Sunday, June 16, 2019

ICYMI: BBQ And Blues Edition (6/15)

Today in our city park you can listen to jazz and blues all day while sampling a variety of barbecue offerings. Now don't you wish you lived near me?

In the meantime, here is some reading for you. Remember to share.

Better Schools Won't Fix America

Another wealthy reformster figures out that ed reform is on the wrong path.

She Left The Education Department For Groups It Curbed; Now She's Back  

Yet another fox lands a sweet henhouse gig. Hoping Americans we'll be defended from predatory for-profit scam colleges? This lady is not going to help.

Churn and Burn 

Turns out that charters run through staff far more than public schools do.

Are Charters Hurting School Distracts

Matt Barnum at Chalkbeat runs some numbers and finds that (suroprise) charters do damage the districts they come from.

Cyber Accountability

Testimony day in Harrisburg, PA, becomes a little heated when cyber charter boosters come out to defend their businesses from ac tual educators.

Betsy DeVos, meet Ralph from Comcast.

Betsy DeVos, meet Ralph and find out what fuss about predatory privatized college looks like on the ground.

Charter Schools and Buying Double 

Steven Singer looks at duplication of services and the extra costs of charter schools.

White Home Buyers, Black Neighborhoods, and the Future of Urban Schools  

Another invaluable episode of Have You Heard, looking at gentrification in an interview with Yawu Miller.

One State Sets Out To Rethink Charter Oversight 

Jan Resseger takes a look at some important results from California's charter study.

What About ALICE?

One more creepy technocratic program for managing and profiting from the Lessers. Wrench in the Gears has dug up details.

Comics Resources   

Like to use graphic novels, comics, etc in your classroom and you need some backup for the practice? Here's a list of some resources you can use.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Winners Take All, Education Edition

Every so often you come across a book that unpacks and reframes a part of the universe in a way that you can never unsee. Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas has been a book like that for me.

Giridharadas is writing about "the elite charade of changing the world," and while he is taking a broad look at the way the Betters are trying to influence our country and our world, the connections to education reform are unmistakable. I'm about to go ahead and give my grossly oversimplified take on his work and its intersection with public education; as a general guide, assume everything smart came from his book and everything wrong is my fault. There's a lot to pack into a blog post, and I will cut corners like crazy; there are so many pull quotes from this book that I have put up an entire supplemental blog post just of quotes from the work. My best recommendation if you find any of this striking is to buy the book.

Here's my very simple take.

You know that meme about a rich person, a poor person, and a working class person sitting down to some food- we'll say a dozen donuts. The rich person has ten donuts on their plate, and as the other two contemplate the remaining donuts, the rich person says to the working class person, "You'd better watch out-- I think that poor person wants to take your donut."

But nowadays we have all sorts of elites that make noise about making the world a better place. But here's what they do-- they say, "Boy, two donuts aren't many for the two of you. Let's fix that. I'm going to start a foundation  that will teach you how to better stretch a donut." Or "I'll offer grants to buy donut knives to cut the donuts into neater pieces (and my company will make the knives)." Or "I'll cut these up for you, because I have a much better understanding of donuts than you do." Or "I'm going to fund some programs to teach you how to better control your hunger, because if you had that kind of personal strength, you wouldn't have to care so much about the donuts." Or, "I'm going to generously give one of these guys part of a donut. Call the media to catch this heartwarming story."  Or, of course, "If you had a better education, you would have more donuts."

What the Ten Donut Crowd won't say is, "Let's take a look at the system that divided the donuts up this way in the first place." Or "Let's use our democratic traditions and institutions to settle this fairly."

The elite assumption is that the system that put them on top, the game that they are the winners of, is fair and just and unrigged and not in need of being changed in any major ways. They are not part of the problem, and they are hurt that you would even suggest that was true; they are simply the just winners in a meritocratic system.

So the solutions they will propose meet a couple of standards:

1) It will include no challenge to the fundamentals of the current system.
2) The elites will be in charge (because their eliteness is proof of their fitness to run the show).
3) It will harness entrepreneurial energy (i.e. someone's going to make money from it).
4) It will hand most of the blame responsibility to the people on the bottom who are being "rescued."

I have a ton of quotes collected from this book, but I'm just going to put these two right here:

The initiatives mostly aren't democratic, nor do they reflect collective problem-solving or universal solutions. Rather, they favor the use of the private sector and its charitable spoils, the market way of looking at things, and the bypassing of government. They reflect a highly influential view that the winners of an unjust status quo-- and the tools and mentalities and values that helped them, win-- are the secret to redressing the injustices. Those at greatest risk of being resented in an age of inequality are thereby recast as our saviors from an age of inequality.

For when elites assume leadership of social change, they are able to reshape what social change is-- above all, to present it as something that should never threaten winners.

The fingerprints of this mindset are all over education reform.

* The very notion, popular and bipartisan among the Betters, that education is the fix for everything. All the socio-economic inequity in the country can be solved, not by looking at the system that created that inequity-- in fact, we're not even going to admit that the system had any hand in creating inequity. No the system is swell, and the winners are people who are at the top got there by hard work and wisdom and meritocratic excellence. So, no, we don't need to look at that system-- we just need these people on the bottom to get themselves better educations (including things like grit) so that they can win at the game, too.

* Think Bill Gates, deciding that he needs to rewrite and standardize public education, and will have to circumvent, subvert and co-op the actual government to do it. Nobody elected him Grand Poobah of US Education, but he is perfectly comfortable appointing himself to the job.

* Think the deification of business standards in ed reform, and the notion that the free market will fix the system, that we will know which ideas are working best because they will succeed in the market. Think Eli Broad's assertion that schools don't have an education problem, but a business management problem.

* Think the repeated notion that democracy is a problem in education. We need to get rid of elected school boards and we need to give school leaders the kind of freedom that an all-powerful CEO has to create his vision. In ed reform, local control and the democratic process are to be avoided.

* Think the constant rejection of expertise. Reformsters don't need to talk to teachers. What do teachers know? (If they are really such great shakes, why aren't they rich?) I've succeeded at the game, and the same wisdom that made me a winner at that game will apply to fixing education. No other sorts of wisdom are necessary.

Now, you may be thinking, what about charter schools? Don't those totally disrupt the status quo? Don't those challenge the system that created the inequity that has marked public education in this country?

I say no. No, they have exactly not done that.

The US education system suffers from inequity that's systematically embedded in the link to real estate taxes. Buy a rich house, get a wealthy school. We've also got a variety of mechanisms in place that minimize the degree to which taxpayers have to fund schools for Other Peoples' Children.

Charter and choice systems don't propose to change any of that. What they propose is to offer a pathway by which a few families may be able to move their children around a bit, in hopes that they can find an available school a few steps up the inequity ladder (but of course no voucher or charter system will get a poor student into a wealthy school, private or public). Meanwhile, the fundamental structures of inequity remain in place, in some cases actually made worse by the creation of a charter or choice system.

Charters and choice check all the boxes. Nobody who has privilege has to worry about losing any of it or even having it challenged. It circumvents government and democratic processes. It applies what Giridharadas calls MarketWorld principles to education, turning schools into businesses. And it keeps the responsibility for getting a good education (and through it, "escaping" poverty) on the families themselves. And much of the rhetoric surrounding charters keeps us from distracted from what is not actually being challenged at all.

Seriously, read this book. It's sharp and insightful and filled with profiles of the people who operate in this world of elite largesses.

Winners Take All-- Read This Book (Excerpts)

Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas might be the most important book you read this year. It is not directly aimed at education or education reform, and yet it has everything to do with education form. I'll address that in a separate post going up the same time as this one. But here I just want to share some important quotes from the book as a means of encouraging you to buy it and read it, because it offers a framework for understanding much of what's going on, from the neo-liberal wave to the wave that swept Donald Trump into office. Buy this book. 

The initiatives mostly aren't democratic, nor do they reflect collective problem-solving or universal solutions. Rather, they favor the use of the private sector and its charitable spoils, the market way of looking at things, and the bypassing of government. They reflect a highly influential view that the winners of an unjust status quo-- and the tools and mentalities and values that helped them, win-- are the secret to redressing the injustices. Those at greatest risk of being resented in an age of inequality are thereby recast as our saviors from an age of inequality.

For when elites assume leadership of social change, they are able to reshape what social change is-- above all, to present it as something that should never threaten winners.

"If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change." If this view is correct, then much of the charity and social innovation and give-one-get-one marketing around us may not be reform measures so much as forms of conservative self-defense-- measures that protect elites from more menacing change.

What is at stake is whether the reform of our common life is led by governments elected by and accountable to the people, or rather by wealthy elites claiming to know our best interests.

A charitable interpretation of this idea is that the world deserves to benefit from flourishing business. A more sinister interpretation is that business deserves to profit from any attempt to better the condition of the world.

There is no discounting the audacity of this MarketWorld idea. It rejects the notion that there are different social classes with different interests who must fight for their needs and rights. Instead, we get what we deserve through marketplace arrangements-- whether fantasy football to help African orphans or office software to make everyone more productive or the sale of toothpaste to the poor in ways that increase shareholder value. This win-win doctrine took on a great deal more than Adam Smith ever had, in claiming that the winners were specially qualified to look after the losers.

It is fine for winners to see their own success as inextricable from others. But there will always be situations in which people's preferences and needs do not overlap, and in fact conflict. And what happens to the losers then? Who is to protect their interests? What if the elites simply need to part with more of their money in order for every American to have, say, a semi-decent public school?

Here Pishevar was engaging in advocacy that disguised itself as prophecy, which was common among technology barons and one of the ways in which they masked the fact of their power in an age rattled by the growing anxieties of the powerless...In the Valley, prediction has become a popular way of fighting for a particular future while claiming merely to describe what has yet to occur.

A king presides over a multitude of truths. But a rebel, who takes no responsibility for the whole, is free to pursue his singular truth. That is the whole point of being a rebel. It is not in the rebel's job description to worry about others who might have needs that are different from his.

And powerful people who "see themselves as underdogs in a world where instability and inequality are rampant fail to realize they have a moral responsibility."

What connects these various notions is a fantasy of living free of government. These rich and powerful men engage in what the writer Kevin Roose has called "anarchist cheerleading," in keeping with their carefully crafted image as rebels against the authorities. To call for a terrain without rules in the way they do, to dabble in the anarchist cheerleading, may be to sound like you wish for a new world of freedom on the behalf of humankind. But a long line of thinkers has told us that the powerful tend to be the big winners from the creation of a blank-slate, rules-free world.

The self-styled entrepreneur-rebels were actually seeking to overturn a major project of the Enlightenment-- the development of universal rules that applied evenly to all... The world that these elites seemed to envision, in which rules receded and entrepreneurs reigned through the market, augured a return to private manors-- allowing the Earl of Facebook and the Lord of Google to make major decisions about our shared fate outside of democracy. It would be a world that let them deny their power over the serfs around them by appropriating a language of community and love, movements and win-wins. They would keep on speaking of changing the world. But many, down in the world, would feel, not without reason, that what was bleak in the world wasn't changing.

What the thought leaders offer MarketWorld's winners, wittingly or unwittingly, is the semblance of being on the right side of change. The kinds of change favored by the public in an age of inequality, as reflected from time to time in some electoral platforms, are usually unacceptable to elites. Simple rejection of those types of changes can only invite more hostility toward the elites. It is more useful for the elites to be seen as favoring change-- their kind of change, of course. Take, for example, the question of educating poor children in a time of declining social mobility. A true critic might call for an end to funding schools by local property taxes and the creation, as in many advanced countries, of a common national pool that funds the schools more or less equally. What a thought leader might offer MarketWorld and its winners is a kind of intellectual counteroffer-- the idea, say, of using Big Data to better compensate star teachers and weed out bad ones.

MarketWorld elites spun an intellectual cocoon for themselves, and kept repeating the stories that insured against deep change. Meanwhile, Giussani said, millions around the world were "feeling that a big chunk of their reality was being ignored at best, censored, or ridiculed even."

Somewhere on the road to globalization, Porter said, the self-image of business as a pillar of community had yielded to a self-image of "We're global now, and that's no longer our problem."

In the chapter discussing the McKinsey protocols and their emphasis on using problem-solving tools that were unrelated to knowing about the actual industry with the problem...
Hinton described the assumption that he saw guiding the protocol bearers in their new, public-serving assignments: "If we assemble enough brainpower and enough money, we can crack this, we can solve these problems." Then the solutions can "get scaled." This approach, he said, "just fails to recognize that we are attempting to solve these problems with the very tools and the very minds that constructed the problems in the first place."

Walker had broken what in his circles were important taboos: Inspire the rich to do more good, but never, ever tell them to do less harm; inspire them to give back, but never, ever tell them to take less; inspire them to join the solution, but never, ever accuse them of being part of the problem.

The foundations were, in other words, allowing a small handful of wealthy people like Carnegie and Rockefeller to commit monumental sums of money to the public good and thus gain a say in national affairs that rivaled that of many public officials.

Other criticism focused on how the new philanthropy not only laundered cruelly earned money but also converted it into influence over a democratic society.

This is the compromise, the truce, distilled: Leave us alone in the marketplace, and we will tend to you after the winnings are won. The money will be spent more wisely on you than it would be by you. You will have your chance to enjoy our wealth, in the way we think you should enjoy it.

Generosity is not a substitute for justice, but here, as so often in MarketWorld, it was allowed to stand in.

Walker said that the concentration of wealth and power in our time was causing a "hollowing out of the middle class" and "a huge blowback of populism, of nationalism, or xenophobia."

This thought led Walker to the observation that America was becoming privatized now.

Commandeering the role of government through civic action suddenly feels like a very empowering notion.

Donald Trump had harnessed an intuition that those people who believed you could crusade for justice and get super-rich and save lives and be very powerful and give a lot back, that you could have it all and then some, were phonies.

When private actors move into the solution of public problems, it becomes less and less of the public's business.

MarketWorld's winners had, in Ferguson's telling, surrendered any loyalty to place.

The globalists believed that there were "right answers" in public policy--answers that made a place safe for the foreign investors that Macri had been worried about--and having a very flexible labor market, in which it was easy to hire and fire people, is one of the right answers. The right answer, then, was not arrived at democratically.

The panel members saw themselves as above and apart from fearful, conflictual politics. Their politics was technocratic, dedicated to discovering right answers that were knowable and out there, and just needed to be analyzed and spreadsheeted into being.

The government should work as a partner to the private sector, not a counterweight to it.

They weren't interested in making politics work better, but insisting on their own proprietary power to give the world what it needed, not necessarily what it wanted.

MarketWorld's ideas weren't promoted through propaganda and falsehoods so much as through this kind of confinement. Its weapon was not utterance but silence, the people it did not invite, the way it hemmed in a conversation. This approach eliminated the kind of expertise that could cogently and persuasively formulate a less MarketWorld-friendly response.

If the logic of our time had applied to the facts of an earlier age, someone would have put out a report suggesting that ending slavery was great for reducing the trade deficit.

Take, for instance, the view that MarketWorld has a duty, and a right, to address public problems-- and, indeed, to take a lead in developing private solutions to them. This, for Cordelli, was like putting the accused in charge of the court system. The question that elites refuse to ask, she said, is: "Why are there in the world so many people that you need to help in the first place? You should ask yourself: Have your actions contributed at all to that? Have you caused, through your actions, any harm? And, if yes, the fact that now you are helping some people, however effectively, doesn't seem to be enough to compensate."

Businesspersons calling themselves "leaders" and naming themselves solvers of the most intractable social problems represent a worrisome way of erasing their role in causing them.

Eight Weeks of Summer: Professional Growth Plans

This post is week 1 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators.

This is a little blogventure put on by; for eight weeks they invite teachers to respond to a prompt about how they actually spend summer. I am a sucker for A) busting the myth that teacher summers are all unicorns and pina coladas and B) a prompt. I am, of course, a retired teacher, but I'm just going to cheat and write about summers gone by. So I also get to enjoy C) the rosy glow of nostalgia. There's also the promise of D) a chance to win an Amazon gift card, but when it comes to winning things I generally have E) no chance in hell. My assumption is that life has already so richly rewarded me that additional bonuses would be unfair. If you want to join in, follow the link-- but work quickly because the first week ends today.

So this is week one, and the prompt is "What are your professional learning goals this summer?"

My most common goal in the summer was to reread at least a third of the list of works that I taught. Yes, a really responsible teacher would have read everything, but a summer is only so long, and I think my view of some works benefited from breaks between readings. "I read it when I was in college" is a poor approach to the teaching of literature. At a minimum, your own growth and experience will have opened you up to new ways to see the work. Additionally, you should have absorbed enough of your students' point of view to see ways that the literature connects to them (and it won't necessarily be the same way it connected a decade ago).

Because I taught mostly American literature, I also read plenty of American history (actually, I still do that). You can't possibly know everything there is to know about the context of the work you teach, and I found that works about the history often informed or even radically changed how I taught some pieces.

It's important, especially at the secondary level, to be an expert in your content area, and you can't do that relying on the material you picked up in college courses when you were young, material that steadily fades into the past. If you learn best by taking classes, then do that, but hopefully your college taught you how to teach yourself, and you can do that every summer. My college education really is like a foundation-- while a whole massive structure rests on top of it, it's actually a very small part of the whole house.

I often read about Teacher Stuff in the summers, but honestly, not that often. I found it more useful to read that type of material during the year when I was right in the middle of the work. Though once we hit the internet age, I often had a cyber-stack of saved up articles that I meant to get around to reading, and summer let me do that. Summer was also my time to try to hone computer skills and familiarity with softwares. And for twenty years I was a yearbook advisor, and there is no summer vacation from that job.

And I always tried to have a project, whether it was directing a community theater production or redoing a room in the house or something else that let me develop, start and finish something.

Those were the professional growth parts of my summer. I of course had the personal parts, too, and teachers should always count those-- you cannot relate to how your students live in the world if you barely get into the world yourself. I taught in a small town/rural setting, so my outside world was the same as theirs. I can't imagine living apart from where my students live; if for some reason I had had to, I would have tried to get back to their space regularly.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Magical Money And School Choice

Pennsylvania's legislature is currently having Version 2,433,672,127 of the same argument that emerges every five minutes in the places where charter schools and public schools bump up against each other. The PA legislature just passed a suite of charter school bills addressing a variety of issues, but not the single issue that folks on all sides want to have addressed:

Absent from all four bills is any mention of the elephant-in-the-room issue when it comes to charter schools, namely how they are funded.

School districts complain that the bills to educate resident students who choose to attend a charter school are one of the largest expenditures in their budgets. According to the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, 37 cents of every new dollar that districts raised from property taxes in 2017-18 went to charter schools.

Charter schools, meanwhile, complain they are underfunded because the amounts they are paid are less than what a school district spends to educate their own students.

Public schools are getting hammered by the loss of public tax dollars that have been diverted from public school finances into charter and choice school accounts. Charters, having forgotten the era when they bragged that they could do more with less, complain that they are underfunded compared to public schools.

The problem here, as with several other choice-related issues, is in a false premise of modern school choice movement. That false premise is the assertion that we can fund multiple school districts for the same money we used to use to fund one single public system.

This is transparent baloney. When was the last time any school district said, "We are really strapped for funds. We had better open some new schools right away!" Never. Because everyone understands that operating multiple facilities with multiple staffs and multiple administrations and multiple overhead expenses-- all that costs more than putting your operation under one roof.

But the choice pitch has always been some version of, "Your community can have twelve different schools with twelve different flavors of education in twelve different buildings with twelve different staffs-- and it won't cost you a nickel more than what you're paying now!" This is carnival barker talk, the same kind of huckster pitch as "Why buy that used Kia? I'll sell you a brand new Mercedes for the same price!"

Adding charters and choice increases educational costs in a community. Sometimes we've hid that by bringing in money from outside sources, like PTA bake sales to buy a public school office equipment, or pricey benefit dinners for charters, or increasing state and federal subsidies to help charters stay afloat.

But mostly school choice is the daylight savings time of education-- if we just shuffle this money around in new and different ways, somehow there will be more of it.

This trick never works. And we talk all too rarely about why it never will.

The reasons for avoiding the financial elephant in the educational parlor are several. For some choice advocates, it's a feature and not a bug. It is hard to look at, say, Florida's legislature and not conclude that they are fully aware that they are starving public education and they're perfectly happy about that, that the hope is that public education can be shrunk down to nothing. DeVosian dominionists like that idea as well; I've heard more than a few religious conservatives declare that it's time for the church to take schools back from the government. Starve the government, starve the evil teachers' union, shrink the whole public system until it can be drained out of the proverbial bathtub.

There are other choice advocates who are sincere believers in a hybrid system in which charters and public schools coexist, thrive, and help each other. But even among those folks, there's nobody who has the political will to say to the public, "We want to expand our education system into a beautiful spread of shiny options, bringing freedom and choice and other swell things to education, but to do it will take a lot more money, so we're going to have to raise your taxes to get it done."

And so the lie persists, the false notion that we can education 100 students in either one school or in ten different schools, and it will cost exactly the same amount. Maybe if we pass the money through a different set of hands in an tax credit scholarship or some other kind of super-voucher, it will somehow multiply.

Of course, if money were no object for all students in education, we'd already have public schools so great that the subject of choice would never have come up in the first place. But the defining trait of US education has always been that we want a Mercedes at Kia prices, and Those Peoples' Children should just use a bicycle. (and teachers should only have their wages raised when they reach the point that they're actually embarrassing), and we definitely don't need to talk about using money and resources to improve the societal conditions that create the environment in which education occurs.

Despite my reputation as a charter hater, I can actually imagine a world in which charters would be a useful addition to the educational landscape-- but it would be a world without magic. The falsest promise that choice advocates have made is that somehow we can have a super-greater education system without having to actually pay for it. That kind of magical thinking is not going to help anybody except, of course, the hucksters with snake oil to sell.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Trouble With The College Board's New Adversity Score

The College Board has for years been trying to rescue its floundering flagship, the SAT. The newly announced adversity score is just the latest unforced error from the testing giant. 
Just keep telling yourself that
For almost a decade, the company has been fighting for market share. In 2012, it hired David Coleman, fresh from his work as architect of the language portion of the Common Core Standards. The theory was that Coleman could lead a redesign of the test that would bring it in line with the Common Core, so that students steeped in the new standards would be well-prepared for the SAT. The alignment would also be a selling point for states looking for a high school exit exam, and within a few years, the College Board was lining up states to make the SAT their official test, giving the company a captive market. On top of that, Coleman proudly announced that his new, improved test would be a tool for eradicating social injustice; the test would be a great leveler.  
But a critical part of Coleman’s strategy was to get the new test to market quickly. The new test was well under way by the beginning of 2014. It launched in the 2015-2016 school year.  
There were problems. PSAT scores from the fall of 2015 were late. Test prep experts were advising students not to take the new SAT at all. In an attempt to clamp down on cheating, the College Board implemented some last minute measures for the March 2015 test that added to the confusion and chaos. By 2016, a former employee was publishing concerns about the test, including flawed items and an inadequate development process. Reuters reported on how the rush to redesign had brought Coleman into immediate conflict with some of College Board’s test designers. That report followed a five-part Reuters series in March of 2016 that laid out a whole series of problems, focusing particularly on terrible security problems. 
Meanwhile, colleges are increasingly dropping the SAT requirement, and research continues to suggest that high school GPA is a better predictor of college success than SAT scores.  
Coleman’s notion of the SAT as a means of opening college to all wasn’t working out. A stinging report showed that the SAT redesign had made it harder for female students to score in the higher bands. And after being dogged for years by charges of racial and economic bias, the College Board’s own data (most recently reported in the Wall Street Journal) shows that when you break out the scores by racial subgroups, there are obvious gaps. As a group, white students still score higher on the test than black kids.  
The College Board has tried to level the playing field by partnering with Khan Academy to provide high quality free test prep. This is meant to counteract the test prep advantage that students from wealthy families receive. For example, in Pittsburgh, you can purchase a thirty-two-hour test prep package--for $4,800. Success Academy, the charter chain based in New York City, is currently looking to hire a P/SAT Curriculum Developer to create a full PSAT and SAT curriculum. And of course recent news has highlighted how far some parents will go to bring up those SAT scores. 
The free Khan Academy test prep is supposed to counterbalance all that, promising SAT score gains of 200 points. The problem is that the offer all but acknowledges that what the SAT measures is neither scholastic aptitude nor intellectual ability, but how good the student’s test prep was. If the SAT is only a measure of test coaching, what real purpose does it serve? 
Now the College Board has announced its Adversity Score, and it promises to be another unforced error by the testing company. 
The score promises to incorporate a dozen factors, divided into neighborhood environment, family environment, and high school environment; it does not include race. It could as easily be called a privilege score as an adversity score—on the 0 to 100 scale, over 50 is disadvantaged and under 50 is privileged. A scan of reactions over the last two days suggests that the score has few fans. Bob Schaeffer of FairTest says the adversity score is an admission by the College Board that the SAT is not a “common yardstick” but is “really a measure of accumulated advantage.” Some conservative commentators have been quick to note the David Coleman connection between the College Board and the hated Common Core. Heather MacDonald (Manhattan Institute) appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show to “slam” the score and decry how it upends the proper meritocratic system.  
Most of the critics have a point. If the test is supposed to be a level playing field, and it actually isn’t, then why not rewrite the test instead of creating a new measure to travel with it (and in so doing, suggest that the SAT score itself cannot be entirely trusted)? The score is to be kept secret from everyone but college admissions offices. What is the purpose of doing that, and what reasons will admissions offices have to keep the scores secret—and what will happen when they inevitably don’t? Is the College Board using information that they've collected from students, and does the adversity score thereby violate student FERPA privacy? How will certain high schools react to knowing their privilege rating? The score is supposedly “steeped in research.” Can the College Board even give a hint at what research base is being used to set their secret proprietary formula for computing the student score? And if this is a “scientific” measure, why not fold it into SAT score computations; why hand it to colleges and say, “Just kind of use it as you think best"? I reached out to the College Board for answers, but they did not reply. 
Coleman has offered several outlets versions of this comment: 
“Since it is identifying strengths in students, it’s showing this resourcefulness that the test alone cannot measure,” Mr. Coleman, the College Board CEO, said. “These students do well, they succeed in college.” 
That’s pretty clear. The SAT cannot predict if a student will succeed in college.  
You go to the grocery store and buy a box of macaroni and cheese, and as you check out, the clerk says, “You know, that box doesn’t actually have any cheese in it. Let me give you this.” And they hand you a plastic bag with some cheese in it.  
You ask, “What kind of cheese is this? How was it made? Where did it come from? How much do I add? And what do you mean the box of macaroni and cheese doesn’t actually contain macaroni and cheese?” 
The clerk ignores most of your questions. “Just use the amount that seems right. You know—just kind of eyeball it.” 
You would not go back to that store for macaroni and cheese. The SAT is in trouble, and no amount of adversity score is going to help.  
Originally posted at Forbes

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

PA: Voucher Expansion Goes To Governor

The Pennsylvania GOP-controlled legislature is continuing its assault on public education, this time taking a page from the Betsy DeVos Big Book of Voucher Love.

HB 800 worked its way through the House a while back, and it has just cleared the Senate. The bill is a big wet kiss to the business community and to private schools, particularly religious ones. The Catholic Church loves this bill, as does ACSIPA, a network of Christian schools advocating for school choice. Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Council of Churches is opposed.

The bill expands the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC), a version of the same tax credit scholarship that is behind DeVos's $5 billion scheme. Tax credit scholarships exist in order to circumvent the law which says that thou shalt not give public tax dollars to private religious institutions. Here's how it works.

1) Mr. and Mrs. McGotbux gives a pile of money to Pat's Very Legit Scholarship Organization.

2) The state lets the McGotbux family count their contribution, in whole or in part (depending on the law) as payment on their taxes.

3) Pat's Very Legit Scholarship Organization gives some student at So Much Jesus School a scholarship (in some states, the McGotbux get to decide which school gets the money). 

4) Meanwhile, the state now has a tax revenue shortfall equal to the tax credit that the McGotbux received.

Put another way-- let's say I'm the state. If I collect tax money from the McGotbux and hand that money to So Much Jesus School, I'm in trouble with the law. But if I tell the McGotbux, "Look, instead of handing that money to me, hand it to this guy, and this guy can hand it to the So Much Jesus School, and I will consider your debt to me square." It should be noted that "this guy" will take a cut for his middle manning.

This cynical shell game generally comes with some sort of cap; that number is the amount of tax revenue that the state is willing to let be cut. If the state gives a bunch of folks credit for handing over $1 million of taxes when in fact those folks handed over $0 of taxes, the state is now short $1 million.  Previously the PA version (EITC) had a cap of $110; HB 800 increases that cap to $210. More alarming still, HB 800 lets that cap grow automatically by 10% per year. 

Remember, the cap amount is the size of the hole that the program blows in the state budget. Theoretically, the state could make up that shortfall by, say, cutting legislator salaries. But mostly what happens is that the money is cut from education funding. That's a tough push for Pennsylvania, which ranks close to the bottom for state funding of local school districts. That means that local districts pick up most of the tab, which means that how well-funded a district is depends largely on local taxpayers, which is why Pennsylvania has a gaping chasm between rich and poor districts. (You'll see some folks talk about how high PA ranks in per-pupil funding; what you need to remember is that the figure is an average, and that most of that money is coming from local taxpayers, not the state). The point is, anything that further undercuts state spending puts more weight on local funding, which some districts are in no position to significantly improve (not to mention that PA has a cap on how far school taxes can be raised each year). 

Pennsylvania currently offers a tax credit of 90-100% of your contribution (this is actually less generous states that will let you turn a profit on your contribution). 

EITC (and Opportunity Scholarships, yet another albeit smaller voucher program in PA) are sold as lifelines for poor families. The cap for family income is $95,000. The median Pennsylvania household income in 2017 was $59,195. 

The mechanism of an educational tax credit allows the state to pretend that it is not spending tax dollars, but of course it is. If you owe me a hundred dollars, but you give $100 to a bookie because I say it's okay, then I'm out $100 just as surely as if I'd handed it to the bookie myself. The Pennsylvania legislature proposes to spend another $100 million, not on infrastructure or fixing PA's pension mess or trying to equalize PA's screwed-up funding system, but instead to spend that money on private schools that operate without oversight or accountability, and which remain free to reject students for virtually any reason. 

The governor has said that he will veto the bill, but he also has the option of sitting quietly and letting it become law. If you're in Pennsylvania, call or write and encourage him to drop the ax on this money-laundering, law-mocking, theft of pub lic tax dollars.