July 29, 2021

July 28, 2021

It’s Gonna Be A Wild One

“Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?”

“What have you got? 

As a new coalition of the pissed off emerges in school districts around the country, this may well be their rallying cry.

I suspect a lot of people will turn off from this William McGurn column in the WSJ ($) because of the woke / anti-woke framing, its take on things, and because it’s in the WSJ. I’d suggest you don’t. McGurn puts his finger on something we’re seeing around the country – recall efforts for local school board members and insurgent campaigns against them based on a variety of issues that underneath the specifics boil down to dissatisfaction and frustration. It’s a coalition of the pissed off.

Whether or not you agree with the various issues in play – timelines for school reopening last year, mask rules, back to school plans for this year, admissions policies for selective public high schools, school renaming*, “CRT,” and just general board responsiveness to public input, isn’t the point.

Rather, the point is this is happening. This trend (and already some surprising school board members in normally sleepy precincts have lost reelection) is one worth watching. There are recall efforts all over the place. In Virginia where I live, you have recalls in big districts like Fairfax, Loudoun, and Richmond but also smaller school divisions not on the national map. In places like Falls Church that had a divisive debate over school renaming and reopening incumbent board members are just choosing not to run again and frustrated parents are organizing to replace them.

In other words, all these people with various grievances are finding each other and agreeing on just how pissed at the system they are even if they don’t agree on a bunch of other stuff. This will impact superintendents, school operations, and likely provide counter-organizing further bringing national culture wars to local communities.

And it’s a trend that is broader than conservatives or Republicans. Despite some money, in some cases, from various conservative wellsprings it’s a mistake to dismiss this out of hand as just right wing astroturf. The McGurn column talks about San Francisco, for instance. I’m not likening this new coalition of the pissed off to the Trump coalition in 2016 or 2020, there are some key differences in composition. But, like the Trump coalitions, the same tendency among critics to identify some issue and then ascribe it broadly in a monocausal way is taking hold here in the education space. Ample evidence shows some Trump voters were motivated by racism but ample evidence also show’s that’s not true of all Trump voters. In this case, with the coalition of the pissed, it’s the same thing. Some of the “CRT” debate, for instance, is straight up racism. But not all the concerns parents are raising can be put in that bucket.

Parsing what’s happening seems important because this is a growing phenomenon that seems likely, absent a substantial political pivot, to have some staying power this cycle.

*An interesting subsurface aspect here is people who aren’t really upset about the names, per se, but are frustrated with boards prioritizing it when schools were not open for live instruction.

July 27, 2021

With A Little Help From Your Friends

A few months ago I mentioned the importance of friends, close friends and friends from an array of walks of life besides your own. It’s hard to be good at your work, especially public facing work, if your social status and social life is bound up with it – you can lose your north star and it’s hard to make the difficult calls if everything rides on it. Plus friends are great in a variety of ways.

This new survey on friends is interesting along those lines. Indicates people have fewer of them along with some other findings including around happiness. So we’re online more, have fewer friends, and work more. That doesn’t seem like a healthy mix?

Something I’ve noticed anecdotally is how much work has become a substitute for friends for some people – and how some people look to their workplace for the sort of of activities, interaction, and camaraderie that we traditionally associate more with friends.

No great education takeaways here, though this does seem tied to our purpose crisis more generally.


Also off-edu, the other day I posted a Billy and the Kids show from Red Rocks, here’s night two. This profile of Leon Bridges, like Bridges, is fantastic.

July 26, 2021

Odds & Ends, Moses, Two Times Heds, SAT, CRT, All Your Acronym Culture Wars…More…Plus, Now With Extra Skunk!

Last week’s mention of Skunk Works got a lot of great feedback, there is definitely a cult of people in education who for various reasons have an affinity for the methods, ethos, or style. If you want to learn more about why, you can read Kelly Johnson’s autobiography – it’s of the period for sure, but a firsthand account. I’d recommend Ben Rich’s Skunk Works for a comprehensive take. There is also Beyond The Horizons, the broader account of Lockheed.

Bob Moses, who personified the link between education and civil rights and full participation in American life, has passed at 86.

ICYMI: Last week Bellwether released this policy brief on using ARP dollars to diversify the educator workforce. 

It’s never enough. A tale of two Times heds:

Original on this Times story about the ARP dollars and schools:

Schools Get a Stimulus Windfall, but Find That It May Not Be Enough

Current one:

Schools Are Receiving $129 Billion in Stimulus Aid. Where Is It Going?

The first one, coming at a time most states are running OK on their budgets, is definitely more on point as an explainer for the sector than the second one, which seems actually intended to be an explainer?

It’s getting pretty testy out there part 1. And part 2 here via Politico. I’ve noted here that this seems combustible and if you think it’s all Chris Rufo and right wing parents, you spend too much time on Twitter and should get out more. That landed like the lead balloon you’d expect but here’s Politico:

But those Democrats appear to be underestimating parents’ anger in places where critical race theory is top of mind. Objections to new equity plans are not the sole province of conservatives but extend to many moderate and independent voters, according to POLITICO interviews with school board members, political operatives and activists in Democratic and left-leaning communities including the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.; Palm Beach County, Fla.; New York’s Westchester County; Maricopa County covering Phoenix, Ariz.; and suburban Detroit.

Charter school funding and students with disabilities.

Caitlin Flanagan throws cold water on the dump the SAT zeitgeist.

What I’m listening to: These Billy and the Kids shows with Billy Strings from Red Rocks earlier this month are sweet.

July 23, 2021

July 22, 2021

July 21, 2021

Teacher Diversity, Teacher Tests, Plus, Testing Like Reading Is A Political Problem, Too…

Here are a few on teacher policy.

Yesterday Bellwether released this policy brief that Tom Gold and I did on how you can use ARP dollars to diversify the teacher workforce. It includes a bit of the why and the research but then gets into specific strategies and some case studies on places doing various things. Hard to imagine a better time to put rhetoric into action on this issue than right now given all the money states and LEAs have to deploy.

Today, NCTQ is releasing an important look at teacher tests and the still pretty dismal state of teacher preparation.

Elsewhere, AERDF is spinning up, they’re already doing math and now are turning to assessment and rolling out of New Schools to operate independently.

From where I sit this kind of initiative is welcome and valuable from an innovation standpoint and focus on students who have been historically underserved. And I’m generally a pro-let’s do things like DARPA in education type, and a big adherent of ideas like Kelly’s Rules and how Skunk Works operates.

But, and there is usually a but on this kind of stuff, there are some differences here worth noting. Under law there are constrained buyers for defense weaponry and related systems. There is also general agreement on goals and success. These are not trivial dimensions. And they are non-existent in an education sector that’s decentralized, balkanized, and has little agreement on acceptable outcomes.

In pre-pandemic 2020, I wrote about reading instruction and how the problem is more a problem of politics than a problem of craft per se. We usually think, if we just get the craft right the policy will take care of itself. But the inverse is arguably true with reading: We’ve politicized reading in ways that damage the craft.* You could write the same thing about testing, though testing seems like both politics and R&D whereas reading is more politics at this point.

Defense, however, is about the controlled application of force. Education is about, well it depends who you ask. That’s politics and any initiative that doesn’t play attention to the politics of testing and structure of the market as much as the craft is going to struggle with impact.

*This is one reason it was exciting to see the Oakland NAACP say enough and demand better reading instruction.

July 20, 2021

July 19, 2021

Thx Ian And Sharif, And A Book Rec

First, an enormous thanks to Sharif and Ian for last week, if you haven’t read the posts below I encourage you to do so. Among the substantial ground they cover, Sharif discusses teacher diversity and you can look for some work from Bellwether on that later this week.

Read Mercury Rising, Jeff Shesol’s account of John Glenn’s time in Mercury and the strategic and political context around the Mercury program, over the break. Highly recommend. Also a good reminder of how things like that can raise ambitions of students and kids of all ages.

And I signed onto the Teacher Salary Project, check out their work.