May 5, 2017

Pearson News

Pearson made news today and saw its stock rise* after announcing, among other things, that the company was going to explore selling or restructuring its U.S. print publishing business.

in an exclusive interview after the shareholder meeting, I spoke with Pearson CEO John Fallon by phone about the U.S. market and he made a few relevant points.

In particular, he said that print is a “much less significant” part of the Pearson business than it was just a few years ago. And Fallon reiterated that it’s a place where the transition to digital has been difficult. It’s  ”where digital transition is most challenging, it’s still textbook led, print workbook led business” he said.

I asked if this was the result of either the efficacy review work Pearson is undertaking across its products or the toxic political environment the company faces in the U.S. market. Fallon said that the decision was not based either on the efficacy review or the company’s branding and image problems in the United States, but said that where relevant the efficacy work would inform any decisions about the courseware business.

He also said that this was the only part of the company’s U.S. portfolio they were looking at like this and that all options – outright sale, joint venture, partnership, similar options – were on the table. We’re “not prejudging” he said.

Fallon was most animated about the digital side of the work, what he described as “record level’ investment in digital, the online education business, and particularly its expansion in higher education. And he was excited about what this meant for the company’s ability to lead on providing teachers with tools that teachers can use and ways the company can interact more effectively with teachers in their work.

In terms of everyone’s favorite issue to argue about, testing, Fallon made point of saying this digital work included better integration of formative and summative assessment tools and assessment that is better and lighter touch and helps teachers better manage learning progression.

In the next 3-5 years you will see really beneficial change start to happen at scale, Fallon predicted.

*I don’t trade in education stocks. A few years ago Pearson paid me to keynote a conference.

May 4, 2017

Congratulations Kati Haycock, Health Care And Schools, Pell Students And College Going, ECE In CT, Martin Goes Global, LIFO Suit Sent Packing, Test Security, More!

You can follow me on Twitter here @arotherham. And you can get Eduwonk in your email box each day by signing up on the right.

Earlier this week I took a look at data in K-12 schools for US News. And Bellwether released an analysis of education transportation. (pdf) Quick recap of that event here. Interesting issue because all the trade-offs are complicated.

Kati Haycock retired yesterday. Enormous impact from her work at Ed Trust. And Sweet Honey in the Rock played the retirement party. Not quite some wedding band excited to get a weeknight gig…

The health care bill in Congress could have a fiscal impact on schools. There are some problems with Medicaid reimbursement and schools but this would be a problematic fix. Related, this SCOTUS case from earlier this year. 

Today in meritocracy: Could colleges take a lot more Pell students? Georgetown Center on Education And the Workforce takes a look. A lot of interesting data points in this analysis.

Nathan Martin on improving global education:

However, many effective and innovative approaches operate at a small scale. While many think education has an innovation problem, it may be that it has an intelligence problem. New and promising practices fail to be taken up at scale or in policy. Tools for funding and collaboration could better support these efforts to increase their impact.

This is appalling.

Early-childhood education lessons. LIFO suit tossed in New Jersey because plaintiffs uninjured yet.  Diverse by design private school coming.

Old school test security issues:

“Apparently one of the students had somehow gotten up into the ceiling of the building. It’s a drop down ceiling over these faculty instruction offices and had crawled through that open area and had dropped down into the faculty instructor’s office in order to try and steal a test,” he said.

May 2, 2017

Education Data And GPS

On this date in 2000 President Clinton opened up the GPS system by ending the selective degradation of signals to non-military users. You’ll never believe what happened next. Actually, you will. Think about it the next time you get in an Uber or use Google Maps.

Yet that sort of revolution hasn’t yet been fully realized in the education sector – where we arguably had a similar grain size shift the following year. I look at why not in a U.S. News & World Report column today:

Seventeen years ago, a few minutes after midnight on May 2, 2000, the United States government ended a policy of intentionally degrading GPS signals or making them “selectively available” to almost anyone except military applications. With one policy decision by President Bill Clinton, the accuracy of GPS for all users went from 50-100 meters off to 20 meters or better with the flick of a switch. Innovation took off, businesses were launched and, as anyone who uses Uber or Google Maps knows, GPS today is accurate to a few meters and a part of every smart phone.

The GPS change was basically about grain size. As the GPS grain size got smaller, the potential for GPS-powered applications took off. Whether for navigation, safety or just convenience, the smaller grain size made a variety of solutions possible. 

Not long after Clinton’s GPS decision, education data underwent its own grain size shift…

You don’t need GPS to find the column. (Sorry). Just click right here.

Miles To Go: School Transportation For The 21st Century

C-1DGz_XoAATNkk.jpg-largeWe’re releasing a new analysis on school transportation today. Looks at the big picture issues of school transportation, promising forward-looking ideas, and the challenges.

We held an event this morning at Union Station in Washington to release it. It featured a discussion with practitioners and analysts from Florida, Massachusetts, Idaho, and Washington. (And attendees were driven to work afterwards in this school bus to the right).

You can find the paper here (pdf). Transportation is a foundational education issue that touches on the educational experience of schools, efficiency concerns for school districts, educational choice, and the environment. So a lot going on.

From the paper:

The image emerging from our work is grim. School districts struggle to provide efficient service in the face of escalating costs and increasingly complex education systems where more and more students attend schools outside their neighborhoods. Stagnant state funding streams force districts either to sacrifice service quality and forego system upgrades or divert funds from other purposes. Federal and state regulations concerning student safety and special student populations’ educational rights are at odds with strategies to improve efficiency. All those competing priorities must be carefully balanced.

Factors such as a shortage of qualified bus drivers and fuel market volatility further complicate these matters. Also, districts have largely failed to adopt even basic technologies to improve data collection as well as operational and cost-efficiency, much less major overhauls, such as replacing diesel with alternative fuels.

To improve current school transportation systems, we recommend three types of innovations…

You can read the entire paper here.

May 1, 2017

Common Core Testing, US News Ranking, Duncan Talking, More!

Bonnie O’Keefe and I look at look at all the interstate testing consortia that are not three-ring circuses.

Elsewhere,  Smarter Balanced now partnering with U.C. Santa Cruz Silicon Valley Extension for its fiscal agency and ops. Meanwhile New Meridian will now maintain the PARCC assessment.  Headline from 2020? “Area man excited for opportunity to oversee testing consortia from spare bedroom.”

For a while one question about the two testing consortia has been whether PARCC ran into political trouble because of how it was organized and operationalized, the fact that red states were early adopters so the politics boomeranged faster, or some other reason that would catch up with SBAC or if something else was going on more PARCC-specific. Stay tuned!

The 74 checks-in with Arne Duncan about his new project.

Nat Malkus doesn’t like the US News high school rankings. He has two basic objections – who is to say “best” in the first place and that the focus on AP is too narrow. He’s not the first to raise either one. With the caveat that I’m hopelessly biased here because I’m a contributing editor at U.S. News and have been affiliated there for years and also helped design the rankings in the first place a decade ago, a few thoughts.

First, I get the “best” argument, but who knew they were so existential over there at AEI? At the core, here’s the thing: the high school that is best for your child is the high school that is best for your child. It’s hard to do a ranking of that. At best, it’s an interesting essay. And even rankings that are ostensibly objective run into problems. For instance by a bunch of measures the Washington Capitals are outplaying the Pittsburgh Penguins in their playoff series. Still, as you may have seen, the Pens are up two games to none in that series. No ranking is without its real world limitations.

You have to measure something in K-12 education and by eliminating schools with big achievement gaps and dropout problems and then focusing on AP and IB (although this year IB data were not available) you identify schools that are propelling students to college. Is that the only thing that matters? No. Is it one thing and something we can learn from in terms of some of the schools that are doing exceptionally well – yes. Malkus suggests that perhaps state systems might be more robust for parents. That’s an interesting idea, but the evidence from states as divergent as California to Virginia suggests otherwise.

Could U.S. News go broader? Perhaps if there was better comparable data across states.  And while I’d be keen to see or help design a ranking of high school CTE programs that’s not the project of these rankings right how.  Is “best” a marketing conceit to some extent. Of course. The U.S. News brand and rankings are widely used a across a range of fields beyond education. But the schools that pop on this list are pretty good and ones we should be discussing and learning from.

Public Impact and Education Cities on education quarterbacks as a governance strategy.  Choice and equity in Baltimore. PIE on state ESSA plans.

F-bombs and union drives. Check out Carl Anderson.

Posted on May 1, 2017 @ 12:50pm

April 27, 2017

The Underground Testing Consortia

1493240935_2790It’s almost like this is mostly politics…

“Everyone knows” that interstate testing consortia are a hopeless mess. Except, what if I told you there were a bunch operating without a lot of fanfare? It’s true! Bonnie O’Keefe and I look at that in The 74.

It’s one of those things “everyone knows”: Interstate testing consortia are doomed. Certainly, it’s been a rough few years for interstate testing groups. After 45 states initially signed up for either PARCC or Smarter Balanced assessments, aligned with the Common Core State Standards in math and reading, barely 20 states remain in those two high-profile consortia today.

Meanwhile, political battles over the tests have raged in state legislatures and boards of education, and testing has made headlines all over the country. Local control wins again, and anyone who wants a large-scale comparable and high-quality assessment should probably find another line of work.

But what if we told you there were other test consortia, flying under the radar of Common Core backlash, with as many or more states participating — including states that backed out of PARCC and Smarter Balanced?

Want to know more? You can read the entire thing right here.

April 26, 2017

Is The Trump EO A Big Nothing? Or A Stalking Horse? School Transportation, Drucker And Foreman, Kress Will Fight All Comers On NCLB, Kane On Intrastate Work, School Integration, Innovation, Grit, More!

This event on school transportation next week will be interesting and fun! Join us and we’ll drive you back to your office on a yellow school bus! Really.

U.S. News high school rankings are out.

Romy Drucker talks with James Foreman Jr. about his new book. 

I haven’t seen the text of this EO today. It may well be a political stunt and a fake solution to a fake problem. That’s the CW on it. But it could also be a backdoor way/groundwork laying to do things like change the Office of Civil Rights. And sometimes these things take on a life of their own, think Nation at Risk. So I’d keep an eye on it.

When he’s not being outraged about Texas, Sandy Kress is offering to fight all comers on NCLB accountability. He’s not wrong. There was a lot more flexibility in the NCLB accountability structure than the chattering class appreciates, although because the 2001 law was so long in being overhauled it became awfully shopworn and that created real issues for states. But here’s the basic problem: State’s didn’t take advantage of NCLB flexibility mostly because they didn’t want to. (I say mostly because there are exceptions here).  And it was easy to blame inaction on NCLB. Now, we have a new law, that has loads of flexibility (too much people with a civil rights orientation would argue). And yet, at least so far, states aren’t really taking advantage of that either. So not a lot will happen and we’ll blame Trump, or DeVos, or funding, or something, and we’ll have a big argument about that and lots of pixels will be spilled. But underneath all that is an ongoing political and capacity problem no one has figured out how to solve.

Also in federal policy, with more school choice support from Washington a possibility, fault lines breaking out even among those who support it.

Tom Kane on intrastate collaboration.

Here’s a long and interesting article in The Atlantic that asks, “When given the chance, will wealthy parents ever choose to desegregate schools?” Worth reading, but if you’re in a rush I’ll save you some time.  If you’re asking, sometimes, for various reasons and under the right circumstances, then yes. If you’re asking systemically at scale and absent real changes in how we deliver public education (specifically a lot more good schools to choose from), then no.  Here’s one way to think about it: People choosing school for their kids are humans. Humans generally act of out of self-interest. So in education if we make it in people’s self-interest to choose schools that are more integrated, by providing more quality options like that, then they will. Right now we’re (the public education establishment writ large) not doing that and, just for good measure, we’re antagonizing people politically about it, too. Not surprisingly it’s not going very well.

Addressing under-matching and college completion for Hispanic students. Evidence from an intervention. Frank Bruni on a different effort on the West Coast.

They keep telling us education should be more like law and medicine. May want to update that talking point to just medicine?

When people talk about grit, this is the kind of thing they’re talking about.  We worry about the schools, but America’s lead in innovation is seemingly insurmountable.

April 25, 2017

April 24, 2017

School Transportation, Schooling In DC, Protest And Results, Homeless Girl Scouts, Massachusetts, Tampa Class Assignment, School Choice Still Popular, The Education Debate Explained, More!

Scroll down the main page for edujobs. Don’t miss this event on school transportation in D.C. next week. It will even feature school bus rides!

Sara Mead looks at a decade of school reform work in D.C. and some lessons learned.

Even if you don’t live in Massachusetts this Stig Leschly discussion of college there is worth checking out, issues not unique. Whole series on these issues from Stig here.

Better than cookies. Here’s a sweet Girl Scout story.

We can certainly do better with both the quality and availability of gifted education and also ensuring that children have equitable chances to participate in those programs (e.g. universal screening). But the idea of Americans “turning on smart kids” just isn’t supported by the structure of today’s education system. And in the U.S. context, a bigger problem seems to be all the “smart kids” who get overlooked because of their zip code.  Also, apparently gifted kids are more “sexually conservative.” I had not heard that, but what a universally handy narrative to have around! Makes everyone feel better about themselves and parents worry less.

Cass Sunstein cuts to the quick on a lot of campus protest today,

Previous generations of student activists contributed immeasurably to the civil-rights movement and the fight against sex discrimination. On the right, they helped create the Federalist Society, which has transformed how judges and lawyers think about the Constitution. On the left, they have given life to the movement for LGBT rights.

In the current era, student activists would do well to think much less about how to express their values and instead to focus insistently on a single question: If I succeed, how many people will I actually be helping?

I agree, and you can probably extend the indictment to a lot of activism more generally today, which seems more exhibitionist than results oriented. But, student activists have made stands, taken risks, and changed things – and those exceptions can teach us a lot. (Perhaps because of the elite bias in a lot of these conversations, when people think of campus unrest they might be too quick to think of the Bahn mi at Oberlin or the student paper at Wellesley rather than, say, the football team at the University of Missouri.)

No matter how much people wish it away there is a lot of support for school choice.  From California:

About 60% of adults and 66% of public-school parents in a new poll said they favored vouchers that parents could use for their children’s education at any public, private, or parochial school. Republicans (67%) were more likely than independents (56%) and far more likely than Democrats (46%) to hold that view. Across racial and ethnic groups, 73% of African Americans, 69% of Latinos, 56% of Asians and 51% of whites supported vouchers.

Here are two interesting articles about how we organize ourselves, both with education implications. Don Hirsch cautions on toxic nationalism versus useful civic binding and shared values and political culture. Lynn Paramore says we’re structurally becoming a developing country for many Americans.

And then there is this article on poverty. Interesting, though I don’t know anyone who thinks this,

…the blind belief that the poor have failed to seize the opportunities that the market or globalization has created.

The debate you usually hear is about just how much of this is structural and then what we can do about it – and do about it without making things even worse. Obviously a big role for education there.

Two thoughts on this St. Petersburg student assignment situation where a school principal said in an email to assign all the white students to one class. OK, three thoughts. But “wait, what?” doesn’t seem to really count. So, first, they mention her implicit bias training apparently not kicking in. But in her defense, doesn’t this seem more like the kind of thing they’d cover in the explicit bias training?

Second, this actually points up a very real issue that is too infrequently discussed: When analyzing school assignment and integration the school is not an adequate unit of analysis. What happens to students inside the school via class assignment, course taking for older students, tracks and pullout enrichment programs, etc…is where the real experience of students plays out. Integrated classes not just integrated schools should be the standard. In this instance, I have a hunch this was less this principal’s idea (you really don’t see a lot of workshops on this at conferences…) than what some parents wanted and what she was told, tacitly or explicitly, to do in order to keep them happy and keep the school “integrated.”

A lot of theory of action work in the education sector is BS. But I feel like this is some of the strongest work to date with the most analytic purchase to really describe how change happens.

April 21, 2017

Edujob: Academic Strategy Senior Advisor @Bellwether

We’re hiring an academic strategy advisor. This is a great role with real potential for impact across a range of projects. From the JD:

Although we believe that charter management organizations (CMOs) are improving over time and are making a significant, positive impact in reforming urban education, the quality of student outcomes across the charter sector is not consistently high enough, nor is the sector on a path to scale with high quality at a rapid pace.  At Bellwether we work with many CMOs on strategic plans for growth, but we do not currently have sufficient expertise to identify specific opportunities for improvement within their academic strategies, or to support the consistent implementation of these strategies. The Academic Strategy Senior Adviser will lead our effort to build this expertise, which we believe is essential to deepening our impact with growing CMOs.

The ideal candidate for the Academic Strategy Senior Adviser position will bring a strong track record of success in building effective instructional systems and strategies within schools and systems of schools, and in diagnosing challenges in under-performing schools and developing plans for improvement. The ideal candidate will have experience scaling systems that support strong performance, working through others to achieve results, and collaborating with instructional leaders in schools and in network offices. The candidate will bring a sophisticated understanding of relevant issues in charter school growth and replication, a network in the field of education (particularly with charter and CMO operators), and an entrepreneurial spirit.  This pairing of content expertise and entrepreneurialism is particularly important given that Bellwether is still a growing organization.  Senior Advisers play a critical role in business development and service delivery, and contribute to the success of the firm in terms of financial sustainability and impact in the field of education.

More details and how to apply here. 

April 20, 2017

Trinity Lutheran, Pass The SALT? Race And Teaching, Campus Debate & Free Speech, ESSA Plans, Duncan Interviews, Plus Let It Snow! More…

Scroll down main page for an upcoming Bellwether event and blog/opinion writing training information – application deadline tomorrow.

Amy Howe recaps the Trinity Lutheran arguments at SCOTUS. 74 had a reporter there, too.

President Trump’s team is making noise about going after the state and local tax deductions on federal income taxes. It’s a potential pay-for on tax cuts elsewhere.  This would have both interesting and problematic implications for education finance if it got through Congress.

Here’s a real – candid and unvarnished – interview from Marilyn Rhames that’s well worth your time. Agree or disagree it’s the kind of conversation the field should be having. Brent Staples on some of the same issues.

Here’s a solid smart unpacking of campus speech flash points and the difference between government regulated speech and regulated speech in private settings. Conor Friedersdorf on why, regardless of whether you can, suppressing campus speech is self-defeating.

Via Robin Lake a useful caution on how personalized learning can be one size fits all, too.

Arne Duncan interview. He sees the SIG situation differently than many…

State ESSA plans – turns of it’s not quite anything goes….some are getting bounced.

SEL strategies in the ESSA world. You can quibble with the methodology of this survey but there is not a lot out there on views on CTE – so here is some survey and focus group work (pdf).

It snowed a lot in California this winter. Forceful prom dates.

Posted on Apr 20, 2017 @ 5:27pm

Coming Attractions! Blog Training And School Transportation Event

ICCE_First_Student_Wallkill_School_BusApplication deadline for the Bellwether Blog – Opinion Writing Training is Friday. Get your application in! More here.

Tuesday May 2 in Washington, D.C., Bellwether is hosting what should be an interesting event on school transportation. It’s one of those issues that touches millions of lives daily, yet rarely gets attention. And we have school buses lined up to take you to your office or elsewhere in D.C. afterwards!

April 18, 2017

Economic Integration Versus Choice, Blaine, Bad Tax Policy, Good Interviews & Op-Eds, Charter Authorizing False Positives, More!

In The 74, Kate Pennington and I take a look at lousy tax policy and the ad hoc approach to education finance and compensation. It’s based on a California proposal to eliminate income tax for teachers there.

Here’s a preview of the SCOTUS education case this week – big implications for “Blaine” amendments in state constitutions. But, wait, there’s more! It could get tossed because of some policy changes in Missouri – where the case originated –  and there is a similar Colorado case that many anti-Blaine advocates think has a better fact pattern for them moving through the courts. Stay tuned.

Michael Bennet interview. Dan Katzir and Marcia Aaron on putting kids first.

Pushback on the pushback against the Rahm Emanuel – Arne Duncan idea/proposal to have kids have a post-high school plan. My take - in 140 characters! – here.

Keying off a recent Amy Wax essay Checker Finn also asks if “no excuses” schools are more effective than economic integration? They says yes. It’s provocative, but is this even the right question?

First, in case you haven’t been paying attention “no excuses,” which was less a model than a breed of schools with some similarities but also real differences, is now politically out of fashion So the variance of those schools is growing as they respond (and not only to politics but also to things learned through experience) and it’s unclear what the label even means now. A better question might just be school choice versus economic integration.

But I don’t even think that works. Because, second, fundamentally this is a false choice for two reasons. For starters, it’s easier to get people to move schools than move houses so there are some knotty realities to the economic integration issue that its proponents consistently ignore. The track record on expanding access to high-quality options through choice versus through economic integration is pretty one-sided in favor of choice.

More importantly, you can do both. Charters and plans to better integrate schools through various incentives are better understood as fellow-travelers in an effort to improve outcomes for low-income students than as competing options. Where they part ways is around the question of how much to just leave schooling choices to parents and how much to try to coerce those choices. But that ship has basically sailed everywhere except education advocacy circles. Parents like choice and what they really resist is being coerced into choices they don’t like. So it’s mostly an academic question.

Happily, policymakers can scratch both those itches. School districts can continue to try to draw school boundaries that as much as possible maximize economic integration. And in places where housing is more concentrated by income as well as in districts where it’s not, giving parents more choices is just a smart way to buy them into the system more and make them more loyal consumers rather than consumers of last resort.

In other words, other than using economic integration as a foil against choice or vice versa, which is more about politics than kids, I’m not sure why we have to choose here in the first place?

Here’s Fordham with an interesting study on charter authorizing and avoiding false positives. Barnum on it here.


A Tax Day Education Policy Play Only Turbo Tax Likes

At The 74 Kaitlin Pennington and I take a look at a popular education tax proposal that only an accountant could love. It also points up the addiction of policymakers to every way to address education finance and teacher comp except actually addressing education finance and teacher comp:

…We’re all in favor of creative ways to recruit and retain good teachers, but this isn’t it. The Teacher Recruitment and Retention Act makes for lousy public policy, so much so that even the teachers unions are laying low on the proposal. So, at the risk of being Scrooges, on tax day no less, here are some reasons this idea might sound good but is actually a bad idea…

You can read why here. If your taxes aren’t done, do that. Otherwise, tweet us your favorite great or lousy education tax ideas @arotherham and @KPennington23.

April 17, 2017

Teacher Turnover, Rural Charter Schools, Choate’s Problems, Rose’s Potentials, Voucher Policy, And More!

Kirsten Schmitz on private school teacher turnover, teacher turnover, and some takeaways and non-takeaways.

This Choate story is grim. But it’s not just Choate.

Joel Rose* is one of the most thoughtful people on the personalized scene. He sees the potential – and also the risks. Read this.

This Chalkbeat story on voucher accountability has a handy chart that shows how the accountability policy is not binary, yes or no accountability, but rather a continuum of practices.

Dan Weisberg says NY was right to jettison its teacher literacy test.

Here’s an interesting piece on education from Salon. Yes, you read that right. The author, Karen Eppley of Penn State argues for rural charter schools. Yes, Salon, for charter schools. All the editors must have had the weekend off.

As a rule I like, as she does, empowering people to come together and solve problems. And I think giving people choice in education is a pretty essential if complicated policy reform. I’m all for high-quality charter schools. We do a lot of work on rural education. So this article was a big trifecta plus for me.

But I do have a few quibbles with the piece and/or this framing of the issue. First, she’s clearly right that a lot of rural charters are springing up in response to consolidation. This, though, is a double-edged sword. The empowerment side is great, but the charters don’t ameliorate some of the forces that are driving the push for consolidation of rural school districts in the first place, that’s a separate set of issues. And to the extent those issues aren’t addressed charters will struggle as well. There is no sidestepping the hard issues.**

Very much related population density is an important element on a lot of rural issues and education is no exception. Yes, you can have more choice in rural settings than people generally assume – and not just choice driven by technology.  But population density will be a limiting factor on charters just as it is on a range of rural issues – it’s also one of the great benefits of rural life for many. Rural chartering will look different than urban and suburban chartering.

In addition, and often overlooked, many rural schools already operate like charters to a great extent: They are fairly autonomous, bootstrap oriented, generally do their own thing, and naturally counter-authoritarian.  That, too, is an issue with upsides and downsides – not everything about autonomy is an unvarnished blessing, for instance. Sometimes systems and scale can help in education, for instance.

Bottom line: There is more overlap between many charters and rural publics today in the day-to-day life of the school than many on either “side” might assume.

If you can dream it, you can be it.

*Disc: Friend, BW has worked with his org, I’m biased. Still, read it if you’re interested in the issue.

**You may notice a theme around here. Whether pensions, accountability, rural or other issues, we tend to think you have to actually tackle the hard problems. The clever workarounds make for great fodder on panels but are generally underpowered in the real world.

Posted on Apr 17, 2017 @ 3:26pm

April 14, 2017

April 13, 2017

The Commodore Speaks! Plus Aldeman Nudges, Markell On ESSA, School Transportation, Maps, Bathroom Laws, Teacher IP, Plus Happy Birthday TJ, Wanderin’ Goat, More!

It’s April 13th – Thomas Jefferson was born on this date in 1743. Today, his detractors and fans alike celebrate his life through the great American tradition of ascribing our current political debates to historical figures in all manner of one-dimensional ways that decontextualize, obscure the complexity of human situations, or are flat out inaccurate. Jefferson is in some ways the poster-child for this because he was so complicated and contradictory in life. On a lighter note, Jefferson always thought that Virginia could support a wine industry but he never really saw it thrive in his lifetime. He may have just been a few centuries too early though: check out DuCard, White Hall, Early Mountain, or Ox-Eye (great Lemberger) for a taste.

The next Bellwether blog/opinion writing training is in June. Apply now. This event is consistently  4-5x oversubscribed so get your application in by the deadline. More background here.

A few states are innovating with offering teachers more choice of retirement plans – Florida is one. But Bellwether’s Chad Aldeman says they should go further and “nudge” teachers toward the plan that’s most likely to benefit them given their circumstances.

Jack Markell discusses the Bellwether ESSA state plan review project.

This Boston Public Schools transportation challenge project is fantastic and a huge credit to the superintendent there, Tommy Chang, for taking a risk like this. Bellwether is hosting an event on transportation in D.C. on May 2, BPS will be on the panel. Possible buried lede: We will also be offering school bus rides back to your office after the event – really.

The 74 takes a look at the state of various bathroom bills around the country. The Trump policy change got headlines because, well, Trump. And it carried symbolic importance. But this is where the action is on the policy and what will happen for young people.

There is a trend to use more geographically accurate maps in schools. This is obviously a good thing – though trickier than you might think given the features of the earth and that turning a globe into a flat representation is not straightforward. Greenland anyone? My wife and I have an old map we picked up years ago backpacking Turkey. It’s from Ottoman days and shows the Ottoman world as the center of things. A good reminder about perspective. But as Kevin Mahnken notes in The 74 it’s going to take more than better maps to improve the sorry state of geography understanding in this country.

Whoa! Teachers are selling their course materials and making some money doing it! And there are still big issues about IP ownership and all of that. So, basically, this issue is where it was five years ago.

The Commodore says that better school finance data is coming and could be a game-changer. 

More staff announced for Department of Education.

The case for universalism in school choice. Here’s a model school report card. And here’s some throwback haiku for longtime readers.

These kids really wanted burgers. This goat is on the lamb.

April 12, 2017

What Makes A Strategic Plan Strategic? College Costs And College Plans, ESSA Plans, ESAs In AZ, Rhames & DeVos, Congrats Houston Chon , More!

Here’s Bellwether’s take on what makes a strategic plan actually strategic and not just a bunch of flashy slides with pretty graphics.

Details and debate on the NY free-tuition plan. And here’s a really interesting analysis of who pays what for college (pdf).

Marilyn Rhames talks with Betsy DeVos.  Arizona is going big on ESAs.

Hope and concern about ESSA plans via The 74. (Remember Bellwether is undertaking a systematic review). This quote is noteworthy, this guy works for a former governor…

“You can see states taking ownership of the flexibility that they have in the new law, and you can see that they’re really trying to drive toward more equitable systems of education,” said Phillip Lovell, vice president of policy development and government relations at the Alliance for Excellent Education.

But, he cautioned, “details matter, and those details don’t always add up to the equity vision that most states have.”

D.C.s ESSA plan. And can Fitbits be the 5th indicator?

Michael Jonas with a counterintuitive voc-ed take.

Houston Chronicle wins a Pulitzer for its special education coverage.

Reasons that promising ed tech innovation goes awry.

How much money should public pensions have to keep on hand given that unlike private companies government probably isn’t going anywhere? It’s a subject of a lot of lively debate. Here’s a public pension Goldilocks story via Megan McArdle looking at the issue. This is one where the devil is in the details. Yes, there are some unique things about public pensions, but some of the assumptions that get baked into plans in terms of investment returns are just absurd. And people know this, it even gets talked about at the sparsely attended public meetings of these funds. Pew tracks the funding ratios. There is a happy medium here of responsible funding but also a realization that the exact same standards that govern the private sector are not strictly applicable to government as a budgeting matter. It’s hard to get to any middle ground though because pension politics  are brutal and policymakers have made a lot of irresponsible choices over the years.

Country music isn’t dead: Angaleena Presley (Pistol Annies). Not all SFW but she’s got a new album coming out later this month and is on tour. Polar bear attacks penguin backpack.

April 10, 2017

Truth In Local Control Labeling, BAs For Early Ed, Eugene Lang, DeVos Security, Choice, Race And Ed, LA Election, Baby Eels! And More…

Scroll down the main page for some edujobs.

Sara Mead on training for early-childhood educators. Not everyone agrees on upgrading credentials to B.A.s or the strength of the evidence-base.

Andrew Cuomo gets the inside track in the Bernie Bros primary.

Eugene Lang – who not only sparked a foundation he sparked a trend and a set of policy ideas – has passed:

Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers at the time, observed: “Lang put up a lot more than money. He put himself on the line, too.”

A change in how Washington, D.C. accounts for runaways set of alarms that there was a spike in black girls running away. That wasn’t the case. But this isn’t just a story of instrumentality and hysteria,  Stacey Patton unpacks the episode and some underlying issues. 

Everyone chirping about the cost of Betsy DeVos’ security arrangements. But shouldn’t this, buried in the article, be the greater concern?

The [US Marshals] said it has determined that a threat to DeVos’s safety exists, but declined to describe the nature or intensity of that threat.

This is education so – whatever you happen to think of Betsy DeVos and I’ll be the first to say she hasn’t inspired confidence or offered much of a vision so far – that’s a sad state of affairs.

Speaking of the Trump administration here’s an interesting story: The Justice Department, under its new management, wants to revisit an Obama-era reform agreement that the Baltimore Police Department entered into after a federal investigation into police abuse there. Yet the police leadership, city leadership, and even the governor would rather just implement the reforms already agreed to. A court just agreed with the locals officials. Not an education story really but an excellent reminder that, right or left, “local control” or “I defer to what local communities want” should usually come with an asterisk that says “*when what they’re doing happens to comport with my views.”

Last week I mentioned that choice keeps spreading, that’s true overall but Texas is an interesting exception.

Can our sector discuss race and education productively?

Inside the contentious LA school board race, what’s Steve Zimmer doing?

Discord at iconic school. Hidden figures and NAEP.

Baby eel smuggling.  Jane Pauley feature with Joe Bonamassa at 13.

April 7, 2017

School Choice Is Expanding, Disney Fines, Edujobs, Classroom Champions, Teacher Race, Teacher Eval, Shopping Iguana, More!

Scroll down the main page for several new edujobs.

Betsy DeVos and Pitbull. I don’t really have much to say about it but feel this blog wouldn’t be doing its job if I didn’t mention it. So there you go. Betsy DeVos and Pitbull.

Here’s a look at Classroom Champions (I’m on the board so biased) and the power of Olympic caliber mentoring for students. 

Big voucher expansion in AZ.  You can find a bunch of people in D.C. who think the choice debate is over and the anti-voucher folks basically won. And I guess that if you only talk to other people in D.C. or pay attention to votes in the Senate it might seem that way. President Trump’s effort is stalled, outside of D.C. vouchers it’s unclear what might happen there, and there isn’t a lot of traction right now with even conservatives split over an appropriate federal voucher role. But around the country state after state is expanding choice in various forms – vouchers but also charters, ESAs…

Somewhat related: If you’re going to Disney World it’s gonna cost ya extra in the U.K. The Times looks at a fine for skipping school for a Disney trip. I’m on record as being pro-school skipping – I just wish we’d do more to level the playing field for parents who lack the means for Disney trips, so more field trips and other experiential opportunities for students.

This is a England story but the trend toward schools becoming more of an a la carte experience seems pretty clear on our side of the ocean. Earlier this year Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe vetoed a bill that would have let homeschool students play high sports as is allowed in some other states. (Longer background on that issue here $) History won’t judge that one well, practices like that will be commonplace before too long. Parents want more flexibility, customization, and personalized learning experiences and the public system will learn to accommodate that or become irrelevant. I’m strongly hoping for the former. A worse, and unfortunately quite foreseeable, outcome would be a further class stratified system where the affluent get the customization and everyone else doesn’t. Making attendance policies more flexible while still effective is just one piece of getting ahead of that.


Matt Barnum reviews the new research on black students and black teachers and the growing body of evidence on that issue. Again it’s NC and TN research because of their data systems. Striking how frequently you see that….

Teacher eval in Connecticut. Classic lede:

State test scores will no longer be used in teacher performance evaluations – though, after five years of contentious debate and unremitting delays, the requirement to do so was never actually implemented in the first place.

This iguana just wanted to save money and live better.

Posted on Apr 7, 2017 @ 11:51am

Edujob: Managing Partner of Innovative Schools @ NewSchools Venture Fund

Here’s a great role and the kind that does not come open often in our sector: Managing Partner of Innovative Schools at NewSchools Venture Fund. From the JD:

NewSchools Venture Fund is a national nonprofit that supports and invests in promising and innovative entrepreneurs and teams of educators. We help them accomplish their missions to achieve outstanding results for the students, educators, and schools they serve. We are committed to helping students finish high school prepared and inspired to achieve their most ambitious dreams and plans. Through our investments, management assistance, network building, and thought leadership, NewSchools helps to reimagine K-12 education.

The Managing Partner of Innovative Schools will be a member of the NewSchools leadership team, and co-lead the Innovative Schools team with Managing Partner Scott Benson. As the largest investment area at NewSchools, this group supports teams of educators who are planning, launching and redesigning schools with a focus on an expanded definition of student success and personalized learning. The work of the team has grown rapidly, and the leader in this new role will bring expertise and capacity to ensure the schools we invest in have the support they need to reach their ambitious goals for serving students.

In the co-leadership model, the two Managing Partners will be responsible for the overall success of the strategy, while prioritizing distinct activities within the team. Scott will continue to focus primarily on pipeline building, diligence, and the investment process, and the new Managing Partner will focus primarily on providing these ventures with a robust, thoughtfully-curated suite of best-in-class learning experiences and management assistance, thereby optimally positioning the entire Innovative Schools team to make informed investment decisions and ensure that NewSchools’ ventures get the support and connections they need for success.

Learn more and be considered via this link.

April 6, 2017

Edujob: Director Of Research And Learning @ NewSchools Venture Fund

Here’s a great opportunity at NewSchools Venture Fund, based in Oakland, CA: Director of Research and Learning:

NewSchools Venture Fund is a national nonprofit that supports and invests in promising and innovative entrepreneurs and teams of educators. We help them accomplish their missions to achieve outstanding results for the students, educators and schools they serve. We are committed to helping students finish high school prepared and inspired to achieve their most ambitious dreams and plans. Through our investments, management assistance, network building, and thought leadership, NewSchools helps to reimagine K-12 education.

The Director of Research & Learning will lead a portfolio of research projects designed to better understand an expanded definition of student success and personalized learning. The projects will help NewSchools strengthen its progress and impact across its three investment areas. The Director will also partner with investment teams to share what we are learning quickly, in order to deepen the knowledge of current ventures, continually reflect on our investment strategy, and accelerate learning across the field.

Learn more and apply via this link.

Bellwether ESSA Review, Chicago Teacher Pension Lawsuit, Student Journos Get Results, Rural Teachers, Badgers, More!

Bellwether is partnering with the Collaborative for Student Success on a project to review state ESSA plans to highlight innovative ideas and promising policies and call attention to problematic proposals that work against the goals of greater equity and better student outcomes.

Heres The 74 on that.  And here’s a lot more detail about the project.

Charles Lane takes a look at the Chicago pension lawsuit. It’s great to see this issue getting more attention – it’s a big one. Three quick reactions plus a bonus general point to his take:

  • I’m not sure the Brown v. Board frame is either helpful or accurate. The suit, and the pension issue, is a big deal but Brown v. Board was, well, Brown v. Board. In addition, Brown was about an explicitly segregationist system. The pension issue – as it plays out in Chicago, more on that in a second – is part and parcel of the myriad structural issues that continue to perpetuate inequality as an effect but are not explicitly designed to. They’re harder to solve because the normal political alignments fall apart. How many self-described social justice activists do you know who are involved in trying to make the pension system more equitable?
  • In Chicago, there is pretty clear evidence that the way pensions work systematically shifts dollars from poor communities to more affluent ones. Look for more from Bellwether’s teacher pension team on that soon. It’s a big deal. And pensions are not the only education finance scheme to have this effect. But, again, the politics are complicated so groups you might think would be interested in getting more dollars to poor communities – for instance the teachers unions – are on the other side of this issue for institutional reasons.
  • Lane focuses on 401k plans as a reform. That’s one option, yes, but there are others and the framing of the issue as traditional pensions versus 401k plans not only obscures the range of options, it plays into understandable concerns that pension reform is a smokescreen to undercut benefits. Every option, traditional pensions, cash balance plans, or 401k-style plans carries a host of choices about how they’re structured that can make plans more or less effective as a retirement policy.
  • Finally, just a more general reminder that while this debate is often portrayed as greedy teachers versus beleaguered taxpayers, it’s worth remembering that teachers are not big winners under the pension system either. Most don’t get full pensions, only 1 in 5 do nationally. And most of the reforms today are making these plans worse in terms of their benefits for teachers rather than better.


Great moments in student journalism.

Rural teacher shortages. This is an issue Bellwether works on as part of our rural work more generally. 

As a rule, forcing people to argue viewpoints they don’t agree with helps develop thinkers. Also, as a rule, assignments that are pro-Nazi are a bad idea.

This honey badger wants to corner the cattle market.

April 5, 2017

Adjudicated Youth, Equal Pay, Early Ed Pay, School Bus Drivers, ESSA, Campus Politics, Accountability AWOL, And More!

Hailly Korman on what a robust transition support system might look like for adjudicated students. Kirsten Schmitz says pay teachers more. Marnie Kaplan on equal pay and early childhood workers.

Jessie Woolley-Wilson (Bellwether board member) profiled in Times on her leadership style.

Matt Barnum looks at the legal action around schools.

The next big shortage: Bus drivers! Bellwether is actually hosting an event on school transportation in May.

C4C on ESSA opportunities.

Stanley McChrystal on why PBS matters.

William Deresiewicz of Excellent Sheep fame is back with an essay on political correctness in today’s discourse and its campus roots. Real political correctness, not the Trumpian distortion of it. Short version, illiberalism is a problem even among self-identifying liberals. The “moral majority” hijacked government entities, the illiberal left is taking colleges. Long version is worth reading.

Also, related, mugging on Vermont campus.

Questions about a common school leadership test.

Earlier this week I said Utah was the first ESA state, that’s a mistake, it was AZ.

Sandy Kress sees an accountability mirage.

Check out Sarah Shook and the Disarmers.

April 3, 2017

Examples And Anecdotes? We’ve Got Examples And Anecdotes! Social Mobility Bracket, Accountability, Plus OCR Staffing, Haskins And Gordon On Evidence, Homeschooling, Fitzhugh Profile, More!

Ed Next forum on test-based accountability and what’s next. NCAA social mobility bracket via The 74.

Via the New York Times here’s a museum quality piece about how we argue in education (and, by extension, why we can’t have nice things): Look look look at this example. It proves my point! In this case, David Kirp is arguing that who needs more choice, because he found this cool district in Oklahoma. Betsy DeVos should visit! Case closed!

The problem, of course, is that in a system with about 100K schools, 13K districts organizing them, plus 50 states, each with their own idiosyncrasies, you can find just about anything that works somewhere or proves some point. By this logic voucher proponents should just show some compelling examples of how vouchers have changed lives for kids and so we should just do that. Or, you can find under-resourced schools still succeeding, so should we cut funding? The action is in the aggregate data and trends when you’re thinking about things at a policy level. It’s a joke in education that is funny because it’s true, the plural of anecdote is not data.

No one argues that there are not great things happening in many school districts (or more specifically no one in what might be called the broad swath of reasonable people in the education world, and I’d include many voucher proponents in that). And these days among serious analysts hardly anyone argues that there are not great things happening in a lot of charters, too. The debate turns, or should turn, on optimal ways to organize the system and governance of schools to maximize the good and minimize the bad as much as is possible in a human and political system in a liberal democracy.  Reasonable people can disagree on the best way to that and plenty of particulars. But hopefully everyone can agree the way to do it is not to just lob isolated examples at one another?

Right now, fewer than one in ten low-income or black youngsters in this country can expect to get a college degree by the time they are 24. That the most powerful newspaper in the country and leading education analysts think that’s either not a social catastrophe or that the solution lies in highlighting interesting conversation pieces and examples just baffles me. Examples are not a theory of change in a system this large and sprawling.


Ron Haskins and Robert Gordon on the Trump budget and evidence. They pretend it’s a serious exercise to make what is actually a serious point.

Jeff Jacoby profiles Will Fitzhugh in the Boston Globe. Here’s a look at African-Americans and homeschooling. 

New assistant secretary  at OCR?

ESAs are spreading but in the first state to adopt them it’s very contentious still. *Update: Matt Ladner points out that it was AZ not NV to go first. The article is about NV.

Raising standards for child care workers in DC. 

What Duke alums are reading today.

March 31, 2017

Ed Politics, It’s Betsy DeVos V. Denver, Aspen SEL, Mathematica And Spec Ed, ESSA, Charter Schools, Spacewoman! And More…

In U.S. News I take a look at the question of whether education reformers ought to expand their political base.

With all the problems in the American public education system Betsy DeVos has decided to declare war on Denver  - a city where 40 percent (I think) of the 8th-graders are in charter schools and charters and choice has taken hold without some of the acrimony of other cities.  And also a state where one of its senators (a former Denver school superintendent no less) didn’t support her nomination but would certainly support good ideas from her department. Unbelievable.

Mike Petrilli points out that DeVos really has turned into a one-trick pony. OK, he’s joking, one day early.  Still, it’s closer to the mark than you might think. Related: The last part of this video is funny because it’s true, it’s always the big stuff that reaches your desk. Betsy DeVos’ poll numbers are not good. A big piece of this is obviously name recognition, still it’s unusual to have an education secretary in that position in the first place.

Elsewhere in ed secretaries, Arne Duncan is wading into the hot LA school board race. Some conservatives don’t want the feds wading into school choice.

GE’s Jeff Immelt on automation and why every company will have to invest in education.

Census data matters a lot to education policy. Here’s a sober walk through of the issues about including LGBT questions on the census that has flared up.

Whitmire with context on this week’s charter letter.  Greg Richmond is worried about charter schools – and if he is you should read what he has to say.

Girls rocking robotics competitions. And more here.

Breaking: School boundaries influence housing and vice versa.

Mathematica deep dive on special education and secondary students. Nelson Smith and Brandon Wright see a chance for ESSA to leverage an increase in the supply of good schools.

Aspen Institute with a new look at SEL and career and college ready standards. And if there was a betting market on college and career standards and probability of success then this tool from Penn might give you an edge. 

Greg Toppo wrote this about choice. Matt Ladner then wrote this.

Not allowing students to use their student loan money for booze could undermine the entire lending regime or even higher ed more generally.


March 30, 2017

Are Ed Reformers Ignoring Key Voting Blocs?

Two demographics defined much of the last election: Rural voters and the political behavior of college educated and voters and those with advanced degrees. Something else they have in common? Ed reformers don’t have much to say to them. That’s a problem. I look at that today in U.S. News & World Report:

The defeat of the Republican plan to overhaul President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act last week offered a stark reminder about how much coalitions, persuasion and raw self-interest matter in politics. President Donald Trump failed to persuade almost anyone to join his side, there was no coalition for reform and the health care law’s benefits for millions of Americans made it in their self-interest to oppose a plan that would have reduced access to health care.

I’m glad that bill failed, but it’s hard to miss how education reformers are making the same strategic mistakes in their approach to politics…

Regardless of your voting demographics you can read the whole thing right here. If the Republicans figure out health care I might have to rewrite this, but in the meantime tweet at me about your favorite voter demographic @twitter here.

March 28, 2017

Charter Schools And Trump’s Budget, Mitchel On Charters And Early Ed, Barnum On ESSA And Evidence, Bradford On Awkward History, Plus That 90s Show, More!

Listen to Ashley Mitchel talk about charter schools and pre-K on C-Span.  Matt Barnum goes deep on evidence and ESSA plans. Derrell Bradford on the complicated history of public schools that doesn’t lend itself to some of today’s shibboleths:

Our relationship with public institutions — and schools in particular — is only in balance when the individual can wield equivalent force against them. Achieving a state of balance with the nation’s public schools rests not in the constant altruistic acquiescence to them, but the strategic self-interested defiance of them. And as a culture whose debate with public institutions is currently colored by protest and the desire to exit at every level, this dynamic isn’t just obvious, it’s critical.

There is a lot going on in this Malcolm Gladwell interview – some of which pertains to education.  Well worth reading.

Naomi Schaefer Riley pushes back hard on Christopher Emdin. Features John McWhorter and Checker Finn. It’s like the 90s all over again!

Charter school groups are speaking out against the Trump budget (which isn’t very good in my view either). It’s a smart political move, the Trump Administration didn’t do charter schools any favors by making them about the only winner in a budget proposal that creates a lot of losers. And now is the time for coalition politics around education spending levels. But, at the risk of being cynical, I’ve watched and/or worked on federal budget politics for years and have never seen anyone turn down federal money simply because someone else wasn’t getting it. So this kind of signaling is great during the budget process, but when we get to actual appropriations, well that’s where the action is. Also, anyone who thinks this move will help with teachers union politics by buying some goodwill just hasn’t been paying attention.

Alaska kid wins big competition in New York City.

March 27, 2017