June 25, 2014

Whiteboard Advisors’ Education Insider Survey

New data out today including the usual tracking questions plus higher ed, charter schools, TFA, and data privacy (pdf).


Edujob – AppleTree

AppleTree is a DC-based nonprofit that operates outstanding pre-K programs. They’re hiring for several roles but in particular a Grants Manager. The role involves generating grant proposals and managing all aspects of a grants management program. Important position at a high-impact organization. Learn more here.


June 24, 2014

Geese, Gander, And Charter Schools

Wayne Barrett (The Nation, Village Voice) writing in the New York Daily News:

…Democrats like [Howard] Dean and others have seen through the “privatization” trashing of charters by [Diane] Ravitch and the union, recognizing that there’s no structural difference between the non-profits that run public school charters and the ones that operate Head Start, day care and pre-K programs.

For his part, [New York Mayor] de Blasio has never explained what distinguishes maligned charter non-profits from the ones that will run 60% of his celebrated new pre-K classrooms.

The only difference, in fact, is that most charters, unlike other nonprofit education providers, opt out of contracts like the UFT’s 200-page straitjacket that micromanages the school day and imposes an assembly-line mentality on schools – one that charters have exposed as dysfunctional.

Some on the left are, like the union, deliberately conflating “privatization” and contract-free schools in the Frank Luntz “words-that-work” tradition of bogus branding. Charter opposition is now reflexively used in New York City as a progressive barometer, regardless of the overwhelming evidence of their benefits to mostly black children, with 63% of the schools here outperforming traditional schools in math, for example…


Playbook For Personalized Learning

Bellwether has a new report out today – it’s a playbook for how to expand personalized learning and address quality and accountability. Lots of ideas for policymakers. More here (pdf).


June 17, 2014

Teacher Prep Review

NCTQ’s Teacher Prep Review is out. Expanded this year, its second year. It’s a trove of data and worth reading (pdf). Alternative certification programs included this time, too.


It’s All Happening!

Richard Whitmire book signing in California and a Vergara plaintiff shows up:

daniela martinez


Edujob – Deputy Executive Director For Advocacy @ PIE Network

PIE Network – a national network of 49 state education advocacy organizations working in 31 states is seeking a Deputy Executive Director For Advocacy (pdf). If political strategy and education are your thing it’s going to be hard to beat this job.  Details and how to apply through the link.


June 16, 2014

Vergara Fallout

Almost a week after the Vergara decision debate about what it means, doesn’t mean, and what should happen next continues.  You can group the reactions into a few buckets:

Salvation!/Armageddon!  For the salvation crowd this is the greatest decision by a court in education history – perhaps in all of history! Yes, it’s significant but it still must survive appeal, the legislature must satisfactorily fix the problems if it does, and in other states with less favorable constitutions advocates must still win case after case. Why? Because this case seems unlikely to unleash a political change.

Key piece of evidence? Almost no one thinks these laws make much sense. Even most legal scholars arguing it was wrongly decided still caveat their analysis by saying these laws are substantively awful before discussion the contested issues of constitutionality.

In addition, given the lack of capacity in the system around effective human resources and evaluation reformers should be sobered by the prospect of designing effective post-Vergara policies. The laws need to go but they also need to be replaced by something that works better.

The armageddon crowd is arguing about everything (billionaires, privatization, corporations, respect for teachers, etc…) except what was actually at issue in the courtroom. The press releases are comical in their disconnect from the legal issues.

The legal analysts: These people are worth paying attention to because the legal issues are complicated and unsettled.  Noah Feldman and Ben Riley offer two of the best cautions (by the way, to beat a dead horse, when teachers’ union flacks are pointing to Feldman’s piece as a strong defense it shows how bankrupt these laws are, he quickly distances himself from defending the laws on their merits in the first grew grafs). It’s still possible that this could end with a ruling holding that these are dreadful policies, but not unconstitutional ones. Constitutionality is a high bar, many other equity issues would be in the realm of the courts if it wasn’t. So pay attention.

The ‘it’s not a silver bullet’ crowd: Many of the same people who have spent a decade or more chiding reformers for championing silver bullets are now cautioning against Vergara because it won’t solve every problem.

For instance Dana Goldstein makes some good points in Slate about the contextual issues here and challenges of staffing low-performing schools (but she fails to note that there is ample evidence that school district hiring timelines and work rules (including aspects of what was at issue in Vergara) cause high-poverty districts to lose teachers to surrounding area). Still, you have to start somewhere.

Rick Kahlenberg says that Vergara misses the mark because it doesn’t address school segregation (Crazy idea: Both school segregation and the polices at issue in Vergara are problems).

Comprehensiveness is the wrong standard here. Pretty much everyone agrees a host of changes and supports are necessary.  The standard is whether these California policies and their brothers and cousins elsewhere lead to more effective schools.

Theory meets practice: 

Diane Ravitch and others argue that absent these tenure provision teachers will be thrust into a Hobbesian work-enviroment. They seem not to be familiar with all the various employment protections workers in California enjoy thanks to federal and state laws. Workers everyone do not enjoy all of those protections – and opponents of current teacher tenure policies must engage with that reality. But California is not a strong test case for the idea that absent the current due process system school administrators suddenly behave like White Walkers.

There is also concern that absent tenure teachers will lose academic freedom. That’s a fundamental misunderstanding of tenure in the K-12 sector. Teachers, by signing their contract, are under state control in terms of curriculum, standards, and so forth. It’s why a teacher can’t just  decide to teach creationism, for instance. What “tenure” really refers to in K-12 is due process protections. In Vergara the judge said these protections had evolved into uber due process. And that’s the crux of the tenure issue – what should due process look like not whether teachers should have it. The judge was clear on that point.

In The NY Times Jesse Rothstein – who under oath as a defense witness in Vergara ended up agreeing with key contentions of the plaintiffs during cross-examination - makes two interesting points. First he argues that tenure actually usefully ties school district hands and forces them to make consequential decisions or take a draw from the applicant pool for a new teacher. The problem with this argument is that tenure is not a meaningful bar – in California or elsewhere even where there are sufficient timelines to make a meaningful decision. There is a compelling argument to be made to make the tenure point professionally and financially meaningful for teachers — but with a longer timeline and a high-bar.  Yet Rothstein talks in terms of  ”attentive districts.” Unfortunately, they’re as common as snow leopards right now – The Widget Effect laid that out. It’s why there has been such emphasis on evaluation.

Second, he argues that “firing bad teachers actually makes it harder to recruit new good ones, since new teachers don’t know which type they will be.” That finding is based on a recent study. Yet Rothstein doesn’t tell readers it wasn’t a study based on actual behavior, it was based on a model he built with assumptions built in. Models are important social science tools but the assumptions matter. In this instance if you assume employees care most about job security and wages then those two issues will interact with each other a lot.

In practice, we don’t actually know the effects of all these policies and their interaction or all the intangible and should be humble about the limits of what we do know. We’re frequently wrong: In the 1990s education’s wise men and wise women were certain Teach For America could never grow beyond 1,000 corps members – the models showed it. It’s five times that now.  We keep hearing about how today’s policies will drive teachers from the field but there isn’t evidence that’s happening other than anecdotally.  We’re constantly told how this or that approach can’t work and yet there it is working in different places.

In this case, when you are hiring you don’t want hubris in a candidate but you do want confidence that they will be great at the job. Characteristics like that matter a great deal to success (TFA, which intentionally screens for certain attributes like tenacity and sense of agency, produces teachers who are modestly more effective than average).  In other words, the teachers that don’t think they know which type they will be may not be the ones who will succeed in a challenging job anyway. They might be ones you want to signal away rather than attract.

It’s a microcosm of the broader post-Vergara environment (assuming these suits spread as they seemed poised to). Pretty much everyone not paid to defend them thinks the current set of personnel laws is broken. How to fix them is a more complicated (and interesting) basket of problems. So beware hubris but also beware those who would keep states and districts from trying new ideas to learn what can work a lot better.


June 10, 2014

Venue Shift – Gates Moratorium And Why Vergara Matters

Two significant and related pieces of education news today.

First, in Vergara v. California a state court struck down five laws regarding education personnel decisions there including the state’s teacher tenure law, last in and first out layoff policy, and its dismissal statutes (pdf). The decision, which was stayed pending appeal, puts the issue of how to design these policies in the legislature’s hands. It was a win for the plaintiffs – the judge actually cited defense/intervenors witnesses in support of plaintiffs arguments, which is never a sign your case is all that strong – on all issues. The decision is well-worth reading, some punchy prose but also a revealing look at the difference between arguing about education policy on Twitter, in the blogs, or at rallies and actually having to bring evidence.

That decision is juxtaposed against the announcement today from the Gates Foundation (pdf) that they are calling for a two-year moratorium on consequences for students or teachers attached to the new Common Core state standards.  If you read the earlier blog posts by Gates’ Vicki Phillips on this issue you can see that the position is not a total reversal – as it’s being portrayed in some circles – but more of an evolution toward a more specific call for a moratorium that dovetails with the moratorium the teachers’ unions have sought. There are certainly some places that need to be careful with Common Core implementation but moratoriums are blunt instruments. In this case the Gates position gives cover to those who want to slow things down in states where it is going well as well as those where it is not and even in non-Common Core states, where – surprise! – there isn’t much of an appetite for accountability either. States are all over the place on timelines so the effect of a moratorium is somewhat muted but the broad call will create an additional political headwind. For its part the foundation is playing a long-game that keeping teachers onboard with Common Core is the crux of a transformative education strategy (and people decrying Gates yesterday after the Washington Post story now think they’re Solomon-like). Whether that strategy can survive the union politics roiling it is an uncertain proposition.

So there is an old legal adage that says, ‘if you have the law on your side argue the law, if you don’t have the law argue the facts, and if you don’t have either then pound the table.’ You may have noticed an awful lot of table pounding lately. But the key thing about the Vergara  case is that it took the argument out the political realm, where anything goes in terms of “facts” and “evidence” and into a venue where there are actual rules about evidence and facts. It’s also a venue where claims can be challenged – watch the Vergara cross-examinations for some of that. And the result was a completely one-sided decision on statutes that very few analysts would even defend.  Not every state has constitutional language like California – and if it was easy to clear the constitutional hurdle more states would have school finance systems that are fair to poor kids  - but the strategy will have purchase elsewhere.

Reacting the the verdict California Federation of Teachers President Josh Pechthalt said,

“Their case was weak but they had good lawyers,” Pechthalt said. “Their case was underwritten by some very wealthy people and they employed one of America’s top corporate law firms,” Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP.

It reminds you of the post-race at the Belmont Stakes and other reactions have the same flavor. It’s a good example of the issue here – you can argue like that out of court but not in court where those issues have nothing to do with how the judge ruled.

That’s why today may be recalled as the day when reform seriously shifted to the courts. Reformers struggle in the hothouse of politics. The education system is decentralized, the special interests organized and strong, the public somewhat disengaged. And reformers aren’t all that good at politics anyway – and their opponents are.  The lesson many will take away from today’s events is that you’re better off in the courts than the arena.

They might be right.

Update: Also check out Ben Riley’s take on this.  He takes a break from the NZ fly fishing to look at some of the legal points to watch going forward.


Teacher Pensions In WA – And Lessons For Everyone

Via Teacherpensions.org Dan Goldhaber and Cyrus Grout take a look at teacher pension reform in Washington State and opportunities for common ground. 


Getting Young People In Treatment

A lot of talk about disconnected  youth but still a frustrating system for young people needing treatment for addiction – too patchwork and not enough availability when it’s needed. That and more in RealClearEducation Today, the RCE morning note.


June 9, 2014

Vergara Suit – We Have A Winner!

No, not in the suit itself. You have to wait until tomorrow at 10am PT for that and then most likely through a bunch of appeals. But now that the decision time is official it means we do have a winner(s) in the Eduwonk guess the decision timing contest.

Former AFTie and current education consultant Joan Snowden and LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy both guessed that time on the button (and both before it was finalized). Deasy probably can’t accept any of the gifts so instead of a run-off we’ll declare both winners. Email me to claim your gift.  And if you sent me a guess of 10 and I missed it, please send it again.

Update: BW’s Smarick also called 10 AM via Twitter, another winner.


Edujob – Engagement Manager At The Delivery Institute

The Delivery Institute has done the seemingly impossible – make implementation work exciting. They are hiring for an Engagement Manager. Great chance to see firsthand what’s happening on education policy in the states and join their team. More details and how to apply via this link.


Wash Post On Gates & Common Core, 5 Reactions – Updated w/ Pushback From Gene Wilhoit

If my email is any indication, the one story people are most interested in today is Lyndsey Layton’s long look at the Gates Foundation and Common Core in yesterday’s Washington Post. Reactions range from, ‘see, this is being forced on schools by corporate interests,’ from a Common Core foe, to ‘I’ve seen some dancing at the 10-yard line in my day, but man, does the Gates WaPo piece ever take the cake’ from a Common Core supporter and Democratic politico.

Seems to me a good and important story – and a solid unpacking of events to date. But, a couple of reactions:

1) There is money on all sides of this. Pro-and con.  The opposition did start out pretty diffuse and unorganized but that’s not the case now. I doubt there is parity between the pro-and anti-Common Core factions but this isn’t David and Goliath either.

2) In education there is very little change absent an infusion of marginal dollars and outside pressure. It’s not for nothing that we call them “Carnegie” units. That’s not a pro-Gates point or an anti-Gates point, it’s merely context about change in education. Related, Gates has spent a great deal on Common Core, but some context on all the other philanthropic dollars flowing into education would be useful, too.  The lion’s share, mostly from much smaller and localized foundations mostly buttresses the status quo. Philanthropic dollars aimed at leveraging broader changes have increased over the past decade but are still not the dominant force in overall education philanthropy.

3) The Tom Loveless reference in the story may be the most important part. Standards alone are not the ballgame. Implementation and support for schools and teachers is key – and still lacking. Common Core isn’t a curriculum, the political reasons for that are obvious, but that may end up being its biggest liability. Forget the back and forth with the teachers unions on this point – that’s politics. The broader lesson is the one Loveless points to – standards alone are not enough. It takes a system.

That’s why from where I sit the real promise of common standards is, as Layton puts it,

[Coleman and Wilhoit] also argued that a fragmented education system stifled innovation because textbook publishers and software developers were catering to a large number of small markets instead of exploring breakthrough products. That seemed to resonate with the man who led the creation of the world’s dominant computer operating system.

A lot of people talk about this issue but it doesn’t get the ink that international comparisons do. But it’s arguably the longer term promise here.

4) Layton talks about the efforts to keep the words “Common Core” out of Obama Administration policy documents. And that commitment, despite some early miscues, seems real. States that have rejected Common Core have been granted No Child Left Behind waivers that contain a requirement for college and career ready standards. She doesn’t mention what was arguably the bigger misstep: The inclusion of Common Core in the 2012 Democratic platform as an Obama accomplishment. It seems like a picayune thing, but only the zealots read platforms. No one read that and said, ‘Yes!, Now I’m going to support that guy instead of Mitt Romney.’ But plenty of activists did read it and being circulating it as proof that Common Core was “Obamacore.” That was a victory lap best saved for later.  It also didn’t help that White House rhetoric about the standards and the President’s role varied. Again, not a big deal to most but catnip for the activists who parse every word and circulate via social media.

5) In my experience – and I’ve worked with both the Gates Foundation and Microsoft – the firewalls between the two are quite real.  This is one of those you can’t prove a negative type of things. But senior foundation officials working on ed innovation are largely unknown to key Microsoft personnel. In any event, like or dislike the Common Core it’s absurd to argue Gates is doing this to enrich himself given the state of the education sector (and you may have noticed he apparently has some money already). The words wasted on that would be better spent on analysis of why, despite all the money spent, Common Core is still facing such implementation and political challenges.

That shows the limits of what money can accomplish in our fragmented education system, which is far more interesting isn’t it?

Update: Here’s Gene Wilhoit’s statement on the article. 


June 5, 2014

Vergara Suit Contest – Guess The Timing

Both sides in the Vergara suit in California expect a decision in the next few days. They’re filling email boxes with prebuttals.  So here’s a contest:

Whomever comes closest to the exact time the actual decision is announced wins their choice of a vintage “Patrick Riccards for School Board” button, an authentic RealClearEducation shot glass, or a 2013 Harvard Education Press released book. Tiebreaker is whether the judge rules for the plaintiffs or the defendants/intervenors so make that call, too.

Put guesses below or email me or tweet them to @arotherham.


Edujobs @ Bellwether

Bellwether is growing and hiring for a range of roles in operations and on the Policy & Thought Leadership and Strategic Advising teams.  More here about how you can do impactful work with us.


Brandeis And Unions – Lessons For Today

The teachers unions could do a lot worse than get their Brandeis on.

That’s from today’s RealClearEducation morning newsletter. The email version highlights some of the content on the RealClearEducation page but the website is updated throughout the day. You can get it in your email box weekday mornings here.

There are also sponsorship and advertising opportunities available for later this year on RealClearEducation, contact me for more details.


Politico On Data Privacy

Important Stephanie Simon Politico article about data privacy. Highlights both some legitimate concerns and some hysterical ones.

One line that sums up the situation now:

“People took for granted that parents would understand [the benefits], that it was self-evident,” said Michael Horn, a co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute, an education think tank.

But, Simon is a cheap date if she sees this all as an amateur grassroots uprising. It makes a compelling storyline but the reality is that there is paid activity on all sides.  And the not so hidden issue here is accountability and the role of data in that.


June 4, 2014

Edujob @ WestEd: Director, Assessment and Standards Development Services

You may have heard that there are a few things happening on the assessment front in education. This edujob at WestEd will put you in the middle of it: Director, Assessment and Standards Development Services. More here and the position description is here.


June 3, 2014

Chicago, DC, & Charter Financial Accountability

From RealClearEducation, charter advocates ought to take heed of the news out of Chicago and D.C. yesterday:

Charter school proponents are quick to point out that there is plenty of financial malfeasance, self-dealing, and nepotism in the traditional public school sector. And that’s obviously the case. But the promise of charter schools wasn’t “graft on par with the status quo” or “same kleptocracy, but now with the educational benefits of decentralization.” Rather, it was flexibility in exchange for heightened accountability and results.

So this week’s problems should be kept in perspective and the legal process should run its course. But, the specifics of these two episodes aside, charter school advocates are kidding themselves if they don’t think there are problems here they should get in front of. The flexibility part of the charter school bargain opens the door for illegality absent sufficient oversight or for ethically dubious practices even within the purview of good oversight. There is too much of that sort of thing going on and it really doesn’t matter if people within the traditional public school system do it, too.

None of this is a reason to abandon charter schools, of course. The vast majority operate ethically, the high-fliers are changing how we think about education, and overall the academic performance of the sector is improving. But unless charter advocates want to keep explaining headlines like the ones today and dealing with the political headwinds they generate, it’s time for some leadership to clean up this aspect of the sector. It’s also the right thing to do. Governance best practices, which funders should insist on, along with some legal and regulatory changes, would help rein in the problems and maintain an appropriate and effective balance between autonomy and accountability.


Department Of Two Things Are True At Once – Charter Schools & Skimming

There is an ongoing debate about public charter schools and skimming that goes something like this:

“Studies such as CREDO and other high-quality analyses show that charter schools in some cities are substantially outpacing other public schools.”

“Well of course they are, they’re skimming the most motivated families. It’s not the schools.”

This back and forth is usually reported in the media as two distinct takes on the same issue. In fact, both these things are true at the same time.

Let’s start with the “skimming.” Most charter schools don’t skim their students (in fact they’re not allowed to, it’s traditional public magnets and theme schools that are able to use selective admissions standards) and many charters focus on the lowest-income students. But, there are certainly cases where signals are sent, especially in regard to special education students, and many charters have distinct themes or norms that do not appeal to all parents. (As charter schools grow in many cities addressing issues like special education will become unavoidable. We don’t expect each public school to educate every student, districts do this by aggregating resources, but we should expect the charter sector as a whole to equitably serve the most challenging students once that sector reaches a certain size). Some students also struggle once they enroll in a specific charter.

But more to the point, in an environment where assigned schools and choice schools operate side-by-side it’s not surprising that it’s more motivated parents exercising choice right now. So the schools are not “skimming” but there is almost certainly some selection effect.

But that’s where it gets interesting. Because there are more parents who want to enroll their students in charters than there are seats available researchers have been able to compare students to applied to over-subscribed charters and didn’t get in through the random admissions lottery with those who did get a seat. In other words, the scarcity of seats in the most in-demand charters creates a natural experimental and control group of students. And the results show that even among these students, with similarly motivated parents and only the luck of the draw separating them, high-performing charter schools outperform. Other research, for instance the methods used by CREDO, bolster this finding. So the good schools are doing something that matters – in some cases a lot –  on top of any advantage they might gain from the students who come their way.

So put plainly, yes selection and skimming matters, but despite that, the evidence shows that some charters have a substantial positive effect that is something educators and policymakers should seek to learn about and replicate rather than dismiss out of hand based on a misunderstanding of what’s happening.

What makes for a good sector of charter schools? Fordham is hosting a forum on different ideas about that.

Update: Below commenter David B. makes an important point about how generalizable the results from over-subscribed (and often “no excuses”) charters are. He’s right and there is a lot to learn about the broader implications. But unfortunately, rather than a thoughtful conversation about how to improve customization within public education and figure out how to provide better options for all students, the charter debate has turned into a team sport where each side just has a rooting interest.


June 2, 2014

Edujobs – Two Roles @ Achievement First

Achievement First is a high-peforming multi-state network of public charter schools in the northeast. They are hiring for two key roles:

Director, Greenfield Design Job Description (pdf).

Director, Greenfield Technology Job Description (pdf).

As you can see from the postings AF is looking to innovate in some interesting ways – and has engaged IDEO to help support on this work. So a tremendous opportunity to do high-impact education design work in the education sector.


Edujob – Summer Internships @ Student Achievement Partners

Student Achievement Partners is seeking – paid – summer interns.  You can learn more about the internship here (pdf).  You can learn more about their organization here. And here is one taste of their views on current policy via Eduwonk.


Getting Our P.T. Barnum On

The promoter and politician loved a good show. But do we have too much of that in education? RCE Today has more.


May 30, 2014

Joan Ganz Cooney

Nice tribute to Joan Ganz Cooney by Michael Levine pegged to the acknowledgement of her tremendous work at Sesame Workshop’s* annual dinner.

*BW client.


Proof Points Day

Today is Proof Points Day, recognizing first in family college completion – learn more and participate here.


May 27, 2014

Who Is Education’s Rachel Carson?

Rachel Carson was born on this date in 1907. Silent Spring galvanized a lot of action with less resources than are spent on education advocacy today. Why?


May 22, 2014

Testing Map From RealClearEducation

Over at RealClearEducation Emmeline Zhao has compiled an interactive map showing what states are planning to do on student assessment and where incumbent players are now.  Not surprisingly Pearson leads the pack with 16 states, but 13 states have RFP’s out now.  You might be surprised what a significant player AIR is.  Also show’s what’s happening with the consortia. Check it out here.  The interactive map is here.


Bellwether Blogging Seminar

On August 10-11 Bellwether is hosting another blogging seminar. Featuring leading journalistic and social media professionals this full-day training will dramatically improve a blogger’s ability to write effectively and market their content effectively and build readership. Participants consistently cite positive impact on their work as a result of the experience.

You can learn more about how to apply and commitment here.  Applications are considered on a rolling basis until the training is full or June 15th. The event consistently sells out so if you are interested in applying we suggest you do so early.


Student Surveys: Asking Those In The Know

A new Bellwether paper takes a look at the state of play and potential around student surveys as an evaluation and climate tool for schools (pdf). Despite all the noise about observations (which are noisy) and value-added (which is limited in it reach and what it tells evaluators), student surveys may offer a rich and reliable path forward for schools.