Monday, October 19, 2020

Call Made For DeVos To Cut Off Fraudulent College Chain

Last week, an assortment of organizations signed off on a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, from the AFT to the Feminists Majority Foundation to the Education Trust to the Young Invincibles

This crew came together to insist that the time has come for the department to finally cut the Center for Excellence in Higher Education (CEHE) off from any federal money. Let me give you the short form explanation of what's going on, because among other things, it's a great demonstration of how the non-profit private school dodge is still a great way for hucksters and grifters to collect a mountain of money, much of it from the taxpayers, and how these profiteers have burrowed into the department of education.

I'm going to lean heavily on the work of one other co-signer-- attorney David Halperin, who has followed this tale for years. And I'll warn you up front--this is a twisty mess.

We can start back in 2012. Carl Barney the owner-operator of several for-profit colleges including Stevens-Haneger, CollegeAmerica, and California College. According to Patricia Cohen in 2015 at the New York Times, in 2012 Barney sold these profit schools to a Denver non-profit, the Center for Excellence in Higher Education. According to court documents, that non-profit consisted entirely of just one guy--Carl Barney. Hold onto your hat for this next part.

Barney has always been a busy guy, but only a few critics have really gone digging as much as this website--I'm going to stick to the highlights.. Born in England, he ended up in Australia in the mid-60s where he got himself involved in Scientology. He later brushed that off as dabbling, but one researcher says Barney did far more than dabble, rising through the ranks to the level of Operating Thetan and taking yacht trips with L. Ron Hubbard. By 1975 he was calling himself "Reverend Barney" and owned several dianetics franchises. In 1979 he was drummed out for operating independently of the parent organization. 

Sometime in the seventies, sometime in his late thirties, Barney discovered Ayn Rand. And sometime after that, he got into the for-profit college biz. And sometime around 2012, the regulations governing that money train started to tighten up. In a not-entirely-honest 2016 interview with that same Patricia Cohen, he portrayed the selling of his for-profits to CEHE as a great personal sacrifice. 

He founded of the Prometheus Foundation in 2014, an outgrowth of his devotion to the works and philosophy of Ayn Rand, so yes-- the world's only openly objectivist venture fund. He also "conceived, planned, and funded the Ayn Rand Institute’s ARI Campus, now Ayn Rand University." Along with John Allison and the Koch brothers, he has been one of the top funders of the ARI until 2018, when he dropped out of that field. 

There's plenty more, but you get the general picture of the guy. Barney has dealt with a long string of legal issues. 

There were lawsuits involving former employees like Debbi Potts, who resigned from one of Barney's schools after she was asked to participate in and conceal various frauds. 

In 2018, the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges put nine of CEHE's schools on probation, based on a history of reviews going back to 2012 and including a variety of bad behavior involving lying prospective students and other issues with integrity. It came down to this:

The Commission found that the record shows that the inputs, resources, and processes of CEHE schools are designed and implemented in a manner that is not designed for student success.

The CEHE model is a familiar one for these kinds of fraudsters, with all the company's resources focused on recruitment of students. The sales force--admissions office, if you will--could make six figure salaries, far more than actual faculty who made $22 per hour. Students would complete programs, and when they discovered that this qualified them only for low level jobs that didn't actually require a degree, the schools would try to sell these students an advanced degree program. These were not nice people-- the commission particularly called out "the attempt by CA-Flagstaff to blame low rates of student success on the ethnic culture of its students."

And in 2016, after the feds tried to deny CEHE non-profit status, CEHE sued the Department of Education. Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell, an Obama-era hire who was not exactly hostile to these sorts of outfits in a department that was not particularly aggressive about cracking down on predatory colleges (see: the Corinthian College saga)-- even that guy smelled a rat:

"Schools that want to convert to non-profit status need to benefit the public," said U.S. Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell in a release about the decision on Aug. 11. "If the primary beneficiary of the conversion is the owner of the for-profit school, that doesn't meet the bar. It's not even close."

In the long run, that lawsuit didn't matter, because after 2018, the Obama-era department was out, and the business-friendly Betsy DeVos was in. Among her hires were folks like Diane Auer Jones and Robert Eitel, both previously working as executives at Career Education Corp, yet another predatory fraud factory that had to settle up with 48 states' Attorney Generals (now rebranded as Perdoceo). Jones in particular has been implicated in some shady work to protect some of thes predatory outfits. All taken together, plus DeVos's widely noted reluctance to actually follow through on the rules about reimbursing defrauded students, and you get an atmosphere in which outfits like CEHE can relax. 

CEHE withdrew its lawsuit against the now-DeVos ed department, and ACCSC okayed their accreditation with some probationary rules. In October of 2018, a bevy of senators, including Dick Durbin and Elizabeth Warren, called on DeVos to take a closer look, noting among other things that CEHE has hoovered up over $1 billion in federal Title IV student aid money. Nothing came of that, but some states were not waiting for the feds to take action.

Colorado's AG took the chain to court in 2017, and this August the judge slapped them with a $3 million judgment. The decision and order takes up 160 pages. That's a lot to take in; let's just go to Halperin's summary--

The opinion meticulously documents how Barney’s schools used a detailed playbook to manipulate vulnerable students into enrolling in high-priced, low-quality programs; how the school directed admissions representatives to “enroll every student,” regardless of whether the student would likely graduate; how the schools’ recruiters and advertisements greatly overstated starting salaries that graduates could earn; how the schools falsely inflated graduation rates.

The document covers a ton of specific instances of fraud and misbehavior:

A notable witness presented by the state was a student whom CollegeAmerica managed to sign to enrollment agreements for three separate programs, including a bachelor degree in computer science, even though, it turns out, the student has a “permanent and total” cognitive disability and thus was unlikely to benefit from the programs. One of the degrees cost $56,000. This student also was presented at trial with a “Satisfactory Academic Progress” appeal that he purportedly filed with the school, asking to remain in a program he was flunking. He testified that he didn’t write it. The ex-student now works at a dishwashing job set aside for disabled people. 

Not that all tgestimony was against CEHE. Diane Auer Jones, back in 2017 and before she went to work for the USED, was paid $50K to provide some testimony that Halperin calls "absurdly implausible."

The judge also held Barney and current CEHE CEO Eric Juhlin personally liable. 

The $3 million is peanuts to an operation like this, but it sends a message and the findings make the message extra-clear. And that brings us back to the letter with which I kicked off this post.

Following the ruling in the CEHE matter, it is incumbent on the Department to take steps to protect the integrity of the student loan system by immediately terminating CEHE’s access to Title IV, by providing the full student loan relief that borrowers who attended CEHE institutions are entitled to receive, and by proceeding against CEHE and its owners in order to recover liabilities stemming from the defendants’ fraud.

At this point, it hardly seems difficult to conclude that CEHE is among the many predatory fraudster colleges that should be cut off from federal loan money, if not simply taken to court and put out of business (and perhaps in jail, because if I personally stole $1 billion from the feds, I'm betting I would be sitting some place dark and uncomfortable). 

Sunday, October 18, 2020

ICYMI: Leaf Watching Edition (10/18)

 Well, it's really beautiful out in the world right now, so we've got that going for us. In the meanime, here's some reading from the week. 

There's a Better Way: Trust Based Observation   

Craig Randall guests at Peter DeWitt's EdWeek blog spot talking about a better way to handle teacher evaluations and, really, school management in general.

Separate and Unequal: School Funding in PA   

In the Pocono Record, an op-ed looking at the eternally unsolved issue of school funding in PA, by a student in Harrisburg.

School Boards, Public Schools, and Home Rule  

Accountabaloney lays out the many ways that the Florida legislature has tried to strip school boards of their power. Because Florida is just the worst.

Fix America by Undoing Decades of Privatization  

At the Atlantic, K. Sabeel Rahman puts the attack on public education in the larger context of privatization in the US.

Students Use Tik Tok to document test-taking surveillance software   

At Jezebel, a look at the software surveillance programs that are turning test taking into an unholy nightmare, and how students are fighting back.

Ohio: Who Pays for Vouchers 

Over at Diane Ravitch's blog, a look at a study showing  how the costs of vouchering in Ohio are really getting covered.

Covid Learning Loss Overhyped

Thomas Ultican has a good overview of the many folks who are trying to chicken little the heck out of the "covid slide." Guess what-- they'd all like to sell you something.

Governor Lee Calls For Suspension of Testing  

Go figure. Bill Lee of all people is standing up against the Big Standardized Test. The Tennessean has the story.

Boston students shivering in the cold  

An early look at one of the next pandemic school crises--schools that have decided to solve ventilation problems by opening windows in places where winter is a thing.

Charter Schools hitting same roadblocks as public schools    

At Chalkbeat, Kalyn Belsha and Mat Barnum counter the standard narrative on resistance to school openings ("it's those damned unions") by showing that charter schools are having similar problems.

Don't Believe the Hype  

Akil Bello explains why you can ignore the bleating of the test industry and their insistence that they provide students with opportunities.

Who's Watching This Class   

The indispensable Mercedes Schneider takes a look at the substitute teacher crisis. It was already bad; the pandemic has made it far worse.

Behaviorism Won  

Audrey Watters continues to share the guest appearances she does for teachers. This time she's talking about B. F. Skinner and the ways that his ideas captured bot society and education. Probably won't make you feel better, but you'll understand a little more.

Originalism and Education  

With the coming elevation of dead hand constitutionalist Amy Barrett to the supreme court, many folks have been observing that 18th century ideas may not be the way to go with schools. Here are two good pieces-- Steven Singer brings passion and energy to his post, and Jan Resseger digs into some illuminating scholarship.

Closing Ed Schools: A Bad Omen   

Nancy Bailey reminds us that with colleges shutting down, one of the things that's being hurt is the new teacher pipeline. Uh-oh.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

US Education versus Confucius

 Last Wednesday, the Education and State departments in DC announced that it was time to clamp down on Chinese influence in US classrooms.

The letter, which appears over the signatures of Betsy DeVos and Mike Pompeo, addresses the issue of the Confucius Classroom program. The program is a cultural outreach of the Chinese government; it has been around for a while and has always been viewed with suspicion in many quarters. From Associated Press coverage:

DeVos and Pompeo echoed longstanding complaints from academic groups that say schools give China too much control over what’s taught in Confucius Institute classes. Teachers who are vetted and paid by the Chinese government “can be expected to avoid discussing China’s treatment of dissidents and religious and ethnic minorities,” the officials wrote.

Conservatives have ben particularly critical. Here's Ethan Epstein, an associate editor of the Weekly Standard, digging up some quote ammunition for Politico in 2018:
A 2011 speech by a standing member of the Politburo in Beijing laid out the case: “The Confucius Institute is an appealing brand for expanding our culture abroad,” Li Changchun said. “It has made an important contribution toward improving our soft power. The ‘Confucius’ brand has a natural attractiveness. Using the excuse of teaching Chinese language, everything looks reasonable and logical.”

But concern extends outside the rightwing sphere. And internationally, Australia and Canada have both rescinded the Confucius Classroom welcome. 

In what is a rarity for me, I don't really disagree with DeVos or Pompeo on this one. If there's any nation that has perfected the art of pernicious political bullshit, it is the Chinese, the folks who brought world history the most horrifying and deadly demonstration of Campbell's Law ever--the Great Chinese Famine. Between 20 and 56 million people killed in a needless famine created by a government that was far more interested in appearances on paper than reality on the ground. And for years the world didn't even know. The Chinese government is bad business, even if their leader can write beautiful love letters.

There are several serious ironies here. The Trump family has proven willing to do business with the Chinese government, which I suppose is not so much irony as business as usual. 

Then there's this section of the DeVos/Pompeo letter:

While teachers in Confucius Classrooms may not appear to be engaged in ideological propaganda, those vetted and paid by the PRC can be expected to avoid discussing China’s treatment of dissidents and religious and ethnic minorities.  Indeed, some Confucius Classroom students have described their teachers’ repeated avoidance of topics perceived to be “sensitive” to or critical of the PRC.  Particularly at the high school level, this creates a troubling deficit of information in a setting supposedly focused on the study of Chinese language and culture.

This sounds pretty much like the Chinese version of the "patriotic American" curriculum that Trump has announced for the US. Trump has called for education that focuses on everything good and beautiful and pro-American in our history. He only has two education goals, and one is "teach American exceptionalism" i.e. the reasons that we are a better nation than all others.

The letter is correct in pointing out that a nationalistic program "creates a troubling deficit of information." Your country's nationalistic propaganda is my nation's proudly patriotic education program, I suppose. Stay tuned.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Today in Teacher Depreciation

 When you're in the work, the general noise from the chorus of teacher devaluators can become a faint background buzz. And then something happens, and you're reminded suddenly, "Oh, yeah. That's a thing." 

Happened twice to me on Twitter in the past 24 hours. First, there was the noise surrounding the Trump thing on the teevee last night, including this little punch from Mercedes Schlapp, a senior advisor for the Trump/Pence campaign

This is obviously supposed to be an insult, but I live in western Pennsylvania, right up the road from Pittsburgh, where the international airport includes a whole display/play area devoted to one of Pittsburgh's most beloved sons, Fred Rogers (she spelled his name wrong). Mr. Rogers is a national treasure and one of the few icons who hasn't been outed as some sort of secretly terrible monster. 

Why would anybody treat him as an insult punchline? Because they respect strength and cruelty and in Mr. Rogers, they see the twin "weaknesses" of being kind and gentle and of communicating with children. Rogers was a man with gift for teaching, supporting, and talking to tiny humans--so in the Trump camp's mind he must be the furthest thing from what you'd want in a political leader. 

That's a thought that was echoed in another tweet. The "How it started How it's going" meme has been around practically forever (like, a week). It started out showing relationship growth, then life in general, and then the irony set in, with the two images showing how something went to hell, which is where this next one comes in. 

Klippenstein is a reporter at The Nation, and just in case you thought he was unironically honoring this step up, he clarified the tweet, after an appropriate response from a well-known-ish teacher:


 Ouch. I know Klippenstein is taking a dig at Buttigieg's husband, but still--teaching is lower than working for Marketworld headquarters McKinsey?! It's a job you get "stuck" with? And this is a college gig, which carries a bit more status than a K-12 job, so thank God we weren't slamming O'Rourke for ending up in one of those jobs.

As always, part of what sucks is the casual way these sorts of insults are tossed off, as if everyone (even reporters for ostensibly left-tilted publications) knows that teachers are Less Than, that it's not Real Work for important Manly Men. Certainly not anything for young folks to aspire to. 

Here's hoping tomorrow's a better day.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

McKinsey Has Ideas For Fixing Schools (Pandemic Edition)

McKinsey is the 800-pound consulting gorilla with its hairy hands in everything. That includes dabbling in education; they've consulted with Boston schools and shown how to slash and privatize the crap out of the district, they've made data based advanced analytics explanations of how to improve test scores, and they've made the argument for computerizing classrooms. Their world view is captured by Anand Giridharadas in the must-read Winners Take All, dubbed Marketworld. They are the kings of neo-liberal thinking-- use data, unleash markets, measure everything (especially money). 

So of course it's no surprise that they have some thoughts about how global education should respond to the whole pandemic crisis. Some of it sounds good, but it's important to pay attention to the language (probably a good motto for this blog).

Yet crises often create an opportunity for broader change, and as education systems begin to make decisions about investments for the new school year, it’s important to step back and consider the longer-term imperative to create a better system for every child beyond the pandemic.

Yeah, "investments." Because everything is an investment with these guys, and every investment needs a return.

The process starts with a key question: What are we trying to achieve, for whom, by when, and to what standards? Our research shows that top-performing school systems can vary significantly in curricula, assessments, teacher behaviors, and even desired outcomes.

Hmm. That first sentence is not bad, but notice that somewhere between the first and second sentence, we have already answered all the questions. Because if you don't know the answers to those questions, how do you know if a school is top-performing? 

The article lays out its argument about four key points, claiming that "we know from decades of study that every school system must first get these basic elements right." Then they get into how to double down on these, which is where the real money is.

Four Core 

Here are McKinsey's "what works" basics that they want to recommit to.

* Core skills and instruction. Everyone needs to be able to read and math. They cite the confused stat that students who can't "read proficiently" (aka "pass a standardized test"0 in third grade are likely to drop out of school, but as usual we skip the difference between correlation and causation. You might be surprised to learn that "research has identified the curricula, instructional materials, and teaching methods that are most effective in helping children learn." I'm pretty sure that is unsupportable baloney, but McKinsey is all about reducing a process to a proscribed procedure identified by data analytics. Just get the machine built and in place.

* High-quality teachers and teaching. "Technology," they assure us, "will never replace a great teacher." Systems need to develop and support teachers. We'll see.

* Performance measurement. Data shouldn't be used to punish, just to know current performance and what the benchmarks are. Count McKinsey among the folks who are sure that all those (highly lucrative) standardized tests are super-important in pandemic times.

* Performance level and context. We need to measure and rank school systems and provide interventions of different types depending on how bad the schools are. Poor performers need centralized control, while top performers need more autonomy. 

Their prescriptions

I know I keep forgetting to bring up the pandemic, which is ostensibly McKinsey's reason for laying all this out. But they kind of forget it, too, pointing out here that "progress in educational outcomes " (again, "test scores") has stalled in recent years. Covid-19 is a "signal," or "opportunity" to "embrace more radical innovation" (aka "disrupt") school systems. 

Here's how McKinsey wants to do that:

Harness technology to scale

All right, so they know we can't just hand out devices to students. Also, "giving lectures on a video call is rarely a substitute for face-to-face-learning" (so much for Khan Academy). But we have to get tech out there, doing magic techy stuff, like "solar powered tablets preloaded with research-based, self-paced math and literacy software" that students can use "with supervision from any adult."

Move toward mastery-based learning

Lordy. Personalized. Adaptive. Blended. Mastery-based. It's buzzword bingo time here, with no solid research base for any of it. But "technology has made the model even more compelling." No, but it has made it more profitable.

Support children holistically

This section leads off with this statement:

Previous research has outlined the correlation between mindsets and academic performance, but the shift to remote learning has put it into stark relief.

If that seems a little starkly vague, the follow-up suggests that all they mean is that students who work well on their own are doing better at distance learning. Also,sun is expected in the East tomorrow. Their point is that schools need to address the whole child and although we're dodging the term "social and emotional learning," that's what we're getting at. McKinsey does have the astounding insight that students need to "go beyond what they simply need to find work," which is exactly the kind of insight you get from people who don't actually spend any time in the classroom with actual young humans. It's just a little more ironic coming from the sector that has hammered relentlessly on how schools should focus on better preparing tomorrow's meat widgets to corporate specs. 

They're going to cite International Baccalaureate and KIPP as exemplars here, ignoring the self-selecting nature of IB and the creaming nature of KIPP, as well as skipping past the part where KIPP and other charters decide that the no excuses model they've been holistically hammering students with might be a bad idea and let's drop it.

Help students adapt to the future of work

All that stuff about going beyond job-getting? Yeah, ignore that and let's get back to producing the worker bees that corporations will want in the future. Plus, more computery stuff! McKinsey is all about automation concerns for future employment, and not so much talking about how many workers are simply under bid by peanut-waged workers in regulation-free countries. Of course, all of these trends are driven, in part, by the work of consulting forms like McKinsey that help corporations squeeze that last drop of blood out of their working turnips.

Invest in new models of teacher prep and development  

I do not disagree, but their ideas are mostly dumb, like using computer simulations to train pre-teachers. This is a dumb idea, and it's the kind of dumb idea you come up with when you start with the premise that a computer has to be part of your solution. Mind you, simulations are great; I did plenty of them in Teacher School with Dr. Schall sitting in the back of the room providing what would turn out to be highly realistic portrayals of the students I would meet in the classroom. My school also required real pre-student teaching hours spent with live human children, 

McKinsey also wants to turn technology loose in the professional development arena, though what they seem to mean is using software to assist untrained teachers, citing the Bridge International program in Liberia, providing school in a can to replace the Liberian public education system. The best they can do is claim that Bridge gave students an extra two and a half years of learning over three years, which of course just means they raised test scores.

Unbundle the role of teacher

Lot of gobbledeegook here, but it boils down to breaking the teacher job into "high-value activities" and other stuff, much in the same way that Ray Kroc broke down the business of supplying customers with food in a way that just happened to drastically lower job requirements and labor costs. 

Allocate resources equitably to support every student  

Here's a crazy thought. What if we jiggered the economic system so that the profits and rewards of successful corporations were more evenly distributed to all the workers, allowing them to accumulate greater wealth and improving everyone's station in life, thereby having the effect of reducing the number of poor communities poorly served by poor schools? 

That, of course, is not what McKinsey is talking about here. They acknowledge the disparities that exist, such as racial ones in the US. They toss out redrawing boundaries, pairing top and bottom districts, and of course this great idea--

Could systems around the world incentivize top schools to offer all their advanced classes and electives, along with mentors, resources, and other forms of help, to high-poverty neighbors? Could that start with the remote-learning instruction currently being rolled out?

The ever popular idea that we just find out what the teachers are doing at West Egg High School, and transplant those ideas to East Egg High School. Maybe even move some of the teachers. You may recall the years of being told that calling poverty a factor in the performance of high-poverty schools was just making excuses, and it was probably that the poor schools had all the crappy teachers. McKinsey's still right there. Put a pin in this subhead, because we'll be back.

Rethink school structures and policies

Here's the old "schools haven't changed in 100 years," only McKinsey is going to say 300 years. They're going to also cite the baloney about covid sliding. They're going to bring up proficiency based learning. Maybe change the calendar. Switch things up, guys!

McKinsey's Fundamental Disconnect   

Here's the thing about McKinsey--they love change and disruption for everyone except the people at the top. They will gladly suggest that education be disrupted in a hundred different ways, as long as those ways don't inconvenience rich and powerful people. So my idea about disrupting the economic system, the rules and laws that have tilted it, so that we don't have huge gaps between the rich and the poor, so that we don't have one of our current fundamental education problems, which is that people who can buy and sell entire schools for their own children get huffy about having to pay taxes to educate the children of Those People. 

Sure, come up with a program, like any computer-centered whizbang that lets some wealthy entrepreneur make a buck while bragging at cocktail parties that he's helping Those People--that's a McKinsey winner. But don't mess with the upper crust status quo.

That includes not challenging any of McKinsey's amateur-hour assumptions  about education, like the notion that test-generated "data" tell you everything you need to know.

The main author on this report is Jake Bryant (who appears to be form Pittsburgh, so, Jake, next time you're home, give me a call). He's the McKinsey help-lead guy for North American education K-12; he's an "expert in online and blended learning." He ran an investment portfolio for the Gates Foundation, and before that, says his bio, he taught middle school in the US and Japan. Check LinkedIn and you find that he graduated from Harvard with a A.B. in Social Studies (that's a BA for you non-ivies), and he taught for a whopping one year, at a KIPP school in LA. I can't confirm that he was Teach for America, but it seems not unlikely.

Emma Dorn, his co-author, is the Global Education Practice Manager for McKinsey. She's been with the company for over twenty years, with a four year break to be an independent consultant at home. She's only been in their education biz for the last six years (since returning from her break). You can catch her on youtube on a variety of topics, including how teachers can stay "nimble" during the pandemic.

Look, I really don't want to be a massive jerk about this, and I know that these are real humans trying to do a job, but the combination of hubris and we-don't-know-what-we-don't-know is troubling. Over the past few decades, education has suffered mightily from the meddling of wealthy and powerful amateurs who haven't a clue about what it's like to be a career classroom teacher, and right now, in the midst of this medical mess, the last thing education needs is to hear more from these folks--particularly when they don't want to help so much as they want to grasp the opportunity to push their half-baked uninformed ideas yet again. 

Update #1 From The Pandemic's Trailing Edge

 About a month ago, I told you that if it can work anywhere, it can work here.

I'm in Northwest PA, a rural/small town county with a little under 50,000 people. As of a month ago, we had about 70-ish confirmed cases. Schools re-opened, almost entirely face-to-face five days a week. 

Well, things have changed. Our confirmed case number has doubled in about five weeks. The norm was days with zero or one or two new cases; now we are having some days with double digits. 

In two of the local four high schools, this week we learned that there were two cases in each of two high schools. In each case, one student and one adult. One school has closed for two days for a round of deep cleaning; the other has reportedly sent 40-some students and staff into quarantine. 

If you're wondering why the responses are inconsistent, well, that's what you get when a pandemic hits at a time like now. There are no rules, and words don't mean anything, so local districts have to just figure it out themselves. At another local elementary school, a teacher has been sent home for fourteen days because her son was sent home from his school (a different one than the one where she teaches) with a fever. That determination was made by the school nurse. 

That situation highlights another feature of the area. There are four different school districts, but they share band and sports programs, and the students mix outside of school at places like local dance studios. Aggressive contact tracing might help, but the folks around here have been clear that nobody is going to get their personal private information, and if there's a vaccine they probably won't take that, either. 

Yes, this is Trump country (though based on signage, I'm guessing Biden will do better here than Clinton did four years ago), and they have plenty of unkind words for our democratic governor (who has his own communication problems because he still thinks like a CEO and not a politician). It is also a county that depends on exactly the kind of small business activity that the shutdowns have been hard on, though we have also been super-concerned about getting to play and watch high school sports. 

At any rate, since nobody is collecting information about anything, I promised I would report on the local situation so that you have one more batch of data points to follow. Right now, things are changing here. We'll see if it's a blip or the beginning of a bad trend.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

ME: Charter Pushers Quietly Switch To New Product

Maine has suffered through its own brands of education disruption. Most notably, they became the target for a bunch folks who wanted to use Maine as a proof of concept state for proficiency based learning grafted onto standards based grading. At best they showed that a poorly implemented and underfunded disruption of this sort is disastrous; at worst, they showed that re-organizing education around the needs of data miners is a terrible idea. However you slice it, Maine's little experiment failed hard.

But what education in Maine hasn't had to deal with much is the rise of charter schools. The charter industry hasn't infected Maine as badly as, say, Ohio or Indiana. There are ten charters, with fewer than a total of 3,000 students enrolled. There are plenty of possible explanations, not the least of which is that once you get away from Theme Park Maine on the coast, Maine is pretty rural (I have an old friend who used to describe his central Maine high school as fifteen miles and an hour and a half away from the nearest rival). But that limited role for charteristas may be about to change.

Like every state where charters are legal, Maine has a group that promotes, advocates, lobbies and generally cheerleads for the charter industry-- the Maine Association for Charter Schools, whose stated purpose is to promote "high-quality options for all children within Maine's public education system." But last year the legislature indefinitely extended a charter school cap. 10 is all the charters they may ever have.

So what's a chartery education disruption group to do? 

How about renaming yourself? And rebranding yourself with a whole new mission by declaring yourself the leaders of the state's education community?

So let's meet a fun new group launched just a few months ago. It's the Education Action Forum of Maine and it is, well-- from their About Us page:

The Education Action Forum of Maine operated for twenty years as the Maine Association for Charter Schools. On June 17, 2020, the MACS board voted to change the name and expand its mission to adapt to the realities influencing the education landscape in Maine.

Think of them as the Pandemic Down East Opportunist Society. Also from their About Us...

The time is ripe for an organization, such as ours, to provide leadership to assist the education system to move forward safely, and to develop strategies to restructure the system in ways unimaginable before the pandemic struck.

It takes its "inspiration" from "analogous" groups like the Mind Trust of Indianapolis and Education Evolving in Minnesota. I've written about the Mind Trust before (you can read about them here and here), and they are the same old disruptor model. Declare the public schools a mess, and then declare yourself "leaders" in the education space by virtue of the fact that 1) you say so and 2) you have collected some money and political connections. Mind Trust was, in fact, saying a couple of years ago that they wanted to scale up their model to other states. 

So when EAFoM says that they are "designed to amplify the voices of families, students and teachers," you can take that with a few tons of salt. When they talk about "restructuring the education system," assume they mean dismantling and privatizing the public system. And when they say they are looking to develop some "critical partnerships," pay attention to the people they partner with.

The organization is still led by Judith Jones, the chair of the board. She's been at this for a while, incuding a stint in DC during their chartery formative years. The new hire at EAFoM is John Mullaney (not the funny one), who previously spent twenty years at the Nord Family Foundation, a less well known philanthropic outfit with a charter-heavy ed portfolio that he helped manage.

EAFoM has already made some friends and is getting ready to get back in the game. Jones just sent out an e-mail announcing their "Educator Innovators Series, an online forum where regional and national thought leaders share their views on the future of education." And who doesn't love a good thought leader. They're partnering with the Thomas College Center for Innovation in Education and Educate Maine. 

The Thomas College center is fresh and new itself, launched with a grant just a few years ago. They have a program that can crank out a new teacher in just three years, and their facility is open concept. One write up of the program is argle bargle heavy, saying this is more than a "quixotic pursuit" and laying on lots of pretty detail-free descriptions. They have a program for recruiting high schoolers as future teachers, and a "residency" program that places "pre-service teachers" in a rural community and school for a whole week. Founded in 1894, Thomas College is a private business college that focuses mostly on business, technology and education. I don't know whether they know what the heck they're doing or not.

Educate Maine, on the other hand, is cut from familiar cloth. It's another one of those business-centric reformy organizations, and its mission should ring a bell--To champion college and career readiness and strive to increase the educational attainment of the Maine workforce. In other words, to make sure that schools keep them supplied with meat widgets, specifically those that have been trained in the Common Core. They're rich with corporate sponsors. And at some point they folded in the Maine Coalition for Excellence in Education, a group that was involved in the PBL adventure.

So what does EAFoM want to do with its new friends? Well, the email offers some more hints:

This partnership presents a new opening for Maine educators, business leaders and families to participate in conversations that envision new and more personalized approaches to education in our public system.

And there's this

Our inaugural speaker is Jason Snowdon of Knowledgeworks. His research into potential models for education sets the foundation for our efforts to imagine a restructured and vibrant network of public schools in Maine.

The name Knowledgeworks should ring a bell--these guys are another Gates-backed outfit pushing hard on the computer-based algorithm-driven teacher-free data-collecting system marketed as Personalized Education. Really-- they've written a whole prospectus of what education could look like with more computers and fewer--as in none--teachers.

So it looks as if the folks who previously thought that Maine really needed charter schools have now decided that what Maine really needs is more personalized [sic] education. It's an unsurprising choice--Maine's rural nature makes it a bad fit for charter schools, but advocates of computer-driven personalized [sic] education love to tell the story of Chugach, Alaska and how competency based personalized [sic] education worked so well for that isolated tiny community (spoiler alert: what Chugach did is not what they're selling). 

So, wolf in sheep's clothing? Wolf in a different kind of wolf's clothing? Whatever metaphor you choose, it appears that Maine gets yet another round of privatizing, data-mining education disruption. Bummer.