Sunday, November 18, 2018

ICYMI: Light Up Night Hangover Edition (11/18)

Last night was my town's big Light Up Night parade, which includes a huge parade (well, huge by our standards) fireworks, and cold children. But I still have some reading for you. Remember-- sharing is caring.

If People Talked To Other Professionals The Way They Talk To Teachers

A painfully hilarious piece from McSweeney. Just in case you're one of the three people who hasn't already seen this.

Former Camden Superintendent on Testing, Drawbacks Thereof

From our catalog of reform dudes discovering insights that we've been saying for years. It's still a pretty sharp indictment of testing.

Seattle High School TGeacher Shares the Wonder of Books with Students

This is so awesome-- a book store field trip. Read this and then start thinking about how you're going to do the same thing in your community.

Students Protest Zuckerberg-backed Digital Learning Program

Valerie Strauss with details about the Brooklyn students who walked out on Summit Learning.

You Are More Than Your EVAAS Score  

Justin Parmenter with words of encouragement aimed at NC teachers, but applicable to many others.

ReadyNation Prepares for More Next Gold Rush  

Impact investing, pre-K, and a pair of new governors make for a depressing game of connect the dots at Wrench in the Gears.

Public Schools for Private Gains

From the Kappan.

Balance Is The Key

How is privatizing the weather like privatizing school?

Building an Early Childhood Resistance Movement

Defending the Early Years continues the work of standing up for the littles.

Disruption Using Technology Is Dangerous To Child Development and Public Education

Nancy Bailey sorts out some of the issues of ed tech and the threat it poses to children (and teachers).

The Best Woman for the Job

Nancy Flanagan reflects on meeting the glass ceiling in the world of music and teaching.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Summit Builds Its Own Facilitators

Education Dive just became the latest site to ooh and ahh over Summit Charter School's in-house facilitator factory.

The focus of the story is a molecular biologist who has decided to try his hand in the classroom-- specifically a classroom in one of Summit Charter's chain of charteriness. Summit, you may recall, is the chain that garnered back from Mark Zuckerberg, that offers its program for free to any school that wants it, and plans to spin that part of the business off into a Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative controlled enterprise soon.

Summit is all about the mass-customized, computer-centered personalized [sic] learning, and you can see the implications in the language the article uses.

As we watch the proto-teacher in action, the article describes "the lesson he is leading in the classroom." (Emphasis mine). Not teaching. Leading.

Bobby's classmates thought "We'd better get a guide over here soon."
The head of the Summit residency program, Pamela Lancke, describes a good candidate as someone who is "open to classrooms looking different than what they might have experienced themselves" a well as being comfortable with students moving at their own pace. The latter qualification seems bizarre-- exactly where might we find a teacher who's uncomfortable with students moving at their own pace? But part of the pitch here is to contrast Summit neo-teachers with Mrs. Strawy McStrawman.

"The role of teacher is very different — more of a facilitator and coach than a lecturer," Lamcke said, adding that if someone is proud of being a “great orator,” he or she probably wouldn't thrive in a Summit school or any other personalized learning environment.

Seriously-- have you ever heard a teacher say, "My big strength is my oratory skills." And the implication that this somehow all radical new is silly. I was in teacher school in the 1970s when we heard incessantly about being the guide on the side instead of the sage on the stage. I'll wager there isn't a teacher anywhere in the country who doesn't know about this. So why hasn't direct instruction died out? Because in many cases, it works. Because students will say, "Can you please explain this to me?" Because if you are not more knowledgeable about the content than your students are, why are we taxpayers paying you?

The Summit answer is "to facilitate and coach while the students work through their computer-delivered lessons." This model is not popular every where. Just last week, Brooklyn students became the latest to protest Summit's program. They join schools like Cheshire Schools in Connecticut in rejecting a program that students describe as staring at a computer all day or being expected to teach yourself.

The article could address this pushback-- instead it just lets Lamcke say that A) it's a mystery but B) it's probably because stodgy old Mrs. McStrawman can't shift her thinking.

But then, Summit's program is bold-- at the top of their webpage they quote a group of Silicon Valley parents who asked "What happened to the American public high school and what can we do to fix it."

The pitch describes the perfect candidate as one who believes all students can be successful, who wants to work in a diverse cohort, who believes in a personalized path for every student, who has a growth mindset, and who is interested in teaching as a profession. If so, why aren't you in an teacher prep program? And why doesn't the list include anything about being a person with content knowledge.

The one-year residency program yields a preliminary single subject teaching credential, which in California is a credential that lets you teach for five years while you complete various bits of coursework. And when you're all done, you're first in line for a job at a Summit Charter School.

There are things--well, thing, anyway-- to like about this model. A teacher internship with four days a week of shadow/team teaching for an entire year, with the fifth day spent meeting with other interns for further development-- that's a good framework (though I wonder about the interns' source of income for the year). But the framework doesn't seem to be filled with much substance, and some of the details the EdDive article reports are just silly.

Molly Posner, an academic program manager with Summit, starts the morning by having residents write down any feelings of frustration they want to express, whether that's in essay or poetry form.
"You could just write down the words to your favorite break-up song," she says. Then, she has them crumple up what they wrote and throw it away — a symbolic act of clearing their minds and focusing on what they still need to complete. For the rest of the morning, they work individually and in groups to address remaining questions about their final projects.

I won't pretend that some traditional teacher prep programs don't waste time on similar silliness. But that doesn't excuse it. And Summit's program seems lacking in actual content knowledge development. And ultimately you've been trained to be a facilitator.

This is one of the innovations of the charter movement; if you can't find teachers willing to work in your stripped down beat up version of a school, just grow your own. It's not an innovation I welcome. Some combination of sage on the stage and guide on the side is still preferable to the tutor in the computer.

CO: Charter Battles First Amendment

It's a reminder, again, that some charter operators feel certain they don't have to play by the same rules as the rest of the country.

Victory Preparatory Academy in Commerce City, Colorado, is getting hauled into court over an alleged violation of First Amendment rights.

VPA (6-12) and Community Leadership Academy (PK-5) are run by CEO Ron Jajdelski, a man who leaves a pretty tiny internet footprint. His LinkedIn account lists only his current job. But the sixty-ish CEO does turn up in a few spots. He appears to have attended Saybrook University's School of Organizational Leadership and Transformation.  He apparently holds a patent for "an ornamental design for a media storage device."

According to the school website, Jajdelski was involved from day one:

The school was conceived in March 2003, when several community members met to discuss education reform in Adams County School District 14. The discussion was facilitated by Ron Jajdelski, Executive Director at Commerce City Community Enterprise, a local grassroots non-profit focusing on empowering citizens to lead local change. These visionaries continued to meet and develop the school’s mission, programming and culture.

His school has had issues before. In 2015, there was a flap that began with a parent believed her sixth grade daughter was being bullied. She called Jajdelski and ended up feeling bullied herself, wiuth Jajdelski suggesting that he daughter should just change schools. A video of the exchange went viral-ish, and Jajdelski ended up explaining to news media that his tone was based on his belief that the parent was trying to bully him.

That was perhaps not the most professional exchange, and it's not a one-off. Other parents reportedly had similar experiences. And then there's VPA somewhat aggressive marketing approach. In 2016, Jajdelski and his wife Tina, who is also an administrator for the charter, put on the school's electronic billboard, "Don't risk your child's future to failing Adams 14 schools." When questioned about it, Jajdelski said the message would stay up "despite if it bothers some people."

The current set of issues take us back to September of 2017:

During a school assembly Sept. 28, 2017, the students stood to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, but, when it came time to recite the school’s own pledge — “I … accept the VPA challenge to be a noble knight, and I pledge to do my best for myself, my family, my school and my community” — many of them refused to stand as a form of silent protest, according to the lawsuit.

The students said they were protesting "a lack of school spirit and a lack of opportunity."

"We are only focused on our grades and testing, and we want to have experiences like other schools down the street," Pineda told Denver7's Connor Wist.

Students were sent back to class, the recalled to the auditorium so that Jajdelski could grill them about the protest. The students presented him with a letter about their protest (the letter was previously posted on Scribd but has since been taken down) and Jajdelski did not handle this well.

He threw all 120 students out of school and called the police.

Mary and Joel Flores arrived to pick up their son and were met by police, who tried to calm the crowd and tried to buy Jajdelski some time. But then he escalated to saying that if they didn't take their son and leave school grounds, "Jajdelski would press charges and everyone would be arrested." The parents wanted an explanation, but that wasn't going to happen, and the police indicated they could not protest on school property. There is, of course, video.

The Flores own a Spanish-language newspaper, and they reported the story on the front page. Within a week, the school sent them a letter informing them that because of their reporting, they were banned from school property. The school charged them with detaining, filming and photographing students, and "You also intentionally chose to create a false narrative with students, the public and the media regarding VPA student activities and school administration decisions."

So, there are many layers here. First, schools may not legally require students to stand and recite the pledge to the US flag, let alone somebody's made up pledge to their school. Second, journalists can't be banned just because they say things you don't like. And third, anybody who had five minutes of formal How To Be A School Administrator would know both of those things. But the Jajdelskis appear to be just one more example of what happens when you let amateurs play school.

Yes, there are some unanswered questions in the record at the moment.Why did the Flores wait a full year to file their suit? And, yes, it's entirely possible that the Flores are one of Those Types of Parents-- the ones who are an enormous PITA to their child's school.

However, there are no possible answers to any of those questions that make Jajdelski's actions Not Wrong. Once again, we have charter operators acting as if the school is their own private kingdom, not subject to any of the rules observed by every public school in the country. We'll see how this turns out.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Lessons From Lansing

At the beginning of the week I made the drive to Lansing, Michigan (shorter trip than flying, and I like a good drive) at the invitation of a member of the State Board of Education at their meeting on the subject of competency based education. I'll try to distill what I told them for this space at some point; in the meantime, there's video out there somewhere.

I'd never been to Lansing before, never addressed a state board of education before. It was an adventure, and there were a few lessons to be gleaned from the trip. In no particular order:


While many state capitals favor a sort of neo-classical architecture, Lansing's main government building mall feels a lot like Soviet Bloc circa 1964. Their capitol building has a dome, but to my eyes it's weirdly elongated, like someone squeezed a photo while editing it. I'm sure the fact that it was mid-November and starting to snow didn't help.

The Coalition

Much notice has been paid to how Trump's election goobered up the left-right coalition of reformsters. The resistance to reform has also long been an alliance of left and right folks, whose concerns and goals have not always perfectly aligned. I was invited down there by a GOP board member who is allied with some activists on the right end of the spectrum, after being recommended to him by someone also on the right in the world of the resistance. I don't think I'm particularly far left, but I'm far left of these folks. And during the lunch break, I was invited to dine (okay-- grab something in the cafeteria) with my host and two of his Democratic colleagues.

I suspect (as do they) that when it's time to give focus to what they want to see rather than what they don't, they will find some things they disagree about, but at the moment they are allies. More importantly, they are able to talk to each other respectfully and with the assumption of good intent.

Legislative Tricks

Not the first time I'd heard of this one, but the game has been played, again, in Michigan.

Why is there now a conversation about CBE going on in Michigan? Because rather than talk about proposing it publicly or tossing it around in the appropriate committees with appropriate public discussion, legislators snuck it into the budget. This is a cool old trick. Let's say you want to support plastic widgets in your state, but you don't want to bring it up publicly because plastic widgets are controversial. Just add to the budget a $100 million grant item to foster the development of the plastic widget industry. Nobody has to talk about it, and if you do a really good job nobody will even notice it's there except the plastic widget industry folks. Michigan did that with CBE instead of plastic widgets.

The lesson here is always pay attention to the budgeting process in your state. Just because nobody announced a legislative plastic widget initiative doesn't mean there isn't one.

How The Bully Pulpit Works

As several members of the board noted, it's not that they haven't heard about CBE. They've heard plenty-- it's just all been happy talk about how wondrous it is. When a political chief, like a governor, decides to push a program, one of the levers they have is the ability to bombard key people with information of a certain flavor. I don't think I'd really thought about this a lot, but after my trip, my list of qualifications for elected office-- any elected office, no matter how minor, obscure or boring-- is the ability to study up on a subject and think for themselves. Honestly, I think I'm better with someone from the Other Side who can actually think like an independent grown-up than I am with someone from my own side who just follows along with whoever is next up the food chain.

The DeVosian Shadow

As you might imagine, it's still there. One of the board members is a DeVos BFF. She listened politely and then sweetly and passive aggressively put me in my place. It was kind of cute in a church lady kind of way.

Stand Up

This was a different thing for me. I'm used to taking my shots from behind a keyboard, or working in front of a self-selected-for-friendliness crowd, or working an audience of teens, or performing with either an instrument in my hand or my back to the audience. But if we're going to keep saying that teachers (active and retired) are education experts, then we should be prepared to stand up and speak our truth, without apologizing for it. Asking the opinion of an actual teacher is exactly what outfits like state boards of education should be doing, and lots of other groups, too. More of us should be putting ourselves out there, or pushing our colleagues who have the gift out there, and when the chance to speak comes, we need to take it. So I'm glad I did that.

Also, as far as Lansing goes, I am told there are very nice parts outside of the area in which I spent my 16 hours.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

You Can Do The Research

For some people research is fun. Seriously. I play in an old traditional town band, and a few decades back, I decided I would try to work up a history of the group. The project ended up taking me about thirty years to research and write. I read every local newspaper from 1854 until 1965. I have an entire cardboard box of bound notes and file cards.  I have been asked from time to time how I ever did such a thing, and while it would be nice to attribute it to my mighty reserve and sterling moral fiber, the real answer was that it was fun. Seriously. The writing was fun, but the research was really, really fun.

Some of us are wired that way, just as some of us are inclined to love curling or antique auto restoration. Unfortunately, "I love to spend hours in the library" doesn't earn you much social capital in high. Double unfortunately, much of what passes for "research" assignments n high school barely qualifies as research at all. The average shake and bake assignment boils down to "Go find information about this subject that has already been researched, collected, and written up by an expert in the field. The repeat back what they wrote, only don't use their exact words because that would be plagiarism." A rehashed report, even one that requires a number of sources (aka the one source that the paper was taken from plus however many other unexamined sources are required to fill out the bibliography), will not awaken the slumbering research beast within you.

I'll just check one more thing, then break for lunch. What? It's supper time?
My point is that, even if you've never been bitten before, it is not too late for you to be bitten by the research bug, and if you are actively involved in political and community issues, that bug can serve you well. And there's always more to discover. What I'm going to share now are tools that I learned about at the recent Network for Public Education conference in a presentation by the indispensable Mercedes Schneider, Andrea Gabor, and Darcie Cimarusti. Schneider writes as much as I do (more, actually, because she keeps cranking out books) but also does the legwork of unearthing new information for her pieces. Gabor is a great journalist, whose latest book about ed reform is sitting by my couch. Cimarusti has been an effective citizen activist for education (you mat know her online as Mother Crusader).

So here are three resources that you can easily make use of from the same location you're sitting in to read these words.

Form 990

Tax-exempt organizations, nonexempt charitable trusts, and section 527 political organizations file this form, and it will tell you a ton about the organization, including, in some cases, who is contributing to it. These are filed with the IRS, but they are also public information, and several websites on line will help you find the forms you seek (I have been using Foundation Center, but there are other options out there). Google 990 finder.

Different sorts of organizations fill out different versions of the 990; some have to report every single donor, and some don't. Schneider has uncovered a lot of juicy information following 990 trails, including the surprise revelation that Eli Broad's silent partner in Education Post was Laurene Jobs.

One pointer. As you can see from Schneider's tale to tracking EdPost, some groups like to fuzzy up their paper trail by using shell names. So you may be interested in "The National Watermelon Foundation" but can't find anything because they are actually legally filed under the name "Ocelots Hate Brussel Sprouts Association." Just be creative, scan websites for details, and keep making your best guess. Research requires some art and creativity.

Campaign Finances

Candidates for office who operate in your state must file paperwork, usually with your state's state department. Just google [your state] campaign finance reports. Some states have user friendly search engines within the records, and some don't. You'll just have to keep whacking away until you get it. For larger campaigns you may find yourself wading through pages and pages; lots of folks have their own workarounds for these, but you can use old-fashioned blunt force. The reports will tell you who is backing the candidate and who received money from the campaign. This is how some folks figured out that Betsy DeVos's American Federation of Students was behind a million-dollar contribution to the Scott Wagner (failed--ha!) campaign for governor.

Little Sis

I knew something about the first two tools, but Little Sis was a revelation that just blew me away. Little Sis (opposite of Big Brother-- get it?) is a database of connections. Plug in a person or an organization, and Little Sis will show you the people and organizations to which your entry is tied. Best of all, they have a tool called oligrapher that will render the connections as a web, the better to visualize how the various pieces tie together. You can click your way through the connections all day-- it's like eating potato chips. Bitter, disturbing potato chips.

See these tools applied to a particular project by looking at the report "Hijacked by Millionaires." Or just go to the site and play.

One note about Little Sis-- they depend on the help of citizen researchers across the country, and you may find gaps in their data base. If you can, feel free to help plug them. Connections can't go in without documentation of some sort, but the site will tell you the rest of what you need to know to help.

All of these tools provide one of the researcher's sweetest, most seductive thrills-- seeing something you weren't even looking for so that you think, "Hmmm-- well that's interesting." There's an entire world of rabbit holes waiting for you to fall down them. More importantly, there's a whole world of information that is accessible to you, so that you don't have to wait for someone else to answer the question that has been gnawing at you. You can do the research.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Anti-Test, Pro-Computer

Chalkbeat today notes the growing trend of reformster discontent with the Big Standardized Test, a thread which apparently emerged at the latest soiree thrown by the Center for Reinventing Public Education, a group that has pushed ed reform for years.

But intentionally or not, Matt Barnum  also captured part of what is driving this shift.

Some members of the Thinky Tank set (with Jay Greene in the forefront) have been noticing that test results don't seem to really mean anything. But there's another reform group that is sour on testing:

The way we’re doing [assessment] now — that is so time-, age-, grade-based — is really constraining for those innovators that are developing models that will support all kids.

That quote comes from Susan Patrick of The International Association for K-12 Online Learning  (iNACOL), an organization whose bread and butter is tech based education, and which has thrown itself whole-heartedly behind Competency Based Education and Personalized [sic] Learning. Their opposition to the BS Test is signaled by Patrick's quote. If they are going to sell a system that lets students learn whatever whenever at whatever speed they wish, they need to remove the issue if a giant standardized test at the end f the ear.

In other words, the old approach to ed reform is cramping the style of reform 2.0. The 2.0 version is pointed firmly at the unbundling of education so that stdents can acquire their competencies and proficiencies and badges wherever and whenever and from whomever. This shift has the double advantage of a sort of ju-jitsu move-- people who are busy running away from the BS Test can be ushered straight into the Competency Based Proficiency Personalized tent. Reform 1.0 has become a marketing tool for Reform 2.0

It's worth noting that even some of the reformsters themselves haven't caught on yet. The repeated complaints about testing at the event drew this bemused quote from Sandy Kress, one of the creators of No Child Left Behind and therefor one of the fathers of the test-centered education reform movement:

“I was worried, frankly, about the conversation earlier today” on testing, he said during one panel. “How it is that the reform community gets to a position of wanting to throw it out as opposed to improve it? I don’t know, I don’t get it.”

Oh, honey. First, let's pause to note for the bazillionth time the irony of reformsters saying things that public ed supporters used to say all the time (how many times have we asked why it was necessary to trash and replace public schools rather than fixing them). Second, some in the reformy community want to throw them out because they've finally begun to understand that the tests don't do what anybody ever said they were going to do (and they never will). But more importantly, a whole bunch of folks in the reform community have decided to cash in on the Next Big Thing, which is education delivered via computer using mass customization, marketed as personalization (and which will set the stage for the Next Next Big Thing).

This is what happens when your ed reform movement is powered, not by education professionals making educational judgments based on their professional expertise, but by educational amateurs who are not knowledgeable about education, but who are adept at attracting piles of money. This is what happens when you unleash market forces in the education world. This is what happens when the people behind the curtain aren't saying "This would really help students" but are instead saying "We can make a buttload of money with this." Until the Next Big Thing. The Big Standardized Test is now the Last Big Thing. It doesn't work well enough to present expanding possibilities, and people who actually care about education want it gone.

This shift isn't going to happen overnight. Testing has put down deep roots, particularly in the way that test scores have been widely accepted as a proxy for school and teacher effectiveness. For people who want simple answers, test scores are about as clear and simple as they come (never mind whether they're accurate). Testing is cemented in education law. But then, ESSA opened the door wide for proficiency competency based algorithm driven mass personalized education customization. Damn-- I hope somebody comes up with a good name for this monstrosity slouching toward the classroom before it's all the way here.

Six Reasons Not To Get Excited About New SAT Scores

A few weeks ago the big--well, not big, medium-sized, maybe--news came from the College Board, which announced that both participation and scores are up, as well as the percentage of college-ready students. Here's why you can comfortably not care.

It's 8 Points

The average score "jumped" from 1060 to 1068. That's 0.7%. If your child retook the test in hopes of a higher score, and that's all they squeaked out, nobody would be trading high fives.

A great job-- but will the SAT tell you if you're ready?

It's An Average (And It's Not News)

If Michael Jordan comes to stay with my family, the average number of points scored in an NBA game goes up dramatically for my household. Nevertheless, the number of points I've scored in an NBA game remains zero.

In fact, the SAT score has always been subject to the make-up of the group taking the test. For years, while folks were chicken littling about dropping SAT scores, what was actually happening was that more and more low-scoring students were taking the test. Meanwhile, each sub-group was actually improving their scores, even as the low-growing sub-groups increased in number. Averages are a lousy way to measure how students are doing.
Participation Numbers Are Coerced

Over the past two years, several states have phased in a requirement that every student (usually in the junior year) must take the SAT. Right now, fifteen states require it, while a few others push it as an alternative. This has been a huge coup for the College Board, which is fighting to keep its market share. It's equivalent of having a state declare that all state employees must drive a Ford as their personal vehicle.
It also means that an increase in participation numbers doesn't mean that individual students are flocking to take the SAT of their own free will.

The College Board Has No Idea Who's College Ready

The increase in students who have hit the benchmarks is not exactly awe-inspiring-- from 46% to 47%. But the benchmarks themselves are not exactly Gospel. Here's the College Board explaining benchmarks while simultaneously demonstrating their command of passive voice:

Students are considered college- and career-ready when their SAT section scores meet both the Math and the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing benchmarks.

Are considered college- and career- ready by whom, exactly? Based on what? Will the guy who's hiring welders say, "Your SAT verbal is really solid, so that's good enough for me"? Will the college theater department say, "You've got good SAT math scores, so you clearly have a future studying acting"?

The college board admits that college readiness is a continuum, not a solid cut-off line. They also advise that no student should be discouraged from attending college based on SAT scores. The language suggests that the benchmarks aren't so much based on an understanding of what math and reading skills are needed for college- and career-readiness, but are more of a number-crunching exercise based on previous testees: "
Students with an SAT Math section score that meets or exceeds the benchmark have a 75 percent chance of earning at least a C in first-semester, credit-bearing college courses in algebra, statistics, pre-calculus, or calculus." These sorts of studies have been conducted in the past, but that means the benchmarks are always looking backwards. 
The Gains Should Be Bigger
In 2012, hot off his stint as co-creator the Common Core, David Coleman was hired to run the College Board. His immediate goal was to redesign the SAT, making it more Core-aligned. Having rewritten the standards for schools across the country, he now set out to create a new SAT that would more closely fit what those standards were producing. So the test prep that was taking over classrooms throughout the US should also have been test prep for the SAT. Scores should have climbed through the roof.
The College Board initially made some noises about the new SAT being impervious to test prep, but that tune has changed.
The SAT Measures SAT Test Prep
Both this year and last, we've been told that the free Khan Academy tutorials have boosted SAT scored tremendously. The point is supposed to be that getting coached to a good SAT score is no longer a privilege of the rich, but is available for free to anyone (with an internet connection). The boosters are so excited about the Free To Everyone point that they seem to miss the other part of what they're saying-- the SAT measures how well the student has been coached to take the SAT. We could talk about the ways that the test favors students from a particular socio-economic background, but in many ways that's part of the same point-- the SAT measures SAT-taking skills.
The SAT is still scrambling to avoid sinking into irrelevance, while colleges and universities increasingly drop the SAT requirement for admission and research continues to show high school GPA a better predictor of college success. Today's news may give them a helpful boost, but there's no need to organize a parade just yet.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

ICYMI: Armistice Day Edition (11/11)

Some reading from this week. Remember to share what you find interesting.

Five Myths About Pay for Success

Yet another method for Wall Street to undermine education in order to make a buck.

How Canada Became an Education Superpower

As always, I'll dispute the metrics used, but still an interesting look at how Canada handles education.

The Truth About Charters College Acceptance Rates

An op-ed from the El Paso Times explains why folks should hesitate to be impressed by charters that claim all their grads go to college.

Not Just Philanthropy

How the philanthropists who back ed reform consider political contributions an important part of their strategy (or maybe vice versa).

The Backlash Against Screen Time at School  

The headline is completely misleading, but this article provides another nice follow up on the silicon valley wonderschool, AltSchool.

Why I Dread Returning To American Public School  

She's coming back from Germany, where families pay a little more, and get a lot more.

The Long Record of Voter Rejection of Vouchers  

A great compendium by Edd Doerr of all the times voters have said no to vouchers.

Bill Gates Throws More Money Around     

The TFA-er founded Educators For Excellence is just another reformster astro-turf shell game-- but Gates is shoveling money at them.

Why Don't People Vote for Public Education?

Nancy Flanagan addresses one of those great modern mysteries.

Grit Is Sh!t     

A look at how grit becomes an excuse to avoid helping students who need the assistance.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Was GOP Defeated For Not Being Reformy Enough

You can say many things about Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform (CER), but you can't say that she's not seriously devoted to the cause of privatizing education through charters, vouchers, and any other reformy tools you care to mention. And while folks have many theories about why, exactly, the Democrats took control of the House, Allen has her own theory--

They weren't reformy enough.

Her theory ran in the Washington Examiner, and it reads like a dispatch from an alternate dimension. But, she says, she has proof. Well, then- proceed. Let's learn a little more about the business of selling reform.

Allen has conducted hundreds of meetings in the 115th Congress with "members, staff and anyone seemingly with authority," so I suppose we could also call her a lobbyist for reforminess. She says she has had three goals "embraced in principle by the majority party and some in the minority."

This is, in fact, one technique for selling reform-- cloak your product in an appealing principle. Over the past few decades, we've had a parade of reformster ideas that sound great in principle-- it's only when people have had to face the specifics that they've noticed how bad the ideas are. No Child Left Behind sounds noble. Common Core sounds swell. Nowadays, competency based education and personalized learning sound like super ideas. Until you have to deal with how, exactly, these things look on the ground. Reformsters understand this-- the personalized learning folks figured out right away that they needed to downplay the "plunk your kid in front of a computer screen" side of the biz. And here comes an excellent example from Allen.

This is "education goal" number one:

The least controversial is the idea that infrastructure dollars, once moving as a package, should include incentives for rural communities to complete or expand their digital footprint. To get additional funds, schools and districts would be required to adopt innovative approaches to delivering education, even if the instructor lives outside the district, the state, or the country.

Doesn't that sound more appealing than "bribe rural districts to promote cyber schools"?

Her second goal is, in fact, to promote competency based and personalized education, two ideas that sound great. Hell, they've always sounded great, because while their fans want to promote them as a hot new idea, there is nothing hot or new about them-- unless you add computers. Allen beats the drum about the old factory model, which remains baloney.

Her third idea is "private-sector-funded education, workforce, and apprenticeship scholarships," building on the reformy idea that for certain people, education is really just supposed to be vocational prep. Students should learn about how best to serve employers. Oh, and she folds this in with a tax credit-- contribute to a program that will focus on producing meat widgets for your business and you can get out of paying taxes to support schools for everybody else.

She even had a bill for that last one-- HR 5153, sponsored by good old Lloyd Smucker-- and its purpose was simple--

To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow a credit against tax for charitable donations to nonprofit organizations providing workforce training and education scholarships to qualified elementary and secondary students.

Look carefully. Buried beneath under all the rhetoric about workforce training is a federal voucher bill.

Allen says she knows just hundreds of people who supported this idea. Well, yes-- so do I, and Allen must have felt hopeful because Ed Secretary Betsy DeVos is one of them. It's great-- defund public education and funnel money to vouchers all at the same time. But Allen complains here that while lots of people would talk to her, at the end of the day, the House wouldn't get off its ass and actually do anything. She heard lots of recommendations, but nothing happened. Perhaps House members are aware that voucher bills are not particularly popular with the voters.

Now Allen slips all the way into an alternate universe. She says that education was the Number 2 issue in this election. Really? She doesn't offer any source for that, and I don't imagine she could, because while grass roots folks elevated the issue in several specific states, mostly (as always) nobody cared all that much about education. Allen calls the 155th Congress "the most disinterested I've ever seen" which I don't disagree with, but she also calls Paul Ryan a "veteran education reform advocate." No, can't say I've seen any evidence of that, other than his desire to strip as many functions away from elected government as possible, which does dovetail nicely with the privatization of education. She contrasts the 115th with the halcyon days when Newt Gingrich reformified DC schools and President Clinton embraced charters and John Boehner focused on building up education (did that happen? really?)

Because (here comes her point) the GOP failed to realize that the public wants ed reform.

Her further evidence is that some anti-public ed governors won. She also notes that those loud protests against privatization were "fanned by the teachers' unions" (Allen really hates the teachers' unions) and that "red for ed" is "now all but dead." Allen skips mentioning the successful Arizona campaign that led to a resounding rejection of super-vouchers in that state. Also, the unions are "licking their wounds" from Janus, though I can tell you this-- unions were braced for the loss of many members after Janus and have been surprised to see that losses haven't been as bad as they expected. So, not so bad on the wounds, there.

Allen tosses up some other carefully chosen races as "evidence," and dismisses losses like Scott Walker's spanking as a problem with "weak candidates." Any race that fits her theory is evidence; any race that does not is the result of something else. It's a combination of cherry-picking, spurious correlations, and starting from a false premise.

But her message is as clear as it is false-- anybody who wants to win an election has to stand up for reformsters and privatization. In a sense, I agree with her. I encourage any candidates who are solidly behind the move to privatize public education, to waste tax dollars on unaccountable voucher programs, and to replace teachers with computer screens-- please campaign on those things loudly and clearly so that the voters can understand just what a bad idea it would be to vote for you.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Toolkit for Teacher and Student Privacy

Data is the new oil, and we are confronted almost daily with stories of folks trying to drill the next high-producing well. Retailers trade loyalty card perks for customer data. Social media trade connectivity for personal data-- tons of it. And schools provide a rich opportunity to trade educational programs and assistance for a rich deposit of data in students (and teachers) who may not even be aware that Big Data is gathering data points by the bushel from their simplest activities. Industry leading Summit Learning, a charter school group that has placed their software and materials in over 300 public schools, has admitted that they share the data they gather with 18 "partners." The practice is not new; generations of test takers filled out the personal information pages with the PSAT; in 2013, the College Board and ACT were sued over the practice of selling student information. The process has just been accelerated by technology. Whatever you're doing, if you're doing it on a computer, you're leaving a data trail.

More erosions of privacy occur daily. One of the items that sent West Virginia teachers out on strike last year was a rule that all teachers would carry a device that monitored their movement and activity. Last year saw incidents of a hacker group holding school district data hostage, and backing up their demands by sending threatening emails to parents.

Not everyone fully grasps what's happening, and even then, many are unsure what to do about it. To fill those gaps, the Badass Teachers Association and the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy have issued the Educator Toolkit for Teacher and Student Privacy. (Disclosure: I did a small bit of advisory work on the project.)

The toolkit explains, in frightening detail, why teacher and student data is vulnerable, including, in both cases, the fact that ownership of the data is not always clear. There is a full chapter laying out the pertinent privacy laws as they currently stand (if you think you know FERPA, you may be unaware of the loopholes that have been added over the past decade). Is that data wall in your child's classroom legal? Probably not. If the teacher wants to use a free app to monitor student behavior and communicate with families, is that okay? The answer turns out to be complicated. And what are the rules for that survey that the school just handed out to all students? The laws have become complex, and most parents and teachers did not go to law school. The toolkit provides some simple guidance.

Educators are being pitched all manner of educational technology these days. Some are meant to help educate students. Some are meant to mine students for data. Some are meant to do both. Schools need to be doing their homework before adopting, and the toolkit lays out the questions that should be asked. In particular, schools need to be wary of black box algorithms, programs that use super-secret proprietary software to make educational decisions. If a human walked into your classroom and said, "Those three students should be in the advanced group, but I won't tell you how I decided that," you would show that human the door. Software is no different. And if any vendor answers teacher requests for transparency with some version of, "My ability to make money is more important than your ability to do your job," the teacher has learned some valuable information about that vendor.

The toolkit offers ten teacher rules for using social media (or not). The kit also provides practical tips for protecting privacy, and for advocating for better protections for all. And as an extra treat, an appendix shows the results of a survey given to teachers about technology in their schools. Almost half of those responding said their school uses an online app or program to track student behavior. And well over half reported that their school requires them to use certain computer based programs and materials. That "requires" can become aggressive, as witnessed by a Florida teacher whose set of favorite textbooks was taken from her room by her principal in order to force her to use the district's new digitized textbook.

We're just beginning to see where all this data mining can lead, particularly when the various sources are combined. Students can have their careers picked for them by graduation. Employers can order up very specific employees ("I want a person who never argued with authority in school, is good at algebra, has no family history of major illness, and whose social media shows them to be stable and quiet"). The data itself, and the people who generate it, can even become a commodity that investors can bet on and make money by manipulating.

The toolkit certainly doesn't have all the answers, but if you are a teacher or a parent, particularly one who's just starting to realize there's something to worry about in our new data era, this is a good place to start. The toolkit was supported by grants from the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment, the American Federation of Teachers, and the NEA Foundation, and you can access a copy right here on line.\

Originally posted at Forbes

Reformsters vs. Democracy

Many of us have said that one aspect of school reform is not simply about fixing schools, but is an attack on democracy itself.

Occasionally a leading reformster will just come right out and say it. Reed Hastings (Netflix) has been exceptionally clear that the whole elected school board thing has just got to go. Visionary CEOs shouldn't have to answer to anybody-- not employees, not unions, and not voters. Mayoral control has been a popular method for cutting elected school boards out of the loop.

Now Reformsters have spoken plainly in Arizona. Out in Koch country, the attempt to expand education savings accounts, a form of super-voucher, was thwarted by Save Our Schools Arizona, a true grassroots group that forced the ESA question to be decided by the voters. The voters hated ESAs by a two to one margin.

Did ESA hackers say, "Well, the people have spoken"?

Of course not.

“Empowerment Scholarship Accounts help families create a custom educational experience— one as unique as each child. Unfortunately, school choice opponents were successful in denying this option to all Arizona families, regardless of income,” Goldwater Institute President Victor Riches said in the statement.

“Across the country, ESAs have garnered the support of Republicans and Democrats alike because they provide a commonsense way for families to help pay tuition, provide tutoring, and purchase the tools they need to give their students the best chance at success in school and down the road.”

Well, no. Unless by "school choice opponents" he means "two thirds of the voters." ESAs have "garnered" support of some politicians in six states (and one, Nevada, created a program and then refused to fund it).

The voters of Arizona have been remarkably clear in rejecting the expansion of a system that already proved to be rife with unaccountable wastage of taxpayer money. The elected officials of Arizona, including their aggressively pro-privatization governor, can either listen to the voters, or they can listen to the deep-pocketed Reformsters. They can show themselves to be elected officials in a democracy, or the bought-and-paid-for hirelings of wealthy oligarchs.

Here's hoping they choose democracy.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

USED Uninterested in Rural Ed

Buried in Section 5005 of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is this fun requirement:

review the organization, structure, and process and procedures of the Department of Education for administering its programs and developing policy and regulations, in order to—

(A) assess the methods and manner through which, and the extent to which, the Department of Education takes into account, considers input from, and addresses the unique needs and characteristics of rural schools and rural local educational agencies; and

(B) determine actions that the Department of Education can take to meaningfully increase the consideration and participation of rural schools and rural local educational agencies in the development and execution of the processes, procedures, policies, and regulations of the Department of Education.

Yes, the law requires a report be reported, and the department has by-God done it. And anyone who thinks that the department under Betsy DeVos has lost the ability to crank out useless bureaucratic argle bargle will be relieved to know that the current USED can waste everybody's time as well as ever.

The report is fifty pages long, and I've read it so that you don't have to. Here's a trip down the bureaucratic baloney-hole. It's not short, but I recommend you stick around for the twist.

The Cover

A badly laid out spread of four photos-- a tractor, a railroad crossing sign, some windmills, and a sad looking computer lab, all on a background of blue sky. Taken together they suggest that one feature of rural life is that it is poorly photographed.


One page. It says, "Here's the part of the law saying to make a report. We made a report. This is that report."

The Department's Self-Assessment

This is not, as you might assume, an actual assessment of how well all or part of the department functions, but is a description of what the department is, how it is organized, and how it gives out money. It's a somewhat hilarious use of the word "assessment" by the department. If teachers were assessed this way, your assessment would be something like, "Mrs. McTeachalot is a human female who was hired to teach fifth grade at Boisonberry Elementary. She went to college and earned certification. On most days she teaches reading. She uses a textbook and sometimes gives homework on paper."

The Department's Efforts To Solicit and Incorporate Input From and Address the Needs of Rural Local Education Agencies

That's the real heading. Never look to government agencies for poetry. So starting in 2016, the department did some outreach.

This outreach was designed to (1) determine the main issues facing rural schools and LEAs; (2) gauge the Department’s efforts to solicit and incorporate input to address the needs of rural stakeholders, schools, and LEAs; and (3) gather ideas for ways the Department can enhance how it solicits and incorporates input from rural stakeholders.

There were, allegedly, listening sessions. And here's what may qualify as real news in this report:

In addition to the listening sessions, the secretary and senior staff regularly meet with stakeholders to discuss relevant issues and ensure that policy decisions are informed by stakeholder concerns.

Yes, Betsy DeVos s famous for how much time she spends out in the field visiting schools. Why, in the first sixteen months in office she visited 42 US schools. According to this report, those visits were "frequently" with rural stakeholders, like that time she visited a school in Wyoming. Virtual and phone interactions are part of the deal, too. The report does not address the question of who, exactly, is a stakeholder in the DeVosian concept of a privatized free market education world.

The department also "frequently" engages with rural stakeholders with gatherings and webinars, and staff "regularly attend conferences of organizations involved in rural education." They also "host rural stakeholders who are attending conferences in or visiting the Washington DC area." And don't forget the School Ambassadors Fellowship program, which brings a "cadre of outstanding teachers, counselors, and principals" to the department-- in "almost every year of the program," one of those guys was rural. Does it seem as if we are really grasping here?

But if you are among the rural stakeholders who's been privileged to be in a listening session, you'll be pleased to know that "various" sessions "inform discussions" about USED policies, procedures, processes, etc so that the needs of rural stakeholders are "meaningfully considered."

USED also conducts "significant research on rural issues," like twelve studies in current set of contracts has to do with issues that have to do with rural schools.

The State of Rural Education and Its Challenges

So here are some things that they figured out with all that research and listening that was going on.

28% of US public schools are in rural areas, serving 19% of the nation's students (according to the National Center on Education Statistics). Rural students do better on some parts of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and not on others. Everyone, city and rural, seems to be about the same in 12th grade.

Hey-- this one is actually kind of interesting. Rural adults over 25 have a higher percentage of high school grads than cities and suburbs, but a lower percentage of Bachelor's degree.

Poor rural schools face many of the same problems as poor urban schools, but remoteness and tininess can make matters worse. Rural districts also don't have cool things like people who can manage the complicated business of writing grants. And there's the whole lack of internet thing. No argument there-- there are still parts of my home district where the internet doesn't go.

Additional challenges: transportation issues related to distance, fewer careers and apprenticeship options, attracting and retaining teachers and administrators, a wildly fluctuating tax base, less ability to offer advanced courses. All reasonably accurate, though I think rural districts have a lot to teach about how to grow your own teachers and administrators.

I will give the report's authors five bonus points and some fat font for this next insight:

Adding to these challenges is the reality that each rural community is distinct.

They get into specifics, which are all good, but this point is huge. Nobody thinks that living and working in Los Angeles is exactly like living and working in New York City, or like any other major urban area. Everyone gets that each big city is distinctly unique.

But everyone who lives and works in a small town or rural area can tell you stories about someone who breezed in from out of town and figured that because he was Kind of Big Deal in a large city, there wasn't anything he needed to learn before he ran his shtick in a small pond. Every place is different from every other place; that does not change when you get below a certain threshold of largeness. It is one more reason that the search for education reforms that can be scaled up infinitely (aka "one size fits all") is a fool's errand. And (while I'm ranting) the reason that a free market driven education system is Very Bad News for rural communities is that the market there is too small to make it financially attractive to education flavored businesses. Maybe you can make it in New York City, but that doesn't mean you can make it here, where the learning curve may be just as steep, but the potential customer pool is too small to allow for mistakes. A big city charter can watch a veritable parade of parents voting with their feet right out the door, and that charter doesn't have to care because given the vast pool of families (and schools have a "customer base" that is constantly self-renewing) to replace the bipedal defectors.

For just one paragraph, the department is smart enough to understand at least a tiny part of this.

"Rural" is not a monolith but a compilation of thousands of unique communities and circumstances.

Incorporating Input

USED has been trying to up its rural game, by creating another level of bureaucracy. Within the Office of Communication and Outreach (OCO) we will now find the Office of Rural and Community Engagement (it replaces the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach), which gets the delightful title ORCE. I will leave Betsy DeVos alone for a full month if she instructs the person who answers the phone for that office to say, "Hello. The ORCE is with you." Unfortunately, that seems out of line with the rest of its notably unwhimsical mission:

This office focuses on expanding interaction and engagement with rural LEAs, schools, and communities. ORCE supports the Department’s efforts to ensure greater internal and external awareness of rural education needs and contributes to the internal deliberations on policy development, communications, and technical assistance that impact rural education.

Also, the secretary served on some task forces that were sort of related to rural educationny things.

Addressing the Unique Needs

The staff wants to make sure that rural folks are "considered" and that rural LEAs are aware of programs and grants.

There are intra-agency efforts! Websites! Working groups! Meetings! Programs! Grants! Acronyms! REAP! SRSA! A community of practice! Email blasts! Language that looks like English, but only sort of: "The Department strives to maximize its outreach to eligible entities." There is also interagency coordination!

Actions the Department Can Take to Increase Rural Stakeholder Input

We start the list of things the department can do by listing things it is already doing, including things that have already been listed in this report. One begins to suspect that somebody at the department was told, "This damn thing had better be at least fifty pages long!" So there's the ORCE thing, and DeVos serving on task forces, and some grant stuff. The grant stuff actually gets into details, such as how the word "rural" has been included in some of the items on DeVos's priority list. Specifically:

* Increase access to choice. This, of course, requires some business types to decide that they want to try to operate a charter/voucher school in a place that only has a few hundred students to begin with.

* More computer science stuff.

* More computer tech (because it's magical).

* Creatively giving more students access to "effective educators" and/or effective principals.

That covers things the department is also allegedly doing. Additional things they could do...?

* Create an intra-agency work group, led by ORCE. It could meet regularly and collect information from the rural stakeholders, as well as other parts of the department that might discover useful info when they trip over some rural folks. Oh, and it could run more listening sessions. I don't mean to make fun of these-- listening would be great. But listening has not exactly been a hallmark of the DeVos department so far.

* But we want to expand them. More rural listening. By many methods, with many people. ORCE will coordinate.

* Look for ways to simplify the grant process. Maybe fix it so they can be handled by ordinary human beings.

* Provide appropriate training for rural LEAs to navigate the grant process. Webinars. Videos. Also, putting things on a website is not helpful for people with lousy internet.

* Explore options for working with other agencies and commissions. Because working together in harmony and cooperation is a hallmark of the Trump administration, and because Betsy DeVos is know for her cooperative nature. But hey-- one task force that she served on (Agriculture and Rural Prosperity Task Force) had sine action items that were definitely USED stuff and she could--oh, wait. That report came out in January. Maybe "action" is too strong a word.

* Comprehensive communication plan. We could, you know, tell rural districts stuff, and have a rural ed page on the department website.

* NCES is working on a special "status and trends" report for rural schools. That will be nifty.


There are many rural students. The department totally intends to care about them.


The conclusion actually only got us to page 22. The rest is appendices, but-- no! no! stay with me. There's some useful stuff here.

For instance, Appendix B is a "sample of listening sessions conducted before the preliminary version of this report was issued. What's interesting? Let me break down the sequence.

2016 (February to October): 20 sessions (several virtual ones)
2016 (November): Trump elected.
2017 (February): DeVos confirmed
2017: (April to July): 5 sessions
2018: Preliminary version released

I have a gut feeling that DeVos doesn't really have her heart in this. Just saying.

So, About ORCE and this report

Some folks were not happy about the creation of ORCE. AASA, the School Superintendents Association sent a five-page letter back in February arguing that both ORCE and the office it replaced were essentially toothless, attached to the Office of Communication and Outreach which, they argued, has no actually policy function and can't really "effectively weigh in" on anything having to do with rural ed (Also, nobody appears to be in charge of the OCO at the moment, and its page, untouched for a year and a half, doesn't mention ORCE)

Also, they noticed in looking at the preliminary version of the report, that the report doesn't actually say anything about anything, nor does it indicate any plans to do something useful for rural schools. The report talks a lot about listening, but neither this document nor any other from the department talks about what the listeners actually heard.

The superintendents also note that some of the recommendations of the task force report run counter to what the Trump administration is doing. Getting broadband to schools doesn't fit with proposing to cut E-rate. Improving health care in rural areas doesn't fit with gutting Medicaid.

The superintendents provide a hefty to-do list and, finally, express frustration that this report was supposed to be done two years after the enactment of ESSA (which may explain why much of it reads like a bad book report by someone who hasn't read the book).  Their letter ends with some masterful teacher scolding:

It was our sincere hope, with an additional six months, the department would have been successful in releasing  a draft report for public comment that is detailed, accountable, and outcomes‐based, and outlined an action  item framework that USED was tasked by Congress to propose, including a pathway for implementation.  The  preliminary report, as drafted, falls short of this goal and remains an incomplete work.  We urge USED to review  thoroughly all public comments, incorporate them the final report, and announce a date when the final report  will be submitted to Congress.   

Urging aside, none of that happened.

And For a Final Giant Red Flag

The head of ORCE is a guy named Michael Chamberlain, and he was not easy to locate. Pictures are few, but there's this one  

Which helped me match him up with this guy--

Wait a minute! Las Vegas?

Well, yes. Meet the head of ORCE, formerly a communications consultant, formerly an editor/writer for the conservative Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, and the Nevada Communications Director for Donald J. Trump for President. Also consulting, communications and, way back in the day, an estimator for a Roof Consulting company.

I think we can safely say that this report is not a game changer as much as a time and money waster, and that rural schools that have been waiting for help from powerful DC educrats should probably stop waiting. On the other, if your school has roofing issues, I may know a guy.