February 25, 2021


February 24, 2021

Odds & Ends: Springtime For Testing? Liberals, Anti-Racism, & Ed, Harvard Ed In The Dock?

I haven’t seen a really good tick tok on how the testing wavier plan came about, but if you have access this Bloomberg Government “Biden ‘Middle Ground’ on School Testing Fails to Please Everyone” article is a useful review of the bidding. Short version: Frustration from those who wanted a blanket waiver, some skepticism about how the actual waivers will go down from education civil rights groups. Cynics worry this is the easy victory and the waivers will be messy when no one is looking. Given how this could have gone, though, seems OK to be a little pleased?

Matt Ygelsias in Washington Post Outlook, I assume this coming weekend, on liberalism and anti-racism. Has education community implications. Gets at the complicated contradiction between the idea that racism is a key element of broad social problems and the idea that we should constrict how we think about and talk about racism:

By all means, let’s dispense with the frustrating and at times hypocritical meta-debate about “free speech” (in the context of racism) and “cancel culture.” But the newly fashionable anti-racist thinking contains a mix of good ideas and bad ones — including some that are dangerously counterproductive for the people they are intended to help. Bland agreement that “racism is bad” does not suffice when racism is reconceptualized as an abstract attribute of policies and systems, as opposed to bigoted individual behaviors. Understanding complicated social phenomena is difficult. Solving social problems, almost all of which involve race, is contentious. Liberals can’t respond by ceding huge swaths of the political landscape to the hardcore right — or to whichever activist happens to have most loudly proclaimed their own anti-racism.

Popular Harvard education class cancelled and put on new rotation:

Given that Harvard undergrads tend to lean wealthy (and may consequently have blind spots on these issues), removing this opportunity to probe the socioeconomic disparities plaguing public education is disastrous.



February 22, 2021

Biden Greenlights Spring Assessments, AFT Sees Red

The Biden Administration just released its assessment policy. It tracks what a lot of people have been suggesting, and what some key education civil rights groups have asked for. Namely, there will be assessments but no accountability based on the results pursuant to federal requirements and no student participation requirements, which makes sense in this context.

It also includes operational flexibility as needed given the nature of schooling right now. In particular, modified assessments and students don’t have to return to school for tests if they are not in school – which seems like it might play into the politics of reopening. The AFT highlighted that provision in their unhappy statement criticizing the policy.

It is awkward to ask for gazillions in public money to help schools address learning loss without making an effort to assess the extent and prevalence of that loss. So it’s a reasonable proposal and politically and substantively a good one given today’s context. Keep an eye, though, on the flexibility requests that do come in as part of waiver requests states will be seeking. That’s the test, so to speak.


Do The Winds Of Change On Democratic Education Politics Blow In A Circle?

As you probably heard, on Friday West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat, said he’d oppose the nomination of Neera Tanden to head the Office of Management.* OMB is the powerful agency in the Executive Office of the President that sets an administration’s budget and program priorities and oversees regulation across government. Given a 50-50 Senate it’s a blow, possibly fatal, to the already controversial nomination. Maine Republican Susan Collins, another key swing vote, is also opposed. So far the closest nomination vote, for DHS, still garnered seven Republicans, and was supported by Manchin and Collins. The politics are complicated, the West Wing could make it a fight but the Biden Administration cannot afford to antagonize Manchin in general and especially right now when a $1.9t Covid relief bill that will almost certainly be partisan hangs in the balance.

Anyway, as Washington processed the Manchin news, something else caught my eye. Longtime Democratic activist Robert Kuttner floated Democratic economic hand Gene Sperling’s name as a possible replacement for OMB. I’ve seen Gene up close, and in my view he has both good policy sensibility and a fundamental sense of decency about what government should do to help people in their lives. Also, once, when it would have been easy to throw me under the bus for a mistake that wasn’t mine but would have been easy to lay on me, he didn’t do that. That’s not how Washington often works and stays with me about him.

That’s not what I want to post about today though. My question, instead, is this thought experiment. From the Kuttner piece, there is this:

Dean Baker, the founding director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, told me: “Gene’s views have genuinely evolved from when he was in the Clinton administration. While I would not have wanted the Gene Sperling of 25 years ago to hold a top position in the Biden administration, I think the Gene Sperling of today would be an outstanding pick as head of OMB.”

I’m not versed on all (and there are a lot so that’s all) the ins and outs of the intra-Democratic economic debate over the decades. The specifics of Baker’s point are not my point here, the debate has evolved and I’m sure various views have.

What I wonder about is what would that observation look like in the education world? How might someone’s views evolve over the decades to make them more acceptable to the establishment now? Presumably it might mean that someone had become more hostile to charter schools (Clinton had a goal of creating 3000 during his time in office). Or perhaps it would mean more hostility to school choice in general. And probably being more hostile to accountability requirements around holding schools accountable for the learning of all students, not just averages. As a policy or ideas matter it would not turn on spending – or the need for more equitable school finance schemes in most states. You don’t actually find a lot of disagreement about those issues from center to center-left to left. The arguments turn on structural issues like choice and accountability, and what we should reasonably expect from schools all else equal.**

But here’s what’s striking. There is an abundance of evidence across several decades that accountability systems benefit Black, Hispanic, and low-income students as well as evidence that their absence thwarts progress. And a lot of evidence as well that well-designed choice plans can provide families with opportunity – urban charter schools in particular stand out and when scrutinized much of the rhetoric about charters falls apart.*** That’s no small part of why choice enjoys more support from Blacks and Hispanics than from white progressives. In other words, on key education issues politics and the evidence diverge, starkly. That seems different than the debate about issues like minimum wage and other issues where though hardly aligned, the politics on the Democratic side at least reflect to some extent the trend in the evidence?

So for a Democratic education wonk the evolution that would be most favorable politically is away from choice and accountability. That would get an approving nod from the powers that be and is a pretty good fit with the political zeitgeist now. Yet some of what would be most beneficial from a policy perspective for racial and ethnic minorities and low-income students is incorporating choice and accountability meaningfully into policy.

Have fun with that! It’s an education political riddle Democrats have not yet solved. And seems like a big problem for a party that wants to be about opportunity for all – especially for those most historically denied it.

*Yes, the argument that Tanden’s acerbic tweet history might hinder her ability to work with Republicans is at once probably true to some extent and also absolutely absurd given the last few years, and last few months.

**This is a sort of dysfunctional debate that goes back too long and persists walking dead-like.The lazy framing is that the debate inside the Democratic party is accountability versus money for various social services and for schools. In fact, it’s money for those things versus money for those things + accountability for schools. I’m sure exceptions exist, but most people on the center and center-left don’t need much convincing on the need for a whole host of better social policy supports for Americans from related issues, for instance health care, to mainline education issues like early education.

***At this point the case against at least some expansion of choice is mostly theoretical in terms of different views on the role of schools in society. The empirical case just isn’t there. That argument, the version that’s not just about special interest politics and political power, is probably best laid out here by Frederick deBoer.


February 19, 2021

Bellwether Is Hiring!

For Bellwether some good 2020 news was that we didn’t have to let anyone go as our work was disrupted by Covid. But we also hit pause on growth. A result of that is that in 2021 we’re going to have a lot of positions open.

Below are roles open now, all but Talent Manager are new roles on our 60-person full-time team of professionals. More coming so watch the space, as they say.

Bellwether has an office in Washington, D.C. and smaller office space elsewhere, but even pre-Covid much of our team works remotely from where they live all around the country – flexibility and the ability to live your life as you want and have a meaningful professional career is one of our Core Values. In other words, please apply from wherever you call home.

Digital Marketing Associate 

Editorial Manager 

Grants Manager 

Talent Manager 

Senior Associate Partner – Early Childhood Education 

Senior Associate Partner – Academic Program & Strategy

Bellwether Education Partners is committed to providing equal opportunities and building a genuinely diverse team. It is our policy to ensure that all individuals with whom we are in contact are not discriminated against on the basis of age, race, ethnicity, color, disability, gender identity, gender expression, marital status, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or veteran’s status.


Is the Cops In School Question About Practice, People, Or Both?

Literacy is power and opportunity, so great to see this from NSVF.

But that’s not what I want to post about today.

There is a lot of important discussion and action on the school – police issue. The Times was on it this week with a big look at changes in LA. As with most things in education it’s important to bear in mind it’s a broad country and lots of places are not making changes. But, it’s clearly a live issue.

This part of the Times story stood out to me for a couple of reasons,

Last summer’s moves by school districts across the country to eliminate or shrink their school police forces were celebrated by activists, who argued that having officers in schools endangered and intimidated students.

But because most of the districts that made these changes have been teaching remotely for much of this school year, they have not yet had an opportunity to see how schools will change in the absence of the police. And some are grappling with what staff and programs should replace the officers.

Minneapolis, where Mr. Floyd, a Black man, died on May 25 after a white police officer knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes, was among the first districts to take action, with the Board of Education moving quickly to terminate its contract with the city’s police department to provide school resource officers.

To replace them, the district decided to hire roughly the same number of what it calls Emergency Management Safety & Security specialists. After the district posted a job listing asking for candidates with law enforcement backgrounds — it later said this was an error — it ultimately hired a number of candidates who had experience as former police, security or corrections officers, according to reporting by the education news outlet The74.

This prompted some activists to complain that the district was not really eliminating police officers from schools — it was just changing their titles.

First, the activists are right and it highlighted some great reporting by Mark Keieleber about this issue for The 74. Second, it points up an important question here: Should reformers be focused on changing the people doing security work in schools or should they be focused on changing the culture? Or both?

The evidence is pretty clear that Black students experience the presence of police in schools differently than white students. And Cami Anderson makes a compelling point that there is something about having the formal force of law attached to a person that makes any relationship fraught within schools.

Yet the issues are not cut and dry in a lot of places. For instance, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, hardly a conservative or reactionary, notes bluntly, 

“Yeah we’re not gonna do that,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said during a Friday morning press conference when asked if she would consider canceling CPS’ existing contract with the Chicago Police Department. “Unfortunately, we need security in our schools.”

Back in June I wrote about the rearranging the deck chair risk here, which is a risk anyone who has worked around government hiring and contracting appreciates,

…while counselors are not security guards, they can help with the work of changing the in-school culture that should be the cornerstone of any security approach. Bringing in counselors as police move out can minimize the risk that school districts will simply turn instead to education’s bustling private security business.

Which is why at the end of the day I think we still fundamentally have a culture problem we don’t talk about enough,

If your go-to discipline move is to call the police on young children, then focusing on whether the cops are school-based or a phone call away misses the broader problem: the absence of quality discipline strategies and a mindset that treats kids as if they were criminals.

In education it’s pretty common to conflate and confuse culture with the forms of the solution. For instance, we argue endlessly about accountability policies but don’t talk candidly enough about an education culture that doesn’t have similarly high expectations for all kids. Accountability policy matters, just as school – police policy does, but whatever practices end up in place will reflect those underlying belief systems.

Posted on Feb 19, 2021 @ 12:09pm

February 18, 2021



The Invisible Choice

We talk a lot about school choice around here, various ways parents can choose schools from public school choice, public charters to vouchers, home schooling, and tax credits. Tradeoffs with all of those various policies and a hot set of politics around them.

But the most common way, and really the quietist, that parents choose schools is by choosing where they live. It’s not, however, an opportunity that everyone has. Here’s a new report on some of the structural issues there around that home ownership. Related, see this analysis from Urban.

The school choice landscape and school choice politics look different depending on your initial assumptions about who is choosing now.