March 27, 2020

Friday Fish Pics!

Something you can do socially distant – and that lots of people like to do socially distant even when it’s not the norm? Fishing.

The husband and daughter of Commodore Roza, who has some smart analysis of possible financial impacts from this crisis, got out for a day last week in Washington.

And here’s Kevin “The Mayor” Kosar and his daughters a few weeks ago in Virginia.

If, just for one example say you have fourteen days on your hands, and you want to see a broader array of education types and education connected types with fish then click here and here.

Stay safe and healthy out there.

March 25, 2020

Edujob: ED @ Case Method Institute for Education and Democracy

Here’s an interesting opportunity to build an organization and advance a style of teaching: 

The Case Method Institute for Education and Democracy (the “Institute” or “CMI”) was formed to bring the highest quality education to America’s high school students—and to fulfill the democratic promise of that education—by empowering teachers to harness the case method in their classrooms. Long recognized as the leading instructional approach in business schools, the case method has now been shown to foster improved critical thinking, a deeper understanding of course material, and greater classroom and civic engagement in high schools across a broad range of students…

…Over the next ten years, the Institute aims to train at least 10,000 teachers in the case method, creating a network of social studies educators with the capacity to reach millions of young people at a formative time in their development.

Learn more about the role, the organization, and how to apply here. 

March 20, 2020

Covid-19 And Schools: One Story From New Jersey

Mike Piscal is founder of College Achieve Public Schools in New Jersey. We were talking about the challenges they are facing pivoting to this new situation with Covid-19 and I asked him to jot down what he was sharing. He’s a published poet and writer so not surprisingly I had an interesting story in my inbox a few hours later. Here’s one school story about the changes this week has brought:

Are Schools Closed for the Duration or Open for Learning, Which is It?

By Mike Piscal

A week ago, we thought we were probably going to have to close our schools for a couple of weeks.  We started to plan.  Our network – College Achieve Public Schools (CAPS) – operates seven charter schools on six campuses in Paterson, Plainfield, North Plainfield, Neptune, and Asbury Park, NJ. We serve over 2,200 students — the vast majority of whom are Black and Hispanic, and we have over 200 hardworking teachers and staff.  Depending on which campus, we serve free breakfast and lunch to 67% to 95% of our students each day.

There was more than a little bit of concern and fear as school leaders wondered whose call it was to decide if we could close our schools?  Do we wait for a student or faculty member to have a positive test for the Coronavirus?  But if there is a delay in receiving results, what then? Students and teachers were exhibiting cold and flu symptoms, and who can tell if it’s COVID 19? And again the question, whose call is it to make?  Is this just like a snow day or is the President going to say something? The governor? The mayor? Our school boards? The Health Department?  The question marks rang in our heads like nervous church bells, because we feared someone would make the call before we were ready or after it was too late.

In the end, we were told to do what we thought best, and the leaders at the top would support us.  The Governor and other public officials were weighing the necessity to close down other open public spaces and venues, and gave us the freedom to make the call if we were ready. We knew the Governor was weighing as we were what to do with the students who were homeless, who relied on our twice a day meals for food security, and the new question – could school districts pivot on a dime, and shift from learning in the classroom to learning online?  How do we reinvent our delivery system in a week or less?  Short answer, we don’t. Any way that was Friday.  On Monday, Governor Murphy announced all public and private schools would close the next day.

Seems bad, and maybe it was all of six days ago, but from my perspective where we were then compared to where we are today is astonishing.  Our Executive Directors leapt into planning – immediately sending out surveys via Class Dojo – an app every parent has on their phone – to all of our families to gauge who would need internet access at home and who would rely on our breakfast and lunch program. Our schools in Plainfield– serving well over a thousand students– closed on Friday so teachers could develop 15 online lesson plans. Our schools in Asbury Park and Neptune stayed open on Friday, as they serve only 300 students, but somehow not only got their online lesson plans done, but figured out how to get chrome books and hotspots for every student that needed one and set up a delivery system for free breakfast and lunch for our students with food security challenges.  Paterson did the same and shared their extra hotspots with Plainfield.  Not only were resources shared, but quick fixes for parents struggling with how to use the hotspots and access their child’s account on the chrome books were developed in Plainfield and shared across our network in real time.

We have at one of our schools a high percentage of homeless students who rely greatly on our schools as a safe haven and a place to get two meals a day. Yesterday, we sent out our staff to find these students without a steady home and offer them breakfast and lunch and to check on our students in public housing.  We brought an abundance and ended up with extra meals –  so our staff offered residents the extra 40 meals we had.  I don’t know if we broke any rules here, but we fed some people who were grateful, and we built a stronger and more caring community in the process.  We need to be kind to each other and help each other out in this time of need.  So far, I see people stepping up all over and sharing what they have.

Across the College Achieve network, we have distributed nearly 600 chrome books and hotspots for those families without internet access at home.  Most of our curriculums have online platforms such as Reading Wonders and other off the shelf programs.  We are looking closely at Khan Academy, and are already using Google Classrooms to deliver our own curriculum.  So when I said you can’t switch from classroom learning to online learning in six days maybe I was wrong. If it seems miraculous that we can deliver anything that is so well thought out in so short a span of time, it is only because of the enormous strides that have been made in the last twenty years by people like Sal Khan, and the innovators at Google, Audible, and so many other online learning platforms.  It will never replace the teacher in the classroom, but like or not, we are now offering our students a virtual online education.  We are building feedback loops for students, parents, teachers, and staff so we can constantly refine and improve our delivery.

We are also reaching out and learning from colleagues at Success Academy and Bellwether.  Success Academy advised us to keep it simple.  Encourage our students to read lots of books (remember books?) and for teachers to call each student twice a day for 5-7 minutes to discuss how they are doing in this brave new online world.  By the way, on most of these platforms, we can see how much time our students are spending online, how many questions they answer correctly, problems they solve, and short essays they write.  It is wonderful to have this data, but Success is right.  It is even more important that our teachers speak with our students twice a day for a few minutes. The human interaction is vital.  We believe now that we will succeed online more than most online platforms have done to date because these phone calls between teacher and student leverage (and even strengthen) the relationships that were built face to face in the classroom since September.  If we started the year online, I would not be so optimistic.  Without the prior relationships, the teacher would be just a voice on the computer.

Twenty years ago this pivot to distance learning would not have been possible. Ten years ago only the affluent would have been able to pull this off.  At one of our elementary schools, of our 400 students only 13 students have been unresponsive.  Tomorrow, day four of our school closure, we are going out to the homes of those 13 students to make sure they have internet access, food, and to let them know we care about them.

Guestblogger Mike Piscal is founder of College Achieve Public Schools 

March 17, 2020

Bellwether & COVID-19

We posted this on LinkedIn today.

Like many nonprofits, Bellwether’s operations are impacted by COVID-19. In particular, academic advising, strategic planning, and evaluation work we do inside schools is paused, and we’ve shut down team member travel.

Short term, this means we have unexpected surplus capacity which we’d like to make available, pro bono, to school districts and charter school networks that are figuring out how to address a variety of issues related to operations, strategy and decision-making, state and federal policy guidance, curriculum and instruction, and financial planning.

Across our team of more than 60 full-time professionals, we have former school leaders, nonprofit leaders, media professionals, and experienced strategy consultants. Our team members have worked at the Department of Education, The White House, top-tier management consulting firms, and state education agencies around the country. Three-quarters of our staff have worked in the classroom, some still teach part time now.

To learn more, please email , tell us about your district or network and what you need. We cannot service all requests but will take on as many as possible and farm others out to peers as we are able.

March 9, 2020

Pensions Just Don’t Work That Well for Most Teachers

Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews has a new piece on teacher pensions with a headline that reads, “So you think teacher pensions are too big? Relax. Few ever get them.”

In other words, the truth is somewhere between people who think that teacher pensions are too generous and those who think they’re just fine. Jay lets original Eduwonk Andy Rotherham explain:

Rotherham, a former adviser in the Clinton White House and a former member of the Virginia state school board, has long been a leading expert on education policy. He told me more than half of people who teach never get any kind of pension. In 16 states, you have to be teaching for 10 years before you qualify.

“People say we should reward longevity, and I think we should,” he said. “But life happens to people and lots of teachers don’t teach for decades in one place, not because they don’t love teaching, or aren’t good at it, or don’t want to, but because they have to move because of their spouse’s career, military service, a sick relative, whatever.” 

Read the full column here.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

March 6, 2020

New York Keeps Cutting Teacher Pension Benefits

New York City’s teacher pension costs have nearly quadrupled over the last 15 years. If it were a state, its teacher retirement costs would be the highest in the country. Once you include the contributions employees make to the pension plan, plus Social Security taxes, New York City is paying higher retirement rates than Chicago, which is itself an outlier. In percentage terms, the New York City and its employees are contributing more than 50 percent of salary toward retirement benefits.

And yet, as I note in a new report out this week, New York keeps cutting the benefits teachers actually receive.* Compared to prior generations, members hired after 2012 pay higher contribution rates than their predecessors did (aka they will earn less in take-home pay), they’ll have to serve longer to qualify for any retirement benefit at all, and they’ll receive lower pension benefits when they retire.

Due to the most recent round of cuts, I found that New York City’s latest benefit tier (Tier 6) would provide adequate retirement benefits only to teachers who serve for at least 23 consecutive years in the city’s public schools. Needless to say, most New York City teachers do not remain that long.

In an op-ed for the New York Daily News, I write:

Continuing to cut benefits for generation after generation of teachers is an unsustainable path. Instead, New York City leaders should look toward alternative models to keep costs in check while ensuring that all teachers are on a path to a secure retirement, no matter how long they serve.

Read the op-ed for the short version of how New York City got to this place, or read the full report for possible solutions.

*Note: While the plans are technically distinct and the funds are kept separate, the benefit rules I’m describing are essentially the same for New York City teachers as they are for teachers across the entire New York state. 

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

February 26, 2020

Democrats Have an Authenticity Problem

Whether you like Elizabeth Warren’s politics or not, this Will Wilkinson piece for the Niskanen Center is worth your time. The piece is mainly about Senator Warren’s argument that America’s political and economic systems are rigged toward the powerful. I tend to agree with Warren (and Wilkinson’s) core concerns.

But unlike Warren, who has shied away from the politically inconvenient parts of her argument, Wilkinson does not flinch about calling out concentrated power in all its forms:

But focusing too exclusively on the concentrated power of corporations and billionaires isn’t just a strategic error that invites overwhelming resistance from already-dominating political forces that need to be pacified. It also leads to the neglect of other forms of concentrated power that keep our system rigged. This is both an intellectual and strategic mistake. An incomplete and partial diagnosis of the problem narrows the appeal of a structural reform agenda, which makes it harder to recruit the popular political energy it will need to succeed.

For example, public sector unions organize against voters to block reform and starve other programs, and much poorer citizens, of public funds by dominating budget processes. Elected Democrats who like their jobs tend not to complain about teachers unions obstructing badly needed experimentation and reform in our primary education system, just as Republicans tend not to complain about the NRA, but it’s a form of anti-democratic “capture” all the same. And there are many other examples of capture and rule-rigging at work on multiple levels of our political economy. These merit attention, too.

He continues:

Emphasizing that teachers, lawyers, doctors, academics, and other “knowledge work” professionals also insulate themselves from competition and extract resources from less well-positioned citizens is not a standard left message. It is a radical message, but when you whittle away the parts that cut against the interests of the urban liberal professional class, it comes off too much like a strident version of standard-issue Democratic progressivism.

To me, this is where Warren’s argument has run aground. Warren is by no means alone in this, but the easy move among Democrats today is to make an argument about concentrated power and the harm it does to average citizens, but then stop short of applying the same critical lens to traditional Democratic issue areas like education. Democrats have an authenticity problem when they ignore the issue altogether or merely offer more of the same.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

Posted on Feb 26, 2020 @ 4:31pm

February 25, 2020

Greg Schneiders On The Future Of Polling, What Bartending Teaches You And Why It Matters To Edu, And Stuff You Might Not Know About Jimmy Carter

In The 74 I interview longtime D.C. hand Greg Schneiders:

There is a lot of focus on polling and public opinion in education but sometimes a lack of strategy on the “whys” and the “what now” questions associated with public opinion research. I wanted to talk with Greg Schneiders, a friend, colleague and fixture in Washington, about that.

A former bar owner, Senate aide, and campaign and White House aide to President Jimmy Carter, Greg has worked in and around politics for decades. He’s now CEO of Prime Group, a public affairs firm, where he’s worked with numerous education clients — from state and local nonprofits to national organizations and corporations, as well as national and international clients including the United Nations Foundation, Major League Baseball and MetLife.

Here are five questions I asked him recently about public opinion research, where education advocates need to do better, why being a bartender can help you understand politics and what you might not know about Carter’s time in office. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity…

You can read the entire thing here at The 74.

February 24, 2020

Is Our Reading Problem Craft Or Is It Politics?

In The 74 I ask whether on reading instruction we’re conflating our problems of education craft with our larger problem of education politics?

“Most conversations about literacy treat the problem of poor reading instruction as one of craft. The problem is that teachers don’t know how to teach reading, so how do we make sure they do? Solve the craft problem, the argument goes, and the politics take care of themselves. But what if this is exactly backward and, instead, it’s a political problem that allows the craft problem to persist? And maybe not just on reading but also on other issues like testing, accountability and teacher evaluation, where we’re constantly told that if things were just a little better from a technical standpoint everyone would actually be on board?”

You can read it all here. 

February 22, 2020

Housing Policy Is Education Policy (For Now)

I really enjoyed this Conor Dougherty piece on housing policy, and it makes me want to read his book Golden Gates: Fighting for Housing in America. This part in particular stood out to me:

Nearly all of the biggest challenges in America are, at some level, a housing problem. Rising home costs are a major driver of segregation, inequality, and racial and generational wealth gaps. You can’t talk about education or the shrinking middle class without talking about how much it costs to live near good schools and high-paying jobs.

However, Conor Williams’ recent piece for The Washington Post argues that this need not be the case. Rather than waiting to win economic development battles city by city and block by block, charter schools “offer the possibility of unlinking housing and school access now.”

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman