Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Getting Out Of Poverty

I googled "education" and "getting out of poverty." Over 1 million hits.

I googled "education" and "ending poverty." About 160K hits.

Many reformsters, from Arne Duncan to She Who Will Not Be Named, have tried to tout education as a way to end poverty, or even THE way to end poverty. I remain unconvinced. The end of poverty requires one of two things to happen:

1) All jobs will pay above-poverty-line wages. That means either an official or effective raising of the minimum wage.

2) All poverty-level jobs will disappear, to be replaced with enough high-paying jobs to keep all the displaced burger flippers and retail checkers employed.

Okay, actually there could be a 3)-- the government gives every poor person enough money to not be poor.

I am not an economist (although there are a lot of economists playing education expert, so I'm comfortable turning that table), but I am pretty sure both 1 and 2 are impossible (and 3 is harder than that). I see no reason to believe that having all students graduate from high school meeting the government's standard of College and Career Ready (aka got good scores on some standardized tests) will make the impossible more possible.

But mostly we're really talking about getting out of poverty, which is way different from ending it.

Imagine two buildings are on fire, dozens of people trapped inside. The fire company that shows up at one building says, "We have got to put out that fire." The other fire company says, "Let's try to save a couple of those people." That's the difference between "end poverty" and "get out of poverty."

When we say our goal is getting people out of poverty, we are committing ourselves to letting the building burn. And since poverty is grounded in jobs that need to be done and the people who have to take them, we are deciding to consign more victims to poverty. It's saying, "I don't care what happens to the ship or the people still trapped on it-- I've got my lifeboat seat." Or more concisely, "I've got mine, Jack."

Some folks try to soothe the harshness of this attitude (particularly followers of that Jesus fella, who had some things to say about people in poverty, and none of them were "I've got mine, Jack") by maintaining that the people who suffer from poverty deserve it. They're slackers, or miscreants, or just bad people. It's okay if poverty happens, as long as it happens to the right people.

Poverty must continue. People must suffer for their failings by being trapped in poverty. All we need do is provide an avenue for the deserving few to escape (or at least something we can claim is an avenue of escape). Once we've done that, we've done all we need do. If the educational path is there, anyone trapped in poverty has only himself to blame.

That's the system of belief that seems to drive some reformster thought. It's a system of thought that isn't merely divorced from reality, but is divorced from morality as well.

For two excellent reads on the subject:

Daniel S. Katz "The Moral Perversity of Today's Education Reform"

Jersey Jazzman "The Fundamental Flaw in the Reformy Argument"

The Seven Big Lies of Reformsterdom

Some of the classic Not-Entirely-Truisms of the Reformster Movement have been quietly retired. For instance, one rarely hears the claim that teachers had major input in creating the Common Core any more because there's hardly a soul left who can say it with a straight face.

But there are still some huge bogus beliefs ,falsehoods in the foundation of reformster policies that make everything built upon them a waste of time and energy.

Educational Standards Make Countries Economically Stronger

At the root of reform is the idea that America's economic competitiveness rests on educational standards. If we have higher educational standards, the argument goes, our economy will become strong and robust and internationally competitive. Not only does this idea ignore every other economic factor known to intelligent human beings and economists, it comes wrapped with a bow and without an iota of proof, either historical or theoretical.

The Common Core Standards Are Higher, Stronger, Better Educational Standards

They aren't. The hard core Core corps at Fordham Institute determined that some states already had better standards than CCSS. Experts in the math and language fields have picked apart the standards in a dozen different ways and revealed them to be what they are-- the work of amateurs. And can we please talk about the fact, rarely addressed, that the standards only address math and language. These standards are supposed to be elevating the entire education system, and yet they only address two subject areas.

We Have Proxies That Are As Good As Reality

Reformsters propose that standardized test results are perfectly good stand-ins for educational quality. We are supposed to be able to talk about teacher VAM or VAAS or [your prefix here] VAAS scores as if they are actual numerical measures of how good a teacher is at her job. There's no proof that standardized test measure anything other than a student's ability to take standardized tests (well, that and their socio-economic class), and there's plenty of proof that VAM scores are only slightly more reliable than dice that have been numbered with pencil and thrown by chimpanzees.

Better Educational Outcomes Will End Poverty

The promise of reformsters (including prominent gummint reformsters) is that once every young American is emerging from high school College and Career Ready, every adult American will be employed at an above-minimum-wage job that is personally and economically rewarding. Education reform has been presented as a means to end poverty. This is a bizarre assertion. When the day of 100% CACR graduates arrives, will US employers declare, "Well, now that these guys are so well-educated, we will start paying them more." Did well-paying US jobs move overseas because Indian and Chinese workers are so better educated, or because they are willing to work for American peanuts? Will being a burger flipper become a lucrative position, or will it disappear as a job entirely because the burgers are flipping themselves? Exactly how will having better-educated citizens make more jobs appear? If you want to see the falseness of this promise debunked with charts and numbers, read this and this.

People Are Only Motivated by Threats and Punishment

Every piece of reformster implementation hinges on threats and punishment. If third graders won't learn to read, we will punish them with failure. If teachers do not perform well, we will cut their wages and/or fire them. It's not just that the threats are part of the new reformy status quo-- it's the underlying assumption that they are necessary. It appears in the side battles as well-- tenure foes are just certain that teachers couldn't possibly be doing good work if their job isn't on the line every day. It's a sad, cramped, meager view of human nature that wants to found a society based on the worst possible view of what it means to be human.

Education Is Just Job Training

Speaking of tiny, sad views of what it means to be human. Over and over again, reformsters suggest that the only real purpose of an education is to prepare one for work. You get an education so that you can become useful to your future possible employers. That's it. That's all. Everything that is beautiful and loving and glorious about human life, everything that resonates in our connections to each other and the world around us-- none of that matters in education. The measure of whether a subject should be taught is simply, "Will this help the student get a job?" Learning about everything that is rich and joyful and rewarding in the human experience, everything about learning to grow and understand and embrace who you are as a human being and how you make your way in the world-- that's all stuff you can do in your free time, I guess, if you really want to.

Education Is Scalable 

The premise here is that the best education solutions can be applied to all students everywhere in the country. Let's stop for a second and think about how this concept has been successfully applied ever. We have the examples of... well, fast food, where we've provided the identical product for all customers. But we did that by producing a mediocre product, and even then, customers are self-selected, so we haven't really provided mediocre food for every single possible consumer (which is what a national education system would have to do). Or we can look at the example of Krispy Kreme donuts, a product that was highly successful on a regional basis, but when scaled to a larger market lost the qualities that made it successful.

But education is not a product, you say. That's true. So can we say that there are scalable standards for any other sorts of human relationships. Would you like to propose that we have a scalable national system for how to be a spouse, or a parent? Unlikely, since we can't even agree on the very broadest standards that we have in place now. No, education is personal and individual. No good education system is scalable on a national level.

These are seven huge lies of the reformster movement. There are other fairly hefty lies as well (free markets will make schools better, inexperienced teachers are the best), but these six are lies huge enough and foundational enough that the reformster status quo cannot exist without them. Pull any one of these rotted jenga blocks of lies, and the whole tower or garbage comes crashing down. See any of these lies for what they are, see the truth they fight to obscure, and one can't help but look at the reformster program and recognize that it's just plain wrong.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What Lily Misses about the Common Core

My esteemed colleague at Edushyster scored an interview with NEA president Lily Eskelsen Garcia, and as always, it's pretty encouraging to see an NEA boss express herself in plain English that clearly opposes reformster ideas-- except for the Common Core. I'm going to reprint a full paragraph because I think it articulates more clearly than anything I've seen where LEG's mistake lies.

But listen, I have this exact conversation with my best friend all the time. She hate, hate, hates the Common Core and she always says: *You know exactly what’s going to happen, Lily. You know the Common Core is just going to be turned into one more high-stakes punishment. It will be all about cut scores, you get fired, this kid doesn’t graduate.* I can’t disagree with her on that. She’s basically describing what happened in New York. Before teachers were even trained to know what was in the Common Core at their grade level, before they had time to do anything in a thoughtful way, it was clearly so much more important to have the cut scores and the punishments in place. But here’s what I tell my friend. Let’s say you could develop the perfect standards. They’re so perfect that everyone is throwing up confetti because that’s how perfect they are. And you find the perfect curriculum and you have text books that are aligned to these perfect standards. And you only have to give one test a year instead of a thousand of them. In other words, it’s perfect! But some politician says, *you get punished, you get a prize.* It’s not the standards. It’s not the curriculum. It is the high-stakes punishment that is hooked to them. That’s why people are so upset about the standards, because of the high-stakes punishment that’s now attached to them and that has corrupted what it means to teach. We have to get rid of that. 

What happened in New York (and with various variations, around the country) is what the Common Core was designed to do. The Core was designed as a means of imposing standardization on US public schools, and as any manufacturing person can tell you, you cannot have that kind of standardization without measuring the output. 

The Standards and the Tests are inextricable, because conceptually, the Test came first. The cut scores and punishments were put in place first because they were always the point. What the Founding Fathers of Coresylvania said was, "We are going to put a mechanism in place for checking to see that every state is on point. Of course, we'll tell them what the instrument is checking for, but the checking-- that's the important part."

The Test is not there to measure the outcome of the Standards. The Standards are there to facilitate preparation for the test. They are not designed to answer the question "What would a great education look like." They are designed to answer the question, "What will be on the test? What must your students do to prove to the People In Charge that you are doing a good job?" For the people who created, promote, and profit from the Core, it is inconceivable that it could be separated from testing.

Let's look at that hypothetical perfect standard.

The perfection would be rooted in a completely different purpose and intent. The perfect standards would exist in order to help provide guidance and support to teachers, filtered through their own professional judgment. The Standards would exist as a means to assist teachers, not as an avenue through which they must prove they are meeting someone else's conception of their job.

The number of tests I would give per year with the perfect standards would be zero, because no standardized test will be capable of giving a true measure of how well my students met those standards. 

Proving you're doing a good job and actually doing a good job are two separate activities. The Common Core are designed around proving we're doing a good job, and for that reason (among others, but let me be brief-ish) they cannot be simply separated from testing. 

Put another way, the Common Core Standards and LEG's hypothetical perfect standards are two completely different kind of standards. 

The Core standards are manufacturing standards, a list of tolerances that widget construction must adhere to. Manufacturing standards mean nothing unless you use them to test your widgets, either passing them on or throwing them out, depending on how well they meet the standards. These are standards that People in Power use to judge, accept, and reject others.

Perfect human standards are internal guidance systems. As in, "I trust my daughter's choice in boyfriends because I know she has high standards" or "Our hospital personnel are committed to a high standard of care." These are standards that people use as their own personal compass.

Manufacturing standards may be used to make course corrections in the process, but the individual widgets are in a strictly binary win-or-lose situation. The human standards allow for course corrections constantly, with the goal of making use of multiple, continuous opportunities to do well.

Manufacturing standards are followed by people who are concerned about avoiding punishment. Perfect human standards are followed by people who are concerned about being the best they can be, being able to see a friendly face in the mirror and to sleep soundly at night. Manufacturing standards have no moral imperative other than "Save yourself." Human standards have some sort of moral code at their foundation.

Removing the threat of punishment from manufacturing standards does not turn them into human standards. Because they have no moral basis, without the threat of punishment they simply evaporate, or join the big shelf full of dusty binders. Manufacturing standards are the standards that you follow only when somebody is watching. Human standards are the ones you follow all the time, even when you're alone.

Imagining that you can remove the Tests from the Core and end up with useful standards is like imagining that you can chain-saw off the roof of your car and have a convertible. It's like imagining that you can create a housebroken pony by chopping the back end off of a horse. It's like imagining that your spouse would be a great spouse if that spouse were an entirely different person. 

Lily, it is the standards, because the standards have no existence independent of the Test. The standards are not the kind of standards you imagine as being perfect (or nearly so), and removing the testing will not turn them into those standards. Removing the testing will turn them into an irrelevant mass of documentation created by amateurs and ignored by real teachers, so for that reason, I still support removing the tests as a tactic-- but for that exact reason the Core supporters will fight decoupling tooth and nail.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Gates at Politico. Wrong. So Wrong.

Bill Gates popped up once again, spicing up a Politico interview with some of his standard educational wrongness.

First, he proposes that Common Core is simply a technocratic solution for education. He then compares the standards to the standardized railroad gauge or standardized plugs for appliances. Let me take a deep breath and see if I can put in words (beyond the obvious "children are not toasters") why this analogy is simply wrong.

Railroad gauges and plug configurations are, within certain engineering requirements, fairly arbitrary choices. Had railroad gauges been set a few inches wider or a few inches, it would not matter. The purpose of setting a standard is not to impose a choice that's a better choice for the rails, but to impose a choice that makes all the rails work as parts of a larger whole. Within certain extremes, there's no bad choice for gauge width; the actual width of the gauge matters less than the uniformity.

Decisions about educational standards are not arbitrary. Some educational choices are better than others, and those choices matter in and of themselves. The choice of standards matters far more than the uniformity. Human children are not in school for the primary purpose of being fitted to become part of a larger whole. Imposing a bad standards choice simply to have uniformity is a disastrous choice, but that is what the Common Core has done-- sacrificed good standards in order to have uniformity, which is not even a desirable goal for human children in the first place.

(There's an irony here-- the computer biz has been messing with the standards for powering equipment for years. Manufacturers have been forced to rig up a variety of adaptations because they are stuck with a world of outlets locked into old standards, but we also have power-by-USB cords, allowing tech equipment to circumvent the old standards.)

Gates has some intellectual blind spots, and they shine through in this interview.

First, it appears from out here in the cheap seats that he's simply been a boss far too long.

The idea that what you should know at various grades … should be well structured and you should really insist on kids knowing something so you can build on that.

Because that's how education happens? You just "insist" that kids know something at a particular stage of their development. This is the language of someone who's used to simply being a boss, and not having to deal with people who hold onto their own preferences or demand that their individuality be recognized.

Gates also describes the previous fifty standards as a "cacophony," which is an interesting word choice. A cacophony is a big bunch of noise, disorderly. It's what you call the Rolling Stones if you'd rather listen to Bach. With this word, Gates is not suggesting that the previous standards were ineffective or bad or destructive-- he's just saying they were messy and bothersome. This is Cult of Order talk. This is demanding that all the pencils on every desk are lined up just so, not because there's any proof that it's more effective, but because the mess just makes his fingers itch and his head hurt.

And charters. He loves charters. Which-- more irony-- is an odd thing to be in favor of when your other goal is to make all schools essentially the same, anyway.

The Market Hates Losers

Fans of market forces for education simply don't understand how market forces actually work.

What they like to say is that free market competition breeds excellence. It does not, and it never has.

Free market competition breeds excellent marketing. McDonald's did not become successful by creating the most excellent food. Coke and Pepsi are not that outstandingly superior to RC or any store brand. Betamax was actually technically superior to VHS, but VHS had a better marketing plan.

The market loves winners. It loves winners even if they aren't winning-- Amazon has yet to turn an actual profit, ever, but investors think that Bezos is a winner, so they keep shoveling money on top of him. And when we enter the area of crony capitalism, which likes to pretend it's the free market, picking winners becomes even less related to success. Charter schools were once a great idea with some real promise, but the whole business has become so toxically polluted with crony capitalism that it has no hope of producing educational excellence in its present form.

But then, the market has only one measure for winning, and that is the production of money. The heart of a business plan is not "Can I build a really excellent mousetrap?" The heart of a business plan is "Can I sell this mousetrap and make money doing it?"

There is nothing about that question that is compatible with pursuing excellence in public education.

The most incompatible part of market-driven education is not its love of money-making winner, but its attitude about losers. Because the market hates losers. The market has no plan for dealing with losers. It simply wants all losers to go away.

Here's the problem. I teach plenty of students whom the market would consider losers. They take too long to learn. They have developmental obstacles to learning. They have disciplinary issues. They may be learning disabled. They have families of origin who create obstacles rather than providing support. What this means to a market-driven education system is that these loser students are too costly, offer too little profit margin, and, in their failures, hurt the numbers that are so critical to marketing the school.

In PA, we already know how the market-driven sector feels about these students. It loves to recruit them by promising a free computer and a happy land of success where nobody ever hounds you about attendance and all homework can be completed by whoever is sitting by the computer. But sooner or later, those students are sloughed off and sent back to public schools. And by "sooner or later," I mean some time after the cyber-charter has collected the money for that student.

The market sheds its losers, its failures (well, unless they can convince some patron or crony that they are just winners who are suffering a minor setback). Schools cannot.

For the free market, failure is not only an option, but a necessity. Losers must fail, be defeated, go away. For a public school system, that is not an option. Only with due process and extraordinary circumstances should a student be refused a public education. And certainly no traditional respectable public school system can simply declare that it has too many loser kids, so it's going to shut down.

The free market approach to schools must inevitably turn them upside down. In a free market system, the school does not exist to serve the student, but the student exists to serve the interests of the school by bringing in money and by generating the kinds of numbers that make good marketing (so that the school can bring in more money). And that means that students who do not serve the interests of the free-market school must be dumped, tossed out, discarded.

To label students losers, to abandon them, to toss them aside, and to do all that to the students who are in most need of an education-- that is the very antithesis of American public education. The free market approach to schools will no more unleash innovation and excellence than did 500 channels on cable TV. What it will do is chew up and spit out large numbers of students for being business liabilities.

Free market forces will not save US education; they will destroy it. To suggest that entrepreneurs should have the chance to profit at the cost of young lives is not simply bad policy-- it's immoral. It's wrong.

Data Dopiness Survives in Indiana

You may recall that back in the day, one of the items on our List of Terrible Things About Reformy Stuff was data mining. Featured in RttT and RttT Lite Waivers, the mandate to hoover up giant mounds of data was one of the great hated evils of reformsterdom, loathed by conservatives and liberals alike.

The Leonie Haimson led a fight against InBloom in New York, and won.

Since then, we've dialed back the data fretting considerably.

That's a mistake. The federal requirements for massive data management have not gone away. None of the advocates for cradle-to-career data tracking have stepped forward to say, "Gee, we now realize that's a horrifying idea that out-Big-Brothers George Orwell." The Data Overlords do not sleep, and a reminder of that comes through Shaina Cavazos at Chalkbeat's Indiana bureau. 

Steve Braun would like to use oceans of data to match up students and jobs, and that suits Governor Mike Pence fine-- he's been pushing the connection between education and workforce development since his days as a state representative. He would now like to see a new state office for a data czar created to manage an ocean of K-12 and college data, along with coordinating with an outside company to "identify trends and opportunities."

It's a dopey idea for several reasons.

First, it further enshrines the reformster notion that "education" actually means "job training." It's a small-minded meager vision of education which vastly shortchanges our students in the short term and our culture, country and society in the long term.

Second, it requires a level of prescience not generally associated with government in general or actual human beings in particular. Do you think you can say today, right now, what a six-year-old's career ought to be? Our students will be employed in jobs that don't exist yet. Hell-- in the late 1970s I correctly deduced that computer knowledge would be good to have, so kudos to me-- except that my ground-floor computer training consisted of learning to program in BASIC, so, never mind my kudos.

Third, it turns students into fodder for corporate interests. My standard response to "Your school needs to produce more people who are employable as widget twiddlers" is "I'm comfortable preparing 100 students to be widget twiddlers if you're prepared to guarantee that all 100 will have jobs waiting for them at your company when they graduate." But if you want me to produce 100 twiddle ready widgeters so that you can pick the best ten and leave ninety others to twist in the wind, I'd say you are deeply confused about the purpose of public education.

The idea is to collect long-term data from three state agencies — The Indiana Department of Education, Department of Workforce Development and Commission on Higher Education — and, hopefully, merge it with data tracked by private employers. Four other states — Washington, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Maryland — have similar data systems but none have yet harnessed the information in the way Indiana envisions.

Of course, one of the most common concerns about the Great Data Mines is privacy. Exactly who will be poking through student records, and how safe will they actually be. But Braun says those concerns "should not come into play." The network will just study trends, not individuals. No word yet on whether or not the network would like to sell you a bridge.

When it’s operational, state officials hope Indiana can use the network to be a national trailblazer for using data and collaborating with business.

“There is big social and economic value if we do better,” Braun said.

One would hope that some educational value would appear as well.

There's more ridiculousness. Braun says that data is so far just snapshots of the past; he would like to...I don't know? Take snapshots of the future? Is there a TARDIS in this plan?  No-- he would like to align educational processes around workforce analytics. Cavazos notes that "thinking of education that way is sometimes hard for teachers." Perhaps in the same way that is hard for doctors to think of medical treatment as only fixing broken legs.

Accountability? Indiana has dopey ideas for that, too.

Braun thinks the Indiana’s forecasting can be good enough that training kids to assure they get jobs should be more than a goal. It should be expected. In the future, he said, that state should consider tying data about how many graduates earn good jobs to its school accountability system.

Super idea. Perhaps we could also link economic performance to jobs for politicians and bureaucrats-- if the employment rate drops too low, governors and their appointees can be automatically ejected from office, and their failures can be noted in their permanent data records as we try to counsel them into new jobs.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

One More Way To Kill Public Schools

AEI has a new video about education. It's slick and well-produced, featuring Muchael McShane walking through a school while telling us how things should be. He has a three-point program which features, among other things, school choice on steroids. It also has numbers and facts, and I'm not even going to address whether they're accurate or not, because even if they are, the arguments attached are full of holes.
You can watch it here if you must. I've hit the salient points below.

The Haves and Have-Nots

McShane opens with the usual business about how Americans without high school diplomas end up having crappy lives, and those with diplomas don't do much better. He introduces Hypothetical Child Jennifer, born into the bottom 20%. He notes that without a college diploma, it's likely she will not get off that bottom rung.

The problem with this argument has been, and will always be, that it confuses correlation with causation. Jennifer is poor. Because she is poor, there is a high likelihood that her life will include certain features, and somewhere on that list will be lower level of education and later success in life. What reformsters want to do is take one of those outcomes (lower educational prospects) and assign it the role of cause.

We could make the same argument about nutrition or clothing. Jennifer probably doesn't eat as well or dress as well as a child from the top 20%. Does it follow that we need a program to get her better food or better clothing because if we do that, she will escape poverty?

McShane says that with a college degree, Jennifer is more likely to make it out of poverty. Is it not equally likely that if she has the qualities to make it out of poverty, those qualities will lead her to pursue a college degree? It's not that I don't see value in a college degree, but the case that simply having a college degree causes an escape from poverty hasn't been made.

Choices and Price Per Pupil

McShane says Jennifer's big hurdle is a lack of choices; wealthy kids have options that she does not.Well, yes.

McShane says the poor-schools-in-poor-neighborhoods is not a spending problem, citing stats about how some of the poorer districts actually spend more per pupil. That may be a stat that can be challenged, but I don't care. It could well be true, because when we talk about Cost Per Pupil, we are talking about an incomplete stat.

What rich kids have going for them is a hugely larger expenditure per pupil-- just not in direct tax dollars to school district. Buffy and Chip may cost $10K apiece for the taxpayers, but they are also taking tennis lessons and SAT coaching and dance class and a hundred other enrichment opportunities that are not paid taxpayer. Part of being a poor kid is not having your total education subsidized by family and friends.

In other words, a rich kid's education costs more than a poor kid's. Let me try an example. Poor Pat and Comfy Chris both need to buy a car. Each gets a stipend of $10K, but Chris's folks chip in another $10K. So Chris ends up driving a nice new fully loaded Ford Focus, and Pat ends up in a used Yugo. What reformsters want to argue is that Pat is driving a lousier car because Pat shops at a crappy car dealership, and if there were only more competition, Pat could have a fully loaded new Focus, too. They are pretending that Chris bought a new Focus with the $10K.

Yes, school financing is way more complicated, and my analogy is imperfect. But my point is still, I believe, valid. These comparisons of schools are invalid because we are not counting the true costs of a wealthier student's education. And the assertion that spending money on schools doesn't help has been debunked more times than Sasquatch.

McShane would also like us to know that school staffing has mushroomed since the seventies, which is undoubtedly true for a myriad of reasons. It's just not immediately obvious what his point is, except maybe "look at all this money wasted on personnel costs," a favorite refrain of the profiteer reform crowd.

The problem

McShane says the system does not foster innovative and entrepreneurial solutions. Do not expect him to tell us why or how entrepreneurial solutions would help education. For privateers, that question makes no more sense than being asked to prove that water is wet.

Schools stifle creativity. Principals spend more time on reports than leading. Teachers are stuck in narrowed curriculum directed at passing tests. "It's demoralizing, it's dehumanizing, and it hurts kids like Jennifer." The AEI folks are not blithering idiots. These are true things. What is not at all clear is how entrepreneurial solutions would fix any of that. In fact, I'm pretty sure that it's the innovative entrepreneurial spirit that brought us some of those stifling reforms in the first place. 

But McShane does have three solutions to propose.

1) You think you know choice and vouchers? You ain't seen nothing yet.

McShane starts out with the old victims of geography argument, where students flow to schools and the money follows them, whether the schools suck or not. This is a nice rhetorical trick, because it presents schools as objects that just appear, like barnacles or crop circles, and not as community institutions created and maintained by the local taxpayers in order to provide education for their local children.

McShane says vouchers would be better, and I've already burned up bandwidth addressing why he's simply wrong. But let's not stop for that argument because this is not your father's school voucher concept. This is choice hopped up on steroids.

McShane wants choice on the course level. Giving one school, any school, Jennifer's block of money in order to arrange her whole education is a fail. Better, in his opinion, is an educational account for Jennifer that she can use to buy/hire specific courses.

This is a pretty stunning vision. It allows content-providing companies to specialize to make their profits, and it puts all the responsibility on the parents, many of whom will pay dearly for advice on how manage Jennifer's account. It is the educational version of the idea to abolish social security and let/make everyone manage their own retirement fund.

The most obvious implication that McShane doesn't flat out state-- under this system, we can get rid of schools as institutions entirely. McShane's out not just to cut personnel costs, but to get rid of many other overhead costs involved in operating schools. Hear that sound? Ka-ching, baby.

2) Better regulatory approach.

Using "scores and formulas" to hold schools and teachers accountable for a "one size fits all definition of success" is sucky. Can't disagree with that a bit.

Oh, wait. Yes, I can. Because McShane says it sucks because it stifles competition, and we need to let parents vote with their feet. He also says that we need a "flexible, market-based system that relies on performance contracts, inspectors and accreditors to hold educators responsible to many kinds of results." It's hard to be certain what he has in mind other than scores and formulas, though "performance contracts" suggests deliverables. But that means concrete number results, which means data, which invariably means test scores. It would seem that McShane has something else in mind, but it's really not clear what.

3) Freedom to slash

Okay, that's not how McShane puts it. He wants the people who provide these new services to have access to financial and human capital. "They would need the freedom to rethink the roles and compensations of teachers and leaders." "Rethink" is such a harmless word. It sounds much nicer than "freedom to squeeze money out of every corner of the company without regard for the human beings involved."

He'd also like to be able to retrain teachers for "unique environments," and these companies need the flexibility to search out private and public funds.

Behind that curtain

The system that McShane envisions would be extraordinarily cumbersome, with dozens of independent operators jostling for their market share of Jennifers while thousands of parents try to sort through the marketplace. It seems that the inevitable result would be the rise of contractors-- businesses that operate as clearinghouses for content providers and shopping centers for parents.

Some charter operators are close enough to the model to jump on it quickly. Jennifer's Not-Actually-A-School could hire independent contractors for low pay and no benefits, easily replaceable. Not-Actually-A-School would be most efficient if it had programs in a box and just had to hire some content delivery specialists to unpack the box (a job requiring no real expertise). The education services would basically be go-betweens, connecting audience-students with content deliverypersons. In effect, these innovative entrepreneurs would re-invent the recording industry.

Wrap it up

McShane wants to unleash the innovators and entrepreneurs so that they can help Jennifer, who is sweet and well-scrubbed and bright-looking and who walks compliantly beside McShane as he brings it on home. He wants a vibrant marketplace that will compete for her dollar (it is apparently not the taxpayers' money once we hand it to Jennifer). These businesses would compete by showing "better results for her futures" so I guess there is a time machine or a crystal ball in there somewhere.

McShane says nothing at all about how this vibrant "ecosystem" would respond to Jennifer's classmate-- the one who has disabilities and behavior problems and is more expensive to teach. McShane says nothing at all about how this nimble marketplace would treat "customers" who were not attractive or optimal for use of human and financial capital.

McShane asserts that his ideas are pro-teacher, pro-principal, pro-family and pro-children, and I'd assert that they aren't any of those things. He would like to reduce teachers and principals to at-will subcontractors, children to walking piles of money (bring us your voucher!), and families to advertising targets.

Would the education system he envisions be any good? Would it honor the American ideal of educating every single student? Would it in any way honor the tradition of community based and supported schools?

Or would it just make somebody a big pile of money? Ka-ching. Yes, I'm doing a lot of conjecturing here. I look forward to being shown how I'm wrong, because in this instance, I really don't want to be right.