February 1, 2019

Bellwether Decks

Over the past few years, we’ve noticed that slide decks with data on various issues tend to get a lot of downloads and reads. So we’ve put them out on issues including charter schools, recent civil rights data and adjudicated kids, the recent Janus case, and teacher exit data in DC, for instance. These decks both inform and have led to change in policy and practice.

Sharing this because (a) we can build these on issues you’re interested in so reach out to discuss that and (b) our analysts are available to present on them in various formats and settings, and (c) you can look for ones on teacher pensions and retirement policy and education in the American South soon.

January 31, 2019

Teacher Shortages! Plus, Chicago, Billionaires, Schmitz On Spec Ed, Aldeman On Benefits And Cash Comp, More Janus

From BW:

Chad Aldeman takes a look at benefit pressure on salaries – and how the two are intertwined.

Kirsten Schmitz on special educaiton and charter schools (and all schools).

ICYMI yesterday Bellwether put out a new analysis of teacher data showing that the shortage rhetoric is pretty divorced from what’s actually going on.


The other day we talked about how Dana Milbank fell for some spin on Janus impacts and why while the case won’t cause the sky to fall tomorrow the overall trajectory is not a good one for teachers unions. Here’s more data on that:

What makes this completely ridiculous is that the people who predicted the labor movement’s funeral were almost all supporters of the labor movement. In fact, the apocalyptic prophecies were an integral part of the unions’ arguments before the Supreme Court.

If you want to refresh on Janus, here’s the Bellwether deck on the case and its context.

Marguerite Roza on rainy days and economic cycles. 

Paul Hill on the billionaire problem in education rhetoric. Obvious but overlooked point in our fever swamp approach to improving schools for kids – and more generally. If you are against Eli Broad or Reed  Hastings engaging in policy but not as concerned about George Soros and Tom Steyer then you’re not really against billionaires being involved in policy debates, you’re against people you don’t agree with being involved. That’s natural in terms of human nature, but it’s not an especially convincing point of view?

In Chicago Bill Daley is proposing a merger of some of the city’s education assets – K-12 and two-year – to improve seamlessness and consequently quality for kids. It’s an intriguing idea and the teachers’ union is vehemently opposed (“one of the more ridiculous ideas we’ve heard in recent memory”) and people are writing that off to reflexive behavior. But they have a point about the facts on the ground. As my colleague, and Chicagoian, Lina Bankert has noted, City Colleges has to be substantively improved otherwise any articulation plans with it are a mirage for kids. Martha Kanter also notes that unless it’s done carefully ideas like this can increase the problem of under matching.


January 30, 2019

Teacher Shortages! The Gentlest Debate Ever? Automation, Snow Days, More…

Here’s something about Bellwether that doesn’t seem well understood (probably because we have communicated it poorly).

We don’t take fixed positions organizationally on various issues, but that doesn’t mean our team doesn’t have strong views and that those views don’t always align among various team members. We like that, call it ideological diversity or heterodoxy or whatever you want, because it seems to us there are pretty big gaps between what this sector knows and what it thinks it knows and the questions we encounter in our work are complicated and usually carry real tradeoffs.

But, part of that approach means we are empiricists, too, and this analysis by Kate Pennington and Justin Trinidad highlights that. It’s based on some data and shows that teacher shortages are probably not what you read in the newspaper, and certainly not what you heard on Twitter. The data are more nuanced about where shortages are and what kind of shortages we have. The problems are at once more complicated but also more fixable.

You can go a long way in this sector braying about teacher shortages (and I get it, it’s a good advocacy strategy for driving more money to edu), but the actual problems are more interesting – and more solvable.

Also from Bellwether, Tresha Ward on protecting your time as a school leader.

Is a nudge debate like a vigorous debate just so much more gentle? We’re about to find out because we’ve got an actual nudge debate breaking out. Ben Castleman* and Lindsay Page have some new research out indicating that “nudges” might have unintended effects. Jay Greene says, “told you so.” (*Ben and I teach a course together at UVA but very little of it turns on this work so I’m mostly unbiased).

The machine in the picture there on the upper right, which I met at a hotel recently, has me rethinking my entire take on automation. But, regardless of your views on automation this new analysis from Brookings is worth checking out. Some interesting data about who is at risk – might not be what you think – as well as where.

The other day we talked about Janus spin and Janus reality and some of the lawsuits that are coming. Here’s a good example of the king of phase 2 things to watch for.

Well, we haven’t heard from Kentucky Governor Bevin on education in a little while.

Michael Horn on unintended consequences in higher education.

Guy on the left can sing.

January 29, 2019

LA Charters – Performance Not Mixed…Janus Spin, Bible Study, Weather Report…

In The Times Dana Goldstein takes a look at the charter school situation in Los Angeles post-strike. Good look at the stakes but Richard Whitmire has an addendum. I’d suggest the description of performance differentials – on standardized tests – are about as much of a soft sell as you could do without just saying results are mixed.


A 2014 Stanford study that compared traditional and charter schools in Los Angeles found that 48 percent of charters outperformed traditional schools in reading and 44 percent of charters outperformed traditional schools in math; the rest of the charter schools were either similar to public schools or lower performing.

Here’s verbatim from the CREDO study referenced:

Based on the findings presented here, the typical student in a Los Angeles charter school gains more learning in a year than her TPS counterpart, equal to about 50 additional days in reading and 79 additional days in math. These positive patterns emerge in a student’s first year of charter attendance and persist over time. Black and Hispanic students in poverty especially benefit from attendance at charter schools.

A substantial share of Los Angeles charter schools appear to outpace TPS in how well they support academic learning gains in their students in both reading and math. Over 48 percent of Los Angeles charters outpace the learning impacts of TPS in reading, and 44 percent do so in math. Across Los Angeles, about 13 percent of charter schools have results that are significantly worse than TPS for reading, and 22 percent of charter schools in math are underperforming. These results show that a relaxed regulatory environment does not guarantee that every charter school will outperform its traditional public school competitors. It merely establishes conditions that can be fruitful. However, a refined policy environment combined with careful authorizing and strong accountability, such as is seen in Los Angeles, can produce a large proportion of charter schools with superior results.

Goldstein also mentions NAEP data favorable to charters, but I put less stock in that relative to CREDO. This sure seems germane to the debate about charter schools there? It’s also hard to miss how many of LA’s charter schools are social justice oriented and that the results are stronger for black and Hispanic students than white students – more on that in the report above and it’s something we see elsewhere. The support among parents bears that out, yet the special interest politics are pretty much the inverse…

Elsewhere in charters – Massachusetts looking at enrollment.

Here’s an assessment of Denver.

In the Washington Post Dana Milbank falls for teachers union spin about how Janus was actually good for them. As we’ve discussed here a few times, the teachers unions are playing their post-Janus hand pretty masterfully, in particular they are finally engaging with their younger members. If you were a teachers union you’d basically want to do what they’ve done. But, what we’re seeing is probably a dead cat bounce. The effects of Janus are real but slow moving and there are more lawsuits coming both about Janus implementation but also about future organizing questions like exclusive representation. None of this augers well for the unions and here’s a more balanced take about where we are. Here is background on Janus via Bellwether.

And, of course, in the background is the coming demographic fiscal trainwreck that makes all of this look penny ante.

You cannot serve God and the eduwonks? (That’s Mathew, adapted). It seems pretty clear this push for Bible studies in school is thinly veiled culture war stuff and President Trump getting involved hardly helps. But, it would be good if schools did more to each about religions, not just the Bible but all the world’s major faiths. Hard to make sense of a lot of contemporary and historical global affairs absent that.

The land of ice and snow…

January 28, 2019

LA Fallout, Delaware Action, John White, Aspen Fellows, Why Systems Matter, Substitute Action, More!

Katie Rouse on why systems may sound boring but are vital to effectiveness. Paul Astuto on nutrition coaching lessons for education. Ashley LiBetti on DC child care workers and degree requirements.

New class of Pahara – Aspen fellows. 

Billionaire school reformers, blah, blah, blah…Paul Vallas isn’t feeling it.

In other Paul news, Paul Herdman talks about what’s next for Rodel in Delaware. The work there has driven broader ripples so worth paying attention even if you’re not a Blue Hen.

From LA: Sometimes what’s announced in a teachers’ contract deal is not the most important stuff. Also, charters are a handy scapegoat.

Don’t agree with all of this but this interview John White is thoughtful.

Here’s a look at the disaster that would befall us if more Americans graduated from college. 

This story:

In mid-October, a 67-year-old man named Joshua Rubin drove from his home in Brooklyn to Tornillo in his RV. He camped outside the tent city, and started documenting everything he saw there on a Facebook group called “Witness: Tornillo.” He wanted to make sure the lives of the children held at the facility weren’t erased from public memory.

Out of the box ways to attract substitute teachers. And here’s some good news on teacher quality. No wait…Anyway, interesting study from Martin West.

Aspects of the history of public schools are certainly not attractive but the history of vocational ed is more complicated than you may have heard. 

From Europe: The kids are alright.

Just Got Paid.

January 22, 2019

LA Strike – It’s Over? AFT Opioid Effort, All4Ed, Hawkins & Jeffries, More!

A few years ago Bellwether put out a deck on the state of the charter sector, friends and critics of charters saw it as an evenhanded look at what was going on and the direction things were going. Since then it’s been widely read – so we revised it with new data and the new version is out today.

Beth Hawkins talks with Shavar Jeffries. 

LAT first draft on the proposed settlement to the LAUSD teacher strike:

Caputo-Pearl framed it as a fight over the future — even the survival — of traditional public education. Beutner framed the negotiations as a matter of what the nation’s second-largest school system could afford to do within the limits of its resources.

Whether the union made progress in that battle is open to question, but its leaders will take to their members a deal that they say will improve working conditions for teachers and learning conditions for students.

Are you kidding? Even if they got nothing in the contract, literally not a thing, this was a huge PR win for the LA union and the national union. (But they didn’t get nothing….) 

This AFT opioid curiculum is a good idea.

We talked about Bob Wise’s run at Alliance For Excellent for Education, today Deb Delisle was announced to lead the organization forward.

Glory Days.

January 18, 2019

LA Teachers Strike, DIY One! Plus, NCEE, Davis On Evidence, Discipline, SEL, More!

Allison Davis on using evidence and building an evidence base. Come for the interesting content, stay for the goofy pictures.

NCEE is socializing the chart on the right, it’s an interesting generational issue for the US relative to some other countries.

A lot of kids are bored in school and a lot are stressed out, this should worry us more.

This Boston Globe package on Boston valedictorians is phenomenal.

We’ve discussed how if you are not rebranding as an SEL expert you are doing it wrong. But, related, if you’re a teachers union or association and you’re not preparing a job action you’re doing it wrong, too. The Los Angeles union managed to make a class size provision they’ve basically been OK with for years a primary cause of their strike and made the schools getting the best results in the city out to be the villain. That’s pretty good, but you can probably do it if you apply yourself.

In any event, long term the teachers unions are in huge trouble and pretty much all trends auger against them and more Janus-like cases are coming. Near term? Things are not so bad! So enjoy.

More on the politics here. Unclear how not worrying about kids stuck in crummy schools is particularly progressive, but whatevs, as the kids say.

Layla Avila, Evan Stone and Cami Anderson on discipline reform.


“Teachers were less likely to report that school leadership set SEL goals than principals were to self-report goal setting”

Julia Freeland Fisher on blended learning versus personalized learning.

This is an interesting student loan article.

Joan Mulholland. Mahalia Jackson.

January 16, 2019

LA Teachers Strike, We’re All SEL Now, Measuring Poverty, Greenberg On Vance, More Gem State Facilities…More…

Ideas for Idaho charter facilities.

There are some factual problems with this New Yorker article (wealthy kids are not driving charter growth in Los Angeles, c’mon…) but what it really shows is just how bad the narrative is for the school district here and how much the teachers union has succeeded in getting its story into the larger political slipstream and moment.

Derrell Bradford does not want your teacher strike.

Student voice work gets a bump from Pathway 2 Tomorrow.

Paul O’Neill (the education attorney not the retired ballplayer) on AFC v. Sucess Academy. Not surprisingly, thoughtful.

Free lunch is becoming an inaccurate measure of poverty – what are the options to change that?     We are looking at this question at Bellwether, too. Not straightforward.

Meanwhile, in Portland…

Who are ESA’s benefiting in AZ? A debate! (A debate that seems answerable with good data?)

The Aspen Institute commission on SEL released its report yesterday. Not an unimportant issue and something schools should pay attention to, but does seem to be the new thing that everyone is pouring their hopes into and repackaging their ideas to fit into – and everyone is now an SEL expert, of course.

I thought it was a good and valuable book but Hillbilly Elegy always struck me as a little rushed at the end (rushed like editor saying, ‘hey, strike now….’) and Vance never quite closed the circle between structural issues and the issues he was describing. Stan Greenberg takes a look at that and questions a lot of people struggle with in a thoughtful essay.

It’s time to talk about Betsy.


January 15, 2019

LAUSD Teacher Strike…Harvard’s Clubs, School Security Boon, More!

Here’s a pretty good look at the fiscal pressure on LAUSD and its various causes:

More on the strike here.

I was skeptical of Harvard’s move to decide what clubs students could join because it infantilized students and was a reminder that authoritarian impulses are not a problem limited to the political right. But a more practical objection might have been the ever-present unintended consequences. Groups for women are being most adversely affected.

Today in School security tech.

They Have The Plant But We Have The Power.