Wednesday, July 15, 2020

A Rebecca Friedrichs Reader

Friedrichs has been in the news yet again, this time appearing on Fox to accuse America's Evil Teacher Unions of being sexual predators. It's an accusation that will have traction in some circles; if you spend any time in conspiratorial comment sections of the interwebz, you're probably aware of the grand conspiracy theory that says that the entire Democratic Party is a smokescreen for pedophiles trafficking in children.

If the Friedrichs name seems familiar, that's because she first burst into the news as the chirpy face of a lawsuit to legitimize freeloading in teachers unions and not coincidentally try to gut the unions financially. That suit ran into an unexpected death on the Supreme Court and the issue was eventually decided by Janus, but while the lawsuit failed, it launched a whole new career for Friedrichs.

So that's who that woman is. Rather than rehash previous pieces I've written about her, let me just provide you with the listings and you can decide on your own how much of this you can stomach.

Friedrichs At It Again (1/29/17) 

All about the time she made one of those wacky Prager University videos, to educate Americans about the truth of evil unions.

What Ever Happened To Rebecca Friedrichs? (10/18/19)

Here's the basic outline of the lawsuit, the aftermath, and her post-lawsuit path into the land of Foxian anti-union noisemakers. If you're only going to read one of these, this is the one.

Social and Emotional Learning Is Drawing Fire (2/22/20)

If you were around in the 90's, you saw this one coming. Any school program that wants to teach values is going to draw fire from a certain brand of conservative. In the 90's, it was Outcome Based Education vs. Phyllis Schafly, among others. Right now, it's SEL vs. Rebecca Friedrichs and another batch of teachers she wants to boost.

Rebecca Friedrichs Still Hates The Teachers Union (6/18/20)

Just this summer she was going after Black Lives Matter by attaching it to the union plot to use Leftiness to Destroy America. This is the one where she claims that liberals are guilty of "forcing a chip onto the shoulders of black Americans." Also, the 1619 project is evil, too.

San Diego Vs. The Evil Union  (6/25/20)

The group Friedrichs formed also pushes the story of other teachers who have tragically suffered from Evil Union activities. In June, a piece about how "unions killed creativity" at a charter school in San Diego was suddenly all over the web. It might not have told the whole story.

There was a time when one could make a case that Friedrichs was just a teacher who had a sincere difference of opinion with the union about fair share (it's not unheard of). But that ship has long since sailed, as she has revealed herself to be the kind of virulent political anti-unionist who would feel perfectly at home on Laura Ingraham's show.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The Test Many School Districts Failed Before The Pandemic Even Started

You’ve heard about an emotional bank account, a metaphor for the investments in personal relationships that keep them healthy and able to deal with the bumps and bruises that come along in any relationship. Build trust and deposit in the account in good times, make withdrawals in the lean times, and maintain a healthy balance. Organizations such as school districts have similar accounts, and 2020 is turning out to be the year some districts are finding out just how deep—or shallow—their reserves are.

Many districts are used to getting plenty of work from teachers without paying for it, either financially or emotionally. Teachers routinely work beyond their contracted hours, spend their own money on supplies, and fulfill many duties beyond simply instructing their students; all of this is part of the gig. Good teachers make regular deposits in the bank accounts of their district and their students. But district administrations have a wide variety of reactions.

Some districts are led by people who are appreciative and supportive, who look after their teachers and maintain conditions that help staff do their best work. These district leaders treat staff like valued, professional teammates. They build trust. They make regular deposits to the bank account.

Other districts are not so well led. Too may districts are bossed by people who consider the teaching staff adversaries, not to be trusted. For a while my own district was led by people who believed that if a teacher wasn’t in a classroom standing in front of students, she was wasting time (and the district’s money). The worst of these kinds of leaders manage with an inflexible fist, haunted by the fear that any concession or flexibility extended to staff somehow means that the administration is being taken advantage of. They treat staff like peons. They make no deposits into the bank account.

Making deposits in the account doesn’t require that administrators grovel before teachers and kiss their feet. Nor does it help to offer empty un-meant attaboys. Respect, trust and collaboration on a daily basis will do far more than hollow exercises that somebody learned at a management camp.

School systems are in many ways very different from businesses in the private sector, but in this managerial respect, they are much the same. When management fills the bank account, the organization runs more smoothly; when management drains the account, the problems may not be obvious because teachers, like other professionals, will put on their big girl pants and do the work. But when the account is empty, there’s nothing there to back calls to go an extra mile, let alone reserves for a rainy day. And now the Corvid-19 pandemic has provided the rainiest day schools have ever seen.

Going into the fall, money will be tight and needs will be great and teachers will be asked to make sacrifices of one sort of another. School districts must be clever and creative and flexible and adaptable. Districts that have cultivated an atmosphere of trust and teamwork with their staffs will be far more flexible and adaptable than those that have drained their accounts dry. As with any organization, years of quietly mediocre management become a big problem when they meet a large crisis. It’s difficult to get people to take one for the team today if you have spent years demonstrating to them that they are not actually members of the team. In a year that presents schools with unprecedented obstacles, it turns out that some schools are facing an obstacle that’s not new at all—the detritus of years of poor management. They’ve been taking this test of leadership for years; now they have to deal with the results.

Originally posted at 

Monday, July 13, 2020

NBA Includes Education Reform On Approved Social Justice Message List

So, the NBA and NBPA have created a list of approved social justice messages that players may put on the backs of their jerseys. Which is, I guess, a way to let players protest within a carefully delineated parameter, an official approved expression of disapproval. And the slogan will go in place of the player's name. But at least the NBA is doing something positive-ish, which is more than certain other sports ball leagues can claim.

That's Hayward
Not everyone is up for it. LeBron James is among the few who isn't going to make a choice from the list hammered out by the owners and the players association. Anthony Davis is another.

Apparently "equality" is turning out to be the early favorite, but here's a list of the 29 officially okayed items:

Black Lives Matter; Say Their Names; Vote; I Can't Breathe; Justice; Peace; Equality; Freedom; Enough; Power to the People; Justice Now; Say Her Name; Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can); Liberation; See Us; Hear Us; Respect Us; Love Us; Listen; Listen to Us; Stand Up; Ally; Anti-Racist; I Am A Man; Speak Up; How Many More; Group Economics; Education Reform; and Mentor.

Emphasis mine, because yes, there's "education reform" on the list. It's not entirely clear what that means at this point, since much of what we used to call "reform" is now the education status quo (e.g. high stakes testing, some degraded version of "college and career ready" standards). So there's Education Reform, which is what we've been suffering under for a couple of decades, and there's education reform, which is the desire to get education out from under all the Education Reform we've been suffering under for a couple of decades.

But at least one player has reportedly adopted the slogan for his jersey--Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward. No idea why. 

Biden's Education Platform

The Unity Task Force has been working hard to convince Sanders supporters to back Biden to come up with policy statements that will appeal to all wings of the party, thereby promoting Unity! Huzzah!

I almost didn't bother to look; this is a document that will be fed into the shredder that is the Official Platform Process, and it's pretty hard to compare about party platforms in a Presidential race. When was the last time that any President announced, "I am now going to push for this policy because even though I'm not all that invested in it, we did have it in my official party platform, so I'm totally going to pursue it." I'm pretty sure that is never.

But it's still worth tracking the thinking of the Democratic Party, a party which has not been a friend to public education in a very long time, and their identification of what the main issues are. And the Unity Gang has released their recommendations, and right here on page 22 we get to their education ideas. And since this comes mostly from the Sanders camp (which had a very good eduplan) and the Biden plan (which didn't have much of a discernible plan at all), it'll be interesting to see where they landed.

"Providing a world-class education in every zip code" is the header. From there we leap into a lead paragraph that rattles off the many "multiple, overlapping crises" with which the country is "beset." We should try to fix those. That sentiment leads us to this familiar thought:

Education is the key to addressing the challenges before us—to growing our economy, maintaining American competitiveness on the world stage, and building a more just, equitable, civically engaged, and socially conscientious nation.

So I guess we're sticking with that old fave, "It's the schools' job to fix everything wrong in the country." Thanks a lot, Unity Gang.

That thought is followed by a better one--education is a "critical public good--not a commodity" and the government should ensure that every child everywhere should get a "world-class education that enables them to lead meaningful lives" no matter what their circumstances.

There's a nod to the pandemic reminding us that schools are super-important and hard to replace. But there are also some golden oldies packed in here:

Despite ample research showing that early childhood education can improve outcomes for students for decades to come...

Harkening back to the old Chetty/Hanushek claims that a good first grade teacher will lead to richer students later in life (which is baloney).

Democrats fundamentally believe our education system should prepare all our students—indeed, all of us—for college, careers, and to be informed, engaged citizens of our communities, our country, and our planet.

I suppose it's a blessing that they didn't just stop after "careers," and the engaged citizen addendum is a step in the right direction.

And there's plenty of this sort of thing:

We are committed to making the investments our students and teachers need to build equity and safeguard humanity in our educational system and guarantee every child can receive a great education. We will support evidence-based programs and pedagogical approaches, including assessments that consider the well-being of the whole student and recognize the range of ways students can demonstrate learning.

Good old-fashioned task force writing, the kind of sewing together of various elements and concerns that leaves the stitches visible and still oozing all over the sentence. Well, so much for the intro. Moving on:

Universal Early Childhood Ed

Whatever is the opposite of the fabled Third Rail, that's what early childhood education is--safe and warm and fuzzy and everybody embraces it without fear. So, yay-- Pre-K for everyone! Some of the language here is hinky, like "we will drive increased resources to the communities with the highest needs," which could easily mean some program to get investors to put money there and privatizing the sector.

They do note that affordable childcare is a problem in this country, and they want to fix that. And they want to raise "early childhood standards" which is always the problem, isn't it--trying to quantify and measure ECE quality. But they are right on making sure providers are paid decently.

High Quality K-12 Schools 

The US spends more on white districts than non-white ones, so let's triple Title I spending, and see if we can get states to come up with better funding formulas. Also universal free lunch.

There should be multiple pathways available, like career-tech ed and magnet schools and International Baccalaureate and early college. And there's a committee-created list of stuff that education should develop, like 21st century stuff and deep learning and judgment and none of it's objectionable, but it doesn't mean much of anything, either.

Charter schools. The Unity Gang borrows some language from the Sanders campaign and reiterates that public schools are a public good and "should not be saddled with a private profit motive, which is why we will ban for-profit private charter businesses from receiving federal funding." This is an important step forward from the old "no for-profit charters" language we're used to hearing because that's not where the big privatized money is in charters, anyway. The Unity Gang also calls for "more stringent guardrails" for charters, including making them observe all the accountability rules that public schools must follow, which is long overdue in some states. They will also call for making federal funding for new or expanding charters contingent on the district review of how well the charter serves neediest students, which doesn't even begin to go far enough, given the broad range of ways in which federal funding for charters has been wasted and thrown at fraudsters.

They want schools to be places of "physical and psychological safety" and call for more resources, but no guns, and basically to put back all of the Obama-era guidance that Trump has removed. That includes reviving the ed department's Office of Civil Rights and keeping ICE off campus. They are unhappy that segregation is worse today than in the time of Brown v. Board, but they don't actually offer a solutions beyond busing and magnet schools. So, not a strong point there.

The Unity Gang would like to become the most recent group to promise to fully fund IDEA and, hey, it could happen.

They take a strong and specific stance against the Big Standardized Test. However, they then wander off into the Weeds of Vaguitude:

Democrats will work to end the use of such high-stakes tests and encourage states to develop evidence-based approaches to student assessment that rely on multiple and holistic measures that better represent student achievement.

That, of course, could mean pretty much anything. "Evidence based" in government speak means, literally, nothing at all. So this is not really encouraging at all.

This section closes with an Ode To Heroes, stating that teachers should have the right to unionize, be paid better, get good benefits. There's some language in here about support staff climbing a professional ladder, and recruiting a "diverse educational workforces," which is a major need right now, so they get points for at least mentioning it.

Higher Education Affordable and Accessible

Tuition-free public colleges and universities for anyone whose family earns less than $125K; community college free for everyone. Double Pell grant award maximums. Federal support for certain groups. Make sure grants and support make HBCU more affordable. Child care on campus. Wraparound services. Textbook subsidies for students. Fight campus food insecurity. A Title I type program for college.

Student Debt Relief  

Basically, they plan to reverse the giant DeVosified mess that student loans have become, including fixing up the loan forgiveness program. In fact, there's a whole paragraph about demanding that she get her act together right now. Also, pandemic debt relief.

Covid-19 Response 

Biden's folks really want you to remember how badly the Trumpers have dropped this ball. Promises include more funding. Assertions include coming down on the side of in-person school, and schools should get assistance in figuring out when alternatives are necessary, and by the way, let's pump some resources into the on-line infrastructure that is incapable of supporting distance learning in so many places.

So there's the document. Not sure what influence it's going to have either on the voters or the politicians for whom it pretends to speak. It counterbalances the emerging Trump campaign thrust ("They're coming to get you, and only I can protect you") and some of it sounds nice, but of course we've been led down the educational garden path before. Supporters of public education will have to pay close attention after November, and that's not new.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

ICYMI: Hell Of A Week Edition (7/12)

Well, that was a hell of a week, between administration backflips and dictates over covid policy and the general rising tide of panic. Here at the Institute, I've decided to skip the 642 pieces I've read about reopening schools this week, because chances are you didn't miss any of them. But in the meantime, a few other things have dropped that are worth your attention.

The Seven Habits of Highly Affective Teachers 

This ASCD piece by Rick Wormeli is five years old, but I have the feeling that the mental health of a school is going to be a trending topic for a while, and while this is not necessarily earth-shattering, it's still a decent read with some useful reminders.

Claudia MacMillan: A Remarkable and Inspiring Program of Learning 

Diane Ravitch included a couple of guest posts this week. This one focuses on the Dallas/Fort Worth based Cowan Academy in the Humanities, and while I tend to be leery of people who slap their copyright on pedagogy, it's still heartening to read about a program that is so assertively and effectively championing the liberal arts and humanities.

Jack Schneider: Why Study History 

Another guest post for Ravitch, this short essay answers the age-old question.

Is It Time To Cancel Teach Like A Champion? 

Have You Heard takes a deep historical dive to look at TLAC's predecessors and the current conversation (again) that maybe Doug Lemov's best-selling guide is just a wee bit racist.

What the Espinoza Decision Means for Other Aspects of Religious Freedom

At The Dispatch, Andy Smarick (Manhattan Institute, etc) has a nice breakdown of the decision, its roots, and its implications.

Assessing the Assessment

This will take you to an abstract of an article from December of 2019; if you want to dig further, it will cost you. But the last line of the abstract tells the story of this research into edTPA: "we argue that the proposed and actual uses of the edTPA are currently unwarranted on technical grounds."

Charter schools may have double-dipped as much as $1 billion in PPP small business loans

Roegr Sollenberger at Salon looks at just how well it has paid off fore charter schools to drop the mantle of "public school" and put on their small business hats.

Colleges and Schools Rethinking Role of Standardized Tests

UMass Lowell picks up the ongoing conversation about doing more than just pausing the standardized testing giants. Jack Schneider appears here, too--busy week for him, but he gets a nice picture this time.

Friday, July 10, 2020

DeVos and Trump Throw Cyberschools Under Bus

Here is Betsy DeVos speaking as part of a coronavirus task force presentation back in March:

Learning can and does happen anywhere and everywhere.

It's a sentiment that she has expressed numerous times in connection with the idea that technology could be the brand new key to better education. As in, cyberschool or its fancier name, "virtual learning." She has been a fan for years.

And here she is in April, announcing a new grant competition for three different categories of educational endeavors (emphasis mine):

1) Microgrants for families, so that states can ensure they have access to the technology and educational services they need to advance their learning
2) Statewide virtual learning and course access programs, so that students will always be able to access a full range of subjects, even those not taught in the traditional or assigned setting
3) New, field-initiated models for providing remote education not yet imagined, to ensure that every child is learning and preparing for successful careers and live

Now, here she is last Tuesday, from her conversation with the governors about what the hell to do next:

According to the Associated Press, Devos addressed ideas like distance learning and limited classroom instruction. She found neither of these acceptable, saying instead that schools must be “fully operational” when they reopen for the new school year. Specifically, she insisted that schools should be prepared to offer five days of instruction per week. 

And here's Donald Trump early this morning on the Tweeter:

So if I were a cyberschool operator, I might be a bit nervous at the moment, what with that big ole bus parked on top of me and all.

It's always possible that any day now, the administration will simply blink and say, "What do you mean? We think virtual learning is terrific and everybody should have some."

But for the time being, it appears that the policy of Let's Make Everything Look As Normal As Possible Before the Election is shoving aside Let's Replace Public Schools With Privatized Cyberschool Operations. Stay tuned to see where the bus goes next.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Betsy DeVos Is Failing Hard

In the midst of all this chaos and confusion, it's perhaps easy to miss how thoroughly Betsy DeVos is doing a terrible job as Secretary of Education. And by so many measures.

There's the business of managing college loans. DeVos, you may recall, has been pointedly spanked by the courts for going after students who owe money on their college loans even in those cases where the law clearly states she's supposed to lay off. She doesn't like loan forgiveness for people who enter public service or for folks who were ripped off by predatory for-profit colleges, despite being repeatedly told that the rules don't care how she feels about them.

Now she's doing it again by directly violating the CARES act. The CARES act mandates a full stop on garnishing wages for unpaid student loans, but the department has told the courts that they continued to do so (and blamed it on employers).

Meanwhile, after months of standing around offering zero guidance to schools navigating the coronavirus crisis, she has joined Trump in demanding that schools open in the fall. As in, regular bricks and mortar style opening, all the time. In the spring, she was all about opening virtually, which was at least consistent, since DeVos has long been an advocate for virtual schooling. Now, suddenly, virtual schooling isn't good enough. This is going to make it hard for her to return to advocating for cyber-school, but then consistency isn't turning out to be her strong suit.

Take her spirited belief in keeping the feds out of state business. That was her north star for a few years, and the heart of her criticism of the previous administration. Now she has decided that using federal arm-twisting and extortion to force state compliance with her personal policy goals is super-okay.

And nothing says federal overreach like her threat to withhold money from states unless they open up schools the way she wants them to.

DeVos's current behavior is also a great example of why it's a problem to have someone in the office who neither likes nor trusts the public schools she is theoretically supposed to lead and assist. To bolster her argument, DeVos has cited a CRPE study that shows about 1 in 3 districts was actually doing "real curriculum" over the spring pandemic pause. She actually mis-cited that as 10%, but the problem remains. DeVos seems to have concluded that the gap was the result of districts that are lazy, uncommitted, unambitious, or just happy find an excuse not to do their jobs, and so she has further concluded that what's needed are threats and punishments.

Someone who actually trusted and supported public education might have wondered if maybe challenges with technology or issues with training or even the department's own unclear guidance were making it hard for schools to work it all out. Nope-- DeVos just figures that public schools need threats and punishment more than resources and support. If a teacher stood in a classroom and declared that Pat is failing tests because Pat is lazy and trying to get out of doing the work and nothing was needed to teach Pat except lots of yelling a detentions and maybe no lunch until Pat gets those grades up, we would correctly conclude that this is a bad teacher who should get out of the classroom.

It's a fundamental problem-- when you put somebody in charge who neither likes, trusts, nor understands the organizations she's supposed to serve, you get lousy leadership. The person who believes that the building should be demolished is not a good person to have in charge while the building is on fire. When that person is also someone who has no real leadership background beyond whipping out her checkbook and saying, "I can either write something to help you or I can start backing your primary opponent," and that just makes things worse. And when it's also a person who doesn't believe they really answer to anybody...well, the bottom line here is that Betsy DeVos is very bad at her job at  moment when it would be really nice to have someone in that office who doesn't stink.

What school districts need right now is people at the top who ask, "What do you need? How can we help?" Schools need support, assistance, resources. Instead, all DC can offer is threats, baloneyand cluelessness. DeVos is failing hard, and everybody else is paying the price.