September 8, 2015

Whitmire With Russakoff, Great Leaders, California Test Data, Teacher Prep, and Models Amongst Us!

Richard Whitmire talks with Dale Russakof about “The Prize” and the issues the story raises in a RealClearEducation exclusive.

Dan Willingham wants better teacher preparation. His argument is fundamentally about scale. How do you design effective teacher preparation programs that pitch at the average – because, by definition, in a four million plus workforce that’s what a lot of people will be. Although what he calls for is happening in some ed schools, it’s not happening at anything near scale anywhere. The problems with teacher preparation he identifies? Turns out they’re really scalable!

This Washington State charter school ruling (pdf) is a mess and potentially disruptive for students. And it shows the folly of elected judges (stuff like this just makes people cynical about government). But, elected judges are a problem that extends far beyond this particular case and isn’t really a novel problem either…

California officials are right, don’t panic about the new test scores coming out this fall (Wait, did you say fall? Weren’t the new tests supposed to give faster more usable and actionable feedback for teachers?). Anyhow, what you might want to panic about, at least a little, Californians, is that your education officials thought it was OK to try to hide the ball on school performance and pulled this clown car stunt.

Ted Sizer was one of the great ones in this sector. Ron Matus points out his support for school choice. Sizer wasn’t a big fan of much of what goes on with standardized testing (though he wasn’t hostile to good tests (the MCAS for instance in his state of Massachusetts) but he realized if you weren’t going to have testing you had to have an alternative, which leads you to choice. He also was keenly aware of trade-offs and understood every approach had obvious problems and drawbacks. Too little of that around.  I talked with him about some of this a decade ago for an ES interview.

Speaking of impactful leaders, Thomas Sobol has passed. The Times on his life and work here. (And it turns out Diane Ravitch can even politicize an obit these days. I’d insert a joke here but, well, anyway she has a skill or something…)

The Limited is using leaders rather than models in its new campaign. There is at least one education leader in the mix, Nitzan Pelman, at the top, 4th from left.

September 4, 2015

Friday Fish Porn – Alaska!

IMG_4182Here’s Patrick McGuinn, professor of political science and author of education books, with his family and some fish they caught in Alaska earlier this summer.

A few years ago he wrote a great analysis of No Child Left Behind politics. Want to know something even more interesting than that? Hundreds of pictures of education people with their fish. You can see some via this link and still more via this one.

September 3, 2015

Declining Enrollment With A Side of Duck Fat Fries and Head Cheese! Today In Crazy Ledes, When Free Teaching Becomes A Free Pass, And We Don’t Need No Data!

This Libby Nelson article on Senator Marco Rubio and higher education is really interesting. Solid take on New Orleans from Pondiscio. In Philly they’re turning schools into bars. Sorry, I mean gastropubs.

Speaking of Philly, when your story includes the line,

“School officials said year-to-year comparisons were “not appropriate” because of the changes”

about year-over-year test scores because the underlying test changed significantly, then your story should not have a lede that reads:

Student performance on state exams dropped significantly in the Philadelphia School District, according to results released Wednesday.

Nor should it have the headline:

Major drops in city test scores

Speaking of ledes that shouldn’t be: First a Washington Post reporter writes this as a lede to a story in the paper’s news section:

Many public school teachers today are evaluated in part by something called a “growth score” — a number obtained through a complicated (and often nonsensical) formula that purports to show how much a teacher has contributed to the “growth” in their students’ academic performance as measured through a narrow (and often nonsensical) standardized test score.

It gets better. The underlying story is about a school superintendent who sent a letter to teachers in his district saying that he “does not care” what teacher’s student growth scores are. Not that he doesn’t think it fully defines their work, or that he’ll consider the data in a broader context, or even that the district has a different evaluation scheme that he thinks is better and here’s why…No, just that he doesn’t care. He said it more than once and in all CAPS to make sure that idea was clear. Yes, we celebrate that in this sector. Maybe he wrote it after getting off the phone with his stockbroker who also doesn’t need any stinkin’ data to make decisions, or his doctor who just goes with his gut! Anyway, it’s pandering, sure, but the message about quality is corrosive. Remember, a voucher supporter gets their wings every time something like this happens…

By the way, in practice, this guy is no more a hero than the teacher who says they won’t teach evolution. I look forward to all the articles and cheering about that…

No free lunch. Everyone is focusing on the teachers who are working for free in Chester-Upland because the district is broke. They’re not really working for free, they’ll be paid when this is settled but it’s an important gesture and about the only high note in a pretty grim story (and I think Pennsylvania case law doesn’t require them to work in this situation, PA attorneys is that correct?). But, there is so much more going on around that district and its charter schools that reporters should really dig in on. The “free” work is becoming a smokescreen to a lot of problems there that deserve attention.

And this could be bonkers before it’s done: This rescind Common Core petition (pdf)  is going to be on the Massachusetts ballot for voters to consider.

Here’s a crowd sourcing of reasons consuming news exclusively via social media is making our education conversations dumb.

Three stages of being a big city superintendent: First, I’m not the last person! That usually gives way to ‘conditions here are really hard,’ and is followed by ‘let’s get someone new.’

September 2, 2015

Morning Update: Culture Wars Edition! This Blog Post Will Confirm Or Challenge Your Bias!

Scroll down the homepage for some great edujobs, including some at Bellwether.

Coming attractions: The issue of transgender bathrooms is not surprisingly popping up in more school districts. How to handle is not cut and dry and commonly proposed options, using adult bathrooms or locking ones, for instance, don’t work in a school context. But as this turns into another culture war touchstone don’t forget that it involves actual kids:

“I’m hoping this dies down,” said Lila Perry, the 17-year-old who began identifying as a girl publicly in February. “I don’t want my entire senior year to be like this.”

Speaking of actual kids. Protesting co-locations of charter schools is fine, that’s part of the democratic process. But telling kids they’re not welcome at their school seems to cross a line, or at least should. And on the first day of school? Really?

This would be helpful in this sector.

Off-edu but relevant to our broken political process. Don’t tell this county clerk in Kentucky who thinks it’s okay to defy the Supreme Court because she answers to God’s law first that she’s pretty much saying what the intellectual forefathers of Al Queda believe and want to see brought into this world in terms of secular space in society. From The Times:

One couple, David Ermold and David Moore, tried to engage the county clerk, Kim Davis, in a debate before the cameras, but as she had before, she turned them away, saying repeatedly that she would not issue licenses to any couples, gay or straight.

“Under whose authority?” Mr. Ermold asked.

“Under God’s authority,” Ms. Davis replied.

Here’s Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian theorist, in Social Justice and Islam discussing why church – state separation (“a ridiculous servility to the European fashion of divorcing religion from life” he says) is fundamentally a flawed idea:

“We should not put away the social aspect of our faith on the shelf; we should not go to French legislation to derive our laws or to Western or Communist ideals to derive our social order without first trying to reconnect with our Islamic legislation which was the foundation of our first form of society.”

Meanwhile, would all the people cheering her actions have been okay with public officials who just decided that the Zelman decision upholding the constitutionality of school vouchers was wrong and decided not to enforce related statutes? Or Rosenberg? Of course not. And that’s the problem with picking and choosing the laws you decide are OK rather than following the established process in a liberal society even if you don’t like it. Especially if you’re a public official charged with carrying out public duties.

Social Media Fever Swamp: Education is a hot topic in social media and all kinds of information circulates around, from useful to completely at odds with the facts. (Full disclosure: I’m a sucker for videos of bears sticking their heads through pet doors). Common Core has provided a great example of how crazy it can get as various rumors about what the standards require make the rounds (PSA: the Common Core standards do not require your child to be exposed to porn). A colleague shared something the other day that got me thinking why Facebook, Twitter, etc…seem to reinforce incorrect information at least as much or even rather than surface better information through crowdsourcing. Here’s three pretty obvious reasons why, and there are probably others:

- Self selection. A lot of people choose to get their information from sources that they like, agree with, and that share their underlying biases and worldview. That’s understandable and also easy in today’s online and cable environment regardless of your age or political demographic.

- Context-free. Facebook in particular leads to a lot of video and content that is completely devoid of the context surrounding it. The videos of police traffic stops that are circulating are a great example. Sometimes they show police conduct that should trouble us. Sometimes they show police dealing with people who are known to them to be dangerous, under the influence, etc…But unless you know the context it’s usually hard to make heads or tails just based on a snippet of video that is circulating around.

- And these feed the third. Everyone is susceptible to confirmation bias. Analysts take steps to guard against this in their work. Most people do not. The debate over New Orleans schools the past week amply illustrated this in our sector. But confirmation bias is a fact of life. It’s  rocket-fueled, however, when it’s coupled with an ongoing bombardment of customized and context-free information.

What’s missing?

Edujob: Senior Director of K-12 Education Programs @ Philanthropy Roundtable

The Philanthropy Roundtable is seeing a senior director for its K-12 programs. This role involves high level donor cultivation and service, communications, and deep engagement in various K-12 school improvement initiatives. Puts you in the middle of a lot of what’s going on in an impactful way. Details and how to apply here.

September 1, 2015

Common Core Not So Common (Or Understood), New Schools!, Old Rankings Gaming, Student Debt, BW Trainings, And Dep’t Of Ed Innovation. Plus Lake V. Hill!

It is really breaking news, or news at all, that the comparability aspect of Common Core isn’t happening? Wasn’t that kind of obvious when there were two testing consortia started to develop new tests, then states peeled out of the consortia, and then other vendors began offering off-the-shelf or customized solutions several years ago? In other news, Americans won’t land on the moon in 2015…More interesting is what happens now going forward with the assessments for Common Core, the marketplace more generally, and the possibility of lighter touch, less time-consuming assessments. I want to read about that!

Speaking of Common Core, Rick Hess would have a stronger point here if multiple surveys didn’t show that a lot of people are misinformed about the Common Core (and that shouldn’t surprise, it’s par for the course with most policy issues and it would be unusual if it were not the case here). And while reasonable people can disagree on the policy and its related features there is clearly some distortion about what Common Core is and is not in the political debate here. He’s right about some of the rhetoric, of course, and the scale of the change, but it’s not so cut and dry.

This charter school design challenge in Indy is a powerful initiative and exactly the kind of effort to help ensure a real diversity in school offerings rather than six flavors of vanilla. Fellowships, too*.  More on new school models from New Schools* in a new report out today (pdf).

Keep an eye out for announcements on Bellwether blog trainings for education bloggers, we’re planning two in the next year.

Very smart Robin Lake v. Paul Hill on charter school backfills*.

Stephen Burd calls bs on test score optional colleges - spoiler alert, it’s about selectivity in the rankings…And Dynarski does the same on the student debt numbers. This is an ongoing problem and a weird marriage of statistical illiteracy and the appetite for a crisis narrative.

Last Friday I wrote at USN about how all the work in New Orleans is not being done by outsiders.

It seems like the 4th graf from the bottom of this piece on the new ed tech evaluation effort at the Department of Education is underdeveloped…Latest in our regular feature here: Student surveys have a lot of promise.

Last week Neerav Kingsland discovered the sector he’s working in, today Morgan Polikoff does. I’m all for lively debates, that’s part of what drives progress, and in education there are plenty of unsettled issues from an empirical or values-based perspective. But, the extent to which evidence is casually abused in this sector really is an enormous problem.

We use this video as part of the onboarding process at Bellwether. And we’re hiring.

*I was a founding board member of The Mind Trust and Bellwether has worked with them. On the advisory board for CRPE. Lots of Bellwether history with New Schools.

Edujob – Director of Policy and Government Relations @ NAPCS

Want a policy job that marries autonomy and accountability? This might be it!

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is hiring for a director of policy and government relations – based in D.C. Great chance to work on fluid and impactful policy issue at a leading organization. More information and how to apply via this link.

August 31, 2015

Bellwether Is Hiring

We’re growing and have some new opportunities open as a result. Check them out here.

August 28, 2015

Who Is Missing From The NOLA Education Debate? The NOLA Educators…

I have a column in U.S. News & World Report today:

This week’s 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is sparking the usual sparring between education reformers and their critics about New Orleans. What’s new, right? On one key issue, though, the reformers and their opponents too often seem to agree: New Orleans’ education reform is largely an outsiders’ project. It’s an idea that while useful for both sides and a conflict-addicted media, is disrespectful to a lot of New Orleans educators and distorts the complicated story of that city’s schools…

…I’m not trying to convince you about the success of the New Orleans education reforms. Although there is little dispute among serious analysts that the schools are better now, in aggregate, than in 2004, there are plenty of complicated particulars and real questions about how the well the model can travel. Rather, the point is the next time you hear a simplistic story about New Orleans education, dig deeper. As with most things in that great city, there is usually more there.

Some angles on that story and some of those educators? It’s all right here in USN’s “Report,” which includes a special NOLA package. Send me your stories of great New Orleans educators or tweet them to me @arotherham.

Take A Kid Fishing

IMG_8725It’s almost the end of summer so time for a periodic PSA. Get outside! Find time some weekend and take a kid fishing -it’s good for them and for you! Here’s Bellwether’s Jason Weeby out with his son on the same water he fished as a kid.

How do I do that you ask? No special skills required, here’s a primer!

Want to see pictures of education people with fish? Hundreds via this link and more via this one.

August 21, 2015

GOP And Preschoolers, Newark Charters, Gifted Students, Landrieu On NOLA Ed, AIR On Loans, A Loveless Sample

Sara Mead handicaps the 2016 GOP candidates on pre-k education.

Donald Trump, his primary track record on early childhood education seems to be the number of times other people have compared him to a preschooler.”

There is also some analysis of the candidates who do have records or positions. Speaking of Trump, the buried lede here is a 43,000 seat high school football stadium.

Newark charter schools offer some lessons. Everyone says teachers do God’s work, but when you try to call them ministers you’re going to get some pushback (ministers aren’t covered by the NLRB). Chester Finn is worried about gifted kids. I think they are doing fine.

Mary Landreiu on what’s happening in New Orleans with schools. Here she is on video talking about the same thing with Carl Cannon and me as well as about why the NOLA story is so distorted.

New York’s not going to sanction schools/districts with a lot of opt-outs. That’s a smart approach in my view. But what about accountability for school personnel involved in all this, doesn’t that cross a line?

AIR takes a look at the literature on loan forgiveness for teachers. And here’s an interesting idea from Tom Loveless: Reporters run with flimsy studies all the time, they often don’t know who to ask for some help understanding whether the methods have any validity. But if you’re at a regional or national outlet you can walk down the hall to whomever oversees polling. They can tell you some basic stuff for sure…with guns, fire, and research safety starts with you!

Friday Fish Porn – Jim Ford!

11887895_738144152978711_8563791172225403072_nJim Ford’s a very sharp educational consultant who does a lot of work on charter schools. He led the charter school initiative at the National Council of La Raza and later was lead at the Raza Development Fund. He’s Denver-based and in addition to facilities financing and acquisition he also does strategic planning, technical assistance, financial management, board trainings, business development and fiscal work for charter schools. He has more energy than almost anyone I’ve ever crossed paths with. And, yes, he can fish. Here he is the other day in the Caribbean. Needs a new cap but the fish is nice.

Wait, isn’t this an education blog? Indeed! But it also is home to hundreds of pictures of education people with fish. Click here and also here to see them.

August 20, 2015

Can You Even Remember Your SAT Scores? FL Teachers Must! Landrieu Changes Lanes, Teacher Perceptions, And I Weep For Yale Students…Breaking: Common Core A Flashpoint!

Changing Lanes with former Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu. Carl Cannon and I took a car ride with Mary Landrieu the other day to talk centrist politics, New Orleans rebuilding, and her health care vote (which she would unhesitatingly cast again). She just can’t make her mind up about Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (includes Common Core politics). Also don’t miss this Atlantic article about what her brother Mitch is up to in New Orleans around violence. 

PSA - “Soft bigotry of low expectations” is not just a catch phrase.  In case you haven’t heard, Jeb Bush’s Common Core position is controversial!

The hardships of being a Yale student. In response to yesterday’s Times op-ed on Yale’s spending on money mangers that had all right-thinking people outraged, Matt Levine points out that,

Yale spent almost three times as much money on private equity managers as it did on students, but the private equity managers gave Yale almost ten times as much money as the students did. And Yale didn’t need to feed, house or teach them.

True, education really is a dog of a business. But if you actually want to see more endowment money flowing to student aid you have to convince donors that their money should go to student aid or unrestricted purposes. That’s hard when people want to endow chairs, buildings, and all sorts of naming rights kinds of things or particular initiatives that are important to them. Maybe stop beating up money mangers for their gifts to schools and instead beat them up for not giving unrestricted dollars or donations earmarked for student aid? Surely couldn’t be less productive than the current conversation. Also, most colleges don’t have endowments at all and for those that do most aren’t that big. So I guess it’s OK to get all worked up about the hardships of students at Yale (or similar schools) if that is your thing. But, it’s not really where the action is and if you’re spending a disproportionate amount of time worried about that rather than, say, the University of Connecticut, you might want to pause and think?

The hardships of being a teacher with good SAT scores. Florida wants to pay teachers more if they had good ACT or SAT scores. Cue the usual controversy, refusals, etc... Seems like two things are true at once here. SAT scores are actually a modest predictor of teaching performance – probably owing to the verbal ability required to do the job well. Not much attention to that in all the coverage (might spoil the fun and why break with tradition?). But, SAT scores and most other similar measures (including current credentialing) are swamped by the predictive leverage of, you know, actual job performance. In other words the best predictor of future job performance is past job performance in the classroom with real kids. (So, please pay no attention to our crazy and costly teacher credentialing regimes!) Also true, this Florida deal is sort of a crazy policy anyway. A better policy might be encouraging and incentivizing students with strong scores to find their way to programs in the UTeach vein? But that’s a lot of work. Too much apparently for Florida. Instead, Florida is kind of cutting out the middle man but not in a useful way. Fine thing to argue about though because everyone already has their talking points.

ICYMI – Opt-out students in New York mostly aren’t poor, diverse, or good at taking tests but there are a lot of them. And that’s why there is a political potency to their movement public officials should handle with care.

August 19, 2015

Education On The Campaign Trail, No Brunch Left Behind

Parents want more fruits and vegetables in school lunches. Unclear what it means for this USDA initiative.

Education will be a hot issue on the trail in New Hampshire today. That’s not something that happens all the time, or almost ever actually…Campbell Brown will discuss education with the candidates at The 74′s education forum. Highlights:

  • Gov. Jeb Bush: 9:00am
  • Carly Fiorina: 9:45am
  • Gov. John Kasich: 10:30am
  • Gov. Scott Walker: 1:45pm
  • Gov. Bobby Jindal: 2:30pm
  • Gov. Chris Christie: 3:15pm

You can watch live here all day.

Dem event coming in October.

August 18, 2015

Education Next 2015 Poll

The Education Next 2015 poll is out. Well done, a lot of meat in it.

What Now For The Opt-Out Movement?

Data released last week by New York State – the epicenter of the K-12 standardized test opt-out movement – shows that the opt-out movement there was far broader than critics assumed but also not as diverse as proponents claimed. I take a look at that and what might be next for the opt-outers and public officials in a U.S. News & World Report column:

Speculating about how many and what kind of students were opting out of standardized tests was a fun education parlor game this spring. Highly energized proponents claimed the opt-out movement was a diverse cross-section of public school students. Critics responded that, no, it was a movement of affluent white parents and not that many of them. And, as usual with education debates, most Americans said, “what?” Now, though, we have actual data from opt-out ground zero in New York State, released late last week, and it turns out the proponents and opponents of opt-outs were both right and wrong about what happened…

What happened? You can read the entire thing here. Share all the things you’ve opted out of and drop out and opt-in to Twitter and respond right here.

August 17, 2015

St. Louis Fed On College, Two Studies On NOLA, NLRB On NCAA F’Ball Unions, Waldron On CEOs, Bogus Stats, New Teachers, And More!

Important story in The Times about a new Federal Reserve study on race/ethnicity and college attainment and wealth. Classic ‘two things true at once’ issue. College is a great social mobility strategy for minorities and lower-income Americans but it’s also not a surefire way to address a host of other current and historical issues.

Three yards and a cloud of lawyers: National Labor Relations Board knocks down the union drive for athletes at Northwestern. It was these questions about how to make unionization work in the at once Balkanized but also common playing field world of college sports that derailed things.

NSNO on the New Orleans school story (pdf). Doug Harris on the same.

Curriculum Associates* CEO Rob Waldron talks about new ways to think about evaluating the CEO role and the net promoter question part of his compensation is tied to.  Karen von Klahr discusses supporting new teachers.

And here I thought the last Chicago teachers strike was about politics (The next one will be because the Cubs are doing OK so why not extend summer a little, right?).

Sandy Kress is blogging! This story about a bogus higher ed stat is illustrative in a few ways, none of them good.

*Former BW client.

August 14, 2015

Social Security’s Birthday. (A Nice Gift Idea Would Be Enrolling All Teachers)

Social Security is turning 80. The landmark social insurance program quietly works, is a great anti-poverty program, and its fiscal challenges are more manageable and less complicated than other entitlement programs (though certainly politically challenging for instance raising the contribution limits for higher income workers, which makes sense policywise but is a tough sell). Yet despite all this 40 percent of teachers aren’t covered (pdf), which creates a host of problems and some economic insecurity for them. And the teachers unions profess to love Social Security but resist efforts to extend it to all teachers and support changes that would interfere with the progressivity of the program. Leslie Kan has more at

If You’re Going To Mess With Chad Aldeman…Better Bring Evidence

Part 1: Teacher attrition might not be what you’ve been hearing….

Part 2: He will read your prior writings and haunt your dreams.

August 12, 2015

Education Candidate Forums For POTUS Contenders (Plus Flash Cards!)

The Seventy Four is hosting candidate forums with the R and D candidates for the White House. Not something that happens all the time on this issue. The R one, co-hosted with the American Federation for Children, is later this month on the 19th. It’s followed by the D one, co-hosted with the Des Moines Register, in October. In keeping with everyone’s shortened attention span (blame summer, blame Twitter) they’re compiling cue cards about the candidates starting with the Rs. Today’s is OH Governor John Kasich.

August 10, 2015

TNTP Is At It Again, Kan and Aldeman Back At, Warren On Accountability, Pell Grants For Prisoners, Our Dysfunctional Testing Industry: “Parents For Better Capital Markets?” More Charters For LA? Mead On Head Start, Smarick on Youth, And More!

Thanks to Chad Aldeman and Leslie Kan for looking after the place while I was gone.  Their posts are all below. I hope you got a taste of the pension issue, which is fascinating to work on because it’s complicated substantively and politically and the top-line answers “just go to 401ks” or “just fund the pensions and leave them alone” don’t actually work in practice. You can keep up with all of it via short blog posts, long analyses, and everything in between at

Motoko Rich has a big “teacher shortage” article out in The Times. Chad looked at part of that issue here the other day. And Sara Mead does today. It’s one of those where the aggregate data generally masks the real tale (and makes it an evergreen story).  We don’t have a generalized teacher shortage – in fact there is a surplus in many parts of the country. Rather, there are specific shortages based on areas of expertise (languages, hard sciences, special education) and geographic shortages causing acute issues in some communities. That was true before, during, and after the last recession. It’s also why in its early days Teach For America wasn’t replacing teachers in the communities it operated in, it was replacing non-teachers. That’s started to change as the organization has grown and entered into different arrangements with school districts (pdf).

Also in The Times, New York’s new teacher test survives legal scrutiny.

It’s easy to demagogue giving student aid to prisoners but it is good policy on a few levels, not least of all the human one. And anyone who thinks education benefits will entice people to commit crimes or reward them hasn’t spent much time in an actual prison or with actual offenders.

While we’re on the subject of legal scrutiny and prison Ed Week writes up the Chaka Fattah indictment in Pennsylvania given his education involvement in Congress, but there is a more direct education angle to the case. 

In general I think there are two kinds of policy research that add value. One is research that shows new things and can change how we think about things. The other is work that documents an issue that is generally understood but has not been really explained in a data rich way. TNTP excels at the latter. People understood that urban school district HR was broken or teacher evaluations were non-existent but it was detailed TNTP work that really galvanized action and improvement on these issues. Their new report on teacher development will hopefully have the same impact. Few people labor under the impression that teacher PD is useful to teachers – least of all the teachers who have to endure it – but it remains a multibillion dollar sinkhole.

Seven or eight(!) percent is hard! Getting agreement about pension policy?  Hard, too!

Please define “long-term.”  Sara Mead says teacher prep is education’s Superfund site. I really like this, of course. Sensible Chester Finn on the AP history revisions.

Elizabeth Warren is an accountability hawk on schools as well as banks. So is Sandy Kress, at least on schools. Student voice gets a $12 million round at Panorama Education.

So charter schools in Los Angeles are, on average, producing significant gains there compared to other schools (pdf). How much? About the equivalent of 50 extra days of school in reading and 79 days in math each year. That’s based on the CREDO analysis. Yet having more of them is really controversial and hard (for the adults, who get a lot of play in this article).

Sightly simplified and generalized here’s how the testing ecosystem plays out in practice: States put out specs for assessment programs that are generally unworkable in their entirety. Then they choose the testing company that is going to do the least bad job trying to meet the unworkable specs. When the testing copany predictably fails to do a good job the state often has little recourse because the penalty structure varies and in some states there are restrictions on damages beyond actual costs (which are generally low even if the impact is high). And states know that it’s generally not in their interest to fire the testing company because they already picked the one that would do the least bad job (firing your first choice to hire your second or third choice usually doesn’t make a lot of sense and you can’t just change assessment systems on a dime anyway). In addition, there aren’t that many companies to start with. The big for-and non-profit providers can be counted on barely more than a hand (and it’s not where the big money in publishing or assessment is anyway). So, it’s nice that Pearson is making a gesture like this one in Minnesota after some errors but it’s not where the action is. If testing critics were really serious about getting better test quality (rather than, say, no tests or no accountability) they’d be demanding real accountability for corporations doing business with states. That might help dissuade companies from entering into contracts with unattainable goals or fines that are just a cost of doing business and allow state officials to actually hold someone accountable when things go wrong. (They might also support more investment in new companies to help disrupt the industry some and bring in new players but don’t hold your breath. And “better capital markets” isn’t much of a rallying cry anyway). Otherwise, though, this is mostly a shell game.

Sara Mead unpacks the new Head Start regulations in this smart analysis. A still youthful Andy Smarick hangs out with the youthful innovators. 

August 7, 2015

Weekend Reading List

Some good weekend reads:

  • Catherine Gewertz on more states moving to the ACT* or SAT as their high school accountability test.
  • Sandy Kress doesn’t pull any punches on current NCLB reauthorization proposals.
  • Mary Nguyen Barry asks if we need a “NAEP for Higher Ed.”
  • Here’s the GAO on teacher prep and the lack of state oversight. Key quote: “Some states reported that they do not assess whether TPPs are low-performing, as required by federal law. 
  • And Sara Mead on America’s broken approach to teacher preparation.
  • On that note, Kevin Carey makes the point that researchers basically can’t tell universities apart from one another, because they’re just a collection if disjointed departments and faculty members. If that’s true for entire universities, what does that mean for colleges of education, which typically offer multiple distinct prep programs, each of which may only have a handful of students?
  • On enrolling newly hired University of California employees into a new 401k-style plan rather than the existing defined benefit pension system, Janet Napolitano said, “Pension reform needs to happen. It’s the responsible thing to do.”

*Disclosure: ACT is a former client. 

–Chad Aldeman

Teacher Shortage? Blame the Economy

*Cross posted at the blog

What’s causing teacher shortages across the country? Although it might be fun to blame your least favorite thing in education–the Common Core, say, or teacher evaluations or millennials–new research suggests the economy is the primary driver in the supply of new teachers (h/t InsideHigherEd).

The new paper looks at the college majors of students who turned age 20 between 1960 and 2011. Then, it linked the students’ decisions with data on macroeconomic trends to examine how business cycles affect student choices. Of the 38 majors included in the study, education was the biggest loser. When recessions hit, both men and women were less likely to want to become teachers and instead turned to fields like accounting and engineering. In number terms, the researchers estimate that, “each percentage point increase in the unemployment rate…decreases the share of women choosing Early and Elementary Education by a little more than 6 percent.” (For men it was even higher.)

To put that in context, the national unemployment rate rose from 4.4 percent in May 2007 to 10.0 percent in October 2009. Using the paper’s estimates, that would imply the recent recession caused a decline in female enrollment in elementary education of 33.6 percent (the 5.6 percentage point change in the unemployment rate multiplied by the 6 percent figure above).

A 34 percent decline due purely to economic conditions may sound high at first blush, but it would help explain much of what we’re seeing out in the field. For example, it would explain most but not all of the decline in program completers that we documented in our recent paper on California’s teacher pipeline. State-by-state changes in economic conditions may also help explain why some, but not all, states are experiencing declining interest in teacher preparation programs. (And all of these figures put Teach for America’s much-publicized 10 percent decline in perspective. So far, TFA has weathered the decline better than other preparation programs.)

While the declines are not good news for schools–it means they’re competing for a smaller number of candidates–a recent paper found that teachers hired during the recent recession tended to be stronger than those hired during better economic times.

What’s ironic about all current attention to teacher shortages is that teacher shortages are the exact thing that will lead to the next boomlet in teacher prep. The media will cover the shortages, districts will raise their wages to attract workers, and we’ll start this cyle all over again. And then the next recession will hit and we’ll be back to hearing about teachers who can’t find teaching jobs. And so on, and on…

–Chad Aldeman

August 5, 2015

Updated: Who Are the 12 Percent?

Last year the Center for Public Education (CPE) released their first report in a series on high school graduates who do not go on to college. In that report, author Jim Hull found that only 12 percent of high school graduates did NOT go on to college. When nearly everyone goes, the “college or career” dichotomy is mostly a myth (and a shrinking one at that).

CPE’s latest report in the series looks at what happens to these students. According to their analysis, some things don’t seem to matter–in general, the number of courses students completed, how much homework they did, or how involved they were extracurricular activities did not affect their future earnings potential. However, completing certain courses in math and science (and certain combinations of courses) and attaining a professional certification or licensure DID have an impact on earnings as well as non-economic outcomes like voting and volunteering.

Check out the full report here.

Update: My friend Ben Miller asked how this would change if we looked at high school students earlier in their career. Luckily, NCES has a national survey on high school sophomores and their outcomes 10 years later. For every 100 public high school students who were sophomores in 2002, 3 dropped out before graduating, 13 graduated high school but not go on to college, and the rest attended at least some form of postsecondary education (50 of the original 100 attained some postsecondary credential) within 10 years. See Table 1 here.

–Chad Aldeman

The Every Child Achieves Act Is Loose-Loose

Spend enough time in education policy, and you’re bound to hear someone articulate the concept that federal education policy should be “tight-loose.” That is, federal policy should be “tight” on the expectations for what students should know and be able to do, but “loose” on how students and schools meet those expectations. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli has been one of the most active champions of this concept, articulating in a 2011 “Briefing Book” (with Checker Finn, Fordham’s President at the time) exactly how this tight-loose construction should work. (The slogan became so ubiquitous that Fordham released a joke video in 2013 where “tight loose” played a prominent role.)

But times have changed, and although you may hear the same phrase, it no longer means what it used to. Petrilli now supports a Senate bill, the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA), that is loose on goals AND loose on means.

I’m not just aiming potshots at Petrilli for the sake of it. I consider Mike a friend, but I find it troubling that he and others seem willing to walk away from his good policy ideas simply because the political winds today are less friendly to federal involvement in education policy.

For my purposes here, Petrilli presents the opportunity to show that what used to pass for a sensible, “reform realist” conservative policy is now considered anathema. So as a useful historical exercise, here’s a list of key policy issues with how Fordham circa 2011 proposed tackling it, compared with how today’s ECAA does it. On nearly every aspect, the ECAA is looser than what Fordham and Petrilli supported just a few years ago:

Issue Comparison
Standards Fordham: “As a condition of receiving federal Title I funds, require states to adopt the Common Core standards in reading and math, OR to demonstrate that their existing standards are just as rigorous as the Common Core. Standards developed apart from the Common Core initiative would be peer reviewed at the federal level by a panel of state officials and content-matter experts…” 

ECAA: States must “provide an assurance that the State has adopted challenging academic content standards and aligned academic achievement standards,” but states are not required to submit their standards to anyone.


Verdict: Looser

Achievement Goals Fordham: “As a condition of receipt of Title I funds, require states to set achievement standards such that students will be college- and career-ready by the time they graduate from high school. Require states to back-map achievement standards down to at least third grade, so that passing the state assessment in each grade indicates that a student is on track to graduate from twelfth grade ready for college or a career. States…would have their standards peer reviewed at the federal level by a panel of state officials and content-matter experts.” 

ECAA: States must establish goals, “that take into account the progress necessary for all students and each of the categories of students to graduate from high school prepared for postsecondary education or the workforce without the need for postsecondary remediation,” but there is no federal oversight and the Secretary is explicitly prohibited from establishing any “criterion that specifies, defines, or prescribes…the specific goals that States establish.”


Verdict: Looser

Student Growth Fordham: “In the spirit of “tight-loose” and transparency, we think it’s reasonable for the federal government to require, as condition of Title I funding, that states be able to measure student growth.” 

ECAA: Student growth is left to state discretion, and the Secretary is explicitly prohibited from requiring states to measure student growth.


Verdict: Looser

Other Subjects Fordham: “Require states to develop grade-level science standards; for history (or history/civics/geography), require standards in at least three grade bands. Require annual testing in science and at least one test in history in each of the elementary, middle, and high school levels.”“States must report separately their schools’ reading, math, science, and history scores.”


ECAA: States must develop standards in science. They must test students in science at least once per grade band and release the results on state report cards. States may also administer assessments in other subjects at their discretion.


Verdict: Looser

School Accountability Measures Fordham: “State rating systems cannot be pass/fail, but should indicate a range of effectiveness.”“All schools should be judged, at least in part, by how many of their students are on a trajectory to reach college and career readiness by the end of the twelfth grade.”

“Individual student growth must feed into a school’s rating system, though states should have the flexibility to determine the specifics of this requirement. States must have data systems that make this possible.”


ECAA: States must establish “a system of annually identifying and meaningfully differentiating among all public schools in the State” that include student proficiency and graduation rates, in significant part, plus at least one other “valid and reliable indicator of school quality,” but states are free to weight factors as they choose and omit student growth. At their discretion, states could give schools binary pass/fail ratings.


Verdict: Looser

Subgroup Performance Fordham: “State rating systems must incorporate subgroup performance into school ratings. Schools may not receive the highest rating if any of their subgroups is performing poorly.” 

ECAA: State accountability systems must include all students and subgroups of students, but the bill does not include any protections if individual subgroups are low-performing.


Verdict: Looser

In sum, although some conservatives may want to claim the ECAA is tight on goals and loose on means, it’s actually loose on both.  If the bill goes forward as is, I think conservatives like Mike Petrilli will regret everything they gave up to get a bill, any bill, through this Congress. That’s a shame, because there is a small-c conservative vision for federal education policy that has real merit. It would start with setting national priorities for transparency on measures that matter (like student growth and college-readiness) and add in a strong federal role in research and innovation. One potential path forward would be to hold states accountable for student outcomes while leaving the details (content standards, assessments, curricula, interventions, and more) to the discretion of each state. The ECAA has none of those things. It’s just loose-loose.

–Chad Aldeman

August 4, 2015

Studies in Contast

It’s hard not to contrast two new studies out today:

In “The Mirage,” TNTP estimates that districts spend 6-9 percent of their budgets on professional development for teachers, which produces approximately 0.0 effects on student learning.

In “Good News for New Orleans,” Douglas Harris estimates that the suite of school choice reforms adopted in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina produced student learning gains of .2 to .4 standard deviations, at the cost of approximately 9 percent* of spending. For context on those effect sizes, Harris and his co-authors concluded they were, “not aware of any other districts that have made such large improvements in such a short time.”

*That’s a VERY rough estimate. The report cites a cost figure of $1,000 per pupil. For comparison’s sake, I converted it to a percentage of expenditures using Louisiana’s per pupil spending figures here.

–Chad Aldeman

“Best Practices” Can Be the Worst Practices?

Don’t miss the new TNTP report on costly, mostly ineffective professional development for teachers. The “best practices” that districts use to help their teachers improve may be a mirage that’s stopping them from pursuing new strategies.

–Chad Aldeman

August 3, 2015

Christie’s Politics Get in the Way of Pension Reform

*Cross posted from’s blog.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie certainly doesn’t beat around the bush. In an interview with Jake Tapper, New Jersey Governor said he prefers to deal with bullies with a “punch in the face.” Who deserves this? The teachers’ unions, according to Christie.

While this sort of brash talk may attract attention, it isn’t good for negotiating reform. Ironically, Christie actually has a good reform proposal. Christie’s pension committee calls for a cash balance plan, a type of defined benefit plan that accrues benefits evenly rather than the bumpy accrual of the current backloaded plan. The cash balance plan would provide better benefits for early and mid-career teachers who get shortchanged by the current plan and better fiscal housekeeping for the system.

But Christie’s politics are preventing this reform from moving forward. The teachers’ unions are still fuming over the Governor’s decision to go back on his promise and shortchange the pension fund.

As Christie continues to play with fire, however, he may stymie the state’s chance for genuine reform of its pension systems.

July 31, 2015

California’s Pension Sink Hole Just Got Deeper

*Cross posted from’s blog.

California’s pension debt is dizzying. The state’s collective unpaid pension debt is now $198 billion, up from $6.3 billion in 2003.  The California Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) makes up over a third of this debt, $74 billion unfunded. (These numbers look even bigger depending on what discount or interest rates are used.)

Complicating matters, the state can’t reduce any future benefits under an obscure, rigid legal doctrine known as the California Rule. Under the rule, workers are basically promised the same or better benefits as laid out on their first day of work; workers get what they’ve earned so far as well as future earnings. (A new ballot initiative may allow for structural reform and better public accountability, but is still up in the air.)

Put this together and it means that a younger generation of workers are stuck with the state’s massive bill. As we write in our new report, pension reform cuts typically fall on new workers, and now is the worst time in the past three decades to be a new teacher.

See for more info on California and other states, including interviews with former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and current Executive Director of the California School Employees Association, Dave Low.

Friday Fish Porn – A Cod Piece!

IMG_1448Tim Lee works on development at the EAO 50Can. Here he is with a cod he caught off the coast of Iceland. Weighed in at 35lbs. Hard to tell who looks more surprised at the situation, Tim or the fish?

This image is just one of hundreds of education types with fish they have caught carefully curated here. You can find them all via this link and a few recent ones by just scrolling down this page.