November 11, 2021

Why Is NAEP Flat Or Falling? With Denise Forte

NAEP scores were not good! We heard from Morgan Polikoff, Marguerite Roza, and Sandy Kress with thoughts on why. Today Denise Forte, CEO of the Education Trust weighs in:

NAEP Is Telling Us Again That It’s Past Time to Close Long-Standing Resource Gaps By Denise Forte

Those who study educational disparities know that money matters in education. And it’s not just about how much money is allocated, it’s about resource equity, that is, how effectively state and district leaders spend their funds and whether funds are distributed equitably.

From this perspective, the story behind this year’s lackluster NAEP results began nearly a decade ago. The eighthgraders whose test results were captured by NAEP’s long-term assessment were born right before the Great Recession. They started kindergarten around 2012-13 as federal relief dollars for schools dried up, impacting the very factors that are essential to ensuring a high-quality learning experience.

Consider that state preschool program access and quality declined as a result of the economic downturn and have yet to return to pre-recession trends. Also, between 2008 and 2012, the K-12 public education system lost nearly 300,000 jobs, the largest reduction in our nation’s history. Of the jobs lost, more than 120,000 belonged to elementary and secondary teachers with layoffs disproportionately affecting schools serving students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.

Even when district leaders were able to reinstate classes and programs that were reduced or eliminated during the recession, there were teacher shortages, especially in math, science, and special education. It has taken years to begin rebuilding the teacher workforce. Yet, the nation still has fewer public school teachers today than it did in 2008 and remains a long way from developing a racially and culturally diverse workforce that reflects the diversity of the student population.

It’s also important to remember that while the Great Recession ushered in significant funding disparities, it only made worse those that have been in place for decades. Across the U.S., school districts serving the largest populations of Black, Latino, or Native students receive roughly $1,800, or 13 percent, less per student in state and local funding than those serving the fewest students of color. And while courts have declared state funding formulas unlawful for shortchanging school districts serving large percentages of students from low-income backgrounds, this unfair practice continues in far too many places today.

In all, the latest NAEP results show the need for education leaders and advocates to come together to mobilize the right combination of resources to unlock high-quality learning experiences for every student. This means tackling persistent inequities in access to high-quality early childhood education, strong and diverse educators, advanced coursework, positive school climates and cultures, school funding and other essential supports provided inside and outside the classroom.

There’s no overstating the devastating impact of the pandemic on the students and families who have been systemically underserved, but there is an opportunity here. The Biden administration and Congress have stepped up and invested an unprecedented sum — a total of $190 billion to support the needs of K-12 students as part of pandemic relief.

But again, it’s not just the amount of money that matters in education, but how well state and district leaders spend funds and if those funds are distributed equitably. This federal investment is a tremendous opportunity to address the unfinished learning that students have experienced due to the pandemic, to invest in evidenced-based and effective policies and practices to support the social-emotional and academic well-being of students who are systemically underserved, and to finally close long-standing resource gaps.

While the NAEP results are sobering, we, at The Education Trust, know that progress is possible when leaders prioritize the needs of students from underserved communities. And these latest scores show advocates and policymakers alike where to make necessary investments to do just that.


November 10, 2021

What Drove Education Voters In Virginia? Plus Goldstein Goes Wild, Texeria, Jacobin, Hess, More…

This Michael Goldstein essay on evidence and education is excellent. Recommend. Also, what teachers are saying about teacher pay.

Here’s a reasonable take on the CRT in schools debate:

To be sure, voices on the political right, including Youngkin, must do better when it comes to specifying what they oppose. They, and we, would be better off if they explained that they oppose philosophies influenced by critical race theory, rather than claiming C.R.T. itself is being taught. Bills intended to ban the teaching of C.R.T.-lite shouldn’t be worded as if the intent was to ban the teaching of anything about race at all. And if that’s what any of these bills do mean, they should spell it out in clear language in order to expose that intent to debate — one within which I would be vociferously opposed, I should note. The horror of slavery, the hypocrisy of Jim Crow, the terror of lynching, the devastating loss of life and property in Tulsa and in other massacres — no student should get through, roughly, middle school ignorant of these things, and anyone who thinks that is “politics” needs to join the rest of us in the 21st century.

But the insistence that parents opposed to what is being called critical race theory are rising against a mere fantasy and simply enjoying a coded way of fostering denial about race is facile. It is an attempt to wrest a woke object lesson from the nuanced realities of life as it is actually lived, in which the notion of a white backlash against racial progress may appeal as narrative, or as analysis of an electoral upset, but rarely tracks with on-the-ground reality.

And here’s Ruy Teixeira on the election and “CRT” and the election in general. Rick Hess on the generally pretty lousy coverage of the “CRT” debate. I’m not sure how much of this was willful or just a mixture of what Teixeira calls the “Fox News fallacy” and just general lack of awareness/understanding. It’s not surprising that when some pretty obscure postmodern theories burst into the public awareness there will be confusion and they won’t emerge intact.

I did a podcast with Susan Pendergrass of Show Me to talk about a variety of things including school choice and the Virginia election.


Speaking of the election, it’s an understatement to say a few things the education sector doesn’t do well are ecological fallacies (what’s true of individuals/specific populations is not true of groups and vice versa), multiple things being true at once, and separating small factions from large sentiment while also appreciating how much small factions can drive things in politics.

That’s clear with this Axios poll about schools everyone keeps citing to show that education somehow didn’t matter much in the VA election.

The actual data tells a more complicated story. 

As we’ve discussed here, for instance before the election, right after the election, and this  74 interview, as well as this podcast, the idea that the election was all about education is overblown. The novelty of education being a top-tier issue made it more interesting than the economy and Covid also being top tier issues. When better voter data is available (in other words be skeptical of exit polls right now)  we’ll have a better sense of what happened in VA but it was probably some education, and some contingent education issues, and also  a lot of fundamentals showing up again.

And, of course, as with 2016, and 2020, 2021 in Virginia a close election gives everyone something to point to.

But a few tells – in the closing days the McAulliffe campaign focused heavily in Northern Virginia and Northern Virginia voters were more likely to say education was a big issue for them and be fired up about it. They knew they had a problem. Not surprising given the context of school reopening in the vote rich northern counties, the school board and policy drama in Fairfax and Loudoun counties as well as generalized frustration. And notably, frustration that was persisting until election day, parents in Arlington, for instance, remain exasperated with that county’s virtual options, which look like they are out of compliance with federal law on special education. In addition, the break of education voters to the Republican is not something you see all the time. The national polls don’t really reflect VA dynamics in the fall of 2021.

Anyway, short version: National voters are not Virginia voters, and multiple things can be true at once. And issues drive frames and the Dem frame on education in Virginia in 2021 was less than ideal. Sick of Virginia yet? I am and I live here.

The risk of Republicans overreaching here is real, but so is the risk of Dems wishing this all away rather than parsing what happened. But as we’ve discussed, pivoting the VA experience to the national stage is not straightforward. Finally, this Pew data on where voters are is fascinating, recommend.

And check out Jacobin’s data as, too:

 In reality, most voters hold a host of seemingly conflicting views simulta- neously —liberal on some issues, conservative on others —and the salience of any given issue varies widely. For instance, a Catholic voter could fall on the extreme left of the spectrum on economic issues, but if opposition to abortion is their most important issue, then pro-life candidates might be the most appealing overall. In the models mentioned above, we would be forced to classify this voter as a moderate who prefers centrist or even conservative candidates —yet such a conclusion does not capture the com- plexity of their political beliefs.


November 9, 2021

Odds & Ends – Multiple Culture Wars Explained, Bellwether Is Hiring, Your Next Classroom Might Be An Office? More…

More NAEP takes are coming this week. We heard from Morgan Polikoff, Marguerite Roza, and Sandy Kress. This week Ed Trust CEO Denise Forte.

Bellwether is hiring. We’re hiring for a host of roles, join our 70 person – and growing – team. All the things you’re supposed to say are actually true – flexible work environment, fun team, great benefits, and most importantly impactful work. Senior Associate Parter and Associate Partner roles on our strategy team and Senior Associate Partner and Partner roles on our policy and evaluation team. And we’re hiring a graphic designer to work across the entire organization.

The NSBA – NAGB story is nonsense. NSBA sent an ill-considered letter to the President about school board protesters. Several of their affiliates revolted, they’ve walked it back. Around conservative media NSBA President Viola Garcia’s appointment to NAGB is being cited as evidence of some sort of political logrolling or thank you play.

Really? If that’s the “thank you” then you wouldn’t want to get on the bad side of these people. What’s second place? Being a peer reviewer? NAGB is a serious board that oversees the best barometer of education performance we have. The work they do there is deliberate and not especially exciting, though it’s quite important. The NAGB nominations process is a long one with a paper trail. It seems likely the White House talked with NSBA about the letter ahead of time, that’s par for the course on these things. Tying that to the NAGB appointment seems unlikely.

Offices to Apartments Schools. People are going back to in-person work but it seems likely the pandemic will have lingering effects on commercial office space in a  lot of cities. By next year Bellwether will be almost 30 percent larger in terms of head count than pre-pandemic, but we’re shrinking our (already largely remote pre-pandemic) office space footprint because of work preferences. One impact of this trend is a conversion of office space to apartments, which is one strategy to address the affordable housing crisis in some places. It might also be a strategy to help with the affordable/available space crunch for new schools – especially charter schools. Some charters operate effectively out of former office space now. Probably a business opportunity there.

The stakes in Loudoun. There are multiple Loudoun County storylines – that’s one reason Glenn Youngkin outperformed there in the Virginia governor’s race. But one that is increasingly confused is about the rape that happened at a high school there in May, and the student who subsequently attacked a second student at a different school.

Assume the worst for a moment – and based on public records this is *not* what happened. But assume for a moment that a transgender kid attacked another kid randomly in a bathroom. Even if that were the fact pattern, it would still be an edge case. Culture warriors would have a field day but it would be an outlier because stuff like that does not happen a lot. Safe bet you’d hear about it if it did.

Instead, the reason the case is worth watching is because the district administration and board handled it terribly. They’ve been caught dissembling about the events since more than once. The superintendent apologized once already. The full story is still not known but will probably come into focus over time with lawsuits, FOIA’s, and what looks like growing journalistic attention. Whether or not the school system’s leadership decided for PR reasons and/or political sensitivities to basically try to minimize a rape in a school is a big deal no matter what ends up being the cause. And other almost any other circumstance people who otherwise identify themselves as feminists or allies would be asking questions/raising hell given that it was handled poorly enough that the attacker allegedly attacked a second student in a second school when school started up again. It really shouldn’t matter who the kid’s father is, who broke the story, who has what politics, or any of the rest of it in terms of how unacceptable this all is.

Is CRT taught in schools? Well, it’s not formally in the curriculum for the most part, that’s the big lie on the political right. I don’t even mean it’s not in the sense that they’re not teaching Derek Bell or some other technical definitional or rhetorical dodge. A lot of what people are objecting to can best be described as derivative of or informed by CRT. The big lie on the political left is the idea that what flies under the banner now of “CRT” is just teaching about history, or American slavery, or whatever. It’s not. Do the work. And this is a pretty good look at where politics intersect with training today.* A lot of people don’t like the idea that urgency or objectivity are “white” traits. That might be why even a majority of Black parents don’t want that stuff taught even as they want better more race conscious history to be taught.

In terms of schools, though, it’s an issue and it happens more like this. You teach in a county that brings in Ibram X. Kendi for the big annual pre-service training and you’re required to read Stamped. Or a district that assigns Robin DiAngelo as a required shared read before school starts. And this is the kind of thing that is being assigned. You see Lisa Delpit’s seminal Other People’s Children used much less today (first published in the 1990s it’s a good reminder a lot of this is not new), which is a shame, and certainly not things like the Fields book or really provocative stuff like Black Rednecks and White Liberals. And as far as history you are unfortunately more likely to encounter something sloppy and reductionist than say James Anderson. And then, per the usual in education, you’re not given a lot of support or curriculum and just told that racism is systemic in your county, so do something to make sure kids learn about it. So you go on Pintrest or whatever and throw something together. Maybe it’s great. Or maybe it’s not. And then some parent is upset because you told their kid that being detail oriented is a white trait or a privilege walk left first graders confused about their classmates because it was informed by a critical theory perspective and was also sort of half-baked.

There are thousands upon thousands of classrooms in any state. Doesn’t take a lot of examples to animate social media and spin people up.

And that is how you end up with a situation, like the one in Virginia, where one side says ‘this stuff isn’t in school’ and the other side says ‘no, it absolutely is’ and they’re both right and wrong at the same time. And of course a lot of conversation about “critical race theory” is not about critical race theory.

I still suspect we’ll find that while this was a factor, the VA governor race turned on other issues more. ICYMI I did an interview with The 74 about all that last week.

Alternatively, via Antonio García Martínez:

Our political factions are even more clueless about what’s going on than average citizens. In the car of society we’re all riding in, the liberals are trying to slam the brakes, the techies are flooring the gas, the conservatives are looking for a reverse gear that doesn’t exist. The most reasonable people inside that metaphorical car might just be the techies stomping on the gas. The only way through is through, and the thought we’re going to maintain physically-defined bubbles of political and moral consensus while also migrating even more into the metaverse is a delusional  belief. We might have to start thinking about a world where politics follows the disembodied digital bubbles we construct for ourselves, rather than thinking we’re going to ‘content moderate’ the digital into conforming with the politics of physical counties and states. The latter is the brake-stomping approach of the liberals and, well, how’s that going for them?
 *It’s also a line of thought that leads to things like this around policies.

November 5, 2021

Friday Fish Porn – Wallerstein Again

It’s been a heavy week, let’s end on a light note. Good stuff coming next week including another NAEP reaction contribution.

Ben Wallerstein of Whiteboard Advisors is a regular around here. Here he is with one last month, Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast. C’mon….

In this one of a kind archive you will find hundreds of pictures of education types with fish. It’s a tonic to our troubled times. Send me yours!

Posted on Nov 5, 2021 @ 1:17pm

November 4, 2021

Election Reax

A little election reax.

I did an interview with The 74, it’s a 5 questions kind of deal.

Here’s Monday’s preview post:

In other words, if Democrats stop listening to the activist class* for a moment and instead just think about the mainstream position on this issue, which happily is not at odds with talking honestly about race and racism in this country, they can neutralize this issue. If they throw their lot in with an increasingly imperious and unaccountable public school establishment that’s a problem.

If an alien landed here they’d look at a Republican Party just 10 months removed from its President sanctioning the sacking of the United States Capitol and unable to come to terms with such an appalling transgression and think, ‘OK, there is no way that party is going to do well.’ But that alien has also never met the Democrats. “Spaceman, hold my beer.”

Couple of takes I’d suggest:

Fantastic Sarah Isgur analysis in Dispatch.

Zach Carter in Atlantic.

Freddie deBoer:

“Republicans only won because of racism.” Yes, it’s impossible to imagine voters rejecting the party of Andrew Cuomo and Kyrsten Sinema and Gavin Newsome for any reason other than racism, agreed. So what? Who do you think is going to come and correct that injustice for you? The only opinion that matters is that of the voters, and they think your whining about unfairness makes you look weak.

As it turns out, voters in places like Virginia didn’t like Trump, but they also didn’t like getting jerked around by school officials for months and months over the pandemic. And only one of those was on the ballot Tuesday.

Elsewhere from Seattle to Arizona to Buffalo to Minneapolis to New York City voters made clear that despite all the acrimony and partisanship, they’re kind of pragmatic. Democrats, despite electing a basically consensus-driven pragmatic centrist President of the United States a year ago have managed to make their brand pretty toxic.

In a place like Virginia this is a particularly acute problem when education is a big issue and on top of a lot of parental frustration you’ve got a prominent local school board covering up a rape (this after a lot of other issues over the past year), divisive debates about admissions to coveted magnet schools, the bottom absolutely falling out of test scores in Virginia and state and district officials dodging accountability on that, state officials teasing the idea that limiting access to advanced classes is how you achieve equity, and other stunts seemingly calculated to piss off parents. I suspect the Loudoun postmortems will be particularly brutal now that people are paying attention.

And of course the ever evolving definitional debate about teaching CRT. Weirdly, I think both sides know CRT is not literally taught in schools in Virginia on a regular basis. And both sides know that CRT-derived concepts sometimes are. Entire school systems assigning Kendi and DiAngelo for staff PD and then saying ‘we’re not doing CRT’ is transparently nonsense. Dems were never going to get the racists, by having no touch they managed to alienate a broader swath of parents.

Voters don’t parse the issues like wonks or policy pros. Instead, they get a frame on a candidate, a gut sense, and they form an impression. Through a host of issues, the Dems created an impression of indifference to parents. Bringing in  – as a closing argument – Randi Weingarten, the AFT President who while wildly popular elite political circles is reviled by many parents as a symbol of what went wrong in 2020 and 2021 with school reopening, was the cherry on top of an educationally tone deaf sundae.

Democrats had no basic theory of the education case other than lashing themselves to the very objects of parental frustration.

All that, however, is exactly why I would not over read it. There are some contingencies in the Virginia race. Around the country the school board elections look like more of a mixed bag. It wasn’t a clean sweeping out of incumbents or anything like that over CRT, masks, vax policy, or anything else.

This also does not look like the Republican uber education campaign analysts (including me pre-2016) have warned about where the Republicans shed their baggage and link choice and opportunity and drive a wedge through the Democratic coalition. Instead, it was a close election, reversion to the mean, independents swung, and education fit into an effective narrative of change for the Republicans more than it set up a narrative.

I’d likewise be cautious over-reading the swing from Biden to Youngkin in Virginia. Trump was a candidate ill-suited to Virginia in a few ways, not the least a heavy military and government presence leading to voters who prioritize competence and respect. Trump, as you may have seen, is not often associated with those things. In fact, Youngkin notably outran Trump in parts of the state. The 2017 to 2021 results are a better benchmark.

Graphic via Washington Post, specific data here. 

The economy was still a big, if not the big issue (better voter data will be available soon and we’ll revisit exits and all that then). That’s getting overshadowed by the education stuff because a school fight is more interesting to journos than the umpteenth election where voters say they care most about the economy and jobs. And credit where it’s due. Glenn Youngkin ran an effective and disciplined campaign. Voters wanted change and McAulliffe was the default incumbent in an open seat race. And the current Democratic President is politically underwater. Tough environment. 

Still, do Dems need a better message? Of course. A Democratic political pro friend asked on election night, “In two sentences or less, what’s the McAullife message on the economy or jobs?” It’s a good question.

Chalking it all up to racism as we’re already hearing won’t do. Around the country diverse candidates prevailed in different contexts. The country is becoming more inclusive even as everyone yells at each other on Twitter. Danica Roem was reelected a third time in Virginia, wasn’t even really news because she’s good at her job. And in Virginia the Republicans elected a Latino man and a Black woman to the other two statewide offices on the ballot this cycle. That’s an example of the message problem. Your message has to be something the average person doesn’t hear and think to themselves, “wait, that makes no sense.” And if you’re explaining to them, “no, no, see you don’t understand, they’re “white adjacent” then, well, real life is not a critical theory seminar at Smith.

And that’s what got Democrats in trouble on schools. Their ed message fundamentally made no sense to parents exhausted from the pandemic.

This, from Sarah Isgur, is a well put look an education aspect of the race that goes beyond recycled talking points,

There’s no question that a lot of parents would tell you they are concerned about CRT being taught in schools. But this is a little like the “defund the police” slogan. They don’t literally mean that their second graders are being taught “to view race and white supremacy as an intersectional social construct.” They mean that their kids are being taught things about race, racism, and it’s role in American history that they don’t like. I heard one parent, for example, say that they feared their child was being taught that equality of outcome was more important than equality of opportunity. You can agree or disagree as to whether that is good or bad or right or wrong as a normative matter, but as a descriptive matter, it is what some voters meant when they said education as an important issue to them.

So here we are. If the Democrats can’t figure out how to parse out genuinely racist voters – the ‘we make slavery sound worse than it really was’ crowd from the ‘I don’t want my kid being told that intersectionality or “whiteness” is the only proper way to understand the world” crowd then they will lose more close elections where education is an issue and things will get more toxic.

In our sector, there is plenty of arguing in education but no real argument. This despite pre-pandemic equity problems and a host of new pandemic driven issues. The Democrats need to come up with some arguments that are more convincing than what they tried in Virginia.

There is a pro-kid, pro-reform, pro-equity, agenda out there that is neither inherently D or R waiting for politicians with the courage to grab it. For instance, empowering parents with educational choice, improving post-secondary transitions, expanding access to early education opportunities, unbundled and responsive and accountable public systems with better assessments, and a focus on teaching kids math early so we’re not arguing about exam schools when they’re already in 8th-grade. All those things matter to a more equitable school system than the one we have today.

The only box Democrats are in is one they choose. Given the state of the Republican party, however, a lot is riding on how they choose.


November 2, 2021

Janus Is A Glider, Not A Plane Crash

Here’s an update on NEA membership post-Janus. It’s down, substantially. Roughly nine percent over the past decade. So that’s something to think about while everyone waits for votes to be counted in Virginia to see if education really impacted the race as much as partisans hope or fear.

This membership trend is not unexpected. The Janus case ended mandatory union membership for public employee unions. Here’s a Bellwether deck with background and pre-decision context on the case.

A lot of people seem to have lost interest in Janus. Some seemed to expect that the court would rule against the unions in Janus on a Monday and by Friday the teachers unions would be in bankruptcy. If you think that you’re confusing the NEA with the NRA.

So now you hear a lot about how Janus really had no effect. This is wrong, too.

Janus introduced a set of constraints that are going to depress membership and revenue for the teachers unions and weaken them over time, but it’s a slow process. There are revenue offsets the unions can avail themselves of in the short term, there is still litigation about the boundaries of the case, as with any big SCOTUS decision, for instance what counts as an opportunity to leave a union. There is inertia. It will hit different states or locals differently, and both the NEA and AFT are confederations of affiliates. It will hit NEA and AFT differently. People are still learning about their options and as they see peers exercise them (and realize savings) it will be a contagion. (I haven’t followed it closely since the pandemic but it seems like some of the efforts to catalyze leaving by teachers have lost steam over the past few years.) It’s also harder now for the unions to recruit new members recusing join is an option in more places.

Regardless, not everyone will jump or decline to join. As you listen to the rhetoric it’s clear people also forget that not every teachers union member is being held against their will. There are strong union adherents, so the range of outcomes was not zero to status quo. The question is how low membership can fall before the teachers unions face an existential crisis. And this will ultimately auger badly for anyone hoping for moderation as we’ve seen.

It’s also important to bear in mind that, as we’ve discussed around here a few times, teachers union leaders have played their cards very well since Janus. They’ve taken a crappy hand and driven it hard – especially with a broader swath of members than are usually engaged. Someone over there is reading Sun Tzu.

The good news, for Democrats, is that the slow glide gives them time to wean themselves off of reliance on/Stockholm syndrome with the teachers unions and toward a more kids first and civil rights oriented style of education poliitcs. The bad news, there is not a lot of evidence that is happening. On school choice for instance the Democratic position is still at odds with a majority of voters and an even bigger majority of Black and Hispanic voters. That was a problem before the pandemic, and seems likely to be a bigger one in an era of increased appetite for options post-pandemic.

Anyhow, in our click addled media culture we don’t do slow glide stories, everything is a plane crash or it’s ignored. This isn’t. That doesn’t mean it will not have impact on the education sector over time.


November 1, 2021

Virginia Votes – Is The Ed Issue Fatal For Dems This Cycle? How To Fix That…

If we’re being honest, the most charitable explanation for the handling of a sexual assault by the Loudoun County Public School’s leadership is incompetence. It’s downhill from there. Even if they were under legal constraints relative to placing the accused student in an alternative setting their public communications have been dishonest, and officials clearly did not do right by the first victim’s family. Yes, first victim, because the assailant allegedly assaulted a second student at their new school. That case is still in the courts. But for the sensitivities around how the accused student ID’s and whether transgender policies played a role people would be rightly raising hell about it. A kid was raped. In a school. The atmospherics and politics should be secondary to that. The McAuliffe team is annoyed with Democrats in Washington for the goat rodeo around passing an infrastructure bill. They should be equally annoyed with the Loudoun County School Board and superintendent for striking a match to abundant tinder.

For Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe the Loudoun timing and symbolism is lousy because it allowed Republican Glenn Youngkin to underscore his basic argument that the Democrats favor public school administrators and woke politics over parents in a host of ways. With school board recalls popping up around the commonwealth and a deep well of frustration after the pandemic and haphazard school reopenings it’s a potent line of attack.

It’s easy to forget, with everyone recently tuning in, that this whole issue didn’t begin with Loudoun County. It’s been building with school reopening and other issues. Earlier this year Virginia flirted with capping access to advanced math classes in the name of “equity.” Loudoun had a debate about access to advanced math. Fairfax abruptly changed admissions standards to the coveted Thomas Jefferson math and science magnet enraging a lot of Asian parents. All of that ricocheted around the parent class in the state. So what we’re seeing in polls has been building, it just needed a spark. And it’s not all about “CRT” or masks or whatever.

Are McAulliffe’s particular statements about, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach” being taken out of context. To some extent yes. Public schools can’t function as some sort of pure Athenian democracy. McAulliffe’s point that you can’t have 25 people demanding that  each class does or doesn’t teach this or that is legitimate as a practical matter. Not everyone will like every book in the library, that’s the deal. If you really want to control the ideas your kid is exposed to then there are other schooling options outside the public sector.

Yet McAulliffe seriously misjudged the potency of the issue. The soothing balm among elite progressives, that this is all racism, amplified by a credulous media is a serious misreading of what’s happening. A successful political strategy will parse the genuinely racist and censorious (and while they’re not the whole story they are part of this for sure) from the parents who just don’t want their young kids getting age-inappropriate or political content. That means getting out of the line of fire when you have teachers freelancing on curriculum so you don’t end up owning all the various anecdotes. This isn’t rocket science. Telling parents who don’t want their young kids in race-based affinity groups or doing privilege walks or aspire to color blindness that they’re racist is a bad way to win elections. These aren’t even popular positions among Black Democrats! And telling people that you are going to make sure schools teach an honest and not rose colored view of American history only alienates people whose votes you won’t get anyway. There is a path. Instead, Democrats are increasingly  on the wrong side of the transparency issue with schools and owning all the dysfunction – that’s a problem. In this case it’s a surprising mistake from a guy who is a pretty good retail politician and generally has horse sense about where people are on things.

Is all this enough to put Glenn Youngkin over the top? It’s close, and tricky to handicap. It’s an off year election with new early voting habits so some variance. The polling is not bulletproof. Bleed among parents in the vote rich and Democratic leaning suburban counties surrounding Washington, including Loudoun, is a lethal threat for Democrats who need to run up the score in those places. And it feels like a change election and McAulliffe’s by default the incumbent as a recent former governor of the party holding the governorship now. Few will be surprised if Youngkin pulls this off. This Washington Post analysis is a pretty good look at the state of play and what has and hasn’t changed with voter preference the last month or two.

Regardless, because he improbably made it a race, there will be implications from this campaign. Robert Pondiscio says we’re seeing a preview of the midterms and perhaps a realignment. I’m not so sure. A lot of it is pretty contingent and translating what are essentially state and local issues to federal races is not straightforward. And in politics anger and outrage dissipates and barring an enforced error(s) from the Biden Administration or an unforeseen event keeping all this alive will be a challenge. The fact that education is now the dominant issue is getting attention but that’s obscuring that the economy is right there, too. All that said, if the Rs can settle on “parents rights” as a message for the midterms without that idea being owned by the fringe elements in their party then Dems will have to do better than this to fight it off. Hopefully everyone learned with “Make America Great Again” that obvious sounding messages can resonate especially when the inverse position isn’t one you want to champion.

Either Biden or Secretary of Education Cardona are well situated to give a speech or two seizing the 70 percent position in this “debate.” Most parents are fine with a honest accounting of American history but not with a version of history that says America is nothing more than a litany of sins or implying that children somehow bear responsibility for any of this. Most people want their kids to learn about race and racism but don’t want their second graders getting warmed over Kendiism or being told that aspiring to colorblindness makes them complicit in structural racism. Those are the parents to speak to, which marginalizes the more extreme voices on the right and the left. And substantively there is plenty of important work to be done there and an agenda with PD for teachers, better curriculum, and ultimately ensuring teachers get a firmer foundation in history during their preparation.

In other words, if Democrats stop listening to the activist class* for a moment and instead just think about the mainstream position on this issue, which happily is not at odds with talking honestly about race and racism in this country, they can neutralize this issue. If they throw their lot in with an increasingly imperious and unaccountable public school establishment that’s a problem.

To leave on a happy note, if you vote in Virginia the race for Lieutenant Governor has been overshadowed by the battle at the top of the ticket. Winsome Sears, the Republican nominee for LG, is not my cup of tea. Still, stepping back, if you’ve lived around Virginia for a long time seeing a race between a Lebanese woman (Haya Ayala the Dem nominee, who also is Salvadoran) and a Black woman (Sears) for statewide office is certainly progress.

*As an aside, this is why the whole “CRT” fight is such a curious one for Democrats to want to pick. As soon as you get off campus its major tenets are not even that popular among Black parents while other issues keenly linked to racial justice are more broadly supported.


October 29, 2021

Friday Fish Porn: Herdman’s Hogs

Today’s Friday Fish Porn is an extra special one. Years ago Paul Herdman and I were spending a lot of time in Colorado for a work project. Among my bad habits was slipping off to fish a nearby river whenever there was a break of any length because it held some large and hard fighting brown trout if you knew where to look.* Paul, who is savvy enough to recognize the obvious appeal of any addictive substance like that, decided to try it. One fall he stuck around after a meeting to join a few  friends of mine I fished with out there annually to hit a river full of trout gorging themselves on silly hatches of bugs.**

He caught a fish.

Now he’s a regular guest here. And slays them (metaphorically of course, he’s a catch and release type). In Colorado last week he got out for a few days near Vail. Beauties. Paul is one of the kindest and most committed people you’ll find in education. Deep understanding that one size does not fit all but quality must be a constant, and an appreciation of and background in experiential learning. The work he’s shepherded in Delaware would command more attention were it from a larger state.

If you’re new around here you might be like, ‘Friday fish what?’ In this archive you will find hundreds of pictures of education types with fish. Send me yours.

*Another high quality degenerate in the same way is Cami Anderson’s husband Jared Robinson who is always up for a dash to a river during break time and is a fine fly fisherman. If you’re in the market for a DEI consultant with an experiential bent who won’t give you the same template as everyone else, recommend.

**Prior to that he and his daughter slipped out with me one afternoon to a little mountain river where the fishing was super slow but the scenery lovely. At one point his daughter walked in my backcast and got one in her shoulder. The only meaningful thing we hooked into all afternoon. We all had an experiential lesson on popping out a hook, which is absolutely no fun for the popper or poppee when a kid is involved. But barbless hooks, this is the way.


October 26, 2021

Why Is NAEP Flat Or Falling? Polikoff’s Take

Last week we heard from Sandy Kress and Marguerite Roza about their takes on what’s going on with NAEP results. Today, USC’s Morgan Polikoff.  More coming soon.

We Need More Evidence About Student Achievement, By Morgan Polikoff 

NAEP long-term trend scores dipped pretty substantially, and the alarm bells are going off. To be sure, the alarm bells should have been going off for quite a while—after big bumps in the early aughts (at least in mathematics), NAEP scores have been pretty much stagnant since around 2009 or so. And there have been troubling signs over at least the last decade that a) various long-standing achievement gaps have not been closing, and b) gaps between high- and low-performing students have been widening.

Worst of all, this evidence pre-dates the pandemic, which we have good reason to suspect will make things worse. It has clearly been felt disproportionately by those who were already underserved by our educational and social systems—students of color, those from low-income families, students with disabilities, and English learners.

The questions on everyone’s mind are what caused this dip, and what we can do about it. As someone who’s studied the standards movement for the last 15 years, I was asked to give my thoughts about the possible impact of the Common Core and related standards on these NAEP outcomes.

The short answer to the first question is I don’t think Common Core per se could have had much if anything to do with this LTT NAEP dip. The most obvious reason is that the timeline doesn’t make sense. Common Core started to be adopted by states in 2011 and new assessments rolled out by 2015. Whether the standards are even being implemented in classrooms today is anybody’s guess, but there is a good deal of evidence implementation is spotty, at best. In contrast, this LTT dip seems to have accelerated in the last two years. Could you squint and say, well, these are lagging results? Maybe, but that feels like a leap.

To be sure, the best evidence on the impact of Common Core and other college/career ready standards on student learning is far from overwhelming (and to be double sure, answering this question convincingly is incredibly fraught, if even possible). One short-term study found that Common Core produced small positive bumps in achievement, but a longer-term effort focused more broadly on CCR standards found negative impacts that were getting worse over time. Could these results align with the latter study? Possibly, but I’d want to reserve judgment until we got another round of state NAEP data to see whether it supports that conclusion.

What standards/curriculum related issues do I think could be at play here? One thing that’s worth paying attention to is the alignment of the NAEP LTT to current standards. The LTT assessment has a framework that is intentionally not updated to align with changes in curriculum over time. But what if content that used to be taught when kids were 7 or 8 is now taught when they are 9 or 10? There is some suggestive evidence that these kinds of timing issues may at least partially explain Main NAEP mathematics results, and one would imagine that these effects would be even larger for LTT NAEP.

Another plausible argument I’ve heard recently is about the widening gaps between high- and low-achievers. The argument goes that Common Core has often been interpreted as deemphasizing procedural knowledge in favor of more conceptual understanding (certainly I have heard this interpretation in my conversations with teachers), whether or not that’s a correct interpretation of the standards. But for students who might struggle in mathematics, not being exposed to this foundational procedural knowledge in early grades could have deleterious effects on their later mathematics achievement.

We need more evidence about student achievement, especially in light of the pandemic, and we need that evidence on a range of different kinds of assessments. We will probably never have a convincing answer to what caused this dip, but regardless of the reason we need to focus on proven solutions—high-quality curriculum aligned with the science of reading, careful professional support for teachers, strategies to improve teacher working conditions and support collaboration and data use, and direct student supports like one-on-one tutoring.

Posted on Oct 26, 2021 @ 11:14am

October 25, 2021

NSBA Walking Back

When it was released, it seemed like the NSBA letter calling for DOJ to investigate parents might have taken concerns about threats against school board members too far. The backfire potential and potential for it to create a target for opponents seemed real.

Now NSBA – facing pushback from its affiliates in a number of states and not all of them red – is walking it back.

As we’ve discussed, sometimes interest groups forget who signs the paycheck. That catches up with you, and seems to be at least part of what happened here.

Attorney General Merrick Garland testifies this week in the Senate but he should be able to sidestep this. The AG had already carved out a position that was at once somewhat vague and had some nuance about how heavy handed Justice was prepared to be here anyway. He testified before a House committee that,

“I do not believe that parents who testify, speak, argue with, complain about school boards and schools should be classified as domestic terrorists or any kind of criminals.”