed Review’s Richard P Phelps, all moderated by Deans For Impact’s Ben Riley; lots of tough questions were asked, and I appreciated the honesty (and seeming willingness to improve) of the panelists
  • Bondo Nyembwe on his school-turnaround and leadership philosophies and practices, which are some of the most direct, common-sense, and humane I think you’ll ever encounter
  • Cara Jackson with loads of great reminders about/perspectives on how to look at interventions’ actual effectiveness.

And here are top Sessions I Didn’t See Enough Of But Tried My Damnedest:

  • I got pulled out of The Writing Revolution’s talk to help another speaker with a technical issue
  • Had to run an emergency errand during Colleen Driggs/Ben Riley/John Mighton in the first session (I caught the last few minutes of Karin Chenoweth)
  • Got locked out of both Katharine Beals’s and Christopher Weiss’s rooms and was too shy to knock
  • Missed the the Policy/Practice/Prep Panel with Robert Pondiscio/Derrell Bradford/Kate Walsh/David Steiner because I was speaking.

Other than all those, though, there was nothing I didn’t like. I hardly need to say it, though, as I’m at this point pretty much just used to it from researchED.

Oh yeah, and I was also able to talk at the event about framing effect — what it is, how it can be applied in the classroom, and how it may be good to think about in some current education debates. Help yourself to the slides of that presentation here and, if interested in something similar but in writing, see the blog I did on framing for the Learning Scientists a little over a year ago. It was after doing that, after all, that I thought it might make a good talk topic someday. See the comments, too, as I go into a bunch of classroom examples there.

ALL that said, I was probably most thankful this time around for all the great fellowship. In addition to sharing a bachelor pad with Tom Bennett and Nils Tishauser, I was able to catch a dinner with Bryan Penfound (and husband David, who I’d never met in person) and Lucy Crehan, lots of laughs with Ken Sheck/Blake Harvard (Effortful Educator)/Twitter’s Optimist Prime (& partner R — a friendship with both I cherish more and more all the time)/Glenn Whitman/Ian Kelleher/Richard P Phelps/others during post-conference cocktail hour, some harried-but-can-do-spirited morning-of prep with Barbara Davidson, Blake Harvard (again — that dude was everywhere, god bless him), and Achievement First’s amazing Valissa McNish, and on and on and on.

I even got to squeeze in some time to see dear friends Erich, Bettina, and Sawad in other parts of NYC while I was in town. So, as great as all the learning is at these researchED deals, I’m finding myself more and more appreciative of its power to bring people together. Really very special.

Thanks, researchED, for another memorable weekend of learning and connecting. And thanks, participants, for taking time out of your Saturday to see it for yourself. Feel free to blog about it if you have a chance, as we’d love to let more out there know about this cool thing going on.


Do not go stupid into that personalized learning blood: Part 1, Mind the evidence

Well, here we go again.

Though very few in education have actual experience with personalized learning, and though many questions remain around recent (but, fairly, somewhat positive) reports of personalized learning’s effectiveness, some very influential groups seem bent on getting the enterprise’s blood pumping about it.

May’s New Schools Venture Fund Summit (think Bonnaroo, only for the Big-‘R’ ed-reform crowd), for example, was heavy with sessions about personalized-learning solutions and potential. The Gates Foundation — with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg riding piggyback — has declared personalized learning its next Big Educational Priority (sigh — been here, done this), and each has engines of truthy journalism again cranking on full to sway hearts and minds. (Note the funding statements, for example, at the end of this and this.)

Close to my Minnesota home, meanwhile, the educationally active Bush Foundation has also prioritized the expansion of personalized learning. And, similar to the Gates/Zuckerberg hype playbook, Bush has promoted personalized learning’s wonders via local events keynoted by the educationally abysmal Sir Ken Robinson and public forums (led mainly by ed media/policy folks, that is) about ‘re-inventing high school’, joined by Minnesota-based ed-innovation outfits like Education Evolving (note some of the breathless ‘personalized learning’-themed content they’ve generated in the past few years here).

While it’s fairly common to see excitement swell over ‘cool practices’ in education, personalized learning’s offer (e.g., foolproof, quickly responsive instruction sculpted to each person’s needs and paces, all powered by innovative, ’21st-century’ delivery methods) has a rare amount of unifying power — something that shouldn’t be all that surprising, considering that personalized learning is so widely appealing.

  • Fans of progressive education, for one, see a tech-assisted realization of the student-centered ideal they’ve had for a century or so, but that all the system’s inept, recalcitrant teachers just can’t seem to get right. (Their characterization of system teachers, by the way, not mine.) Many parents would count in here, too, whether or not they identify as educationally progressive: in short, the idea of personalizing learning is attractive to those who have long wished individual kids’ learning and growth weren’t so tied to whole-group schedules, structures, and methods.
  • Next, the policy wonks who have long chased — and been eluded by — replicable, scalable ed improvements see a solution that could neutralize some of the human element (read: teachers, again) that’s meddled with their vision more times than Scooby Doo and the Mystery Machine gang have disrupted dastardly villains.
  • Additionally, education vendors drool over all the hardware, software, training, maintenance, replacement, and even architecture schools will need to pull off personalized learning, as it should earn enough to put their grandkids through college.

Rolled together, all such parties see personalized learning as something akin to John Dewey’s Lab School, only filled with 1:1 digital devices and Interactive Whiteboards. And, as each of those so completely transformed kids’ results, the combined result could only be amaz…uh, scratch that.

And on scores like those — like, looking at histories and evidence alone — personalized learning is another rush of pumping blood I really hope we don’t wade stupidly and fully into. (I have some more practical and theoretical differences with personalized learning, but I’ll share those in a Part 2 to this post. Should be up in a few days.) This hope is not rooted some hatred of technology in the classroom or of student-centered instruction or any of that. I mean…I don’t like either of those things, but certainly not because I oppose them of themselves. I’d feel much differently about them if they’d ever worked as promised, believe me.

The plain fact, however, is that they haven’t. They’ve historically failed loads of kids — most especially those coming to school with the most profound needs — and cost the enterprise immense amounts of time, funding, angst, and opportunity before ultimately being scrapped.

(And please don’t forget: after these kinds of Next Big Things don’t send achievement through the roof as advertised [and they won’t], the system’s teachers will definitely be left holding the bag on their failures. Ask any funder or reformer about why the promised results didn’t materialize [see Gates, again — the above-linked pieces will give a sample of this retort], and they’ll always point back to [a] teachers who were too dense or too stubborn, or to [b] the fortified-against-change conditions the dense, stubborn teachers have aligned to create. Always.)

If you’re skeptical of these claims, thinking it’s all just some know-it-all Luddite’s ranty viewpoint, please read either this, thisthis, this, this, or this. They’re all well-researched works that should give you about all the history and analysis you should need, and they all say pretty well the same thing about ‘revolutionary student-centered approaches’ like personalized learning. (SERENDIPITY ALERT: A hero of mine, Larry Cuban, put out a blog just today touching on just such themes. See it here.)

Hell, even a co-author of the RAND report everyone’s waving around as definitive proof of personalized learning’s greatness is urging caution, reminding that personalized learning’s success seems greatly dependent on school-contextual factors. It’s a caution I appreciate, especially considering that some of the most personalized-learning-effective school contexts being created are being done so at costs upward of $25K per kid annually — and, if you’re a kid from a family that can afford such price tags in the first place, loads of statistics over a long period of time have indicated that you’d likely succeed about anywhere in American education, personalized-learning-enabled or not.

So…RAND as definitive proof? I think not. In light of the histories I linked above, the questionable parts — and there are plenty — become even more questionable.

In short: before rushing stupid into all the blood pumping around personalized learning, join me in reasonably interrogating the hype. You’re going to see a lot of this hype in the months ahead, as lots of passion — supported by money, lots of money — will make sure you do. When you do, though, follow advice from Dan Willingham’s  very wise (and way too overlooked, if you ask me) When Can You Trust the Experts?: How to Tell Good Science from Bad in Education to slow your rush into the pumping blood:

  1. Strip claims to their essentials (i.e., of emotion, claims persuaders are ‘like you’, analogies, etc) and evaluate for scientific credibility, and Flip promised outcomes to judge whether or not the trade-offs are worth the time/dollars/angst
  2. Trace claims to their original sources to verify when able, don’t just rely on that ‘experts’ or journalists or whoever is giving the fullest, most accurate picture
  3. Analyze claims based on evidence — and ask persuaders to provide such evidence if they do not. Remember, too, that things like Rick Wormeli writings and Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talks do not count as evidence. You should care most about how students grew when studied, and preferably across many demographics and contexts. Smoke may be blown, but don’t take it in without sound evidence.
  4. Asking ‘Should I Do It?’ as in, ‘Does it make sense for my context?’ (preferably in light of points 1-3, above) before jumping to the conclusion that anything is roundly good for every student and teacher everywhere.

For more complete breakdowns of these questions and this decision-making process, see Willingham’s When Can You Trust the Experts? chapters 5-8.

…and, well, if you’d rather not do the homework because you’ve made up your mind about PL’s greatness (even though it hasn’t proven much of anything yet), I have no idea what to say to you. Enjoy your evidence-unbothered life, I suppose. At least you’ll have lots of company.

(Part 2 to follow soon with some practical & theoretical points against personalized learning — with evidence, of course.) 🙂

With researchED NYC in sight, reposting 2016’s rED DC reflections

As we’re now two months away from researchED’s next US event, I’m reposting this set of reflections from last year’s rED DC event. If you’re curious about joining us in Brooklyn on 7 October, do take a look at the links herein to get a better idea of a researchED event. And, of course, if you’re sold (and you really should be — it’s hard to imagine a better bang-for-PD-bucks than this: Tom Bennett, Karin Chenoweth, Lucy Crehan, The Learning Scientists, Morgan Polikoff, John Mighton, Pedro de Bruyckere, and SO MANY MORE for only $50?! Bring your whole school!), make sure to visit the researchED NYC event site to register. I’m really looking forward to it, and I’d love to see you there.  

Two weeks ago I had the great privilege to work with researchED — the UK’s practitioner-driven improvement movement — on hosting a conference in Washington, DC, their second ever in the US. And though researchED’s conferences and international network of education professionals have made profound impressions on me for going on two years, the excitement I saw in conference participants and the near-continuous communication I’ve received (and witnessed via social media) in the days since may actually have lifted my researchED-thusiasm to a new height.

For in short, it’s clear that lots of people learned from and became intrigued by all the ideas flying around the event, and it’s clear that many of them are now connecting with each other like mad to chat further—solidifying understandings, debating perspectives, working out collaborations, and such like.

…exactly, in other words, what this researchED thing is all about.

Also: considering researchED’s fierce commitment to building and broadcasting sound educational practices (as opposed to emphasizing structural-reform concerns of accountability, school choice, etc., or any number of intuitively pleasing but unproven methods), the conference provided a healthy dose of exactly what’s missing from our education-improvement conversation.

I’d provide a general recap of events here, but I find it more appropriate to defer to those in attendance, speakers and audience alike. For if all this talk I’ve done about researchED conferences and connections have you interested, it’s really these folks you should pay attention to for confirmation and additional information, not me. My objectivity on the matter, after all, was shot long ago.

(Plus, it’s not like I haven’t put it out there already: If you’d really like to see things through my organizer lens, see this blog post at A Total Ed Case, this tweet-story of the day at Storify, or, of course, any of the researchED-gushing I did through TES in the past couple months. The TES posts aren’t directly about the conference, per se, but I share quite a lot in those pieces about why the researchED influence is so important to get established in North America.)

Below are a few summary pieces generously penned by various participants at 29 October’s DC conference. If you check them out (and you really should), do yourself a favor and follow these blogs and these fine educators on Twitter. I guarantee you’ll learn a lot if you do, and doing so is how we will keep researchED’s learning momentum rolling.

So, it was indeed a special day and researchED is indeed a special movement. I’m thrilled to be a part of it, and I’m thrilled to see so many in North America coming together to experience the same. I hope we’ll be able to tell you about another event on this continent sometime soon. In the meantime keep learning, keep connecting to new folks, and keep asking the right questions.

A quick heads-up: npj Science of Learning Community

Hey Ed Cases. I hope everyone’s had a good June.

Very quickly, especially for those of you interested in the science of learning and how it can be brought more intentionally into your schools and classrooms: Nature Partner Journals has built a new community on the science of learning, and their catalog is growing. It seems like it could become a really good resource for those interested. (Special thanks here to Ulrich for connecting me to them, by the way.)

I contributed a piece there this week (an overview of the status of evidence-based ed practices in the US — hoping to build upon it as time allows), and it has made it to lots of folks internationally that I didn’t already know via researchED (NYC conference tix now on sale, by the way–check out that lineup!) or edutwitter. Pretty cool.

Take a look, be in touch with comments/feedback, join the Sci of Learning community, add the site to your bookmarks, look into contributing a piece, or whatever. I’ve found them to be really good folks, and I’m looking forward to seeing where they take it.