December 5, 2013
Tom Kane on the difference between theoretical and practical considerations when thinking about evidence and probability – and how that matters to school hiring decisions.
December 4, 2013
Mathematica is hosting forum next Tuesday at 11am in Washington looking at two recent studies on teacher effectiveness and their implications. It will also be streamed online for those elsewhere. More information and you can register here.
December 3, 2013
Politco posts Doug Sosnik’s latest political memo – they’re known for a smart and elevated take on various trends. Some discussion of education as it relates to social mobility in this one but Sosnik also sees as a major issue:
Pushing back on the violation of the public’s privacy by the government and big businesses. The United States lags far behind most of Europe—Germany in particular—when it comes to protecting individuals’ rights to privacy. Throughout Europe there are many more limits on the ability of government and private industry to gain access and use of personal data for their own purposes. The privacy issue will gain more attention as technology continues to improve and becomes more invasive. The issue isn’t a partisan one. It is hard to distinguish between the policies of the Bush and Obama administrations when it comes to placing limits on gathering and using people’s personal information for what they perceive to be in the national interest. Moving forward, we are likely to see the curbs and restrictions throughout Europe become more of the norm in our country as the public begins to voice its outrage at what they view as intrusions into their personal lives.
In the education sector the restrictions themselves seem like less of a disruptive issue than the politics – regulation is not incompatible with data-driven solutions. But, when InBloom was booted out of a suburban Colorado county it signaled something that is worth watching. In the wake of some of the troubling NSA disclosures about corporate and government privacy issues (which to some extent have been obscured by faux outrage about the U.S. spying on other governments, the scandal would be if our intelligence services weren’t doing that) people are understandably on edge and concerned about these issues. Most in the ed tech world don’t see the politics as creating a big issue for most education businesses and see a limited impact. I’m not so sure. This is an issue with a lot of left-right convergence, a genuine issue at its core, and an issue that touches people directly. Those are always potent issues. DQC took a look at some privacy issues in a brief recently (pdf).
In the education sector today sounds like a never-ending ad for Little Caesar’s….PISA PISA…
The new PISA results are out. Usual suspects saying the usual things. Few things to keep in mind.
- Bottom line: The sky is not falling, but the ceiling may be closing in on us some. But we don’t need international comparisons to tell us we have serious educational problems here.
- These results matter, but not as much or as little as various combatants would have you believe. The best thing to look at is the patterns because as a rule any precision will be false precision given the limitations of the assessments. And the pattern seems to be that we’re holding steady but other countries are getting their educational acts together. Over time that’s a problem for the United States in a globalized economy. We’re making a big bet that our political, immigration, and economic system can overcome the drag of a subpar education system. That worked in the 20th Century but may not be a smart bet in this one.
- International comparisons are fraught with loose claims. In particular, correlation does not equal causation. So beware when someone points to a single element of country X and says that’s why they are doing well. Context matters, including a country’s political, policy, economic, and social context. That doesn’t mean there is not plenty to learn from other countries, there is (just as there is plenty to learn from other sectors and institutions) but we should respect the limits of comparisons. Likewise, consider how various ideas and systemic features would fit with our educational system and values- for instance we heavily value giving students second chances.
- When someone tells you that we’d be doing great on these tests except for all the poor kids who pull the average down, remind them that it’s not entirely correct but it’s also largely irrelevant: Those poor kids do live here, are being educated (or not) here. It’s important to disaggregate the data for analytical purposes but as a practical matter of making policy today their lives are not a thought experiment or debating point.
- If you want to obsess about this issue read Amanda Ripley’s book instead.
November 27, 2013
Earlier this month Bellwether and College Summit released a paper looking at the “college for all” debate and how it misses the point that college is generally a good idea but students also need to be smart shoppers. Here’s a video that looks at some of those issues.
November 26, 2013
Some new data from the Whiteboard Education Insider survey out (pdf). In addition to the regular tracking questions a look at the impact of new Department of Education staff and also perceptions about rural education. Bellwether is doing a survey of rural superintendents that is more comprehensive but includes the same questions so in a few months look for some compare and contrast between the superintendents and the Insider pool.
Last week President Obama announced a competitive program to help create better connections between high school and skilled jobs. It’s a good idea. And it’s also an approach you see in a lot of Western European countries. In the education sector there are nonstop debates about what other countries do – often absent the U.S. context and often in unrealistic terms given our political system and culture. Perhaps rather than the big macro-ideas, ‘let’s turn Houston into Helsinki,’ these more micro ideas are where the action lies?
November 25, 2013
A positive result of Arne Duncan’s “white moms” Kinsley gaffe last week is that it sparked some discussion about the issue he brought up. Frank Bruni is the latest in The Times with a provocative column. On the downside, I’ve heard some Dems worried the line will be used in ads cut against them next year.
November 21, 2013
Article in Bloomberg about Obama Administration outreach to business leaders – hoping to capitalize on the frustration in the business community with Congressional Republicans in the wake of the government shutdown. There is an opportunity. In the election earlier this month business leaders successfully came together in a special election in Alabama to support a moderate Republican over a Tea Pary candidate (and earlier in the year business had rallied there to keep state adoption of Common Core on track). The election was an intra-party squabble among Republicans but there is an education angle to all this: Pushback on the Tea Party from business groups makes greater business support for Common Core more likely.
Right now you have a few companies – notably Exxon – out in front on Common Core. GE has been actively involved as well but their support resulted in a protest at a recent shareholder’s meeting that was widely noticed. The Business Roundtable and U.S. Chamber of Commerce are making Common Core a priority but it’s a lift for companies because the payoff from better schools is long-term and the political costs are immediate. That’s why business talks a good game about all the tough stands they will take, and many CEOs are deeply concerned about competitiveness, but in practice CEO’s who do something adverse to the near-term corporate interest because it might be good for education policy a decade from have some explaining to do to shareholders and analysts. I noted this dynamic last year writing about GE’s Common Core push for TIME:
Corporate involvement in education is a hot topic these days. Just Google “corporate education reform,” and you’ll see all sorts of conspiracy theories about how company interests are taking over the nation’s public schools. Education historian Diane Ravitch has crusaded against what she sees as corporate efforts to privatize public schools. The issue gets debated regularly in major education publications like Education Week and is a fixture among reporters blogging at mainstream outlets such as the Washington Post. But while plenty of business dollars flow into education, privatization is a sideshow, and, as a rule, corporations are skittish about taking on the really contentious issues in education reform.
I’ve seen this firsthand in my work in government at the state and federal level, at think tanks, and as a consultant: corporations are loath to antagonize politicians over school policy when they have more immediate concerns before government officials, including tax and regulatory issues. There are some exceptions, of course. But in general companies stick to safe issues (think vague talk about “global competitiveness” and “high standards” or happy talk about educating more engineers) rather than the knotty issues of real school reform (think turning around failing schools, evaluating principals and teachers or overhauling archaic teacher contracts). And sometimes their positions on issues such as taxes work against efforts to improve schools.
Today publicly traded companies focus foremost on making money for shareholders, not making the world a better place. That ethos, along with political calculations and Wall Street’s intense focus on relatively short-term financial performance, makes it easy to see why corporations would be reluctant to create enemies in Washington or state capitals over an issue like education. Education reform pays off over generations; corporations want friends in government right now.
That’s why, in an odd every cloud has a silver lining sort of way, the more toxic the Tea Party makes itself the more likely it is that business can step up and step in on Common Core in a more substantial way. In fact, Common Core is a good fight for the business community to pick. And given the political risks to Common Core, that’s a good thing for those who want to see the new standards succeed.
November 20, 2013
Two Common Core items that bear watching.
At HuffPo CCCSO’s Chris Minnich pushes back on AFT’s Randi Weingarten about Common Core implementation. He calls her claims “unfounded assertions.” The subtext here is increasing frustration with union efforts to stir up trouble on Common Core in New York as part of an effort to get an accountability moratorium. Weingarten is right that implementation is not where it needs to be – anywhere. But Minnich is clearly right that this is the most robust effort implement standards and support teachers ever. Weingarten is playing for internal audiences though and the game for her is getting a moratorium on stakes and consequences she can show frustrated members. That effort is doing damage to Common Core, however, at a time the standards push can ill-afford it.
In Baltimore County the teachers union filed a grievance claiming Common Core is increasing workloads too much. Keep an eye on this one. If this idea gets legs it’s exactly the sort of “heads I win, tails you lose” political wedge that, yes you guessed it, Common Core can ill-afford right now. Common Core opponents would like nothing more than to see the union prevail on this one.
Given the increasingly hostile political climate keep an eye on pols running for the exits. Earlier this week, in the wake of a poll showing concern about testing and weaker than expected approval numbers New York Governor Andrew Cuomo raised the possibility of Common Core changes in New York…
If the Common Core strategy is some sort of rope-a-dope play then it looks like it is working. Otherwise, proponents need to get in the political fight – like Minnich did today – fast.
November 19, 2013
I mentioned yesterday that the administration’s K-12 ed policy is pretty reactive these days. Here’s Ed Week and Andy Smarick about that, for instance. The zigging and zagging on waiver policy is hard to keep straight although the arc bends towards less and less accountability. But when you step back it’s sort of stunning that in the fall of a school year the administration is still trying to figure out what student assessment policy will look like in the spring. That’s frustrating for school administrators and teachers as well as state officials because it’s hard to plan when everything is a jump ball. Thinking back to the 1990s, or even the early part of the last decade, education interest groups would have been up in arms about a situation like this and getting some response. But largely they’re not.
Why? Three plausible suspects:
Is is that the groups are a lot weaker now than they were two decades ago?
Is everyone so used to the fluidity that it’s just seen as normal now?
Are people becoming addicted to the flexibility so no one wants to rock the boat too much?
All of those to some extent? Or is it something else? Ideas?
November 18, 2013
Lawrence Public Schools in Massachusetts is recognizing teaching talent from across the country with a cash prize, professional development, and recognition. Learn more and apply here.
Plenty of outrage (both genuine and manufactured) over Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s comments this weekend that “white suburban moms” are behind the angst about Common Core. It was an inartful way to make the point that school reform meets a lot resistance in the suburbs because of the pandemic of complacency that exists there. But it’s hardly the first time the Secretary has become overly enthusiastic on a political point and walked into a gaffe. So while it’s catnip for some, I wouldn’t read too much into it.
The larger problem it points up, however, is how mangled the administration’s message is here and the absence of any semblance of a real argument. One reason the suburbs are complacent is that politicians, notable amongst them Duncan and the President, spent a lot of time telling suburban voters there that any law that said 40 percent of the nation’s schools needed improvement was obviously flawed. They were talking about the No Child Left Behind Act. And the rhetoric was a good fit for a suburban/exurban political strategy but at odds with what we know about educational achievement in this country.
Now, when the same resistance is emerging around a more ambitious set of standards Duncan is stuck tacking back and effectively saying ‘wait, your schools aren’t as good as I said they were just a few years ago.’ This problem is greatly magnified because the administration is pretty much fully reactive on K-12 policy now and doesn’t have a forward-looking argument to make about K-12 schools. This lets the Common Core critics have a field day (and they are, even without gaffes that make their job easier). Meanwhile, on the other side Civil Rights groups are increasingly up in arms over the looseness of the No Child Left Behind waiver process and what it means for currently underserved students.
More generally the Common Core is facing increasing trouble because of the same leap in ambition. The nation struggled with the substance and politics of No Child Left Behind – a law that just told the states to make their own standards more meaningful. When that didn’t work, in no small part because of political resistance, the response was Common Core – a set of standards that are substantially more ambitious than the ones No Child told states to make real. It’s basically like a couple in troubled marriage who decide that since things are not working having a baby is the next logical step.
That, rather than an ill-considered remark, is the real story here and if history is any guide should be a real cause for concern for those who support the new standards.
November 15, 2013
It’s Friday, let’s have a contest: First person (comment below, email, or Twitter) with the name of the education personality (clues: teacher, school leader, sometimes writer) who appeared on “Friends” back in the day wins a great prize from BW. Video clips to come later.
Update: Guesses on Twitter include Michelle Rhee, John Legend, Eva Moskowitz, Joel Klein, John White, Richard Barth Seth Andrew, Rick Hess, and Chuck Norris. They’re all off. So another clue: It was the rugby episode, and this person played rugby.
Update 3: Two really good guesses were Brian Sims and Josh Edelman, both rugby playing educators. But no. It is in fact, as Nelson Smith correctly figured out for the win, ICEF founder Mike Piscal.
November 13, 2013
Bellwether is growing, join our team of 35. Openings in Strategic Advising and Thought Leadership. You can learn more about various openings here.
Some new Whiteboard Advisors Education Insider survey data out today. NYC Chancellor speculation and election outcomes (pdf). More later this month.
Yesterday I shared my take on the NAEP results, which is that they may be starting to reflect the effect backing off on accountability. Yet we should ask a second question, too. It’s also possible that after two decades that saw progress we are starting to see the limits of standards-based reform – not in places that desperately need to dramatically improve like Washington, D.C. but more generally. That seems like an odd question to ask on the eve of the Common Core but we should be open to the idea that standards-based reform has hit a plateau or ceiling and that the education sector needs to think differently about supports for kids, using technology, rethinking human capital, and changing how schools and districts operate. That’s not synonymous with walking away from standards or from meaningful accountability, and in the context of American social policy the standards movement has accomplished a great deal. But even our very best schools (and despite the best efforts of debunkers on the political left and right there are some very good ones) are not systematically accomplishing what we want to see for young people.
November 12, 2013
Last week’s NAEP score release is occasioning plenty of debate. Some of it is predictable – people who used to live and die on NAEP scores now see anti-reform touchstones DC and Tennessee doing well and suddenly it’s ‘move along, nothing to see here!’ Others just want to skewer the Obama Administration or their favorite target. But there are also important points being raised.
In particular while it’s too soon to know for sure and it’s easy to over-read one NAEP administration (and you can cherry pick data in NAEP to show just about anything) these scores do seem to offer some early evidence that the shift from NCLB to Race to the Top and waivers is on. The concern about the NCLB-waivers wasn’t that the No Child law didn’t need substantial revision (at that point almost a decade since it was first passed everyone agreed that it did). Rather, it was that easing two decades of federal pressure around school accountability would usher in an era of even greater uneven performance than already existed or slower performance gains. Accountability, for all its challenges, does drive at least modest progress. That’s clear from the research. So some analysts worried that under the waivers states would undoubtedly excel but at the same time others would back off. (Tennessee’s governor was there, for instance, when the Obama Administration first announced the waiver so you expected they would continue to be bold there. States that came later to it….).
There are pluses and minuses to the No Child approach and to the Obama approach as well. It’s foolish to pretend that either (or any other policy for that matter) is without costs and benefits. But last week’s results indicate it might be time to have a conversation about how much variance we’re willing to tolerate amongst the states in the name of having the feds back off.
November 11, 2013
November 8, 2013
Got an idea that can help in Louisiana? They want your help. And given the stalled ESEA process Alex Medler calls for charter ideas that can be enacted via waiver authority.
From LA another round in the ongoing legal wrangling about whether teacher value addedscores should be made public and published. A court said the public interest outweighs other concerns. Legally it seems like newspapers are on firm ground in terms of their right to publish information like this. But, a more important question is whether it’s a good or useful idea to do so? There is a lot to be said for making the results of comprehensive teacher evaluations available to parents and giving them more choice about teachers (it’s one way to democratize the currently privileged flow of information at the school level) but publishing just the individual raw value-added data doesn’t seem to make a great deal of sense. There are plenty of things newspapers can legally publish but it doesn’t mean they are a good idea or productive information to publish. Editors make decisions like that all the time. The public interest would be better served by analyses of the patterns these data reveal in various communities. See, for instance, a new Mathematica analysis about teacher effectiveness and disadvantaged students (pdf)*.
*Disc – I was on a working group for this project, see page vii.
November 7, 2013
Two edujobs at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.
Campaign Manager of Education Policy will help lead advocacy and messaging work for CAP, great role for someone communication savvy looking to work in education. They are also seeking a policy analyst who will have a focus on Common Core implementation. Info on both roles through those links. CAP’s in the action on key education issues so good opportunities.
New NAEP data out today, mixed picture with some progress but insufficient results overall. Interesting understory though, anti-reform punching bags D.C. and Tennessee post noteworthy gains (in DC charter enrollment mixed in so relative performance of each sector won’t be known until later). Everyone who has been busy using mostly flat NAEP to castigate reform progress the last few years suddenly doesn’t think it’s such a useful measure anymore…Causes? Probably multiple but the gains are noteworthy.
Elsewhere, MA results will probably embolden Common Core critics as a talking point. HI makes gains.
November 6, 2013
Nominations for a TNTP Fishman Prize are open. Nominate a great teacher you know via this link.
In August The University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors cut back a financial aid program – AccessUVA – aimed at increasing the number of low-income students at the university. Given the impact the cut will have and the struggles that UVA* – and most of its peer institutions – have with economic diversity the cut received surprisingly little attention. But student activists and concerned alumni have launched a viral campaign, engaged some influential national interest groups, some elected officials are weighing-in, and they’re strategically targeting alumni and donors with one on one outreach – some of whom are pledging to withhold support in protest. This won’t lead to anything like the fireworks of last summer, but keep an eye on it. Other universities considering similar measures surely are.
*Disc – I have a master’s from UVA and am Vice Chair of the Board of the Curry School Foundation at UVA. The foundation has no role in decisions like this and my views are my own.
In Colorado the grand bargain finance reform measure failed with voters. It would have, among other things, raised taxes, sent more money to poor districts, and expanded pre-K education in the state. The defeat again raises the dilemma that underpins much of the education debate today: Given voter sentiment waiting until all the conditions for reform are in place sure seems like it’s going to be a long wait for students.
In Virginia a lot of speculation about what Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe will do on schools. But keep an eye on the Commonwealth’s senate, too. It’s a jump ball now pending some special elections and party control there will impact education policy.
November 4, 2013
New paper today from College Summit and Bellwether about the ‘is college worth it?’ debate. Our take is that the evidence shows it is, quite clearly, but that it’s the wrong question. There are undoubtably some bad decisions students can make so what’s needed are better tools and methods to help students navigate their post-secondary choices. You can learn more and read the paper via this link.
Here’s Chronicle of Higher Ed on the paper and a second analysis out today on the same issue from Public Agenda.
The Times takes a look at tomorrow’s referendum in Colorado. A good look at some of the complicated politics of getting more money aimed toward poor students at the state level. A more under the radar CO story is Douglas County, Colorado. Politco takes a look at the school board race there. The fight in Douglas County has been going on for some time but has clearly become nationalized.
Elsewhere, a call for boldness in Boston.
November 1, 2013
Interesting back and forth on Twitter today about H.R. 2083, the Protecting Students from Sexual and Violent Predators Act (text here). Basically, frustrated by stuff like this the bill is an effort to create a national standard for how background checks for educators and those left unsupervised with children should work. The bill passed the House, is now in the Senate. The NEA made clear it has objections, the position of the AFT has been harder to figure out. That’s what the twitter discussion was about.
The confusion started when AFT President Randi Weingarten in response to an AP story saying the AFT objected to the bill, said that they did not and subsequently published their letter to the Hill about it. Fair enough, they didn’t formally object but offered several suggestions the union thinks would improve the legislation. And they said they supported the “spirit” of the bill. All of which is Washington code for “sort of, but.” Still, there are certainly several levels of escalation past that language if you really want to coerce a no vote.
Substantively, however, the AFT’s suggestions are not minor ones. Some are quite reasonable – individuals who falsely fail a background check do often get caught in a Kafkaesque nightmare to clear their record. Others, though, would undo the intent of the bill. In particular the AFT wants:
We suggest that states with background check laws that are at least as demanding and thorough as those proposed in H.R. 2083 be granted the flexibility and authority to use their own state laws and procedures in place of the new federal rules laid out in the bill. For those states that make use of the federal rules, state procedures should be developed in a way that respects the rights, remedies and procedures afforded school employees under federal, state or local laws (including applicable regulations, executive orders or court orders) or under the terms of collective bargaining agreements, memoranda of understanding, or other agreements between school employees and their employers.
There are a few problems here. First, weak state systems are a big part of the problem (a landmark 2007 AP investigation laid bare the problems) and given the stakes and the interstate nature of the problem it makes sense to get everyone to adhere to a common set of standards than go down the policy rabbit hole of what’s comparable. More fundamentally, asking for deference to language in teachers contracts and state laws merely perpetuates today’s problems. It’s legislative Ice-nine in a lot of places.
Later in the letter the AFT asks for some exemptions:
We therefore suggest that H.R. 2083 apply only to new hires and/or include a time limit of 45 days for the check to be completed, as provided for in S. 1086 [the Child Care and Development block grant, which has language on this issue].
In other words, these new federal standards (which the AFT wants to defer to current law and collective bargaining agreements anyway) would not apply to current personnel and anyone who can’t get a background check completed in 45 days would be exempt. This is how a bill becomes toothless. The current personnel language is an enormous loophole. Though it should be kept in proper perspective, this is a problem now not just in the future. The 45 day time limit is also a problem. It’s hard for employers and prospective employees when a slow check delays employment, but a better solution is to put in place some funding to ensure expeditious background checks, not exempt people because the system isn’t robust enough. Again, remember the stakes of what we’re talking about here.
When asked how this language didn’t create a huge loophole Weingarten wasn’t clear. She focused on other parts of the letter and distanced herself from this language, but how far is not clear. When Roll Call reporter Kyle Trygstad asked ”So is AFT not requesting a 45-day limit that if exceeded teacher gets hired anyway?” Weingarten responded, “No.” But she declined to respond to questions about the language on current employees or whether the letter had incorrect language in it given her response to Trygstad.
In other words, the AFT’s exact position remains murky. Deferring to state laws and teachers’ contracts is a boilerplate position on a variety of federal policy issues.It’s a problem on this issue but not a unique position for the AFT to take. The time limits and exemptions for existing employees is a trickier issue both in terms of the public optics and substantively for the union. That may well be why it was at the bottom of the letter.
My take is that policy is always a balancing act of competing priorities. I don’t think Randi Weingarten or any other teachers’ union official has any interest in protecting predators. I know many of these people and know they’re as repulsed by these problems as anyone. But they do have an interest in protecting certain approaches to personnel issues and some of those approaches are in conflict with best practices on this issue and can have the effect of making it harder to address this problem. That’s the real tension here.
For students and families impacted by this the intent of various players is not nearly as significant as the actual effects of various policies. Keep an eye on this bill and this issue.