Monthly Archives: August 2010


Quick announcement: Starting in September I’m going to write a weekly column on education issues for and occasionally for the magazine.  Obviously, I’m excited about this great opportunity but as with most new things it means some changes, too.

Most notably, I will not be contributing to US News and World Report anymore.  I first collaborated with them on their high school rankings, an outgrowth of this paper (pdf) showing that the Newsweek rankings favored many schools that were shortchanging kids.  While not perfect I continue to think that the USN high school rankings are the best ones out there if you care about equity within schools, achievement gaps, and advanced course-taking.   That work led to a contributor relationship for several years.  For that I  want to thank Robert Schlesinger, a thoughtful and overworked opinions editor.  And I especially want to thank Brian Kelly, USN’s editor, for the opportunities he gave me, support, and friendship.  It is not a secret that these are tough times for the news and publishing business but Brian illustrates why that’s largely situational and not a reflection of the quality of people working in that field.

So you can look for the column in September and I’ll still be blogging here.

A Hessian Matrix

The town vandals now what to know what’s up with all these broken windows?

Over at the AEI blog my friend Rick Hess, who like a few others spent much of the spring in a effort to undermine trust and confidence around ‘Race to the Top’ (in Rick’s case while earnestly bleating that competitive grant programs need trust to work), wants those of us asking questions now to vindicate him for his earlier comments.  But he overlooks a key distinction:  Hess wasn’t just arguing that the initiative might have programmatic issues of the kind many are now discussing (and discussed after Round 1.)  Rather, he was also implying the strong possibility of conflicts of interest and self-dealing.  Sure, he went out of the way to say he wasn’t impugning Joanne Weiss or Jim Shelton or anyone else, but would then follow that with lines like this:

“will [they] be in a position to reassure even skeptical observers that the process has been fair and meritocratic…. whether the program is sufficiently insulated from political machinations that even mean-spirited skeptics would have trouble finding cause to wonder about manipulation and private agendas.”

It’s the classic, ‘of course I’m not saying that’….but I’ll write about that a lot anyway, because that is important, and we have to pay attention to that, and did I mention that some people, but most definitely not me, think they’re up to that?’  At the same time, Hess was also making noise about questions about reviewers being picked for political reasons and other issues that didn’t come to pass.

So it’s worth pointing out that for its problems, and in addition to the policy changes it’s produced so far, Race to the Top has set a standard for transparency in a grant competition by releasing pretty much everything associated with the competition.*  It’s one reason people can go over the reviews in such detail.  Meanwhile, if anything it was the desire to bend over backwards to appease this sort of concern that is likely the root of the RTT scoring problems.  The political appointees Hess worries about were in such a box they couldn’t influence the program – even when the public interest arguably would have been better served had they done so – and couldn’t pick a field of reviewers uniformly deep in the work because they would have been attacked for conflicts of interest.  In other words, this throw up whatever and see what sticks style of advocacy (and in fairness the Department of Education pays too much attention to it) is no small part of the problem here.

*While we’re on this, Hess has never resolved the inherent contradiction in arguing that the program should be free from influence while also calling for real-time ways for outsiders to influence the process.   In retrospect, despite the scoring problems, allowing for a play-by-play view into the process would have been a disaster.  The grant process needs some changes but not that one.

Adding Value?

Value-add measures for teachers are complicated.  Two takes fresh out today. Shorter versions:

From the teachers’ union-funded EPI (pdf):  We don’t want to say don’t use value-add, but use it only a very wee little bit!    We’re more bullish on peer review, but ignore the evidence there please!

From U of W’s Dan Goldhaber: Use it responsibility and beware of the limitations.  Why on earth is the LAT doing what it’s doing?

Goldhaber’s take is sensible.  EPI is right that the fetishising of 51 percent of evaluation from value-add isn’t wise (and it’s also not practical as a comprehensive tool).  And they sensibly call for a federal push to innovate with various evaluation models.  But isn’t that what’s happening under Race to the Top and related initiatives?* And since we really don’t know what works here yet there is nothing wrong with states innovating with heavy value-add models (meaning weighted at 50 percent or more), too, is there?  Besides, it’s worth nothing that models that use value-add for much less than 50 get attacked, too.

In fact, I’d argue the underlying issue is less the specifications of any value-add model, or any evaluation system that uses value-add, and more the underlying issue of outcome-based evaluation.  Most of the debate today is camouflage for that.

*Take for instance the DC IMPACT model, which is a pretty good tool.

At The Races

Races with big education implications, like Michael Bennet’s U.S. Senate race or the upcoming DC mayoral primary are pretty well known.  But there are some other races with big potential education implications just a little below the radar.  Here are three, who else?

Stairway to Beaven – In Florida Heather Beaven is running for Congress.  She’s CEO of The Florida Endowment Foundation for Florida’s Graduates, helping at-risk students there.  She’s a D.

Jeanne out of the bottle? – In Maryland veteran education advocate and agitator Jeanne Allen is running for state legislature.  She’s the founder of the Center for Education Reform in Washington.  She’s an R.

Bill is due – In another Maryland statehouse race Bill Ferguson is challenging a longtime incumbent for a state senate seat.   Education (primarily slow progress on improvement and the need for more ambitious steps) is central to the race.  He’s former TFA and has worked on education in several other roles in Baltimore.  He’s a D.

Posted on Aug 30, 2010 @ 9:55am

Whole Lotta News!

Suddenly a big news day.

In New Jersey state ed chief Brett Schundler has been fired by the governor over this budget issue with Race to the Top.  Wow.  Given how Governor Christie has treated Schundler throughout this process good luck finding someone strong for that position.   And, given that Schundler was a favorite of the school choice crowd, what’s the fallout there?

Sad news from Kentucky, Robert Sexton has died. He headed the Prichard Committee, arguably the prototypical state education advocacy organization.  As a result he was instrumental in key education policy battles around standards and finance among other issues.

A lot of jaws dropped over this story in The Washington Post today.  Legitimate issue but the Post came down hard one way and didn’t caveat things.  Were they just mimicking The Times and their stories on the gaps there?  In any event,  at TNR Jon Chait cuts to the chase. Save yourself some time and read that.

TNTP continues to hit the cover off the ball. And it’s a scandal that the citizens of D.C. don’t have a better public university. The new rankings of dropout factories also, again, illustrate that profit – non-profit is not an especially useful quality delineation in our field right now.


Word is that John Deasy is really amping up in Los Angeles, a lot of excitement and buzz around him out there.   Meanwhile, word is that there are some hiccups coming around I3 match funding, some real complications with the process.  Plus sounds like total pension craziness breaking out in IL.

If you’re voting in Pepsi Refresh then please consider voting for Horizon Learning Center’s residential wellness program idea. (Disc- I worked there during and after college, great people and empowering outdoors-based programs)

Posted on Aug 27, 2010 @ 8:25am


ETS is making a big hire if you’re into teacher assessment and evaluation. Very cool opportunity.  And New York State needs people to help implement the state’s Race to the Top plan. Obviously, the successful candidate will be cocksure.  Bonus:  You get to work closely with the great John King, making this a prime opportunity.

Stand For Children, an organization BW works with, is hiring for a number of roles including a policy director and executive director in MA and an executive director in TN.

Update: Great research job in Chicago, too.