Friday, April 16, 2021

New Anglo-Saxon Caucus Has Some Education Thoughts. They Are As Bad As The Rest Of This Damn Fool Platform.

So, led by a team-up of House of Representative winners from Georgia and Arizona, there is now a White Racist Nativist America First Caucus that swears to "follow in President Trump's footsteps and potentially step on toes and sacrifice sacred cows for the good of the American nation" as well as calling for "common respect for the uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions."

It's as awful as it is dumb. There are seven full pages of a "platform" which could be considered a racist nativist dog whistle if you are thinking of a dog so deaf that he has to be called by yelling his name through a bullhorn. 

I am not going to get into the various details of this embarrassing mess, other than to note that they express a love for Roman-based stuff, a stance that doesn't really mesh well with a love of Anglo-Saxonisity, as the Anglo-Saxons got their own nation by kicking Roman and Roman-trained ass up and down Britain. Whatever reverence the Angles and Saxons have for Roman culture and language more likely is at least partially the result of the Norman Conquest, when the French (themselves the linguistic descendants of the Romans) came across the channel and kicked a whole lot of Anglo-Saxon ass, and then subjugated it for a really long time (which is why, boys and girls, it's "scientific" to say that you must defecate, but rude and gross if you say you need to shit). But I digress. Point being, as with most white supremacist nativist European-loving bullshit, there's a lot of ahistorical dumb going on here.

However, in amidst the rest of this, there's a whole paragraph devoted to the White Folx Platform for education, and since that's my wheelhouse, let's take a look:

The 20th Century saw the decline in many vital American institutions. None has been more damaging to the United States than our education system. The increased consolidation of educational spending came with it the ability for powerful left-wing special interest groups to redirect the focus away from preparing future generations of national talent to progessive [sic--yes, they apparently misspelled "progressive"] indoctrination and enrichment of an out-of-control elite oligarchy. Even worse, our education has worked to actively undermine pride in America’s great history and is actively hostile to the civic and cultural assimilation necessary for a strong nation. The future of America’s position in the world depends on addressing the crisis in education, at both the primary and secondary level.

So, the highlights.

"None has been more damaging." Yes, that should be "have." But hey-- public education is America Damager Number One! That is an impressive achievement. As always, when confronted with the theory that public education and teachers rule the nation, I have to ask--why am I not rich? How did teachers and their unions and the public ed system not manage to enrich themselves more effectively? Also, what exactly is the damage done?

"Increased consolidation of education spending." What? 

"Powerful left-wing special interest groups." Who? Is that the unions- you know the ones whose members voted for Trump in fairly large numbers? Are there other lefties running education?

Redirecting focus. The answer to my previous question is, I guess, that teachers are so intent on indoctrinating the young 'uns that they cared nothing for making money. We were all busy preparing future generations. Now, the Pale American Caucus needs to flesh out a time line here, because it's not clear how long this has been going on. If we're only worried about future generations, then this must be a recent development. After all, the high school students first indoctrinated by Common Core are already adults. NCLB veterans are way into adulthood. 

"Out-of-control elite oligarchy." How are the Kochs and the Waltons the fault of public education?

The "actively undermine pride in America's great history" part we've heard before from Beloved Leader, and if you think there are a lot of Americans who see less-than-admirable qualities in our history only because of public education, you have not been paying attention. But hey--let's talk about that "civic and cultural assimilation" thing, because beyond the moral and ethical questions of telling people they can join us as full partners as long as they dump their identities and try to be like the rest of us Anglo-Saxons (see also: Ellis Island stripping immigrants of their original names)--even if we skip those issues, there is another issue, which is that is not how any of this works in history pretty much ever. English speakers should be particularly sensitive to this, because our language is a living, breathing testament to the way in which none of the people who conquered or were conquered by or who just lived cheek by jowl with--none of those people has ever, ever given up their language in its entirety. And our language is richer and better for it. 

"The future of America's position in the world..." Again, I am really confused by the timeline. Granted, Rep. Gosar was born during Reconstruction, but Rep. Greene was born in 1974, so she was educated during the time of crisis announced by A Nation at Risk, but it didn't seem to make her all libby. But still--is this a crisis that is just about to happen, or has been going on for years? Has education already done more damage than anything else ever, or is it about to do it?  And what exactly is the nature of the threat to future American standing in the world? 

This is, indeed, all very Trumpian. US education used to be awesome, but it also has been terrible for many years, and is just about to become terrible. 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy Friday tweeted that "the Republican Party is the party of Lincoln and the party of more opportunity for all Americans--not nativist dog whistles." We'll see. We'll see who decides to join the Anglo-Saxon Caucus. Word is, Matt Gaetz is going to join up. 

What Happens To Students That Charters Don't Want? (The Chester Upland Saga Continues)

In Chester Upland School District, the process of selling off the district schools to charter operators has continued (for a deeper dive into CUSD's troubled history, read here). Three charter operators have made their bids, and we'll take a closer look at that another day. It's all pretty sad and ugly.

But there's another troubling aspect to the dismantling of Chester Upland schools. The three charter companies have placed their bids to take over CUSD elementary schools. As has been hinted at all along, nobody wants to take over either of the two high schools.

The debates about charters and choice have often centered on the question of the students left behind in a school. when other students leave for a charter. How do the financial resources balance out? How does a district financially support ten schools when it was having trouble supporting two? 

But this is a whole other scenario. The charter operators are taking over elementary operations, but leaving the high school untouched, meaning that the high school can find itself drained of resources with absolutely no reduction in cost at all. Theoretically it would not be a problem because the charters would be inheriting the same student body and therefor the same funding. Except that in Pennsylvania's screwy funding system, a special; education student is funded at a far higher level for charters than in a public school. In public schools, special ed students are arranged in tiers are according to how expensive it is to meet their needs; in charter schools, they are all funded as if they belong to the top funding tier. Governor Wolf is pushing to fix this, but in the meantime, it means that every elementary student with mild special needs will suddenly draw more district funds the moment her school becomes a charter. Those extra funds will have to come from the high school budget.

The price tag in CUSD is high-- the going rate is $42K, as opposed to $11K for other non-special need students. One charter operator has agreed to settle for $30K, but that's still a chunk of the CUSD budget.

Additionally, depending on who district leaders decide to sell out to, we are potentially talking about three different charter companies operating in the district, so there will be the financial wrestling between those.

But that high school. So far I don't see anything in the plans that looks like a cap, a limit that keeps the charter elementary schools draining the high school dry. CUSD high school operations are difficult and troubled and consequently expensive--that's why none of the charter operators want to bid on them.

So what happens? What does CUSD do if its high school is chartered into oblivion? What happens to students that charter schools don't want? 

Absorption into neighboring districts is unlikely in this case; much of the district boundaries are where they are precisely because wealthier neighbors didn't want Those People's Children in their school. So who steps in?

School choice fans have never offered an answer to this problem. "Give parents a choice, and they can choose what's best for their child!" Which only works if what they want to choose is available, and will accept the child as a student. What happens to the students that charters don't want? 

CUSD has throughout its history provided demonstrations of just about every problem a school district can face. It looks like they're on track to provide some new examples.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Success Academy Lost $2.4 Million Judgment

You might have caught this story, but I don't want you to miss it. 

Success Academy has long been one of the stars of the charter school world. But in 2015, Kate Taylor at the New York Times reported on a secret "got to go" list that targeted students that SA administrators wanted to push out, part of a general pattern of deliberately making life difficult for students that the schools simply didn't want. It was not a good look for Eva Moskowitz and her charter crew. Moskowitz pushed back and defended the principal who was caught (but then shortly thereafter reassigned Candido Brown to an elementary classroom teaching job). And as the smoke cleared, Moskowitz went back to business as usual.

But five families sued. Their children were on that list, and they had all been pushed out of SA.

They sued Success Academy for targeting families--particularly families of students with special needs-- to try to get them to withdraw. Said one of the lawyers handling the case, “Success Academy’s harsh, inflexible, one-size-fits-all approach to discipline is at odds with its obligation to reasonably accommodate students’ disabilities. These children and their families were forced to withdraw from the Success Academy network not only because their educational needs were not being met, but also because they were explicitly not welcome there."

She's not kidding. It was ugly.

The litigation centered on five children, then a mere 4 to 5 years old, with diagnosed or perceived disabilities. Success Academy did not provide appropriate accommodations, and frequently dismissed the students prior to the end of the school day – often for behaviors like fidgeting and pouting. Success Academy also threatened to call child welfare authorities to investigate the children’s families, and even sent one child to a hospital psychiatric unit. Each family eventually removed their child from the Success Academy network.

Last month, in a decision that didn't get nearly as much press as the original allegations, the five families won their suit.

“Success Academy forced these families to withdraw their children by bullying and daily harassment, instead of providing a quality education free from discrimination,” said Laura D. Barbieri, Special Counsel to Advocates for Justice. “New York’s parents and children deserve better, and we are pleased these families achieved justice.”

Will a $2.4 million price tag motivate Moskowitz to behave better and stop pushing out families that don't fit her vision for the schools? I doubt it, though one can hope. But it's reminder that charter schools are not public schools, and too often do not feel a need to act like public schools. 

This comes as a follow-up for last year's loss in court. In that case, Moskowitz was found guilty of violating student privacy. A student's family had talked to John Merrow for the PBS News Hour about suspension of 5 and 6 year old students; Moskowitz retaliated by releasing the student's records. SA attorney's argued that the privacy law didn't apply to them, that it was too late to sue, and, perhaps most bizarrely, that Moskowitz had a First Amendment right to "speak out" about the child's behavior.

Taken together, the two cases are a reminder of two things about modern charter operators. First, they are mostly education amateurs who are ignorant of some of the basics of running a school. Second, the Visionary CEO model of charter management, based on the notion that you get a good school by putting a visionary in charge and freeing them or restraints like government rules and union contracts--that model gets you people think they don't have to answer to anybody, ever.

A postscript to the tale. Candid Brown, who lists himself on LinkedIn as a "Leader | Instructional Expert | Manager | Teacher Developer | Consultant | Speaker | EdTech Pioneer | Human," stayed with SA until 2019, and is now the founder of two companies-- BetterEd Solutions and AchieveMore Academic Services. So he's okay, as are the many other folks at SA for whom he took the fall. 

SC: Lawsuit Looks For Public Dollar Pay Day For Catholic Schools

In South Carolina, a lawsuit filed this week seeks to obliterate the wall between church and state.

Like most such lawsuits, the federal lawsuit has been a advocacy group that specializes in such things-- you may remember the Liberty Justice Center as the folks who won the Janus case, which either was an attack on unions wrapped in the First Amendment. 

As with most such cases, the advocacy group needed to find themselves some plaintiffs to attach the case to. What's striking this time is that the plaintiffs are not some group of regular citizens-- the lawsuit-- Bishop of Charleston v. Adams  has been filed on behalf of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston, plus a group of independent colleges.

The federal suit follows the South Carolina Supreme Court's rejection of Governor Henry McMaster's attempt to use CARES pandemic relief funds for private schools.

That court found the desire to hand public funds to private schools unconstitutional. So the solution is obvious--sue to have the state's constitution rewritten.

The case has a target perfect for PR purposes--the Blaine Amendment. In 1875, President Grant proposed, and Congressman James G. Blaine officially launched, a move to add a constitutional amendment that public tax dollars could not be used to fund private, sectarian schools. It failed on the national level, but many states passed their own state-level version. 

The Blaine Amendment is a hard thing to defend--most historians see it as anti-Catholic, so that many fans of getting public funding into private school hands, from Betsy DeVos to supporters of this new lawsuit, skip past any discussion of the wall between church and state and go straight to decrying this Blaine-related funding wall as bigotry that must be swept aside.

Guglielmone said at a Wednesday press conference that the legal challenge is not only about expunging "the anti-Catholic sentiment" that still haunts the state, but to create a "more inclusive, uplifting future" for parents and children who seek out private education.

Attorney Daniel Suhr announced the lawsuit in a private Catholic school, making sure to point out that the supporter of the Blaine Amendment was a bigot. "I ask," he said in the school gym." for the children in this gym and those they represent, are they any less deserving of our help than any other child in South Carolina." 

It's a compelling question. It would be more compelling if Catholic private schools were not themselves in the business of deciding which students are deserving of their help. No matter how much money they take from from the taxpayers, they will still reserve the right to reject students for whatever reasons they choose, and enforce whatever requirements for religious observance they choose. "Well, Catholic schools are not for everyone," you may say, which is the point, particularly if we are going to require everyone to pay for them.

It's also worth noting that unlike, say, a private business-operated school, Catholic schools do not close because of some natural process, but because the Catholic diocese chooses to close them, usually because the diocese does not want to spend too much on keeping a low-enrollment school open (though the church is not exactly hurting for money). These are not freestanding independent schools; when taxpayers send their dollars to support a Catholic school, those dollars are also not-very-indirectly supporting the Catholic church, a religious "business" that took in a small ton of PPP money.

At any rate, there are zero surprises in this lawsuit. The Catholic church indicated quickly that it intended to capitalize on the Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, a case for which the US Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote an amicus brief. They threw weight behind the Trump administration and received a promise of help on the whole voucher thing, but with Espinoza in place, they may not need that help. 

I would not bet against the Catholic church on this one. The erosion of the church-state wall is well under way, the conservative judges are in place all over the country, and it's game on for religious schools looking to score a pile of public taxpayer money. 

Meanwhile, in what I suppose qualifies as irony, the newest pile of relief money, Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan, includes a whopping $2.75 billion earmarked for private schools. So Biden has come through for these folks in ways that Trump and DeVos only promised. 

In the meantime, keep an eye on South Carolina to see how the wall between church and state will be further pulverized. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Don't Forget--No Nation's Report Card NAEP Test This Year

You may have forgotten, or just not noticed at the time, but I want to remind you that last November, the National Center for Education Statistics pulled the plug on the 2021 NAEP, the Big Standardized Test that is supposed to measure the nation's progress in math and reading. Betsy DeVos asked for cancellation. The National Assessment Governing Board, chaired by Haley Barbour agreed with it. The CCSSO exec director said she believed it was the right decision.

The NAGB felt that it was best to put off the test until 2022 "when it should be feasible to collect and report valid and reliable data." (In other words, that's not possible this year.)

James Woodworth, head of NCES, said in part

Due to the impact of the COVID pandemic on school operations, it will not be possible for NCES to conduct the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessments in accordance with the statutory requirements defined by the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA) which requires NAEP to be conducted in a valid and reliable manner every 2 years (20 U.S.C. 9622(b)(2)(B)).


The change in operations and lack of access to students to be assessed means that NAEP will not be able to produce estimates of what students know and can do that would be comparable to either past or future national or state estimates.

With students presenting a mix of in-person, hybrid, and distance schooling, the NAGP had determined that adjusting the NAEP to that reality would cost something like $50 million

Not suited for conditions on the ground. Too expensive to fix. Too unlikely to yield any useful or valid data.  Granted, this was last November, and the test would have been in January, but is there any reason to believe that conditions have changed so radically since then that the state level Big Standardized Test now makes sense? Particularly with a whole host of new variables from size of the test to date of administration thrown in. 

Cancellation was a good call for the NAEP; it would also be the right call for the 2021 federally mandated state level Big Standardized Test.

Monday, April 12, 2021

When Bill Gates Shows You Who He Is...

This recent article from the New Republic is a bit of a slog if you have not become a student of the various attempts to create covid vaccines, treatments, etc. But it hinges on two factors that matter a great deal in education-- intellectual property and Bill Gates.

It comes, coincidentally, right around the 68th anniversary of Jonas Salk's creation of the polio vaccine, a hugely valuable piece of intellectual property that Salk famously gave away. "There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?" Salk said. It seems like an obvious approach, both because Salk's work depended on tons of money contributed by folks and because a public health problem would seem to call for a public solution. 

As Alexander Zaitchik reports it (and I'll now summarize), that was how the covid response story started, almost. Early in 2020, there was talk of open science, pooled resources, no-profit approaches. The world needed a solution, and quickly, and the barriers of intellectual property ownership shouldn't stand in the way. 

That lasted till about April. Gates became involved, touting a public-private "charity" with IP rights and monopoly medicine respected and Gates in charge. Some folks warned that there could be a dual crisis of supply and access. But--

Gates not only dismissed these warnings but actively sought to undermine all challenges to his authority and the Accelerator’s intellectual property–based charity agenda.

“Early on, there was space for Gates to have a major impact in favor of open models,” says Manuel Martin, a policy adviser to the Médecins Sans Frontières Access Campaign. “But senior people in the Gates organization very clearly sent out the message: Pooling was unnecessary and counterproductive. They dampened early enthusiasm by saying that I.P. is not an access barrier in vaccines. That’s just demonstratively false.”

But the Gates set-up hasn't performed well, and Gates himself appears to have shown his usual inability to acknowledge any errors in his own thinking.

In interview after interview, Gates has dismissed his critics on the issue—who represent the poor majority of the global population—as spoiled children demanding ice cream before dinner. “It’s the classic situation in global health, where the advocates all of a sudden want [the vaccine] for zero dollars and right away,” he told Reuters in late January. Gates has larded the insults with comments that equate state-protected and publicly funded monopolies with the “free market.” “North Korea doesn’t have that many vaccines, as far as we can tell,” he told The New York Times in November. (It is curious that he chose North Korea as an example and not Cuba, a socialist country with an innovative and world-class vaccine development program with multiple Covid-19 vaccine candidates in various stages of testing.)

Oh, that quote. They want the vaccine for "zero dollars and right away," as if it is absurd to question the foundational belief that whatever it is that people need, somebody should own the solution (and be making money from it), and those ownership rights outweigh other concerns.

In retrospect, one can see this devotion to IP in the Gates backing of Common Core-- a set of standard that for some reason had to be owned by someone (copyrighted by NGA and CCSSO) as well as inviolate (remember that nobody is "allowed" to modify or change the standards). And of course the underlying idea that Common Core could save US education, but that a whole lot of folks (textbook companies, test manufacturers, tech companies, etc) would rake in a mountain of money doing it. You throw in some charitable giving to provide ground cover by throwing a few bones to some of the people who are too poor to play in the carefully gated market you've created.

I could argue that Common Core failed not just because it was inflicted top down, but because it was presented in such a calcified form, neither suited nor intended for input from anyone else at all, that it could not adapt to actual classroom conditions. Of course, teachers adapted it anyway, creating a bizarre world in which Common Core is both everywhere and nowhere, it's concrete-laden standards still in books and on wall posters, even as teachers have rewritten it into something else.

This is where I tell you, again, to read Anand Giridharadas's Winners Take All, which ably dissects the mindset of Gates and his ilk. When we start with the premise that everything has to be part of a market world approach, that there are no public goods--only goods that the market makes available to the public--then it's inevitable that we will fail to improve education in any meaningful way. For many, many reasons, not the least of which is that the poor who are most in need of improved public goods are least able to bid for them in the marketplace, and the largesse of oligarchs will always be both misplaced and insufficient. 

Gates doesn't know education, doesn't understand it, and year after year has shown that he's not learning anything. That could be because his map of the world is simply faulty, because his foundation is that every idea should have an owner, and that owner should retain control over their intellectual property.

It's a particularly weird idea to port into public education, where so much of what teachers known and do is essentially open source. I once had a colleague who guarded her class worksheets jealously and wouldn't share with other teachers,, and in thirty-nine years of teaching, she was the only teacher I ever knew who did that (and raised quite a few eyebrows doing it). You share what works, much of which you know because someone shared it with you, because no decent teacher would say, "I know something that would help your students understand, but I'm not going to share it because it's my own intellectual property." It is hard to conceive of someone whose devotion to IP is so great that he would say, "Well, maybe those poor people don't want to die, but we've got intellectual property rights to think about here." If Bill Gates ever wants to be a force for good in US education, he'll need to come back from whatever planet he's on and at least visit us for a few weeks on this one.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

ICYMI: Spring Might Be Here Edition (4/11)

It's not really spring in Northwest PA until it snows one more time. But it certainly is pleasant right now. So that's something. Let's see what we have to read this week

Acceleration Nation

Nancy Flanagan has noticed that acceleration is having a moment, and she has some thoughts about those shenanigans.

Taking the SAT with the Breakout Expert from Operation Varsity Blues

John Warner took the SAT and then talked to Akil Bello about it, and the result is your must-read of the week, filled with insights and revelations about the test. 

Matt Barnum, the Chalkbeat reporter I trust best, offers a look at what the data are saying about teacher resignation, and there does not appear to be a covid-fueled rush to the exits just yet.

Betsy DeVos’ hand-picked candidate for Wisconsin state school superintendent loses

At Salon, Sarah Burris has the story of Betsy DeVos's first big after-office defeat. Good news for Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, the Kansas City Star reports that there's a lot of high roller interest in the school board. Ruh-roh.

Andy Smarick (Bellwether) offers what turns out to be a pretty balanced look at what the data really reveal about who's for what. (Spoiler alert: the closed school buildings may not simply be the result of an evil teachers union plot).

Okay, this is probably of most interest to language study nerds, but it's pretty cool. Carol Zall has the story at Public Radio.

The Fed’s education constitutional amendment would turn schools over to economists and lawyers

In the Minnesota Reformer, Will Stancil explains how a constitutional amendment that promises good things for education is actually very bad news.

Have You Heard's podcast talks to MIT's Justin Reich, who talks about how ed tech's golden opportunity to deliver the goods vanished right up the goose's butt.