September 14, 2015

Charters Everywhere, Education On The Campaign Trail Almost Nowhere, New High Schools, Old Debates…New Partners!

By Bellwether

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Three new partners at Bellwether: Rebecca Gifford GoldbergSara Mead, and Xiomara Padamsee, are joining the partner team. Sara and Rebecca started at Bellwether in 2010 as associate partners and Xiomara came to us in 2014 from Deloitte. In addition, James Willcox is joining Bellwether as a senior advisor. As CEO of nationally recognized charter management organization Aspire Public Schools, Willcox led a high growth period where Aspire expanded from serving just under 6,000 students to over 15,000.

It’s the anniversary of the death of James Fenimore Cooper. Probably best known for Last of the Mohicans, Cooper was also a Navy man. Originally a sailor, he enlisted after getting tossed out of Yale. Thomas Jefferson later made him an officer.

Here’s Malcolm Gladwell describing the KIPP experience in New Orleans post-Katrina:

“It has been tough,” said Rhonda Kalifey-Aluise, the C.E.O. of KIPP New Orleans Schools, part of a national educational network that has played a major role in the city’s educational experiment. “We’ve had fourteen different moves of our schools from year to year, as renovations are happening. The kids have had to get on buses and ride all across town. I think that if we had thought too much about what we were doing we probably wouldn’t have done it. There were lots of risks.”

Kalifey-Aluise and several of her colleagues then began to spell out just what she meant by “tough.” Two weeks before the storm, KIPP had opened its first school in New Orleans, KIPP Phillips College Prep—a middle school in Gentilly, with a hundred and twenty students. Katrina scattered everyone. Jonathan Bertsch, who was an administrator at that first school, recalls, “We started getting phone calls from our students—because, of course, it’s a KIPP school, and they have our numbers—from Atlanta, Chicago, and a lot from Houston, from the Astrodome. So we said, ‘We should go to Houston and find our students.’ I drove there, and I remember I picked everybody up at the airport, and we got the last room that was open in the Astrodome Holiday Inn, which was the executive suite at the top. There were forty of us staying in that room.”

Bertsch and his colleagues spent a week walking through the shelters with signs: “Do you know anyone who went to KIPP Phillips?” Bertsch went on, “We found about twelve or fourteen of our original students, which out of a class of a hundred and twenty is pretty significant, because we’re five hours away.” They teamed with people from KIPP’s Houston schools, rounded up twenty-nine teachers (twenty-six of whom had been with the Teach for America program in New Orleans), and on October 3rd—just over a month after Katrina—opened New Orleans West College Prep, kindergarten through eighth grade.

“For our families, the typical experience was we would meet them in shelters like the Astrodome and they would maybe transition toward a church shelter or be doubled up with a family,” Bertsch said. “Then maybe they would get a hotel voucher, and then maybe find a permanent apartment. A lot of our families were dealing with just trying to get their lives straight. The amount of trust and belief that families had in us was overwhelming. Because I would talk to families, and I’d be looking at a map and say, ‘You need to walk your child two blocks this way and two blocks this way and the bus will come’—and they had never met me, they don’t know who I am, and they’d never seen our school.” A year later, the KIPP organization moved back to New Orleans and started over, and, along with dozens of other groups, began the long task of rebuilding the city’s public-school system from the ground up.

People are debating the takeaways of Gladwell’s article but isn’t one that while we’re not going to have a system of schools where each one operates like this we should welcome some that do and make sure there is space in policy and practice to accommodate them? Here’s a guy now who wants to start some different (bonus Panic at the Pondiscio cameo in this one). Hard to see how a system resists this kind of thing and achieves the goals we expect of schools today.

LA Times weighs-in on the proposed charter expansion there. This David Whitman account of Common Core history is nothing but research and evidence! Nick Rodriguez on life after NCLB. Kevin Carey parses the new higher education data the Department of Education is putting out. Washington State’s AG wants the state supreme court to clean up its messy charter school ruling because of other programs it jeopardizes. Elsewhere in Seattle…no school! Senator Portman is courting students in his reelection effort. So much more news and analysis curated for you this morning, as every weekday morning, at

The Pioneer Institute thinks that the Fordham Institute is on the take for its Common Core position. Whatever. This is a now long-running and by now uninteresting spat. But here they make one point that makes no sense. They write,

Much of Fordham’s work has focused on Ohio’s charter schools. But Macke Raymond, director of Stanford University’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes, which studies the performance of charters across the country, said “Year over year, [Ohio charter students] are actually falling further behind.” During Fordham’s tenure, Ohio has among the worst performing charter schools in the country.

Seriously? First, this would be like pinning Massachusetts ongoing charter cap on Pioneer despite their efforts to change it. Fordham spent an awful lot of time, effort, and money trying to improve the charter sector in Ohio. They authorize schools there, and are transparent about that work so judge their performance for yourself. But it’s a dishonest cheap shot to pin the quality of Ohio’s charter sector on them and disrespects some hard work involved in trying to clean that mess up. Why do I care? Because we’re trying to clean that sector up, too. Surely there are more serious things to argue about?

Other than attacking Common Core so far it’s been mostly Hillary Clinton putting out education ideas on the campaign trail. Now, in his own way, Scott Walker is injecting education into the presidential race. Primary document here. Laurene Powell Jobs is campaigning for better high schools and ponying up some resources to try and make that happen.

I cleaned out my basement this weekend.

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