Saturday, July 23, 2016

David Coleman (7/23)

I am on a two-week vacation, driving cross-country with my wife to spend time with family in Seattle. In my absence, I have dug into the archives and pulled up some reruns for you. Though what I most suggest is that you check out the blogroll on the right side of the page. There are some outstanding bloggers, and if there are some folks you've never sampled, there's no day like today.

Why is Coleman one of my least favorite reformsters? It could be that it's my subject area that he saw fit to clobber with his big fat amateur hands. It could be his astonishing hubris; not many people feel entitled to rewrite an entire nation's education system (even though nobody asked them to) and to do it without ever acknowledging anyone else's work. Or the way he's taken the SAT and made it even worse. Of course, nobody really gives a shit what I think anyway.

David Coleman Is Superman

Coleman goes to Aspen to explain how awesome he is!

What David Coleman Doesn't Know About Literature

In his essay "Cultivating Wonder," Coleman provides some terrible advice and examples for actual teachers of literature.

David Coleman To Fix Inequality in America

That time Coleman announced that he would use his gig as big boss of the College Board to end social injustice, because he's just that good (and not because he's marketing a test).

Coleman's Double Disconnect

Getting at what exactly seems so off about Coleman's approach to ELA

Coleman's Master Plan

In a 2011 speech, Coleman laid out where he thought he was headed with all this reform stuff.

Coleman's CCSS Writing Style

Coleman explains how to write. It's not pretty.

David Coleman Speaks Out (sort of)

When launching his new SAT, Coleman did plenty of press, so I thought it would be fun to just hear him explain the whole mess himself. Well, almost his own voice. I might have paraphrased a little.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Resolve (7/22)

I am on a two-week vacation, driving cross-country with my wife to spend time with family in Seattle. In my absence, I have dug into the archives and pulled up some reruns for you. Though what I most suggest is that you check out the blogroll on the right side of the page. There are some outstanding bloggers, and if there are some folks you've never sampled, there's no day like today.

Don't think for a minute that I'm not happy to have the career I have. It is the best job in the world.

Dancing into the Apocalypse

Or, Why the World of Public Education Has Never Been Worse, and Why I'm Excited To Be a Teacher Anyway.

A Not Quitting Letter

The "why I'm quitting" letter is its on genre. Here's my imagined alternative.

I Love My Job

Well, I do. And I don't apologize for it.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Sass (7/21)

I am on a two-week vacation, driving cross-country with my wife to spend time with family in Seattle. In my absence, I have dug into the archives and pulled up some reruns for you. Though what I most suggest is that you check out the blogroll on the right side of the page. There are some outstanding bloggers, and if there are some folks you've never sampled, there's no day like today.

Sometimes what's called for is mockery and sass.

Common Core Hospital

My name is Nurse Duncan. Welcome to Common Core Hospital.

The Charter Life

Charter fans say that everyone wants choices. Let's talk to a man who really leaned in to that idea.

A Peek at CCSS 2.0

What Common Core might have become if it hadn't just plain died.

Directory of Anti-Teacher Trolls 

It's important to be able to identify these folks in the wild. Just sayin'

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Reformster Calls for Attack on Unions

You may not have heard of Peter Cook, but reformsters like him are a dime a dozen these days. Well, not a dime. They're considerably more expensive than that.

Cook likes to bill himself as a former teacher. Can you guess what his teaching experience is? Yes, in 2002, right after he graduated from Washington and Lee University with a BA in European History, he put in two years with Teach for America. A few years later he put in a year teaching math at a KIPP charter. The rest of his career has ben as a consultanty expert with groups like The New Teacher Project. Most recently he has worked as the "Engagement Manager" with Mass Insight Education, and he's been particularly active in New Orleans where he serves on the DFER Lousianna board. So yes-- he's an other one of the instant experts in education working hard to get those public tax dollars into private pockets.

Cook, like most of the DFER (Democrats Faux Education Reform) crowd, is concerned about Hillary Clinton's possible apostasy. First, some of Bernie Sander's delegates to the platform committee managed to add some language that dramatically broadened the definition of a bad charter school-- broad enough that the definition is now "most of them." Then, while addressing the gathering of the AFT, Clinton spoke as if maybe she had actually read the final platform and was going along with it.

DFER and like-minded folks went into panic mode. And Cook is now here to say that they are right to do so. Like many, he has been saying all along that Clinton could be trusted to make some placatory noises, but under it all she would remain loyal to the True Charter Faith. Now he believes he was wrong about her.

First she said that charters don't take hard-to-teach children. Next she said that poor students are hurt the most by testing. She even promised teachers a seat at the table.

Cook's hand-wringing is a study in how different things look from different vantage points. The hard-to-teach kids thing? Not really news. (See also, Success Academy's Got To Go list.) The link between poverty and test results is so well-documented that I didn't think anyone denied it any more. And Clinton's offer of a seat at the table has prompted widespread teacher observations on the order of, "It's our damn table, thanks."

But Cook is also one of those reformsters who believes all opposition to charter schools and other reforms can be traced to just one source:

I’m not as worried about Clinton’s education policy statements as I am about the weakened position of reformers vis-à-vis the teachers unions, both within the Democratic Party and Clinton’s inner circle.

I've heard many times the tale of how poor benighted billionaires like Eli Broad need to create their networks of political operatives and high-priced websites because they are so outgunned by anti-reform forces, by which they usually mean the unions. Cook goes far in his explanation of how this union conspiracy is laid (and is busy stealing the Democratic Party from refomsters). It is a fascinating view of the world in the sense that it's just so different from the reality readily visible to the rest of us.

He ties NEA and AFT to Harold Ickes and David Brock. Then he goes on to show connections between the unions and the Center for American Progress-- which is something that any pro-public ed advocates hold up as a criticism of the unions, because I don't think Cook has ever had a reform thought in his short life that CAP wouldn't agree with.

But Cook is not really arguing about the value of policy or the educational merits of reformster vs. union ideas. He's arguing the tactics of money and power.

Cook has chart upon chart showing where NEA and AFT spread money around. And he ultimately argues that while Clinton is still a good choice, reformsters need to get back on the offensive:

But we shouldn’t hang our hat on the idea that Clinton will eventually come around to our side once in the White House. Reformers need to move aggressively to fight for the gains we’ve made in states across the country, which the teachers unions are already furiously trying to undo. We need to build a solid bloc of reform supporters within the apparatus of the Democratic Party. And, we need to reclaim the conversation about public education from the teachers unions. In short, we need to get out of the defensive posture we’ve assumed in recent years and once again go on the offensive.

Here are several things that Peter Cook does not seem to know.

DFER is fake.

Go back and read Whitney Tilson's explanation of how they decided to put the D in DFER is an attempt to burrow into the Democratic Party and make them more tractable-- like the GOP. There's no Democratic principles at play here, and indeed, Cook never pretends that there are. DFER is simply an attempt to grab power within the party.

The unions have been terrible reform opponents.

For those of us on the public school side of the education debates, the notion that all opposition to reform comes from the unions is kind of hilarious. The unions embraced Common Core and still can't be induced to officially criticize it. The unions had to be dragged kicking and screaming by members into even the mildest criticism of Reformster Hero Arne Duncan. The unions have been weak in opposition to charters.

I will give reformsters some advice for free. Guys, if you think your main opponents are the unions, that could help explain why you have been losing ground. It's like either side in WWII saying, "What we really need to do is attack Switzerland."

About that defensive posture...

Reformsters are in a defensive posture because their policies suck.

The opt out movement did not develop because the unions created it. It jumped up and spread because parents could see that the Big Standardized Tests were time-consuming soul-killing crap. Charter support has gotten soft because so many charters have embarrassed the movement by failing to accomplish any of their over-promised high-toned goals. Common Core only grew more obviously loathsome with familiarity. TFA's noble intentions have been worn down by sloppy arrogance. And even some reformsters have come to understand that a wholesale rejection of public schools and the teachers in them (as reformsters routinely did in the early offensive days) is neither useful nor reasonable nor likely to generate grass roots support.

After a decade of this stuff, what would have most helped reformsters stay out of defensive posture would be an exemplary win. Because...

It's not all politics

I will not deny the efficacy of politics in getting policies created, promoted, and inflicted on the general population. But folks who spend too much time on politics become like folks who spend too much time on marketing-- they start to think that only process matters and the actual product that you're pushing is unimportant.

But at some point, you have to produce. Reformsters have not produced any notable educational successes at all, and that's a major obstacle to the success of their movement. Their major opposition is not another set of politicians using money and power to jockey for position-- their major opposition is all the people who have noticed that reformster policy ideas are lousy ideas.

Some solace

Cook can take some comfort in knowing that despite this apparent setback, the modern Democratic Party remains a group far more interested in the rich and powerful than in the concerns of ordinary working class Americans. The biggest irony in Cook's piece is that there is one thing that unites folks on both sides of the education debates. Mr. Cook, you may not trust Clinton very much at this point, but guess what? Neither do I.

Competency Based Education (7/20)

I am on a two-week vacation, driving cross-country with my wife to spend time with family in Seattle. In my absence, I have dug into the archives and pulled up some reruns for you. Though what I most suggest is that you check out the blogroll on the right side of the page. There are some outstanding bloggers, and if there are some folks you've never sampled, there's no day like today.

It's poised to be the next big thing in education reform (even though it's a recycled old thing from twenty years ago.

What's So Bad About Competency Based Education?

Competency Based Education (or Proficiency Based Learning or Outcome Based Education) is the new rage, or perhaps the long-simmering pot that is currently coming to boil. Reformsters have shifted emphasis to it, and opponents have become increasingly vocal about it. Casual observers can be forgiven for getting the impression that reform opponents are just reflexively objecting to whatever reformsters like. If Bill Gates ate a cheese sandwich, would some of us be leading a "Keep cheese out of our schools" movement?

After all, is CBE really all that radical or different?

CBE: An Exemplar School

When fans want to show how awesome CBE can be, they head to Alaska.

What is it supposed to be, exactly?

Here's an example of the sort of sales pitch we're going to be getting, and why it's bunk.

Twenty years ago we were all getting ready to do something that is suspiciously CBE-like. Here's why it dies the first time around.

I'm actually hopeful that CBE could be doomed. Here's where its fatal weaknesses are hiding.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

GOP Platform: Kiss Public Ed Goodbye

I took a look at the Democratic Party's platform, so it seems only fair that we look at what the GOP has to offer now that the document is available. Spoiler alert-- education is just a scruffy nerf-herder at the Mos Eisley café.

Before we even get to direct statements about education, let's look at a not-unrelated premise statement that comes right up front.

Prosperity is the product of self-discipline, enterprise, saving and investment by individuals, but it is not an end in itself. Prosperity provides the means by which citizens and their families can maintain their independence from government, raise their children by their own values, practice their faith, and build communities of cooperation and mutual respect.

So, two things to remember. First, if you're poor, it's because you lack a set of fundamental virtues. Second, if you're rich, that entitles you to live according to your own rules.

Those premises tell us a lot about what to expect on the subject of public education. But let's see what's actually there (not that Trump will feel bound by any of it, but just for curiosity's sake...)

Education: One Scent in a Stinky Potpourri

Education is rolled in with families, health care, and criminal justice. And the GOP immediately displays the pretzel-like knots they have tied themselves in by embracing both 1) a government that doesn't intrude anywhere and 2) a government that finds ways to make people live the way They Are Supposed To. So, the government should leave families alone and also, every child should have a mommy and a daddy.

The GOP thinks that poverty exists because progressive government puts "structural impediments" in the path of poor people, even though they said earlier that prosperity is the product of virtue. So confusion there.

On the other hand, in terms of education, the GOP opens with language that would be impressive if I thought they really meant it:

Education is much more than schooling. It is the whole range of activities by which families and communities transmit to a younger generation, not just knowledge and skills, but ethical and behavioral norms and traditions. It is the handing over of a cultural identity.

Which would sound pretty nice if the GOP had not made it clear that some cultural identities are more valuable than others.

The platform does go on to say that one size does not fit all, we should not get education standards from the UN, and school choice should be everywhere. And it recycles a paraphrase of the soft bigotry of low expectation.

On the other hand, the GOP says tests and teaching to the test are Bad Things.  Except that "strong assessments" so that teachers can figure out how to teach-- those are Good Things. So roughly the same empty rhetoric as the original Dem platform.

Teachers shouldn't be sued frivolously, and they should be able to maintain discipline in their classroom. But they should be held accountable for student performance (even though people and presumably students too prosper--or don't-- based on personal virtues)

The GOP also wants the Bible back in school, and they believe that school districts should make use of teaching talent from the business community, STEM jobs and the military. So, anyone can be a teacher. And of course tenure ("rigid tenure") should be "replaced with a merit-based approach in order to attract the best talent to the classroom." This despite the fact that there is zero reason to believe such systems work.

The GOP is all about excellence, and not that stupid federal "throw money at education" excellence. They make the somewhat astonishing claim that "after years of trial and error, we know the policies and methods that have actually made a difference," so before the federal government gets out of the way of local control, it will announce which one size of policy and instruction will fit all schools. Their list of "must-do" policy? Choice, back to basics, STEM subjects, phonics, career and tech ed, no social promotion, merit pay, strong leadership from administrators and locally-elected school boards. We must assume that the GOP has special inside scoop, since out here in the real world, most of those items have not proven to be successful at all.

The GOP wants all this excellence cheaply because we spend too much on education (other people's) children. Choice choice choice is the answer. Also, block grants so that states can distribute tax dollar largesse as they wish.

Also, because the GOP is the party of unintrusive small government, and they understand that education is about passing on a community's culture, they would like all schools to teach English First. Also, the only sex ed program that should be used is abstinence only. Because intrusive government is bad.

So telling students only about abstinence is Good, but campus policies about "political correctness" are bad. Students and schools should be free to talk about any of the things that the GOP-run government says it's okay for them to talk about.

Meanwhile, college is too expensive and that would be fixed if private sec tor lenders had a chance to make money from college loans.

And as if the platform weren't signal enough, the nomination  of Governor Pence for VP is a super-strong signal, as Pence has spent the last few years signaling that he would like to do away with public education entirely.

Meanwhile, the Democrats did manage to make their platform marginally less rotten. But public education is not getting any new friends at the federal level Pay attention to your local elections.

Data (7/19)

I am on a two-week vacation, driving cross-country with my wife to spend time with family in Seattle. In my absence, I have dug into the archives and pulled up some reruns for you. Though what I most suggest is that you check out the blogroll on the right side of the page. There are some outstanding bloggers, and if there are some folks you've never sampled, there's no day like today.

The unending search for a better way to mine data.

Why the Standards Can't Be Uncoupled

What if the standards aren't really standards at all, but are really data tags.

Meet Knewton

The data-crunching wing of Pearson wants to tell you what to eat for breakfast.

Pearson's Vision for the World

Nobody loves data like Pearson loves data

Backpacks for Clueless Parents

More data, because parents are just so flippin' clueless

There are so many reasons to be opposed to the business of mining and crunching data. We like to rail about how the data miners are oppressive and Big Brothery and overreaching. But there's another point worth making about our Data Overlords:

Data miners are not very good at their job.