August 29, 2016

Why I’m an Education Reformer

The post below is by guest blogger Alex Hernandez.

I attended my neighborhood public high school in central California. The school was integrated through busing and, in the early 1990s, our 2,600 students were roughly one-third white, one-third black and Latino, and one-third Asian. We had a democratically-elected, local school board. I lived the progressive dream for public education.

I knew something was very wrong at my school. We had about 1,000 freshman and 500 sophomores. Our graduating class had 330 students and maybe 50-75 students went straight to a four-year college. I’d walk around the halls wondering which of my classmates wouldn’t make it.

It’s hard to understand that a bad school can have great teachers. My twelfth grade English teacher and eleventh grade math teacher were among the finest in the area. I also loved one of my Spanish teachers who was kind and motherly. We played craps in the back of her classroom (a lot) while she laughed and pretended to cover her eyes. In staff meetings, she wasn’t passive-aggressive like one of my English teachers who would read the newspaper, holding it high in protest so you couldn’t even tell who was behind it.

I eventually graduated fifth in my high school class and was fortunate enough to attend Claremont McKenna College, a selective liberal arts college. I worried a bit when I read more books in my first week of college than in my entire four years of high school.

My junior year at Claremont, a friend pulled me aside and tried to gently inform me, “Uhhhh… You know you can’t write, right?” It’s one thing to be told by a teacher that your work isn’t up to snuff. My friend was just trying to be kind and I was completely humiliated.

One would think a 4.7 high school GPA, inflated by honors classes where “A”s were worth five points, would mean I was college-ready. But I placed in the lowest-level math class offered at my college and the people who cared for me the most felt genuinely sorry for my literacy skills.

California began ranking its public schools based on state test scores in 1999 and abruptly stopped in 2013. My high school spent most of that period ranked in the bottom 20% of ALL public high schools in the state. The rankings confirmed what we all long suspected and knew to be true in our hearts.

I’m an education reformer, because…

I know some schools are better than others.

I know good teaching matters… and it is scarce.

I know great teachers can work in bad organizations.

I know schools only work for kids if the adults are all rowing in the same direction.

I know schools don’t just magically get better.

I know families with means move to segregated public school districts, choose private schools and/or take tests to gain admission to exclusive public schools — and no one thinks anything of it.

I know I was one of the lucky ones.

I know we can do better.

***

Alex Hernandez (@thinkschools) is a partner at Charter School Growth Fund, a nonprofit that supports the growth of the nation’s best public charter schools. He serves on the boards of DSST Public Schools, Ednovate, 4.0 Schools and Rocketship Education. Alex graduated from Claremont McKenna College and has an MBA and Masters of Education from Stanford University. He lives near Boulder, CO with his wife and twin sons and can usually be found on his porch late in the evening playing Mexican folk songs.


August 26, 2016

Flower Porn: The Friday Edition

The post below is by guest blogger, Derrell Bradford.

I was looking for this picture of a koi I used to have but I could not find it. Back in the day I used to think koi were just goldfish—old and grown up—but I have since been told that isn’t true.

I don’t really take piscine pics but I do take flowers photos sometimes…and other things. So here are three of the former, including the Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) of my home state Maryland, and a pic out of my window when I am taking an insanely early train to DC for one of our team meetings. Hope you enjoy.

Thanks to Eduwonk for the space this week. Stay frosty people.

Flower IFlower II Flower IIICity I

Derrell Bradford is the executive vice president at 50CAN, and the executive director of its New York branch, NYCAN. Derrell serves on several boards and leadership councils that focus on educational equity: Success Academy Charter Schools; The Partnership for Educational Justice; EdBuild; and The National Association of Charter School Authorizers Advisory Board, among others. Derrell is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in English. A native of Baltimore, he currently lives outside New York City and can be found riding his bike along the Hudson, rooting for Tottenham Hotspur (and Liverpool), photographing the city, and refusing to try new foods.


August 25, 2016

It’s All Cyclical

The post below is by guest blogger, Derrell Bradford.

What goes around comes around

—Lenny Kravitz

Show up at a bar filled with ed reformers lately (these bars do exist) and you’ll find a lot of folks with heads down, dejected looks on their faces. Depending on the state (corporeal not mental) the bar is in, you could hear any number of things being uttered over their libations:

“The republicans screwed us on ESSA.”

“The democrats are playing us on charters. Don’t they know Obama supports them?”

“These damn opt-outers!”

“Doesn’t the NAACP get it?”

“John Oliver…I just can’t quit you.”

I love a good bout of self pity now and again, but in this instance I think we could all use a bit of tough love and advice: Get over it.

Perhaps the toughest thing about being part of any political or social movement is remembering that you’re actually a part of one, and that movements of all types have fits and starts, victories and defeats, arcs and circles. This one, of course—the movement to liberate low-income kids in particular from schools that don’t work—is no different.

That’s hard to swallow because, while we have some old heads in the room, it is a young movement filled with young people. One great thing about youth, other than how it allows you to process alcohol, is that although you may have been beaten up by life, as a matter of timing, you haven’t been beaten up by it forever. So when the punches start coming one after the other, especially on the things you care deeply about, it’s easy to get dejected. This malaise of defeat hangs heavily over reformers right now. With the changes in DC and elsewhere it’s palpable. There’s a gloom about it even.

You have to get over it.

A reporter asked me recently how I felt about all of this…dejection…among my colleagues, and it got me wondering. What would have happened if, after President Obama was elected (not the only political win but certainly the easiest to use for a sense of timing) the teachers unions just packed up and decided they’d lost? Got depressed? The head of the NEA started drinking and crying across the street at the Jefferson Hotel (there’s a great bar there)? And they just walked away? What world would we be living in now?

But they didn’t do that because they know it’s all cyclical. Sometimes you’re on the top, sometimes you’re on the bottom. Either way the key is to keep moving. It took them six years to string together just the right mix of conspiracies electric enough to scare the right while making the smug, elite left comfortable screwing over low-income black and brown inner-city kids, but they found a mix eventually.

And now we just have to find ours.

I remember a time not that long ago where you’d walk into a community room to talk about choice—and by that I mean vouchers—and you’d wonder if you’d make it out alive. Those were hot times. Those memories blaze compared to what we’re worried about now. Back then it was about whether or not we could even create anything. Now it’s about whether we can protect it long enough to get back on top again. This is a tough time, sure, but it’s not the worst time either. It’s a time of plenty, in fact, if you consider it against the famine of just 25 years ago.

Like Martin Luther King, Jr., I, and many of us, might not make it to the top of the mountain, but we can at least see it now not as a metaphor but as something reachable; a destination getting closer instead of speeding away. To all my friends and colleagues in “the movement” hurting over the unrest that currently colors the education-change landscape, now isn’t the time to drown in the sadness of having the fight taken to you. It’s your moment to remember why you’re here at all, and to know that just as the sun also rises, you will too.

You have to.

Derrell Bradford is the executive vice president at 50CAN, and the executive director of its New York branch, NYCAN. Derrell serves on several boards and leadership councils that focus on educational equity: Success Academy Charter Schools; The Partnership for Educational Justice; EdBuild; and The National Association of Charter School Authorizers Advisory Board, among others. Derrell is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in English. A native of Baltimore, he currently lives outside New York City and can be found riding his bike along the Hudson, rooting for Tottenham Hotspur (and Liverpool), photographing the city, and refusing to try new foods.


August 24, 2016

The Integration Dilemma

The post below is by guest blogger, Derrell Bradford.

In the country’s largest school district, you can catch a headline on school integration almost daily. New York City’s unique set of circumstances should make it a mecca for school integration (density, diversity, and strong public transportation, unless you live in hipster Brooklyn of course). The only problem is, that ain’t the case. In fact, the opposite is true: New York is one of the country’s most segregated school districts—despite all of these advantages. Of 1,800 public schools surveyed recently, only two mirrored the city’s total demographic picture.

I support integration, but I have some skepticism about the current push for more of it, (even when wrapped in uber compelling narratives like that of Nikole Hannah-Jones, whose adorable daughter is one of the faces of the “good society” we should be trying to engineer). And by “more” I basically mean “any,” let alone some rational percentage that mirrors the city or society we live in.

The first, and maybe the most obvious, reason is that no one seems to actually want to get integrated (a sweeping generalization, I know). Now someone reading this might be saying, “But I want to get integrated. This is important to me!” To you I offer praise and thanks. But you seem to be the exception and not the rule, if the nation’s largest school district is any example.

Take the beautiful Upper West Side; a bastion of the sort of smug progressivism that claims it wants an integrated society—until someone actually tries to integrate it. This fall, Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña, decided to give it a try anyway, rolling out initial thoughts on diversifying some of the neighborhood’s deeply segregated—by race and income—schools. The pitch went over like a lead balloon, prompting the sort of rapid backpedalling only a cartoon character does well. The chancellor later suggested pen pals for kids instead, asserting, “Diversity for its own sake…is not going to be what takes us where we need to go.” The mayor, an ostensible champion for a post-Dickensian New York, folded like a futon under the same pressure, claiming that, “You have to also respect families who have made a decision to live in a certain area oftentimes because of a specific school.”

And isn’t that the very reason no one wants to do it (or at least the primary one)? When a sign goes up in an apartment lobby asking, “If you are a homeowner, how concerned are you about the impact of the P.S. 452 move on the value of your home/apartment?”, the only thing sadder than the sign itself is understanding why the sign is there in the first place. The incentives are aligned “against” integrating schools, at least when housing and assigned attendance zones are at play, and folks know it. In this case, there’s an inevitable real estate hit to the housing values of the West Side’s white and rich when a neighborhood school is suddenly integrated against the will of its residents.

But it also blows up black folks too, and in this instance, we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Sure, you might try to muscle your way into a white neighborhood in search of both a good school and some diversity for your kid, taking on a hefty mortgage in the process. But that will only work (both for you and the value of that house) as long as it’s just you and a few of your closest black friends. As Dorothy Brown, a professor of tax law at Emory University discussed, once black folks comprise more than 10 percent of a community, your house’s value will start to appreciate at a significantly slower rate. In her words, “The market penalizes integration: The higher the percentage of blacks in the neighborhood, the less the home is worth, even when researchers control for age, social class, household structure, and geography.”

It’s a lose-lose economically. But that isn’t to say integration is without value. I’ve come to believe the best way to do it, however, is to let it happen on its own in a way that does not require changes in the housing market or central planning in the forms of arbitrary cutoffs, formulas or ratios. Which is to say, through choice. And I don’t mean “controlled choice”, which is like saying none (when someone else controls your choice you don’t really have one). Parents chasing the schools they want without regard for income or place is the best way to get more integrated schools. And therein lies the rub: there is no perfect state for integration…only more or less of it. Accepting that simple premise could go a long way to designing better policy to promote it.

Moreover, no one seems to consider the role of the integrator in all of this; that small black or brown kid sent off to do the hard work of representing his or her people in a sea of whiteness, rescued from a tumultuous rip tide of inefficacy when the schools are filled with kids who look just like him or her. This is lost in the discussion of integrated schools and the perceived value of having them.

I think you can look at the school integration problem in two ways. Most folks take the stance that schools function well and better when they are integrated, so integration is the magic catalyst. I see the problem differently; that the schools function one way in the presence of whiteness, and another in its absence. These two problems can look very similar, but trust me, they are not the same thing.

What both of these views have in common is that they identify whiteness as the key reagent to school success and, as such, a key ingredient in success for minority kids. But coincident with that “reality” is another one: that the more whiteness is critical or valued, the less blackness is. Adults might not focus too deeply on this but I assure you young kids of color cast in the role of “integrator” most certainly do.

I’d urge everyone to try it sometime—even as a well-educated adult—and see how it feels to be “the other,” while also placed there for the benefit of others who don’t look like you. Next strip away all of your degrees, your experience, money, security, accomplishments, add a boatload of childlike or early-teen insecurity, and try it again.

As someone who has done this, I assure you it is neither easy nor without edges that cut like broken glass well into adulthood. Are the cuts worth having? Maybe. Should you have to have them simply because your neighborhood school, filled with kids who looked like you, didn’t work for the same reason? On that I am not so sure.

Which is why there still needs to be a place for the high-functioning black school filled to the brim with black kids; the school that works and that essentially preaches blackness as a powerful and desired state, not a subservient and toxic one. It’s also why, when folks talk that yin-yang about high-performing charter schools being segregated—and how that’s wrong—I start walking away before the smoke out of my ears becomes too visible.

Integration is complex. Like anything where the mixing of people is concerned, there are many benefits to be considered. But let’s be real about why even the world’s most progressive mayor crumbles under the pressure to do so regularly, and let’s make sure we remember there is a cost to the kids that have to do it. Sure it might be a cost worth paying, but let’s not pretend like it doesn’t exist at all.

Derrell Bradford is the executive vice president at 50CAN, and the executive director of its New York branch, NYCAN. Derrell serves on several boards and leadership councils that focus on educational equity: Success Academy Charter Schools; The Partnership for Educational Justice; EdBuild; and The National Association of Charter School Authorizers Advisory Board, among others. Derrell is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in English. A native of Baltimore, he currently lives outside New York City and can be found riding his bike along the Hudson, rooting for Tottenham Hotspur (and Liverpool), photographing the city, and refusing to try new foods.


August 23, 2016

Is Local Control the Best Control? The Brick City Edition

The post below is by guest blogger, Derrell Bradford.

I spent my formative years in education reform working in Newark, N.J., the state’s largest school district with about 50,000 students total (including charter schools). Newark is home to one of the country’s highest performing charter sectors, with demand for the schools continuing to outpace supply.

Charters are not the only story in Newark—Superintendent Cerf continues his work steadily and aggressively as well—but they are a key theme in a larger Newark narrative. And that one is local control.

Trenton has controlled Newark since 1995 when the state took over all facets of the district’s operation in response to both deep academic failure and pervasive corruption. The 1994, 1,700 page takeover report noted that:

“Children in Newark public schools are victimized by school and district leaders who force them to endure degrading school environments that virtually ensure academic failure.”

”The first world is that of the children who are subjected to substandard facilities and poorly equipped classrooms and libraries…The second world is that of the board of education of Newark. The board’s world is comprised of the finer things in life, such as travel to Honolulu, St. Thomas and San Francisco, dinners at fine restaurants, new cars and flowers.”

To be sure, the state has two compelling interests in Newark’s public school system. The first being that it is constitutionally responsible for what happens there (the ability for districts to run local systems is actually delegated by the state as a practical concern). New Jersey’s numerous defenders of the status quo sing in unison that district-level failure is actually the state’s responsibility; roughly the equivalent of letting principals, teachers, administrators, and supers say, “We were just following orders.”

The second is that the state pays—in overwhelming measure—for Newark’s schools. New Jersey’s longstanding Abbott line of school finance equity cases means that for the upcoming school year, a projected $715 million dollars of the city’s approximately $1 billion education budget will come in the form of state aid, with the remainder coming from a variety of local and federal sources. I am not sure at what point local control is obviated by the state’s contribution to a district’s school system, but I am sure there is a point when it is. And if any district in America has crossed that threshold, it’s Newark.

That said, returning the district to local control is a political brass ring that glistens above the city. Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, who is notoriously anti-charter despite his recent joining with charter advocates on a “Unity Slate” for the city’s school board, will likely count a potential return to local control as one of his greatest accomplishments. In New Jersey’s dog-eat-dog political climate, being able to argue local sovereignty as the excuse to spend $700 million of someone else’s money is high art indeed.

But I am skeptical. To be clear, I’m unsure local control is the best thing for Newark’s families and taxpayers for a few reasons.

Local control is political control

I don’t think there is anything sacrosanct about elected school board governance, but I seem to be in the minority. Local school boards have done nothing in my mind but fracture the delivery of education in this country 15,000 ways and divide us by race, income, location and opportunity. The role of school board member requires little but ambition (school board races are frequently ladders to other offices). And the elections are routinely manipulated by those most resistant to change, chief among them teachers unions. In this, there seems to be the greatest misunderstanding of what local control should be versus what it is. What it should be is visionary and responsive. It often is, however, recalcitrant, risk-averse and dominated by special interests. Local control may sound great to Newark residents (and others across the country) but in practice it’s the kind of local governance they have the least control over and the least ability to change.

Real local control is household control

Newark already has a great deal of local control in the form of parent choice, which its families are using more and more frequently as the amount of it expands. Where a school board is subject to the slings and arrows of raucous public meetings, screamed diatribes, and other public shamings, Newark’s parents are more likely to act in the best interest of their child regardless of what the haters, papers or blogs say.

In 2015, 50 percent of the city’s K-8 applicants (via the city’s common enrollment process) chose North Star Academy, part of the Uncommon Schools network, as their preferred choice. Overall, charters made up seven of the eight most popular choices. And with 15,000 students in Newark charter schools—all of which enrolled during an extended period of state, not local, control—it’s tough to argue Newark parents aren’t, in large measure, in control already—and with more power than they ever had under an elected board. If there is something more democratic than this, I’m not sure what it is.

Isn’t it better now?

I once told a reporter that, after the state had gotten the books in order, what ensued in Newark was more a period of benign neglect than an intervention meant to level the playing field for kids, particularly those not fortunate enough to attend a charter, a magnet, or be connected enough to get into one of the schools or specialty programs for the city’s elites. I argued that Cami Anderson’s administration (with respect to Clifford Janey who did a few good things, and even Marion Bolden who simply did not have the political tools at her disposal to make anything substantive happen) was the first real instance of state intervention since the district lost local control. While all the prior eras had made the teachers unions in particular happy (a highly desirable outcome if you’re the governor), they had done little to move the needle for kids. Former superintendent Anderson’s wild ride is well known and documented, but it did kick off an era of actual change in the district that, for all intents and purposes, is sticking.

As Laura Waters wrote in the eponymous New Jersey blog, NJ Left Behind (a sharp and prescient confection for the reform and truth minded), things in Newark are on the uptick at last:

  • Among all Newark public schools, charter and traditional, achievement of African-American students is increasing, although charter school students are performing at a significantly higher level than district school students.

  • In 2006, about 4 percent of Newark students (charter and district) beat the NJ state average. In 2014, about 23 percent beat the NJ state average.

  • African-American students in both charter and district schools improved achievement from 2006-2014. In 2006, 19 percent beat the state average. In 2014 40 percent did.

Former Newark mayor Sharpe James once argued (and I will paraphrase) that “the state sucks at this so you might as will give control back to us”; a strong if cynical argument to be sure, but one that resonates with Newarkers desirous of the sovereignty implicit in local control.

Except now the state IS better…as are the households in command in Newark through school choice, and the duo is combining to drive significant improvement (though to be clear, much more remains to be done) across the Brick City. Much like Cynthia Tucker wrote recently, there is nothing inherently innovative about local control—in fact, I would argue it is the control that is the least innovative form of control possible. Is it really worth trading all the progress and improvement of recent years for a governance structure that last existed in Newark before the state opened its first charter school?

My gut says no.

Whether local control returns to Newark may be more a political matter (aspects of the change are already underway) than an educational one, which I guess is the point. It’s also the strongest affirmation of why the city’s charter sector has to continue to grow. Choice is the only hedge against concentrated power at the state or the local levels for that matter. At least one of the city’s current school board members—as the top vote getter in this spring’s elections—is a charter supporter, winning with 5,800 votes. But 15,000 folks voting with their feet—that’s progress you can believe in.

Derrell Bradford is the executive vice president at 50CAN, and the executive director of its New York branch, NYCAN. Derrell serves on several boards and leadership councils that focus on educational equity: Success Academy Charter Schools; The Partnership for Educational Justice; EdBuild; and The National Association of Charter School Authorizers Advisory Board, among others. Derrell is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in English. A native of Baltimore, he currently lives outside New York City and can be found riding his bike along the Hudson, rooting for Tottenham Hotspur (and Liverpool), photographing the city, and refusing to try new foods.


August 22, 2016

The Left’s White-Power Movement

The post below is by guest blogger, Derrell Bradford.

The 2016 presidential race, at least on the Republican side, has been a sad spectacle. I call many registered Republicans friends, but I can’t call the process of this election friendly, or even sane. Some folks are working hard to make a case for the root causes of the anxiety powering Trump, an anxiety of working-class whites in an era of globalization that looks an awful lot like straight-up racism, is grounded in something rational. Even if you agree with their reckoning, having a racist, xenophobic, misogynist (everything The Donald has proven to be) as the standard bearer for the change you believe in is not the best way to advance your case.

If Trump is the festering sore that reveals a race-powered sickness deep in the Republican body politic, at least it took an election to draw it all out for public display. What does it say that the left’s version of asserting white power came into existence with little more than the prodding of some No. 2 pencils and a few bubble sheets?

Testing has always caused fights on some level, but it’s difficult to make the case that annual testing, disaggregated results and an emphasis on year-over-year test score growth has not radically changed the discussion around the education of low-income kids of color for the better. Housing discrimination and racial profiling by the police on highways, for instance, required test cases and the collection of data to affirm the problem for those who believed there wasn’t one. Annual testing has done the same for kids that the country’s public education systems failed in open view while the many of us looked the other way.

Enter the Opt-Out Posse, which Arne Duncan presciently identified as white suburban soccer moms upset that new standards showed that their kids weren’t “brilliant.” Duncan took tremendous heat for saying that and he said it on a flyer. There wasn’t really any data to back up his claim other than his gut instinct.

Fast forward to today and he’s been proven spot on.

Some of those findings aren’t surprising: “The typical opt-out activist is a highly educated, white, married, politically liberal parent whose children attend public school and whose household median income is well above the national average,” states the report. The median household income of respondents surveyed was $125,000, compared with the national median, which was $53,657 in 2014, the most recent year available.

The report also indicates that teacher evaluation systems using student growth data were the number one reason for this white wave of opposition. It should be lost on no one that public school teachers—college educated, overwhelmingly white and female as a workforce—mirror the profile of those most likely to opt out even as the profession struggles to make itself more diverse.

This might make less of a difference if policymakers treated these parents the same way they treat parents of color whose children historically attend underperforming schools and who, incidentally, don’t opt out. Which is to say with skepticism, trepidation and, in many cases, a deep disrespect for the urgent nature of their problem. White people with money and education in our society are never treated that way, however, and this case seems no different.

Hundreds of thousands of minority kids are queued for low-performing schools and every change their parents seek is too radical. White soccer moms decide they don’t like the most important device to help us fix those schools and the wheels come off. The President makes a speech about too much testing. The Democrats revise their platform to allow parents to opt out. It’s clear: When white women decide they don’t like something, left-leaning politicians listen even if it’s at the expense of kids of color whose moms vote in democratic primaries.

For all of the railing against rich elites calling the shots on politics, on the left those seem to be exactly the people calling the shots on education policy—and not for the better. In the case of Trumpkins and opt-outers, we see that white power remains deeply influential in our schools and in both parties of our political system. A Starbucks skinny vanilla latte is a lot more socially acceptable than a Make America Great Again hat. But they should both leave a bad taste in your mouth if you believe we should be organizing systems around those who need our help the most, not the least.

Derrell Bradford is the executive vice president at 50CAN, and the executive director of its New York branch, NYCAN. Derrell serves on several boards and leadership councils that focus on educational equity: Success Academy Charter Schools; The Partnership for Educational Justice; EdBuild; and The National Association of Charter School Authorizers Advisory Board, among others. Derrell is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in English. A native of Baltimore, he currently lives outside New York City and can be found riding his bike along the Hudson, rooting for Tottenham Hotspur (and Liverpool), photographing the city, and refusing to try new foods.


August 19, 2016

Ed Drama; The Ocean’s Hot Dog and Brookings Teacher Diversity Study; Fish Porn; Kosar Signs Off;

This guest blogpost is by Kevin Kosar, author of Failing Grades: The Federal Politics of Education, who edits the Federal Education Policy History website and is a senior fellow at the R Street Institute.

I am running low on laptop battery and conveniently left my charger in Washington, DC. So I will keep this quick.

Robert J. Bellafiore takes New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio to task for his retrograde comments about kids who go to charter schools. Is Big Bill pandering to the unions or is he really on the wrong side of history? Time will tell.

Patrick O’Donnell of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer reports Cleveland Teachers Union President David Quolke aims to start a strike right as the school year is to begin.

Richard Cano of the Arizona Republic discusses the internecine battles between the superintendent and the president of the Arizona Board of Education that led to the latter’s departure.

It’s all rather sad—because when adults fight usually it is the kids who suffer most.

***

ICYMI: “The Ocean’s Hot Dog” explains how the fish stick was invented and made its way to our freezers and school cafeterias.

ICYMI:Brookings released a new study on diversity in the teaching force.

***

I have spent this week on family vacation. As you might expect of the Mayor of Fish Porn, I have gotten a few days of angling in with my kids, and it has been good. Good fishing, and good times together that I hope they’ll remember always. I sure will.

Robert, age 10, got a blue fish and a hefty striper.

Anna, age 6, landed a snapper and helped me pull in this porgy.

Abby, age 4, hauled in her own snapper.

Little K, age 2, is too young to be around hooks—next year I’ll give him a shot.

As for me, my highlight fish was this 40+ pound striper, which I returned to the sea.

Kosar Striped Bass 08-2016

My son Robert and first mate Ed holding my striper.

As Andy Rotherham writes: “You should consider taking a kid fishing, too. It’s easier than you might think! For the entire archive of education people with fish—dating back a decade—you can click here.”

Thanks to readers, thanks to Andy for trusting me with the keys, and extra thanks to Kirsten Schmitz who edited and posted my columns this week. Cheers!

 


August 18, 2016

More on School Lunches; #PorgyPorn; DC Teacher Union Heads Denounce Walmart for Helping Teachers; Feds Expand Educational Quality through Innovation Partnerships

This guest blogpost is by Kevin Kosar, author of Failing Grades: The Federal Politics of Education, who edits the Federal Education Policy History website and is a senior fellow at the R Street Institute.

On Tuesday, I wrote about the school lunch program. What I did not mention is that status of the program’s reform. Legislation has moved this year to amend the program. The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry unveiled its bill back in January, which makes some adjustments to the school lunch program and the Child Nutrition Act. (Good Congressional Research Service on the legislation and school nutrition programs can be found here and here.) The House has its version of the legislation, and hopefully this autumn the two bills will be passed and reconciled. But that is far from a certain development, not least because each bill may face amendments to attach more-fish-on-lunch-trays amendments, at the behest of members of Congress from Alaska and Washington.

***

Speaking of fish, here is a porgy I caught at Locust Point in East Hampton this week on a hook, minnow, and bobber. #PorgyPorn

***

Half of politics is learning to pick one’s battles, a lesson lost upon some teacher union leaders. Perry Stein of the Washington Post reports:

“Retail giant Walmart is running a back-to-school promotion this summer, encouraging customers to nominate their favorite teachers to win school supplies and a $490 gift card — the estimated amount public school teachers spend out of pocket each year on their classrooms.

On Friday morning, members of the Washington Teachers’ Union slammed the competition as ‘deceitful’ and ‘bogus.’ They argued that the Walton Family Foundation, the charitable organization started by Walmart’s owners, has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into backing charter schools, which they say are undermining traditional public schools. ‘It’s a cynical coverup,’ WTUP President Elizabeth Davis said at a news conference outside Moten Elementary School in Southeast Washington.”

Union leaders, of course, often say over the top things to prove to membership that they are fighters and not appeasers. But this is just silly. So what is the Walton Foundation funds school choice? Encouraging kids to nominate their teachers for a chance to get extra cash for school supplies is an unalloyed good. Too often, teachers must reach into their own pockets to buy the things they need to get the job done. So, kudos to Walmart and brickbats for the top brass of the Washington Teachers Union. This stunt only makes it look bad.

***

Let’s end things on a happy note today: EdWeek’s Andrew Ujifusa reports the feds “will allow students to apply for federal aid to enroll in ‘non-traditional’ training programs that partner with colleges and universities, as part of a broader effort to increase their ability to enroll in higher education. The department invited eight institutions of higher education to participate in the Educational Quality through Innovation Partnerships (EQUIP) experiment, along with organizations ranging from online educational programs and computer coding courses to General Electric.” This is an interesting development, and you can read more here.


August 17, 2016

HEA Rulemaking; Utah Loosens Teaching Occupational Licensure; ICYMI: China and Ed Reform

This guest blogpost is by Kevin Kosar, author of Failing Grades: The Federal Politics of Education, who edits the Federal Education Policy History website and is a senior fellow at the R Street Institute.

Care about what institutions’ students can get HEA grants? You know, ones like Pell grants, the Federal Pell Grant program, the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, the Federal Work-Study program, the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant program, Federal Family Educational Loan Program, and the William D. Ford Direct Loan program.

Well, ED is rulemaking, and you have until August 24 to submit your comments. ED issued regs on this subject in 2010, but a federal court faulted them, so they are trying again. Further details and submission instructions are at: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2016/07/25/2016-17068/program-integrity-and-improvement

***

About 20 years ago, someone very dear to me applied to teach science in New York City public schools. Despite having 3 science degrees and teaching experience in the Peace Corps, her application was rejected. She was told she first had to enroll in a teacher training college and take courses in pedagogy. Annoyed and unwilling to take on still more student debt, she applied to a renown private school, got the job, and became a star in the classroom. The private school kids won; too bad for the public school kids. That experience was a glaring lesson to me on how professional licensure requirements, however well-intended, can have the effect of creating costly barriers to entry.

Much has changed since then, but alternate paths to teaching remain the exception not the rule for public schools. Sadly, a guild-mentality remains in some quarters. Utah’s school board recently permitted its districts to choose (or not) to hire individuals without teaching credentials to teach. As Annie Knox of the Salt Lake Tribune reports, the policy change was denounced as an attack on the teaching profession. Utah Education Association President Heidi Matthews went so far as to say the policy could create “a human-rights issue.”

Seriously? Around the nation occupational licensing requirements are being given scrutiny because they can inhibit the flow of human talent and depress income mobility by keeping competent poor people from being hired. Such rules also are inherently protectionist—which is a good thing when one is talking about heart surgery—but not so good if one is talking about other fields (like being a fishing guide). Even the White House weighed in on this topic, warning of the very real costs of needless or excessive licensure requirements.

When it comes to teaching, certainly getting a teaching degree or credential is valuable and laudable. But it is a logical fallacy to declare that this is the only path that can produce good teachers. Why not let principals choose what teachers they want to try out, and let them remove those who are not up to snuff? That’s the way most firms and organizations operate. So kudos to Utah’s school board for empowering districts to choose. Now if they’d only do something to augment removal authority….

Moving along…

Who else caught the NPR report on education reform in China? It was a fascinating piece by Anthony Kuhn. I loved this bit:

“At first glance, it looks like an ordinary gym class at a public school in Yibin, a city of about a million people in southwest China’s Sichuan province. But then you notice that the students are wearing signs: ‘Nitrate,’ ‘Sulfate,’ ‘Phosphate.’ In their game of tag, they chase the classmates they need to start a chemical reaction. This is how gym and chemistry classes are combined at the Cold Water Well Middle School.”

Genius! I wish I had been taught chemistry that way in high school. Instead I got drab lectures and had to do experiments which were boringly drab. Who came up with such a clever idea? Kuhn continues, “Upstairs, in a combined history and math class, students use statistics to find patterns in the rise and fall of nations. These experiments are the brainchild of former journalist Zhang Liang.”

A former journalist designing pedagogy? Crazy talk!

Kuhn reports: “From Confucian-style academies and home schooling to foreign Waldorf and Montessori models, a grassroots, alternative education movement is blossoming across China at the secondary level.” How widespread this movement really is unclear. But any defections from the soviet, uniform, cram-style of schooling are to be lauded. Hopefully, Kuhn and other journalists will report more on this development, which government authorities could crush at any moment.


August 16, 2016

Holt Trolls Johnson on Student Loans; The Daily Caller Trolls Michelle Obama and School Lunches; Turtle Porn

This guest blogpost is by Kevin Kosar, author of Failing Grades: The Federal Politics of Education, who edits the Federal Education Policy History website and is a senior fellow at the R Street Institute.

Maybe it is a sign that the Johnson-Weld ticket is serious—or possibly a writer was looking for something to troll. Either way, Johnson gets assailed by Alexander Holt in the Washington Monthly. “Gary Johnson is very confused about student loans” tries to make Johnson look like a policy boob. Granted, Johnson’s appearance on Samantha Bee’s show seemed less than presidential—but Holt strains to score points.

Holt: “Johnson is deeply confused about higher education policy. He believes that the reason college costs are so high is because of the “guaranteed government student loans.”

Reader: “OMG!”

Holt: “Linking college costs to federal aid is not a fringe theory—it’s called the Bennett hypothesis, named after Ronald Reagan’s education secretary, and there’s some evidence that federal student loans may lead to increased tuition….”

Reader: “Huh. So what’s the problem?”

Holt: “But what’s worrying about Johnson’s statement is that he called federal student loans ‘guaranteed.’ That word has a very particular meaning in federal student loan policy, and it refers to a program that was abolished in 2010.”

Reader: “Oh, I see, so loans are not guaranteed in any way?”

Holt: “Granted, new federal loans are still ‘guaranteed’ by the government, but that’s a very strange word to use in light of the program’s history…”

Moving right along to further excellence in journalism…

This year is the 70th anniversary of the school lunch program. Imperfect though it is, we’re the better for it. Before it arrived, many children suffered from stunted growth and various afflictions due to insufficient vitamins and calories. Now America has too many kids who are overweight. More gym classes and time outside would certainly help redress the balance. So too would less junk food and screen-time at home.

But why bother talking sensibly about school food programs and kids’ health—derp is so much easier. “Gov’t Study Finds Michelle Obama’s School Lunches Are Making Kids Fat.,” says the Daily Caller. Yes, it is true that a study by Prof. Wen You of Virginia Tech finds that participation in free and reduced rate school meals is a factor affecting the likelihood of a child becoming very overweight.

But the piece makes a hash of things by blaming Michelle Obama and misframing the subject. As I noted some months ago in Politico, the School Lunch program always has struggled to balance the goals of farm interests and the nutritional well-being of children. The law is internally riven between two competing goals.

“It is hereby declared to be the policy of Congress, as a measure of national security, to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s children and to encourage the domestic consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities and other food.”

When the program was first launched, much of the aid it provided was surplus foodstuffs—meaning one month school cafeterias might be serving lots of eggs and onions one month and piles of almonds and apricots the next month. These days, most school lunch aid is delivered in the form of cash, which can be used to purchase foodstuffs that meet the program’s nutritional objectives.

The First Lady, as a matter of fact, has been a force for toughing nutrition standards to reduce kids’ salt, sugar, and fat intake and up their ingestion of whole grains—so much so that this year’s reauthorizations of the school lunch law aim to push back against the tougher meal standards. Media and politicos on the right savaged Mrs. Obama for substituting her highfalutin’ foodie meals for good, old ‘merican chow. (Ted Cruz promised more French fries for kids.)

And to call the $13 billion a year program “Michelle Obama’s school lunch program,” as Andrew Follett does, is wildly inaccurate. The Richard B. Russell School Lunch Act has been around since 1946, and Congress—not the White House—is mostly responsible for its structure and offerings. Congress writes the law. USDA, on its own initiative or at the behest of a president —or first lady— can write regs to adjust the program—but not by much.

♫ Derp to the left of me; derp to the right; here I am stuck in the middle with you. ♫

I will go fishing for Stripers on Wednesday morning. In the meantime, here is a photo of a snapping turtle my daughter Anna located in a pond in East Hampton.

20160815_111726


August 15, 2016

Kosar Takes The Helm, Three Cheers for School Advertising

This guest blogpost is by Kevin Kosar, author of Failing Grades: The Federal Politics of Education, who edits the Federal Education Policy History website and is a senior fellow at the R Street Institute.

Thanks to Andy Rotherham for giving me the keys to Eduwonk this week. I will resist the temptation to post fish porn every day this week—which is what you’d expect from the Mayor of Fish Porn (sorry Ali Fuller—I wear the crown and hold the sceptre.)

ICYMI: The recent State Impact piece on advertising by public schools was interesting on a couple of counts but missed an opportunity.

“Schools will start soon, but where you live doesn’t necessarily determine where you go to school anymore. Families can choose where to go to school — private, charter or public school. The aim behind providing this choice? Proponents say it will force all schools to better themselves. Whether it has done that remains controversial. But it has given birth to a new reality for public schools: with education competition, comes the need for education marketing.”

First, that this is treated as news is a little odd. The No Child Left Behind Act began expanding public school choice more than a decade ago. Public schools advertising themselves is not new.

Second, the article does a good job of showing why school districts have a strong interest in promoting themselves to parents and students: money. “Clarksville Community Schools developed an advertising campaign with an express purpose: drive students to their district. The southern Indiana district paid the ad agency Bandy Carroll Hellige over $160,000. The equivalent of four teachers’ salaries.” The investment paid off: 87 new students enrolled and $435,000 in state funds came with them.

Unfortunately, what isn’t investigated in the StateImpact piece is the importance of advertising as an organizational exercise. Schools should have been asked how the need to advertise affected them internally.

Too often folks look down on advertising as manipulation—Don Draper-ism and such—and little consider the salubrious effects advertising can have internally on a firm. For an organization to advertise itself well it must ask itself questions like, “What do we offer that people want? What do we do better than others? What should people know about us?” This asking is self-reflective, and spurs recognition of the firm’s strengths and weaknesses, which invites organizational changes.

One can see this in the case of Hardy Middle School in NW Washington, DC. Ten years ago, if you asked parents what they thought about it they likely would reply that they heard it was a decent public school that was known for its music curriculum. Parents of means long could, and often did, opt their kids into pricy private middle schools rather than attend Hardy. Then came charters, which enabled even more families to send their kids to DC public elementary schools (Stoddert, Janney, Key, etc.) then send their rising sixth-graders swap into schools other than Hardy. (This, it is worth noting, is a common phenomenon across DC.)

The District and Hardy saw this was a big threat, and took a long look at what it was doing and how it could sell itself to parents. Then they made changes. Now Hardy is promoting itself in media and through direct parent-to-parent outreach as a rising school where kids can get STEM, Chinese language instruction, music, and more. Which are the very things that parents in the affluent neighborhood around it are looking for in a school. Not surprisingly, more neighborhood parents are choosing to send their kids to Hardy.

Anyhoo, hopefully, some enterprising reporter out there will soon write a piece or series of pieces on how advertising has affected public schools and what strategies have proven successful.


August 14, 2016

Born A Democrat – Made A DFER

The post below is by guest blogger, Kira Orange Jones. 

I was born a democrat to my mother who was a schoolteacher and my father who worked as social worker, both in New York City. My grandfather served as a janitor for parks and recreation his entire life. Grandma was a shop stewardess and delegate for one of the first all-women labor unions representing garment workers in the South Bronx.

Being a Democrat wasn’t a choice in our family. It’s as permanent a part of my identity as my brown eyes. It’s also as core as my professional identity of an educator. I work to improve educational outcomes for children from the lens of a Democrat and an educator. This is why I belong to the group Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).

I remember wearing Jessie Jackson buttons as a 7 year-old, holding my mother’s hand as we stood in line at 6 a.m. to get on a public bus to head downtown to vote in the Democratic primary for the presidential election. When I asked my mother why we were doing this instead of the numerous places my young mind could think of, she replied, “Because we are proud democrats and this is our party.”

For my entire life, I’ve understood that at its core, the Democratic Party is known for picking up the mantle for citizens who often can’t represent themselves. I taught in an under-resourced school where my students were extraordinary, full of potential and so capable, but the institution they relied upon did not properly serve them or the generations before. The high school my students were zoned for had a 15 percent graduation rate. The college-going rate was half of that. I then started to find school options in the charter, traditional and private sectors because my students deserved quality alternatives.

To be a proud Democrat is to change the conditions that keep people from progressing and to fight for children who have less than they deserve.

My classroom teaching experience shaped my perspective on what is needed in education. I was in my second year of teaching in Louisiana when our statewide accountability system, which included monitoring, began to scale. For the first time, I was observed and given feedback. As a result, my students, their families and I received data that let us know how my students were performing. I became a better teacher because of this.

After that experience, I began to understand how Democrats can exact change through policy. I started building upon my classroom experience. When I became Teach for America’s executive director in New Orleans, I worked to support effective teachers in the classroom. I got more involved in the reform efforts in New Orleans and learned that sustaining these efforts required a seat the policy table. That’s why I ran for a seat on the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

I developed positions and strategies that strive for active public engagement, good governance, strong accountability, effective and loving teachers, as well as ways we can increase quality choices for all families.

Voters elected me on this platform, but I found it bewildering that critics in my first term charged my beliefs as being Republican. While I served during Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tenure, the only thing I had in common with Jindal is an agreement over certain aspects of an education agenda. I work with Republicans and other groups who put students first. Nonetheless, Democrats have to be able to say they can be for things like good governance, accountability and choice without being deemed outsiders to our own party.

While I proudly stand for certain aspects of school reform, I also stand alongside polices that seek to improve criminal justice, housing and health care systems – unapologetically democratic issues. Inequities in education follow inequities in the rest of our lives. Democrats are uniquely positioned to be out front on reforming education because we can make connections to other policies that seek to improve children’s lives.

Democrats for Education Reform is giving democratic education leaders who are working for reforms the support and cover needed to serve children well. We can’t be confused for being anything other than a Democrat when we take the necessary steps to reform education.

DFER opened nationally in 2008 when President Barak Obama was named the party’s nominee. Like many reformers, Obama’s beliefs on education breaks from the typical positions of the Democratic Party, which often aligns with those of the teacher unions. DFER, like President Obama, champions school choice, innovation, accountability, teacher effectiveness and pathways for teacher leaders. Just like I wore, Jessie Jackson buttons, I wear Obama’s policies on my sleeve.

This is why I proudly call myself a “DFER.”

Seeking change for the better is progressive. I don’t exclude unions as an institution that needs serious improvement. Unions need to evolve to better represent the ideals that make all of us Democrats.

More and more Democrats in the state and around the country are calling themselves DFERs. And who knows – maybe one day we will have a governor in Louisiana who will call himself or herself a DFER, too.

It’s imperative that we ensure that as a party, Democrats return to the ideals that all children can achieve at high levels and we should stop at nothing to ensure they have systems to make that happen.

Kira Orange Jones holds a B.A. from Wesleyan University, a M.Ed. in School Leadership from Harvard University, and is a second term elected member of the statewide education policy making board, the Louisiana Board of Elementary & Secondary Education, representing New Orleans and five other parishes. Kira also sits on the national leadership committee of EdLoc (Education Leaders of Color), an organization comprised of leaders of color committed to ‘third way’ values in education and sits on the New Orleans advisory board of Education Pioneers. Most recently, Kira was recognized by Louisiana Life Magazine as a Louisianan of the Year and in 2015 was named to Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world.


August 12, 2016

New Orleans Schools Can’t Unify Alone

The post below is by guest blogger, Kira Orange Jones.

The independent charter schools within the Louisiana’s Recovery School District are transferring to the auspices of the Orleans Parish School Board to form a one-of-a-kind district comprised of autonomous schools. OPSB and RSD named this process NOLA schools unification. OPSB and RSD are tasked with transferring more than 50 charter schools to OPSB by July 1, 2018. In the process New Orleans has an opportunity to do something even more distinctive: create the most democratic school system in the nation.

But that lofty goal requires significantly more political participation than what district leaders are seeing. If families, community members and civic leaders don’t participate more and if school leaders and elected officials can’t get our stakeholders to contribute, then we will continue the longstanding New Orleans legacy of an elite few doing earnest work to determine the educational fate of many.

There is still hope we can unify more than a district; we can unify a fractured community.

The night before my first election, City of Love Full Gospel Church asked my mother and me to come to prayer service so they could pray for me. I gladly accepted the invitation as anxiety from the race pushed my personal limits. Not soon after we entered the church, the pastor asked us to come to the front of the sanctuary. One by one, parishioners (mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, grandparents of the children I would soon be tasked with serving) gathered around us, placing their hands on our backs and shoulders. Hundreds prayed for me that day. They prayed that I would have the strength and fortitude to serve and help our community’s children, their children, succeed. They literally laid their hands and trust upon me.

I’ve never forgotten that feeling of connection – spiritually or politically. Politically it serves as a metaphor of what is required to build a quality school system. Direct engagement with families, children and voters raises support and accountability to another level.

I have been following unification discussions across the city closely and the elections even more so. In May, the Louisiana legislature passed Act 91, which mandates the unification of New Orleans autonomous charter schools under the umbrella of the New Orleans Public School Board (OPSB). Unification meetings and public forums commenced soon thereafter. A series of public forums just completed in the midst of a school board election.

Unification is not just about schools. The transfer means that hundreds of charter board members from dozens of boards will engage with thousands of families in a conversation about governance in the next two years. Our highly democratic system of schools can take it to the next level.

I was expecting rigorous debate from all corners of our city. Unfortunately, few people have yet to attend the unification meetings. In a city known for its brilliant sounds and noise of resistance, the political silence has been notable. For example, four of seven OPSB seats were won before the election. Two were elected days after their campaigns kicked off without a real race. Another ended with a disqualification. Consequently, unification will not be a topic of debate among all aspirant board members this fall.

I extend my sincere congratulations to and have every confidence in our newly elected school board members. Based on what I already know of their leadership and track records, we may be poised to already have the best board we’ve seen in New Orleans in decades,  if not ever. Moving forward, it’s critical that their leadership help build a bridge between governance and the community here in New Orleans, even without the election process. I know firsthand that there is an impenetrable bond between the public and their elected officials that comes with earning public trust. As an elected leader myself, I’ve done that through the campaign trail—forums, debates, planning sessions, knocking on doors—and elected service over the years. As schools return to OPSB, it’s critically important for all of us as elected officials to create and maintain that bond.

Some say a lack of involvement means “the public” is happy with where education has landed. But from the day I left that church I realized that great educational systems and schools become even better with greater involvement.

We must do better as a community. The passage of Act 91 marks a decade of rapid academic growth.  But I fear that growth will taper along with civic participation. There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to walk fast, walk alone; but if you want to walk far, walk together.”

With civic participation, we can create something not just structurally unique. We can create something politically powerful.

However, we must walk together.

Kira Orange Jones holds a B.A. from Wesleyan University, a M.Ed. in School Leadership from Harvard University, and is a second term elected member of the statewide education policy making board, the Louisiana Board of Elementary & Secondary Education, representing New Orleans and five other parishes. Kira also sits on the national leadership committee of EdLoc (Education Leaders of Color), an organization comprised of leaders of color committed to ‘third way’ values in education and sits on the New Orleans advisory board of Education Pioneers. Most recently, Kira was recognized by Louisiana Life Magazine as a Louisianan of the Year and in 2015 was named to Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world.


August 11, 2016

An American President’s Voice Matters in Education, Local Leadership Matters More

The post below is by guest blogger, Kira Orange Jones. 

On the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, I spoke at Education Reform Now’s annual Camp Philos, which “convenes an influential group of stakeholders in the education reform movement.” As publicized, some of the most powerful educators, elected officials and thought leaders in education expressed their beliefs on what direction the country should take. But on the actual convention stage, there was very little mention of K-12 education.

As an elected member of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the entity charged with overseeing education in the state, I know the tone set by our next president can put wind at the back of our board’s sails. Like many others, I initially became concerned that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton didn’t offer a comprehensive vision for K-12 education. But before the last red, white and blue streamers were swept away, I became optimistic. The president should provide wind for our sails, but parents, students and local officials should steer the ship.

We must make our voices loud enough for the next president to hear the direction our states will take.

President Barak Obama’s administration put forth an ambitious education agenda the past eight years and pushed for things we all can agree to: great schools that serve all kids, quality teachers and more options for families.

But we can’t forget who moved President Obama to act: we did. Parents of all races, socioeconomic levels as well as of both parties demanded change. We broke through the partisan politics of the past to create a student-centered agenda.

Presidents will change. And the role of the federal government will change along with it. But calls for quality schools should remain constant. Certainly, the bully pulpit of the presidency matters mightily. But the tone set by local leaders matters more. We need a national leader who will listen.

Right now Clinton is hearing the same old tired either/or debates: choice or no choice, accountability or no accountability. But those who work on state boards know that we are always looking for the best way to offer quality options and hold ourselves accountable for setting the highest standards for our children. I believe the passage of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) allows state leaders to continue that work.

What our presidential candidates are not saying shouldn’t add to the political gridlock that keeps us from doing the work that our children, families and communities need. Bemoaning what Clinton or Trump isn’t saying about education isn’t solving the education problems of the day.

After attending Philos, I became even more resolved in what I need to do – advocate on behalf of the children and families of my district in Louisiana. I will continue to push for high standards, quality schools and effective teachers. While we all would certainly welcome one, I don’t need a speech from a presidential candidate as much as I need my constituents’ voices in order to reach our goals.

Kira Orange Jones holds a B.A. from Wesleyan University, a M.Ed. in School Leadership from Harvard University, and is a second term elected member of the statewide education policy making board, the Louisiana Board of Elementary & Secondary Education, representing New Orleans and five other parishes. Kira also sits on the national leadership committee of EdLoc (Education Leaders of Color), an organization comprised of leaders of color committed to ‘third way’ values in education and sits on the New Orleans advisory board of Education Pioneers. Most recently, Kira was recognized by Louisiana Life Magazine as a Louisianan of the Year and in 2015 was named to Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world.


August 5, 2016

EdNavigator Insight #5: No “Theory of Change” Will Work If It Doesn’t Work for Families

This week we’re sharing some of the insights we’ve gained through our work at EdNavigator, helping families with schools in New Orleans over the past year. Here’s what we’ve covered so far:

Insight #5: No “theory of change” will work if it doesn’t work for families

We started this week telling you about Maria and her daughter, to illustrate what a little help can do for a family. We’ll end by sharing another parent’s story. We’ll call her Kendra.

Like Maria, Kendra is a housekeeper at a downtown New Orleans hotel, and her employer provides her with support from EdNavigator as a benefit. One day this past school year, she visited the school where her daughter was a fourth grade student.  Kendra was dropping off a note asking her daughter’s homeroom teacher to call her so she could set up a meeting to discuss her daughter’s progress.  Her daughter was two grade levels behind in reading.  Prior to dropping off the note, Kendra had called the school four times to leave messages.  None of the calls had been returned. The teacher didn’t respond to the note either.

This may sound like nothing more than the story of a school that’s unresponsive to parents, the equivalent of a bad customer service experience. But for us, it’s more than that. To us, it shows that theories of how to improve our educational system won’t matter and won’t lead to change unless they work for families on a day-to-day basis.  This is the most important thing we’ve learned at EdNavigator so far.

Let us explain. If you read Eduwonk, you are probably well-versed in the various arguments related to New Orleans schools.  Some people argue the post-Katrina choice-based system has led to large, sustained improvements in performance and should become a model for the rest of the country.  Others say it’s still largely a low performing system and the process of creating it profoundly disrupted its workforce and community.

To be honest with you, most parents don’t care about that stuff.  They really don’t.  Nor do they care about Finland or Race to the Top.  Do you know what they care about?  They care whether schools return their phone calls when they are concerned about their kids.  They care whether schools are well run and welcoming.  They care about their kids’ results and growth, and whether their local schools are part of the solution for their family or yet another problem.  And they make that decision based on lived experience.

Kendra’s story provides a kind of Rorschach test.  Folks with concerns about the changes in New Orleans might immediately assume Kendra’s daughter attends a charter school and that the lack of school responsiveness proves the theory that charters are disengaged from families.

But the school in this case isn’t a charter.  It’s not even in Orleans Parish.  It’s a traditional school in a parish outside the city.  Kendra moved there hoping her daughter would get a better education than she had herself.  So far, she’s been wholly disappointed.

Upon hearing this, charter school supporters might feel that the story has vindicated their views on the post-Katrina reforms.  But that’s not the case either.  You see, before Kendra moved to where she lives now, she lived in Orleans Parish, and her daughter – the one who is two grade levels behind in reading – attended two different Orleans Parish charter schools. Kendra disliked them so much, she sacrificed significantly to leave the city.

Kendra works hard and is never late to her job, despite her commute.  She is a great mom to two girls.  She takes their education very seriously.  But the system is not working for her, whether we are talking about the “new” system or the “old” one.

Parents like Kendra don’t have time for competing theories of educational change.  This is likely why neither education reformers nor critics of education reform can claim much of a constituency in low income communities.  There aren’t that many grassroots rallies springing up in major cities, calling for the replication of the New Orleans system.  Nor do you see the opt-out movement making inroads to recruit families of color to boycott tests.  Those debates get outsized attention among those of us in the wonk-sphere.  But they aren’t what animate families.

All of us, no matter what set of educational priorities we subscribe to, ought to care a lot more about what happens for families when our favorite ideas are implemented. Because it’s a very mixed bag out there, folks.   At the moment, nobody has a monopoly on providing excellent experiences on the ground.  We theorists of all stripes have an awfully long way to go.

This year, our EdNavigator families have dealt with obstacles large and small, from being denied access to their children’s records to special education services that were never delivered to late buses that cost a parent wages because he clocks out from work every day to pick up his daughters at their stop.  Some of these issues were at traditional schools.  Some were at charter schools.  All of them were frustrating for families.

We continue to spend some of our time in the policy world and some of it on direct service.  The juxtaposition is striking.  For one thing, wonks and families draw conclusions differently.  Wonks declare policies successful or unsuccessful based on whether they improve academic outcomes across large populations.  They rarely know whether the process of getting those results also felt better to the families meant to benefit.  Wonks wait, sometimes for years, until “the data” come in.  Families make up their minds about whether changes are worthwhile based on their lived experience much sooner.  They may be dead set in one direction or another before “the data” arrive.

All of this leads us to conclude that we should re-balance our focus.  Systemic change is important and we should not back away from it. There’s no shortage of things that need fixing within our current education system. However, we’ve underinvested when it comes to earning the support of families for these changes—and making sure these changes actually have a positive effect on their lives.  As a result, parents have scant loyalty to any particular educational ideology. They care as much about the process as the results, and will form their opinions accordingly. So the next time a parent like Kendra calls a school four times trying to set up a meeting about her daughter, we ought to make damn sure she gets a call back.

Thanks for reading this week. If you’re interested in our work, subscribe to our blog updates and emails, or follow us on Twitter or Facebook. We try to offer a different perspective. In the coming weeks, we’ll share what we learned from Secretary of Education John King, Jr. and his wife Melissa about parenting (can you guess their daughters’ favorite children’s book?), tips on helping with homework, and more. We look forward to hearing from you.

Ariela Rozman, Timothy Daly and David Keeling are Founding Partners of EdNavigator (@ednavigate), a New Orleans-based nonprofit organization that helps families give their kids a great education. www.ednavigator.com

 


August 4, 2016

EdNavigator Insight #4: It’s hard for families to discern differences in quality among schools.

This week we’re sharing some of the insights we’ve gained through our work at EdNavigator, helping families with schools in New Orleans over the past year. Here’s what we’ve covered so far:

Insight #4: It’s hard for families to discern differences in quality among schools

One of the reasons we chose New Orleans as our pilot site was because it gives families substantial choice in which school their kids attend. This winter, we supported about 75 parents of rising kindergartners in choosing schools and navigating the OneApp enrollment system, often for the first time. They had at their disposal a pile of information, including school report cards from the state and a 175-page Parent’s Guide to Public Schools with detailed information on local schools.

Even so, we found that parents had a hard time differentiating between their school options. The sheer amount of information can be overwhelming and it isn’t easy to compare schools side-by-side. Although the school grades and performance scores from the state provide useful indicators, they are based primarily on the proportion of students who demonstrate proficiency rather than how much those students grow academically– and our families tend to care more about the latter (growth) than the former.

For them, a C-rated school where many students are growing significantly (just not enough to reach full proficiency) may be preferable to a B-rated school where many students perform at the proficient level, but show little growth. Finally, the data available to families doesn’t tell them much about a school’s culture, discipline philosophy, or responsiveness to parents and the community, all of which are important considerations when choosing a school.

Without support, parents tend to make decisions based on schools’ reputations in the community. That often meant that they’d overlook newer or lesser-known schools with quality programs, or focus narrowly on high-demand schools where they had a slim chance of getting a seat.

With our families, we focused on helping them generate a shortlist of solid choices and getting their application completed by the main deadline. When they get some help, they feel better about the process; on our survey of families this summer, 85% of those who received support from us strongly agreed or agreed that they felt confident choosing a school and using OneApp, compared to 53% of those who did not get support.*

Implications?  For states, don’t use ESSA as an opportunity to pull a California and turn your school report cards into Rubik’s Cubes.  Families, not system insiders, are your most important audience. We’ve shared specific thoughts on how to do this in another post. For communities, don’t build systems predicated on parental choice and neglect to invest in helping parents choose.  It’s like baking bread and leaving out the yeast.  You won’t be happy with the result.

That’s it for today. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about our biggest lesson learned of all: That no plan for school reform—from the most traditional to the most disruptive—will work if it doesn’t work for families.

* Grain of salt: The survey was small (N=48) and relatively informal. But still.

 

Ariela Rozman, Timothy Daly and David Keeling are Founding Partners of EdNavigator (@ednavigate), a New Orleans-based nonprofit organization that helps families give their kids a great education. www.ednavigator.com


August 3, 2016

EdNavigator Insight #3: Summer is a massive challenge for working families

This week we’re sharing some of the insights we’ve gained through our work at EdNavigator, helping families with schools in New Orleans over the past year. Here’s what we’ve covered so far:

Insight #3: Summer is a massive challenge.

We have a new appreciation for the annual catastrophe that is summer learning loss—and what a headache summer is for the families we work with in general.

In the summer, all the responsibility for keeping kids occupied, safe and engaged gets thrust back onto parents, most often with zero support. Good camps and summer programs are not always affordable for hourly workers, and the ones that are fill up early and quickly.  Other options might only run for three hours a day, which is simply not realistic for working parents who need full-day care. Some schools offer summer camps or programs, but they too tend to be short-term (e.g., one month only) or part-time. For older students, summer employment and internship opportunities are a possibility, but they are rare and in high demand.

So what happens instead? Most students are left in the care of older siblings, relatives or neighbors, and have enormous amounts of unstructured time on their hands. Whereas more affluent families may have a long list of activities on the agenda for their kids, helping them prevent learning loss, the children of lower-income families have far fewer opportunities. For them, the lack of support makes summer an academic sinkhole.

The out-of-school opportunity gap has received increased attention in recent years – Robert Putnam and Mike Petrilli have written pieces that you should check out – because it is becoming clearer that it is a substantial driver of long term inequality.

At EdNavigator, helping parents plan for summer has shown us that there is an urgent need for better, cheaper, and more accessible resources and summer programs (we ended up creating our own summer learning packets for many of our families). More broadly, it suggests to us that school systems, cities and states need to fundamentally rethink how they support parents and families over the summer, for example by providing stipends or vouchers that ensure every low-income family can send their child to a quality program.

Summer learning loss ought to be a five-alarm fire for everyone concerned with improving educational equity and supporting low-income families and communities. It’s one of the primary reasons for the achievement gap between higher and lower-income students. Why isn’t there more urgency around this problem? One reason may be that, in the summer, kids literally aren’t students anymore. They’re nobody’s responsibility except for their parents. Let’s change that. Let’s take responsibility for the educational development of every child, all year round.

 

Ariela Rozman, Timothy Daly and David Keeling are Founding Partners of EdNavigator (@ednavigate), a New Orleans-based nonprofit organization that helps families give their kids a great education. www.ednavigator.com


August 2, 2016

EdNavigator Insight #2: Families Are Overwhelmed with Confusing Information

On Monday, we talked about one of the big takeaways from our work helping parents navigate schools in New Orleans: A little help goes a long way. That was reassuring. It’s the whole reason we created EdNavigator.

Spending the year side-by-side with working parents brought plenty of other insights, though, and not all of them were so positive. For example:

Insight #2: Most families don’t have a clear understanding of how their kids are doing in school.

Parents aren’t clueless. They aren’t unengaged or apathetic; the families we work with are eager to do their part in helping their children succeed and pay careful attention to what schools tell them. The problem is that they are overwhelmed with confusing and contradictory information.

Our families have access to an incredible amount of information, but much of it is hard to interpret. For example, some students’ report cards are crammed full of data, including class grades and the results of formative assessments. Don’t get us wrong – data is a good thing.  But when all this information is presented in different ways (e.g., letter grades vs. percentile scores), with different scales (50 percent is a failing grade for a class; 50th percentile is average), and commonly tell different stories (e.g., B and C grades in reading but a bottom decile score in reading on the assessment), it becomes an indecipherable jumble. Comments and explanations usually take the form of very short notes, if they exist at all.

It’s also not uncommon for families to get conflicting information from teachers themselves, who tend to soft-pedal news about students’ struggles. They may downplay a poor grade or test result, leaving parents uncertain about how significant or urgent a problem may be. And when they’re uncertain, they generally take their cues from the teacher.

Put yourself in a parent’s shoes: On one hand, you have a dense test score report from a faceless institution that shows your child is performing significantly below grade level; on the other, you have a teacher you’ve known all year who tells you your child “does all his work” and “is making progress.” Whom do you trust?*

The point is not that one source of information (tests or teacher) is always right; it’s that all parents want to believe their kids are doing well, and will almost always favor sources of information that confirm that belief. They trust what teachers have to say, in the same way you trust your doctor when he says that mole is nothing to worry about. When teachers aren’t clear and direct, parents come away with only a hazy sense of how their kids are doing in school—and most of the time, they believe their children are doing better than the full set of evidence suggests.

Our Navigators sit with families on a regular basis to walk them through academic records. Frequently, these are hard conversations; our Navigators may be sharing news that the student shows signs of substantial challenges that may have gone undiagnosed or unaddressed for years. In those instances, parents are understandably frustrated that no one told them what was happening sooner.

Surely we can do better than this.  Let’s get to work designing simple report cards that communicate information to parents clearly, help teachers be candid as well as kind, and increase engagement rather than multiplying confusion.

* A side-note lesson here: Despite all the rhetoric about over-testing and opt-outs, the frequency and amount of testing has yet to come up as a concern for any of the parents we support. Not one. Like other parents, though, they get frustrated when the results aren’t explained or when no one seems to care about them. When tests are useful — when they provide information that helps teachers and families understand how students are doing and affect what happens in school – our parents support and value them.

 

Ariela Rozman, Timothy Daly and David Keeling are Founding Partners of EdNavigator (@ednavigate), a New Orleans-based nonprofit organization that helps families give their kids a great education. www.ednavigator.com


August 1, 2016

EdNavigator: For Families, A Little Help Goes a Long Way

First of all, a big thanks to Andy for trusting us with the keys to the Eduwonk Cadillac for a week. We don’t fish and aren’t as witty as he is, so he may come to regret the decision. But we’ll try to keep things interesting.

Longtime readers may know us from our time at TNTP.  We were colleagues there for 14 years before founding a new nonprofit, EdNavigator, about a year ago.  Brief summary: we help families with school. Right now, we’re only working in New Orleans, where we’ve partnered with a number of local hotels to provide personalized educational support as a benefit to their employees. Each participating employee gets paired with one of our Navigators, who helps them choose schools, understand and track their children’s progress, support learning at home, and advocate for their children’s needs. Hard-working employees get help; employers get happier, more engaged employees who are more likely to stay in their jobs. Everybody wins. (At least that’s the idea. Long way to go and lots to learn.)

Working directly with families as they engage with the school system offers a very different view of education policy debates than working inside the system itself, which was our background.  It has been an eye-opening experience.  Our goal here is to use our guest-blogging perch to share a few of our main lessons and how they might be applicable to the wider education landscape.

Lesson #1: A little help goes a long way for families.

We’ll illustrate what we mean through one of the parents we’re working with, whom we’ll call Maria.

Maria is a mom, and a housekeeper at a hotel in New Orleans’ business district. She earns about $10 per hour cleaning rooms. Her daughter is a rising fourth grader with long black hair and a big smile.

Neither Maria nor her husband speak English. Her daughter, Ana, does.  She often plays the role of translator for her mom and dad. Ana does not go to an inner city school.  She goes to one of the higher-performing schools in Jefferson Parish (just outside New Orleans) and generally gets good grades. She almost never misses a day.

Sounds like a success story, right?  Dedicated parents, a prime school, a well-behaved and hard-working little girl. Everything on-track.

But the truth is, Ana’s situation in school is more fragile than it looks. Although her report card showed mostly A’s and B’s when we started working with her, Ana’s test results indicated that she was below grade level in reading. She told us she was having a hard time following her teacher’s fast-paced instructions in class, and had recently gotten a string of C’s in social studies. She’d also developed some worrisome study habits, often falling asleep while doing her reading homework. Maria wasn’t sure how to help, because she couldn’t read English herself. All of this raised concerns among our Navigators, who knew that third-grade reading proficiency is a critical milestone for future academic success.

This is a good example of how we get involved. After reviewing Ana’s academic records with Maria, we helped arrange a meeting at school. Ana’s teacher agreed to slow down when she provided instructions, and to send home translated versions of homework materials so that Maria could help. We asked Maria about Ana’s workspace at home and learned that she often did her reading alone in bed at night, leading her to fall asleep. We suggested that Maria get a small table and chair where her daughter could read instead, to help her stay awake and focused.

Within a week, Maria had done everything we recommended. We followed up by helping her find more books for her daughter to read at home and teaching her how to use flashcards to help Ana practice social studies and science vocabulary, a simple strategy that she told us has been working well. This spring, we gave her a summer learning packet to keep Ana going at a time when many kids fall behind. These sorts of adjustments helped put her daughter back on track in reading by the end of the year—and led to an A in social studies in her last quarter.

For Maria and Ana, a few well-timed interventions went a long way. They had a lot going for them, for sure, but their experience also illustrates the challenges that so many families face in navigating schools: Language and cultural barriers, contradictory information about how students are really doing, uncertainty about how to support learning at home, a tendency among school systems not to respond to learning challenges until they become five-alarm fires. The list goes on and on.

How many families out there are in similar situations?  Too many to count.  Families tend to think that school has everything under control unless they hear otherwise, and schools tend to think that families aren’t concerned about their children unless they show up, in person, to school on a regular basis to ask how things are going.  Meanwhile, little problems with students like Ana become big problems that cost more money and take more time to address.

There isn’t a neat and tidy policy solution.  The solution, ultimately, is to strengthen the social fabric that connects families and schools and empower parents in the educational process. In our view, that starts with making sure that families get the sophisticated support they need to interact successfully with complex systems. Each day this week, we’ll share something we’ve learned about how families experience their interactions with schools and what happens when families speak up to ask the system for help.

Ariela Rozman, Timothy Daly and David Keeling are Founding Partners of EdNavigator (@ednavigate), a New Orleans-based nonprofit organization that helps families give their kids a great education. www.ednavigator.com

 


July 29, 2016

Edujob: Managing Director of Policy and Research @ TN Charter School Center

Here’s a great edujob in TN: Managing Director of Policy and Research for the Tennessee Charter School Center

The vision of the Tennessee Charter School Center (TCSC) is that Tennessee will boast the best public schools in the nation, and all of our students will have access to a high-quality public education that will prepare them for personal, professional, and social success that will impact generations to come. TCSC is committed to advancing educational outcomes for all students via access to high-quality, public school options.  Our mission is to support quality and cultivate innovation in public education while serving as an advocate on behalf of public charter schools.

You can learn more about the role and how to apply here.


Friday Fish Porn – Spawn Of Big Red, Plus Weeby On The Water

IMG_5072Regular readers of Friday fish porn will fondly recall the run of Big Red – a big redfish caught by James Willcox’s mom in Mobile Bay. James is the former CEO of Aspire Public Schools and has now founded, just this summer, Strategic Growth Parnters, a Public Benefits Corporation focused on helping high-quality CMOs grow by providing comprehensive advice and support to them. At the time we followed Big Red’s journey from the driveway to a permanent home on the mantle. (Although James’ mom is obviously the badass in the family and he aspires to perhaps be her deckhand one day, here’s one he caught). Now, Mrs. Willcox is back with the spawn of Big Red, another Mobile Bay redfish here on the right.

Elsewhere, Bellwether’s Jason Weeby found time to take his son fishing this summer, too. A Walleye!

IMG_2141

You should consider taking a kid fishing, too, (and do your part to resist the broification of the outdoors). It’s easier than you might think!

For the entire archives of education people with fish- dating back a decade – you can click here.


July 28, 2016

DNC Blogging, Eduwonk Guestbloggers, Counterintuitive Goings On, College Advice, PC Debate

Bellwether is still blogging the DNC with The 74.  Bloomberg spoke last night. Short version: Doesn’t care for Trump, does care about better schools.

Here at Eduwonk, guestbloggers all of August, great line up.

A few intuitive and counterintuitive things:

Malcolm Gladwell on how America’s elite colleges are awol from the fight for economic mobility. BTW – for all the talk of privilege these days don’t look for anyone to voluntarily give up this one. Classic case of tough medicine being great for others!

On public pensions if you think they are about minimizing risk you’re missing the big picture.

James Merriman asks why the Democrats would weaken on support for charter schools now? William Haft on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s fight against charter schools. 

Interesting Pew data on the PC debate. And a new documentary about comedy includes some campus angles because some comics won’t play campuses anymore.

Stephen Smith with some straight ahead advice on choosing a college.

Sad news: Susan Traiman has passed.


Coming Attractions

I am taking August away from the blog but you will be in great hands with some terrific guestbloggers, here’s the line-up:

Week of August 1st: Ari Rozman, Tim Daly, and David Keeling from EdNavigator

Week of August 8th: Kira Orange Jones of Teach For America and the Louisiana Board of Education.

Week of August 15th: Kevin Kosar of the R Street Institute and fishing and whiskey fame. 

Week of August 22nd: Derrell Bradford of NYCAN.

Week of August 29th: Alex Hernandez of the Charter School Growth Fund.

Just a reminder, Bellwether doesn’t take positions on any policy issues other than those that affect 501(c)3 organizations as a class. So nothing that’s ever on this blog, any of our blogs, or any of our bylined work should be construed to be an organization position or viewpoint.  We’re into ideological heterodoxy and there are lively and productive disagreements about a range of issues across our team.

More content today, fish tomorrow, but for now enjoy these good folks and happy summer.


Susan Traiman

The education world lost a quiet and steely friend this week with the passing of Susan Traiman. In addition to consulting work her career included time at the Department of Education, the Business Roundtable, and the National Governors Association and she was a steady hand behind the scenes on many national school improvement moments of the past four decades. She was also a tireless advocate for the idea that American business could be involved productively in efforts to improve the quality of schools and a fun sparring partner about the limits of that idea. Most importantly she was generous with her time and expertise and patient with people coming into the field. She’ll be missed.


July 26, 2016

Student Loans, Democratic Convention Blogging, More SNS, Pensions And Politics, Dissent, Korman On Title IX, Weeby on Productivity. Plus Party News.

Over at The 74 we’re living blogging the DNC this week (you can also see RNC blogging from last week).  Here’s my take on the Dem strategy, the Dem ticket on ed, and why ed doesn’t really matter to the outcome.

Last week I took a look at the longer term ed game on the Democratic side for U.S. News.

Jason Weeby on education and productivity (with a great lede). Hailly Korman doesn’t want universities out of the sex assault investigation business.

James S. Liebman and Michael Mbikiwa on supplement not supplant in Real Clear Education.

Dissent is good!

School closures, not as bad as you’ve heard?

This Atlantic article is a good take on the student loan issue. The averages frequently bandied about create more hype than sense and the high end is not where the action is. But they also obscure the low-end where there are real problems for non-completers.

Here’s a quirky higher education loan partnership - Amazon and Wells Fargo:

“I don’t think they fully realize what they just stepped in,” says Alexander Holt, a policy analyst at New America’s education policy program. “What’s baffling to me is that Amazon cares a lot about brand reputation, loyalty and customer service. And those are three things that are not synonymous with the private student loan industry in any type of positive way.”

Politics and pension management don’t mix well.

Doug Levin on some new education rules of the road. Reuters says overseas test cheating rampant. Mistaken identity in Nashville school board race. New guidance on students with ADHD.

Second thoughts:

He does regret some aspects of the party, like the dwarfs dressed in red-white-and-blue suits carrying champagne guns. “I would probably not make that decision if I had to do it over,” he said.

Voter registration woes.


July 22, 2016

Bellwether’s Learning Landscape

ICYMI here’s a new resource from Bellwether offering an overview of the education landscape and how it works.

Useful? Yes! But don’t take my word for it:


Make America Bait Again

 

13659098_1137016983044392_4930498129419592516_n

*Attribution unknown.


Friday Fish Porn: Kosar V. Fuller, It’s On!

unnamedThe battle for mayor of Fish Porn is on. Last week we revealed Kevin Kosar’s doomsday device: His new fishing blog and boating articles. A lock on the mayorship? Not so fast. Bellwether’s Ali Fuller. Well, she was unimpressed. So she sent this. It’s not technically a fish. Or really a fish in any sense. It’s a red stag she took in Argentina! (Apparently with a pretty impressive shot, too, sources say). So it’s also a little more, say, robust?, than a YouTube video about tying on a hook for some perch… We’ll do a reader poll at some point to settle this, but the ante is up. Kevin, your move.

For pictures of education people with actual fish, hundreds of them, click here.


July 20, 2016

Dems And Education Reform

A lot of speculation about the Democrats and education. Here’s my take via U.S. News & World Report:

Are the Democrats done with education reform?

That’s the question a lot of people are asking in the wake of a few recent education events. It’s a question that gets bloggers and insiders fired up for sure to cheer or jeer. But the death of the Democrats on education reform is likely exaggerated.

Want to know why I think that? Well, here are four reasons the trends probably are not what they seem. What issue are you done with? I’m already tired of one party calling for the titular head of the other to be locked up. I’d live somewhere more exotic if I wanted government like that. Tell me what issue you’re done with or who  you want locked up on Twitter @arotherham. Or let me know why you think this is wrong and the Democratic reform wave has crested.


Blogging The Republican Convention, Online O’Keefe, SPLC Explains, Klein & Barber With Ideas, Barone V. Polikoff! Rhode Island With Charter Pushback, PC/Anti-PC and Ghostbusters, Trump Jr., Zernike On Pence, Plus Pike!

A lot of blogging about the Republican convention via The 74 and Bellwether. A lot of good content from a variety of folks. Here’s my take on Donald Trump Jr. and reformers.

Kate Zernike on Governor Pence’s education record. Punchline, he’s moved the ball on some issues, but also shown a real willingness to play politics with education, too. Michael Holzman on the lack of focus on equity given the irony of where the conventions are being held this year.

What a sorry state of affairs when a university has to pass on hosting a presidential debate because of the costs of security.

Bonnie O’Keefe on whether online charters are less outlier problem and more broader indicator of what ails public education. What’s happening on tenure in jobs?

Klein and Barber on nine education policy plays (pdf).

Rhode Island charter bill, from the ProJo:

…it is disappointing that Rhode Island politicians always seem so willing to “compromise” with the future of black and Hispanic children, who have very little political clout at the State House.

…Blackstone Valley Prep has given the lie to the longstanding argument that public education cannot effectively reach many students who come from great poverty and troubled homes. The mayoral academies, a tiny percentage of the state’s public schools, have demonstrated that such students need not be condemned to failure, and that there is a way to inspire and educate them. Their success makes a strong argument that traditional schools must change with the times – which may explain the fierce hostility from some quarters to mayoral academies.

Pragmatism and compromise in politics are important. But some things are worth fighting for. Bringing minority students into the mainstream through public education — our state’s biggest civil rights challenge — is one of them. Rhode Island will never energize its economy until its leaders are willing to fight, and fight again, for education that works best for students.

Barone v. Polikoff on growth. Part 1 here.

Today in finding yourself cross pressured: SPLC says it’s really not trying to close MS charter schools. OK, in that case I’d hate to see what it looks like then when they decide to try close them.

The White House on student debt.

This article about the Ghostbusters/Twitter harassment makes a broader point germane to education:

It speaks, more importantly, to the derailment of the important task of challenging PC. Tragically, for those of us who want to prick PC from a genuinely liberal and pro-autonomy perspective, the anti-PC mantle has in recent months been co-opted by the new right, or the alt-right, as some call them. These lovers of Trump (they call him ‘daddy’) and conspiracy theorists about feminism (whose wicked influence they spy everywhere) have turned being anti-PC from a decent, progressive position into an infantile, pathological, Tourette’s-style desire to scream offensive words out loud, like the seven-year-old who’s just discovered the thrill that comes with saying ‘f**k’.

Their response to new and mad PC rules on how to talk about race and gender is not to criticise them dispassionately, or point out that it’s ironically pretty racist and sexist to suggest black people and women need protection from offensive words; no, it’s to say the offensive words, to say the N-word, as loudly as possible, and ideally to a black person. In the past, serious liberals opposed bans on the right of neo-fascists to march in the streets or distribute their literature by calling for political freedom for all. They didn’t become neo-fascists just to wind up officialdom. Yet bizarrely, that’s what the alt-right does: instead of launching grown-up critiques of the censorship of hate, they embrace hate; they become hateful; they come to personify the hate whose expression is being restricted. People ban Nazis, so they become Nazis. It’s crazy. It’s a temper tantrum, not liberalism.

What is most striking is how much this alt-right shares in common with the lefty SJWs (Social Justice Warriors) it claims to hate. Both are fuelled by the politics of victimhood: SJWs claim a massive culture of misogyny is ruining their lives; alt-righters insist a feminist conspiracy is destroying theirs. Both are mean: peruse the blogs or tweets of any vocal alt-right or SJW and you’ll be struck by their disgust for anyone who disagrees with them. And both are censorious. Don’t be fooled by the alt-right’s freedom-lovin’ postures. They’re just as keen as SJWs to slam and ultimately end culture that offends them, whether it’s Beyonce doing a Black Power dance at the Super Bowl or Ghostbusters with four women in it.

Serious right-wingers and left-wingers should be worried about all this stuff. The alt-right is giving the right a bad name, while SJWs threaten to empty left-wing politics of its love for liberty and its trust in people to govern their own lives without needing official assistance all the time. They’re turning the left-right clash into a spiteful, foul-mouthed, libellous catfight, and people like Ms Jones are being caught in the crossfire in the most disgusting way.

Pike with eyes bigger than stomach.