Saturday, August 27, 2016

FL: Children and Opt Out Win

When last we cast our gaze at the sunshine state, its deep love of testing had gotten it dragged into court. Florida's indefensible third-grade retention rule says that a student can't move on to fourth grade without passing that test, and while some districts saw an alternate path in portfolios and other alternative assessments, other districts collided with opt out families.

If the child has not taken the Big Standardized Test, they declared, that child must sit in third grade until the test has been taken-- even if that child has a straight A report card

The suit has brought some Very Special Moments to the spotlight. For instance, we've had a chance to be reminded of Florida's minimum participation rule, which says that to meet the letter of the law, the child must "participate" in the test by breaking the seal and sign their name.

We've also seen the Florida Department of Education display their general gutlessness by initially throwing the districts under the bus, saying, gosh, Tallahassee had no idea why the local districts were being so mean (leading at least one superintendent to say some barely diplomatic things about the state's lack of useful leadership).

But once the state got involved, they decided to go all in by asserting that report cards are meaningless and do not reflect the students' learning. Lord knows I've written a ton about how the state of Florida manages to make life miserable for students, parents, and teachers, but I am still looking forward to seeing exactly how the state's new Report Cards Are Meaningless Junk policy plays out this year.

That's our story so far. Now for the update, which is good news.

Judge Karen Gievers is a friend of education this week


Judge Karen Gievers upheld the Participation Rule and delivered a public spanking to the districts, saying that the children had, by signing their names, participated in the test and must be given the opportunity to complete portfolios or be promoted based on their grades.

But Gievers did more than offer relief to the students in the suit.

She said students who are reading at a sufficient level, despite not answering questions on the test, were harmed by being forced to repeat third grade and the districts should have considered the portfolio option.

There are some details to dig through in the Judge's order, in part because each county was in a slightly different situation. For instance, Orange County apparently decided to single out one child for non-test-taking retention while allowing other non-testers to take the portfolio option, a choice that is not only transparently unfair, but just plain stupid to carry all the way to court. Meanwhile, Hernando County doesn't allow the portfolio option at all, which Gievers notes is "illegal." Several of the Hernando have already removed themselves from that district, rendering any kind of injunction "moot." The Hernando district is "ORDERED" (I love court document punctuation and capitalization rules) to knock it off already with the illegal failure to provide other options for third graders who fail the Big Standardized Test.

The Sarasota case is passed over because Sarasota schools folded their hand and promoted the child as soon as they found themselves in court. Broward and Seminole found themselves in trouble because they, like a couple of the other districts, never told parents the children were "deficient" until around the last day of school. Which is illegal. One of these children is a honors kid, ranking ahead of her classmates, but not till the last day did the district inform the folks that the child would be retained for "non-compliance" with the BS Test. 

The State Department was also in court, and it gets its own paragraphs in the judge's order. 

First, the judge found that the state told Hernando County schools that it was perfectly okay to pursue their illegal plan for offering no portfolio option to students. The state has also "improperly ignored" the law's requirement to provide options for students who fail the test, and it has improperly ignored the required notices of deficiency and remediation. In other words, the state has let districts get away with the baloney wherein a school tells a nine-year-old child on the last day of school, "Oh, by the way, you are not going on to fourth grade. Too bad for you." Turns out that is illegal. 

Most notably, Judge Gievers clarifies the previously fuzzy rule that the department has been unwilling to observe-- by breaking the seal and being present, a student participates in the BS Test to the full extent required by law.

In other words, this ruling anchors Florida Opt Out procedure solidly in the law.

The Judge goes on to say it is ORDERED that the state stop "disseminating misinformation" about the portfolio option, and the state is ORDERED to require districts to follow the lawful deficiency and remediation procedures.

There's more legally background stuff, but this is a huge win for the Florida Opt Out movement. It doesn't just say that what the districts and state did was wrong and unconscionable-- it clarifies that it was flat out illegal. And it establishes that promoting a child based on a report card is an acceptable-- and it tells us something about where we are with education reform that it takes a judge's ruling to establish such a thing.

Of course, we're not done with this yet. The state will appeal, because God forbid they let this little nine-year-old scofflaws slip through their fingers. But if they have a leg to stand on, I can't see where it is. Not that they won't try. This is Pam Stewart and the Florida Department of Education-- if they can pursue a ten year old boy on his death bed, the optics of yanking a bunch of fourth graders out of class to throw them back in a third grade classroom won't deter them. But on a planet with even a remote simulation of justice, the state will continue to lose this fight. 

Meanwhile, the school boards and superintendents will go home and, with any luck, have to explain to the public how they could pursue policies so stupid, hurtful, damaging and transparently illegal. The fight's not over, but Friday was a good day for students, parents and teachers in Florida.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Guest Post: Is Integration Too Much Bother?

It's my pleasure to feature a guest post from Rita Rathbone, a teacher and blogger in NC. She writes regularly at Patiently Impatient.

The debate over charter schools has slowly spread into wider and wider circles of public discourse. In response to data supported concerns that charter schools are contributing to the resegregation of our schools, the NAACP and Black Lives Matter have expressed concerns. Some charter school advocates have taking an interesting stance in response. They propose that perhaps desegregating our schools is just too hard, too expensive, and too time consuming and simply shouldn’t be a goal or focus of education policy. A good example of this is a recent piece by Peter Cunningham. He leaves the reader with this question:

“So here's the question: Should America spend hundreds of billions more to reduce poverty and should we risk more bitter battles to reduce segregation, or should we just double down on our efforts to improve schools? The liberal in me says we should do both. The pragmatist in me wonders if we can."



The sheer absurdity of the question begs for a piece of satire along the lines of “A Modest Proposal.” This perplexing stance on desegregation, which seems to be held by a number of influential people in the world of education reform, isn’t really all that perplexing—it is the policy corner they have backed themselves into. This is exactly where the rabbit hole of uncritical support for school choice, accountability, and faith in “market forces” leads.

Contradictions

Lets start by addressing two important logical fallacies in this line of thinking. If desegregation is too complex and difficult of a problem for public schools to address, then so is the similarly vexing problem of poverty. If schools have no business solving segregation, then they have no business solving poverty. However, those who advocate education reform often espouse that very idea—that education is the solution to poverty. So it is our job as educators to end poverty, but when it comes to segregation, we must throw our hands up in despair because there is nothing to be done. Or just focus on instruction as if poverty and segregation have no impact on student learning. Reformers chide those who cite the numerous significant obstacles that child poverty presents schools as just “making excuses.” In that case, then it would appear that education reformers are just “making excuses” in regards to the issue of segregation.

Many within the education reform movement also see traditional public schools as rife with systemic racism. Therefore, the only way to ensure positive outcomes for students of color is by “disrupting” the system, introducing competition, and providing charter schools outside of the system. However, when faced with the data showing that charter schools are resegregating our schools (specifically in the case of white parents using charter schools to avoid diverse school environments), suddenly the issue is not systemic but simply the choices of racist parents. If you believe that systemic racism exists in traditional systems and elected boards, then you must also accept that is exists in other systems, such as charter schools and their non-elected boards. If you believe that racism is only the result of the actions of individual bad actors, then the public school system cannot be at fault (unless of course you believe the whole staff was hired from a Klan rally). Systemic racism must be addressed in all systems, including charter schools.

The Narrative

Education reform policies must shoulder some blame for the current state of resegregated schools, not just for blindly pushing a charter school agenda, but also for the proliferation of a narrative of failing schools. The goal of “reforming” public schools necessitated a narrative proving that they are in need of reform. Instead of a narrative of needed soul-searching, reorganization, renewed focus, community engagement, funding structures, teacher training, cultural responsiveness, addressing oppressive practices, or any of the other dozen legitimate issues of school and district improvement, it was quicker and easier to label public schools as failing.

Of course most education reform advocates profess motives as pure as the freshly driven snow. Even when true, this narrative aligned itself with the narrative of failing public schools pushed by those whose agenda is privatization of our public resources and profiteering. This narrative also conveniently fit the within the coded language of white parents who (consciously or not) found undesirable the prospect of sending students to truly diverse schools, or schools where white students are a minority. Instead of repudiating the use of such a narrative in dog whistle fashion, most in the education reform movement has remained silent. It is a disturbingly Trumpian move (you know, he can’t help if Neo-Nazis and the KKK choose to endorse him, right?). Unfair and unreasonable moving targets of accountability further fueled the narrative of failing schools; accountability mandates that were also provided without the necessary resources and support needed to meet them.

In my experience, the root of the struggle of public schools today is the damage brought by this narrative; seeds that were sowed far and wide in the fertile fields of white privilege. The public has lost faith in even the potentials of our public schools. Not because they should, not because it is justified, but because education reformers told them to. The reform movement relied so heavily on the narrative of failing schools the damaged just snowballed. Now traditional public schools simply can't do anything right in face of evidence to the contrary. In yet another irony, education reformers have done exactly what the accuse teachers of doing but setting low expectations for disadvantaged students. Public schools are just like a disadvantaged student. We have been branded a failure; branded hopeless. Since we cannot reach the unreasonable expectations some have set for us, we are now given only the lowest expectations. We are the victims of the low expectations set by those who control the narrative.

The result is that many in our communities are no longer deeply invested in the success of public schools because they have been lead to believe we are beyond repair. All the efforts to reform public schools based on market models has change the perception of public schools from a collaborative effort to make our society a better place but factories of individual student achievement. Students and families are now customers, not collaborators. The result is a selfish competitiveness that has destroyed the soul of public education. To add insult to injury, those of us who dare speak out on behalf of the power and promise of our public schools are branded “defenders of the status quo,” a fact that could not be farther from the truth.

Do not underestimate the power of this narrative. Traditional public schools have successfully been branded uncool, undesirable along with other “public” entities. Part of the larger push for privatization is the careful crafting of a dog whistle narrative of public things as inferior, as only used by the poor and undesirable (to most whites unconsciously synonymous with black and brown people). To call the popularity of charters as being driven by “market forces” is hardly fair when the playing field has been rigged by a marketing machine that traditional districts cannot match. Public policy is often about encouraging people to make better choices. We have succeeded in changing public narratives on things like healthy life styles. Now fruits and vegetables are cool and smoking is not (I sure wish that was true during my formative years). If a public narrative can move McDonalds to a healthier menu, anything is possible. Think of where we could be today if the education reform narrative had not been, “our schools are failing” but “our schools need help, lets invest our time, energy, and money on improving them.” Truly integrated, diverse public schools are the best thing for the health of our democracy—that is the narrative that we must craft.

Integration the Right Way

When discussing the issue of school segregation, it is important to remember that most parts of the country never achieved integration in the first place. Many strategies were used to ensure the creation of white public school enclaves while skirting segregationist practices that would draw the attention of the courts. Some communities made halfhearted attempts at integration that failed. In many parts of the South, however, steely determination from a variety of parties, a multitude of strategies, and federal action equaled success. In the years following the Brown decision, my home of North Carolina was the most integrated state level educational system in the country. Those gains have been slowly walked back through the actions of conservative judicial appointments and policy decisions of state and local lawmakers, including the impact of voucher programs and lax charter policy. It is not accurate to say the school integration efforts have failed; powerful individuals and small groups have intentionally and systemically worked to undermine them, often against the collective will of communities. When desegregation was successful, it involved the control and crafting of a narrative that supported it as well as both small and large policy steps. Good public policy simply makes positive choices slightly easier than negative ones. There is nothing impossible about it.

Past integration efforts also illustrate some of the many possible pitfalls. Historically, integration has been done on white terms. Integration cannot come with the assumption of the inferiority of non-white educational environments.

After the fall of Jim Crow, it was the black schools that were shuttered and the black teachers and principals that were laid off. The assumption of superiority of white schools my have been true in the case of facilities and resources, but not necessarily in terms of instruction. Excellence can and does exist in all black or all brown spaces. Black and brown spaces also provide affirmation to students of their dignity and culture.

Ironically, it is often these very schools that have been labeled as “failures” by school accountability measures and shuttered. In the name of “improved” education, we often send students of color into spaces that are not culturally responsive and not affirming to their dignity and culture. In that case, it is easy to see while communities of color embrace a responsive charter school, even with uncertified teachers and fewer resources. We should not accept that this is the best we can do for underserved communities of color. They deserve the same culturally responsive, community controlled, fully funded, integrated public schools that more privileged communities receive.

Integration must be paired with cultural responsiveness.

We must also be mindful of who benefits from school integration. Those outside of the dominant culture (white, middle-class) often learn to negotiate diverse environments out of necessity. White people, however, can easily access enclaves of whiteness where little interaction with diverse individuals is required. The idea is that integrated environments are good for students because it gives them a competitive edge in the diverse workplaces. However, when that benefit is bestowed inequitably on white students or when the assumption is that student of color must adapt and conform to superior, white middle-class norms, then there is a problem.

Integration cannot be paired with the assumed superiority of whiteness.

The Urgent and the Important

The world of education leadership has long held dear a concept that is credited to President Eisenhower—we must never let the urgent get in the way of the important. It is an easy trap to fall into. A constant state of crisis in our public schools keeps us so busy that the things that are of the most importance go untended. While appreciating and addressing the urgency of improving educational outcomes for all students, we cannot loose sight what is truly of lasting importance in our public schools. The solutions proposed by the education reform movement have always been a Band-Aid at best. The misguided “pragmatism” that has some questioning the value of a focus on integration does exactly that—it sacrifices the important in the name of the urgent to the detriment of both current and future students.

Rita Rathbone is a lifelong resident of North Carolina. She is a teacher, magnet coordinator, and curriculum specialist in the Durham Public Schools in Durham, NC. Rita is obsessed with all things Lego and is, in her words, a damn fine cook. Follow her on Twitter at @patimpteach

Should We Close Schools for Low Performance?

Over at Rick Hess's EdWeek blog, guest blogger Deven Carlson (Poli Sci, Oklahoma U) considers the question of whether or not schools that show low performance. In the process, he illuminates some of the deeply flawed premises under which reformsters operate.

He opens by noting that school closure has been a popular policy approach since the days of No Child Left Behind.

The logic of closing low-performing schools is clear: Shutting down bad schools will remove students from these contexts and facilitate their transition to a better school. Improved academic outcomes will follow. In addition, the resources that had been devoted to the closed schools can be reallocated to those that remain open, which may contribute to their improvement.



The path of that logic is clear. But clarity doesn't equal correctness. I can take nice clear pictures of a KKK rally; they're still wrongheaded dopes.

Skipping past, for a moment, the fact that we are currently using unreliable methods and bad data to identify bad schools, moving students to "a better school" is neither easy nor simple, nor does it necessarily follow that the student will do better in a new school. Carlson is also skipping over the issue of capacity-- if we close a 500-student school, where are the 500 new seats? What Carlson is not noting here is that eliminating low-performing schools has not been nearly as popular as replacing them-- but that usually means replacing the students as well.

What Carlson does clearly get is that while this conversation is easy for policy-makers to have in the abstract, it's a whole other thing to implement it on "specific districts and schools, affecting actual teachers, students, families, and neighborhoods." In fact, when the rubber meets the road, very few schools have actually been closed down under the modern era of school reform, and when the issue is raised, local pushback is strong. Well, yes. This is why reformsters need disasters to thrive-- you can't convince people to give up their schools unless something "great" like a hurricane comes and flattens them.

Carlson suggests there is some support for closures, citing some research (including his own) that suggests students from bad schools do better when their school is closed and they are relocated-- though he skips over the finding of one of those studies, which also says that students at the receiving school do worse (which makes me wonder how much the study depends on averages, but I'm not going to pay $36 to see). Carlson's own "research" is some data crunching for the Fordham Foundation showing that closing schools in Ohio and sending those students to charters makes everything better (did I mention that Fordham runs some charter schools in Ohio). This whole brand of research leans doubly on narrow standardized test results soaked in VAM sauce-- there's no real reason to believe that any of it means anything (unless you think the whole purpose of education is for students to do well on a narrow standardized test).

However, Carlson offers three reasons that school closures are not such a great idea after all, and he's not wrong here:

First, identifying bad schools may not be as straightforward as it initially seems, particularly if we think of school quality as extending beyond contributions to student reading and math scores (as I think most of us do). Even if we only talk in terms of test scores, many states' approaches to measuring school performance leave something to be desired and basing closure decisions on these metrics could lead to shutting down some schools that are actually effective. And if we go beyond test scores to consider schools' effectiveness in subjects other than reading and math, as well as in extracurricular activities, then identifying low-quality schools becomes even more complex.

Well, yes. I have nothing to add. That's diplomatic, but the bottom line is sound-- we don't have anything remotely resembling a decent measure of school quality in place.

Second, closing a school is a huge disruption in the lives of students, teachers, and parents. That disruption comes with any number of costs, both educational and human. And now Carlson does bring in the negative effects shown in that Michigan study. And, he notes, all of this is extra problematic if you don't even have a demonstrably better school to send them to.

Third, in many places, the school is an important backbone of the community and removing it has both concrete, measurable effects on things like property value and crime, as well as more abstract effects on things like community identity.

Carlson concludes that closing schools for low performance is a tough call. Looking at what he's said, it seems like a tough call kind of like deciding whether or not to hammer a building with a battery of high-pressure high-volume water hoses is a tough call. It's not-- if the building isn't on fire, put the hoses away.

Now, if I were a cynic, I might conclude that this shift in the reformsterverse is occurring because the schools considered for closure are different. For a long time, we talked about the necessity of closing bad public schools, but now we can also be talking about forcing the closure of bad charter schools. So if I were cynical I might conclude that's what's driving this new argument. But it's also possible that Carlson is an economist mostly on the side of reason. It could happen.

However, Carlson completely ignores another possibility here.

"Let's close the school" is a popular option, particularly among vulture capitalists salivating at the opportunity to shut down a public school-- close a school and open a market!

But that's a little like saying, "Well, my gas tank is empty and there are McDonald's wrappers all over the seat-- guess it's time to buy a new car."

The discussion of  "bad" schools is often vague and mysterious, as if a bad school is somehow sitting in a miasmic pool of awfulness, and the badosity has just seeped into the stones, the building, sourceless and locationless and therefor unfixable. When we do get specific, we blame all the badness on the teachers. What we rarely seem to do is discuss what needs to be done to fix the school, or any sort of corrective measures are dismissed as "throwing money" at the school.

We could do better. We could identify the specific issues and address them. If a school is crumbling because the roof needs to be repaired, that's a fixable problem. If the school doesn't have enough money to make a serious bid for top teachers, that's a fixable problem. If the school doesn't have enough "current" textbooks, that's a fixable problem. If the school has a leadership deficit, that's a fixable problem.

Am I going to say that no public schools should be closed, ever? Not on your life. But public school closings are an act of last resort, and there are a long list of things to try first. If your friend came to you and said, "Things aren't working with my spouse," and then you asked, "Well, what have you don? Have you talked about it? Gone to counseling?" and your friend said, "Well, no, I'm just going to file for divorce," you would be justifiably upset. You don't bail on a relationship without trying everything you can think of first.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Alan Watts: Life Is Not a Journey

I've encountered this quoted material from Alan Watts, specifically his lecture Out of Your MInd, multiple times in the last few days in a video featuring the audio from the lecture and cobbled-together clips from Tree of Life. I don't really want to repeat the "borrowing" of the film clips, though Watts's delivery is pretty special. 

You can quibble with his use of "journey," since a journey can conceivably have no point or destination, but this still a beautiful passage, and though it may make me a lazy blogger, it's a passage I want to be able to come back to, so I'm putting it here where I can always find it. I hope you enjoy it as well.

 






































The existence, the physical universe is basically playful. There is no necessity for it whatsoever. It isn’t going anywhere. That is to say, it doesn’t have some destination that it ought to arrive at.

But that it is best understood by the analogy with music. Because music, as an art form is essentially playful. We say, “You play the piano” You don’t work the piano.

Why? Music differs from say, travel. When you travel you are trying to get somewhere. In music, though, one doesn’t make the end of the composition. The point of the composition. If that were so, the best conductors would be those who played fastest. And there would be composers who only wrote finales. People would go to a concert just to hear one crackling chord… Because that’s the end!

Same way with dancing. You don’t aim at a particular spot in the room because that’s where you will arrive. The whole point of the dancing is the dance.

But we don’t see that as something brought by our education into our conduct. We have a system of schooling which gives a completely different impression. It’s all graded and what we do is put the child into the corridor of this grade system with a kind of, “Come on kitty, kitty.” And you go onto kindergarten and that’s a great thing because when you finish that you get into first grade. Then, “Come on” first grade leads to second grade and so on. And then you get out of grade school and you got high school. It’s revving up, the thing is coming, then you’re going to go to college… Then you’ve got graduate school, and when you’re through with graduate school you go out to join the world.

Then you get into some racket where you’re selling insurance. And they’ve got that quota to make, and you’re gonna make that. And all the time that thing is coming – It’s coming, it’s coming, that great thing. The success you’re working for.

Then you wake up one day about 40 years old and you say, “My God, I’ve arrived. I’m there.” And you don’t feel very different from what you’ve always felt.

Look at the people who live to retire; to put those savings away. And then when they’re 65 they don’t have any energy left. They’re more or less impotent. And they go and rot in some, old peoples, senior citizens community. Because we simply cheated ourselves the whole way down the line.

If we thought of life by analogy with a journey, with a pilgrimage, which had a serious purpose at that end, and the thing was to get to that thing at that end. Success, or whatever it is, or maybe heaven after you’re dead.

But we missed the point the whole way along.

It was a musical thing, and you were supposed to sing or to dance while the music was being played.

PA: Open Letter To My Legislators

To Senator Scott Hutchinson and Rep. R. Lee James

Dear Scott and R. Lee:

It is long past time to regulate the cyber charter school industry in Pennsylvania.

Perhaps you saw the news yesterday that Nicholas Trombetta finally pled guilty to federal tax conspiracy charges. Trombetta was the founder of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School in Beaver County, a business that he used to steal at least $8 million dollars of Pennsylvania taxpayer money and spend it on things like a condo and an airplane as well as finance various real estate deals.

This was done with money that came from taxpayers, but money that was intended for schools. As you both know from your own home districts, many school districts have been hard hit by cyber charter tuition payments, prompting lost programs and closed buildings to help deal with financial struggles. It is adding insult to injury to see that some of those dollars did not go to educate students in another school, but to finance some charter operator's condo.

You may well ask, "Well, isn't it worth some risk if the cyber charters do a good job?" But at this point, we know they don't. A study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University (CREDO), a research group that is generally in favor of education reform, found that cyber charters have an "overwhelmingly negative impact" on student achievement, finding that a year in a cyber charter left math students 180 days-- a full year-- behind their peers.

You may hear from charter advocates and lobbyists (of which there are apparently many in Harrisburg) that any oversight of cyber charters will stifle creativity or business flexibility. But even the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has released a report calling for tighter controls and more accountability for cyber charters. 

The time has long passed for cyber charter accountability. Governor Wolf's recent call for charter accountability is nothing more than a requirement that taxpayer dollars that flow to charters be given the same oversight than the taxpayer dollars that flow to public schools. As a taxpayer, I can walk into my local school district office and demand a look at the budget. What a public school district does with taxpayer dollars is public information. Why should cyber charters not have to similarly account for the use of tax dollars? Tax dollars used by a public school enter a transparent fishbowl, while tax dollars used by cyber charters enter a black box. Why?

The cyber industry has actively fought any kind of accountability. In Ohio, cyber charter operator ECOT is suing the state to keep from having its attendance audited. In Pennsylvania, cyber charters complained when their revenue stream was threatened, but have made no offers for greater transparency or accountability.

The cyber charter industry of Pennsylvania is a financial drag on public schools, and provides no value or accountability for the tax dollars it collects. Oversight is so lax that the industry is ripe for exactly the sort of corruption that we saw acknowledged yesterday-- and that was in a federal, not a state, court.

It is time for Pennsylvania to hold cyber charters at least as accountable as they hold traditional public schools-- and not as part of some bill that gives cyber charters more freedom to grow in exchange for the appearance of accountability. It is time for taxpayers to be able to see what cyber charters do with the money that is taken from local school districts. It is time.

Sincerely,

Peter Greene

Note to any of my PA readers-- you can contact your legislator through this website. If you can't think of what to say, feel free to cut and paste from here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

13 Deadly Sins of PD

In my neck of the woods, this is the magical week in which teachers go back to balance their time between finishing room preparation and sitting through year-launching professional development sessions. Some sessions can address useful topics, and some are unfortunate choices (my wife's district decided to welcome their teachers back for the year by starting their first day with a session about suicide).



If you have to sit through PD, then you know the drill. But if you are PD presenter, here are the Thirteen  Deadly Sins to avoid:

1) Don't Read Us The Power Point

Frankly, if there's power point at all, I'm not that excited. But if you are just going to read us the power point slides, do us all a favor-- put those slides in an email attachment, send it out, and let us all sit in front of our own computer and read the presentation to ourselves. Seriously-- what is reading it out loud supposed to do for us? You're going to unlock new levels of meaning by the use of your vocal inflections? You want to give us a chance to close our eyes without missing anything? You're one of those edumalpracticioners who not only believes in scripting, but thinks scripting is more effective when your students can see the script you're reading? Or this isn't actually your presentation and you have no idea what the hell you're talking about, so you'll just read what's there and hope that gets you through the hour?

There is no good reason to read power point slides to an audience over the age of five. Stop it. Stop it right now.

2) Don't Wave Around Sort-of-Teacher Credentials

Introducing yourself is a legit good idea, but just be honest. Especially don't try to fake us out by trying to connect with us professionally. Here are honest introductions that we never hear at PD sessions.

I was a classroom teacher up until about five years ago when I decided that I'd rather get into something easier and cushy like textbook repping. I have some vague memory of what teaching was like, but frankly, I scrubbed that out of my brain as soon as I took my first ride in my sweet company car.

I taught for about two years and realized I couldn't hack it, but there I was with an education degree, and what the hell else was I going to do. Thank God there were consulting jobs opening up.

Oh, yeah! I was absolutely a teacher, by which I mean I did two years with Teach for America, trying to make up for all the terrible work you so-called professionals were doing. But that let me put "teacher" on my resume, which gives me the credibility I need to come tell you yahoos how you should be doing things. You're just lucky I'm willing to lower myself to enlighten you slobs.

Look, you're correct in assuming that many of us walked into the room with a chip on our shoulder on which is printed, "Yeah, and why should I listen to you, anyway?" But trying to relate to us based on minimal teaching background, or trying to pretend that you're teacher breathren or sistern when you never really identified with the profession-- well, nobody is fooled.


Particularly nowadays, when everyone who ever looked at a school claiming the mantle of Education Expert, you need a real answer to the question of your qualifications. Nobody walks into a hospital and lectures doctors on how to perform surgery "because I used to play Operation a lot."And when you open up by faking your teacher cred, we have to immediately wonder how much of what you're going to tell us is also baloney.

3) Don't Throw a Party

Are you presenting in a group with some colleagues? Pro tip: a good way to draw us in is not to toss inside jokes back and forth and generally yuk it up as if you are at some party that the rest of us wandered into by mistake. If you have something to say to us, talk to us. If you have something to say to each other, y'all jus6t keep talking while I head back to my classroom.

4) Don't Be Bad Time Managers

Start on time. Every minute we sit there waiting for you to get your act together is a minute we're thinking about all the work we could be getting done if we weren't waiting for you. Oh, and don't wait for us to sit down and promptly look up you expectantly. First of all, we're teachers, and that means that on PD days, we are terrible students (sorry, but there it is). We will give you our attention when you give a clear indication that you intend to do something with it. Don't run overtime unless we're demanding it. And quitting super-early doesn't make you seem cool-- it makes you seem like someone who came unprepared to do the job.

And while I don't need a canned and scripted presentation, do know what the heck you're doing and how long-ish it will take. It is amateur-hour annoying to sit through a presenter whose first 45 minutes are rambly and unfocused and then followed by 15 minutes in which she tries to cover another 45 minutes worth of material. Watch the clock. Know how long your stuff takes. There's no excuse for blowing this-- remember, this is what we do every day, bell to bell. Failing to manage your time in front of a bunch of teachers is like repeatedly dropping your pencil in front of a bunch of jugglers.

5) Don't Present To People Who Aren't There

I get that this is not always your fault, that whoever books you may give you a lousy advance explanation of who, exactly, you're presenting to, so it may not be entirely your fault that you're explaining primary reading techniques to a bunch of high school teachers. (Pro tip-- at in service, elementary teachers, who must usually dress for scrambling around and up and down their room, will dress up, while high school teachers, who must usually dress like Real Grown Ups, will dress down).

6) Don't Treat Us Like Dopes

Oh, boy, do I hate this one. Some presenters are just so proud of their own great stores of smartitude that they assume they are the smartest, most well-informed person in the room. Why, yes, I believe I have heard of Bloom's Taxonomy. Or--oh, my favorite-- "ice breakers" so we can meet the people we've worked with 180 days a year for years.

7) Don't Use The Sucker Question

You're neither my mom nor my boss. Maybe some presenter school told you that a good way to draw your audience in is to ask questions, but when you ask a question just to try to get us to either provide the one right answer you have in mind or to provide an expected wrong answer so that you can have a yeah-but-eureka moment-- well, I don't want to play. If you want to have an honest-to-God discussion, that's just fine. But if you know exactly what you want to say, how about you just go ahead and say it?

8) Don't Throw a Child's Birthday Party

We're educated grown-ups. If the "activities" you've planned for us are appropriate for a child's birthday party or skit night at a summer camp, then they are probably not appropriate here. No wacky fun games. No role playing. No toys.

9) Don't Take a Power Trip

This is really implied by several of the above, but it bears explicit repetition. Many of the worst activities in PD are built around reinforcing a power differential, the notion that the presenter is the Boss and while we're in the session, we are working for her. A PD session can be a great place to track all the hundreds of little ways that a person in that situation can send the message, "I'm in charge here, and you are not."

If you're wondering if you do this or not as a presenter, ask yourself this question-- if you were in a group of peers, equals, in a situation in which you were not the designated "leader," could you sell whatever activity you're attempting simply on its merits.

Oh, and if you are a teacher watching this happen in a PD session, use it as an opportunity to think about how often you do the same thing in your own classroom.

10) Don't Assume We're On Your Team

"Women and their crazy emotional instability, amiright?"

I cannot tell you how many times I've sat in a PD session and heard somebody say something jaw-dropping. Racist, sexist, politically tone deaf-- this is a room filled with a cross section of people, and you would have to be the densest kind of dope to assume that everyone agrees with you that Donald Trump is going to make America great again or that we all think that women are the only people who can (or should) cook a meal or that everyone in the room is a married heterosexual.

11) Don't Play To Your Weaknesses

I know that everyone is taught that you should work some humor into a presentation, but if you are not a funny person, maybe you just, you know, shouldn't. You will do best as your authentic, honest self (and if your authentic self is someone who breaks every rule on this list, then find another line of work). Don't just yell at odd places because someone once told you that you have to get riled up to work an audience.

12) Don't Pass Up a PA

All right, this one may just be me, because I'm the stage crew adviser at my school. Most of the time someone comes to present in out thousand-seat auditorium, they will tell me, "No, never mind the microphone. I don't need one." 99% of the time they are wrong. You are probably not as loud and clear as you think you are, and your audience appreciates not having to lean in and hold their breath to catch what you're pitching. If it's a biggish room and a PA system is available, use it.

13) Don't Refuse Dialogue

If people want to ask questions, answer them. If they're a jerk, answer them anyway-- the rest of us will appreciate your grace. Do not try to shut them down or up. We work with them, not with you. We know them. If they're a jerk, we already know that. If they aren't a jerk, you aren't going to make them look like one on the strength of our 60 minutes of acquaintance with you. When you refuse to give an answer, we have to conclude that you either don't have one or you know we'll hate the answer you have. Better to just answer. Also, see #9. If the point is really dragging on, invite the person to talk afterwards. Definitely do not, as one presenter once did to me, suggest that anyone who asks THAT question probably shouldn't be a teacher.


If you can avoid these deadly sins and also have something useful to say, this might not be too painful for either of us. Otherwise I guess we'll all just grit our teeth and wait for the students to arrive in a few days.



Voting with Their Feet

One feature of "unleashing the power of the free market" in education is supposed to be a sort of regulation by the market's infamous invisible hand. Customers will "vote with their feet," driving the bad actors out of business.



In this country, there will always be an argument to be had about how well this really works. It's one of the dances of freedom and commerce that we have regularly. Is it okay to let Americans vote with their feet for grossly fat and unhealthy processed fast food? And are consumers moving the invisible hand based on their own honest desires, or are these hand-moving consumers themselves being moved by the not-so-invisible hand of marketing? And just how involved should the big fat heavy hand of government be in any of this? These are difficult and complicated questions, and I bring them up only to note that the idea that we just open a free market and the invisible hand sorts out the choices and-- voila!!-- quality!!-- well, that vision is a gross oversimplification and not very much like what actually happens at all.

We can already see the many ways in which the bipedal plebiscite is not working for education.

Exhibit A is the cyber charter industry. Let me first insert the disclaimer that for a small, select group of students, cyber school is an excellent solution. Having said that, the cyber charter industry at large is a huge failure, so huge that even the rest of the charter industry is calling for them to shape up. Cyber charters are a disaster, a waste of student time and taxpayer money. And yet, even though virtually every even-sort-of-responsible-voice in the education field has condemned cybers, the army of foot-voters have not yet put them out of business.

Why not? I can only offer theories based on anecdotal evidence. One is that people are voting with their feet, with cyber students either dropping out or returning to public school, often behind their peers. "I'm always excited to have a former cyber student in my class because I know they will be really on top of the material," said no teacher ever. However, so far, cyber marketing and aggressive recruiting keep new bodies signing up. Schools are made to be a churn and burn market-- you are always losing "customers," so your focus has to be on recruiting.

I think it's also safe to say that a certain amount of the education market is filled with customers who are not so much looking for "a good quality education" as they are looking for "something that allows me to look like I'm meeting the legal requirements for school attendance without having to actually do too much work." For that part of the market, cyber charters are exactly what they are looking for.

As charter fans implicitly agreed in their criticism of cybers, foot-voting alone will not create quality. Some sort of government oversight is required as well.

Exhibit B is in Livermore, California.

Livermore is providing a real, live example of the kind of chaos that ensues with students and their families employ the foot-based voting strategy.

In a move that one news outlet characterizes as pulling out and another characterizes as fleeing, roughly 400 students are exiting Livermore Valley Charter Prep School and Livermore Valley Charter School. The concerns raised include financial mismanagement, which has resulted in issues like unpaid rent and late-if-ever paid staff. But there have been other concerns-- like finding out that the newly-hired principal sympathized with mass shooters (he is now the ex-newly-hired principal). And there may be a criminal investigation into the handling of exchange students who were transferred to a different school against their will.

So this charter operating company has some issues which it may or may not get a handle on. In the meantime, 400 students and their families are flooding back into the system, making demands on public school capacity that it is not prepared to meet. Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District (a district in desperate need of a new name) reportedly received twice as many new students as it was prepared for.

We talk often about how charters duplicate many of the services that are provided by the public schools, creating a double or triple or more system that cannot help but be more expensive.

But what we discuss less often is the need for excess (duplicate) capacity. The only way that the bipedal charter deselection option can be NOT disruptive is for every public system to maintain a seat for every student who might conceivably attend there. In other words, if Chris decides to attend a charter, Chris's public school needs to keep a seat available for Chris, just in case Chris's feet decide to vote against the charter. Otherwise, when and if Chris returns, there's no place for Chris to go.

And sure, if it's just Chris, it's not a big deal. But if it's Chris and 100 close friends, there's a big problem. LVJUSD needs to hire staff, find rooms, get supplies and books.

The public school can't keep Chris's seat warm, because the money to maintain Chris's seat left the district when Chris did. Multiply by a few hundred, and in some districts a fiasco like the Livermore one would require finding an entire other building.

Yes, if you maintain a charter-public hybrid system, you can build in all sorts of robust flexibility, but the thing about robust flexibility is that it costs money. And that brings us back to the Big Lie of charter systems-- that they don't cost a bunch of extra money. To maintain a system in which you operate several separate schools, including a public school that always has enough room for everyone who could conceivably want to attend (because you never know when people may vote with their feet, or a charter might just close) is far more expensive than a single public school system.

Voting with your feet is an expensive luxury, and if we're going to have an honest discussion about that luxury, we should have an honest discussion about the costs as well.