Friday, July 31, 2015

Fwd: A Dream Undone

Sent from my iPhone

Begin forwarded message:

From: Thomas Tilson <>
Date: July 31, 2015 at 7:22:32 PM GMT+3
To: Whit Tilson <>
Subject: A Dream Undone

This weekend's NYT Magazine has an in-depth story on the enormous progress that our country made since the Voting Rights Act was passed, making sure that it is easy and convenient for every citizen to vote – and "a largely Republican countermovement of ideologues and partisan operatives who, from the moment the Voting Rights Act became law, methodically set out to undercut or dismantle its most important requirements":

In 2008, for the first time, black turnout was nearly equal to white turnout, and Barack Obama was elected the nation's first black president.

Since then, however, the legal trend has abruptly reversed. In 2010, Republicans flipped control of 11 state legislatures and, raising the specter of voter fraud, began undoing much of the work of Frye and subsequent generations of state legislators. They rolled back early voting, eliminated same-day registration, disqualified ballots filed outside home precincts and created new demands for photo ID at polling places. In 2013, the Supreme Court, in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, directly countermanded the Section 5 authority of the Justice Department to dispute any of these changes in the states Section 5 covered. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, declared that the Voting Rights Act had done its job, and it was time to move on. Republican state legislators proceeded with a new round of even more restrictive voting laws.

All of these seemingly sudden changes were a result of a little-known part of the American civil rights story. It involves a largely Republican countermovement of ideologues and partisan operatives who, from the moment the Voting Rights Act became law, methodically set out to undercut or dismantle its most important requirements. The story of that decades-long battle over the iconic law's tenets and effects has rarely been told, but in July many of its veteran warriors met in a North Carolina courthouse to argue the legality of a new state voting law that the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School has called one of the "most restrictive since the Jim Crow era." The decision, which is expected later this year, could determine whether the civil rights movement's signature achievement is still justified 50 years after its signing, or if the movement itself is finished.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: what Republicans are doing here is despicable, un-American and flat-out racist (what other word can be used to describe a systematic, concerted effort to suppress the black vote?). If you wonder why I'm raising this issue in an email list dedicated to education reform: if you don't think the voting power (or lack thereof) of minorities and the poor has A LOT to do with our immoral public education system, in which the color of your skin and your zip code pretty much determine the quality of public education you get, please contact me ASAP, as I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. (Every time – once a year? – I write about this, somebody gets mad at me and wants to get off my email list. Be my guest: just email Leila at and she'll remove you.)

A Dream Undone

Inside the 50-year campaign to roll back the Voting Rights Act.

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Fwd: A Letter from ASD Superintendent Chris Barbic

Sent from my iPhone

Begin forwarded message:

From: Thomas Tilson <>
Date: July 31, 2015 at 7:34:06 PM GMT+3
To: Whit Tilson <>
Subject: A Letter from ASD Superintendent Chris Barbic

Chris Barbic, the ed reform warrior who founded and ran YES Prep in Houston before Kevin Huffman recruited him four years ago to come to Tennessee to run the state's Achievement School District, recently announced his resignation, which is a real loss for TN, especially Memphis, where most of the state's failing schools are located. As you can see from the attached slide presentation, the schools under ASD showed enormous gains. Chris shared some important lessons learned in his letter announcing his resignation at the end of this year:

I also wanted to share a few lessons learned.  Here is what I know upon leaving the Achievement School District:

We do far better when we trust our teachers and school leaders.  In the ASD, we trust educators by giving them the power to make the decisions that matter most in schools—staffing, program, budget, and time. They are the ones—not I or any "central" administrator—making things happen in schools, and with the right structure in place, this cycle of fast learning and educator-led decision-making will continue. By removing the bureaucracy—and putting the power in the hands of nonprofit school operators—we can eliminate the vicious cycle of the hard-charging superintendent needing to "reform" a central office once every three years.

Autonomy cannot outpace talent.  All of our schools in the ASD are given autonomy.  The difference between the high performers and the struggling performers lies in the quality of the people leading and teaching.  The only magic bullet in this work?  Committed and talented people.  So the big question for all of us is how we get and keep enough committed and talented people in our schools.

The current debate is off the mark, part 1.  This experience has given us the opportunity to directly run a network of schools in Frayser, a challenged but very determined neighborhood in Memphis.  We see the impact of poverty on kids and families there every single day, and there's no question this makes living and learning more difficult.  But we have also seen schools like Whitney Elementary—with a leader like Debra Broughton and a team of teachers whom together have created an incredible culture—where our students are starting to make impressive gains. The fact that we see this happening in Frayser and other parts of Memphis, including in Shelby County's impressive iZone schools, proves that schools in similar neighborhoods can achieve the same results.  And it proves that all kids, in the right conditions supported by the the right team of adults, can achieve at high levels no matter their circumstances.

The "poverty trumps education" argument sells our educators, and more importantly, our kids way too short.  And it is perhaps one of the most dangerous propositions that exists in our country today.

The current debate is off the mark, part 2.  Let's just be real: achieving results in neighborhood schools is harder than in a choice environment.  I have seen this firsthand at YES Prep and now as the superintendent of the ASD.  As a charter school founder, I did my fair share of chest pounding over great results. I've learned that getting these same results in a zoned neighborhood school environment is much harder.

It's time for more high-performing charters to step up.  These are agile, fast-learning organizations that get better faster than big bureaucracies. I applaud the charter operators who have stepped up to do the important and difficult work of neighborhood school turnaround.  We need more organizations to follow their lead.

Parents are not a part of this conversation, and they must be.  I've spent plenty of time in "community" meetings where the voices of parents are shouted down by people who are not from the community, do not have kids attending a chronically under-performing school, and are simply hell-bent on defending the status quo.  This is pure manipulation by those who are not in our parents' shoes.  We need to advocate for parents and make sure their voices—whether supportive or resistant—are heard at all times.

And the last major lesson I've learned—this work can break your heart, literally and figuratively.  Almost exactly a year ago, I suffered a heart attack.  There is no surprise that this was the result of work-related stress.  This work is incredibly hard.  It is hard mentally, physically, and emotionally.  The stakes are high.  And we have a lot to prove—or disprove—in this country about what it means to educate ALL kids.  I am committed to continuing this work and being part of an honest conversation about this, but now I think it is the right time to pass the baton to a new leader of the ASD.

July 17, 2015 at 5:33 am

A Letter from ASD Superintendent Chris Barbic

Supt. Chris Barbic by Brandon Dill/Governing.

After four years as superintendent, Chris Barbic is leaving the Achievement School District at the end of December. Here in his own words, Chris shares the reasons behind his decision and offers a few lessons he's learned during his time at the helm of this pioneering, impactful work.

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Bridge and similar low-cost private schools in the developing world:

Two articles (an editorial and new story) about Bridge and similar low-cost private schools in the developing world:

For-profit education

The $1-a-week school

Private schools are booming in poor countries. Governments should either help them or get out of their way

Aug 1st 2015 | From the print edition

Low-cost private schools

Learning unleashed

Where governments are failing to provide youngsters with a decent education, the private sector is stepping in

Aug 1st 2015 | DELHI, ISLAMABAD, LAGOS AND MEXICO CITY | From the print edition

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Thanks for visiting my blog

Thank you for visiting my blog. I sometimes don't have time to post here everything that I send to my school reform email list, so if you want to receive my regular (approximately once a week) email updates, please email me at WTilson at In addition, in between emails, I regularly tweet the most interesting articles I come across, so sign up to follow me on Twitter at:

For more about me and links to my favorite articles, posts and videos on education reform, see my School Reform Resource Page at, in particular my Powerpoint presentation entitled A Right Denied: The Critical Need for Genuine School Reform, which is posted at

The idea for this came to me after watching An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore's documentary about global warming. After seeing it, I thought to myself, "That's exactly what school reformers need as well!" My presentation is meant to be a collection of data and arguments that forcefully advocates for an urgent school reform agenda. It was made into a documentary in 2010 that you can watch at

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KIPP School Summit in Pasadena next week

I'm going to be at the annual KIPP School Summit in Pasadena next week (I arrive Sun. evening and leave Thurs morning). It's always one of the highlights of my summer, and I look forward to seeing many of you there!
Speaking of KIPP, here's a great, short (1:18) video celebrating and congratulating KIPP's 2015 grads (~2,600 KIPPsters are on their way to college next month)!

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The Writing Assignment That Changes Lives

I find the magnitude of these results impossible to believe, but this is a fascinating and important study nevertheless:

Why do you do what you do? What is the engine that keeps you up late at night or gets you going in the morning? Where is your happy place? What stands between you and your ultimate dream?

Heavy questions. One researcher believes that writing down the answers can be decisive for students.

He co-authored a paper that demonstrates a startling effect: nearly erasing the gender and ethnic minority achievement gap for 700 students over the course of two years with a short written exercise in setting goals.

Jordan Peterson teaches in the department of psychology at the University of Toronto. For decades, he has been fascinated by the effects of writing on organizing thoughts and emotions.

Experiments going back to the 1980s have shown that "therapeutic" or "expressive" writing can reduce depression, increase productivity and even cut down on visits to the doctor.

"The act of writing is more powerful than people think," Peterson says.

Most people grapple at some time or another with free-floating anxiety that saps energy and increases stress. Through written reflection, you may realize that a certain unpleasant feeling ties back to, say, a difficult interaction with your mother. That type of insight, research has shown, can help locate, ground and ultimately resolve the emotion and the associated stress.

At the same time, "goal-setting theory" holds that writing down concrete, specific goals and strategies can help people overcome obstacles and achieve.

'It Turned My Life Around'

Recently, researchers have been getting more and more interested in the role that mental motivation plays in academic achievement — sometimes conceptualized as "grit" or "growth mindset" or "executive functioning."

Peterson wondered whether writing could be shown to affect student motivation. He created an undergraduate course called Maps of Meaning. In it, students complete a set of writing exercises that combine expressive writing with goal-setting.

Students reflect on important moments in their past, identify key personal motivations and create plans for the future, including specific goals and strategies to overcome obstacles. Peterson calls the two parts "past authoring" and "future authoring."

"It completely turned my life around," says Christine Brophy, who, as an undergraduate several years ago, was battling drug abuse and health problems and was on the verge of dropping out. After taking Peterson's course at the University of Toronto, she changed her major. Today she is a doctoral student and one of Peterson's main research assistants.

In an early study at McGill University in Montreal, the course showed a powerful positive effect with at-risk students, reducing the dropout rate and increasing academic achievement.

The Writing Assignment That Changes Lives

July 10, 2015 8:03 AM ET

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We do indeed owe Sec. Duncan a debt of gratitude

We do indeed owe Sec. Duncan a debt of gratitude – for so many reasons!

We owe Secretary of Education Arne Duncan a debt of gratitude. Thanks to his "Race to the Top" program, teacher evaluation has finally moved out of the 19th Century. Thanks to him, the outmoded and unfair approach–an administrator sitting in the back of the room once or twice a year–is history. And it's about time, because that approach was susceptible to favoritism, laziness and sexual harassment.

My first school principal at Paul D. Schreiber High School in Port Washington, New York, evaluated us that way. Mr. Henderson, who was approaching retirement the year I began teaching, was known for playing favorites. He liked coaches who also taught, and he loved teachers who kept their classrooms quiet; those folks received glowing reports. Noise, even if it was a lively classroom discussion, was a bad thing in Mr. Henderson's book, and those teachers received a talking-to. (I was one of those.)

Secretary Duncan has effectively replaced that outmoded approach with a performance-based, data-driven system where teachers are evaluated based on the scores of students on standardized tests. He did this with "Race to the Top," the competition for scarce resources at the height of the Great Recession. To qualify for funds, states and districts had to commit to judging teachers by test scores.

Although most states didn't get the money, nearly all of them fell into line in their efforts to qualify. In some states, 50% of a teacher's rating is now based on test scores.


We owe Secretary of Education Arne Duncan a debt of gratitude. Thanks to his "Race to the Top" program, teacher evaluation has finally moved out of the 19th Century. Thanks to him, the outmoded and unfair approach–an administrator sitting in the back of the room once or twice a year–is history. And it's about time, because that approach was susceptible to favoritism, laziness and sexual harassment.

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Catholic schools adopting the best practices of the top charter networks

It's great to see Catholic schools adopting the best practices of the top charter networks:

With Catholic schools closing across New York City and enrollment plummeting 35 percent over the last decade alone, Queen of Angels and five other Catholic schools in East Harlem and the South Bronx have banded into a "network"— another charter term—of six schools and 2,100 students to try to reverse course.

A central part of the plan to push back the decline of Catholic education is to treat the city's successful charter school sector as a model, rather than a competitor, although charter schools have been contributing to the Catholic sector's population drain by attracting low-income families who choose a free charter over a tuition-based parochial school. 

The six schools are managed by the new Partnership for Inner City Education, which signed an 11-year contract with the Archdiocese of New York in 2013.

"The Catholic school system as a whole right now is taking a step back and saying, 'we need to get this right now,'" said Cecilia Greene, the Partnership's director of stewardship.

Facing decline, Catholic schools form a charter-like network

Our Lady Queen of Angels in Harlem. (Our Lady Queen of Angels) Tweet Share on Facebook Share on Tumblr Print
By Eliza Shapiro 5:05 a.m. | Jul. 20, 2015 2 follow this reporter

The idea is that if these six schools can show substantive improvement over the next several years, the rest of the city's struggling Catholic schools could follow. And the Partnership's leaders are looking to the city's high-performing charter schools as a template for their revamped schools.

The schools' student populations are very similar to that of the city's charter sector. Ninety-nine percent of students at the Partnership's schools are black or Hispanic, and 69 percent qualify for scholarships. The Partnership has a higher percentage of English language learners—22 percent—than most large charter networks. 

Greene described the network's model simply: "We are Catholic charter schools."

The Partnership's turnaround plan combines some of the central components of Catholic schools—strict discipline, a focus on character development—with a new infusion of charter-inspired efficiency and academic rigor.

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Bill and Melinda Gates, who haven't given up on ed reform:

A nice column by Nick Kristof about Bill and Melinda Gates, who haven't given up on ed reform:

That's the amazing news. In contrast, they acknowledge, the foundation's investments in education here in the United States haven't paid off as well.

"There's no dramatic change," Bill acknowledged. "It's not like under-5 mortality, where you see this dramatic improvement."

But both Bill and Melinda insist that they aren't dispirited by the lack of transformational progress in education. "We're still very committed," Bill says.

One giant leap: Bill and Melinda say the foundation is now going to further expand beyond K-12 to also invest nationwide in early childhood programs. I'm thrilled, for I'm a believer that helping children aged 0 to 5 (when the brain is developing rapidly) is crucial for the most at-risk children.

Bill and Melinda Gates's Pillow Talk

Bill and Melinda Gates. Credit Scott Olson/Getty Images 

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Maps: These Are The States That Demand The Least Of Their Students

Interesting (and, for some, shameful) (hat tip: Alexander Russo):

Maps: These Are The States That Demand The Least Of Their Students

As Congress considers relieving states from the push to set high, common standards for kids that NCLB never had, NCES comes out with a timely report and HuffPost's Joy Resmovits fills us in: States Still Differ Dramatically In Their Academic Expectations, Study Finds. Peachy orange states set lower standards, forest green states set higher ones. Image used with permission.

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Bridge International Academies

A nice article about Bridge International Academies, which just expanded from Kenya to Uganda, with plans to open in Nigeria and India within the next year (I'm quoted twice):

Beyond alleys strewn with rubbish and lines of laundry suspended between rusted metal shacks, a rutted footpath leads to a brightly painted private school, an oasis of learning in one of Nairobi's most benighted spots.

With corrugated iron for walls, chicken wire across the windows, and wooden desks, it may seem nothing out of the ordinary. But there are few places in the slums where a teacher holds a piece of chalk in his right hand and a Nook e-reader in his left, and follows verbatim an electronic lesson plan crafted entirely by academics in Boston.

Charging $6 a month on average, Bridge International Academies, a multinational for-profit chain, is offering schooling about as cheaply as it can be done. Its founders hope to roll that out to 10 million children across Africa and Asia, the key to its own longevity and, it hopes, the global educational conundrum that has bedevilled policy-makers.

But Bridge, which has expanded at such a rapid rate in six years that it is present in more than 400 locations across Kenya and Uganda, faces a potent threat to its survival in the shape of radical new teacher training proposals that would drive up the cost and put it beyond the reach of those that need it most.

"This could literally put every school in the [low-cost] sector out of business tomorrow," said Whitney Tilson, who sits on Bridge's board as part of a $6m investment by the Pershing Square Foundation. "It would send a signal to the world that Kenya is a country you should never invest in as a private investor."

The proposals are likely to stoke further the debate over delivery of education to the poor across the developing world, where some 250 million children are still unable to read or write, despite many of them having been to school.

Bridge is arguably the most audacious answer yet to the question of how to bring education to the masses in countries where schools are plagued by overcrowding and teacher absenteeism.

Bridge International Academies: Scripted schooling for $6 a month is an audacious answer to educating the poorest children across Africa and Asia

A system in which every step of the learning process is remotely dictated could help make schooling affordable for some of the world's poorest children


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Courtroom school reunion between judge, suspect

This heart-breaking story reminds me of one of my favorite books (watch the video

Courtroom school reunion between judge, suspect

Judge Mindy Glazer, suspect Arthur Booth attended middle school together

Author: Jeff Tavss, Executive Producer,
Janine Stanwood, Reporter,
Published On: Jul 02 2015 03:35:08 PM EDT   Updated On: Jul 02 2015 12:00:00 AM EDT
MIAMI - While most school reunions are held in hotel ballrooms or local gymnasiums, a recent South Florida get-together occurred, in of all places, a courtroom.

As Miami-Dade County Judge Mindy Glazer was presiding over bond court Tuesday, she looked up and noticed a very familiar face standing before her.

The suspect in front of the bench was Arthur Booth, a classmate of Glazer's at Nautilus Middle School.

Glazer asked if Booth, who is facing numerous charges including burglary and grand theft, had attended the school.

"Oh, my goodness! Oh, my goodness!" exclaimed Booth before beginning to cry.

Glazer said that Booth was the nicest and best kid in school.

"I used to play football with him, all the kids, and look what has happened," Glazer said. "I'm so sorry to see this."

Booth's cousin, Melissa Miller, said he had potential to do great things in his life. She believed that he felt a sense of shame and remorse when he saw Glazer.

"It just brought back memories of how smart he was," Miller said. "He was a scholar, well-rounded athlete, bilingual."

But instead of going to college, Miller said, Booth went on another path of crime and drugs. She said the cycle of incarceration and on-and-off drug use was vicious.

Miller said despite his criminal record, Booth is a good person and a loving father and grandfather.

"I was heartbroken. I mean, it just broke my heart," she said. "We're really trying to find help because there's obviously a need for help."

As Booth continued to cry, Glazer continued to wish him well in turning his life around.

"Good luck to you, sir," Glazer told Booth. "I hope you're able to come out of this OK and just lead a lawful life."

While the emotional reunion was certainly the talk of the courts, Glazer had no problem dispensing justice and set Booth's bond at $44,000.

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WATCH: New Key and Peele Skit Imagines a World Where We Glorify Teachers Like We Do Athletes

This is hilarious and awesome!

The Comedy Central duo has long been using comedy to challenge injustice. Now they're tackling education.

The new skit portrays actors Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as primetime anchors of "TeachingCenter," a show meant to mimic ESPN's flagship athletic program, SportsCenter.

The two hosts obsess over new teaching trades, a live draft for teachers, and an in-depth analysis of pedagogical technique. We even get a glimpse at a BMW commercial starring an educator. 

The skit is sure to win a few laughs, but it also contains an incisive social critique. Unmasking the sheer absurdity and contingency of our athletic obsession, "TeachingCenter" shatters the world we take for granted. Above all, it helps us to tangibly imagine our ideals. It really might be possible to obsess over teachers the way we do athletes.

Why not?

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Booking flights

 Random tip: I book a lot of flights and have recently discovered what I think is by far the best search engine: Google Flights ( It's fast, easy to use and customize, and has a "brain" so it shows you the best flights right at the top, based mostly on price but also shortest travel time, etc. It also tells you that you can save X dollars if you fly a day earlier or later, etc. And because it doesn't actually book flights and charge the airlines a commission (like Orbitz, Travelocity and the other travel sites), it has nearly every airline (except Southwest, which nobody has).

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