Last week I had a last minute opportunity to be in Washington DC for a day. It happened to be a day that Ed in 08 was having a Blogger Summit “…to discuss how the Internet is changing the discourse of education reform, and how those changes are affecting the 2008 presidential election.”
Before this event, I’d read a little about Ed in 08 – it seemed to me to be a lot of money to promote very little. They use a lot of vague words — “strong” schools, the need for “reform” without explaining what that means, “fixing” schools, and lots of scary statistics about kids, jobs and the economy.
What is Ed in 08?
Ed in 08 is a campaign run by an organization called “Strong American Schools” as an advocacy effort aimed at elevating discussion during the presidential election about the need for education reform. According to their site, “Strong American Schools is a project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, two of the largest philanthropic organizations in the world, have provided grant funding for Strong American Schools. Our budget is estimated to be up to $60 million.”
I was interested to hear Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich as the lunch keynote. I’d heard him speak before, and even though his politics run more conservative than mine, he is a good speaker, and has interesting ideas that don’t come out of the usual political mill.
He actually seems to have spoken to teachers and children and thought about the consequences of policies. It was refreshing to hear a conservative who does more than spout scary statistics, “get tough” rhetoric and vague feel-good slogans. He talked about how top-down mandated curriculum stops creativity and relevance in the classroom. He made some good observations about the need for authentic assessment. Although there were some silly parts about how anyone involved with education can’t be part of the solution, his speech was the highlight of the day for me.
Ed in 08 – Missing in Action
What I did expect was to hear more about the Ed in 08 agenda, but that didn’t happen. The organizers seemed to have been so concerned that the audience would hate a hard sell that they decided to have no sell at all. They also seemed to have forgotten that if their aim was to get education bloggers talking and writing about Ed in 08, they needed to give us something to write about.
What I would have liked is to have a panel where the ideas were really discussed. If they really believe that teacher merit pay works to improve schools, where is the plan, the support, the research, or anything substantive? How would you solve the problems of what to base it on and how do you stop people from gaming the system? And more importantly, teachers consistently report that money is not a motivating factor in their career choice. Why is merit pay even being discussed as a solution? Is this just another rich-guy sound bite?
If they were worried about being fair and balanced, they could have brought in people on both sides of the issue and had a real discussion.
But instead, there was a string of panel discussions and presentations, none of them about Ed in 08. The oddest one was a panel of journalist bloggers who talked about blogging. I guess we were then supposed to blog about the bloggers blogging.
Less Talk About More Time, Please
The lamest speaker was an author who has written a book about how schools need a longer school day. His speech was about how he’s written a book about how schools need a longer school day. It needs to be longer because children will learn more. In their longer day. Because we need more time. To do more things. In a longer day. (This went on for quite a while, but you get the picture.)
There was precious little detail about what exactly happened during the extra time, but plenty of scary facts and statistics about how far behind American schools are and how dumb American children are. It’s amazing how much time there is for research meant to scare and how little time there is for research that supports the foregone conclusions.
Then, he showed a video and lo and behold, teachers and students talked about projects, hand-on learning, teachers discussing student work, teachers planning together, and administrators talking about all the fabulous things they do in their schools. Huh? Where did that come from!
Apparently, all that’s needed to improve schools is a couple of extra minutes, and then, lo and behold, everyone starts doing everything differently. 42 minutes – you get test prep, 43 minutes and **ding** everyone turns into a constructivist. I just found it completely naïve to assert that schools that can’t find the time during a normal school day to even attempt hands-on project-based learning, or can’t arrange for teachers to talk about lesson planning for 5 minutes will suddenly start doing these things for no other reason than there’s more time.
Teacher Bloggers in the Trenches
Anyway, a good part of the day was a a “teacher/bloggers in the trenches” panel. They talked about what their blogging has meant to them, their students, and the community, and showed how complex the subject of education is. There were no simple answers or feel-good slogans coming from these teachers. It was a terrific discussion that actually belied much of the rhetoric about kids that had gone before. By the way, please check out these great blogs (those that still exist!)
- Kilian Betlach – California teacher blogging (for now) at Teaching in the 408
- Will Okun – Teaches English and photography for Westside Alternative High School in Chicago. He writes about education and teaching as a guest blogger for nytimes.com. He also operates a photography website (www.wjzo.com) that features portraits of his students and their families
- Dave Ash – a Nevada school board member whose blog was shut down
- Dan Brown – wrote a book about his experiences as a rookie teacher. Blogs at the Huffington Post – here’s his overly dramatic post about the Ed in 08 Bloggers Summit.
At the end of the day, I have to say that I know nothing new about Ed in 08 that I can share with you. But so it’s not a complete waste of time, here’s what I learned:
- The Palomar Hotel in Washington DC is really nice.
- The food was much better than most education events. Thanks, Gates and Broad Foundation.
- Newt Gingrich is not just another right wing crackpot and I’ll pay more attention to what he has to say from now on.
- Alexeander Russo of This Week in Education is a really big guy, much larger in life than his blog profile photo. Here’s what he said about me in his blog, “They’re [sic] a woman here Sylvia Martinez with her laptop pointed towards the podium — she’s ustreaming the event (live streaming video). Very cool.” I guess that’s my 15 minutes of fame 🙂
More about the Ed in 08 agenda tomorrow…
P.S. I’m 0 for 2 this week with ustream.tv, a combination of pilot error and lack of a good mic/camera. Apparently there are good videos of the Ed in 08 events that will be posted soon. The Gingrich speech is worth listening to.