June 6, 2018

NY Equity Debate, CA Results, Jim Ryan’s Commencement, Parent Rights, Civics, More!

Good overview of the California ed stakes/results last night.

Big debate in New York City over admissions to the city’s selective public high schools, which function as their own school system within the school system. They’re not at all diverse relative to the demographics of the public school population in the city. People fall roughly into three camps about that issue 1) that’s a problem that is going to require some complicated fixes b) that’s not a problem policymakers can do a lot about and c) that’s a problem and the admissions have to be changed. Here’s the school chancellor:

“Either you believe that black and Latino students can’t perform and don’t have a role in these schools, or the system is somehow not set up to capture the full array of talent in our school system,” he said. Right now, only 9 percent of specialized high school students are black or Latino.

What’s interesting, is that you can agree with the chancellor, Richard Carranza, and think that the system has failed kids up until the point they test for these schools – or don’t even bother to test. So one solution is the new admissions strategy city officials want to move to, but another is to get serious about early – and universal – screening for talent, better support for students around admission to these schools, and better quality of education overall in the early grades. In other words, a big question here is whether the city’s approach is really progress or just a band-aid on a much deeper wound? Sure, there are plenty of people against both of those approaches who think the status quo is fine, but the fulcrum of the debate should be elsewhere and with a long term focus.

The debate on this will be noisy and it won’t be pretty – people will have a field day with hypocrisy from many parents and all that. Politically, the mayor’s move will also undercut the argument that diversity need not come at the expense of merit – people are already seizing on that. Income versus race preferences may also emerge as a big issue. His hostility to charters is little help here. But underneath all that are some serious questions about what a genuinely equitable system might look like and why we have to have this conversation in the first place?


This is a great commencement address.

Tim Daly on a parental rights template.

This is the kind of conversation we should be having, learning from evidence.

Civics education should be teaching students about the civic process, not intellectually massaging them to adopt your left, right, center, libertarian, anarchist, or whatever views.

“Thirteen Reasons Why” is back, that’s not necessarily good news.

Harder They Come.

This seems indisputably true:

“When an active ‘bullfight’ comes out over the radio,” police wrote, “meetings take pause and everyone listens for the next update.”

Posted on Jun 6, 2018 @ 12:12pm

June 4, 2018

Reactionary Charter Politics, Janus, Gordon Ambach, John King, More…

New from Bellwether, here’s a deep dive primer on the Janus case – the Supreme Court will hand down a ruling later this month. This deck will get you ready. History, context, implications.

This Conor Williams essay in The Times has people chattering. Williams’ basic argument is that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos likes charters, people don’t like Betsy DeVos, President Trump likes charters and a lot of people don’t like President Trump, so that’s all bad for charters. It’s an argument more than a few folks are making and on its face it’s right. But it’s worth unpacking a little.

Ms. DeVos, who has been widely lampooned for her lack of expertise, can’t stop talking about how much she loves charters. She is so unpopular that she has set off a “political backlash” against these schools, two charter supporters wrote in USA Today. One survey of views on charter schools found that Democrats’ support dropped when they heard that President Trump supported them. In other words, the president and his education secretary are so disliked by liberals that some will automatically reject whatever they endorse.

There is some data on this now from more than one survey, and there seems to be a “Trump effect” of some sort going on. So, its magnitude might not as great as some assume, but it’s there. Let’s revisit the “automatically reject” point in a moment.

This puts Hiawatha [the charter Williams profiles]  in an awkward position. How should a charter network run by progressives committed to combating racism navigate the Trump administration’s vocal support of charters? How should it respond to criticism from progressives who accuse it of undermining public education? Charter schools are politically homeless.

I dunno. Maybe stick to doing good work for kids and don’t orient yourself solely in opposition to, or relation to, national politics? North star and all that.

During the Obama administration, tensions over charter schools among progressives were manageable. National charter school enrollment grew with support from President Barack Obama and his secretaries of education, Arne Duncan and John King. But the administration also provided more resources and flexibility for the education system as a whole.

Here’s a funny thing – until the 2009 stimulus the largest increase in funds for K-12 education was courtesy of a deal between President George W. Bush and Congress – and while it was pretty consistently misreported, that was real funds not aspirational authorization levels. Yet charters were caught in the same crossfire in those years and some of the same conversations and concern about a Bush effect. And whatever your politics, only a fool would compare President George W. Bush to President Trump.

It’s entirely possible that the fight over teacher evaluation and the fight about the general political relevance of the unions – remember Steven Brill declared them dead in 2009 and then they came roaring back in 2012 – had more to do with charter politics in the Obama years than much else. It’s also possible that the political pressure on charters today is growing because they’re one of the last things on the left everyone is fighting about on education. And their market share has grown to the point they are putting real pressure on the system.

Also, in terms of a reactionary politics around charters perhaps something else is at work here. I’d nominate ridiculously tribal politics that are now turbo-charged with social media. And it’s hardly just the left. During the Obama years Republicans defined themselves in opposition to the President on a range of issues where there was otherwise common ground. Recall Mitt Romney’s gymnastics on health care, for example. There are multiple issues you can write a version of this column about at a time when both parties define themselves more by what they’re not and what they’re against than what they are for.

Perhaps for charters the best thing the charter community can do is continue doing good work, cleaning up bad actors, and addressing the various challenges that exist. Being reactionary seems awfully short-sighted. It’s also not a good look.

Here’s Bruno Manno on some charter lessons.


Gordon Ambach has passed. In a long and accomplished career in education he was commissioner of education in New York and led CCSSO among other influential education roles.

New Pahara Next Gen fellows announced today.

Here’s a powerful teaching and learning story.

John King in Elle (!) on the gun debate.

Marshmallows revisited.

Serena Ryder, “Racing In The Streets.”

Janus Is Coming – Get Ready Here

Sometime this month the Supreme Court will hand down a decision in the Janus case. The case centers on mandatory union dues and free speech. Its effect on public sector unions could be modest or momentous depending on the ruling. Today, Bellwether is releasing a slide deck that looks at history and context as well as some possible implications.  60 slides that will get you up to speed on a case that, to paraphrase our former vice president, is a pretty big deal for our sector.

June 1, 2018

Friday Fish Porn! Family Ties

Jennifer Schiess is a principal at Bellwether, she’s a former non-partisan senior aide in the Texas legislature focusing on education issues, worked in higher ed, and taught high school English. She’s great, you should know her because you’ll learn from her.

But…her brother is the flyfisher in the family. Here is his last week with a nice rainbow trout from Western North Carolina – specific spot, like many good ones, not to be disclosed. His day job is running a creative firm.

Send me your fish pics or those of people in your life and they can become part of this permanent collection here, which is the largest collection of education-connected people with fish anywhere in the known world.

Posted on Jun 1, 2018 @ 10:24am

Janus Speculation, HEA Reviews, Scaring The Kids, School Choice Support Spreads in DC, Kress, Girls & Deseg, More!

Kirsten Schmitz on one path forward on pension reform.

School choice support spreading like wildfire in D.C.

This is indefensible.  Especially when there are so many things schools can do to improve safety that don’t involve terrifying kids.

Mike Antonucci on a mind-bender….what if the unions win the Janus case? OK, let’s be clear this is pretty unlikely. After the death of Justice Scalia the court split 4-4 and upheld the existing precedent. Taking the case again means something is up otherwise it’s a waste of everyone’s time. And it’s hard to see Justice Gorsuch, Scalia’s replacement on the bench, siding with the unions. The recent Epic case, handed down earlier this month, hardly gave them reason for hope.

That said, read Antonucci. A lot of conversations I hear go one of two ways. First, this will be like a light switch and it will be lights out. And, second, it’s just a yes/no kind of case. But that’s not how it will probably happen. There is a lot of play in the joints and a decision could be more or less sweeping and result in more or less secondary litigation and legislation in the states. So while I, and most observers, expect the unions to lose what exactly the landscape looks like going forward will be interesting and somewhat unpredictable. And how exactly the case comes down is, too.

Look for a big deck from Bellwether on that next week mapping the history, landscape, arguments, and possibilities here.

Girls and desegregation.

You know who doesn’t like the House HEA bill? Ben Miller!

Sandy Kress, offedu but with a lot of edu-relevance.

This is really quite a bear story.

May 30, 2018

Backloaded Pensions, Front-loaded Elections, Plyler v. Doe, School Construction, New Schools, Tuck, Wallace, Data, More!

The backloaded nature of teacher pensions makes it hard for teachers to achieve retirement security.

Charlie Barone says yes, and, on the Dems teacher pay proposal.

David Leonhardt on Chad Aldeman.

Plyler v. Doe backstory and context.

Black women have been a key Democratic voting bloc for some time – it’s not new. But, something new is happening this year that might have education implications.

Worth asking, is society today better off with this man in prison or tutoring GED candidates?

UNCF & Koch.

Interesting new study on the D.C. voucher program from IES. The usual back and forth because it showed negative effects for voucher students in math. It’s worth considering that other parts of the DC school scene are stronger now – in particular the city’s charters – that may be impacting the results. One take on that from the study’s author here.

There is a data access issue, that comes up in various ways and vexes researchers, buried in the latest legal wrangling on loan forgiveness for students scammed by for-profit colleges.

Periodic reminder that there are lots of ways federal dollars fund school construction even though it’s “not the federal role…” Imagine if we could get past the politics and really have a robust federal infrastructure role in schools…say regional infrastructure banks or creative financing strategies.

Fensterwald on Tuck’s plans for California schools. 

More on the WeWork – MissonU deal.

Further evidence moving straight into the workforce from school is not a good idea.

New blog from Wallace Foundation.

Guy Davis “Walk On.” You can see him up close Friday night in Arlington, VA.

May 24, 2018

Guns, Charters, And Other Non-Polarizing Issues. Plus Schmitz, Coons, Boston HS, More!

Kirsten Schmitz on some CTE leadership lessons.

I suggest always reading Jack Coons.

You may have missed it, but this week Virginia transgender teen Gavin Grimm won another victory in court. It’s a good reminder that despite all the political action in D.C. on this issue the real action is going to be in the courts. When the Trump Administration rescinded the Obama Administration guidance on this I noted that the Virginia case was likely to be an important one (and that demographics are against LGBT opponents anyway). A good reminder that the courts matter here.

I suspect, though, people won’t be so excited by the courts on another Title IX issue moving through, the Obama Administration’s campus sexual assault guidance. The burden of proof in use in a lot of places and put forward by The Department of Education’s civil rights office may be too low to meet legal muster and is proving problematic in a bunch of ways, including racial bias. There again there is a Virginia case to keep an eye on as well as some others. What’s interesting is that quietly behind the scenes some colleges want the system changed and are with Betsy DeVos on that one, but no one wants to stick their head up in the current climate – that’s an underreported story.


Marc Tucker is an interesting analyst of education and I highlight his work around here a lot. But this piece he just wrote on charter schools seems flawed to me. Marc’s basically arguing there isn’t a lot to learn from the good ones that you can apply to systemic reform. I guess at a technical level that might be right. But that’s because of the problem at the political level. The best charter have a few common elements and are not random flukes – intense focus on results, much more control over who is in front of children on a daily basis, and operating autonomy. Recreating those conditions more generally is pretty tough. But that doesn’t mean there is not a lot to learn there. Here’s an overview of the charter sector from Bellwether, some of the data is a bit dated but directionally the story is still the same. It tells a story that I’d suggest offers some lessons – about both practice and politics.

We’re still arguing over evolution.

This story is about Boston but a lot of places have similar two-track systems of high schools.


Arne Duncan wants parents to boycott schools until gun laws change. He’s been both mocked and praised for this as you might expect. The idea crossed my mind, too, because massive non-cooperation can be a powerful tool for change (and for God’s sake don’t tell them but the kids do kind of hold the power in school when you think about it…).

But, there are a few problems with Duncan’s idea. First, it’s more likely than not to just replicate our divided gun politics. The walkouts earlier this year didn’t happen everywhere and the divides were pretty striking. Second, without a clear agenda it’s hard to know what people would be walking out for or against, and among gun-owners and non-gun owners there is both a lot of agreement on some measures and then a lot of disagreement on others. Third, kids should be in school for a whole bunch of reasons from learning to getting a good meal in the middle of the day.

There are also a lot of education issues that adversely affect a lot more kids each week in school, are solvable, and we might pay more attention to them, too.

But, just this week two little kids in Virginia were killed because of improperly stored firearms that other little kids got their hands on. From Sandy Hook to Santa Fe storage and access seems like an issue to discuss. And that’s an issue where non-cooperation could play a powerful role in driving change – and not involve taking kids out of school. One can be pro-2nd Amendment and also pro-safe storage. And a conversation about with rights comes responsibilities seems more productive than a let’s take away guns conversation, which is great for political consultants on both sides of that debate but doesn’t do much for the rest of us.

You know who is making a lot of money on all this? School security consultants. But there are a number of steps schools can take – many of which are good education practice anyway – that don’t cost a fortune, turn schools into forts, or alarm kids. Here are some ideas about that.

This raccoon just wants a sandwich.

Posted on May 24, 2018 @ 3:15pm

May 23, 2018

News From Bellwether, Higher Ed Happenings, Dog Ate DeVos’ Homework? Again? Lake And Hill, Schmitz, Aldeman, More!

News from Bellwether. 

Chad Aldeman on Colorado’s pension reforms and why they are not great news for teachers. And Chad takes a look at the compensation paradox for teachers, salaries flat but total comp rising.

Kirsten Schmitz on pensions and retirement.

This news from 74 is a signal of the kind of changes Janus may bring. The NEA anticipating membership losses of 300k and cutting $50 million from their budget to get ready.

Today in Betsy DeVos: This is pretty inexcusable. First off, not surprising you’re likely to get a question about it. Second, well there is no second. Unbelievable.

Whiteboard Advisors puts out a weekly round-up of education industry news and happenings, you can subscribe for free to get the unabridged version.

Robin Lake & Paul Hill on protecting students or protecting institutions, not a fully binary choice but some hard issues bound up in that.

Higher ed:

Free speech debate at UVA and free speech lawsuits at Michigan.

New PPI report from Anne Kim on ways of linking the financing of higher education to results.

And Glenn Reynolds calls for curtailing the Ivies.

Watch kangaroos jump a guy to get carrots.

May 18, 2018

Friday Fish Porn – Events Edition, Plus That’s Not A Stripah, It’s A Wahoo…

Ben Wallerstein is not a stranger to fish porn, he’s been featured here a few times. Here he is today with a striped bass – locally called Rockfish – from the Chesapeake Bay week before last. It’s a bruiser, it’s that time of year, and soon you will be able to catch them on the surface in crazy topwater action.

Speaking of crazy topwater action, on June 1, Whiteboard Advisors, Ben is the founder and leader of that firm (where I am a senior advisor), is hosting its annual Insider Out event in D.C. it’s a great event because it’s audience engaged and directed and always has a solid line up of panelists so that leads to real conversations.

You can learn more here.

Fish Porn? Want more? Well here are hundreds of pictures of people in and around the education sector with fish.

Also, not sure how it slipped my mind when he was announced but incoming UVA President Jim Ryan was also featured here with a stripah. He also guest blogged about one of his books but it’s Friday so today it’s fish.

May 17, 2018

Breaking: Bill Gates Is Involved In Education, TN Testing Two-Step, Teacher Pay Bargains, Honesty Gap, Evidence, Laughing Circles, DBFS, More!

Guys, you aren’t going to believe this…Bill Gates and his wife spend a lot of money to influence education policy.

This testing story from Tennessee is pretty fantastic. You’re a state and your testing company isn’t doing a great job for you so you bring in another company to help with capacity and then – surprise! – the second company is owned by the first company. And neither company is named Pearson!

Anyway, I’m always struck how in any conversation about testing things immediately turn to Pearson – certainly a major player – but you don’t hear a lot about ETS, one of the two companies involved here or the American Institutes for Research, another major vendor.

Next time you’re tempted to dismiss bullying as just as rite of passage or something…

Rick Hess proposes a grand bargain on teacher pay. What’s sort of interesting is that to some extent this bargain is happening informally, starting pay or teachers is rising, pay is becoming (somewhat) more front loaded and retirement benefits are being curtailed. But it’s haphazard and the retirement reforms are of varying quality in terms of their utility as retirement policy – eg saving money by making it harder for new teachers to vest. BTW – All your teacher retirement questions answered here! 

This G’town study on college, careers, and earning has some valuable nuance. Achieve on the “Honesty Gap”on state assessments. Evidence and ESSA via C4C and RFA.

Start your day in a laughing circle. Reggio is hot.

Dry Branch Fire Squad.