Category Archives: School Leadership

Forget Everything You Think You Know About Rural Teachers

I can’t remember the last time I read a report that so thoroughly informed me about the basics of an important subject or so swiftly disabused me of my faulty assumptions.

If you care about rural-education issues or track the composition of the teacher workforce, you must read “The Supply and Demand for Rural Teachers” by Dan Player.

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Image from The Atlantic, “The Challenge of Teaching Science in Rural America”

This short and edifying paper is the latest release from our rural ed-reform initiative, ROCI. The paper’s purpose is deceptively simple: “Summarize what we know about the current state of rural teacher labor markets by contrasting them with the same data from urban, suburban, and large and small town settings.”

What follows are mostly descriptive statistics. Nevertheless, you’ll almost certainly find yourself repeatedly thinking, “I. Did. Not. Know. That.”

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Do You Have Opposability and Cross-class Expertise?

In yesterday’s New York Times op-ed, “Skills in Flux,” David Brooks shares some examples of seven new skills that are valued in today’s highly-networked, multicultural, and data-rich world. He writes: “As the economy changes, the skills required to thrive in it change, too, and it takes a while before these new skills are defined and acknowledged.”

More to come on what this means for the education sector, but for now I want to dig into two skills that Brooks mentions that are particularly valuable for education leaders.

The first is opposability – the ability to hold two opposing ideas in one’s mind while still retaining the ability to function (a la F. Scott Fitzgerald).

The education sector is wrought with polemic arguments that present policy solutions as mutually exclusive, but behind those arguments is intimidating complexity and startling nuance that exposes the vast gray area where most issues reside. For instance, high-quality, competency-based instruction is not incompatible with annual tests and accountability measures, yet I don’t often see education leaders and policymakers employing the mental opposability that could reconcile these ideas into powerful policy and practice.

The second is cross-class expertise – the ability to operate in an insular social niche while seeing it from the vantage point of an outsider.

Brooks’ idea of cross-class expertise as a professional skill is particularly germane to urban education where teachers, principals, and system leaders are disproportionately white, well-educated, and affluent compared to the constituencies that they serve. I interpret this skill as a kind of actionable self-awareness specific to race and class which is related to one of my recent posts on the necessity of education leaders being able to discuss issues of race, class, and inequity,

In a conversation with my colleague Saamra Mekuria-Grillo, at the Pahara Institute, we broke down  cross-class expertise into two kinds: native and learned. Native cross-class expertise is a skill acquired by mixed-race, bi-cultural, or mixed-class people or those who operate in highly diverse environments for extended lengths of time – much like how being  immersed in a digital culture results in digital natives. Learned cross-class expertise pertains to people who operate in a racially or culturally homogeneous environment but proactively gain exposure to new cultures, perspectives, and experiences to inform their work and personal development.

Should the education sector learn to value opposability we’d move closer to public debate that’s more civil, productive, and nuanced. And more cross-class experts could help reconcile the urgency to close achievement gaps with reforms that include the communities where they exist.

After Two Years in Teach For America, What’s Next? (Part 2 of 2)

Last week I wrote about the impact Teach For America corps members have on student learning, noting that the evidence is largely positive. The second part of Teach For America’s theory of change—which states that alumni will become leaders in the movement to end educational inequity—is equally important. Teach For America has always thought about this two-part theory of change as a balancing act, investing in measuring immediate progress within the classroom alongside how many alumni are active as education leaders. But this second metric is much more difficult to measure.

In light of how quickly Teach For America has grown, understanding how the organization measures alumni impact takes on even greater importance. As of 2014 there were over 37,000 alumni, or more than three times the number of corps members.

Source: Teach For America internal data via 2014 Bellwether Education report Continue reading

Ohio’s Chain of Charter Accountability

In a report released earlier this week, my colleagues and I tackle the troubled track-record of Ohio’s charter school sector. Our analysis unearthed numerous problematic policies, many of which overlap or interact with one another in dynamic and complex ways. However, one thing stands out unequivocally: too many poorly-performing schools are allowed to remain open.

Anyone who has been part of or affected by the closure of a charter school can attest that “unpleasant” hardly does it justice. It can be a legal and financial mess and, by definition, disrupts a school community. When students are not receiving the education they deserve, it can also be the lesser of two evils.

A high-quality charter sector requires strong accountability, both in policy and in practice. Ohio policymakers must address weaknesses in law and regulation. Importantly, practitioners at every level of the accountability chain must also own their role.

CaptureThe chart above illustrates the accountability chain for Ohio’s charter schools. The Ohio Department of Education oversees authorizers (called “sponsors” in Ohio).  My colleague Kelly Robson describes what this looks like. Sponsors oversee school boards (called “governing authorities”). School boards oversee the individual or entity responsible for the day-to-day operation of the school—a principal in the case of an independently operated school, a management organization in the case of a school that is part of a network. Each step in the chain of accountability is defined through a legal document which, ideally, outlines expectations for each party and avenues for recourse should either side fail to live up to their commitments.

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Rural Reform Matters, ROCI Is Different

For more than a year now, a group of top-flight researchers have come together (with the generous support of the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation and under the leadership of Dr. Paul Hill) to apply fresh eyes and introduce new voices to the study of rural K-12 education. Over the next several months, this “ROCI” task force, with the support of Bellwether, will release its first round of papers and, hopefully, grow our field’s understanding of the strengths, needs, and complexities of rural schooling.

This first of these publications, “Breaking New Ground in Rural Education,” is Hill’s introduction to the effort. Those new to rural K-12 will learn a good bit, those knowledgeable about the field will understand how ROCI differs from previous efforts, and K-12 stakeholders (including policymakers, researchers, and philanthropists) will see why rural education merits more consideration.

On that last score, the number of rural students alone demands attention. As Hill notes, more than 5.5 million kids attend remote-rural or small-town schools. That’s more than the enrollment of the 20 largest urban school districts combined. In half of the states, rural kids make up more than 25 percent of student enrollment.

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