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Events: See You In Seattle

Yep, the rumors are true. I'm going to this week's Gates Foundation education conference in Seattle and moderating a panel on "unlikely allies" in K-12 and postsecondary who have overcome easy antagonism and found ways to work together.

The event, called the Learning Forum, marks the Gates Foundation's 15th year in the education game, which some have found enormously beneficial and others have found seriously problematic. An estimated 250 folks are going to be there. It will include what the foundation is describing as Bill Gates "first major retrospective speech on education issues in almost eight years," as well as a Bill & Melinda interview with the PBS NewsHour's Gwen Ifill. Along with many of the usual suspects, the USDE's John King is currently scheduled to be in attendance -- wonder if he'll still be able to show up now that he's been named to succeed Duncan.

The "unlikely allies" who will be onstage with me sharing their experiences include Bill Hammond, CEO, Texas Association of Business; Richard Rhodes, President/CEO, Austin Community College; Jean Clements, President, Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association; and Mary Ellen Elia, Commissioner of Education, New York State Education Commission (formerly of Hillsborough).

According to the foundation, you can watch via live stream starting Wednesday AM. The Twitter handle to use is @GatesEd and the hashtag is #GatesEd. They're also encouraging everyone to follow a few leaders on Twitter including @AllanGolston@GPayneEDU@drvickip@dan_greenstein, & @davidbleysea.

Thompson: Jack Jennings & the Insider's View of School Reform

One reason why I loved Jack Jennings's Presidents, Congress, and the Public Schools is that it helped me grasp something that always perplexed me. NCLB, unlike Arne Duncan's test and punish agenda, had very little in terms of real sanctions for individuals.  Why didn't the normative education culture of compliance respond in the obvious manner - pocket the extra money and pretend to comply with the law? Why did systems actually impose test-driven accountability and juke the stats, rather than just play the numbers games and claim that they had really taken a pound of flesh out of educators?
Similarly, Jennings helps explain a phrase that became ubiquitous in my world. Our poor district desperately needed federal money, but it didn't dare spend it in the ways that would most benefit poor students. During years before and shortly after NCLB, I'd often hear the statement about Title I money: "Oh, that's just federal money." In other words, individual administrators wouldn't take risks in order to spend those modest funds more effectively; they’d stick with programs that were completely safe.
To his credit, Duncan subsequently spoke about flexibility in spending Title I. I'd cite his promises and suggest approaches focusing on the socio-emotional aspect of learning and invariably hear words of agreement from administrators. After all, our district was 90% low-income, so there was little chance that those researched-based approaches would unfairly benefit affluent kids. Then would come a statement like this: "But, what if some 25-year-old accountant disallowed it?" Often, the other administrators would offer the same few anecdotes about other districts that were burned by federal bureaucrats.
Jennings account of Title I is especially incisive. The ultimate insider with a half century of experience in edu-politics explains how Congress thought it was passing a general aid program with few strings attached. Reports of abuses prompted federal administrators in the 1970s to turn it into a categorical aid program, which led to regulations that could be burdensome. State and local administrators pushed back and gained some relief from the micromanaging. In return, the program became more focused on student achievement, as opposed to investing in the broader welfare of poor children.  
As Presidents, Congress, and the Public Schools unfolded, my big question was addressed. I had been unaware of the long complicated story of how Title I had become more focused on academic accountability.  On the ground in inner city schools, we would have had to have our heads firmly in the sand to miss the justified pressure from the civil rights community to produce concrete metrics of academic growth for poor children of color but I, at least, had missed the parts of the story that Jennings recounts. Systems had been fighting multi-faceted battles over accountability and I’d just been aware of the disputes over test scores. So, even though NCLB’s test score targets seemed so utopian that it appeared unlikely that systems would go to illogical extremes to meet them, an overall foundation had been laid for a serious commitment to test-driven accountability.

Continue reading "Thompson: Jack Jennings & the Insider's View of School Reform" »

Quotes: When You Leave, Those Who Remain Win

Quotes2Those who hold power in the lazy monopoly may actually have an interest in creating some limited opportunities for exit on the part of those whose voice might be uncomfortable.

-- Albert Hirschman (Exit, Voice, and Loyalty) via Malcolm Gladwell (The Power Of Failure)

#TBT: Remembering The Annenberg Challenge (aka "Bottom-Up" Reform)

There's lots of talk these days about "bottom-up" efforts to fix struggling schools and districts, largely tied to what happened in Newark over the past five years.

But as some longtimers may recall, bottom-up (locally-driven, community-led) school reform funded by nonprofit sources has been tried before, most notably in the form of Walter Annenberg's $500M Challenge.

Take a minute to check out the case studies of Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York City that were written and published way back in 2000. (The Chicago chapter is one that I wrote. Carol Innerst and Ray Domanico wrote the others.)

Some of the folks who are pushing for bottom-up reforms now were actually part of these efforts, and should know better (or at least know that it's no guarantee of success of any kind). 

While we're on the topic, the NYT's Kate Zernike is scheduled to interview Dale Russakoff about Newark tonight at 5.

Reform: Why Was Community Engagement In Newark *So* Bad?

In a recent interview in The Seventy Four, former mayoral candidate Shavar Jeffries described how woefully insufficient the communications and engagement effort was behind the Newark school reform effort: “There was absolutely not an infrastructure to communicate to parents... voters [and] the community.” 


Love or loathe the Newark reform effort, you have to admit that it's pretty notable that well-funded reformers who'd seen what happened to Michelle Rhee in DC and had to know the importance of informing and rallying community members to their cause didn't seem to do so (or did so ineffectively). Across the river, Families For Excellent Schools launched in 2011. There was nothing like that in Newark. 

In Dale Russakoff's book about Newark, the communications effort outsourced to consultant Bradley Tusk and others is described as a half-completed boondoggle:


Mysteriously Tusk's role in Newark -- and his effectiveness -- isn't mentioned in this recent Forbes profile (What Uber And Mike Bloomberg Have In Common).


I've invited Tusk and other consultants who worked on the Newark project to tell me more about their work, what if anything the Russakoff book gets wrong, and what readers need to know about the folks working on the opposite side of the issue (who don't get nearly as much attention as Tusk et al in the Russakoff book).

So far, few if any takers. But the lines are still open.  

Related posts: Meet Bradley Tusk, Reform StrategistWhy Organized Opposition Gets Less Attention.

Quotes: Duncan Laments Belated NCLB Waiver Decision

Quotes2We spent a year and a half two years trying to finish No Child Left Behind in 2009 and '10 and '11... We let schools, we let kids suffer for another year. So, in hindsight, we should have done waivers earlier... I think [overall] waivers have gone pretty darn well. You guys don't cover it much. But we have 44 pretty happy customers across the political spectrum.

-- EdSec Arne Duncan in EdWeek (Duncan's Big Mistake?)

Update: Closed Philly School Converted Into Hipster Gastropub Generates Controversy

White hipsters sipping drinks on the roof of a closed (and beloved) Philly high school -- what could look more wrong? I posted about this on HotForEd last week when I came across a post in The Awl (The Hottest Bar in Philly Is on Top of a Shuttered Public School), and couldn't stop reading. There were think pieces, protest flyers. Then, yesterday, alumni of the school (Bok) showed up at the restaurant wearing alumni gear.

Follow #lebokfin for lots more. Follow @hotfored or subscribe to the Tumblr here.

Quotes: Communities Try To Balance Choice/Charters Against Jobs/Stability

Quotes2People are often of two minds. They're putting their kids in charters but that means the district schools need to right-size by cutting jobs, and that affects their cousin. Everyone in Newark is affected by both trends.

- Dale Russakoff in Newark Star-Ledger (Author Dale Russakoff discusses new book on Newark School Reform)


Thompson: A Modest Proposal for Improving Principal Quality

image from ecx.images-amazon.comOne of the bonuses of Kristina Rizga's excellent Mission High is that it shows what it would take to improve principal quality in high-poverty schools.  Since principal leadership is so important, systems should require school leaders to have teaching experience with students similar to those who attend the school, as well as having served as a teachers union official.

I'm kidding about the requirement that a principal must have union leadership experience; it should not be required, even though Mission High helps reveal why such a qualification should be highly valued.

Had Eric Guthertz, the principal of Mission High, not had the ability to work collaboratively with the district, Rizga would have needed a different book title. In large part because of Guthertz's leadership and savvy, the subtitle is One School, the Experts Who Tried to Fail It, and the Students and Teachers Who Made It Triumph.

As was so often the case under Arne Duncan's prescriptive School Improvement Grant (SIG) and his Race to the Top, Guthertz almost lost his job. Under the SIG,  states had to agree to using test scores for teacher evaluations, ease restrictions on charters, and choose between firing the principal, ½ the teachers, closing the school, or replacing the school with a charter.

District helped by defining him as a replacement principal. When the school faced the loss of $1 million and seven teachers because it landed one point below the targeted API metric, the district appealed the API and got them over the hump.

As was so often not the case across so many SIG schools, Guthertz did not fold and pressure his teachers to do bubble-in malpractice. Rizga writes: 

Despite these external pressures to prioritize test scores in math and English, Guthertz refuses to tell educators at Mission to "teach to the test" at the expense of giving up rich curriculum or hands-on projects, field trips, and music and art classes …

Continue reading "Thompson: A Modest Proposal for Improving Principal Quality" »

Roundup: Best & Worst Reviews Of Newark Book Out Today

image from scholasticadministrator.typepad.comPerhaps the best two pieces I’ve come across are from the Newark Star-Ledger’s Tom Moran including an opinion piece on where things stand that notes district progress along with charter school improvements and reformers' misguided focus on the parts of the story Russakoff leaves out (Newark students are better off, despite the political noise) and also a Q & A with Russakoff in which the author rebuts a deeply flawed NYT review, proposes a forensic audit of Newark's $23,000-per student spending, but calls the Zuckerberg-funded reform efforts a “wash” over all (Author Dale Russakoff discusses new book). These are both well worth reading, for what Moran writes and for Russakoff's responses.

There have also been four big mainstream reviews of the book: Chicago Tribune (Diane Rado);  The Seventy Four (Conor Williams); NYT (Alex Kotlowitz;  NYT (Jonathan Knee). Of these earlier reviews, I found the second NYT review (by Knee) to be the most interesting, taking a business-oriented view of what happened that's no less critical of the process and the outcomes than anyone else. 


Roundup: Best & Worst Reviews Of Newark Book Coming Out Today

image from scholasticadministrator.typepad.comPerhaps the best two pieces I’ve come across are from the Newark Star-Ledger’s Tom Moran including an opinion piece on where things stand that notes district progress along with charter school improvements and reformers' misguided focus on the parts of the story Russakoff leaves out (Newark students are better off, despite the political noise) and also a Q & A with Russakoff in which the author rebuts a deeply flawed NYT review, proposes a forensic audit of Newark's $23,000-per student spending, but calls the Zuckerberg-funded reform efforts a “wash” over all (Author Dale Russakoff discusses new book). 

These are both well worth reading, for what Moran writes and for Russakoff's responses.

There have also been four big mainstream reviews of the book: Chicago Tribune (Diane Rado);  The Seventy Four (Conor Williams); NYT (Alex Kotlowitz;  NYT (Jonathan Knee). 

Of these earlier reviews, I found the second NYT review (by Knee) to be the most interesting, taking a business-oriented view of what happened that's no less critical of the process and the outcomes than anyone else. 

Last but not least, here's NYT columnist Joe Nocera's piece on the book (Zuckerberg’s Expensive Lesson), which notes among other things that "almost half" of the Zuckerberg effort went to Newark teachers in the form of back pay, salaries for teachers who weren't assigned to a classroom, and bonuses. "Apparently, Zuckerberg has learned his lesson. What will it take for the rest of us to learn?" 

Just this morning, WNYC's Sarah Gonzales gave us an update on how some of the characters in the book are doing (How Booker, Christie Spent the $100 Million Facebook Donation), including a breakout of spending (most of which went to teachers and principals, not consultants).


Morning Video: Education, Housing, Integration -- Really?

 "Supporters of desegregation won the Yonkers battle—but the high cost of victory lost them the war," writes former NYT writer Lisa Belkin, whose book about a Yonkers NY housing fight is the subject of a new David Simon HBO miniseries, Show Me A Hero that's been written up by EdWeek's Mark Walsh. "Few in this country had the will to risk another divisive, ugly municipal bruising anytime soon."

This isn't the first time Simon has addressed school-related issues. The Wire included a whole season focused on a group of middle school boys. (No surprise given his writing partner's career as both a cop and a geography teacher). More recently (by which I mean 2010-211), the NOLA-based Treme series included a few biting references to post-Katrina school reform. (Remember "Four years at Radcliff is all you know..."?)

Meantime, someone should go to Yonkers and follow up on how the integration plan and kids are doing, right?

Related posts: New HBO Series Takes On Charters & Choice [2010]; From Cop To Writer To Geography TeacherDoes TFA Displace Veterans -- & Do TFAer Really Stay?.

Morning Video: The Fight To Reboot A Chicago High School

Curious about the controversy over the closing of Dyett HS in Chicago (and the hunger strike against its demise)? Not sure just how controversial it can be to phase out even a low-performing, declining-enrolllment school? Watch the above WTTW Chicago Public Television segment (transcript here).
Or, check out a new podcast audio segment from Us & Them about the Math Wars of the 1970s.

Thompson: What Explains the Remaining Support For NCLB Testing?

The Washington Post's Lyndsey Layton, in Even As Congress Moves to Strip His Power, Arne Duncan Holds His Ground, begins her portrait of the last days of Arne Duncan with an anecdote documenting the sincerity with which he approached his job as US Secretary of Education. She also writes, "In a town where many like to talk, Duncan is regarded as a good listener. 'Arne is a great sounding board for the president,' said Valerie Jarrett, the president’s close friend and adviser."

It's too bad that Duncan listened so well to the Billionaires' Boys Club and ignored the professional judgments of teachers and education researchers. Now, even the Third Way, which seeks education policies consistent with corporate reform has to admit, “The question is not whether we’re going to put handcuffs on Arne Duncan,” said Lanae Erickson Hatalsky of Third Way, a centrist think tank. “The question is how many handcuffs.”

One top education expert, Jack Jennings, concludes in regard to Duncan's policies, “The record will show these policies brought about minimum improvement, ... They also did considerable harm.”

And that is the essence of Duncan's competition-driven reform and its test, sort, and punish approach to education. Some students may benefit but only at the cost of inflicting harm on other children. 

Its ironic that the market-driven movement - that still pretends it is a civil rights movement - is going out with such an ignominious whimper. Output-driven reform not only damaged poor children of color by treating them as test scores, it has undermined liberals and Democrats who seek a larger agenda of equity and justice. So, a crucial short term battle is the civil war between progressives, with teachers determined to prevent Hillary Clinton (or anyone else) from repeating Arne Duncan's agenda.

Continue reading "Thompson: What Explains the Remaining Support For NCLB Testing?" »

Morning Video: Ta-Nehisi Coates' New Book, Plus Emanuel In Aspen

In this Atlantic video short, Ta-Nehisi Coates reads a short passage from his new book, Between the World and Me. Read an extended excerpt, "A Letter to My Son," here.

Or, watch Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and UofC's Tim Knowles talk education at the Aspen Ideas Festival (in which he claims no great admiration for school reform).

Thompson: We Need a Marshall Plan for Schools and Prisons

I grew up in the post-World War II era known as "Pax Americana." We all knew that our ambitious New Deal/Fair Deal era policies, ranging from G.I. Bill to the rebuilding of Europe with the help of the Marshall Plan, were not perfect. But, we knew in our bones that tomorrow would be better than today. Government and social science would both play a role in the campaigns to expand the promise of America to all.

The Marshall Project's Eli Hager, in What Prisons Can Learn from Schools, pulls two incredibly complicated social problems together in a concise and masterful synthesis. Hager's insights are deserving of a detailed analysis. This post will merely take a first step towards an explanation of why Democrats and liberals, especially, must heed his wisdom.

School and prison reform are both deeply rooted in the Reaganism and the lowered horizons of the 1980s. The defeat of the "guns and butter" approach to the Vietnam War demonstrated the limits of our power. The Energy Crisis of 1973, along with a decade and a half of falling or stagnant wages, was somehow blamed on liberalism. The U.S. entered the emerging global marketplace without the confidence that had marked our previous decades, meaning that we were more preoccupied with surviving competition than building community. 

Americans lowered our horizons. As Hager explains, we were loath to tackle the legacies to the "overwhelming unfairnesses of history."  So, we broke off schools and prisons into separate "silos," and sought less expensive solutions for their challenges. We rejected the social science approach to tackling complex and interconnected social problems that were rooted in poverty. Our quest for cheaper and easier solutions would soon coincide with the rise of Big Data as a substitute for peer reviewed research in service to a Great Society.

Continue reading "Thompson: We Need a Marshall Plan for Schools and Prisons" »

Afternoon Reading: Charters, Unionization, & The Annenberg Standards

Kudos to Rachel M. Cohen [@rmc031] for her American Prospect piece about charter school unionization (When Charters Go Union), which is a timely update on a small but important issue no matter which side of the reform/critic divide you happen to occupy.

As Cohen lays them out, the challenges to both unions and charter advocates are pretty clear:

Traditional unions are grappling with how they can both organize charter teachers and still work politically to curb charter expansion. Charter school backers and funders are trying to figure out how to hold an anti-union line, while continuing to market charters as vehicles for social justice. 

The piece also helpfully explains the teachers unions' recent turn towards a dual strategy of critiquing low-performing charters (especially for-profit ones) via the Annenberg Standards while also embarking on a series of organizing efforts:

Beginning in 2007 and 2008, the AFT set up a national charter-organizing division, and today has organizers in seven cities: L.A., Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, New Orleans, New York City, and Philadelphia. 

Like me, you have heard a bit about the Annenberg Standards for charter schools but not really known what they are or how they were being advanced. You may be surprised to learn that NACSA -- the association of authorizers comes out as more critical of them than NAPCS, the association of charter operators.  (Usually it's the other way around when it comes to quality and accountability issues.)  

And Cohen addresses the awkwardness for some teachers thinking about being represented by an organization that has previously seemed to deride their work and impact. She quotes on LA charter school teacher opposed to unionization:

How could I support a union that for the last ten years spent a good portion of their time attacking our right to exist?... They’ve spent the last ten years both supporting anti-charter school board members and fighting in Sacramento against what we do.

This tension remains or even grows with the unions' interest in promoting new legislation that would limit charter expansion.  And Cohen addresses that too. 

There's even a nice mention for Green Dot's unionized network of charters and the evolution of the relationship between UTLA and AMU -- gotta love that (especially if you wrote a book about Locke High School).

That's not to say that there aren't issues with the piece, however:

For starters, the evidence for the impact of unionization on student achievement (what little there is) is pushed to the bottom of the story when ideally it would have been touched on at the top (at least, right?). Readers should know early on that unionization or its absence doesn't seem to make a dramatic difference when it comes to student outcomes. 

Depth-wise, there aren't very many voices from principals and administrators who've worked with unionized charter teachers -- really just one at the end -- or really from teachers who've been at unionized charters for a long while. So we hear from lots of charter teachers talking about organizing (generally in positive terms) but get very little sense of what it's like working with unionized staff over the long haul.

It's perhaps a minor complaint but there's little or nothing until the very end of the piece about the difficulties that organizers have encountered in New York City when it comes to unionized charters (and no mention at all of the a well-publicized situation in which teachers at KIPP AMP voted to join the union then changed their minds). I'd be interested to learn more about organizing efforts that haven't panned out, and why.

Last but not least, Cohen resorts to speculation when it comes to describing the non-academic benefits of unionization, especially when it comes to attracting and retaining effective teachers.  If unionization doesn't dramatically affect student achievement one way or the other, does it at least attract more qualified teachers or increase retention? It's not clear.  Cohen speculates that it does but I could imagine it working both ways.

Still, it's a fascinating and helpful piece, over all, and I recommend it highly. 

Will Common Core Results Generate A New Wave Of Lawsuits?

In case you hadn’t noticed, most of today’s education debate takes place inside a very small, seemingly unchangeable stone box. But there are a few examples of advocates thinking big, going at fundamental problems that aren't just workarounds to the current situation:

In 2008, Matt Miller proposed ending local control of schools in an Atlantic Magazine article (First, Kill All the School Boards). He admitted that reducing the over-emphasis on local control “goes against every cultural tradition we have, save the one that matters most: our capacity to renew ourselves to meet new challenges.”

In 2012, former NYC chancellor Joel Klein (and Michelle Rhee, and Warren Buffett) half-jokingly floated the idea of “banning” private schools and assigning children to schools randomly (rather than by neighborhood or test score). I was annoyed at this spread of this "thought experiment" at the time and it still seems legally and politically unworkable but it expands the mind, suggesting other, possibly more achievable changes. It's apparently been discussed in other countries.

In the past few years, folks like Nikole Hannah-Jones (formerly of ProPublica, now headed to the New York Times) or Ta-Nehesi Coates of The Atlantic have reminded us of things like resegregation of schools in the South and the policy decisions that created the American ghetto

The most recent example I've come across is the notion of undoing the 1973 Rodriguez case that has seemed to have blocked progress on school funding issues for over 40 years now. Recently, civil rights leader Wade Henderson described the law as “a triumph of states’ rights over human rights.” Educator and activist Sam Chaltain wrote not too long ago that Rodriguez was arguably as important as the 1954 Brown decision may be and called for a 28th Amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing “an equal opportunity to learn.” 

Perhaps the most exciting (and terrifying) idea I've heard of in recent months is someone suing states based on their failure to achieve reasonable student proficiency percentages under the new Common Core assessments.  "All of a sudden the standards and test results [could] become something that state courts can refer to as a reasonable representation of states' Constitutional requirements," notes to school funding expert Bruce Baker (who's not particularly optimistic about this happening or working out well).

The point is simple: There are elements to the current education system that can seem so permanent, so intractable as to make them seem not work talking about. But that's a shame -- and a bit of an embarrassment.  What's the biggest, scariest, most fascinating education idea you've heard or thought of lately?

NB: This is a version of a post that was first published over at The Grade.  

Charts: A Surge In Restarted Schools Shows Promise, Says MSDF

image from www.msdf.org
The folks at the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation are big into Restarted Schools, citing states like Louisiana, Tennessee, and Michigan, Georgia and Nevada, and (soon?) in Pennsylvania that have created Achievement School District laws, as well as NJ, MA, and IN where there are direct state takeovers. Charter management organizations, long hesitant to get involved with restarts (also known as turnarounds) are finally getting into the game thanks to strong signals from authorizers.

"We see more and more charter school authorizers in cities with large charter market shares (like Washington, DC, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, New Orleans) are starting to encourage high performing charter school operators to take over and restart low performing charter campuses."

According to MSDF, most of the new schools in NOLA since 2009 have been restarts.

Afternoon Video: Worst Cautionary High School Speaker Ever

"I used to be like you. Used to clown around, make fun of the principal... I did a drive by at my own daughters quinceanera! Yeah shot up everybody!" Key & Peele "Consequences (Nov. 2014)

Quotes: Connecticut's Magnet Schools Erode Segregation

Quotes2It's pathetic that only one little state [Connecticut] is showing any leadership [by creating 84 magnet schools]...It shouldn't be so radical to think it might be better to have more diverse schools.
- UCLA's Gary Orfield in HuffPost Edu (Connecticut Makes Rare Progress As America Moves Backwards)

Books: First Look At Dale Rusakoff's Forthcoming "The Prize"

9780547840055_lresHere's a first look at Dale Rusakoff's forthcoming book about Newark, titled The Prize and scheduled for release in September. 

"Mark Zuckerberg, Chris Christie, and Cory Booker were ready to reform our failing schools," proclaims the book promo copy. "What they got instead was an education."

"Their plans soon ran into a constituency not so easily moved — Newark’s key education players, fiercely protective of their billion-dollar-per-annum system. It’s a prize that, for generations, has enriched seemingly everyone, except Newark’s students."

Rusakoff's writing on Newark has appeared in the New Yorker

"The Prize is a portrait of a titanic struggle over the future of education for the poorest kids, and a cautionary tale for those who care about the shape of America’s schools."

See more here.

Rusakoff is appearing at this week's EWA conference in Chicago. It's a big week for education book. Greg Toppo's book about learning games is out this week, as is Ken Robinson's book on schools and creativity.

Related posts: New Yorker Digs Into Newark Reform BacklashWhat They're Saying About That New Yorker ArticleNew Yorker Reporter Talks NewarkFact-Checking Cami AndersonWhite Reporters & Students Of Color.

Thompson: Reckhow's and Tompkins-Stange's Analysis of Edu-Philanthropic Convergence

Sarah Reckhow’s and Megan Tompkins-Stange’s 'Singing from the Same Hymnbook': Education Policy Advocacy at Gates and Broad begins in the glory days of test-driven, market driven reform, from 2008 to 2010, when the Broad Foundation  proclaimed,  “We feel the stars have finally aligned. With an agenda that echoes our decade of investments—charter schools, performance pay for teachers, accountability, expanded learning time and national standards—the Obama administration is poised to cultivate and bring to fruition the seeds we and other reformers have planted.” 

Reckhow’s and Tompkins-Stange’s excellent contribution to the American Enterprise Institute’s conference of edu-philanthropy, Is the ‘New’ Education Philanthropy Good for Schools?, ends with an illustration of the power of Broad and Gates Foundations’ “purposeful convergence” on advancing their accountability-driven beliefs. They quote a Gates Foundation insider:

There was a twinkle in the eye of one of our US advocacy directors when the Obama administration's...education policy framework came out...this person said...“aren’t we lucky that the Obama Administration’s education agenda is so compatible with ours, you know?”...We wouldn’t take credit...out loud even amongst ourselves....But, you know, the twinkle… 

Rechkow and Tompkins-Stange add that “the notion of a “twinkle”—rather than claiming credit more openly—highlights one of the more problematic aspects of the concentrated influence of Gates, Broad, and other foundations in the policy realm.”

The Gates Foundation had been reluctant to commit to a coordinated federal advocacy campaign until the election of President Barack Obama and the appointment of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education. Their Ed in ’08 campaign had fizzled but, during the Obama years, 2/3rds of the states made significant changes to their teacher evaluation process.

'Singing from the Same Hymnbook': Education Policy Advocacy at Gates and Broad shows that this dramatic change was conducted in the “absence of a robust public debate.”

It is beyond the scope of Rechkow's and Tompkins-Stange's study but after reading their work, I wonder even more how it would have been possible for the Gates Foundation to have engaged in an adequate, private discussion of the costs and benefits of their favored policy. Behind closed doors, insiders may or may not have exchanged their opinions on value-added evaluations, but since the evidence required for a meaningful debate over the real world effects of those evaluations did not exist, I wonder if the lack of research on the policy implications of value-added was considered. 

Continue reading "Thompson: Reckhow's and Tompkins-Stange's Analysis of Edu-Philanthropic Convergence" »

Events: Today's Education Philanthropy Event At AEI

In case you hadn't figured it out by now, I've been at AEI all day today talking about the "new" education philanthropy. That's me in the middle, flanked by Goldstein, Kelly, Blew, and Hess. #newedphil is the hashtag.  Video and draft papers to come.

TV: Neighborhood Segregation The Central Issue In New HBO Show

image from media.salon.comThe new David Simon show coming later this year will give us all a chance to think about residential segregation and the neighborhood school.

According to a recent Grantland article, the miniseries -- called "Show Me A Hero" -- surrounds the reaction in Yonkers NY to a 1985 court decision that the city had "'illegally and intentionally’ fostered segregation in its schools and neighborhoods by concentrating all of its public housing in one section of the city.” 

The series is based on a Lisa Belkin book by the same name (book cover to left). The former NYT writer has since moved to HuffPost and Yahoo. You can read an excerpt here. Something in Salon here. IMDB for the show is here.

What's this have to do with education?  Well, residential segregation combined with neighborhood-based schooling is the main reason we have such inequitable & segregated schools and school systems (and charter networks, too). While everyone likes to talk about the joys of the neighborhood system, it's turned out to be class- and race-based in some pretty awful ways. See Nikole Hannah-Jones' work in ProPublica and The Atlantic if you don't think it's a current issue.   

So this show will give us at least a glancing chance of revisiting the issues of race, class, and the neighborhood school. 

Related posts: In Education, It's *Liberals* Who Oppose ChoiceWatch School Segregation Grow Over 20 YearsRethinking The Neighborhood School IdealDecline In Black-White Segregation (Sorta)The (Partial) Re-Segregation Of American Schools

Quotes: Show Taxpayers [Test] Results If You Want More Of Their Money

Quotes2Taxpayers provide about $600 billion each year to fund public education in America. They have a right to know if the system is working. And if we want the public to spend more money on education, we need to show them [test] results.

-- Ed Post's Peter Cunningham (Fewer, Better, Fairer Tests)

Maps: The More (Charter Authorizers) The Merrier?

image from www.qualitycharters.orgHere's a map from the new NACSA @qualitycharters report on state charter authorizers showing how many authorizers each state has.  The more the merrier, in general, though obviously that's not always the case since Ohio has lots and Arizona has few. Read the report here

Morning Video: Debating Rice's "Racist Liberals" Claim


In case you missed it from last week, here's Condoleeza Rice's claim that failing neighborhood schools and the inequality that comes with them are racist, along with a link to Citizen Stewart's examination of the claim.

Update: Fact-Checking Cami Anderson (X2)

Watching Newark superintendent Cami Anderson's interview with AEI's Rick Hess from last week, a few things are clear:

First and foremost is that Anderson's initiatives may be much more nuanced and less top-down than critics have claimed (and the media has repeated).  For example, she says that there have been no school closings as part of her plan, and that several revisions and changes were made in response to community input.  Is that accurate?  Someone needs to check.  By which I mean the WSJ, NJ Spotlight, Hechinger, ChalkbeatNY, or NYT.

Second, and just as important for someone to figure out, is whether her claims that there's a small but "well-funded" effort to block her efforts are accruate or not.  The Washington Post's Lyndsey Layton chronicled the protest against her, (a busload of Newark parents) but doesn't tell us who was behind the effort, if anyone. Did they decide to go among themselves? Who paid for the bus? Dropout Nation's RiShawn Biddle notes that CWA, "which has been an ally if AFT's NJ affiliate, has funded NJ Communities United to tune of $251K."

Related posts: Last Night's Raucous Newark Schools MeetingNewark Officials Discuss School Improvement, Local ControlNew Yorker Digs Into Newark Reform BacklashUnion Chief Hopes Chicago Follows Newark.

Morning Video: Before New Orleans (Or DC), There Was Chicago

Chicago Schools: Worst in the Nation? from Siskel/Jacobs Productions on Vimeo.

It was a cash-strapped city, a dysfunctional bureaucracy, and a national reputation for low-performing schools. But did Chicago deserve its reputation, and what's happened since to make things better?

Research: New Orleans Think Tank Head Quits After Flawed Study

Here's something you don't see every day - in fact I can't think of it happening ever before (though surely it must have): The ED of the Cowen Institute at Tulane, John Ayers, has resigned after a report came out and had to be withdrawn, according to Higher Education via Politico  (Education Think Tank Head Quits After Flawed Study). The study came out and was withdrawn 9 days later, and now Ayers is gone at the end of this month.  It's not clear why the study was withdrawn, or whether there were issues with its review as well as its methodology, or whether Ayers left because of the report or because of its withdrawal. Know more about the report or the circumstances? Let us know in comments or ping me at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.

Morning Listen: What's *Really* Going On In Philadelphia?

Here's Bloomberg EDU's new interview with superintendent Bill Hite.

Charts: Top Quarter Of Poor Urban School Students Enroll In College

Screen shot 2014-10-20 at 3.13.20 PM
"Among the top quarter of these low-income high schools, 60 percent or more of the students went to college in the fall." (Hechinger Report:  Twenty five percent of low-income urban high schools beat the odds). Image used with permission.

AM News: Gates-Funded Small Schools Work After All, Says New Study

Small high schools send larger shares of students to college, new study says ChalkbeatNY: The multi-year study examines a subset of 123 “small schools of choice” that opened between 2002 and 2008 with private funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and support from former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration.

New Research Suggests Small High Schools May Help After All NPR: A New York City entrant in a long-running research controversy over the effectiveness of small high schools.

Deasy Resigns as Los Angeles Schools Chief After Mounting Criticism NYT: John E. Deasy, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, had clashed with the school board, and drawn flak for a flawed $1.3 billion plan to give iPads to students.

LA Schools Superintendent To Leave After iPad Controversy NPR: The Los Angeles schools superintendent is stepping down. John Deasy's resignation follows a contracting scandal that put him on the defensive. He talks to Steve Inskeep about why he resigned.

Deasy resigns as superintendent of LA Unified EdSource Today: Los Angeles Unified School superintendent John Deasy submitted his resignation this morning, after more than a year of turmoil and conflict with the seven-member elected school board. Deasy reportedly cut short a trip to South Korea to negotiate the terms of his departure. 

Los Angeles Unified announces Deasy's exit after secret vote to pay him through end of year LA Daily News: The separation agreement was approved in a 6-1 vote Tuesday. Board member Monica Ratliff, one of two elected officials representing the San Fernando Valley, cast the sole dissenting vote. Ratliff’s office declined to comment on why she voted against the agreement.

Cortines faces challenging tasks as he steps in behind departing superintendent KPCC: This time, Cortines may be in place for a long haul as the board searches for a permanent superintendent. There is little desire among school board members to send the district into more turmoil with another swift change at the top. 

How Schools Are Responding To The Threat of Ebola HuffPost: Schools around the country are taking steps against Ebola, screening students, passing out information and, with the air travel of an infected nurse between Texas and Ohio, closing schools in those two states.

More news below (and throughout the day at @alexanderrusso).

Continue reading "AM News: Gates-Funded Small Schools Work After All, Says New Study" »

Morning Video: Update On Zuckerberg's $100M Newark Grant

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Here's that NBC News segment about Newark I tweeted out yesterday, checking in on what the Zuckerberg gift has and hasn't done (Nightly News: Tracking Zuckerberg’s schools gift).  The gist of the story seemed to be that the changes have been small and slow-moving but potentially transformative. Click the link if the video doesn't display properly.

Quotes: Misunderstanding Accountability (The Fog Of Rhetoric)

Quotes2I get the desire for a clean break from NCLB’s bad reputation and the ever-changing, ever-more-complicated NCLB waivers... But before we rush to adopt a “new accountability,” let’s first make sure we understand the policies we have. -- Anne Hyslop (What NYT No Child Left Behind Story Missed)

Charts: Pay No Attention To The Giant Funding Gaps Among Districts

A typical Chicago city school gets half the funding of one in the wealthy suburbs For all the policy chatter and debate out there about funding inequities (between charters and neighborhood schools is one favorite), you don't hear much talk about just how inequitable the funding gaps can be among the 15,000 or so school districts (or among schools within the same district -- don't even get me started). But that doesn't mean they've gone way. This USDE/CAP/Bruce Baker map shows that a typical Chicago city school gets half the funding of one in the wealthy suburbs. Yep, half.  Image used by permission.

Thompson: Once Again, Mass Insight Explains What It takes to Turn Around Schools*

When I first read Mass Insight's The Turnaround Challenge, I was thrilled by its holistic explanation of what it takes to turnaround the most challenging schools. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the document was his Bible, but then he violated most of its principles when establishing School Improvement Grants, dooming his SIG to failure.

In 2007, Mass Insight showed that instruction-driven, curriculum-driven policies could not transform the schools with the greatest challenges, and that the mass dismissal of teachers was a bad idea. It emphasized the "Readiness Triangle," drawing upon the best social science to explain how and why a proper foundation must be laid for school improvement. Now, Mass Insight and Ounce of Prevention explain why today's accountability regimes are undermining school improvement.

Let's hope that reformers listen to Mass Insight's and the Ounce of Prevention Fund's Changing the Metrics of Turnaround to Encourage Early Learning Strategies, by Elliot Regenstein, Rio Romero-Jurado, Justin Cohen, and Alison Segal. As it says in a previous study, Rethinking State Accountability and Support, Ounce proposes "the reverse" of the Arne Duncan value-added accountability regime. 

Continue reading "Thompson: Once Again, Mass Insight Explains What It takes to Turn Around Schools*" »

Morning Video: New Video Targets 371 "Failing" NYC Schools

It's not quite as moving as last summer's version -- and the one I saw last night during the news featured a kid who wanted to be a doctor -- but here's the new Families For Educational Justice video that's airing in NYC, focusing on 143,000 kids in low-performing schools, using the hashtag #donttstealpossible. "In vast areas of NYC [Brooklyn & the Bronx, mostly], children have little choice but to attend a failing school." There's also a map of 371 failing schools in NYC. There's a rally on Thursday.

Books: "Smarter" Charters Are Diverse, Teacher-Led

image from tcf.orgI've long been fascinated by charter innovations (unionized, zoned, diverse, progressive) that blur the lines between charters and district schools and so you can imagine how excited I am to hear about A Smarter Charter (pictured), a new book from the Century Foundation's Richard Kahlenberg and Halley Potter, which focuses in particular on charters like City Neighbors Charter School in Baltimore and Morris Jeff Community School in New Orleans that emphasize teacher voice and/or socioeconomic integration.

The book isn't out until September 12 but you can get a taste of the book's approach by checking out some recent blog posts: 

*Big Lessons on Charter School from the Smallest State (about Blackstone Valley Prep, among other things).

*Diverse Charter School Opens in Nashville (about Valor).

*Thin Contracts Can Provide a Good Balance (about Amber).

The book has received positive reviews (blurbs) from the AFT's Randi Weingarten and NEA's Dennis Van Roekel, as well as AEI's Rick Hess and NYC's Jim Merriman.

Related posts:  Diverse Charters Form New National Alliance;  Diverse Charters Spread Nationally (Education Next); Chicago A Charter Unionization Hotbed; Thin Contract At Locke High School. Image via TCF.

Update: West Coast Reboot For DFER & Steve Barr

image from www.dfer.org



DFER California is re-launching operations for 2014 and beyond, kicked off with a few events and announcements (see press release below).  

As a big part of that effort, DFER has hired Steve Barr to be the state chapter head.  Former state legislator Gloria Romer was the previous head.  

Barr founded Green Dot Schools and more recently headed FIN Schools, which I'm told has been winding down its operations in recent months.

Previous posts:  Pro-Charter Dem PAC Expands To CA [2010]; Strange Times In California [2012]; Green Dot & Steve Barr Finalize Their "Divorce" [2011]; Barr Nonprofit Re-Focuses On Teacher Advocacy [2013]

Continue reading "Update: West Coast Reboot For DFER & Steve Barr " »

Morning Video: New Efforts To Engage Emotional Support For Common Core


Here's an example of how Common Core supporters are going to try and engage the public with outrage over the current inequalities and inadequacies of the education system  - and inspiration about what the new standards can do. From NCLR via Politico. #whimsical

Five Best Blogs & Tweets: Philanthropy Is Everywhere

The Expanding Role of Philanthropy in Education Politics http://ow.ly/zvgb6  @sreckhow and Jeff Snyder via @dianeravitch

Why Do Americans Stink at Math? - http://NYTimes.com  http://ow.ly/zuZMK  @elizabeth_green @elizwgreen

Apple Claims 85% of U.S. Education Market for Tablets http://ow.ly/zuqy8  [Even as iPad consumer sales flatline]

Setting the record straight on tenure  - NY Daily News http://ow.ly/zvMHG  #vergara @campbell_brown

Both @anniegilbertson & @mrpabruno think @libbyanelson's map http://bit.ly/1tBboQk  should be adjusted for COL etc 

This Aspiring Astronaut Might Be The World's Most Amazing Teen : Goats and Soda : NPR http://ow.ly/zvGZe 

Cato's Andrew Coulson slams Slate's Sweden School Choice article in @EducationNext http://ow.ly/zvn37 

High schools worse than colleges handling rape, reports Al Jazeera America http://ow.ly/zviOv  Harrowing story re Seatle's Garfield HS


Quotes: Neighborhood Schools "Part Of The Problem," Says Simmons

Quotes2The impulse to want a neighborhood school for your children is understandable... [But advocates for neighborhood schools] are part of the problem not part of the solution. -- Warren Simmons, executive director of The Annenberg Institute for School Reform (The Uncomfortable Reality of Community Schools). 

Magazines: New Yorker Delves Into Atlanta Cheating School

I'm not sure there's anything entirely new or shocking in it, but image from www.newyorker.comThe New Yorker goes deep with its latest education story (A Struggling School Made a Shocking Choice), by contributor Rachel Aviv.

"Struggling to meet data-driven district targets, as well as progress measurements outlined in No Child Left Behind, administrators and teachers at Parks first began systematically fixing students’ incorrect answers on standardized tests in 2006.

"The resulting scores significantly raised the school’s percentage of eighth graders who met the state’s standards.

"The success created an ongoing cycle that fostered continuous cheating—by 2008, the practices had become what Christopher Waller, the school’s former principal, calls a “well-oiled machine.”

The same pressures and incentives still exist, reports Aviv.  

Could it happen again soon? The story seems to suggest it's likely.

Previous New Yorker stories by Aviv here.

Previous New Yorker posts: The Innovation/Disruption "Myth"New Yorker Digs Into Newark Reform BacklashWhat The New Yorker's Parent/Reporter Should Write About Next.

Thompson: Michelle Obama, Meanwitchs and Stinkburgers


I love Michelle Obama as much as I remain loyal to her husband, despite his awful test and punish education policy. When the First Lady is attacked, I am angered almost as much as when the Obama administration assaults public education.

The issues underlying both Michelle Obama's Let's Move healthy schools campaign, and President Obama's corporate school reform are equally complicated.

Time Magazine's Jay Newton-Small, in Michelle Obama Bites Back at Critics of Her Healthy School Lunch Standards, reports that a million fewer students ate school lunches in the first year of the program. The bigger problem is anecdotes and twitter photo campaigns featuring students who want their junk food back.

In light of the House Republicans' assault on anti-obesity efforts, Burkhard Bilger's 2006 New Yorker article, The Lunch Room Rebellion, should now be reread. As the First Lady explains, the "stakes couldn't be higher" in the battle to improve children's health, so the fight is worth it. But, given the difficulty Bilger described in providing nutritious meals in the affluent Berkeley, California schools, we must prepare for a long, frustrating struggle.  

Bilger told how a "haute cuisine chef," Ann Cooper, got schooled when she brought nutritious meals that were a hit in a progressive private school to a public system. Cooper's biggest problem was that children's food tastes (not unlike some of their learning habits) are established before they enter school. But, a seemingly absurd combination of political and institutional dynamics created unforeseen complications, even in a system where only 40% of students were eligible for free or reduced lunch.

Continue reading "Thompson: Michelle Obama, Meanwitchs and Stinkburgers" »

AM News: Zuckerberg Donates $120M To SF Bay Area Schools


Zuckerberg, Wife Gift $120M to CA Schools AP: The first $5 million will go to school districts in San Francisco, Ravenswood and Redwood City and will focus on principal training, classroom technology and helping students transition from the 8th to the 9th grade. The couple and their foundation, called Startup: Education, determined the issues of most urgent need based on discussions with school administrators and local leaders.

At a Glance: Biggest Tech Donors in 2013 AP: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, a pediatrician, topped the list of the most generous American philanthropists in 2013 with a donation of 18 million shares of Facebook stock that are now worth more than $1 billion. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, it was the largest charitable gift on the public record in 2013. On Friday, they announced a $120 million gift to the San Francisco Bay Area public school system.

Common Core School Standards Face a New Wave of Opposition NYT: The governors of Oklahoma and South Carolina are considering signing bills to replace the Common Core standards with locally written versions, and Missouri is considering a related measure.

California's CORE Districts Faltering On Key Tenets of Waiver, Ed. Dept. Says District Dossier: Education Department officials flagged problem areas for the seven districts participating in the No Child Left Behind Act waiver, including delays and changes to strategies aimed at the lowest-achieving schools.

ACLU Sues California For 'Equal Learning Time' WNYC: The lawsuit names students including Briana Lamb as members of the class. In the fall of 2012, when Lamb showed up for her junior year at Fremont High School in South Central Los Angeles, she says her schedule was full of holes. 

More news below (and throughout the day at @alexanderrusso).

Continue reading "AM News: Zuckerberg Donates $120M To SF Bay Area Schools" »

Quotes: Reform Still Hasn't Done Much (For Better Or Worse)

Quotes2Despite all the sturm und drang of education reform debates, despite all the noise and nonsense, the trajectory of American public education hasn’t changed a whole lot. Even the biggest, most comprehensive reforms have mostly ended up as tinkering around the edges. - New America's Connor Williams (Taking Education Reform From Launch to Stable Orbit)

Magazines: New Yorker Digs Into Newark Reform Backlash

ScreenHunter_02 May. 12 10.02Just in time for tomorrow's voting, the latest New Yorker has a Dale Russakoff piece on reform efforts in Newark:   "Schooled: Cory Booker, Chris Christie, and Mark Zuckerberg Had a Plan to Reform Newark’s Schools. They Got an Education."

"In 2010, Zuckerberg pledged a hundred-million-dollar challenge grant to help Booker, then the mayor of Newark, and Christie overhaul the school district, one of the most troubled in the country.

"Four years later, “improbably, a [school] district with a billion dollars in revenue and two hundred million dollars in philanthropy was going broke,” and Newark is at war over its schools."

Closing quote:" Shavar Jeffries believes that the Newark backlash could have been avoided. Too often, he said, “education reform . . . comes across as colonial to people who’ve been here for decades. It’s very missionary, imposed, done to people rather than in coöperation with people.” Some reformers have told him that unions and machine politicians will always dominate turnout in school-board elections and thus control the public schools. He disagrees: “This is a democracy. A majority of people support these ideas. You have to build coalitions and educate and advocate.” As he put it to me at the outset of the reform initiative, “This remains the United States. At some time, you have to persuade people.” 

Check it out and let us know if it's interesting, fair, etc. 

Afternoon Video: Return to Montefiore Alternative School

Last week's premier episode of the VICE-produced documentary series "Last Chance High" was so rough it was hard to watch -- so be warned.  Here's this week's show.



Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in This Week In Education are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.