September 23, 2016

Teacher Pay In Denver, Mead On Head Start, Mass Charters, Trumpian Ed Politics, O’Keefe On Testing Tradeoffs, CBE, 529s, Grateful Blogging

A decade ago Denver jump started the national conversation about pay for contribution or pay for performance (although it wasn’t pay for performance strictly speaking, it was important from both a practice and political standpoint). A new analysis by a local group looks at where things are and points to some directions forward. Bellwether’s Kaitlin Pennington on all this here.

Sara Mead on Head Start performance standards.

Shorter version of the Teacher Shortage version 3.0 (or 4.0 depending how you keep score): We produce more teachers overall than we need but not in the geographic and subject areas where we need them. Longer version here.

Buckle up. Earlier this year Chris Christie released a school finance proposal that basically pitted wealthy New Jersey residents against lower-income ones over the distribution of school funds. It was widely derided as cynical, irresponsible, and lousy policy. But it plays to a set of anxieties you’re hearing more about as this Stanley Kurtz NRO column illustrates. Kurtz basically argues President Obama is trying to dissolve suburban school districts under the guise of encouraging more economically diverse schools. This sort of rhetoric terrifies suburban voters, of course, and complicates various  reform efforts. All of it is of a part with tribal Trumpian politics more generally, though, so I’d keep an eye on proposals and arguments like this.

Massachusetts has a very strong charter sector, Richard Whitmire on that. But, and guys you’ll never believe this, the evidence has almost no impact on the politics there! There is a referendum on the ballot about whether to have more and it’s struggling even though Massachusetts is a place where the evidence is simply not “mixed.” Even formerly pro-choice Elizabeth Warren is Hamleting on it. Because the evidence  is so crystal clear the debate there is playing out over cost, instead, with people who usually have an insatiable appetite for public dollars suddenly saying we can’t afford these new great schools.

Bellwether’s Bonnie O’Keefe on testing tradeoffs. Bellwether pension analyst Kirsten Schmitz updates an earlier analysis of education sector benefits with new census data. Chad Aldeman talks with the Utah legislator who championed pension reform and lived to tell the tale.

Elizabeth Mann looks at the cross-pressure on Clinton on education. But surely she’d be a lot more cross-pressured and the issue might even be more dynamic if her opponent were not Donald Trump. A lot of differences understandably getting papered over in this context.

Here’s an interesting survey of state legislators and where they get their information and what they think about education.

And here’s a look at CBE implementation in three states via ExcelinED.

Not exactly breaking news but there is a lot of money in 529 plans – implications around equity, costs, and tax policy.

New blog focuses on music and education. Grateful Dead themed. What’s not to like? In that vein here’s a Bob Weir song with one of the great education lines you’ll find in music.


September 21, 2016

Innovation! New From Bellwether

New report from Bellwether today – and it’s exactly the kind of first over the barbed wire type of project we like to do. It’s the U.S Innovation Index prototype. As the accompanying report discusses innovation matters to progress but to foster innovation it’s important to measure and analyze various conditions associated with it. The index – a work in progress – is an effort to do that.

You can learn more about it, the cities it looks at (Indy, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Kansas City) and the project via this link. We’re hoping to expand it to many more cities going forward.

As a non-profit we pursue our own grant funded work as well as projects we take on. So some other recent work you may have missed:

This summer we published, with support from the Robertson Foundation, The Learning Landscape. It’s a great resource that takes an objective look at the state of play in the sector. Reasonable people can disagree about a variety of education questions but it’s important that those disagreements proceed from a common fact base grounded in evidence. This is an effort to foster and support that.

 It’s here via this link.

We also published, earlier this month, 16 for 2016: Education Ideas For The Next President. The Broad Foundation supported this project. This volume contains a variety of federal policy ideas for schools that are left, right, and center and aimed at a variety of issues. The volume features some wonks and experts you probably know of but also Chef Tom Colicchio, Olympic Gold Medalist Steve Mesler, farming leader Lindsey Lusher, and other innovators whose work impacts the education sector. The volume showcases Bellwether’s non-ideological approach to our work and also the creative thinkers inside and around our organization.

 You can read all the ideas here.


September 20, 2016

Pensions Aren’t Risky! The Education Divide, Willingham On Editing, Civic Ed, Rashad Turner Speaks, Who Is Advising Trump On Edu? Kolderie Gets Systemic, Buses And Straws

This event on college matching, today, looks interesting. CT is appealing the landmark school finance decision there. Rashad Turner in his own words. Trump’s education team.

Schools exploring innovative ways to teach grit, but it’s easy to get carried away.

You may not agree with all of what Ted Kolderie writes here about how to improve the school system but it’s well worth reading:

Good ideas abound for producing better schools. The difficulty has been with the “how” of change. The idea of superintendents changing district schools comprehensively has proved unsuccessful. So, let’s be practical: Try a different “how.”

Successful systems change gradually, as innovation spreads. These are open systems. Someone tries something different. Always there are “early adopters.” Nobody has to adopt the different. More do, as the innovation improves. Some lag. We see this diffusion of innovation all around us…

…We want education to be a successful system. So we should let schools and teachers try things. Use the charter sector to generate new forms of school and new approaches to learning, and encourage districts to adopt these innovations.

Here’s a push on civic education and making it rich and educational. Why not? I’m all for it, worked on the issue, taught civics, and generally who can be against that? But I do think there is a flaw in how many advocates think about this issue and what to expect from improved civic education. Namely many seem to believe that if only people were better educated and had more civic knowledge then they would think, act politically, and vote just like them. In fact, civic ed is not some sort of revealed truth and it’s entirely plausible we could have much better civic education and a country just as discordant politically as it is now. People disagree!

Here’s a story about how education reporters are happy and want to come back to the education beat. That’s good, I like it when people are happy. But isn’t the more interesting story all the reporters who leave the beat to go work in education organizations? Michelle Davis to College Board, Karin Chenoweth to Ed Trust, Richard Whitmire to book writing about reform issues just to name a few. Are they happy? What have they learned. Would they do it again? I’d read that!

Also on that scene do not miss Dan Willingham’s open letter to editors. He takes no prisoners.

Sara Mead on an authorizing lesson from XQ. Here’s The Times on the winners and the prize. Soledad O’Brien did a town hall on high schools and innovation (that at one point turned from metaphorical to literal town hall when a bunch of DC students from Duke Ellington showed up to press their case with Kaya Henderson) I participated in. Facebook video here, on PBS in October.

This 74 story about the Dem ticket and education (and, by the way, this election is not turning on education) is interesting because it points up a pretty profound divide in education:

In late August, she visited the headquarters of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers. There, she disputed GOP nominee Donald Trump’s assertion that city schools were failing children, particularly children of color.

“I will say that [schools are] doing incredible work in some of the most difficult circumstances … Over the last decade we’ve been asking more and more of them and giving them less and less in the way of resources,” she said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

At one level, that’s certainly true. The financing picture is more complicated but schools are clearly asked to do a lot and there are many doing great work in challenging circumstances. But it’s also true that in a lot of cities fewer than one in ten low-income kids gets to and through college by the time they’re 24. Nationally that figure is about 9 percent. You’d hope there would be both agreement and urgency about how profoundly unacceptable that is. Instead,  how people think about that problem really divides the education world into those who see schools as more or less a palliative experience for kids because, really, what are you going to do? And conversely those who see schools as a key lever to dramatically transform that outcome profile. There is actually a lot of agreement on out-of-school factors, where the debate breaks down is over the role of schools. Ironic for an education sector.

Here’s more fallout from the Senate/Department of Education debate over regulatory authority.

Remember kids, pensions are not the risky scheme!

This article has really nothing to do with education but it mentions school buses, and also straws. Have at it!


September 19, 2016

Edujob – Vice President Communications And Publications @ TNTP

Heres’s a fun job at a high impact organization: Vice President of Communications and Publications at TNTP. From the posting:

The Vice President will report to the Executive Vice President – Public Affairs and set the vision, goals and culture for the Communications & Publications Department. We’re looking for a skilled communicator who is equally at home setting a high-level vision and honing a precise turn of phrase.

The Vice President will oversee TNTP’s brand, publications, internal communications, and strategic support for TNTP staff and clients in school systems nationwide.

Learn more about TNTP, this role, and how to apply via this link.


September 16, 2016

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

Here’s a great edujob that blends several related and crucial issues in a really interesting state: Managing Director of Policy and Research for the Tennessee Charter School Center. 

The Managing Director of Policy and Research will lead the organization’s work in setting the statewide legislative agenda for TCSC, and identifying a roadmap for future policy, regulatory, and advocacy work on behalf of the public charter sector in Tennessee. Additionally, s/he will identify best practices and opportunities for advancement of the sector, and guide local policy agendas for sites of impact across Tennessee.

You can learn more about the role and how to be considered via this link.


Friday Fish! Petrilli Returns!

The Petrilli’s took their son fishing and you’ll never believe what happened next!

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Nico Petrilli’s angling career has been featured here before a few ways. But this fish is a milestone. He got it on the Potomac, near Sycamore Island, so father Mike is proud it’s an “inside the beltway” fish.

Hundreds of education people with fish – a ten year archive! –  through this link. Send me yours!


September 14, 2016

Edujob: Deputy ED At NAGB

Here’s a terrific edujob coming open: Deputy Executive Director at the National Assessment Governing Board (pdf). NAGB oversees, sets policy for, and administers the National Assessment of Educational Progress.  That basket of assessments, the NAEP, is the widely regarded benchmark for assessing broad trends in student achievement and contextual factors. The successful candidate in this role will have some big shoes to fill but it’s a great opportunity to have impact on a very important educational tool and help ensure that it remains high quality and sustainable into the future.

More about the position and how to apply via the JD here (pdf).


September 12, 2016

Texas Spec Ed, Haynes On Charters And Race, Whitmire On Charters In DC, 16 For 2016, Extended Time, Discipline, Climate Change And Schools, Antler Arch

You were probably under the impression that the answer is 42. Turns out it’s 8.5. And this story about 8.5 from Texas is ugly.

Here are sixteen education policy ideas for the next President (pdf).

Cynthia Tucker Haynes on charter schools and the African-American community.

The long-running backlash against charter schools — now stoked to a full frontal assault — has been fueled largely by the traditional educational establishment, which views them as a threat. That establishment fears unfavorable comparisons with traditional public schools and more job losses for teachers and principals in low-performing ones. The sense of insecurity is especially keen among black educators, many of whom are, of course, active members of the NAACP.

For generations, teaching has been the backbone of the black middle class, and the movement for public education reform has driven a wedge between black teachers and principals, on one side, and poor and working-class black parents, who are desperately seeking alternatives to the low-performing schools in their neighborhoods, on the other. Last year, the Black Alliance for Educational Options released a survey of black voters in four states — Alabama, Louisiana, New Jersey and Tennessee. It found that majorities in each state favor charters.

Whitmire with 10 reasons things are politically more low-key in D.C.

Interesting RAND/Wallace study on summer learning opportunities. Yes, it turns out that if students attend academic programs during the summer it might boost their achievement. Low income kids! Some limitations on study design and findings but directionally promising.

Climate change coming to schools – quite literally.

Schools are always a common place to fight out our social and cultural battles: Good News Clubs versus After School Satan Clubs.

Reducing suspension and generally improving discipline practices in schools is an important goal – but absent some real support for implementation brace for a backlash. 

It’s  hard to miss a lot of parallels between our debate over policing and the debate over teaching both in how it’s discussed, institutional culture and capacity, and the various ideas for remedies.

Pay tribute to the arch.


Edujob: Executive Director: Greater New Orleans/Louisiana Delta Teach For America

Here’s a great edujob with the possibility for real impact. From the JD:

When TFA launched in 1990, its New Orleans chapter began with just 45 corps members but, today, the region has a corps of over 200 serving the parishes of Orleans, Jefferson, and St. Bernard. In 2010, TFA expanded its work in the region to include two parishes in the Louisiana Delta, which began with 16 corps members.  Since then, we have seen the impact of our teachers, in partnership with community members, with results in test scores, increased graduation rates, and opportunities for our students: today, TFA corps members and alumni comprise a full 20% of the New Orleans teaching force, over 50 alumni serve as leaders at the school or school systems level, 40% of Orleans charters are led by alumni, 2/3 of our alumni teach for a third year, three of our teachers in Concordia Parish began Conexiones: Costa Rica which is now in its third year and takes students to Costa Rica every June, a corps member was a finalist for Louisiana Teacher of the Year, and there are over 1,000 alumni living in the region, 91% of whom are doing mission-centered work.

You can build on that work. A lot more information and context through the this link.


September 9, 2016

Friday Fish Porn! Sharks!

Candice Santomauro of NMSI took some time to fish this summer off of Florida’s Space Coast. First she caught this:

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A few more might make an appetizer? But then, she caught this:

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Legit! I don’t think we’ve had a shark before. But you can check to be sure in this roster of education people with fish going back a decade. And the answer to this is – yes! Send me your summer pics.


September 8, 2016

BLM And Ed Politics, Surf’s Up In MD! 16 for 2016 From Bellwether, Charter Schools, Teacher Pensions, AP, Get A Hobby! Deb Kenny Video.

New from Bellwether: 16 ideas for the next president on education (pdf). They cover a lot of ground from data and choice to food and trafficking. We have top chefs and top wonks, all in one place! Terrific roster of contributors and these ideas have implications beyond Washington policy discussions.

Elsewhere, in the Washington Post I take a look at school choice and the campaign. Last week at USN I wrote about writing and what our writing challenges and writing debate really says out the larger education debate.

Chad Aldeman with an important piece on teacher pensions and retirement policy in the NY Daily News. If I can leave you with one idea about teacher pensions I hope it’s that teacher retirement policy is not an education issue – it’s a broader retirement security issue.

In several ways this Connecticut finance decision is a BFD.

Paul Weinstein on why AP is a college cost issue for parents.

Here’s an old education story: Long held value clashes with some other imperative. In this case Maryland’s Republican governor had to balance local control with the need to make sure kids are in school enough. OK, that’s not quite right. Actually, he had to balance local control with the desire of his state’s vacation industry to keep schools closed for the summer until after Labor Day. So he mandated a post-Labor Day school start. 

To Governor Hogan’s credit he didn’t dress his announcement up as some sort of educational initiative by rolling it out at say a tutoring center, sports facility, or a school. No, he went right to Ocean City, an economic engine in Maryland. Full credit for some refreshing transparency.

Still, Maryland educators are frustrated with the constraints, which will become acute if the state has a tough winter with a lot of days out of school. And local school districts should be able to make these choices shouldn’t they? Virginia has a similarly vacation industry driven rule on school starts that creates needless hoops for school superintendents to jump through. But in a discussion of the issue on the Kojo Nnamdi show on NPR the other day one caller, Donny from Baltimore, made the point that this was a banner idea because now he could celebrate his birthday and his daughter’s birthday without the hassle of school starting the last week of August. So there is that.

This Richard Whitmire interview with Ravi Gupta is generally worth reading but this line is so smart:

If I could do one thing by fiat to improve the education debates in Nashville, it would be to give everyone a hobby. If folks didn’t view their self-worth at stake in every Twitter battle, we would have more honest conversations.

It’s a piece of advice I offer young people when asked. Balance matters or you’ll lose your equilibrium. I’d also add, maintain a diverse group of friends who do genuinely different things in life than you do.

BLM education politics. Resignation over the anti-charter position. Pushback on the West Coast. And Derrell Bradford pushes back:

Given Black Lives Matter’s premise—that the government systematically acts in a way that undermines trust in both the police and in order—you have to wonder why, if the movement’s members approach the police with such skepticism, they are now asking parents to put all their faith and confidence in schools that have failed them for decades?

There is a political answer to that question, obviously. But there is also an intellectual issue bound up in it. BLM is hardly the only instance of clear recognition of a problem or basket of problems in one venue not transferring to another involving education. Many people have noticed the parallels between the policing debate and the debate about schools. Bu we also have many advocates and elected officials who appreciate how the foster students, adjudicated students, or special education students are not well treated by the “system” and need rights and protections as a result. But many of these same advocates don’t connect the dots with the broader system and the exact same kind of issues and norms. Connecting those dots, as Bradford does here, seems an important project to broaden the conversation about the need for dramatic school improvement.

Charters, charters, everywhere! Last year Bellwether released a deck of data on charter schools around the country (pdf). A lot of nuance and different experiences but one theme that jumped out was growth. Even by conservative estimates there are going to be a lot of charters in a decade or two. There are a lot now. In New York they’ve now hit 10 percent of the city’s students. Ten percent may not seem like a lot, but this is New York. A lot of kids there. Another reason the action now is about how to grow charters, not whether they’re going to crow.  Political resistance may slow things down and put up some barriers around the edges but the trendline is pretty clear.

Here’s your daily dose of adorable via Deb Kenny.

Off-edu: If this kind of thing floats your boat email me. Hosting a show for Tracy in November in Virginia.


September 7, 2016

16 For 2016: Policy Ideas For The Next Administration

New publication from Bellwether today: 16 school ideas for the next administration (pdf). They include interesting ideas on perennial education issues like choice, teacher quality and data. But also ideas on topics including food, trafficking, and blockchain technology.

Contributors include wonks you probably know but also national leaders on various issues – Chef Tom Colicchio, Gold medalist Steve Mesler, and farming leader Lindsey Lusher Shute. It’s a fantastic group.

You can read them all and learn more about the project here (pdf).


Thank You Guestbloggers!

Big thanks to Ari Rozman, Tim Daly, and David Keeling from EdNavigatorKira Orange Jones of Teach For America and the Louisiana Board of Education,  Kevin Kosar of the R Street InstituteDerrell Bradford of NYCAN and Alex Hernandez of the Charter School Growth Fund for some great guestblogging during August. You can scroll through to read their stuff you missed it but an eclectic set of posts on a range of issues. Well worth your time if you missed it.


September 2, 2016

Friday Edition: Links, Moose Porn, Alien Invasions

The post below is by guest blogger Alex Hernandez.

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The Best Things I Read This Week

FiveThirtyEight lays down the facts on US immigration and Marc Porter Magee thinks schools should pay attention. For the record, the alien invasion story is further down and is about actual extraterrestrials.

Andy Rotherham wants kidz to right really, really good and, at the end of the day, your school has no imagination and notwithstanding the foregoing get off his lawn.

Richard Whitmire dropped the The Founders, a history of America’s best charter schools. My colleague Darryl Cobb forgot he hated the internet just long enough to talk about his seriously amazing work supporting charter school leaders of color.

Matt Candler of 4pt0 Schools says “a lot of #edtech is just not helping” and proposes three technologies that will make school better for everyone. [Note: I’m on the 4pt0 board]

Researcher Susan Dynarski is an Imperator Furiosa-level badass.

Our alien overlords finally made contact before the predictable lamestream media cover-up.

We are all in the same gang: some Stanford physics PhD thinks wormholes and quantum entanglement are the same thing. He wants a truce between the theories of general relativity and quantum mechanics.

Finally, if you need something to read this holiday weekend, I recommend Narconomics: How to Run a Drug Cartel by Tom Wainright. Thought-provoking and downright practical.

And now… #MoosePorn. We saw these moose (don’t call them meese) while hiking Kenosha Pass in Colorado. But everyone in Colorado has moose in their backyards, obviously.

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Photo taken by my friend Rebecca Hoskins

Thanks Eduwonk for letting me crash this week.

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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.


September 1, 2016

Should K-12 Be About Helping Students Get Into The Middle Class?

The post below is by guest blogger Alex Hernandez.

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If you want to know what motivates educators working in high-performing, charter public schools, start with the college completion gap between rich and poor students.

Fifty-four percent of students from families in the top income quartile complete a bachelor’s degree by age 24. But only 9% of students from families in the bottom income quartile do the same (Bailey and Dynarski, 2011). In 2015, KIPP reported a 44% college completion rate for its students who finished 8th grade 10+ years ago and a number of other charter networks are hovering in that range. As a reference point, 36% of US adults ages 25 to 34 have a bachelor’s degree.

But now things start getting complicated.

Some portion of students who complete college will be alarmingly underemployed.

Some students will face the double whammy of not completing college and carrying student loan debt.

Some students won’t attend college at all.

In each of these cases, students will struggle to battle their way into the middle class.

The high-performing charter school sector will keep trying to push college completion rates up, but even if completion percentages go up another 10-20% – which would be incredible – the complexities I laid out are still there.

A number of folks, including myself, are beginning to wonder what it would look like to reframe the educational mission from college completion to middle class enfranchisement? That was the subtext of a recent study on Texas charter schools that showed “No Excuses charters schools increase test scores and educational attainment, but have a small and statistically insignificant effect on earnings.”

I don’t know if reframing K-12 education in this way is a good idea. Four-year colleges and universities have plenty of work they need to do with their 60-65% six-year graduation rates (the rates are even worse for students of color) and 2,600:1 career counselor to student ratios. And it seems silly to push kids to “figure it all out” even earlier in life.

But there also seems to be a lot opportunity.

New education organizations are emerging to support low-income students for upward mobility. The nonprofit Braven is building a coaching and support layer for underrepresented students at San Jose State University and Rutgers University to help propel them into strong first jobs. Year Up helps low-income, high school graduates find internships and take relevant post-secondary courses so they can secure full-time work.

But I also wonder how we reorganize K-12 to better position all students for upwardly mobile careers. I can see a wave of school model innovation along these lines. I don’t think schools can be good at everything so this work could lead to interesting new partnerships and approaches.

Students will also benefit from better technology. Valencia College in Florida, considered one of the best community colleges in the nation, offers its students a career coaching portal where they can learn about careers, see which companies offer those job locally, get local salary and employment data, and click straight through to job listings. Boston-based Burning Glass is feeding colleges and universities with sophisticated career data and analytics.

I have a lot more questions than answers right now, but the whole area seems ripe for innovation. Would love to hear others’ thoughts!

[Note: my employer Charter School Growth Fund provides philanthropic support to the KIPP Foundation and various KIPP regions]

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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 31, 2016

Ahoy! Charter Schools Be Sharing Their Treasure

The post below is by guest blogger Alex Hernandez.

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A few weeks back, I blogged about the moral imperative high-performing schools have to share “their best stuff.”

For example, Achievement First in NY/CT launched an Open Source portal with tons of free tools and materials. Summit Public Schools in CA is giving its personalized learning platform away to 120 schools this fall (its second cohort). As a new teacher, one of the first things I did was download Phillips Exeter Academy’s math curriculum.

But things are getting crazy now, you guys. Boston charter schools, Match Education and Brooke Charter Schools, are showing their patriotism and dumping all their educational goodness into… fish tanks?

The prolific Match Education recently launched Match Fishtank to open source the curriculum and assessments that the Match Schools have developed over the last 15 years.

The first three fish in the tank for you to play with: 7th grade math, 7th grade English and 9th grade English. Teachers and instructional leaders can download the entire courses or individual units. Materials are Common Core-aligned and include everything a teacher needs to give a lesson.

The site is still in beta and I don’t think anyone at Match will say they have it all figured out. But they do great work with students and are now jumping right into the shark-infested waters of online curriculum. Pro tip: flushing their materials down the toilet will not set them free into the ocean.

Brooke Charter Schools, a Boston school system I highlighted yesterday and that is gaining recognition as one of America’s best charter schools, also jumped into the sharing waters recently.

They are putting together a series of videos and instructional resources to help other educators understand their approaches to literacy, mathematics and science.

Brooke is trying to give teachers an unfiltered look at their classes, not over-produced reality TV: “The videos in this series… are real lessons with real kids; they haven’t practiced these lessons before and they aren’t special lessons designed to impress others – they are just the lessons that were happening on the day that we brought a camera crew to that campus.”

The sharing ethos runs strong at Brooke. Co-CEO Kimberly Steadman is hosting 20 educators at her schools as I write, her second large group of visitors in two days.

The open source movement among public charter schools is gaining steam. And that can only be good for teachers who must be exhausted treading water through Google search trying to salvage stuff they can use in their classrooms.

I’m out of water puns. See ya tomorrow.

[Note: my employer Charter School Growth Fund provides philanthropic support to Achievement First, Brooke Charter Schools and Summit Public Schools]

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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 30, 2016

The Intellectual Awakening. Have You Felt It?

The post below is by guest blogger Alex Hernandez.

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What argument is the author trying to make?

Do you agree or disagree?

My freshman literature professor at Claremont McKenna College sat expectantly, hands folded. I was stunned. After thirteen years of K-12 schooling, it never occurred to me I could disagree with an author whose ideas were in print. I was the dream citizen for any oppressive regime trying to make things a little easier.

The two simple questions above were asked over and over again, in class after class, and were the foundation of my liberal arts education. Read a challenging text. Debate the author’s meaning. Form your own argument. Write about it. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

College was my intellectual awakening.

I always think about my first day of freshman lit when I walk through Success Academy Charter Schools in New York and Brooke Charter Schools in Boston. [Note: my employer Charter School Growth Fund provides philanthropic support to both Success and Brooke]

The intellectual awakening at Success Academies begins at five year old. The video below (start at 0:52 if crunched for time) shows first graders debating the story The Araboolies of Liberty Street and its themes of freedom and oppression.

Success_Araboolie

These first graders are wrestling with a challenging text and debating the author’s meaning, like I was asked to do in college. But if you dig deeper, you’ll see the heavy thinking in this class is shouldered by students, not adults.

I had the opportunity to attend Success Academies’ summer teacher training (T-School) in 2015. We spent the entire day making meaning of texts and preparing sets of questions to spark student discussion, just like in the video. Spoiler: it’s harder than it looks.

Brooke Charter Schools is similarly focused on helping students analyze texts and make written arguments in response to literature.Their instructional resources are shared here.

In this video (see 7:52, 11:08 and 16:39), seventh grade students analyze the writing of their peers to learn how to make an effective argument. Similar to Success, Ms. Teevens pushes the thinking load on her students as they write.

Success and Brooke’s academic programs are designed to spark the intellectual awakening that I didn’t receive until college. And they do it for low-income, students of color.

Not surprisingly, Brooke and Success students score higher on state tests than their wealthy peers who receive a less challenging education. The higher Common Core standards have helped bring more reading and writing into schools, but in his book, Results Now (2006, p. 66), Mike Schmoker reminds us how rare it is to find schools that provide such rich, academic experiences.

Schmoker_Academic Dialog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While Brooke and Success are recognized by many of their charter school peers for having the most sophisticated academic programs in the country, a lot of reactions are designed to discredit their work.

They cream the best students! (i.e., the kids would have succeeded anyway)

They get rid of their toughest students! (i.e., they cheat)

They spend all their time on test prep! (i.e., the schools game the system)

They only succeed on state tests! (i.e, test scores are not legitimate measures)

They can’t replicate their results (i.e., let’s just ignore these outliers)

What folks are saying (but not really saying) is that if low-income, students of color seem to be improving their educational circumstances then it must be a hoax.

But what if low-income students could receive the education I had to wait until college to receive (and pay over a hundred thousand dollars).

What if success actually existed in urban public education?

Success would look a lot like these public charter schools in Boston and New York.

***

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 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.