August 29, 2014

Friday Fish Porn – Recovering Pol Edition

photo 1Stephen Dyer was a state legislator in Ohio with a keen interest in education. And also fishing.

Here’s his wife Melissa and sons Carson and Logan with a shark(!) they caught this summer in South Carolina.

Past fish porn via this link.

Weekend Reading: Vergara Decision

All the fireworks earlier this summer about California’s Vergara lawsuit about granting of tenure, teacher dismissal, and last in/first out layoff policies in California were based on a cursory preliminary ruling. The final decision was released yesterday – you can read it here (pdf). And you should. It’s an important case and the gap between the issues in the case, the analysis about them, what it means and doesn’t mean, and the claims being made about the case is enormous.

Teacher Evaluation Rhetoric V. Teacher Evaluation Reality

Earlier this week Bellwether released an analysis by Chad Aldeman and Carolyn Chuong looking at the state of play on teacher evaluations around the country (pdf). It’s based on 17 states and DC. The punchline is that not unlike a few other issues there is a de facto conspiracy of hype happening here. Some advocates of improved evaluations and some public officials are touting changes that the data are not bearing out. Meanwhile critics (easily found on blogs and twitter) citing a teacherpocalypse clearly overstate what’s actually happening.

This builds on this earlier analysis that shows that the actual changes to evaluation schemes are generally different than the way they’re talked about publicly (pdf). For instance, the role of test scores, linkage to tenure and so forth.

August 28, 2014

Race, Urban Teaching, And Can The Education Community Talk About Anything In A Sensible Way These Days?

A Washington Post column on tenure and race is getting some attention. It argues that Vergara-like efforts to reform tenure laws are really an attack on black professionals. The author, ed school dean Andre Perry, acknowledges that parts of the Vergara case have merit:

Vergara’s defenders are onto something when they say schools need faster ways to remove ineffective, racist, sexist and uncommitted teachers. I personally believe that, along with evaluations, the period before one is granted tenure should at least be longer than the duration after which the average teacher leaves the profession (4-5 years). Still, changes like these can be made in the current framework of teacher tenure laws.

But he argues that,

Vergara activists must not only prove how gutting tenure laws leads to better schooling; they must show how the entire community benefits.

Ignore for a moment that the Vergara decision didn’t actually jettison all due process rights, that’s a talking point. The judge explicitly pointed out that the case was about changes to due process. In other words, changes within the “framework” of tenure laws (that he left it up to the legislature to sort out if the ruling stands on appeal). And Vergara-advocates want longer tenure periods and faster dismissal, too. Other than last in/first out rules that’s what the case was about!

So while one can quibble with those issues as well as with some of Perry’s assertions (that raising the bar for teaching must come at the expense of diversity, for instance), the more basic point – that there is an inescapable racial dimension to urban reform efforts – is an important one to discuss, whether you agree with him or not.

It’s hard, though, to have that discussion because of what the column doesn’t say rather than what it does. Perry is correct that the effect of some personnel reforms in urban schools have been layoffs of black teachers. Richard Whitmire quickly pointed that out on Twitter. Yet Perry doesn’t just say that’s the effect of some reforms, he seems to be implicitly arguing that it’s the intent. Or at a minimum he’s not clearly saying that it’s not, which in America’s combustible dialogue about race is not a small thing. He writes that,

…an attack on bad teacher tenure laws (and ineffective teachers in general) is actually an attack on black professionals.

In today’s weaponized education debate that unfortunate and inflammatory tone is catnip for the usual suspects. For instance, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten (consider her a known offender here, in the past she has been quick to whip up racial animosity even as she has called for changing the tone of the education conversation) took to Twitter with a few tweets touting the article). It should probably go without saying that she offered no nuance or caveats.

In a way it’s an interesting issue for Weingarten to seize on because in many ways Perry’s argument is an anagram of a different issue embroiling the teachers unions – how to deal with sex abusers in schools. Union leaders are frequently accused of wanting to shield sex offenders from consequences. In my experience this isn’t the case, they’re as appalled by that conduct as the rest of us. But they do believe that a substantial due process procedure is necessary to protect all teachers even if it has the inadvertent effect of complicating efforts to address sexual abuse. I disagree with the prevailing policies now but I don’t think those defending them countenance sexual abuse, they just see a different set of trade-offs.

That nuance, which is shared by many, is of course mostly lost.

In the same way, there is a great deal of concern about the impact of demographic changes to urban teaching forces, the effects of personnel policies, and so forth. Reasonable people can disagree about where the trade-offs are and how policies should account for them. But it’s a charged conversation and an easy one for the usual suspects to hijack especially with language like Perry employs.

Why does this matter? It’s about a lot more than a poorly reasoned op-ed. Another combustible and important issue that is commonly discussed behind the scenes but not as much in public – race and urban education reform – is beginning to get a more public airing. It’s a chance to repeat the same mistakes or learn something. Takeaway number one: These are complicated issues.

So let’s hope that the conversation has some texture to it that reflects that, even if it’s just a quick but sincere disclaimer that there is often a big distinction between effects and intent.

August 27, 2014

UI On School Segregation

New data from Urban Institute on school demographics and segregation. 

August 26, 2014

Is Arne Duncan’s Teacher Evaluation Moratorium Unnecessary?

Guestpost by Chad Aldeman and Carolyn Chuong:

In his back-to-school speech last week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan praised several states for their progress in developing new teacher evaluation systems. In noting that too much testing can “rob school buildings of joy, and cause unnecessary stress,” Secretary Duncan called for states to postpone using test results to evaluate teachers for one school year.

Yet some states now using student test scores to evaluate teachers don’t seem to be producing results that should cause much stress for teachers. Hawaii and Delaware, for instance, now both include student growth in their teacher evaluation systems. But out of 11,300 teachers in Hawaii, only 25 teachers (0.2 percent) were deemed “unsatisfactory.” In Delaware, 0 percent of teachers were rated “ineffective” (the lowest rating) and only 1 percent were found to “need improvement.”

Hawaii and Delaware are not exceptions: Across the country, the “new” teacher evaluations that include student growth continue to look a lot like the old ones that did not consider student performance. How could this be? In our new paper, Teacher Evaluations in an Era of Rapid Change: From “Unsatisfactory” to “Needs Improvement,” (pdf) we examine the ongoing effort to revamp teacher evaluations.

After collecting and synthesizing data from 17 states and the District of Columbia, we found that, despite state policy changes, many districts still don’t factor student growth into teacher evaluation ratings in a meaningful way. And, despite concerns that one-size-fits-all teacher evaluation models would limit local autonomy, districts continue to have wide discretion even under “statewide” evaluation systems—and that’s not entirely a good thing. The result is that in many places there is still no clear connection between student academic achievement and educator evaluations.

To read about the new evaluation systems and the preliminary lessons for policymakers, download the full report here.

Chad Aldeman is an associate partner at Bellwther Education where Carolyn Chuong is an analyst.

August 25, 2014

More Unschooling

The Times takes a look at unschooling. Within the bounds of safety I favor a lot of latitude for parents doing what they think is best, but this debate is still mostly driven by anecdote: ‘Homeschoolers win spelling bees!’ is now being replaced with ‘unschoolers are artists and entrepreneurs!’

August 22, 2014

Friday Fish Porn – The Rookie

boat photo 2Mark Medema has worked in education for two decades including with KIPP and currently with Building Hope. He’s an expert on education facilities finance. I recently got this great note and picture from him.

He writes: I probably never would have thought about spending a day fishing if I hadn’t seen so many others do it. A rookie, a striper, and a good day off Cape Cod…

Outstanding! That’s the whole point of this feature. Whether you’re trying something new with friends (or ideally young people), recapturing memories of simple afternoons sitting on a dock, or challenging yourself with a difficult target species get outside and go fishing!

Past fish porn dating to vintage 2006 stuff here. 

Be A Level Setter!

The SBAC Common Core assessment consortia is crowdsourcing cut scores and you can participate. More information here and registration materials here. Wondering what a cut score is? Learn more here (pdf).

August 21, 2014

Jim Epstein On The Education Debate: “Where even distinguished professors wield spiked bats”

Harsh, but worth pausing for this look at the education “conversation.”

TNTP & PoliticsK12 On Dep’t Of Ed Eval Announcement

You’ll hear a lot about the Department of Education’s latest waiver waiver waiver gambit with regard to teacher evaluation but this Politics K-12 post offers some context and this TNTP reaction is worth reading – all points.

Book Event The Opportunity Equation W/ Eric Schwartz

On Monday evening, September 8th, Eric Schwartz will be in Washington, DC, to discuss his new book, The Opportunity Equation. You can learn more and RSVP here.  If you don’t know Eric he’s the founder of Citizen Schools, an impactful extended learning time initiative and one of the most interesting social entrepreneurs out there.

Edujob @ Pahara Institute

Pahara Institute runs highly regarded fellowship programs in the education sector for teacher leaders and other educational leaders as well as next generation leaders. Originally launched by Bellwether co-founder Kim Smith Pahara is now an independent organization based in California.

They’re growing and hiring for a few roles, in particular for a director for their next generation network. More details through those links but it’s a great role for someone interested in both growth and sustainability of innovative solutions in the sector.

August 20, 2014

Virginia Tries To Boil A Frog: The School Accreditation – Performance Disconnect Emerges Again

A lot of handwringing in Virginia over the prospect that the percent of schools with full accreditation from the state may drop again this year as standards rise (modestly).  The percent of schools that are accredited matters a lot. Because that figure has until recently been in the high 90s it has long functioned as the way the state’s iron-triangle of interests opposed to reform has fended-off efforts to improve the schools. ‘We don’t need reform, 96 percent of schools are fully accredited’ goes the argument.  It also matters because Virginia has no other accountability system, so accreditation is the whole ballgame. It also, of course, matters as a proxy for student learning.

A few thoughts on all this:

Virginia is fortunate that it has relatively few schools that are genuine fiascos. Schools where 10 percent of the students are proficient, for instance, are rare. That’s not the case in many other jurisdictions. There are pockets of acute problems, yes, but Virginia starts from a better place than many states.

But the commonwealth does have a pervasive problem of middling performance and big achievement gaps. That’s been obscured by an accreditation system which does not disaggregate by student subgroups (for instance racial and ethnic minorities or children with special needs) and only requires about 7 in 10 students to pass the state’s reading and math tests at an unambitious level of performance in order for a school to be accredited. Meanwhile, national media indexes that overweight inputs (income levels in Virginia for example) and underweight outputs (actual school outcomes) have created a culture of complacency.

This explains why Virginia could at once have an impressive number of schools accredited and such a feel good spirit about educational quality when at the same time only 17 percent of black students are proficient in reading by 8th-grade on the National Assessment of Education Progress (a college and career ready standard of performance as opposed to what constitutes passing under Virginia’s assessments). Just 17 percent of poor students reach that standard. And only 45 percent of white students. In math the numbers are no better, 17 percent of poor students, one in four Hispanic students, and just 15 percent of black students are proficient by 8th-grade across the commonwealth.

Bottom line: It’s safe to say that at best half of Virginia students are not leaving school at a genuine college/career ready level of performance. In last year’s graduating class 49 percent of students received the “advanced studies diploma,” which is the best approximation of a college/career ready standard of course taking and achievement. Slightly more than half of white students received that diploma, about a third of minority graduates did.

Reconciling this discrepancy – perceived high-performance and actual problematic performance – is as much a political problem as a substantive one. For a long time the prevailing ethos has been one emphasizing good news and happy talk rather than an honest accounting about educational performance. The embarrassment about Virginia’s absurdly low-expectations for some students as part of is No Child Left Behind waiver was an awkward light on all that.

Today, that even a modest bump in performance expectations can cause consternation and potentially cause so many schools to fall out of full-accreditation speaks volumes about where things are, the fragility of the quality myth and the enormous leadership challenge facing state policymakers to bring about genuine improvements aligning the reality of Virginia’s schools with the rhetoric about them.

August 18, 2014

New Class Of Pahara-Aspen Fellows for Fall 2014

Great group comprising the next cohort of Pahara-Aspen fellows. Learn more about them and the fellowship here.

Will The Reformer Who Thinks Only Test Scores Matter And Schools Should Run Like Businesses Please Report To The Front Office

I usually find David Kirp’s writing to be interesting but his weekend op-ed in The Times was full of straw men and an unfortunate exception. Kirp writes that,

TODAY’S education reformers believe that schools are broken and that business can supply the remedy.

The first part of that sentence is generally true (and is true for generations of reformers across a range of social policy issues, if something is working, why reform it?) but the second part? You hear this claim a lot but a more accurate rendition would be something along the lines of, ‘and reformers believe there are lessons to be learned from other sectors, including business, the non-profit sector, the military, medicine, and other professions.” I hear businesspeople sometimes say that schools should run like businesses but you rarely hear it from someone actually in the education world.  Later in the piece Kirp points out places schools could learn from business.

He then writes,

“High-stakes reading and math tests are treated as the single metric of success, the counterpart to the business bottom line.” 

That would be a stronger point with an example of someone actually saying it. That’s going to be hard though because no one really does. The simultaneous and ongoing criticism of reformers for favoring choice and competition and for wanting test scores included in accountability systems show’s why this is a strawman. To varying degrees reformers believe that accountability systems can’t capture everything that matters about schools and the best way to capture those other elements is by giving parents choice. For some that means choice in the public sectors, for others via public charter schools as well, and for others (on the right and left) those options  and/or  private school choice is the remedy they see is optimal with test scores used for informational purposes or not at all. In fact, the only people essentially arguing that test scores or similar metrics alone are the only way to judge schools are those supporting high metric but low-choice policy models. They believe that more centralized systems, like those often found in Europe, provide more coherence and that choice is a distraction. And you know where you generally find people who believe that’s the best approach? Hint: It’s not the reform world.

All this is too bad because Kirp points up two important issues: Human endeavors like schools are messy and policy must find ways to account for that messiness, including just getting out of the way of it at times. And technology isn’t going to render those issues obsolete.  But those ideas won’t get the hearing they should because I know a lot of people who stopped reading after those first few caricaturing lines.

Update: Neerav Kingsland with additional thoughts. 

No Win On New York Tests!

Big NY Post story over the weekend about adjustments to New York’s tests based on this year’s results. 

It’s a no win situation because if the state doesn’t adjust the cut score to reflect differences in difficulty in the questions used then they get attacked for trying to make the schools look bad (to privatize then, natch). If they do adjust the scores then they get attacked for goosing the scores for political reasons. And what’s really fun about education today is that it’s the exact same people who will attack you either way.

The bigger problem, it seems to me, is the pervasive lack of transparency around assessments and the process that derives cut scores in the first place (pdf). States could save themselves a lot of headaches if they were more upfront about all this in the first place and just explained clearly how decisions were made and their effect.

Less noticed, unfortunately, is an interesting NY pilot using Race to the Top dollars to help schools move away from traditional tests in some non-core subjects. ”Tests” get lumped together but the majority of assessments a student sees over the course of the year are driven by state, district, or school policies. Federal requirements are just reading and math, grades 3-8 (and in high school). Federal policy explicitly does not require stakes to be attached to those tests for students. Lost in all the back and forth about testing is that issue and steps that could be taken to clear away a lot of the underbrush.

August 15, 2014

Weekend Reading: Unschooling

Interesting and edgy article on unschooling in Outside Magazine.

How broadly applicable is this? It is hard to do well but easy to do badly? A triumph of aesthetics over education? Or a needed correction for formal schooling?

Michelle Rhee Announced She’s Leaving StudentsFirst…You’ll Never Believe What Happened Next!

OK, sorry, actually you will believe it. And that headline is absolute click bait. But, here are five things to consider about Rhee’s impending departure from StudentsFirst, announced this week:

1) The most interesting implication here isn’t about Rhee’s future, it’s about what this means for her husband, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson’s, future.  The former NBA All-Star is considered a political star on the rise. Lots of speculation about what office he might pursue next and in the zero sum world of politics this move benefits him – not least because StudentsFirst was giving money to a lot of Republicans and the intramural fight over ed policy among Dems is heating up again.

2) All the blind quote dart throwing at Rhee in the articles about this move didn’t reflect all that well on the sector. Under certain conditions blind quotes are defensible, but just not wanting to offend or protecting funding prospects hardly seems to meet the bar. Especially for critical quotes. Was this Page Six or news? If you want to criticize her (see below, it’s certainly fair game) then put your name on it. It’s also a bummer that a lot of Students First staffers found out for sure that their founder is leaving via news reports courtesy of leakers in and around StudentsFirst. At a human level that sucks.

3) Rhee’s biggest failure at StudentsFirst was to not broaden the organization’s profile beyond her. There is a half-life to the personality-driven organization and StudentsFirst will face a big test now as a result in terms of where it goes from here (interesting question is where some of the talent there, and there is a lot, goes).  Because it was about Rhee every dust-up about her (and her critics cross the line into obsessive-compulsive about her to be sure) became about the organization by default. To some extent that’s unavoidable but some of the errors here were unforced. And I’m not sure I buy the argument that she drew fire away from other groups. Rather, it seemed like everything got lumped together in the public debate.

4) But she did accomplish a lot there, nonetheless. For starters, even if she didn’t draw fire she certainly expanded the field, as they say in sports. All the critics now saying she didn’t accomplish much were not saying that prior to this announcement. Hell, they couldn’t shut up about her. Back then (last week) she was the Princess of Darkness doing all sorts of allegedly terrible things via StudentsFirst. The American Federation of Teachers, a large labor union with a long history was concerned enough to literally go to social media and political war with one person, Rhee – something they don’t do a lot. And some of what Rhee accomplished isn’t visible because of the nature of politics. In some cases even the threat that she might come into a state with StudentsFirst was enough to start or stop some policy action. Not a lot of people or organizations had that kind of leverage. Oh, and by the way, you may have noticed that while hardly high-performing the District of Columbia Public Schools are far from the basket case they were before Rhee arrived on the scene and are making improvements. Not all Rhee, but she had a big hand in it.

5) If after hearing the news that she was joining the board of directors for Miracle-Gro you did one of the following things – researched the company, planned a boycott, told your friends to stop using it etc… – please consider getting a hobby or donating some time to a charity or reading to kids. Seriously.

August 14, 2014

New Whiteboard Advisors Education Insiders Survey

New data out from the Whiteboard Education Insiders survey (pdf). Includes federal legislation and Common Core assessment tracking, Jindal and Common Core, Duncan job approval, and higher ed policy.  Survey results plus open-ended responses from Insider panel.

August 13, 2014

Goldberg On Cherry Condition

David Goldberg, the founder and CEO of Core Skills Mastery (and past BW client) responds to yesterday’s post:

I wanted quickly to respond to your Eduwonk post this morning. I think that you’re right on, but missing some important ideas and context. We’re still in the education game with CSM, but increasingly turning to the business world, as well – this year, we’ll have direct contact with dozens of Chief Learning Officers and Executive Directors of Talent Development at large corporations, and the story is a bit more complex both from the employer and the education side.

· Every employer, bar none, is interested in high performance, whatever the task. At entry-level, low-skilled positions this might mean that you show up on time, but the larger importance of high performance is true at every position, in every business function (production, logistics, HR, finance, sales, marketing, etc.). What companies really, truly care about is solid math and literacy, problem-solving, ability to learn independently, and performance traits like persistence, attention-to-detail, self-efficacy. This is what you want when you hire at Bellwether, and this is what the farmer wants.

· What the rest of the world hears is that employers are interested in job-specific skills. This is at best half-right. Companies don’t have a single voice, and the HR functions of hiring tend to be narrowly focused on checklists of skills. However, job-specific skills by their very nature are the minimum requirements for adequate performance – everyone in the companies must have these. But when you go to the learning/talent development departments and to the operational people, the issue is really about high performance.

· The problem with our education system isn’t that it doesn’t teach high performance, it’s that it unintentionally, but actively, instills low performance. That is, while on the job, A-level performance is the only acceptable performance, education is the only place in America where mediocre, C-level, passing performance is just fine with everyone. Students learn that no one else cares, and that they shouldn’t either. In many cases, this is the only lesson that sticks (from what we see in test scores, it’s not math or literacy).

· The issue in some ways is function of classrooms, where the whole class moves as one and some students will always be left behind. Educational technology has the potential for addressing this, but the definition of competency in competency-based education is really 50-70% on a multiple-choice test (GED, Common Core, Accuplacer, and most of the conventional learning systems). This is a terrible lost opportunity for changing the system.

· The more insidious problem, I think, is that in the policy sphere, whenever there is a tension between “more” and “better”, “more” almost always wins. As students are asked to do more math, and at earlier ages, it shouldn’t be a surprise that more students are left with poor performance. Yes, we can say that we want more students at the “proficient” and “advanced” levels, but how many states have recently instituted algebra 2 requirements (which are flatly ridiculous, even in a STEM-based economy)? We should first fix the “better” at whatever level a student is at, before we stretch for “more”.

The cherry farmer (manufacturer, retail store, Bellwether) wants high performance, not algebra. The schools teach algebra and low performance. Do the math…

August 12, 2014

Cherry Condition: College, Career, Life Skills, And Schools

is13-1338844622-15037In July Bellwether’s partner team spent a week in upstate Michigan on Old Mission Peninsula. It’s a lovely place in the summer. Warm but not too hot and cool in the evenings. Surrounded on three sides by Caribbean-hued water that’s gentle for children and inviting for adults. And it’s especially lovely when the cherry harvest is happening because the landscape is dotted with cherries of differing hues across rolling hills.  The retreat was a productive and energizing blend of work and play and included some time on the cherry farm where one of our partners grew up.

In my experience old farms tell stories through their history, status quo, and their people. This one told a few stories about agriculture today, how it’s evolving, and the challenges facing family farms. But it also told education stories. One of those is an obvious one. Where once a crew of 100 picked cherries during the harvest, a team of five can do the work now. The farm isn’t shrinking but automation has revolutionized the harvest. The cherry trees are literally shaken by machines that free the cherries to fall into collectors for processing. Fast and efficient. Because most cherries are used in applications like yogurt, fills, or dyes bruising is not an issue. Only fruit sold for retail is picked by hand.

The second story is more complicated: Finding those five people.  The work is hard, the days long, and the machines take a trained hand to operate effectively and without damaging trees, wasting fruit, or hurting someone. It’s not high-skilled work. The farmer handles the big high-stakes decisions that set the harvest up for success or failure early in the season. What he needs in his workers, he told me, are people who can show up on time, in a condition ready and prepared to work, and who can take direction, learn, and function as part of a fast-moving team. In a state with official unemployment at 7.4 percent and actual unemployment much higher you’d think finding them wouldn’t be a problem. But it is.

With the obvious caveat that our schools need to be a lot better overall and especially for persistently under-served populations, I groan when I hear business leaders bemoan the training they have to do for employees and blame the public schools for it. In my view it’s not the job of the schools to prepare students for business, it’s to prepare them for life as an educated person.  Yet what that farmer was talking about was not discreet skills that employers should be prepared to teach or that students and workers can learn through specialized training. Rather, it’s closer to what was once quaintly called deportment.  Or it’s life skills or “mega skills” that the late Dorothy Rich championed. Put more plainly it’s ‘how you do things the right way.’ Whatever you want to call it, it’s a set of attributes that people once were introduced to in school, through apprenticeships or unions, in the armed forces, or most often through their families. Participation in all of those institutions, except school, is down in terms of percent of the population involved. That has consequences.

The issue is remerging in the policy and education world through a debate about schools like KIPP and ideas like “grit.” But that is only one aspect and discussion about it is predictably politicized and unproductive with ridiculous caricatures. The debate about college versus careers, meanwhile, obscures these issues because (not unlike the education levels one needs for both) these skills are largely universal paths to self-sufficiency regardless of the vocation or educational path one chooses. It’s also not an issue linked to class or education level. Plenty of affluent college-educated young people struggle with the routines of work as well.

I don’t have a clear answer here except that I hear this kind of complaint a lot, from trades people, builders, and farmers like this one, when the subject of education and employment comes up. I hear it from colleagues in professional services work as well. There is something to it. When people in the trades say career or college ready they’re not talking about ability with textual analysis or proficiency at math (both important skills) but rather something more basic and lacking for a lot of Americans. Shouldn’t we talk more frankly about it in the education context because these days, if not schools, who?

*Photo courtesy of

August 11, 2014

Vanishing Neighbor

Marc Dunkelman’s book, The Vanishing Neighbor, has an education angle, and is well-worth reading.  It’s a fascinating and original look at the fraying that is changing how we interact and has profound implications for our politics and lives.

Kristof On Poverty – And Implications For Schools

Strong Nicholas Kristof column about poverty and the implicit issue that many people don’t like to acknowledge how much luck plays a role in life. In education, though, we seem to have an acutely hard time talking about the role that schools can play to help address these issues.

August 7, 2014

Edujob @ Building Hope

Building Hope is a national not for profit that helps with charter school finance. They’re seeking an ed tech advisor to help with technology infrastructure finance issues. Great opportunity or someone with the right skill set. If that’s you then JD and more information here (pdf).

August 5, 2014

Teachers And Legal

Mike Antonucci has a good post about the legal protections teachers unions offer to their members. He gets at the misconceptions many teachers have about this benefit (that most never need anyway). Namely many teachers think the protection is akin to an insurance policy when in practice the union can decide whether or not to provide someone legal representation. In addition, it can be confusing for teachers to parse out what activities they’re protected for anyway and which they could have legal exposure in the first place. Even in our litigious society they’re not as exposed as many think.

Return To Normal Order

I hope you enjoyed the great guestblogging by the Bellwether team. If you liked it keep an eye out for the new Bellwether blog starting later this year. Posting has been light the past few days because I was out of the office for the Pan Mass Challenge, but am back now and we’ll return to normalcy.

July 29, 2014

Edujob @ SIIA

Want to do research, analysis, and outreach on some leading edge and hot issues? The Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) is looking for an Education Policy and Programs Manager. More information and how to apply via this link.

A Third Way on Teacher Pensions?

Third Way has a new brief suggesting three steps the federal government could take immediately to improve retirement security for all teachers. To address widespread under-funding, state and local pension plans have made it harder for teachers to qualify for a retirement benefit, raised contribution rates, and changed benefit formulas to penalize teachers not willing to commit to a full career in one spot. They note that teacher pension plans are actually moving in the opposite direction of workers in the private sector:

So while the vast majority of American workers are being afforded greater retirement security under federal law—and better assurances that they will get to keep the money their employers are contributing off the top of their salary—teachers have found themselves at the whim of state legislators that in most cases are making it harder for them to qualify for even a minimum pension.

Their solutions are sensible: 1. Have the IRS lay out clear guidelines outlining what constitutes an acceptable alternative plan; 2. Require state governments to either offer Social Security to their workers or provide more teachers with at least a minimal retirement benefit; and 3. Update federal guidelines to ensure state and local pension plans offer retirement benefits that are at least as generous as those of non-public-sector plans. Read the full brief here.

–Chad Aldeman

July 28, 2014

The Pre-K–Charter disconnect

This fall, charter schools in New York City will offer pre-k for the first time. Charter schools were previously barred from offering pre-k, but legislation earlier this year expanded the state’s investment and allowed charter schools to offer pre-k.

This is good news for New York City, and for places, like Indiana and Seattle, that are looking to offer pre-k to additional students. One challenge with with opening or expanding a state pre-k program is ensuring that there are high-quality providers with enough slots to serve the newly-funded children.

Charter schools seem like an obvious source of additional slots, particularly in states or cities with robust charter sectors and rigorous quality monitoring systems. But it’s complicated. State charter school policy and pre-k policy generally developed in two distinct streams – so even though the two align well in theory, the result in practice is often conflicting policies.

In Ohio, for example, charter schools effectively cannot offer pre-k. The state charter school legislation says that charter schools’ admission criteria can only be open to students between the ages of five and 22. As a result, charter schools receive state funding for K-12 students, not pre-k students. There is a demand for pre-k, however, so charter schools will often co-locate a space with a pre-k program. Yet once children complete that pre-k program, they are not guaranteed spots in the charter schools’ kindergarten programs, but have to enter the school’s lottery, despite having spent a year just yards away.

This disconnect also occurs in states that explicitly permit charter schools to offer pre-k. Up until recently, Georgia students enrolled in charter school pre-k programs couldn’t automatically pass into kindergarten. Legislation* now allows charter schools to give enrollment priority to students who completed the charter school’s pre-k program. While it’s an improvement, there are unnecessary complexities for both schools and parents; assuring enrollment priority is not the same as seamlessly moving students from 1st to 2nd grade. Students are not guaranteed entrance, and schools must orchestrate a new pre-k lottery each year, with the right students at the right weights. New York City takes a similar approach for its charter schools offering pre-k this fall.

Sara Mead and I have learned about these challenges and more while researching the Byzantine world of pre-k and charter sector policy for a paper that the Thomas B. Fordham Institute will publish next year. With recent data showing the appeal of early ed across party lines (slide 11 here), the time is right to prioritize high-quality slots for more pre-k students.

*Links to O.G.C.A. LexisNexis database – search 20-2-2066 for appropriate legislation.

–Ashley LiBetti Mitchel