May 8, 2015

Friday Fish Porn – Frying Pan Edition

IMG_1215Simmons Lettre is a co-founder of Charter Board Partners, a smart capacity building non-profit that helps improve the quality of charter school boards through governance training and training for board members.

She found herself in Colorado last week for work and did what anyone should do in that situation – went fishing.  In this case on one of my favorite rivers. Here she is with a lovely rainbow from the Frying Pan that she took on a tiny midge. A tailwater known for its truly ridiculous hatches and off-the-wall dry fly fishing, during the summer season the Pan gets crowded and the fish get cynical. But this time of year and in the fall there are few better places to spend a day. Located in an out of the way canyon near Basalt it is home to a lot of fish, and some big ones. The Pan flows into the Roaring Fork and then ultimately into the mighty Colorado.

Friday Fish Porn? Whaaaat? Here’s a nine year running compilation of well more than a hundred  education types with fish they’ve caught.

May 7, 2015

Personalized Learning And Federal Policy

New Bellwether analysis takes a look at federal policy and personalized learning – where the friction points are, what can be done.

But as lawmakers, advocates, and analysts dust off old arguments about the nation’s most significant K-12 education law, they run the risk of ignoring the future. Where NCLB was bold in its vision—all students proficient by 2014—the current proposals are remarkably lacking in ambition and new ideas. Innovation has been relegated to the fringes of the debate.

One of these innovations is personalized learning, which involves transforming students’ daily experiences so that they are customized to their individual needs and strengths. Through new kinds of learning environments, new technologies, and new ways for students to demonstrate their knowledge, personalized learning aims to meet students where they are and allow them to advance to more challenging material whenever they are ready.

Entire paper here.

You can also read Bellwether’s playbook for personalized learning quality and expansion here.

May 6, 2015


Two things to read today on this testing debate. Justin Cohen pushes back on the post below (great nsfw line, too) and some of the criticism of the Oliver segment. He makes a good point about the joyfulness issue. But most schools were, and are, joyful places – and we should note that what’s joyful differs for different people. Don’t mistake all the rhetoric for the on the ground reality. And, in the political world, some of the toxicity is a deliberate strategy to shut down debate and change. And it works! That’s why we have this bizarre situation where trying to improve a system that results in nine percent of low-income kids finishing college by the time they are 24 (among other poor or mediocre outcomes) is so controversial.

Also check out the letter from civil rights organizations on the testing issue. I don’t agree on the opt-out issue, seems like public schools have little to gain and a lot to lose by fighting opt-outs.  But that’s because it’s ultimately a marginal issue unless people fan the flames. This point, however, is important:

Our commitment to fair, unbiased, and accurate data collection and reporting resonates greatest in our work to improve education. The educational outcomes for the children we represent are unacceptable by almost every measurement. And we rely on the consistent, accurate, and reliable data provided by annual statewide assessments to advocate for better lives and outcomes for our children. These data are critical for understanding whether and where there is equal opportunity.

But except in extreme cases some opt-outs don’t destroy the ability to do that. Their basic point though is an important one. Meanwhile, Jay Greene is almost certainly right about the politics here though. So that’s the puzzle to solve.

May 5, 2015

John Oliver Knows Better Than You! Charlie Barone Probably Does! Lawrence MA, Charter Waits, And More

The idea of a center-to-left coalition focused on broad-based education reform has captivated reformers, including me, like a mirage in the desert. Today Charlie Barone writes about the potential in RealClearEducation.

A lot of people chattering about this John Oliver segment on standardized testing. My take: Yawn. I doubt that too many viewers of that show are really wide open on many issues, seems like a place where people with strong priors go to have them confirmed. But I might be too cynical. Substantively, I guess I’d rather stand with these guys than a TV comedian on an issue that matters to millions of youngsters – especially the most disadvantaged youngsters. But here’s a thought exercise: During this past winter could John Oliver have done the same segment – the same modality –  but about global warming instead of testing? Yes, he could. Think Oliver in a park during a snowfall ridiculing those thinking the earth is getting warmer. They’re ridiculous because anyone can see it’s snowing! Look at me, I’m up to my waist in snow here in Boston and these fools say things are getting warmer! (Imagine the accent and some funny pictures).  Of course, never mind the body of research about warming and the views of actual experts who study it, he knows better. Here, it’s the same thing on education except the stance on testing is just more politically correct. The story was amusing as an entertainment vehicle but you’ll look in vain for a tether to the actual evidence base around these issues. He just knows better. In other words, just because something has some salty language delivered with a British accent and a blowjob joke sprinkled in doesn’t mean it’s still not herd mentality political correctness rather than actual analysis or subversiveness.

ERS takes a look at Lawrence, MA.

You can quibble with various methodologies for computing the number of families on charter school waiting lists but no matter how you add it up there are a lot of families that want something different.

Ross Douthat on police unions. Almost a mirror image of the teachers union debate on the left.

My U.S. News & World Report column this week – on ESEA – will run end of week in a new USN product.

May 1, 2015

Detroit Debt, Roadtrip! AOTH Content, Learning Accelerators, Sanders’ Subsidies, And More!

New plan to fix the financial problems at the Detroit Public Schools.

Check out Roadtrip Nation if you haven’t already seen the show, visited the website, or read the book. Started with an actual road trip and has grown into a great initiative about helping young people discover all the myriad ways to find your passion and build a career. If you’re in D.C. their green RV is in front of the Newseum. They stopped by Bellwether earlier in the week, great people and a terrific project.

There is so much good content at the Ahead of the Heard blog, Chad Aldeman on NAEP, Andy Smarick on Detroit, Becky Crowe on talent, and more.

Andrew Kelly and David DeSchryver on learning accelerators via a new General Assembly paper.

Vermont Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders says the rich can “literally” buy elections. The Washington Post editorial board says his higher ed policy ideas would give them more cash to do so.

More private equity/public pension frenemy action.  School finance and performance data from Nashville.

This will just make pretty much everyone (except Dan Weisberg, and probably even him, it’s that sweet) feel good.

April 28, 2015

EduJobs @ Acelero Learning

A few roles open at Acelero Learning:  Chief Partnership OfficerDirector of Human Resources, and a Vice President for their Shine Implement Initiative. These are high-impact roles at a leading innovative early-childhood education provider with solid results.

More information and how to apply through the links.

April 27, 2015

ESEA Prospects

Whiteboard Advisors’ Education Insiders getting bullish about ESEA happening before President Obama leaves office.

April 24, 2015

Weekend Reading

David Leonhardt on who college is/should be for. Must-reading. Compelling anecdotes and actual data.

April 23, 2015

At The Opt-Outs – Leaking Questions Might Be Good! Obsessing On 95%, Not So Much…

This kind of thing (penalizing schools for opt-outs) seems certain to just create a target and inflame things. Especially in places where opt-out seems more marginal. Perhaps what we need is just more attention to the percent of students who take tests when considering school performance rather than a slavish focus on 95 percent? That’s the way any sensible analyst thinks about college prep data from high schools now. Could create a good upward incentive for elementary and middle schools.

But this kind of thing (leaking and publishing test questions) creates IP and costs issues for states but seems likely to help Common Core advocates, but I’m biased – I like transparency. Reading a passage and actually understanding it? That’s killing what’s great about education! No, actually, I want my kids to be able to do that (even if it’s not rewarded on Twitter) and don’t want them in a school where teaching that becomes some three ring circus about tests.

My more general take on opt-out here. The numbers in NY aren’t final yet but could be really interesting. Some folks crediting the UFT and the chancellor.

April 21, 2015

Expand Pre-K And Abolish 12th-Grade, Innovative Reform Or Disaster?

In U.S. News &  World Report I take a look at a possible twofer for education policy: Expand access to high-quality pre-K education and finance it by getting rid of 12th-grade.

For a lot of young people spring weather is just another reminder that high school is basically over and it’s OK to check out. I attended a well-regarded suburban high school and still spent too much of my senior spring skipping school to ski, hike, hang out at a local waterfall and do some less wholesome things I’ll probably deny if my own kids ask about them. Meanwhile, at the other end of the educational chain a lot of parents are struggling; not with how to spend those first warm sunny days but how to afford high-quality preschool education for their 4-year-olds. So why not address both issues – the lameness of the senior year and the pre-K access issue – with one reform: Abolish the senior year and instead using that money to create universal access to pre-K education?

You don’t need to abolish anything to read the entire column here. Tell me all about your school skipping days or your gap year plans on Twitter.

Opt-Outs Hit The Times, Pre-K, And Finland Myths V. Reality

The Times looks at opt-outs and teachers unions. Inside baseball: The way they ID Stand For Children* is delightfully reductionist. Would the story have read differently if they ID’d it instead as an organization that supports expanding access to pre-K education and reforming school finance to send more dollars to poor students? Those are true, too. Sometimes the battle lines aren’t so stark…

Speaking of pre-K for a project I was rereading this brief on pre-K from CAP. Vox-like case for why expanding pre-k makes sense. Useful.

Mike Antonucci called attention to this sensible walk-through of the Finland hype from Cambridge Assessment.

*How do I know their policy views offhand? Longtime Bellwether policy research client.

April 16, 2015

College And Career, Summer Melt, Presidential PreK, Pension Fees, YEP Survey, And Gulfstream U!

Sara Mead on pre-k and presidential politics.  There has to be a Pearson joke somewhere in this story about Measured Progress’ server problems.

The teachers unions need to get their story straight on pensions. Is the reason to not switch to 401k-style plans because then investment managers would make gazillions in fees or are today’s pension plans fleecing participants because investment managers are making gazillions in fees?

Summer Melt is one of those things like Sweetbread that sounds a lot better than it actually is (in education Rubber Room is another excellent example). MDRC with research on a strategy intended to curb Summer Melt for college bound students (pdf).

ACT on value-add model considerations. (pdf) Easy to dismiss it as junk. Harder but a lot more interesting to figure out how it can be used to improve schools. And here’s ACT on the career side of ‘college and career readiness.’ (pdf).

The annual YEP survey is out. Young professionals in education talk about jobs and careers.

Plutography. College shopping edition.

April 14, 2015

Hard Out Here For A Yogi! Chait On Property Tax Progressivism, Cunningham On Evals, Is Atlanta A Teachable Moment At All? Teachers And Private Equity!

Oh the pressure of living in Park Slope! You want to opt-out because it’s the thing but it sure is nice to know how your own kids are doing and make sure they don’t lose some edge….Elsewhere UNCF’s Michael Lomax is a no on opt-outs. I’m a yes!

Solid reminder from Jon Chait that this idea that neighborhood schools are profoundly democratic is actually a pretty illiberal idea.

Barry Ritholtz has more on this NYC pension fees issue - look at the recent CALPERS action he says.

Peter Cunningham, Lucy, Charlie Brown, and footballs. Just asking…when Vergara opponents are losing the “Peace and Freedom” party in California on the key Vergara issues it might signal it’s time to recalibrate?

Trying to make heads and tails of all the competing claims about the Cuomo budget deal and teacher evaluation? Sawchuk has a roundup.

Teachable moment? I’m not a big fan of prison sentences for first time non-violent crimes to begin with, there are creative ways people can serve sentences that are contributory, rehabilitative, and punitive as appropriate. We lock too many people up. But it’s interesting that those issues rarely come up in our punishment obsessed society except now when a group of educators are now staring down the barrel of a sentence for running a cheating racket on standardized tests. Maybe this is what it takes to get people talking about sentencing reform?

But, while I think there are better sentencing options here than prison I’m not in the same camp as critics of standardized testing are pleading for mercy for these educators and arguing they were victims of a system that just made them do it (I doubt they feel that way when, say, someone breaks into their car or mugs them because they need money). It’s a great example of everything looking like a nail to a hammer. The problem, here, with that argument in this case is that the cheating in Atlanta was not about accountability and testing per se – it was about financial bonuses and professional prestige tied to test scores. You can argue, of course, that even financial incentives corrupt so we shouldn’t have those policies either but then you quickly find yourself in a place with little practical applicability in our society. And people who will cheat on tests for money might cheat on attendance counts, school lunch counts, or the host of of other ways graft goes down in the public education industry.  Sentencing happening now, follow here.

April 13, 2015

Education Insiders Survey Deck

New data out today from the Whiteboard Advisors Education Insiders survey  (pdf)-  includes higher education futures, ESEA prospects, privacy bill probabilities, and more!

April 10, 2015

NY Pension Fees: Create Your Own Scandal!, Homeschooling & Sports (W/ A Great Kid!), Fun With Success Attrition, Creating Voucher Supporters In Boston, Creating Charter Seats In NYC? Jonathan Papelbon Sets A Standard.

Interesting Matt Levine look at this pension fees issue in New York. You get some of this gold, “Surely if you yourself confess that you are acting “insane,” you are not doing your duties as a trustee? If I were a New York City pensioner I’d be a little disturbed to see my trustees running around calling their investment process insane.” But also some solid contrarian analysis of the issues at play there. Teachers unions and teachers in the middle of this, playing the rhetoric, investing in the funds, etc…The question Levine basically puts on the table is whether the issue here is fees and poor performance or if the problem is that these pension funds are being run by political hacks. Or both? It’s more than a little opaque. That’s a problem, too.

Here’s an interesting research approach: Try to figure out how schools can do better with black and Latino boys in Boston but don’t look at schools that are doing the best job with them, around the country but also in Boston! Every time something like this happens a school voucher supporter gets their wings…

Shanker Blog takes a look at teacher turnover at Success Academy*. Basically Success says attrition was 17 percent a few years ago, per the NYT story the other day, Matt DiCarlo computes it as 33 percent based on data from a FOIA he vaguely says he happened find (that c’mon almost certainly came from the UFT/AFT, a former official is his boss and it’s called the Shanker Institute, let’s not be cagey here  Update: Turns out this is wrong, Shanker Institute says it’s FOIA’ing Success information itself, I don’t know why they just didn’t just say that). He notes that firing – termination or non-renewals in the case of schools like Success – versus voluntary departure may be one reason for the discrepancy. Makes sense. But here are another two: during the years in question Success had 12 schools, the next year they had 10 more. Some of this may be noise from that or people moving into admin and other non-teaching roles within the Success network. In any event, savvy people under scrutiny don’t knowingly put out numbers they know to be false , especially when they can be shown to be false, and especially not in The New York Times. Eva Moskowitz? She’s a savvy person. I suspect there is less here than meets the eye.  Of course, none of this tell us what regrettable attrition is today – that’s what matters most to thinking about this model.

Virgina’s AG steering clear of the Sweet Briar litigation.  A Virginia homeschool parent – whose son I coincidentally profiled for TIME a few years ago – writes about the confusion over how homeschool/public school interaction works today related to the recent veto of a bill that would have created a local school district option to let homeschooled kids try out for varsity sports.

Back and forth on charter schools and corporate reform, absurd time waster. Debate over charter schools and whether they should be required to backfill seats? Actually interesting! Democracy Builders out with a big report on this issue today. Update: Full report is live, read it here.

Political fallout and implication debating from the Chicago mayoral race.

Lots of people upset by former Boston now Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon’s comments about how he feels about Boston and playing in Philly. Short version: he misses Boston. Who knew Philly fans were so sensitive…Anyway, isn’t it refreshing? No BS and instead the guy is just being candid and at the same time he does his job quite well (100 plus saves for Phillies including one – but just one! –  against the Red Sox this week in a three game series between the two teams) regardless of how he feels. Seems like it offers a few lessons applicable to this sector about professionalism and candor. (By the way, if you’re into the happenings of former Red Sox pitchers, check out these hogs). Makes me think it’s time to schedule a “Meeting with Jim Griffin.”

*I don’t carry any particular brief for Success Academy although I know parents who send their kids there and like it and have met plenty of satisfied parents. They’re in the news though and it’s interesting. I would endorse this view on what’s happening in Harlem.  I’d also defend vigorously that we (a) ought to be open to different approaches in public education even ones we don’t necessarily like, Success and Montessori are two sides of the same diversity coin, one just is more popular among the yoga and kale set and less threatening to teachers unions and (b) every time we see some success in education (no pun intended) we shouldn’t suspend healthy skepticism but we also shouldn’t be in such a hurry to tear it down. Not a healthy culture for progress (which, last time I checked, is the root word of progressive).

April 9, 2015

Charter Schools And Illegal Immigration! Learning List Wins! Success Email Dump (They’re Winning, Too), More ESEA, Smarick V. Mead, Walsh V. AACTE, TBT – Halperin and Johnson

Don’t tell the conservatives, charter schools are a hot bed for illegal immigrants!

Learning List, a start-up that works with school districts to evaluate the alignment of various instructional materials, just got into 1776′s Challenge Festival as a People’s Choice. Win for school districts because Learning List makes them the client.

When will these damn reformers start making their own kids take the Common Core tests or send their own kids to charter schools like Success Academy?

Speaking of Success, this dump of emails about how Eva Moskowitz took NYC Mayor De Blasio down on charter schools is actually interesting. Some of it is common knowledge, that behind the scenes the mayor’s team wanted to get a deal with the charters and Eva’s ability to rally parents while the union was stuck with a rent-a-riot approach was inflicting pain. But some is more interesting: Steve Barr was working for the mayor’s team on this?

Chad Aldeman takes a look at the new ESEA proposal in the Senate. Don’t miss the 90 days dig.  Tanya Paperny puts on the black and white stripes to referee the recent debate between Sara Mead and Andy Smarick.

I hope Senator Patty Murray has an ace up her sleeve on this ESEA bill because it seems like on some key issues Democrats are trading away good ideas to keep bad Republican ideas out of the bill. Maybe that’s just what defense looks like these days?

Passion versus exploration (this article is safe for work).

Pension LIFO.  Also on pensions, you won’t read a better lede than this one this week (at least on pensions anyway, c’mon it’s education) and the article is important, points up fees pension funds are paying. Remind me again why today’s teacher pensions are so good for teachers and shouldn’t be reformed?

By the way, all teacher skepticism about evaluations and administrators is not without some cause…

Kate Walsh says AACTE can’t embrace accountability. Seems totally unfair. It’s not like the head of it also makes six figures on the boards of skeeezy for-profit colleges or something…

A reminder that my blog posts are not a representative list of links around the education sector, duh. Rather, it’s the stuff that is catching my eye one way or another. For a more systematic and broader round-up Emmeline Zhao does that twice a day at RealClearEducation. That unique curated roster of links is invaluable if you really need to know what is happening across the sector and need high quality information.

It’s the anniversary of ESEA – a half century*. A few years ago I moderated a discussion with Sam Halperin, Chris Cross, Jack Jennings, and Kati Haycock about the history and changes to this historic law, now called No Child Left Behind. Fascinating discussion for a packed room of people with a sense that it was fleeting history. Sam’s gone now but here he is with President Johnson at a White House event tied to the signing of the original law (which happened in Texas):



*Secretary Duncan is giving a talk on this and apparently the administration forgot to invite any of the still living people who were key to various iterations of this law or family of those who are not? Inexplicable but illustrative.

April 8, 2015

Opt Out? Why Not? Rangers Lead The Way! ESEA?, NYT, Criticizing Success Academy Is Hardly A Risky Career Move In NYC!, The De Blasio Hustle?, New On NBCT, Michelle Rhee, Bev Purdue To Whiteboard, Whitmire Puts His Candler On In USAT, Sober Teach For America & Aldeman, Ticking Clock & Ticking Off Parents

On testing opt-outs, seriously, why not? Many of my friends working in traditional public schools see allowing opt-outs as a big unravelling but not sure the alternative is all that sustainable (and I don’t see a tidal wave of opt-outs coming anyway). Besides, I’m not sure a lot more unbundling wouldn’t be positive for students. And the opt-out “movement” is a hodgepodge of professional malcontents, genuinely concerned parents, life’s perpetually angry types, and assorted hangers on. Why throw fuel at that? Let ‘em go.

Rahm wins in Chicago. Teachers union partisans wondering how, they don’t know anyone who voted for him…

Do they even make pocket squares for pajamas? Justin Cohen is blogging!

New ESEA bill coming in the Senate. Forthcoming Whiteboard Insiders survey still shows a lot of skepticism ESEA can happen during this administration. The basic problem is that for No Child Left Behind to be overhauled a lot of things have to go right – for the process to stall just one of them has to go wrong. This doesn’t help either.

Could ed tech be the thing that cracks the gender wall in technology?

Bellwether’s team of fifty is a blast to work with if you thrive in a fast-paced but very flexible work environment where intellectual diversity is encouraged. My team is hiring a new AP, pretty crux role in how we operate, great opportunity. Apply asap.

Not sure what to think of this big NYT story on NY’s Success Academy from yesterday. If the schools are so rough on kids why are 20,000 plus on waiting lists to get in? And why do some prominent people in the education world send their own kids there? [Update: One weighs in here.] On the other hand, some of what’s in the story is not new but is disconcerting. But, the blind quotes are unsettling – especially since they all skew one way. The Times is basically alleging somewhat abusive practices but doing so using only anonymous sources because, “These former teachers said they feared hurting their future job prospects by disparaging a former employer or by being identified as critics of charter schools.” Please. Being a charter critic in The Times is a good career move in New York! This is a reason for anonymity one step removed from, “these sources requested anonymity because it’s a hassle to deal with angry emails and tweets…”* And it seems disproportionate to what’s being claimed – especially when paired with The Times’  trolling request for more anonymous stories on their website. That’ll generate a representative sample! In any event, if the big thing people want to go after Eva Moskowitz for is that there is a lot of discipline in her schools then they’re misreading the public and parental mood.

Here’s some good news for NBCT teachers – the certification offers a slight bump in student test score performance – though not for all NBCT’s.  Open questions: Why is modest performance like this good enough reason to support the National Board but not good enough for Teach For America – in the eyes of the very same people? Turnover sounds like a legit issue to raise,** other objections a lot more ideological. Also, is the National Board test really just an expensive signaling system? The cost-benefit question remains…

Pension reform, Rangers lead the way?  And how did we get here anyway?

If Kentucky ends up being illustrative the Common Core folks may have less to worry about than assumed? Richard Whitmire is in the no lousy schools club. Chad Aldeman is all sober and adult about the Atlanta cheating scandal. Dude has no future on Twitter.

Is New York’s teacher test discriminatory? Ask Kimba Wood. Bev Purdue, former Dem governor of North Carolina and a great person, is joining Whiteboard Advisors.

I’ve always been surprised that this parent teacher conference issue in places like NYC doesn’t get more attention. It’s one of those things that drives parents nuts and seems like low-hanging fruit for critics of teachers contracts – five minutes or less to talk about your child? How to alienate people from public schools in three easy steps…

Panorama Ed*** has a new family survey tool out. Here’s a not encouraging dispatch from the frontline of educational gaming. “World of schools is big and insane, and totally out of reach.” Yeah, and that’s not even the hardest part. For all the howling at the moon about privatization this is more the reality of the sector. Full disclosure: My kids absolutely love that ecosystem game so I’m hopelessly biased there, and I’ve consulted for Amplify about their games, too.

Wondering what Michelle Rhee Johnson has been up to? This might be a clue.

The other day a New York education type called this issue the “De Blasio hustle.”  Basically, attack the test for competitive entrance schools in New York City under the guise of minority under-representation but in practice as an effort to help affluent mostly white parents who would likely benefit most absent the test. Progressive!

Seems like there is a gap between all the crazy talk about the Walton Family Foundation**** and what they actually do.

John McWhorter on the UVA – Rolling Stone episode and larger implications. Tom Kane on evals and the NY ed circus.

*I’m not against blind sources, but it seems that when someone is making accusations the bar should be higher?

**Speaking of TFA, I had dinner with the CEO and leadership of an ed tech company the other night and they were taking about why they don’t like TFA. Their issue was the model and the incumbent turnover, which they feel is bad for the profession. They acknowledged the test score gains, secondary impact of TFA alums, and all the rest but didn’t like this issue – that to them was a primary one. It was a refreshingly candid and productive discussion grounded in actual facts. I was struck by how different it was than most TFA discussions you find yourself in. I don’t want to name the company in case they later want jobs in New York. Bellwether recently did a research project for Teach For America.

***Not a BW client (but kinda wish they were).

****BW client/funder.

April 7, 2015

Edujob – Associate Partner @ Bellwether

Great opportunity at Bellwether – Associate Partner on the Policy and Thought Leadership team. We’re adding another AP creating a chance to take an internal leadership role at Bellwether and participate in our policy and thought leadership work. More details and how to apply via this link.  Apply ASAP.

Opt-Outs? I’m In! Pass The Kale! But Let’s Not Be Hypocrites About It.

In U.S. News & World Report I take a look at the opt-out issue. I’m in:

What’s in this spring in public education? Apparently it’s students opting out of state standardized tests. 

If you just read hysterical press accounts you might think parents are refusing state standardized tests at a fantastic clip. In fact, for the overwhelming majority of schools and students it’s business as usual. In a few affluent communities opting out of the new Common Core tests is a thing. “Everyone is talking about it at Whole Foods” says one disgusted New York education figure. But so far the opt out craze is more noise than signal. 

Still, faced with even the possibility of an “opt-out” movement education officials are responding with force. This week Kentucky’s education commissioner said school districts cannot honor opt-out requests and student refusals would be counted as zeroes for school accountability purposes. That strategy seems more likely to fan flames than change minds.

When I asked my nine-year-old daughter about whether parents should opt kids out of tests, she responded, “Well, then how will they know how they’re really doing?” Fair enough, but the debate about testing is long past that sort of reasonableness. So if parents want to opt-out of tests and all this craziness, why not just let them?

Opt-in to read the entire thing here (the lame jokes write themselves around here). You might hear more education policy analysis from my kids on my Twitter feed @arotherham. And tell me here or there whether or not you like quinoa on the side along with your opt-outs.

April 2, 2015

Two Edujobs: BAEO And E.L. Haynes In DC

Two great edujobs open right now. The Black Alliance for Educational Options is seeking a president. E.L. Haynes, a terrific and diverse charter school in Washington, is seeking a CEO. More information about both roles and how to apply/nominate via those links.

March 31, 2015

George Miller To StudentsMatter, I Wouldn’t Buy A Car Using Dep’t Of Ed Fiscal Numbers…Carey v. Pondiscio. WWF And Ed Media, Plus John Arnold Is Quite Funny

When it comes to No Child Left Behind reauthorization, don’t hate the players, hate the game.

Seems like there is so much brinksmanship in New York education politics that reporters have to clear a bar of showing that this time it’s for real, it’s serious, it’s legit, get you to read. But it makes them sound like professional wrestling touts: Cuomo v. the unions…this time it’s personal!

From Marilyn Rhames, a story of doing what’s best for your child.

This is Twelve Ceasers type stuff, seemingly important politics while the entire thing is falling apart. The AFT and CTU’s problem is not Rahm Emanuel (who a new poll out today shows is doing better), it’s a revenue model that is sunsetting. That’s a problem for the teachers unions more generally. StudentsMatter just announced today that George Miller, the former House member, is partnering with them on a project…speaks volumes.

We badly need more dry humor in this sector.  Backstory here.

The Department of Education is releasing a list of colleges that may have financial troubles. Good enough except Virginia’s Sweet Briar looked good under their metrics – then earlier this year announced it was a abruptly closing after the summer. Whomp wommmp.  Seems to me schools like Sweet Briar have a lot to worry about as higher education changes. The elites, flagships, and other anchor schools will be okay but high-priced smaller schools seem very much at risk. That brings to mind Kevin Carey’s new book and Robert Pondiscio’s review of it for USN. Robert’s review was refreshingly on point and went after Kevin’s argument rather than Kevin (the reaction from the academy to Kevin’s work is a pretty good illustration of why higher ed is in some trouble, a lot of innuendo about Kevin etc…). Carey responds to Pondiscio here. I’m not as bullish as Kevin but changes are definitely afoot. But what do I know?  My college advice to high school students choosing residential colleges is essentially to find a school you can afford, where you will learn something, and that is in a place where you want to live for four years of your life. In other words, here is as good a college guide as any unless you’re a robot.

The Best Education Reform? Fix Gerrymandering

If Congress fails to get a No Child Left Behind overhaul done again this year, don’t blame special interests, reformers, the administration, or the complexity first. The process is working, it’s just broken. I take a look at that in U.S. News & World Report:

One of the interesting things about my job is that wealthy people ask me for ideas about how best to use their resources to improve America’s schools. There are plenty of important issues demanding attention: overhauling the sorry state of teacher preparation and teacher policy (I wrote an entire guidebook about that), giving low-income Americans more educational choice and improving educational finance are three obvious ones. But, to the consternation of colleagues in the education world, I don’t first suggest those or other specific education issues. Instead, I urge donors to support efforts to reform congressional redistricting. We won’t be able to genuinely improve our schools (or address a host of other issues) until we create legislative districts based on geography rather than gerrymandering.

I guarantee a comfortable margin of victory if you click and read the entire column here.  The column presupposes that Congress can do useful things, if that makes you think I should be redistricted then tell me on Twitter @arotherham.

March 27, 2015

Finnish Girls! Common Core! Not Clickable Enough? Then More Including Charter Schools, UVA Accelerates, And Peter Cunningham Goes Big

This New York Times debate makes me want to put on some Duran Duran. Are we still really arguing about money this way? If I want a throwback I want it to be something like this.

Think possible: Match Beyond.

Joe Nathan with some straight talk on charter schools. Matt DiCarlo uses a lot of words to say roughly the same in a great CREDO explainer but does not say the obvious: The performance trajectory for charters is changing for the better, probably the result of multiple factors. Still plenty of problems and new ones emerging but the hard core opponents are really flat-earthers these days and CREDO, once so revered, suddenly isn’t…hmmm.

Ed schools are a wasteland? OK, too much truth to that, sadly, but some are doing cool stuff. Check out what Curry at UVA is up to with the accelerator it’s launching.

Not sure what is better click bait these days. Finnish girls! Or Common Core! Anyway, The Brookings Brown Center report is always a great read and features both and student engagement (and this year also has bonus intrigue!).

ICYMI the Senate HELP Committee put out some white papers on higher ed and asked for feedback. Great model for putting ideas out and kicking ‘em around a bit. More please.

Yale School of Management’s Education Club is hosting its annual conference today in New Haven. Consistently a good event. There used to be a fun down low pizza lunch on Friday that I miss.

This Atlantic article isn’t about rural education but has some sobering rural implications.

I thought hedge fund guys were into non-profit charter schools because they were moneymakers, or at least that is what I read on Twitter, but turns out they are a default risk.

Chad Aldeman talks about the pension “crisis” – a guaranteed 100 percent crazy-free look at how the system doesn’t work for teachers.

Kevin Skenandore is an educator and the kind of fly fisherman who can dig them out when no one else is.

Peter Cunningham wants a bigger federal role in education:

Liberals need to stop complaining about the current system of accountability without offering a practical, responsible alternative. Educators ignore at their own peril the benefits of objective, verifiable proof of success. They should put blame for over-testing squarely where it belongs: on local actors trying to shirk responsibility and evade consequences for their inability to educate children at risk.

Conservatives need to stop grousing about federal overreach and acknowledge the real and measurable improvements driven in part by federal accountability: rising test scores, especially among minorities and younger students; record high school graduation and college enrollment rates; more innovation and choice in communities where it is wanted and needed; higher standards in many states.

Friday Fish Porn: Everywhere Edition

Kevin Skenandore, of the Oneida and Oglala Lakota Tribes, grew up on the Shoshone-Bannock Reservation in South East Idaho. He spent his career working on education for Native Americans as a teacher and policymaker.  Among other roles he was Director of the Bureau of Indian Education. Semi-retired, he consults now. He also spends a lot of time fishing and hunting all over the place. I’ve fished with him and he’s the kind of fly fisherman who can catch them in the grass on the way to the river. (His wife also makes great fly fishing art).

Here he is recently on Montana’s Madison River:



And in New Zealand:





The world’s largest collection of education-related Fish Porn can be found here.

March 26, 2015

JJ Baskin

Education lost a big heart and good soul last night with the passing of Austin’s JJ Baskin. A recent idea of his, to create genuine quality of workplace ratings for schools like those that exist for other organizations in order to better inform teachers about their potential choices, was one example of a creative non-traditional mind. He will be missed.

Tragedy, Charters In NY & Ohio, Ellevation’s New Offering, Pere Whitmire, Brown Calls BS, And Was Gingrich Ahead Of His Time?

The transgendered North Carolina teen who made news as a homecoming king last year committed suicide earlier this week.  He was just 18.

Did New York Chancellor Carmen Farina imply that it’s defensible that a public school has fewer than 10 percent of its kids proficient in math and reading? Yes, it looks like she did! Behind the scenes Farina hasn’t been bad on charter schools, better than the rhetoric. And some theater is necessary in her role and given the politics. I get it. But whatever you think about backfilling, selection, or whatever, Farina does public education no favors by seeming to defend performance like that. Matt Candler, call your office.

Speaking of charter performance, Fordham Institute got a bouquet for being a high-quality charter authorizer in Ohio from the state.

Dan Brown writes in RealClearEd that the talking down of the education field – by its supposed leaders – is counterproductive.

Ellevation is a company I advise – they work on support for ELL students. Jordan Meranus is CEO. Up until now their work was mostly for administrators and specialists but Ellevation is expanding support to classroom teachers. Check it out. And there is a webinar next week.

Richard Whitmire’s dad just got an award from the Missouri Association of School Administrators this week.

Is Newt Gingrich consulting on school discipline?

March 25, 2015

Dem Divide, Teacher Evaluations, AFT/UFT Charter School Spin, What? Coggins Asks Opting Out To What?

This New York Times article on the Democratic divide on education and what it portends for Hillary Clinton is pretty boilerplate (and if you think it reads like it was written a few years ago don’t miss the correction) except for one quote:

“I think it will be different than the Obama administration in the sense that both the teachers’ union and the reformers will really feel like they have her ear in a way they haven’t,” said Ann O’Leary, a onetime aide to Mrs. Clinton in the Senate and now a senior vice president at Next Generation, a group involved with the Clinton Foundation on an education initiative.

Absent more context hard to know for sure if that’s a shot at the insularity of the Obama Administration, but it sure sounds like one!

Charter spin! On Monday at the CCSSO meeting American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten brought up the charter school she started that has since been shut down by the union because it was facing closure from state officials for low-performance. She made two surprising points – surprising to anyone following this – but it would have taken a lively discussion on a tangent so there was no follow up. But, first Weingarten said the school failed largely because it wouldn’t exclude some kids – with the implication that other charters do. And second she said the high school the union also started was doing great. In fact, the high school was not granted a full charter renewal earlier this month because of concerns about performance.  Its graduation rates are high but only one in five students is college ready when they graduate. File that under all schools are hard but high schools especially so. On the K-8 school, the state authorizer was moving to close it because it met just one of 38 academic goals it was expected to and because it was under-serving comparable schools for students with disabilities and English-language learners. All that data are right here in the state’s memo on the school (pdf). Charters and special education and ELL students is a complicated issue but this isn’t the talking point that is going to work for the union.

In RealClearEducation Teach Plus’ Celine Coggins asks what the endgame is for the testing opt-out movement. I’m OK with opt-outs actually, but only in a broader context. I also think parents ought to be able to have some say over who teaches their child, too, and I like school choice (especially for the poor), and  think home school kids ought to be able to play varsity sports* if they’re good enough and participate in public school activities. In other words, today’s barriers are pretty arbitrary and the only opt-out policy that doesn’t make sense to me is the one where the people calling for testing opt-outs are also opposing choice and charter schools and other efforts to unbundle the system some in order to better serve kids. Actually, seems kinda reactionary? And unfortunately, that’s the opt-out movement we have.

Eduardo Porter has a thoughtful look at teacher evaluations in The Times.

Spent some time with the folks from Mastery Connect this week. Companies like that, Class Dojo, and so forth are quietly building an army of teachers who like and use new tech enabled tools. It’s like the Civil War. While the battle rages in the east things are happening in the west.

If you like real estate this issue with Stockton University and Trump is interesting

Today is the 98th Anniversary of the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. It sure seems a long way from there to the debates in this sector today.

*Looks like a bill to allow this is going to be vetoed in VA.

March 24, 2015

A Civil Rights Advocate, Teachers Union Leader, and Business Guy Walk Into A Bar…Ten Takeaways From Yesterday’s CCCSO Leg Panel

The Council of Chief State School Officers legislative conference is in full swing. Yesterday featured a lively (actually lively, not just by Washington standards) panel on ESEA prospects with Kati Haycock of the Education Trust, Lily Eskelsen Garcia of the NEA, Randi Weingarten of the AFT, and Dane Linn from the Business Roundtable. I moderated the late afternoon conversation and it revealed some important friction points for the sector. Here are ten takeaways:

Bullish on ESEA. Asked a simple yes or no on whether ESEA would be reauthorized during this Congress all four said yes. That means they’re more bullish than the Whiteboard Advisors Education Insider survey and the sense in D.C. overall.

Devil in the details. The unions want more local assessments rather than statewide ones, Garcia in particular spoke up on this issue. But when asked about how that would lead to less testing – given that most of today’s over testing is a state and local issue – neither Weingarten or Garcia had a response. Nor did they have a clear theory of action for whether a local option should be codified in statute or be something that happens via an earned process for states. Weingarten, however, was quick to cite the Goodlatte (VA) amendment in the House on testing as a standard and to say that secretarial authority – as codified in current law – wasn’t sufficient.  The union leaders cited a few promising pilots that are happening now but didn’t have a clear answer on how to scale that. Meanwhile, Haycock made clear that different tests for different students was pretty much a non-starter in her community. Linn spoke up for innovation – but only earned autonomy for states.

Governors under the bus. Not surprisingly CCSSO is not high on the idea of having governors sign off on state Elementary and Secondary Education Act plans in an effort to ensure cohesion and accountability. In some states this happens by default because of governance, but in others chiefs operate with independence. When asked if they’d support that change no panelist spoke up for it. With educational governance conflicts in places like LA, IN, WY, and coming soon in more states this will be a live issue.

Who is the critic anyway? For all the talk about school bashing and politicians bashing schools it was ironic to watch Ed Trust’s Haycock talk about progress over the past few decades while Garcia painted a dystopian picture of the education landscape. It may well be that in their fight to take down reform union leaders poor mouth the schools as much or more than anyone else in the debate.

Testing pressure. Haycock made the point that a lot of the testing pressure is fundamentally unprofessional behavior (and stoked by the unions to gin up opposition) because most of these tests have no consequences for students*. Sounds like an under-explored issue!

Testing opposition. Speaking of under-explored issues it’s amazing (ok, it’s not) how the media has been asleep at the switch about the union role in fomenting opposition to the new PARCC and SBAC Common Core assessments. It’s hard to think of another project with this much public investment at stake that if there were an organized effort to take it down it would not be front page news. It came up during the panel but so far the two-step act where union leaders can act like statesmen in D.C. while raising hell around the country is alive and well.

Data versus anecdotes. The other fascinating thing about the Garcia – Haycock exchange was that Haycock went to data while Garcia focused on anecdotes. The idea that National Assessment of Educational Progress scores are better than they’ve ever been, for instance, is an inconvenient fact for Garcia’s nothing is working in policy narrative. Weingarten pointed out that progress is incremental. That’s a fair point to debate in terms of what’s realistic or possible. However, the idea that there has not been a lot of improvement over two decades is not borne out on the facts and is a disservice to educators.

Know your audience. One attendee observed afterwards, though, that while Garcia’s argument wasn’t going to sway many people at the national policy level it was a great state level argument. That’s a good point. She is the most convincing education union leader to come along in a while. When she says she’d rather be teaching it’s actually believable and you could see yourself plausibly putting your own kid in her elementary classroom (not like these guys, for instance). Stay tuned.

What’s old is new. The old friction about whether federal accountability will create the conditions to address inequities or whether those inequities need to be addressed before having accountability was on full display. Nobody says “opportunity to learn” but that’s the idea, The unions were on one side of that, Haycock and Linn on the other.  The unions made clear they’re fine with a lot of testing so long as it’s not tied to anything consequential. Sounds like testing for testing’s sake?

Everyone thinks we’re good though? At the end I asked about school choice. Choice advocates love this intramural warfare among Democrats – ‘just keep doing what you’re doing’ they say because it’s hard to see dramatically better public schools coming out of this dysfunction and they believe the demand for choice will win out in the end. Yet for all the rhetoric about privatization no one on the panel saw choice as a big threat to public education if the current tenor continues. I don’t agree. As a friend who is a retired heavyweight fighter once told me, the punch that knocks you out is usually the one you don’t see coming. This sector seems pretty self-satisfied and indulgent to me if it doesn’t see big risks coming on the near horizon.

*Update: There are also a legit issues here, around over-testing, capacity of schools, best designs for accountability systems and perverse incentives, or role of choice (interestingly the union enthusiasm for opt-outs doesn’t carry over to parental choice). But those are all being subsumed under a meta-narrative about testing that doesn’t address the more fundamental issues.

March 23, 2015

Robin Lake On Special Education

Robin Lake takes a look at special education and school choice. It points up two important issues.

First, the under-serving of special education students is a sector-wide problem and when advocates reduce it to one part of the sector (charters, privates, public magnets) it obscures the real challenges that too many special education parents and students face.

Second, with charters, as the sector grows it will have to address issues like special education in a more systemic way. As Robin notes, there are efforts underway to do that. Contrary to mythology traditional public schools do not serve every special education student on a school-by-school basis. Charters can’t be expected to either. But, when charters reach 25, 30, or 40 percent plus of student enrollment in a jurisdiction the charter sector should be expected to serve an equitable percentage of different kinds of students and authorizers have a crucial role to play here. That’s a complicated conversation though in general and then particularly in today’s hothouse political climate surrounding charters.

March 20, 2015

Friday Fish Porn – Real Time Snake River Edition

Bart Epstein, founding CEO of the new Jefferson Education Accelerator spinning out of UVA’s Curry School, is on the Snake River in Wyoming today with his son: