Monthly Archives: October 2017

Teacher Pensions, Teacher Politics, WeWork Coding, Charter Schools Growing, DeVos And Special Education, Macron’s Dog, More!

Confused about teacher pensions in Kentucky – and who amongst us isn’t? Chad Aldeman and Kirsten Schmitz unpack the debate there. 

Union politics in the Trump-era.

WeWork – which has a large real estate footprint – moving into coding training.

Teacher diversity gaps via Brookings.

In eighteen states it takes ten years to vest for your teacher pension, half of teachers never vest nationally, and only 1 in 5 teachers get a full pension. Yet people still want to argue this is a sensible retirement policy for an increasingly mobile field like education. And the argument that because younger workers don’t accumulate much in the way of retirement savings then that’s OK in education, too, is insane. Lots of people also struggle with health care, that doesn’t make it something desirable to import into our field. And you can get young people off to a good start with savings though some basic steps like immediate vesting, portability, good employer matches to encourage savings (in the case of a 401k). In other words there are things we can do. Also, there is this.

This NAACP tax status move is going to have an impact on education politics, funds like this are harder to raise and the teachers unions are a key source. It’s a good reminder that if the SCOTUS curtails union power this session things will not be as linear as a lot of partisans on both sides seem to think.

Charter schools are one of those issues where the averages obscure the real story. For instance, did you know there are now 208 districts with more than 10 percent of students in charter schools, but only three with more than 50 percent? This NAPCS analysis provides some important context on all that and a textured picture of what’s happening out there in terms of enrollment share.

Betsy DeVos got rid of a bunch of special education guidance documents the other day and everyone is predictably going nuts. Here’s the deal:

  1. The way the Department did this is inexplicable, they just hung a kick me sign on their backs. A little context and this would have been a non-story. Unbelievable given that it’s late October now. We may yet have a special education debate but this really isn’t it.
  2. Most of the people complaining about this in the spirit of “it’s the latest outrage!” couldn’t name 3 of these memos if their lives depended on it.
  3. Christina Samuels at Ed Week does a nice job with context that has mostly eluded the hysterical coverage. The Post, not so much.
  4. The law remains in effect as do the key regulations. Worth noting that school districts and parents are often in different places on this issue – there is a whole body of law and army of lawyers due to that. So this doesn’t fit cleanly with the Betsy DeVos undermining districts storyline either.
  5. Special education law is really complicated, one of the most complicated education issues around. So it’s best not to learn about it on social media.  I did a book on it years ago, have firsthand experience in multiple ways, and wouldn’t begin to put myself forward as an expert.

Emmanuel Macron’s dog is the hero we need.

Sara Mead On Ivanka Trump, Kate Pennington On Teacher Diversity, How Do You Like Them Apples! Plus Art News…And More!

Sara Mead on the problems with Ivanka Trump’s tax ideas.  Kate Pennington on teacher diversity.

Let’s get more teachers in Social Security.

Maybe actor Matt Damon tolerates a lot of bad behavior despite his protestations or perhaps he’s just not that alert an individual, but either way don’t take his advice on schools.

Another edu issue where it’s important to look behind the label: It’s not just higher ed degrees that matter, majors, and non-terminal certificates do, too.

Free speech and the Gators.

One feel good thing:

A Basquiat sold for north of $20 million and KIPP is the beneficiary.

Friday Fish Porn – Canada

Here’s Jamie Rees. He was one of Bellwether’s first interns, a stand out soccer player, poet, and all around great human. Now teaching high school math in Baltimore for the past few years. Adventures in between – including fishing. A westerner by birth and inclination, this summer he was in western Canada and this happened:

Want more pictures of education types with fish? It’s OK if you do. Here are hundreds via this link.

My Boy’s Wicked Smart? Sorry, I Don’t See It! Is TFA’s Pivot Smart? Are Pensions Smart? Is Gates’ New Strategy Smart? Is The CW On Teachers Unions Smart? Jenn Schiess’ Take On Transportation = Smart! All That And More!

Sadly, my boy may not be wicked smart after all. Matt Damon seems pretty oblivious, so why would you take his advice about schools?


Jenn Schiess on why you should be paying attention to school transportation. Seriously, you should, not nearly as boring as you think! Also, here’s something you can do with old school buses.

Chad Aldeman on teacher pensions, expensive and not a very good retirement policy for educators, but otherwise excellent. And here’s Chad on some pension lessons from the feds.


Gates Foundation rolling out a new strategy, Bill Gates personally announced it today.

Teach For America has pivoted toward the politics of the left – and observers who share and don’t share those politics have speculated about risk and what it might mean for an organization that is inextricably linked with public policy. Would Republicans sour on it and endanger its bipartisanship (which was genuine) or did it not matter that much? That conversation seems poised to spill into the open with this Commentary essay by a former corps member questioning the organization’s strategy.  I’d argue that TFA faces a complicated audience problem at a difficult political moment. I find it hard to quibble with efforts to make sure schools are more inclusive for marginalized populations. But, outside of those issues they are walking into something of a box canyon because short of repudiating what the organization is fundamentally about they will never be able to placate the institutional left no matter what they say or do, in particular the teachers unions but also much of the infrastructure around public education. It’s fool’s gold. And the political price could be high.

5-3 writes-up Ellen Moir’s retirement news. Moir confounded the “nothing works” and “only blowing everything up works” crowd with her work.

And here’s a look at Melody Schopp’s legacy in South Dakota.

More Barone and Laurens on ESSA. Has some inside baseball, but important.

Throw on some flannel and put on some Nirvana and this new TURN report will resonate more.

This NCTQ look at teacher housing costs is valuable – we talk a lot about average salaries but those numbers need the context of cost of living to make sense.

Should grantmakers invest in school districts? Bridgespan says yes. They see innovation opportunities.

Here’s an interesting question: Who gets to decide what’s culturally competent, and what if broad swaths of Americans of all races and ethnicities disagree? Big class and elitism issue embedded here.

If [when most observers assume] the SCOTUS rules against public sector unions this session, will a mass membership decline follow?

Three’s a crowd at parent teacher conferences?

Women’s hockey.

Posted on Oct 19, 2017 @ 4:06pm

Why Would You Take Education Advice From This Man?

Matt Damon is a folk hero in the anti-charter school world, but after the last week I’m left wondering why you’d take educational or parenting cues or really much other advice from this person? I’m sure he’s nice, but he doesn’t really seem to get what’s happening around him, and that applies to schools as well.  I look at that in The 74: 

In other words, his protestations of ignorance seem as disingenuous as his claim that his family, with their exceptional means, had no possible alternative to private school. Still, let’s give Damon the benefit of the doubt and assume he was the one person in the film business who didn’t know what Weinstein was up to. I’m surely not going to take my educational cues, let alone parenting advice, from someone that unaware of what’s happening all around him.

Entire column right here. I might take school advice from Will Hunting, but Jason Bourne seems a risker bet. In any event, who in Hollywood do you take educational advice from? You can tweet me that and your defense of Damon’s acute situational awareness arotherham.

Posted on Oct 19, 2017 @ 7:32am

Newark, Pension Funds, Scouts And Gender, Gender And Tech, Personalized, More!

Teens and anxiety, important.

So the idea is out there that teachers unions and hedge funds and private equity are mortal enemies. That’s understandable if all you pay attention to is social media and the rhetoric. In fact, they are more like frenemies, because teachers’ union controlled pension funds are one key source of funds for private equity and hedge fund deals. That’s what makes this financial story sort of interesting. Blackstone is seeking investors with $1-$5m in investable assets for direct investments:

The private-equity firm is pushing aggressively into products for retail investors, betting it can raise as much from them over the long term as it does from the pension funds and other institutions that form the main source of its $371 billion of assets, Blackstone executives say.

This won’t change the landscape immediately but it’s one factor among many worth watching, especially as pension funds face political pressure and policymakers begin to innovate with alternatives.

More data on Newark that points to some progress and the hard choices it took to get there:

“Whether you look at PARCC scores, student growth percentile, value-added scores, or graduation rates, student outcomes are trending in a positive direction in Newark,” [Newark superintendent] Cerf said. “The data shows us that the seeds planted in earlier years are now yielding rewards for students. Today, thousands more Newark students are reading and doing math on grade level than just a few years ago and as a result, these students have a better chance at attending college or pursuing a meaningful career when they leave our schools.”

Quick history: It was Cami Anderson planting some of those seeds.

In Virginia fewer than one in five low-income or black students are on track for college by 8th-grade according to NAEP. And yet this is the state of play about what to do about it.

Here’s a new podcast on women and education technology.

And The 74’s Kate Stringer on scouts and gender.  Here’s a fun take on the scouts’ decision.

Sandy Kress on Eli Broad.

ExcelinEd continues to track personalized learning lessons in Idaho, Utah, and Florida.

Fish story.

Bellwether Is Hiring, Charter School Politics, DeVos Prioritizes, Aldeman Analyzes, Broad Retires, Miles Gambles, Does Moskowitz, Too? Plus Pensions, Expectations, Free Speech, Teachers Unions, More!

We are hiring at Bellwether.

And here’s an analysis from Bellwether of teacher pensions in Louisiana  – where again you see the story that teacher pensions are an expensive way to do retirement, which would be okay if it were a really effective way, but as the data show in Louisiana and elsewhere, it’s not (pdf).

Pension costs a problem in CA, too.

Patricia Levesque on personalized learning.

Betsy DeVos on her plans for education policy. Here’s a list of the priorities, it’s a lot of priorities. Only ponies inexplicably left off the list. And Chad Aldeman says on ESSA pay no attention to the lady behind the curtain – no seriously, pay no attention he says. He also discusses the new priorities with ABC.

Karen Hawley Miles has a gambling problem.

Eli Broad is retiring. Quite a career that guy has had.

This, from Panic about Success Academies, is interesting:

When I told [Checker Finn] of Moskowitz’s action, he said “Gutsy and much needed. If schools and parents are truly to share responsibility for educating children, each needs in some way to be accountable to the other.” Another Moskowitz fan I mentioned it to was also impressed. “Holy s—t, talk about cojones!” he cheered. “The anti-reformers have forever said we should hold parents accountable. They will surely find a reason to oppose this anyway.” Without question, but so might some of Moskowitz’s best and most loyal supporters: her parents. If the small handful of Success Academy parents I’ve spoken to about this are an indication, Moskowitz might for once be overplaying her hand.

Meanwhile, Mike Petrilli says charter school supporters should stop antagonizing Republicans. Maybe, but the idea that charters have been successfully rebranded as a lefty idea seems to fall apart with even casual scrutiny of the political landscape today. More generally, wouldn’t it be great if education conservatives stopped acting like snowflakes and getting triggered every time someone says “social justice” or points out that race is an issue and at the same time if education’s social justice lefties decided that actually getting things done to change the facts on the ground was as important to them as making points or getting people to say the “right”  things and think and signal the “right” way? Then, perhaps we could get back to figuring out how to address the formidable array of interests fighting against a reform that’s shown enormous benefit for urban students – who are disproportionately racial and ethnic minorities?

New York charter schools are being allowed to credential teachers – and the legal authority underpinning that is being challenged in court. Some of this is the usual turf war over any effort to break up the iron triangle teacher prep protection racket and I can’t speak to the legal merits under New York law, but it’s nonetheless a good time to revisit an idea we discuss from time to time: Context. In this case, New York – like a lot of places – is screwing around with cut scores on teacher tests and there is no evidence that credentials matter that much (as a practical matter outside of emergency credentials all the different training routes are mostly a wash). So it’s hard to take seriously the claim that allowing charter schools flexibility here undermines teachers quality. Rather, we might just see the kind of innovation and competition that could spur some change. Maybe now is too awkward a time to point out that some of the most interesting innovations in teacher prep right now – High Tech High, MATCH, Relay, are all charter school born…

Euphemism of the day for all that, “historically surprising”

“This whole issue of quality assurance and accreditation is proving particularly vexing for them in ways that are historically surprising, because obviously teaching has been around for a long time.”

You don’t say…

Michael Roth on ideological diversity and campus life.

Ian Rowe says we need to aim higher.

Good thing the teachers’ unions are such progressive stalwarts!  But at least they play it straight with dues.

Almost impossible to give a book talk these days without disruption.

Friday Fish Porn – Little Rivers, Tough Fish

Here’s Jason Gaulden, who among other roles in the education world helped get GratefulEd going and is a keen follower of the music scene as well as a passionate advocate for better schools.

He’s just getting into fly fishing, but the smile is a signal that you should think about taking it up, too.

This is from the Little Laramie River in Wyoming.

Want more pictures of education types with fish? Hundreds, literally as the kids say, hundreds via this link.

Whiteboard Insider Survey Data, Race And School Finance, Matt Damon, Inconvenient Anti-Reform Advocate? Louisiana Pension Mess, Allred A Principal, Bellwether Is Hiring, More!

Chad Aldeman on the pension situation in Louisiana:

To make up for a shortfall of almost $12 billion, Louisiana school districts are now forced to pay more than 30 percent of each teacher’s salary toward the state pension fund. The vast majority of that contribution goes to pay down debts, not for actual benefits for teachers. For at least the last 25 years, Louisiana has never paid its pension bills in full, causing the debt to grow and grow.

And here’s Chad on teacher turnover. It’s a must-read on both the content but also the constant advocacy-driven sleight of hand around important issues that plagues this sector. This, kids, is why we can’t have nice things!

Bonnie O’Keefe is blogging about turnover, too, here she is on the leadership factor.

We’re hiring at Bellwether.

New Education Insider data from Whiteboard Advisors. Insiders see long odds for Trump Administration education priorities that require congressional action. Plenty more and you can read it via this link (pdf).

Maybe this is common knowledge, but I didn’t know Gloria Allred was in education and almost became a principal before her legal career. That was included in this New Yorker profile.

The fraternity paradox, work less and earn more.

Matt Damon is a hero to the anti-reform left because he couldn’t find a single public school in Los Angeles that was “progressive” enough for his kids and went private. (As I noted at the time, if for no other reason than security that choice makes sense for the Damons but why wrap it in all the rhetoric – and the LAUSD superintendent at the time pointed out that there are plenty of progressive public schools in LA). In any event, Damon is back in the news because of allegations he had a hand in squelching Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment claims. (Not the only such allegations surrounding Damon).  Rose McGowan, a key figure in the Weinstein episode, is now turning her attention to Damon. If you’re say the American Federation of Teachers, or the host of other anti-reform groups that have thrown their lot in with Damon on his new anti-reform documentary, this is some awkward timing…really awkward. Update: Damon responds in an interview:

For the record, I would never, ever, ever try to kill a story like that. I just wouldn’t do that. It’s not something I would do, for anybody.

Paul Krugman today in The Times:

If you want to understand why policies toward the poor are so different at the state level, why some states offer so much less support to troubled families with children, one predictor stands out: the African-American share of the population. The more blacks, the less compassion white voters feel.

There is some evidence this dynamic plays out in school finance. Obviously. But, while the evidence is relatively thin and early so all the usual caveats apply, there is some evidence older white voters are less likely to support school bonds (less likely than usual, which is its own problem if you live in a retirement area) in more racially diverse school districts. Add that to the downward pressure on school finance as the population ages and the demographic fiscal burden shifts toward older Americans.

Bears get late night pizza cravings, too.