December 12, 2017

The Reviews Are In! Round 2 ESSA Reviews

Evaluations of the 34 Round 2 ESSA state plans are out today via Bellwether’s project with the Collaborative For Student Success.

The 74: 

States largely squandered the opportunity to create strong, innovative education plans through the Every Student Succeeds Act, a bipartisan group of independent reviewers found…

…Among the 34 states submitting plans in the second round, nine got a 5 in at least one category, and only Indiana received a 5 in two categories. Compare that to the first round, in which six of the 17 plans got a top rating in at least one category, with three states getting 5’s in more than one category.

All the reviews and the executive summary here.

Check State Plans site here.

December 11, 2017

Richard Whitmire: Why I Put Myself On A Success Academy Writing Diet

By Richard Whitmire

I totally get the outsized coverage we’re seeing of Eva Moskowitz and Success Academy charter schools in New York. In years past, I’ve been guilty of the same. But there’s a reason I pulled back.

First, let’s discuss Eva’s appeal, which is hard to resist. Moskowitz is one of those rare, swashbuckling figures carving out an “empire” of charter schools in New York City, confounding and infuriating her ‘dastardly’ critics by turning low-income minority students into top scholars.

Her message to the mayor, teachers unions and other detractors (who accuse her of manipulating the system to get those results) is blunt: If I can do this, why aren’t you doing the same! Oooh…that really gets them riled up.

We haven’t seen that kind of in-your-face rhetoric since Michelle Rhee took over as chancellor of the schools in Washington DC. (oops, guilty there as well. Wrote an entire book, The Bee Eater, about Rhee.)

The latest Moskowitz article, by Elizabeth Green in The Atlantic, drew the headline: The Charter-School Empire of the Future. That came on the heels of a New Yorker piece, where the headline described Success charters as a “radical educational experiment.” Both are great pieces; Green comes away impressed, while raising some concerns about the downside of successful charter networks; Mead calmly analyzes classroom practices.

And if that’s not enough coverage, Moskowitz herself just published a new book about her radical experiment, The Education of Eva Moskowitz.

The Success Academy book I’m eagerly awaiting will come from education writer/practitioner Robert Pondiscio, who has burrowed into Success classrooms to determine exactly what goes on there (watch for it, fall of 2018).

The journalistic attempts to take down Eva Moskowitz are too numerous to cite here, but the most notable was a New York Times investigative piece that breathlessly “exposed” her strict discipline policies.

I stepped into the charter world several years ago to write a book about Rocketship charters, at the time an aggressive, fledgling charter network out of San Jose that vowed to build a national network of high performing charters that would eliminate learning gaps. (One of the cofounders was every bit as brash as Eva). Today, Rocketship runs many good schools, but no national network. This stuff is not easy.

Along my research path for that book I ran across a lot of great charters, and I’ve hewed to that topic ever since, with another book, The Founders, which lays out the history behind the top performing charter networks.

So here’s what makes me uneasy about all the attention paid to Success Academies: Eva Moskowitz undeniably makes sexy copy, but she’s also a unicorn. If you look around the country at the big charter networks, none are take-no-prisoners empire builders.

The closest might be IDEA Public Charters in Texas, which is on an expansion tear that mirrors Success. IDEA has a goal of running 173 schools by the year 2022, enrolling 100,000 students. But the IDEA schools are spread over Texas, a very large state, with a single school foray into Louisiana. Moskowitz’s schools are in a single city.

The most interesting charter expansions don’t even involve opening new schools. California-based Summit Public Schools offers up its digitized learning program to all schools, mostly traditional public schools, and is now in 23 states. That’s huge news, the biggest charter/district collaboration in the country, but news that rarely gets out with the focus on Success.

And Moskowitz’s go-for-the-jugular style is definitely unicornish. Most leaders strive to keep a low profile, looking for ways to cooperate with districts. Everyone knows about Moskowitz’s diatribes. How many know that a quiet college success collaboration between KIPP and San Antonio Independent School District brought immediate positive results and a shower of corporate money into the traditional district?

As good as the test scores may look at Success, the network has yet to prove itself. Test scores mean nothing if you don’t infuse your graduates with the array of qualities that allow some first-generation college goers to succeed, while so many others drop out with no degrees.

Let’s dip into just one example here: Will Success ever be as good as Uncommon Schools, also based in New York? Uncommon is the Ginger to the Success Fred Astaire; it dazzles while backfilling its classes through 9th grade (Success cuts off new admissions after fourth grade).

Uncommon’s alumni earn bachelor’s degree at a rate of 50 percent, a rate that in a few years is projected to climb to 70 percent, the same rate experienced by students from wealthy families. Will Success ever be that good? Hard to say; its first graduating class, with just 17 students, is about to head off to college.

You’ll never see Uncommon’s leader, Brett Peiser, bashing unions and politicians. Maybe that’s why the school chancellors in both New York and Newark reached out to Uncommon and asked them to run professional development programs. This is big stuff; rarely written about.

So that’s why I put myself on a Success Academy writing diet. Moskowitz runs some amazing schools, but she’s a unicorn, and all that unicorn coverage distorts what’s really going on with charters around the country.

Education writer Richard Whitmire is an accomplished paddler and fisherman and the author of several books.

Posted on Dec 11, 2017 @ 12:18pm

What I’m Reading:

Reminder, we’ve got 34 ESSA reviews coming tomorrow.

Department of Education explainer on Endrew F. case implications.

Parallel play on civil rights and education.  And this on the same issue from U.S. News. Very much related: Petrilli on school discipline. Not long ago we talked about PX90 for your mind – the school discipline issue is a great one to try that workout on.

Fensterwald goes deep on CA funding issues.

Teaching about economic inequality.

New ideas in Detroit. And a Janice Jackson profile from Chicago.

The invisible primary – some education impacts here.

“Design Thinking is Kind of Like Syphilis — It’s Contagious and Rots Your Brains”

Here’s a good example of why strategic planning pays off.

December 8, 2017

Amy Wilkins Takes No Prisoners! Plus, ATR Debacle, Success For Success, Music Ed, ESSA Reviews, Laine & Lane, More!

Coming attractions: Working with the Collaborative For Student Success, Bellwether convened a crew of state and federal policy experts to evaluate state ESSA plans. Round 1 results here, on Tuesday the 34 round 2 states will be released.

Justin Trinidad on music education.

Amy Wilkins:

The problem is the mindset of revanchists who peddle stories like these — professional anti-reformers who go nuts when approaches other than those they sanction and control deliver results for the students whom they insist cannot learn at high levels.

There is no comparison — none — between the enforced segregation of the pre–Brown v. Board era and the choices black families make when they enroll their children in better schools. It’s ludicrous to suggest the two are in any way similar. In fact, it’s far closer to the spirit of Jim Crow to tell a black student that she has to go to her dismal neighborhood school because the better charter school up the street is not white enough to satisfy the defenders of the status quo.

Jon Chait on the same issue.

That this isn’t occasioning more outrage is an indictment of this sector. It’s what inequality looks like in practice but from the usual suspects…crickets:

…the department said that it had placed only 41 of the teachers, who were part of a pool known as the Absent Teacher Reserve. As critics of the plan had feared, they were disproportionately employed in schools that serve high-needs students.

Here’s Elizabeth Green with a bold (and stronger than I’d characterize it substantively) thing to say in the current climate:

Of all the reforms that have set out to free schools from this trap, to date I’ve seen only one that works: the implementation of charter-school networks. Large enough to provide shared resources for teachers, yet insulated from bureaucratic and political crosscurrents by their independent status, these networks are creating the closest thing our country has ever seen to a rational, high-functioning school system. They have strengthened public education by extracting it from democracy as we know it—and we shouldn’t be surprised, because democracy as we know it is the problem.

Also, I’m not big on revealing people’s school choices, but here’s one already revealed and there is more of this than you’d think listening to the usual suspects:

Their names, I learned, were Joel Greenblatt and John Petry, and they were the hedge-fund managers who, as founders and board members of Harlem Success Academy, had recruited Moskowitz as their CEO. They were, I also learned, very nice gazillionaires. Petry, who graduated from the same Maryland public-school district I did, helped throw me a book party in 2014. To this day, he and his wife send their own children to Success schools. In the decade after my Harlem visit, he always cheerfully took my calls, though “Ask Eva” was the refrain when it came to on-the-record comments.

Deep dive on the portfolio model.  And a look at how it’s playing in KC.

The fight over money.

Geography and Demography: You could write this Oklahoma article about a lot of states. The South. Changing racial make-up of the nation’s big city mayors.

Don’t agree with all of this but definitely worth reading.

December 6, 2017

ESSA Reviews, Test Scores, Taste Scores And More! Plus Moodys On Higher Ed & Aldeman On Russia

This Rick Hess column about reviewing ESSA plans – that I assume is aimed at our ESSA review project even though he doesn’t say it – is kind of interesting. For starters, I had thought Rick was in the advising and analysis business, but apparently that’s wrong and they’re running some sort of school or auto body shop over there at AEI.

Substantively what jumps out is that apparently the new conservative education position is not that federal law should be minimalist and not-prescriptive and so forth. Instead, the new position is that federal law should not matter at all or doesn’t matter at all.

Hess makes a reasonable point that some of the states are putting in place goals that are questionable, at best. We agree and the ESSA reviews point that out. And that’s why a comprehensive review matters, to see what supports are or are not in place and whether it’s a paper chase or serious effort in different states. Yet it’s quite a leap from dubious work by some states to saying that none of this ESSA process matters at all. It matters because it’s the best signal of what states are going to be up to under the new law – and of course down the road looking at what they’ve actually done will matter, too, but it’s too soon for that work now.

But this part is of Hess’ critique is worth responding to because it’s so far wide of the mark, at least as far as our work is concerned:

Bizarrely, the whole exercise proceeds as if there were some agreed-upon “one best” approach to educational accountability. Of course, there’s not. In fact, the actual authorities on accountability—you know, the folks who spend lots of time examining how accountability works in practice—usually take pains to note that the “right” approach to accountability will vary with culture, context, and experience.

We agree! That’s why the Bellwether/CSS review was made up of former state chiefs and state policymakers as well as experts on various aspects of the policy – and very intentionally people with diverse views on federal policy, accountability, and other key issues (round 1 here and round 2 here). That so many state level people are willing to put time in on this speaks to the value they see. Around AEI I think they call that a market signal? Anyway, the entire project was specifically designed not to be one-best approach to how states should do this work but rather one best method for evaluating state approaches: Bring together diverse expertise to talk each plan through on its specifics. You can see the results from the first round and stay tuned for round two via this website. That lands next week.

Back at the ranch, global test scores causing alarm.

The only reason we know any of this is….data. DQC with new report cards out.

This Upshot column should spark some conversations on school quality. You shouldn’t fetishize growth any more than you fetishize status scores but a good push here.

And on school quality, check out this new resource in Boston.

Here’s perhaps the one test the education world actually loves, and it’s got some flaws.

Speaking of tests:

So, I came to the conclusion that I care about my students’ test scores. Do I think that they are the only thing that matter? Of course not. Do I think that they are the most important aspect of teaching and learning? No. But do I think that standardized tests results are solid predictors for how kids will do after high school? Yes. Do I think they help hold us educators accountable in a way that we need? Yes.

Moody’s downgrades higher ed.

London’s very best restaurant.

December 5, 2017

Robin Lake Basically Ghostwrote This Blog Post, Plus DeVos’ Hand, Revisiting RAND, And Arete. More!

I talked with The Line about school choice and why I joined their editorial board.  Yesterday I reviewed a recent Dead & Company show.

Cannot remember if I posted this article about the Arete project and Laura Marcus – but you should read it.  Very cool to see this idea come to life.

This past weekend’s AP charter segregation story rested on two common analytic problems in this debate. First, when analyzing the impact of choice schools the benchmark should be comparable schools in the community rather than some idealized standard. Second, comparing schools to school districts leads to flawed conclusions because schools, generally, draw from smaller areas than school districts.  Both of these issues are a function of housing segregation. Researchers and analysts call issues like this unit homogeneity, in common parlance it’s called apples to apples. Either way the AP fell for it. (Also important to note that outcomes matter, plenty of nominally “integrated” schools have practices that result in internal segregation, achievement gaps, and all the rest).

Here’s Robin Lake:

But when researchers Zimmer, Gill, and Booker took a closer look, they found that kids attending racially concentrated charter schools had come from equally racially concentrated district schools. It turned out, charters were simply locating in majority-minority low-income neighborhoods and serving the at-risk kids who live there. Los Angeles is about 80% Hispanic. New Orleans is more than 80% black. Charter schools that locate in those cities are trying to serve those students. This is not segregation; this is school founders doing exactly what policymakers hoped they would do (as required in most state charter laws): serve kids most in need of a better education.

The irony, of course, is that there are problems with charter enrollment, particularly for ELL students and students with special needs. See this Bellwether deck on charters for more on that. But we’ll never get to talking about that kind of issue with stories like this one driving the debate. And we also won’t get to the conversation about what chartering could do – with appropriate policy support – to help attack the segregation problem that is an issue for all public schools because of housing and the related issue of school district boundaries.


Betsy DeVos is playing a tough hand:

“Betsy absolutely cares about those families,” said Howard Fuller, a professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee who helped found the Black Alliance for Educational Options, a group that supports school choice. “But her boss doesn’t, and she’s not a free agent.”

College Board on college credit in high school – this is an important issue policymakers are taking another look at.

Important analysis from Ed Trust-West about the achievement of Hispanic students in California.

Jenga, but with kids’ learning. Keep an eye on this issue.

The California governor’s race could be interesting on education. So the proposed new 529 policy is a joke in terms of expanding choice for families but it’s good politics for Ted Cruz. The Douglas County, Colorado voucher program is ending, implications beyond that community.

The cost / benefit question on Greek life on campus.

Here she is again! Thoughtful Robin Lake and Ashley Jochim on the portfolio approach.

Here’s an oldie but a goodie I was reading for a project.

Don’t assume that because an area is affluent overall that everyone is thriving….school accountability implications there.


December 4, 2017

December 1, 2017

Friday Links – Short And Sweet (The Milk Part) But With Side Hustles! And Real Hustles, Too.

Kirsten Schmitz says teachers are underpaid, shouldn’t need side hustles, and there is a pension reform angle to that story.

Michael Flynn pleading guilty today in the Mueller probe. Good time to point out that among his other business dealings was taking money from the Turkish government to discredit charter schools in the United States that are associated with followers of a Turkish dissident who lives here – and is into math and science among other things. Flynn did a good job of it and the number of people in our sector who parroted that stuff courtesy of his work, a lot of which was just think veiled anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bigotry, was pretty stunning. Stay woke everyone!

Breaking: Betsy DeVos likes school choice and thinks it might improve things! She said so in a speech. Everyone outraged all over again. Find your own links.


Big win for chocolate milk in the school nutrition debate.

This Ballou situation is not a good one.

Apparently someone wrote this with a straight face:

The study aims to put to rest a long-held debate about whether alternative route teacher training programs, which tend to provide a quick path to the classroom for people who already have a bachelor’s degree, can sufficiently prepare new educators.

RiShawn Biddle reads LM-2 forms so you don’t have to. All that NEA money isn’t just going to PD.

Young farmers can produce good fresh food for kids – but it’s not an easy field. Here’s more on that.

Holiday cheer from Valerie June.

November 29, 2017

ESSA Reviews, Part Deux! Now With Podcasting! Plus Pensions, The Commodore Talks Money, Willingham Talks Reading, $10m For Better Lesson, And Alcohol And Money, More!

Jim Cowen and I discuss the ESSA review work the Collaborative For Student Success and Bellwether is doing, along with other discussions about ESSA review work via a new series of podcasts.

Chad Aldeman compares pension plans.

The procedure involved alcohol and metal – and this isn’t a music story.

This is a great chance to learn about school finance from The Commodore herself.

Race and special education.

Wash Post on higher ed, people are angry out there. That’s one takeaway. Also, snakes.

Willingham on reading and knowledge. Important research-grounded ideas that are too frequently ignored.

Don Shalvey:

But sitting in my classroom, alone on that Saturday, figuring out how and when I should turn on the cooler and just what those bulletin boards should look like, I realized that Lennon and McCartney lied to me.

$10m Series B for Better Lesson.

A few years ago I did a column and event at Harvard on the NFL and teacher education and possible transferable lessons – the only time I have ever been or will ever be mentioned in the Boston Globe’s NFL coverage. Goldstein goes wild and revisits the case.

Bobcat on the move.

November 21, 2017

Keep An Eye On The Tax Bill, Keep An Eye On Discipline Policy, Too. Plus, The Cannon Rule, Dark Rooms, John King Cooler Than You Think, Kerri Rodrigues Pulls No Punches, Kamras To RVA, And Memphis Blues…

Jennifer Schiess on school transportation. This is one of these issues that doesn’t get the attention it should.

What does Aurelia Twitty do when she’s not working? Find out here.

Important package on helping improve student lunch delivery for students who don’t pay full price. A lot of schools have done this informally for a long time in various ways, but more attention to it lately as a practice.

In addition to a lot of other proposals that would impact education, the pending tax bill (House version) could create real problems for charter schools. It also has some provisions (Senate version) that could impact non-profits – including some language on licensing and sponsorships that’s aimed at higher education but could impact some education non-profits, too.

On the tax bill, Republicans don’t want grad students to form unions, but do want to tax their income like workers.  (Meanwhile, left-leaning professors love unions, except for ones for their grad students).

Two thoughts on this Times profile of Edward Blum, the architect of some high-profile efforts to dismantle racial preferences. First, everyone who thinks this Harvard probe is a dud or stunt should pay attention – he seems pretty effective.

Second, this line jumped out:

Rachel Kleinman, senior counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said that Mr. Blum’s opposition to affirmative action was related to “this fear of white people that their privilege is being taken away from them and given to somebody else who they see as less deserving.”

Maybe it is rooted in that sentiment, which is a real thing in American politics. But I’ve never met the guy and have no way of knowing what drives him (he says no in the profile, and I found this more in-depth discussion). For my part, I’m generally sympathetic to well-constructed affirmative action programs of various kinds given how American life worked and works today. But what if Blum’s opposition to even those sort of policies is just rooted in a different way of looking at the world and the costs and benefits of various policies and the very real tradeoffs and tensions that always exist on policy questions like this? After all, some non-white people oppose affirmative action, too. If he weighs the tradeoffs differently than I or others do it doesn’t make him right or wrong either, of course, but it might actually be the core of his argument? Worth entertaining.

Why? Because the thing is, in my experience, if you can’t describe the positions of people you disagree with in ways they would themselves recognize then, whether quickly or over time, you’re going to lose the argument. (We call this the “Cannon rule” around Bellwether as a nod to a journalist who teaches the idea at workshops we do). Blum seems to see the world as more of a vacuum than I would argue it actually is based on the evidence, in terms of who gets subtle or substantial advantages or not, especially in education. You can argue about the structure of American life and the best remedies for problems and ways to expand opportunity without amateur psychoanalysis, the evidence is there for all to see and sort through.

Speaking of hard issues, school discipline…

Not too long ago in reference to restorative justice and work to make school discipline less punitive I remarked in an article that there is no good idea the education sector can’t execute badly. That’s pretty safe ground, and this New York instance may be sadly illustrative.  You’re hearing frustration from teachers about this, too, and national leaders like Randi Weingarten have found themselves on all sides of the issue cross-pressured between national politics and membership concerns.

Now, the Trump Administration is preparing to move on discipline policy. A lot of cross-currents colliding on this issue and they sometimes seem to obscure the core problem that students are often disciplined differently for similar issues in ways that are correlated with race. That is a distinct issue from prevalence of incidents or remedies and from disagreements about how the Obama Administration made their discipline policy. And it’s a problem reformers should want to solve given that it’s a long-standing problem and a big deal in terms of the impact on students and their lives.

Mike Petrilli calls for discipline common ground. We have been trying to get work funded on synthesis solutions here involving a broad range of stakeholders for several years. Synthesis is  not where the market is right now, and DeVos and Trump politics only make it more challenging.

John King has a piece in Teen Vogue – Teen Vogue! My kids were impressed when they saw me reading this – and at their age that takes a lot.

Kerri Rodrigues on parental advocacy.

Governance changes on the way in Philly.

Longtime DC schools teacher and leader to lead Richmond public schools in VA.

Is Paul Weinstein’s three-year college idea catching on?

Dark rooms are back.

Memphis Blues.