Sunday, January 15, 2017

First 100 Reformy Days

Did Jeanne Allen ever oppose Trump? Long ago she may have expressed some misgivings, but she has since been swept up in the Great Migration of from Anti-Trump Land to downtown We Want To Be The Winner's Friend. So now Allen and her group, the Center for Education Reform, a reformy group that is friends with all the best charter school boosters (and even has a seat on the gates Gravy Train)-- now these folks have some thoughts about how to make the First 100 Days of Trumpistan a great festival of chartery goodness. And bold. There will be much call for boldness.

The position paper? flier? PR release? from CER opens by bringing up FDR's legendary 100 day Flurry O'Stuff and then declares boldly, "It's our turn again." It is not clear where the "again" comes from, but it's certainly bold to suggest that Herr Trump represents the return of, well, anything to the White House.

But this time we are bullish that what we have advanced and supported for 23 years may actually come to be. We have made recommendations to incoming administrations since CER was founded in 1993, and each time those ideas have fallen prey to a bevy of special interests, political moderation, or worse, downright dismissal.

Allen and CER suffer from a variety of problems, not the least of which is a serious lack of self-awareness (Allen, among other things, has a tendency to couple calls from better, more respectful dialogue with attacks on the entire teaching profession-- a sort of "let's talk nicely, you big evil dope!") If you've been doing the same song and dance for 23 years and still not drawing an appreciative crowd, it's possible0-- just possible-- that the problem is not the stage, the audience, evil people keeping the crowds away, or some dark fix by shadowy powers. It's just possible that the problem is you and your song and your dance.

In other words, you might want to consider that your recommendations have "fallen prey" to being lousy recommendations.

But hey-- let's give it a shot anyway.

Allen is optimistic that a Trump-Pence administration will be in tune with the things CER believes. Those beliefs include things like the idea that poverty can be ignored, because if people get a great education, they will escape poverty. CER also believes that tax dollars should be freed up so that various ed-flavorerd businesses can be free to snap those dollars right up.

If we really want an exceptional America we must have exceptional education, without conventional barriers to learning at one’s own pace, in an environment that best suits the learner. 

Because the adult workplace is all about working at your own pace in an environment that suits you. Well, we want an environment that suits somebody, anyway-

It’s time to be bold and think about what’s possible when you take control over a nearly $70 billion agency, and have entered a nation where 37 of 50 states are governed by education reform friendly lawmakers. It’s not just about a school choice program, or increased charter school funding, or little innovation grants. It’s about tearing up the very top-down mandates and arcane characterizations of schools that created the need for such microschools, innovative charters,competency-based programs and online higher education offerings in the first place.

This, I guess, is how Allen and CER found a common connection to Trump-- they, too, would like to watch the world burn. Why privatize education piecemeal when we can just burn down the whole institution of public education, sweep away the ashes, and privatize the space that's left behind? We don't even need coherent education policy-- just a big market free-for-all, in which all the various approaches can battle it out for their slice of the pie.  (I am intrigued, however, at the 37 reform-friendly states figure).

So we're five pages in and it's still all bold unicorns and bold rainbows and bold seeping statements. Is there some policy in here? Glad you asked-- let's move on to the more carefully targeted ideas.


Federal spending needs to be redirected, repackaged, and re-permissioned across traditional program lines. To conduct a serious, publicly transparent review in a finite amount of time as to how every federal dollar can better meet the needs of schools and students, the Administration should establish a Commission, like the Reagan-era National Commission on Excellence in Education.

Yes-- a government commission. Allen even has a name ready-- Make Education Great Again for Students Commission (MEGAS). The USED Secretary would be in charge, and they would identify "every barrier to opportunity." That's not opportunity for humans to get an education, but opportunity for money to flow freely. So MEGAS would not be boldly addressing poverty or systemic racism or failure to fully fund education; it would be looking at every chokepoint where someone could be making money from an education product but some damn regulation got in their way.  We are talking about more opportunities for businesses and entrepreneur-- not for students.

There are all sorts of education regulations, and we should look at all of those because "these regulations often discourage credible providers of instructional services." And we hate to see privatizers and profiteers get discouraged.

Specifically, Allen calls for the government to "conduct a thorough review of all regulatory limitations imposed on spending in education regulations," as well as any money that gets to schools from other departments, because, gee, all of that money should be liberated so that it can flow freely to people who want to give it a nice new home. Why should they be discouraged just because some dumb regulation says that money must be spent providing schools or education or programs to students?

Where the government can help is in gathering and packaging data so that parents have better information for making choices. The government has all that data-- it should be packaged for better marketing purposes.


Solve the crisis in teaching, the shortage of individuals able to but precluded from teaching due to flawed certification mandates, by encouraging opening up of the profession to experienced subject matter experts, thought leaders and international experts.

Yes, the crisis in teaching is that we are requiring people to become trained and certified, when what we really need is to open it up to anybody who feels like doing it. The impending teacher shortage is "misunderstood"-- it's not that the profession has been devalued or deprofessionalized, but that it hasn't been deprofessionalized enough. Allen's plan, seriously, is to tap all those folks who have been thrown out of work by the downturn in manufacturing and industry jobs and are now underemployed-- we just need to pout all those folks in classrooms, and we're all set to go! The only thing slowing us down is silly "bureaucratic standards." (Pro tip: if you really want to be a teacher, you could always go to teacher school.)

Also, there's technology, so why don't we just use "off-site" teaching and just, you know, skype teachers into classrooms. Because while Allen does subscribe to the "teacher is the most important factor" theory, she also has a deep and profound, even bold, lack of understanding of what teaching is or what it requires. In her world, teacher training and certification is some big scam, a con game run by bureaucrats who are colluding with the teachers union which is just trying to operate an entire school system so that they can collect dues and run the world.

So let some guys who used to have a manufacturing job in there. They would provide the needed education rooted less on theory and more on hands-on experiential" learning.

Higher Education

Recast the federal role in higher education to create more opportunities for both the private and public sectors to serve the needs of students seeking a higher education at every level.

Once again, you'll note that the "opportunities' are for people in the business, not the students. Allen is certain-- boldly certain-- that the only reason any students don't finish college is because "they want more opportunities in higher education than were available, or desired, by many who are long past those days." The market is failing to provide them what they want. Allen even says, explicitly, that it's not a cost problem (because there's always cheap community college available). It's not poverty or struggling with the college environment or personal issues or anything except a market failure and if we would just let the feds give money to anyone who wanted to enter the post-high school training biz, so many more people could make a bundle in the college ed biz.

The obstacle to the free flow of money remains the "higher ed cartel" who set up obstacles on "all sorts of contrived bases." For instance, Allen asserts that there's been an unfair emphasis on the difference between non-profit and for-profit colleges. I'd suggest that this is because the vast majority of for-profits are turning out to be predatory scammers, but Allen is sure that both sectors have "laggards." This is simply not true. Predatory scams like the Corinthian College chain aren't "laggards"-- they are outright frauds, using vulnerable students as a means of grabbing up money that was meant to help students (including US soldiers) get a decent education. There is nothing like it anywhere in the non-profit college world.

Educational Choice

The federal government should recognize whatever it is that states do to provide opportunities for students beyond the traditional public schools. Such programs–private school vouchers, tax credits, charter schools and the like–did not exist prior to 1990 in an substantial way and as a result, the federal government has continued to view them as anathema to the original definition of public education.

Oh, if only.  The feds have been pretty aggressively friendly to charter schools in this country, but not enough to suit Allen, who is occupying some other alternate dimension.

The birth of federal education programs occurred before there was any concrete evidence that despite billions spent nationally the Nation was at risk, and that traditional education governance simply was not working for most students. Meanwhile, other nations with far fewer freedoms were beating us at just about everything.

It's technically true that fed ed programs were birthed before there was evidence of any of these things for the simple reason that there still isn't any evidence of these things. But one of Allen's trademarks is a hopped-up insistence that education in this country is a complete and utter failure (which makes Betsy DeVos a fine ed sec for CER). I am curious at which "just about everything" we are being beaten at, and by whom. I'm wondering if on that list she includes things like providing maternity leave or universal health care or sheltering children from the effects of poverty, because we are getting our asses kicked in those areas, but I don't think education reform is the most direct path to addressing them.

Allen is certain the its federal prejudice that keeps students from being to have all the money allotted to their education, because that money is certainly not taxpayer money that belongs to the public. Again, it comes down to those damn federal rules and regulations. The feds should just hand the state a giant bale of money and let the state spend it however it wishes. Choice should be a big open wild west of macro and micro options, and regulations should be minimal or non-existent. Whether or not children get actual educations is not the issue-- the ability of edubusinesses to thrive is the concern here. The system that currently serves 90% of the students in the country should be trashed so that businesses can get to businessing without the feds looking over their shoulders answering annoying questions like "Are you actually educating these students" or "Did you just spend a bunch of public money on a yacht" or "Are all students-- even the poor, unprofitable ones-- being served" or even "Do you have the faintest clue what you're doing?"

Activist Agenda

Allen proposes to push all this by lobbying educating the hell out of the public and the state legislatures. It's regulation that is forcing charters to operate like traditional schools (not or course, any evidence or expertise that suggests that traditional schools largely know the best ways to do this educating thing) and more importantly, keeping charters and other ed-flavored enterprises from just cutting out things that aren't cost-effective. This, of course, remains the central problem of running a school: you can't bring in more revenue-- you can only cut costs. And there are the feds, telling you about a bunch of costs you aren't allowed to cut. How's a businessman supposed to get rich??

CER's agenda is the same one it's had for decades-- kill public ed and sell off the pieces. I suspect they will find much to love about life with Herr Trump and the Red Queen, but I have to believe that the less they get what they want, the better it will be for American school students and the future of our country.


  1. I teach at a community college. We have many online classes. Students fail our online classes at a much higher rate than our f2f classes. This true at community colleges in general. And these people want more online higher ed.

  2. You miss the point about opening up the teaching craft. It's not about putting unemployed factory workers at the head of physics class. It is about the large pool of content talent in society that is prohibited from the classroom without a superficial credential. The region around Penn State is stocked with semi-retired and retired educators with bundles of teaching awards, but they're not going to spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars getting a meaningless credential to do something for which they already are expert. Ditto for CPAs who could be teaching accounting or local pharmacists who are content experts in chemistry.

    1. I understand your point, but CER is very clear and specific on this point-- they want to see un- and under-employed folks who lost their jobs in industry moving into a classroom.

    2. A pharmacist is not a content expert in chemistry.

    3. But an emeritus university distinguished professor at Penn State is a content expert, but of course not competent to teach chemistry in K-12. Even a Chicago PhD does not make you a content expert in a K-12 school.

    4. A PhD does make you a content expert, but college professors do not necessarily know anything about cognitive learning theory, or child psychological development, or classroom management, which is all necessary to teach K-12.

    5. Rebecca,

      I think we would agree that the knowledge required to teach K is very different from the knowledge required to teach 12. I also think that the knowledge needed to teach 12 is much closer to the knowledge needed to teach first year college students than the knowledge needed to teach 12 is to the knowledge needed to teach K. Do you disagree?

      I would also not advocate for the view that any Chemistry PhD would do well teaching in high school just as I would not say that any Chemistry PhD would do well teaching in college. My colleagues and I spend a large amount of time narrowing the hundreds of applications we get for a position down to a handful of acceptable candidates and spend even more time after the person is hired mentoring and evaluating the person.

    6. It's certainly nice that you and your colleagues, actual experts in your field, have a say in who is hired into your department.

    7. And I certainly would agree it takes very different knowledge to teach K than to teach 12. I would have no clue how to engage elementary students or what they are capable of learning and how, even in my content area.