March 29, 2019

More Charters, Willingham Knowledge Check, Special Olympics Kabuki, Discipline Debate, NCTQ, And Proper Fish Porn….

No fish porn today, more soon, but let me use this as an opportunity to be crystal clear about what I absolutely am not looking for.

Dan Willingham with some important cautions. The gaps between research and what everyone knows are really stunning. This week I heard someone in a position of real influence talking about how it doesn’t matter when you learn to read so all this focus on early reading is arbitrary.

Yesterday I mentioned how a charter story was in no small part a dysfunctional public systems story and school district story. Here’s more from the LAT on what I meant. And reminds me of the 2004 California Charter Academy collapse, which as I recall was a school district trying to collect fees to fund some positions.

Surprise! Special Olympics aren’t going to take federal funding cut. This entire episode has been, top to bottom, an object lesson in how the federal budget and appropriations process does not work but everyone just played along and DeVos got left without a chair when the music stopped – not the first time that has happened. Update: Deep dive from Erica Green and Maggie Haberman on the backstory. And here’s a refresher on the bathroom policy debate.

Comment period for IES priorities. As opposed to the Special Olympics brouhaha this is going to happen.

Discipline debate research debate.

Good 411 from NCTQ on teachers contracts and strikes. And speaking of NCTQ this new book they have out on becoming a teacher is a great resource – a lot of stuff in one place.

It seldom turns out the way it does in the song. 

March 28, 2019

Is Not Pivoting The New Pivot? Funders Are Good/Bad/Human…Plus TFA In The Dock In CA, School Safety, Janus Fallout, Music…More…

Music at the top here: Bellwether’s house band Chord Values.

Happy Opening Day! Slow blogging, since last week, sorry, for a sector where nothing is happening it’s surprisingly busy. But a bunch of stuff below.

Funders! Something you hear a lot in certain rooms in this sector is how so much money is dirty. Don’t take Koch money we’re told (Bellwether doesn’t get Koch money so I don’t have a dog in this particular fight) because it’s dirty or even racist. Nevermind that Koch has an innovative partnership with UNCF and is doing some interesting work on helping ex-offenders get on with their lives even as people like me take issue with their environmental policies. Don’t take Walton money we’re often told (we do get Walton funding) and I like what they do on oceans and sustainable agriculture in addition to education. So who, then, should we take money from you sometimes ask those who know better? And  CZI / Facebook is frequently cited as one of the good guys (we have done work for them). Except, they may have had something to do with Russian efforts to interfere in our elections and just today they got sued for violating the Fair Housing Act. Or the Ford Foundation is supposed to be a virtuous one…OK really?

I’m all for disclosure of who funds what (and we have no confidential clients or funders in case you’re wondering) but this business of picking and choosing “good” funders based on perceived virtue strikes me as a very fraught business because everyone’s various heuristics seem to fall apart every time they make contact with an actual use case. Life is more complicated than this and a lot of funders, from all over the ideological spectrum, are trying to do good work as they see it – including all the ones mentioned here – and it’s probably more productive to figure out where you agree, work on shared priorities, disagree on the rest, move on.

High-Performing charters have not solved the to and through college challenge but they are putting a real dent it and changing lives. This new Richard Whitmire project is important.

The most basic thing schools should do is keep young people safe and we fail at that way too much. Appalling story. And here’s another tragic one.

And then there is this ongoing Parkland tragedy:

CNN just won the Cronkite Award for its town hall on the Parkland shooting and gun control. If it had instead sent a camera crew into the school, I think Sydney Aiello and Calvin Desir might still be with us.

Meanwhile, still too few counselors in schools – fixing that has education and safety benefits.

This effort to get rid of TFA in California pretty much lays bare the cynical politics of this sector and how  much it has to do with power and how little it has to do with what’s good for kids. Like TFA or not, the evidence is overwhelming and pretty clear it doesn’t harm students.

$112.5 million Duke research settlement.

Janus fallout. The short term cases matter (dues refunds, reasonable ability to exit the union etc…) but as we’ve discussed here the more serious threat for the teachers unions is how far the 1st Amendment jurisprudence extends. Here’s the Bellwether deck on Janus context.

When I was on the Virginia Board of Education superintendents used to have to come and ask for waivers to open school earlier than Labor Day because of our “Kings Dominion Law.” It was a total and embarrassing charade and poor use of their time (for many school divisions a trip to Richmond is an overnight trip, Virginia’s bigger than you think). The whole spectacle was especially ridiculous because the other 95 percent of the time everyone was fetishizing “local control” as a reason not to do this or that to attack achievement gaps and other problems. Thankfully that law was just changed.

Dale Chu on the unglamorous blocking and tackling of school improvement. You also always hear about how this standards-aligned or that Common Core instruction is rote and boring or worse and these other approaches are exciting engaging. But when you spend time in classrooms with teachers who really teach – so kids are learning about what they’re reading, how to think about it and analyze it, not just superficially discussing how it makes them feel or what it reminds them of, I always think how that’s the teaching I want for my kids (and that kids in affluent suburban schools too often don’t get either). Content rich and challenging teaching engages kids…and teaches them.

New charter data in Florida.

This is not a good look for charter schools but also a good reminder that most charter authorizer are school districts or other similar public bodies (pp 70 here for the landscape) so a lot of what we casually consider “charter” problems are broader sector problems.

Also if you were wondering when the usual suspects would start to spin up and Beto O’Rourke’s wife would be come a campaign issue – here’s your answer.

Related, today in tin foil. “The people who believe this stuff are, of course, nuts.”

You may have heard about the president’s budget request and Special Olympics – they have good lobbyists. Here’s the organization’s annual report with revenue sources, the federal contribution is not insignificant and has been growing the past few years. Spoiler Alert: Congress is not going to defund Special Olympics. That was true even before Democrats took control of the House.

Surprising amount of ed content in this story about a New York political money dinner.

Yeah, sure, everyone is pivoting these days. But this seems like a good move for K12 and as we talked about the other day an area of real investor interest.

Don’t do this. And also don’t do this. People!

Happy Birthday.

March 22, 2019

Mead On Charter Growth, Free Speech EO, Sports, Music, And New York Myths And CA Pensions…

Emmeline Zhao is a wonderful partner with a delightful mean streak. Look for our project on Jack Coons and his work in education later in April.

Don’t miss Sara Mead on charter growth.

We discussed the other day a possible Trump executive order on campus free speech. It came yesterday along with some other provisions and is basically a big nothing – it calls on schools to enforce current law though it is possible it could lead to some new bureaucracies people may soon come to regret alongside already sprawling campus bureaus around various issues.

Obviously President Trump as a free speech champion is ludicrous given some of his rhetoric. But hopefully this lands as a big nothing and people don’t take the bait. President Trump is adept at getting into his critics’ heads and using the reflexive opposition to whatever he does to get critics out of position politically. In other words, yes universities should protect free speech and free inquiry, yes as they have to now under the law, and yes there are some problems – and always have been from different directions at different times – although it’s hardly the “crisis” some make it out to be.

Also on higher ed, here’s Bruno Manno on more workforce friendly options emerging in post-secondary sector. I have been struck lately at how gloomy many people are about K-12 and higher ed and the energy that is driving toward alternative options and various employer-embedded strategies.

This Alia Wong story on some of the myths surrounding the Stuyvesant debate makes some important points and highlights some frequently overlooked caveats. But her take on the public opinion is pegged to a 2014 survey when there is  more recent data that paints a more textured picture of the landscape.

California has a fiscal problem around pensions.

CRPE on teachers unions and charters, what does organizing lead to?

Do we have a disdain for high school sports? I don’t know how widespread it is outside of the general debate about how people view sports. But, I do wonder whether decoupling sports from high schools more, or really supplementing non-school leagues for high school aged athletes, might allow for more people to view sports as a life long inclusive activity rather than one where people are weeded out. You could still have elite sports leagues but also broader participation in less elite ones. That has health and other implications.

In lieu of music, here’s Sandy Kress on the power of music.

Posted on Mar 22, 2019 @ 3:08pm

March 20, 2019

Vesting Periods Matter – A Lot. And Financial Models Are More Fun Than You Thought! Plus Rebecca Kantar, Haslam & Markell, PD, IDEA In Texas, More!

Tanya Skubiak on why financial models are so much cooler than you think!

Chad Aldeman on why teacher vesting periods matter – a lot.

More on Bellwether’s recent MSI report.

There are definitely political benefits to universal programs in terms of durability and support, but free college, as it’s generally proposed, is a giveaway to the wealthy. Surprised this dynamic isn’t discussed more.

This profile starts to capture the crazy genius of Rebecca Kantar and why you should pay attention to what she’s up to.

Via The 74, Bill Haslam and Jack Markell in conversation about education. has PD opportunities for teachers. K-5 courses and middle and high school. Scholarships available.

Here’s a profile of IDEA Public Schools in Texas.*


*Bellwether client. GIF via Giphy

March 18, 2019

Pension Backloading, History In Georgia, College Scams And K-12’s Unremarkable Unfairness, Is The Opportunity Gap Closing? More…

Everyone appreciates that teacher pensions are backloaded – and some backloading arguably makes sense. But, I’d hazard a guess most people are unaware of the intensity of the backloading and what that means for retirement security for teachers. Chad Aldeman and Marisa Vong take a look at that in a new analysis. Here’s Ed Week on the analysis.

Bellwether’s Brandon Lewis on his history making friend:

We were all there to witness history in the making as my long-time friend Everton Blair was sworn in as the youngest school board member in Gwinnett County history. That night, he also became the first Black person to serve on the County’s board.

I talked with Matt Lewis about the college admissions scam and the education scene more generally for his Matt Lewis and the News podcast.

Derrell Bradford:

All of which brings up the question: If this behavior is so reprehensible at the college level, why is it completely acceptable in K-12 education across this country?

Rick Hess with a modest proposal for college admissions. Seems people don’t want to reckon with not only the unfairness of college admissions but also the pure randomness. Does anyone really think the next quartile of people who don’t get into a selective college wouldn’t probably be OK there, or thrive there?

Here’s Rick Hanushek and others with a deep dive on the opportunity gap:

Contrary to recent perceptions, we find the opportunity gap—that is, the relationship between socioeconomic status and achievement—has not grown over the past 50 years. But neither has it closed. Instead, the gap between the haves and have-nots has persisted.

Well regarded and well liked economist Alan Krueger has passed. Among impactful work on a range of issues he produced important education research, including work on this elite college question in the news now. Update: More here on a very tragic event.

Blair Braverman’s book was on the 2018 book list here, this story about how her Twitter followers are funding school projects in support of her Iditarod race is a good one:

This Nat’l Geo story…

In her notebook entry, Yelena Shevel, 10, reported that she likes going to the swimming pool and the shooting range equally. Mykhailo Deinikov, 8, wrote that he believes “it’s important to defend the homeland because it can be captured by the enemy very easily and we can be taken hostage and killed.” Yet he also wrote about his peacetime dream of becoming a fish researcher: “I do not want to become a soldier because it’s scary. I dream that there will be no more wars in the world.”

License to Kill.

Matt Lewis And The News

Matt Lewis is an interesting polymath journalist (we use him for some media trainings we do at Bellwether to increase the diversity of voices in the education conversation). He also has a fun podcast and now video. I sat down with him last week to discuss the college cheating scandal and the K-12 education scene.

March 15, 2019

Ocean State Governance, College Admission Scam, Birch Bayh, More!

Allison Crean Davis and Jason Weeby on education governance lessons from Rhode Island. 

Backstory on the FBI’s admissions investigation. And it’s useful to remember that there are poor parents in jail for committing fraud to get their children into better public school options – because they couldn’t afford to move to the neighborhoods with good schools and did not have choice options. In other words, yes the higher ed game is rigged in myriad ways, but the K-12 system is, too, it’s just done in such plain sight we’ve come to think of it as unremarkable. So unremarkable, in fact, that it’s some of the loudest voices against wealth inequality most vocally defending the education status quo on parent choice.

Are the teachers unions behind the recent protests? It depends.

And here’s what happens in a broken relationship. it’s suboptimal for schools to close for protests, it’s suboptimal to intimidate teachers for exercising their voice. But when everyone wants to amp stuff up instead of working it out here its where we are.

Even the mob questions U.S. education quality now:

Mr. Cali’s contacts with Italy were part of a broader trend in the 21st century of crime families importing Italian-born men, the law enforcement official said.

“They have what they believe are the old values, because the American-born kids don’t have the right stuff anymore,” the official said.

Birch Bayh has passed, played a role on Title IX among other issues.


Posted on Mar 15, 2019 @ 1:34pm

Friday Fish Porn – Mr. Commodore

Fewer fish pictures in the winter but you can still get out, I had a good day on a river a few weeks ago.

Scott Roza, Marguerite Roza’s husband, was on the Provo River in Utah this week. If you don’t know her work, you should, amazing contributor in the sector.

For his part, Scott’s a great person to spend a day on the water with, I have, he fishes hard and is a lot of fun.

That’s true of the whole family. The Roza family are past Fish Porn fixtures. More of them here and here.

If you want a broader array of education types and education connected types with fish then click here and here.

March 14, 2019

POTUS Politics And Education, Education Lawsuits To Watch, Discipline, Cheating, More!

Jason Weeby on Indianapolis and Eight Nine? Cities.

New today: Really interesting work here from NACSA on charter authorizing.*

Laura Smith is an FBI agent by day, but she’s written one of the most interesting things on higher education and society to come along in a while. 

Keep an eye on this Montana Blaine case, significant no matter what action the SCOTUS takes. And keep an eye on this NYC lawsuit about high school admissions as well. 

Interesting op-ed on school discipline from a Queens politician. You hear a lot of this anecdotally but not a lot of space in the middle right now.’

What happened in Newark and what does it mean for Cory Booker? Dylan Scott of Vox on that. Joe Biden and busing, Jason Riley on that.

New TFA research.

Get your goat.

Who’s cheating who?

*My BW colleague Sara Mead is on their board, I’m on an advisory board, we’ve done consulting for them, so lots of overlap. Read it yourself to decide if it’s as interesting as I claim!

March 12, 2019

Bias! And Lessons From MSIs. Plus Charters, Teachers, And Hipsters All Look Alike…More!

Sara Mead on why curriculum and teacher quality are not either/ors. Max Marchitello and Justin Trinidad with a new analysis about lessons MSI’s can teach more generally about training teachers to work with diverse populations. Here’s Justin on the ed school faculty piece of that conversation.

Meanwhile, Brookings asks if the teaching force is becoming more diverse?

This college admissions scam is something. Good reminder that even schools that claim not to care about athletics do.  Good reminder about…well about a lot of things.

Rick Hess returns to a familiar topic for him, the education sector is biased left. This time it’s with Jay Greene and looks a political giving from ed types. You probably already heard about it on Twitter.

The study design has some serious limitations – it’s only federal giving, which is only tracked above certain amount thresholds, it looks at that giving over time but only a snapshot of who foundations support, doesn’t look at for-profit educational firms and companies, doesn’t look comprehensively at state based organizations  (which are more ideologically diverse) and business groups and others, and most importantly the heterodoxy/amount of viewpoint diversity of various organization is probably not well represented by political giving because people choose to give or not give for all sorts of reasons. In addition, there is no reason to assume that education types are any more likely to be single issue voters than others. So for instance someone could think that the Jeb Bushs, Brian Sandovals, and Bill Haslams of the world are good to work with on education policy but nonetheless not support them for office financially or otherwise for other reasons. This is the position a lot of Democratic education reformers find themselves in. On that note, it’s also impossible not to note the irony that many reformers who are quite left leaning in their politics – Don Hirsch, Howard Fuller for instance – are nonetheless constantly identified as right wing. The politics of this sector are bananas. 

All that said, while this study seems set up to provide the bleakest possible take, it’s silly to deny that this issue of ideological homogeneity is a real phenomenon in our sector. Of course it is. It profoundly affects how we think about the range of available policy choices among other things – and is one reason a Hirsch or Fuller can seem right wing, to a hammer everything’s a nail. Even accounting for the limits of the analysis the figures in the report are startling. Likewise, even accounting for some curious methodological choices that excluded some groups that have received Gates money and that seem likely to lean more R, I’d be amazed if there is even rough parity with broader demographics. It’s a problem and while on the one hand schools are inherently political creations and always have been (just ask Socrates) to the extent partisanship and inflexible ideologies infuse the sector it is an issue given the diversity of the public pubic schools serve, and as on other issues of diversity one the sector, should seek to do better on.

On this particular aspect of diversity Bellwether does more than most, has some internal systems to try to check this, and we are generally somewhat unique in our approach and priority on this – it was refreshing to see some folks point that out unsolicited on Twitter last week given that our approach to this carries also real costs because it’s such a polarized time – but we have work to do, too. In any event, when the dust settles I assume that this will result in some new grant money for some right-leaning groups and genuine heterodoxy will continue to remain homeless because it’s out of fashion right now on the left and on the right. 

Bottom line: Two things true at once, some problems with this analysis but also some problems with ideological diversity in the education sector and the ed reform part of that sector.

Here’s Beth Hawkins on the report.

Elsewhere in Rick Hess, he wants an executive order from the president on campus free speech and makes the case here. Free speech and academic freedom are real issues, but an EO seems like a deliberately politically charged way to get at it and exactly the kind of executive overreach/potential for unintended consequences people were concerned about with the previous president.

“It’s all about the kids” is a throwaway line but Tim Daly stops to ask some hard questions about New York. 

If you’re not in Austin here’s an interesting discussion on school choice and race and how wokeness seems to stop at the schoolhouse realtor’s door. Some history, too.

Steve Lopez on charter schools in LA. 

A Detroit principal on school improvement:

My children were in private school. I pulled my children from private school because I felt DEA could match any private school education.

Wondering what’s working and what’s not in Denver? Start here. 

Cami Anderson talks with Christy Coleman.

Guys, you are not going to believe this. Turns out it’s not just curriculum.

Guns in schools – and probably not what you think.

Today in teacher voice. 

Colleges don’t recruit as much in rural communities, and it shows. You hear compelling stories about this from rural college students and less compelling interest from a lot of college administrators.

The courts matter. 

Hipsters all look alike. And there is science on it.

True Colors.