How The IRS Treats Entities Is Pretty Irrelevant To How You Should Think About Them

There is a sort of truism in the education world that non-profit means white hat* and for-profit means you should be skeptical or something stronger. And because Bellwether is a non-profit it would be in my interest to perpetuate that notion. Except it’s wrong and not at all useful.

Not-for-profit and for-profit are just corporate structures. Those structures matter, for instance, legally, to some aspects of operations, to compensation, and to taxes related to various activities. (And there are different classifications of non-profits, churches, unions, political organizations, charities, etc…for our purposes here think about the generic non-profit research, service, or advocacy group, the kind you might check out on Charity Navigator).

What tax status doesn’t matter much to are two key things:

– Whether or not an entity is actually profitable; and

– Whether or not an entity adds any real value to the world.

In practice, there are plenty of for-profits education ventures that are effectively non-profit in terms of their actual returns to investors. Education can be a challenging marketplace, it’s hard to sell to school districts, the system is decentralized, people make mistakes with business plans and models, etc…etc…Meanwhile, there are plenty of non-profits with eight and even nine figure reserve funds – which in some cases are large even accounting for their ongoing run rates. They’re not paying out profit because of their corporate structure, but they are certainly making money and effectively have an EBITDA that would excite any investor. (A trend I’d keep an eye on is non-profits being acquired and becoming for-profit).

At the same time, there are plenty of for-profit organizations, and many non-profits of course, that are adding a lot of value to the world through what they do. And, there are many in both sectors that are not. This is why the ways various ventures interact with the IRS doesn’t tell you a lot about whether or how you should interact with them as a buyer.

Finally, there is a lot of talk about “sustainability” in the non-profit world. I have some bad news for you – nothing is inherently sustainable, even life itself. A little more immediately, it’s worth noting, especially in a time of philanthropic contraction in our sector, that a good business model is the most sustainable model out there. Most of Bellwether’s revenue is fee-for service and that value for value transaction and the accountability that comes with it is vital to our model. People being willing to pay you for work is sustainable, and more sustainable and a stronger signal than philanthropic activity alone. It means that when your funders decide they care more about climate change than schools or are just sick of education politics that you don’t have a financial crisis on your hands.

What does this mean for you? First, look beneath the label and worry less about tax status than actual impact and value. Second, I get asked a lot to help start up ventures think through questions about how to organize. There are benefits to being a non-profit. Despite the point this post is trying to make there are and will continue to be reputational benefits in many quarters. There is also access to philanthropic capital, and the ability run at leaner margins because you don’t have to return financial value to investors. Where you see capital coming from, the part of the sector you operate in, and whether or not the possibility for a real exit exists if you are successful are all factors to consider.

But the core thing is this: The next time someone ID’s an org first by its tax status ask, but what do they do or offer, and are they any good at it or is it quality for what we need? That matters more than the forms any entity sends to the IRS and will make you a more savvy consumer of goods and services. It would also improve signaling in our sector.

*Ironically, one of the most-notoriously low-quality for-profit charter school operators was actually called White Hat. And yet even though their overall quality was poor, they did some some programs that were OK. (There is a whole post to be done on names.) Another reminder this is all more complicated subsurface.

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AI Did Not Write This

I haven’t written a lot about AI here at Eduwonk. And where I have it’s more questions than answers. That’s where we are on the tech right now. And I haven’t done that thing where I have AI write the post and that’s the big reveal. AI did not write this. My colleagues Amy Chen Kulesa and Alex Spurrier recently wrote a great piece -again, actually wrote it about AI and schools for Fordham.

AI will impact the education sector, as it will most walks of life, and it will over-promise and under-deliver. That’s always a safe bet. Yet the velocity around AI is intense right now. Here are a few things to pay attention to:

1) I’m old school around teaching and learning, and so is the human mind. At some level the core technology of teaching and learning has not changed that much since Plato sat with Socrates, no matter how much we might wish otherwise or tech enthusiasts might try to convince us. Deeper learning, 21st Century Skills, etc…etc…the teacher learner relationship and content and knowledge are what matters. AI is already setting off a new round of people of people putting “mere” in front of “facts,” (which is truly astounding given the times we live in). Don’t fall for it.

As with previous versions of ed tech, the most transformative applications may be around support and tools for teachers, students, and families and embedding AI in existing tools. PowerSchool just rolled out their AI embedded product. Look for more of that rather than blue sky ideas.

Yet when you made this point about ed tech – that the biggest impacts might not be instructional applications – it upset the enthusiasts. Seems like the same thing is happening again. Lesson planning, data, system analytics and predictive analytics, coaching, tutoring, those seem like promising applications more than letting an AI app just teach the kids. And of course the basic equity question remains – the affluent will make sure their kids get the richest instruction. The job of policymakers and education leaders is to ensure everyone has access to that kind of instruction.

I get asked a lot, will AI result in fewer teachers? Yeah, seems like it might result in fewer adults overall, including some instructional roles. You can certainly see some productivity enhancements. But teachers aren’t going anywhere, for good instructional reasons and because they’re powerful in the political process.

2) Similar to the point above, Technology can enhance teaching and learning and the personalized applications of AI are exciting. And it can make teachers jobs easier. But AI doesn’t fundamentally change how we learn. Shoutout to Ben Riley who is trying to put a dent in this problem and increase understanding on the consumer side but the bottom line is you should listen as much to Dan Willingham as you do Sal Khan about what’s desirable here or how it fits with what we know about learning.

3) Yes, of course there is a gold rush. And that’s not all bad. Innovation costs money, and at the end of the day a lot of these solutions will, of course, come from the private sector. But it’s not as much of a gold rush as it might seem. The last big ed tech bubble it was astounding what was getting funded. It doesn’t seem that frothy now. Investors say they are hearing a lot of pitches, but they are moving deliberately. Rather than bubbles, again innovation costs money, if you want to complain about something complain about schools not being savvy consumers – that’s the real problem. A few years ago Curriculum Associates CEO Rob Waldron literally made a video for districts saying don’t do these things. People still do them. AI can create a nice image of leading a horse to water but…

Also pay attention to the role of free and open products. In general this part of the sector underwhelms, this technology could be different given the nature of it as a platform for enhancements. And keep an eye on policymakers, speaking of gold rushes there is one on for jurisdiction. The White House it taking a more aggressive stance via its executive orders, led by staff who think policy was behind the ball on social media and other tech, and the Trump Administration had a reasonably well-regarded AI policy. The Hill and regulatory bodies are all trying to carve out influence.

4) Don’t confuse policy and regulatory fights with land grabs. For years you had big companies battling for market share in schools but doing it via various claims about privacy and data. A lot of folks were happy to join in, perhaps not even realizing they were picking sides in a larger fight for market share. You’re starting to see the same thing with AI as various vendors, especially large incumbents, try to figure out how to use regulatory power or policy to fence off competition. Parse claims beneath the label, figure out what’s really at stake.

5) Bias is a problem with AI, address it but don’t over-index on it. AI learns from data and if those data have problems then it will show up in AI. And some of the data does have issues, many things are keyed to medians that exclude a lot of users – this shows up around gender a lot but is also an issue with race. One need not be a woke scold to realize that there is bias all around us. As with the regulatory point above, some of these issues will be used in bad faith and weaponized ways to score points rather than solve problems. AI adherents must be attentive to addressing bias – and the good news is there are increasingly tools and practices for doing so – but it can’t be conversation stopper and the education sector has not been particularly sophisticated when it comes to thinking about bias.

6) Prepare to be surprised. This is a novel technology that even its boosters don’t entirely understand. There are some broad contours, sure, but anyone telling you they know exactly how this will or won’t go is selling you something. It’s still dancing baby time in terms of where this technology might go. Pay attention, consume information broadly, and enjoy the ride.

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Don’t Teacher Eval The Science of Reading, WonkyFolk On Higher Ed, Finance, and Trades, Plus VA History Standards In The Standard

ICYMI last Friday, North Dakota’s Kirsten Baesler and I discussed teacher shortages and education politics on a Linkedin video chat.

Don’t Teacher Eval Science of Reading

Out today from Bellwether here’s a look at some Science of Reading pitfalls and opportunities. Basically, my colleagues and I look at how can SOR advocates learn from rather than repeat past reform missteps. Also includes a lot of history on reading instruction and reading politics.

Key points:

  • Reading is vital for academic and life outcomes — and early reading is especially important. 
  • The evidence base on what it takes to read is strong, but trends in teaching have diverged for decades. 
  • Advocates for the Science of Reading seek to close this gap in order to achieve better reading outcomes. 
  • States and localities are trying to improve outcomes through policies to support better reading instruction. 
  • But politicization and implementation could threaten otherwise promising progress. 

Read the report here.

Join us for our webinar, What’s Next for the Science of Reading? on Monday, January 29 at 3pm ET. 

WonkyFolk Takes On The Hairy Stuff

Jed Wallace and I have a new WonkyFolk podcast up today. We discuss finance, higher education, the trades and education, and, of course, the Furry Wars in Oklahoma. And we preview our first live episode, which against better judgement someone has invited us to do.

You can get it here or below or wherever you get your podcasts. Most people choose to listen rather than watch, and that’s understandable! But you can do either below.

Recent History

NASBE asked me to reflect on the history standards process in Virginia. Also today in the new State Standard I do that and offer a few lessons learned. It’s part of this broader package on curriculum.

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They’re Furious In Oklahoma. Plus, Baesler Chat Friday, Science Of Reading Implementation

ICYMI – the 2024 Eduwonk In and Out list is here. Something for everyone to love and hate.

Tim Daly is going deep on the whole Finland education marketing play. We’ve discussed that a few times around here. And don’t say you were not warned.

Coming Attractions

In spring 1997, the Red River flooded in North Dakota (as well as parts of Canada and Minnesota). The devastation was particularly intense in Grand Forks. Prom was out of the question for area high schools until they decided to host a joint prom in a hanger at the Air Force base there. Soul Asylum showed up to play! They played a great set with some ed specific covers – including “To Sir, With Love,” “Tracks of My Tears,” and “Schools Out.” I’ve heard they also played a CCR cover that didn’t make the album that came out of it. On Friday, we’ll get to the bottom of that because I’ll ask North Dakota Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler (she’s also a former CCSSO president) about it in a LinkedIn chat we’re doing at 12p ET. She was there.

We’re also going to talk about teacher shortages and teacher policy. There is a reason Baesler’s been in that job for more than a decade and it should be a good conversation you can join on LinkedIn.

Last summer I noted that Science of Reading advocates were not going to do themselves any favors by salting the earth in their wake and risked creating the conditions for backlash. That’s one of the issues a new Bellwether publication looks at about the history of the reading debate and what advocates can learn from other high-profile reform issues. Look for that and a webinar with leaders on that issue later this month.

In the meantime, NCTQ has a publication out this week on Science of Reading implementation.

Paws for Effect

There is some sort of infurection happening in Oklahoma. That state has some characters who seem to be furiously auditioning to be Secretary of Education if there is a second Trump administration. On tap now, this bill below. Which, rather than try to describe to you, I will just post here verbatim because you would not believe me otherwise especially about one claws at the end. I don’t know under Oklahoma law if the bill has to be purrfected.

On the upside, I guess if you want your identity codified and respected then calling animal control is not nothing. Not sure the bill’s sponsor thought that through.

For what it’s worth, I’m not one or part of that community, but I’m basically pro-furry. I mean, who cares? Seems to fall pretty squarely in the do whatever you want if it doesn’t harm others bucket. If you profess to love freedom it sort of follows you are pro or tolerant of a lot of things, furries included. These people may have the right bumper stickers or tee shirts but they don’t love freedom or personal liberty. And no, kids aren’t getting litter boxes in schools. Take a break from the internet and go volunteer or something.

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2024 Eduwonk In & Out List

It’s the first week of January so here’s the In and Out list (2023 here and 2022 here). It’s unscientific, it’s impressionistic, and it’s informed by your emails so keep sending them.

Happy New Year.

Dress CodesGender stereotypes
Philanthropic dollars in educationPhilanthropic commitment to education
Race-based affirmative actionEssays and supplemental questions
Covid dollarsFiscal cliffs
Ed tech will transform how we learnAI will transform how we learn
MiddlemenBrandon Johnson
Substantive teacher strikesPerformative teacher strikes
Standardized testsAristocracy
Nina ReesNina Rees
SafetyismCalls for violence
Democrats as ed reformersDemocrats
DEI JacobinsChris Rufo as Robespierre
PrivacyPrivate schools
IntersectionalityMelting pot
One-time spendingHysterics about budget cuts
DeSantis with outsized coattails in school board racesDeSantis with outsized boots
Gender questioningGender policy questioning
Claudine GayRoland Fryer
Multiple causes of the U.S. Civil WarRepublican Civil War
Republican xenophobiaBipartisan xenophobia
Ibram X. KendiRuy Teixeira
Great booksGreat passages
Going to schoolChronic absenteeism and teacher strikes
DEITeam building
Advanced classesMaking equity toxic
TransparencyStreet Data
Second AmendmentFirst Amendment
PortlandNew Orleans
Restorative justiceSROs
Education policyEducation politics
Education politicsAbortion politics

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The American Dream Lives At WonkyFolk: Special Guest Nina Rees!

ICYMI here’s the Eduwonk holiday book (and gift) list.

For the last WonkyFolk of the year Jed and I sat down with Nina Rees, outgoing CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. It’s an interesting conversation about the sector, its politics, what Nina has learned, and what’s next. She also shares her own story at the end.

In my view, Nina did a masterful job navigating a complicated set of cross-pressures for her organization and the charter sector. On any given day she was catching flack for being too hard-edged or for not being collaborative enough. Nina is an institutionalist not a tribalist. She got grief for inviting Randi Weingarten to a national charter school conference but also for inviting Betsy DeVos while she was Secretary of Education. We need more institutional thinking and leadership like that – especially right now.

You can listen here or below, or wherever you get podcasts.

Holiday Books And Gifts

It’s almost that time…Did you put off your holiday shopping? Need a gift or three? Just like to read? Here’s the Eduwonk Holiday Book gift guide. (And here’s last year’s, I am seeing a few of those books on 2023 lists, too).

If we had to live a book the past few months I would have at least hoped for a Hemingway story with some fishing in it (I have one for you below). Or even better maybe a nice poem. Instead, we’re living the argument of two new books: Yascha Mounk’s The Identity Trap and Greg Lukianoff and Rikki Schlott’s The Cancelling of the American Mind.

Mounk shows why identity-based politics are a dead end. Implications for how the education sector thinks about politics and progress and implications much more generally for our civic life. Hard to miss how much more effective idea-based education politics were than the soup reformers are trying to sell now is. Lukianoff and Schlott argue how and why “cancel culture” stifles expression and creates the style of argument we’ve seen these past few months, not to mention last decade.

The choice of college or career training after high school is often set up as a binary. In The Career Arts education analyst Ben Wildavsky makes clear why college matters, but also offers advice for thinking about different paths, social capital, and how to get the most of your experience and set yourself up for success.

But, higher education needs reform and changing the institutions is tough. Former college president Brian Rosenberg lays that out in the provocative and witty “Whatever It Is, I’m Against It.”

In Dream Town Laura Meckler revisits Shaker Heights. Come for the lively discussion of John Ogbu and Ron Ferguson’s research, which should be discussed more, stay for a timely story for 2023.

In the The Death of Public School Cara Fitzpatrick looks at the history of school choice and the battles in legislatures and the courts. The pro-or anti-choice zealots on your list will love the title, everyone else will appreciate the research and the story. I discussed the book with her on WonkyFolk earlier this fall.

In How Elites At The Social Justice Movement Freddie deBoer takes a look at why social justice movements often fall short and in particular why did the energy of 2020 amount to so little? DeBoer is unsparing, not because he doesn’t care but rather because he does.


Not a book, but a spicy entry from Oakland education leader Hae-Sin Thomas and her husband Parker. The pair has launched a business offering cooking salt. Jo Su offers a terrific array of options for different palettes as well as gift packages. Strongly recommend!

In The Exceptions New York Times reporter Kate Zernike gives a book length treatment to the story she broke about how MIT discriminated against female scientists. Unlike how these things usually come to light, class action suit or a whistleblower, these women documented their case themselves. Zernike, who does great work when she turns her attention to education, tells the story.

You might assume I’m including a book about space on an education as a STEM angle or something along those lines. But I’m including Ashlee Vance’s When the Heavens Went On Sale because it’s a hell of a story with an ending we don’t know yet. If the first era of space was government working with the private sector the second phase is increasingly the inverse.

Community colleges are an amazing part of the education ecosystem and an often inspiring place to see the American ethos of an education system that offers many second chance opportunities. In America’s Hidden Economic Engines, a slim edited volume, Bob Schwartz and Rachel Lipson compile some examples and offer some ideas for policymakers.

Elliot Washor is a longtime voice for ideas about a different, more hands on, way to do schooling. Learning To Leave, which (I assume) is a play on the classic British sociological work Learning to Labor follows their previous Leaving to Learn, Elliot Washor and Scott Boldt profile schools offering students a radically different learning experience. These ideas only work in a system of choice, which is the irony of the education conversation today. The anti-testing people are also generally the anti-choice people all the while claiming to be against “one size fits all.” It’s why voices like Washor are so important.

Ernest Hemingway’s Big Two-Hearted River is turning 100. John Maclean (his father was Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It), who primarily writes about wildland fires and firefighting writes the intro to this lovely new hardbound edition illustrated by Chris Wormell. Highly recommend.

Best wishes for the holidays and 2024.

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A Rising Tide Lifts All Wonks, A Brazen Anti-Equity Play, Navratilova v. Swisher, Affirmative Action’s Impact, And Tom Gold v. A Fish!

A Rising Tide Lifts All Wonks

On a new WonkyFolk Jed and I talk with David Griffith from Fordham about their new report on education competition in the nation’s largest school districts. And David shows off his fancy home for us. It’s an interesting report with some counterintuitive findings and also questions for policymakers and advocates. One issue we get into is just how much penetration you should expect from competition anyway? Important with the sky is falling rhetoric.

You can watch or listen here, or below, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Some top spin on this one.

This interview with tennis icon Martina Navratilova by Kara Swisher is worth your time if you want a textured and measured discussion about transgender athletes and sports. One issue that comes up is this criticism that a lot of people suddenly energized on this issue are nowhere to be seen on all the various gender equity issues affecting women’s sports. I think that’s true – in different degrees – of both sides. Women’s sports are still not equitable with men’s sports and there is a lot of work to do there. Yet it’s also irrelevant to the core questions of inclusion, fairness, and safety that must be balanced on this particular question with regard to different sports and levels of competition. This is one of these issues where if someone has a really simplistic take, either way, they probably haven’t thought very hard about it.


I was stunned when I learned of this Republican plan to literally transfer millions of public dollars from schools serving Black students to schools serving white ones. It’s absolutely brazen. 81 percent of white students will benefit but only 56 percent of black students and 66 percent of Hispanic students from this plan -that carries a total cost as high as $1.9 billion. Just wow. They’re really doing this stuff.

Actually, this is the plan New York Democratic leaders and the teachers union cooked up to lower-class size in New York City. According to this Urban Institute analysis 81 percent of white students will see their class size reduced but only 56 percent of Black students. At a cost of nearly $2 billion. Yeah, equity! Local leaders are concerned about the costs and implications for basic fairness in that city. The policy is basically what you’d come up with if you asked AI to develop a class size policy at odds with the research on effective class size policies. For instance, the money is not focused on the early grades or poor kids but instead spread like peanut butter across the city. It’s sort of astounding it’s not getting more attention given what a reverse equity play it is.

Across the board class size reduction is a great policy – if you live in a vacuum. In practice, it creates issues like this and raises serious questions about ROI for this kind of money. Democrats, who remain tethered to producer interests in education, still struggle with the basic jobs versus education quality dynamic in public education. Layer on the class politics of New York and then you get an unfolding disaster like this.

My point here is not that the Republicans are great on education, they’re not. It’s merely that if you’re looking at education policy through a red or blue lens these days you’re missing the action because neither party is distinguishing itself and at the same time both have interesting leaders trying to do interesting things. This, however, is not one of those things.

Proles cost too much!*

This new study from Brookings is kind of wild. It argues that class-based affirmative action won’t work because there isn’t enough aid to support low-income students. It’s a wierd argument if you’re concerned about social mobility because it seems to sort of give the game away that as previously constructed affirmative action was benefiting more affluent and often already advantaged kids, which it was. But before the SCOTUS case saying that got you branded as anti-diversity. Now it makes you what, some sort of clear-eyed realist? An advocate for diversity even? Yes, a lot of these schools are down to their last billion or two, times are tough, but it seems like we can do better here? And to their credit some schools are.

*Try to imagine that headline in this guy’s voice.


This Washington Post article about students choosing colleges is intended to spin you up about the Supreme Court’s affirmative action decision. Me? It spins me up about the (lack) of navigation and guidance support we provide to students and how we even talk about schools in the first place. The basic architecture of the piece tracks two high school seniors, a white guy and a Black guy, as they navigate college applications this year. They both think the affirmative action decision will affect them – in different ways. Yet there is a good chance both are wrong, and too few people seem to be telling them that.

Colleges are still seeking to create diverse classes and the Supreme Court explicitly allows students to talk about their race in essays and how it affected them. Meanwhile, at highly selective schools admissions are something of a lottery anyway, and so for any individual the effect of the court’s decision will be less impactful than what it turns out to mean in aggregate. It’s entirely possible the court’s decision is going to turn out to be symbolically important but substantively marginal. The best advice for students remains do what you want to do, regardless of the case, and there are hundreds of amazing colleges in this country so you need not fixate on just the Ivies. The differences in what these two students experience in terms of guidance and support – well, that’s a story I wish more reporters would pay attention to because it matters a lot more to the student experience than anything the court did.

Also, in case you needed a reminder, most students are not deciding which, if any, Ivy to apply to. Most Americans go to schools that will be unaffected by the Supreme Court decision because they take everyone. This is elite signaling journalism.


It’s Friday…so Friday fish porn! I’ve been out with Covid caught during a lot of travel (which it turns out I was coming down with when we did the podcast) so intended to send this earlier in the week but here we are. Since it’s a Friday now, I bring you fish. Here’s Bellwether’s Tom Gold, with a nice striper.

Why is Tom here? Because he’s the latest entry in this archive of hundreds of pictures of education types with fish. Send me yours!

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Odds, Ends, And Fish: Higher Ed, PISA, College Board…

Low points for higher education.

Via Michael Powell:

I had to wonder: What might have transpired had Gee emphasized the moral urgency of creating grand options for working- and middle-class students? What if he had taken the case for building a top university directly to West Virginians? Instead, the inescapable impression he leaves is of a college president—a man with experience, energy, and willpower—who settled for a utilitarian vision and straitened choices.

Yes please. Great states and nation states have great universities. This idea that every boat on its own bottom or economic ROI is a good approach to universities is antithetical to thriving culture, arts, and knowledge.

Unfortunately, too many universities are themselves becoming antithetical to thriving culture, arts, and knowledge. Everyone has a take on that disastrous hearing this week. Here’s mine: If you make Congresswoman Stefanik look like a stateswoman you should rethink all the choices in your life that brought you to that point.

The problem for the schools, of course, is the hypocrisy. It’s not so much free speech per se but rather that these universities can’t live up to their own avowed commitments around speech or conduct and consequently discredit the whole enterprise. If you can’t discern use – mention distinctions on controversial words or put students in anti-bias trainings because of political views or cancel speakers for holding views that a majority of Americans do and then suddenly get mealy mouthed about anti-semitism or genocide then that’s a problem. And the reason they can’t live up to their commitments is because they, via the administrative operations they oversee, have fallen in love with the currently ideological fashionable idea that the world is best understood through a reductionist lens of oppressed or oppressor. It’s a method that gets you in trouble as soon as it runs into an actual use case – as we saw at Tuesday’s hearing. But like the politicians who were grilling them, the university presidents are also scared of “the base,” just different bases. So now we’re getting damage control, clean up statements, and videos that have a ‘blink three times if you’re being held against your will’ quality. What we need instead is a more fundamental conversation about speech, but also consistent expectations for conduct, and most importantly viewpoint diversity which is wanting at too many schools.

FIRE’s take on this is worth your time.

This binary oppressor / oppressed idea and seeing people as extensions of groups rather than individuals, has, by the way, also firmly taken hold in K-12 and captured the attention of too many education leaders who have never encountered a stupid fad they didn’t embrace. It’s a natural and predicable extension of a focus on DEI that’s morphed from an essential emphasis on diversity, commitment to difference, equitable participation and inclusion into a bubble fueled and hard-edged political agenda – an agenda that one must note ample polling shows enjoys more support among elite white progressives than among the people it’s ostensibly aimed at empowering who, on average, are like yeah, no thanks. Because, despite professional division industries all around us, most people recognize we’re all more alike than not, life is complicated, and kind of like this place while also wanting it to be better.

So my message to education leaders is simply this: What happened Tuesday will one way or another happen to you at some point as well, especially if you keep saying one thing privately and another publicly because you’re scared, or an opportunist, or just don’t want to risk a good dinner party invite. And the perverse irony is that in the process you will discredit important ideas and the backlash, as we’re starting to see, will create its own set of problems. Many of the people seizing this moment don’t share any real commitment to difference or a genuine belief in inclusion or building a more inclusive or economically mobile America. Yet you, your funders, your allies, are doing their work for them.

Profiles in porridge.

After the disappointing PISA results came out Miguel Cardona, the American Secretary of Education, give a stirring speech where he said this is a generational challenge, kids who were already farthest from opportunity pre-pandemic are most at risk and given his deep commitment to equity he calls us all to truly focus on them, and that everyone should lay down the ideology and come together to rise to this challenge. He called on school systems and states to be more transparent about student performance and responsive to parents.

Actually, other than the results none of that happened. In fact, the secretary said in a statement we don’t spend enough and absent the Biden Administration’s spray and pray approach to education finance things would be much worse. He did marginally better in a full speech but it was still mostly talking points on book “banning” and other greatest hits bookended by pleas for money. He says we can’t tolerate the status quo but then proposes the status quo plus extra bucks. The line from others was that we’re better than Yemen or something. Just mush, all the way down.

Places everyone!

The College Board released its updated framework for its African American history course. The anti-semitism hearing seems to have swallowed up some attention that might otherwise have gone toward this culture war favorite. Our cup runneth over.

Everyone will have their quibbles. My take remains the same.  Zora Neale seems underplayed David? And the reparations debate section is underpowered and a missed opportunity to showcase diverse thought. On the other hand, the course briefly mentions the role of Native Americans in slavery and by extension the Civil War, something that is too infrequently taught because it complicates the easy good guy / bad guy narratives (see above). But, something I learned this week is just how fractious a discipline African-American history is even within the field. It turns out the most used text, The Souls of Black Folk, is used in fewer than one in four college African-American history classes. And “consensus” drops off pretty quickly from there. That’s a probletunity, as one of my colleagues, used to say and seems like essential context to understanding the debate about this course – that both “sides” seem to look past.

Recognizing that this is a college course it would still be useful to crosswalk it with state standards in all 50 states, would be illustrative.

It’s Friday. I bring fish!

One country we beat in PISA is Iceland. As though they didn’t have enough problems (not to mention this longstanding one) now they have to contend with being dumber than we are? A few weeks ago we had some Icelandic salmon fish porn with Habby. Today here is my friend Jon, who lives near Reykjavík and runs an Icelandic education company, with a nice Icelandic brown:

Here are hundreds of pictures of education types with fish. Send me yours!

Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, But We Do Have Fish!

Congrats to my colleagues Amy Chen Kulesa and Alex Spurrier for their winning essay in Fordham’s Wonkaton. Alex and Amy take a measured look at the potential of AI. Not kool aid, and not cold water.

Dutch Treat.

Earlier this week Secretary of Education Cardona gaffed. Apparently unaware that President Reagan was not much of a fan of large government Cardona deployed Reagan’s famous 1986 press conference quip, “I think you all know that I’ve always felt the nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.” The problem? Cardona dropped the terrifying part and merely said he wanted to help, like Reagan had said. Oops.

Look, two things are true at once here. One is if part of your job is saying a lot of words you’re going to screw some of them up. It’s inevitable. Especially if you’re tired, stressed, or whatever. (I’m assuming here this wasn’t in prepared remarks or talking points but was a botched audible). I still cringe when I think about mistakes I’ve made. I once mixed up a Kennedy and Einstein quote, that in that case could have been given by either man though the Einstein one is iconic, because I was at the Kennedy School and nervous giving a talk. That I can pretty vividly recall the moment years later tells you how painful these things are if you’re the kind of person who cares. Cardona’s job requires saying a lot of words. It happens. Yet of course it was catnip for conservatives given that this mistake lies at the center of a Venn diagram of things they care about. That’s fair, Cardona is a political figure and turnabout is fair play. Democrats did the same thing with DeVos.

The other thing that’s true, however, is this is part and parcel of what happens as we move away from a focus on rigor, knowledge, and facts in school and society. You don’t have to be the kind of person who can recall page numbers in Lou Cannon’s books to know that Reagan was a conservative, he was the vanguard of the conservative movement, and the 1980 and 1984 elections were consequential. Whether you’re a conservative or not that’s relevant cultural knowledge and cultural capital in the same way that you should understand some high level things about FDR and Johnson whether or not you’re a Democrat or a progressive. The secretary should have known this orientation given his role – and especially given Reagan’s history with the Department of Education.

Why would he though? Listening to Cardona these past few years he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who spends a lot of time with people who disagree with or challenge him. The media sure doesn’t. And our current environment leaves little room for acknowledging the other side has a point.

So when Rick Hess points out that there is a double standard here with regard to Betsy DeVos, he’s right. The coverage of Cardona has been remarkably credulous with profiles that read like source greasing and access exercises with the administration.

The thing to remember about DeVos, though, is that two things were also true. She sure made some missteps, and she was never going to get a fair shake regardless. An early tell was when then-Senator Al Franken talked over her and mansplained about an accountability question neither of them understood. As I noted at the time if a Republican man had done that to a Democratic woman all hell would have – rightly – broken loose. So Rick’s also right there are just a lot of double standards.

But that’s life. What should worry us in the education community is that all this wouldn’t fly with a Secretary of Defense, State, Treasury, or an Attorney General. As long as we accept it as business as usual in this part of the world we get what we deserve. And right now that’s a trivial back and forth about Cardona and Reagan even as a generation of kids sinks below the surface because neither party in Washington can be bothered to lean in.

That, not whether Secretary Cardona doesn’t know Reagan 101 or misspoke in the moment, is the real problem here.

Through the education rhetoric looking glass.

Dana Goldstein has a piece in The New York Times about history/civics standards in three different states, Florida, South Dakota, and Virginia. Mike Petrilli immediately objected to some bias in the article. He’s not wrong (and I don’t always say that on media stuff), this sort of selective exercise is almost always bias confirming and bubble revealing. If you really wanted to compare the three states side-by-side it would be a useful and illuminating and probably not narrative confirming exercise. Even better, look at the process by which they were developed in each state. Regional emphasis, various changes, big debates. That’s where the action is. Lumping these states together obscures more than it reveals. We ought to be having a more sophisticated conversation about different approaches to content and skills and teaching challenging material than this culture war approach to covering these issues allows. Don’t hold your breath.

Oh, and by the way, communism was bad for hundreds of millions in the 20th century….

This Jim Traub Politico piece is much better reported if you want to know what’s going on in Virginia and has some nuance on the pedagogical questions.

On the politics, Republican governors are happy to have The New York Times write articles like this all day every day. It’s part of the brain numbing back and forth of narrative driven politics and journalism. These stories aren’t hit pieces, they’re gifts. Getting attacked in the New York Times for being too conservative on history standards is about the best press a Republican governor can get.

That’s politics though. Why it matters is twofold. First, it leaves readers with a skewed sense of these issues. That’s not helpful to the exhausted middle. But also, because, as Traub points out, Virginia got to a place of unity and quality on its history and civic standards. They passed a politically diverse board unanimously. No small thing in this climate. Now comes the hard part, implementation. And there are conflict entrepreneurs on both sides who would love to see that go sideways or keep up the fight, especially right now activists on the left for whom getting Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin is more important than getting things done. Articles like this makes their work easier, the work of implementation harder, and it’s consequently bad for Virginia students.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

By the way, if he went to high school in Virginia now Secretary Cardona would know heads from tails about Ronald Reagan:

Credit Where It’s Due:

This Portland teachers strike was a mess. Don’t take my word for it, the union’s chair of its negotiating committee quit over it saying the learning loss wasn’t worth the gains and the gains were meager because union leadership didn’t do their homework. But while the national press couldn’t be bothered with a strike that had kids out of school from Halloween until this past Monday the local press, in particular the Oregonian’s Julia Silverman, did a fantastic job and set a standard on how how to cover these things. They covered both sides, were not in the bag for any faction, checked facts and math, and hustled and reported. Well done. More please.

It’s Friday. I have fish porn:

This is Parker Baxter with a fat largemouth bass from Florida. He bills it has a modest size fish for down there, but c’mon, that’s a beast. You can find Parker at his day job at CU Denver’s School of Public Affairs.

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