Welcome to my Blog
To see my School Reform Resource Page, see www.arightdenied.com. To be added to my school reform email list, email me at WTilson at tilsonfunds.com.
To the board and management of K12 (LRN):
Since I went public with my presentation and article detailing the many reasons for my short position in K12's stock, I've had the pleasure of both meeting and speaking extensively with CEO Ron Packard and also having a call with Executive Chairman Nate Davis. It's very unusual for senior management of a company to speak with a short seller (full disclosure: I continue to have a short position in the stock, as I discuss in this article), so the fact that they were willing to do so is a credit to K12.
I found Packard and Davis to be refreshingly candid about K12's challenges and what the company is doing to address them, and believe that both of them are genuinely sincere in wanting to do right by the students who enroll at the company's schools. As I discuss below, however, I think their words are inconsistent with many things K12 is doing. In particular, I don't think they fully appreciate the tension and trade-offs between their desire to maximize growth, profitability, and the share price vs. doing their best to ensure that every one of K12's nearly 130,000 students is engaged and learning.
Never let it be said that I won't present views contrary to mine. Attached is a report on K12 by the Wells Fargo analyst entitled: LRN: What The Short Case Gets Wrong: K12 Take-Down Offers Little New Information. I don't have time to rebut it point by point, but it does a reasonable job of capturing K12's point of view (I have no doubt that the analyst collaborated closely with the company on it).
Cory Booker's double-digit victory Wednesday over Republican Steve Lonegan in New Jersey's special Senate election surprised no one. The Garden State hasn't elected a GOP senator in four decades, and Mr. Booker is considered by many (judging by his fundraising prowess, among other things) to be one of the most talented young Democratic politicians in the country.
Mr. Booker, a black Rhodes scholar educated at Stanford and Yale, regularly draws comparisons to , and many suspect that Mr. Booker, who is only 44, will someday run for president. But in at least one important respect the Obama comparison sells Mr. Booker short. As mayor of Newark, the state's largest city, Mr. Booker has taken on the teachers unions and pushed relentlessly for more educational options—including school vouchers—for low-income families. In other words, he is a Democrat from a blue state who has picked a fight with a special interest group that wields tremendous influence on the political left.
By contrast Mr. Obama, at the behest of the same labor groups that Mr. Booker has challenged, repeatedly tried to end the school voucher program in Washington, D.C., and might have succeeded but for opposition from House Speaker and other Republicans. More recently, the Obama Justice Department has sued to block a voucher program for low-income students in Louisiana.
Blacks overwhelmingly support school choice and have for decades. Both Cory Booker and are aware of this, but only Mr. Booker has spent significant political capital putting the interests of students ahead of teachers unions. It is hard to see how black outcomes will improve—with respect to employment, income, crime rates, health and other measures—without better educational opportunities for kids stuck in crummy schools. Democrats like Mr. Booker seem to understand this. Democrats like Mr. Obama have other priorities.
If there's a key to this nation's sustained competitiveness, it's education. And if there's a key to the kind of social mobility that's integral to our country's cherished narrative, to its soul, it's giving kids from all walks of life teachers and classrooms that beckon them toward excellence. But like all aspects of American policy making these days, the push to improve public schools bucks up against factionalism, pettiness, lobbies that won't be muted and sacred cows that can't be disturbed. Progress that needs to be sweeping is anything but.
That's why my eyes turn to Colorado. That's why yours should, too.
The state is on the precipice of something big. On Election Day next Tuesday, Coloradans will decide whether to ratify an ambitious statewide education overhaul that the Legislature already passed and that Gov. John Hickenlooper signed but that voters must now approve, because Colorado law gives them that right in regard to tax increases, which the overhaul entails. Arne Duncan, the nation's education secretary, has said that the success of Amendment 66, which is what voters will weigh in on, would make Colorado "the educational model for every other state to follow."
It's significant in many regards, especially in its creation of utterly surprising political bedfellows. Amendment 66 has the support of many fervent advocates of charter schools, which the overhaul would fund at nearly the same level as other schools for the first time. In fact one prominent donor to the campaign for Amendment 66 is Ben Walton, whose family's philanthropy, the Walton Family Foundation, champions school choice and is loathed by teachers' unions.
And yet the two most powerful of those unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, have endorsed Amendment 66. The N.E.A. and its state arm, the Colorado Education Association, have together donated $4 million toward the amendment's passage.
...He's by no means a conventionally liberal Democrat. Neither is the overhaul's chief architect, a young state senator named Mike Johnston who used to be a schoolteacher and principal and previously sponsored a law that ended traditional tenure in Colorado's public schools. It drew robust Republican support.
His education overhaul is a shrewd grab bag of ideas from different camps that recognizes the political imperative of such eclecticism and the lack of any magic bullet for student improvement. It invests in early childhood education, teacher training, a fund for innovative projects, charters. It ratchets up local control and flexibility, giving principals an unprecedented degree of autonomy over spending. It also enables parents to see, online, how much money goes into instruction versus administration at their children's schools. There's transparency. Accountability.
On Tuesday, Colorado will try to address those problems with one of the most ambitious and sweeping education overhauls in the country, asking voters to approve a $1 billion tax increase in exchange for more school funding and an educator's wish-list of measures.
The effort has touched off a fevered debate in a state that two decades ago passed one of the nation's strictest limits on taxes and spending. It is emerging as the latest test of whether Democrats can persuade voters to embrace higher taxes by tying them to school funding.
Outside money is pouring into the state. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to support gun control here, has given $1 million to the school campaign, as have Bill and Melinda Gates, whose foundation is one of the largest philanthropic organizations involved in public education. Teachers' unions have contributed at least $4 million, and other pro-labor groups have given thousands.
…Supporters say the measure would provide enough money to revolutionize education for a generation. Opponents, which include anti-tax groups and Republican politicians, say it would raise taxes on struggling families and businesses with no guarantee of a better education.
"It's a very hard sell," conceded Gov. John W. Hickenlooper, a Democrat and the measure's highest-profile advocate.
In 2010, Colorado spent about $9,306 per student, among the bottom 10 states in the country, according to data compiled by Education Week. Over all, the publication ranked the state's education system slightly behind the national average.
Amendment 66 would make full-day kindergarten standard across the state. It would set aside more money for students who do not speak English, have learning disabilities or come from poor families. It would send more money toward charter schools, as well as districts in poorer areas that cannot easily raise property taxes to buy computers or raise teacher salaries. The measure would also let people go online to track how schools spend every dollar.
"Total transparency, school by school," Mr. Hickenlooper said. "No state's ever done that."
This mayoral campaign has intruded. KIPP shares the space with a traditional elementary and middle school, each on a different floor. Co-location is a lever used by charter opponents to fight their growth, but KIPP has survived this long with minimal friction with the neighbors.
"Our basic philosophy is we're a public school," says Mr. Corcoran. "We serve the same community."
As to Mr. de Blasio's proposal to stick him with rent, Mr. Corcoran says, "I'm just concerned about the impact on our program." Resources will have to be found and relocated to pay the state department of education for space. Charters supplement the $13,527 per student reimbursement from the state—several thousand dollars less than traditional schools spend—with outside donations from hedge-fund billionaires, foundations and elsewhere.
Walking along the corridor and stopping to chat with students, Ms. Reyes says she is troubled that "we're considered different" by some people. Last month, she joined about 10,000 charter parents, teachers and students in a march across Brooklyn Bridge to protest the de Blasio attacks. "That really was powerful," she says.
Mr. de Blasio's demand that charter schools pay rent will be a harbinger of his intentions. As mayor, he'll also pick a new city counsel, who will weigh on the flurry of lawsuits filed by union-backed groups to stop co-location. Mayor Bloomberg's lawyer sided with the charters. Every year, City Hall also considers requests for new and additional space for existing charters.
"Education should not be a political issue," says Mr. Corcoran. "It's a social justice issue."
Bill de Blasio's public-education agenda consists of seven boasts (things he says he's already done, part of his record as public advocate) and 19 plans for future changes ("policies, agendas and programs" that he promises to "work tirelessly to implement"). Minus the overlap, they add up to two dozen ideas. Here's how I score them:
…This kind of stuff may help him win Tuesday, but it's no battle plan for conquering ignorance with strategies and weapons that the nation's biggest city can plausibly mobilize, pay for and deploy.
De Blasio would've done more to persuade education-reformers that he's serious if he'd dispensed with 24-point agendas and instead said who he'd hire as schools chancellor.
Bill de Blasio, the likely next New York City mayor, has made a lot of promises about public education.No additional charter schools; no free space for many charter schools educating city kids; less relianceon student test performance to judge schools; and a moratorium on the closure of low-performing schools. Though these pledges have come piecemeal, together they would dismantle the reforms Michael Bloomberg implemented during his 12 years as mayor. Before this happens, it's worth looking at what Bloomberg's policies have accomplished and what is at risk if they are tossed out.
This essay will show what has been accomplished—how children have benefited from Bloomberg's education policies and how the system has changed in positive ways. Then in later sections it discusses, first, how the positive results came about; and second, how the next can mayor make sure those gains are not lost.
Harvard economist Roland Fryer has a new Hamilton Institute report on the practices that separate the most effective New York city charter schools from the least effective, and he offers a policy proposal designed to apply these lessons to in conventional public schools:
Our analysis demonstrates that input measures associated with a traditional resource-based model of education—class size, per-pupil expenditure, the fraction of teachers with teaching certification, and the fraction of teachers with an advanced degree—were not related to school effectiveness in our sample.
In fact, schools with more certified teachers have annual math gains that are 0.043 standard deviations lower than other schools. Schools with more teachers with a master's degree have annual English language arts (ELA) gains that are 0.034 standard deviations lower. Schools with smaller class size, higher per-pupil expenditure, more teachers with teaching certification, and more teachers with an advanced degree actually tended to have lower student achievement.
In stark contrast, five practices—more human capital or teacher feedback, data-driven instruction, high-dosage tutoring, increased time on task, and a relentless focus on high academic expectations—were consistently found in higher- achieving schools. Together, these five practices explain roughly half the difference in effectiveness between charter schools.
Controlling for the other four practices, schools that give formal or informal feedback (more human capital) ten or more times per semester have annual math gains that are equal to 0.6 more months of school and annual ELA gains that are equal to 0.55 more months than other schools. Schools that tutor students at least four days a week in groups of six or fewer have annual ELA gains that are equal to 0.5 more months than other schools. Schools that add 25 percent or more instructional time to the average New York City traditional public school's time have annual math gains that are equal to 0.625 more months than other schools. Schools that prioritize high academic and behavioral expectations for all students have annual math gains that are equal to 0.55 more months and ELA gains that are equal to 0.375 more months than those schools that do not prioritize those expectations. …
Armed with these correlates of charter school effectiveness, we cannot simply wait for the expansion of successful charter schools. At their current rate of growth, it will take more than a hundred years for high-performing charter schools to educate every student in the country. For these benefits to reach the students who need them most, the United States will need to take the innovations from charter schools that have proven effective and apply them to the traditional public schools that serve most students.
Fryer calls for an effort to spread these practices to benefit the 3 million students attending the worst-performing public schools in the U.S., which he estimates would have a marginal cost of $2000 per student or $6 billion in total. It's not clear, however, that a spending increase is the only way to implement such a program, e.g., reforming teacher compensation and allowing for somewhat larger class sizes might free up enough resources to finance high-dosage tutoring. Regardless, Fryer's report merits close attention.
The cost of education may be the main reason why South Koreans are having so few babies. In surveys, they cite financial burdens as the biggest obstacle and single out education as one of the heaviest components. Thomas Anderson and Hans-Peter Kohler of the University of Pennsylvania have shown that the South Korean provinces with the lowest fertility rates are also the places where families spend the most on education.
This spending, however, no longer yields rich returns. Going to university racks up tuition fees and keeps young people out of the job market for four years. After graduation it takes an average of 11 months to find a first job. Once found, the jobs remain better paid and more secure than the positions available to high-school graduates, but the gap is narrowing. The McKinsey Global Institute reckons that the lifetime value of a college graduate's improved earnings no longer justifies the expense required to obtain the degree. The typical Korean would be better off attending a public secondary school and diving straight into work.
If the private costs are no longer worthwhile, the social costs are even greater. Much of South Korea's discretionary spending on private tuition is socially wasteful. The better marks it buys do not make the student more useful to the economy. If one student spends more to improve his ranking, he may land a better job, but only at the expense of someone else.
…South Korea's education arms race poses a puzzle. Students spend vast amounts of time and money to move up in the queue for good jobs. But queues are needed only for things that are in short supply. Why should good jobs be rationed? The number of "good" employers should, in principle, expand in line with the scale and skill of the available workforce. So perhaps the preoccupation with educational qualifications reflects problems in the labour market.
Coursera, a California-based venture that has enrolled five million students in its free online courses, announced on Thursday a partnership with the United States government to create "learning hubs" around the world where students can go to get Internet access to free courses supplemented by weekly in-person class discussions with local teachers or facilitators.
The learning hubs represent a new stage in the evolution of "massive open online courses," or MOOCs, and address two issues: the lack of reliable Internet access in some countries, and the growing conviction that students do better if they can discuss course materials, and meet at least occasionally with a teacher or facilitator.
"Our mission is education for everyone, and we've seen that when we can bring a community of learners together with a facilitator or teacher who can engage the students, it enhances the learning experience and increases the completion rate," said Lila Ibrahim, the president ofCoursera. "It will vary with the location and the organization we're working with, but we want to bring in some teacher or facilitator who can be the glue for the class."
Early this year, using courses from Coursera and other online providers, the State Department ran a pilot program to open space where people could take free online courses in priority fields, including science and technology subjects, Americana and entrepreneurship.
What is thus surprising about Ripley's book is how little it contains that is really news; instead, it serves to remind us in powerful terms that we simply haven't acted on what we already know. Education systems work when-
• Students are challenged with demanding and coherent curricula,
• Teachers are recruited from the top echelon of college graduates,
• We tell the truth to students about their performance, and
• Teachers, students, and parents are all committed to the difficult work of constant educational progress.
…The lesson for those who would reform American education is clear. We are right to work for higher standards and better teacher preparation; it's smart to realize that grit and self-discipline and determination matter alongside grades and test scores. But in the end, we simply have to do what we seem to find most difficult: teach demanding material well and not constantly underestimate our students' capacity to rise to the challenge. This means creating a teaching profession that draws in our best, and asking those teachers to teach a rigorous curriculum that progressively habituate our students to serious thinking, mastery of complex skills, and sustained study-habits. Ultimately, this is what it will take to build an effective progression from Pre-K to college and/or careers.
It's no secret that America's education debate is increasingly polarized and increasingly public. We see it every day on Twitter, in the headlines, and occasionally even on the picket line. The public discussion pits reformers who think that our education system is failing students against anti-reformers who think what's wrong with our schools is the people trying to fix them. I've been immersed in American education for more than 20 years and have led a global education network for the last seven, and to me there's no question that our school system must improve, and quickly. But today's debate has become a distraction that keeps us paralyzed in old divisions and false debates, rather than uniting against common problems.
Two recent bestselling books on education, Diane Ravitch's Reign of Error and Amanda Ripley's The Smartest Kids in the World, shine light on the conflict—and why taking a step back and embracing a global perspective is necessary to move forward.
…But while our education system hasn't changed, and the world we're living in has. So has the value of education. To Ripley, international standards are the relevant ones in a globalized information economy where higher education has become a virtual prerequisite for financial security.
Today, academic mediocrity comes at a much higher price. The U.S. used to lead the world in the percentage of students graduating from high school and earning college degrees. Now about 20 countries outpace us. Perspective is relative, and Ripley argues that standing still while the rest of the world pulls ahead is falling behind. America's marginal gains are not cutting it against a steep new learning curve. Sticking with schools that were designed for another era, as Ravitch suggests, would leave more of our citizens increasingly ill-equipped to compete for high-skill, high-paying jobs.
…Now when I come home to my own four kids in New York City, the education discussion I see on TV and Twitter seems woefully behind the times. The trumped-up debates that have stalled progress seem even more irresponsible because they are of our own making.
Instead of silencing her, Malala's attackers made her campaign global. Around the world, demographics still determine destiny because the most disadvantaged students are the least likely to receive a quality education – or any education at all. Today, education is more important than ever, yet some 57 million children have never set foot in school. In rich and poor countries alike, race, gender and family wealth predict whether children will get the education they need to be informed, contributing citizens.
Consider this: by 2030 India will provide a quarter of the world's workforce. Yet if current trends continue, 90 percent of today's students will not finish secondary school. Conflict and repression flourish wherever education does not. We all have a stake in reversing these trends.
Every movement needs an ignition point, and Malala was ours. The leaders of both the UN and the World Bank have made education their highest priority. Parents, students and business leaders in dozens of countries are demanding greater educational opportunity.
The fact that it came as a surprise when Malala was not named this year's Peace Prize winner is a testament to how far we've come.
I've traveled here with Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America, and the leaders of the Teach for All programs modeled on Teach for America that are operating in 32 countries. We're visiting some of the highest- and lowest-performing schools in China to try to uncover The Secret — how is it that Shanghai's public secondary schools topped the world charts in the 2009 PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) exams that measure the ability of 15-year-olds in 65 countries to apply what they've learned in math, science and reading.
After visiting Shanghai's Qiangwei Primary School, with 754 students — grades one through five — and 59 teachers, I think I found The Secret:
There is no secret.
When you sit in on a class here and meet with the principal and teachers, what you find is a relentless focus on all the basics that we know make for high-performing schools but that are difficult to pull off consistently across an entire school system. These are: a deep commitment to teacher training, peer-to-peer learning and constant professional development, a deep involvement of parents in their children's learning, an insistence by the school's leadership on the highest standards and a culture that prizes education and respects teachers.
Shanghai's secret is simply its ability to execute more of these fundamentals in more of its schools more of the time. Take teacher development. Shen Jun, Qiangwei's principal, who has overseen its transformation in a decade from a low-performing to a high-performing school — even though 40 percent of her students are children of poorly educated migrant workers — says her teachers spend about 70 percent of each week teaching and 30 percent developing teaching skills and lesson planning. That is far higher than in a typical American school.
I never thought I'd have to come to China for a breath of fresh air.
But that is exactly what I got last week by traveling to the China-Myanmar border area to visit Chinese village schools with the leaders ofTeach for All, the network of 32 countries that have adopted the Teach for America model of recruiting highly motivated college graduates to work in their country's most underprivileged schools. What was so refreshing about spending four days with leaders of Teach for Lebanon, Teach for China, Teach for India and all the others was the fact that, since 9/11, I've spent so much time writing about people who are breaking things and so little time covering people who are making things. This was a week with the makers.
Indeed, I could not help but remark to Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America and C.E.O. of Teach for All, that Teach for All is "the anti-Al Qaeda." It is a loose global network of locally run teams of teachers, who share best practices and target young people in support of a single goal. But while Al Qaeda and its affiliates try to inspire and enable young people to be breakers, Teach for All tries to inspire and enable them to be makers. Yes, plenty of terrorists are also well educated, but their ability to resonate and enlist followers diminishes the more people around them have the tools to realize their full potential.
The Tengchong airport
The conference was at a beautiful and modern hotel
The hotel lobby
View of Tengchong from the hotel
Another view of Tengchong
A memorial to the Chinese soldiers and U.S. Flying Tigers in WW II
You can see how many people came to the conference
I took a day trip to see the nearby village of Heshun, a large cluster of old mud-brick courtyard homes, many dating back to the Ming Dynasty
Heshun village sits above vast expanses of farmland and is surrounded by low mountains and four volcanoes
On Wednesday, we broke into groups of 15-20 and took busses far into the countryside to visit schools. Here's the school I visited – a few wooden buildings around a courtyard
Five of us stood in the back of this classroom for 15 minutes and when the class was over, went to the front and answered questions from the children (with a translator – they'd just started learning English)
It was very much rote learning – though the class had only 28 students
A view from the back of the school (there were basketball hoops everywhere in China)
The school served us a delicious lunch – the best meal I had on the entire trip!
After visiting the school, we went to visit the family of one of the students – as you can see from the beautiful house, this family is one of the most prosperous in town thanks to 100 walnut trees and farming tobacco
Nearly every house had lots of corn drying, which is ground up into food for the animals
This is the new school under construction less than a mile away – it will be open next year
This photo and the next few are from the drive to and from the school (90 minutes each way). I was expecting to see a lot of poverty, but didn't. All the roads are paved, nobody is biking, much less walking, and all the fields are carefully cultivated.
Rice paddies (you can see all of the rice tied up neatly on the left)
In a small town we drove through, we saw pigs being loaded onto this truck (China is home to half of the world's pigs)
A typical tractor/truck we saw, with an open engine and long steering column
These adorable kids sang a traditional song at the dinner on Wed. night
Julie Jackson, Managing Director of Uncommon Newark/New York City Elementary Schools, spoke eloquently
Andreas Schleicher, Division Head and coordinator of the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the OECD Indicators of Education Systems programme (INES), shared his latest research