January 14, 2019

LA Teachers Strike, Anderson & Faust, Willingham To Funders, Parkland, Testing, More!

The strike is on in LA. It’s about bigger political agendas than the district (national narratives, political ambitions of people involved, etc…) and so the district’s situation is getting lost. Remember, from 2001-2016 expenditures in LAUSD are up 55%, but salaries and wages 24%. That’s in large part because spending on benefits are up 138% over that time. That’s the downward pressure on wages that is frustrating teachers but also hamstringing the finances of addressing their frustration. The problem is particularly acute in LA but hardly limited to LA or California.

Max Marchitello on looking beyond averages on teacher pensions.

Cami Anderson talks with Drew Faust.

Dan Willingham on what funders should do.

Keeping your edge on:

“What we don’t want to see happen here is for the reformers to become the establishment,” Brown said. “One of the roles of The Mind Trust is to ensure that doesn’t happen.”

Bob Rothman on equity, demographics, and destiny.

A Parkland father speaks.

Jack Buckley to Imbellus.

Bill Monroe.

January 11, 2019

California…Idaho Facilities, Aldeman’s Caution, Success Sequence, GLSEN Climate, More!

Bellwether’s Lynne Graziano, Kelly Robson, and Juliet Squire go deep on charter school facilities in Idaho.

What were the top five teacher pension posts last year? Here they are.


Here’s an old story, this time in Tennessee: State sets unattainable goals in testing contract, contractor agrees to them to get the sale. Hijinks ensue.

Afrocentric charter schools.

A lot of talk about the “Success Sequence” lately, here’s a critique.

Where ocean breezes blow: Mike Kirst exit interview – a lot of experience here. Related: Jerry Brown had a pretty good run. Here are a few takes on that. The incoming governor, Gavin Newsom, is splashing a lot of money around, so people are happy, but here’s Chad Aldeman with a caution.

School is too boring in too many cases. Hard to argue with that. Unfortunately,  a lot of the ideas to make it less boring would also make it less educational – solving for that is a real puzzle for the sector to address.

State-by-state data from GLSEN’s school climate survey.

Woman brags about poaching deer on dating app to man who turns out to be game warden.

Tumbling Dice.

January 9, 2019

LA Teachers Strike, Teacher Turnover, Talking Turkey, More!

Chad Aldeman on teacher turnover in DC and what it means for teachers’ retirement.

LA teacher strike history. Yesterday we discussed some context.

This Turkey story is no joke:

Everyone was like, ‘You’re kidding, right?’” said Caprice Young, Magnolia’s chief executive officer at the time. “‘You came all the way from Turkey to oppose this little charter at Disneyland?’”

Here’s a human capital fellowship to work on front line talent issues.

Is Virginia ripe for a school finance suit?

Teachers not leaving as fast as you heard on Twitter.

Sarah Shook & The Disarmers.

January 7, 2019

LA Strike + Aldeman Context, Demographic Burden…More!

2019 issues to watch.

Looks like there will be a teacher strike in LA. A few things to keep in mind:

First, teachers are understandably frustrated and mad, their situation is not great. But, at the same time,  the district has substantial fiscal challenges, too, that are bad news for students. Yes…two things are true at once! And this sector generally doesn’t do those kinds of issues well.  What it will take to right the ship in LA is more than marginal changes. 

Chad Aldeman with an important look at some of the context about where money goes here.

Second, these strikes can be unpredictable. The 2012 Chicago strike, which like this one was preordained for larger political reasons than just the immediate financial issues, turned out to be a huge boon for the union there, its leader Karen Lewis, and changed the trajectory of teachers union and reform politics. The timing seems good for this one but who knows, these things can be unpredictable.

Elsewhere, Christine Rampell takes a look at birth rates and what that could mean. More immediately, in the next decade we will have more people over 65 than under 18 and that means all kinds of formal issues (various tax issues that impact school finance, health care and retirement costs) and informal ones (support for public schools) as the nation’s demographic burden continues to shift from young to old.

This seems like a problem…both with these schools and also our credentialing fetish.

Truancy and immigrant students:

Fifteen-year-old Joseph, whose mother is from Antigua and is standing beside him, has been skipping class and falling in with the wrong crowd. In June he was jumped at school as part of a gang initiation, which left him with a black eye and bruises. Joseph’s father was deported back to Saint Vincent and his older brother was arrested in connection with a shooting. So Joseph not showing up for class is the least of this family’s problems…

Do we need new ways to think about/talk about effect sizes in education? Mathew Kraft thinks so.

Teaching list.

Catfish John

January 3, 2019

City Kids, Discipline Debate, Lake’s Ideas, Lockdown Hysteria, CALDER, Texas, More!

Bellwether’s Jessica Cooper on “Can We Talk” and STEM.

Before the break I wrote about faddishness.


You might want to view this WSJ story on teachers leaving in droves with some skepticism.

Welcome to 2019!

Elizabeth Warren is in. She says, “The problem we’ve got right now in Washington is that it works great for those who’ve got money to buy influence, and I’m fighting against that.” Hard to argue with the sentiment and she has a record, but squaring it with her evolving education positions may be a challenge. It also points up a challenge for Democratic reformers as support for ideas like giving parents more choice in public education is in question.

School discipline: The case for the now defunct federal guidance, the case against it, the case for conversation. 

This Times deep dive on Native American education is well worth your time.

Robin Lake lays out ideas to think about in 2019.

Fun interview with a DC high school student and an innovative organization (that NBC Washington’s Leon Harris will be featuring on Friday afternoon as part of his “Harris’ Heroes” series):

I believe that those amazing moments in Alaska will help me to appreciate situations in the moment and not take them for granted. I’ve learned to make the most out of everything I experience. 

Arcane but consequential tax policy decision related to school choice.

It’s hard to find school bus drivers for a host of reasons, some this article gets into. Again worth asking if in places with broader transportation infrastructure we should be thinking about how to better integrate school transportation with local and regional transportation? Here’s a Bellwether analysis looking at the broader issues around school transportation. Here’s a video with the shorter version.

This lockdown hysteria is totally insane. We can do better.

Fallout and debate from a Virginia teacher fired over his approach to a transgender student.

School choices?

This CALDER conference is always interesting and the work innovative – and this year Bellwether’s Cara Jackson is reacting to a paper.

Only one Texas college or university graduates more than 100 black men a year – and it’s an HBCU. Texas is hardly the only state with appalling numbers like this – numbers that contribute to the problem recruiting teachers downstream – but this article takes a broader look. (Yes, Texas has fewer African-Americans per-capita than some states but with about 3m and 12% of its population it ranked 4th among states in absolute numbers and 21st per-capita in the 2010 census. The graduation rates among Texas schools further point to a problem).

Rick Hess and Brendan Bell want a new starter academy.

Brain Damage.

Posted on Jan 3, 2019 @ 10:43am

December 21, 2018

News From New Carolina And Old Carolina, PIE News, Personalized Learning Risks, Higher Ed Problems, More…Happy Holidays…

Hailly Korman with an interesting thought experiment about whether new court cases might provide traction for constitutional rights for students. Count me as skeptical on the current Supreme Court’s appetite for any of that, but if a state did what she describes then perhaps that would trigger some unique claims.

Posting light to non-existent until after the New Year. Happy Holidays.

Late breaking news: Jenn Alexander is going to be the new executive director of PIE Network.  Smart choice.

There seem to be some challenges in higher ed: A look at due process on campus via FIRE. Liberal arts in the dock. And will 50 percent of colleges close in a decade?

The other day there was a Times article about lies of commission on college applications. US News takes a look at the complexity of lies of omission.

Margaret Spellings on the UNC confederate statue controversy and higher ed governance more generally.

And elite college going may impact women more than men.

In K-12, states getting more play in the ESSA assessment pilot. I don’t know if this math curriculum is any good but this is interesting.

This take on personalized learning risks, seems plausible but both legit and ginned up fear about data privacy seems like a real risk to watch – especially given many of the key funders.

We’ll ring in the New Year with teachers strikes in California.

Edgewood, Texas is hardly the only place this persists.

This 18th Century study is pretty interesting….

Here’s the entire school safety report.

Christmas Time All Over The World.

Posted on Dec 21, 2018 @ 2:23pm

December 20, 2018

Performative Listening Or Faddishness?

Rick Hess has a provocative piece out chiding reformers for performative listening and offering a typology of the various forms of that activity. He’s onto something and you can see examples of what he describes around us, but his take seems wide of the mark in a subtle but meaningful way. The core problem here, I would argue, is not fake listening while stubbornly advancing a fixed agenda, rather it’s faddishness and performative listening in service of the latest fad. (And really, we could do with a bit more stick-to-itness couldn’t we?).

The reform world loves to blame the “system” for being awfully faddish, but in practice we’re no better at resisting the whims of fashion. Best I can tell, there seem to be a few reasons for this or a few missing checks on faddishness.

One, most people are careerists so they check out what’s in or popular and go with that. File that under most of what you need to know to understand life you can learn in a high school cafeteria. To be sure, it’s hardly an ill-considered thing to do in a field that doesn’t really tolerate heretics let alone support them. Few want to pay a price with funders, patrons, or favored constituencies. It’s not a lot of fun and the costs are real. Sure, hoop jumpers abound but overall I’d judge gently because it’s more that people have mortgages to pay and kids to put through college or people who depend on them. That’s real life.

A second cause, I’d suggest, is lack of broad mindset or, put differently, narrow focus in school and often life. The ed reform world, broadly speaking, is a pretty elite bunch in terms of educational background, where we live, culture, touchstones and markers, and so forth. That sort of homogeny makes it a lot easier for fads to spread. For all of the attention to diversity these days, precious little is devoted to viewpoint diversity or life experience diversity. For instance, when is the last time you heard an education organization say they want to prioritize hiring more veterans or people with a right-of-center or free market orientations and then doing it? More people saying the same thing is not actually diversity. Yet real diversity, in all its facets, very much including race, ethnicity, economic class, is a pretty good antidote to faddishness. 

And a third is a smart vigorous debate, or rather lack of one to act as a check. If Valerie Strauss or Diane Ravitch version 3.0 are the sparring partners for people who think that a system that produces the outcomes ours does needs some real change, then the debate is going to be more heat than light. What gets lost is the vigorous back and forth that’s vital to progress. Evidence and real debate about that evidence and how to think about it is the best check on faddishness. Instead, we get mostly howling at the moon and a lot of tribalism and blunt force politics.

For instance, here’s a reality: KIPP schools are, on average, pretty good. They turn out students who go on to much better educational outcomes than similar students and as a result they are literally changing lives right now. But, even taking KIPP and similar schools as the “best” at any scale raises an uncomfortable reality – they are not nearly closing the gap in outcomes overall so they are falling short of real ambitions for equity.

There are two ways to have a discussion about what that means. One, is the way we have it now. We mostly don’t. Because no one wants to say “even KIPP…” because the Greek chorus starts up right away with “even reformers say…,” followed by “some version of ‘so let’s just do more of the same’ or ‘reformers are privatizers.’ The other way to have the conversation is to say, yeah, KIPP is pretty amazing and interesting but a lot more needs to happen to get to real equity (to its credit that’s pretty much what KIPP says). But, tactically that’s a lead with your chin way in to the toxic public space we tolerate in this sector. So, rather than thoughtful, much of the debate about KIPP is all manner of claims from the crazy to the noxious, not a curious culture about what there is and is not to learn here, vigorous debate about that, and what it means to this shared effort of improving a dysfunctional system that doesn’t work for a lot of Americans. KIPP’s of course just one example, but it’s illustrative of how things are talked about publicly.

And, finally, as you no doubt noticed, things are pretty tribal right now nationally as well, so there is little cross cutting engagement and discussion. Bipartisanship or multi-partisanship is not a foolproof check on faddishness to be sure, but it’s sometimes a useful stress test. Best I can tell, much of the education world (on all sides) is more interested in ideological purity these days than the messy heterodox views many people hold on a variety of complicated questions where the evidence is conflicting or limited.

You essentially have an elite pretty cloistered group not having much of a vigorous debate because the politics are insane.

So it’s not that people aren’t listening, though some surely are not, it’s that we listen and then run from one fad to the next. In that way, performative listening is at most merely a symptom of a far bigger problem facing those who want to change the structure of American education.

Not to leave you on a down note, I don’t think this state of affairs is hopeless at all, and it seems that if they were inclined funders could play a big role in helping to address it. Really, we all could.

Posted on Dec 20, 2018 @ 1:05pm

December 19, 2018

2018 Holiday Book List

Running behind on your holiday shopping? As in past years, here are some book ideas from the past year (past year for me, they’re not all new and one is quite old):

There’s a reason everyone is talking about Tara Westover’s “Educated.” In its totality it may not be representative or generalizable, but it is indisputably one hell of a story and a very well told one.

You hear a lot of talk about climate refugees, but some of the first ones may not be in some far flung place, they are living just a few hours from the nation’s capital on Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay. In my experience it’s a unique place and in “Chesapeake Requiem” Earl Swift* chronicles the island, its people, and its story.

In “Winners Take All” Anand Giridharadas takes a look at elites and elite philanthropy. I might suggest that before we criticize them, whether it’s the Steyers or the Kochs, we should tip our hat to wealthy people deploying their money in an effort to improve conditions rather than hoarding it. But, people disagree on what improving conditions looks like and there are complicated questions and legitimate critiques all around, this book raises some of them. You may find Giridharadas’ take troubling but at the same time see his remedies as underpowered, which is why this is all more complicated than you probably read on Twitter.

Zora Neale Hurston’s “Barracoon” is a crazy book on a few levels. The story itself, about Cudjo Lewis, who was brought to the United States by slavers in 1860, the last of an illegal slave trade that had persisted for decades since Great Britain and then the United States outlawed it, is astounding. And then Hurston’s efforts to publish it and how it only came to be published in 2018 despite an editors note dated 1931 is a book in its own right.

The national debate about for-profits in education is mostly tendentious and tiresome. So books like Jonathan Knee’s “Class Clowns” are welcome additions. His take on the ins and outs of various recent business efforts, he chronicles four, is sharp and thought provoking.

Blair Braverman is a great follow on Twitter, engaging advice columnist for Outside, and in “Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube” you get her compelling backstory. A lot more than a dog sledding book.

In some circles RCTs are out of vogue in education and in others they were never in, but Andrew Leigh’s Randomistas reminds us that trusting what seems plausible can get you in trouble because the world is a delightfully complicated place (…more complicated than you heard on Twitter).

This last book is rough in places, as you might imagine from the title,“The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.” Yet Mark Manson’s essentialist message might be useful to the education sector or your own life. If you care about nothing you’re a sociopath, but if you care about everything you’re not effective. Getting the balance right can be tricky.

Bonus: Have a music lover in your life? You can do a lot worse than this list. 

Happy holidays!

*More here. 

December 18, 2018

Bankert On Tight Loose, Korman On JJ, Aldeman On Pension Data, Plus ELLs, Parkland, Alexander, Bad School Information, Bad Applications, Clarence At Christmas, More!

2018 holiday book list tomorrow.

Lina Bankert on how to think about tight and loose in school networks. Chad Aldeman on how teacher pension data are a treasure trove on questions far beyond just retirement policy.

Hailly Korman on the juvenile justice bill on its way to the President’s desk. Related, have you played “Rigged” yet? First person game based on the lived experience of real students.

David Leonhardt wants more populist Democrats. I’m not sure what that looks like on education, but if it’s just “free” college then that’s less populism than a give away to the already affluent. Compelling reasons to target financial aid carefully. I’d like to see, instead, a protectionist education agenda that helps Americans get the kind of education to buffer people against the various kinds of economic disruptions they may face. Populist protectionism can tank the economy – education protectionism might strengthen it.

Very hard feelings about handling of Parkland.

Senator Lamar Alexander on President George H.W. Bush and serving as his education secretary. Also, Alexander announced he is not seeking reelection next year setting the stage for changes on the Senate HELP committee. As a governor, education secretary, university president, and senator, he has been an influential fixture on the education scene since the 1980s.

It’s hard to fact check college applications.

EdNavigator on the confusing information parents get from schools.

Some subtle but important shifts in accountability policy for ELL students are playing out around the country – here’s a TCF look at whether it’s progress or not?

20-year teacher, daughter of Catfish Hunter, passes at school.

Re-education efforts. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.

December 13, 2018

School Choice Case, Native Ed, Student Voice, Homework, More!

@ Bellwether:

Cara Jackson on the reform label debate, and some context.

Katrina Boone on education and Native Americans.


Keep an eye on this Montana school choice case.

Parkland report.

Despite all the talk about student voice, it’s remarkable how few states involve students in state board policymaking in anything beyond a ceremonial role. NASBE takes a look at that in a new brief. And, did ya know that Bellwether’s Rebecca Goldberg was a student member of the Maryland Board of Education?

Interesting look at homework. The punchline is that it should be about quality not quantity rather than yes or no, but we’re a long way from there in a lot of places.


Posted on Dec 13, 2018 @ 9:19am