Monthly Archives: October 2012

Are NCLB Waivers An Elaborate Mousetrap? Up In San Jose, Down in LAUSD, And Watch Newark Post Sandy But Pre Merit Pay, Also A Great Edujob

In local media there is a lot of pushback on the targets that various states have set under their No Child Left Behind waivers.  Latest I’ve seen is Oregon, here.  Was Arne Duncan’s cunning gambit to give the states enough leeway that they’d take outrageous steps that would create a backlash and a call for more accountability in the end? I doubt it!  But that’s one theory.

Keep an eye on San Jose and also on how this interesting deal between the union and the city plays in the CA legislature…  Oh, and yeah, LAUSD is still a cluster.   Also watch Newark and the impact of the pending vote on the new contract there (the vote is delayed because of the storm).

Here’s an edujob that let’s you work from anywhere in the country on education innovation issues for the Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust (pdf).  Special bonus: You get to work closely with the great Ethan Gray.

RTTD Extended, Klein Questioning, Rainy Day Reads On Math, Science, And Reading, VA Outsourcing? Plus An Edujob @ Bellwether

Every cloud has a silver lining? Application deadline for RTTD being extended because of Sandy.

Alyson Klein wants answers on the SIG program.  But Thomas Dee has some interesting data.

Random reads for a rainy day: Leave aside the dig about plummeting science literacy (hyperbole) here’s a quirky (quarky?) case for the arts and science.  And here’s a riveting story on math, anti-semitism, and the Soviet Union. Reading Rainbow is back on your iPad.

Andy Smarick is hiring a research assistant here at Bellwether (pdf) great opportunity to join our team.

Crisis? Has science education in Virginia really reached the point where we’re importing our moonshine from North Carolina?

For-Profit Higher Ed – Lousy? Sure. But Hardly Dead

For-profit colleges are probably not as bad as you think – they’re worse.  But while disruptive innovation is hard to find in K-12 education because that sector is so highly regulated and has so little formal choice, for consumers in higher education it can take hold.  That seems to be what’s happening now and in the long-term it points toward improvement.  That’s what I look at in a new column in TIME today:

Last week the for-profit behemoth University of Phoenix said it would close 115 locations. The move comes on the heels of a late September decision by Kaplan Higher Education to stop new enrollment at nine of its sites and consolidate four campuses. Critics are elated, hoping that these moves signal the death knell of for-profit education. And indeed, the stocks of the for-profits are down almost 50% this year according to the Bloomberg index that follows the industry. But love it or hate it, for-profit higher education is unlikely to disappear and is instead shifting to a leaner incarnation online. Before too long, such schools will likely be an accepted part of the landscape alongside traditional public and private universities.

Know what’s been disruptive?  The internet.  You can use it by clicking here to read the entire column.

Halloween Pensions And A Year Round Edujob

Peter Orszag turns in a Halloween-themed column on pension liabilities.  Two key takeaways.  First, the problem is not equally distributed around the states and it’s important to look beneath the overall numbers.  A few years ago Chad Aldeman and I did state-by-state numbers in this analysis of teacher pensions.  Second, the problem isn’t all the unions, in our sector teachers unions, as you sometimes hear.  State officials have made a variety of lousy decisions while legislatures have systematically underfunded pension contributions in some states. But the book, which I have not had a chance to read in its entirety, that Orszag cites to make this case uses a flawed measure of union strength to argue that unions don’t have a large role – especially around how to fix the problem.  The analysis looks at the presence of collective bargaining as a proxy for union strength.  In the case of teachers unions, only focusing on bargaining ignores ways (organizing, political activities, political fundraising, etc…) the unions have a lot of political influence even in nominally weak union states.  As with the overall pension numbers, the real story is more varied and found underneath the easy labels.

Democracy Prep, very high-performing charter schools in New York, looking for their next CEO, if you think that might be you click here.  Here are some Democracy Prep student singing their viral hit “Vote For Somebody” on Anderson Cooper’s show.

Andy Smarick’s “Urban School Systems of the Future” And The Bellwether Of Now!

Bellwether partner Andy Smarick has written a new book about urban education and reform. Urban School Systems of the Future is a provocative analysis; Smarick argues not that urban districts have problems, something most people would agree with, but rather that when it comes to urban education policy and practice they are the problem.  Drawing on both the history and status quo of urban education and the more recent experience with charter schooling, Smarick picks up the David Osborne, Paul Hill et al. mantle and carries it forward with a call not to just evolve urban districts into portfolio providers of educational services, but rather that a suite of options should replace them.  Smarick emphasizes coordination within a specific geography, and his blueprint differs from some ideas in that it retains some centralized functions and isn’t just a call to jettison districts in favor of a marketplace.  It’s a call for a mixed marketplace with public oversight and regulation, which is why it will not please either strident pole in the debate about urban education governance.

It’s an easy argument to caricature, of course.  Already I’ve seen Smarick accused of being a “profiteer,” which is ironic given how it’s the existing urban governance structure that gives rise to all manner of sweetheart deals for vested interests.  Just look at school construction in Los Angeles, for instance.  It’s also cheap to say he wants to privatize everything, which isn’t the case either.  So far, the criticism seems to come from people who have not yet had a chance to actually read the book, because most of the engagement is with Andy himself not, the argument he presents (which tells you all you need to know about the sorry state of our national education conversation).

For my part I think much of this analysis too is confined to the urban and suburban experience (areas of high population density).  Rural schools and school districts, which face a host of challenges, likely require different solutions.  They’re left out here and in the education debate more generally.  And while I’m sympathetic to giving parents more choices and unsympathetic to the operations, norms, and results of many urban school districts, from where I sit, providing coordinated public services in a specific geography almost invariably leads back to some sort of school district-like arrangement, more than what Andy envisions.  Districts can certainly be more effectively organized but I don’t see much of what they do going away, not because of lack of vision but because of the necessity of some functions, as well as the slow arc of change. Still, I’m just giving an overview of a rich argument that Andy presents, and regardless of where you come down the book is worth reading because it will challenge you.

At Bellwether we’ve been asked a few questions about Urban School Systems of the Future. The thoughtful ones want to know how the ideas in it interact with the work we do with some school districts.  Less thoughtful is the usual nonsense about privatization, corporations, and so forth that has a lot to do with political fights among adults but almost nothing to do with educating kids.

On the specifics, we do work with school districts, states, and other public entities, and also with charter schools, charter school networks, and various support organizations for school districts.  And we’ll continue to.  Everyone at Bellwether is proud of the book Andy’s produced, it’s important and provocative.  But that doesn’t mean everyone agrees with his argument or conclusions–we have more than 20 professionals on our team and they think for themselves.  That’s a strength of the organization.  That diversity is what makes Bellwether good at what we do.  It’s not a place where everyone has a generally homogenous viewpoint politically or operationally in terms of education policy.  Rather, we examine and attack problems from a variety of perspectives. Quality of thinking and analysis rather than ideological rigidity is what makes us effective. Besides, ideological rigidity is not in short supply in our sector these days, so we didn’t see the need to create another organization to foster it when we launched Bellwether three years ago. Bottom line: Smarick’s a smart critic and that adds value to our work solving problems.

And given the scale of the educational challenges that our clients face and that we face as a country we don’t think there is another way to do this work that is as effective as an organization that values diversity of viewpoint. We are pleased to work with a wide array of organizations, from the National Education Association to Stand For Children, and education providers from traditional school districts around the country and state departments of education to leading-edge charter schools like MATCH and CMOs like IDEA and YES.  We even work with the recently-maligned Big Bird via Sesame Workshop.

At the same time, we’re a nonprofit for a reason.  We have a mission and we’re not just transactional in our operations.  We believe this country has a highly-unfair system of schooling today that stacks the deck against the poor.  We’re bewildered when we hear arguments about how the system is actually working really well–except for the poor.  And we can’t understand how anyone can defend a system where only 8 percent of low-income students finish college by the time they are 24, when the rate for affluent students is about 10 times that.  Naturally we don’t agree with our clients on everything, but do we start from that premise as an initial readiness criteria.

A thoughtful read of Andy’s book, whether you agree with it or not, should challenge all of us to examine how we think about addressing this challenge.  He’s not wrong about the scale of the problems and the existence of some lessons that are not penetrating the policy debate.  Reasonable people can disagree about where those lessons should point us, but that’s a fruitful conversation to have.

Teacher Fellowship And Teacher Survey

Hope Street is accepting applications for their teacher fellowship through 10/31.  Great opportunity. Questions to Wendy Uptain via this email.

If you live in Alaska and your work is not featured on a reality TV show you might be doing something wrong.  If you’re a teacher and you haven’t been surveyed lately the same might be true?  The newest teacher survey is  from TeachPlus (pdf).  Released today. This one is self-response (non-random) so take the results with a grain of salt, nonetheless still interesting if you follow these issues.

Higher Education, Learning And Chewing Gum, And That Is Not A Duck!

More on the new deal in Newark and a key player behind it.  But don’t call it merit pay! It’s bonuses! Yes, it may look like a duck, quack like a duck, but it is NOT a duck!  Or so I hear on Twitter where we’re furiously being told this is some bonus structure rewarding excellence but not merit pay!  We sure do spend a lot of time arguing semantics…

Dual enrollment on steroids in New York.  Smart and brave Huffie commentary from Sujata G. Bhatt.  If you want a primer on what’s happening on the innovation side of higher education last week’s TIME article by Amanda Ripley and Kevin Carey’s take on start-ups are where to start.

TNTP’s Tim Daly with an Eduwonk guest post on the Chicago strike fallout.  And Ezekiel Emanuel with a proposal sure to cinch numerous student body elections across the country.  Don’t tell anyone but charter schools are working pretty well in NYC.  That’s not by happenstance and there are some lessons for policy elsewhere.

As a parent of identical twins this Times op-ed caught my attention.  But it went in a different direction than I expected.  The score similarity is interesting and amusing (and happens a lot) but there are a bunch of possible reasons for the score drop the author discusses (changes to the test, actual decline in performance relative to the standards, or just a flukey result). What’s more interesting to me is that despite being genetically matched and quite similar my kids nonetheless have different experiences with school. It’s a daily reminder of how much we still have to learn about learning and how many different things can affect how we learn.

Speaking of reminders, the long Times look at the different experiences of students at New York private schools by race and income is a good caution.  Our education debate gets fought out with schools as the unit of analysis (average scores within schools, demographic composition of schools, school characteristics etc…) but different students can have very different experiences within the same school.  And, more generally, those differences can result from formal or informal practices and policies within a school.  That’s obviously even more of a problem in large schools, especially the huge factories we tolerate in some cities and suburban communities, but as the article shows it can be an issue anywhere.

*Photo via The Examiner.

TNTP’s Tim Daly On Chicago Strike Fallout

A few weeks ago I ventured my take on why the Chicago strike matters going forward.  Here’s another view via a guestpost from TNTP President Tim Daly on what the events in Chicago mean:

Chicago teachers recently ratified a new contract, the product of a seven-day September strike that shook the entire city. It took 350,000 students out of class, upended the lives of working families, and had an economic impact that has yet to be tallied. It played a major role in the departure, last week, of the district’s superintendent, Jean-Claude Brizard.

More than anything, the strike was a howl of frustration from teachers. What started as a dispute over salaries evolved into one over everything from air conditioning to the intricacies of teacher recall rights. Now that the dust has settled, it is difficult to argue that these issues justified the cost and damage of a strike, the nuclear option of labor disputes. But it is undeniable that it exposed legitimate discontent that city leaders need to take seriously.

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) seized the opportunity for a strike and made it a referendum on lack of respect and poor working conditions, big-tent themes that resonated even with teachers who generally support education reforms. Unfortunately, the deal that ended the strike is unlikely to truly address teachers’ concerns or their hunger for respect. Based on our review, it’s more likely to take schools and teachers a step backwards.

That’s because the CTU won several concessions from the city that will make it harder for schools to ensure that every student will get effective teachers—the single most important thing they can do to put students on the path to success in college and beyond.

The final agreement weakens teacher evaluations by allowing teachers who earn low ratings to continue teaching indefinitely. As long as they make a minuscule amount of improvement each year, they can teach class after class of students—even if they never become effective. Students and their fellow teachers will pay the price.

Second, if layoffs become necessary—which is increasingly likely, given the district’s precarious finances—the contract says that high-performing early career teachers must be cut before more experienced but lower-performing teachers. These quality-blind rules could force schools to fire some of their best teachers at a time when such decisions are more critical than ever.

Finally, the deal could deprive teachers and students alike of a wide range of future academic and extra-curricular opportunities, because it promises across-the-board teacher raises that have already caused another downgrade to the district’s credit rating. The likely result will be drastic cuts, school closures and program reductions that are sure to drive away more great teachers than the raises retain.

While the media was obsessed with the personal feud between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CTU President Karen Lewis, it glossed over these compromises that could hurt the academic fortunes of a generation of students. It’s a sad reminder that what’s best for kids is usually an afterthought in labor disputes.

Unfortunately, despite overheated claims of CTU triumph, rank-and-file teachers don’t come out much better off, either. Instead of taking the teaching profession forward, the new contract doubles down on factory-era policies that perpetuate many of the same challenges and frustrations that sparked the strike in the first place—policies that a growing number of teachers reject.

At TNTP, we’ve surveyed tens of thousands of teachers in recent years, including many in Chicago. We’ve heard time and again that the best teachers want to work in schools that not only offer atmospheres of mutual respect and trust, but also set high expectations, recognize great work, and refuse to tolerate poor teaching. In other words, teachers want respect, but they also want rigor—and in healthy schools, the two go hand in hand.

This sets up a critical choice for the city and the union. The CTU can keep defending policies that treat its members like 19th-century factory workers instead of 21st-century professionals, or it can embrace common-sense reforms being adopted across the country to raise standards—and respect—for the teaching profession.

The Mayor and Chicago Public Schools can dismiss the strike as a political ploy, or they can take on the urgent task of improving working conditions for teachers—without compromising on high expectations. More than anything, that means holding principals and district officials accountable for building school cultures where great teachers want to work.

Respect and rigor: That’s the path to a teaching profession that has the status it deserves, and to strong public schools that help every student rise to a brighter future. The strike and the resulting contract made that path a little longer in Chicago, but the path remains. Now it’s time for the city and the union to decide whether the next step is backward or forward.

Timothy Daly is president of TNTP, a national nonprofit working to ensure that all students get effective teachers.

How To Take A Kid Fishing In Three Steps!

Petrilli did it. I don’t know why, but despite my frequent pleas to get outside and take a kid fishing it was this picture of Fordham’s Mike Petrilli fishing with his kids that has prompted several emails and calls from colleagues asking, ‘I want to do this, but how?’  One person even said that he felt silly having to ask.

Don’t. We all learn things from others. And while not initially complicated fishing can be daunting with unfamiliar gear, regulations, customs, and so forth. But anyone can take their kids out for a great time.  Here are three easy guidelines to get you going toward a fun day outside (and fall is an amazing time of year so it’s not too late!):

First, ask your local shop for help.  Catalogs are fun to look at but they can’t tell you where or how to fish in your community – your local shop can, so start there. They want to see you succeed because you’ll become a regular customer – support them and they’ll support you.  Ask them about the gear you need in your area and where to go – and make sure to be clear that you’re taking a kid fishing, too.  They will set you up with everything you need for the fishing side of a day outside including any licenses or permits.  And they can help you figure out where and when to go.  Unless you live in the high desert (and even there in some cases) there are publicly accessible places to take a kid fishing.

Second, catch rate is the most important thing.  If you get more into fishing you might try more challenging approaches, fly fishing in particular.  But at first kids just want to catch fish, and a lot of them.  Worry less about how big they are, what they might taste like, or even if they’re a “game” fish.  Just keep the catching steady and fun and you’ll have a great day. The old saw among anglers is that first you want to catch a lot of fish, then big fish, then hard fish.  There’s a lot of truth to that.  In the meantime, some kids are born anglers with a deep store of patience and a philosophical outlook about the value of a day on the water.  But, you’re foolish to bet that your kid is one of them until you know for sure.  Taking a kid fishing is just that, taking a kid fishing.  It’s not your fishing trip so make it work for them and it’s a lot more fun for everyone.

Third, think safety.  Fishing is not an inherently dangerous activity but by definition you are around water. Is your child a strong swimmer? If not a PFD is a good idea – especially around deep, moving, or murky water.  Also, regardless of how well your child swims stay away from fast moving water, water above rapids, falls, or other hazards, or other unsafe situations.  As with all things in life, there is a time for everything and little kids and big water don’t mix.

But little kids and time outside, fishing, exploring, and being pretty unstructured – those do mix. Better than you might think.

Posted on Oct 19, 2012 @ 1:23pm