Monthly Archives: February 2017

Aldeman On Schoolhouse Economics, Accountability, DeVos On HBCUs, Medicaid And Kids, Bolick On Gorsuch, Bison!

Breaking: Economics don’t stop at the schoolhouse door. Chad Aldeman on the strange case of Georgia. 

Don’t tune out entitlement reform: Why Medicaid matters to students.

People are saying that the Trump and congressional actions on ESSA are going to gut the accountability. OK, that’s technically true. But ESSA hardly had any accountability to start with. It’s like complaining that someone is taking the flavor out of tofu. Conor Williams on that. 

Today in tone deaf statements. Or today in to a hammer everything is a nail. In case you didn’t hear, Betsy DeVos said something about HBCU’s, Twitter hated it. If she’d left out the school choice mentions or, better, added some context about why HBCUs evolved in the first place, she’d have been fine. Or maybe not, she can’t win at this point.

But, some of the controversy about the statement seems to be an effort to distract from what the White House is planning to do on HBCUs. Except that same controversy over the statement seems to be overshadowing the signal she sent on funding – or lack thereof! So in a weird way it’s backfiring. Or something.

Anyway, bottom line: The President is moving ED’s HBCU initiative to the White House but that’s only meaningful if it’s muscular, otherwise it’s just a new address.

Interesting Clint Bolick on what to expect if Neil Gorsuch is confirmed.

Where the buffalo roam.

Posted on Feb 28, 2017 @ 1:04pm

Teachers And Social Security, Pearson, DeVos And Rural, Trump Budget Numbers, Fake School Lunch Controversy, Real Bear Numbers, Dylan And Simon, More!

In The 74 Kirsten Schmitz and I take a look at teachers and Social Security and some coming debates and opportunities:

At some point, the marriage of convenience between Republicans and President Donald Trump will end. One likely cause? Irreconcilable differences about entitlement spending. And teachers should watch out that they don’t get caught in a nasty custody battle…

The bottom line is that about 40 percent of teachers aren’t covered by Social Security, this exacerbates a retirement system that isn’t working for most teachers in the first place (pdf).

Julie Squire challenges Betsy DeVos to get serious on rural schools. The answer to every question about rural education isn’t distance learning or virtual charters…

Pearson’s US higher ed struggles and its financial performance. Here’s the case for Pearson.*

In DC agencies getting budget parameters on spending for the next fiscal year. And President Trump doing an EO on HBCUs. Future of Office of Civil Rights at ED still uncertain.

On the budget, this is not where the final numbers will land. Congress has a say. But it does seem likely to force any ambitious education reform over to the tax side of the budget. That’s unfortunate because tax side initiatives generally offer less leverage on various educational problems.

Betsy DeVos is not – at least not yet – against the free-lunch program in schools. Seriously people.  She was (a) making a joke and (b) free at point of transaction versus inherently free is an issue we should discuss in a non-gotcha way (c) there is so much more going on with this administration that are real problem there is absolutely no point in creating fake outrages.

Reality check from an Ed Week reporter who must have wondered why they had to write this…

For a serious look at the school lunch issue check out this article ostensibly about West Virginia and Jamie Oliver but really about much more. This Bellwether publication includes two lunch policy ideas, one from Tom Colicchio and another from Lindsey Shute and Eric Hansen. 

Basically to settle a bar bet I did some desk research on whether there are more bears than p-12 students in Alaska. Figured I might was well share what I found. Strictly speaking the bet was grizzly/brown bears. And the answer is no overall. But, if you expand the definition of bear to include black and polar bears in addition to brown bears then the answer is yes. There are about 4700 polar bears, 30,000 brown bears, and about 100K black bears in Alaska. There are 133K p-12 public school students. I did not include any potential grizzlies in the count at all.

Here is a messy story from Florida about a teacher trying to help a troubled student.

Last week for USN I looked at the transgender bathroom guidance debate and its larger implications (big deal for affected students but you can see the story’s end now) and public lands and hook and bullet and rural voters. 

Here’s Bob Dylan and Paul Simon on Sound of Silence.

*Good time to mention again that I don’t invest in education stocks because it creates too many conflicts with my work.

Transgender Guidance And the Administrative State, Pensions, DeVos, And Personalized Learning On The March, Voucher Goal Posts, Flores’ Campaign, And Did Education Activists Go To The Mat On The Wrong Trump Official? Happy Birthday Smith – Hughes. Susan Tedeschi Education Trivia Contest! And Much More!

The Smith – Hughes Act turned 100 yesterday. Happy birthday!

I wrote a short primer yesterday for USN looking at the transgender bathroom guidance issue. Its immediate practical impact is pretty muted but the signal it sends about the White House direction is a big deal. This week I also took a look at public lands, gun, Democrats, rural voters, and hook and bullet voters in a USN column. 

Yesterday White House aide and Trump brain trust Steve Bannon gave a talk at a conservative gathering in D.C. where he described much of the Trump agenda as being about dismantling the administrative state. Ideas like that undergird yesterday’s transgender policy announcement because conservatives argue that regardless of the merits it’s executive overreach to anchor the policy in a guidance attached to federal law as the Obama administration did.

The problem, of course, is that American society is complicated and so various theories about government tend to wilt when they encounter actual problems. The administrative state is easy to rail against but does things people want done. For instance whatever one thinks about the federal role in education, Title IX, or any of the rest of it the fact is some transgendered students are getting bullied, and worse, and there is something schools can do about it. That’s why even among those who thought the Obama-Duncan approach on this was clumsy many were OK with it.

There is also an inescapable irony here. If you want to shrink the administrative role of federal agencies then Congress has to do its job – or as Kevin Kosar might say, make Congress great again. That’s been a challenge for a while and the idea that the administrative state is making up for various congressional dysfunctions is not an idea that originated with Bannon. Trump though, at least so far, seems much more enamored of Article II of the United States Constitution than really any other part of the document.


Bellwether’s Max Marchitello on Betsy DeVos and accountability. Not surprisingly Betsy DeVos’ approval ratings took a hit from her bruising confirmation process.

Chad Aldeman on Iowa pensions – keep an eye on that issue.  Marchitello says the NEA is going full-ostrich on pensions.

Kai-Lee Berke on light touch assessment.  ACT talks with students about their views post-election (pdf). Non-alternative fact: For education Matt Barnum is a national treasure

Education activist and leader Yolie Flores is running for Congress.  Should education activists have fought Sessions harder than DeVos? Today in special education rights.

If we were not just tossing accountability this could make a nifty 5th indicator.

The Trump Administration faced a choice on school choice. They could try to figure out a way to meet candidate-Trump’s promise of a $20 billion school choice plan and move on or they could put together a really robust school choice plan that could get real bipartisan support. They may be leaning toward the former. Related: Even if you support choice there are so many reasons that Title I portability is a lousy policy idea it’s hard to know where to start.

Also on choice, there are a bunch of plausible reasons for why a couple of new voucher evals are showing negative results. But voucher proponents are moving the goal posts. I’m old enough to remember when student achievement was the coin of the realm.

While everyone is focused on Trump and Washington right-to-work legislation is moving in the states. Missouri, now Iowa, and elsewhere. Washington isn’t the only place they make laws.

Personalized learning going big in RI.

Admiral McRaven, now a higher ed figure, is not pulling punches on Trump:

“We must challenge this statement and this sentiment that the news media is the enemy of the American people,” McRaven said. “This sentiment may be the greatest threat to democracy in my lifetime.”

Are conservative quotas a good idea in higher education?

If you can tell me first what education person played back-up guitar for Susan Tedeschi back in the day then I will send you a prize – a great book from Harvard Education Press plus bragging rights.

Five Things To Keep In Mind About The Transgender Bathroom Debate

I take a look at what’s going on around the bathroom debate in U.S. News & World Report today. Namely it might be lousy politics for Republicans but it’s the first battle in a coming Title IX war. It’s more symbolic than impactful right now. And the education world is a mess when it comes to this idea of deferring to local communities. Plus the kids mostly don’t care:

Count me among millions of Americans who don’t care what bathroom people choose to use (or what gender they want to identify with for that matter). Do what you want. But for millions of others it’s a big deal, which is why, despite all the other challenges America is facing at home and abroad, we’re still ferociously debating potty policy in Washington, D.C.

Because everyone is so worked up, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s going on in the fog of bathroom war. Here are five things to keep in mind…

You can read all five here via USN.

Public Lands & Guns

A little off-edu but in U.S. News & World Report I take a look at the skirmishes over public land access and the political opportunity they offer Democrats among hook and bullet voters on guns and conservation.

It was easy to miss in the political chaos of the past few weeks, but America’s anglers, hunters and conservationists won a victory in Congress this month when a bill intended to facilitate the transfer of federal land to states was pulled by its sponsor. It’s an episode with lessons on environmental policy and – more importantly for Democrats – a path forward on the contentious issue of guns.

You can read the whole thing here and tell me on Twitter what caliber of Democrat you prefer.

DeVos And Transgender Bathroom Policy, Plus Rural And Pensions!

President Trump didn’t undo DACA but he may be about to rollback the Obama Administration expansion of Title IX in the transgender bathroom issue. Carolyn Phenice explains the complexities surrounding the executive action and the court cases that are sorting out this contentious issue.

Important: Betsy DeVos is apparently not on board but isn’t going to resign over it.

In case you missed it, as part of our ongoing rural education work Bellwether spent some time in Oklahoma listening to education stakeholders there.

New NCTQ – Ed Counsel look at pension debt. The fiscal problems are real, and states ought to pay their bills, but the debate about all that overlooks the core structural problem: Only one in five teachers qualifies for a full pension anyway. More than half don’t get one at all. More on all that here.

DeVos, It’s Always DeVos, Plus Bellwether On Rural Education, DACA Policy, Teacher Mobility, Mastery, Labor’s Fortunes, Arnold’s Fortune, Charter Growth, Ed Politics, And More! Plus Raccoon Rides And Old Books

Bellwether did a set of interviews and focus groups about rural education in Oklahoma with stakeholders there. Interesting and important perspectives. State media here.

And, Bellwether is hiring, scroll down the main page for details and other edujobs.

Some real life from Bitter Southerner:

At their core, Southerners are defined by a fierce loyalty to family. This bond is unwavering and — supposedly — unconditional. But time and again, sexual and gender identity tear Southern families apart.

Thousands of young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer are kicked out of the house every year by their families. LGBTQ youth make up an estimated 40 percent of the total homeless youth population.The consequences of family rejection and discrimination are often deadly.

As expected White House immigration policy will include a cut out to protect DACA students.  Support for that from all over the political spectrum and even adding together people who didn’t like the Obama executive actions with those who don’t like the policy probably doesn’t land anywhere near enough votes right now.

The 74 takes a look at teacher certification and geographically mobile teachers. It’s an issue and there are some misaligned policies. The article mentions though, and this is key, that the opposite problem also exists. Namely, blanket policies that exist in some states and create backdoor ways in that don’t account for quality or past performance. The bottom line is an old story: A heavily labor-dependent field is not very good at doing HR.

Also in The 74 a really interesting and don’t miss look at Mastery in Philadelphia and some of the complexities of leading edge work today.

It’s going to be a long few years….We’ve heard for decades that the secret to improving school is just to empower teachers rather than have administrators or others dictate to them. More recently there are websites and Facebook pages dedicated to the idea, public relations campaigns from advocacy groups, and it’s a common talking point for teachers union leaders. It’s also a reasonable sentiment even if some of the issues like curriculum, standards, and preparation and professional development are more complicated in practice. In any event, new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos visited a school last week and basically made this exact same point and it, of course, set of a firestorm. It was an ill-considered thing to say given how she clumsily phrased it, but that’s besides the point with these kinds of things. DeVos is off to a rough start that leaves plenty of reasons to be concerned and there are plenty of unforced errors from her team but still…the velocity is a bit much and everyone might take a deep breath.

We recently discussed briefly a Rich Yelelson take on labor’s challenges with President Trump. Here’s another look at the machinations within organized labor about how to deal with or engage with Trumpism:

Some unions that have opposed Mr. Trump are finding occasions to thread the needle — like the Communications Workers of America, the union involved in the Momentive strike and a onetime backer of Senator Bernie Sanders’s progressive presidential campaign. It repeatedly denounced Mr. Puzder’s nomination, but in a continuing dispute with AT&T Wireless, it has echoed Mr. Trump’s call not to ship jobs overseas.

Unions in the public and service sectors, on the other hand, lack economic interests that would provide common ground with the new administration, and their membership is increasingly urban, African-American and Hispanic — easily alienated by Mr. Trump’s pronouncements on race and immigration. The Service Employees International Union, a leading service-sector force, has taken a largely oppositional stand.

Many union leaders are at a loss to explain how Richard L. Trumka, the head of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the nation’s pre-eminent labor federation, will navigate these crosscurrents in the coming months.

Mr. Trumka’s answer for the moment is to proceed gingerly. In an interview, he said that he had a productive meeting with Mr. Trump during the transition, and that the president deserved praise for killing the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. But he has vigorously protested other policies, like Mr. Trump’s immigration restrictions.

“We’re going to call balls and strikes,” he said.

Robin Lake on charter growth. Legal win for Washington charters.

Last week I mentioned Tom Kane’s Ed Next essay on evidence and education. Michael Barber and Nathan Martin respond to Kane.

John Arnold profile.

Sandy Kress on the coming edu debate.

What’s up with online preschool?

Today in elections have consequences:

Since Election Day, for-profit college companies have been on a hot streak. DeVry Education Group’s stock has leapt more than 40 percent. Strayer’s jumped 35 percent and Grand Canyon Education’s more than 28 percent.

You do not need an M.B.A. to figure out why. Top officials in Washington who spearheaded a relentless crackdown on the multibillion-dollar industry have been replaced by others who have profited from it.

New class of Pahara Next Gen fellows, including Bellwether’s Jason Weeby, are ready to face the Jedi trials!

Teaching, song, and dance via the NEA Foundation.

New homes for old books. And in case you missed it, a trash truck riding raccoon.

*Disclosures: Bellwether has worked with Pahara, NEA Foundation, and Mastery. Our pension research and policy work is supported in part by the Arnold Foundation. And standing disclosure, I am a senior editor at 74.

Kaplan, Rayner And DeVos! Plus Bracy On DACA, Shoales On Eval, David D On ESSA, And Kane, Dynarksi, Robinson, And More! Bar Office Hours Plus Bail News, Too.

Marnie Kaplan on how to not cause – or to avert – an early childhood education workforce crisis. Andrew Rayner on life and life at Bellwether.

Axios talks conformation reflections with Betsy DeVos. She’s not the only cabinet official who matters to school policy. David Deschryver on what’s next on ESSA regs. Becca Bracy on DACA.

Michael Barber on patch and mend or transformation?

This Stephen Carter column is on bail but it points out something that education reformers would do well to remember – sometimes wonky issues offer high-leverage benefits. Bail, and the related issue of fines create enormous challenges for citizens and the criminal justice system. Within education the same sort of opportunities exist underneath the choppy politics and all the noise. Discipline is an obvious place, aspects of special education, certain vendor arrangements, transportation, and so forth.

Tom Kane has a plan for education research in the ESSA era. And Mark Dynarksi looks at the latest voucher research and some questions it raises. Van Schoales on the Colorado teacher evaluation bill’s implementation seven years in.

Gerard Robinson compares education secretaries.

Public sector v. private sector unions and politics.

The annual letter from Bill and Melinda Gates about their foundation’s work is both interesting and light on education.

ESSA Playbook from ExcelInEd. Achieve on what data states track on post-secondary.

Apparently office hours in bars are big in Texas.

DeVos Politics, Alex Hernandez On What Now? Education Reform In Vogue, IL Public Finance, Direct Student Services, PARCC Questions, Sam Gleaves And More!

Edujobs below, including one at DFER in DC.

Jon Chait gets to the tactical nub of the opposition to Betsy DeVos as well as the context – but also a warning for education’s activists and activists more generally:

Trump’s critics don’t have to choose which Trump nominees or policies or scandalous behavior to oppose. They can oppose all of it. But mass opposition is a resource that cannot be rallied against every single cause. The resistance to Trump has shown it can muster enormous political energy. But does it know how to allocate it?

DeVos opposition deep dive from Louis Freedberg.

Alex Hernandez says we’re all school choice supporters these days. He’s not wrong. Skandera talks New Mexico. 

Federal government’s posture in the transgender bathroom case moving through the courts is shifting.

Shavar Jefferies of DFER and Diane Guerrero of Orange Is The New Black on DACA (in TeenVogue!).

Thoughtful Kevin Carey remembrance of Stan Jones.

Chiefs for Change on Direct Student Services – a provision of ESSA you may be hearing more about…Here are actual PARCC test questions you can argue about. 

Reuters deep dive fingers Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan for the state’s fiscal woes.

Sam Gleaves and Myra Morrison. If this is your thing email me with Gleaves in the subject line, hosting a show for Sam later this spring.