October 15, 2014

Education Insiders On Common Core, Elections, Vergara Spread, And More

New data from the Whiteboard Advisors Education Insider survey. Includes Common Core, election implications, Vergara and more. You can read the deck here (pdf).

Tuck – Torlakson

It’s looking like the money race in the heavily-watched race for California state ed chief may be closer than it looked like it would be earlier this year. Tight race overall, too.

Teacher Voice Via @ TNTP Fishman Winners

Great set of essays from the winners of TNTP’s Fishman Prizes.

October 13, 2014

Teacher Prep

Interesting and long look at one kind of teacher prep in The Times. Features Aspire Public Schools.

October 6, 2014

Anne Hyslop On What NYT No Child Left Behind Story Missed – Updated

Guest post by Anne Hyslop:

In 12 years of No Child Left Behind there is probably not a better example of the discord between how school accountability policies are perceived and how they actually work than this weekend’s New York Times story about Lakeridge Elementary School, just outside of Seattle, WA. In interviews with teachers, administrators, and parents, Motoko Rich gives a vivid picture of the on-the-ground reality this year in Washington state. Educators are confused,demoralized, and frustrated with changing accountability targets and strategies now that the state lost its federal waiver and must again fully comply with No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

Yes federal policy is complicated, particularly as NCLB and waiver accountability systems collide in the Evergreen state. But it’s not too much to expect the nation’s premier newspaper to get key features right. So while Rich’s account is worth reading, it needs some important clarifications.

1. Lakeridge wasn’t suddenly “declared a failing school under federal education law” once the waiver expired. First, NCLB doesn’t label schools as “failing”–it labels them as “failing to make Adequate Yearly Progress” (AYP) based on whether certain student groups (for instance minority, low income, special education students, or English Language Learners) met academic targets in reading and math, or made sufficient progress toward those targets based on prior performance (safe harbor). So it’s a fun turn of phrase, but there is no “federal blacklist of failure,” as Rich claims.

Nor is there an “impossible” 100 percent proficiency requirement that schools must meet, and that’s no small detail in how the policy works. NCLB does not require 100 percent of students to be proficient, because of technical features in AYP calculations (e.g. exclusions of special education students, n-size requirements, the application of confidence intervals for test scores results, how many students must be assessed at each school, and more). And because of safe harbor, the deadline for reaching the mythical 100 percent target isn’t even 2014, but rather several years away.

But those are minor problems compared to the fact that, as DFER’s Charlie Barone noted, Lakeridge actually made AYP last year due to safe harbor. I’ll repeat: Lakeridge made AYP. In other words, NCLB worked, in its complicated way, and recognized that the school had made progress since its last NCLB checkup (taken after spring 2011 test scores, before the waiver). Oops.

2. Rich’s article describes Lakeridge’s progress and the hard work of its leadership and staff, spurred by a $3 million federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) in 2011. The school got a new principal, replaced teaching staff, increased instructional time, and began a partnership with the University of Washington’s School of Education to offer their staff richer, research-based professional development. And while there’s no definitive link between the two, test scores at Lakeridge have improved significantly since that last NCLB checkup in 2011. In other words, the SIG program is working, or at least appears to be, with positive changes in the school’s culture and student performance.

3. Rich’s article does not, however, mention that these improvement efforts were reinforced by Lakeridge being named a priority school in 2012-13 and 2013-14 under the state’s NCLB waiver. Lakeridge isn’t one of those schools that was “let off the hook” because its state got a waiver and could now identify fewer low-performing schools. If anything, Lakeridge was under more scrutiny as a priority school (and SIG school) than it was as one of many Title I schools in improvement under NCLB. And the interventions Lakeridge had to implement as a priority school were much more rigorous than those expected by NCLB. Plus, Lakeridge received significant resources to implement these strategies and build its capacity to do so effectively, both through SIG and through the Title I funding flexibility Washington received as a waiver state. In other words, maybe the waiver accountability system was working pretty well too.

In short, the story of Lakeridge shows how complicated the No Child Left Behind policy debate actually is when you get under the rhetoric. In different ways, and to different degrees, the school was helped by policies of both President Bush and President Obama.

So why did Rich single out this school as the poster child for all of NCLB’s absurdities? Probably because Lakeridge only made AYP for one year (it missed AYP based on 2011 tests, but made it based on 2014 tests)–and the school needs to make AYP for two years before fully exiting improvement status according to NCLB rules. So Lakeridge remains in corrective action, its pre-waiver status, and must set-aside 20 percent of its Title I funds to support school choice and tutoring programs this year instead of using that money to continue its waiver turnaround activities. Reasonable people can disagree on the efficacy of that tradeoff based on the mixed evidence on turnarounds, public school choice, and tutoring, but there’s no doubt that local educators are frustrated both by the school’s new label and their loss of control over Lakeridge’s improvement plan and Title I funding.

Somehow being labeled “failing” by NCLB is much worse than being a priority school under waivers, even though the priority label is reserved for only 5 percent of Title I schools and comes with comprehensive turnaround efforts (similar to those Lakeridge adopted). On the other hand NCLB’s , most severe penalty includes a loophole that allows schools to dodge significant restructuring. The key difference is that waivers trust districts–and low-performing schools–to set the terms of their improvement and allow them to align and leverage federal dollars to support that plan. Some of this trust was misplaced (take a look at the waiver monitoring reports from various states, and the numerous issues flagged with priority schools). But in some places with strong local leadership and commitment, it appears to not only produce a more friendly accountability system, but also one that produces results.

So, no, Lakeridge isn’t a “failing” school, even by NCLB’s “impossible” benchmarks (when we pretend those things are not a fiction). But for the educators at the school its return to its NCLB status surely still feels like a punishment for two years of hard work. There is a lot of nuance in all this, but Rich’s take merely, and wrongly, reinforces NCLB’s reputation as a much more severe form of accountability than any required by waivers.

I get the desire for a clean break from NCLB’s bad reputation and the ever-changing, ever-more-complicated NCLB waivers. And it’s easy to see how Rich went in with some preconceived notions based on all the rhetoric. But before we rush to adopt a “new accountability,” let’s first make sure we understand the policies we have. For all the talk about unreasonable standards, that hardly seems one.

Anne Hyslop is a senior policy analyst at Bellwether Education.

Update: Editors note. The Times updates the story with a correction per some of the issues above but persists with the “failing label” language. When you talk about NCLB the difference between “failing” and “needs improvement” is not a small one or semantics.


American Educator takes a look at CTE. Important issue as the gap between potential and reality of CTE is real but there are   plenty of promising models out there. Timely given the Common Core debate and post-secondary debate more generally. Update: (Link fixed)

Mystery Shopping

Parker Baxter on a housing policy approach that also can work in education: Mystery Shopping.

October 3, 2014


Governing is taking a deep dive on Memphis, here’s first installment.

What Do Teachers Think About Common Core Implementation?

Scholastic – Gates Foundation teacher polling project out with new data today. Trend data and check-in on Common Core implementation.

Big Money Education Politics – Enjoy It While It Lasts?

Dmitri Melhorn rolls up all the political spending by the teachers unions to make the case that they’re a big force in education politics. That’s undeniably true and over the past decade they’re among the very biggest spenders in federal races. Big Oil, Big Tobacco, Big Telecom, and Big Teacher. Their state spending and support for all manner of groups and organizations in and around the education sector is also a powerful leverage play.

But there is an interesting disconnect here, in the two things are true at once sense.  Yes, the political largesse gives teacher union officials and lobbyists a great deal of access. A level of access most lobbies envy. Yet at the same time when the average teacher says they don’t feel heard by their elected officials you can see why the feel that way. Elected officials and their staff talk to teachers union representatives constantly, actual teachers much less often. And responding to the needs of one is not always the same as responding to the needs of the other.

More generally, my sense is that we’re seeing the high water mark of this kind of spending. This could certainly be wrong but three trends are ominous for the teachers unions in their current form over the longer term.

First, the courts may prove their undoing. While everyone is talking about Vergara , the California work rules case, the long term cases to watch are the ones concerning collection of dues in the public sector that are now winding their way through the federal courts. It seems likely that in the next few years the Supreme Court will decide that at a minimum collecting dues for political purposes must be an opt-in rather than opt-out activity. Some analysts think they will go further on public sector dues rules. A restrictive decision would be a political game-changer in terms of funding.

Second, the sector’s demographics are simply not in the unions’ favor. What Vergara really showed, regardless of what happens on appeal with the legal issue underpinning the case, was just how archaic the work-rules in education are and the disconnect between those rules and norms and the more dynamic and performance-oriented parts of the American economy – especially in the professional services sector. To be brutally blunt about it, people going into teaching increasingly don’t want to be treated like DMV clerks. Fix that problem and the unions either evolve to genuine professional organizations or they go away. Don’t fix that and prepare for the decline of public schools as a broad-based American institution and in increase in various kinds of non-unionized schooling options. Either way, the widespread industrial-era approach to organziing and managing schools is done except for the politics.

Third, politics are not running in their favor over the long haul either. Who knows what will happen in this year’s statehouse races, it’s a tough year to be on the ballot in either party. Yet governors who have taken on the teachers unions, most notably Scott Walker in Wisconsin, have survived efforts to punish them. Most immediately, what Walker did has dramatically changed the public employee landscape in Wisconsin. In terms of the politics Walker’s political base is the conservative exurban counties, yes, but the exit polling from the effort to recall him showed that even private sector union households were split on their position on his recall – which failed. In this year’s Rhode Island Democratic primary for Governor pension-reformer Gina Riamando beat back an onslaught from the teachers union – again in a primary.

Polling consistently shows (as does even a casual look at the nation’s editorial pages) that the teachers unions have a brand problem. Over time the political relationship between hard hat private sector labor and the public employee unions is an untenable one. If Republicans (and Democrats) truly wanted to marginalize the teachers unions they’d be moving heaven and earth to help private sector labor get back on its feet and become a force again. Don’t hold your breath for that though.

More generally, a subtle indication of the political problem occurred earlier this week. Marshall Tuck, running for state ed chief in California released a funny campaign ad with a bunch of celebrities. His opponent, the incumbent Tom Torlakson, responded with a video with the state teachers union head. That’s what they call a market signal. Related, something Melhorn didn’t get into is just how much of the positive visibility the teachers unions enjoy within elite media is pay-to-play rather than earned.  The lack of earned goodwill, too, is a market signal.

There was a sense in the late part of the last decade that there was a chance for a shift toward a different kind of teacher unionism, I saw the opportunity as did others – that hasn’t happened. And the price for it will be real. That’s why these spending numbers are interesting as a window into current politics but ultimately seem more likely to be interesting as a high water marker of an era that’s heading toward its end.

Cameron On Education

There is some back and forth cross-pollination between political parties in the United States and the U.K. That’s why the education part of this recent David Cameron speech, the positioning, is worth noting heading into 2016 as the ideas primary heats up next year here at home.

Pensions And Scale

In a guestpost at TeacherPensions.org Chris Lozier puts some perspective on the teacher pension funding shortfall numbers that are frequently tossed around.

Friday Fish Pic – Take A Kid Fishing

IMG_0776Here’s a lovely picture of the daughter of Ellevation’s Jordan Meranus enjoying a day on the Colorado River near its headwaters last month. It’s not her first time on the blog, here’s one from 2007.

If you want to browse the world’s largest collection of education types with fish, more than 100 pictures, including – John Merrow, Jane Hannaway, Tim Taylor, Jim Griffin, Jim Ryan, Mark Medema, Paul Herdman, Kim Farris-Berg, Jamie Jo MacMillan, Rob Snowhite, Richard Whitmire, Joe Siedlecki, Renee Rybak, Josh Reibel, Ben Wallerstein, Van Schoales, David Whitman, Nicola Allen, James Willcox’s mom, and many more – then click here.

Got a picture? Email it to me.

October 1, 2014

Edujob: Office Of CO State Sen. Mike Johnston

Here’s an opportunity that doesn’t come along very often -working on policy in one of the most beautiful states in the country. Not enough? Well it’s also working for someone widely regarded as one of the most dynamic young elected officials in the country, too. Colorado State Senator Mike Johnston is hiring, you can learn more here (pdf).

School Of One At Five

The School of One initiative in New York City schools (since spun out nationally from the school district as New Classrooms*) was always an initiative to watch for a few reasons. It was bold and leading edge and it was happening inside a school district. At five it offers some lessons and two of the players behind it are reflecting on them. You can follow along here.

*New Classrooms funded Bellwether to analyze policy plays to expand and improve the quality of personalized learning initiatives (pdf).

ELLs In Action

Conor Williams takes a look at issues affecting ELLs around the country and in Minnesotta.

September 30, 2014

Edujob – COO @ Ewing Marion Kauffman Schools

The Royals aren’t the only thing that’s hot in KC. The Kauffman Foundation supports a charter school network there. They are searching for a COO. More details on the role and how to be considered via this link.

September 26, 2014

Medler & Baxter On Collapses And Willingham On Dissection

Some new content over at RealClearEducation:

Alex Medler and Parker Baxter with a look at charter authorizing and the avoidable collapse ritual.

And if you missed it, Dan Willingham dissects dissection.

Friday Fish Porn – Silver Gold

P1010446Jamie Jo MacMillan is executive director of the Idaho-based Albertson Foundation. She’s also serious about fishing (see this great pic of her with her dad last year). Here she is in Alaska this month with a fantastic coho salmon.

Want to see an exclusive collection of 100 pictures of education people with fish? Then click here. Have your own great fish pics to share – email me!

September 24, 2014

Laurence Tribe On Vergara And Its Larger Issues

Writing in USA Today Laurence Tribe doesn’t pull punches.

My support for curtailing teacher tenure and last-in, first-out layoff rules when they put the needs of adults before children is not a departure from my progressive roots. Rather, it is a natural and common-sense outgrowth…

During my career, I’ve written and litigated on behalf of progressive causes such asmarriage equalityreproductive freedom and gun control. I doubt you could find a more fervent defender of teachers and collective bargaining….

But the right to unionize must never become a right to relegate children to permanent second-class citizenship. The outdated California laws the court struck down make no sense for the teachers they were intended to protect, or for the students whose learning is the very reason for the education system’s existence…

Progressives should be part of the solution. We can’t succumb to simplistic defenses of the distorted teacher protection schemes. We must confront the demonstrable effects of these laws. The future of public education and of the teaching profession can be brighter only when we place students’ rights first and foremost on our list of priorities. 

Education X-Prize, Common Core 180 Explained, And Can State Officials Regulate Homeschooling Curriculum?

RealClearEducation interviews with the designer of the new $15m X-Prize for global learning and with leading Common Core opponent New York principal Carol Burris. Also interesting legal issue on homeschooling curriculum.  Also plenty of links to all the leading education news, analysis, commentaries, and reports.

September 19, 2014

Friday Fish Porn: Fall Magic

IMG_2878Ben Wallerstein is a founder of Whiteboard Advisors and is involved in all manner of education projects.

He also has a honey fishing spot in the Wyoming backcountry, home to more public land than you can possibly explore in a lifetime. He was there this week. Nice trout. Some of his past fish via this link.

This time of year it doesn’t take much to get me to that part of the country – the days are crisp, the fishing is usually red hot, and the crowds long gone.  Give a talk to ten people at your Chamber of Commerce meeting that happens to be by the Roaring Fork or Madison Rivers? I’m in!

Only risk is weather but a  little snow never hurt anyone and can heat up the fishing anyway with crazy hatches. And, as you can tell from this pic, snow not an issue on this trip as you’re as likely to get a 70 degree day in September.

Wondering what fly fishing has to do with education? Not much. But here are about 100 pictures of education types with fish dating back to 2006. It’s the only collection of its kind!

September 17, 2014

The Three-Year College Degree?

It’s getting to be ideas season with the presidential campaign set to being in earnest in just few weeks. Paul Weinstein has an early entrant in the ideas primary: A three-year college degree. It’s not the seven minute abs of higher ed policy, check it out.

September 16, 2014

EduJob: Director, DC Metro-Area Education Pioneers

Education Pioneers is a high-impact pipeline for talent.  They’re seeking a director for their DC-area operation. Great opportunity to not only help organizations now but also help build the network for talent coming into the education sector. Details here.

September 15, 2014

Edujob: Senior Director & Chief Of Research – PLE @ UVA

The Partnership for Leaders in Education* is an innovative program at the University of Virgina jointly sponsored by the education school and business school there.  The PLE works with struggling schools around the country and is producing results for school districts. They’re seeking someone to lead their research efforts to help learn more about what’s working and document it. Great role in an interesting organization inside a dynamic university. And Charlottesville consistently ranks on lists of best places to live, best outdoors towns, and so forth. It’s truly a lovely place to live.  More details here.

*Past BW client.

September 12, 2014

Reading Partners

“Fixes” blog in The Times takes a look at Reading Partners – and mentions recent MDRC eval.

High School Rankings, Context Please!

Libby Nelson turns in an interesting piece critical of high school rankings in Vox. It caught my eye because she focuses on the Newsweek approach to high school rankings, an approach I’ve criticized as well (pdf).  In my view it rewards the wrong things.

But two aspects of Nelson’s argument are worth a closer look. First, she inexplicably ignores the U.S. News high school rankings – which were designed to address the very shortcomings she raises. (Full disc, subsequent to our analysis of the Newsweek rankings I became a contributor to U.S. News in 2007 and helped design the rankings methodology). No ranking is without flaws but the U.S. News method takes into account equity issues. In particular the rankings consider achievement gaps, economic disadvantage, and college preparation. The result is that it’s not merely a list of selective admission (or affluent) public schools.* Open-admission schools crack the top-10 and the top 100 is an interesting list every year.

Second, Nelson writes that,

College rankings, at least in theory, are responding to a need in the market. Students applying to prestigious, selective colleges — particularly students who have the academic qualifications and the financial means to go to college anywhere — have quite a few to choose from. Enter rankings, a way to sort through it all.

Public high school doesn’t work this way. The most useful information for you is what the best high school in your city, state, or school district is. If you’re the parent of a smart kid in Scottsdale, Arizona, who cares more about academics than anything else, you might try to get into the BASIS Charter School via lottery.

This is true but incomplete in two ways. First, the U.S. News rankings allow you to break out schools by state or type of school so the geography becomes more bite-sized for parents. And knowing how your school stacks up on these measures relative to other schools near it is useful.

Second, yes, college is about choice. If you want a small northeastern liberal arts college and live in California you can still choose to go to Colby in Maine. And if you live in Maine but want a big land grant experience you can go to a Big 10 school. But there is value in knowledge even without geographic flexibility. Just knowing what the highly ranked high schools are doing and how they’re doing it can help other schools – especially if rankings consider things that matter, like effectiveness serving low-income students. Granted, in education today that sort of curiosity and culture of learning is quite ironically frequently absent. Too often the culture is about tearing down rather than building up. Still, from the start U.S. News has taken steps to foster it via various types of collaboration and dissemination.

*Lost in all the back and forth about public charter schools, which are lottery-based if over-subscribed, is the reality of selective admissions public schools, which almost no one complains about and are common. Score another one for politics.

Friday Fish Porn: The Roza Return

photo photo-2The Roza family are fish porn regulars here.

They’re back today with some action from Labor Day weekend in Idaho.  Today, one of Marguerite “Commodore” Roza’s daughters and her husband with some nice looking trout.  Roza is a school finance expert, currently based out of Georgetown University but working all over the country.

Eight years(!) of past fish porn via this link, all sorts of education types and their families with fish they’ve caught.

September 10, 2014

Edujob: Research And Policy Associate, Thomas B. Fordham Institute

Get your Gadfly on! Fordham is hiring for a research and policy associate. Fast-paced think tank doing work on a variety of issues (and they have a roof deck). Great opportunity in the DC education policy community. Learn more about the role and its requirements here.

Edujob: IDEA Public Schools

Bellwether is helping IDEA Public Schools with its Director of Communications search.  Check out the position description on our site. This position plays a leadership role in developing an integrated internal communications strategy, growing and strengthening the network’s brand, and positioning IDEA as a thought leader and quality education advocate at the local, state and national levels. IDEA has a mission-centric, entrepreneurial, and high-performance culture where people who are good fits thrive.