December 12, 2014

Next Generation Assessment

Peter Hill and Michael Barber take a look at the horizon (pdf).

Six National Takeaways From The CREDO Ohio Charter Report

Earlier this week CREDO, the education research outfit at Stanford led by Macke Raymond, released another in its series of city, state, and national evaluations of charter school performance. This one was on Ohio (pdf). The studies are an amusing Rorsarch test for charter critics. The ones about places where charters are underperforming are widely cited and CREDO is presented as an august institution to be heeded in a Solomon-like fashion. When one comes out showing a city or state where charters are dramatically outpacing other schools it’s crickets or suddenly CREDO is another front group for “corporate reform.”

Actually, CREDO is none of those things but it’s a good research shop offering a great analytic view into how charters are playing out in different places. This week’s Ohio analysis, in broader context, offers some important lessons.

First, beware the ecological fallacy. Not every charter in Ohio is dreadful and there are some quite good ones. That said, overall the state is a charter debacle. If your only experience with charter schools was Ohio it would be understandable if you thought the entire idea was essentially flawed. Within Ohio there are cities doing a better or worse job. For instance Cleveland, the site of some interesting charter innovation, is an outlier high within in the state. Also pay attention to the different impact on different socioeconomic, racial, and ethic groups. Still, the overall story remains discouraging.

Second, this isn’t new. Ohio has been a laggard for some time and despite multiple evaluations pointing this out for more than a decade (Sara Mead and I included it in multi-state charter evaluation we led in the early part of the 2000s and things were not good then). More importantly, the state has missed numerous opportunities to improve its policies and by extension its charter operations. Policy mistakes in the early going of chartering were par for the course, that’s what innovation looks like. But Ohio has failed to learn from its own experience and the experience of other states that are higher performing. That’s inexcusable. The CREDO analysis says that more recent reform efforts are only, “dimly discernible” in the charter data. Bellwether is working with some charter leaders in Ohio on ways to use policy to accelerate the pace of improvement.

Third, policy and practice matter, this is not a crapshoot. There are places around the country that are much higher performing. CREDO analyses of Los Angeles, New Jersey, Massachusetts (and specifically Boston), New York City, and elsewhere show that charters can dramatically change achievement and outcomes for students if policymakers get the balance between freedom and accountability right. What does dramatically look like? In Los Angeles the effect sizes are equivalent to 50 days of additional reading instruction and 79 days of additional math instruction. On Massachusetts and Boston CREDO reports,

…on average, charter students in Massachusetts gain an additional one and a half months of learning in reading over their [traditional public school] counterparts. In math, the advantage for charter students is about two and a half months of additional learning in one school year. Charter students in Boston gain an additional 12 months in reading and 13 months in math per school year compared to their [traditional public school] counterparts.

Extended learning time anyone? Read the rest of this entry »

December 5, 2014

Education And Mobility

On Tuesday Fordham hosted a conference in D.C. on the issue of social/economic mobility and education. It produced a set of interesting papers, you can and should read them all here and I enjoyed participating. But the underlying question seemed to be whether the idea of college for all is a misplaced emphasis for education reform.  A few thoughts on that:

First, when did college for all who aspire to it become college for everyone? I don’t know anyone who thinks everyone should go to college, needs to, or that college is the only path to a fulfilled, impactful, and well-lived life. I do, however, know plenty of people who think that kids who want to go to college should be able to and that too few poor kids go (more on that in a minute).

Second, at the Fordham event ideas about multiple pathways and even tracking were discussed with a clear undercurrent that we ought to be counseling more poor kids (and others) toward routes like that. This points up the very complicated questions of who decides, how, and based on what criteria? Everyone points to the Europeans here but ignores important cultural differences in how we think about education, gates to various paths, and second chances. In our country these routes have a poor history with second class education for lower-income Americans. These approaches also raise hard questions about how much we want our schools to be vocational and choice-making vehicles and how much we want them to be about preparing people to be able to make choices. And, related, how much we want schools to be able to prepare people to course correct if they realize a few years after high school that they made a choice that wasn’t the right one for them.

Third, right now about nine percent of low-income students get a B.A. by the time they’re 24, about one in five finish some post-secondary degree in that timeframe. B.A.s for  affluent kid by 24? More than four in five. One hypothesis is that poor kids are not suited for college. Another, that I subscribe to, is that the outcomes we see are the result of a tremendously inequitable K-12 and higher education system that simply doesn’t work well for the poor. I’d be a lot more comfortable with a conversation about who shouldn’t go to college if it was predicated with an unambiguous declaration that a lot more poor kids can and should be going now.*

Fourth, this conversation cannot be divorced from the reality that for all of its promise technology is wreaking havoc on the job prospects of many Americans and changing the kind of work done here at scale.

Fifth, we obviously need better vocational, technical, and career education in this country. It’s such an obvious point it should go without saying. But the idea that these routes are oppositional to better academic preparation and preparation that leaves the door open for students to make choices after high school is belied by some experience. SREB’s Gene Bottoms wasn’t at the Fordham conference and that’s a shame. These are not new issues.

Finally, why should more low-income kids go to college? Because it’s the best social mobility strategy we have right now as a country. This brief from Ron Haskins (who presented at the Fordham conference) does a nice job of showing just how powerful college is. If you’re poor and you go -and finish – you’re unlikely to remain poor and if you don’t the odds are against you. The data are compelling and in fact show that college matters for more low-income Americans than the affluent in terms of economic outcomes. Unfortunately, those data are apparently not as compelling as a broad set of politics that largely insulate a failing status quo from real change.

*Not to imply that this is easy. It’s a complicated tapestry of highly-effective k-12 schools, counseling and guidance, college support and financing. But it can be done.

RiShawn Biddle On Policing And Education

At RealClearEducation RiShawn Biddle takes a look at the intersection between policing and education and challenges reformers to do more.

December 4, 2014

Jeb Bush And Education

A lot of speculation about former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and a White House run and what it means for education given Bush’s Common Core support – something he’s not backing away from even in the face of activist pressure that will be an issue in a Republican primary.

Today, Ramesh Ponnuru writes for Bloomberg that,

“…Bush’s stand on Common Core won’t help him much in the general election. For the most part, it isn’t an issue of federal policy. So he has stumbled into a fight with the party base that won’t yield him any long-term political gains.”

That’s probably partly right. Common Core won’t yield Bush many gains but voters are craving authenticity and Bush seems a skilled enough politician to wrap his Common Core stance up in that larger theme for a general election and even a primary. More interesting, though, I  don’t think Bush cares. Agree with him or not, he’s in education because he thinks it’s the right thing to do, not because it gets him much political traction except with the media and reformers.

A few years ago I interviewed him for TIME and in a passage that didn’t make it into the published interview Bush said,

“Normally in politics you try to do things where there is a political benefit.  You believe in the policy and you want the policy to be of some political use.  It’s better when you get the intersection of good policy and politics combined.   In my experience as governor [education] was a constant struggle and I didn’t get the political benefit of building constituencies that benefited from our reforms – which were significant, top 5 almost every category people look at, particularly in the younger grades.  It hasn’t translated into political benefit.”

Yet it didn’t matter, Bush said, because in Florida

“I could win my political things other ways,”

The political question now, looking ahead to 2016, is whether it’s possible to win politically in other ways or if Bush is politically checkmated given the mood of the Republican primary electorate? In general the specifics of education policy do not matter much in presidential elections but here’s a place they just might.

*A question reformers should wrestle with is how to create a politics of reform that doesn’t depend on politicians with a ‘damn the torpedoes’ approach or ones who can win their political things other ways. Sustainable long-term reform ultimately depends on politicians who can win with reform not despite it.

December 3, 2014


Former NJ education commissioner Chris Cerf punches back on the debate over Newark schools.

December 2, 2014

Inequality, Mobility, And Education

Fordham is hosting a conference on those issues today. Agenda here (pdf).  You can watch in real time here.

Update: Papers here.

November 26, 2014

Edujob: Office Manager/Executive Assistant @ Bellwether

New and important role in Bellwether’s D.C. office, great chance to join our team of about 50 professionals (based across three additional offices in Chicago, Bay Area, and Boston as well). More details and how to apply here.

November 25, 2014

Joel Klein On NYC, New Book, And Education Reform

Joel Klein sits down in the Changing Lanes interview car (in this case the Eduwife’s Honda) to talk about his new book and education more generally. 

November 24, 2014

Whitmire: Charters One Day, Cords The Next…

splitterEducation policy’s renaissance man? Richard Whitmire analyzes education policy one day, and then splits a few cords of wood the next. He can also fish (see here and here). His most recent book, about the Rocketship charter network, is here.

November 21, 2014

Where To Find EduLinks

Blogging light today/week because of some other responsibilities. But many links to new reports, studies, and timely news (and a Nick Lowe/Johnny Cash tune) on my Twitter feed. And also RealClearEducation rounds it all up for you comprehensively and viewpoint neutrally twice a day. 

And if you are not already, be sure to check out Ahead of the Heard, the new Bellwether blog.

November 20, 2014

D.C. Leads The Way?

In a RealClearEducation op-ed Richard Whitmire and I take a look at D.C. as a microcosm for broader education trends in light of last week’s new charter data.

A decade ago the debate about Washington D.C.’s public schools turned on school vouchers. How many students in the city’s beleaguered schools should get a lifeline out and how many national Democrats would break ranks and support vouchers? As a new report released last Friday makes clear, the questions now are how fast can the city’s booming public charter school sector grow and how quickly — not if — the city’s traditional public schools can improve as well…

Read the entire thing here.

November 18, 2014

Edujob: Writer At New Schools For New Orleans

New Schools for New Orleans is hiring a writer for an editorial role that also includes comms functions. Great organization doing high impact work to improve the overall quality of educational options in New Orleans. You can learn more about this opportunity here (pdf).

November 17, 2014

Bill Raabe On What’s Next For Teachers Unions

Longtime NEA staffer Bill Raabe reflects on the election and what’s next.

November 14, 2014

Edujob: Vice President, Kern Family Foundation

Innovative and sunsetting (but not for a few years!) foundation seeking a vice president. Terrific role with potential for real impact. Learn more here.

November 13, 2014

Bellwether Education Blog Training – December In D.C.

On the topic of blogging, another Bellwether blogging seminar coming up, December, in Washington, D.C. The session is free and a great chance to work with leading writers and social media experts. Learn more and learn how to apply here.

November 12, 2014

New Edublog: Ahead Of The Heard


Bellwether’s new team blog, Ahead of the Heard, launches today. It’s a place for different team members to share different perspectives about what is happening in the sector.

Ahead of the Heard will be a regular home for commentary, analysis, and original insights from the Bellwether team. To learn more about the name of the blog and what you can expect to see, check out Sara Mead’s welcome post.

You’ve read smart guest posts from Bellwether team members here at Eduwonk in recent weeks — they now have Ahead of the Heard as a platform for ideas and conversations. Eduwonk will still be here but this will be a new way to get content from various analysts and practitioners on Bellwether’s team.

Up now at Ahead of the Heard are posts about how recent elections affect Preschool Development Grants, a landmark school finance ruling in Texas, and the importance of precise legislative language.

Check out the blog here. You can subscribe to get an email digest of posts by clicking here.

November 11, 2014

Aoun On Veterans And Education

At RealClearEducation Northeastern President Joseph Aoun takes a look at veterans and education.

Guest Post: Veterans Are the Education Leaders We Need

Guest post by Bellwether’s Jason Weeby: 

Less than 1 percent of Americans serve in the military and even fewer go to war. For those who do and return home safely, it is a life-altering experience that is incomprehensible to 99 percent of the people that surround them. And for all the visible and invisible wounds that service members incur, they also bring home valuable skills and a unique brand of leadership that the education sector needs.

About a year and a half ago, I launched the Sector Switcher program at Education Pioneers where we recruited mid-career military professionals for leadership roles in education nonprofits. Many of them were veterans of recent wars. Through the process, I was surprised to see how the skills and knowledge they developed during their military service align with what we need in system-level education leaders today.

Military leaders learn to complete a mission within the structure of a bureaucracy and with the people provided to them, limited resources, and significant externalities at play. They learn to be adaptable in ambiguous situations and think in terms of systems. They analyze situations methodically, put a plan in place, pursue it doggedly, and learn continuously. Many are responsible for the safe return of hundreds of subordinates and millions of dollars in equipment. But more importantly, they’re driven by a purpose larger than themselves.

Almost every single service member I talked to said they were interested in pursuing a career in education because they yearned for a job that provided them the sense of service to others they felt as part of the armed forces.

It’s Veterans Day and I want to challenge you to think beyond the platitudes and caricatures that tend to dominate the holiday and consider the tremendous leadership and management capabilities that veterans, today especially those of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, can bring to the civilian workforce when they separate from the military. I know that I’d count myself as lucky to work alongside one.

Jason Weeby is a senior fellow at Bellwether Education. 

November 6, 2014

Education Insiders On The Election

Whiteboard Advisor’s Education Insiders on impact of Tuesday’s election (pdf).

Edujob: Chief Talent Office, UP Education Network

UP Education Network, a rapidly growing non-profit school management organization focused on school turnaround (and a Bellwether client), is looking for a Chief Talent Officer to develop a vision and strategy for talent across both UP’s central office and schools as the organization scales. Great opportunity to play a critical role in helping a great education organization address one of the greatest obstacles to scaling successful education orgs. More information here.

November 5, 2014

Election Reax

Short early reax on the election. Full round-up of education election news at

- Obviously a good night for Republicans. From an education standpoint that’s not as interesting though as what a bad night it was for the teachers unions. They seemed mostly unable to influence targeted races – even in swing states. Their 0-3 record against Scott Walker post the Wisconsin collective bargaining showdown should cause some soul searching.

- That said, in strong blue states they still seem powerful on straight up education issues. The Tuck – Torlakson race is evidence of that. And that has big implications for reform and also portends more Democrat v. Democrat tension on the issue.

- Democratic pension reformers and charter school supporters won in Rhode Island. Coupled with the Massachusetts governor’s race things could get interesting on charters in the northeast. But both those races involved issues beyond education.

-In terms of direct impact on education the governor’s races and continued Republican gains in state legislatures will likely be more consequential than the power shift in Washington.

- You’ll hear some overwrought commentary in the education world in the next few days about what this means in 2016. Looking at the exits and the map Republicans still have a big hill to climb to the White House and depending how things go the next few years probably still face a tough issue environment in that campaign.

- HI pre-k went down. So did the Nevada education tax ballot initiative. Wash State class size too close to call this morning.

Update: Indy school board results.

November 4, 2014

New York City Takes A Turnaround On Turnarounds

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio rolled out his new school turnaround strategy there yesterday.  Key details TBD but it’s hard not to see it as a backing off of the more aggressive approach of the Bloomberg administration.

Key questions:

- Where has this approach worked at any scale?

- Why is it a choice between better supporting students and schools and also taking aggressive steps in cases of persistently low-performance?

- Given the evidence on turnarounds, would these resources have a greater impact if targeted at middling schools while continuing a more aggressive strategy on the lowest-performing ones?

- And, the track record on turning around the lowest-performers is pretty stark. In the context of that evidence base do those parents and children deserve more immediate relief now?

Four Things Watch For On Education On Tuesday Night

A lot going on in the midterm elections, some directly about education and some that will affect education through more general changes in politics. Here’s what I’ll be looking for on Tuesday night:

- Magnitude of Senate outcomes.  Who wins control of the Senate matters, but in a closely divided Senate a majority doesn’t get to just work its will because of how the body operates. So keep an eye on the magnitude of the outcome. Is there a GOP wave? Do Democrats outperform predications? And what’s the margin of victory in some key races, for instance New Hampshire, Colorado, or Georgia and margin of victory for safe seat moderates like Virginia’s Senator Mark Warner. (If you tune into Virginia a few House races worth watching, too, in Northern Virginia swing districts. House control isn’t at issue but those races will offer some important political clues on the nation’s mood.)

- Tuck v. Torlakson. The race for California ed chief is turing out to be a fascinating one. There is stark divide between the candidates – who are both Democrats – about the direction of education reform. It’s a microcosm of a larger point of friction within the Democratic party over education. And while Tuck was initially overmatched financially it looks like in the end both sides had enough money to get their messages out. This is a telling race in a bellwether state and definitely the headliner in the education world.

- Teachers union power.  The unions put a lot of effort into this cycle. They are going after governors they despise (Wisconsin’s Walker, Michigan’s Synder, Florida’s Scott, and Pennsylvania’s Corbett). The PA race is a gimme given Corbett’s performance in office but the others will tell a lot about their power today.  Rhode Island is also one to watch, who wins and the margin of victory in the races for governor and lieutenant governor there – both with Democratic candidates the unions are not happy with in that union stronghold – has implications for moderates and reformers in the Democratic tent.

- Ballot initiatives and school board elections. Down ballot issues should be interpreted with caution because they can be so contingent, but they still also offer some signals. In particular higher education in Oregon, taxes for education in Nevada, and a pseduo-class size initiative in Washington State bear watching. There is also a fascinating pre-K referendum in Hawaii. And  keep an eye on the school board races in Indianapolis.

November 3, 2014

Nazaryan On Klein’s Hope

Joel Klein’s book, “Lessons of Hope,” comes out this week. There will be plenty of chatter about the parts dealing with Diane Ravitch but there is a lot more to it than that (and Klein wisely gets that out of the way in the early going). In Newsweek Alexander Nazaryan turns in a long review with some nuance including a passage that sums up the cause of a lot of the intergenerational education tension today.

Missed Opportunity: The Teachers Unions Lost The Media, Now They’re Losing Everyone?

I try to make a habit of going back to op-eds and columns after a few years to see how they stood up (for instance this one does, I think this one doesthis one I’m not sure). Recently Richard Whitmire reminded me of an October 2009 op-ed we wrote for the Wall Street Journal about the changing media climate facing the teachers unions.  We revisit it today in a RealClearEducation commentary pegged to the California state education chief race.

October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween! Peter Cunningham Says ‘Boo!’ To Randi Weingarten

Former Arne Duncan hand and current EdPost leader Peter Cunningham pens (pixels?) an open letter to AFT President Randi Weingarten in Ed Week. It comes on the heels of a similar piece by TNTP’s Ari Rozman earlier in the week. 

Too much to pull quote, it covers a lot of ground. And it’s worth reading whether you agree or not because it more or less sums up what everyone in the ed policy world who is not professionally vested in the union is saying (and that includes reform skeptics who are nonetheless dismayed by the climate).  More to the point: The kabuki will continue but it seems doubtful that Arne Duncan’s former comms director would make a statement like this without clearing it with his former boss.

Also worth thinking about audience. It’s easy to forget that union leaders are elected officials, too, and so they play in different ways for different audiences. Weingarten, in particular, is very good at code-switching between strident unionist for her members while positioning herself as open-minded on reform for the nation’s elites (remember when ‘everything except vouchers is on the table’ for a DC audience?). But in today’s tech heavy environment where everything is recorded, reported, and lives online there may be a half life to that strategy. Or perhaps not. We’ll see. In any event, only the members vote so the bottom line is clearer than it was a few years ago.

October 30, 2014

Public Opinion

Morgan Polikoff with some tough (but much needed) medicine on public opinion research in education.

October 28, 2014

RealClearEducation Common Core Assessment Map

The RealClearEducation Common Core assessment map – it’s interactive and shows who is doing what – is updated to reflect recent changes. You can view it here.

October 24, 2014

Friday Fish Porn – More Bellwether!

IMG_0045Last week it was Bellwether’s Sarah Kramer with a rainbow trout. This week it’s Bellwether Associate Partner Alison Fuller with an Alaskan salmon.

Not enough fish? Then click here for an archive of Fish Porn pictures back to 2006 with an array of education figures.