May 10, 2021

Edujob: Senior Analyst @bellwethered. Plus Pre-K Impacts, College Essays, What’s Next For Cities?

If you are curious about culture and don’t like polarization – support this Kickstarter from Carol Glenn. More here.

I am going to butcher the quote, but Ralph Reed once said something to the effect that he’d rather have a thousand school boards than The White House. Overstated, but you get the point. And school boards are emerging as a flashpoint again.

New analysis of pre-k effects from Boston. It’s being billed in some circles as another ‘flat on academics good on other stuff’ study but there is more to it. Some effect on SAT taking and performance and some interesting gender findings. Maybe socialization is overrated though? After all, what is Dogecoin?

Via Richmond Fed, has the pandemic changed cities, what does that mean for schools?

In my experience when you talk with first gen students they light up a lot more talking about their hopes, dreams, and ideas than giving the trauma porn too many people expect from them, and are oddly attached to (and that too often lapses into a patronizing or dehumanizing ethos, but that’s a different issue). Everyone’s experience is different and, in any event, do not miss this essay from an Uncommon senior, powerful:

…Every time I wrote, and then discarded and then redrafted, I didn’t feel good. It felt as if I were trying to gain pity. I knew what I went through was tough and to overcome those challenges was remarkable, but was that all I had to offer?…

…This box was the clichéd story of a Black kid in America. Mr. Jones said that if he had wanted to go to a P.W.I. — a predominantly white institution — then a sob story would have been more important, but since he wanted to go to a historically Black institution, he could showcase his abilities. He emphasized that students of color have more to offer than the cliché. He said, “The sob story can be truth, but it’s not all said all.” He argued that college is the gateway to experiencing a fresh start and that bringing old baggage with you only limits your growth. He ended up writing about a teacher who had mentored him since the fifth grade…

…Trauma is one of life’s teachers. We are molded by it, and some will choose to write about it urgently, passionately. Yet I would encourage those who feel like their stories were written in tragedy to rethink that, as I did. When you open your mind to all the other things you can offer in life, it becomes liberating. Let’s show college admissions officers what they’re missing out on, not what they already know.

At Bellwether we’re hiring for a senior policy analyst:

Senior Analysts work on anywhere from two to five projects at a time, as members of small teams. While Senior Analysts own the execution of the research and analysis for their various projects, they are accountable to project managers and senior leaders who, in turn, guide their work and invest in their professional development.

May 7, 2021

Odds & Ends – Off Edu

Pretty much all off edu but a few random things I’ve read or listened to lately are below. Scroll down the blog and you can find a range of recent Eduwonk content from a plea to address drownings, a debate on parents v. the public for school accountability, and an Eli Broad remembrance.

Kickstarter for you to consider. 

Ben Dreyfuss:

It’s ironic that the younger generation in school now is so ill-equipped for this when it is they who will spend their entire lives in this dynamic. The kids that can’t be forced to give school presentations because it might stress them out are going to become adults and spend every day on social media being shouted at by strangers. If you really wanted to prepare teens for real life, you would have a class where once a week they all go into the school gymnasium and hundreds of strangers throw feces at them from the bleachers.


One of life’s great joys is meeting someone and clicking with them; when your personalities truly meld. You’re fucked up in the same way. You laugh at the same things. What a sad way to live if you foreclose the possibility of those friendships because they disagree with you about fracking.

When young people ask me how to be good at what you do in this sector I generally suggest having a diverse group of friends, most of whom don’t work in this sector. You’ll think more creatively and make better decisions if your whole life is not bundled up around your work.

Also, have friends who will keep you from going off the rails. This article about an insurrectionist is wild.

I don’t know what is more fun, this mischievous letter or this clarification.

Steve Rees v. AERA. Is it race or class in politics?

This article in the WSJ is a great look at some statehood history. We romanticize the past and say “unprecedented” way too much. Points out that Kentucky was, of course, once part of Virginia. That reminded me of this great Daniel Boone biography I read recently that cut through a lot of the mythology about him. A lot of interesting early Kentucky (and Ohio, Missouri, and Virginia) history.

Also while I’m shilling books, Jesse Singal’s new book on pop psychology fads covers some education ground.

And I have a copy of Karim Ani’s new book on math, hopefully will spark some thoughtful debate. Available soon.

End of an era.

The new director’s cut of this 2004 performance is engaging all over again.

May 6, 2021

Who Should Decide If A School Is Good – Parents Or The Public?

Here’s video and a recap of yesterday’s debate about the public versus parents on who should decide if a school is good – and how.

It’s not a straightforward set of questions and there are complicated trade-offs, more than you can cover in an hour. Yet you get highlights of the major contours here. To me, it was striking how, in a clear echo of our polarized times, people generally want both: public rules and also choice. That’s how we do it in most sectors of American life. Yet the political energy is mostly on the just choice or no choice sides.

One of the more interesting moments for me was when Reason editor Katherine Mangu-Ward expressed openness to various universal service mandates accompanying an expansion of choice. She basically said her project was to move things in the direction she wants them to go, but it wasn’t a no-compromise position.* Contrast that with an education establishment whose views on choice, and reform more generally, range from no thanks to hell no. That may explain in part why we see a slow but steady expansion of choice.

Probably something to pay attention to coming out of the pandemic where parents have had frustrating experiences with schools and are signaling a greater openness to choice.

But – let’s be real. People like the idea that choice can help us sidestep our thorny debates about what schools should teach and all that. Sounds great in theory, and with innocuous copies like Catholic Schools. But when less comfortable copies start opening down the street we’re going to be right back in that age old conversation about what rules society wants and who gets to decide. These are old questions. People like to tell other people what to do and a society has to make choices about that on something as fundamental as schools.

*Milton Friedman was more of a no-compromise type. Discussing a seminal school choice work in an interview once Friedman told me that he liked it a lot until the last chapter – the part on creating a regulated market. The compromise and openness to some regulation strategy seems to have aged better though.

Swimming – No, Not A Metaphor, This Post Is About Swimming

The other day I put up a post that was a longer project sidelined by more pressing business. People liked it. So here’s another one that I’ve been meaning to get to and will do in brief here: We really ought to do more to teach kids to swim.

Drowning claims more than 3500 people annually in the United States. More than 300 more die from drowning in boating accidents. Black Americans die at substantially higher rates than white Americans. It’s a leading cause of accidental death accounting for a third of accidental deaths in children aged 1-4. One in five victims is under 14.

3800 deaths annually is a lot more people than die in many other ways that we hear about a lot more in media and social media. Mass school shootings are shocking and terrifying but a student’s chances of being killed in one is less than their chance of being killed by lightning, for instance. We have a problem with prevalence in the modern communication environment.

In other words, it’s a problem. And it’s somewhat preventable.

In the early part of the 20th Century swimming requirements were common in higher education. Some of this owed to military training and some to a national effort to improve water safety. In the mid-1970s more than 40 percent of colleges still had some sort of swimming requirement. Today that figure has fallen to 8 percent. The decline in emphasis is interesting given than there is the same amount of water on earth now as in the past. Look it up.

The requirements that do exist are not especially demanding, swim a few laps and tread water is a common one. Still, that’s enough to save someone’s life in the event of an accidental immersion. We don’t need to turn kids into little Phelpses, we just need them to be able to survive.

No state requires swimming for high school graduation. Minnesota considered the idea a few years ago but concluded it was too expensive. A small number of school districts do require it and some districts and schools have it as part of the curriculum – sometimes just because an enterprising principal thinks it’s important.

At Oakland Technical High School students have to be able to swim 25 yards and retrieve an object. Osceola County in Florida has a program for kindergarten and first grade students. In Wenatchee School District in Washington State incoming high school freshman take a swim test with swim classes required for students who need it. I knew a principal who on her own made sure her elementary school students, mostly low-income, got time in the local pool on Friday’s when the weather was still warm.

An ability to swim will not prevent every drowning. Other factors sometimes are present and accidents are an unfortunate fact of life. But an emphasis on swimming proficiency would save lives. Perhaps a substantial number. And it would create a culture of awareness and perhaps preparedness that would impact even very young children who are not yet in school and account for a lot of drownings each year.

So while it’s not as sexy an issue as some other reform issues and is one more thing on a crowded plate for schools, it matters to people’s lives. Arguably more than some of the other hoops we make students jump through. And public agencies beyond schools can play a role here, but schools are a focal point for youth. 3800 Americans is a lot. More than a Sept. 11th each year. The solution is not a mystery: Make sure young people can swim.

May 3, 2021

Odds & Ends: Sports, Math, More…

Eli Broad has passed.

Last week I took a look at the math debate in Virginia. Jay Mathews has a column on it today.

Transcend’s* Jeff Wetzler and Sujata Bhatt on R&D and innovation. Also from Transcend this is a good look at some of the tensions educators are thinking through right now. The other night President Biden called for a DARPA for medical research, why not one for education?

The Aspen Institute’s Sports and Society has an initiative on Reimagining School Sports In America*. Part of the work is identifying strong approaches across a range of school types. Here’s a look at what ICEF’s Park View Prep in LA is doing. More than a third of students at Park View Prep play sports, compared to about one in five charter students overall. The report also highlights some other schools.

The elusive youth vote, it went up in 2020.

This seems unlikely to bring more light than heat to the debate about transgender students and high school sports.

*BW works with Transcend and I’m on the advisory board for the Aspen project.

May 1, 2021

Eli Broad

Eli Broad passed yesterday at 87.

Given the times I’m sure there will be a debate about his legacy, every billionaire is a policy failure or whatever. Worth pausing on how he was an immigrant’s kid who launched two enormous companies and then tried to give his money away – something that is, bizarrely, more difficult than you’d think. He largely supported the arts, medicine, education, and civic projects. He did things his way, not everyone liked that and sometimes it wasn’t a good fit. No one was going to accuse him of being one of those education types who emotes over feelings all the time. Eli was that classic case though, at least in our sector, where many felt entitled to his money in a way that made them forget who it belonged to.

I’ll just make a personal point. I didn’t know him well but over the years he funded my work from time to time, sometimes asked for my advice, I was a Broad Prize reviewer, that kind of thing. Here’s what stays with me (other than how impeccably dressed he always was): He, and his wife, were always gracious. At any sort of event where my wife was with me they made a point of saying hello and being solicitous. How people treat spouses, especially spouses not in a position to do anything for them, is in my experience about more than good manners. It’s a real tell about character.

His foundation and its related ventures also employed a who’s who of education talent over the years. It didn’t always work out well but drawing talent, that’s another tell.

The sector’s better off that he turned his attention to it and a lot of people are.

April 30, 2021

Friday Fish Porn! Scheduling Wyoming Time

Regularly scheduled fish porn.

Jack Shaw does business development and data science work at Abl, a company focused on equity through scheduling solutions for a real pain point for schools – the master schedule. Founded by Adam Pisoni, one of the more interesting entrepreneurs running around our sector, Abl is a good reminder that you can find good solutions in the for-profit and non-profit sector and how the IRS treats an entity doesn’t really tell you a lot about its merit. And for all the talk about sustainability there is insufficient attention to how a for-profit business model is sometimes more sustainable than just depending on the whims of foundations.

Right, right, enough. You’re here for the fishing.

Jack was recently out over two days on Wyoming’s epic North Platte. Radically different weather each day. That’s western fishing. Especially this time of year.

Want more? Here’s an archive of hundreds of education people with fish. Send me yours.