March 16, 2015

Personnel News – Hyslop To ED

It’s a bittersweet day at Bellwether. Today BW senior policy analyst Anne Hyslop is being announced as  Senior Policy Advisor for the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development at the Department of Education. She’ll start there at the end of the month.

Anne has done great work since she joined our team continuing her track record of bringing serious and fact-based analysis to complicated policy questions. Before she leaves we’ll be wrapping up a fascinating project on the intersection of personalized learning initiatives with federal accountability requirements that highlights some hard questions about balancing innovation with accountability. Issues like that are right in her wheelhouse.

We have very low turnover at Bellwether but this is one of the things that makes Bellwether great: We  want to keep our strong talent and develop and promote people internally but are also thrilled to see people move onto positions of leadership outside our organization that advance their careers and benefit the broader field. Anne will certainly do that, she’s as sharp as they come on federal policy, NCLB, and waivers and the department is lucky to have her.

March 13, 2015

Pahara NextGen

New cohort of Pahara NextGen leaders announced today.

Edujob: ED @ Chiefs For Change

Chiefs for Change – the advocacy group for reformist state chiefs – is going in some new directions. They’re seeking an ED. If that’s you or someone you know then more information here.

Bloomberg Radio On Education

Alyson Klein, John Hechinger, Jane Williams, and I discuss some of what’s happening the education sector this week on Bloomberg Radio. U of Oklahoma incident, federal education bill prospects, Republican primary education action, and more. Jane’s show is a gem in this sector. Actual conversation about key events.

You can listen to “Bloomberg EDU” on Saturday at 5am/ET, 11am/ET and 8pm/ET and Sunday at 12am/ET and 7pm/ET on WBBR Radio 1130am NYC; Sirius XM Satellite Radio channel 119; Boston 1200AM and 94.5FM; and San Francisco 960AM & 103.7-FM.

The show is also streamed live on

“Bloomberg EDU” podcasts – same content just portable – are here.


John Troy, former EP’er and Education Pioneer staff member leading work in DC among other places has launched a new startup: WorkMonger. It’s a matching service for jobs in the social sector. Big need, there are some solutions out there but none of them are entirely filling the need. Check it out.

March 12, 2015

Education, Innovation, and Background

Here’s a really interesting deck looking at education and background factors and innovation (via patents).

March 10, 2015

Edujob – Founding ED For Center For Urban School System Of The Future

They don’t come much more innovative and forward-looking than this. Are you the person to help school districts make a dramatic leap forward in organization and performance? The  Center for the Urban School System of the Future is seeking a founding executive director. Details, how to apply or nominate someone, and more via this link.

Edubook Notes

Couple of new education books worth checking out.

In The End of College (Riverhead Books) Kevin Carey takes a look at trends and technology that could radically change the institution of college. It’s a very readable, often first person, look at the transitions underway in higher education. Ryan Craig takes a look at the same issues and shares many of the same indictments and possibilities in College Disrupted (Palgrave Macmillan). There are some important differences between them but collectively both books are a great primer on what’s happening and what could be next in higher education.

A different slice of the higher education equation is How Did You Get Here? (Harvard Education Press) by Thomas Hehir and Laura Schifter. They take a look at the experiences of students with disabilities attending Harvard. It’s generally useful to beware anecdotes but these are some stories worth reading.

March 9, 2015

AFT/UFT Charter: Writing Checks Your Body Can’t Cash? Plus, Kan On The “Magic Year,” Jonas With Chang, PARCC Without The Circus, And J. Bush On His Ed Vision

A few years ago Richard Whitmire and I noted that the teachers’ unions had lost the media with outsized promises and a lot of doublespeak in a WSJ piece that turned out to be mostly right. How much that matters in today’s fractious political and media world is debatable but today most of their “good” media is the paid kind – advertorials, sponsorships to secure podiums, etc…I thought of that issue when reading the various piling on columns (Times here, WSJ here, Daily News here for instance) about the American Federation of Teachers/United Federation of Teachers charter school in New York City.  I was an early supporter of the school because I like to see innovation in the charter sector and because the school was going to serve underserved students – and I figured the union would move heaven and earth to make it work because of the PR risk so it would provide some good seats for kids. That sure turns out to have been more than mostly wrong! Instead, it is more like this.


Leslie Kan of BW and takes a look at the “magic year” of teaching. Sorry, this isn’t a story about the year a teacher made phenomenal connection with a group of kids. It’s about the craziness of teacher pensions and why today’s approach works out  for only about 20 percent of teachers.

Michael Jonas sits down with Boston’s mayor to discuss new Boston superintendent Tommy Chang.

Non-hysterical look at PARCC testing rollout in Colorado.

Jeb Bush lays out his education vision in a Wash Post op-ed. Not surprisingly, it’s a limited federal role focused on proven things. The passage on No Child Left Behind offers real nuance. The thorny problem, however, is that Bush cites charter schools as a great example of this theory of action – a state led policy. Except pretty much everyone agrees the federal dollars supporting charters in the 1990s and 2000s were key to the start-up and growth of charter schools. It’s an example that proves up a larger point: Federal policy has its problems but it can be – for good or ill – a pretty powerful catalyst for change.

March 6, 2015

Out Of Office

Light posting here today but am putting up some education links on Twitter, including this cool video from Idaho:


Edujob: Kern Foundation, Program Director K-12 Education Program

Here’s a great education job opportunity at the Kern Foundation. From the JD:

The serene, rural setting of the Foundation’s Southeastern Wisconsin headquarters belies the urgency of the work and deliberation inside…

The Kern Family Foundation invests in the rising generation of Americans by equipping them to become tomorrow’s global leaders and innovators. The important work of the Foundation is quietly but powerfully executed through three distinct programs: the K12 Education Program, the Kern Entrepreneurship Education Network (KEEN), and Faith, Work & Economics (FWE),which collectively reflect the orientation toward character development, international competitiveness, entrepreneurship, and the integration of faith reflected in the work and lives of benefactors Robert and Patricia Kern.

Sound like something you want to be a part of or know someone who should be aware of this? Click here to learn more.

March 5, 2015

Teach For America Evaluation, Reading Parters Pops, Charter School Debate, & Tom Kane Attacks!

Light posting this week, I’m traveling in the west. A few things I’m reading this week though:

MDRC evaluation of Reading Partners (pdf). Volunteer tutors exceed expectations. There might be implications here!

Mathematica evaluation of Teach For America (pdf). It’s being treated as though it’s groundbreaking but Mathematica’s Teach For America* evaluation is just the latest serious evaluation of Teach For America over the past decade to show that TFA teachers perform as well or better than other teachers (that includes, among other work, evaluations by states like TN and LA, think tanks like Urban Institute, research initiatives like CALDER, and other evaluations by, yes, Mathematica). If there is any news here it’s around scale and quality questions – an area where TFA has broken the traditional education mold.  Yes, it’s legit to argue that TFA’s theory of change/action is wrong for the education sector, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But the ongoing “debate” about effectiveness in assessed subjects/grades – abetted by a statistically illiterate and conflict addicted media – is a waste of time and energy.

Scott Pearson/Skip McKoy and Neerav Kingsland debate the all-charter district versus the blended charter/district approach.

Tom Kane proposes defunding the regional education labs to support more fast turnaround R & D evaluation.

*Bellwether recently did a project for Teach For America – evaluation of different dimensions of their growth. You can read it here.

March 4, 2015

New Education Insider Survey Data

New Education Insider survey data out from Whiteboard Advisors. After Friday’s House ESEA bill failure the Insiders are back to being more skeptical about an ESEA bill getting done but still see prospects for an education data privacy bill.  More here.

March 2, 2015

Latest Chapter In UFT Charter School Tale

The struggling United Federation of Teachers charter school in New York City, launched with great fanfare by Randi Weingarten, is closing part of its operations in the face of continuing struggles – and potential action by its authorizer.

Background on all this over the years here.

February 28, 2015

House ESEA Collapse

Alyson Klein has a good write-up laying out the dynamics that brought down the Elementary and Secondary Act/No Child Left Behind reauthorization bill in the House on Friday. Here’s the basic math on the political log jam: First, House conservatives realized this bill really didn’t do what they want and in actually added to their angst over other pending bills unrelated to education, in particular the Department of Homeland Security funding bill. Meanwhile, any education bill that the House Republican caucus will support – a majority of that caucus, they’re unlikely to run an ESEA bill through absent that – is unlikely to be able to get through the Senate and even less likely to be signed by President Obama. Likewise, any bill that is a genuine bipartisan effort in the Senate is unlikely to appease House conservatives. Best hope at this point: Getting two vehicles of some kind to conference and then hoping it can get done and slipped through. Prognosis: More Department of Education waiver action, which is of course, ironically, the approach conservatives claim to hate.

February 27, 2015

Scott Walker Didn’t Finish College And Rick Perry Had Lousy Grades, Does It Matter?

I take a look at the debate about candidate degrees and grades in a new column for U.S. News & World Report:

Let’s stipulate that it would be better all around if Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker had finished college – especially because he apparently came close to graduating from Marquette. It would be better for his advisers, because issues besides Walker’s non-degree might get attention. (Although after Walker’s past week, the academic credential issue probably looks better all the time.) It would be better for Democrats because they wouldn’t come off as snobs talking about the issue. Who knows, it might even be better for Walker himself. Sure, he’s governor of a major state and a serious presidential contender, but with a degree, perhaps he could have found honest work?

But does a candidate’s college experience – especially if it is years in the past with a public record interceding – matter to their fitness for high office…

Click here to read the entire column (and a surprising fact about Texas education). Send me your college war stories on Twitter. I’ll send a copy of Jack Jennings’ new federal policy book from Harvard Education Press to the first person who correctly ID’s the education reform leader who was a  classmate of Scott Walker’s at Marquette.

Update: Laura LoGerfo of NAGB is the winner. It’s DFER exec and former MJS reporter Joe Williams. Enjoy the book!

Superintendent Of The Year

Philip Lanoue, superintendent of Clarke County School District in Athens, Georgia is the new Superintendent of the Year. Great choice. This guy is the real deal.

February 26, 2015

Bellwether Is Hiring!

Join us. More information on open positions here. More about our mission and core values here.

February 25, 2015

Edujob: ED Philadelphia Leadership Academy

The Philadelphia Leadership Academy is seeking an executive director. New organization supported by a coalition of local stakeholders with the goal of improving leadership capacity in Philadelphia. Learn more, share with colleagues, and apply via this link.

Fresh Voice

I may be late to this but MN progressive activist and blogger Lynnell Mickelsen is taking no prisoners with her education blogging. A sample:

Forget about ‘fixing’ black kids: What If we fixed white liberals instead?

Dumping the evidence–remind me again why anti-testing is “progressive”?

How I went from defending the teachers union to pushing for reform

She blogs here.

February 24, 2015

Pension Dollars: An Exception To The Education World’s Anti-Bullying Stance

Bloomberg takes a look at some pushing and shoving over where teacher pension funds should be invested in New York. I have no idea if Joel Greenblatt* is the best money manager for public pension funds and how his investments compare with other options, but I do think that whether or not he’s into charter schools really shouldn’t be a factor in whether public entities use his services. Pension funds are supposed to provide for the retirement security of the current and future retirees they’re serving, not act as political slush funds to bully people around various education issues (or other issues for that matter).

Here’s some background on this issue and also how teachers unions and private equity/hedge fund types are really frenemies when it comes to investment strategies.

*Don’t know Greenblatt (though I know Eva Moskowitz who leads the school network he is helping).

Update: Here’s a profile of Greenblatt’s education work. Apparently in addition to helping provide better educational options for low-income kids he also helped turn around a Queens elementary school. He sounds just horrible!

Update II: Word is the teachers unions are outliers on this at yesterday’s meeting, other city pensions want to invest with Greenblatt who apparently delivers results.  And here’s another article on this issue.

Homeschoolers & Sports Access

The issue of whether home school students should be able to play high school sports in the communities where they live is bubbling up again in Virgina. About 30 states offer some sort of access but fewer than 15 offer broad access. Virginia’s legislature passed a bill allowing access (with some conditions) and it’s now up to the governor to sign or veto.

I wrote about this issue a few years ago (here and here). With appropriate safeguards to ensure homeschooling isn’t used as a way to advance athletics I’m generally in favor of letting homeschoolers play. It’s a good way to tear down walls within education, bring people together, and broaden the pool of people with a stake in public schools. More importantly, while adults on all sides of this have their ideological issues – the kids just want to play. So if they’re good enough to make the team, why not let them? Not to put too fine a point on it but this is a classic case of adult baggage getting in the way of what’s best for young people.

Here are a few other wrinkles that don’t get as much attention but bear on the debate:

- The idea that the battle lines here are home school parents versus the education community is wrong. The education community is split on this and homeschoolers are as well. There are separate home school sports leagues and many in the home school world view the sports access issue as a camel’s nose under the tent toward more regulation of home schooling (Virginia has some of the most permissive home school laws in the country).

- The issue is not whether home school students get any guaranteed spot on a team, but rather whether they have an opportunity to try out.

- That’s why many coaches, especially in rural communities, are fine with allowing home schoolers to compete. Smaller schools and rural schools need every athletic kid they can get to be competitive. In suburban areas where there are more non-school based sports opportunities for kids and more players for coaches there is more opposition. That said, the politics around the issue in the education sports establishment are intense and when I was writing about this plenty of people expressed support – but were unwilling to go on the record. In Virginia opposition from powerful Northern Virginia education constituencies – where they don’t need home schooled kids to be competitive – could be a big factor in how the governor views the bill.

- The education community has strident debates about this but for everyone else it’s mostly a big yawn. According to VCU’s education poll 72 percent of Virginians supported allowing home schooled kids to play sports the last time the question was asked in early 2014. Only 24 percent were opposed.  Not surprisingly, current and former school employees were less likely to be supportive than the public overall. But, parents were more supportive than non-parents. Something that should give proponents hope: Younger voters (44 and under) are a lot more likely to support. Like other issues with a big generational split if the bill isn’t enacted now look for everyone’s views to “evolve” in a few years.

- Under current law there is a local option for home schooled students to take classes in public schools and last time I looked about half of Virginia counties offer the option. So the idea that there is some sort of impenetrable high wall between homeschoolers and public schools is at odds with the reality. And in states that allow home schooled students to play sports the overall impact has been negligible but it’s been meaningful for impacted students.

February 23, 2015

Common Core Confusion

New poll on Common Core and – surprise! – most people still confused about them. WaPo write up includes this gem:

Misperceptions were widespread, including among both supporters and opponents of the program and peaking among those who say they are paying the most attention to the standards.

ESEA Past, Present, Future?

I gave a presentation to the National Governor’s Association’s Education and Workforce Committee yesterday as part of NGA’s winter meeting. Here’s the slide deck I used, it takes a look at No Child Left Behind history, status quo, and opportunities for states (pdf).

February 20, 2015

Lomax And Emanuel On Shortfalls Of Pending Education Bills

In RealClearEducation United Negro College Fund CEO Michael Lomax and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel take a look at the Elementary And Secondary Act overhaul bills moving through Congress:

America cannot go backwards to a time when educational equity was optional. It’s time to put aside the false arguments, ideologies, and political agendas. Local control is not at risk. Our children are.

February 19, 2015

What If Today’s Education Leaders Are Exactly The *Wrong* People To Transform School?

I have a piece in U.S. News today, I’m going to start contributing there more regularly.  The lede sums up the question:

The education reform world is increasingly obsessed with “diversity.” Organizations and individuals are struggling to ensure people with different racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds have a place in the conversation about how to improve our schools. Although these efforts range from serious and thoughtful to plainly exhibitionist, it’s an important conversation – especially because public schools have never worked particularly well for minority students. Yet for all the attention to diversity, one perspective remains almost absent from the conversation about American education: The viewpoint of those who weren’t good at school in the first place.

This might be a problem and a blind spot. Big Picture’s Elliot Washor says it’s like a horse race with everyone wearing blinkers. He may be right and I’m a sucker for horse race analogies in any event. Read the entire piece for more on this question and how I think it impacts the norms of the field.

Do you work in education and weren’t good at school? Please send me your story! You can send it to me in 140 characters @arotherham if it’s really short.

Should (1st Grade) Students Lobby Their Governor For A Class Assignment?

This story seems to be kicking up a lot of strong feelings all around. On the upside, at least they’re learning writing!

February 17, 2015

Other Ways To Get News

I don’t keep a Twitter widget on this site but I do have a feed @arotherham I update pretty regularly during the week with a lot of content that comes across my desk (plus some random content). And twice a day (8am and afternoon) RealClearEducation rounds up all the news around the sector as well as leading commentary and reports and analysis. There is also an Eduwonk only feed that automatically tweets content posted here @eduwonk. You can follow Bellwether @bellwethered and Bellwether’s teacher pension work @Teacherpension. And here’s a list of Bellwether team on Twitter.

Pearson As The Root Of All Evil

Let’s say you’re in the leadership of a screwed up country where the quality of life for your citizens is not very good. Basic services are intermittent and life is chaotic or worse. One strategy to take their mind off of that, and the likelihood they’ll start to blame you for it, is to constantly villainize others. The U.S. and Israel play this part in the Middle East, for instance. It’s a tried and true strategy because…it works!

That’s pretty much what seems to be happening here in the education sector with regard to Pearson.* In case you’ve been living in a cave, Pearson is a large multinational publishing conglomerate that does a lot of work in the U.S. ed sector. You probably haven’t heard that they’re great, because only people paid to say so say that. But you may well have heard that they’re  awful, venal, corrupt, greedy, mendacious, you name it. Actually, you can’t turn around in this sector, or turn on Twitter, without bumping into someone braying about how Pearson is doing this or that horrible thing. And, yes, sometimes these things are genuinely bad acts. Everyone is frustrated with testing errors**, for instance, and there are certainly some legitimate concerns around data privacy. But most of what you hear is overwrought if not downright ridiculous – you really can’t hang school finance  on Pearson. No Child Left Behind, not really their doing. Common Core? The old system was actually better for them and other large vendors.  Current push to maintain federal law on testing – civil rights groups are pushing that along with a broad coalition.

In fact, when you think about the top threats Read the rest of this entry »

February 16, 2015

Superintendent Searches

Pegged to the leadership turnover in Montgomery County* in the WaPo Jay Mathews comes down hard on superintendent searches. Boards often benefit from a consultant to help manage the process but I agree with him on the value – or more specifically the lack of – with full-blown school district superintendent searches. We don’t do them at Bellwether except in very unusual circumstances because you can do them well (customized/tailored) or  you can do them in a way that is break-even or profitable (list of usual suspects). It’s hard to do both.

On the other hand, Jay makes a good case about candidates for this role, but I don’t find hard and fast lines about internal or external candidates especially useful. Leadership roles like this are situational and vary situation to situation.

*Jay’s greasing of Montgomery County is a little over the top though! These large suburban school systems are never as “world class” as their world class PR machines would have you believe.