Monthly Archives: October 2016

Dog Stories, Campus Climate, Mass Charter Parents, ESSA Accountability, CS Pipeline, Richmond Schools, And More!

Here are two dog stories.

Ehlena, a child with cerebral palsy and her service dog, Wonder, navigate the school day together. Wonder, who Ehlena got after friends and family raised money, is quite a dog according to NPR:

Wonder was trained to hit handicapped buttons for her, to open and close doors, to pick up items she dropped, and perhaps most importantly, to stabilize her so that she could make transfers from a chair to a walker, or from a walker to a toilet seat.

And, not surprisingly with skills like those, Wonder is pretty popular at school:

He went to class with Ehlena and to lunch. He was in the staff section of the yearbook. He had his own ID card. He was in the class picture. And, says Ehlena’s mother, the relationship between dog and kid was integrated into the school seamlessly.

But here’s a similar situation in a different school district with a special-needs child and a service dog:

the dog was not permitted to sit with [the child] in class or to go with her to the lunchroom.

[the family] were even required to demonstrate a toilet transfer with adults from the school watching, an experience that [the parent] says was devastating and traumatic for her daughter.

After the 30-day trial, the school returned to its no-dog policy. Although [the dog] is a hypoallergenic breed, the school said among other things that two children and one teacher were allergic to dogs, and that one child had a dog phobia because he had previously been attacked by a dog.

OK, perhaps not everyone is a dog person? Actually, as you can no doubt tell, they are the same dog story. Same child. Same dog. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in this case today (link goes to a great Mark Walsh scene setter). The issue turns on what actions parents can bring under federal disabilities statutes and where the Individuals With Disabilities Act and state processes fit into that scheme. That’s a legal question that reasonable people can disagree about especially in the context of the litigation-heavy IDEA. But the underlying facts and that ethos might be more important in the long run for public education. There are a lot of districts like that second one and they turn parents who could be allies into adversaries. We might ask why? (By the way, it takes cases a while to find their way to the high court, in case you’re wondering Wonder is now apparently enjoying retirement though he will be at the court today).

Erika Christakis, the early childhood expert and former Yale professor speaks out – on the eve of Halloween of course – about her experience at Yale last year.

“I don’t wish to trivialize genuine concerns about cultural and personal representation,” I wrote, in part. “I know that many decent people have proposed guidelines on Halloween costumes from a spirit of avoiding hurt and offense. I laud those goals, in theory, as most of us do. But in practice, I wonder if we should reflect more transparently, as a community, on the consequences of an institutional (which is to say: bureaucratic and administrative) exercise of implied control over college students.”

Some called my email tone-deaf or even racist, but it came from a conviction that young people are more capable than we realize and that the growing tendency to cultivate vulnerability in students carries unacknowledged costs.

There is a lively debate about this idea. I was at a dinner recently with faculty and students of a prominent east coast school and a student affairs dean made the point that declining participation in formal student activities on their campus owes in part to a culture where the 3.3 student who does a bunch of activities feels like they are losing out to the 3.9 student who just keeps their head down and focuses on grades. It’s an interesting point and a real one for some post-graduate paths. So I wonder if what Christakis is talking about is another cost, a lot of students just want to keep their heads down because they feel less agency in today’s statist climate regardless of what they think about the various issues?

Whitmire on Massachusetts charter parents:

Barbara Madeloni, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, takes a more philosophical approach to wait-listed parents. Rather than denying that there are thousands of parents on those lists, she suggested in a radio interview that those parents need to sacrifice their personal desires for what she sees as a greater good: high-performing traditional public schools in all neighborhoods.
“I would ask that person to join us in thinking beyond just your child,” said Madeloni in an interview on WBUR’s Radio Bostonshow. “We are stronger as a community when we think beyond our circle. … As a community together, are we going to be interested in the common good, or are we going to be invested in our individual needs?

This is basically the debate. Except it’s not in practice. That’s because the charter parents and want-to-be charter parents aren’t stupid. They get that parents with means have already exited. Those parents live in places they can afford to live with good public schools or they send their kid to private options. So they – the people who most need good public schools as a matter of social mobility and opportunity for their kids but can’t move to a tony neighborhood or pay for a private school – are being asked to ‘think beyond their circle’ when no one else is. Maybe flip that on its head and ask all the comfortable suburban voters who are against creating more charter schools for underserved Massachusetts kids to think beyond their circle?

This paper looks at the 5th indicator for ESSA accountability systems. First, it should go without saying that 5th Indicator is a fantastic band name, especially for a band that had education players in it. The author thinks chronic absenteeism is a place to go. It’s a key indicator – for adults and kids – in terms of climate.

Google and Gallup look at the computer science pipeline. Buzzy Hettleman on tutoring. James Dyke and Gerard Robinson on the long overdue but hard choices for Richmond, Virginia schools. Jamar Mckneely on a NOLA turnaround.

Homecoming news: Here’s a sweet story. Here’s a story that I can’t help but think occasioned a lot of, “Honey, who did you say our sculpture is by?” conversations over the weekend.

Clinton On Bullying, John Legend On Charters, Marc Tucker On Finance Scams, Teachers And Retirement Scams, Key Charter Endorsements In Massachusetts, Conflicting Education Data In VA, Mathematica Evals, NAEP, And Stoner Moms!

Scroll down this page for a picture of Steve Mesler with a fish and some open edujobs.

Hillary Clinton released an anti-bullying initiative yesterday. If ever there was an issue that screamed for national attention but local solutions this is it. Her plan walks that line. This is an issue that easy to dismiss as hyperbole or kids today are snowflakes but it’s real.

The other day I chided the teachers unions for playing and profiting in a part of the financial world that sells people – in this case teachers – suboptimal retirement products. The Times revisited the issue and Matt Levine offers some smart context that argues that maybe what the teachers unions are up to isn’t so bad:

If you were on your way to Vanguard to buy index funds when [the salesperson for these vehicles] waylaid you, he has moved you from option 1 to option 2, and made you poorer in retirement. If you were on your way to blow your paycheck on lattes at Starbucks, he has moved you from option 3 to option 2, and made you richer in retirement. The context is key.

It’s a reasonable point in general. Sub-optimally saving for retirement is arguably better than not saving at all. But in the case of teachers that’s not the choice. Their unions and associations could choose to set up partnerships with vendors who offer the best quality vehicles (the unions have a lot of purchasing power in the marketplace) and eschew ones that are suboptimal or worse. Remember, these vendors are paying handsomely for access and endorsements. Instead, the unions are putting poor choices in front of their members – and being compensated for it. That’s the bottom line here.

Oh, and the unions also love to hammer hedge funds and others for having high cost structures. I’ll leave it to you to square that circle.

And also remember all this is in the context of a retirement system for teachers that’s pretty broken to start with and hamstrings their retirement saving out of the gate.

Strong John Legend on the NAACP charter school moratorium:

Charter public schools are not the solution to every problem that’s plaguing public education. The NAACP is right to raise some questions over the practices of some individual charter schools. There are schools of all models – district, charter, magnet, private – that are failing to educate our kids properly and accountably.  States and districts should hold all of these school types to high standards of accountability.

What’s shortsighted about the NAACP’s decision is that it’s ignoring the many successful charter schools that are delivering results for many communities. In New York City, third grade charter school students outscored students at district schools in math and in English. Charters here are closing the achievement gap between economically disadvantaged Black students and their more affluent white peers.

The NAACP understands that where you live, your skin color, your income level and zip code shouldn’t determine what kind of education you can get in this country but unfortunately, in far too many places, it does.

It does seem the NAACP situation is a classic two things are true at once situation – and we’ve discussed on this blog how bad the education sector is at dealing with those kinds of issues. Not all the concerns the NAACP is raising are off-base or unfounded. But a moratorium doesn’t logically follow from them. That piece is politics.

Speaking of two things being true at once, something I like even less than Donald Trump and that brand of politics is stifling dissent and speech. This situation with a Virginia school board is worth watching. The illiberalism of the right meets the illiberalism of the left. Also, the idea that school boards, especially this one!, are non-partisan…well, adorable.

Also in Virgina. Here you go through all this work to muddy up the state’s already weak accreditation and accountability system to mask the mediocre performance of a lot of schools. And then all these schools still don’t meet the bar! So frustrating! This is like a company cutting costs to make budget when revenue is down. You can only do so much of that. Also on VA, shouldn’t the shocking last graf of this article be the lede? Speaks volumes about how people think about these issues. By the way, a reasonable person might ask how so many schools can even be succeeding on the accountability system with outcomes like that. But please don’t ask that, it’s rude.

David Tyack has passed. He was thoughtful. And when your work becomes part of the grammar of schooling, well that’s something.

Arne Duncan comes out strong for ballot measure lifting the charter cap in Massachusetts. Boston Globe editorial board comes out in favor, too:

But a goal of an equal, quality education for all continues to elude Massachusetts public education. The families affected are those who don’t live in the suburbs, don’t have the resources to shop for the best school district, and haven’t been lucky enough to win the lottery for a seat at the state’s existing charter schools. Charter schools exist because all parents deserve the same thing for their children: enough choices to ensure their kids get a quality education.

The vote there looks to be tightening some.

Marc Tucker on the contextual issues here:

The root cause of the enormous and shocking difference in performance between Connecticut’s inner cities and its wealthy suburbs is the local control of education finance.  It is this system of education finance that is responsible for the housing segregation that produces in turn the social class and racial segregation underlying the enormous disparities in student performance that outraged Judge Moukawsher.  The solution—easy to say but very hard to implement for political reasons—is an approach to the financing of local schools in which the state would collect the funds for the schools with a statewide tax and distribute those funds to each school based on student need, not local property wealth.  That is how school finance works in most of the top-performing countries. And it is the system we need, but, while we are waiting, maybe we should take another look at Ruth Batson’s rather practical idea.

Mathematica’s RTT evaluation is out. Something for everyone in here. New NAEP data – something here for everyone, too. Also, newly released and  quite interesting Mathematica analysis of teacher effectiveness.*

Juneau – Zinke MT race poll.

Stoner moms.

*Disclosure: I was on the advisory board.

Posted on Oct 28, 2016 @ 11:14am

Friday Fish Porn: Bull Session With Steve Mesler

P1010956.Steve Mesler is, among other things, a Bellwether author, three-time Olympian, member of the U.S. Olympic Committee, an Olympic Gold Medalist, and founder of Classroom Champions (it’s entirely possible he doesn’t introduce himself in that order very much). He can also fish.

Here he is earlier this month in Alberta with a bull trout. Bull trout, an aggressive hard fighting fish, are threatened in the U.S. and an illegal target species in a lot of places. But in remote Western Canada it’s a different story and big fun.

Mesler is hardly the only education personality who fishes. Here are pictures of hundreds of education types since 2006 showcasing their angling adventures.

Edujob: Director, Nashville Rise

Here’s an edujob in Nashville!

Nashville Rise, a program of Project Renaissance, seeks to educate and empower parents and community members to advocate for high quality public schools. We envision a Nashville where all children receive the schooling and support they need to live successful, fulfilling lives. We pursue our vision by educating and empowering parents, educators, and community to influence, support, and hold accountable our city’s educational leadership. We also support our network to work with community and leaders to implement policies that put students first.

You can learn more about the role and apply via this link.

Posted on Oct 27, 2016 @ 2:00pm

Edujob: Einhorn Family Charitable Trust

Here’s an edujob in philanthropy Director Organizational Learning and Impact:

EFCT purposefully engages a select number of high-performing nonprofit partners and makes large, long-term investments with a hands-on, relationship-based approach.  The Trust works proactively and in close collaboration with each partner grantee, acting as strategic thought-partners, providing assistance and support, as well as networking across and beyond its portfolio to achieve impact.

EFCT seeks an experienced and creative individual to build upon and deepen its strong foundation in organizational learning and impact measurement. This is an exciting opportunity for an innovative professional with a passion for continuous learning, data-driven decision-making, and social impact. In addition to working with the Trust’s partners on increasing their impact, this person will collaborate with the EFCT team on its internal tracking systems, identifying opportunities for growth, scale and improvement.

Learn more and be considered via this link.

Pianta On Teacher Prep Regs, 16 Ideas, Charter Book, Charter Data, Charter Arguments, College Choice. Plus Crime Scenes.

Just a reminder, you can always find me on Twitter with education content and various other things.  Did you see this 16 ideas for education policy? From food to blockchain, charters, hiring, alt schools, and pre-k. And more!

Very solid new book on charter schools, what’s worked, what’s not working, and what do we know? Max Eden on the charter debate in Massachusetts. And charter school demographic data.

Bob Pianta, Dean of the Curry School of Education at UVA*, on the new teacher prep regulations:

Recently U.S. Secretary of Education John King announced the Department’s new regulations for a teacher preparation program accountability system. This is the Department’s final rule concerning the Federal role in regulating teacher preparation under Title II of the Higher Education Act, with provisions very similar to prior versions. On cue, Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, rejected the rules out of hand.

Will other professional groups, also opposed to prior version of these regulations, break ranks and stand down from obstructing requirements that student learning be an outcome for which teacher preparation programs should be held accountable? Instead, will they stand up and lead the profession, to ensure these regulations are implemented with rigor? If both major teachers’ unions and the association of colleges of teacher education again line up in opposition, painting these as another instance of over-valuing high stakes testing, they will have secured their position as obstructing the long-term improvement of the profession they claim to represent.

Interesting look at young people on the cusp of big decisions. Broader frame than you often see on these pieces – not everyone is choosing between Amherst, Yale, and Princeton…

Plan your crime spree now.

*I am on the board and teach there.

Teacher Prep, Teacher Data, Teacher Retirement! Thanks Goldstein! Education Politics, Charters, Student Privacy, MT Politics With National Implications, Latino Supt’s, And More. Plus Finland!

Michael Goldstein did a great job here guestblogging last week, he went wild, scroll below to see all that.

Last week Bellwether released a new analysis on teacher prep (pdf).  Ashley Mitchel and I looked at the new regulations in U.S. News. More from Mitchel on this here.

Chad Aldeman on why education advocates have to care about pensions, too. Here’s Aldeman on retention/turnover data for teachers and why it’s often a confused conversation. Chad’s also been on the teacher shortage data lately and why some of the analytic perspectives on that issue have methods problems. That doesn’t mean there are not shortages, rather that it’s not an overall problem but instead concentrated by subject and geography. That matters in terms of getting the policy remedies right.

Marilyn Rhames wants change, not your job. Here’s a quick primer on the education landscape.

LA School Report, a media property of The 74, is now publishing in Spanish.

The letters responding to the recent Times editorial on the teacher prep regs are a great caricature. Except they’re real. Don’t miss them: NCTQ is awful. Finland! Teacher Bashing! Finland! Best and brightest. Salaries. Sober reasoned James Cibulka take. Finland!

The Times looks at a popular retirement scam that preys on teachers – optional high fee retirement vehicles.  So here’s the deal: teachers get pension plans that most won’t ever fully qualify for (pdf), 40 percent of teachers are not covered by Social Security, and then for good measure they get peddled these lousy investment options. But this doesn’t happen by accident, buried at the bottom of The Times’ account:

The New Jersey teachers also turned to their local union for help, hoping they could find a better program to put their money in. The union representative recommended a sales agent affiliated with the retirement program run by the National Education Association, a union with three million members.

But the union’s products weren’t much different from what the teachers already had.

The N.E.A.’s Member Benefits group, a subsidiary, exclusively endorses a set of products from Security Benefit, a financial services company with nearly $32 billion in total assets that creates fixed and variable annuities and offers mutual funds. (The union’s program for teachers receives at least $2.7 million from Security Benefit each year, according to regulatory filings, which it said it paid to operate the program.)

The products include an array of mutual funds, various annuities — and one lower-cost option in which investors can choose inexpensive index funds without a broker’s assistance. But most new money from school employees is invested in the mutual funds sold by brokers, according to Gary Phoebus, chief executive of N.E.A. Member Benefits.

Fees in that program range from 0.35 to 1.25 percent. But that doesn’t include another layer of expenses for the underlying investments, which run from 0.59 to 2.11 percent, according to Security Benefit, and in some cases additional sales or surrender charges

For comparison, total costs at a typical large 401(k) generally fall under 0.5 percent.

Mr. Phoebus defended the program, saying it offered a wide variety of options “to meet the diverse needs and comfort levels of members.” The goal, he explained, was to balance fees while providing access to advice.

However, some employees of the union itself, as opposed to its subsidiary, do receive a better deal. Many are offered a 401(k) retirement planmanaged by Vanguard, a mutual fund company known for its low costs.

A lot going on in this George Packer look at Hillary Clinton and today’s populist mood but two passages are key to education:

Hillary Clinton spoke of the limits of an “educationalist” mind-set, which she called a “peculiar form of élitism.” Educationalists, she noted, say they “want to lift everybody up”—they “don’t want to tell anybody that they can’t go as high as their ambition will take them.” The problem was that “we’re going to have a lot of jobs in this economy” that require blue-collar skills, not B.A.s. “We need to do something that is really important, and this is to just go right after the denigration of jobs and skills that are not college-connected.” A four-year degree isn’t for everyone, she said; vocational education should be brought back to high schools.

She’s right, of course. But although there is an important social mobility aspect to this for low-income students overall it’s less an issue of “as high” than just figuring out what you want to do. There are lots of fulfilling and economically viable ways to make a living. But, because at 18, or younger, we don’t really know who can do what or who even really wants to do what, the ground here is tricky. If you’re going to err in policy is it better to err on the side of  ‘you can go as high as you want’ or is better to err on the side of ‘you can’t?’ The cheap answer is “both.” But that’s not how it works in practice and policy will drive practice.

The moral superiority of élites comes cheap. Recently, Murray has done demographic research on “Super Zips”—the Zip Codes of the most privileged residents of New York, Washington, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. “Super Zips are integrated in only one way—Asians,” he said. “Blacks and Latinos are about as scarce in the Super Zips as they were in the nineteen-fifties.” Multiethnic America, with its tensions and resentments, poses no problem for élites, who can buy their way out. “This translates into a whole variety of liberal positions”—Murray mentioned being pro-immigration and anti-school choice—“in which the élite has not borne any of the costs.”

The lack of school choice among those who exercise it through their choice of where to live (if not actual school choice via private schools) seems a stunning feature of our politics. It wasn’t always like this, in the 60s many on the left were for school choice for this exact reason. Once it became associated with Milton Friedman and markets the political bottom fell out and is still not really there today as we’re seeing in Massachusetts and its charter referendum as well as the more general politics of charter schools.

Gerard Robinson on education for the incarcerated. Helicopter parenting interrupted. NASBE looks at school surveillance and privacy. Brookings analysis on charters and segregation. DFER on charter schools. Kansas school finance not getting any easier. Latino Supt’s in Texas. The Denise Juneau race in Montana will impact education policy whether she wins or loses. Here’s a poll on parents and tech. 

Interesting article on fly fishing, criminal defense, and the good and bad of informal bonds.

This guy is dressed like a tree.

Posted on Oct 25, 2016 @ 2:07pm

Implementation Versus Idea

Guest blogger Mike Goldstein writes:

1. Rick Hess once wrote “Life is an implementation problem.”

Yes, it’s true some strategies/ideas are better than others.  But what’s universally (okay, mostly) true is all advocates — whether for curricula like Core Knowledge or Success For All, pedagogy like project-based learning or Doug Lemov’s taxonomy, expenditures/time whether universal pre-K or longer school days, governance efforts like choice or socioeconomic integration, teacher residencies or peer evaluation — would say “Yes, bad execution would kill X instance of this idea I cherish.”

I’m not sure I agree anymore.  I now wonder if anything less than excellent execution “works.

What if….even pretty good implementation of a good idea is not enough to help many kids?

2. My favorite intervention

I like high-dosage tutoring, as described here in Ed Next.

Because the team at Saga Innovations has had such incredible results in the Chicago Public Schools (and elsewhere), Brookings released a thoughtful paper calling for a massive expansion of the work (also see Matt Kraft here).

“Specifically, we propose that all school districts receiving schoolwide Title I funds provide individualized daily tutorials to all third through tenth grade students who are at least two grades behind grade level in math.”

Some years ago, I would have kvelled!  Scaling an idea I love.

Now, I wonder.

Saga’s Alan, Antonio, Ashley….they execute magnificently.  But Alan and I tracked a counterexample as well.  It turned out, at the same time he launched the Chicago work with the district, an unrelated, similar effort was launched by a Chicago charter network.  It lasted a year before dying.  They just didn’t get the details right.  We know of other similar stories.  You assuredly do as well.

It reminds me of Bill Belichick.  His ideas work!  When he does them.  In an organization that embraces them whole-heartedly.

But when his assistant coaches try those ideas elsewhere, with an inherited base of players, scouts, owners, and other staff that do not fully buy-in, it hasn’t worked so well.

High-dosage tutoring remains my favorite intervention (trying a version now with older kids helping younger kids), but I increasingly believe it’s like….all the other interventions, where even “decent” implementation doesn’t help kids.

3. Where does that leave us?

It’s obvious that almost any strategy is a waste of time if buy-in is, say, 3 out of 10.

But, more provocatively, is that true if buy-in is, say, 6 out of 10?

If so, two thoughts.

a. Upfront is the best way to secure buy-in.  If you’re going to do a particular pedagogy, best to surface during application process, freeing teachers to choose to apply (or not).

b. Qualitative feedback loops become more important.  You need to expect process failure (instead of hoping for the best), then invest heavily in daily tinkering.  You can win over many practical educators by attending to little details, and steadily pushing the implementation rock up the mountain.  But, perhaps, only if your starting point is that you need to Fail Fast, even with a favorite, “research-proven” idea.

Posted on Oct 21, 2016 @ 5:00pm