national newsletter

Does ‘education reform’ now have five camps?

Welcome to Chalkbeat’s national newsletter! We’re Matt Barnum and Sarah Darville, Chalkbeat’s national team. Our goal is to help you make sense of the messy, fascinating, often controversial efforts to improve education for poor students across the country. Did someone forward? You can subscribe here.


The big story

Matt here: I’m on the west coast this week for a conference put on by the influential funding group the New Schools Venture Fund. The leader of New Schools, Stacey Childress, spoke this morning and gave a concise description of the “education reform” world’s state of affairs — and its ideological divides.

Here’s a piece of her speech:

“When it comes to our work in education, many of us are reflecting on the last 10 or 20 years. Some of it led to progress, and some of it did not. But we have different interpretations about why and what to do about it.

Some of us believe that the best path forward is to stick with the key reforms from the last 10 or 20 years and deepen them, do them better — accountability, higher standards, aligned curriculum, and PD.

Others believe that more parental choice is the key, whether that’s through charters or vouchers or both, some with a focus on equity and accountability. Others prefer a more open and universal approach to choice.

Others of us look at 10-year progress on NAEP scores in places like D.C. and Chicago, in states like Florida and Arizona, and we see a case for a smart blend of some of these things.

Others of us have our eye on reimagining learning, in schools and the system, to ensure that every single student gets what they need now and in the future.”

It’s an accurate reflection of how education reform — long associated with that first and second groups of policies she mentions — is increasingly a collection of really different approaches. The last camp, focused on dramatically reshaping (and often adding technology to) school, has grown especially visible in the last year thanks to advocates like Betsy DeVos, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and XQ high school prize.

It’s also notable what strategies are not mentioned: school integration or greater school funding, especially in light of recent teachers strikes pushing for greater pay.

So where does that leave the attendees? Childress’s advice was, keep trying everything — and don’t snipe at each other in the process.

“The key ingredient to pulling it off, though, is for those of us who are working toward steady improvement to resist saying that innovators shouldn’t try anything that isn’t already proven,” she said. “And for innovators to resist saying that the improvement camp is working on things that are never going to matter much for kids because the system is too broken.”


Local stories to watch

  • Detroit’s new strategy for parent engagement: classes for them, on topics from homework help to hair braiding. The trouble is, no one’s showing up yet.
  • A $24 million effort to get more black and Latino students to college didn’t work. Forty New York City high schools got extra money to add counseling and adjust their curriculums. But student outcomes didn’t change.
  • New York has quietly introduced one exception after another to its graduation requirements. That’s how policymakers have tried to keep standards high while not letting more students fail. The result is a system so convoluted it can require lawyers to navigate.
  • Denver is trying a new budget approach: total transparency. New documents show how much the district spends on libraries, lawyers — even the superintendent’s office — for each student.

Matt’s research round-up

  • Urban school superintendents stick around longer than you think, a new report shows. You have probably seen the statistic that city school leaders usually only last three years. A more accurate number is 5.5 years. The new survey also shows that superintendents have shorter track records in districts serving more students of color and more lower-income students, though.
  • Free school meals for all pay off, says a new study. It looks at a new provision of the federal school lunch program as it was implemented in Georgia. Students at schools where everyone got free meals were more likely to be in a healthy weight range. But lots of students are missing out: Nationally, only about half of eligible schools actually take advantage of the program.
  • Virtual schools are still growing, despite questions about their performance. A new report documents how many students are attending fully virtual schools: nearly 300,000 students across more than 400 schools in the 2016-17 school year. Nearly half of those students attend schools run by K12, Inc or Connections Academy, which is affiliated with Pearson. However, both companies saw dips in enrollment. In recent years, research and reporting have documented poor performance at a number of online schools.

Thank a teacher!

We’re celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week with reflections from 2018 Teacher of the Year Mandy Manning, Newark’s A. Robert Gregory, New York City’s Richard Carranza, AFT chief Randi Weingarten, KIPP’s Rich Buery, Colorado State Rep. Janet Buckner; Chalkbeat reader adviser Christopher Rogers, and CZI’s Bror Saxberg.

One way to recognize a teacher: Make a donation in support of our nonprofit journalism today. You’ll have the option to give your gift in their honor.


Names to note

Former L.A. superintendent John Deasy is the new schools chief in Stockton, California. Jane Martínez Dowling is the new CEO of ExpandED Schools. Jesus Jara, a deputy superintendent in Orange County, Florida, is the next superintendent in Clark County, Nevada.

Brian Whiston, Michigan’s school superintendent, passed away; so did the founder of Education Week, Ronald Wolk.


DeVos watch

  • John Stossel’s interview with the education secretary doesn’t tread much new ground. Her notable quote: “This country is on a trajectory to failure, ultimately, if we do not turn around how we educate kids.”
  • The fundraiser for the New Hampshire Republican Party that DeVos is set to attend next week will be closed to the press.
  • DeVos gave the commencement speech at Ave Maria University in Florida last weekend. “Public service isn’t self-service. It’s about serving others,” she told them.
  • The school’s president previously praised DeVos in an op-ed for her changes to Title IX guidance. “She stood up to liberal extremists and provided needed thoughtfulness to our national conversation about gender – one far from settled,” he wrote.

What we’re reading

  • In the eyes of the law in Texas, charter schools are sometimes public, sometimes not. Texas Tribune
  • Working together, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Gates Foundation are looking for new ways to help students improve their math skills, writing ability, and “executive function.” Education Week
  • A school funding lawsuit took another step forward in Pennsylvania, the state with the largest gap in funding between wealthy and poor districts. Philadelphia Inquirer
  • At Basis charter schools in Arizona, parents are asked to donate to supplement teacher salaries. Arizona Republic
  • “I’m against innovation in education — as currently conceived and conducted.” Education Week
  • Paid professionals, even if they’re not teachers, are quite effective at tutoring students. Hechinger Report

Photo: Gabrielle Colburn, 7, adds her artistic flair to a mural in downtown Memphis in conjunction with the XQ Super Schools bus tour. (Caroline Bauman)