July 30, 2021

Friday Fish Porn! Big Sky Fish & Book Edition

In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in western Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others. He told us about Christ’s disciples being fishermen, and we were left to assume, as my brother and I did, that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen and that John, the favorite, was a dry-fly fisherman. – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It.*

This might be the most literate fish porn ever. Education consultant Simmons Lettre pops up here from time to time (including this ridiculousness). Below here’s one from a few weeks ago, the result of a wind blown Montana trip.

Do you want to see more pics of fish, or education people with fish? Here are hundreds. Send me yours.

*River Runs Through It is a popular book, and a lovely one, helped in no small part by a successful film. But in this season when wildfire is in the news I’d suggest Young Men and Fire if you’re looking for a summer read. It’s about the 1949 Mann Gulch fire.

Tom Payzant

Tom Payzant was a good school leader and good human. He passed last week after a long illness.

Subject for a longer post, Payzant’s approach in Boston could be described as sort of three Ss, slow, steady, and sustained. I think most people would agree it was steady and sustained. He had an unusually long tenure for an urban superintendent in a city like that. But, there is a lot of disagreement about the pace of change in Boston (and elsewhere). Yet Payzant cared deeply about inequities. Speed of reform creates various tradeoffs and it would be good to see those discussed more forthrightly because there are pro-equity folks on all sides of those questions.

Talent On The Sidelines, And What Is The Argument Against Universal Screening For Gifted?

Tom Edsall on all the talent we leave on the sideline because of an inequitable education system and how we think about talent. Covers a lot of ground. Big issue in terms of opportunity for individuals and also national competitiveness.

This problem, broadly, it seems to me, is a big one and a solvable one. In fact, despite all the hair shirt wearing performances from people in our sector, we’ve actually made progress over the last few decades on a variety of measures – including achievement for the lowest performing cohorts of students. Plenty of work remains, but the minimizing of progress and compelling examples (looking at you Jack Kent Cooke Fnd as a great one) seems like a bad way to build a politics of efficacy and change. I’m teaching something this summer on the politics of narrative and policy, and the gap between evidence and narrative on some policy questions is wild.

Anyway, Edsall mentions universal screening for gifted programs. This is an interesting and perhaps illustrative issue. There are a lot of issues where it seems like reasonable people can disagree in terms of policy efficacy in addressing equity issues.* Race versus class based admissions preferences, universal versus targeted early education, or math sequences, for instance. You wouldn’t know it from Twitter, but there are well-intentioned people on all sides of all those issues. I’m not sure universal screening fits though? What exactly is the argument against ensuring all kids get a shot at qualifying for advanced learning if that learning is available.** In practice, not screening every kid does sort of reek of opportunity hoarding and a scarcity mindset and seems pretty sure to introduce various kinds of bias and advantages? What’s the case against universal screening?

The Edsall piece also points up the problem of under-matching – students, in particular low-income, Black, and Hispanic students ending up at colleges and universities that are less selective than what they could attend. This is in no small part a problem of the lack of counselors in low-income schools. With race-based affirmative action likely in the crosshairs at the Supreme Court I suspect we’ll hear about over-matching a lot as that debate unfolds. But under-matching seems like a far more pervasive problem for the K-12 sector right now? And another one that at a time when there are hundreds of billions sloshing around we could do something about.

*This probably explains why you have this weird phenomenon right now of people publicly praising Ibram X. Kendi’s racist/anti-racist binary approach but then privately saying, ‘oh yeah, that’s not a very good/too reductionist method for policy analysis.’

**There are a few additional issues here. One is when the “gifted” is meaningless as a label because it doesn’t confer extra services. A second is some evidence that all students would benefit from “gifted” programing. A conflation of gifted services with just advanced course taking confuses things. A third is false precision, it’s unclear the cut points on assessments are all that precise or meaningful and may have more to do with scarcity than substance.

July 29, 2021

July 28, 2021

It’s Gonna Be A Wild One

“Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?”

“What have you got? 

As a new coalition of the pissed off emerges in school districts around the country, this may well be their rallying cry.

I suspect a lot of people will turn off from this William McGurn column in the WSJ ($) because of the woke / anti-woke framing, its take on things, and because it’s in the WSJ. I’d suggest you don’t. McGurn puts his finger on something we’re seeing around the country – recall efforts for local school board members and insurgent campaigns against them based on a variety of issues that underneath the specifics boil down to dissatisfaction and frustration. It’s a coalition of the pissed off.

Whether or not you agree with the various issues in play – timelines for school reopening last year, mask rules, back to school plans for this year, admissions policies for selective public high schools, school renaming*, “CRT,” and just general board responsiveness to public input, isn’t the point.

Rather, the point is this is happening. This trend (and already some surprising school board members in normally sleepy precincts have lost reelection) is one worth watching. There are recall efforts all over the place. In Virginia where I live, you have recalls in big districts like Fairfax, Loudoun, and Richmond but also smaller school divisions not on the national map. In places like Falls Church that had a divisive debate over school renaming and reopening incumbent board members are just choosing not to run again and frustrated parents are organizing to replace them.

In other words, all these people with various grievances are finding each other and agreeing on just how pissed at the system they are even if they don’t agree on a bunch of other stuff. This will impact superintendents, school operations, and likely provide counter-organizing further bringing national culture wars to local communities.

And it’s a trend that is broader than conservatives or Republicans. Despite some money, in some cases, from various conservative wellsprings it’s a mistake to dismiss this out of hand as just right wing astroturf. The McGurn column talks about San Francisco, for instance. I’m not likening this new coalition of the pissed off to the Trump coalition in 2016 or 2020, there are some key differences in composition. But, like the Trump coalitions, the same tendency among critics to identify some issue and then ascribe it broadly in a monocausal way is taking hold here in the education space. Ample evidence shows some Trump voters were motivated by racism but ample evidence also show’s that’s not true of all Trump voters. In this case, with the coalition of the pissed, it’s the same thing. Some of the “CRT” debate, for instance, is straight up racism. But not all the concerns parents are raising can be put in that bucket.

Parsing what’s happening seems important because this is a growing phenomenon that seems likely, absent a substantial political pivot, to have some staying power this cycle.

*An interesting subsurface aspect here is people who aren’t really upset about the names, per se, but are frustrated with boards prioritizing it when schools were not open for live instruction.

July 27, 2021

With A Little Help From Your Friends

A few months ago I mentioned the importance of friends, close friends and friends from an array of walks of life besides your own. It’s hard to be good at your work, especially public facing work, if your social status and social life is bound up with it – you can lose your north star and it’s hard to make the difficult calls if everything rides on it. Plus friends are great in a variety of ways.

This new survey on friends is interesting along those lines. Indicates people have fewer of them along with some other findings including around happiness. So we’re online more, have fewer friends, and work more. That doesn’t seem like a healthy mix?

Something I’ve noticed anecdotally is how much work has become a substitute for friends for some people – and how some people look to their workplace for the sort of of activities, interaction, and camaraderie that we traditionally associate more with friends.

No great education takeaways here, though this does seem tied to our purpose crisis more generally.


Also off-edu, the other day I posted a Billy and the Kids show from Red Rocks, here’s night two. This profile of Leon Bridges, like Bridges, is fantastic.

July 26, 2021

Odds & Ends, Moses, Two Times Heds, SAT, CRT, All Your Acronym Culture Wars…More…Plus, Now With Extra Skunk!

Last week’s mention of Skunk Works got a lot of great feedback, there is definitely a cult of people in education who for various reasons have an affinity for the methods, ethos, or style. If you want to learn more about why, you can read Kelly Johnson’s autobiography – it’s of the period for sure, but a firsthand account. I’d recommend Ben Rich’s Skunk Works for a comprehensive take. There is also Beyond The Horizons, the broader account of Lockheed.

Bob Moses, who personified the link between education and civil rights and full participation in American life, has passed at 86.

ICYMI: Last week Bellwether released this policy brief on using ARP dollars to diversify the educator workforce. 

It’s never enough. A tale of two Times heds:

Original on this Times story about the ARP dollars and schools:

Schools Get a Stimulus Windfall, but Find That It May Not Be Enough

Current one:

Schools Are Receiving $129 Billion in Stimulus Aid. Where Is It Going?

The first one, coming at a time most states are running OK on their budgets, is definitely more on point as an explainer for the sector than the second one, which seems actually intended to be an explainer?

It’s getting pretty testy out there part 1. And part 2 here via Politico. I’ve noted here that this seems combustible and if you think it’s all Chris Rufo and right wing parents, you spend too much time on Twitter and should get out more. That landed like the lead balloon you’d expect but here’s Politico:

But those Democrats appear to be underestimating parents’ anger in places where critical race theory is top of mind. Objections to new equity plans are not the sole province of conservatives but extend to many moderate and independent voters, according to POLITICO interviews with school board members, political operatives and activists in Democratic and left-leaning communities including the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.; Palm Beach County, Fla.; New York’s Westchester County; Maricopa County covering Phoenix, Ariz.; and suburban Detroit.

Charter school funding and students with disabilities.

Caitlin Flanagan throws cold water on the dump the SAT zeitgeist.

What I’m listening to: These Billy and the Kids shows with Billy Strings from Red Rocks earlier this month are sweet.

July 23, 2021

July 22, 2021