Friday, August 17, 2018

Standing Up

"I just want to teach."

Those words have been repeated by so many teachers, so many times. This time it was a friend of mine who appears to be on the verge of having a contract. The school district has been wrestling with the contract for two years, with board members offering useful observations like "We have the money, but we don't want to give it to them." Last spring, the board offered its "final" proposal and refused to get back to the bargaining table. The union met and voted to strike in the fall. The community has been largely supportive of the teachers, who have mustered a huge presence at every board meeting. Finally, the board replaced their negotiating team, and a tentative agreement is now before both parties. Next week will tell whether the board will actually sign, of if the strike is still on.

It has been an ugly, depressing, contentious mess, and it was in reflecting on that mess that my friend said, "I just want to teach."

Without even thinking about it, I immediately replied, "That's just not an option any more." And I thought about it and realized that even in districts where contracts are settled, it's still true.

It's been true for a while. When I started, you could still hope to close the door to your room and just teach. Not that there weren't challenges; in those days, I usually compared teaching to a form of guerrilla warfare, where you had to be clever and alert enough to do parts of your job under the radar, because sometimes your administrators or your parents or your students would try to thwart your attempts to educate the young humans in your room. Sometimes they were resistant, sometimes oblivious, sometimes just not very supportive-- you had to keep your eyes on the work and press forward, but you could get most everything done if, instead of trying to fight anyone, you just closed the door to your room and forged ahead. You might have had opponents, but most of them didn't care enough to try to actually catch you doing your job.

The rise of the ed reform movement changed that. State departments that had previously practiced benign neglect started to practice active interference. When I started out, state presentations involved feeble attempts to get teacher buy-in to bad ideas; at the turn of the century, I realized they had become more coldly aggressive. From "We really hope to sell you on the value of this policy," we shifted to "This is going to happen, and you can get with the program or we are going to roll right over you."

Teachers have always fielded suggestions that they try dumb practices; under No Child Left Behind, we began to shift to demands, mandates, orders to employ educational malpractice.

Many teachers took quite a while to catch on. A building principal would announce a new bad idea, like test-centered schooling and senseless teacher evaluation systems, and teachers would roll their eyes and prepare to give the administrator a bad time, not understanding that his orders came from far up the food chain. Many teachers assumed they were suffering under local idiocy; it took a while to understand that this was state-and-national level foolishness.

At the same time, teachers felt the growing sense that they were being treated as the enemy. And if they didn't get it through deep reading of the situation, political leaders started to spell it out for them. (I remember a board member recounting in shocked tones being at the state capital and hearing the head of the government's education committee spit out angrily that they had already given "you people"-- meaning schools-- too much.) Then came policies that could easily have been entitled The Just Shut Up And Get These Kids Ready For The Big Standardized Test Act. To teachers' collective plea for assistance and support came replied like Teach for America and charter schools which said, essentially- "Help you?! We intend to replace you!" And it has come consistently from both parties.

After twenty years of ed reform, teachers have arrived at a point where they cannot shut the door and teach. Every teacher has to be an advocate for her profession, her school, and the institution of public education. Every policy and directive that descends from above has to be examined for its various effects, both on education and the profession, because teachers can no longer trust the People In Charge. The people who should be helping to smooth the road are building speed bumps and brick walls instead. To shut your door and teach is to the door to your room in a burning building; you may not feel the heat yet, but if you do nothing, you will surely feel it soon.

When we talk about reasons that so many fewer people pursue or stay with a teaching career, I'm not sure we discuss this point enough. You may want to Just Teach, but that will not be an option. You will have to fight constantly just to get to do your job. It's a huge disincentive-- "I would really like to do that job, but it looks like I won't really get to do the job I want to do."

Yes, every job has its crappy parts. But the problems of education and education reform and privatization of education and the general meddling of amateurs are smothering the work so that only the strong, the ones willing to fight, can see their way clear to get in there. And really, I can't imagine how tall that mountain looks when you are young, just starting out, and untenured.

Having said all that, I would argue that there are some positive side effects to the current condition of teaching. For one thing, it demands that you commit and become intentional about your work. When you say you "just want to teach," what do you mean, exactly? What are the important parts? What does the work mean to you? What is it that you are going to fight for? These are good questions to know the answers to. Focus. Keep your eyes on the real destination as long as you can.

Because teaching is still hugely important work, and the students are hugely important people, and both deserve to have warriors to defend them. Yes, it shouldn't be this hard, and yes, we are losing a whole generation of teacher might-have-beens because the education landscape has been turned into a dangerous, scary-looking place.

But none of that changes the mission-- to help students become their best selves, to help them understand what it means to be human in the world, to grow in all the best and most exciting ways. If I could say anything to people teetering on the brink of teaching or not, it would be that it will be a fight, and sometimes it will be a hard fight, and sometimes even a losing fight, and you can't give more than you have (and that matters-- you can't do what you can't do)--  but it will always be worth it. Yes, it's easier to stand up in a quiet room than in pounding surf, but we don't get to choose the times we live in or the fights that come to us. The work is worth it. The students are worth it.

Get Ready To Go

It is one of my great pet peeves.

Folks often observe that littles are excited to go to school. As that first day gets closer and closer, they just can't wait. But then they get older and the enthusiasm wanes. Why, folks wonder.

It's a complicated matter that involves many factors and problems, but I know one factor tat everyone could work on right away.

Stop telling kids they should hate school.

I know that hardly anyone ever says, in so many words, "You should hate school." But we tell them in many other ways, especially at this time of year. "Are you ready to go back to school," someone will ask in exactly the same tone they would use for "Are you ready to get hit in the face with a sack of poop?" Maybe we give them the old, "I'll bet you're really sad that vacation is over." We find many ways to signal to students that they should be sad about school, dread school, hate school. Granted, there are students who have good reasons to dread school, but the signaling by adults does not help.

Teachers can be just as bad. We complain about the end of summer vacation, complain about having to go back and face the students. We signal to folks that our job sucks, and while there are sucky parts of the job, teaching the actual students is not one of them (if it is for you, you are in the wrong line of work and you should search for employment elsewhere). Sometimes we get trapped in "polite" conversations with people who want to make small talk and land on some version of "Boy, I bet you're dreading going back" or "So, are you counting down to summer vacation already?" It feel impolite to say, "No, I love my job and the work is important and exciting," but anything else feeds the idea that school is a terrible hell where nothing good happens and nobody-- not students, not teachers-- actually wants to be there.

We talk a lot these days about standing up for the profession, and this is one of the most fundamental ways to stand up-- to stop feeding the idea that the job is an endless suckfest and that everyone in a school building wants, or should want, to be anywhere else on earth.

Don't talk about how awful it is to be going back. Don't tell students they should dread it. Don't idolize Fridays (because then we don't have to be here).

That doesn't mean we have to pretend that school is all unicorns and puppies and ice cream. But it's an important place, where important work is done, and where tiny humans become young humans who become practically-adult humans. It's kind of amazing. Teaching is important work, and it is a privilege to do that work. Likewise, the public school system provides an unparalleled opportunity for students to learn and grow and become more fully themselves as they learn how to be human in the world. This is the first fall in my life that I won't be going back, and while I'm comfortably certain that I'm right where I should be, I will still miss it. Your time in school doesn't last forever; you should embrace it while you can.

This is great work, important work, work that occurs with a ticking clock hovering in the background. Great work on a tight deadline. It is challenging and often difficult, and the difficulties are frustrating because so many of them are unnecessary-- artificial speed bumps created by the very people who are supposed to smooth the road. But the work is still great and important. Students and teachers should all be reminded of that, especially at this time of year.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Happy 5th Curmudgubirthday

Today marks the fifth anniversary of my first post on this blog. I'm going to be self-indulgent for a few minutes.

It has been an interesting adventure. If you go back and look at the early posts (and really, you should not), you'll see that I had no idea what the hell I was doing. At the time, I was just starting to unravel what was going on in the ed reform world. Like most teachers, I had suffered through the side effects of NCLB and was curious about what this Common Core stuff was about, and as I peeled back the layers, I became more astonished and outraged and incredulous and angry. And the more I learned the more I thought about it, and the more I thought about it the more I felt compelled to express what I was thinking. The pace of the blog picked up considerably, but it always felt like journaling. It did not occur to me that there was an audience for what I was writing.

I evolved. God bless the people who told me that my spiffy design of white text on a black background was not optimal for people who actually wanted to read it. I learned how to better incorporate links, and how to add images, and how to redesign and reconstruct my header.

Most of all, I re-learned what two decades of newspaper columning had taught me before-- the more you write, the easier it comes. That and they can't all be gems; better to let them fly than to belabor them at great length.

I found an audience. More precisely, other people found an audience for me. I'm not comfortable self-promoting. I look at the kind of work that some edu-celebrities do just to repeatedly say "Hey, look at me" and it just makes me kind of cringey inside. But the BATs and Diane Ravitch and Anthony Cody and Valerie Strauss and a host of other people helped an audience find me. I've always argued that the growth of the audience here is not a testament to anything exceptional about me, but is a testament to how concerned and informed and interested and engaged people are on the subject of public education and what is being done to it. As of this week, there are 2977 posts on this blog, and the blog has been viewed a little over 6,500,000 times.

There have been so many influences on what I do. Mercedes Schneider writes as much as I do, and her stuff is actually researched and fact-filled. Nancy Flanagan and Jennifer Berkshire and Jan Resseger and Mark Webber and Jose Luis Vilson and Wendy Lecker and Paul Thomas and another host of folks (look in the right column) have influenced and informed me.

I've learned. As with all controversial issues, it's easy to reduce the ed debates to simple black and white, but I am suspicious of simple answers, regardless of what side they come from. It is a challenge to balance the importance of nuance and understanding with a strong sense of what is right and wrong. The forces arrayed against public ed are not monolithic, which means they are not uniformly anything, which means we have to pay attention all the time. You have to keep learning. In education we talk about that all the time, but I'm not sure we always grasp what it really means.

The debates have shifted. The ed reform folks have shifted the terms of the debates many times, like a mouse probing and pushing to find a way through the wall. They will always shift, because this is a marathon, not a sprint. Put another way, there will never come a day when we can just sit down and say, "Whew-- all the threats to public education have been dealt with and we don't have to worry about it ever again."

I am fortunate to have had opportunities outside the mother ship here-- for a while at Ed Week and Huffington Post, occasionally at BAM Radio, and now at the Progressive and Forbes. Widening the audience is important-- those of us who spend so much time working on these issues can forget just how little the average citizen knows about public education and ed reform. I feel privileged to have a chance to help spread the word.

Thanks to readers and supporters and especially those who share and pass along the posts that speak to them. It is a writer's biggest job to give other folks the words and language they need to explain what they are thinking, feeling, and caring about. A writer's other big job is to connect people who share ideas, and to help them see a little more and grow in the process. If I'm managing to do even a little bit, that's a good thing.

Public education matters. It's a fundamental part of this country; as Benjamin Barber said, it's not just to serve the public, but to create the public. It's important, and it deserves to be defended vigorously, even as we look to solve those systemic problems that plague it from the inside.

Thanks, finally, to my wife, who tolerates my need to run off and make tappy-tappy noises on the computer and otherwise manage my internet empire. She is far better than I deserve.

So happy birthday, blog. Now it's time to get back work.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

PA: Wonderland Charter Gives Up Gaming the System

State College is the home of Penn State University, and up until last spring, it was the home of Wonderland Charter School. The school was authorized over the resistance of the State College School Board years ago, and has, according to some local sources, something of a 'hoity toity" following. But last spring, word got out that SCASD had the ammunition to shut Wonderland down, and so they voluntarily folded their tents in June.

Some history:

Wonderland was co-founded by Marilyn L. Ohnmeis as a kindergarten and preschool in the 1990s. She and her husband, Hal Ohnmeis, tried to make it a charter school in 1998 when PA passed charter laws. SCASD rejected their request but that was overturned by the state on appeal. The most common voice and front-man for the school is Hal Ohnmeis, a former army ranger with no educational background or experience. The school grew up to K-5 and promised a personalized education approach, touted the DISTAR model of direct instruction, and promised teaching to mastery for every student. As of last year the school had 79 students and 12 teachers.

But the public school system which handed over tax dollars to the school believed that things were not so rosy in Wonderland. In a statement issued last spring, solicitor Scott Etter said:

These failures, in the area of special education in particular, are systemic, institutionalized, and long-standing, and were put in place and are enforced by Wonderland leadership, to include its founder, former CEO, and current business administrator; its education director; its current CEO; and its other lead teacher. We believe that these failures are so severe and significant that it is appropriate to initiate the non-renewal/revocation proceeding provided for in the (charter school law) and the Basic Education Circular on Charter Schools.

While Wonderland has its defenders, who showed up at SCASD board meetings to make their case, the charter was also slammed by its own board members, teachers, and parents. An initial three-month review of the school revealed some significant issues:

Student performance on tests was lower than the sending district. The education director lacks an administrative certificate. Wonderland teachers were the lowest paid in the state. The school CEO allegedly refused to let the SCASD see the IEPs for Wonderland students. The "very scripted" curriculum resembles the curriculum used by most districts for at-risk learners.

Ohmneis said that SCASD didn't factor in teacher end-of-year bonuses, and misrepresented how they used special ed money. He also claimed that IEPs couldn't be shared with the district.

That was back in June. Now Etter has released his updated report on Wonderland and the school ends up looking like yet another example of charter school scamming in action. Here are some of the findings of the report, based on interviews with board members, teachers, and parents:

Wonderland systematically and deliberately gamed the special ed system of Pennsylvania to avoid enrolling or creating IEPs for all but the most profitable students with special needs. Etter argues they did this by, first, having a model of constant teacher turnover, which not only kept salaries low but created a regular "influx of young and inexperienced teachers, who are not in a position to know any better, say anything, or be there longer enough to really grasp what is transpiring." A board member who questioned the turnover was told it was the "Wonderland model."

Ohnmeis discussed the cost and "potential catastrophic financial implications" of IEPs at board meetings. Meanwhile, parents were discouraged from enrolling students with special needs. One parent was told that Wonderland would not administer their child's medication (they don't believe in medicating children) and that Wonderland doesn't like to have IEPs because "they restrain us in what we like to do to help the child."

Wonderland did, however, identify a ton of students in the speech and language category. This is Charter Scamming 101-- students so identified entitle you to the whole extra-large chunk of money from the state, but they cost very little to serve. Wonderland may have over-identified students in this category by as much as 1,000%. Ka-ching.

Keeping the scam under wraps. Teachers were forbidden from being friends with or socializing with parents; numerous teachers believe that is so they won't tell parents what the school was really like. In fact, teachers were forbidden to speak with parents at drop-off or pick-up.  Teachers were personally threatened with termination for violating this policy. And if all that isn't nuts enough, teachers at the school were not allowed to use or have e-mail.

Prior to parent-teacher conferences, Ohnmeis instructed teachers to tell parents who asked about IEPs for their children to tell them that the child was making progress, needed more confidence, needed more practice. Teachers were also dissuaded from including anything negative in write-ups of education plans for students; if anything negative was included, administrators removed it. Parents report being given a rosy picture of what was going on at school, only to be surprised later by the truth.

There are numerous stories of parents, teachers, and even visiting SCASD administrators that numerous students appeared, or were reported, to need special help. They were not getting it, and administrators of the school denied any such assistance. Later investigation showed that Wonderland was out of compliance with several regulations. Ohnmeis (who you will recall has no educational training or experience) often represented the school in IEP meetings.

Real estate scamming. Wonderland entered into a one year lease with a for profit corporation owned by Ohnmeis and his wife (did I mention she was a founder/chief academic officer, director). Work on the building does not appear to have been bid out. The school apparently also licenses its trademark from for profit corporation owned by, you guessed it, Mr. and Mrs. Ohnmeis. The couple has also served as board members while also employed by the school. That's probably illegal.

When announcing their decision to close, the school sent out an email that said, in part,

The Wonderland board of directors was faced with a very difficult decision Monday night. Over the last several months, State College Area School District has continued to inundate Wonderland with increasingly numerous costly and time consuming requests, as well as intrusive, harassing, and redundant inspections. All the while, refusing to present specific charges allowing the legal renewal proceedings to continue.

So not even an "Ooopsies! We made a few paperwork mistakes but we'll totally do better." Just a flat denial and closed doors. Meanwhile, the school's website has gone dark, though you can still visit them on Facebook. The good news here is that the public school system was able to shut down a financial drain on its ability to operate and offer programs to its students. The bad news is that things had to get seriously and demonstrably bad before they could do it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Oh, Arne. Hush.

Arne Duncan has been pretty relentless in stumping for his new book How Schools Work   (a book which Amazon currently lists as the #1 best-seller in the category "charter schools").

I don't intend to read the book because I don't intend to enrich Duncan's already-blossoming bank balance with my own money. If you'd like a review of the whole thing, I recommend this review by Aaron Pallas for Hechinger or Valerie Strauss's take or even Rick Hess's reaction at Forbes. Duncan has written something, but it isn't really a memoir and it certainly isn't an explanation of How Schools Work, a subject on which Duncan remains spectacularly obtuse.

I've read much of Duncan's various attempts to pedal his tale, and now I've also listened to him speak about it on NPR, so that you don't have to. Spoiler alert: it will once again reveal Duncan's signature inability to reflect usefully on any of his experience. It is a common thread in most reviews of the book-- Arne Duncan never seems to learn a thing.

The interview starts out by noting that Duncan is the Secretary of Education who led us through the horror and tragedy of Sandy Hook, and then tosses out a softball question about his professional basketball career; for the record, he played pro ball in Australia which was "a lot of fun." Also, he met his wife there. Suddenly I realize that calls for LeBron James to become Secretary of Education are not as far-fetched as I was thinking.

Since Arne's opening line is "Education runs on lies" (which, as Strauss points out, is a lousy sentence), he's asked to lay out what the biggest lie is in education. He settles on three:

First, the lie that we value education. There's a valid point to be made here, but Duncan isn't going to make it. Instead he's going to say that if we were really supporting education, all politicians would come together in a bi-partisan, non-partisan agreement. Thing that Duncan has not learned: that his own preferred policies and ideas are not non-partisan. He will also tie this to another favorite point-- that folks don't vote based on education issues. He has a point here, but he may not have it for much longer. We'll see.

Second, the lie that we value teachers. We don't pay them enough, we don't support them as professionals, we don't give them adequate training, and we don't give them meaningful career ladders. Which would be a more meaningful list if it didn't come from someone who led the way in devaluing the teaching profession. He was a champion of Teach for America, the ultimate expression of the Anyone Can Do This ethos (and is an exemplar of inadequate training). He ignored what teachers had to say about any of his reform ideas, and he championed an evaluation system rooted in the assumption that teachers could do a better job but they're just too lazy and unwilling to get to work. And he called us liars plenty of times, too.

Third, the lie that we value our children. As a culture, that's unfortunately true. He's going to specifically point at gun violence. And only gun violence. Because if he were to acknowledge that we also fail to value our children when we allow systemic racism and systemic poverty, then he would have to confront his own notion that such socio-economic problems are just "excuses" for teachers to do a crappy job. Duncan's solution to poverty, racism, and even the challenges facing students with special needs was always "expectations." So all he's going to talk about is gun violence, because teachers and schools are supposed to be fixing everything else.

The interviewer asks about the whole "adults making decisions to benefit of other adults" line, and he doesn't really respond. The first part of his answer is that The Netherlands are cool. The second part is about the governor of Mississippi being disappointed that he couldn't get the money to fund a program. Because "we didn't have enough dollars," a construction that Duncan repeats before hinting that stingy old Congress is at fault. Oh, and those poor Mississippi kids ranking down at the bottom in everything. Except that Duncan/Obama created that whole game where the top states got a bunch of money and the bottom states got thoughts and prayers and encouragement to compete harder. It was the Duncan/Obama administration that rejected the idea of giving money where it was most needed and making states scramble for a limited pile of cash instead. What was kid-oriented about that approach, exactly?

The interviewer asks why Duncan is now pushing residency programs, when he had nothing to say about them when he was in office. "Oh, I totes did," fibs Duncan before bemoaning how teachers are unprepared. Actually, he says that teachers say they are unprepared. And knowing some teacher prep programs I can believe that's true, but having been an actual teacher, I cannot imagine anything that could make a 21-year-old newbie think, "Yes, I am totally prepared to face a room full of children tomorrow for the first time." Unless of course that 21-year-old newbie was a dope who didn't understand the situation. Just saying.

We move on to testing and Arne still doesn't have a clue why his test-centric evaluation system was so toxic or how it exactly played out. He tells a story about how in Chicago students were taking both the local system tests and the Iowa Tests (a test of basic skill developed at University of Iowa and widely used for decades) which he totally axed because, and he actually chuckles here, you know, why are Chicago students taking an Iowa test. I submit that's just about as dumb as anything Betsy DeVos has said.

Oh, and he wants higher standards so that college freshmen won't have to take remedial classes. And the standards shouldn't be set by the feds. "Common Core? Moi? That wasn't my fault!"

What about Betsy DeVos? Duncan is going to pretend there's some vast difference between them. A call-in listener asks a DeVos question, noting that privatization and charters seem to widen the gulf between haves and have-nots and what does Arne think about that. Which is a great question, because in these areas DeVos isn't pushing anything that Duncan didn't push for all his years in the office, but he side-dribbles over to a point about "nation-building goals" we should have, like universal Pre-K, higher grad rate, and leading the world in college completion. Will he explain how these build a stronger nation? He will not.

Can he come up with something positive to say about DeVos? "Hard to be positive about that" he says. I wish I could find a quote from his tenure in which he speaks out about what the DeVos's are doing in Michigan, but I want to finish this post before my children graduate from college. Here's the thing about Duncan's anti-DeVos rhetoric: it's not like she has just entered the ed reform arena, and it's not like she hasn't had her own state-sized sandbox to play in and push her policies, and it's not like Duncan wasn't Secretary of Education while that was going on. He had plenty of chances to complain about her ideas before, but somehow, back then, they seemed fine. In fact, while Michigan was not a Race to the Trough winner, they placed a respectable 23rd. Show me, please, a moment when Secretary of Education Duncan said, "Boy, that DeVos family is really doing things wrong in Michigan. Shame on them."

There's a simple explanation-- most of DeVos's policies match Duncan's policies. She's just more blunt, and she works for Donald Trump.

Duncan offers the observation that it's not in Trump's interests to have well-educated citizens, and I don't want to fall down this rabbit hole, but Trump's victory is not about uneducated working class voters. It's way more troubling than that. Nominally well-educated citizens elected him. That said, I see no reason for Trump to think that education is important.

Another call-in listener tries to hold Duncan's feet to the teacher-evaluation-linked-to-student-test-score fire. Duncan calls it a really fair question, and then fails to answer it. "What we tried to do..." he begins, and I would be fascinated to know what interfered with their intentions and why I should assume that they ever intended anything other than what they did, which was link teacher evaluation to student test scores (including the scores of students that the evaluated teacher never taught). It was a dumb idea, and it would be the simplest thing, the most elementary sign of reflection and insight for Duncan to say, "Yeah, we flubbed that one," but instead he has to pretend that some mysterious unseen force twisted their original intentions into the mess we got. Now Duncan says that testing should be only one piece, and that he likes peer review, and that finding a balance is complex and hard. Duncan is the kid in your class who throws a spitball at you, and you watch him throw a spitball at you, and you call him out for throwing the spitball at you, and rather than 'fess up like a grownup, he shrugs and says, "I have no idea how that spitball ended up flying at you."

The interview wraps up with discussion of gun violence in school, and I can't fault him here. Sandy Hook should have been a turning point; instead it became a sign that nothing could turn us around. Duncan is optimistic about the current youth-led movement. He is not optimistic about the DeVos school safety commission that has promised to ignore guns as a factor. This, Duncan says, is "intellectually dishonest," and he's not wrong. but there's something hugely ironic about that criticism coming from a man who couldn't be honest about what he was doing while in office and is now devoting more energy to maintaining his lies than on taking an honest look at what he screwed up, and how, and why.

I'm sure there will be more of this book-whoring junket, but this is the last I can write about it. We can only hope that, until he has a new thought in his well-paid, thinky tank, board-sitting head, he will just shush.

Monday, August 13, 2018

FL: Advancving the Surveillance State

One of the increasing trends in education is the growth in K-12 of the surveillance state. Of course, it's done with nothing but good intentions--if we collect a whole bunch of data about these children, we should be able to accomplish all sorts of great things.

Back in March, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. The marquee portion of the act was new checks on the purchase of guns along with the notion of arming some people in schools, and those drew most of the attention at the time.
But as Benjamin Herold at Education Week points out, there were some other notable features of the 105-page law.

The law creates an Office of Safe Schools for the Florida Department of Education, and directs that office to "coordinate with the Department of Law Enforcement to provide a centralized integrated data repository and data analytics resource to improve access to timely, complete and accurate information." 

The intent is to merge data from various state agencies and K-12 schools as well--plus data from social media. Advocates point to shooter Nikolas Cruz, whose behavior should have raised alarms--but nobody ever put it all together in time. Mental health agencies, law-enforcement agencies and anyone who read Cruz's social media posts about becoming a "professional school shooter" would have seen trouble brewing, the argument goes. If we had a single integrated data system that collected and collated all of that individually tagged information, maybe we could stop the next Cruz.

If this sounds suspiciously like pre-crime and a twisty world where people are picked up for crimes they haven't actually committed yet--well, that may not be the scariest part.
After all, much of this may have already come to a school near you. Social Sentinel "provides a structured process to mitigate risks pro-actively" and Geo-Listening pitches the "powerful benefits" of a service that "help you better meet the social and emotional needs of your students" that they'll know about because they will "monitor, analyze and report" student social network postings.

The mountain of data that will be amassed about students, covering academics, in-school behavior, social media activity and anything else that can be datafied is unimaginable. And while Florida officials are framing all of this as "Nobody wants to allow another school shooting to happen," the system will collect all the data for all the students, not just the few who might be next year's active shooter. Regardless of the purity of everyone's intentions, that mountain of data is also a mountain of gold, and everyone from unscrupulous hackers to shady operators to companies that just had a brilliant idea about how that data could be made more useful will want to get their hands on it.

Will anybody be safeguarding it? Has Florida written laws about how it can be managed? Is anyone making sure that all of this accumulated data is accurate and free from bias? When someone calls the police on an 8-year-old black girl selling water, will that mark her as a potential threat for the rest of her life?

RealNetworks is offering facial recognition software to schools for free, which means that a child's permanent data record could also include things she did in the hall and record of her movements through the day. Meanwhile, Amazon's Rekognition software mistook 28 Congressmen for wanted criminals (with the bulk of those misidentified being African-American or Latino).

Do we really want to make a permanent data record of every dumb thing a student ever does? Is it good for us as a country to raise an entire generation that is accustomed to living under surveillance at all times? News from TSA this week suggests that government surveillance of citizens who haven't actually done anything wrong is increasingly normal. We should probably start talking about whether we really think that's a good thing.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

ICYMI: Return To Running Edition (8/12)

Last night my wife finally returned to running after a couple of years without a race (something about growing a pair of tiny humans) so that was exciting. But here, as on every Sunday, I've got a list of things from the week that deserve your attention. Remember to pass along those that speak to you.

Your Back To School Messages Are Hurting Teachers

Shanna Peeples with a great piece about "inspiring" teachers.

Betsy DeVos McMansion Hell

The brains behind the website McMansion Hell takes a look at the DeVos estate and finds it lacking. This has little to do with education, but it's fun and it also shows how the perception of DeVos has grown in non-education corners.

From Katrina to Maria: Disaster Capitalism's Playbook for School Reform

A good overview of how disaster capitalism approaches school reform. It's not pretty.

A Teacher Novel for the Modern Era

Well, this looks like fun. Gary Rubinstein looks at a novel set in the education world.

Paradoxes in the Pursuit of Efficiency

Can a string quartet play a piece more efficiently today than they could 300 years ago? Larry Cuban on how the pursuit of efficiency can become extremely inefficient.

The Myth of School Choice in North Carolina

A look at how school choice really plays out in a state that has doubled down on hostility to public education.

All Of a Sudden I'm So Good At Math  

Jose Luis Vilson with an in class example of how to pass the mic and let the students glow