Monday, January 21, 2019

FL: Guns in Schools Not Going So Well

After the murder of seventeen people at Marjorie Stoneman Douglass High in Florida, the state legislature of the gun-happy sunshine state finally considered putting some common sense restrictions   on guns and ammo in the state. No, just fake newsing you-- what they did was decide they'd better arm more people in schools, because the only solution to a bad guy with a gun is a gunfight in a building filled with children.

That was back last spring. Recently the Tampa Bay Times took a look at how the business of putting a "guardians" in schools was going. The short answer is "not well."

Brevard County was looking for two dozen new employees to be armed guardians. They had six months to find and train these people. Community pushback slowed down the process. They didn't make the deadline.

They weren't alone. Levy County went looking for guardians and couldn't even find people to apply at first. Their superintendent would not give the paper any numbers on applicants since then, saying "You don't want the bad guys to know whether you've got 100 or one." Sure. Okeechobee decided to join in the program, but the sheriff's office won't start training until this month. And the sheriff is not optimistic about the six-to-ten volunteers: "Out of that, I doubt we'll have that high rate of a success rate." Lafayette schools also began the year without their guardians, with a few finishing up their training this month.

Duval County has other sorts of problems. Parents, along with the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the League of Women Voters sued the district in November to keep the "safety assistants" out of schools. It could not have helped the district's cause that one safety assistant was arrested in October for pawning his gun-- twice.

And he has not been the only problem child. A guardian in Hillsborough was showing her chemical spray to students and peppered four of them (she resigned immediately). In Manatee County, a guardian was fired when the Bradenten Herald took a look at his Facebook page and found a variety of posts about various conspiracy theories and apparent advocacy for violence.

Florida schools have the option of hiring actual trained law enforcement personnel. If they go the guardian route, they get a person with a gun who can't make arrests, but whose only function is to hang out at school and wait to have a gun battle with some active shooter. Who volunteers for that job? Because I'm betting you get some less-than-stellar law enforcement washout Rambo wannabes.

There are some districts that have had no issues so far, which basically means that so far nobody has been shot. No studies yet on what it does to the atmosphere of a school for students to know that some of their teachers are packing, or to know that the stranger hanging around the building is just there to shoot somebody, should it seem like a good idea.

But Florida is the state where all bad ideas go to spread their wings and fly. The best we can hope for here is that no serious permanent damage is done by this lousy idea.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Arne Duncan Keeps Trying To Explain Education

Arne Duncan's signature achievement as secretary of education was getting a divided Congress to come together in order to finally pass a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Previously known as No Child Left Behind, the new version of the act (Every Student Succeeds Act) was notable for how it spanked the secretary and his department and focused on returning authority to the states.
Duncan used NCLB as leverage to enforce his own education policies. By 2014, every school in the country had to have 100% of its students scoring above average on the big standardized test (PARCC, SBA, etc) or they were in violation. Duncan offered waivers to the law-- if states agreed to his other policy ideas. Those included the implementation of standards that didn't have to be Common Core, but states that chose Common Core were guaranteed approval.

Duncan's heavy use of the federal hand set the stage for the anti-federal portions of ESSA and, arguably, the advent of someone like Betsy DeVos. Duncan is, by all accounts, a nice guy, but it would be hard to characterize his tenure in office as a success.
Yet Duncan does not go away. He has made many attempts in print to retcon his years at USED, while continuing to insist that his policies would have worked if everyone had just been braver and bolderDuncan has yet to derive any new insights from his experience, but he keeps advocating for his old favorites.
And so we find him in EdSurge, talking about six things he learned from his years in education.
We must invest in high-quality early education.
Here, he's not wrong. But there is huge room for debate about what "high-quality" means, because so far, early education has suffered terribly from the pushing of developmentally inappropriate academicsMaking kindergarten the new first grade has been problematic. Extending that principle downward to 4-year-olds is a bad idea. Maybe Duncan has something else in mind, but if so, he should say so.
Poverty is not destiny.
Duncan has remained adamant--some children can succeed despite coming from a background of poverty, therefor all children of poverty should be able to succeed. And if they're not succeeding, it's because teachers aren't expecting enough from them. He admits that a child who lives in poverty "has a lot to wrestle with," but Duncan has never been willing to discuss how those problems might be mitigated to help the child succeed. For him, poverty remains an excuse that teachers use.
Equal is not equitable.
Duncan says we should not give all students the same resources, but the resources that they need. The problem here has always been who will decide what students need. When Hurricane Katrina leveled the New Orleans school system, Duncan thought that was a great thing, because the city had not been "serious" about its schools. The implication was that what New Orleans needed was some gifted outsiders to come to town and straighten the locals out, including telling them what they needed. This has not worked. But the myth of rescue by outsiders was a dominant tale of the Duncan administration, from Teach for America, with its trained-for-five-week teacher temps, to charter takeovers and makeovers that imposed strict no-excuses on poor black students that rich white families would never have tolerated.
Teachers matter deeply.
Duncan writes "teachers are the most important factor in a student's school experience." That's true--but it is true that outside factors exert from four to eight times the influence of a teacher.
Duncan cites Raj Chetty, an economist whose work often referenced as proof that one good teacher "can increase the lifetime earning of an entire class by $250,000." You can follow links to many scholarly debunkings of Chetty, or you can just look at the visible-to-laypersons holes in his findings.
To simplify. Look at what students are making at age 28. Chart the test-based VAM scores of their early teachers (another debunked measure). Assume that the difference in earnings (about $250) will continue in perpetuity. Assume that twenty-eight classmates of the high earner have enjoyed a similar effect. Multiply. Voila.
Or, since we know that high test scores tend to correlate to higher-income families, and so does later job success, we could say that students from wealthy families tend to both get good test scores and grow up to get good jobs.
Duncan is also fond of the notion that class size doesn't matter as much as teacher quality, as if teacher quality isn't affected by class size. A paragraph later Duncan reasserts the importance of the "building meaningful relationships" with students, but he has never seemed to consider how much harder that is to do in a classroom full of thirty or forty or fifty students.
The "job" of our children's generation will be learning.
Another central myth of the Duncan years was that if every student went to college and got a great education, every student would be wealthy, or at least middle class. Poverty would disappear because everyone had a great education. For the many twenty-somethings who are working at minimum wage jobs while their degree gathers dust, this seems like an odd assertion.
But Duncan claims that "the next generation of learners won't go looking for 'jobs'--they will create jobs." Duncan is sure that skills will matter, and that we no longer need rote memorization of facts. I would challenge Duncan to show me a school where rote memorization of facts is still the norm, but I would also challenge him to explain how "habits of mind" and "critical thinking" can be exercised by someone who doesn't have a strong foundation of content knowledge.
He's not wrong that "joy in learning" and being "motivated by the challenge of solving problems" are good and important things. But he's a bit fuzzy on how, exactly, these will cause jobs to appear.
We get to choose when to compete--and when to collaborate.
He never explains who "we" are in this idea. He thinks it was good as USED secretary to cooperate with other countries (he says he learned things that were "invaluable," though he doesn't say what). But as USED secretary he made states compete for support from the feds. He supported charter schools and the notion that competition improved education. The backbone of his major policies was to make everyone compete. And yet here he says "education is something we must collaborate on."
Walking and talking.
Arne Duncan always has talked a good game. He tied the fate of schools and teachers to test results, then complained that schools were putting too much emphasis on tests. He trumpeted the importance of teachers, then promoted policies and standards that robbed teachers of autonomy in the classroom. And although he returns repeatedly to education and his years in office, he never indicates that he now realizes he made policy mistakes. If Arne Duncan is going to keep writing books and think pieces about education, he needs to offer something beyond, "I was right all along."
Originally posted at Forbes

ICYMI: Too Much Snow Edition (1/20)

While you're waiting to dig out (or feeling clever because you live somewhere where you don't have to), here are some pieces from the week for your reading. Remember to share. Only you can amplify writer voices.

These Students Walked Onto Westminster Campus And Into History

Another chapter from the history of integration in the US.

Five Years After Common Core A Mysterious Spike In Failure Rate Among NY High Schools

Huh. What could it be? The Hechinger Report lays out the phenomenon.

League Of Women Voters Calls For Charter Changes 

The usually-quiet League has some feelings about the problems with charter schools-- and they're getting some flack for them.

Summit Learning-- Where's The Research

Summit Learning would rather not let Havard take a look any their actual results-- but they would like to claim that such research has happened.

Cory Booker and Charters

While LA teachers were striking and raising the issue of charter schools, Cory Booker was at a charter school for a rally. Steve Singer takes a look at Booker's privatizing history.

Kids in Disadvantaged Schools Don't Need Tests To Tell Them They're Being Cheated 

Boy, have I missed Jersey Jazzman, but he's back at the blogging biz, strong as ever (only now we have to call him Dr. Jazzman).

Writing As Filling In The Blanks

You may be unaware that the creator of the Mr. Fitz comic strip also blogs, and has some important things to say about the state of test-driven faux writing instruction.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Why TFA Doesn't Get More Edu-respect

The title of the article is "I Switched Jobs 4 Times--Each With A $20,000 Bump." It is part of the series "My 6-Figure Paycheck."

This article is a quick interview with a Head of Talent Acquisition in San Francisco who currently makes $117,000 for a salary. She went to UC Berkeley for poli sci and then picked up a masters in project management from Northeastern, and her interview includes this paragraph:

In hindsight I am so glad I decided to take a 'detour' and do Teach For America. It changed my career trajectory for the better, and I’m a very happy and fulfilled person now because of that decision.

She did that for two whole years (8th grade English) and then worked as a "recruiter finding teachers for low-income communities" which sounds suspiciously like a TFA recruitment job. She did that for two years as well, then moved on.

I'm sure that the eighth graders she taught and the teachers who helped her get through those two years (which had to be tough, because 8th grade English is tough) are happy that they served as a useful detour in building her career and helping her reach her maximum earning potential, though as far as being "passionate" about her work, she says this:

It is a passion, but it's not my only passion. I think the pressure to be passionate about your work above all else is so draining — it should be fine if your job is good enough.

Good lord. The classic Onion piece on TFA was only slightly more obnoxious, and it was satire.

If TFAers ever wonder why actual teachers don't give them more respect (though I doubt that most of TFA's leadership cares about the respect of people that they themselves have little respect for), this piece would be a clue. Teach for Awhile. TFA as a resume builder. Students and classrooms existing only to provide the TFAer with a life experience. It's all here.

Oh, and our successful six-figure former faux teacher? She's 27.

US Teens At Their Worst

This is one of the more upsetting things I've seen in a while.

From other angles, it only gets worse

And here's a description of what happened.

The shirts tell us that it was a group of students from Covington Catholic High School, an all-male school founded in 1925 in northern Kentucky near Cincinatti. The school has locked down their twitter and facebook accounts, and the diocese is apparently just getting up to speed. Reports are that the group was in DC for the March for Life. Yes, that's a lot of irony, or hypocrisy.

The story hit USA today already today, and is spreading rapidly because it is so freaking appalling. What kind of atmosphere creates students who think this is okay? And where in the hell were the chaperones for this group? How does any school lose its way so badly-- particularly one that says its mission is to spread the love of Jesus Christ?

This is way beyond boys will be boys. Yes, teen aged boys can be awful. That's why parents and teachers--and religion, for crying out loud--are supposed to exert some kind of civilizing effect on them, even in times when the leader of the free world is an unapologetic racist bully. It takes so many levels of fail to get to the point of this video; the chaperones who aren't hauling all of those guys out of there with promises of detention until they're fifty are only the last line of defense that failed (and that includes the superintendent who was reportedly with them on the trip). This is not okay. It's not okay that they did it, and it's even less okay that they walked to this moment right past a great long line of adults who failed to help them understand how wrong this is, public and private, official and unofficial. These boys have failed hugely, and their failure is a reflection on every adult in their lives and our society as it stands right now.

I will not tar all Catholic schools with this event, nor will I pretend that public schools are incapable of this type of crap (remember Barabo High and the Hitler salute).  This is just a reminder that all of us--all of us--need to do better, to be better. Donald Trump's America is an ugly damned place and all the "this is not who we are" talk will not save us as long as this kind of shit goes on without consequence. Let's hope lots of folks at Covington are taking a good hard look at themselves today. This is just so ugly and appalling and heartbreaking and awful.

Every classroom in America should be talking about this next week, and explaining why it is so very wrong.

As for the man with the drum who stood up through all this, here he is. This is Nathan Phillips, of Omaha, is a Vietnam Veteran who hosts a sacred pipe ceremony at Arlington Let's hope this helps wash some of the taste of the ugly out of your eyes:

Friday, January 18, 2019

DeVos Offers Advice From Within The Bubble

Betsy Devos is rich. She was born rich, married rich, and barring any French Revolution style upheaval, she will die rich. This does not automatically make her evil, but it does make her susceptible to life in a bubble-- particularly since she never created nor ran any of the businesses that made her wealthy. And it's important to remember all this when she starts waxing rhapsodic about the lessons she learned growing up back in the day.

DeVos returned to the public eye this week, wheelchair bound from a broken pelvis that was the result of a biking accident (that has got to hurt like hell-- good thing she has good health insurance) to have a "fireside chat" about youthful entrepreneurship. It was a chance for her to show that she has some awareness of what life is like outside the bubble.

Business, after all, is her second religion. Most of her policy decisions make sense viewed through this lenses. The trashing of oversight, the shredding of regulations, all flow from one simple idea-- government should never interfere with the operation of business. Businessmen should never have to compromise their vision to accommodate some government rule, and government should never give the Little People the power to challenge or interfere with business.

So there she was at Gallup HQ for Lemonade Day to talk to Joe Daly of Gallup to talk about the state of youthful entrepreneurship which, according to the Gallup folks, is not strong.

Daly reported polling data that said young people have become less entrepreneurial since 1977 but mostly in the last decade. And the millennial generation is “on track to be even less entrepreneurial” than Generation X and baby boomers.

That's an interesting factoid to consider. And DeVos has some thoughts.

"Well,” she said, "you certainly are the ones with data, but I have some sort of instinctual ideas about it. I think they are quite broad and varied. For one thing, generally speaking, younger people have grown up in a more protected environment. We’ve heard lots about helicoptering parenting and making sure nobody gets hurt doing something, and we don’t take too many risks so we don’t fail.

“It’s a general aura of safety and security over taking calculated and taking interesting risks around things,” she said. "I think that in, that general aura has lent itself in many ways to that reality. I think that we’ve had sort of an ossified approach and system to track everybody through the same sorts of experiences and, you know, there’s not a lot of real difference in the way we do school today versus decades ago. It’s only more protected and more safe.

“And so I think generally speaking we have to become more okay with taking calculated risks and encouraging young people to try new things and to not protect them from everything.”

There are several things to unpack here. First is that Betsy Devos has never had to worry about serious failure her whole life, both because she has lived on a big fluffy white cushions stuffed with millions of dollars. Second, you can't have it both ways-- it can't be both school hasn't changed in years and kids these days are so much more protected than when I was a kid. Third, I feel certain that students in public school today are not more protected and cushioned than students in elite high-priced private religious schools were in the seventies. Fourth is that I guess we can give DeVos some marks for consistency in that she has been determined to roll back protections for at least some students.

And look-- I'm about the same age as Betsy, and I don't disagree that helicopter parenting and a general tendency to try to protect students from hurt and disappointment have been climbing. I'm just not sure what that has to do with the decline of entrepreneurship. The myth that modern entrepreneurs are profiles in courage seems, well, very myth. Take Bill Gates-- he certainly accomplished a big bunch of stuff, even if some of that accomplish amounts to appropriating the work of others, but the story of him starting Microsoft in his garage skips that it was his parents' garage, and they were well-heeled enough that he never had to worry that failure would leave him hungry and homeless. Or take a certain real estate mogul who got his entrepreneurial start with a few million dollars of his father's money, and then when his various adventures tanked, he was able to pull more money from Dad and God-knows-where-else. Have there been US entrepreneurs who risked it all on an idea? Sure-- but I'm not sure that a solid safety net and the comfort of security aren't as useful for entrepreneurial boldness as risk-taking behavior.

Do I have an alternative explanation? Well, two. One is that Gallup is simply wrong-- I'm not sure how one measures entrepreneurial spirit, anyway, but didn't we just go through a decade of a few thousand Zuckerberg wanna-be's trying to launch one internet entrepreneurial schemes after another? Daly suggests that we've had fewer people starting businesses that employ other people-- that may well be true. But if Gallup is right, then maybe the widespread economic insecurity and the same pit of debt that has kept millennials from buying houses has also made them reluctant to launch new businesses. Maybe they're financially scared about living in a world in which a bicycle accident could ruin you financially forever. Or it maybe that the conglomeratization of business just makes it harder to break in (everyone loves the free market until they're winning t it-- then they want the price of admission to be prohibitively high). The younger generation has grown up in a world where they've seen the rules clearly stacked against people who aren't already rich; maybe they're just not inclined to risk home and family on a very long shot.

This theory, of course, would not allow DeVos to blame one more thing on public schools.

There's a disconnect in her reasoning. After all, her own experience, both for herself and for her children, has been to avoid public school and stay in a comfortable private religious school bubble, and what is more helicopter parenty than saying, "We will find you a school that only gives the educational experience we want it to." What is more protected and safe than a school where everybody believes the same things you believe? And what is a significant part of the argument charters and vouchers if not a helicoptery, "If the public school won't teach our chid the way we want them to, we'll just go to another school that will."

Why didn't Betsy DeVos's parents tell her, "You're going to attend public school, and your allowance is five bucks a week, and this summer you're going to get a job at some place that the family doesn't own. It will be hard and unpleasant sometimes, but it will build grit and character and you'll be a better person for it later in life." Later in the talk she says she's encouraged that her grandchildren are being "encouraged to do the kinds of things I did as a child and to explore some unsafe things" and I'm wondering what "unsafe" thing Betsy Prince was ever encouraged to do in her youth.

Look, to repeat myself, I'm not suggesting Betsy DeVos is a terrible person because she as born and raised rich-- that wasn't her choice. But there is something seriously off about a person who has lived an entire life of comfort and privilege grousing that Kids These Days have it too easy. And when a person with a lot of power takes that stance, it's doubly unfortunate, because that means they'll totally miss the chance to do something useful. Gallup may be pointing at something significant here, but all we're getting from the secretary of education is the old Kids These Days are weak and public schools are lousy.

That and returning to the Other True Faith. More schools, she suggests, should teach their students about business, about how business works. I suppose it could cover how money talks and frees you to tell people How It Is without ever doing any self-examination.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

If You Care About Early Childhood Education

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know I have concerns about the current direction of education for the littles. These are not strictly academic concerns-- between. children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, there are seven members of my family in the under-five age bracket.

So I am happy to see this announcement in my in-box from Defending the Early Years:

DEY is excited to announce its first Early Childhood Organizing Leadership Summer Institute to be held in July 2019. The Institute will bring together 15-20 early childhood educators and advocates from across the country to spend several days developing leadership skills and advocating on Capitol Hill. The institute will provide early childhood advocates with the opportunity to learn various organizing skills, identify threats to the early childhood profession, network with other early childhood leaders, and develop a platform for protecting childhood.

DEY was founded in 2012, one more grass roots reaction to the problems of Common Core. They have rapidly built an organization that is strong in both educating about the issues and advocating for better policies for the littles. They work with many experts and organizations in the field of early childhood ed, send reps to a variety of conferences, and pump out publications to help get their point across. They do a lot of good work.

That's why I'm excited to see this summer institute being launched. Early childhood is an area loaded with people who look at the crazy emphasis on making kindergarten the new first grade and making pre-k an academic activity and just a general trend that can only end with pumping algebra lessons into fetuses somehow-- anyway, folks look at all this and say, "Well, this is clearly wrong, but I don't know how to explain the wrongness and I don't know how to do anything about it." Littles are at a disadvantage because their parents are usually young and not sure how to wade into any of this (or worse, simply assume that The People In Charge must know what they're doing).

This institute seems like the perfect way to address some that. DEY is planning on two days of learning and one day of lobbying. It sounds very cool.

I can't pass on more specifics because apparently there aren't any yet, but there is a chance for you to weigh in on what you would like to see happen at the institute. Just follow this link to a survey.

And even if you can't travel, you should (if you have not already) check out DEY's website and sign up for their newsletter.