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.

OutIn
Dress CodesGender stereotypes
NetworksHubs
Philanthropic dollars in educationPhilanthropic commitment to education
Race-based affirmative actionEssays and supplemental questions
Covid dollarsFiscal cliffs
GovernanceDonors
Ed tech will transform how we learnAI will transform how we learn
MiddlemenBrandon Johnson
Substantive teacher strikesPerformative teacher strikes
AntiracismAntisemitism
Standardized testsAristocracy
PhonesDrones
Nina ReesNina Rees
SafetyismCalls for violence
Democrats as ed reformersDemocrats
LocalismSCOTUS
DEI JacobinsChris Rufo as Robespierre
PrivacyPrivate schools
EvidenceVibes
CounselingCoaching
IntersectionalityMelting pot
One-time spendingHysterics about budget cuts
DeSantis with outsized coattails in school board racesDeSantis with outsized boots
Gender questioningGender policy questioning
VouchersESAs
ConsultantsAdvisors
The SATThe SAT
Claudine GayRoland Fryer
Multiple causes of the U.S. Civil WarRepublican Civil War
Republican xenophobiaBipartisan xenophobia
CivilityCivics
Ibram X. KendiRuy Teixeira
Great booksGreat passages
CovidFlu
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.

Salty!

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.

Anti-Equity

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.

Navigation

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.

Fish

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!

Reminder: If you want to get Eduwonk.com in your inbox when it’s published you can sign up for free here.

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.

Want more? These pictures are just two in this unique archive of hundreds of pictures of education types with fish. Send me yours!

Gratitude Edition – Turkeys At WonkyFolk, Portland, And Thanks!

Jed and I laid down a special Thanksgiving WonkyFolk this week. I’ll save you going to the show notes for the WKRP link – featuring one of the finest Virginians, Tim Reid. We discuss Jed’s walk on the Camino, gratitude, school visits, leadership transitions at CMOs, Virginia’s election, and what’s up with the parent action – parent polling disconnect.

Or listen here or wherever you get your podcasts:

They say most of the time you’ll spend with your kids is before they’re 10, and certainly before they’re 18. Portland parents, then, are getting some bonus time. They should be grateful to the teachers union not frustrated that schools have been closed this month! What ingrates! Portland parents, and education experts, Christine Pitts and Andy Jacob (of Bellwether) discussed the strike with me on LinkedIn earlier this week.

As I try to say often, thank you. Grateful for your readership. Even at a time education reform is less front and center, Eduwonk continues to do more than 2 million page views each year. So thanks for your time and attention or just your interest in fish.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Vibes And Narratives Are No Way To Go Through Ed Policy Son…Plus Fish!

This is a long one. Buckle up. But there is fish at the end.

Coming attractions: Look for a LinkedIn live on Monday with Andy Jacobs, Christine Pitts, and me discussing the strike in Portland. Like other strikes lately remarkably little attention in the media. Andy and Christine are both education experts, and also Portland Public School parents. And Jed is back from Europe so look for a new Wonkyfolk soon.

If it seems like increasingly vibes or narratives are driving perceptions about education and education policy, well that’s because it’s happening. There has always been some of this, but it seems more acute right now. I’ll use a few Virginia examples to make the point and then get into why it matters more generally.

The recent election results are in Virginia are being portrayed as some sort of landslide and a referendum on a range of issues. This makes people feel good, but it’s not accurate. The election was close, it’s really about one issue, and that issue was not education.

None of this is to say the election is not consequential, it is substantively and politically. The Dems had a good night and it was a rebuke of Republicans and the governor. But it’s overhyped. Democrats will control the state Senate 21-19 and the House of Delegates 51-49. There were 70 Republicans and 70 Democrats in the legislature before the election now it’s a 72-68 Democratic advantage. Control matters in some important ways, but that’s close. (Most of our elections have been close lately. One reason a lot of people are so antsy about 2024 is that in 2020 a shift of less than 50,000 votes would have us in the middle of a second Trump administration right now. Trump won by 80,000 or so votes across key states in 2016. Not a lot of wiggle room.)

Via Chris Saxman’s newsletter here’s some data you probably have not heard about:

40 State Senate races

Democratic votes – 1,190,320  Republican votes – 1,178,918

Difference:  11,402, or 0.5% of the total

Subtract the 35 uncontested races (20D/15R)

Republicans won 832,213 to 821,933 (+10,280)

100 House of Delegates races

Democratic votes – 1,148,027 Republican votes – 1,132,063

Difference: 15,964 or 0.7% of the total. 

The two closest House races (HD – 21 & 97) were decided by 1,826 votes. 

A switch of 914 votes and the Republicans would have a majority in the House. 

In the Senate, the two closest races (SD 30 & 31) were decided by 6,494 votes. 

A switch of 3,248 votes and Republicans win Senate too.

Again, better to be the Dems than the Rs, but that’s tight.

Second, there was one issue driving this election: Abortion rights. You see this in what the ads were about, you see this in the results, and you see it in what people in the state are saying. You see it everywhere except for people trying to make a point about this or that issue they really care about and so want the election to be about.

If there was a secondary issue after abortion it’s probably redistricting that makes districts increasingly insurmountable for one party or the other. The rural / urban/ suburban divide continues to deepen, which will impact school finance reform – something Virginia desperately needs.

Overall, the Republicans didn’t really have a message, but I’m not sure it would have mattered if they did. The bottom line is voters simply don’t trust Republicans with the keys to the car if first trimester abortion rights are in play. Ann Coulter said abortion is the Republican version of “defund the police.” She’s wrong, it’s worse in terms of political damage. A Democratic candidate who was literally caught performing sex acts for money on the internet – after she had announced for public office – nonetheless performed pretty well on election day and lost a close election. That should tell you all you need to know. If not, it’s also why a governor with approval ratings in the mid-50s couldn’t drag candidates over the finish line in close races. Dobbs is an absolute political millstone for Republicans. People will do gymnastics about how this was about education but outside of school board races that obscures the core dynamic: If Dems can run marginally compelling candidates in competitive races they will win until the Rs figure out how to slip this abortion noose – of their own creation it should be noted. Generally I don’t think these off-year elections are as predictive or revealing as some people think, but the reproductive rights signal seems pretty clear.

But that sucks to write again and again if you’re an education reporter or opinion writer. It doesn’t really help you much if you’re an education activist. It matters greatly to governmental politics but means electoral politics are being fought out elsewhere. So, for instance, even though transgender issues were a low-priority for Virginia voters this cycle, we’ll hear a lot about how that was a big driver.* It wasn’t.

Optimistically, Virginia voters seemed to have a refreshing no-drama bent. School board elections in some key locations – Gloucester and Spotsylvania – tossed out divisive and bombastic types. But it wasn’t just conservatives getting the boot. Loudoun voters tossed out the progressive prosecutor who oversaw the circus surrounding sexual assaults in schools there – including taking the unusual step of personally handling the prosecution of the father of one of the victims for a disorderly charge (he was subsequently pardoned). Voters there also wiped the board slate clean (also several close races) after multiple reports showed the sexual assaults were mishandled – and that whole episode was narrative driven. The message across these diverse geographies seems less partisan than just: Be more normal.

Consider this vibes-heavy piece in The New York Times. Passages like this make good copy but are meaningless in practice:

“said…”

It doesn’t seem like Moms for Liberty had a good night, but I don’t trust any advocate’s numbers on school board races. What matters is what happened in highly contested races, not all the endorsements. What size geography are we talking about – eg some yo yo somewhere gets headlines but impacts relatively few students or a big district? What happened where control was at stake? And this conflates school board candidates and other races, which turn on different issues. Both Moms for Liberty and the AFT use slippery criteria.

And then there is this:

Even assuming a world where Republicans had won by comfortable margins school choice was still going to be a dogfight in Virginia. The state has basically a fake charter school law and even university-sponsored lab schools remain controversial. There are both obvious and subtle reasons for that, but it’s not just Democrats in the way, though that’s a convenient narrative. You see that dynamic in some other states as well. So sure, choice supporters may “hope” or feel that way. Doesn’t mean they are right. School choice in Virginia is about more than any one election.

And look, on restricting race in classrooms, I don’t know what to tell you. It’s a vibe, sure, but read the standards about that. If you really want to make a case that schools should be doing stuff that violates the Civil Rights Act I’m all ears, but I don’t see it.

Most recently James Traub, hardly a conservative, actually read them and was like, pretty good, for Politico. Washington Post ed board and others grudgingly say the same thing. Here are three examples, if this is restricting teaching about race then kids in most states would be lucky to be so restricted.

If you can’t live with this you need to send your kids to private school.
Example of a high school standard – most of this content was not in prior standards.

It wasn’t just The Times. My favorite ed publication wrote this:

Source: 74

The law in question is actually this one – and it’s causing confusion. Even the law’s patron (who lost in a close race that turned on, you guessed it, abortion) says it’s being used in unintended ways. You can read about the rolling chaos in Spotsylvania, they were doing a lot of stuff, but they were not implementing some coherent agenda the way this implies.**

I don’t raise all this to argue Youngkin hasn’t made missteps or the Dems didn’t have a good night, Moms for Liberty fell short and seem a little high on their own supply….etc…and I’m personally glad to see new leadership in Spotsylvania for the kids there.

Rather, the point is it’s all illustrative of a broader problem plaguing us right now: Narrative or vibes driven reporting and analysis fueling vibes driven discourse. Details matter. They matter to understanding and they matter to effective strategy.

Again, look I get it, if 2024 is about Dobbs, the economy, and democracy, as it seems like it might be, then it will be a pretty boring cycle to be an ed writer, at least at the national level. Still, resist temptation to fan culture war flames where they don’t exist.

Some of this rigid narrative driven / confirmation bias confirming reporting owes to the echo chamber, some to social media and some to intense polarization and the idea that nuance is giving care and comfort to the “enemy.” When The New York Times committed an act of journalism by daring to report on an evolving and complicated set of medical questions about transgender youth all hell broke loose. People notice that.

(Also, of course, no one can even agree on what a book ban is, or what CRT is, and so forth. Some of the views cited in the media as outliers are actually majority-held viewpoints – there was an amusing headline recently about how majorities of voters support extreme conservative education positions. It’s a muddled and confused debate only made more muddled by rampant polarization and narrative driven reporting).

Here’s the ‘to be sure’ graf: Doing general interest writing on deadline is harder than it looks. We all make mistakes. These issues are complicated and really disparate in a country with 13,000 school districts and 50 states doing different things. Still, there sure does seem to be room to do better in terms of not just flattening everything out?

We all know good information is instrumental to good decision-making. We talk about that a lot around here because it matters. A lot. Narrative driven coverage distorts things and contributes to our more general misinformation problem. That’s not pro-or anti-reform, rather it’s pro-good decision-making.

Earlier this month, we got another look at the rampant confusion about pandemic learning loss and its impact. *** Here’s Alyssa Rosenberg on that. This confusion is part and parcel of a vibes or narrative approach to what’s going on.

Yes. the labor of keeping informed has increased. And the decline in nuance in the coverage has helped fuel a rise in the need for high-quality proprietary analysis. People in strategy, sales, and key decision-making roles need to know what’s going on at an accurate and granular level and open source is not reliable. But that obviously creates an inequity – good information for people who can afford to hire someone (like me) to do an analysis, narratives, vibes, and acrimony for the proles. It’s not just a problem on education and it’s not good for us.

It’s Friday, here’s your fish!

First, this news story is great:

“We’re raising native brook trout to release in the Mormons River. Now we’ve learned fly-fishing technique, techniques connected with brook trout and their habitat,” science teacher Chris Stanek said. “When we connect the curriculum to something that’s more real, learn a new skill, and get outdoors, I think are all benefits.”

And here’s Melody Schopp’s granddaughter with the biggest fish she’s caught…yet. Later that day she killed her first deer, so that’s a pretty big day.

This picture is just one in this unique archive of hundreds of pictures of education types with fish. Send me yours!

*This is another example of the narrative problem. There is a big gap between what the public thinks on this issue and schools and what reporters think and that shows up in the coverage. Glenn Youngkin’s position basically aligns with a majority of Virginians, which is why it wasn’t a big issue except among the columnist set. That’s neither here nor there about whatever your view of the correct policy happens to be, you shouldn’t base your views on public opinion polls, but it’s essential context to understanding the dynamics of this and any issue.

**Disclosure: Backstory on my minor role in that.

***The brief was produced by Dan Goldhaber at CALDER and Maia Goodman Young. BW works with Dan and CALDER. You should read it anyway.

The Death Of Public Schools…Sounds Serious! Cara Fitzpatrick Conversation

If you have not read Cara Fitzpatrick’s new book “The Death of Public School” I recommend it. Ignore the title, whether you love school choice, hate it, or are in the messy middle Cara’s book is a discussion of the complicated history of school choice along two key dimensions – the expansion of choice and the change in Supreme Court jurisprudence.

There is a tendentious debate on social media and elsewhere about the origins of school choice. And yes it was a tool of segregationists during massive resistance. Cara gets into that (and goes deep on Virginia history) but also gets into the support on the left for vouchers as an equity strategy. That’s especially salient today given the attention to how many public school boundary policies don’t have a rosy history either. It’s all more complicated than whatever some outrage-addled tweet jockey told you.

Jed is still off wandering the world like David Carradine so Cara and I sat down to talk about all that and contemporary education politics earlier this week on WonkyFolk. You can listen or watch using the tools below or get it wherever you get your podcasts.

(And in case you missed it I talked with Morgan Polikoff in October.)

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