March 27, 2015

Friday Fish Porn: Everywhere Edition

Kevin Skenandore, of the Oneida and Oglala Lakota Tribes, grew up on the Shoshone-Bannock Reservation in South East Idaho. He spent his career working on education for Native Americans as a teacher and policymaker.  Among other roles he was Director of the Bureau of Indian Education. Semi-retired, he consults now. He also spends a lot of time fishing and hunting all over the place. I’ve fished with him and he’s the kind of fly fisherman who can catch them in the grass on the way to the river. (His wife also makes great fly fishing art).

Here he is recently on Montana’s Madison River:



And in New Zealand:





The world’s largest collection of education-related Fish Porn can be found here.

March 26, 2015

JJ Baskin

Education lost a big heart and good soul last night with the passing of Austin’s JJ Baskin. A recent idea of his, to create genuine quality of workplace ratings for schools like those that exist for other organizations in order to better inform teachers about their potential choices, was one example of a creative non-traditional mind. He will be missed.

Tragedy, Charters In NY & Ohio, Ellevation’s New Offering, Pere Whitmire, Brown Calls BS, And Was Gingrich Ahead Of His Time?

The transgendered North Carolina teen who made news as a homecoming king last year committed suicide earlier this week.  He was just 18.

Did New York Chancellor Carmen Farina imply that it’s defensible that a public school has fewer than 10 percent of its kids proficient in math and reading? Yes, it looks like she did! Behind the scenes Farina hasn’t been bad on charter schools, better than the rhetoric. And some theater is necessary in her role and given the politics. I get it. But whatever you think about backfilling, selection, or whatever, Farina does public education no favors by seeming to defend performance like that. Matt Candler, call your office.

Speaking of charter performance, Fordham Institute got a bouquet for being a high-quality charter authorizer in Ohio from the state.

Dan Brown writes in RealClearEd that the talking down of the education field – by its supposed leaders – is counterproductive.

Ellevation is a company I advise – they work on support for ELL students. Jordan Meranus is CEO. Up until now their work was mostly for administrators and specialists but Ellevation is expanding support to classroom teachers. Check it out. And there is a webinar next week.

Richard Whitmire’s dad just got an award from the Missouri Association of School Administrators this week.

Is Newt Gingrich consulting on school discipline?

March 25, 2015

Dem Divide, Teacher Evaluations, AFT/UFT Charter School Spin, What? Coggins Asks Opting Out To What?

This New York Times article on the Democratic divide on education and what it portends for Hillary Clinton is pretty boilerplate (and if you think it reads like it was written a few years ago don’t miss the correction) except for one quote:

“I think it will be different than the Obama administration in the sense that both the teachers’ union and the reformers will really feel like they have her ear in a way they haven’t,” said Ann O’Leary, a onetime aide to Mrs. Clinton in the Senate and now a senior vice president at Next Generation, a group involved with the Clinton Foundation on an education initiative.

Absent more context hard to know for sure if that’s a shot at the insularity of the Obama Administration, but it sure sounds like one!

Charter spin! On Monday at the CCSSO meeting American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten brought up the charter school she started that has since been shut down by the union because it was facing closure from state officials for low-performance. She made two surprising points – surprising to anyone following this – but it would have taken a lively discussion on a tangent so there was no follow up. But, first Weingarten said the school failed largely because it wouldn’t exclude some kids – with the implication that other charters do. And second she said the high school the union also started was doing great. In fact, the high school was not granted a full charter renewal earlier this month because of concerns about performance.  Its graduation rates are high but only one in five students is college ready when they graduate. File that under all schools are hard but high schools especially so. On the K-8 school, the state authorizer was moving to close it because it met just one of 38 academic goals it was expected to and because it was under-serving comparable schools for students with disabilities and English-language learners. All that data are right here in the state’s memo on the school (pdf). Charters and special education and ELL students is a complicated issue but this isn’t the talking point that is going to work for the union.

In RealClearEducation Teach Plus’ Celine Coggins asks what the endgame is for the testing opt-out movement. I’m OK with opt-outs actually, but only in a broader context. I also think parents ought to be able to have some say over who teaches their child, too, and I like school choice (especially for the poor), and  think home school kids ought to be able to play varsity sports* if they’re good enough and participate in public school activities. In other words, today’s barriers are pretty arbitrary and the only opt-out policy that doesn’t make sense to me is the one where the people calling for testing opt-outs are also opposing choice and charter schools and other efforts to unbundle the system some in order to better serve kids. Actually, seems kinda reactionary? And unfortunately, that’s the opt-out movement we have.

Eduardo Porter has a thoughtful look at teacher evaluations in The Times.

Spent some time with the folks from Mastery Connect this week. Companies like that, Class Dojo, and so forth are quietly building an army of teachers who like and use new tech enabled tools. It’s like the Civil War. While the battle rages in the east things are happening in the west.

If you like real estate this issue with Stockton University and Trump is interesting

Today is the 98th Anniversary of the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. It sure seems a long way from there to the debates in this sector today.

*Looks like a bill to allow this is going to be vetoed in VA.

March 24, 2015

A Civil Rights Advocate, Teachers Union Leader, and Business Guy Walk Into A Bar…Ten Takeaways From Yesterday’s CCCSO Leg Panel

The Council of Chief State School Officers legislative conference is in full swing. Yesterday featured a lively (actually lively, not just by Washington standards) panel on ESEA prospects with Kati Haycock of the Education Trust, Lily Eskelsen Garcia of the NEA, Randi Weingarten of the AFT, and Dane Linn from the Business Roundtable. I moderated the late afternoon conversation and it revealed some important friction points for the sector. Here are ten takeaways:

Bullish on ESEA. Asked a simple yes or no on whether ESEA would be reauthorized during this Congress all four said yes. That means they’re more bullish than the Whiteboard Advisors Education Insider survey and the sense in D.C. overall.

Devil in the details. The unions want more local assessments rather than statewide ones, Garcia in particular spoke up on this issue. But when asked about how that would lead to less testing – given that most of today’s over testing is a state and local issue – neither Weingarten or Garcia had a response. Nor did they have a clear theory of action for whether a local option should be codified in statute or be something that happens via an earned process for states. Weingarten, however, was quick to cite the Goodlatte (VA) amendment in the House on testing as a standard and to say that secretarial authority – as codified in current law – wasn’t sufficient.  The union leaders cited a few promising pilots that are happening now but didn’t have a clear answer on how to scale that. Meanwhile, Haycock made clear that different tests for different students was pretty much a non-starter in her community. Linn spoke up for innovation – but only earned autonomy for states.

Governors under the bus. Not surprisingly CCSSO is not high on the idea of having governors sign off on state Elementary and Secondary Education Act plans in an effort to ensure cohesion and accountability. In some states this happens by default because of governance, but in others chiefs operate with independence. When asked if they’d support that change no panelist spoke up for it. With educational governance conflicts in places like LA, IN, WY, and coming soon in more states this will be a live issue.

Who is the critic anyway? For all the talk about school bashing and politicians bashing schools it was ironic to watch Ed Trust’s Haycock talk about progress over the past few decades while Garcia painted a dystopian picture of the education landscape. It may well be that in their fight to take down reform union leaders poor mouth the schools as much or more than anyone else in the debate.

Testing pressure. Haycock made the point that a lot of the testing pressure is fundamentally unprofessional behavior (and stoked by the unions to gin up opposition) because most of these tests have no consequences for students*. Sounds like an under-explored issue!

Testing opposition. Speaking of under-explored issues it’s amazing (ok, it’s not) how the media has been asleep at the switch about the union role in fomenting opposition to the new PARCC and SBAC Common Core assessments. It’s hard to think of another project with this much public investment at stake that if there were an organized effort to take it down it would not be front page news. It came up during the panel but so far the two-step act where union leaders can act like statesmen in D.C. while raising hell around the country is alive and well.

Data versus anecdotes. The other fascinating thing about the Garcia – Haycock exchange was that Haycock went to data while Garcia focused on anecdotes. The idea that National Assessment of Educational Progress scores are better than they’ve ever been, for instance, is an inconvenient fact for Garcia’s nothing is working in policy narrative. Weingarten pointed out that progress is incremental. That’s a fair point to debate in terms of what’s realistic or possible. However, the idea that there has not been a lot of improvement over two decades is not borne out on the facts and is a disservice to educators.

Know your audience. One attendee observed afterwards, though, that while Garcia’s argument wasn’t going to sway many people at the national policy level it was a great state level argument. That’s a good point. She is the most convincing education union leader to come along in a while. When she says she’d rather be teaching it’s actually believable and you could see yourself plausibly putting your own kid in her elementary classroom (not like these guys, for instance). Stay tuned.

What’s old is new. The old friction about whether federal accountability will create the conditions to address inequities or whether those inequities need to be addressed before having accountability was on full display. Nobody says “opportunity to learn” but that’s the idea, The unions were on one side of that, Haycock and Linn on the other.  The unions made clear they’re fine with a lot of testing so long as it’s not tied to anything consequential. Sounds like testing for testing’s sake?

Everyone thinks we’re good though? At the end I asked about school choice. Choice advocates love this intramural warfare among Democrats – ‘just keep doing what you’re doing’ they say because it’s hard to see dramatically better public schools coming out of this dysfunction and they believe the demand for choice will win out in the end. Yet for all the rhetoric about privatization no one on the panel saw choice as a big threat to public education if the current tenor continues. I don’t agree. As a friend who is a retired heavyweight fighter once told me, the punch that knocks you out is usually the one you don’t see coming. This sector seems pretty self-satisfied and indulgent to me if it doesn’t see big risks coming on the near horizon.

*Update: There are also a legit issues here, around over-testing, capacity of schools, best designs for accountability systems and perverse incentives, or role of choice (interestingly the union enthusiasm for opt-outs doesn’t carry over to parental choice). But those are all being subsumed under a meta-narrative about testing that doesn’t address the more fundamental issues.

March 23, 2015

Robin Lake On Special Education

Robin Lake takes a look at special education and school choice. It points up two important issues.

First, the under-serving of special education students is a sector-wide problem and when advocates reduce it to one part of the sector (charters, privates, public magnets) it obscures the real challenges that too many special education parents and students face.

Second, with charters, as the sector grows it will have to address issues like special education in a more systemic way. As Robin notes, there are efforts underway to do that. Contrary to mythology traditional public schools do not serve every special education student on a school-by-school basis. Charters can’t be expected to either. But, when charters reach 25, 30, or 40 percent plus of student enrollment in a jurisdiction the charter sector should be expected to serve an equitable percentage of different kinds of students and authorizers have a crucial role to play here. That’s a complicated conversation though in general and then particularly in today’s hothouse political climate surrounding charters.

March 20, 2015

Friday Fish Porn – Real Time Snake River Edition

Bart Epstein, founding CEO of the new Jefferson Education Accelerator spinning out of UVA’s Curry School, is on the Snake River in Wyoming today with his son:


EduNews Links And Mead On CREDO

I’m on Twitter today here. Various education links (and random stuff) there. Also RealClearEducation has all the day’s education news curated for you.  (And a morning newsletter you can get for free).

Sara Mead takes a look at the new CREDO report on charter performance here.

March 18, 2015

Classroom Champions

I’m on the international board for Classroom Champions, an innovative non-profit connecting Olympians and Paralympians with underserved students across North America for a – free – year-long mentoring relationship that teaches students about goal setting, perseverance, community, and leadership. Classroom Champions uses monthly video lessons and twice-yearly live chats with the athletes. Teachers also receive free technology to help students interact with their mentor and support via training, resources, and connections with other teachers.

Want to learn more? Take a look at this Prezi, watch this informational video, or watch this video a teacher made about her experiences.

Apply here.

March 17, 2015

The Real Problem With Common Core Test Scores – It’s Not This Year, It’s In A Few

A lot of concern about what will happen with Common Core test scores this year. The new tests are more demanding so proficiency levels will drop as they are implemented. That leads to worrying and thumb-sucking about whether this will lead to panic, politics, attacks on the schools and the like. Except, states that already raised the bar (Common Core states like NY and KY and non-Common Core states like VA in math) have seen scores drop without a lot of fanfare or fuss. That’s because most reasonable people understand the new “lower” scores are the result of the test, not a decline in teaching quality or performance. The schools aren’t getting worse, the bar is being raised.

Yes, it’s entirely possible the broader implementation of Common Core this year will lead to more problems along these lines because of the scale and the political/media hysterics about the new standards. But I don’t see that as the real risk Common Core faces in terms of test scores. Instead, a secondary problem is the much greater risk for Common Core: In a few years scores may not go up much. When you look around the country the support for Common Core implementation is inadequate to the scale of the challenge. A lot of places are “adopting” Common Core but without Read the rest of this entry »

Here’s Some Madness All Year Long

Something colleges are pretty good at is keeping student athletes eligible to play sports. They’re also pretty good at graduating athletes. While no-show class scandals like the one unfolding at UNC get the headlines the more pedestrian reality is that student athletes just get a lot of support. That’s good for them, they earn it. But why not provide that same support for first-in-family college students, low-income students, and other students at-risk of not finishing? I take a look at that question in a new U.S. News & World Report column this morning:

As you can tell from the brackets circulating around your office or email inbox, it’s NCAA basketball tournament time. The actual odds of you picking a perfect bracket from the 68 eligible college teams? Experts say 1 in 9.2 quintillion is a conservative estimate. So here’s a better and somewhat counterintuitive bet: College athletes are more likely to graduate from college than students overall. 

Yes, that sounds crazy given the stereotypes and the barrage of college sports scandals, most recently the revelations about University of North Carolina professors running no-show classes for athletes. And yes, there is too much bad behavior in the “amateur” world of big time college sports. Still, here’s the more pedestrian reality for most student athletes: They experience college differently than most students and enjoy a variety of powerful social and academic supports along the way. These helping hands range from help with personal finance management and how to navigate a grocery store (shop on the outside where the fresh food is, stay out of the middle where the processed stuff is) to tutoring, special study labs, and academic coaching.

The entire column is here.  I’d like to hear your feedback, any bracket tips, or betting tips more generally on Twitter @arotherham. And if you were a student athlete and benefited from some of these supports tell me about it!

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.