Friday, November 18, 2016

DFER encourages no Democrat to accept an appointment to serve as Secretary of Education

DFER just released this statement:

In response to reports of Democratic candidates being considered in President-elect Donald Trump's search for a Secretary of Education, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) President Shavar Jeffries released the following statement:

"It is, generally speaking, an honor for any person of any political persuasion to be asked by the President of the United States to consider a Cabinet-level appointment, but in the case of President-elect Trump, DFER encourages no Democrat to accept an appointment to serve as Secretary of Education in this new administration. In so doing, that individual would become an agent for an agenda that both contradicts progressive values and threatens grave harm to our nation's most vulnerable kids.

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Unions win and students lose in Massachusetts

A spot-on WaPo editorial:


Unions win and students lose in Massachusetts

November 10 at 7:28 PM

MASSACHUSETTS HAS long enjoyed a reputation as a national leader in education. A pioneer of school reform, it boasts a record of impressive student achievement. It was sad to see that reputation tarnished with the rejection in Tuesday's election of a measure that would have allowed for an expansion of public charter schools.

The state's existing charter schools have delivered strong academic results, and thousands of parents are on waiting lists in the hope of getting their children into one of these schools. Unfortunately, those facts got lost in a campaign of disinformation waged by the philosophical foes of charters, primarily the public teachers unions that see the issue in terms of threats to unionized jobs.

At issue was a ballot measure that asked whether the state should be allowed to approve up to 12 new charter schools or larger enrollments at existing charters each year, not to exceed 1 percent of the statewide public school enrollment. Only nine communities would have been affected, and it initially seemed the measure would be approved. But debate became inflamed with a pricey ad war that became a proxy for the national debate about charters. It also became partisan: Republicans made it all about the ideology of choice, and Democrats claimed it would undermine public education.

In fact, charter schools are public schools, and they take money away from traditional schools only in proportion to the number of students they attract. Not all charters succeed any more than all traditional schools succeed. But Massachusetts, with a rigorous approval process, is noted for the high quality of its charter schools, and especially in poor city neighborhoods they have performed well. It seems more than odd for people who call themselves progressive to celebrate the denial of an option that poor parents desperately want.

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Trump Set to Shift Gears on Civil Rights, ESSA, Says a K-12 Transition-Team Leader

I do not feel much optimism re. President Trump, either in general or in the area of education, but hope he surprises me. Here's an article about this ed plans:

Trump Set to Shift Gears on Civil Rights, ESSA, Says a K-12 Transition-Team Leader

President-elect Donald Trump will work to ensure "a new way of how to deliver public education" that focuses on educational entrepreneurship and strong public and private school options, according to a leader of Trump's presidential transition team responsible for education.

Gerard Robinson, a research fellow at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute and former state chief in Florida and Virginia, also said Wednesday that Trump will "streamline, at least" the U.S. Department of Education. And a Trump administration will likely take a significantly different approach than President Barack Obama's administration when it comes to contentious spending rules under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Trump could also discard another key piece of the Obama education legacy: The president-elect could significantly curb the role of the department's office for civil rights when it comes to state and local policies, according to Robinson, and thereby return that office's role more to how it operated under Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. That could have a big impact on everything from action on school-discipline disparities, to transgender students' rights. Robinson also said that he expects the office for civil rights to ensure that students' rights are not "trampled on."

But Robinson expects states to have a great deal of flexibility in the ESSA acountability plans that they submit to the Trump administration starting early next year—significantly more than they enjoyed under Obama-era waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act, which ESSA replaces.

"This is a great time to be a state chief," Robinson said, adding at the same time that, "I don't want state chiefs to think that when they turn those [plans] in that, 'Oh, well, these will just get approved.'"

Robinson is leading Trump's transition team for education along with Williamson M. Evers, a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. Robinson's comments about the proposed ESSA spending rules known as supplement-not-supplant indicate that anything the Obama administration does before the president leaves office in January could be rescinded. Republican lawmakers, who will continue to control Congress, have said Obama proposals on that score have been far too restrictive on states and districts.

"I think [Trump's] secretary of education will handle it differently than what we've seen from [current Secretary] John King" regarding those rules, Robinson said.

However, when it comes to ESSA in general, Robinson said he believes Trump views the law as a result of a "bipartisan coalition" and that the president-elect won't get too heavily involved in ESSA's rollout.

As for that $20 billion school choice plan Trump pitched on the campaign trail? Robinson indicated it represents the start of discussions about the issue for Trump.

"We still have to have negotiations with members of the House and the Senate to make that happen," he said. "But the fact that he put that out there ... I think it's a good way to start the conversation. Whether it's $20 [billion] or not remains to be seen."

More generally, Robinson said, "I see him supporting public and private choice-based programs. I see him supporting blended learning models, alternative learning models."

And remember those Trump pledges that he would get rid of the Common Core State Standards?

"To be determined. But he will expect his secretary of education to have something to say about common core," Robinson said, adding that the same goes for early-childhood education issues.

In addition to school choice and entrepreneurship, Robinson said financial accountability for higher education, in particular, would be the another key piece of Trump's approach to education policy. He said Trump will likely want to continue significant investments in colleges and universities, but also closely track how well graduates do in the labor market, among other indicators. 

Robinson brushed off the idea that he might be interested in becoming Trump's education secretary himself, saying he's happy working at AEI. But he indicated that Trump could cast a wide net in his search for the next secretary (assuming, Robinson conceded, that Trump does not move to eliminate the department as a cabinet-level agency.)

The search for a new secretary could include governors, state chiefs, and local superintendents, or Trump could "move outside and pick someone from the private sector, who may not have worked in education directly, but may be involved in philanthropy or some kind of reform." Robinson said.

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Monday, November 14, 2016

Heart-breaking appeal

Ryan Hill, who founded and runs KIPP in NJ, just sent me this heart-breaking appeal. I just donated $250. Please do what you can – they're still $10,000 short of what they need:


Hi Whitney,


We need your help.


One of our 8-year-olds was brutally murdered alongside her family on Saturday. The remaining family members (grandmother and aunt) really need financial support.  Any chance you could email this out?


Here's an article about it:


The details are worse than what's been reported. This is the worst thing I've encountered in all my years working in Newark and NYC.

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Cory Booker reflects on the election

I am still collecting my thoughts and trying to come to grips with the unexpected and grim results on Tuesday night, but in the meantime I drew some strength from what Cory Booker posted on Facebook (my prediction: Cory will be elected President four years from now):


Early Morning Thoughts on Today, November 9th.

This is not a time to curl up, give up or shut up.
It is time to get up; to stand up, to speak words that heal, help, and recommit to the cause of our country.
We had an election defeat, but we are not defeated. 
We hurt, we fear, we may even regret that we did not do more.
But character is not defined, forged or built in good times.
The fire of adversity forges our steel.
And the searing heat of defeat reveals what we are made of.
We tell our truth not in what happens to us but in how we react – how we face a setback; how we rise when knocked down; how we work through fatigue and frustration; how we bring grit to our grief and heart to our hurt. 
The will of a patriot is indomitable.
I regret that we have but one life to give to our country.
And thus, as long as we have breath in our bodies and blood in our veins, nothing can stop us from serving, helping, sacrificing and struggling for the cause of America - a cause that is 240 years old, a cause greater than our pain, sorrow, or fears - a cause that has seen agony, loss, setback, and defeats – but one that has never, ever surrendered. 
We are shaken, but our will must be firm. 
This finite defeat will not end our infinite hope - in us, in America, in all her people no matter what their faith, race, or political party. 
Our light is inextinguishable, no matter how much darkness we face. 
We must be brilliant now, when it is needed most, not a dim, dull capitulation to the gloom that abounds. 
We are prisoners of hope - knowing hope and faith do not exist in the abstract; they are the active conviction that frustration and despair will never have the last word.
So let us stand up today. Let us pledge allegiance to our nation with renewed conviction and courage. 
Let us be determined to reach out to our fellow countrywomen and men.
Let us encourage others.
Let us be gracious.
Let us seek to build bridges where they have been burned.
Let us seek to restore trust where it has been eroded. 
Let us stand our ground but still work to find common ground. 
Let us be humble and do the difficult work of finding ways to collaborate and cooperate with those whose political affiliations may differ from ours. 
But let us never, ever, surrender, forfeit, or retreat from our core values, our fundamental commitments to justice over prejudice; economic inclusion over poverty and unmerited privilege; and, always, love over hate. 
Let us speak truth to power; fiercely defend those who are bullied, belittled, demeaned or degraded; and tenaciously fight for all people and the ideals we cherish.
It is a new day. 
We love our country; we will serve it, defend it, and never stop struggling to make its great promise real for all. 
And no one gets a vote on that.

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Education-related ballot initiatives

This article ( summarizes the four education-related ballot initiatives that were decided on Tuesday. The key one was Prop 2 in MA, which would have allowed the expansion of charter schools, which lost by a wide margin (62%-38%). This was a big disappointment and the unions are crowing – but if anyone lost big on Tuesday, it was them.


I fear Trump will be a nightmare for the U.S. (but I hope I'm wrong and he exceeds my very low expectations), but I'm quite certain that he (and the Republican-controlled Congress, Supreme Court, etc.) will be a total nightmare for unions in general (about which I am very unhappy) and, in particular, the teachers unions (about which I have mixed feelings).


I am not anti-union – in fact, I think the precipitous decline of unionization in the private sector since ~1970 (from over 30% of the private sector workforce to under 7% today; it's been fairly steady at about 1/3 of the public sector workforce) has been a calamity for the U.S.: a major contributor to job losses, stagnating wages, widening income inequality, etc. – but I am for sure against teachers unions using their power to screw kids – like denying them high-quality charter schools (those in MA are the best in the country).

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Students' perspective on Trump election

If you (like me) are feeling sorry for yourself (and our country), please take a moment and imagine the alientation, fear and terror being felt right now by immigrants (whether legal or not) and especially by their children. A friend's son is a Teach for America teacher in Dallas and sent this (photos of what four of his students wrote are below):


Subject: Wanted to share


Imagine having to get up in front of 6 classes, each comprised of 30 or so 8th grade terrified, mostly Mexican students today to teach lessons in American civics & democracy. I'm so sickened & so so so sad.








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Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Whit's wager, but too late now

With the polls tightening, many folks believe Trump is going to win (or at least has a 50/50 chance). If you're one of them (or know someone who is – if so, please forward this email to them), then here's your last chance to make a friendly wager to benefit the charity of your choice if your prediction comes true tomorrow.

I currently have made three bets totaling $10,510 that Hillary will win the election, and am willing to take $50,000 of action (i.e., another $39,490).

The bet is simple – no odds, just straight up: if Hillary wins, you make a donation to my favorite charity (KIPP charter schools), and if Trump wins, I make a donation to your favorite charity.

Just email me and name the amount you'd like to wager.

Full disclosure: pretty much every poll and betting site has Hillary at least a 2:1 favorite, so I think I'm making a bet in which the odds are good that you will be making a donation to my favorite charity, not the other way around. So why might you accept this unfair bet I'm offering? I can think of four possible reasons:

A) Why not? It's for charity!

B) You think the polls and betting sites are wrong, and that the odds are actually in your favor.

C) You support Hillary and/or hate Trump and would be devastated if he wins, so this bet hedges that outcome: amidst your misery on Wednesday, you can at least be happy that your favorite charity will get a nice donation.

D) You support Trump and would be thrilled if he wins, so this bet would be icing on the cake: dancing on my grave would feel so good!


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Fortune - more on -- bull case for Trump

Never let it be said that I won't present a point of view contrary to my own. Fortune has two articles making the bull and bear case for Trump. Here's Anthony Scaramucci with the bull case:

For the past 30 years, the political establishment has failed the American people. Poorly negotiated and lazily enforced trade deals have caused jobs to flee the heartland. Misguided economic and tax policies have hampered growth, allowing the rich to become richer while turning the middle class into the working poor. Trillions of dollars spent on foreign wars have done nothing to make Americans feel safer at home.

Given that Hillary Clinton is the embodiment of failed establishment politics, it's no wonder her campaign has sought to make the election about personal suitability. But Americans are tired of political games and false promises from Washington. Donald Trump is not a career politician, and so that has created its own level of surprise and diversion from his core message and policies. But this election remains all about policy—and Donald Trump's pro-growth economic plan and pragmatic social platform represents a more prosperous way forward for the country.

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Fortune - Scaramucci with the bull case

I actually think Scaramucci makes some good points: Washington is indeed broken, our economic growth isn't what it should be, our tax system does need an overhaul, etc. (He could have written this exact article four years ago on behalf of Mitt Romney, whose intelligence, moderation and character I'll admit I've only recently come to appreciate.) Scaramucci's problem is his candidate: a totally defective human being who, other than apparently loving his children, has not a single other redeeming quality – an obvious sociopath, madman and con man. Roger Lowenstein does a nice job of pointing this out:

Warren Buffett says that if you've been playing poker for thirty minutes and don't know who the patsy is, the patsy is you.

America, wake up: Don't be Donald Trump's patsy.

In episode after tawdry episode, the people who've done deals with this guy have come out losers. His investors in casino companies? They got hosed. The contractors he hired to build those projects? They got stiffed. The students in his so-called Trump University? Allegedly defrauded. Charities that counted on him? They got bupkis.

Sure, Hillary Clinton is a flawed candidate. But this election is not about Hillary. It's about whether America will put its trust in a 21st century version of a carnival fraud—a patent-medicine salesman who brags of suckering the people he deals with.

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Charter school - Schools That Work

STOP THE PRESSES! The NYT's newest op ed columnist, David Leonhardt, wrote a tremendous story about charter schools last week, with a focus on the Match charter school in Boston. Here's an excerpt (full story below):

Charter schools — public schools that operate outside the normal system — have become a quarrelsome subject, of course, alternately hailed as saviors and criticized as an overrated fad. Away from the fights, however, social scientists have quietly spent years analyzing the outcomes of students who attend charter schools.

The findings are stark. And while they occasionally pop up in media coverage and political debates about charter schools, they do not get nearly enough attention. The studies should be at the center of any discussion of educational reform, because they offer by far the clearest evidence about which parts of it are working and which are not.

The briefest summary is this: Many charter schools fail to live up to their promise, but one type has repeatedly shown impressive results.

Hannah Larkin, the principal at Match, refers to such schools as "high expectations, high support" schools. They devote more of their resources to classroom teaching and less to almost everything else. They keep students in class for more hours. They set high standards for students and try to instill confidence in them. They focus on giving teachers feedback about their craft and helping them get better.

"My mother has been teaching forever. My father has been teaching for 10 years," Christopher Perez, a physics teacher at Match, told me. "They don't get observed. I get observed every week and have a meeting about it every week."

While visiting Match, I was struck that teachers hardly seemed to notice when I ducked into their rooms, midclass, to watch them. They are obviously used to having observers. They welcome it, as a way to improve.

The latest batch of evidence about this approach is among the most rigorous. Professors at M.I.T., Columbia, Michigan and Berkeley have tracked thousands of charter-school applicants, through high school and beyond, in Boston, where most charters fit the "high expectations, high support" model.

Crucially, the researchers took several steps to make sure the findings were real. They compared lottery winners with losers, controlling for the fact that families who applied for the lotteries were different from families who didn't. They also counted as charter students all those who enrolled, including any who later left.

When you talk to the professors about their findings, you hear a degree of excitement that's uncommon for academic researchers. "Relative to other things that social scientists and education policy people have tried to boost performance — class sizes, tracking, new buildings — these schools are producing spectacular gains," said Joshua Angrist, an M.I.T. professor.

Students who go to Boston's charter schools learn reading and math better and faster than students elsewhere. They are more likely to take A.P. tests and to do well on them. Their SAT scores are higher than for similar students elsewhere — an average of 51 points higher on the math SAT. Many more students attend a four-year college, suggesting that the benefits don't disappear over time.

The gains are large enough that some of Boston's charters, despite enrolling mostly lower-income students, have test scores that resemble those of upper-middle-class public schools. The seventh graders at the Brooke Charter schools in East Boston and Roslindale fare as well on a state math test as students at the prestigious Boston Latin school, the country's oldest public school and a school with an admissions exam.

A frequent criticism of charters is that they skim off the best students, but that's not the case in Boston. Many groups that struggle academically — boys, African-Americans, Latinos, special-education students like Alanna — are among the biggest beneficiaries. On average, notes Parag Pathak, also of M.I.T., Boston's charters eliminate between one-third and one-half of the white-black test-score gap in a single year.

And here's an update he published today:

Two administrators at Match High School in Boston were taking me on a tour of the school, and our first stop was the 9th grade English class taught by Ashley Davis. We entered the room quietly and stood by the door.

It immediately became clear that the administrators wished they had picked a different class to show me.

Ms. Davis's class was listening to a recorded reading of Toni Morrison's first novel, "The Bluest Eye," and we had arrived in the midst of a rape scene, full of descriptions of genitalia. The administrators looked at me with a mix of embarrassment and regret. I pretended to be more comfortable than I actually was.

And the students? They kept their heads down, reading along at their desks with their copies of the book. Many looked transfixed, others slightly bored. None giggled or smirked.

The scene ended, and Ms. Davis stopped the tape. "I just want to praise you for your maturity," she told the class. She snapped several times in quick succession, which is Match's version of applause, because it's less disruptive than clapping. She told them to answer some questions on a work sheet – to help them calmly absorb what they had just heard, she later explained to me – and then led a class discussion.

I wrote about Match in a column this weekend. It's one of the Boston charter schools delivering impressive results to mostly lower-income students. I wanted to use today's newsletter to tell you about Ms. Davis's English class because it underscores two big sources of Match's success.

First, although the place oozes optimism, it also strongly emphasizes basic decency, calmness and respect – no easy goals with teenagers. Michaela Notice, a senior at the school, says that when she is on Snapchat and sees snippets from other Boston high schools, she often thinks, "Match would never tolerate that."

Second, Match takes the art of teaching very seriously. In the back of Ms. Davis's class that day was her mentor, a teacher with several years more experience. They regularly talk about how to get better at their jobs, with a frankness that's underscored by a confidence in each other's abilities.

Even the principal engages in public reflection and self-criticism, standing up in faculty meetings to talk about her missteps. "If she can acknowledge where she's been messing up," Ms. Davis told me, "I should be able to, too."

There is no one secret to Match's success, but honesty – even uncomfortable honesty – is clearly crucial.

Schools That Work

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Should teacher seniority rules trump the rights of kids?- (LIFO)

An important lawsuit was filed last week challenging NJ's "last in, first out" (LIFO) quality-blind teacher layoff statute. Here's an excerpt from the press release:


Today, six parents from Newark, supported by Partnership for Educational Justice, filed HG v. Harrington, challenging the constitutionality of the state's "last in, first out" (LIFO) quality-blind teacher layoff statute. Under this law, school districts facing budget reductions are required to lay off teachers in reverse-seniority order, based only on the date when they started teaching in the district. The parents' lawsuit, filed in Mercer County Superior Court, asserts that New Jersey's LIFO law violates students' right to an education by unjustly requiring school districts to ignore teacher quality and retain ineffective teachers while laying off effective teachers, despite substantial research establishing that teacher quality is the most important in-school factor affecting student learning.


And here is a spot-on editorial by the Newark Star-Ledger:

A group of Newark parents has just filed a lawsuit, arguing that a state statute forcing districts to fire teachers based on seniority, not talent, is unconstitutional.
At the very least, we should all agree this policy defies common sense. Schools are required to lay off teachers based on the date they started employment, not their actual job performance.
So they end up keeping ineffective teachers while losing some of their best ones. How is that good for kids?
The main victims are poor students, because many already start out behind. Teacher quality matters more for them. Yet when our state reformed its tenure laws in 2012, lawmakers didn't touch the process known as "last-in, first out," which prioritizes seniority in times of layoffs.

…because many top teachers end up in the most desirable districts, some of the weakest ones are left in poor districts like Newark.
Even under the new tenure law, it can take years to get rid of them. Meanwhile, if district budgets force them to lay off tenured teachers, the youngest are the first to go – no matter how gifted or hardworking.
…New Jersey is one of only 10 states that still makes seniority the only factor in tenured teacher layoffs, and in one poll, 68 percent of residents said that needs to change. So whether it's ordered by a court or not, this much is clear: seniority has to go.

Should teacher seniority rules trump the rights of kids?

When teacher seniority rights trump merit, the biggest losers are kids. (Steve Hockstein | For NJ Advance Media)

By Star-Ledger Editorial Board

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