August 27, 2021

We Wear The Mask…

Last week I asked whether it was really great to have the White House wading into a pretty classic state education issue. I got some nastygrams, things are pretty tribal right now. But my basic point is that we have institutions and processes, we ignore them at our peril. So as with the Make America Sue Again idea related to CARES funding, I’m pleased a Florida court said  today school districts there can do what they think best on masks. It seems like Florida’s issue to settle and lo and behold they are.



August 26, 2021

Odds & Ends, Targeted Debt Relief, Janus Fallout, ESSA Innovation Compliance, Thank You Charlie…More…

This Panic at the Pondiscio piece seems directionally right. The longer this goes on the more the seeds for change germinate, a lot of parents really not satisfied. School board recalls are up, for instance. Look for some Bellwether work on where parents are, literally and figuratively, next week.  And from BW this week, BW intern Saidah Rahman on multilingualism. 

Matt Yglesias on DC Impact.

New Ed Trust on ESSA and equity – turns out the compliance mindset remains. Who woulda thunk it?

1776 Unites writes to school boards (note the Clarence Page sign on).

What’s up with Janus? New data and context via The 74

This seems like an important chart for a few reasons. (It’s from Axios based on Census data.)

First, and you have to go to the source data, it’s a good reminder that while college debt is a central political issue for people who went to college, most people don’t have college debt. And even most who did go to college don’t have debt. And a lot of debt is advanced degrees. All of that is one reason the averages and the panic/crisis driven coverage are not especially useful. Pay more attention to median debt and degree level and who holds debt.

The data points up, it would seem, both the case for targeted debt relief and the really torturous class based politics of broad scale loan forgiveness. When you add up all the Americans who don’t have debt, once did but paid it off, or never darkened the door of a college in the first place and don’t plan to, that’s a lot of voters. Many of them are not especially excited about seeing other people get their debt forgiven – especially people they perceive, often not incorrectly, as having means. Here’s an overview of the politics and state of play. 

Second, the figures for Black Americans should be especially concerning. That data in no small part reflects people trying to improve their circumstances by doing what they’re told is the right thing to do – get more education – but then falling into a system that is often predatory, especially at the graduate level and in the for-profit sector.

That, too, seems addressable via limited and targeted debt relief focused on income level, and perhaps degree level, that would be politically palatable and also provide a lot of relief to people who need it, have a reparative effect, while not spreading benefits to higher income Americans or creating a political backlash. And it’s important to bear in mind that debt relief doesn’t have much of a stimulative economic effect. Worth watching as the Biden Administration is currently sorting out its legal and policy options on debt relief and is under a lot of pressure to go big.*

The Last Time.

*Update, this was announced yesterday after this post was live.


August 24, 2021

Edujob: Research & Program Associate @NASBE

Are you early in your career in education policy? Have an interest in school health issues? Then this edujob might be for you: Research and Program Associate at NASBE.

NASBE seeks a collaborative, detail-oriented, mission-focused team player for a Research and Program Associate position to assist with a portfolio of projects. The associate will support the development of learning events and products, webinars and publications, and the dissemination of research-informed guidance to multiple audiences. The associate will work closely with NASBE’s Director of Safe and Healthy Schools, editorial staff, and communications staff to achieve success in current grant projects and help to identify opportunities to inform state board action so students of all backgrounds and circumstances succeed in school, work, and life.

The work of the Research and Program Associate will entail conducting research, helping to organize events, conducting follow‐up activities, writing evaluations of events, and coordinating with project partners. The associate will write a range of reports, summaries, and documents for dissemination to various audiences. The position may require limited travel and will be supervised by the Director of Safe and Healthy Schools in collaboration with executive management.

More here in full JD as well as how to apply. 


August 23, 2021

Past Really Is Prologue…That Matters To Effective Reform

This obit of Gary Nash is a good reminder that most of what’s considered new, and a ‘real moment,’ is usually a rehash of earlier ‘real’ moments. There is a presentism that pervades a lot of debates today about social questions, generally and in our sector. And not for the better.

At a trivial level you actually hear people say things like, ‘finally we’re debating how we teach history’ or ‘until now no one really cared that curriculum wasn’t always inclusive.’ This would be news to Nash, almost anyone who served on a state board of education, or many advocates who drew a breath in the last three decades – and, in fact, before that.

But presentism has more serious implications as well. For instance, in 2016 or 2017 I was at a meeting where one big theme was the question of how much the “ed reform movement” (whatever that means) should throw its lot in wholesale with Black Lives Matter, notwithstanding BLMs hostility to charter schools. When it was pointed out that James Clyburn was both not on board with throwing charters over the side and had some other disagreements with BLM as well, more than a few folks were like “who is James Clyburn, why does this matter?” For the record, until Kamala Harris was sworn in as VP this year he was the highest ranking Black elected official in the country and later was instrumental in Joe Biden’s turnaround in the 2020 primaries. I’m generally a Clyburn fan given his common sense approach to politics and helping people in their lives, but my point is not about the merits of anyone’s position on charters. It’s just that some reformers were hastily and enthusiastically jumping into a play in the second or third act with little sense of broader context and history. And in the process they were picking sides in fights they really didn’t understand and where well intentioned people could be found on all sides.

“CRT” is another, timely, example. You have people, on all sides, completely spun up about an issue few of them had heard of at this time last year. Now it’s the most important thing – until another most important thing inevitably supersedes it. When people say schools are not teaching CRT that’s generally dismissed as a bad faith argument because everyone gets that some of what is being debated are things schools are doing that are grounded in CRT. (It’s like arguing schools aren’t teaching religion unless teachers are literally reading Genesis or Luke to the kids, no one would buy that). There are certainly some folks who know better, but I’m not at all sure it is a bad faith argument in all cases. I’d argue the intense presentism means a lot of people are parroting or are just confused. Again, the point is not pro-or-anti CRT, just that this is a bad way to have a conversation. You can play that out on a host of issues.

Likewise, too many DEI workshops now reduce the LGBT experience to pronouns and other contemporary issues like sports access. Those things matter, yes, but there is too often little discussion of the history of activism and social change that helped get us to where we are today. You’re more likely to hear about who threw the first brick at Stonewall than about Bayard Rustin or Barbara Gittings or even Harvey Milk. We’re poorer for that. It seems hard to understand the problems with exclusion today if you don’t appreciate all the human, and by extension societal, potential lost because of exclusionary ways of life, policies, and practices. And, likewise, it’s hard to appreciate the efficacy and possibility of change if you don’t appreciate just how much there has been. Obergefell and Bostok, for example, are remarkable achievements.

And of course the tendentious debate about history and school choice always makes you want to reach for a Percocet.

The point here is not that everything should be a history seminar. Or to say that there are not serious problems today, which has become a popular bad faith reading of anyone who dares to point out that the country has made remarkable progress on many social issues even as there is more to do. Rather, it’s a more practical concern: If your animating idea right now is that too many schools put a reductionist frame on things or teach incomplete accounts of history or contested issues then it seems to follow that you, too, should resist a similar tendency in how adults, and especially leaders, approach things.

Related posts…Those who forget history are doomed to debate it, the debate about culturally relevant curriculum is a phony war, the CRT debate isn’t about trust, it’s about curriculum, this sector’s leadership has a blinkered take on politics. Ban CRT?


August 20, 2021


We’re All Hypocrites? And What’s The Precedent On The WH-FL Mask War?

Light posting, it’s August, but a few things. Today is Robert Plant’s birthday. Everyone who ever went to a middle school dance knows him from Stairway to Heaven. But his recent work with Allison Kraus is really amazing cross genre work I highly recommend. They have a new one coming later this year. Preview here. In certain circles it’s trendy to knock him as not appreciating a debt to the blues. But if you’ve ever heard him talk about the blues, blues history, and music more generally it’s a harder case to make.

Everyone always says, “listen to the community.” But what they mean is listen to the community when they agree with me. To use an extreme example, I don’t know anyone who thinks we should listen to the Taliban about what opportunities a community should provide women and girls. People have values that lead them to viewpoints about human affairs. And that’s generally good, and creative tension between various viewpoints can lead to progress. Local control is another of these. People who say they favor local control append an asterisk also. *When the locals do things I like or that fit my politics.

That’s on full display with the increasingly crazy debate over mask mandates. There was mask resistance in 1918, too. It’s not new. And since the pandemic is not as over we we hoped it’s not too late to read The Great Influenza! Anyhow, from where I sit the evidence indicates you should get vaccinated and wear a mask, that’s where we are in this pandemic. The increase in asymptotic transmission means mask wearing seems like common sense. Governors playing politics on mask mandates certainly seems unhelpful, and yes hypocritical if they claim to be local control supporters.

The political nationalizing of the pandemic is unhelpful, too. Even if you are fine with masks, we might pause to ask, what are the downstream consequences of the Biden Administration’s choice to wade into the issue with particular school districts (that just so happen to have a lot of Democrats)?  Is there a precedent here? The base politics are obviously pretty good. If you’re a national Democrat or even a statewide candidate it’s hard to go wrong attacking Florida’s Ron DeSantis. And he does seem pretty concerned about 2024 optics.

But we might rue the day that every disagreement becomes a “civil rights” issue. There are certainly equity issues around provision of education during the pandemic (and in the Barry book there is some chilling racial history from the 1918 one) but even as a mask supporter*, I’m not sure masks get there. The White House is throwing itself in to what is essentially a very state education issue. 

On the other hand, I think federal rules to ensure accountability for historically underserved students are a civil rights issue and other people see that as essentially a state education issue. So, again, it’s mostly about viewpoints.

Do yourself a favor and read the census data itself rather than the “takes.”

This essay is interesting on race and class. Some implications for our sector.

Coming attractions:

*I know it’s controversial, but masks sort of seem like one of those things in life where it’s worth asking what’s the worst that can happen? In this case if you wear one for a bit? I don’t like being told what to do either, but if you wear one voluntarily, really, what’s the worst thing that can happen?


August 11, 2021

More Magic Wands

At Bellwether we’re asking a range of people about their education “magic wand” coming into this school year. It’s an outgrowth of this question.

In the first installment today, we’ve got educators, education wonks, advocates, a summer Olympics gold medalist, and parents.


August 10, 2021

Hands Can’t Hit What Eyes Can’t See? Delta Comes…What’s The Matter With Oregon?

Randi Weingarten is an excellent tactician, but she’s not a great strategist. With enough hustle you can use the former to keep the latter liability at bay. But it’s a time limited strategy regardless. We’ve seen this play out before. The NEA hangs back. When is the last time you heard much about the NEA president, can you name her without googling? Weingarten, though, can’t get enough of being in the media. But the NEA’s approach might be the smarter strategy because enough zigging and zagging on a high profile issue and people start to notice…We’re going to find out soon how CTU, for instance, feels about a big push on reopening schools in this context. This isn’t teacher evaluation or reforming teacher contracts, where the same dynamic played out, this is the kitchen table issue in a lot of places right now.

Why? Delta is going to be an issue for schools. Seemed foreseeable. 

This from Oregon. It is really hard to see how removing the requirements that schools teach kids strikes a blow for equity. But here we are:

Gov. Kate Brown had demurred earlier this summer regarding whether she supported the plan passed by the Legislature to drop the requirement that students demonstrate they have achieved those essential skills. But on July 14, the governor signed Senate Bill 744 into law.

…Brown’s decision was not public until recently, because her office did not hold a signing ceremony or issue a press release and the fact that the governor signed the bill was not entered into the legislative database until July 29, a departure from the normal practice of updating the public database the same day a bill is signed.

…Lawmakers and the governor did not pass any major expansion of learning opportunities or supports for Black, Indigenous and students of color during this year’s legislative session.

…Much of the criticism of the graduation requirements was targeted at standardized tests.Yet Oregon, unlike many other states, did not require students to pass a particular standardized test or any test at all. Students could demonstrate their ability to use English and do math via about five different tests or by completing an in-depth classroom project judged by their own teachers.

It seems like the moment we’re living and the ethos in our sector is creating a situation where performative gestures like this are incentivized or rewarded more than actual efforts to improve the lived conditions of young people or steps that might give them greater choice in life. Math seems like another example.

Speaking of Oregon, and speaking of the moment, a not insignificant amount of the current “CRT” debate seems to be about age-inappropriate content and badly done DEI work. If you want to see schools do a better job teaching history, and separate the sheep from goats on an honest accounting of American history, this kind of thing is a problem, no? It’s low-hanging fruit.

A few weeks ago I wrote, 

Maybe on social questions I’m just an optimist by habit, but it seems to me that the ‘we need to do a better job teaching history, including the history of racism, and why the past is in some ways present,’ ‘don’t coerce speech and political viewpoint in public schools,’ and ‘don’t do dumb age-inappropriate things’ camp is actually quite large and diverse. It’s just a bit politically homeless in a strident debate.

Since then events seem to have bolstered that view?


August 6, 2021

Friday Fish Pics!

Julie Corbett is an education consultant based in the northeast. She and I share an affinity for low-profile but high-leverage issues like procurement. She has a new pub out on that issue.

And an affinity for fishing. She shows up from time to time in fish pics and fish porn with her family.

Today, check out that pike. Not sure we’ve had a Northern Pike before.

Lazy August Friday….pass the time with more pics of fish, or education people with fish? Here are hundreds to get you started. Send yours in.