Author Archives: Andrew Rotherham

Media: “We Expect Textbooks to Do Too Much” in Project Forever Free

Project Forever Free asked for my take on Dana Goldstein’s recent textbook package in The New York Times. I see it as reminder of two things: We ask textbooks to do too much and there is no way around the centrality of good teaching:

American history is complicated and our understandings of it evolve with time and through sometimes contentious debate. Today we’re having a lively debate about whether to trace the genuine founding of the nation to 1619 or 1789. Others argue it’s 1776. (I’m partial to 1865). There isn’t a right answer, tastes about what’s “right” will evolve, and people will disagree for at least as long as there is a country to disagree about. Making sense of that is a tall order for any textbook, especially one that’s also supposed to convey history across great swaths of time.

You can read my full commentary here.

Media: “Can education improve social mobility in America?” in Medium

Greg Richmond, formerly of Chicago Public Schools and more recently the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, has started an interview series where he asks people three questions (which differ by person) about their work or the education sector.

did one with him that is out this week. We talk about how education is such a powerful a lever for change, what I’ve learned since I was younger, and why data are so often weaponized in this sector. You can read the interview here and some discussion on Twitter here.

This passage, in particular, is sparking some interesting discussion:

A better question might be, “What should choice actually look like for a community?” In affluent communities, parents have lots of different choices, whether it is Montessori, Core Knowledge, or something with a thematic approach. But in low-income communities, the choice is too often the traditional public school, that hasn’t done well for generations, or three different flavors of vanilla. That doesn’t seem like genuine choice.

If we are serious about choice and equity, the choice frame in low-income communities should look like it does in more affluent communities in terms of the range of options that are available to parents — and grounded in what parents in that community desire for their kids. We have not realized that vision in a lot of places and obviously the insane politics around charters don’t make it any easier.

Bellwether Is One of D.C.’s Best Places to Work

Bellwether Education Partners was just chosen as one of the 50 best places to work (find us on page 93) in the Washington, D.C. area by Washingtonian, the iconic lifestyle magazine. The publication releases its Great Places to Work list every two years and has, in the past, highlighted D.C.-based companies like NASA, Vox Media, and the Data Quality Campaign. A few years ago (more than I want to admit), Washingtonian put me on its list of “40 under 40” to watch on the Washington scene. That was a nice nod, but I can’t think of a better way to return to its pages than as part of an organization I helped launch. I’m pleased we’re being recognized for giving people a good place to work — after all, we spend a lot of our lives at work.

This year, nearly 200 companies applied for the title of Great Places To Work. Winners varied in size and sector, from big tech firms to lean nonprofits, like ours, employing anywhere from 11 to 8,000 people — we have about 60.

Winners were largely chosen by how employees rated things like pay and benefits, work/life balance, and their company’s commitment to charity and community. Bellwether scored at or above average on all categories (except the quality of our coffee, which currently sucks and isn’t especially environmentally responsible), including job satisfaction; feeling challenged, interested, and recognized in their work; and whether or not people on our team would recommend working at Bellwether to a friend. Our team also felt confident in Bellwether’s financial health, management structures, and professional development opportunities.

When we (the four co-founders) founded Bellwether in 2010, we put a premium on flexibility and working to results so our team could do their best work while making decisions that made sense for them and their families. “Live your life and get [stuff] done” was our informal motto. We also emphasized trust — trust that if we hired smart people, they’d make smart decisions about how to use their time, how to do the work, and how to improve Bellwether. That’s why we’re able to have a D.C. office but also lots of remote employees. This strategy also allows Bellwether to source the best talent in the country and our team members to, well, live their lives while getting stuff done. If you want the office experience, we have that. If you thrive with remote work, we have that, too, or a balance of the two (which is what I prefer).

That flexibility, trust, and convergence of identities, ideas, and geographies make us unique, give us a competitive edge, and make us one of the great places to work in Washington, D.C.

I hope you’ll join us in celebrating.

Are Better Schools Enough to Advance STEM Learning? A Q&A With Ron Ottinger

Ron Ottinger, Director of STEM Next

Ron Ottinger, Director of STEM Next

I’ve long thought that the best way to get more kids into STEM fields is just to give them better schools. This way more Americans are in a position to make choices about their career paths and vocations. But there is obviously more to it than that, so I asked Ron Ottinger, champion of STEM learning and the Director of STEM Next, a few questions about changing the STEM status quo. (Interview edited for length and clarity).

Andy Rotherham: Why isn’t creating great schools so kids can make their own career and academic choices enough to advance STEM attainment in this country?

Ron Ottinger: There is just not enough time in the school day to actively engage students in STEM. Young people are only in the classroom for about 20 percent of their day and must shift from one subject to the next, without being able to fully immerse themselves in any one subject.

From my years of investing in helping build the field of STEM, spending 12 years on the San Diego City School Board and 10 as executive director of the Noyce Foundation, I have seen how high-quality afterschool and summer programs can support schools in improving students’ understanding of and interest in STEM.

Our studies at the Noyce Foundation and others show that consistent participation in high-quality afterschool programs is linked to increased interest, engagement, and persistence in STEM subjects, and that some afterschool programs have helped close the math achievement gap.

We now have new, large-scale research from The PEAR Institute at Harvard University and The Institute for Measurement, Methodology, Analysis, and Policy at Texas Tech that involve nearly 1,600 youth across 11 states. The research shows increased interest in STEM careers and gains in important 21st century skills that are in high demand in today’s workforce — such as critical thinking and perseverance — as a result of participation in an afterschool STEM program. Additionally, 80 percent of students reported a positive gain in their STEM career knowledge.

AR: What is the biggest obstacle to expanding STEM afterschool programs across the country? Continue reading