April 9, 2021

DC Wins Coveted Golden Ticket, NAACP & Reading, Talking About Learning Loss – Or Not?

On assessment waivers DC wins a golden ticket. The letter fits within the policy framework the administration announced, but the pressure campaign continues. Here’s something about special interest politics that’s obvious but too often forgotten: While you’re out living your life, or thinking about this or that issue, getting outraged on Twitter, or whatever the advocates who care a lot about one thing are focusing on that one thing.

(If you want to be really cynical about how that works there is the classic book. Maybe a little less cynical Demosclerosis. And here’s the academic version.)

Also on assessment, the conversation about potential impacts from the pandemic on learning still seems a little confused and directionless. Seems like that might matter given a 27% increase in annual education spending is on offer. I’ve been in meetings where leaders in our sector have said, all with great conviction,

a) focus on learning loss intensely, with a keen eye toward equity to help kids get back up to speed

b) Kids have learned all sorts of other great stuff over the past year, things are OK, lose the deficit mindset

c) Measuring stigmatizes

d) Measuring is essential

Thankfully The Times offers some clarity. No, wait…

A trend that hasn’t received enough attention is NAACP chapters around the country are starting to demand more seriousness on reading instruction. This letter specifically calls out “learning loss” and explicitly says, “adding a bit of phonics to a balanced literacy lesson is not enough.” It’s great to see given how political reading is and how much better we can do.

April 8, 2021

Odds & Ends: All Your Divisive Issues In One Place!

Coming attractions – Pedro Noguera and I will be doing a session to help kick off Ed Tech week. That’s 4/19 and that week.

Jonathan Zimmerman on free speech via WSJ($):

I’m glad that conservatives have embraced free speech, but I’d also like to see my fellow liberals reclaim it. We need the courage to speak up again for free speech, which remains the best vehicle for righting the wrongs of America.

There is a line of thought from John Stuart Mill through Frederick Douglas and then more recently with MLK and John Lewis (and even more recently via Mighty Ira and Jon Rauch) about how and why free expression is fundamental to progress and justice. It is striking how much a conviction that our times are just so unique and unprecedented it calls for new approaches is putting pressure on that argument.

From the land of Lincoln:

You know, you can find few people not directly or indirectly in the pay of the teachers union who looked at Chicago’s education scene and said, ‘you know what the teachers union needs there? More control, that’s what!’ That’s why the mayor, Lori Lightfoot by the way, not some union-busting conservative or libertarian think tank darling, opposed the effort to expand the scope of collective bargaining there. But it happened.

I’d pay attention to it. Chicago is not Vegas, what happens there doesn’t stay there and all that. We saw that after the seminal 2012 strike. Lightfoot is admirably vertebrate in her dealings with the teachers union and they wanted to make the point that you can deal with them in the city or the state capital. They did that and it’ll get noticed.

I don’t want Mike Antonucci’s job, but also on the union beat this interview got AFT head Randi Weingarten in some trouble. The claim floating around Twitter that Weingarten is antisemitic seems ludicrous – she’s married to a rabbi so that would be pretty awkward. But she can certainly get ahead of herself in the heat of the moment – think “polite cousins of segregation” for another example  – when the politics are intense or cross-pressured. Seems like that happened here:

I think some people are very skeptical of the power that they perceive teachers unions to have. They look at, for example, the ongoing struggles in Los Angeles, where they see this big dollar figure of aid being given for school reopening and are baffled by the perceived resistance of teachers to going back to work.

[Weingarten:] I have a very pointed response here for Jews making this argument.
American Jews are now part of the ownership class. Jews were immigrants from somewhere else. And they needed the right to have public education. And they needed power to have enough income and wealth for their families that they could put their kids through college and their kids could do better than they have done. Both economic opportunity through the labor movement and an educational opportunity through public education were key for Jews to go from the working class to the ownership class.

What I hear when I hear that question is that those who are in the ownership class now want to take that ladder of opportunity away from those who do not have it. Am I saying that everything we do is right? No. Are people in Los Angeles fearful? Yes.

If Helen of Troy was the face that launched a thousand ships, this was the interview answer that launched a thousand “what the actual f” emails.

Via The 74, Kevin Mahnken reports on the political fight about transgender students and school sports:

Joanna Harper, a sports researcher at England’s Loughborough University and herself a trans runner, observed that various proposals to address the issue for teenagers all come with downsides. In an interview, she set a goal of “being as inclusive as we can possibly be without destroying the competitive balance.”

Joanna Harper, a researcher at Loughborough University (Joanna Harper)

“It’s so hard,” said Harper. “How do you tell a 15- or 16-year old that they have to go on hormone therapy to play sports? It’s an extraordinarily difficult thing to say, but for these very high-performing athletes, it does create a conundrum.”

To others, one consideration supersedes all others: the need to welcome trans children into all aspects of school life, including sports. Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, the executive director of the advocacy group GLSEN (previously known as the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network), said that no claims around competitive fairness could justify treating trans students any different from their cisgender peers (i.e., those whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth).

“To use words from another civil rights fight, we know that anything separate is not equal. We know that when we start differentiating across lines of identity, young people will not be served by that.”

Posted on Apr 8, 2021 @ 3:07pm

April 7, 2021

Sky Not Falling – At Least Not Yet

Matt Barnum on the “massive” teacher shortages:

Ultimately, Goldhaber argues, the conversation about teacher shortages and staffing challenges should shift from concern about nationwide shortages to persistent challenges in specific schools and subjects.

“Talking about this in a generic way does not move the debate forward,” said Goldhaber. “It does not point policymakers toward the problems that exist even when people are not talking about this issue.”

This 2019 Bellwether analysis from the before times gets at the lack of nuance in how we talk about teacher shortages relative to the data – for obvious political reasons. Part of the latest hype is the opening bid in what to do with all the federal money hitting school districts soon. The ARPA is creating a Dawson City and a lot of people want to sell picks and shovels.

April 2, 2021

Friday Fish Porn – First Of The Year

It’s starting to warm up.

Here’s education entrepreneur and NYU adjunct prof Jonathan Harber with a rainbow trout from the Connetquot River on Long Island.

If you fish, we overweight fly fishing around here but all kinds of fishing is welcome and appreciated, and are somehow involved in education (or even your kids or grandkids) send me pictures for posting here. Rookies and veterans welcome. They become part of this archive of hundreds of education people with fish pics, think of it as a low-budget NFT.

Posted on Apr 2, 2021 @ 10:51am

March 29, 2021

Odds & Ends: Charter Alum Voice, State Of Play On Testing Waivers, Teacher Prep…More!

Posting will be light this week, someone really important to me is turning 100(!) so my week is oriented around that.

Eight Black Hands spilling some open secrets about how our field rolls.

Via NCTQ, everything you wanted to know about teacher prep policy but were afraid to ask.

Via Next100, charter school alumni perspectives.

Here’s a good taste of what wavers look like so far, some states told no on blanket requests not to test, but Colorado’s it worth checking out. 

Off-edu but here’s a good look at Pittman-Robertson in action with some fun content at the top. Even if you’re not interested in conservation, it’s a good example of what a dedicated revenue stream can do.

March 26, 2021

March 25, 2021

More Math – And Representation

We spend a lot on ed tech, probably more than you think?  Here’s Laura Slover and Mike Cohen on assessment policy for this year. Bellwether’s annual report is here.

Fordham has an unfinished learning wiki.

Two follow-ups from yesterday.

On math, I was wondering about whether the key elements of algebra are what make it an equity tool or if it’s more about the reality that if you take algebra in 8th-grade in 9th-grade you’re taking geometry and your schedule keys off of that since it’s aligned with other college prep classes. In that latter case the role of algebra as an equity tool is as a tracking disruptor. Or it could be both of course.

Mathalicious founder and math expert Karim Ani, who has a must-read book on math coming soon, responded,

You ask a good question about Algebra as a gatekeeper. You could make a good case for 7th grade, since proportionality is such a huge concept in math and life. But Algebra seems reasonable as a focus. It’s the course where kids do their first deep dives into functions and relationships between variables, which is a major foundation of everything to follow. Also, algebra synthesizes a lot of material from before. So if a kid absolutely blows it in middle school, they can still catch up reasonably well if they succeed in algebra and be in good shape for what’s to come.

We also talked about this issue of how various groups and advocates don’t always represent either the median view or range of views of people they purport to represent. In our sector some of this is ingrained elite bias. But some of it is also the way various organizations are set up and a function of special interest groups overall. And some of it is unavoidable, large groups of people are diverse, it’s a big country, and all that.

It begs an obvious question though – are there exceptions? I’d say yes to some extent and one I’d note in our sector is AASA, they represent school superintendents. I used to work there in the mid-90s so speaking of a bias I probably have one, but it seems objectively that they have a policy decision process that means their policy positions broadly reflect where the median school superintendent is on the issues of the day. It’s one reason they’re sometimes in a different place than the Council of Great City Schools, an organization that represents large mostly urban school systems. And why on some issues, for instance special education policy but there are others, they’re often outside of the Washington consensus. I don’t always agree with them but this approach seems like a good thing. And I’m struck how when you talk with superintendents, either informally or in settings like this, they tend to be more aligned with AASA than when you talk to people represented by some other groups. 

To a certain kind of person that makes AASA suspect because they’re outside that consensus and sometimes unpredictable. I remember an earnest education lobbyist for a major interest group once instructing me that all education interest group politics was supposed to be a front for Democratic Party politics and deviation from that was a problem. That seemed to me like something a membership organization should make clear to its members at a minimum if that is what they are signing up for?

And it’s obviously something that happens with Republican leaning groups as well. The recent dust up over the Chamber of Commerce endorsements seemed like a healthy development. Because, if you think that viewpoint diversity and vigorous debate about varying perspectives is an instrumental part of progress then less lockstep is refreshing. Especially now.

March 24, 2021

Odds And Ends: If It Bleeds It Leads, Algebra, Book Thought Experiment, More!

Don’t miss Bellwether’s annual report and we’re hiring for a pretty key role – COO.

If it bleeds it leads, as they say. This is one way coverage in the education sector is distorted. Another is an adult-focused politics, so more stories about battles between adults about school opening than say about millions of kids missing from school. And a third, I’d suggest, is frequent lack of attention to base rates. So student mental health or teacher attrition or school violence is reported by isolated statistic absent context to help consumers understand what’s a spike versus what’s a consistent trend or anomaly.

Also seems like this issue Freddie deBoer coined a “synecdoche problem” is one in education, too. For instance, everything you think you know about pods might be wrong?

Related, if you had to assign just one book to help people understand the education sector and how it rolls, would it be Knowledge and Decisions by Thomas Sowell or A.O Hirschman’s Rhetoric of Reaction? (Yes there are others, of course, but if you had to choose between these two!).

BMGF announces initial winners of their Algebra challenge. Seems like an important effort, some great orgs including some Bellwether clients. Something I wonder about, though, is that the value of Algebra in 8th-grade is an article of faith in a lot of circles. But could it be a proxy for other things or something basic like taking Algebra puts you on the right school schedule to take college track courses – so it’s really a proxy for disrupting de facto tracking more than anything about say linear equations per se? Lisa Delpit wrote a book that gets at some of that and I recommend. In other words, is algebra a concrete and actionable way to address the pervasive race and class-based low-expectations facing a lot of kids or is there something about the content of algebra itself? I’m not a math expert, obviously, so this could be totally off-base, but I wonder if there is a content / form kind of thing going on here?

Past pro here and pro-and con here algebra debates around these parts.

There was a dark 1999 education-themed film with Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick called Election. I thought of it reading this.

Bellwether’s Annual Report & We’re Hiring A COO

We released Bellwether’s annual report today, looking back on 2020 (I know!). It’s an overview and sampling of the myriad things we did and do across the organization. 220 different projects for 142 organizations. And we collectively acquired ten new pandemic pets, like Tyler here. Much more inside.

It’s also a good way to familiarize yourself with us because we’re hiring for a COO.

The COO is a member of Bellwether’s senior leadership team and works closely with leadership to ensure that key initiatives, like the annual budgeting and goal-setting process, are well structured, planned, and executed. Throughout the year, the COO manages and supports the team to ensure Bellwether can achieve goals set out in its strategic priority areas. The COO is also responsible for engaging Bellwether’s board of directors.

Learn more and apply here.

And we’re hiring for some other roles as well.

March 22, 2021