February 24, 2015

Pension Dollars: An Exception To The Education World’s Anti-Bullying Stance

Bloomberg takes a look at some pushing and shoving over where teacher pension funds should be invested in New York. I have no idea if Joel Greenblatt* is the best money manager for public pension funds and how his investments compare with other options, but I do think that whether or not he’s into charter schools really shouldn’t be a factor in whether public entities use his services. Pension funds are supposed to provide for the retirement security of the current and future retirees they’re serving, not act as political slush funds to bully people around various education issues (or other issues for that matter).

Here’s some background on this issue and also how teachers unions and private equity/hedge fund types are really frenemies when it comes to investment strategies.

*Don’t know Greenblatt (though I know Eva Moskowitz who leads the school network he is helping).

Update: Here’s a profile of Greenblatt’s education work. Apparently in addition to helping provide better educational options for low-income kids he also helped turn around a Queens elementary school. He sounds just horrible!

Update II: Word is the teachers unions are outliers on this at yesterday’s meeting, other city pensions want to invest with Greenblatt who apparently delivers results.  And here’s another article on this issue.

Homeschoolers & Sports Access

The issue of whether home school students should be able to play high school sports in the communities where they live is bubbling up again in Virgina. About 30 states offer some sort of access but fewer than 15 offer broad access. Virginia’s legislature passed a bill allowing access (with some conditions) and it’s now up to the governor to sign or veto.

I wrote about this issue a few years ago (here and here). With appropriate safeguards to ensure homeschooling isn’t used as a way to advance athletics I’m generally in favor of letting homeschoolers play. It’s a good way to tear down walls within education, bring people together, and broaden the pool of people with a stake in public schools. More importantly, while adults on all sides of this have their ideological issues – the kids just want to play. So if they’re good enough to make the team, why not let them? Not to put too fine a point on it but this is a classic case of adult baggage getting in the way of what’s best for young people.

Here are a few other wrinkles that don’t get as much attention but bear on the debate:

- The idea that the battle lines here are home school parents versus the education community is wrong. The education community is split on this and homeschoolers are as well. There are separate home school sports leagues and many in the home school world view the sports access issue as a camel’s nose under the tent toward more regulation of home schooling (Virginia has some of the most permissive home school laws in the country).

- The issue is not whether home school students get any guaranteed spot on a team, but rather whether they have an opportunity to try out.

- That’s why many coaches, especially in rural communities, are fine with allowing home schoolers to compete. Smaller schools and rural schools need every athletic kid they can get to be competitive. In suburban areas where there are more non-school based sports opportunities for kids and more players for coaches there is more opposition. That said, the politics around the issue in the education sports establishment are intense and when I was writing about this plenty of people expressed support – but were unwilling to go on the record. In Virginia opposition from powerful Northern Virginia education constituencies – where they don’t need home schooled kids to be competitive – could be a big factor in how the governor views the bill.

- The education community has strident debates about this but for everyone else it’s mostly a big yawn. According to VCU’s education poll 72 percent of Virginians supported allowing home schooled kids to play sports the last time the question was asked in early 2014. Only 24 percent were opposed.  Not surprisingly, current and former school employees were less likely to be supportive than the public overall. But, parents were more supportive than non-parents. Something that should give proponents hope: Younger voters (44 and under) are a lot more likely to support. Like other issues with a big generational split if the bill isn’t enacted now look for everyone’s views to “evolve” in a few years.

- Under current law there is a local option for home schooled students to take classes in public schools and last time I looked about half of Virginia counties offer the option. So the idea that there is some sort of impenetrable high wall between homeschoolers and public schools is at odds with the reality. And in states that allow home schooled students to play sports the overall impact has been negligible but it’s been meaningful for impacted students.

February 23, 2015

Common Core Confusion

New poll on Common Core and – surprise! – most people still confused about them. WaPo write up includes this gem:

Misperceptions were widespread, including among both supporters and opponents of the program and peaking among those who say they are paying the most attention to the standards.

ESEA Past, Present, Future?

I gave a presentation to the National Governor’s Association’s Education and Workforce Committee yesterday as part of NGA’s winter meeting. Here’s the slide deck I used, it takes a look at No Child Left Behind history, status quo, and opportunities for states (pdf).

February 20, 2015

Lomax And Emanuel On Shortfalls Of Pending Education Bills

In RealClearEducation United Negro College Fund CEO Michael Lomax and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel take a look at the Elementary And Secondary Act overhaul bills moving through Congress:

America cannot go backwards to a time when educational equity was optional. It’s time to put aside the false arguments, ideologies, and political agendas. Local control is not at risk. Our children are.

February 19, 2015

What If Today’s Education Leaders Are Exactly The *Wrong* People To Transform School?

I have a piece in U.S. News today, I’m going to start contributing there more regularly.  The lede sums up the question:

The education reform world is increasingly obsessed with “diversity.” Organizations and individuals are struggling to ensure people with different racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds have a place in the conversation about how to improve our schools. Although these efforts range from serious and thoughtful to plainly exhibitionist, it’s an important conversation – especially because public schools have never worked particularly well for minority students. Yet for all the attention to diversity, one perspective remains almost absent from the conversation about American education: The viewpoint of those who weren’t good at school in the first place.

This might be a problem and a blind spot. Big Picture’s Elliot Washor says it’s like a horse race with everyone wearing blinkers. He may be right and I’m a sucker for horse race analogies in any event. Read the entire piece for more on this question and how I think it impacts the norms of the field.

Do you work in education and weren’t good at school? Please send me your story! You can send it to me in 140 characters @arotherham if it’s really short.

Should (1st Grade) Students Lobby Their Governor For A Class Assignment?

This story seems to be kicking up a lot of strong feelings all around. On the upside, at least they’re learning writing!

February 17, 2015

Other Ways To Get News

I don’t keep a Twitter widget on this site but I do have a feed @arotherham I update pretty regularly during the week with a lot of content that comes across my desk (plus some random content). And twice a day (8am and afternoon) RealClearEducation rounds up all the news around the sector as well as leading commentary and reports and analysis. There is also an Eduwonk only feed that automatically tweets content posted here @eduwonk. You can follow Bellwether @bellwethered and Bellwether’s teacher pension work @Teacherpension. And here’s a list of Bellwether team on Twitter.

Pearson As The Root Of All Evil

Let’s say you’re in the leadership of a screwed up country where the quality of life for your citizens is not very good. Basic services are intermittent and life is chaotic or worse. One strategy to take their mind off of that, and the likelihood they’ll start to blame you for it, is to constantly villainize others. The U.S. and Israel play this part in the Middle East, for instance. It’s a tried and true strategy because…it works!

That’s pretty much what seems to be happening here in the education sector with regard to Pearson.* In case you’ve been living in a cave, Pearson is a large multinational publishing conglomerate that does a lot of work in the U.S. ed sector. You probably haven’t heard that they’re great, because only people paid to say so say that. But you may well have heard that they’re  awful, venal, corrupt, greedy, mendacious, you name it. Actually, you can’t turn around in this sector, or turn on Twitter, without bumping into someone braying about how Pearson is doing this or that horrible thing. And, yes, sometimes these things are genuinely bad acts. Everyone is frustrated with testing errors**, for instance, and there are certainly some legitimate concerns around data privacy. But most of what you hear is overwrought if not downright ridiculous – you really can’t hang school finance  on Pearson. No Child Left Behind, not really their doing. Common Core? The old system was actually better for them and other large vendors.  Current push to maintain federal law on testing – civil rights groups are pushing that along with a broad coalition.

In fact, when you think about the top threats Read the rest of this entry »

February 16, 2015

Superintendent Searches

Pegged to the leadership turnover in Montgomery County* in the WaPo Jay Mathews comes down hard on superintendent searches. Boards often benefit from a consultant to help manage the process but I agree with him on the value – or more specifically the lack of – with full-blown school district superintendent searches. We don’t do them at Bellwether except in very unusual circumstances because you can do them well (customized/tailored) or  you can do them in a way that is break-even or profitable (list of usual suspects). It’s hard to do both.

On the other hand, Jay makes a good case about candidates for this role, but I don’t find hard and fast lines about internal or external candidates especially useful. Leadership roles like this are situational and vary situation to situation.

*Jay’s greasing of Montgomery County is a little over the top though! These large suburban school systems are never as “world class” as their world class PR machines would have you believe.

Edujobs @ BW

If you’re not excited to be starting another week then check out some of the openings we have at Bellwether Education. Our team of fifty works hard but has a great time doing it on some high impact projects.

February 14, 2015

Obama Weekly Radio Address On ESEA

After a couple of weeks of back and forth on the Hill the President used his weekly radio address to talk about Elementary And Secondary Education Act reauthorization. Suffice it to say it wasn’t a valentine for Republican leaders on the Hill. You can watch and read it here.

Two things jump out. First, the President does say:

That means cutting testing down to the bare minimum required to make sure parents and teachers know how our kids and schools are doing from year to year, and relative to schools statewide.

That’s not exactly an endorsement of annual statewide testing or Secretary Duncan’s position but it’s awfully close. The President of the United States is not going to split hairs over local testing versus statewide testing in a weekly radio address at this point. (Update: Senior administration officials confirm this is the intent, common annual statewide assessments as in current law).

There are not a lot of words to use in those addresses and he could have just said nothing – especially within the architecture of this particular one. The teachers unions, seeing the issue of annual testing slipping away from them, have now pivoted hard to arguing for local assessments as an alternative to statewide assessments. It’s a great idea except it’s inefficient from a financial and quality point of view, would undercut equity efforts, and in many places would likely end up working at cross-purposes with the goal of having less testing. Otherwise, good policy! This is an important signal from the White House.

The second theme is more important in terms of the politics of a possible ESEA bill.  Class warfare in ESEA? It’s on! The president says:

At a time when we should invest more in our kids, their plan would lock in cuts to schools for the rest of this decade.  We’d end up actually invest less in our kids in 2021 than we did in 2012.

At a time when we should give our teachers all the resources they need, their plan could let states and cities shuffle education dollars into things like sports stadiums or tax cuts for the wealthy.

 At a time when we have to give every child, everywhere, a fair shot – this Congress would actually allow states to make even deeper cuts into school districts that need the most support, send even more money to some of the wealthiest school districts in America, and turn back the clock to a time when too many students were left behind in failing schools. Read the rest of this entry »

February 12, 2015

Edujob: Chief Of Research And Innovation @ AppleTree

AppleTree Early Learning Public Charter School and AppleTree Institute for Education Innovation in Washington, D.C., is seeking a Chief of Research and Innovation. Pre-K, charter schools, and this organization = big opportunity for innovation and impact. Great people there, stable leadership, impressive results. Learn more and apply via this link.


ImagineK12 is seeking another cohort of education start-ups. If that’s you then learn more and apply here.

February 10, 2015

Edujob: Comms Director, Deans For Impact

Deans For Impact is a new organization, led by reform-minded education school deans, and seeking to dramatically improve teacher preparation in this country. They’re hiring and one key role is communications director (pdf).  It’s an issue that most people see as one to watch over the next few years and DFI is organizing itself to be a high-impact organization. Something you want to be a part of? More details on this role here (pdf).

February 9, 2015

Edujob: 50CAN Advocacy Fellowships

Have you wanted to improve schools in your community but were not quite sure how? 50CAN is accepting another class of fellows for its advocacy fellowships.  It’s a 12 month fellowship with a $90K stipend to help give you the tools and skills. Applications due 2/28. More information and how to apply here.

February 7, 2015

Chad Aldeman On Annual Assessment

In the New York Times Chad Aldeman takes a look at why it’s the wrong time and wrong policy to walk back annual assessments.

February 5, 2015

Reading List

Some new books coming across my desk.

Mitch Pearlstein’s Broken Bonds (Rowman & Littlefield) looks at family structure but has education implications.

Hugh Price takes a look at what the military can teach schools in Strugglers Into Strivers (Small Batch Books).

Doug Lemov has updated Teach Like A Champion (Jossey-Bass) with a 2.0 version. It’s not just some new stuff, it goes deeper. One wag said recently that when your favorite band puts out a deep tracks album, of course you buy it. So if you’re a Lemov fan, there you go.

Dan Willingham is out soon with Raising Kids Who Read (Jossey-Bass)Classic Willingham deconstruction of the confusion around an important issue.  For parents and teachers.

Liz Arney has a sensible and sober look at educational technology in Go Blended (Jossey-Bass). Based on her work at Aspire Public Schools it’s about the hard work of making ed tech pay off for students.

Jack Jennings takes a look at the history of federal policy and some new ideas for next steps in Presidents, Congress, and the Public Schools (Harvard Education Press). Worth it for the history alone.

Edujob: COO Kauffman Schools

Kansas City here you come! Great opportunity at the Kauffman Schools in KC. Opportunity for real impact for the right person. Learn more via the link.

February 3, 2015

Edujob: CEO, Cincinnati Schools Accelerator

Great opportunity in an interesting city. The Cincinnati Schools Accelerator is seeking a CEO. If you are interested in city-based education reform strategies and have the background this is a tremendous opportunity. This new organization is a nonprofit that will dramatically change educational outcomes in Cincinnati by focusing resources on attracting and growing proven school models and building the talent pipeline needed to fuel a local system of high-performing schools. More information and specs through the link.

Should Charter Schools Be Forced To Backfill Seats?

Important op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today about the issue of backfilling seats in charter schools. Princess Lyles and Dan Clark – two charter school supporters – argue that because charters can decide whether or not to admit students throughout the school year or in every grade (some schools start cohorts of students in a particular grade, say only 5th, 7th, or 9th for instance) thousands of students are being denied access to good schools.* Authorizers and charter laws should require backfilling throughout the year and in every grade Lyles and Clark argue.

Reaction was swift. As soon as the article hit Twitter Fordham’s Mike Petrilli responded that, “I’m sorry …but requiring #charterschools to backfill seats is a terrible idea.” I’m not so sure and would file this under the broader bucket of issues facing the charter school sector as its share of students grows overall and especially in communities where charters educate a third of the students or more. Read the rest of this entry »

February 2, 2015

Nuance On Charter Schools And Special Education

The New York Times takes a look at new data on charter schools and special education there.

CRPE takes a look at special education and charters in New Orleans and sets the stage for what’s next there on special education policy (pdf).

Why The Nationwide Super Bowl Ad Haters Are Wrong

During last night’s Super Bowl Nationwide Insurance ran an ad as part of its #makesafehappen campaign. It definitely was not puppies and horses. Instead, Nationwide portrayed all the life events a child killed in a childhood accident would miss.  Here’s the ad:

Those watching the game hated it and lit up social media in response. OK, no one likes to get a big sad when they’re eating dip and watching men concuss themselves. But bravo to Nationwide for putting the issue of preventable childhood accidents front and center in a high visibility way. It’s not a contrived issue. Preventable injuries kill a lot of children, even accounting for car accidents.

Conservatives saw the ad as an extension of a soft nanny state society. But the ad wasn’t about things like letting your kids run free outside (I do that) or letting them go sledding (I do that, too), or rope swings (that, too!) or biking (yes) or climbing up things (constantly). Rather, it was about preventable accidents involving household items, burns, cleaners, tubs, and so forth.  If conservatives want government out of people’s lives they can’t then protest ads (from the private sector no less) reminding people not to be idiots or even just inattentive – especially where children are involved.

The left, meanwhile, is obsessed by guns. But while you frequently get asked if you keep a firearm in your home (by babysitting co-ops, play groups, and so forth) rarely does anyone ask if you leave deadly chemicals where toddlers can get into them or whether you have secured heavy items to the wall so they can’t topple on curious little ones. And while sharpshooting toddlers are apparently a problem, for most kids it is a household cleaner, appliance, or falling bank of shelves posing a greater risk.* Not to be too glib about it, but while you’re obsessing about keeping your children in close proximity to kale, the Nationwide ad was a good reminder to be mindful of their proximity to a lot of stuff more likely to seriously harm them than a Twinkie.

Bottom line: Accidents affecting kids are a real issue. That’s why it’s not Nationwide being soft, it’s people who can’t be distracted from a football game and funny ads about chips for a 45-second dose of real life that just might save lives.

*Firearm accidents for young people make news but are relatively rare, more so than poison, burns, suffocation, and other accidents that get less attention. Homicides involving guns are a different story.

New Whiteboard Advisors Education Insider Survey Data

New data from the Whiteboard Advisors Education Insider survey (pdf). Includes perceptions on prospects for President Obama’s community college proposals, various K-12 issues, and student data privacy policy.

January 29, 2015

Teachers And Social Security

Chad Aldeman and Leslie Kan on why teachers should all be enrolled in Social Security – 40% are not right now.

January 28, 2015

Chait Is Not PC!

Jon Chait takes a look at the reemergence of some debates about political correctness and language policing. Implications for the K-12 sector and playing out in higher ed. Also implications for the liberal – progressive divide in the Democratic party, an issue that also affects education policy.

21st Century Skills

The 21st Century Skills movement is mostly a repackaging of ideas (with powerpoint, natch) that have been around for centuries – just previously the province of a few. But this looks like it might qualify as a genuine 21st Century Skill?

January 26, 2015


Finally, some evidence that the nation’s focus on STEM is starting to pay some dividends.

Teacher Pensions In Colorado

Few reach the peaks – that’s the reality of Colorado’s teacher retirement system for teachers. And it’s also, by coincidence, the title of this new TeacherPensions.org analysis of Colorado’s teacher pension system. Good example of how in all the talk about the fiscal issues around teacher pensions there is not enough attention on the more pressing problem that these systems just don’t work that well for most teachers.

January 22, 2015

Should Young Farmers Get Extra Student Loan Relief?

Farming is capital intensive. That’s one among many barriers to young farmers trying to break into farming and also an obstacle to transfer of farm property outside of families and a contributor to the loss of farm land.

The National Young Farmers Coalition* wants to see farming included in the list of public service occupations eligible for loan forgiveness. On the upside, it would help young people moving into farming. Student loan debt can be a barrier to financing other farm related expenses. On the other hand, the change would broaden the program’s definition in a way that raises program integrity questions because farming is not a non-profit activity and there is ownership and assets involved.

What do you think, should farming be covered? Why or why not?

*I’m on the NYFC advisory council but am not involved on this issue.