Saturday, January 19, 2019

Why TFA Doesn't Get More Edu-respect

The title of the article is "I Switched Jobs 4 Times--Each With A $20,000 Bump." It is part of the series "My 6-Figure Paycheck."

This article is a quick interview with a Head of Talent Acquisition in San Francisco who currently makes $117,000 for a salary. She went to UC Berkeley for poli sci and then picked up a masters in project management from Northeastern, and her interview includes this paragraph:

In hindsight I am so glad I decided to take a 'detour' and do Teach For America. It changed my career trajectory for the better, and I’m a very happy and fulfilled person now because of that decision.

She did that for two whole years (8th grade English) and then worked as a "recruiter finding teachers for low-income communities" which sounds suspiciously like a TFA recruitment job. She did that for two years as well, then moved on.

I'm sure that the eighth graders she taught and the teachers who helped her get through those two years (which had to be tough, because 8th grade English is tough) are happy that they served as a useful detour in building her career and helping her reach her maximum earning potential, though as far as being "passionate" about her work, she says this:

It is a passion, but it's not my only passion. I think the pressure to be passionate about your work above all else is so draining — it should be fine if your job is good enough.

Good lord. The classic Onion piece on TFA was only slightly more obnoxious, and it was satire.

If TFAers ever wonder why actual teachers don't give them more respect (though I doubt that most of TFA's leadership cares about the respect of people that they themselves have little respect for), this piece would be a clue. Teach for Awhile. TFA as a resume builder. Students and classrooms existing only to provide the TFAer with a life experience. It's all here.

Oh, and our successful six-figure former faux teacher? She's 27.

US Teens At Their Worst

This is one of the more upsetting things I've seen in a while.

From other angles, it only gets worse

And here's a description of what happened.

The shirts tell us that it was a group of students from Covington Catholic High School, an all-male school founded in 1925 in northern Kentucky near Cincinatti. The school has locked down their twitter and facebook accounts, and the diocese is apparently just getting up to speed. Reports are that the group was in DC for the March for Life. Yes, that's a lot of irony, or hypocrisy.

The story hit USA today already today, and is spreading rapidly because it is so freaking appalling. What kind of atmosphere creates students who think this is okay? And where in the hell were the chaperones for this group? How does any school lose its way so badly-- particularly one that says its mission is to spread the love of Jesus Christ?

This is way beyond boys will be boys. Yes, teen aged boys can be awful. That's why parents and teachers--and religion, for crying out loud--are supposed to exert some kind of civilizing effect on them, even in times when the leader of the free world is an unapologetic racist bully. It takes so many levels of fail to get to the point of this video; the chaperones who aren't hauling all of those guys out of there with promises of detention until they're fifty are only the last line of defense that failed (and that includes the superintendent who was reportedly with them on the trip). This is not okay. It's not okay that they did it, and it's even less okay that they walked to this moment right past a great long line of adults who failed to help them understand how wrong this is, public and private, official and unofficial. These boys have failed hugely, and their failure is a reflection on every adult in their lives and our society as it stands right now.

I will not tar all Catholic schools with this event, nor will I pretend that public schools are incapable of this type of crap (remember Barabo High and the Hitler salute).  This is just a reminder that all of us--all of us--need to do better, to be better. Donald Trump's America is an ugly damned place and all the "this is not who we are" talk will not save us as long as this kind of shit goes on without consequence. Let's hope lots of folks at Covington are taking a good hard look at themselves today. This is just so ugly and appalling and heartbreaking and awful.

Every classroom in America should be talking about this next week, and explaining why it is so very wrong.

As for the man with the drum who stood up through all this, here he is. This is Nathan Phillips, of Omaha, is a Vietnam Veteran who hosts a sacred pipe ceremony at Arlington Let's hope this helps wash some of the taste of the ugly out of your eyes:

Friday, January 18, 2019

DeVos Offers Advice From Within The Bubble

Betsy Devos is rich. She was born rich, married rich, and barring any French Revolution style upheaval, she will die rich. This does not automatically make her evil, but it does make her susceptible to life in a bubble-- particularly since she never created nor ran any of the businesses that made her wealthy. And it's important to remember all this when she starts waxing rhapsodic about the lessons she learned growing up back in the day.

DeVos returned to the public eye this week, wheelchair bound from a broken pelvis that was the result of a biking accident (that has got to hurt like hell-- good thing she has good health insurance) to have a "fireside chat" about youthful entrepreneurship. It was a chance for her to show that she has some awareness of what life is like outside the bubble.

Business, after all, is her second religion. Most of her policy decisions make sense viewed through this lenses. The trashing of oversight, the shredding of regulations, all flow from one simple idea-- government should never interfere with the operation of business. Businessmen should never have to compromise their vision to accommodate some government rule, and government should never give the Little People the power to challenge or interfere with business.

So there she was at Gallup HQ for Lemonade Day to talk to Joe Daly of Gallup to talk about the state of youthful entrepreneurship which, according to the Gallup folks, is not strong.

Daly reported polling data that said young people have become less entrepreneurial since 1977 but mostly in the last decade. And the millennial generation is “on track to be even less entrepreneurial” than Generation X and baby boomers.

That's an interesting factoid to consider. And DeVos has some thoughts.

"Well,” she said, "you certainly are the ones with data, but I have some sort of instinctual ideas about it. I think they are quite broad and varied. For one thing, generally speaking, younger people have grown up in a more protected environment. We’ve heard lots about helicoptering parenting and making sure nobody gets hurt doing something, and we don’t take too many risks so we don’t fail.

“It’s a general aura of safety and security over taking calculated and taking interesting risks around things,” she said. "I think that in, that general aura has lent itself in many ways to that reality. I think that we’ve had sort of an ossified approach and system to track everybody through the same sorts of experiences and, you know, there’s not a lot of real difference in the way we do school today versus decades ago. It’s only more protected and more safe.

“And so I think generally speaking we have to become more okay with taking calculated risks and encouraging young people to try new things and to not protect them from everything.”

There are several things to unpack here. First is that Betsy Devos has never had to worry about serious failure her whole life, both because she has lived on a big fluffy white cushions stuffed with millions of dollars. Second, you can't have it both ways-- it can't be both school hasn't changed in years and kids these days are so much more protected than when I was a kid. Third, I feel certain that students in public school today are not more protected and cushioned than students in elite high-priced private religious schools were in the seventies. Fourth is that I guess we can give DeVos some marks for consistency in that she has been determined to roll back protections for at least some students.

And look-- I'm about the same age as Betsy, and I don't disagree that helicopter parenting and a general tendency to try to protect students from hurt and disappointment have been climbing. I'm just not sure what that has to do with the decline of entrepreneurship. The myth that modern entrepreneurs are profiles in courage seems, well, very myth. Take Bill Gates-- he certainly accomplished a big bunch of stuff, even if some of that accomplish amounts to appropriating the work of others, but the story of him starting Microsoft in his garage skips that it was his parents' garage, and they were well-heeled enough that he never had to worry that failure would leave him hungry and homeless. Or take a certain real estate mogul who got his entrepreneurial start with a few million dollars of his father's money, and then when his various adventures tanked, he was able to pull more money from Dad and God-knows-where-else. Have there been US entrepreneurs who risked it all on an idea? Sure-- but I'm not sure that a solid safety net and the comfort of security aren't as useful for entrepreneurial boldness as risk-taking behavior.

Do I have an alternative explanation? Well, two. One is that Gallup is simply wrong-- I'm not sure how one measures entrepreneurial spirit, anyway, but didn't we just go through a decade of a few thousand Zuckerberg wanna-be's trying to launch one internet entrepreneurial schemes after another? Daly suggests that we've had fewer people starting businesses that employ other people-- that may well be true. But if Gallup is right, then maybe the widespread economic insecurity and the same pit of debt that has kept millennials from buying houses has also made them reluctant to launch new businesses. Maybe they're financially scared about living in a world in which a bicycle accident could ruin you financially forever. Or it maybe that the conglomeratization of business just makes it harder to break in (everyone loves the free market until they're winning t it-- then they want the price of admission to be prohibitively high). The younger generation has grown up in a world where they've seen the rules clearly stacked against people who aren't already rich; maybe they're just not inclined to risk home and family on a very long shot.

This theory, of course, would not allow DeVos to blame one more thing on public schools.

There's a disconnect in her reasoning. After all, her own experience, both for herself and for her children, has been to avoid public school and stay in a comfortable private religious school bubble, and what is more helicopter parenty than saying, "We will find you a school that only gives the educational experience we want it to." What is more protected and safe than a school where everybody believes the same things you believe? And what is a significant part of the argument charters and vouchers if not a helicoptery, "If the public school won't teach our chid the way we want them to, we'll just go to another school that will."

Why didn't Betsy DeVos's parents tell her, "You're going to attend public school, and your allowance is five bucks a week, and this summer you're going to get a job at some place that the family doesn't own. It will be hard and unpleasant sometimes, but it will build grit and character and you'll be a better person for it later in life." Later in the talk she says she's encouraged that her grandchildren are being "encouraged to do the kinds of things I did as a child and to explore some unsafe things" and I'm wondering what "unsafe" thing Betsy Prince was ever encouraged to do in her youth.

Look, to repeat myself, I'm not suggesting Betsy DeVos is a terrible person because she as born and raised rich-- that wasn't her choice. But there is something seriously off about a person who has lived an entire life of comfort and privilege grousing that Kids These Days have it too easy. And when a person with a lot of power takes that stance, it's doubly unfortunate, because that means they'll totally miss the chance to do something useful. Gallup may be pointing at something significant here, but all we're getting from the secretary of education is the old Kids These Days are weak and public schools are lousy.

That and returning to the Other True Faith. More schools, she suggests, should teach their students about business, about how business works. I suppose it could cover how money talks and frees you to tell people How It Is without ever doing any self-examination.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

If You Care About Early Childhood Education

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know I have concerns about the current direction of education for the littles. These are not strictly academic concerns-- between. children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, there are seven members of my family in the under-five age bracket.

So I am happy to see this announcement in my in-box from Defending the Early Years:

DEY is excited to announce its first Early Childhood Organizing Leadership Summer Institute to be held in July 2019. The Institute will bring together 15-20 early childhood educators and advocates from across the country to spend several days developing leadership skills and advocating on Capitol Hill. The institute will provide early childhood advocates with the opportunity to learn various organizing skills, identify threats to the early childhood profession, network with other early childhood leaders, and develop a platform for protecting childhood.

DEY was founded in 2012, one more grass roots reaction to the problems of Common Core. They have rapidly built an organization that is strong in both educating about the issues and advocating for better policies for the littles. They work with many experts and organizations in the field of early childhood ed, send reps to a variety of conferences, and pump out publications to help get their point across. They do a lot of good work.

That's why I'm excited to see this summer institute being launched. Early childhood is an area loaded with people who look at the crazy emphasis on making kindergarten the new first grade and making pre-k an academic activity and just a general trend that can only end with pumping algebra lessons into fetuses somehow-- anyway, folks look at all this and say, "Well, this is clearly wrong, but I don't know how to explain the wrongness and I don't know how to do anything about it." Littles are at a disadvantage because their parents are usually young and not sure how to wade into any of this (or worse, simply assume that The People In Charge must know what they're doing).

This institute seems like the perfect way to address some that. DEY is planning on two days of learning and one day of lobbying. It sounds very cool.

I can't pass on more specifics because apparently there aren't any yet, but there is a chance for you to weigh in on what you would like to see happen at the institute. Just follow this link to a survey.

And even if you can't travel, you should (if you have not already) check out DEY's website and sign up for their newsletter.

Oh, Arne.

Arne Duncan is always talking and it's never good.

Let's take a look at two recent batches of word salad thrown up by the former secretary of education and current ed reform gun-for-hire.

Earlier this month the Duncanator was the keynote speaker at Morgan Park High School's career day in Chicago. The appearance would have been unexceptional had Duncan not spelled out in perhaps the starkest terms ever his ideas about the relationship between education and crime.

Hats off to reporter Kyle Garmes, who led with a great fake-out sentence:

As he sat in front of juniors and seniors at Morgan Park High School (MPHS), Arne Duncan apologized.

You might immediately think of a dozen things that Duncan owes apologies for, but none of those are on his list. Instead, he apologizes on behalf of all adults for not keeping students safe from gun violence. But here is the kicker:

Duncan stressed the importance of students continuing their education after high school, whether in college or trade school. He frequently works with gun violence offenders and victims, he said, and many found themselves in precarious situations because they lacked knowledge.

“None of them received the education they needed,” Duncan said, “and unfortunately they ended up on the streets. … So, the work that CPS is doing is never done. We always have to get better; we always have to get better fast.”

Maybe Garmes didn't get that quote exactly right, but this certainly sounds like Duncan-- crime and poverty are caused by a lack of education. Gun violence offenders ended up in precarious situations because they lacked knowledge. Poverty, systemic racism, economic issues, starvation wages for crappy jobs, all the problems that come along with those-- no, Chris ended up in trouble because Chris's fifth grade teacher dropped the ball. Duncan did go on to acknowledge "other challenges" like mental health issues and peer pressure, but his same old message is clear-- almost all of society's ills, most especially issues of poverty and inequity, are the fault of schools.

In a way, this helps explain why he joined the anti-teacher chorus that tried to avert the LA strike through negative pressure. Sure, he has always sided with the corporate charter side of ed reform, and yes, establishment Democrats hold all the cards in California, so they must take all the blame, but the kicker to his list of Reasons Not To Strike is this--

Students who live in poverty and who are already behind will spend days or weeks not learning in the classroom.

So I guess the lack of education will turn them into criminals.

Fred Klonsky, in his pointed takedown of Duncan's pre-strike remarks ("L.A. Teachers Are on Strike. Arne Duncan Is An Idiot") points out that Duncan not too long ago was calling for a student walkout over gun regulation, so maybe his concerns aren't for the children at all. Maybe Duncan just continues to sympathize more with corporate reformsters like Eli Broad than he does with actual classroom teachers. Maybe he continues to be far more interested in charter schools than in public education. And maybe he continues to blame all of society's problems on schools and teachers because that way, there's no need to trouble his corporate thinks tank bosses or his establishment Democrat friends to be part of any solution other than some superficial support noises about education.

I know it's probably best for me not to keep going back to Duncan, but he remains a fine example of everything wrong with Democratic political animals when it comes to education. It remains to be seen if the strike shakes loose any Democrats who actually support public school teachers. That would be a serious improvement over this business where, on the one hand, teachers have the power and responsibility to cure all of society's problems, but, on the other hand, should know their roles, shut their holes, and do as their told.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

FL: The Unsurprising Teacher "Shortage"

The Florida Department of Education has released a report on teacher shortages in the state, for the 2019-2019 school year, and the news is not great.

The news is not just that there's a shortage (that's old news), but that Florida deals with the shortages by filling classrooms with teachers uncertified for the subject. The news is also in where the shortages are being felt.

It's not unusual to see shortages in the special education area, and science also turns up on the list of shortages. But Florida's shortage areas include English, math, and reading, in addition to some science areas.

It is a puzzler, but let's drill down on some of the data, because the report has some really nice charts.

The report measures shortages with three different data points, then maths them together for an overall ranking, but the three categories are interesting. First, we consider the percentage of courses taught by people not appropriately certified. In that category, English ranks at the top, followed by reading, followed by Exceptional Student Education (that's pretty much every kind of special ed). ESOL (ESL) comes  in fourth, followed by general science and then math. The English is surprising-- since when have English and Reading been hard spots to fill.

If we look at projected openings (as reported by districts) a different pattern emerges. The top category for expected vacancies is elementary education. Elementary education comes in dead last for classes being taught by an uncertified teacher, which suggests that Florida schools have an easy time finding elementary teachers and a hard time holding onto them. ESE is second, Pre-K is third, and then it's English, math and reading. ESE is not unusual, but Pre-K? It's almost as if there's a state policy that makes Pre-K employment too shaky and unpleasant to consider.

The third category ranks subject areas by the percentage of college teacher program photo-teachers who complete their programs. Our problem areas at least look a little better here.

The report looks at how many people hold certificates in various subject areas, with 96,000 Floridians (about 22% of the total credentials) holding elementary ed certificates. Math (18K) and English (20K)  are not widely-held certificates. And general science accounts for just over 6,000 certificates.

These charts show off some fun data. The next one breaks down the number of classes taught by sub sect. So, there are 35,181 English classes taught in the state, and 4,498 of them are taught by someone who is not certified. Perhaps the most alarming stat on this chart is that out of 64,812 ESE classes, 5,277 are taught by someone without proper certification. That's huge number of students with special needs not getting proper educational care.

Let's look at new(ish) completes-- the number of new teachers rolling out of the teacher pipeline. Well, rolled out, because the most current data is rom 2015-2016. There are some big zeros here, like drama and computer science and tech education and school social worker. Math, only 165 new teachers, which was still way better than the sciences. English, 207. Reading, 214. The grand total was 4,372, which seems like slim pickings for the entire state of Florida and barely enough to match the number of teachers that were needed last fall).

Finally, a chart breaking things down by F and D schools, as well as urban vs. rural. D and F schools have about 11% of their courses taught by people without appropriate certificates. Urban schools run around 8% and-- surprise-- rural schools are in the best shape, with only 5.4% of their courses taught by those not certified (that's still 1,650 courses, so not nothing).

The report strictly reports the data and does not attempt to explain it. Lots of folks have taken a shot at explaining the source of Florida's teacher woes, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist. Some shortages are national (public education will always be the low bidder for folks who can science), but Florida has taken extraordinary and steady efforts to chew up public education and spit out the pieces.  While there are some terrible states for education policy in the US, Florida's political leaders have made a good case for Florida being the worst. Teachers are devalued and disrespected. public schools are steadily and systematically stripped of resources and support. And the bureaucracy has built a giant wall of stupid between teachers and the goal of educating students. Florida is also fully committed to the Cult of Testing, and I have to wonder if it's not entirely coincidental that the two highly tested subjects-- math and English/reading-- are then areas of shortage.

One worries that a whole portion of Floridian leadership looks at this report and says, "Good!" Everything that makes the public schools look worse simply makes the shabby, fraudulent and inadequate charter industry of Florida just look better by comparison. For some of Florida's leaders, it's not bad public policy-- it's just good marketing.

But there it is in the annual report. The shortage is real. How will Florida respond? Well, they could come up with recruitment ideas. Or they could make it easier to become a "teacher" by "alternative" certification means. Or they could sit on their hands a do nothing. Or they could actually listen to the Free Market's wisdom, which says that if you want people to make your job, you have to make it more attractive with better pay and work conditions. I'm sure that the Governor DeSantis's new education team, loaded with privatization fans, will do the wise thing.

In the meantime, let's hope that other states are paying attention. Because Florida doesn't really have a teacher shortage. What they have is a slow-motion teacher walkout, with teachers waling out because they just can't take it any more. Only unlike the kinds of walkout we've seen in Los Angeles or Oklahoma, this one won't end any time soon, and the teachers who walked out will never be back.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Jeanne Allen on LAUSD: Fire Them All

The Center for Education Reform is a charter advocacy group whose most visible feature is Jeanne Allen, CEO and sometimes President of a board that includes pioneering privatize Chris Whittle. Allen loves charters and hates teachers unions. As you might guess, she has some thoughts about the LA teacher strike. After I wrote about the strike at, the Pinkston Group, a PR fit, shared some her thoughts with me. Let me just quote them in their entirety:

In a post-Janus world, teacher unions cannot exist and continue to gain members unless they demonstrate and prove their value. This strike, like others we're seeing around the country, is a desperate attempt by the union to maintain relevance in a day and age where they can
no longer require teachers to join.

California needs to break the district up into 100 different pieces, have much smaller units, and allow for the freedom, flexibility, access and innovation that’s happening in charters. If it weren’t for charter schools, education in L.A. would be at the level of Mississippi. The UTLA sees charters
as such a threat to the status quo that it is willing want to hurt students kids even more to score a victory against charters.

My advice to the district: Hold strong. Replace them all. If they want a dramatic impact on education, fire the union and begin to repair the schools, just like Reagan fired the air traffic controllers.

Allen's dream of a perfect union meeting
So that's what a leading charter advocate thinks about the strike. It's a union trick to hold onto power. Los Angeles would have terrible schools if not for the awesome charters. Teachers just want to hurt students so they can keep raking in the big bucks. There are, of course, no slices of evidence in the real world to back up any of this. Nor will turning LAUSD into hundreds of tiny districts serve anyone except the children of the wealthy.

But Allen's big solution is super dopey-- fire them all. The Reagan nod is not completely out of left field; Allen's website notes proudly that she was "the youngest political appointee to serve at the pleasure of the president, Ronald Reagan, at the US Department of Education." But of the many anti-reality arguments I have seen from Allen, this is one drops the jaw the furthest. Replace over 25,000 teachers? In a state with a persistent teacher shortage? In the 2016-2017 year, there were under 24,000 students enrolled in teaching preparation programs in the state.

Talk about hurting kids just to score a victory-- Allen's nuclear option would trash everything just to teach those damned teachers a lesson.

Allen's position is worth noting only because she and the CER are not some fringe element. She gets to sit on reformy panels. CER gets Gates money (and in 2016 the organization took in a whopping $ million in contributions from... somewhere). She gets into the Wall Street Journal. And lest you think she's strictly a GOP phenomenon, Kara Kerwin, who filled the president role while Allen was on hiatus, started out in public policy in the offices of Chuck Schumer and Daniel Moynihan.

Allen and the CER have one virtue-- where other charter advocates may play a game of making nice with teachers and their unions, Allen leaves her mask off most days. If you wonder why teachers and their unions sometimes act vas if charter advocates are out to get them, and you're one of those folks asking "Where does that come from," well, Jeanne "Fire Them All" Allen is Exhibit A.

This is not a one-off. Allen was quick to decide Trump was okee-dokee after all and became a Trump-DeVos cheerleader. Allen has periodically issued announcements of renewed commitment to privatization. Allen put a $100K bounty on John Oliver's head for besmirching the charter brand. Allen whinged when her phrase "backpack full of cash" became a movie title. Allen blamed the GOP 2018 drubbing on a failure to keep a charter hard line.

One can only hope that nobody on the administration side of the LAUSD strike is considering listening to Allen's advice. It would neither solve the strike nor improve general health of the LA school district. It's just a more extreme statement of the very distinct policies that brought them to this strike in the first place; wiping out the school district and the teachers who work in it is not a path that serves the students of Los Angeles.