Knowledge Matters…New Podcast, Admission From Beta By Bellwether. Fish Pics!

Light posting, spent the week on the West Coast. Saw a Neil Young and Stephen Stills show that was pretty special. And spent a few days with the BARR Center at their conference. It’s such a high energy and hopeful event each year.


Jed Wallace and I released another WonkyFolk. We ask why after fumbling some layups – to mix metaphors – the Biden Administration proposed a Title IX policy that stuck the landing – to do it again – with some real nuance despite a lot of activist pushback. We discuss Chicago, New York, and the evolving legal status with religion and charter schools and what that means for politics. Jed wants to light the beam, always. We’ll do another one next week.

There is also a video version. And a transcript depending how you prefer to consume these things.

At Bellwether we released the start of our second Beta project – Admission.

Like a lot of arguments in our sector, the one about whether college is “worth it” suffers from a failure to hold two things in mind at once: College can be expensive and can create financial burdens for students and their families. But in the aggregate, earning a bachelor’s degree is one of the most reliable paths to the American dream, associated with an increase of $1.2 million in median lifetime earnings compared to a high school diploma. That return on investment and economic mobility is especially pronounced for low-income students.

Yet here’s the thing. The return on investment can vary from person to person, from school to school, or from major to major within the same school. The problem – there are no easy ways for people to learn their own particular odds in advance.

In Admission, our newest Beta by Bellwether initiative, we’ll be working with stakeholders to chart a course toward a more equitable and effective postsecondary system — one that’s more of an informed investment than a guess. We released the first two publications from this work last week: a lay of the land on the biggest challenges in the current postsecondary system and the role information, navigation, and high-quality options can play in addressing them, and a deeper dive on different ways to measure the value of postsecondary pathways.

Knowledge Matters

Perhaps the biggest divide in education, insofar as content, isn’t about censorship or book banning or even hard left or right ideological versions of history or current issues. Rather, it’s a longstanding divide about content and knowledge versus what’s often referred to as inquiry or skills. It’s well-established that content and knowledge is a predicate for critical thinking. This is just common sense – you need something to think critically about and that requires domain knowledge. Education has just been slow to get that memo.

What can sometimes seem really engaging is actually devoid of content and vapid. You see this in too much instruction now where the students seem engaged but they’re not actually learning much because the classroom discussion isn’t actually linked to content. And good content in the hands of a great teacher is engaging so there is not a tradeoff between engagement and learning. That’s a false choice. As my wife, who teaches Homer and Shakespeare, among other things, to high school students often points out, if you can’t make tales like those (murder, treachery, sex) exciting for teenagers then you’re in the wrong line of work.

A new study from, among others, David Grissmer and Dan Willingham looks at Core Knowledge charter schools and finds some notable results for the knowledge rich Core Knowledge* curriculum. This obviously has enormous importance for reading and for efforts to increase social equity more generally. It’s an important study, the kind that if this were medicine would probably be big news.

Two things I especially like about this study. First, it does a nice job walking through limitations and caveats and possible threats to validity. Second, it gets at the force multiplier issue – what happens when we stack multiple effective interventions?


It’s Friday. Here’s Kevin Kosar with a shad from this year’s run on the Potomac.

And that picture at the top is Bellwether’s Christi Shingara with a chain pickerel. (Her family owns Old Trail Tackle and Sports, if you’re fishing the Susquehanna in Pennsylvania it’s a local shop you can support).

If you want to see hundreds of pictures of education types with fish – then click here.

*Disclosure, we’re about to start some work with the Core Knowledge Foundation at Bellwether.