Schrödinger’s Schools? Are Virginia’s Schools Good Or Not? Yes.

In the tiresome debate about our schools, here in Virginia and nationally, questions like “Are schools as good/bad as people say?” dominate.

These are the wrong kind of questions.

The big story of American education is variance – in everything from funding to outcomes. School performance is mixed overall and here in Virginia. That’s why Virginia at once has schools that are the envy of the world, and also fewer than one in five Virginia low-income and/or Black 8th-graders are proficient on the highly-regarded NAEP assessment and there are big gaps on our state assessments and a lot of underperformance. Often the schools producing those disparate outcomes are in close quarters to one another.

Yesterday, Virginia released school accreditation ratings based on the most recent student achievement data. Because Virginia doesn’t have any sort of accountability system or much in the way of school choice, these ratings take on a lot of substantive and political weight. They also pretty consistently lead to a lot of confusion. This year is no exception. The new rankings show that almost all Virginia schools are accredited and doing OK, even though we know there were problems before the pandemic – and that the pandemic was a disaster for a lot of kids.

So a lot of folks are chirping that this must be because things are OK even though the governor somehow doesn’t want them to be and is cooking up a crisis. That’s a now long running debate. On a few levels this makes no sense, including the most obvious one: We’ve seen the most recent results on Virginia’s own assessments: 2021-2022 SOL results were released last month. And other data confirms the problems. You have a three-fold increase in students showing growth instead of proficiency and 4x in math.

Look, an accreditation system that produces just a three-point decline in the number of schools accredited when the bottom has basically fallen out on student achievement in many places is a system without face validity. Virginians deserve better. The goal is obviously not to manufacture a certain number of schools doing well or not doing well. It’s just that we* should have a system that better reflects reality and that is more transparent for parents.

If you think this is just a Youngkin thing, here’s The Washington Post editorial board in 2022 and in 2017. Here’s the invaluable Matt Hurt with more.

The issue here is not re-litigating pandemic choices. This was a pre-pandemic issue, too. Rather, it’s problems with features of the how the accreditation system works. For instance, growth is counted as proficiency, which disadvantages kids; the system that is intended to be earned autonomy for high-performing schools (a good thing) ends up creating loopholes; and it’s confusing as hell for parents and educators. It doesn’t really include school divisions who actually oversee and are responsible for the schools. There is more. We also have a problem with what a passing student test even means – we need more transparency about cut scores on various tests so parents can appreciate what passing means in terms of what children know and do.

For instance, I don’t think most parents appreciate this reality in all the happy talk:

Via Virginia Department of Education

Here’s a good analysis of how accreditation works prepared by the team at the Virginia Department of Education.

The Governor asked the State Board of Education to revise the accreditation system and he’s right to do so and we should. It’s too complicated for parents to understand and it’s not producing results that square with reality. I know there are strong feelings about the governor, but reasonable people should not find a lot to argue with here, we can do better. Governor Youngkin yesterday:

Yes.

*Update! I should note, I guess, that I’m on the Virginia Board of Education! Be the change you want to see and all that. Thought that would also be obvious. Sorry.

NAEP And A Julian Robertson Obituary Both Point To The Same Question: Could This Sector Be Any More Feckless?

On Thursday, just before the holiday weekend, 4th-grade NAEP scores came out. They’re not very good – and reflect the damage caused by some pandemic policies as well as a trend of declining scores that started in the early part of the last decade. State results will be released later this year. If they track with other data those results will further indicate that extended school closures were a bad policy choice.

Plenty is being said about the results, no point belaboring them here except to simply note there was a lot of fecklessness during the pandemic and this is the result. AFT President Randi Weingarten is an easy, and certainly legitimate, target given how she approached her role in 2020 and she’s been catching a lot of flack as a result. But laying this all on her, or the teachers unions, ignores just how widespread crazy ideas about school were. For all the criticism of Weingarten, her argument was more or less teachers-first until the politics changed and she became a reopener (although all her members still haven’t gotten that message). I don’t recall Weingarten ever saying that kids were learning so much more out of school this was all OK, or that school wasn’t that important, or sentiments in that vein. People in roles of responsibility were saying stuff like kids will learn more at a protest than in an extra month or two of school – and presenting this as though it was an inherent choice rather than, you know, you can do both. This was a broader problem of rampant virtue signaling, reflexive tribalism as well as private revealed preferences (a lot of the folks against reopening were making sure their kids were not just killing time and had the means to do so) rather than just focusing on the immediate problem at hand -educating kids at a disrupted time. Collectively, it visited a disaster on the kids who could least afford one.

The Biden Administration’s messaging on all this could use some work if Democrats harbor ambitions to reclaim the education issue. Acknowledging pandemic mistakes would go a long way toward rebuilding trust and confidence. The idea that Democrats saved the day here is ludicrous on its face and just annoys parents who are ready to look forward. Should be obvious, in case it’s not: “But the Republicans” is not a good message on education right now. Parents want options and support.

Instead, though, let’s stay on fecklessness for a moment. Julian Roberston, influential hedge fund investor and philanthropist passed recently in New York City. Inside Philanthropy took a look at his legacy:

…For that reason and several others — including his longtime support for the flagging charter school model and a record of GOP donations that undermined his climate giving — Robertson’s is a mixed philanthropic legacy.

They continue:

During the two decades that followed the Tiger Fund’s closure, philanthropic giving was another prime pursuit of Robertson’s sunset years. However, although his giving during that time was substantial and wide-ranging, there’s a case to be made that its impact leaves quite a bit to be desired.

For instance, take Robertson’s expansive charter school support, which represented a significant part of his education giving. On one hand, major donors like Robertson helped scale the charter movement into the local and national behemoth it eventually became. But as we’ve discussed before, the charter model itself has failed to truly scale the way its architects hoped it would, and now finds itself beleaguered amid a wide range of political, ethical and operational challenges. Most of the donors who’ve gone in big for charters, Robertson included, could certainly point to some successes here and there, but the model’s overall record remains mixed. Increasingly, we’re seeing even charters’ biggest philanthropic backers tempering their enthusiasm.

Take a look at that mixed and flagging record. Here is the most recent CREDO study on charter schools in New York City – where Robertson focused much of his philanthropic effort:

CREDO

Overall the results get better the longer students are in charters, and although the math scores are down somewhat from earlier in the 2010s (and reading is up just slightly) this is still strong sector performance. There is more in the analysis on that, including demographic breakouts, you should read. Here are the students being served:

CREDO

Robertson was also a major supporter of Success Academy Charter Schools, a network of schools that set a standard for agility and serving students effectively despite the pandemic. Success serves more than 21,000 students across 49 schools, so they didn’t do this because they’re small.

I didn’t know Roberston well at all, although he funded some analysis work at Bellwether. I can say that when I was with him he consistently asked smart questions and was interested in what works to get results for kids. And he supported schools that are changing the lives of kids by giving them better options than they’d otherwise have. That chart above with math and reading impacts is no small thing for low-income parents in New York City.

So look, not to be snarky about it, but a lot of kids would benefit from a “mixed” record like that or successes like that “here and there.” A lot of parents would like that sort of “flagging” effort – that’s why there are so many waiting lists for charters with tens of thousands of parents trying to get a better option for their child. Who is the strongest bulwark against this? Guess.

My point is that not that charters are perfect, or there are not problems – I’ve written about all that at length. Here’s some data. And I’m not arguing that all of Julian Robertson’s philanthropy was fantastic – I have no idea about that. Rather, my point is about fecklessness. A sector that continues to talk down results like this, minimize them, or wish them away (and the results of urban charters more generally) is feckless. People who tolerate that sort of rhetoric as business as usual in a sector that serves young people are feckless. And it’s the kind of sector that is going to get you results like we just saw on the NAEP when there is a national crisis because it allows that kind of fecklessness to persist, more than that to thrive, unchecked.

Beta By Bellwether

On Monday, Bellwether rolled out a new name and a new brand.

Today, we publicly launched our new Beta by Bellwether initiative – and the early stages of the first Beta project: Assembly.

Assembly seeks to create equitable systems of education in which students can access a diversity of learning experiences, services, and supports that encourage their well-being, ensure mastery of knowledge and skills, and enable them to pursue their interests, talents, and goals. Families with means already have disproportionate access to these opportunities through supplemental and out-of-system learning, creating a “shadow inequity” in how, where, and when students learn. Rather than the back and forth about this, we think there is a way to assemble a better education for students – equitably – and we’re getting to work to figure out how.

In The 74, I write about the what and the why of Beta – and what we’re hoping to accomplish with Assembly:

Each Beta project will produce bold ideas for the field and ultimately share tailored solutions with entities and partners best positioned to drive them forward, including education and community leaders, policymakers, advocates and service providers — or some combination thereof. We will develop this work by bringing together a group of experts with diverse takes on the problem as well as different backgrounds, experience and perspectives on it. By tackling issues this way, we hope Beta will provide a path toward resolving enduring challenges as a sector. Like so many, we’re exhausted with reflexive partisanship — not every problem has an exclusively Democratic or Republican solution to it. We’re hungry to come together in search of new ideas and equitable solutions are not just theories, but can be put in place to improve schooling now.

Biden Loan Forgiveness – Is The Mess Behind The White House Now, Or Ahead?

Union College in New York. Credit: Union College.

A few months ago I speculated about options for a Biden student loan debt relief gambit. I offered the nakedly political advice – because this is a political problem – that Biden should do a modest forgiveness coupled with a broader jobs and skills training package. That would both give progressive debt relief champions something, and also not make this just a straight up wealth transfer from Americans who didn’t attend higher education, or did and paid off their debts, onto others. A debt jubilee is not broadly popular and creates resentments for reasons that should be obvious.

I suggested straight across the board $10k relief, not means-testing, because while I generally favor means testing it’s harder to do in this instance. So across the board seems cleaner. Basically, do it, bank the campaign promise, and move on. It’s not great policy, the courts might say no, but at that point Biden has acted. Politics.

Meanwhile, the administration is taking steps to help loan holders in cases of fraud. So some debt relief has been happening. And yes, sure, a better option would be a better higher ed policy overall, but that wasn’t on the table in the constraints of this particular commitment. Policy.

However, the time to just do it and move on sort of passed as the issue was kicked down the road again and again and took on growing prominence. In the Administration’s defense, doing this before they got big parts of their agenda through Congress might have caused problems. So, here we are with this announcement, which you’ve probably already heard about. It’s a mix of targeted loan forgiveness, 10k and then 20k for Pell recipients, and some changes to repayment.

Unfortunately, in trying to get all these loan angels to dance on the head of a pin the Biden Administration may have reaped less political upside and set themselves up for more downside. And at the same time pleased no one. That sometimes indicates a great compromise, but sometimes just means you pleased no one.

It’s $10k/$20k more than the critics want and a lot less than debt relief advocates want. Some critics are also upset about the repayment relief. So that’s political problem number one. But that one was unavoidable as soon as this issue got rolling – inclusive of the option of doing nothing there was just no way to please everyone. And again, the courts will get a say. Even among Democrats there is a lot of debate about the wisdom, legality, and precedent of this whole approach. It is a stunning use of executive power.

Republicans were going to jump on this regardless, and will get some traction given the nature of the policy though less than they would have for an even broader debt relief plan that hit more high income Americans. Still, offsetting these pretty straightforward class politics politically is important for The White House. In coming days you’ll see the most unsympathetic cases highlighted starting with a focus on couples or families making close to $250k and getting $40k in relief. Some borrowers who have low incomes now won’t in the future, which also raises equity questions given the selective benefits and broad cost to taxpayers.

Also, even means tested $10k/20K of debt relief is a lot of money – $300 billion* it looks like – and it’s worth asking the counterfactual about what else that money could be used for in post-secondary education. Regardless of your take on the policy or executive authority none of this does anything to help the structural problems in higher education and post-secondary more generally – and may exacerbate some of them. 

And the means testing may turn out to be a bigger issue – and a messier one. The availability of data to do it is going to require a whole new process.

Years ago Lois Rice, Art Hauptman, and I led an effort at Brookings to try to figure out some new approaches on student aid. To do that we wanted to better understand the impact of various programs and tax policies. The sheer almost impossibility of getting data from Treasury and IRS – often for not ridiculous reasons from a taxpayer point of view – was really something. (Colleges are really opaque, too, but that’s a different issue for this policy). My understanding is that many of those same problems persist so while means testing sounds like a reasonable policy – and in theory is – it is not straightforward.

If the processing of this doesn’t happen cleanly and you get more borrowers caught up in a bureaucratic run around or big process, something familiar to many student loan holders now, you could end up with all the dissatisfaction about the policy and a bunch of frustrated beneficiaries. At best it’s going to create a big process, at worst it’s Healthcare.gov2.0. And there will be some horror stories with older borrowers and paperwork. And as we all know, in the social media era it only takes a few of those to create a vibe.

In other words, the very measure intended to make this more politically palatable and somewhat better policy, means testing, could turn out to be a liability. Perhaps not until after the election though. And the election, not higher ed, is what this is really about.

I hope I’m wrong about all that and the Biden team has a card up their sleeve. I hope I am overestimating the resentment this could stoke. And I do wish this had been wrapped up in a broader set of policies to help Americans get ahead in post-secondary education, especially working class Americans.

*Typo, was millions originally. It’s billions.

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:


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!

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.

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.

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.