Letter to the Trump Education Department from civil rights and education groups today. Good example of how the lazy “left versus center” framing obscures a lot of nuance on education.
November 20, 2020
November 16, 2020
November 12, 2020
My read on charter politics below. In addition, the other day Jed Wallace hosted a discussion on charter politics with Hanna Skanderra, Derrell Bradford, and me – come for that and stay for when Derrell discovers I’m a bit of a Star Wars nerd.
Update: Jed responds and reflects on the conversation here (but behind $ paywall).
OK, sorry, I don’t actually think President Obama was the worst thing to happen to charter schools. Apologies for the clickbait. Race to the Top was much less about charter schools than the rhetoric about it (charters were a small number of points) but his administration championed some innovative policies on charters, especially around replication of high quality schools. It also just helped having a Democratic president who championed them in the White House, charter politics being what they are among Democrats.
I would argue, though, that Obama’s election was the worst thing to happen to charter school advocacy and politics. That’s not because of anything he did, but rather because of what many others, especially beyond his administration, didn’t.
If you think back to those heady days of 2008 and 2009 you’ll remember the rhetoric. Arne Duncan was becoming Secretary of Education, that was a sign reformers had “won.” There was a whole book basically arguing reformers had cornered the teachers’ unions. People were giddy.
The result, unfortunately, was a pretty substantial pullback in support for advocacy, ideas and issues work. The fight is won the argument went. Or, more modestly, market share will make the politics irreversible if not irrelevant. Yet as we’ve seen again and again that’s not how education works. In some fields once you’ve accomplished something you redeploy resources and move onto something else. But in politics – and education change is about politics – sustaining wins matters. Especially sustaining wins where the broader public interest is succeeding against organized special interests. In that way charter school policy is no different than gun control, environmental regulation, or tax policy.
Instead of sustaining and continuing to push, though, charter advocates, many lacking support for this work and having no choice, ceded the public space. Sure, there were some films and a bit of excitement but by the time “Won’t Back Down” came out, with a legit star heavy cast, people were already running the other way.
It’s in no small part why even as charters were systematically improving – for instance the difference between the 2009 CREDO analysis and the 2013 CREDO analysis – the narrative that they were not very good was taking hold among elites. Today while urban charter schools substantially outperform for the very students most chronically underserved by public education, they’re under real attack – and at the very moment the country is having a national reckoning on race.
(It’s also hard to miss that a lot of charter networks are responding better to Covid than public school districts, public school superintendents privately acknowledge this and pine for more flexibility to respond to this complicated challenge.)
While reformers were toasting each other in the late 00s and first part of this decade the teachers unions, in no small part thanks to the instincts and political skill of Karen Lewis in Chicago, came storming back. Politics is fluid. It’s easy to forget now, but AFT President Randi Weingarten was conceding that sometimes tenure protections are too onerous and giving speeches at the Press Club on the unions willingness to reform. Lewis rejected the idea that the choice was reform like that or being runover and offered a third option, fight. One union president told me at the time, “I got emails when they authorized the strike vote beating the drum on this.” The members want to know, “why aren’t we doing this, why aren’t we fighting?”
Well they are now. At a time when pension dollars are eating up one in four classroom dollars in Los Angeles you can hardly find a funder with the fortitude to address the retirement problem and charter schools are actually being blamed for the fiscal problem instead – and this is accepted uncritically by the country’s media elites. That’s a failure to engage in the debate and it’s hard to argue that Weingarten’s AFT and the NEA haven’t played a reasonably poor hand very well since Janus.
In places like LA and Denver after bruising political fights at the school board level the reform community kind of moved on. The opponents didn’t go anywhere and the pendulum swung. What’s surprising is that a movement/coalition/group/whatever the reform community is that did so well for a while with a set of strategies sort of declared mission accomplished and walked away from them or at least pumped the brakes.
Meanwhile it’s hard to miss how elite-focused the charter political strategy is. You regularly hear “well we know so and so” in response to questions about where the political power to protect charters will come from in the new administration. That’s not a durable strategy. For the most part elites respond to political circumstances not the other way around. The charter community has missed numerous opportunities to build ties with the CBC and other institutional groups to broaden support and change circumstances.
So it’s not a big surprise charters are looking at the political risk they are. Investing in growing an entirely new sector of public schools that disrupt incumbent players without also investing in an enormous political strategy to support that is like building a really expensive house and then not bothering to insure it.
There is a happy scenario here where Biden leads, moderate Democrats protect charters, Republican pressure keeps the issue bipartisan, and all of today’s handwringing looks like waste of energy. But there is a less hopeful one where it’s more defense than offense despite a pretty favorable political map for charters. Charter supporters should be happy to take yes for an answer, hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
Over at his new blog Jed Wallace has been talking to a variety of folks about advocacy and advocacy strategies. It’s not too late for charters to right this ship – and they enjoy broad support pretty much everywhere outside of Twitter, the teachers unions, and the nation’s ed schools. And most importantly among the people they’re most intended to help in the first place. But the day is not young either.
November 6, 2020
OK, just in case you think things have never been so bad etc..here's an edu story. Today's Nov 6, it's the 47th anniversary of the death of Marcus Foster. Foster, a noted educator, was sup't of Oakland schools. He was killed by the SLA in 1973 & his deputy wounded. 1/
— Andrew Rotherham (@arotherham) November 6, 2020
Gerald Tirozzi, former Connecticut Commissioner of Education, Assistant Secretary of Education during the Clinton Administration, and head of NASSP, among other roles, has passed from Covid. He appeared in Super Size Me, becoming one of the rare education figures with an IMDb page. Good person to work with, well liked and regraded by colleagues.
November 5, 2020
Our aging population will end this golden era of school spending, writes @arotherham. It will cause considerable challenges with managing healthcare, retirement, and pension costs. School funding will have to shrink unless taxes increase. https://t.co/L1AJjf3JgQ
— Fordham Institute (@educationgadfly) November 5, 2020
Over at Twitter I have a short thread on why I’m feeling optimistic. There are going to be some bumps but Trump is on his way out. I also think political tension is generally a good thing, keeps everyone on their toes and drives progress. And might have some in the wake of this election. I don’t mean the kind of tension we’ve had these past four years where you never knew what might happen. Rather, the kind where parties and candidates genuinely compete for votes rather than taking people for granted. That’s the kind of environment where education policymaking is creative and thrives.
I wish it were a landslide, sure, but Biden is going to win. So an optimism thread. I’ll start with this:https://t.co/lbUnoWEHSZ
— Andrew Rotherham (@arotherham) November 4, 2020
In terms of election predictions, I got it right that Biden had more ways to win than Trump and that was important, that’s paying big dividends for him and why he’ll almost certainly prevail. And I caught some grief for saying that the demographics might surprise. And the reasons I identified for how Trump might be able to stay in the fight have happened to varying degrees.
But, I forecast a bigger wave. Still some vote counting – and actual voting in Georgia – to come, but a 52-48 Senate or something close seems a reasonable bet, which is exactly what I predicted. I just got the partisan control exactly backwards…that’s no small thing. Collins surviving was a legit surprise and a real credit to her, and I thought a few other races would break for the Dems given all the advantages of this cycle for them. A lot of outstanding races in the House but the Dems didn’t have a good cycle there and no coattails. Dems obviously keep control but seem on track to lose seats.
There is a message in this for the Democrats and some political risk.
What should chasten the Dems is that last night happened in spite of a pretty dysfunctional Republican party and a whackadoodle President. If they get their act together first that will be formidable.
— Andrew Rotherham (@arotherham) November 4, 2020
One response could be to circle the wagons. You’re already hearing that this is the exact wrong time to get bold on education. But another might be to get serious about competing for votes at least some Republicans are clearly coming for in future elections. One place that’s bound to happen is around school choice. That would be good news because it would force a debate into the option about choice or alternatives to it. And at least from where I sit I’m not sure how you talk about building a more inclusive America without talking about empowering the poor with more educational choices and power.
A Democratic agenda that emphasized investing in education and addressing the historical inequities that exist in school finance and other aspects of the education system and expanding power for parents – seems politically potent and well timed.
November 4, 2020
We’ve talked a bit about the coming fights to define religious liberty and balance those rights with the rights of individuals, organizations, and businesses in the public space. Those issues will impact schools and an early test is happening at the SCOTUS today with Fulton v. City of Philadelphia.
Everyone rested after a quiet evening?
Obviously, the presidential race is still being counted. President Trump’s premature claim of victory last night should offend all Americans, even if he prevails when the votes are counted. It shows why so many, myself included, have such grave doubts about his allegiance to our sacred democratic traditions. More than any other state I’m watching Pennsylvania, it could be the back breaker and then Michigan. It was hard to miss how much time the Biden team was spending in Pennsylvania during the closing week. For now Biden appears to be in a stronger position to get to 270 in outstanding states if mail in ballots hew to historic trends. 270-290 seem reasonable guesses given that Biden needs to win Pennsylvania or not lose both WI and MI, which seems unlikely. And obviously Trump knows this or he wouldn’t have pulled that stunt last night. Still, in 2020, that’s a definite “if” though. It does appear that the five things I mentioned as reasons Trump could pull it out happened to a meaningful degree regardless of the final counts and are why it’s close.
We’ll know soon enough, but in the meantime some things are clear that will impact education. For starters, not only did the Democrats underperform, the Republican Party became more diverse last night, Republican women performed particularly well. And we talked just yesterday about inroads the President might have made – and it appears that happened. “Wokeness” was not on the ballot last night strictly speaking, but it’s clear Democrats and Democratic elites are misreading the country and that has implications for schools.
If you care about equity there is certainly an argument to be made that having the two parties really fighting over various demographics rather than assuming their votes would be a healthy development for America. This is almost certainly good news for school choice and possibly a healthier politics around public services in general.
Senate Democratic candidates underperformed, I had assumed recruitment + a favorable climate + polling would lead to gains. At this point under any scenario Republicans will have a lot of leverage in the Senate if not a majority, and Senator Harris may be spending more time in her old haunts than she had planned if she and Biden win.
This means among other things that a Covid relief package is not going be rammed through – that has implications for schools as Republicans have been muted in their enthusiasm for a lot of new spending there…A lot of mail in votes still to count but John James, the Republican Black businessman and veteran performed well in Michigan. Susan Collins is way ahead of expectations. Assuming Republicans keep control, the choices for chair of the Senate committee that oversees education are going to be interesting. For Democrats, charter school’s have a new ally with former Colorado Governor John Hicklenlooper winning convincingly. New Arizona Senator Mark Kelly is from a state with a lot of charters.
In California, it appears the referendum to restore affirmative action and the tax reform proposal to raise more money from business property taxes are both going to fail. The affirmative action one in particular will raise hard questions about that issue given that it was a 2020 California electorate with a home state senator on the national ticket. In Arizona the education tax increase on that state’s ballot seems poised to pass in what was a good Democratic night there.
Drug legalization had a very strong night on the ballot with multiple states passing marijuana measures and DC decriminalizing psychedelic mushrooms. I noted over at The 74 that regardless of your views on drug policy the inconsistency between federal and state laws and general evolution of this policy creates some challenges for school administrators.
In Washington State the sex ed referendum passed. Donna Shalala, who is a fine public servant, former university provost and president, and former HHS Secretary for President Clinton was washed out in the wave in Miami-Dade last night. She serves on the House Education and Labor Committee.
More to come but that’s the early version.