January 29, 2015

Teachers And Social Security

Chad Aldeman and Leslie Kan on why teachers should all be enrolled in Social Security – 40% are not right now.

January 28, 2015

Chait Is Not PC!

Jon Chait takes a look at the reemergence of some debates about political correctness and language policing. Implications for the K-12 sector and playing out in higher ed. Also implications for the liberal – progressive divide in the Democratic party, an issue that also affects education policy.

21st Century Skills

The 21st Century Skills movement is mostly a repackaging of ideas (with powerpoint, natch) that have been around for centuries – just previously the province of a few. But this looks like it might qualify as a genuine 21st Century Skill?

January 26, 2015


Finally, some evidence that the nation’s focus on STEM is starting to pay some dividends.

Teacher Pensions In Colorado

Few reach the peaks – that’s the reality of Colorado’s teacher retirement system for teachers. And it’s also, by coincidence, the title of this new TeacherPensions.org analysis of Colorado’s teacher pension system. Good example of how in all the talk about the fiscal issues around teacher pensions there is not enough attention on the more pressing problem that these systems just don’t work that well for most teachers.

January 22, 2015

Should Young Farmers Get Extra Student Loan Relief?

Farming is capital intensive. That’s one among many barriers to young farmers trying to break into farming and also an obstacle to transfer of farm property outside of families and a contributor to the loss of farm land.

The National Young Farmers Coalition* wants to see farming included in the list of public service occupations eligible for loan forgiveness. On the upside, it would help young people moving into farming. Student loan debt can be a barrier to financing other farm related expenses. On the other hand, the change would broaden the program’s definition in a way that raises program integrity questions because farming is not a non-profit activity and there is ownership and assets involved.

What do you think, should farming be covered? Why or why not?

*I’m on the NYFC advisory council but am not involved on this issue.

January 21, 2015

Teacher Run Schools

PPI’s David Osborne on teacher run schools in the WaPo. More background on the idea here.

Pahara – Aspen Fellows

New class of Pahara – Aspen fellows announced today. More about them here.

Poverty, Schools, And Separation

Sara Mead made fast work of the Washington Post’s sensational headline-driven story on poverty rates in public schools. Half of U.S. public students living in poverty was a headline too good to check apparently. The original story conflated subsidized lunch eligibility with the poverty line, a common and easy mistake to make.

But, leaving aside the specifics of the story the underlying issue – high numbers of children living in poverty – does have important implications. First, as Mead notes:

Finally, I’d note that this data does raise a serious obstacle for those who argue that the best way to improve the educational outcomes for low-income kids is to send more of them to majority middle class schools. But when more than half of kids live in low-income families, those low-income children can attend majority middle class schools only if they go to schools that serve lower populations of low-income children than the nation as a whole. The idea that slightly increasing the number of low-income kids in middle class schools will get us to educational nirvana is a pipe dream. Given our nation’s current demographics, there is no path to ensuring quality education for all low-income kids that does not require increasing the number of high-performing schools serving significant concentrations of poor and/or low-income children.

In addition, it’s hard to look at these data and not have some concerns about the future of public schools as a broad-based institution in the United States. People with means are opting out of the public schools via “public privates,” public schools in high-property value areas that function like de facto private schools. Meanwhile, although private school enrollment bounces around, the nation’s elite consider generally public school participation a good thing for other people to do – like military service. Some of the reasons are understandable. A black friend in Virginia recently remarked to me that he just couldn’t “risk it” with the public schools for his kids. Anyone with an even cursory understanding of education today can understand where he’s coming from even if they make a different choice. Some of the reasons are also just part and parcel of the more general economic and social separation that is happening in American society.

So here’s a thought. Read the rest of this entry »

Fools Gold Of Labor-Managment Partnerships?

Here’s a really interesting take on the labor movement by NYC-based writer Chris Maisano. Analyzes Thomas Geoghegan’s recent book and some paths forward for labor.

January 20, 2015

Two Bush Brothers With Two Takes On School Accountability

Not surprisingly a lot of stories looking at how President George W. Bush is similar or different than his brother Jeb, the former Florida governor and current presidential candidate. The Times is here. The New Yorker take focusing on education here.

Here’s one way they differ on policy that hasn’t received a lot of attention. In the NY’er story Sandy Kress alludes to some friction between Florida officials and WH officials during the NCLB-era. That’s because Jeb Bush isn’t a fan of race-based school accountability rules while his brother helped strengthen race-focused accountability rules in federal education policy.

Here is Jeb Bush in 2012 putting some distance between his policies and his brother’s:

I don’t think there needs to be a [school accountability] requirement based on race. If you’re going to pick anything, pick poverty. [Florida’s] system is better in that it has an extra focus on the lowest [performing] 25 percent.

I get tired of hearing people, well-meaning people, talking about African-American kids or Hispanic kids as if they’re all the same. Which isn’t true. There is a very diverse group of people in both groups in terms of income, objectives in life, aspirations, cultural wants, habits, all the things that make us unique Americans. This identity politics is unhealthy in education policy. It started under our previous president.

That’s a difference with some salience in the current debate over federal education policy as well as broader questions about how best to design social policy.

Teacher On The Sidelines

There will be some teacher voice on the sidelines of this year’s Super Bowl. Brendan Daly, former teacher, now coaches defense for the New England Patriots. You can read about him here, see him in action (during an earlier New England visit) at Harvard here.  And more here via the PJ.

January 16, 2015

Edu In 2015

Jane Williams’ Bloomberg Edu takes a look at 2015 forecasts this week with John Hechinger, Elizabeth Green, Alyson Klein and me. 

Get Tutored On Tutoring

Doug Mesecar takes a look at the Supplemental Services provisions of No Child Left Behind and implications (pdf). 

Student Data Privacy

Via the Whiteboard survey, Education Insiders think action on student data privacy more likely than a year ago.

Race And Federal Accountability

Jonah Edelman of Stand For Children (they’re a BW client) penned an op-ed for The Daily Beast arguing that rolling back federal accountability rules in a new ESEA law would harm minority kids and other disadvantaged populations. This prompted Rick Hess and Mike Petrilli to respond that Edelman was playing the “race card.” Hess and Petrilli accuse him of saying that any effort to reduce the federal role is a, ” surrender to racism, politics, ignorance, or indifference.” Actually, Edelman used those words in a historical context and Hess and Petrilli take them way out of context.

It doesn’t really matter though because more generally…c’mon. It’s not race-baiting to point out that policies or their absence are going to have an adverse impact. Rather than all the happy talk about how states will handle it the intellectually honest conservative position on federal education policy is that, yes, getting rid of federal rules will lead to more inequity but will help improve educational quality in other ways. It’s not my position. But it’s not indefensible or racist. And the entire education sector would be better off it policy leaders would talk more candidly about the trade-offs of various approaches (Hess and I have done some writing together on that issue).

On ESEA/NCLB policies, pointing out that these policies benefit minority kids isn’t race baiting but neither is opposing them inherently racist. The world isn’t that simple but Hess and Petrilli’s reflexive reaction was.

Update: Also on this takes from RiShawn Biddle here, Cindy Brown here, and Michael McShane here.  Peter Cunningham weighs-in here.

January 15, 2015

Edujob – Chief Program Officer @ Blue Engine

Blue Engine is an interesting and below the radar student support initiative generating promising results. They’re seeking a Chief Program Officer (Bellwether is supporting the search), which is a great opportunity to be part of this effort and contribute to student success more generally. Details through the link.

Grade Span Accountability & Annual Testing

One of the ideas that’s emerging around ESEA reauthorization is the idea of grade-span testing for accountability. Chad Aldeman and Anne Hyslop take a look at why there is less there than meets the eye.

January 14, 2015


Senator Alexander’s draft ESEA overhaul bill is out (pdf). 

A lot of it is greatest hits from past efforts to change the No Child law although the idea of letting states choose their own assessments and mix state and local ones is a deal-breaker from an equity standpoint (and also a backdoor way to destroy Common Core).

So the basic political question is, although the bill hasn’t changed that much since Alexander’s last ESEA overhaul attempt, have the politics changed enough for this bill to make it through?

Chad Aldeman here. Alyson Klein’s take here. Mike Petrillil is giddy!  Update: Anne Hyslop doesn’t like it.

January 9, 2015

YEP Survey

Young Education Professionals is again soliciting the views of – you guessed it! – young professionals in the education sector. They roll it into an annual report, here’s the one from last year (pdf). If you’re a young education professional you can fill out the survey here.

January 6, 2015

Washington DC-Area Schools And Snow: Let The Recriminations Begin!

Jan 6 snow bus-1You may have heard (or seen on Twitter), it snowed in the D.C.-area this morning. A fast moving clipper came through and left more snow that was expected. The storm arrived at the worst possible time, peaking during the morning rush in an area that never does snow well.

This, of course, created trouble for school systems that had to make an early morning call about opening or closing based on imperfect information (that turned out to be wrong, the storm exceeded the forecast). Result: It was messy. The picture above is an Arlington County school bus paralyzed on a hill and there was a lot of that going around. Now, a lot of angst about schools being open when people think they should have been closed and several counties have apologized to parents. More examples here. But keep in mind that had this been a storm as forecast the second-guessing would be about how soft school officials were for closing for an inch or two of snow. When the calls are on the edge there is a ritualized element to the complaining. And it’s worth remembering that there are costs to the idea that erring on the side of closing is always the right choice. In addition to lost learning some students lose the best meal they see all day. These snow closing decisions are no-wins for school systems and the marginal calls always look more straightforward in hindsight.

Hangover Part II

A few people have wondered why WaPo’s Jay Mathews wrote about our Hangover paper on teacher evaluation in early 2015 given that we published it in 2012.  Jay’s not behind the times. Rather, a version of it is in this new Harvard Education Press book on the teacher quality debate (Hess-McShane) that came out this fall. In addition, in this season of predictions, while much of what we anticipated and discussed in the paper 2012 is ongoing in 2015 the entire debate is a live one so the book is worth checking out.

More generally, like so much of education policy The Hangover has become a Rorschach test for a teacher evaluation debate that is mostly impressionistic. We’re not against value-added, but the paper is about its limits as a tool and the broader set of evaluation challenges facing the sector. For my part, a culture of performance – and evaluation is a key part of that – matters most and tools are not a substitute for that. That culture does not exist now at any scale. Besides, although you wouldn’t know it from the rhetoric, value-added data is available for less than a third of teachers. So different approaches and methods – which are more common in most lines of professional work – are needed.

So, the short version is that value-added is more robust than you’ve probably heard but also less useful as a long-term solution in a field like education. And as we note in the paper, the evolution the field is going through now is probably unavoidable but more innovation with genuinely professional approaches to evaluation (and ones that don’t conflict with emerging innovations in K-12 education) is sorely needed. Anyone who tells you they have evaluation figured out isn’t being straight with you. There is a lot to learn but this is a challenge the sector needs to get right to really improve and innovation is the only path forward to learning more.


More on the rural – urban/suburban disconnect in education policy via the Idaho Statesman. 

The Teachers Union Empowerment Act Of 2015?

The potential No Child Left Behind/ESEA reauthorization bill is shaping up to be the Teachers Union Empowerment Act of 2015. Money with no conditions and intense state and local decision-making (where the unions and other vested interests are strongest). Why Lamar Alexander and his more conservative colleagues in the House and Senate are pushing that is a political play so sophisticated it escapes most (including me). Mike Petrilli breaks down the current bidding here.

January 5, 2015

The Hangover Redux

A book chapter version of the paper (pdf) Sara Mead, Rachael Brown, and I wrote on teacher evaluation was recently published. Jay Mathews takes a look at it and the broader issues in today’s WaPo.

We Asked National Policy Insiders And Rural Superintendents About Federal Policy And You’ll Never Believe What Happened Next…

Actually, you probably will. Some big gaps between what rural superintendents want from Washington and what policy leaders think they need. More on all that plus an overview of federal education policy affecting rural schools in this new paper (pdf).

January 2, 2015

Six Issues To Watch In 2015

[Insert cliché about predictions here]. As 2015 dawns here are a few things I’m watching in the education sector this year:

Watch cities.  Increasingly municipal government is the only level of government that works with any regularity. I’d keep an eye on cities as a place for ambitious place-based education reform strategies. In Boston the mayor and an engaged philanthropic community are championing various ideas (Bellwether was involved in some of those) in ways that are illustrative of the trend. And around the country its cities that increasingly are discussed rather than states or Washington in terms of where actual results are happening. Robin Lake has thoughts on this as well. 

Ed tech starts to deliver. I’ve been skeptical of a lot of what comes under the banner of educational technology – a skepticism informed by a lot of history of over-promising and under-delivering from ed tech boosters and the industry. To be sure there is still a lot of hype but there are also some initiatives starting to show what’s possible here, particularly around personalized learning. Complicated questions remain, especially around data privacy, but the potential for technology to expand competency-based models and other ways of meeting students where they are and genuinely differentiating instruction should prove itself out more this year with teachers, parents, and policymakers.

Common Core battle disappoints.  Everyone seems to be expecting a big pivot on Common Core or at least an enormous debate. A recent article asked provocatively if we were on the cusp of a massive repeal. Perhaps the pot is about to boil over yet Read the rest of this entry »

December 29, 2014

Federal Policy And Rural Schools

Lars Johnson, Ashley Mitchel, and I have a paper coming in January looking at the disconnect between rural education and federal education policy. It’s part of an ongoing Bellwether project in Idaho. Ashley and I penned an op-ed on that issue previewing the paper that ran over the weekend there.

December 24, 2014

‘Twas The Night Before ESEA?

It might be. Who knows? But speculating about it can certainly keep a week. Light posting, if at all, through January 2nd. Happy holidays and best wishes for 2015. Thanks for reading.  - AR

December 19, 2014

New Education Insider Data

New data from the Whiteboard Advisors Education Insider survey. Looks at ESEA and HEA prospects, possible action on gainful employment rule, privacy legislation likelihood and other issues. You can read/download here (pdf).