February 26, 2020

Democrats Have an Authenticity Problem

Whether you like Elizabeth Warren’s politics or not, this Will Wilkinson piece for the Niskanen Center is worth your time. The piece is mainly about Senator Warren’s argument that America’s political and economic systems are rigged toward the powerful. I tend to agree with Warren (and Wilkinson’s) core concerns.

But unlike Warren, who has shied away from the politically inconvenient parts of her argument, Wilkinson does not flinch about calling out concentrated power in all its forms:

But focusing too exclusively on the concentrated power of corporations and billionaires isn’t just a strategic error that invites overwhelming resistance from already-dominating political forces that need to be pacified. It also leads to the neglect of other forms of concentrated power that keep our system rigged. This is both an intellectual and strategic mistake. An incomplete and partial diagnosis of the problem narrows the appeal of a structural reform agenda, which makes it harder to recruit the popular political energy it will need to succeed.

For example, public sector unions organize against voters to block reform and starve other programs, and much poorer citizens, of public funds by dominating budget processes. Elected Democrats who like their jobs tend not to complain about teachers unions obstructing badly needed experimentation and reform in our primary education system, just as Republicans tend not to complain about the NRA, but it’s a form of anti-democratic “capture” all the same. And there are many other examples of capture and rule-rigging at work on multiple levels of our political economy. These merit attention, too.

He continues:

Emphasizing that teachers, lawyers, doctors, academics, and other “knowledge work” professionals also insulate themselves from competition and extract resources from less well-positioned citizens is not a standard left message. It is a radical message, but when you whittle away the parts that cut against the interests of the urban liberal professional class, it comes off too much like a strident version of standard-issue Democratic progressivism.

To me, this is where Warren’s argument has run aground. Warren is by no means alone in this, but the easy move among Democrats today is to make an argument about concentrated power and the harm it does to average citizens, but then stop short of applying the same critical lens to traditional Democratic issue areas like education. Democrats have an authenticity problem when they ignore the issue altogether or merely offer more of the same.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

Posted on Feb 26, 2020 @ 4:31pm

February 25, 2020

Greg Schneiders On The Future Of Polling, What Bartending Teaches You And Why It Matters To Edu, And Stuff You Might Not Know About Jimmy Carter

In The 74 I interview longtime D.C. hand Greg Schneiders:

There is a lot of focus on polling and public opinion in education but sometimes a lack of strategy on the “whys” and the “what now” questions associated with public opinion research. I wanted to talk with Greg Schneiders, a friend, colleague and fixture in Washington, about that.

A former bar owner, Senate aide, and campaign and White House aide to President Jimmy Carter, Greg has worked in and around politics for decades. He’s now CEO of Prime Group, a public affairs firm, where he’s worked with numerous education clients — from state and local nonprofits to national organizations and corporations, as well as national and international clients including the United Nations Foundation, Major League Baseball and MetLife.

Here are five questions I asked him recently about public opinion research, where education advocates need to do better, why being a bartender can help you understand politics and what you might not know about Carter’s time in office. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity…

You can read the entire thing here at The 74.


February 24, 2020

Is Our Reading Problem Craft Or Is It Politics?

In The 74 I ask whether on reading instruction we’re conflating our problems of education craft with our larger problem of education politics?

“Most conversations about literacy treat the problem of poor reading instruction as one of craft. The problem is that teachers don’t know how to teach reading, so how do we make sure they do? Solve the craft problem, the argument goes, and the politics take care of themselves. But what if this is exactly backward and, instead, it’s a political problem that allows the craft problem to persist? And maybe not just on reading but also on other issues like testing, accountability and teacher evaluation, where we’re constantly told that if things were just a little better from a technical standpoint everyone would actually be on board?”

You can read it all here. 


February 22, 2020

Housing Policy Is Education Policy (For Now)

I really enjoyed this Conor Dougherty piece on housing policy, and it makes me want to read his book Golden Gates: Fighting for Housing in America. This part in particular stood out to me:

Nearly all of the biggest challenges in America are, at some level, a housing problem. Rising home costs are a major driver of segregation, inequality, and racial and generational wealth gaps. You can’t talk about education or the shrinking middle class without talking about how much it costs to live near good schools and high-paying jobs.

However, Conor Williams’ recent piece for The Washington Post argues that this need not be the case. Rather than waiting to win economic development battles city by city and block by block, charter schools “offer the possibility of unlinking housing and school access now.”

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 


February 21, 2020

Edujob: State Superintendent In Louisiana

Here’s a big one. Louisiana is conducting a national search for a new State Superintendent of Education.

This is a chance to lead an innovative, impactful, and major state into its next chapter building on great momentum that is in place but tackling new challenges. A few stats:

  • The state’s improvement on NAEP since 2009 in all subjects significantly exceeds national trends and, in 2019, Louisiana ranked #1 in the nation for improvement in 8th grade mathematics.
  • Since implementing new, standards-aligned tests in 2015, the percent of students achieving mastery has increased 7% points in ELA and 4% points in math.
  • At the high school level, the number of students earning Advanced Placement credit each year has increased by more than 3,800 since 2012, an increase of more than 167%, and
  • More students graduated in 2018 than ever before with a graduation rate of 81.4%.  This is an increase of over 5,000 students since 2012, far exceeding the nation’s growth   

You can learn more, and learn how to apply, here from the JD.


We Don’t Know That Much About How to Prepare Teachers

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has a new consensus report on teacher preparation. One of their conclusions says this (emphasis added):

The research base on preservice teacher preparation supplies little evidence about its impact on teacher candidates and their performance once they are in the classroom. Preservice programs in many states assess the performance of teacher candidates for purposes of licensure, but few states have developed data systems that link information about individual teachers’ preservice experiences with other data about those teachers or their performance. Overall, it is difficult to assess the causal impact of teacher preparation programs.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 


Latest Edu-Reads

As the charter school debate becomes increasingly partisan, Bellwether has a new report on autonomous schools, schools that occupy the middle ground between “traditional” and “charter.”

Brandon Lewis talks with Shaniola Arowolaju, a D.C. native and parent organizer, about how challenging it can be for parents to find the right school for their child.

“So for now, the thousands of minority parents relying on charter schools are on thin political ice, with indifference coming from the Republicans and hostility coming from the now-dominant wing of the Democratic Party.” That’s from Andy Rotherham and Richard Whitmire in The Hill on the deteriorating politics around charter schools.

Beth Hawkins interviews outgoing Louisiana schools chief John White.

Colleges that are part of the American Talent Initiative are on track to meet their collective goal of recruiting 50,000 more low- and middle-income students, but there are signs the gains are slowing. H/t to Goldie Blumenstyk.

The Urban Institute has a fun graphic on who would benefit from free college programs.

Mike Goldstein and Scott McCue on how they took the risk away from people wanting to become teachers: they guaranteed candidates a teaching job, and let students pay back their tuition after they graduated and found a job.

A big new CALDER paper looks at academic mobility. How much does a students’ relative performance in third grade predict how they will perform in later grades? The authors find quite large correlations (aka very little mobility) across six states. Moreover, the districts that see gains tend to help all of their students improve:

We also show that school districts exhibit statistically and economically significant variation in academic mobility. The predominant driver of cross-district variation in total academic mobility is absolute mobility, not relative (within district) mobility. That is, districts differ much more by whether they are effective in raising achievement throughout the entire distributions of their students than they do in their ability to improve lower-performing students’ relative ranks internally. Indeed, we do not find evidence of large differences across districts in relative mobility, which suggests that districts do not, in fact, differentially specialize in educating students at different achievement levels within their distributions (e.g., high versus low achievers).

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 


February 20, 2020

Charter Schools And Federal Budget Politics: Sounds Wonky But Could Matter A Lot To Parents

In The Hill, Richard Whitmire and I take a look at the latest twist the political fortunes of charter schools:

Lost in last week’s frenetic news about Trump’s revenge tour and an unpredictable international virus, a big story got overlooked: what might be the beginning of the end to the conservative/liberal alliance to offer better school options — high performing public charter schools — to low-income parents….

You can read all of that here. 

I wanted to amplify one point though, the Trump Administration’s budget decision.

When he was pushed on the issue of the block granting of the charter school funding, Assistant Secretary of Education Jim Blew, who oversees policymaking at the Department of Education, told Chalkbeat, “The federal lobbyists for charter schools sound a lot like the lobbyists for all of the other competitive grant programs. “In their desperate communications, they have exaggerated the importance of [the federal Charter Schools Program].

I think it’s worth noting that Blew has a point that charter schools should be a state priority, after all schools fall under state constitutions. And generally I’m favorably disposed towards flexible funding for those closest to the action, with clear expectations on results.

But, right now in the midst of a sustained teachers-union fueled backlash charters are struggling politically despite strong support for black and Hispanic families. We don’t have any real expectations for results any more in the ESSA-era. And the federal program has been a boon for growing charters for families despite the organized institutional opposition since the Clinton Administration.  Many in the charter world have ideas for how to restructure the program, most analysts think it could stand some changes, but a carte blanche handoff to states is a precipitous and disorganized way address the complicated basket of issues facing charter schools – especially when many other federal programs don’t yet fully integrate charters either.


February 18, 2020


Latest Edu-Reads

Bellwether’s first early childhood newsletter came out last week. You can subscribe for updates here.

“While the average causal effect of hosting a student teacher on student performance in the year of the apprenticeship is indistinguishable from zero in both math and reading, hosting a student teacher is found to have modest positive impacts on student math and reading achievement in a teacher’s classroom in following years.” That’s from a new paper by Dan Goldhaber, John M. Krief, and Roddy Theobald about the impact of being an apprentice to an student teacher.

This Tampa Bay Times piece on how school choice is dividing Florida Democrats along racial lines is a must-read for anyone who cares about the choice issue, or the 2020 election.

Re Florida school choice, a new NBER study finds that the state’s private school choice program boosted outcomes for public school students.

Here’s Bonnie O’Keefe on the school choice politics in Newark.

The Oscars uses ranked-choice voting. Now so will Maine.

A new policy brief from AIR looks at the lasting benefits and strong cost-benefit returns of early college high schools.

That said, young college graduates aren’t faring as well today as their peers did in the past:

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman