Tag: RiShawn Biddle

Best of Dropout Nation: A Call to Revolutionize American Public Education

On this rebroadcast of a Dropout Nation Podcast from 2012, RiShawn Biddle calls upon reformers to remember the need to build brighter futures for all kids – and take the…

On this rebroadcast of a Dropout Nation Podcast from 2012, RiShawn Biddle calls upon reformers to remember the need to build brighter futures for all kids – and take the time in the new year to advance systemic reform.

Listen to the Podcast at RiShawn Biddle Radio or download directly to your mobile or desktop device. Also, subscribe to the Dropout Nation Podcast series. You can also embed this podcast on your site. It is also available on iTunes, Blubrry, Google Play, Stitcher, and PodBean.

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Tackling School Discipline

On this episode of On the Road from May 2016, RiShawn Biddle joins Steven Evangelista of Harlem Link Charter School, Shawn Hardnett of NewSchools Venture Fund, University of Pennsylvania’s Matthew Steinberg,…

On this episode of On the Road from May 2016, RiShawn Biddle joins Steven Evangelista of Harlem Link Charter School, Shawn Hardnett of NewSchools Venture Fund, University of Pennsylvania’s Matthew Steinberg, and Mastery Charter School’s Scott Gordon in a discussion at NewSchools’ annual conference on the overuse of out-of-school suspensions and other harsh school discipline.

Watch the podcast on this page or download directly to your mobile or desktop device. Also, subscribe to the On the Road podcast series and the overall Dropout Nation Podcast series. You can also embed this podcast on your site. It is also available on iTunes, Blubrry, Google Play, Stitcher, and PodBean.

Listen on Google Play Music

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The Dropout Nation Podcast: Five New Questions Every Parent Should Ask


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On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, I discuss how parents can use five new questions to spur reform of American public education and improve schools for their children step by…

Dropout Nation Podcast Cover

On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, I discuss how parents can use five new questions to spur reform of American public education and improve schools for their children step by step. By asking the right questions — including about math instruction and school discipline policies —  parents can change the way their kids are taught each and every day.

You can listen to the Podcast at RiShawn Biddle’s radio page or download directly to your iPod, Zune, MP3 player or smartphone.  Also, subscribe to the podcast series. It is also available on iTunes, Blubrry, the Education Podcast Network,  Zune Marketplace and PodBean. Also, add the podcast on Viigo, if you have a BlackBerry, iPhone or Android phone.

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Two Thoughts on Education This Week: Teacher Pension Oversight Edition


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The High Cost of Teacher Pensions: Congressional Republican Edition: As I’ve noted for the past two years, the struggle among states to deal with the more than  $600 billion in…

The High Cost of Teacher Pensions: Congressional Republican Edition: As I’ve noted for the past two years, the struggle among states to deal with the more than  $600 billion in pension deficits and retired teacher healthcare costs will be the single-biggest driving force in reforming American public education. But it will only happen once states start dealing honestly with these burdens (along with their overall insolvency). Reforming the lavish system of defined-benefit pensions, degree- and seniority-based pay, near-lifetime employment and abysmal performance management is one step. The other, as pointed out by the  Manhattan Institute and  Northwestern University Associate Professor Joshua Rauh, is to deal honestly with the actual deficits. This includes reporting accurate numbers and assuming conservative and realistic investment rates of return. Save for New Jersey and occasional efforts in New York and Vermont, most states have been unwilling to do the latter.

But soon, states may be forced to deal realistically with the insolvency thanks not to the Government Accounting Standards Board (which has done an admirable job of forcing states to finally admit to their retiree healthcare deficits), but to congressional Republicans, who take control of the House of Representatives in the next month. As Slate‘s David Weigel notes, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) will chair a House Oversight subcommittee that will investigate nation’s public pensions who have participated in the massive federal bailout related to the financial meltdown two years ago. One of the things McHenry plans to crib off New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s playbook and battle with the nation’s teachers and public employee unions. One way to do this: Demanding  state governments  to be more-transparent about the extent of their public employee costs — especially teacher pensions and healthcare costs.

McHenry’s colleagues have already begun the battle this month with the introduction of the Public Employee Pension Transparency Act, which would force states to fully publicize their actuarial assumptions and deficits beyond the usual tiny print in voluminous (and often year-late) pension annual reports. While the law had no chance of passing this time around, the prospects of similar legislation coming down the pipe in January has the public sector unions and pension systems on the defensive.  On this front, they will likely get help from school reform-minded congressional Democrats such as Jared Polis and cheerleading from their allies among such school reform think tanks such as the Education Sector (which issued its own analysis of the nation’s teacher pension crisis earlier this year).

The efforts by McHenry certainly presents a major philosophical conundrum for congressional Republicans: On the one side, you have a committee chairman in the form of House Education and Labor Committee Chairman John Kline who is arguing for a scale-back in federal education policy (except when it doesn’t suit the suburban districts among his constituency), and a return to a mythic version of local control. This would essentially mean that the feds would also take no action on solving the teacher pension crisis. On the other hand, Kline’s colleague McHenry is actually arguing for a more expansive role in regulating teacher pensions (along with other public pensions and civil servant benefits), which means a more-activist role for the feds — especially for the departments of education and labor, which will be the agencies that handle the actual oversight.

This isn’t a surprise. For one, Republicans conveniently demand both scaled-back and more-expansive federal policy when it suits them. More importantly, given the party’s general divide between movement conservatives, leave-us-alone libertarians, suburban centrists and Joe Scarborough-style moderates (and its even more fractious divisions over school reform), there will be moments in which policy goals clash. One must also keep in mind the diverging interests between congressional Republicans and their gubernatorial counterparts (who want a stronger federal role in order to force the reforms they support). This could lead to a clash between Kline and McHenry over pensions because of the contrasting philosophies, and the fact that McHenry (along with the Budget and Oversight Committee’s overall chairman, Darrell Issa) is also crossing into Kline’s territory on what is in many ways an Education and Labor Committee issue.

More on the Hollywood Model: What is Happening: Last week, Dropout Nation looked at the debate in Memphis over whether the district would hand over its charter to the state and essentially merge itself with the smaller Shelby County district. On Tuesday, the board voted to put the question before the voters, offering an opportunity for Tennessee state officials to step in and actually consider essentially turning every school in the combined district into charters. Such a move would certainly be better than the current academic state of affairs for the two districts, neither of which are doing all that well in providing high-quality education to the kids in their care.

Meanwhile a school district in tiny Elkton, Ore., may be paving the way for the future for many rural districts: Converting its schools from traditional districts to charters. In the last year, Elkton ditched its traditional district model of school operations and took advantage of the flexibility given to charters under state law. In the process, Elkton essentially becomes a competitor to five other districts in the area, offering students in those districts new educational options that may fit their needs. While others in the state argue for consolidations of rural districts, the history of such efforts have shown that bigger isn’t essentially better when the underlying (and antiquated) organizational structures are failing students and taxpayers alike. And as online options and more charters come down the pipe, the idea of merely patching up the school district model of education will go the way of using hand-cranks to start car engines.

And in Louisiana, state Superintendent Paul Pastorek has gained approval for his plan for the future of the Recovery School District in New Orleans, which includes allowing the schools to either stay under oversight of the state-run district or fall under the watchful eye of the old New Orleans school system. This is an important step toward making the Hollywood Model of Education real. Why? Because the New Orleans district can only gain oversight over the  schools if they are allowed to run in “21st century manner”, that is, the district will only serve in an oversight role similar to what the state would do instead of operating schools. The Recovery District schools, on the other hand, will operate on their own. Essentially, Orleans Parish wouldn’t be able to go back to mismanaging schools; given the district’s lack of capacity, it is also unlikely.

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The Dropout Nation Podcast: What Education As a Civil Right Really Means


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On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, I explain what it should mean for education to be the leading civil rights issue of this era. School reformers and others make this…

Dropout Nation Podcast Cover

On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, I explain what it should mean for education to be the leading civil rights issue of this era. School reformers and others make this statement every day, but it will be meaningless jargon unless several steps are taken to walk the proverbial talk.

You can listen to the Podcast at RiShawn Biddle’s radio page or download directly to your iPod, MP3 player or smartphone. Also, subscribe to the podcast series. It is also available on iTunes, Blubrry, Podcast Alley, the Education Podcast Network and Zune Marketplace.

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Three Questions: Indiana Schools Superintendent Tony Bennett


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Since taking office as Indiana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction two years ago, Tony Bennett has managed to make the kind of meaningful changes in reforming how the Hoosier State recruits…

Since taking office as Indiana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction two years ago, Tony Bennett has managed to make the kind of meaningful changes in reforming how the Hoosier State recruits and trains teachers — including requiring ed schools to screen out laggard aspiring teachers by using the Praxis I exam — that his predecessor, Suellen Reed, never deemed worth doing in her 16 years in office. This, along with his defense of the state’s charter schools from efforts to essentially abolish them, has certainly angered the state’s educational ancien regime. But it has also made him one of the more-fervent school reform-oriented state school chief executives — a role that will become more prominent as Indiana’s governor and state legislature consider a new round of reform initiatives in a state that dearly needs them.

In this Three Questions, Bennett — who will be coming to D.C. next week to speak  on an American Enterprise Institute book panel, offers a few thoughts on reforming American public education on the ground. Read and consider.

What is the one surprising thing you have learned during your tenure as Indiana’s superintendent from public instruction and how has it shaped your work and thinking?

It is surprising to me how infrequently children are the focus of conversations regarding education reform. Too often, the focus is on how change will affect adults in the system and not on how changes will benefit our students.  This inspired me, early on, to make putting kids first our top priority—and I look at everything through that lens.
What is the one thing school reform activists inside the Beltway don’t consider in their policy discussions and proposals and why?

Much of what we’re trying to do in Indiana aligns with federal policymakers’ vision for education reform. But specifically, I’d like it if the policymakers and leaders in D.C. removed as much of the bureaucratic red tape as possible.  I’d like to see them get rid of the superfluous reporting requirements that have nothing to do with educating children and instead pull educators away from focusing on their core mission to teach kids. In this regard, I think the feds have good intentions, but it’s difficult for them to envision how data and reporting requirements handcuff us at the state and local level.

What are the most-critical next steps that Indiana will need to take in order to improve the quality of teachers in classrooms? What are the challenges?

Our agenda is four-pronged: 1. Increase flexibility so that school corporations can meet the needs of their students. 2. Increase options for all students. 3. Increase accountability. 4. Recognize and reward great teachers.  Key in achieving these will be making sure teacher and leader evaluations are multi-faceted and fair—and can consider student achievement growth, which is currently prohibited by state law.   We must also work to ensure pay and promotion are based on factors other than seniority and degrees held. We need to make sure every parent has access to high-quality educational options for their child. Finally, we must act with fierce urgency to make all these changes now to benefit students—especially in our chronically underperforming school buildings.

The biggest challenges we face is opposing adult interests that seek to maintain the ineffective status quo.

How do you think charter schools will further reshape Indiana’s education landscape? What steps will you take to ensure that charters are of high-quality?

Charters are a powerful piece in our efforts to increase high-quality educational options for all students.  We have to provide a more hospitable environment for charters to develop.  And I believe charters should be held to the same high standards to which we hold traditional public schools.  If they aren’t demonstrating student growth and quality education, they should be closed.

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