Bullying now Constitutionally Mandated in North Carolina

Bullying is now legally mandated in North Carolina. With the passage of the State’s Amendment One creating a constitutional ban on marriage between anyone other than a man and a woman, the people of North Carolina have added their state to the list of those successfully creating a legal protection of bullying.

I’m borrowing my definition of bullying here. Let me be more specific:

…bullying or harassing behavior includes, but is not limited to, acts reasonably perceived as being motivated by any actual or perceived differentiating characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, socioeconomic status, academic status, gender identity, physical appearance, sexual orientation, or mental, physical, developmental, or sensory disability, or by association with a person who has or is perceived to have one or more of these characteristics.

It’s a bit specific, I grant you, but I take bullying fairly seriously. So, as it turns out, does the North Carolina Legislature. They were the ones who crafted and approved the language above as law in 2009 as part of Senate Bill 526 or “The Anti-Bullying Law.” The law works to keep students safe in North Carolina schools and makes illegal those acts within school walls that would have students feel less-than because of who they are or are perceived to be.

Students and teachers in North Carolina are not allowed to bully students and teachers.

That is the job of the electorate.

If you think Amendment One doesn’t qualify as bullying as defined by state law, you’re wrong. If you think Amendment One doesn’t “Create or is certain to create a hostile environment by substantially interfering with or impairing a student’s educational performance, opportunities, or benefits” (again, their words, not mine), you’re wrong. If you think LGBT students across North Carolina didn’t wake up feeling their entire state had joined their classmates, community members, and even families in thinking there was something wrong with their fundamental identities, you’re wrong. If you think that this measure doesn’t add to the desperation, hopelessness, and shame many students wrongly feel they must suffer through alone, you’re dangerously wrong.

Amendment One and other measures like it are publicly-sanctioned, legally sani-wrapped bullying.

Opposite-sex marriage in North Carolina may have been better protected this morning, but the children of the state were not.

What do you mean when you ask if it scales?

No idea has much chance of surviving in the intellectual marketplace these days if it cannot prove its muster in the face of one question:

But can it scale?

It frustrates me to no end. While I appreciate the market and capitalistic underpinnings that lead to the question, I appreciate a good idea much more.

Problems require nuance and sophistication in their solutions. Elements of those solutions may be replicable or scalable, but the solutions themselves must connect to the people and contexts of a particular instance of problem. Student mobility in one city may look like mobility in another city, but it may be the result of a wholly separate set of causes. The solutions will have some elements in common, but they will not be the same.

I’m interested in whether or not I can see and borrow pieces of the solutions I need in the answers you’ve found. If 95% of what you’re doing would solve my problem, implimenting your solution wholesale prevents me from serving my community as fully as I could. What’s more, it let’s me solve a problem without thinking and without questioning deeply what should and can be done.

Scaling a solution runs the danger of reducing thought.

Earlier this semester I found better language for answering the question of whether an idea scales. From professors Mark Moore and Archon Fung, I came to define scale as follows:

Scale is…

…the number of people affected.
…the geographic spread across jurisdictions.
…the critical mass reached in population segment.
…the size of impact on individuals affected.
…the scope and durability of individual impact.
…the sustainability of effort over time.
…the total individuals and assets engaged.

If all we’re trying to accomplish is scaling in the form of the first definition, we’re paying attention to the number of people, but not being mindful of the actual people.

Does this mean I’ll need to change my twitter handle?

For the first time in a long time, I’m nervous.

Stepping in front of a classroom for the first time nine years ago didn’t frighten me. My teacher training at Illinois State prepared me for that.

Stepping foot on the Harvard Ed School campus as a student this year didn’t worry me. Learning as a teacher and student at Science Leadership for four years prepared me for that.

Next year is a bit different.

I’m going west (young man) to Boulder, CO where I’ll be one of the newest doctoral students at the University of Colorado – Boulder in their Educational Foundations Policy and Practice Ph.D. program.

While everything up to this point prepared me to complete the application and ostensibly to complete the program, joining the program also means stepping out of my depth.

Under the G.I. Bill, my grandfather completed his master’s degree when he left the army decades ago, and my mom completed hers a couple years ago. Making the move to complete my M.Ed. this year meant following in their footsteps. It was learning from the lead of two of the most impactful role models I’ve ever had. I wasn’t encouraged by the fact teachers around me had completed their master’s. It was that this was something my family has done. We do this.

The doctorate lives in a different space in my head. While I’ve encountered and befriended countless Ph.D’s, it’s not something my family has done. I didn’t realize, until I received my admission notice and was faced with the decision, how much my family and lineage weigh on my perception of what I can (and should) do.

I’m going.

In the end, it came down the chance to study a topic about which I’m passionate at a world-class institution dedicated to interdisciplinary studies with a social justice bent versus moving safely in the spaces I know.

Part of me is scared.

I could fail. I’ve no family history toward which I can nod and say, “This is something we do.”

I’m moving halfway across the country. I’m committing to the formal life of a student. I’m saying this is the work to which I am dedicating my life for the next few years. Pieces of it feel more selfish than teaching. Most of it is much less immediate than the daily workings of the classroom. But it’s something about which I’m curious and something I know to be important. It’s a chance to make a difference in a different way.

Because of this – and because it’s important to lean in to the things that scare us – I’m going.

And, I guess, if you keep reading, you’re going too.

What’s the barrier between gov’t. agencies and civic engagement via social media?

“We do agree agencies aren’t doing the best job of engaging on these networks yet,” wrote Dash in an e-mail to techPresident in response to some questions about lessons learned from the Expert Labs experience. “One key finding we’ve focused on in our final reports is that the division between communications/outreach arms of agencies, which typically manage social networking accounts, and the policy making groups within agencies, which actually impact the decisions being made, is a pretty significant barrier to public participation.”

via Expert Labs: Putting The ‘Public’ Into Public Policy Wasn’t Easy | TechPresident.

Are PARCC, SBAC, and Common Core State Standards Initiatives the DOE’s SuperPAC?

It’s a surprise to me to find myself writing in agreement with something coming out of the Pioneer Institute, but their “The Road to a National Curriculum: The Legal Aspects of the Common Core Standards, Race to the Top, and Conditional Waivers” is the first comprehensive piece of scholarship I’ve found that examines the legal nuance of the RtTT effort and compares it to both the letter and the spirit of federal law. The entire white paper (by Robert S. Eitel and Kent D. Talbert with contributions from Williamson M. Evers) is worth a read.

I realize not everyone has the free time to sit and consume a white paper, so I’ll highlight some salient points:

With only minor exceptions, the General Education Provisions Act (“GEPA”), the Department of Education Organization Act (“DEOA”), and the ESEA, as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (“NCLB”), ban federal departments and agencies from directing, supervising, or
controlling elementary and secondary school curriculum, programs of instruction, and instructional materials.

And while RtTT and NCLB waivers don’t explicitly direct, supervise, or control curriculum, programs of instruction, and instructional materials; it’s hard to imagine either isn’t attempting to do so using the levers of financial aid or reprieves from NCLB sanctions.

Eitel, Talbert, and Evers point out:

Thus, rather than permitting state and local authorities to use standards and assessments that uniquely fit a given state as required by the  ESEA, the Race to the Top Assessment Program requires each state in the consortium to use common standards across the respective states of the consortium. The result is that the Race to the Top Assessment Program moves states away from standards and assessments unique to a given state and into a new system of common standards and assessments across the consortia states.

Again, this isn’t the expressed purpose of these moves, but it does appear to be the desired effect.

Regarding the PARCC and SBAC consortia established to draw up RtTT-required assessments, the authors write:

These PARCC and SBAC supplemental funding materials, together with recent actions taken by the Department concerning ESEA waiver
requirements, have placed the agency on a road that will certainly cause it to cross the line of statutory prohibitions against federal direction, supervision or control of curriculum and instructional materials – upsetting the federal system.


With conditions that mimic important elements of Race to the Top’s ingredients, the Conditional NCLB Waiver Plan will result in the  Department leveraging the states into a de facto long-term national system of curriculum, programs of instruction, and instructional materials, notwithstanding the absence of legal authority in the ESEA.

The conceit of the argument is that the Department of Ed has implemented these programs and made money available to those who applied. What, specifically, groups like PARCC, SBAC, and CCSSI do with that money after it’s passed on is out of DOE control. If they want to implement a national curriculum, national standards, and national assessments, well bully for them. If each of those pieces happens to be exactly in line with what the DOE would like to see happen but is banned by federal law from doing, all the better.

The result is an education policy SuperPAC that acts in the grey area of the law – aligned with the letter, but in clear opposition of the spirit.

My annotated version of the white paper is here.

What if we built syllabi like this?

The community over at reddit got a little steamed (understandably) in the wake of SOPA and PIPA.

Not being keen on waiting for the next wave of censorship-inspiring legislation, they decided to write the the bill that was more representative of the people. They wrote are writing it together, online, collaboratively. The first version of the bill was an open google doc where any visitor had editing privileges. Now in v2, the doc is restricted to commenting. (I assume this is to get the doc to a submittable place.)

Even if you don’t have time to read the entire bill, the comments on the definitions section, alone, help show how such a shift in the drafting mindset can inspire greater creation.

I’m starting to think about how scholarship and literature could benefit from this process. What if novelists started using this approach and then took the work offline after the commenting period. Would the increased public “ownership” drive sales?

What if a city council decided to put every matter to their constituents for open comment?

What if, on the first day of class, teachers shared a google doc with their students and said, “Let’s write our expectations for this space?” What if every assignment had a student review period before it was launched?


‘College and Career-Ready’ shoots too low

If you graduate from high school in America, you can find a college that will admit you. I’m not limiting my stance to for-profit, online colleges and universities. Some of the oldest institutions of higher learning in the country, faced with diminished federal funding (see Anya Kamenetz’s DIYU for more on this), are lowering the barriers to admission in order to increase the supply of tuition dollars.

It’s not all a money grab.

We’re sending record numbers of students to college, and we’re telling them it is the correct path (read the only path to success/happiness/money). Many of these students are the first in their families to attend institutions of higher education, and they’re showing up in numbers colleges and universities have never seen before. While much of the literature speaks to the need to help shift the cultures within k-12 schools and their students/families, very little is written about how higher ed needs to think about what it means to be educating shifting populations (see Mike Rose’s thoughts here or in Why School?). It’s what worries me when I see things like the graph on p. 4 of this Achieve report.

If we said the goal of schools was to have kids “life-ready” by the time they left, how would we shift how we look at the work being done in classrooms and schools?

The conversation about “college and career-ready” is an interesting one in that it cleverly makes it sound as though it doesn’t lead to schools forking their curricula to generate two separate tracks for students. If you are to be college-ready, you will be in academic classes. If you are to be career-ready, you will be in vocational classes with the bare-bones academic programs. Vocational programs and academic programs should not be an either/or proposition. College and or career-ready has that as its possibly unintended result and students internalize the distinction. Moreover, teachers internalize the two-track faculty mindset, which erodes internal cohesiveness for faculties.

The idea of a tiered graduation system such as those at work in many European countries is an interesting proposition. I wonder if it doesn’t work to further institutionalize class separations currently at play in the system. Does it say, “We expect all students to meet high standards (and some students to meet higher standards)?” A slippery slope.

If we said, build classrooms and schools to make students life-ready, it would be a messy proposition. I doubt it any messier than college and career-ready. Are we talking all students should be Yale-ready or Phoenix-ready? Are we saying minimum-wage ready or 1% ready? Maybe we’re hoping the language doesn’t raise any questions of whether or not it’s raising the bar.

If a picture’s worth a thousand words, isn’t art class more valuable than reading?

A few weeks ago, some friends and I visited Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art. I did there what I do each place I’m asked to view contemporary art. I looked at each piece for a few seconds, read the accompanying artist’s or curator’s statement thoroughly, and then looked back to the art thinking, “Oh, that’s what they meant to say. Of course!”

This is my way with contemporary art.

It is not, in any way, how I encounter printed words.

In middle school, reading a textbook, I skipped the graphs, the charts, and the tables. I read the words. I’m not sure why I thought those other pieces were there. Filler, maybe?

It’s worked out pretty well so far. Being able to read and manipulate text is the lingua franca of school and the wider world.

Yesterday, I found myself arguing for the opposite. In my Digital Humanities course, I tried to push and pick at people’s thinking around the necessity or sanctity of text.

My thesis is this: Information is equally imperfectly served through transmission via text as through transmission via graphics.
Images, though, don’t have equal footing when we think about reading and literacy. The two terms ellicit images of words, phrases, sentences – verbage.

But they don’t need to, and I’m starting to wonder if we’re not doing ourselves and our students a disservice by putting the premium on the ability to read text.

We lose not only the ability to create and read images, but the comfort and habits of mind that accompany this way of seeing the world as well.

Though the gallery was utterly silent on my trip to the ICA, each image was screaming with the artists’ ideas and commentary. I just had no tools for how to read and understand their language.

Class blogs should be open spaces


The walled discussion board almost feels normal at this point. As a tool, I can understand the use of a discussion board as a community builder and idea incubator. I’m a fan of those concepts.

I’m still calling wangdoodles when discussion boards are utilized for awkward or inauthentic purposes, but I can see their usefulness as an archive of correspondences for an online community. On SLA’s MOODLE install, all community members have access to a discussion forum that’s been live since the first year – SLA Talk. New freshmen are part of the fold, and their thoughts intermingle with those of the first graduating class when they were freshmen. It’s readable, documented institutional memory. An observer is just as likely to find a thread discussing student language use in the hallways as they are to find a debate about the latest movie release. It is a simple artifact of community online.

This semester, I’ve two courses implementing blogs as assignments.

For one course, a few students are assigned each week to post their thoughts on the reading leading up to that week’s class. Each other student is required to reply to one post per week with the option of passing on one week during the semester.

The posts have yet to be mentioned in class discussion.

In the other course, each person is encouraged to post weekly. The posts’ content might be related to the readings or simply to the topic for the week. No replies are required, and the posts are weekly referenced by the professor in discussion.

If blogging is to be required for a course, the latter instance comes closest to ideal practice – not required, but preferred; not for nothing, but tied to class.

In both instances, our class blogs live within the walled garden. The thoughts with which my classmates and I play will never find footing in a feed reader or enjoy comments from those who have reading lists contrary those chosen for us on our syllabi.

They should be public. Comments from anyone around the globe should be invited and commented. Our thoughts should mingle in the cyberether.

This is true for two reasons.

One, the refinement of thinking benefits from a plurality of opinions, and the Internet offers a cacophony that would challenge us to sculpt our thinking in ways we could not imagine.

Two, an open class blog asks participants to clear their throats and use their public voices while connected to a class setting in which they can find support when their voices are challenged. More than once, I’ve felt pushback when posting in this space. Early on, it was difficult to take. Sure, I wanted people to read what I posted, but how could they disagree with me?

Opening our blogs would give my classmates and I the chance to write with the training wheels of a cohort of support while enriching the experience by exposing us to the democracy of thinking on the web.

Walling a class blog runs the definite risk of students taking their opinions into the world untested and unprepared for criticism. It also robs them of the practice microphone a class blog could become.