Sunday, November 11, 2018

ICYMI: Armistice Day Edition (11/11)

Some reading from this week. Remember to share what you find interesting.

Five Myths About Pay for Success

Yet another method for Wall Street to undermine education in order to make a buck.

How Canada Became an Education Superpower

As always, I'll dispute the metrics used, but still an interesting look at how Canada handles education.

The Truth About Charters College Acceptance Rates

An op-ed from the El Paso Times explains why folks should hesitate to be impressed by charters that claim all their grads go to college.

Not Just Philanthropy

How the philanthropists who back ed reform consider political contributions an important part of their strategy (or maybe vice versa).

The Backlash Against Screen Time at School  

The headline is completely misleading, but this article provides another nice follow up on the silicon valley wonderschool, AltSchool.

Why I Dread Returning To American Public School  

She's coming back from Germany, where families pay a little more, and get a lot more.

The Long Record of Voter Rejection of Vouchers  

A great compendium by Edd Doerr of all the times voters have said no to vouchers.

Bill Gates Throws More Money Around     

The TFA-er founded Educators For Excellence is just another reformster astro-turf shell game-- but Gates is shoveling money at them.

Why Don't People Vote for Public Education?

Nancy Flanagan addresses one of those great modern mysteries.

Grit Is Sh!t     

A look at how grit becomes an excuse to avoid helping students who need the assistance.


Saturday, November 10, 2018

Was GOP Defeated For Not Being Reformy Enough

You can say many things about Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform (CER), but you can't say that she's not seriously devoted to the cause of privatizing education through charters, vouchers, and any other reformy tools you care to mention. And while folks have many theories about why, exactly, the Democrats took control of the House, Allen has her own theory--

They weren't reformy enough.

Her theory ran in the Washington Examiner, and it reads like a dispatch from an alternate dimension. But, she says, she has proof. Well, then- proceed. Let's learn a little more about the business of selling reform.

Allen has conducted hundreds of meetings in the 115th Congress with "members, staff and anyone seemingly with authority," so I suppose we could also call her a lobbyist for reforminess. She says she has had three goals "embraced in principle by the majority party and some in the minority."

This is, in fact, one technique for selling reform-- cloak your product in an appealing principle. Over the past few decades, we've had a parade of reformster ideas that sound great in principle-- it's only when people have had to face the specifics that they've noticed how bad the ideas are. No Child Left Behind sounds noble. Common Core sounds swell. Nowadays, competency based education and personalized learning sound like super ideas. Until you have to deal with how, exactly, these things look on the ground. Reformsters understand this-- the personalized learning folks figured out right away that they needed to downplay the "plunk your kid in front of a computer screen" side of the biz. And here comes an excellent example from Allen.

This is "education goal" number one:

The least controversial is the idea that infrastructure dollars, once moving as a package, should include incentives for rural communities to complete or expand their digital footprint. To get additional funds, schools and districts would be required to adopt innovative approaches to delivering education, even if the instructor lives outside the district, the state, or the country.

Doesn't that sound more appealing than "bribe rural districts to promote cyber schools"?

Her second goal is, in fact, to promote competency based and personalized education, two ideas that sound great. Hell, they've always sounded great, because while their fans want to promote them as a hot new idea, there is nothing hot or new about them-- unless you add computers. Allen beats the drum about the old factory model, which remains baloney.

Her third idea is "private-sector-funded education, workforce, and apprenticeship scholarships," building on the reformy idea that for certain people, education is really just supposed to be vocational prep. Students should learn about how best to serve employers. Oh, and she folds this in with a tax credit-- contribute to a program that will focus on producing meat widgets for your business and you can get out of paying taxes to support schools for everybody else.

She even had a bill for that last one-- HR 5153, sponsored by good old Lloyd Smucker-- and its purpose was simple--

To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow a credit against tax for charitable donations to nonprofit organizations providing workforce training and education scholarships to qualified elementary and secondary students.

Look carefully. Buried beneath under all the rhetoric about workforce training is a federal voucher bill.

Allen says she knows just hundreds of people who supported this idea. Well, yes-- so do I, and Allen must have felt hopeful because Ed Secretary Betsy DeVos is one of them. It's great-- defund public education and funnel money to vouchers all at the same time. But Allen complains here that while lots of people would talk to her, at the end of the day, the House wouldn't get off its ass and actually do anything. She heard lots of recommendations, but nothing happened. Perhaps House members are aware that voucher bills are not particularly popular with the voters.

Now Allen slips all the way into an alternate universe. She says that education was the Number 2 issue in this election. Really? She doesn't offer any source for that, and I don't imagine she could, because while grass roots folks elevated the issue in several specific states, mostly (as always) nobody cared all that much about education. Allen calls the 155th Congress "the most disinterested I've ever seen" which I don't disagree with, but she also calls Paul Ryan a "veteran education reform advocate." No, can't say I've seen any evidence of that, other than his desire to strip as many functions away from elected government as possible, which does dovetail nicely with the privatization of education. She contrasts the 115th with the halcyon days when Newt Gingrich reformified DC schools and President Clinton embraced charters and John Boehner focused on building up education (did that happen? really?)

Because (here comes her point) the GOP failed to realize that the public wants ed reform.

Her further evidence is that some anti-public ed governors won. She also notes that those loud protests against privatization were "fanned by the teachers' unions" (Allen really hates the teachers' unions) and that "red for ed" is "now all but dead." Allen skips mentioning the successful Arizona campaign that led to a resounding rejection of super-vouchers in that state. Also, the unions are "licking their wounds" from Janus, though I can tell you this-- unions were braced for the loss of many members after Janus and have been surprised to see that losses haven't been as bad as they expected. So, not so bad on the wounds, there.

Allen tosses up some other carefully chosen races as "evidence," and dismisses losses like Scott Walker's spanking as a problem with "weak candidates." Any race that fits her theory is evidence; any race that does not is the result of something else. It's a combination of cherry-picking, spurious correlations, and starting from a false premise.

But her message is as clear as it is false-- anybody who wants to win an election has to stand up for reformsters and privatization. In a sense, I agree with her. I encourage any candidates who are solidly behind the move to privatize public education, to waste tax dollars on unaccountable voucher programs, and to replace teachers with computer screens-- please campaign on those things loudly and clearly so that the voters can understand just what a bad idea it would be to vote for you.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Toolkit for Teacher and Student Privacy

Data is the new oil, and we are confronted almost daily with stories of folks trying to drill the next high-producing well. Retailers trade loyalty card perks for customer data. Social media trade connectivity for personal data-- tons of it. And schools provide a rich opportunity to trade educational programs and assistance for a rich deposit of data in students (and teachers) who may not even be aware that Big Data is gathering data points by the bushel from their simplest activities. Industry leading Summit Learning, a charter school group that has placed their software and materials in over 300 public schools, has admitted that they share the data they gather with 18 "partners." The practice is not new; generations of test takers filled out the personal information pages with the PSAT; in 2013, the College Board and ACT were sued over the practice of selling student information. The process has just been accelerated by technology. Whatever you're doing, if you're doing it on a computer, you're leaving a data trail.

More erosions of privacy occur daily. One of the items that sent West Virginia teachers out on strike last year was a rule that all teachers would carry a device that monitored their movement and activity. Last year saw incidents of a hacker group holding school district data hostage, and backing up their demands by sending threatening emails to parents.

Not everyone fully grasps what's happening, and even then, many are unsure what to do about it. To fill those gaps, the Badass Teachers Association and the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy have issued the Educator Toolkit for Teacher and Student Privacy. (Disclosure: I did a small bit of advisory work on the project.)

The toolkit explains, in frightening detail, why teacher and student data is vulnerable, including, in both cases, the fact that ownership of the data is not always clear. There is a full chapter laying out the pertinent privacy laws as they currently stand (if you think you know FERPA, you may be unaware of the loopholes that have been added over the past decade). Is that data wall in your child's classroom legal? Probably not. If the teacher wants to use a free app to monitor student behavior and communicate with families, is that okay? The answer turns out to be complicated. And what are the rules for that survey that the school just handed out to all students? The laws have become complex, and most parents and teachers did not go to law school. The toolkit provides some simple guidance.

Educators are being pitched all manner of educational technology these days. Some are meant to help educate students. Some are meant to mine students for data. Some are meant to do both. Schools need to be doing their homework before adopting, and the toolkit lays out the questions that should be asked. In particular, schools need to be wary of black box algorithms, programs that use super-secret proprietary software to make educational decisions. If a human walked into your classroom and said, "Those three students should be in the advanced group, but I won't tell you how I decided that," you would show that human the door. Software is no different. And if any vendor answers teacher requests for transparency with some version of, "My ability to make money is more important than your ability to do your job," the teacher has learned some valuable information about that vendor.

The toolkit offers ten teacher rules for using social media (or not). The kit also provides practical tips for protecting privacy, and for advocating for better protections for all. And as an extra treat, an appendix shows the results of a survey given to teachers about technology in their schools. Almost half of those responding said their school uses an online app or program to track student behavior. And well over half reported that their school requires them to use certain computer based programs and materials. That "requires" can become aggressive, as witnessed by a Florida teacher whose set of favorite textbooks was taken from her room by her principal in order to force her to use the district's new digitized textbook.

We're just beginning to see where all this data mining can lead, particularly when the various sources are combined. Students can have their careers picked for them by graduation. Employers can order up very specific employees ("I want a person who never argued with authority in school, is good at algebra, has no family history of major illness, and whose social media shows them to be stable and quiet"). The data itself, and the people who generate it, can even become a commodity that investors can bet on and make money by manipulating.

The toolkit certainly doesn't have all the answers, but if you are a teacher or a parent, particularly one who's just starting to realize there's something to worry about in our new data era, this is a good place to start. The toolkit was supported by grants from the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment, the American Federation of Teachers, and the NEA Foundation, and you can access a copy right here on line.\

Originally posted at Forbes

Reformsters vs. Democracy

Many of us have said that one aspect of school reform is not simply about fixing schools, but is an attack on democracy itself.

Occasionally a leading reformster will just come right out and say it. Reed Hastings (Netflix) has been exceptionally clear that the whole elected school board thing has just got to go. Visionary CEOs shouldn't have to answer to anybody-- not employees, not unions, and not voters. Mayoral control has been a popular method for cutting elected school boards out of the loop.

Now Reformsters have spoken plainly in Arizona. Out in Koch country, the attempt to expand education savings accounts, a form of super-voucher, was thwarted by Save Our Schools Arizona, a true grassroots group that forced the ESA question to be decided by the voters. The voters hated ESAs by a two to one margin.

Did ESA hackers say, "Well, the people have spoken"?

Of course not.

“Empowerment Scholarship Accounts help families create a custom educational experience— one as unique as each child. Unfortunately, school choice opponents were successful in denying this option to all Arizona families, regardless of income,” Goldwater Institute President Victor Riches said in the statement.

“Across the country, ESAs have garnered the support of Republicans and Democrats alike because they provide a commonsense way for families to help pay tuition, provide tutoring, and purchase the tools they need to give their students the best chance at success in school and down the road.”

Well, no. Unless by "school choice opponents" he means "two thirds of the voters." ESAs have "garnered" support of some politicians in six states (and one, Nevada, created a program and then refused to fund it).

The voters of Arizona have been remarkably clear in rejecting the expansion of a system that already proved to be rife with unaccountable wastage of taxpayer money. The elected officials of Arizona, including their aggressively pro-privatization governor, can either listen to the voters, or they can listen to the deep-pocketed Reformsters. They can show themselves to be elected officials in a democracy, or the bought-and-paid-for hirelings of wealthy oligarchs.

Here's hoping they choose democracy.


Thursday, November 8, 2018

USED Uninterested in Rural Ed

Buried in Section 5005 of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is this fun requirement:

review the organization, structure, and process and procedures of the Department of Education for administering its programs and developing policy and regulations, in order to—

(A) assess the methods and manner through which, and the extent to which, the Department of Education takes into account, considers input from, and addresses the unique needs and characteristics of rural schools and rural local educational agencies; and

(B) determine actions that the Department of Education can take to meaningfully increase the consideration and participation of rural schools and rural local educational agencies in the development and execution of the processes, procedures, policies, and regulations of the Department of Education.

Yes, the law requires a report be reported, and the department has by-God done it. And anyone who thinks that the department under Betsy DeVos has lost the ability to crank out useless bureaucratic argle bargle will be relieved to know that the current USED can waste everybody's time as well as ever.

The report is fifty pages long, and I've read it so that you don't have to. Here's a trip down the bureaucratic baloney-hole. It's not short, but I recommend you stick around for the twist.

The Cover

A badly laid out spread of four photos-- a tractor, a railroad crossing sign, some windmills, and a sad looking computer lab, all on a background of blue sky. Taken together they suggest that one feature of rural life is that it is poorly photographed.

Introduction

One page. It says, "Here's the part of the law saying to make a report. We made a report. This is that report."

The Department's Self-Assessment

This is not, as you might assume, an actual assessment of how well all or part of the department functions, but is a description of what the department is, how it is organized, and how it gives out money. It's a somewhat hilarious use of the word "assessment" by the department. If teachers were assessed this way, your assessment would be something like, "Mrs. McTeachalot is a human female who was hired to teach fifth grade at Boisonberry Elementary. She went to college and earned certification. On most days she teaches reading. She uses a textbook and sometimes gives homework on paper."

The Department's Efforts To Solicit and Incorporate Input From and Address the Needs of Rural Local Education Agencies

That's the real heading. Never look to government agencies for poetry. So starting in 2016, the department did some outreach.

This outreach was designed to (1) determine the main issues facing rural schools and LEAs; (2) gauge the Department’s efforts to solicit and incorporate input to address the needs of rural stakeholders, schools, and LEAs; and (3) gather ideas for ways the Department can enhance how it solicits and incorporates input from rural stakeholders.

There were, allegedly, listening sessions. And here's what may qualify as real news in this report:

In addition to the listening sessions, the secretary and senior staff regularly meet with stakeholders to discuss relevant issues and ensure that policy decisions are informed by stakeholder concerns.

Yes, Betsy DeVos s famous for how much time she spends out in the field visiting schools. Why, in the first sixteen months in office she visited 42 US schools. According to this report, those visits were "frequently" with rural stakeholders, like that time she visited a school in Wyoming. Virtual and phone interactions are part of the deal, too. The report does not address the question of who, exactly, is a stakeholder in the DeVosian concept of a privatized free market education world.

The department also "frequently" engages with rural stakeholders with gatherings and webinars, and staff "regularly attend conferences of organizations involved in rural education." They also "host rural stakeholders who are attending conferences in or visiting the Washington DC area." And don't forget the School Ambassadors Fellowship program, which brings a "cadre of outstanding teachers, counselors, and principals" to the department-- in "almost every year of the program," one of those guys was rural. Does it seem as if we are really grasping here?

But if you are among the rural stakeholders who's been privileged to be in a listening session, you'll be pleased to know that "various" sessions "inform discussions" about USED policies, procedures, processes, etc so that the needs of rural stakeholders are "meaningfully considered."

USED also conducts "significant research on rural issues," like twelve studies in current set of contracts has to do with issues that have to do with rural schools.

The State of Rural Education and Its Challenges

So here are some things that they figured out with all that research and listening that was going on.

28% of US public schools are in rural areas, serving 19% of the nation's students (according to the National Center on Education Statistics). Rural students do better on some parts of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and not on others. Everyone, city and rural, seems to be about the same in 12th grade.

Hey-- this one is actually kind of interesting. Rural adults over 25 have a higher percentage of high school grads than cities and suburbs, but a lower percentage of Bachelor's degree.

Poor rural schools face many of the same problems as poor urban schools, but remoteness and tininess can make matters worse. Rural districts also don't have cool things like people who can manage the complicated business of writing grants. And there's the whole lack of internet thing. No argument there-- there are still parts of my home district where the internet doesn't go.

Additional challenges: transportation issues related to distance, fewer careers and apprenticeship options, attracting and retaining teachers and administrators, a wildly fluctuating tax base, less ability to offer advanced courses. All reasonably accurate, though I think rural districts have a lot to teach about how to grow your own teachers and administrators.

I will give the report's authors five bonus points and some fat font for this next insight:

Adding to these challenges is the reality that each rural community is distinct.

They get into specifics, which are all good, but this point is huge. Nobody thinks that living and working in Los Angeles is exactly like living and working in New York City, or like any other major urban area. Everyone gets that each big city is distinctly unique.

But everyone who lives and works in a small town or rural area can tell you stories about someone who breezed in from out of town and figured that because he was Kind of Big Deal in a large city, there wasn't anything he needed to learn before he ran his shtick in a small pond. Every place is different from every other place; that does not change when you get below a certain threshold of largeness. It is one more reason that the search for education reforms that can be scaled up infinitely (aka "one size fits all") is a fool's errand. And (while I'm ranting) the reason that a free market driven education system is Very Bad News for rural communities is that the market there is too small to make it financially attractive to education flavored businesses. Maybe you can make it in New York City, but that doesn't mean you can make it here, where the learning curve may be just as steep, but the potential customer pool is too small to allow for mistakes. A big city charter can watch a veritable parade of parents voting with their feet right out the door, and that charter doesn't have to care because given the vast pool of families (and schools have a "customer base" that is constantly self-renewing) to replace the bipedal defectors.

For just one paragraph, the department is smart enough to understand at least a tiny part of this.

"Rural" is not a monolith but a compilation of thousands of unique communities and circumstances.

Incorporating Input

USED has been trying to up its rural game, by creating another level of bureaucracy. Within the Office of Communication and Outreach (OCO) we will now find the Office of Rural and Community Engagement (it replaces the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach), which gets the delightful title ORCE. I will leave Betsy DeVos alone for a full month if she instructs the person who answers the phone for that office to say, "Hello. The ORCE is with you." Unfortunately, that seems out of line with the rest of its notably unwhimsical mission:

This office focuses on expanding interaction and engagement with rural LEAs, schools, and communities. ORCE supports the Department’s efforts to ensure greater internal and external awareness of rural education needs and contributes to the internal deliberations on policy development, communications, and technical assistance that impact rural education.

Also, the secretary served on some task forces that were sort of related to rural educationny things.

Addressing the Unique Needs

The staff wants to make sure that rural folks are "considered" and that rural LEAs are aware of programs and grants.

There are intra-agency efforts! Websites! Working groups! Meetings! Programs! Grants! Acronyms! REAP! SRSA! A community of practice! Email blasts! Language that looks like English, but only sort of: "The Department strives to maximize its outreach to eligible entities." There is also interagency coordination!

Actions the Department Can Take to Increase Rural Stakeholder Input

We start the list of things the department can do by listing things it is already doing, including things that have already been listed in this report. One begins to suspect that somebody at the department was told, "This damn thing had better be at least fifty pages long!" So there's the ORCE thing, and DeVos serving on task forces, and some grant stuff. The grant stuff actually gets into details, such as how the word "rural" has been included in some of the items on DeVos's priority list. Specifically:

* Increase access to choice. This, of course, requires some business types to decide that they want to try to operate a charter/voucher school in a place that only has a few hundred students to begin with.

* More computer science stuff.

* More computer tech (because it's magical).

* Creatively giving more students access to "effective educators" and/or effective principals.

That covers things the department is also allegedly doing. Additional things they could do...?

* Create an intra-agency work group, led by ORCE. It could meet regularly and collect information from the rural stakeholders, as well as other parts of the department that might discover useful info when they trip over some rural folks. Oh, and it could run more listening sessions. I don't mean to make fun of these-- listening would be great. But listening has not exactly been a hallmark of the DeVos department so far.

* But we want to expand them. More rural listening. By many methods, with many people. ORCE will coordinate.

* Look for ways to simplify the grant process. Maybe fix it so they can be handled by ordinary human beings.

* Provide appropriate training for rural LEAs to navigate the grant process. Webinars. Videos. Also, putting things on a website is not helpful for people with lousy internet.

* Explore options for working with other agencies and commissions. Because working together in harmony and cooperation is a hallmark of the Trump administration, and because Betsy DeVos is know for her cooperative nature. But hey-- one task force that she served on (Agriculture and Rural Prosperity Task Force) had sine action items that were definitely USED stuff and she could--oh, wait. That report came out in January. Maybe "action" is too strong a word.

* Comprehensive communication plan. We could, you know, tell rural districts stuff, and have a rural ed page on the department website.

* NCES is working on a special "status and trends" report for rural schools. That will be nifty.

Conclusion

There are many rural students. The department totally intends to care about them.

Appendices

The conclusion actually only got us to page 22. The rest is appendices, but-- no! no! stay with me. There's some useful stuff here.

For instance, Appendix B is a "sample of listening sessions conducted before the preliminary version of this report was issued. What's interesting? Let me break down the sequence.

2016 (February to October): 20 sessions (several virtual ones)
2016 (November): Trump elected.
2017 (February): DeVos confirmed
2017: (April to July): 5 sessions
2018: Preliminary version released

I have a gut feeling that DeVos doesn't really have her heart in this. Just saying.

So, About ORCE and this report

Some folks were not happy about the creation of ORCE. AASA, the School Superintendents Association sent a five-page letter back in February arguing that both ORCE and the office it replaced were essentially toothless, attached to the Office of Communication and Outreach which, they argued, has no actually policy function and can't really "effectively weigh in" on anything having to do with rural ed (Also, nobody appears to be in charge of the OCO at the moment, and its page, untouched for a year and a half, doesn't mention ORCE)

Also, they noticed in looking at the preliminary version of the report, that the report doesn't actually say anything about anything, nor does it indicate any plans to do something useful for rural schools. The report talks a lot about listening, but neither this document nor any other from the department talks about what the listeners actually heard.

The superintendents also note that some of the recommendations of the task force report run counter to what the Trump administration is doing. Getting broadband to schools doesn't fit with proposing to cut E-rate. Improving health care in rural areas doesn't fit with gutting Medicaid.

The superintendents provide a hefty to-do list and, finally, express frustration that this report was supposed to be done two years after the enactment of ESSA (which may explain why much of it reads like a bad book report by someone who hasn't read the book).  Their letter ends with some masterful teacher scolding:

It was our sincere hope, with an additional six months, the department would have been successful in releasing  a draft report for public comment that is detailed, accountable, and outcomes‐based, and outlined an action  item framework that USED was tasked by Congress to propose, including a pathway for implementation.  The  preliminary report, as drafted, falls short of this goal and remains an incomplete work.  We urge USED to review  thoroughly all public comments, incorporate them the final report, and announce a date when the final report  will be submitted to Congress.   

Urging aside, none of that happened.

And For a Final Giant Red Flag

The head of ORCE is a guy named Michael Chamberlain, and he was not easy to locate. Pictures are few, but there's this one  



Which helped me match him up with this guy--



Wait a minute! Las Vegas?

Well, yes. Meet the head of ORCE, formerly a communications consultant, formerly an editor/writer for the conservative Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, and the Nevada Communications Director for Donald J. Trump for President. Also consulting, communications and, way back in the day, an estimator for a Roof Consulting company.

I think we can safely say that this report is not a game changer as much as a time and money waster, and that rural schools that have been waiting for help from powerful DC educrats should probably stop waiting. On the other, if your school has roofing issues, I may know a guy.





Wednesday, November 7, 2018

AZ: A Great Win

From AZCentral:

Gov. Doug Ducey may have gotten a second term but he also took a powerful punch to the gut as his plan for a massive expansion of school vouchers was killed.

From ABC15  

"This result sends a message to the state and the nation that Arizona supports public education, not privatization schemes that hurt our children and our communities," Beth Lewis, co-founder of Save our Schools Arizona, said in a statement Tuesday night. "Thousands of volunteers have poured blood, sweat, and tears into this effort for nearly two years in order to protect public education from continued attacks."

It was not just a story, but a lead story-- a bunch of naïve political virgins with no experience, no organization, and no money were taking on the Koch-backed governor on the Koch brothers' home turf. This was a gnat squaring off against an elephant.


And yet, they won victory, putting a proposal to expand vouchers on the ballot instead of allowing it to slip through the legislature. Ducey flexed his muscles, saying he didn't take office to play "small ball."

SOS Arizona had many things on their side-- determination, commitment, and a growing network of actual grass roots activists (who turn out to be more resilient than the fake astro-turf kind).

They had one other weapon n their side-- and this can't be overstated-- in that they were right.

Many stories have short-formed the education savings account as "vouchers," but ESAs are worse, draining taxpayer money to be spent on … well, just about anything. ESAs are not a liberal problem or a conservative problem. They are a privatizers trying to steal as much taxpayer money as they can problem. Vouchers are a bad idea; ESAs are a worse idea. They deserve to be beaten.

SOS Arizona was also right in pointing out that the process Ducey and his minions used was a baldfaced attempt to circumvent democratic processes. Voucher fans know one important part of voucher history-- n voucher program has ever been approved by the voters of a state. Voucher programs only exist where legislators were able to take the voters out of the mix. Again, from AZCentral

Arizona voters didn’t just defeat Proposition 305. They stoned the thing, then they tossed it into the street and ran over it.

Then they backed up and ran over it again.

Voters defeated Ducey’s voucher plan by more than 2-1.

There can be no doubt that voucher fans will continue to push their ideas, but it's now more clear than ever that they can be beaten. Congratulations to Save Our Schools Arizona, and thank you.

1776 and All That

As fortune would have it, I am on stage this week conducting a concert production of 1776. It's intended as a celebration of the 25th anniversary of our local theater where, 25 years ago, the first production was 1776. I was musical director for that production, affectionately remembered as the show that ate my summer (we were scheduled to open on a date based on the contractor's predicted completion date-- when that date turned out to be optimistic, we had to keep the show fresh and alive for another month or so).

Even if you're not a musical theater fan, you may vaguely remember seeing the film version in a high school history class and watching Mr. Feeney help launch the country with the Declaration of Independence.

For what is essentially a musical comedy, the show paints a scruffy picture of the launch. The founding fathers are not noble or super-human, nor are they united in their vision of what do. John Adams is a pain the ass, and the Continental Congress is a bunch of hot grumpy guys who just want to go home. The show does perpetuate the tradition of whitewashing Thomas Jefferson, who besides being one more type of racist gawdawful slave owner and abuser, seems in many historical accounts to have been a weasely, emotionally disengaged shit. The Declaration is adopted not because of an act of bravery, but because of cowardice, the deciding vote cast by a man who doesn't want to stand out. And the show underlines, in its rawest, most brutal moment, how our founding fathers cemented a devil's deal with slavery into our very foundation. What would have happened, I wonder if the slave-dealing states had let the slaveholding states walk away and gone on without them.

There are things we have never gotten right as a country, and times that the tension between freedom and evil (can you be free if you aren't free to do wrong) has led to some bad, ugly stuff. And our national disinterest in nuance and complexity get in the way of looking at our own history-- don't tell me all this complicated stuff, just tell me the good guys and bad guys. When a hollow cartoon like Trump comes along, he plays to many of our weaknesses, and not just the obvious ones.

It reminds me that among all the lists of standards and educational goals, we almost never find "wrestles inconclusively with complicated pictures of human behavior." When we call for critical thinking, we still too often mean "able to distinguish evil bad guys from wonderful good guys."

We are all the villains of somebody else's story, but rarely our own. People suck, except when they don't. We don't talk nearly enough in education about how to navigate the complexities of being human and being in a world with other humans. We certainly don't get there by talking about literature only in terms of what reading skills we acquire by reading a work (or excerpts of it). These are the things I think about as I flap my arms in front imperfect people trying to give life to imperfect portrayals of real life imperfect people.

The flaws and mixes come in degrees; some are twisted in small and subtle ways, and some are towering messes, tangled beyond the point of functioning. Some spend their lives trying to become less tangled and messy, while some try to pretend they are just fine, tying more nots and twists in the process.

We like things simple and neat and clear, and sometimes, when you cut to the bone, things really are that simple at their core. But life is also about all the layers we put on top of those bare bones, and sometimes that's far more complicated than we like. Our country is founded n magnificent ideas and terrible sins, and we keep struggling with how to tell that story, keep struggling over the distance of decades and centuries.

Our theater is the result of many peoples' vision and in particularly the generosity of one guy who wanted to make his old home town better. The concert celebrates 25 years of local people volunteering and striving to create moments of art and beauty stretched across the full breadth of human experience. It's a thing we can all do. We can strive to make better the world in front of us, or we can turn away in fear-- and maybe still stumble into critical moments.

Life in the world is so terribly and beautifully made, and we have so little time to make something of it. How to be human, how to be in the world-- these are the things we try to grasp, even when we don't understand the shape of what we're grappling with. What standardized tests and microcompetencies aimed at vocational employability have to do with the big questions-- well, let's just say that modern ed reform has us poking at gnats when we should be trying to wrap our arms around the world. We think small, and we cheat our students.

The other emotionally charged song seems like a side note to the story of the Declaration. It's a song that tells the story of a young soldier, barely more than a boy, lying wounded in the grass, calling for his mother as he slowly dies. While adults wrestle with other issues, children's lives drain slowly away.

It's a rough week. We are suffering through some of the worst people to hold office in this country in 242 years. But they're a symptom of problems we've had all along. We can do better.