August 26, 2020



Woke Paul Hill?

From Paul Hill:

…Yet the principles listed above are necessary, if not sufficient, in themselves: marginalized families can’t have a chance if they get the last pick of everything and their learning is constantly disrupted.

The five principles have been clear for more than 20 years, and some district leaders have tried to put them into practice. But progressive interest groups keen to right wrongs against marginalized groups have largely ignored—or in some cases attacked—these principles, as they often worked against their vested interests. (The exception, Education Trust, picked up on transparent pupil-based budgeting and got a form of it written into California law).

Why has the progressive left looked the other way? Three reasons. First, there are juicier targets, like inequitable state school finance systems, that can be attacked more cheaply through litigation and can swing impressive amounts of money even if their results are often disappointing. Second, attacking institutionally-racist practices inside school districts would pit progressive groups against teachers unions and middle-class parents, who are key funders and allies in other matters. Third, a successful propaganda operation has cast parent choice and performance-based oversight as intrusions of market thinking, and steps toward taking the public out of public education—i.e., privatization.

The third reason is the most harmful. It implicitly asserts(link is external) that the institutional biases identified above are part of a seamless web of arrangements that make up public education, and that any challenge to them threatens the whole. This can’t be true, since with these practices school districts can’t serve their core purpose of educating all children effectively. In other words, this is a failure to distinguish between the purposes of public education and the means or delivery system created to achieve those ends..

This does, however, raise the often-discussed question among many reformers, why can’t a politics of pro-school finance reform and pro-structural reform emerge, since a lot of people, myself included, support both and school finance is remarkably inequitable. But perhaps the question answers itself.

Posted on Aug 26, 2020 @ 1:18pm

August 25, 2020

Can School Choice Save Trump?

OK, the short answer to that question is no.

Although education, via school choice, got some airtime at the RNC convention last night there is little evidence that a lot of single issue school choice voters are out there. Generally fewer than one in ten voters say they base presidential votes on education – this is as opposed to issues like guns or abortion where more voters, on either side of those issues, say candidate positions are determinative.*

A more disciplined politician than Donald Trump (and perhaps one without his baggage) could probably use this moment to drive a wedge on school choice. Given the lay of the land in 2020 a combination of innovative policies and steady messaging from the White House could have an impact. It should go without saying that Donald Trump is not such a politician. And 2020 America, with both parties pretty hardened and education, despite the chaos around schools right now, trailing the pandemic, the economy, and race relations for attention does not seem to be the year for an education breakout. That could, of course, change if the lumbering start to schools completely falls apart later in the fall, though I would not bet on it.

Still, as Andrew Gillum found out in Florida, in a tight election even a little school choice action at the margins can matter. So given that the state polls are tighter than national ones and there is some movement among independents it’s not something to entirely ignore. As Democrats, and the country, learned the hard way in 2016 leave it all on the field and always campaign like you’re behind. That’s why Chad Aldeman and Alex Spurrier pointed out recently it wouldn’t kill the Dems to have something to say on the issue. In any event, listening to Tim Scott and Nicki Haley makes it clear they’ll have to have something to say in 2024. At some point circumstances will align to force the question on the gap between Democratic elites and minority voters on school choice – and K-12 education more generally. 2020 doesn’t seem to be the year.

*Beware polls that ask if it’s important, voters say lots of things are important. Especially voters answering a poll about education. That’s not the same as determinative. And, not surprisingly, education ranks below a host of other issues in most polls right now in terms of voter importance.

Disc – I’m not an arms length observer here, I’m supporting Biden – Harris.



August 24, 2020


August 21, 2020

Friday Fish Porn! Mentor & Mentee Edition!

Steve Mesler was a college decathlete* who switched to bobsledding. After a World Championship, Olympic Gold Medal (part of a team to win the first US four-man gold in six decades, other podium finishes) he decided maybe he wasn’t cut out for that and pivoted to education with his sister, a researcher at MDRC, and launched Classroom Champions. This week he reflected on that experience on Twitter.

He also likes to fish. This picture’s not the best, the fish prefers water to air and is trying to get back to the H2O. Steve lives in Calgary now so easy access to some amazing waters and incredible country.

And if you don’t know about Classroom Champions and the work we do (I’m on the Int’l Board of Directors) I’d encourage you to check it out and teachers we are keen to find ways to work with you if you teach in high-poverty classrooms in the US or Canada.

Friday fish what? Friday Fish Porn is a feature that started in 2006 when Jim Griffin skipped work and sent me pictures of all the fish they were catching to tease me – I was at the office. Now, hundreds of pictures later, here we are. And we also have lots more Fish Pics if you want to send me pics of your kids under a different header. Education and education connected people with fish, simple as that. Send me yours.

*I once outran him, well at least gave him the slip while running, in a game of ‘kick the can.’ I regularly regale my wife with that tale…remember the time…and plan to dine out on it for a while.


August 20, 2020

Finest Hour?

From Bianca Vázquez Toness in The Boston Globe:

…several observers say in their single-minded emphasis on safety, the unions have missed an opportunity to lead the conversation on how kids will actually learn this fall — regardless of where. The unions are accused of using the crisis to advance their longstanding agenda against education reform: calling to suspend standardized testing, opposing the use of technology for learning, and not committing to enough time with students during the spring’s remote learning experiment….

…“Unions … need to put their best face forward and show the public that they can deliver high quality public education through this period,” said Paul Toner, senior director of national policy for Teach Plus, which runs leadership training programs for teachers, and former head of the MTA. Otherwise, Toner said, “they’re putting themselves in jeopardy.

That sounds like good advice! Actually, isn’t it good advice for the sector overall, very much including school districts? It’s not self-evident to me that the pod outbreak has to exacerbate inequity. Seems more likely to be a mixed bag depending how people approach it and a lot is flying under the pod banner right now. This work isn’t for amateurs, though, Just ask any effective teacher or serious homeschooler.

So, this seems like a great chance for the public schools to show what they can do – not by opening for live instruction in places where it’s not responsible. But rather by being really creative and making sure kids are being well-served in a variety of ways. Being agile with facilities and staff, using space in innovative ways, making sure students without online access are nonetheless being served. Right now that’s not happening in more places than Massachusetts and that seems like the real risk public education supporters should be focused on.


August 17, 2020

Aldeman On Biden, Teacher Shortages, Teacher Voice, The Offline…Keierleber On Cops

In The Washington Post Chad Aldeman and Alex Spurrier make a couple of key points on the Biden education policy. It’s not empirical on testing or charters, not great for low-income kids, urban kids, and/or racial and ethnic minorities, and it’s also not without some political risk at the margins. The margins might not matter in 2020, but it’s only August.

In The Times a well-written, compelling, but completely evidence free teacher shortage piece. The new teacher shortage crisis is Covid. First, general disclaimer that we don’t have a national teacher shortage, we have shortage in some places and subjects and generally produce more teachers than we need, just not where they’re needed. At some point after decades of teacher shortage sky is falling stuff you’d think some editor would stop and wonder. But the new jam is apparently Covid. On Covid, at Bellwether we’ve been looking at these numbers pretty closely -surveys of teacher views and data, any effect seems likely to be minor with the caveat that this could vary in certain places based on local circumstance and how it’s handled. So more or less like the current “shortage.” We’re going to publish some of that soon.

NASBE has a brief out on the different ways states are engaging teachers in policymaking. OK, but I have questions.

It’s hard to miss that if you stand on the ground of most state capitols you have line of sight to the state teachers association/union headquarters. And if not, it’s nearby. So is teacher voice in policymaking really a big problem? Should we disentangle teacher voice and teacher union voice and what are the implications of that? Privately most legislative staff say they hear from them plenty! Student voice and getting more student representatives on state boards seems more underpowered? (Via NASBE here’s more on that).

A few month ago I noted that the move to get cops out of schools has merit – but it has done be done thoughtfully, with real culture change, and one risk was the classic move of just replacing a public employee with a contractor and calling it reform. In the case of police in schools that would mean a turn to education’s thriving private security industry. In The 74, Mark Keierleber takes a look at how this is playing out in one high-profile community.

This article also from The Post is important. The conversation about schools and Covid lately has largely been about “how” kids will learn – pods, online, hybrid, live instruction – rather than whether they will at all. And a big aspect of last spring was the millions of kids who basically got nothing after mid-March. That could happen again absent intentional and dramatic steps. The only part of the article I’d quibble with is the idea that there are any easy fixes here. Even if Congress acted today it wouldn’t be fast enough given the magnitude of the challenge, so schools are going to have to be creative.

I’m learning about OutSchool, check it out.  Here’s an interesting conversation about empathy with some relevance for our sector.


August 14, 2020