August 4, 2022

Edujobs, Webinars, Housekeeping, & Fish. Plus Stephen Carter On Kennedy & Chappelle On More Than Names

Happy August. I spent most of July in Alaska, which was fantastic and I have a freezer full of wild fish (it’s Friday so fish content). That’s why light posting. Posting will be intermittent in August as well. For now, a few things including, what does my Virginia state board appointment mean for the blog? Dave Chappelle and young adults. Stephen Carter on the Kennedy case. Fishing and data. Jobs. And the Pan Mass Challenge.

Last one first. Today I’m making my way to Boston for some work stuff then out to Sturbridge for the Pan Mass Challenge. A depressing aspect of this blog is the number of colleagues whose too soon passing I’ve noted here, generally because of cancers. That’s one reason, among too many, I try to raise a lot of money each summer for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, an amazing place I hope you never need. I’ll ride my bike across much of Massachusetts this weekend, 192 miles from Sturbridge out to Provincetown. We’ll raise $66 million for Dana-Farber (100 percent of rider-raised dollars go right to Dana-Farber). If you want to be part of it, I would welcome your support. You can learn more and donate here. Even if you don’t have New England ties, remember that cancer research anywhere helps people everywhere because of how treatment protocols work. DFCI is doing pathbreaking work.

We’re hiring at Bellwether for multiple roles, including chief of staff roles, a director of knowledge management, and a really cool project manager job. Learn more here.

Also from Bellwether:

Some quick housekeeping since I haven’t done this in a while and have some new readers. You can read the blog here, or you can subscribe – for free – at Substack to get it in your email box. I am no longer supporting the Google feed because they are not supporting that tool and one day it will just stop. So if you want Eduwonk via email, head to Substack.

Busy session for education at the Supreme Court. I wrote about Carson earlier in the summer. The Kennedy case is more muddled in terms of what it means for schools and policy.

Washington’s Duke Ellington school was going to name its auditorium after local kid and alum Dave Chappelle. That became controversial after “The Closer” and Chappelle had a contentious meeting with students. You can Google all the details. But I’d recommend this short Netflix special he posted in July – “What’s In A Name?” –  about his subsequent talk to the school announcing the name of the auditorium. It’s a master class in treating young people like adults, while at the same time recognizing they are not. It’s also a powerful advertisement for schools like Ellington.

Also out now on video…Earlier this year Education Board Partners convened a few education folks (me, Mia Howard,  Derrick Mashore, and Kimberly Smith) to talk about innovation and charter schools. You can watch, here.

I’m going to serve again on the Virginia Board of Education. What does that mean for the Eduwonk blog?

I’ve said over the years this blog is not a real time readout of everything I work on, conversations, what’s going on, gossip. I could write that blog or newsletter, yes. And I suspect it would be a smash hit. For about three weeks. Right up until everyone stopped talking to me and Bellwether went out of business.

So of course there is a filter. My commitment remains the same. I never knowingly pass along bad information or mislead. I choose not to write about some things because of conflicts, confidentiality, or other similar reasons. I don’t have time to write about everything anyway. And conversations and emails with me are confidential unless other people choose otherwise. I’m an analyst, I’m not a reporter. Virginia has good transparency laws so for the most part, with a few understandable exceptions, board business is conducted in public and you can follow along that way. 

I will continue to either disclose conflicts or just not write about certain things. Years ago when I was working for Brian Kelly writing for U.S. News – a savvy magazine editor with old school sensibilities – I asked him one day over lunch for his advice on managing conflicts given that I wrote about the sector and also did a lot of work in it. He said, simply, “Don’t. Andy, there are so many things to write about in education, write about those.” His point, just lay off the untenable stuff, is great advice I’ve stuck to and will continue to. So expect disclosures and transparency and keep sending me good tips!

Fishing is data. Really, you shouldn’t even have to take PTO if you want to go. Thanks to reader Steve Rees for this:

July 1, 2022

Friday Fish & Programming Note

So it’s a summer Friday, and I’ve been negligent about posting fish porn and pictures so here are some great pictures. More to come soon.

For now, though, this is the last post for a bit. I’m taking some long planned time off – including some great fishing opportunities – so no content for a few weeks of any kind. I hope you enjoy your summer, too. Look for content end of month.

But in the ‘leave on a high note’ department, look at these fantastic trout Simmons Lettre, a terrific consultant and coach in our sector, caught this year. It’s not her first time around here (for instance this, and this, and this) but these fish are absolutely ridiculous:

From Colorado earlier in the year:

And then this absurdity from Montana recently: 

If you are new here you might be wondering…Friday Fish…what? It’s an archive, where you will find hundreds of pictures of education types and their relatives with fish on rivers, lakes, and streams all over the world. A reminder that there are things more important and more uniting than work, policy disagreements, and the rest. Send me yours!

June 30, 2022

Some News…

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin asked me to serve on the Virginia Board of Education, and I accepted the honor. Public service and trying to leave things better than you found them is why I do this work. I think the governor and his team, which includes seasoned and proven education professionals like Aimee Guidera, Jillian Balow, and McKenzie Snow, can improve outcomes for students in our commonwealth — as ample evidence indicates we urgently need to do.

I’m grateful for the governor’s confidence in me to help lead positive policy changes, particularly around accountability and transparency. Our commonwealth is blessed with hardworking educators, caring parents, and enthusiastic students. At the same time, we allow substantial gaps in achievement between various groups of students and overall performance that is not what Virginians expect, or what students, parents, and educators deserve.

My decision might seem surprising. I’ve previously worked for or been appointed by Democratic elected officials in a few capacities, including previous service on Virginia’s Board of Education. My values are deep, but reflexive partisan politics is not one of them. In this line of work, you can do partisan politics or you can do reform, improvement, and policy, but you can’t do both if your goal is helping young people have lives filled with choice, opportunity, and dignity. Substantively, to the extent we’ve created Democratic and Republican approaches to education, it has not rebounded to the advantage of kids.

I also come from an understanding of America as a place where you listen to various perspectives, agree to disagree on some things, and work together on others — that’s the only way to have progress in a pluralistic society. The imperative to do that seems more important now than ever. And given the catastrophe of the COVID-19 pandemic for a lot of kids, the better question, it seems to me, is why isn’t everyone figuring out how to better work together at the local, state, and national levels to address these problems? I’m not naive about politics and partisanship; I just think we can, and must, do better. Things like the literacy bill that Virginia’s legislature recently passed show what’s possible and what we can aspire to.

Parents don’t care about Democrat or Republican — they want us to pick the side of what matters for their kids. In a poll this month, 82% of parents said they’d cross party lines to vote for a candidate who was aligned with them on education. Virginia parents did that in 2021. My view about what state boards of education should do and the side they should be on in all this is not a secret.

The Honesty Gap report the governor released in May was an important moment for Virginia. People are quibbling about how NAEP proficiency relates to grade level and other issues that miss the forest for the trees and ignore the main thrust of the report: Virginia has devastating achievement gaps and is preparing too few students for lives of opportunity, with little transparency about those issues. These gaps in perception and achievement are not just on the NAEP. They show up on Virginia’s tests, various measures of college and career readiness, diplomas, and other outcome measures. We’re not being transparent with Virginians, and especially with parents, about this.

Whatever your politics, if you care about a more inclusive and equitable Virginia, the status quo is unacceptable. Virginia can, and must, do better, and we have an opportunity to come together to do that. And it’s essential to note that achievement and transparency were issues before the pandemic and that this disproportionately affects students from traditionally underserved backgrounds — low-income students, racial and ethnic minorities, and students with special needs. Addressing this is a project we should all be invested in. So, from where I sit, when a governor says they want to set a national standard for transparency for students and families and thoughtful accountability for results, the only answer is, “Great — how can I help?”

I frequently point out the complexity and nuance in many education questions today and reject the partisanship and ideology that increasingly pervades the education sector. If the governor of my state asks me to serve on this issue and I choose not to because I don’t agree with him on some other issues or because it will upset some people, that’s inauthentic. Governor Youngkin deserves a lot of credit for trying to bring people together on this issue.

When I asked my daughters, who are 16 and public school students in Virginia, if they thought I should take this role, they didn’t hesitate to say, “If you can help, then of course.” (They did tell me, though, that if I become party to any effort to ban cellphones in schools, they’d move out.)

Finally, across the board, Virginia voters made clear they want change in education. Across the commonwealth, enrollment is down about 4%, substantially more in some places. Parents are giving grace, given the challenges of the pandemic, but their patience is not limitless. The pandemic’s effect on learning is catastrophic. Teachers, too, are frustrated. Mid-year departures jumped this school year. We should respond to the understandable wishes of voters that schools become more accountable, transparent, and responsive, or else we can’t expect Virginia parents to support them with their tax dollars and, more important, their children.

In 1838, Abraham Lincoln said, “At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher.”

The same is true of our public schools. In other words, we hear a lot of rhetoric about vouchers or undermining public schools. It’s mostly backward. If we can’t come together, especially now, to address these challenges, then why should we expect parents to have any confidence?

I benefited from Virginia’s public schools and universities from grade school through graduate school. My daughters have benefited as well. It’s an honor to be able to give back, and I look forward to doing my part, getting to work, and serving with my colleagues on the board.

June 27, 2022

The Other Supreme Court Case Last Week…Three Ways Makin Could Be Complicated For School Choice & Charter Schools

Some people will disagree with this sentiment now! Photo via Creative Commons.

Yes, there were other Supreme Court cases last week besides Dobbs*. Guns, civil liberties, and a significant First Amendment religion case involving schools and a quirky school choice program in Maine.

That case, the Carson v. Makin case, about school choice, is also a big deal. In Zelman, in 2002, the court said states may include religious schools in school choice plans that pay for tuition. In Makin the court said,

Maine’s “nonsectarian” requirement for its otherwise generally available tuition assistance payments violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Regard- less of how the benefit and restriction are described, the program operates to identify and exclude otherwise eligible schools on the basis of their religious exercise

In other words, may became must. Again, that’s a big deal!

It’s clearly a big win for those who want to expand school choice as broadly as possible. On net the expectation is that Makin will lead to an increase in choice, but choice was increasing anyway – pretty dramatically during the pandemic and steadily before that. So this is not some sort of Slate pitch. School choice is winning.

But, unintended consequences are a thing, too. And I do think there are some risks that are being under appreciated. Here are three:

First, there is a risk here for charter schools. Depending on how states choose to implement this ruling it could open the door for religious charter schools. Valerie Strauss, Diane Ravitch, and that crowd are already licking their chops at this prospect because of the headwind it would create for charters. Charters are under a lot of political pressure now – the Biden Administration is trying to curtail their growth, they’ve become politically contentious again leading to a decline in elite support, and growth has slowed. Confusion about charters, their religious status, and all of that is just one more arrow in the quiver of opponents.

Second, as the ruling is implemented by more states it could stir up new opposition to school choice. I was struck by how many people seemed to greet the Makin decision as the first penetration of the church state wall rather than one of the last. In fact, it was the latest in a long line of cases about public money for Title I, or technology, or vouchers, and then of course the Blaine cases about state prohibitions. Still, the idea that this is the big breach of the church – state wall could have political salience and become an organizing principle for anti-school choice advocates.

In other words, while the ship has sailed on church state issues with vouchers as a matter of law, it has not as a matter of politics. This could reenergize that fight – especially if opponents link it to the broader political backlash about the court’s 6-3 decisions this term. And, as always, the political debate will not turn on that nice parish school down the street, it will turn on extreme examples. The SCOTUS did not establish any right to school choice, it just said that if you have a choice scheme it must include all kinds of schools. This could tip the balance in some places toward sidestepping the entire basket of issues by limiting choice plans.

Third, beware unintended consequences. This case will bring religious schools and public regulations into more frequent contact. Some states will try to ensure that public dollars don’t flow to schools that discriminate, in particular on LGBT issues. This may dissuade some schools from wanting to participate in these programs – as happens in some instances now. If that leads to a sector of truly private schools and broad choice driven sector of publicly funded schools or some sort of compromise framework around civil rights then that could be a positive and innovative change for the K-12 education sector. But it’s also quite possible we just end up in a morass of entanglement questions and more culture war strife.

*On Dobbs and abortion, I wrote in May about the weird juxtaposition of school choice and abortion choice politics. My personal view is that abortion is complicated and personal and government should tread lightly, if at all, around complicated personal issues. I can also understand the strong feelings people have given the intractable nature of the issue.

As a political matter, there are two views on Roe. One, is that Roe and Casey, however clumsy as constitutional law, were in the end a rough approximation of the conflicted view of the country and a sort of half century compromise on a hard issue. The other is that Roe ignited a half century of constitutional and political strife that returning the issue to states will lessen. We’re now going to test those propositions in real time.

My sense is that in the near term this ruling will increase not lessen the political friction and tension, and while we’ll probably end up with something approximating the the most common western European approaches to the issue that will only happen over time, at considerable cost, and with a lot of variance in the meantime. And I suspect in the meantime it will continue to poison our politics and that venom will spill over into education policy and politics at a time we can ill afford it.

June 22, 2022

General Ops Funding > Project By Project To Get Things Done

There is a lot of reaction to the Ryan Grim Intercept article I linked the other day about the struggles at progressive organizations. Matt Yglesias sees a pipeline problem, Sarah Haider offers some ideas to escape it. Lots of other thoughtful reaction.

Although education media has studiously managed to avoid covering this in education organizations, it’s present in the ed sector as well. For instance, some education organizations embraced the trendy idea that deadlines reflect a culture of “whiteness” or white supremacy and then got to navigate what it means to run an organization where employees can resist deadline pressure as a DEI issue. People are forced out for wrong think at odds with orthodoxy, even when that wrong think aligns more generally with broadly held viewpoints.

I think an aspect of this issue that is not being discussed enough overall is funding. Or more specifically the structure of funding. Set aside that the average progressive funder is way way way to the political and cultural left of the average American (and the average Black American it should be noted). That’s well documented and while it creates blind spots it arguably has upsides and downsides in terms of creative pressure and change.*

What probably matters more to this question of organizational coherence and effectiveness is structure of funding. It’s also well documented that conservative funders tend to give more general operating or broadly thematic grants. Then organizations make decisions about what they want to focus on and what kind of expertise to cultivate. Progressive organizations, by contrast, get more project based support. So this money is tied to particular projects, initiatives, or people.

This is why you see both people and organizations constantly reinventing themselves as experts on the issue du jour in education. While on the conservative side you see the deflation expert or estate tax expert or the whatever expert who has been laboring in obscurity for years or decades suddenly wheeled out ready to go when that issue emerges on the policy agenda again. Just yesterday the Supreme Court delivered another church – state ruling involving schools that represents a sustained legal campaign for about a half century to advance that issue. That does not happen with just project based funding.**

One of these models, the progressive one, seems inherently less stable and more susceptible to staff freakouts, funder pressure, faddishness, and all the rest. Whether you adhere more to conservative or progressive politics, just as an objective matter of effective management the conservative funding approach seems more stable and also to give management more ability to set priorities, plan, and act without fear.

In other words, if you want leaders to lead you have to create the conditions so that they can do that. In this way the general operating funding model is at least closer to the Maverick Insurance idea, whereas leaders dependent on project based funding are going to be more constrained.

That’s not progressive or conservative per se, it’s just about organizational effectiveness.

*My own view is you want people pushing in a bunch of different ways, because ideas that are at one point considered fringe often become accepted over time – think reverse income tax or gay marriage. So the problem is not any particular direction, it’s orthodoxy. But I helped found an organization predicated on the idea of viewpoint diversity as important to problem solving so your mileage may vary.

**A second issue here is the common claim that people are just on the take. It happens, but in general I think in education people get the causation here backwards.

June 21, 2022

You Are Probably Reading & Sharing LGBT Authors In Education

June, as I’m sure you know, is Pride Month owing to the anniversary of Stonewall. What’s especially good this year is that for the first time in three years Pride is happening without a lot of Covid disruptions, or at different times of the year in various communities because of Covid case loads. I was in Burlington, Vermont, last fall for a hockey tournament with one of my kids and there were Pride events because of Covid issues in June. It was great, but seemed different when the leaves were starting to turn.

Recently someone remarked that they didn’t see a lot of the work of gay writers passed around in the education sector. The remark was in the vein of, ‘when is the last time someone shared a gay writer?’ And in tone and context it was meant to suggest a lack of inclusion. It struck me as off. And as I thought about it, in some ways what’s happening today shows the opposite.

Why? Because I think you actually do see gay writers cited – a lot. They are writers who are openly gay and are often writing about a range of issues. That’s a good thing. In our current moment, which is a mash up of toxic social media, identity fixation, and shallow discourse we tend to view things in various boxes. If a writer, who identifies as LGBT, is not queer forward in all their writing people often don’t even realize they’re a gay writer.

No one should be squelched or closeted and I obviously encourage people to read and consume widely. My point is merely that it may be that progress obscures progress in this case. 

In that spirit, for Pride, here is a completely subjective and highly non-exhaustive list of LGBT voices in and around the education sector. Is it a little redundant with writers sometimes cited here? Yes, that’s kind of the point.

Morgan Polikoff comes to mind immediately in our sector as an influential academic who writes on a range of issues. He doesn’t hide that he’s gay – he’s a fun follow on Twitter – but he doesn’t lead with that when, say, writing about academic standards or public opinion.

In the same vein, Stephen Sawchuk a longtime fixture at Ed Week is diligent and a go-to on policy issues. He recently became an editor there. He has a keen eye for where the ball is going and is willing to take on complicated issues.

Beth Hawkins is one of my favorite journalists. A wonderful writer on education and also more generally. She’s a lesbian woman and writes about LGBT issues but also a wide range of issues – and you should follow her great work in The 74. Stuff like this essential reading on what’s happening in Minneapolis after the media world moved on.

More generally, Bari Weiss is covering a lot of education content from her perch at Substack. Her wife Nellie Bowles, also late of The New York Times, writes a newsletter on Friday’s that’s often laugh out loud funny and has a keen eye for education absurdity.

You might also read Jonathan Rauch who is one stop shopping on your middle age malaise and the value of liberalism. Josh Barro writes on a lot of issues adjacent to education. And obviously Andrew Sullivan, an incisive analyst and social critic. Sullivan’s recent book of essays is a fantastic tour of his unique career and perspective.

Both Rauch and Sullivan were influential in the effort to legalize gay marriage, it should be noted.

Katie Herzog is both quite funny and cuts to the quick – and also points out the absurdity of much of what passes for discourse, including around education. She writes for a few outlets, has a podcast, and guests on others.

And, while you’re here, I’d recommend Jamie Kirchick’s new book Secret City. If you’re a certain age you will definitely know people who lived closeted and limited lives because of onerous laws and norms. Often these were people committed to serving their country in the service, the national security community, or in other ways that were fraught at the time. There are some education parallels.

This Kirchick interview with Nick Gillespie of Reason is a good conversation.

There are also plenty of historic writers whose work influences education – Baldwin quite a bit of late. I wrote earlier this year about Zora Neale Hurston, she’s hardly the only one.

My point, besides that these are great people to follow, is that if you’ve lived long enough you’ve seen tremendous strides on inclusion in this country for LGBT Americans. Today the debate is whether uniformed cops should be allowed to march in Pride, a pretty stark reversal of the politics from a historical standpoint. The formal changes, the Lawrence, Obergefell, and Bostock,  cases, for instance, are noteworthy but so are the informal changes. There was a podcast last year with Sullivan, Kirchick, and Herzog. That would not have been a mainstream thing that long ago.

I’m not saying there are still not challenges, hate, nor that these writers, and many others not mentioned here, haven’t faced discrimination or other BS. That’s their story to tell.

Rather, my point is that one of those informal ways is the number of amazing and gay writers now in plain sight so much as to be unremarkable or easily overlooked to both a casual observer or someone looking to make a particular point. In a broad way, that’s inclusion. 

Happy Pride.

June 14, 2022

New Solutions For Frustrated Parents…The Case of the Teachers Unions V. Bridge et al…

Several colleagues and I have a new brief on parents and options as we shift to this new stage of the pandemic: New Solutions for Frustrated Parents: How Education Leaders Can Help.

We focus on a few things, working with parents to understand their needs and wants, increasing the educational options available, making sure parents are informed about them, and knocking down access barriers. You can read it here. This is part of a broader project including the Parent Perception Barometer and 2021’s Overlooked. We also have other materials if this issue is of interest to you, please reach out.

Also from Bellwether, last week we published a report about widespread systemic impact. Music here if you like.

Yesterday, we talked about the lack of a positive politics of improvement in K-12 education. Here’s Peter Coy in The Times about Bridge Academies, they operate in Kenya,

When I asked for examples of similar arrangements in the United States, where a nonprofit organization supports rigorous public schools for low-income students, NewGlobe cited the KIPP Foundation, which runs 270 charter schools across the country. NewGlobe also cited Success Academy, a network of charter schools in New York City serving mostly low-income students in one of the nation’s most segregated school systems. “Success students in the city’s poorest communities outperformed kids in the wealthiest suburbs,” says an article in the summer 2022 edition of Education Next. “If the network were a single school, it would rank in the top 1 percent of the state’s 3,560 schools in math and the top 3 percent in English.” Eva Moskowitz, the founder of Success Academy, describes her approach as “joyful rigor.”

What do KIPP, Success, and Bridge have in common? Well, one thing is they have all run into a buzzsaw of opposition from the teachers unions, particularly the AFT. These schools may not be for you, but they clearly are changing the life choices of some students. There are certainly things to learn from them for policy and practice.  And yet…

What I’m reading:

Like everyone else, this article from The Intercept.

Posted on Jun 14, 2022 @ 4:50pm

June 13, 2022

Is A Revolt Against Education Elitism Brewing? And What Maverick Can Teach Schools

You’re starting to hear a real debate right now about whether the movement for transgender inclusion made a strategic error in emphasizing things like trying to get everyone to say that trans women are the same as biological women or elite sports participation rather than focusing on more immediate material concerns like formal discrimination.

This sort of argument about goals and means is typical of most social movements. And often there is a tension between goals with symbolic value and things that change material conditions for a lot of people and just friction between different goals people think are important.

Here in education you’re hearing more and more grumbling that people are fixated on “reinventing” or “reimagining” or “redesigning” education rather than focusing laser-like on improving conditions for kids who were being left behind before the pandemic and really are now. There are a lot of people excited about, for example, local groups demanding more adherence to the research around reading and think that’s more important than cooking up some new model of learning. Rebecca Birch recently had an interesting take on all this.

While people tend to reduce education conversations to obvious lines of difference such as race, wokeness, or political affiliation this tension appears to be emerging along different lines. To overgeneralize a bit, it seems like there is an elite cadre of folks resistant to these, let’s call them ‘blocking and tackling’ changes, and a group of, often not white, education leaders increasingly focused on those pretty immediate issues.

It’s a definite evolution from the DEI conversations of the middle of the last decade. You saw glimmers of this in the early days of the pandemic when it was difficult to get funding for basic blocking and tackling work school districts needed around pivoting to remote and ideas like summer school were pooh poohed in favor of elaborate online “platforms” and schemes. You see more of it now as everyone is contemplating ‘what now?’

I don’t have an exact typology but it is sort of the normies versus an education elite who claim to know what’s best for them. When parents in Oakland said enough on reading, or parents in San Francisco said enough on the school board it was a manifestation of this. And yes, it also fuels some of the backlash to clumsy approaches to DEI in school, which doesn’t break as cleanly along racial and ethnic lines as is commonly assumed.

In politics more generally you’re starting to see this same trend emerge – it’s part of what did Chesa Boudin and, again, three members of the San Fransisco school board in there. And it’s a political opportunity. When Glenn Youngkin, Virginia’s governor, puts out a report on achievement and achievement gaps that could have been written by the Education Trust and everyone loses their mind, people notice. It’s clear there is a whole cohort of people from whom it’s more important to signal that they’re not on board with Glenn Youngkin than it is to get anything done on education. It might be a good way to do partisan politics, it’s a lousy way to do education.

Here’s Freddie deBoer on one aspect the issue more generally:

What underlies all this is the phlogiston of contemporary progressive politics: the immense condescension with which racial politics are treated. To the extent that America’s racial politics have become more emotional and linguistically radical, they’ve also become wrapped in a layer of pandering and head-patting on the part of benevolent white liberals who have little need for material change (as they’re already affluent themselves) and much to lose from appearing not to kowtow to social justice norms (as their lives are unusually dependent on reputation). An outcome of this situation is that you have a lot of people who ostensibly support a social justice agenda and yet are totally indifferent to whether anything actually gets done.

Last year we talked about how the divides in this sector are often not what they seem. I tend to think eliteness is the real divide and suspect some of that is going to come more into focus as some new alignments sift out.

Two real caveats:

First, we do need a better R&D function in the sector. Existing technology and practice is not sufficient to deliver the goals we have for our education system in a broad or equitable manner.  We do need to “re” something. We don’t talk honestly about that because of the “even KIPP” problem. Basically, K-12 education doesn’t have an improvement oriented politics. I’m for more skunk, others have different ideas. Saying we need to focus on the here and now in this moment doesn’t doesn’t mean someone thinks the here and now is sufficient.

Second, I don’t want to in any way imply that everyone in this debate is insincere or posturing. There is certainly too much elite signaling for professional advancement or whatever and too much advocacy for things that revealed preference indicates people don’t want for their own kids. However, the modal value here, I’d suggest, is sincere belief. Joel Rose (BW client on multiple occasions, disclosure), for instance, is deeply committed to the idea that how we teach math and do/did accountability is flawed and at odds with the best interests of students.The sector has a substantial elite faddishness problem, but I think this particular issue of what to focus on is mostly a clash of theories of action and beliefs about context and conditions.

Still, at the end of the day, people send their kids to school to learn, not to be reinvented and redesigned. And in general they care a lot more about that than your latest crusade. Part of a genuine politics of improvement will be engaging with this reality while building something better.

Sorta random aside – with an education point. I saw Top Gun: Maverick this weekend. At one level it’s a terrible movie. The storyline is completely improbable, even more than the first one, as are many plot devices. On the other hand, it’s a fantastic movie with delightful callbacks to the first film, truly incredible and unique flying scenes, and it’s just a couple of hours of brain candy. Recommend if you want a night out. I’m all in for any film that makes aging Xers feel like kids again. But that’s not my point here.

Those flying scenes are the result of a lot of cooperation from the United States military, specifically the U.S. Navy. The flying scenes were the actors in actual military aircraft pulling real g’s. The facial distortions and grimaces were real. The first Top Gun was a recruiting and PR boon so it’s not surprising the Navy was willing to lean into a second one. What’s interesting though is the military’s intuitive sense that you can talk up the positive aspects of a job and it’s good for recruiting. The Marines are pretty good at this, for instance. Here in the K-12 education sector, by contrast, we try to make even the good news bad.

An interesting, though really unhealthy, aspect of K-12 education is that it’s often the people who self-style as public education defenders who are at the forefront of running the job of teachers down and describing schools in unattractive terms. This is weird because while teaching is challenging, especially these past several years, it’s also a great job. Education is fun. It’s important. I feel the need, the need for…people to talk about those elements more.

Penny for your thoughts: I Drove All Night.

June 9, 2022

San Francisco And Schools…Plus Narratives And Reactionary Public School Takes And Missed Opportunities On Charter Regulations

New Bellwether playbook on widespread panic impact. Sorry, scroll to the bottom for that.

San Francisco recalled its DA earlier this week. Like the school board recalls we’re hearing again how this is actually all right wing funded and so forth. This. Is. San. Francisco.

For more reasoned takes, Nellie Bowles has a long look in The Atlantic that includes the linkage with education politics. Zaid Jilani on the same issue. The Nation also worth reading on the recall.

My own view is pretty straightforward. Chesa Boudin didn’t get in trouble because people are suddenly hostile to criminal justice reform or now think the system works fine or any of that. No, he got on the wrong side of voters because he seemed to deny or minimize what has happening right in front of them and took positions on some prosecutorial decisions and said some things that normal voters thought were just way too much or dismissive of real issues. He lost just about every minority-majority district in the city, it’s worth noting.

There is an obvious lesson there for the schools, too, around the various culture wars. If you take a dismissive attitude or caricature everyone opposed to whatever you’re doing, the politics aren’t going to work. Lesson there, too, for the Democrats.

Speaking of reactions. Something interesting happened on social media yesterday. Someone from the Heritage Foundation went up to the Hill to testify on gun violence. This person makes a lot of points, that most people will varyingly agree and disagree with because gun safety is actually a complicated issue and people really disagree about it! But at some point she seems to have indicated that some of what are considered school shootings in the media discourse, a reasonable person would not consider a mass school shooting or even a school shooting at all. This caused all proper thinking people to suddenly start talking about what dangerous hellscapes are public schools are because of guns.

But why? What does this accomplish? I get the politics of scaring suburban parents about guns and I get why advocates for reform to gun laws do it even if I think it’s largely counterproductive to reducing gun violence in this country. But why do public school advocates do it? Yes the country has a gun violence problem – and a really serious one for young people. And of course any shooting in a school or near one is awful, and episodes like Uvalde are too horrifying for words. But overall the more than 50 million kids in public schools are safe at school. This reactionary rush to present schools as dangerous places, or show you’re a straight talker with this business about how if you are telling kids they’re safe you are lying to them is insane.

Owning the political right by running down the public schools. Seems, uh, shortsighted as a strategy? There was a time, not long ago, where if someone started saying how dangerous schools are public school advocates would jump on them with the evidence that it’s not actually the case. Now the advocates are out there beating the drum. Look, what do I know, but ‘OK, sure, the pandemic was an academic disaster but wait until you hear how dangerous the schools are’ doesn’t seem like a winning message.

It’s symptom of how narrative style politics is making us all dumb. If you are a regular reader you know what’s coming…Julia Galef has a good book about this!

A colleague has a theory on this that it’s not about big issues and it’s not unknowing. Instead, it’s about personal career advancement instead. Signaling and all that. If that’s true it’s probably harder to unwind. But it’s still a good book (and, in fact, offers some ideas on that issue, too).

If you’re sick of me touting that book, good news, Todd Rose has a sort of new book in the same vein, you should read it!

On a different issue, Michael Powell has a deep dive in The Times on Penn swimmer Lia Thomas and women’s sports. I still think we need a commission to help thoughtfully think through the complicated issues surrounding transgender athletes and competitive sports.

Yesterday I wrote about broader questions around inclusion.

The Department of Education is sort of feebly fighting back on their proposed charter school regulation and also moving the goal posts on some things.

Are we really supposed to believe that reining in the part of the sector that overall best serves Black and Hispanic students is actually about diversity? Anyway, now the line is that a lot of money has gone to charters that closed or didn’t open.

Roughly 15% of the charter schools that received federal start-up funding either never opened or closed within a few years, according to a top U.S. Department of Education official, even though the schools received $174 million.

This is a problem. And it’s exactly the kind of thing a better written charter school regulation could address and why this whole episode is such a missed opportunity. Here’s the thing, though, that’s not all money that unscrupulous actors are just making off with. Sometimes schools don’t open or persist for legitimate reasons. There is a lot of slippage like this across most federal programs. And some of it is school districts that know they can get this money so they do and then lo and behold they decide to end their new program when the federal dollars end after three years. That’s a program integrity issue for sure but it doesn’t bolster the case for the specifics of this proposed legislation regulation (sorry updated) at all.

The role of school districts in chartering seems really unexamined overall – and might also occasion some hard questions about this regulation. But that’s not what any of this is about. It’s about politics. And per where we started, not very good politics it turns out. Here’s the kind of schools they’re going after by the way.

Widespread Panic.