Latest Edu-Reads

As the charter school debate becomes increasingly partisan, Bellwether has a new report on autonomous schools, schools that occupy the middle ground between “traditional” and “charter.”

Brandon Lewis talks with Shaniola Arowolaju, a D.C. native and parent organizer, about how challenging it can be for parents to find the right school for their child.

“So for now, the thousands of minority parents relying on charter schools are on thin political ice, with indifference coming from the Republicans and hostility coming from the now-dominant wing of the Democratic Party.” That’s from Andy Rotherham and Richard Whitmire in The Hill on the deteriorating politics around charter schools.

Beth Hawkins interviews outgoing Louisiana schools chief John White.

Colleges that are part of the American Talent Initiative are on track to meet their collective goal of recruiting 50,000 more low- and middle-income students, but there are signs the gains are slowing. H/t to Goldie Blumenstyk.

The Urban Institute has a fun graphic on who would benefit from free college programs.

Mike Goldstein and Scott McCue on how they took the risk away from people wanting to become teachers: they guaranteed candidates a teaching job, and let students pay back their tuition after they graduated and found a job.

A big new CALDER paper looks at academic mobility. How much does a students’ relative performance in third grade predict how they will perform in later grades? The authors find quite large correlations (aka very little mobility) across six states. Moreover, the districts that see gains tend to help all of their students improve:

We also show that school districts exhibit statistically and economically significant variation in academic mobility. The predominant driver of cross-district variation in total academic mobility is absolute mobility, not relative (within district) mobility. That is, districts differ much more by whether they are effective in raising achievement throughout the entire distributions of their students than they do in their ability to improve lower-performing students’ relative ranks internally. Indeed, we do not find evidence of large differences across districts in relative mobility, which suggests that districts do not, in fact, differentially specialize in educating students at different achievement levels within their distributions (e.g., high versus low achievers).

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

Latest Edu-Reads

Robin V. Harris has a great story about Polly Williams, considered the “mother of school choice,” a Milwaukee-area Democrat, black activist and community organizer, and the longest-serving woman in the Wisconsin state legislature.

Last year Galileo Learning reached a record-breaking goal, offering scholarships to upwards of 15 percent of their campers. Here’s how the Bellwether team helped.

Here’s a cool data visualization tool from the Urban Institute that lets you look up individual schools to see how student demographics have changed over time.

Speaking of diversity, a new study finds that voters in local school board elections often look very different than the student body in their school district. As Matt Barnum notes in his Chalkbeat write-up, part of the problem is due to school board elections being off-cycle from national presidential elections. The smaller, less-diverse turnout in school board elections tends to elect less-diverse school board members who, in turn, support policies that are less likely to benefit black and Hispanic students.

Timothy Shanahan on the “last mile problem” in reading instruction.

Brandon Lewis on how districts can differentiate their own local school rating systems from the ratings put out by their state.

Checker Finn compares the quality checks on test-based accountability systems versus subjective evaluations of student work:

When we seek alternatives to the proctored and monitored exam form of high-stakes accountability, however, the challenges multiply. Nearly always, those alternatives—whether classroom work, teacher-administered exams, student projects, performances, portfolios, you name it—are judged subjectively, almost always by adults who know the kids’ identities and academic track records, and most of the time by adults who also have reasons to seek student success, whether it’s because they care about a kid passing and graduating or they’re being hassled by parents or principal or they know that the school’s passing or graduation rate is on the line.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

Latest Edu-Reads

Several people have sent me Alia Wong’s piece for The Atlantic on “The Financial Calamity That Is the Teaching Profession.” After reading it, I couldn’t help but conclude that Wong was trying to weave too many different things together into one broader narrative. In a relatively short piece, she touches on the problems with the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, costly Master’s degree programs, the multiple and conflicting teacher loan forgiveness programs, the crappy 403b plans many teachers are sold, rising housing costs, and teachers moonlighting as Uber drivers and Airbnb hosts.

In the process of trying to connect all these dots, Wong’s piece lost a lot of nuance. As an example, to support the point about teachers taking on second jobs, Wong cites a article to claim that teachers are “five times more likely than the average full-time worker to also have a part-time job.” That’s a gross overstatement, caused by Vox cherry-picking two different survey results. This Brookings piece does a better job of making an apples-to-apples comparison using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS data finds that 14 percent of teachers work a second job, compared to 11 percent of non-teachers. That’s a 3 percentage point gap, or a 30 percent difference. A 30 percent gap is not nothing, but it’s a far cry from the “5 times” figure calculated by Vox and repeated by Wong.

I don’t mean to diminish the real struggles teaches are facing, but most of the factors Wong cites apply at least in some degree to non-teachers as well. Those factors also have very different causes and solutions, and it would have been nice to unpack exactly how and why teachers are and are not different from non-teachers.

Speaking of how education is different than other industries, check out this piece on the trucking industry. In contrast to the fear over autonomous cars, the trucking industry is facing a massive worker shortage. Wages have been flat, and companies are starting to respond with hiring incentives and other bonuses, although, as the article notes, workers are not experiencing those in the same way their employers are describing them. Lots of edu-implications on things like training, expectations, and employer responses to worker shortages.

Here’s what Bellwether staff have been up to.

Everything you wanted to know about buses and the school transportation industry.

The Trump Administration is proposing a regulation that they estimate would take food stamps away from about 3 million people. This Twitter thread from Rebecca Vallas goes into the details and how it would affect schools and students.

States are leading the “free college” push, and Democratic candidates for President are promoting to take the policy national. Frankly, I find this David Deming proposal the simplest, most persuasive argument I’ve read about how and why the feds should get involved. Kevin Carey outlines a similar, more detailed version for The Washington Monthly that would cut out the middleman (states).

Brandon Lewis is in Education Week on the importance of assessment literacy for teachers.

And finally, a call for partners: Over the past two years, Bellwether has been supporting the work of public agencies to improve education outcomes for youth who experience disruptions to their education pathways. Those disruptions include, but are not limited to: an experience with homelessness, a placement in foster care, an incarceration, or an early unplanned or unwanted pregnancy.

We are now inviting a new cohort of leaders to submit a preliminary letter of interest to engage in an 18-month planning process to improve the ways in which local, regional, and state agencies communicate and collaborate across their historical silos to better meet the needs of youth and families who experience significant disruptions to their educational and life pathways.

Letters of interest are due September 30. More information about the opportunity, including application instructions and additional deadlines, can be found in this call for applications.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman