Lightning round: Fong quizzes Fong


June 20, 2013 by juicefong

I’m coming off a very lively, late-night Twitter exchange with many engaged folks, AFT head Randi Weingarten among them. Should first say, I love the conversation. It’s clear we all don’t agree, but the dialogue is nice. Gotta keep your temper in check though, so hopefully people felt I was doing it respectfully.

It is hard to understand someone’s nuanced worldview from the Twitter environment, so I thought I’d go lightning round and blurt out what I quickly think of a lot different education topics:

Standardized testing: Supposed to be used to aid student learning and hold schools/districts accountable. Have now become the be all, end all for many—and that’s no good. On high end, the year-over-year pressure is establishing a ceiling. On low end, ineffective teachers resort to test prep which is an act of desperation. We still need measurement, though. System must be reformed.

Teachers unions: I support organized labor, but I think teachers union policies combined with unrivaled political bargaining power have overall not served public education well over past decade. Increased accountability and measurement has exposed the small minority of ineffective teachers. Unions have to face the facts, and help remove bad teachers while also developing and supporting good and great teachers. The credibility of the profession is at stake when you stand up for bad teachers.

Common core: Don’t know a ton about specific standards but hear good things about what they are trying to accomplish. A shift towards emphasis of higher order learning. Implementation is months away and everyone I know seems to be unprepared. A bit scary, but like any reform, we need to give it time to sink in and get it right. In the long run, a good thing. Short term, many challenges.

No Child Left Behind: Biggest upside was creating a sense of accountability. By nature of this kind of top-heavy reform, you also make the system more rigid, which is no good. I support waivers for schools/districts who are performing well. We need to remove the handcuffs and let them innovate, then learn from those institutions.

Parent trigger: Don’t know much about it, to be honest. Someone school me.

Teacher evaluation: Many ways to effectively evaluate teachers. Kids are the first place I turn. They know who the good teachers are, just ask them. You need qualitative and quantitative measurements by many folks: peer teachers, kids, parents, administrators. Question is what you do with that: is it a “gotcha” tool or is it being used to actually help teachers grow and develop?

Charter schools: They’re a mixed bag. A minority of them are outstanding, many in the middle and some stink. Authorizers need to work harder to close down the bad ones, find ways to increase collaboration between great schools/districts so we can learn from the best. Let go of the ego, everyone. Every one of them is different, and that freedom to innovate is what makes them popular.

School choice: How can you say no? Parents oughta have the right, especially when they’re assigned school is terrible. In an ideal world, though, neighborhoods each have a strong school that supports the community in many ways. With parents dispersing their kids across a city, that gets difficult. This is one cause of what we see going on in Chicago with its closings, which is unfortunate.

No-excuses charter schools: Many of them impressive, a lot of them focus too much on discipline. The criticisms of their overbearing discipline policies is valid—I also worry that racism is inherently behind some of this. They need to learn what culturally responsive teaching and school environments is about. Too many of them are overly focused on the purely academic side whereas kids have a holistic set of needs.

The Miami Heat: I mean, they’re an amazing team, the Establishment of the NBA. So I always root against them.

Hey, I thought this was about education: Are you saying there’s nothing to learn from the Heat???

Early childhood education: How many times do we have to say that this is the most cost effective initiative of education? Now we need this: universal access for every child in America. Fund it. I don’t care. Tax cigarettes more. Or alcohol. I’d be contributing a ton more if the latter. You also need to pay ECE teachers like regular teachers—my sense is they’re paid the lowest of anyone out there whereas they could actually have the most long-term impact.

Blended learning: This is exciting stuff. It’s still being figured out. But yes, there are parts of how we deliver education now that can benefit from economies of scale driven through technology. Don’t worry, this will free teachers up to do the favorite parts of their work: coaching students, helping them make meaning, trouble shooting, and being adult role models. They’ll spend less time planning lessons and more time helping kids fulfill their dreams.

Single-sex education: I’m agnostic. I wouldn’t want to go to an all-boys school or even be in a single-gender classroom. Not enough cool middle school drama and folded note-passing.

The death of Sopranos star James Gandolfini: Watched the show once, and being part of the Mob, did not appreciate how it portrayed my family. Took a crow bar to the TV and that was the end of it.

Finland: I’m headed there in July for a few days, on vacation. Look forward to understanding the culture of Finland more and how that’s producing the results they’re seeing. Currently reading Pasi Sahlberg’s Finnish Lessons, so still learning more.

Affirmative action: I hope it’s upheld. Affirmative action helps to acknowledge and do right by people who have suffered under centuries of institutional racism. White people cry that it isn’t fair. You know what wasn’t fair? Taking people’s land. Enslaving millions. Stripping people of their culture. That wasn’t fair. And then there’s the diversity argument, which I believe in so much. It’s not just about race either—campuses are better off when they better represent what our country really looks like.

Schools of education: Wake up. Undergraduate programs, too. Teach For America can get the same or even sometimes better results out of its first- and second- year teachers with five weeks of training and ongoing support. Meanwhile, you’re locking folks into a four-year undergrad program or having people pay tens of thousands of dollars for a graduate degree. If your model really works, TFA should stand no chance in a side-by-side comparison. See the urgency of the crisis in education and use that as fuel to make drastic changes in teacher preparation.

MOOCs: If you don’t know, look ’em up. They will be an integral part of blended learning that will take place at all age levels, including grandparents who just want to learn how to take better photos. Sure, there’s a quality control aspect, but take them at face value. They’re a way of opening up learning opportunities at very low cost to many, many more people around the world. Embrace that.

I could go all night. If you have topics you want me to hit, put them in the comments…along with, you know, comments.

Justin Fong (@jgfong) runs the small but mighty internal communications team at Teach For America, which by the way, did not approve this message. Nor should it have to. Today his order of mussels had a hair in it, and so he promptly sent it back.

3 thoughts on “Lightning round: Fong quizzes Fong

  1. Matt Kramer says:

    Justin, go to sleep!

  2. Ursa Scherer says:

    Agree with most, though not all. I don’t think school choice is a major player underlying what is happening in Chicago right now. I also think it is slanderous to talk about the Heat and not use the same breath to chastise the moron Heat fans who made twitter a racist hotbed of insults aimed at young Sebastien De La Cruz. Lastly – Gandolfini’s passing is sad and if you aren’t familiar with his work – you coulda just said that. Otherwise – I I think you’ve got some smart stuff in here and I loved the format!

  3. Keep it up man … in a ed world rife with cynicism and disrespect, it’s refreshing to hear your honest, tempered take.

    Also, if the Heat are “the establishment” then so, too, must be the Giants, winners of 2 of the last 3 world series.

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