October 20, 2016

A Different Kind of Diversity: Too Many Introverts?

Guest blogger Mike Goldstein, sharing only his personal views, writes: 

Let me try out an idea.  Good chance I’m off target here.

1. Per this very provocative series, I wonder about a different type of diversity among ed reform leaders:

a. Are they mostly data-and-technology-loving introverts?

b. If yes, does that matter?

2. I am a data-and-tech-loving introvert.  My charter application in 1998 (rejected) and 1999 (approved) sounded a lot like this $10 million XQ winner, described in an excellent NY Mag piece this week.

Students choose interest areas and within them, they think up projects, which they execute themselves. So, for example, in “Signs of Life,” one kid might choose to learn about embryonic development and stage an abortion debate. Another might study the philosophy of science and write a one-act play about a Frankenstein monster. Another might learn “evolutionary design,” a cutting-edge approach to coding.

When Match opened in 2000, pretty much all my nerdy tech ideas failed.  (Hopefully this new Powderhouse school will do better!).

What succeeded, however, was the late Charlie Sposato, our founding principal.  He built positive relationships with kids and parents, through sheer effort and dedication.  Before and after school, weekends and nights on the phone.  Those authentic connections often GAVE the extroverted Charlie emotional energy, rather than depleting it.  That culture became the school’s true foundation.

3. Today’s Globe has a profile of Janelle Smith, on topic of charter school ballot question.  [Dissenting view here from Boston's mayor].

I remember Janelle as a newly admitted 8th grader in 1999.  She’s now mom to Alorah, on some charter waiting lists.

Janelle enrolled at Northeastern University and excelled early. While 37% of students graduate ready for college, according to national assessments, Smith earned mostly As and Bs in her first two years — success she attributed to the “drive” she found at MATCH, and the constant pushing from teachers she’s still in touch with 12 years later.  But halfway through college, Smith got pregnant. When Alorah was born, Smith left school, vowing to return.

Janelle went back and graduated in May.

Her time at MATCH, she said, was “what propelled me to go back.”  She’d like Alorah to find that same strength.

4. I wonder if nerdy ed reform leaders don’t talk so much about the emotional terrain that Janelle is referring to.  Data-driven instruction, for example, is a more comfortable topic.  Or a longer school day – it’s easily countable.  And perhaps that stuff sits better with nerdy reporters and philanthropists as well.

Has a confluence of introverted leaders affected the message of what reform is all about?

October 19, 2016

NOLA Unification

The post below is by guest blogger Mike Goldstein.

Background here.  AEI here.  Kira Orange Jones here.  Andy Smarick concern here.
“NOLA had been leading the nation on the two essential elements of systemic reform. First, most of the city’s public education space was defined by the separation of operation and authorization; in the RSD, no entity was performing both functions. 
Second, nearly every city public school was on a performance contract with a non-district authorizer. That meant that most public schools were overseen by a body whose accountability judgment could be trusted because it wasn’t simultaneously running schools in competition with those it authorized.”
Today’s news from Los Angeles goes directly to Andy S’s point.  
I asked 3 NOLA insiders for their views.  
Person 1: 
“There’s a lot of hyperventilating about unification.  But I think the concern is mostly misplaced.  Yes, it could make some operators a little bananas.  But the new approach keeps pressure on the district to make progress, and has some amount of old school educators and reformers working together.  The looming threat is actually that mediocre establishment CMOs would fight to keep the status quo.  The test will be whether or not the local board has the fortitude to keep closing and opening in a saturated market.”
Person 2: 
“I’m quite concerned about unification.  Closing bad schools will, in fact, get harder.  Approving new schools become harder — if you’re a school operator struggling to hit your existing enrollment targets, why wouldn’t you try to influence things.  Consider appointed judges versus elected judges.  Both make mistakes, sure.  But appointed judges tend to stick with the merits.   Elected judges consider “how things look” as well.  Who will get elected to school board, now and over time?  People with aspirations for higher office, at least some of them.  Somehow NOLA will need to educate everyone on what a school board’s function should and should not be — that will be a mighty challenge.”  
Person 3 (a school operator)
“Quite honestly, unification doesn’t affect our schools much at all. A few months ago, I had two concerns: 1) that the district would not allow us to receive differentiated funding for our students with significant needs, and 2) that the board would not be supportive of the continued progress of reforms in the city.  #1 concern was eliminated as a concern a few months ago by a vote. #2 concern was reduced by our board elections a few weeks ago, wherein a majority of reform types were elected.” 
“That said, we could call that impermanent and shaky support.  But that’s no different from our current situation, in which the RSD is just as affected by the elections on our state board.”  

October 18, 2016

Yearning for Earnings

The post below is by guest blogger, Mike Goldstein.

1. Let’s briefly revisit Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer’s excellent July 2016 paper.  They found (among other things) that kids who attended No Excuses charter schools in Texas didn’t have appreciably higher earnings later in life.

Those of us who support these schools should ”wrestle” with that result.

2. The paper led to good online discussion.

The 74 here, for example, and Inside Philanthropy here.

I was struck in particular by Neerav’s two blogs over at Relinquishment.

First he wrote this.

But a week later he wrote this.

When a study tells you what you don’t want to hear, the first reaction is often to not deal with it (in some ways I did this in my previous post).

So everyone in education reform needs to deal with this potential reality: there is some possibility that the best that education reform has to offer can only, on average, move a student from 16K to 18K a year.  

Of course, this is only one study of one state. We don’t yet know if these numbers will hold under different contexts, methodologies, or timeframes.

But, at the very least, your belief that a great school can radically increase wages should be a little lower after reading this study.

It’s rare that any of us manage to notice how our brains automatically spin news to fit our beliefs.  I know I struggle with that.  So: zen move by Neerav to overcome that heuristic, and rethink.

3. I’ve recently spoken to a few researchers in early stages of more such studies.  Yay.  Faster please!

4. You may recall that KIPP laudably began to publish it’s college graduation rate some years ago.  Currently 44%.  That was a bold move.  Until then most charters, including the one where I worked, only put out % of kids heading off to college.

That data point led to KIPP inventing new ways to boost college success.    See here for Picayune series last week (hat tip Joanne Jacobs).

5. Match Charter High in Boston (*I’m on board) stumbled into the earnings issue this way:

a. A red-headed founding teacher from 2000, Bob Hill, became college counselor circa 2011.  (He’d taught every single grad til then).

b. At that time, something like 54% of Match grads had earned college degrees.  Bob stayed in touch with the “other 46%.”

The Boston Globe caught up with Bob earlier this year.

“College wasn’t always a good fit,” Hill says. “The Monday through Friday, the set schedule. That got me thinking, what are our other options? Is there a way to be more flexible?”

c. The result was a new program, called Match Beyond.  It’s an effort to take an existing option (the online, inexpensive College For America); make it more accessible for someone in mid-20s and older to “restart” via tutoring; then helping them re-enter the labor market with a higher-paying job.

6. My modest proposal: that CMOs band together to measure their grads’ earnings.  (And maybe other stuff.  Voting.  Happiness.  Health.  Net Worth [including college loans]).

Top CMOs, in particular, react to data.

Transparent earnings data would steer these CMOs towards some healthy introspection, and then innovation, helping more of their students grow up to escape poverty.

October 17, 2016

Nerd Unity?

The post below is by guest blogger, Mike Goldstein. 

Hi folks -

Greetings from Boston.

I am terrible at predictions.

But it seems safe to predict that after this election, there will be calls for unity.

My question:

Is there some sort of quickie “unity” federal research agenda among competing ed advocates that can be fashioned in December 2016?

I.e., still leave plenty of room to battle what needs to be battled, yet carve out some sort of “We agree on 20 studies that should be done; we agree on who should do them; we agree how they should be framed; and bonus we even agree on the methodologies.”  Is that plausible?  Silly?

I’m in no way suggesting a “Be all and end all” agenda.  A quick $50 million that “supplements but does not supplant,” to use the feds’ term.  Just a mutual agreement about something.  Yes, I’m increasingly a sucker for “My esteemed colleague on the other side of the aisle” type language.  But also to show “There’s a lot we don’t know” about education (which I admit is a debatable proposition; a lot of people believe we know what to do, we just don’t have the will to do it).

I would think 10 influential people in a room, 5 on “each side”, could get this agenda done and enacted.

For example, I could easily imagine, 5 years ago, competing advocates agreeing to study the earnings effect on Texas charter school students, in the way that Roland Fryer and Will Dobbie recently published.  I.e., the research at the outset seems to have a decent chance of benefitting either side of the charter debate.

(More on that paper tomorrow).


Would/could friendly edu-journalists with sharply different views ever pair up?

My idea is they interview the same sources together, see the same schools together, and then write a story about the same thing —  with competing perspectives, including a nod to what they agree on?


Goldstein’s Gonna Go Wild!

Long time readers know that among the myriad fantastic guest bloggers we’ve been fortunate to host here one stands apart for having the most history – Michael Goldstein. Back in the day we’d check in on Goldstein Gone Wild around the absurdities and the nuance of education policymaking. He  founded MATCH, led a variety of other projects there, and most recently has worked internationally with Bridge International Academies.

And now he’s coming back this week to share, inform, and provoke. Have fun!

October 14, 2016

Sturgill Simpson, Valerie June, And Education – There Is A Link!

I review Sturgill Simpson’s show in DC this week for GratefulEd. Some education parallels?

Do An Act of Contrition And Lay Off The Common Core Math, New Teacher Preparation Regs & Old Politics, NAACP And Charters, DC Charters, Max Marchitello Is Not Buying Wallet Hub’s Pension Math, Chad Aldeman Is Not Buying Teacher Shortage Math, TNTP, Aspen, CCSSO And More!

Check out some edujobs down the page, some good ones. From BW: Julie Squire with more about D.C. charter school boards and their impact. Max Marchitello on why teachers should grab their wallets before trusting Wallet Hub’s data on teacher pensions. 

The Department of Education released its long awaited teacher preparation regulations.

“It is, quite simply, ludicrous to propose evaluating teacher preparation programs based on the performance of the students taught by a program’s graduates.” – American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten on the teacher preparation regulations in a press release.

OK, that about covers the culture here and what you can expect…next battleground, the Higher Education Act.

Chad Aldeman still isn’t buying your scaremongering about a teacher shortage. Seems kind of obvious there is a political agenda behind the constant hysteria about teacher shortages (makes various accountability ideas, Vergara-style reforms, etc…a harder sell) but funders and the media seem to take the bait every time. So here we are.

Wallace is making a big bet on principal training.  TNTP has a new batch of essays from Fishman winners. Fantastic examples what the profession has to offer.

The Washington Post editorial board didn’t have much that was nice to say about the NAACP’s proposed charter school policy:

…Instead of calling for limits, the NAACP should be pushing for new possibilities for students with unmet needs.

Cheering the call for a moratorium — and a similar resolution approved by the Movement for Black Lives — are the teachers unions that have waged a fierce battle against charters — and that have provided financial support for NAACP activities. It will be interesting to see if the NAACP acts in those interests or in the interests of the nearly 700,000 black families who send their children to public charter schools, and the tens of thousands more who are on waiting lists.
The Times doesn’t have much good to say either:

For many parents and students, a charter school is the only route to a superior education. In advocating a blanket moratorium on charters, the N.A.A.C.P. would fail to acknowledge what’s happening to children who need and deserve a way out of the broken schools to which they have been relegated.

New performance reports out from Washington D.C.’s charter school board. Important in a few ways including as an accountability model but also because there is a pronounced shift in the number of students severed by the top performing schools – that speaks to parent choices, information, and also accountability and improvement efforts.

New CEP report on teacher focus groups about Common Core. But Common Core is a sin. Well, this report doesn’t actually say that but argues the standards are at odds with Catholic values about life.

Jack Greenberg has passed.

Human capital aspects of personalized learning in this webinar. RAND on coherent instructional support. Here’s a joint Aspen – CCSSO paper about how to drive equity in ESSA implementation (pdf).

Great story: Unsung heroes.

This election season is awful but here are some kids reflecting on it that might cheer you up.

October 13, 2016

Edujob: Director, Planning And Analysis @ELeducation

Here’s an interesting edujob in an evolving and exciting organization: Director, Planning And Analysis for EL Education:

The Director of Planning and Analysis is a newly-created position that will design and implement systems, structures and strategic recommendations to support the efficient functioning of EL Education’s School Team, the organization’s partner-facing team of coaches, curriculum specialists and regional directors.  The Director of Planning and Analysis will work closely with the Chief Schools Officer and other leaders across the organization to provide analytics aligned with EL’s financial and operational metrics.  The Director will supervise a small team of analysts and associates who manage EL’s Salesforce platform, revenue pipeline and resource allocations processes.  The role requires systems thinking, strong attention to detail (both precise analytics and consistent follow-through) and the ability to work effectively on a fast-paced, evolving team.

You can learn more about EL Education, this role, and how to apply here.

October 11, 2016

Bellwether Gets Personal In The Atlantic, WaPo, And A New Paper, Mead On Going Early, Schmitz With Must Read Kansas, Squire In The Detroit News, Bradford On Charters And Race, Autism In VA, Hiring In Chicago, Class Dojo, MS Story, LA Story, Chainsaws, And Science! Plus More.

New Bellwether report looks at personalized learning and rural schools. Potential, barriers, and context! For The Atlantic Tanya Paperny reports out what this looks like on the ground in Maine (bonus, includes lobsters!). While you’re at it check out Paperny in The Washington Post on being out as a student and a teacher. 

Also from BW last few days: Sara Mead argues for starting early in elementary and for policymakers to pay attention to those early grades. Kirsten Schmitz breaks down the Kansas teacher pension system and what it means for teachers. Julie Squire looks at what charter boards matter and what we might learn from them in a Detroit News op-ed.  Danielle Aguayo-Ceribo on gender identity.

Long Times article by Michael Pollan on the politics of food. Some education implications around school lunch and childhood nutrition issues but also more general parallels around coalitional politics and special interests. Powerful look at special education and autism via The 74.

Apparently Hillary Clinton said in a paid speech prior to her presidential run that Common Core was a bipartisan project negotiated by the governors/states with a wholly insufficient plan for dealing with the politics and communicating about it to parents. That about sums it up. Sounds like Hillary Clinton would make a pretty good education analyst.

Derrell Bradford on race and charter schools debate in 74:

The press’s new and sustained interest in the charter/reform divide among black people in America may provide a most teachable of moments on both reform and the educational preferences of people of color. Which is to say, if you want to know how a black person feels about charter schools, you should ask one. If you want to know how black people feel about charter schools, you should ask them all.

Really strong Hechinger Report article about Greenville, MS and school integration.

Here’s some interesting news from Chicago (no, not the tentative agreement though that, too). The district employed a new automated screening system for teaching applicants and it appears to have a disparate impact by race. The headline of the article about it is, “CPS Screening Process Discriminated Against Black Candidates.” The article didn’t provide enough details to know if it’s intentional or unintentional discrimination (Hispanic candidates were affected as well) and in any event the district has ceased using the tool. But, legally, that’s not the standard. It’s not OK in either case in terms of discrimination per se but employment law does distinguish between disparate impact claims based on whether the measure is integral to job performance. There is a lot of case law about this in education related to teacher tests and it’s a lively debate relative to those tests. I don’t know enough about this particular tool to have any sense of what it was measuring and why and whether they have any data correlating success or failure with other indicators, which would matter. But, automated tools can be employed as anti-bias measures to level out various biases. I also don’t know if that’s what CPS was trying to do or if they were just trying to save money. These automated screeners are surprisingly common, it’s not just Chicago. I do know that parents might be surprised to know how often in larger districts this is par for the course and everyone might wonder if this is the best way to hire professionals in the first place?

Here’s an interesting policy issue from Los Angeles that has pensions, charters, and teachers unions all at once!

Technology is driving a quiet revolution in how teachers communicate with parents – a variety of platforms are competing for market share in what is a pretty high-leverage space using various models. Now one of them, Class Dojo, is broadening its offerings into social and emotional learning and support.

Public Agenda has been looking at what the public thinks about various higher ed reform ideas, including the ones being debated on the campaign trail. Kay Hymowitz on confirmation bias and a recent study of pre-k teachers and race.  Steve Glazerman gets his Stihl on and writes about value-add in practice. Sandy Kress on education and prosperity.

The Center for American Progress has a new report out on school schedules and family schedules that raises some important issues and has an obvious but great title.

Amazing science project. Sturgill Simpson coming through Washington, here’s a taste.

October 5, 2016

New Bellwether Reports, VA Debate History, Charters In MA, Charters Everywhere, Charters And Race, And More Charters! Lots of Hess, Lots of Law, Lots Of Data, Not So Much Innovation….Plus Jobs At Bellwether And More!

Bellwether’s Allison Crean Davis and Julie Squire took a look at charter school board members in Washington – interesting! Chad Aldeman with accountability ideas for states thinking through ESSA.

Here’s a webinar, later today, looking at what the next administration might mean for education. Gerard Robinson, Bev Purdue, me, Ed Surge and hosted by Whiteboard Advisors.

Hailly Korman on the new juvenile justice bill. Lina Bankert and Steph Itelman on what it takes to win federal grant competitions.

They closed their schools. Last night at the opening of the debate Senator Tim Kaine said of the debate setting at Virginia’s Longwood University,

This is a very special place. Sixty-five years ago, a young, courageous woman, Barbara Johns, led a walkout of her high school, Moton High School. She made history by protesting school segregation. She believed our nation was stronger together. And that walkout led to the Brown v. Board of Education decision that moved us down the path toward equality.

This morning Politco’s must-read morning education tip sheet said, “Kaine led his first answer with a quick rundown of Longwood’s civil rights-era legacy.”

Not exactly. What Sen. Kaine said was not a rundown of the Civil Rights legacy of that area. That people think it was indicates how quickly we forget history or fold it into simpler narratives. The walkout was one episode and a vitally important one. The actual history – with real education aspects by the way! – unfortunately includes a lot more. In particular, that the county there closed their schools rather than integrate – for years. It was a major massive resistance episode. It’s a story of awful racism but also heroism and tenacity. It wasn’t until the Warner administration in the early part of the last decade that the state really began to own up to what happened and make financial compensation. Just last year Longwood apologized for its role, or lack thereof, in the episode. Even today, Virginia doesn’t desegregate by race or income in key measures of school performance and accreditation and masks big achievement gaps as a result.

Of course, Sen. Kaine wasn’t there to give a history lesson. He was there to debate and had limited time. But there is a lot more to the history than he let on or Politico did (The 74 looked at this prior to the debate). And it is history as well as more recent actions and issues well worth keeping in mind.

Massachusetts charter cap referendum is up in the air. Bay State Banner wants Massachusetts’ charter cap raised. Elizabeth Warren, who formerly supported school choice is now opposed to lifting the charter cap in MA. Whitmire goes door to door up there and hears from parents bewildered their more affluent neighbors don’t want to toss them an educational life line. Tom Kane on all the evidence about the schools.

Elsewhere in charters: Really big charter rally. New updated model law from the NAPCS. What are Rocketship alumni up to? The debate about race and charter schools via Mother Jones.  NPR looks at the same debate through the voices of various advocates:

But I don’t get this Rick Hess point at all, it’s like a mashup of Hess talking points:

“Twenty-first century school reform has been a story of tackling race-based achievement gaps, with blatant disregard for suburban and middle-class interests. When you racialize an issue, you open the door to folks with a variety of race-based agendas.

“Reform is increasingly a question of race-based grievance rather than helping all children.”

I get the argument that a resurgence of identity politics is going to spark other identity politics. Seems kind of obvious. Glenn Loury and John McWhorter discuss that here.  And I get how white and suburban communities are often at odds with reform that they perceive as focused on other kids (see Massachusetts above). But Rick doesn’t seem to be arguing either of those points. Instead he seems to be saying that the reform movement’s emphasis on achievement gaps (a frequent Hess target) is to blame for the backlash against reform from groups like the NACCP or BLM. But that argument doesn’t withstand much scrutiny – especially in the case of the NACCP, which supports the achievement gap emphasis in policy. I guess you can argue that it sparked unpredictable chaos so here we are? But it – Hess’ point and the underlying situation – seems more to me like politics?

Elsewhere in Hess he says higher ed is about to get NCLB’d. That seems right but higher education leaders would do well to remember the role that resistance to any sort of meaningful accountability measures played in the pot that boiled over and became NCLB in 2001.


This article says that government is a font of innovation. Some truth, especially in some sectors. The education sector arguably not strongly amongst them despite some tries over the past decade.

Here’s a useful primer on teacher pensions via Brookings.  Here’s an overview of the data and research on school discipline. Don’t miss Stephen Carter on banned books.

This is a good debate about single letter grade approach to accountability versus the matrix approach California is taking.

Comparable data matters. Test scores have some problems for principal evaluations. Some dissonance with the research on test scores and teachers and again a reminder that, as in other sectors, managerial discretion informed by professional judgement will have to play a role here.

Complicated legal decision on the Nevada ESA policy.  Big legal decision coming on the standard of quality for special education under federal law. More on the ed cases on the court’s docket via The 74.

The history of cops in schools is more complicated than what you’re probably hearing now.

Bethany Gross argues that cities are becoming education ecosystems not monoliths. Willingham says delete your account – your brain training account.

We’re looking for a comms intern at Bellwether. Great opportunity to work with our team and our comms manager. Also an AP role open on our strategy team. Plus more, check our hiring page out.

This school bus became a deer stand. Now that the Grateful Dead are not touring these sorts of creative repurposing ideas for old buses will take on an added urgency.

September 26, 2016

Teacher Shortage Shenanigans, The Boss & School, Juvenile “Justice,” Jane Pauley, West On Driverless Trans, School By Design Launches, CER Relaunches, Ed Ideas And Music!

Last week I mentioned the new education blog starting up with a music theme. Today I shared about a recent Springsteen show and one of my kids over there. More music below.

More pushback on the teacher shortage narrative via Goldhaber. Here’s Chad Aldeman with even more:

The LPI report confuses these sources of new teachers. They estimate a generic number for “teacher demand” at roughly 200,000 teachers, growing over time to more than 300,000 per year. This is worrying because as a country, only 200,000 to 250,000 people complete a teacher preparation program each year, and those numbers are likely to fall in coming years. LPI eyeballs these sets of numbers and concludes that we’re heading for a severe teacher shortage in coming years.

But LPI’s figures are misleading, because they’re counting all new teachers, not just recent graduates. For example, in 2004, LPI says there was demand for 236,407 new teachers. According to NCES, that year there were only 74,500 new hires who were recent college graduates. LPI repeats the same error in 2008, where it reports 247,964 new hires, even as NCES says only 92,500 of them were recent graduates. The numbers aren’t readily available for more recent years, but it’s clear that LPI’s figures are way out of proportion.

This wouldn’t be a problem if LPI noted these distinctions. Instead, they compound their error by comparing apples and oranges. They compare their figures for total demand against the supply of new graduates. As it should be clear by now, those two figures are not actually comparable. A better comparison is to look at the number of recent graduates who are hired versus the total production of recent graduates. When you look just at recent graduates, you get very different numbers.

Once you start comparing apples to apples, LPI’s “teacher shortage” narrative goes completely out the window…


More debate about the NAACP charter school position.

America’s juvenile justice system needs some work…Hailly Korman, call your office!

School By Design pulled the curtain up this week. Story here.  Also, the Center For Education Reform is relaunching.

Darrell West looks at driverless cars. The trend toward automation in transportation will impact education, too.

Jane Pauley taking over for Charles Osgood on CBS this morning. She hosted the Bellwether launch event and is active and supportive on education in Indy via The Mind Trust, so she has a special place with us and we wish her well.

Apparently there is some sort of political event tonight. Here are 16 ideas you won’t hear discussed!

Watch this Rhiannon Giddens concert. The music is fantastic and you’ll learn something.

September 23, 2016

Teacher Pay In Denver, Mead On Head Start, Mass Charters, Trumpian Ed Politics, O’Keefe On Testing Tradeoffs, CBE, 529s, Grateful Blogging

A decade ago Denver jump started the national conversation about pay for contribution or pay for performance (although it wasn’t pay for performance strictly speaking, it was important from both a practice and political standpoint). A new analysis by a local group looks at where things are and points to some directions forward. Bellwether’s Kaitlin Pennington on all this here.

Sara Mead on Head Start performance standards.

Shorter version of the Teacher Shortage version 3.0 (or 4.0 depending how you keep score): We produce more teachers overall than we need but not in the geographic and subject areas where we need them. Longer version here.

Buckle up. Earlier this year Chris Christie released a school finance proposal that basically pitted wealthy New Jersey residents against lower-income ones over the distribution of school funds. It was widely derided as cynical, irresponsible, and lousy policy. But it plays to a set of anxieties you’re hearing more about as this Stanley Kurtz NRO column illustrates. Kurtz basically argues President Obama is trying to dissolve suburban school districts under the guise of encouraging more economically diverse schools. This sort of rhetoric terrifies suburban voters, of course, and complicates various  reform efforts. All of it is of a part with tribal Trumpian politics more generally, though, so I’d keep an eye on proposals and arguments like this.

Massachusetts has a very strong charter sector, Richard Whitmire on that. But, and guys you’ll never believe this, the evidence has almost no impact on the politics there! There is a referendum on the ballot about whether to have more and it’s struggling even though Massachusetts is a place where the evidence is simply not “mixed.” Even formerly pro-choice Elizabeth Warren is Hamleting on it. Because the evidence  is so crystal clear the debate there is playing out over cost, instead, with people who usually have an insatiable appetite for public dollars suddenly saying we can’t afford these new great schools.

Bellwether’s Bonnie O’Keefe on testing tradeoffs. Bellwether pension analyst Kirsten Schmitz updates an earlier analysis of education sector benefits with new census data. Chad Aldeman talks with the Utah legislator who championed pension reform and lived to tell the tale.

Elizabeth Mann looks at the cross-pressure on Clinton on education. But surely she’d be a lot more cross-pressured and the issue might even be more dynamic if her opponent were not Donald Trump. A lot of differences understandably getting papered over in this context.

Here’s an interesting survey of state legislators and where they get their information and what they think about education.

And here’s a look at CBE implementation in three states via ExcelinED.

Not exactly breaking news but there is a lot of money in 529 plans – implications around equity, costs, and tax policy.

New blog focuses on music and education. Grateful Dead themed. What’s not to like? In that vein here’s a Bob Weir song with one of the great education lines you’ll find in music.

September 21, 2016

Innovation! New From Bellwether

New report from Bellwether today – and it’s exactly the kind of first over the barbed wire type of project we like to do. It’s the U.S Innovation Index prototype. As the accompanying report discusses innovation matters to progress but to foster innovation it’s important to measure and analyze various conditions associated with it. The index – a work in progress – is an effort to do that.

You can learn more about it, the cities it looks at (Indy, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Kansas City) and the project via this link. We’re hoping to expand it to many more cities going forward.

As a non-profit we pursue our own grant funded work as well as projects we take on. So some other recent work you may have missed:

This summer we published, with support from the Robertson Foundation, The Learning Landscape. It’s a great resource that takes an objective look at the state of play in the sector. Reasonable people can disagree about a variety of education questions but it’s important that those disagreements proceed from a common fact base grounded in evidence. This is an effort to foster and support that.

 It’s here via this link.

We also published, earlier this month, 16 for 2016: Education Ideas For The Next President. The Broad Foundation supported this project. This volume contains a variety of federal policy ideas for schools that are left, right, and center and aimed at a variety of issues. The volume features some wonks and experts you probably know of but also Chef Tom Colicchio, Olympic Gold Medalist Steve Mesler, farming leader Lindsey Lusher, and other innovators whose work impacts the education sector. The volume showcases Bellwether’s non-ideological approach to our work and also the creative thinkers inside and around our organization.

 You can read all the ideas here.

September 20, 2016

Pensions Aren’t Risky! The Education Divide, Willingham On Editing, Civic Ed, Rashad Turner Speaks, Who Is Advising Trump On Edu? Kolderie Gets Systemic, Buses And Straws

This event on college matching, today, looks interesting. CT is appealing the landmark school finance decision there. Rashad Turner in his own words. Trump’s education team.

Schools exploring innovative ways to teach grit, but it’s easy to get carried away.

You may not agree with all of what Ted Kolderie writes here about how to improve the school system but it’s well worth reading:

Good ideas abound for producing better schools. The difficulty has been with the “how” of change. The idea of superintendents changing district schools comprehensively has proved unsuccessful. So, let’s be practical: Try a different “how.”

Successful systems change gradually, as innovation spreads. These are open systems. Someone tries something different. Always there are “early adopters.” Nobody has to adopt the different. More do, as the innovation improves. Some lag. We see this diffusion of innovation all around us…

…We want education to be a successful system. So we should let schools and teachers try things. Use the charter sector to generate new forms of school and new approaches to learning, and encourage districts to adopt these innovations.

Here’s a push on civic education and making it rich and educational. Why not? I’m all for it, worked on the issue, taught civics, and generally who can be against that? But I do think there is a flaw in how many advocates think about this issue and what to expect from improved civic education. Namely many seem to believe that if only people were better educated and had more civic knowledge then they would think, act politically, and vote just like them. In fact, civic ed is not some sort of revealed truth and it’s entirely plausible we could have much better civic education and a country just as discordant politically as it is now. People disagree!

Here’s a story about how education reporters are happy and want to come back to the education beat. That’s good, I like it when people are happy. But isn’t the more interesting story all the reporters who leave the beat to go work in education organizations? Michelle Davis to College Board, Karin Chenoweth to Ed Trust, Richard Whitmire to book writing about reform issues just to name a few. Are they happy? What have they learned. Would they do it again? I’d read that!

Also on that scene do not miss Dan Willingham’s open letter to editors. He takes no prisoners.

Sara Mead on an authorizing lesson from XQ. Here’s The Times on the winners and the prize. Soledad O’Brien did a town hall on high schools and innovation (that at one point turned from metaphorical to literal town hall when a bunch of DC students from Duke Ellington showed up to press their case with Kaya Henderson) I participated in. Facebook video here, on PBS in October.

This 74 story about the Dem ticket and education (and, by the way, this election is not turning on education) is interesting because it points up a pretty profound divide in education:

In late August, she visited the headquarters of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers. There, she disputed GOP nominee Donald Trump’s assertion that city schools were failing children, particularly children of color.

“I will say that [schools are] doing incredible work in some of the most difficult circumstances … Over the last decade we’ve been asking more and more of them and giving them less and less in the way of resources,” she said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

At one level, that’s certainly true. The financing picture is more complicated but schools are clearly asked to do a lot and there are many doing great work in challenging circumstances. But it’s also true that in a lot of cities fewer than one in ten low-income kids gets to and through college by the time they’re 24. Nationally that figure is about 9 percent. You’d hope there would be both agreement and urgency about how profoundly unacceptable that is. Instead,  how people think about that problem really divides the education world into those who see schools as more or less a palliative experience for kids because, really, what are you going to do? And conversely those who see schools as a key lever to dramatically transform that outcome profile. There is actually a lot of agreement on out-of-school factors, where the debate breaks down is over the role of schools. Ironic for an education sector.

Here’s more fallout from the Senate/Department of Education debate over regulatory authority.

Remember kids, pensions are not the risky scheme!

This article has really nothing to do with education but it mentions school buses, and also straws. Have at it!

September 19, 2016

Edujob – Vice President Communications And Publications @ TNTP

Heres’s a fun job at a high impact organization: Vice President of Communications and Publications at TNTP. From the posting:

The Vice President will report to the Executive Vice President – Public Affairs and set the vision, goals and culture for the Communications & Publications Department. We’re looking for a skilled communicator who is equally at home setting a high-level vision and honing a precise turn of phrase.

The Vice President will oversee TNTP’s brand, publications, internal communications, and strategic support for TNTP staff and clients in school systems nationwide.

Learn more about TNTP, this role, and how to apply via this link.

September 16, 2016

Edujob: Managing Director of Policy and Research, TN Charter School Center

Here’s a great edujob that blends several related and crucial issues in a really interesting state: Managing Director of Policy and Research for the Tennessee Charter School Center. 

The Managing Director of Policy and Research will lead the organization’s work in setting the statewide legislative agenda for TCSC, and identifying a roadmap for future policy, regulatory, and advocacy work on behalf of the public charter sector in Tennessee. Additionally, s/he will identify best practices and opportunities for advancement of the sector, and guide local policy agendas for sites of impact across Tennessee.

You can learn more about the role and how to be considered via this link.

Friday Fish! Petrilli Returns!

The Petrilli’s took their son fishing and you’ll never believe what happened next!


Nico Petrilli’s angling career has been featured here before a few ways. But this fish is a milestone. He got it on the Potomac, near Sycamore Island, so father Mike is proud it’s an “inside the beltway” fish.

Hundreds of education people with fish – a ten year archive! –  through this link. Send me yours!

September 14, 2016

Edujob: Deputy ED At NAGB

Here’s a terrific edujob coming open: Deputy Executive Director at the National Assessment Governing Board (pdf). NAGB oversees, sets policy for, and administers the National Assessment of Educational Progress.  That basket of assessments, the NAEP, is the widely regarded benchmark for assessing broad trends in student achievement and contextual factors. The successful candidate in this role will have some big shoes to fill but it’s a great opportunity to have impact on a very important educational tool and help ensure that it remains high quality and sustainable into the future.

More about the position and how to apply via the JD here (pdf).

September 12, 2016

Texas Spec Ed, Haynes On Charters And Race, Whitmire On Charters In DC, 16 For 2016, Extended Time, Discipline, Climate Change And Schools, Antler Arch

You were probably under the impression that the answer is 42. Turns out it’s 8.5. And this story about 8.5 from Texas is ugly.

Here are sixteen education policy ideas for the next President (pdf).

Cynthia Tucker Haynes on charter schools and the African-American community.

The long-running backlash against charter schools — now stoked to a full frontal assault — has been fueled largely by the traditional educational establishment, which views them as a threat. That establishment fears unfavorable comparisons with traditional public schools and more job losses for teachers and principals in low-performing ones. The sense of insecurity is especially keen among black educators, many of whom are, of course, active members of the NAACP.

For generations, teaching has been the backbone of the black middle class, and the movement for public education reform has driven a wedge between black teachers and principals, on one side, and poor and working-class black parents, who are desperately seeking alternatives to the low-performing schools in their neighborhoods, on the other. Last year, the Black Alliance for Educational Options released a survey of black voters in four states — Alabama, Louisiana, New Jersey and Tennessee. It found that majorities in each state favor charters.

Whitmire with 10 reasons things are politically more low-key in D.C.

Interesting RAND/Wallace study on summer learning opportunities. Yes, it turns out that if students attend academic programs during the summer it might boost their achievement. Low income kids! Some limitations on study design and findings but directionally promising.

Climate change coming to schools – quite literally.

Schools are always a common place to fight out our social and cultural battles: Good News Clubs versus After School Satan Clubs.

Reducing suspension and generally improving discipline practices in schools is an important goal – but absent some real support for implementation brace for a backlash. 

It’s  hard to miss a lot of parallels between our debate over policing and the debate over teaching both in how it’s discussed, institutional culture and capacity, and the various ideas for remedies.

Pay tribute to the arch.

Edujob: Executive Director: Greater New Orleans/Louisiana Delta Teach For America

Here’s a great edujob with the possibility for real impact. From the JD:

When TFA launched in 1990, its New Orleans chapter began with just 45 corps members but, today, the region has a corps of over 200 serving the parishes of Orleans, Jefferson, and St. Bernard. In 2010, TFA expanded its work in the region to include two parishes in the Louisiana Delta, which began with 16 corps members.  Since then, we have seen the impact of our teachers, in partnership with community members, with results in test scores, increased graduation rates, and opportunities for our students: today, TFA corps members and alumni comprise a full 20% of the New Orleans teaching force, over 50 alumni serve as leaders at the school or school systems level, 40% of Orleans charters are led by alumni, 2/3 of our alumni teach for a third year, three of our teachers in Concordia Parish began Conexiones: Costa Rica which is now in its third year and takes students to Costa Rica every June, a corps member was a finalist for Louisiana Teacher of the Year, and there are over 1,000 alumni living in the region, 91% of whom are doing mission-centered work.

You can build on that work. A lot more information and context through the this link.

September 9, 2016

Friday Fish Porn! Sharks!

Candice Santomauro of NMSI took some time to fish this summer off of Florida’s Space Coast. First she caught this:


A few more might make an appetizer? But then, she caught this:


Legit! I don’t think we’ve had a shark before. But you can check to be sure in this roster of education people with fish going back a decade. And the answer to this is – yes! Send me your summer pics.

September 8, 2016

BLM And Ed Politics, Surf’s Up In MD! 16 for 2016 From Bellwether, Charter Schools, Teacher Pensions, AP, Get A Hobby! Deb Kenny Video.

New from Bellwether: 16 ideas for the next president on education (pdf). They cover a lot of ground from data and choice to food and trafficking. We have top chefs and top wonks, all in one place! Terrific roster of contributors and these ideas have implications beyond Washington policy discussions.

Elsewhere, in the Washington Post I take a look at school choice and the campaign. Last week at USN I wrote about writing and what our writing challenges and writing debate really says out the larger education debate.

Chad Aldeman with an important piece on teacher pensions and retirement policy in the NY Daily News. If I can leave you with one idea about teacher pensions I hope it’s that teacher retirement policy is not an education issue – it’s a broader retirement security issue.

In several ways this Connecticut finance decision is a BFD.

Paul Weinstein on why AP is a college cost issue for parents.

Here’s an old education story: Long held value clashes with some other imperative. In this case Maryland’s Republican governor had to balance local control with the need to make sure kids are in school enough. OK, that’s not quite right. Actually, he had to balance local control with the desire of his state’s vacation industry to keep schools closed for the summer until after Labor Day. So he mandated a post-Labor Day school start. 

To Governor Hogan’s credit he didn’t dress his announcement up as some sort of educational initiative by rolling it out at say a tutoring center, sports facility, or a school. No, he went right to Ocean City, an economic engine in Maryland. Full credit for some refreshing transparency.

Still, Maryland educators are frustrated with the constraints, which will become acute if the state has a tough winter with a lot of days out of school. And local school districts should be able to make these choices shouldn’t they? Virginia has a similarly vacation industry driven rule on school starts that creates needless hoops for school superintendents to jump through. But in a discussion of the issue on the Kojo Nnamdi show on NPR the other day one caller, Donny from Baltimore, made the point that this was a banner idea because now he could celebrate his birthday and his daughter’s birthday without the hassle of school starting the last week of August. So there is that.

This Richard Whitmire interview with Ravi Gupta is generally worth reading but this line is so smart:

If I could do one thing by fiat to improve the education debates in Nashville, it would be to give everyone a hobby. If folks didn’t view their self-worth at stake in every Twitter battle, we would have more honest conversations.

It’s a piece of advice I offer young people when asked. Balance matters or you’ll lose your equilibrium. I’d also add, maintain a diverse group of friends who do genuinely different things in life than you do.

BLM education politics. Resignation over the anti-charter position. Pushback on the West Coast. And Derrell Bradford pushes back:

Given Black Lives Matter’s premise—that the government systematically acts in a way that undermines trust in both the police and in order—you have to wonder why, if the movement’s members approach the police with such skepticism, they are now asking parents to put all their faith and confidence in schools that have failed them for decades?

There is a political answer to that question, obviously. But there is also an intellectual issue bound up in it. BLM is hardly the only instance of clear recognition of a problem or basket of problems in one venue not transferring to another involving education. Many people have noticed the parallels between the policing debate and the debate about schools. Bu we also have many advocates and elected officials who appreciate how the foster students, adjudicated students, or special education students are not well treated by the “system” and need rights and protections as a result. But many of these same advocates don’t connect the dots with the broader system and the exact same kind of issues and norms. Connecting those dots, as Bradford does here, seems an important project to broaden the conversation about the need for dramatic school improvement.

Charters, charters, everywhere! Last year Bellwether released a deck of data on charter schools around the country (pdf). A lot of nuance and different experiences but one theme that jumped out was growth. Even by conservative estimates there are going to be a lot of charters in a decade or two. There are a lot now. In New York they’ve now hit 10 percent of the city’s students. Ten percent may not seem like a lot, but this is New York. A lot of kids there. Another reason the action now is about how to grow charters, not whether they’re going to crow.  Political resistance may slow things down and put up some barriers around the edges but the trendline is pretty clear.

Here’s your daily dose of adorable via Deb Kenny.

Off-edu: If this kind of thing floats your boat email me. Hosting a show for Tracy in November in Virginia.

September 7, 2016

16 For 2016: Policy Ideas For The Next Administration

New publication from Bellwether today: 16 school ideas for the next administration (pdf). They include interesting ideas on perennial education issues like choice, teacher quality and data. But also ideas on topics including food, trafficking, and blockchain technology.

Contributors include wonks you probably know but also national leaders on various issues – Chef Tom Colicchio, Gold medalist Steve Mesler, and farming leader Lindsey Lusher Shute. It’s a fantastic group.

You can read them all and learn more about the project here (pdf).

Thank You Guestbloggers!

Big thanks to Ari Rozman, Tim Daly, and David Keeling from EdNavigatorKira Orange Jones of Teach For America and the Louisiana Board of Education,  Kevin Kosar of the R Street InstituteDerrell Bradford of NYCAN and Alex Hernandez of the Charter School Growth Fund for some great guestblogging during August. You can scroll through to read their stuff you missed it but an eclectic set of posts on a range of issues. Well worth your time if you missed it.

September 2, 2016

Friday Edition: Links, Moose Porn, Alien Invasions

The post below is by guest blogger Alex Hernandez.


The Best Things I Read This Week

FiveThirtyEight lays down the facts on US immigration and Marc Porter Magee thinks schools should pay attention. For the record, the alien invasion story is further down and is about actual extraterrestrials.

Andy Rotherham wants kidz to right really, really good and, at the end of the day, your school has no imagination and notwithstanding the foregoing get off his lawn.

Richard Whitmire dropped the The Founders, a history of America’s best charter schools. My colleague Darryl Cobb forgot he hated the internet just long enough to talk about his seriously amazing work supporting charter school leaders of color.

Matt Candler of 4pt0 Schools says “a lot of #edtech is just not helping” and proposes three technologies that will make school better for everyone. [Note: I’m on the 4pt0 board]

Researcher Susan Dynarski is an Imperator Furiosa-level badass.

Our alien overlords finally made contact before the predictable lamestream media cover-up.

We are all in the same gang: some Stanford physics PhD thinks wormholes and quantum entanglement are the same thing. He wants a truce between the theories of general relativity and quantum mechanics.

Finally, if you need something to read this holiday weekend, I recommend Narconomics: How to Run a Drug Cartel by Tom Wainright. Thought-provoking and downright practical.

And now… #MoosePorn. We saw these moose (don’t call them meese) while hiking Kenosha Pass in Colorado. But everyone in Colorado has moose in their backyards, obviously.











Photo taken by my friend Rebecca Hoskins

Thanks Eduwonk for letting me crash this week.


Alex Hernandez (@thinkschools) is a partner at Charter School Growth Fund, a nonprofit that supports the growth of the nation’s best public charter schools. He serves on the boards of DSST Public Schools, Ednovate, 4.0 Schools and Rocketship Education. Alex graduated from Claremont McKenna College and has an MBA and Masters of Education from Stanford University. He lives near Boulder, CO with his wife and twin sons and can usually be found on his porch late in the evening playing Mexican folk songs.

September 1, 2016

Should K-12 Be About Helping Students Get Into The Middle Class?

The post below is by guest blogger Alex Hernandez.


If you want to know what motivates educators working in high-performing, charter public schools, start with the college completion gap between rich and poor students.

Fifty-four percent of students from families in the top income quartile complete a bachelor’s degree by age 24. But only 9% of students from families in the bottom income quartile do the same (Bailey and Dynarski, 2011). In 2015, KIPP reported a 44% college completion rate for its students who finished 8th grade 10+ years ago and a number of other charter networks are hovering in that range. As a reference point, 36% of US adults ages 25 to 34 have a bachelor’s degree.

But now things start getting complicated.

Some portion of students who complete college will be alarmingly underemployed.

Some students will face the double whammy of not completing college and carrying student loan debt.

Some students won’t attend college at all.

In each of these cases, students will struggle to battle their way into the middle class.

The high-performing charter school sector will keep trying to push college completion rates up, but even if completion percentages go up another 10-20% – which would be incredible – the complexities I laid out are still there.

A number of folks, including myself, are beginning to wonder what it would look like to reframe the educational mission from college completion to middle class enfranchisement? That was the subtext of a recent study on Texas charter schools that showed “No Excuses charters schools increase test scores and educational attainment, but have a small and statistically insignificant effect on earnings.”

I don’t know if reframing K-12 education in this way is a good idea. Four-year colleges and universities have plenty of work they need to do with their 60-65% six-year graduation rates (the rates are even worse for students of color) and 2,600:1 career counselor to student ratios. And it seems silly to push kids to “figure it all out” even earlier in life.

But there also seems to be a lot opportunity.

New education organizations are emerging to support low-income students for upward mobility. The nonprofit Braven is building a coaching and support layer for underrepresented students at San Jose State University and Rutgers University to help propel them into strong first jobs. Year Up helps low-income, high school graduates find internships and take relevant post-secondary courses so they can secure full-time work.

But I also wonder how we reorganize K-12 to better position all students for upwardly mobile careers. I can see a wave of school model innovation along these lines. I don’t think schools can be good at everything so this work could lead to interesting new partnerships and approaches.

Students will also benefit from better technology. Valencia College in Florida, considered one of the best community colleges in the nation, offers its students a career coaching portal where they can learn about careers, see which companies offer those job locally, get local salary and employment data, and click straight through to job listings. Boston-based Burning Glass is feeding colleges and universities with sophisticated career data and analytics.

I have a lot more questions than answers right now, but the whole area seems ripe for innovation. Would love to hear others’ thoughts!

[Note: my employer Charter School Growth Fund provides philanthropic support to the KIPP Foundation and various KIPP regions]


Alex Hernandez (@thinkschools) is a partner at Charter School Growth Fund, a nonprofit that supports the growth of the nation’s best public charter schools. He serves on the boards of DSST Public Schools, Ednovate, 4.0 Schools and Rocketship Education. Alex graduated from Claremont McKenna College and has an MBA and Masters of Education from Stanford University. He lives near Boulder, CO with his wife and twin sons and can usually be found on his porch late in the evening playing Mexican folk songs.

August 31, 2016

Ahoy! Charter Schools Be Sharing Their Treasure

The post below is by guest blogger Alex Hernandez.


A few weeks back, I blogged about the moral imperative high-performing schools have to share “their best stuff.”

For example, Achievement First in NY/CT launched an Open Source portal with tons of free tools and materials. Summit Public Schools in CA is giving its personalized learning platform away to 120 schools this fall (its second cohort). As a new teacher, one of the first things I did was download Phillips Exeter Academy’s math curriculum.

But things are getting crazy now, you guys. Boston charter schools, Match Education and Brooke Charter Schools, are showing their patriotism and dumping all their educational goodness into… fish tanks?

The prolific Match Education recently launched Match Fishtank to open source the curriculum and assessments that the Match Schools have developed over the last 15 years.

The first three fish in the tank for you to play with: 7th grade math, 7th grade English and 9th grade English. Teachers and instructional leaders can download the entire courses or individual units. Materials are Common Core-aligned and include everything a teacher needs to give a lesson.

The site is still in beta and I don’t think anyone at Match will say they have it all figured out. But they do great work with students and are now jumping right into the shark-infested waters of online curriculum. Pro tip: flushing their materials down the toilet will not set them free into the ocean.

Brooke Charter Schools, a Boston school system I highlighted yesterday and that is gaining recognition as one of America’s best charter schools, also jumped into the sharing waters recently.

They are putting together a series of videos and instructional resources to help other educators understand their approaches to literacy, mathematics and science.

Brooke is trying to give teachers an unfiltered look at their classes, not over-produced reality TV: “The videos in this series… are real lessons with real kids; they haven’t practiced these lessons before and they aren’t special lessons designed to impress others – they are just the lessons that were happening on the day that we brought a camera crew to that campus.”

The sharing ethos runs strong at Brooke. Co-CEO Kimberly Steadman is hosting 20 educators at her schools as I write, her second large group of visitors in two days.

The open source movement among public charter schools is gaining steam. And that can only be good for teachers who must be exhausted treading water through Google search trying to salvage stuff they can use in their classrooms.

I’m out of water puns. See ya tomorrow.

[Note: my employer Charter School Growth Fund provides philanthropic support to Achievement First, Brooke Charter Schools and Summit Public Schools]


Alex Hernandez (@thinkschools) is a partner at Charter School Growth Fund, a nonprofit that supports the growth of the nation’s best public charter schools. He serves on the boards of DSST Public Schools, Ednovate, 4.0 Schools and Rocketship Education. Alex graduated from Claremont McKenna College and has an MBA and Masters of Education from Stanford University. He lives near Boulder, CO with his wife and twin sons and can usually be found on his porch late in the evening playing Mexican folk songs.

August 30, 2016

The Intellectual Awakening. Have You Felt It?

The post below is by guest blogger Alex Hernandez.


What argument is the author trying to make?

Do you agree or disagree?

My freshman literature professor at Claremont McKenna College sat expectantly, hands folded. I was stunned. After thirteen years of K-12 schooling, it never occurred to me I could disagree with an author whose ideas were in print. I was the dream citizen for any oppressive regime trying to make things a little easier.

The two simple questions above were asked over and over again, in class after class, and were the foundation of my liberal arts education. Read a challenging text. Debate the author’s meaning. Form your own argument. Write about it. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

College was my intellectual awakening.

I always think about my first day of freshman lit when I walk through Success Academy Charter Schools in New York and Brooke Charter Schools in Boston. [Note: my employer Charter School Growth Fund provides philanthropic support to both Success and Brooke]

The intellectual awakening at Success Academies begins at five year old. The video below (start at 0:52 if crunched for time) shows first graders debating the story The Araboolies of Liberty Street and its themes of freedom and oppression.


These first graders are wrestling with a challenging text and debating the author’s meaning, like I was asked to do in college. But if you dig deeper, you’ll see the heavy thinking in this class is shouldered by students, not adults.

I had the opportunity to attend Success Academies’ summer teacher training (T-School) in 2015. We spent the entire day making meaning of texts and preparing sets of questions to spark student discussion, just like in the video. Spoiler: it’s harder than it looks.

Brooke Charter Schools is similarly focused on helping students analyze texts and make written arguments in response to literature.Their instructional resources are shared here.

In this video (see 7:52, 11:08 and 16:39), seventh grade students analyze the writing of their peers to learn how to make an effective argument. Similar to Success, Ms. Teevens pushes the thinking load on her students as they write.

Success and Brooke’s academic programs are designed to spark the intellectual awakening that I didn’t receive until college. And they do it for low-income, students of color.

Not surprisingly, Brooke and Success students score higher on state tests than their wealthy peers who receive a less challenging education. The higher Common Core standards have helped bring more reading and writing into schools, but in his book, Results Now (2006, p. 66), Mike Schmoker reminds us how rare it is to find schools that provide such rich, academic experiences.

Schmoker_Academic Dialog










While Brooke and Success are recognized by many of their charter school peers for having the most sophisticated academic programs in the country, a lot of reactions are designed to discredit their work.

They cream the best students! (i.e., the kids would have succeeded anyway)

They get rid of their toughest students! (i.e., they cheat)

They spend all their time on test prep! (i.e., the schools game the system)

They only succeed on state tests! (i.e, test scores are not legitimate measures)

They can’t replicate their results (i.e., let’s just ignore these outliers)

What folks are saying (but not really saying) is that if low-income, students of color seem to be improving their educational circumstances then it must be a hoax.

But what if low-income students could receive the education I had to wait until college to receive (and pay over a hundred thousand dollars).

What if success actually existed in urban public education?

Success would look a lot like these public charter schools in Boston and New York.


Alex Hernandez (@thinkschools) is a partner at Charter School Growth Fund, a nonprofit that supports the growth of the nation’s best public charter schools. He serves on the boards of DSST Public Schools, Ednovate, 4.0 Schools and Rocketship Education. Alex graduated from Claremont McKenna College and has an MBA and Masters of Education from Stanford University. He lives near Boulder, CO with his wife and twin sons and can usually be found on his porch late in the evening playing Mexican folk songs.

August 29, 2016

Why I’m an Education Reformer

The post below is by guest blogger Alex Hernandez.

I attended my neighborhood public high school in central California. The school was integrated through busing and, in the early 1990s, our 2,600 students were roughly one-third white, one-third black and Latino, and one-third Asian. We had a democratically-elected, local school board. I lived the progressive dream for public education.

I knew something was very wrong at my school. We had about 1,000 freshman and 500 sophomores. Our graduating class had 330 students and maybe 50-75 students went straight to a four-year college. I’d walk around the halls wondering which of my classmates wouldn’t make it.

It’s hard to understand that a bad school can have great teachers. My twelfth grade English teacher and eleventh grade math teacher were among the finest in the area. I also loved one of my Spanish teachers who was kind and motherly. We played craps in the back of her classroom (a lot) while she laughed and pretended to cover her eyes. In staff meetings, she wasn’t passive-aggressive like one of my English teachers who would read the newspaper, holding it high in protest so you couldn’t even tell who was behind it.

I eventually graduated fifth in my high school class and was fortunate enough to attend Claremont McKenna College, a selective liberal arts college. I worried a bit when I read more books in my first week of college than in my entire four years of high school.

My junior year at Claremont, a friend pulled me aside and tried to gently inform me, “Uhhhh… You know you can’t write, right?” It’s one thing to be told by a teacher that your work isn’t up to snuff. My friend was just trying to be kind and I was completely humiliated.

One would think a 4.7 high school GPA, inflated by honors classes where “A”s were worth five points, would mean I was college-ready. But I placed in the lowest-level math class offered at my college and the people who cared for me the most felt genuinely sorry for my literacy skills.

California began ranking its public schools based on state test scores in 1999 and abruptly stopped in 2013. My high school spent most of that period ranked in the bottom 20% of ALL public high schools in the state. The rankings confirmed what we all long suspected and knew to be true in our hearts.

I’m an education reformer, because…

I know some schools are better than others.

I know good teaching matters… and it is scarce.

I know great teachers can work in bad organizations.

I know schools only work for kids if the adults are all rowing in the same direction.

I know schools don’t just magically get better.

I know families with means move to segregated public school districts, choose private schools and/or take tests to gain admission to exclusive public schools — and no one thinks anything of it.

I know I was one of the lucky ones.

I know we can do better.


Alex Hernandez (@thinkschools) is a partner at Charter School Growth Fund, a nonprofit that supports the growth of the nation’s best public charter schools. He serves on the boards of DSST Public Schools, Ednovate, 4.0 Schools and Rocketship Education. Alex graduated from Claremont McKenna College and has an MBA and Masters of Education from Stanford University. He lives near Boulder, CO with his wife and twin sons and can usually be found on his porch late in the evening playing Mexican folk songs.

August 26, 2016

Flower Porn: The Friday Edition

The post below is by guest blogger, Derrell Bradford.

I was looking for this picture of a koi I used to have but I could not find it. Back in the day I used to think koi were just goldfish—old and grown up—but I have since been told that isn’t true.

I don’t really take piscine pics but I do take flowers photos sometimes…and other things. So here are three of the former, including the Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) of my home state Maryland, and a pic out of my window when I am taking an insanely early train to DC for one of our team meetings. Hope you enjoy.

Thanks to Eduwonk for the space this week. Stay frosty people.

Flower IFlower II Flower IIICity I

Derrell Bradford is the executive vice president at 50CAN, and the executive director of its New York branch, NYCAN. Derrell serves on several boards and leadership councils that focus on educational equity: Success Academy Charter Schools; The Partnership for Educational Justice; EdBuild; and The National Association of Charter School Authorizers Advisory Board, among others. Derrell is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in English. A native of Baltimore, he currently lives outside New York City and can be found riding his bike along the Hudson, rooting for Tottenham Hotspur (and Liverpool), photographing the city, and refusing to try new foods.