Thursday, May 31, 2018

Always

We use the word "always" a great deal, and we're frequently wrong.

We say "we always eat chickpeas at Christmas" or "we always eat cheese for breakfast" or "we always set our keys on the ottoman." None of that is true, because as human beings, we don't "always" do anything. We are finite beings, and everything we do, we do a finite number of times. When you say, "We always did X when we were kids," you're really stretching things, because you weren't a kid for very long, and everything you did, you did a very countable number of times.

That may be why "always" is so easily used in school. Here's the transformation of a program or practice in school:

1st year: That crazy new thing we're trying.
2nd year: That new thing we did last year.
3rd year: That thing we usually do.
4th year: This thing is pretty much a tradition.
5th year: We have always done it this way forever.

As the Designated Old Fart in my building, this was one of my basic functions-- you tell me the traditional way we do some thing, and I'll tell you when we started doing it and why that seemed like a good idea at the time. That's the kind of institutional knowledge you lose when DOFs like me retire.

I suspect there's a certain comfort in talking about things we always do; it's another one of the ways we paper over the limits of mortality. But we don't always do anything. Some things we barely do a few dozen times. But we haven't always done them, and at some point, we shall stop doing them.

So anyone who says that we have always done a certain thing a certain way in public schools is just full of it. There's a whole trash heap somewhere piled high with things we used to do and no longer bother with (I just came across an old lesson I used to teach on how to use the Readers Guide to Periodical Literature). Waiting to go onto that heap is another mountain of practices that we currently think are indispensable. That sits right next to the stack of things that we're doing this year because we did them last year.

It's not that I don't appreciate the value of history and tradition and the tests that only time can administer. Hell, shortly I'm going to leave to play in a concert with a 162-year-old town band. But we have to be careful that we don't allow the shine of past practice to hide a hollowness, and because that shine fools lots of folks, we have to be careful about what we let acquire it.

This is one of my criticism of charter schools-- by trying to claim the mantle of "public" schools, they are trying to appropriate the shine and glamour of a tradition that they are not part of.  Better they should just admit that they are something else and sink or swim on their merits.

And this is one of my criticisms of public schools-- that we too often get caught up in comfortable ruts.

It's important to remember that time is fleeting and fleeing. Our students may talk about what they always do, but whether we're talking final exams or asking a person to prom or celebrating the first day of school, our high school students only do those things four time. Four times! Each one a bit different. Each one unique.

The other problem with "always" is that it lulls us into believing that we have a million chances to do some things, to get some things right. Since this is always happening in an unbroken string that leads over the horizon, we have plenty of chances to get it right the next time, or even just pay attention the next time. We don't. This thing won't always happen. In fact, as far as you know, it may have just happened for the very last time (which is not always a bad thing).

I'm not suggesting that we should load students down with the heavy knowledge of their terrible mortality (though if you don't think some aren't already carrying that weight, you aren't paying attention). But if we carried that weight a bit for mindfully ourselves, perhaps we would be less inclined to waste their time (or ours), and we might better model an appreciation for life that would color their own.

Every day, every moment, one thing is certain-- we won't always be here, in this place, with these people, doing this work, walking through these moments. None of it will always be here. Breathe, Pay attention.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

PA: Pushing Super Vouchers Again

Some Pennsylvania legislators are bound and determined to sell vouchers to the state-- and not just regular vouchers, but super-duper awesome vouchers, complete with poison pill for public schools.

Wait? Isn't This Old News

Well, yes, it kind of is. The bill is SB 2, Education Savings Accounts for Underperforming Schools, and it has been trapped in the legislature's (Anti-)Education committee for a while. It was up for a vote last October when it was still a terrible idea, but it failed, once again, to get out of committee.

But you know the old saying-- when life gives you lemons, trade them for pop-tarts. Erie County GOP Senator Dan Laughlin has been a staunch opponent of the bill and the one vote that kept SB 2 from making it out of commitee; this is not surprising, has Erie public schools are a good case study in how school choice and bad policy can gut a public school system. But in December, Laughlin switched to the Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee, and he was replaced by GOP Senator Rich Alloway.

Alloway is his own kind of special. Recently he came out in favor Armed Volunteer Civilian Militias to "harden" schools and prevent shootings. Because any shmoe off the street who wants to walk around schools with a gun will be a big help.

Oh-- and Alloway is one of the co-sponsors or SB 2. Which explains why it has now made it out of committee and will come before the Pennsylvania senate in the not-too-distant future.

What's Super-Duper About It?

Vouchers are a policy idea that will not die; let's just give every student a check and let them enroll at whatever school they want to (and let's not talk about the fact that they don't really get to decide because top private schools are expensive and all private schools are free to accept students or not for whatever reason).

But many reformsters see another end game. Why bother with school at all? Let students purchase an English class from one vendor and a math class from another. Get history lessons on line paid for by your educational voucher card account.

ESAs make that splintered version of "education" possible. Instead of saying, "Here's a tuition voucher to pay your way to the school of your choice," the state says, "Here's a card pre-loaded with your education account money. Spend your special edu-bucks however you want to."

What Exactly Is In The Bill?

SB 2 is a measly sixteen pages; I'll read it so you don't have to, but you could read it yourself easily enough. There has been some fiddling with the bill since it first shambled into the light of day, and most of the fiddling is not major stuff. But here are some highlights.

Some Fun Definition Stuff

I always enjoy the definitions portion of bills. Okay, not really, but it's an interesting place to see some assumptions laid out.

For instance, "low achieving public school" is a school that ranks in the lower 15% of PA schools. This is great for voucher fans, because even if every school in Pennsylvania was super-awesome, there would still be a lower 15%.

Incidentally, that 15% is measured now not on the annual assessment, but on the annual state achievement test-- which means we now have a new definition of what the PSSA and Keystones are supposed to be (spoiler alert-- they aren't really achievement tests). The law also allows other tests that the state may later foist on schools will count.

The bill also specifies that the lower 15% of public schools will not include charter schools, cyber-charters, or vocational technical schools. That's important for reformsters because just one page later, the definition of "public school" is "a school district, charter school, cyber charter school, regional charter school, intermediate unit or a vocational-technical school." In other words, the law enshrines what we've seen frequently with charters-- they are public schools when it suits them to be, and not
public schools when it suits them not to be.

Who Can Play

One of the problems with many voucher systems is that they funnel tax dollars to private schools via students who were never in the public system to begin with. In other words, vouchers could bed law on Tuesday and on Wednesday, millions of dollars would be sucked out of public school systems without the movement of a single student. Every student who was already in private school anyway would suddenly get a state subsidy.

The newest version of the bill tries to clamp down on that a bit. Previously your child was not eligible for an ESA unless they had spent at least one semester in public school ever. Now that student must spend at least a semester in public school "preceding the establishment of an education savings account."

One fun detail-- once you are in the ESA system, it follows you wherever you go. If you move to a new district area, you still get your edu-bucks, only now they're taken from a school that wasn't even "failing." As I read it, this has two troubling implications. Imagine these scenarios.

Pat attended a "failing" elementary school, so Pat's family signed up for edu-bucks (which came out of the "failing" school's budget. When Pat grew up, it was time to go to the district middle school-- which was NOT failing. But they will still lose the money associated with Pat, who can continue to grab vouchers.

Wobblebog High had a bad couple of test years and lost a few dozen students (and a half million dollars) to some cyber charters and other edu-scammers. Now WH has turned itself around. But it doesn't matter. Those few dozen students get to stay in the voucher system, and WH still has to contend with the hole in their budget.

What You Can Spend Your Edu-bucks On

This hasn't changed. Edu-bucks can be spent on

1) Tuition and fees charged by any school

2) Textbooks or uniforms. Do I suddenly sense many private schools getting interested in uniforms?

3) Fees for tutoring or "other teaching services."

4) Fees to take a "nationally norm-referenced test." So edu-bucks for SAT.

5) Fees for purchasing a curriculum or instructional materials required to administer same. So edu-bucks can finance your homeschooling. Or your cyber-math class.

6) Special services for students with special needs. I have a bad feeling about this. "Too bad if your child isn't getting necessary and mandated services-- we gave you a voucher and if you screwed it up, well, we've done our part. You're on your own."

7) Other valid educational expenses approved by the department. So, you know, depending on the department's occupants, pretty much whatever.

A Few Guardrails, Sort Of

There are some restrictions. A private school can't be caught giving kickbacks to parents, and they can't be caught charging voucher families more than they charge others.

And there's a whole section about audits and penalties if you get caught trying to game this system.

However, there are also specific requirements that the edu-bucks come with no strings attached. "No commonwealth agency may regulate the education program of a participating entity that accepts a payment from an education savings account..." The program does not "expand the regulatory authority of the State." So the state is specifically forbidden to hold edu-buck funded schools to the laws and regulations that govern public schools.

This has always been a huge problem with ESAs-- deliberate zero oversight. Your tax dollars could be funding a white supremacy curriculum or a flying spaghetti monster religious school and you would not know and the state would not say "Hey, wait a minute!" to the education provider.

In fact, no edu-buck accepting school or program can be required to alter their "creed, practices, admissions policy or curriculum to accept school age children " whose parents have edu-bucks in hand. In other words, as some of us keep saying, this is not a school choice program at all, because the choice ultimately rests with the school, which can reject your child for being the wrong race, the wrong religion, the wrong gender orientation, or for having special needs of any kind.

ESAs allow public dollars collected from taxpayers to be used to discriminate without restraint against some of those same taxpayers. That's not okay.

So The Problems Are...?

A lack of oversight. If a family decided to spend ESA money on an X-Box, is there any agency that would 1) notice they were doing it and 2) tell them not to? The amount of oversight required for such a program would be huge-- unless you just wanted to hand over all those taxpayer dollars and not make any attempt to check up on them.

Enshrining discrimination. The law is clear-- if you're running, say, a segregation academy, and you want to hoover up some of that sweet taxpayer cash, the government is expressly forbidden to tell you that you have to stop discriminating first. The same is true if you are running Flat Earth Elementary School-- no gummint agency is allowed to tell you that you have to shape up and stop teaching falsehoods if you want to get your taxpayer dollars.

No real choice. Even if you sincerely believe in the power of choice to improve education, this is not choice. Just because you have a fistful of edu-bucks, that doesn't mean that any school has to accept your student. Students will not choose schools; schools will choose students.

The primary beneficiaries will be people who were doing just fine. No poor families are going to get their children into Fancypants Prep with a voucher that pays only a fraction of the tuition costs.

The further destruction of public education. Yes, this will draw money away from the support of public education (you know-- the place where the vast majority of students go to get an education), and that financial gutting is bad. But ESAs also set the stage for the destruction of the very idea of school, replacing an important public institution with an assortment of vendors hawking various edu-flavored mini-competency badges.

And ESAs also set the stage for government abdicating its responsibility for providing a decent education for all students. Caveat emptor, baby-- we gave you a voucher and if somehow that didn't end up with a decent education for your kid because you were scammed or defrauded or just unable to navigate a confusing marketplace, well, hey, that's your problem. The state's responsibility ended when it handed you your stack of edu-bucks. Of course, in such a system, the wealthy will do just fine, secure on a cushion of their own wealth. It's the poor, with their tiny margin for economic error, who will suffer. But hey-- we gave them a voucher.

What To Do?

PA SB 2 is headed for the Senate floor in Harrisburg. You need to locate your senator and explain to him why this bill is a bad idea. Get your friends and neighbors to also explain. This really needs to not be a law. This is a bad idea; the assault on public education should bother progressives, and conservatives should be bothered by a bill that proposes using taxpayer dollars with no accountability in sight.

P.S. If someone is in agreement that this is a lousy idea for a law, you might note that Governor Tom Wolf has promised to veto it, and the Governor Wanna-be Scott Wagner is a co-sponsor.









Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Testing with Purpose

I've spent the last week buried in end-of-year exams, which for us came right on the heels of the Keystone Exams, Pennsylvania's version of the Common Core Big Standardized Tests. For me, it's a pretty blunt reminder of how tests are supposed to work, and how the BS Tests fail to meet that standard.

A good test is part of the learning process.

A good test does not require education to stop while we measure one thing or another. A good assessment, well-written and properly timed, helps the students bring their learning (so far) into some sort of crystallized relief. The learning process is like collecting a bunch of books and stacking them up in the center of the room and building some shelving on the wall. A good assessment consists of getting those books organized and neatly place on the shelves.

A good assessment involves applying the skills and knowledge acquired-- not rooting through stacks for some detail from some page. A good assessment is as close as possible to a real and authentic task. For instance, the best assessment of writing skills involves writing something-- not answering a bunch of multiple choice questions about made-up faux writing scenarios, or writing some faux essay so strictly formulated that all "correct" versions would be nearly identical.

The end goal for most courses involves thinking-- thinking about the content, thinking about the ways it fits together, thinking about the ways that the information can be organized and worked within that discipline. Thinking is the great in-measurable, but it is also the end goal of most courses, and so we end up back at writing as the closest possible authentic assessor of what we're really after. (Multiple choice tests almost never measure thinking, critical or otherwise.) And the best writing assessments are built to match the ebb and flow of the course itself.

In my 11th grade Honors English class, I assign two massive take-home essays every year. Because the literature portion of the course is organized around the study of American literature through five different literary periods and across an assortment of topics, a typical year's final might include "Trace one of the following topics through the five literary periods we studied, showing how each movement handled the topic and providing examples from works of the period" or "Pick a fairy tale and rewrite it five times, as it would be written by an author of each period we studied." But through student questions and curiosity and engagement and just the odd paths that we sometimes wander down, I have also given this question as a final essay: What is the meaning of life? Explain and discuss.

I don't object to all objective tests. In addition to my big honking essay tests, I give an in-class mostly matching test that requires the students to recognize works of literature from short clues ("his sister was dead, but she got better" = "Fall of the House of Usher") and even such pedestrian tasks as matching a work with its author. My goal, at a minimum, is to have them finish the year by thinking, "Damn, but I read a lot of stuff this year" and at a maximum to show that they have some rudimentary content under control. But even here, the clues that I give are based on how we discussed the work in class and not my own selection of some piddly detail.

In the end, I'd argue that no good assessment is divorced from the entire learning process that led up o it nor from the end goals and purposes of that unit for the student. The BS Tests are divorced from both. They have nothing to do with the organic natural flow of education in the classroom and were written with no knowledge of or regard for that group. Nor do they promise any sort of culminating learning activity for the students, but instead are intended to generate some sort of data for a disconnected third party.

It's as if a basketball team, after practicing for a month, didn't wrap up that work with an actual game, but instead took a multipole choice test about characteristics of basketballs, hoops, and shoes. It's as if a band or chorus, after rehearsing music for a month, did not put the final capstone of a performance on their learning, but instead sat down at computers to take a point-and-click test about the bore size of a trombone and the average range of sopranos.

A good final assessment is the icing on the cake, the lightbulb over the head, the victory lap around the track that has been mastered. The BS Tests are none of these things, but instead are a collection of pointless tasks doled out by faceless bean counters for purposes known only to far off bureaucrats. When students say that these tests are pointless (and they do, all the time), they aren't saying "this isn't even part of my grade" so much as they're saying, "this doesn't add anything to my education." When legislators say these tests are pointless (as they do every time they artificially attach stakes to them in an attempt to make them seem Important), they admit that they are wasting a lot of money and a huge amount of time.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

ICYMI: Primitive Blogging Edition

The only functioning device I have to my name is my phone (which won't hold a charge) and my work computer (which is, you know, at work). And it's finals time, and final grade time. In recognition of my outstanding whining, my wife has loaned me her laptop for a bit. My second try at a new functioning desktop is due this week; I don't know what I'm going to do about the tablet. Enough about my over-privileged first world problems-- I should be back to normal action soon. But in the meantime, here's some reading for you from tis week.

What They Said Before and What They Are Saying Now

Carol Buris takes a look at what some reformsters used to say about NAEP scores (you know-- the stagnant ones) and what they have to say now.

Letter From an Inner City Classroom

Another great piece from Jose Wilson

Discovering what other people are for

Nobody chronicles the detailed yet deep lives of littles like Seattle's Teacher Tom. Another great piece about a simple but profound moment.

TN Not Ready

Tennessee continues to be a sting disaster year after year. Mary Holden is there to chronicle the mess.

How being part of a house within a school helps students gain a sense of belonging

A cool idea explored here.

Five Basic Things DevOs Wouldn't or Couldn't Answer

The lowlights from DeVos's latest visit to the hill

Teacher Pay

Time magazine takes a look at how low pay is draining some of the best teachers out of the classroom

There is no dignity in teaching

This is an absolutely heartbreaking look at one teacher being eaten up by the systemm

Debunking the Nreoliberal Fantasy

Another writer catches on to the neoliberal baloney plaguing education.

DHS Loses 1500 Children

A deeply troubling story. Yes, we're dragging one-year-olds away from their parents. Yes, we are warehousing them in shameful conditions. Yes, we have lost some of them. And yes, we have handed some over to human traffickers. And yes-- we're claiming we aren't legally responsible. Time to call your Congressperson.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Legacy

I walked into this building as a seventh grader in 1969. I'll walk out of it as a retiree in less than two weeks.

You get asked a lot of questions when you retire, many of which have the unintended consequence of poking you right in the feels. (I'm definitely not  crying at least once a day, but if I did, I would at least manage to do it when I'm not in front of anybody.) Some are pretty basic (what are you going to do with that filing cabinet) and some dig a little deeper, like the comments about my legacy. Some folks have even offered to watch after my legacy, to preserve it, and I just don't have the heart to tell them that I have no legacy in this building.

I'm the longest-serving member of the current faculty, which means that I've seen a lot of people head out the door, and I know exactly what kind of mark they leave behind them.

Teachers are not billionaires or politicians. We don't generally get to build giant structures and slap our own names on them in hopes that some day we will leave a mark behind us. We don't generally get honored with statues and monuments, not even in a broad Tomb of the Unknown Teacher way, let alone as specific individuals. Nobody is out there carving his third grade teacher's face into the side of a mountain.

A teacher in a school is like a post driven deep into the bed of a river. The current bends around her; maybe it cuts into the bank and certainly it carries river traffic along paths affected by that post. Even the bed of the river will be cut and shaped by the current as it bends around that post. People even start to navigate by the post, as if it's a permanent part of the river.

But something happens when the post is one day removed.

Maybe folks are so impressed by the post that they put a special commemorative marker in place of the post. Maybe some big boulders rolled into place against the post and stay in place long after the post is gone, even when folks don't remember how they ended up there.

But mostly there's a momentary swirl of dirt, a quick rush of water and then, after a brief moment of time, the river bed is smooth again and the river flows as if there was never any post at all.

I don't imagine I will leave much of legacy here, and what little there is will be worn away over time, and that's okay. I do have a legacy, but to see it, you have to look downstream.

I figure that I've worked with, roughly, 5,000 students. Some of them are still carrying around bits of skill or knowledge that I passed on to them, or parts of their lives that grew out of something I passed on to them. They grew up to be living, breathing, growing, active men and women who worked at finding how to be their best selves, how to be fully human in the world. Undoubtedly some of those students didn't get much out of being in my class, and some have less-than-positive memories of me, but I have to believe that some got something out of their time in my room.

That's my legacy. People who felt just a little better about reading, or just a little better about riding. Here and there some students who actually pursued writing or teaching as careers. Some students who built a foundation of confidence in an activity. Some I hear from now and then, some I talk to regularly, and some whose lives took them far from here, and I have no idea how their stories have unfolded.

My legacy-- and every teacher's legacy-- is not here in this building. This building is just brick and mortar and rules and procedures and "traditions" that sometimes last less than a decade, all carried out by a constantly-changing cast of educators and students. Names and awards are created, but they carry on names even as the person whose name it is is forgotten. My legacy-- and every teacher's legacy-- is out in the world, in those students who passed through this building, and it's not for anyone to "preserve" because it has a life of its own-- as it should.

If I can switch metaphors for a moment-- as teachers, our job is to light a fire, to pass along a flame. Passing on a flame is a curious activity-- the new flame is not a piece of the old one, but its own new thing, with its own new life, even as the old fire continues to burn. Spreading a flame multiplies it, but the new flame is not shaped or controlled by the old one.

If I walk back into this building ten years from now, I don't imagine that I'll find anything to indicate that I was ever here. But, "God help and forgive me, I wanna build something that's gonna outlive me." Teaching has always let me do that-- but not here, not in this building. Not in this stiff structure of unliving steel and stone. Out there in the world, where the water carries us to the sea, new fires spring up to illuminate the world, and human beings full of life and breath roam and grow. If we're going to have a legacy, that's where it will be.



Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Betsy DeVos Does Not Owe You a Damned Explanation

There are so many moments from the nearly four hours that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos spent chatting with some Congresspersons today, but as a dedicated DeVos watcher, this three minute clip is captivating:



God bless Bobby Scott for not actually throwing something at her.

But I think Splinter (the only place I could find this clip (if for some reason you can't play it, here's a good recap) has made a  critical mistake which perpetuates a mistake people keep making.

I'm having so much fun. It's like teasing a cat with a laser pointer.

It is easy to watch DeVos robotically repeat variations on "If follows the law" and imagine that she is just being obtuse or maybe trying to hide ignorance, but as I have said repeatedly, I do not believe DeVos is a dope.

So you may watch this and think the underlying message from DeVos is "I don't know what I'm doing" or "I haven't done my homework" or "I don't really understand what I'm being asked." But I think the underlying message is something else entirely--

"I don't owe you a damned word of explanation for anything."

"First of all, I'm anointed by God. I'm on a literal mission from the Creator of the Universe, so I answer to a much higher power than a bunch of suits stuffed with cheap-ass lobbyist pocket change.So I don't answer your question. So what? Are you going to scowl at me? Because my brother is Eric Frickin' Prince who kills guys like you-- literally kills guys like you-- before breakfast, and spends his afternoon torturing information out of dangerous men. You think he hasn't given me a few pointers over Thanksgiving dinner? You think I'm not geared up to resist questioning by guys whose most enhanced interrogation technique is Asking The Same Thing Repeatedly With an Annoyed Face?"

"See this smile? It's the smile of someone who has so much money that I don't need anybody else's help. It's the smile of someone who's such tight besties with Jesus that I don't need anybody else's approval."

"Don't know education? I know exactly what I want to do and I know exactly how much of an answer I plan to give you and if you don't like it-- tough. I'm within the letter of the law, and you can't touch me, and if you want to gaze disapprovingly, go right ahead. When I'm relaxing at the right hand of God the Father and you are roasting in Hell, this little chat isn't going to mean a damn thing."

Okay, I may be expanding and paraphrasing a bit. But look at the patented DeVos smirk. This woman knows exactly what she's doing, and she knows that she doesn't have to explain any of it to us plebes or our elected representatives.

Striking Local

While the big news in teacher strikes has been state-wide walkouts, elsewhere in the world, teachers are also dealing with strikes the old fashioned way-- one district at a time.

In fact, right now in my little corner of the world, two local unions are looking at teacher strikes-- one in the fall, and one tomorrow (I will note in the spirit of full disclosure that one of these school districts is the one where my wife works).

I've been through two strikes in my career (one as a new hire, and one as local president). It may seem as if there are many reasons that strikes happen, but there really aren't.

Strikes happen because there is a breakdown in negotiations. When a school board indicates that they are not wiling to negotiate any more, then teachers are out of options. This should not come as a shock to anyone-- if you are trying to buy a car, and the dealer says he will not lower the price that is two grand above what you're willing to pay, what do you do? You walk away. But school boards (or sometimes the administrator's behind them) sometimes fall in love with the notion that they should be able to dictate the terms of the teacher contract. In some states, that is now the law. But Pennsylvania is not one of those states. When you tell your teachers that you refuse to schedule any more sessions and they had better accept your last offer or else-- well, that's dumb, because the only "or else" that can follow is a strike.

Okay, I take it back. There is one other "or else"-- teachers can decide to stop working for you at all. The nationwide teacher shortage is simply a slow motion teacher walkout.

If you say to your staff, "We want to be the school district of last resort, so that you can work only with people who couldn't find any job anywhere else," you are being a dope. Nobody wants that.

The most important thing to understand about a teacher strike is that no teacher wants to strike. Not one. Not ever. Teachers do not suddenly decide they'd like to strike because a couple of rabble-rousers stirred them up. If your teachers are talking strike, it is because you have backed them into a corner. You have convinced them they have no other options short of quitting permanently.

If you're a school board looking at a strike-- well, you made this. You treated them like dopes who couldn't figure out that a $100 salary bump minus a $200 increase in insurance payments i actually a raise (or some similar mathematical baloney).You have convinced them that you are not interested in bargaining in good faith. You have convinced them that you view the contract as a battle to be won instead of a problem to be solved together. You have convinced them that they can't trust you to put the interests of education first. You may even have convinced them that you do not respect or value them.

Schools boards can send messages. In my strike, years ago, the board opened negotiations with "stripping," a move in which the board "offers" to strip dozens of items from the contract-- things they didn't remotely care about, but took as a bargaining position so that they could claim they were "giving something up" when they agreed to only take teachers' arms instead of teachers' arms and legs.  Last night, one board, knowing that the full contingent of teachers were coming to the meeting, moved the meeting to a larger venue, then moved it back to the classroom-sized location so that folks would have to squeeze in and sit on the floor and wait in the hall. This is what is technically known as "a dick move." And it send s a message-- We have the power and you don't. This is our space and you're not welcome.

There are plenty of other delightful things you can expect if you are a teacher on strike.

Fellow teachers who want to hide. "I don't want to wear the union t-shirt. I don't want to wear the color we picked out for that day. I don't want to walk on the picket line. I believe in what we're doing and I want to see this contract settled but couldn't I just stay home and watch Great British Baking and let someone else take care of all the hard stuff?"  I get it. It's scary to actually stand up publicly for something when some people disagree with you. But as with all sorts of negotiations, the principle is very simple. You want A. That's nice-- but how badly do you want it? How much difficulty and inconvenience are you willing to suffer to get it. If the answer I "Now very much," then you aren't going to get it.

Fellow teachers who are conflict averse. My union had several members who were just sure that it was all a big misunderstanding and if we could just explain to the board and the public, it would be okay, so let's just do that. As the strike becomes more real, some teachers will decide that maybe a 0.12% raise isn't that bad. This is normal and understandable and not unusual-- Patrick Henry's whole speech is about responding to the colonials who wanted to try anything else except revolution, and his whole point was that everything else had been tried and had failed.

The race to the bottom. People working in convenience stores make minimum wage and have no benefits. Why should teachers do any better? This would be an excellent argument if schools were competing with Wal-mart for personnel, but they aren't. Good teachers want to work side by side with good teachers. Good teachers want to feel that the school they're investing in is going to have a future. You don't recruit and retain the best by offering the worst; striking teachers are often depicted as greedy and selfish, but strikes are always in part about the teachers of the future-- will any of them want to work here.

Some people just don't like teachers. It not worth wondering why. Some people hate teachers like I hate bats in my house. They will tell you how the union is responsible for everything bad in the world, how teachers are overpaid slobs who think they're so special just because they went to teacher school, how teachers are just glorified babysitters who work two hour days three months a year. Uppity teachers on strike make these people really angry, and they will find all sorts of ways to tell you about it. Warning: do not read the comments to articles about the strike on social media. I'll bet someone will be along to the comments here to explain how I have it all backwards and teachers are just evil greedy terrorists.

The hostage children. This one always comes up. Teachers are just holding children hostage so they can make more money. Of course, saying that is just a way to hold children hostage so that teachers will accept being compensated poorly.

You will have your heart broken. The single most difficult part of being the president of a striking union was the number of people, including friends, neighbors, family, former students, who made it a point to make sure I understood just how little they value the work 've devoted my entire adult life to. Plus the people who indicate that same disregard without even realizing it ("Well, I mean, geeze-- you're only a teacher."). And all of this including families for whom I'd gone an extra mile, or who had made it a point to be friendly to my while Chris and Pat were in my class. As a teacher, you know somewhere in the back of your mind, that an awful large sector of our society does not value education or teachers or any of the rest of the work, but it's one thing to know you're standing on a tightrope and another thing to stare straight down into the abyss.

All that, and more. Did I mention that no teachers actually want to go on strike?

It's not hard to avert a strike. In fact, while I was typing this, word arrived that the school board facing a strike tomorrow has postponed that strike for the moment by reversing their previous position and agreeing to meet with an arbitrator. See? Was that so hard?

I'll let you know how things go.


Police State High School

Next year it's going to be super-awesome to study or work at Lockport High School in New York. It will be super safe. Super super safe.

Facial recognition and tracking software will add an unprecedented level of security at the schools. District officials have decided locked entrance doors, bullet-proof glass and sign-in registers at the front desk are not enough.

The company behind this monstrosity state-of-the-art system brags that this will be the first school in the world to use this system. That could be in part because the Aegis system will cost $1.4 million (part of a $2.75 million security system that will include 300 digital video cameras).

What will the system actually do?

What it can do is alert officials if someone whose photo has been programmed into the system – a registered sex offender, wanted criminal, non-custodial parent, expelled student or disgruntled former employee – comes into range of one of the 300 high-resolution digital cameras.

This database of naughty people will supposedly not include student photos. Well, "unless there's a reason." Then the Creepmaster 5000 goes to work:

“If we had a student who committed some type of offense against the code of conduct, we can follow that student throughout the day to see maybe who they interacted with, where they were prior to the incident, where they went after the incident, so forensically we could also use the software in that capacity as well,” [Depew superintendent] Rabey said.

Depew schools are also interested in this new advance in the surveillance state. How many ways are there to object to this?

One Lockport parents calls it a waste of money, no more effective than locking doors and requiring visitors to check in. And though the company swears their facial recognition software is New and Improved, such software has a bad track record with women, children, and people of color. 

In one of the most drastic examples, facial recognition software was tested last June on the crowd at a championship soccer game in Cardiff, Wales. The system triggered 2,470 alerts for matches with a police database – but 92 percent of the “matches” turned out to be false. The police blamed the poor quality of the photos in the database.

And the director of the Buffalo chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union checks in with an understatement:

Tracking every move of students and teachers is not the best way to make them feel safe at school and can expose them to new risks, especially for students of color who are already over-policed in the classroom

This is a terrible idea. If you want examples of how terrible it could be, consider the Chinese, who are using facial recognition software to monitor students for proper attitudes and attentiveness.Nor is there any reason to believe that it will actually save a single life (it would have been unlikely to help in any of the most recent school shootings). 

Big Brother has always claimed that he is watching you for your own good. Now the students of Lockport can feel his warm and protective embrace, everywhere they go, every day. 




Sad Girls and Angry Boys

I'm in my last two weeks of my 39-year career, and that involves a lot of file clearing. I came across this-- one of the pieces from my local weekly newspaper column-- and it seems oddly apropos at the moment. While it's not explicitly about school, watching my own students is where I observed all of this. The column garnered huge student response-- one at a time. Breaking the cycle of bad high school relationships seems like one of the ongoing challenges at my school.

When you want romantic tragedy, it’s hard to beat a teaming of a sad girl with an angry boy.

Most people know one of these couples. They are not only locally numerous, but they are usually kind of, well, noisy. People often find their partnership mysterious, marked mostly by abuse, meanness, and co-dependency.

Friends of Sad Girl wonder why she takes it. He’s neglectful, mean, and misbehaves badly.

Sad Girl cannot be swayed. “You just don’t understand him like I do,” she’ll say. She may acknowledge that he has a problem with drug abuse, general responsibility, or faithfulness—but those little issues don’t matter. They aren’t the real him. He’s really a wonderful, sweet guy.

Does he push her around, call her names, treat her with enormous disrespect? It’s his unhappy home life, or her fault for the way she behaves.

Sad Girl stays for two apparently contradictory reasons—1) she doesn’t believe she deserves anything better, and 2) the fact that she is the only human being who can see the golden part of this guy is proof of her own special qualities. There’s a certain cachet in being the beauty who can tame the beast.

It’s easier to see why angry boys stay with their sad girls. The world is not exactly filled with people who want to put up with their misbehavior. It’s an area in which the sad girls and angry boys are in perfect agreement—none of the Bad Things in his life are actually his fault.

Can’t hold a job? It’s the fault of his stupid bosses who get all upset just because he won’t show up for work every day, and on time. Got in a screaming match with a relative? It’s because that big stupid jerk disagreed with him.

Broke again? It’s not his fault that people keep taking his money for the things he wants. Stoned or drunk yet again? Hey, he’s entitled to an escape when everyone keeps pushing him and picking on him. Arrested for breaking a law? Again? It’s those darn police who just keep trying to push him around. They don’t like him. They’re out to get him. Just like his school teachers and the mailman and the checkout girl at Giant Eagle.

Angry Boy is angry so much of the time because he can’t quite get a handle on his life. He wants to be able to do what he feels like, when he feels like it, but he still wants things to turn out the way he wants them to.

Somehow, the whole cause and effect thing escapes him. If he feels like hitting himself in the head with a hammer, then by god nobody should be able to stop him—but afterwards why should his head hurt? It’s just not fair. It must be somebody’s fault. Just not his.

It is easy to imagine that Sad Girl and Angry Boy are, well, not the brightest bulbs in the chandelier. But this is often not the case. I’ve known lots of Sad Girls who were poised to graduate near the top of their classes who still worked hard to maintain their devotion to an Angry Boy.

Her friends tell her to get out. Even if she have started to think she should, she feels responsible for Angry Boy. “If I leave him,” she says, whiningly, “I don’t know what he’ll do.” In her mind, his fate is in her hands.

Which is part of the attraction, though she would never admit it—perhaps not even to herself. Sad Girl is usually sad because she has lived a lonely, powerless existence. But oddly enough, with Angry Boy, she has some real power over someone.

Still, as much as she hates to give up the power, she usually does. After all, the alternative is to eventually marry him so that he won’t be upset. Sometimes he stomps off; she always begs for him to come back, and he always does.

This is how Angry Boy wants it. Angry Boy never, ever breaks up with Sad Girl. He just keeps pushing her until she’s finally had enough and walks away. This suits him fine, because the end of their relationship, just like every other rotten thing in his life, is not his fault. She walked out on him. She’s just one more person who has dumped on him. In fact, her rotten betrayal will make a great story for softening up the next Sad Girl he meets.

She hurts him when she pulls away(or glances at other guys). He hurts her when he is thoughtless and mean. But don’t tell them to get away from each other. After all, it’s True Love.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Okay. Let's Not Talk About Guns

I know there are earlier examples, but it really starts for me with Jody Billingsley.

Jody was one of my former students, part of a class of students that I really enjoyed for their spark, their joy, their bravery, their curiosity. She was a star athlete, smart, kind-- the sort of decent human being you want your own children to grow up to be.

When she was only 38, she was murdered near Pittsburgh in an LA Fitness Center, gunned down by an angry white guy.

It was 2009, so nobody was talking about InCels yet, but this guy (I'm not printing the son of a bitch's name) fit the description. Angry that life had not delivered the money and female attention that he believed he deserved, he kept a journal of his grievances (because, of course, some day the world would listen to him and pay attention to what he had to say) and made several false starts at his little murder spree (four dead-- barely noteworthy by our current standards). All three of his victims were women; he then killed himself.

And now we have the most recent shooting in Santa Fe, where a student killed ten, despite the school's fully-rehearsed plan and fully-armed officers. The shooter was not a sad loner, but he had been rejected by one of the girls that he murdered, and had pursued her so relentlessly that she ultimately had to publicly embarrass him to get hi m to back off. Only, I guess, he maybe didn't.

So as we look at the long string of deaths and mass murders including the school shootings of the past two decades, we can draw-- and have drawn-- a line between all of these and the use, usually, of America's all-too-plentiful guns.

But this is America, and we don't want to talk about guns.

Fine.

If we're not going to talk about guns, let's talk about the other pattern that is increasingly noticeable.

Let's talk about angry white guys.

Lots of folks have made the observation, usually after whatever the most recent shooting was. Here's Elle after the Las Vegas shooting:

Stephen Paddock was an angry white man with a gun. Robert Lewis Dear, who killed three people and injured nine at a Colorado Planned Parenthood, was an angry white man with a gun. Dylann Roof, who killed nine people and injured one at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, was an angry white man with a gun. Adam Lanza, who killed 28 people including 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary, was an angry white man with a gun. Hell, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who killed 15 people and injured 24 at Columbine High School, were two angry white boys with guns. The Columbine massacre, which sparked a national conversation about the need for better gun control, was in 1999. It’s been 18 years of angry white men with guns appearing next to ever-more-enormous body counts, every few weeks, ever since.

We've also had plenty of discussion of why these white guys are angry. And, in fairness, we have had the contrarian "maybe it's not that bad" takes as well. But even if we've got a proportionately appropriate number of angry white guys killing people, the sheer numbers seem to demand some attention.

At a minimum, we need to learn from the pattern. School shooters are usually guys with a specific grievance. Some folks argue that if we "harden the target" and make schools less easily shoot-uppable, shooters will go shoot up something else, something softer. But shooters like last week's murderer do not pick schools because schools are soft targets-- the pick schools because they want to shoot the people who are at the school. Hardening the target will not deter them into some other pursuit.

The Toronto attacker prompted a look into the InCel world, and that's pretty chilling all by itself. These are angry white guys who, like the SOB who gunned down Jody, believe they have been cheated out of what they deserve, as if the world is a vending machine into which they have pumped quarters only to get nothing in return. They are the terrifying realization of the line that men worry about women laughing at them and women worry about men killing them.

As a culture, we've asked for this. My students know that if they bring up the Twilight book series, they'll get a rant out of me, not because of the laughably bad writing, but because of the romanticizing of stalker behavior. Edward ticks off every single item on the "your boyfriend may be a future abuser" checklist. And that has been marketed as the Great Romance of the 21st century.

That's not a new thing-- from the Phantom of the Opera to Seven Brides for Seven Brothers to John Cusack standing in the rain with that damn boom box, the message is that men need to wear women down, be persistent. For young men, romance is supposed to be a simple formula-- make the correct moves, and it should unlock a girl's heart like a video-game achievement. And, at least in the halls of my school, girls buy into this-- I have lost count of how many girls I have heard explain that they "have to" go out with this guy they don't really want to go out with because he did X.

Are we in a new peak of angry guy-ness? I'm not sure; it may just seem worse because the pinnacle of angry white guyness is our President (seriously-- President of the United States of America and he is still perpetually pissed off and aggrieved). I'm sure it's not the whole picture, but I'm equally sure that angry white guyness is part of what got him elected. It's also why things like "p***y grabber" comments and stiffing subcontractors and barely-concealed racism help rather than hurt him-- he has been and is still living the angry white guy dream, where you say or do or grab what you want and people don't keep telling you no, people don't insist that you don't have the power to do that. Angry white guys hate feeling like someone has taken away their power. Hell, isn't that the root of the whole gun argument as forwarded by that army of angry white guys, the NRA-- you can't take our guns because then we lose the power to really hurt bad people who might want to take away our power.



Can we get rid of all the angry white guys? Of course not-- there will always be outliers. Could we do a better job raising young men? Yes. Yes, we could. We could teach them to respect women (and not just as a complex part of getting women to do what we want them to). We really could explain the whole "no" and "yes" thing better, because men have to own women with confusing signals because too many women have grown up in a world where a blunt, clear "no" dangerous. We could, as men, hold each other accountable

As schools, we could intervene more aggressively in abusive relationships. We can create an environment where toxic masculinity does not work-- and we can and must explicitly teach alternatives. And for the love of God, can we please teach our young men how to cope with their feelings by some means other than releasing them in occasional burst of maladptive rage and violence.

If we won't talk about guns, then let's talk about the rest of this. If we want to pitch Social and Emotional Learning for schools, let's talk about creating a more emotionally healthy environment for young men. Not only could we maybe save a few lives, but we could definitely make a whole lot of lives better. We would certainly make schools better environments for learning.

I know this wouldn't be magical, and it is damned hard to get a culture to shift direction. But it would certainly be a more useful conversation than talking about making schools more like prisons or locking students behind a single door (and praying for no fires, ever) or all the other foolish things that are proposed just so we won't talk about guns.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

One More Sign of Substitute Apocalypse

So I'm reading a Slate article about robocalling-- why it's getting worse, why the FCC is only sort of helping-- when I come across this chart:


















See #7? The seventh biggest robocaller in the USA is a robot looking for substitute teachers.

More than loan scams. More than AT&T. More than Citibank or Chase Bank. More, I guess, than my friend from card services who assures me that nothing is wrong with my account however-- well, I never get past "however."

Can anybody take a phys ed class today?
That's how bad the substitute crisis has become-- robocalling is somehow seen as a solution. Lots and lots of robocalling. Since my own area doesn't use any such system (we still post absences on a web-based service where substitutes can pick the ones the want to sign up for, like a kind of classroom Match.com) I have to assume some places use it very aggressively. I wonder-- in states where any warm body can be employed in a classroom, do they just cold robocall every person with a phone? Could such approaches be augmented with, say, one of those sign-twirling guys parked out in front of a school ("We'll pay you $100 to teach Algebra today!!!")

When I worked in the call center biz, one of the ways my bosses made money was to sell the contact info of customers, and as a blogger I'm actually offered lists of contact information for, say, left-handed iguana owners in Idaho. I wonder if the sub hunters are trying that ("We need a biology sub today-- have the robots call everyone on that Field and Stream subscribers list").

Contractors find day laborers waiting in the parking lot of stores like Home Depot. Could school districts go looking for substitute teachers in the parking lots of local Barnes & Nobles? I mean, if we've descended to robocalling, what could be any worse?

P.S. One other offensive caller that is a source of numerous complaints-- Navient, the student loan company.that has a record of being mighty aggressive in looking to get paid back.



Static Trump and Dynamic Hypocrisy

My opinions about Donald Trump have not changed in the last two years. In fact, they haven't changed in decades. To me, he's always been an archetype of the very worst kind of person. He's been my go-to example any time a discussion required a specific example of a horrible human being-- willfully ignorant, bullying, uninterested in honor and placing no value on honesty, yet oddly transparent in his complete narcissistic self-serving grabbiness.

Nothing in the last two years has made me exclaim, "Goodness! I can't believe that Donald Trump said/did/approved of that!!" He has always been what he's always been. Anyone who clutches their pearl and acts shocked-- shocked!!-- about something Trump has said/done/lied about has either failed to pay attention, or they're just faking it for effect.

It is Trump's very terrible consistency that makes him such a accurate marker of the hypocrisy of others.

In the study or literature, we talk about static and dynamic characters. Dynamic characters change, and their movement and growth usually defines the guts of a story. But static characters, like a solid door frame with growth hatches or telephone poles that appear to dart past the car window, are what growth and change are measured against. In Great Expectations, young Pip loves and respects his lower-class brother-in-law Joe, but older gentleman Pip is embarrassed and ashamed of his country relative. Joe has not changed a bit; Pip's change tells us nothing about Joe, but it tells us everything about Pip's growth into a snob.

Donald Trump is a telephone pole.

Why am I comfortable calling evangelical leaders and establishment GOP figures hypocrites? Simple. If the evangelical community really believed in Trump's godliness, they would have been championing it for years. Franklin Graham would have been standing up a revivals declaring, "If you want to see the face of God, turn on The Apprentice!" The man is in his seventies-- a GOP that truly believed he was a paragon of conservative virtue would have been trying to recruit him to run for office for decades (and we'd know about it, because he would have told us so, repeatedly). And all of them, all of this great army of Trump lovers, would have been there cheering him on through his previous Presidential runs.

So what changed? Well, it wasn't Trump. Or rather, only one thing changed about Trump-- he suddenly had real power and could grant favors, help fulfill dreams like a gutted social safety net or a radical-packed bench. And so some GOP stalwarts and a busload of evangelical leaders stand revealed as embracing no real values except the hunger for power, no principles except the principle of Gimme Stuff.

And, I'm sorry to say, they're not the only ones.

Suddenly folks are discovering racism in America. And they're discovering it because it's useful as a narrative for opposing Trump, which leads some to act as if racism has suddenly flared into existence because Trump is in the White House. Have racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia and all the other ugly ias's gotten worse? I have my doubts. More obvious and less sneaky, probably, but also more frequently noted, called out and reported. I'd love to believe that it's because we're suddenly all so woke and alert, but I don't-- I suspect a whole lot of people are suddenly concerned because these stories now reflect badly on Trump.

Consider, for instance, Kesha. The recording artist could easily have been the mother of #MeToo, suing her hugely abusive producer. But she filed the suit in 2014, and so she was left hanging in her suit mostly alone.

It's no surprise that some folks are not reacting to the newly woke with "Oh, you've uncovered abusive racist evil behavior! Thank you for coming to save us!" but more along the lines of, "Racism?! No shit, Sherlock. What took you so long?" All the ugly isms of America are longstanding static telephone poles by the side of our long national road, the door frame against which we can measure our own growth.

This phenomenon turns up in other places, too. It pains me to admit it, but some of us in the public school advocacy space didn't have much to say about segregation until it emerged as a charter school problem. And reformsters, hoping to revive their brand, periodically "discover" that certain reformy ideas are actually bad-- even though the ideas are no worse than when they were first pitched.

Of course, every one of the spaces described above is occupied by some people who have always been there. And there are people who come by their personal evolutions honestly, through hard-won personal growth and newly developed understanding. But when somebody suddenly adopts a whole new position on something that hasn't changed a whit, you have to ask-- is this an honest change in perspective, or does it just serve their purpose to stand on a different side of the pole.

Growth and change are critical; people who refuse to learn and grow tend to be less than awesome people. But there's a big difference between growth guided by principle and growth guided by expediency. It's one thing to grow as a way to give expression to principles and values, and quite another to shift position in order to cushion beliefs from impact with a hard reality. It's one thing to be guided by looking at your star, and another thing entirely to block that star from your vision so that it doesn't interfere with your chosen path. Because ultimately those second choices require you to lie to others, the world, even yourself. And once you do that, you start to turn into a really awful person.


Friday, May 18, 2018

More Data on Teacher Departures

The United States Census Bureau, dedicated crunchers of numbers, just issued some newly crunched data that adds just a touch of answer to the question, "Where are teachers going, and which ones are leaving?"

The bureau tracked where departing teachers went, and broke those destinations for leaving the profession into nineteen categories.

Least likely destinations for departing teachers? Agriculture, mining, and utilities. Surprisingly (at least to me) corporate management and real estate were also low on the list.

Most likely destinations? By far it's Healthcare and Social Assistance, followed by a curious category called "Administrative and Support and Waste Management and Remediation Services." In third place is retail, followed by "professional, scientific and technical services" and "accommodation and food services."

Who exactly is leaving the profession? This strikes me as more interesting data. It comes from 2013-2014, but I can't think of any reason that the trend would have shifted radically in the last four years.

Over all, men of all ages leave the profession at a higher rate than women. And the cohort by far most likely to leave teaching are those in the age 25-34 group. Each succeeding age group decreases a bit, but it's people still young enough to most easily switch careers that are looking at their first few years of teaching and saying, "I do not want to do this the rest of my life."

Of course, that coupled with other data about teachers leaving the profession and the noise about the ongoing teacher "shortage" (which is really just a slow-motion walkout) would lead people who believe in the free market to say, "Apparently we are not offering enough pay and benefits to make this job attractive; the invisible hand decrees we must make these jobs more appealing." With all the free market fans involving themselves in education, I'm sure we'll hear about this trend in increased teacher pay and benefits any day now.

Where they're going

























Who's leaving


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Bill Bennett: Teachers, Know Your Place

EdWeek ruffled some feathers and reaped some clickbaity hate read traffic this week with a piece of concern trolling from Bill Bennett and Karen Nussle. Bennett was Reagan's USED secretary, and Nussle is the chairman of Conservative Leaders for Education, a group that Bennett launched two years ago and still serves as-- well, actually the website says that Nussle is president and Bennett is chairman. Nussle's actual background is running a "boutique" PR firm.

CL4E lives up to its name by favoring school choice and not being fans of unions, so nothing in the EdWeek piece is exactly surprising. But it is a fine example of the kind of baloney that gets served every time teachers strike.

There is a fundamental problem in education that has been on vivid display recently: confusion about whom our schools exist to serve. Our public school system exists to give our children a foundation in literacy and numeracy and to help them become informed citizens. It is not the purpose of the public schools to use children as leverage for the gains of others.

Yes, it's the old Think of the Children argument, which plays better than the real argument here, which is that teachers should know their roles and shut their holes. This paragraph also captures the belief in really low expectations for school (just teach 'em readin' and 'rithmetic). And the special hypocrisy of charter fans arguing that schools should not use children as a way to make money.

This guy has had it with uppity teachers.
But see-- only such confusion would "drive mass school closures and disruptions right in the midst of a critical time in a school year." One wonders when a better, unimportant time in the school year might come; one also enjoys the irony of choice fans decrying "disruption," which is usually one of their favorite things. I thought disruption was supposed to be a good way to break moribund institutions out of their terrible rut.

No concern trolling would be complete without a disclaimer:

We strongly believe in the importance and honor of great teaching and teachers. We believe policymakers should set budgets so that the best teachers are attracted and retained. Those decisions must be made at each state and district level.

Again, teachers-- know your place. These decisions should be made by people more important than you. But this point begs a question-- what are teachers supposed to do when policymakers don't make those decisions? What are teachers supposed to do if policymakers let schools decay and teacher pay drop so that nobody is attracted or retained?

This is a question that Bennett and his flak aren't going to answer, but consider this interview with Corey Robin, who is arguing that the central tenet of conservatism is the fight to make sure that the people who have the power keep it, and the people who don't never, ever take it. In Robin's view, Bennett's statement is its own answer-- decisions about teacher pay and school funding should be made at state and district level period end sentence. There is no what if. The policymakers decide and they are the ones with the deciding power and nothing is more important than preserving that power-- including crumbling buildings and evaporating teacher pools.

Bennett's point, of course, is that teachers shouldn't strike or walk out ever, and he offers several reasons.

First, abrupt school closures interrupt and damage student progress. "Teaching time does matter, and we should be very reluctant to interrupt it." Boy, that line makes great reading as I sit here in the middle of Pennsylvania's two-week testing window, during which my classes are suspended and interrupted so that we can give the BS Test. I might also direct Bennett to the problem of charters that close without warning during the year.

Bennett and Flak try to hit a quotable line here: "When coal miners strike they lay down their equipment. When teachers strike, they lay down their students' minds." So, in this analogy, my students have pickaxes for brains? My students are my tools? No, this is not a winner.

Second, the old "if you want to be treated like a professional, act like it." Which is a crappy argument, because you know what professionals do? They set a fee for their services, and if you want to hire them, you pay it. My plumber and my mechanic and my doctor and my lawyer do not charge me based on what I feel like paying them-- they set their fees, and if I want my pipes fixed, I fork over the money.

Bennett will add the old "teachers get summers off" argument for good measure. Fine. If you think we should have year-round school, do that. But don't diss me and my professional brethren because you're too cheap to pay for a full year's worth of services. Yes, teachers can use the summer to "pursue their financial goals or other endeavors," and I'm not sure what your point is. If you want more money, go get a job at the Tastee-Freeze?

And also (this second point turns out to be several points that seem to add up to "teachers are a bunch of lazy unprofessional money-grubbers anyway") Bennett wants to play blunt straight-shooter, saying "let's be honest" and admit these strikes have been about "pursuing financial ends." Which is unprofessional and unseemly.

There is a time, place and manner for these fiscal discussion. Strikes during the school year are not it.

Oh, bullshit. The teachers of Arizona and West Virginia and Oklahoma and Kentucky and Colorado and North Carolina have had all the discussions so very many times in a wide variety of places in every imaginable manner, and for their trouble they have gotten bupkus. Worse than bupkus-- they've gotten disrespect and abuse and in the meantime they've gone back to their moldy classrooms to do their professional best to work in a crumbling environment without enough resources. Bennett doesn't list the times and places and manners that would be more appropriate because he knows damn well whatever circumstances he describes, those teachers have already tried.

Third, Bennett argues that some of these strikes have been about misdirected anger or invalid complaints, but teachers just want to "maneuver a sweeter deal." Yes, those damn scam artists, striking on a lark just to make a buck.

I give Bennett credit for just one thing-- usually when folks start flinging these arguments around they try to cushion them by saying that teachers by themselves are just swell-- it's those damned unions. But no-- Bennett and Flak go straight for the classroom teacher jugular.

There are several things he either doesn't understand or finds it expedient to pretend he doesn't understand.

First, teachers hate to strike. Striking is their second favorite choice; their first favorite choice is anything and everything else.

That means to get teachers to strike, particular in large numbers, you have to convince them that nothing else will work. You have to convince them that there's no hope of negotiating with you, that you don't take any of their concerns seriously, that you don't value their work, that you have no sincere desire to safeguard the future of public education and their profession. You have to convince them that trying to talk to you is hopeless and pointless.

In short, you have to sound a lot like Bill Bennett in this piece.

Of course, Bennett tips his hand at the end:

Perhaps they should examine how their own actions are eroding public trust in an institution so vital to our nation and our future. In doing so, they are driving people to be against public schools.

Why not drive teachers to strike if, like Bill Bennett, you are invested in driving students out of public schools and into charter/choice schools?

Think of the children? Bennett is thinking of the children and all the money they can drive to charter/choice schools. And he is guilty of exactly what he accuses teachers of doing. He says that teachers are using students as leverage for financial purposes; those purposes are, of course, preserving public education and the teaching profession in their states. Bennett would also like to use the students as leverage against teachers, so that the financial interests of those who are invested in keeping teachers underpaid and schools underfinanced can be preserved.

Who's the guiltier party in that comparison? Well, I figure this way- students depend on schools for education. If we listen to the striking teachers, the schools get better and better, with current books, and a high quality teaching staff recruited and retained. If we listen to guys like Bennett, the slow-motion walkout of teachers from the profession continues, the buildings continue to lose resources, and the schools that those children depend on just get worse and worse. I know which side I plan to back.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

FL: Continuing the War on Littles

Of all the toxic effects of test-centered schooling-- here's some news from Florida:

Nearly half of the children who attended a state-funded voluntary pre-kindergarten program last year were not ready for kindergarten this year, according to the preliminary results of a new test administered last fall.

I was desperately hoping that the next line would read "and so Florida officials concluded that there was something definitely wrong with their test and probably with their expectations for kindergarten students as well."  But alas, I was doomed to disappointment.

The only tots that belong at a university
The test was a new one this year, administered in the first month of kindergarten, because it's never too soon to make children understand that they go to school in order to take standardized tests. Besides the newness of the test, there are other bad reasons for the result:

This set of scores is based on children who attended VPK during the 2016-17 school year. The state didn’t decide on STAR as the assessment tool until the summer of 2017, so the providers could not gear their instruction toward a specific test.

In other words, they weren't given a proper chance to teach to the test. Because when you send byour four-year-old to school, you want her to spend time learning how to take a standardized test. I mean, how better to foster a love of learning and school.

Several pre-K providers are quoted as being disappointed by the poor results and sad that they didn't have enough advance warning of what test the state would use. Because pre-K ought to be organized around a state test, rather than the needs and health and wonder and natural exploration of four year olds. Also, one pre-K provider is called Tiny Tots University. Florida-- what the hell is wrong with you?!

The TTU rep notes that the test does not in any way measure how far the student has come (because, you know, some of those three year olds are just big slackers), which speaks to one of the fatal flaws of test-centered schooling-- its complete disregard for what a child can be expected, developmentally, to accomplish in a certain time period. Instead we just keep moving the bar, so kindergarten is the new first grade, or maybe second grade, and pre-K is the new 1st grade, and fetuses had damn well better start drilling SAT vocabulary by the second trimester.

Oh, and did I mention that this test is administered on a computer. A five year old is supposed to navigate a standardized test. On a computer.

Florida provides funding for pre-K schools-- as long as they promise to emphasize test readiness. Some people (you know-- people who have actually met small human children) have an issue with this.

“There has been a propensity for the early learning educators to say the K-12 system is expecting too much from our children,” Beth Duda the executive director of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade Level Reading said. “K-12 pushes back and says there is a place for play-based learning, but it has to be grounded in benchmark standards.”

No! No it does not!! The play-based learning has to be grounded in play!

The continued pressure to force littles to be molded to suit the whims of a bunch of standards-wielding, test-selling numbskulls is just one of the worst things to come out of the reform movement. There is nothing quite so backward in all of education these days. I'm reminded of listening Yong Zhao speak a few years ago. We should not be trying to make sure that five year olds are ready for kindergarten, he said, but should be asking if kindergarten is ready for our five year olds. Betsy DeVos may consider Florida an educational exemplar, but asking all the wrong questions remains a hallmark of Floridian education. But the most important question that should be asked is simply, "Florida, what the hell is wrong with you?"

Monday, May 14, 2018

Spellings and Duncan Get It Wrong

Arne Duncan and Margaret Spellings, two ex-secretaries of education (Obama and Bush II), teamed up to write an op-ed for the Washington Post in which they got almost nothing right, starting with the headline: "What ails education? An absence of vision, a failure of will and politics."

The very first sentence puts Duncan and Spellings deep in the weeds:

We have long benefited from a broad coalition that has advanced bold action to improve America’s education system.
Evidence that Spellings and Duncan are two different people

"We"? Which "we" is that, exactly? Politicians who used education as a way to launch and relaunch their careers? Corporations like Pearson that have profited over the parade of flawed and failed policies? Folks who wanted to get into education-flavored business of charters? Who is this "we," because it's not teachers or students or communities or taxpayers. And how "long" is "long" supposed to be, and what exactly are these alleged benefits? And what was "bold" about any of it? I get that the new Duncan script casts reformsterism as a courageous act. 

But seriously-- what was "bold" about, for instance, enlisting Bill Gates and a shadow network of reformsters and political operatives to try to enforce Common Core as a top-down reform idea. What was bold about deliberately barring teachers from the plans for rewriting the US education system?

All of this is beside the point, which is that Duncan and Spellings are sad that the coalition has "waned," (which is the way wrong word here-- the moon wanes, but coalitions splinter or separate or fall apart of dump each other when they realize that in a Trump administration nobody needs the protective cover of faux progressives to legitimize the privatization of public ed... but I digress). But their sadness seems tied to so many things that even reformsters agree are not true.

Today, education is blessed with bipartisan agreement on what works, and cursed with bipartisan complacency at every level on taking action.

Nope. Not even sort of true. There is no widespread agreement on hat works. There never has been. Teachers have always spent their entire careers trying to find more Things That Work even as each new crop of students moves the target. And I honestly have no idea what the "complacency" things is about.

Both sides recognize the need to balance strong federal accountability with local innovation; to support high standards for teachers; and to encourage choice and diversity while keeping public schools as the core focus of national policy.

First of all, if Dunclings thinks that there are only two sides in the education debates, they have even less sense than I have given them discredit for. But they have to know that the DeVosian camp does not favor strong federal accountability at all, and that lots of folks are not at all fans of choice. Meanwhile, "high standards for teachers" is a meaningless phrase, and "encourage diversity" is pretty meaning-free as well. Nor is there widespread agreement about keeping the public schools as "core focus," unless you buy the fiction that charter schools are "public" schools.

Dunclings says that ESSA encourages states to implement those "principles," which is-- no, that's not how laws and regulations work. They don't encourage principles; they tell states what rules they have to follow. But Dunclings is unhappy with what states have proposed, labeling them "underwhelming and insufficient," and I can't fault Duncan in particular for not really grasping ESSA because the law was, after all, specifically designed to specifically slap him in his specific face. But since ESSA still keeps test-centered schooling at its core, along with being a set of regulations that will be enforced by someone who had no part in creating them and no interest in enforcing them, states can be forgiven for not exactly trying to jump the fence on these.

But Dunclings is an unrepentant top-downer:

In the absence of an aggressive national push, even the best ideas lack the momentum to create effective change on the ground.

In other words, if the feds aren't pushing from the top down, all you local yahoos just won't get the job done.

But now we're getting nostalgic again:

It wasn't always like this. While we didn't always agree about the best way to get there, for years we agreed on the destination.

Again with the "we." The rest of the graf suggests that maybe "we" is "far-sighted presidential and legislative leadership, and engaged business community and an enduring civil rights movement," which you'll note is a coalition that doesn't include parents, taxpayers, or professionals who have devoted their entire adult lives to working in the actual education field. Dunclings ability to Not Learn Anything remains impressive-- it's still not clear to them that teachers and parents and education professionals need to be part of any solution.

Now a history lesson:

That alliance [see above] allowed President Ronald Reagan to oversee "A Nation at Risk," a report that made education a priority in the national consciousness.

Some carefully chosen words there, since ANAR didn't involve any actual studies so much as an attempt to craft some support for a pre-chosen conclusion. ANAR was a lie, told to stampede citizens in the politically preferred direction. But once the ball was rolling, Dunclings notes how the play of Bush to Clinton to Bush II to Obama kept the federal top-down baloney wagon moving and nudged privatization into the Overton Window.

Dunclings takes one paragraph to thump the drum of magical high expectations and the belief that education overcomes all other socio-economic factors. And then we're on to What's Wrong Today. In keeping with the rest of the piece, they will denounce vagueries. "We lack the national leadership" to make the magic happen, and the consequence, somehow, is that state plans lack vision and ambition (again the idea that without the feds to whip them into shape, the states will screw everything up).

By far the best part of this lament is the submission of NAEP scores as proof of the lack of national leadership, which-- I mean, come on, Arne. You do realize that current NAEP scores come from students who got most of their education under your watch, right? That if current NAEP scores indict anything (an arguable point), they indict the rosy reformster past that you are trying to advocate for.

Students are suffering because of an absence of vision, a failure of will and politics that values opposition over progress. There is a moral imperative to act.

That "values opposition over progress" tips the hand here-- we are sad that Trump-DeVos is pursuing a policy of "undo everything they did when that black sumbitch was in the White House." I agree that is just one of the many saddening and sucky policies currently enshrined in DC, but I'm not so sure that DeVos is pursuing actual policies that are all that removed from the policies of Dunclings et. el. Charters, privatizing, move federal money to private hands, use tests to measure everything because real accountability is hard-- other than the DeVosian desire to let any kind of bias and discrimination run rampant, I just don't see much air between current policies and previous ones. If Dunclings want to argue that the Trump-DeVos embrace of racism and discrimination to a degree never tolerated even in previous GOP administrations-- that would be a point to make. But Dunclings wants to pretend that DeVosian charter love is somehow qualitatively different that Spellings and Duncan charter love, that DeVosian hostility toward public education is somehow much different than Spellings and Duncan disregard for public education. That's a tough sell.

Now Dunclings wants to flash back to the 35th anniversary soiree for ANAR and pretend that the report reached some sort of legitimate conclusion (not to mention the problem with pretending that for 35 years, we've been told to expect an educational apocalypse "any day now" and at some point, that just gets silly). Dunclings choice of pull quote is the "unilateral disarmament" one which always puzzles me-- what arms did we put down, and what enemy were we supposed to be shooting?

Dunclings calls federal education policy "rudderless and adrift," and I wish that were true, but the fact is, DeVos has been pretty clear about her priorities even as she has also been clear that one of them is to not ty to strong-arm her priorities from DC.

At a moment when students are marching in the streets for their right to a safe, quality education; when teachers across the country are demanding attention and investment from their political leaders; when every economic indicator confirms the growing importance of a sound education in forging a full, productive life, what is our shared national vision for our children?

As was always true, Dunclings has skipped right over the question of whether a shared national vision, especially a highly specific one like, say, Common Core, is in any way useful. They're also asserting without proof-- "every economic indicator" supports the importance of education? Really? Every single one? Supports it how, exactly? And as for angry teachers and students-- again, guys, the harvest may be coming in now, but this is a crop that was sown and grown under your watch. It's not something new; it's just something you're noticing now that DC is occupied by people who don't belong to the same country club as you. Look, I will gladly agree that Trump is probably the worst President in the history of Presidents-- but to pretend that what's happening in education right this minute somehow sprang into being the day he took office is foolish.

What else does Dunclings want? High standards and high expectations. Oh, and "respect for teaching," as if they had not been instrumental in eroding that same respect with policies that assumed that teachers will suck unless threatened and punished by "accountability measures." Also, could we please have more federal oversight for colleges and universities? And just generally get national policy makers better seats at the policymaking table. Yeah, boy, it really sucks when you think you have important insights to share on what you consider important work and the people setting the table refuse to include you. Does that feel bad, Arne? Does it sting, Margaret? Because it's exactly what actual working professional educators felt for years under your administrations.

I swear we're almost done, but there's still this gem:

Education is what makes America the country it is. An educated populace, versed in civics, trained to reason and empowered to act is what safeguards our democracy. Equitable access to education — our greatest force for economic mobility, economic growth and a level playing field for all — is what underwrites the American meritocracy.

Lordy- this is a child's conception of how the country works. Everyone goes to school, and the people who do best in school are rewarded with the best jobs and the most money, because this is a meritocracy where people are rewarded for being the very best in a field and not for, say, being a President's basketball bro. Systemic racism, generational poverty, massive inequity in wealth distribution-- all of that will be wiped out if students just get high scores on the PARCC. Yet at the same time, we only need "access" to good education-- not actual good education for every single child. What else do we need?

We urgently need a new generation of business leaders who see the alignment between their corporate priorities and the national interest.

Well, I don't disagree, but I mean we need business leaders who are willing to pay their taxes and share the fruits of productivity with their workers, who occasionally put national and community interest ahead of the bottom line. I'm afraid Dunclings is speaking in the context of education, to which I say, no, we need more educational amateurs to back the hell up and let the professionals work instead of deciding that their wealth qualifies to appoint themselves education policy writers.

We also need teachers unions that want to help set standards. For what? They don't say. We need civil rights leaders to blah blah blah pretty sure they mean "get back to supporting charter schools." And we need "political leaders who know that a fair, prosperous country in forged in classrooms, not at campaign rallies" thereby absolving government of doing anything that might address these issues, especially if that government would ask corporations to pay their fair share or help make the country more prosperous and fair. No, the fact the business leaders didn't use their tax cuts to make workers more prosperous is clearly the fault of Mrs. Bilwiggen, the third grade teacher.

For the big finish, a call for the "coalition" to get back in line before we are a nation at risk again.

What a pair. Overseers of years of failed educational policies who still have nothing to offer remotely like "With the benefit of time, I can see we got A, B and C wrong." Instead they're still arguing that if they had just failed harder, and people had implemented their bad policies better, then the world would be a better place and Trump wouldn't be making them weep into their leather upholstery at their cushy new jobs. God, it's bad enough that we have to wait for Trump and DeVos to go away, but the previous failed occupants that were supposed to have gone away just keep coming back. Dear Dunclings, please just go away.