Monthly Archives: December 2017

The 529 Expansion

The new tax bill will expand 529s to cover K-12 education (yes there was already a K-12 tax break for private schools but it didn’t benefit the really wealthy). At best this seems like a distraction, at worst it could skew the school choice debate even though tax policy isn’t a very good way to give low-income parents more choice.

I look at all that today in U.S. News & World Report:

Education was mostly a sideshow in the massive tax overhaul Congress passed just before Christmas. But one marginal issue passed in the dead of night may end up playing a big role in the school choice debate going forward.

Under the new law, money from 529 college savings accounts can now be used for private elementary and secondary education expenses. 529s are savings accounts where you can put after-tax dollars earmarked for college expenses (and now elementary and secondary expenses) into an account where that money grows tax free.

That change was the result of a late-night amendment by Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz that only passed with Vice President Pence casting a tie breaking vote. The provision is lousy public policy and even many choice advocates opposed it, but it’s a big political win for proponents of education tax credits and using the tax code rather than direct spending to advance school choice…

You can read the entire thing here. Maybe this is trickle down school choice? Argue that case or tweet me your tax break ideas @arotherham.

Posted on Dec 27, 2017 @ 7:23pm

Most Popular 2017 Posts

Posting will be light until after the holidays, although you can always try me on Twitter. And check out the content on Ahead of the Heard and the teacher pension blog. In the meantime, here’s some stuff from 2017.

The ten most popular 2017 Eduwonk posts (in order):

1) 6 Inconvenient DeVos Truths

2) Michigan Education Facts

3) This job at the Kern Family Foundation.

4) DeVos and bears (plus other content but bears were hot there for a moment).

5) School PIO screw-ups, research, and a grab bag of stuff.

6) Open (now filled) roles on Bellwether’s PTL team.

7) A Chris Cerf poison pen from fall 2016 that I posted in very early 2017.

8) A little push for state EAOs and then a mixed bag of interesting things from higher ed to pensions.

9) DeVos nomination on the Senate floor and the Park Slope co-op (yes both of those in one post).

10) Teachers union – private equity frenemies stuff and stupid bear jokes.

In outside outlets this 74 look at Matt Damon’s school sleuthing and more general sleuthing skills got a good ride as did this off-edu USN look at the evolution of Ryan Zinke.

This 74 look at Betsy DeVos and public relations and USN on big questions for Betsy DeVos also did well. A lot of people wanted to read about the federal bathroom policy debate, too.

Campus stuff was popular and I think my favorite for the year was “Rig to Flip.” Hard to beat a fantastic river trip and life lessons.

And one random thing I turned up pulling this list: This Eduwonk post is five years old and pretty sleepy but for some reason got almost 70k views on it this year. Your guess is as good as mine. It’s not because it mentions David Brooks, similar archived content doesn’t get refreshed like that.

Thanks for reading. I wish you a restful holiday break and a peaceful, happy, and healthy 2018.

Three Edujobs – @ Seton Education Partners, Fellowships & Blended Learning

Here are three roles at Seton Education Partners (and this is half a job posting and half an update on some interesting work so even if you’re not looking for a new job these are worth checking out):

Seton Catholic School Leader Fellowship:

Looking for a higher calling? Launch a new urban Catholic K-8 school of excellence in Cleveland or Milwaukee. Seton Education Partners seeks faith-filled, mission-driven, results-oriented leaders to participate in a yearlong training program to prepare for launching and leading a new urban Catholic school of excellence. We are looking for dynamic educators who have achieved strong academic results with their students and want to dramatically increase their reach. We seek motivated entrepreneurs who want to start a school from the ground up—a school that helps underserved children develop the virtue, knowledge, and skills necessary to earn a college degree and live well in this world and the next.

Brilla School Leader Fellowship:

Seton Education Partners is launching a new network of K-8 public charter schools in underserved neighborhoods where traditional Catholic schools are being closed. Co-founded in 2009 by KIPP Foundation pioneer Scott W. Hamilton and Teach for America alumna Stephanie Saroki de García, Seton is a response to the dramatic decline of urban Catholic schools in America, which have served the economically disadvantaged so well for decades. With a focus on results, Seton is committed to ensuring that children develop the knowledge, skills, and character traits necessary to earn a college degree and pursue lives of value, faith, and integrity.

In 2013, Seton launched Brilla College Prep in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the South Bronx. Brilla, which means “shine” in Spanish, has achieved academic growth results that parallel the nation’s strongest charter schools. Alongside Brilla, Seton launched El Camino, an optional, extended day Catholic faith formation program. Seton now seeks to take these remarkable achievements to scale by helping to launch and manage a network of Brilla schools and El Camino extended day programs, to ensure that thousands of underserved children whose Catholic schools close—and other local children—have access to an academically superior, character-building, and faith-nurturing education. This network will serve as a national model for how other cities facing the shuttering of Catholic schools can continue to serve the poor.

Blended Learning Manager:

The Seton Blended Learning Network is an innovative thirteen school, seven city blended learning network driven by resultssmart collaboration, and character formation that serves over 3,250 students, 98% of whom are minorities and over two-thirds of whom qualify for the federal meals program. Our model employs a mixture of technology, creative problem-solving, game-changing “no excuses” school culture, and nationwide sharing of best practices. As our early results show, this approach can help Catholic schools continue their social justice mission of providing character-building, opportunity-equalizing, and faith-forming education for children most in need. The program has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Education Week, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and The Hechinger Report. To learn more you can watch our new video, read an overview of the model, view the results, look at the profiles of current Network schools, and check out our FAQ.

Our Results. Since joining the network, Seton Blended Learning schools have seen climbing enrollment, reduced per pupil costs, and improved student achievement. Scholars at Seton Blended Learning schools grow 1.2 times faster than the national average in math and 1.3 times faster in reading, demonstrating growth on-par with or outpacing that of many high-performing charter networks. Furthermore, Seton Blended Learning Network schools will realize a 20% operating cost reduction in year two and beyond, thus increasing the viability and showing the way for scores of other financially struggling Catholic schools to do the same. Click here to read more about the Network’s results.

About this Job. Site Managers are responsible for on-site implementation of Seton’s blended learning and culture model by supporting classroom teachers as they make the transition to data-driven blended educators. They maintain high expectations for themselves and their scholars, are organized, have a passion for coaching, and treat all scholars and colleagues with respect. Site Managers are resilient, believe in tenacity, embrace innovation, exhibit vigor, and strive for excellence. Prior experience with blended learning is not required, but talent and a desire to develop college-bound scholars and saints is mandatory. This is a full-time position with set outcomes and flexible hours set by the team member. The Site Manager reports to the Director of the Seton Blended Learning Network.

Holiday Books

People said they liked last year’s book list, so here we go again for this year.

Like half my friends I’m hoping to find the new Grant biography and Against the Grain in my stocking on Christmas morning. But rather than a wishlist, here are a handful of the books, new and old but more off the beaten path, that I read in 2017. In need of holiday gift ideas? Try these:

Down the Great Unknown, Edward Dolnick. This readable history is a revisionist look at the 1869 Powell Expedition down the Green and Colorado rivers. I went through some of those canyons this summer. It’s a challenge in 2017, so imagine in the 19th Century sans maps when no one had any idea what was around the next bend or really how to run rivers much at all. The history and adventure are compelling but Dolnick’s account also sheds some light on river running techniques and water issues in the west.

Finn Murphy’s Long Haul. A book about the moving industry – and it’s a page turner? Indeed. Murphy dropped out of college at Colby to become a mover – he’d done it some part-time in high school and during college (his first day on the job was a doozy that alone makes the book worth reading). But the interesting thing hidden in plain sight here is that as a mover Murphy really sees America from the ground floor. So Long Haul is as much a book about race and class and the changing nature of American life as it is about the ridiculous stories Murphy compiled over the decades and the miles (and that he tells exceedingly well).

The Letters of Ernest Hemingway. There is an ongoing project to catalog Ernest Hemingway’s letters and Cambridge University Press is publishing the volumes. Volume 4, which covers 1929-1931 came out this fall, edited by Sandra Spanier and Miriam Mandel. It is a fascinating window into Hemingway when his career is taking off in the wake of A Farewell to Arms. The letters run from the mundane to the significant – as well as the mundane but significant. For instance, a 1929 letter to the editor Max Perkins after Hemingway finds two copies of Farewell at a bookstore features him arguing about the size of his name on the cover. Yes, too small he says.  A revealing window into an icon of 20th Century American literature.

Jim Ryan was announced this fall as the new President of the University of Virginia. K-12 education types were excited, too, and here’s why: Five Miles Away, A World Apart. It’s a powerful book on why your zip code has so much leverage in education and life. (He also published a book this year, “Wait, what?” about questioning).

In the same vein as Five Miles Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law is also worth checking out if you are unaware of the extent to which the housing patterns that today vex school reform efforts are not merely a function of personal residential preferences and de facto segregation. Rothstein offers chapter and verse on the legal history, the government’s role, and how although various racial covenants are invalid now but still impact housing in the United States. People will disagree over the merits of his policy recommendations and their political potential and Rothstein’s hard-edged deterministic streak is evident (he’s best known in education circles for essentially arguing that school reform efforts hold little promise in the face of socioeconomic circumstances today). But the history and context here is vital.

A few weeks ago I was talking with a colleague who had relocated to the western desert and was remarking how much she liked it out there among the sagebrush and big sky. So I sent her Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire. But my true favorite Abbey book that I checked in with earlier this year is The Brave Cowboy. (It was turned into a lovely Kirk Douglas film, “Lonely Are The Brave.”) It’s a great story – a classic old west tale but in more recent times. People out of step, iconoclasts, timeless themes.

Edujob – Director Of Development @ Empower Illinois

This is not going to be a low-key edujob. New organization at the forefront of big policy changes, and they need a development director:

The Development Director for Empower Illinois will be charged with planning, organizing and directing fundraising in this busy startup Scholarship Granting Organization raising more than $4,000,000 for annual operations and more than $20,000,000 from corporations to support scholarships for low income and working class children, utilizing a new tax credit available under the new “Invest in Kids Act” passed in the summer of 2017. We are looking for a high-competency professional who will treat the tasks of this role as an opportunity to invest in her/his growth. The Development Director works closely with the Managing Director, Executive Director, and the Empower Illinois Board in all development and fundraising endeavors.  The role is designed for someone who has what it takes to thrive in a fast paced, mission-driven, growing enterprise.

You can learn more and be considered via this link.

ESSA Reviews And Analysis, ECE Coaching, ECE Evidence, Higher Ed Act On The Move, Marchitello’s Investment Tips, Bitcoins, Teacher Podcasts, Grace Potter, More!

ICYMI Bellwether/CSS ESSA reviews.

Kate Pennington and Max Marchitello on ESSA opportunities.  Anne Hyslop on the ESSA state of play and the department’s role.

Via Bonnie O’Keefe, new Bellwether analysis on instructional coaching in early childhood education.  And via The 74 here’s a short version.

Max Marchitello with some investment advice. No, wait, our lawyer says that is explicitly *not* investment advice. But it’s a push for pension funds on their investments.

ICYMI Whitmire on Success Academy and his Success diet.

Ten 2017 edu charts via The 74.

Here’s CEP taking a look at year one of ESSA.

NCTQ state teacher policy yearbook – this is always a useful reference.

Higher Ed reauthorization bill in the House. Here’s a primer on major provisions.

Critics of proposals to expand pre-k education had a point when they noted that huge expansions were being predicated on a pretty thin empirical base (the logic model case was stronger, in my view). But over time the evidence base is growing that while expensive pre-k and quality early ed offer benefits.

Cameron Crowe, call your office.  And on high school kids, this is heartbreaking.

Interesting take on Bitcoin, includes this point, which has implications for the education field:

All the same, the bitcoin bubble is doing some good. How can this be? The high price of bitcoin, though wildly fluctuating, is attracting attention to the underlying platform, called blockchain. This technology could revolutionize future transactions of many kinds, providing secure execution of “smart contracts,” as well as fast, efficient claims processing that eliminates expensive middlemen.

Charter schools, diversity, and politics.

Apparently they don’t teach the Barnette case in ed school anymore.

David Deschryver on the GI bill and employment.

NWEA and CCSSO have the state teachers of the year doing podcasts.

Rocketship has a new name and website.  And the Charter School Growth Fund’s Emerging CMO Fund is accepting applications now.

Grace Potter and the Stones.

Posted on Dec 14, 2017 @ 12:23pm

The Reviews Are In! Round 2 ESSA Reviews

Evaluations of the 34 Round 2 ESSA state plans are out today via Bellwether’s project with the Collaborative For Student Success.

The 74: 

States largely squandered the opportunity to create strong, innovative education plans through the Every Student Succeeds Act, a bipartisan group of independent reviewers found…

…Among the 34 states submitting plans in the second round, nine got a 5 in at least one category, and only Indiana received a 5 in two categories. Compare that to the first round, in which six of the 17 plans got a top rating in at least one category, with three states getting 5’s in more than one category.

All the reviews and the executive summary here.

Check State Plans site here.

Posted on Dec 12, 2017 @ 8:47am

Richard Whitmire: Why I Put Myself On A Success Academy Writing Diet

By Richard Whitmire

I totally get the outsized coverage we’re seeing of Eva Moskowitz and Success Academy charter schools in New York. In years past, I’ve been guilty of the same. But there’s a reason I pulled back.

First, let’s discuss Eva’s appeal, which is hard to resist. Moskowitz is one of those rare, swashbuckling figures carving out an “empire” of charter schools in New York City, confounding and infuriating her ‘dastardly’ critics by turning low-income minority students into top scholars.

Her message to the mayor, teachers unions and other detractors (who accuse her of manipulating the system to get those results) is blunt: If I can do this, why aren’t you doing the same! Oooh…that really gets them riled up.

We haven’t seen that kind of in-your-face rhetoric since Michelle Rhee took over as chancellor of the schools in Washington DC. (oops, guilty there as well. Wrote an entire book, The Bee Eater, about Rhee.)

The latest Moskowitz article, by Elizabeth Green in The Atlantic, drew the headline: The Charter-School Empire of the Future. That came on the heels of a New Yorker piece, where the headline described Success charters as a “radical educational experiment.” Both are great pieces; Green comes away impressed, while raising some concerns about the downside of successful charter networks; Mead calmly analyzes classroom practices.

And if that’s not enough coverage, Moskowitz herself just published a new book about her radical experiment, The Education of Eva Moskowitz.

The Success Academy book I’m eagerly awaiting will come from education writer/practitioner Robert Pondiscio, who has burrowed into Success classrooms to determine exactly what goes on there (watch for it, fall of 2018).

The journalistic attempts to take down Eva Moskowitz are too numerous to cite here, but the most notable was a New York Times investigative piece that breathlessly “exposed” her strict discipline policies.

I stepped into the charter world several years ago to write a book about Rocketship charters, at the time an aggressive, fledgling charter network out of San Jose that vowed to build a national network of high performing charters that would eliminate learning gaps. (One of the cofounders was every bit as brash as Eva). Today, Rocketship runs many good schools, but no national network. This stuff is not easy.

Along my research path for that book I ran across a lot of great charters, and I’ve hewed to that topic ever since, with another book, The Founders, which lays out the history behind the top performing charter networks.

So here’s what makes me uneasy about all the attention paid to Success Academies: Eva Moskowitz undeniably makes sexy copy, but she’s also a unicorn. If you look around the country at the big charter networks, none are take-no-prisoners empire builders.

The closest might be IDEA Public Charters in Texas, which is on an expansion tear that mirrors Success. IDEA has a goal of running 173 schools by the year 2022, enrolling 100,000 students. But the IDEA schools are spread over Texas, a very large state, with a single school foray into Louisiana. Moskowitz’s schools are in a single city.

The most interesting charter expansions don’t even involve opening new schools. California-based Summit Public Schools offers up its digitized learning program to all schools, mostly traditional public schools, and is now in 23 states. That’s huge news, the biggest charter/district collaboration in the country, but news that rarely gets out with the focus on Success.

And Moskowitz’s go-for-the-jugular style is definitely unicornish. Most leaders strive to keep a low profile, looking for ways to cooperate with districts. Everyone knows about Moskowitz’s diatribes. How many know that a quiet college success collaboration between KIPP and San Antonio Independent School District brought immediate positive results and a shower of corporate money into the traditional district?

As good as the test scores may look at Success, the network has yet to prove itself. Test scores mean nothing if you don’t infuse your graduates with the array of qualities that allow some first-generation college goers to succeed, while so many others drop out with no degrees.

Let’s dip into just one example here: Will Success ever be as good as Uncommon Schools, also based in New York? Uncommon is the Ginger to the Success Fred Astaire; it dazzles while backfilling its classes through 9th grade (Success cuts off new admissions after fourth grade).

Uncommon’s alumni earn bachelor’s degree at a rate of 50 percent, a rate that in a few years is projected to climb to 70 percent, the same rate experienced by students from wealthy families. Will Success ever be that good? Hard to say; its first graduating class, with just 17 students, is about to head off to college.

You’ll never see Uncommon’s leader, Brett Peiser, bashing unions and politicians. Maybe that’s why the school chancellors in both New York and Newark reached out to Uncommon and asked them to run professional development programs. This is big stuff; rarely written about.

So that’s why I put myself on a Success Academy writing diet. Moskowitz runs some amazing schools, but she’s a unicorn, and all that unicorn coverage distorts what’s really going on with charters around the country.

Education writer Richard Whitmire is an accomplished paddler and fisherman and the author of several books.

Posted on Dec 11, 2017 @ 12:18pm