Category Archives: Politics of Education

Media: “Why America’s Schools Should Stay Open This Summer” in The 74

Let’s cancel summer!

This bums me out as a summer lover, but it makes sense for a bunch of reasons, namely education, equity, economy, and politics. Read more in my piece over at The 74:

But the unavoidable fact is that school leaders have two choices. One is to essentially throw up our hands and say the novel coronavirus is just an act of God — what can you do? Let’s just muddle through. The other is to say that, yes, this is an unprecedented and remarkable situation in modern American education, but despite that, schools are going to live up to the warranties they make to students.

My hunch is no one wants to think about this now, but it will be a big issue in a month or so. Do you think our national adventure in home schooling should extend through the summer?

Education Leaders and COVID-19 Crisis Communications

“Crisis communications” may evoke images of Olivia Pope in a power suit, but they are an essential skill for any school, nonprofit, or education agency. A natural disaster, a flub at a public hearing, or an altercation in your school cafeteria can all be a “crisis” situation even during ordinary times. And, of course, there can be a pandemic.

Education leaders nationwide are being asked to adapt to a fast-evolving public health crisis while serving students and families. Add deep economic uncertainty and, as a leader, you’ve got a complicated communications challenge. 

graphic of a broken heart on a smart phone screen

On Tuesday my colleagues discussed the importance of being strategic even in times of crisis. Today we’ll dig into three best practices for communicating those priorities:

Know your audience

You probably, in fact, have several audiences you have to reach. If you’re a school leader, you may have teachers, families of students, the district or your authorizer, and potentially the general public, all of whom need up-to-date information. A nonprofit leader has employees, the communities served, donors, and perhaps clients or other stakeholders.

Start by listing what information each of your audiences needs to know. Think through what barriers they may be facing — these may be technical (such as intermittent access to the internet), functional (you may not share a language), or relational (you may have to deliver some bad news). 

With those in mind, craft a message, select a medium, and choose a messenger. For instance, as a school leader, you may decide to have teachers make phone calls when sharing updates on closures

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Democratic Candidates are Missing a Chance to Lead on Charter Schools

When asked about charter schools at last week’s Democratic debate in South Carolina, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg hedged, saying he was “not sure they’re appropriate every place.” Other primary candidates dodged the question altogether, pivoting quickly to talking points on teacher pay, school funding, and quality child care. Why are Democratic candidates so reticent to engage on the question of charter schooling? Charter schools are a contentious issue within the Democratic Party to be sure, but by avoiding the issue, candidates are missing an opportunity to demonstrate the kind of leadership the Democratic Party needs. 

Looking at polling data, it’s clear that candidates who stake out positions flatly in favor of or against charter schools are bound to alienate a core Democratic constituency. Democratic candidates don’t want to upset teachers or their unions, which are powerful Democratic interest groups that often oppose charter schools. Polling among teachers supports candidates’ concerns: EdChoice’s 2019 Schooling in America Survey poll found that a majority (55%) of public school teachers support charter schools; however, their margin of support was lower than any other subgroup detailed in the poll results. The 2019 Education Next Poll found that 42% of teachers supported charter schools overall, but only 28% of union-member public school teachers, compared to 50% of non-union public school teachers. And in “Voices from the Classroom 2020,” Educators for Excellence found only 35% support for charter schools among public school teachers. In turn, multiple candidates have endorsed policies that would seriously restrict the growth of the charter sector, including eliminating the federal Charter School Program, banning for-profit charter schools, and supporting proposals to make school districts the only entities that can authorize charter schools.

No candidate has gone so far as to oppose charter schools altogether, however, likely because charter school support is particularly strong within African American and Hispanic/Latinx communities, which are disproportionately served by poorly performing schools, often in segregated neighborhoods, making school choice a powerful issue. Both the EdChoice and Education Next polls found majority support for charter schools among these groups. In fact, just days before the South Carolina primary, where black voters make up the majority of Democratic primary voters, both Senator Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden met with the Powerful Parent Network, a group that supports school choice and garnered attention last November for confronting Warren at a campaign event in Atlanta.

How Democrats navigate the issue also depends on constituencies in various states. Today, Super Tuesday, candidates must court votes from states where public opinion on charter schools varies widely. Across the thirteen states with primaries taking place tonight, we found relevant 2019-20 polling data on charter schools in four of them. Support ranges from just 44% in Tennessee to as high as 76% in North Carolina.

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Media: “Polling Expert and Former WH Aide Greg Schneiders on Where Education Advocates Must Do Better — and What You Didn’t Know About Carter’s Time in Office” in The 74

I interviewed longtime D.C. hand Greg Schneiders about public opinion research:

You’ve had an eclectic career — before working at the White House for Jimmy Carter, you owned a bar. What did being a bar owner teach you about thinking about politics and public opinion?

Owning a bar teaches you about business. Tending bar teaches you about people — who they are, what they believe or feel, and why. To be a good bartender, you have to be a good listener, which involves the same skill set as being a good opinion researcher. Nearly everyone — in a bar or in a poll — wants to tell you what they think and how they feel. And they want you to listen and respect their opinions and their feelings.

Few people come to a bar to hear the bartender’s opinion. They come to share their opinions and feelings about politics, the economy, education, culture, political correctness, sex, family, sports, the weather. A bad bartender will decide that the loudmouth at the end of the bar doesn’t know what he’s talking about and will argue with or, more likely, ignore him. The good bartender will realize that it doesn’t matter if the loudmouth knows what he’s talking about — the point is that it is what he believes, whether it is true or not.

You can read the entire thing at The 74.

Media: “Phonics. Whole Language. Balanced Literacy. The Problem Isn’t That We Don’t Know How to Teach Reading — It’s Politics” in The 74

In The 74 I ask whether on reading instruction we’re conflating our problems of education craft with our larger problem of education politics:

Most conversations about literacy treat the problem of poor reading instruction as one of craft. The problem is that teachers don’t know how to teach reading, so how do we make sure they do? Solve the craft problem, the argument goes, and the politics take care of themselves. But what if this is exactly backward and, instead, it’s a political problem that allows the craft problem to persist? And maybe not just on reading but also on other issues like testing, accountability and teacher evaluation, where we’re constantly told that if things were just a little better from a technical standpoint everyone would actually be on board?

You can read it all here.