May 5, 2020

Asking Online Panels About Online Access Is A Thing And A Blueprint For Schools, Plus Shavar Jeffries, Values V. Empiricism, Tresha Ward Talks To School Leaders – Distanced Of Course! More…

There is some interesting stuff in this new NEA poll of parents, but it’s an online poll and they asked parents about how much access to technology is an issue for them. Good news! Just 6 percent said it was.It’s an online poll…c’mon…Across the country millions of kids are not being served because of issues with device access, internet access, or both. We have to do better…

Here’s some student voice via The Times:

Talking out of turn. Destroying classroom materials. Disrespecting teachers. Blurting out answers during tests. Students pushing, kicking, hitting one another and even rolling on the ground. This is what happens in my school every single day.

You may think I’m joking, but I swear I’m not.

Based on my peers’ behavior, you might guess that I’m in second or fourth grade. But I’m actually about to enter high school in New York City, and, during my three years of middle school, these sorts of disruptions occurred repeatedly in any given 42-minute class period.

That’s why I’m in favor of the distance learning the New York City school system instituted when the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Emmeline Zhao and I sat down with Shavar Jeffries to talk about coronavirus and education politics and the federal response. He also shares his backstory. Video and text.

Bellwether’s Tresha Ward talks to school leaders about coronavirus response in a series of videos:

In the May Education Leadership Dan Willingham and I take a look at education’s research problem. Does our pre-Covid lede, augmented with a parenthetical, hold up?

Most people know the basic story of handwashing in medicine: Infections in medical facilities were a seemingly intractable problem until, starting in the 19th century, iconoclastic doctors used data to show that washing hands (and instruments) reduced infections and saved lives. Yet whether from stubbornness, politics among practitioners, or genuine disbelief that washing made a difference, there was plenty of resistance before basic steps to prevent infections took hold. Today, however, routine steps to prevent infection are commonplace. For instance, when you visit a doctor’s office or emergency room, you’ll see sanitizer by the door (even more so now in the midst of the coronavirus crisis).

In education, though, we still don’t “wash our hands.” Instead, we too often alternatively ignore, belittle, or weaponize scientific findings relevant to education, depending on personal or institutional preferences. We don’t, in the education sector, do enough to support a culture or politics that prizes empiricism and learning—including learning about which education practices work best and what empirical data indicates about which practices are most effective.

If you are into things like threshold of certainty and the tension between values and science, you might like it.

Via an education task force AEI put together here’s a blueprint for reopening schools – not a template but a set of issues to think about.


May 4, 2020

Are Kids Super Spreaders? The Evidence So Far Says No

I highly recommend this short piece from Emily Oster. She looks at what we know so far about whether kids are likely to catch and transmit COVID-19. We already have good evidence that kids are less likely to get sick and die from the virus than older adults.

But does that mean kids just aren’t getting sick, or are they asymptomatic carriers of the virus? Oster suggests the evidence so far is tilting toward the former:

However, in practice it seems that infection among kids is simply very unlikely.  It’s not that they are infected and don’t know it, it seems like they are just not infected very often.  And when they are, it may be that the mild symptoms limit their viral spreading….

What does this mean for policy, and for families? Opening schools and day cares and camps (PLEASE!!!) is still very complicated since these all involve congregations of adults. But on the plus side, these results indicate that in those contexts they suggest our primary concern should be adult-to-adult transmission, which may be easier to limit.

Read the full thing here.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 


April 30, 2020

How Will COVID-19 Affect the Teacher Labor Market?

In a new column at The 74, Lauren Dachille and I offer five predictions, and four suggestions, for school districts struggling with hiring uncertainty in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. We write:

Ultimately, while this crisis presents many challenges for districts, it may also provide an opportunity. Those places that are able to adapt to the changing teacher labor market now can have a lasting positive impact on student learning in years to come.

Read our predictions and suggestions in the full piece.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 


April 29, 2020

Joan Baratz Snowden

Joan Baratz Snowden passed earlier this week after a battle with cancer. Joan was a fixture at the AFT for more than a decade, helped get NBPTS going, and was a presence on the ed scene in Washington.

But those are resume items. More importantly she was a lot of fun, intense, not shy to fight, interesting to talk with, and one of those people you always learn something from. I remember once in response to something I said she responded that I must read Wittgenstein’s Poker, an episode I was vaguely aware of but an account I’d never read. She always had gems like that, read broadly and liked ideas but also liked action.

She was also full of her own big ideas about education and frustrated with the pace of progress and micro focus of so much of our sector’s work given the scale of our problems. Righteous in her politics in the good sense of that term she was not a reflexive partisan or a reactionary – rather an independent thinker of the kind we need more of.

Here’s Ed Week.


April 18, 2020

Abigail Thernstrom

Abigail Thernstrom passed way earlier this month. Among other issues she was active and influential on education and a member of the State Board of Education in Massachusetts. A very good Washington Post obituary gives a sense of how complicated she was. In her own words:

I just have problems with ideologically coercive environments — I get claustrophobic.”


April 16, 2020


April 10, 2020

Bellwether Covid-19 Response Webinar

Yesterday Bellwether hosted a webinar with with four pivotal sector leaders — Dan Domenech, American Association of School Administrators; Eva Moskowitz, Success Academy Charter Schools; Nina Rees, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools; and Sonja Santelises, Baltimore City Public Schools,.

They shared challenges, lessons and successes, and discussed what’s next. If you missed you can watch or listen here, closed captioning available.

More via this Ahead of the Heard post. 


April 9, 2020


April 7, 2020

Bellwether & Covid-19

A few resources from Bellwether to share.

On Thursday we have a webinar featuring Dan Domenech of AASA, Nina Rees of NACPS, and Eva Moskowitz and Sonja Santelises for on-the-ground district and charter perspectives. Pre-registration required. And it is filling up so don’t delay if you want to join.

Today we released this toolkit for school and non-profit leaders.

And (like everyone else it seems) we have a resource page with a lot of free resources.

Here are a few looks at various issues. I think school districts and charters should consider providing instruction this summer. Hailly Korman thinks there are some empathy lessons bound up in what’s happening. And at our blog Ahead of the Heard you will find a variety of resources on organizational and educational issues that the sector is facing.


April 6, 2020

Competency-Based Instruction, Now More Than Ever

My wife and I are privileged in lots of ways. We have books around the house, Wi-Fi, multiple connected devices, and a printer. We have flexible jobs that allow for remote work. We have a steady income and health care benefits.

Still, as the parents of two elementary-age kids in the midst of the coronavirus lockdown, we were thrown into this new homeschooling experiment abruptly, as of 11:41pm on Thursday, March 12th. Two weeks later, the governor of Virginia closed schools for the rest of the year. We’re now starting week four.

Our school district has given us little more than links to the state’s grade-level standards plus some old YouTube videos. They are supposedly going to start mailing out instructional packets next week (this week is technically Spring Break from the district’s perspective.) That feels lackadaisical and insufficient, especially compared to some of the more organized responses I’ve seen elsewhere.

While I’m bitter about how little our district is doing, I want to be clear this is about district policy. My kids’ teachers have signaled that they’d like to do more but they’re being prevented from doing so.

To fill the void, my wife and I created one of those daily schedules going around social media, and we’ve been giving the kids workbooks, other printouts we find online, plus some “educational” videos like Bill Nye The Science Guy and the Mo Willems Lunch Doodles.

While there are more resources out there, particularly for online instruction, we are not anxious to plop our kids in front of a device or ask them to join Zoom meetings all day. Our priority has been keeping the kids safe and healthy, with structure and any educational benefits as secondary. Still, for my kids at least, they’re running ahead on the things they like and stagnating on things they don’t like. My second-grader, for instance, is doing fourth- or fifth-grade level work on some things while struggling with grade-level content in other areas. 

If this type of dispersion is happening among individual students, I can only imagine what it will look like at the classroom- or school-level. How will teachers handle these challenges? What systems and supports will districts put in place to identify student competencies and tailor their instruction accordingly? Will they assess students in the fall to know where they’re strong and identify areas where they need more support?

I continue to suspect that districts are mostly just trying to get through this. They’re hoping planning to re-open as normal in the fall. But if my family’s experience is any indication, we’re going to need something different. If anything, this experiment has made me much more interested in competency-based instruction, however that might be delivered.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman