Monday, January 21, 2019

FL: Guns in Schools Not Going So Well

After the murder of seventeen people at Marjorie Stoneman Douglass High in Florida, the state legislature of the gun-happy sunshine state finally considered putting some common sense restrictions   on guns and ammo in the state. No, just fake newsing you-- what they did was decide they'd better arm more people in schools, because the only solution to a bad guy with a gun is a gunfight in a building filled with children.

That was back last spring. Recently the Tampa Bay Times took a look at how the business of putting a "guardians" in schools was going. The short answer is "not well."

Brevard County was looking for two dozen new employees to be armed guardians. They had six months to find and train these people. Community pushback slowed down the process. They didn't make the deadline.

They weren't alone. Levy County went looking for guardians and couldn't even find people to apply at first. Their superintendent would not give the paper any numbers on applicants since then, saying "You don't want the bad guys to know whether you've got 100 or one." Sure. Okeechobee decided to join in the program, but the sheriff's office won't start training until this month. And the sheriff is not optimistic about the six-to-ten volunteers: "Out of that, I doubt we'll have that high rate of a success rate." Lafayette schools also began the year without their guardians, with a few finishing up their training this month.

Duval County has other sorts of problems. Parents, along with the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the League of Women Voters sued the district in November to keep the "safety assistants" out of schools. It could not have helped the district's cause that one safety assistant was arrested in October for pawning his gun-- twice.

And he has not been the only problem child. A guardian in Hillsborough was showing her chemical spray to students and peppered four of them (she resigned immediately). In Manatee County, a guardian was fired when the Bradenten Herald took a look at his Facebook page and found a variety of posts about various conspiracy theories and apparent advocacy for violence.

Florida schools have the option of hiring actual trained law enforcement personnel. If they go the guardian route, they get a person with a gun who can't make arrests, but whose only function is to hang out at school and wait to have a gun battle with some active shooter. Who volunteers for that job? Because I'm betting you get some less-than-stellar law enforcement washout Rambo wannabes.

There are some districts that have had no issues so far, which basically means that so far nobody has been shot. No studies yet on what it does to the atmosphere of a school for students to know that some of their teachers are packing, or to know that the stranger hanging around the building is just there to shoot somebody, should it seem like a good idea.

But Florida is the state where all bad ideas go to spread their wings and fly. The best we can hope for here is that no serious permanent damage is done by this lousy idea.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Arne Duncan Keeps Trying To Explain Education

Arne Duncan's signature achievement as secretary of education was getting a divided Congress to come together in order to finally pass a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Previously known as No Child Left Behind, the new version of the act (Every Student Succeeds Act) was notable for how it spanked the secretary and his department and focused on returning authority to the states.
Duncan used NCLB as leverage to enforce his own education policies. By 2014, every school in the country had to have 100% of its students scoring above average on the big standardized test (PARCC, SBA, etc) or they were in violation. Duncan offered waivers to the law-- if states agreed to his other policy ideas. Those included the implementation of standards that didn't have to be Common Core, but states that chose Common Core were guaranteed approval.

Duncan's heavy use of the federal hand set the stage for the anti-federal portions of ESSA and, arguably, the advent of someone like Betsy DeVos. Duncan is, by all accounts, a nice guy, but it would be hard to characterize his tenure in office as a success.
Yet Duncan does not go away. He has made many attempts in print to retcon his years at USED, while continuing to insist that his policies would have worked if everyone had just been braver and bolderDuncan has yet to derive any new insights from his experience, but he keeps advocating for his old favorites.
And so we find him in EdSurge, talking about six things he learned from his years in education.
We must invest in high-quality early education.
Here, he's not wrong. But there is huge room for debate about what "high-quality" means, because so far, early education has suffered terribly from the pushing of developmentally inappropriate academicsMaking kindergarten the new first grade has been problematic. Extending that principle downward to 4-year-olds is a bad idea. Maybe Duncan has something else in mind, but if so, he should say so.
Poverty is not destiny.
Duncan has remained adamant--some children can succeed despite coming from a background of poverty, therefor all children of poverty should be able to succeed. And if they're not succeeding, it's because teachers aren't expecting enough from them. He admits that a child who lives in poverty "has a lot to wrestle with," but Duncan has never been willing to discuss how those problems might be mitigated to help the child succeed. For him, poverty remains an excuse that teachers use.
Equal is not equitable.
Duncan says we should not give all students the same resources, but the resources that they need. The problem here has always been who will decide what students need. When Hurricane Katrina leveled the New Orleans school system, Duncan thought that was a great thing, because the city had not been "serious" about its schools. The implication was that what New Orleans needed was some gifted outsiders to come to town and straighten the locals out, including telling them what they needed. This has not worked. But the myth of rescue by outsiders was a dominant tale of the Duncan administration, from Teach for America, with its trained-for-five-week teacher temps, to charter takeovers and makeovers that imposed strict no-excuses on poor black students that rich white families would never have tolerated.
Teachers matter deeply.
Duncan writes "teachers are the most important factor in a student's school experience." That's true--but it is true that outside factors exert from four to eight times the influence of a teacher.
Duncan cites Raj Chetty, an economist whose work often referenced as proof that one good teacher "can increase the lifetime earning of an entire class by $250,000." You can follow links to many scholarly debunkings of Chetty, or you can just look at the visible-to-laypersons holes in his findings.
To simplify. Look at what students are making at age 28. Chart the test-based VAM scores of their early teachers (another debunked measure). Assume that the difference in earnings (about $250) will continue in perpetuity. Assume that twenty-eight classmates of the high earner have enjoyed a similar effect. Multiply. Voila.
Or, since we know that high test scores tend to correlate to higher-income families, and so does later job success, we could say that students from wealthy families tend to both get good test scores and grow up to get good jobs.
Duncan is also fond of the notion that class size doesn't matter as much as teacher quality, as if teacher quality isn't affected by class size. A paragraph later Duncan reasserts the importance of the "building meaningful relationships" with students, but he has never seemed to consider how much harder that is to do in a classroom full of thirty or forty or fifty students.
The "job" of our children's generation will be learning.
Another central myth of the Duncan years was that if every student went to college and got a great education, every student would be wealthy, or at least middle class. Poverty would disappear because everyone had a great education. For the many twenty-somethings who are working at minimum wage jobs while their degree gathers dust, this seems like an odd assertion.
But Duncan claims that "the next generation of learners won't go looking for 'jobs'--they will create jobs." Duncan is sure that skills will matter, and that we no longer need rote memorization of facts. I would challenge Duncan to show me a school where rote memorization of facts is still the norm, but I would also challenge him to explain how "habits of mind" and "critical thinking" can be exercised by someone who doesn't have a strong foundation of content knowledge.
He's not wrong that "joy in learning" and being "motivated by the challenge of solving problems" are good and important things. But he's a bit fuzzy on how, exactly, these will cause jobs to appear.
We get to choose when to compete--and when to collaborate.
He never explains who "we" are in this idea. He thinks it was good as USED secretary to cooperate with other countries (he says he learned things that were "invaluable," though he doesn't say what). But as USED secretary he made states compete for support from the feds. He supported charter schools and the notion that competition improved education. The backbone of his major policies was to make everyone compete. And yet here he says "education is something we must collaborate on."
Walking and talking.
Arne Duncan always has talked a good game. He tied the fate of schools and teachers to test results, then complained that schools were putting too much emphasis on tests. He trumpeted the importance of teachers, then promoted policies and standards that robbed teachers of autonomy in the classroom. And although he returns repeatedly to education and his years in office, he never indicates that he now realizes he made policy mistakes. If Arne Duncan is going to keep writing books and think pieces about education, he needs to offer something beyond, "I was right all along."
Originally posted at Forbes

ICYMI: Too Much Snow Edition (1/20)

While you're waiting to dig out (or feeling clever because you live somewhere where you don't have to), here are some pieces from the week for your reading. Remember to share. Only you can amplify writer voices.

These Students Walked Onto Westminster Campus And Into History

Another chapter from the history of integration in the US.

Five Years After Common Core A Mysterious Spike In Failure Rate Among NY High Schools

Huh. What could it be? The Hechinger Report lays out the phenomenon.

League Of Women Voters Calls For Charter Changes 

The usually-quiet League has some feelings about the problems with charter schools-- and they're getting some flack for them.

Summit Learning-- Where's The Research

Summit Learning would rather not let Havard take a look any their actual results-- but they would like to claim that such research has happened.

Cory Booker and Charters

While LA teachers were striking and raising the issue of charter schools, Cory Booker was at a charter school for a rally. Steve Singer takes a look at Booker's privatizing history.

Kids in Disadvantaged Schools Don't Need Tests To Tell Them They're Being Cheated 

Boy, have I missed Jersey Jazzman, but he's back at the blogging biz, strong as ever (only now we have to call him Dr. Jazzman).

Writing As Filling In The Blanks

You may be unaware that the creator of the Mr. Fitz comic strip also blogs, and has some important things to say about the state of test-driven faux writing instruction.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Why TFA Doesn't Get More Edu-respect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

US Teens At Their Worst

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

From other angles, it only gets worse

And here's a description of what happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 18, 2019

DeVos Offers Advice From Within The Bubble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 17, 2019

If You Care About Early Childhood Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, Arne.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

FL: The Unsurprising Teacher "Shortage"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Jeanne Allen on LAUSD: Fire Them All

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 14, 2019

SAT: New Frontiers In Pointlessness

David Coleman, he who single-handedly built the architecture of Common Core ELA in the image of his own (untrained) biases about how language should be taught, is taking a step back from some of his College Board duties. That news has been accompanied by further evidence that the SAT is increasingly pointless.

Like most of the CC architects, isn't stick around to make sure his baby was properly installed and put to use; instead, he moved to start cashing in, which in his case meant a lucrative gig at the College Board, the folks who bring us the SAT, PSAT and AP courses. He's been serving as both president and CEO of the company, but last week he stepped back from the president spot and the company installed Jeremy Singer in the post.

Singer is a fine fit. He's been the COO at College Board since 2013; before that he was with Kaplan, the test prep people. His career also includes a stint at McGraw-Hill, a school turnaround outfit, and a web-delivered solutions company. This after he started out in the business development biz, highlighted by a stay at McKinsey.

Digital baloney and business growth are his things, so it's not surprising that announcements of his rise focused on the "technological transformation" of the College Board. But some of the comments in this EdSurge article are not very inspirational.

Some probable goals: expanding the "partnership" with Khan Academy, simplifying the college application process, and "easing the financial burden" of applying to colleges. So, I don't know-- lowering their prices?

But then Singer also offers observations like this. Reflecting on his time with Kapplan, the test-prep giant:

His experiences had revealed how inaccessible commercial test prep was for low-income students, and it instilled in him the idea that “great test practice should be available to all students, not only those who could afford it,” he says.

You know what would be really great for students? A test that measures something other than how much test prep you did to take the test. Singer was the one who Khanified the AP tests, and other CB officials think that's swell:

“The Khan Academy partnership really makes it possible for students to access high-quality learning that they didn’t have before,” says Kaine Osburn, chair of the finance committee for the College Board’s board of trustees and superintendent of Lake Zurich Community Unit School District 95 in Illinois. “The test prep market was inequitable, and now it’s equitable.”

Emphasis mine, because weren't students supposed to have access to the high-quality learning of an AP course, generally taught by teachers have been trained to teach AP courses? Are you telling me that students don't need to actually take an AP course-- just watch a bunch of Khan Academy videos? Are you telling me that a video provides more "high quality learning" than a live human teacher? Yes, videos can be useful for certain types of instruction, but if I stood in front of a class, delivered a lesson, and then, when students asked questions, I just delivered the exact same lesson again-- well, nobody would be hailing my high quality instruction.

Another big Singer goal is to "boldly reduce complexity," and he has a point in saying that the College Board has used lots of complicated little ideas that mostly just reduce transparency of the whole business. Singer reduce some of this. The stated goal is to make applying to college less scary and less complicated. Of course, a really good way to do that would be to apply to a college that didn't require SAT scores at all. But the College Board isn't that interested in making college application simpler.

The College Board is a business, not a public service organization, so many of these simplification ideas look suspiciously like market capture ideas. For instance, the College Board has been working with the Coalition for College Application (a collection of 140-ish colleges) to set up a system by which students can submit SAT scores and college applications through a single site. This helps cement what has always been SAT's greatest marketing tool-- the perception that taking the SAT is one of those things you have to do to go to college.

EdSurge noted that ACT has been expanding its reach through acquisitions. It's an interesting question to ask Singer, who arrived at McGraw-Hill because the publisher acquired a company he was running. His reply is that College Board prefers partnerships; he mentions AIR and Pearson, though he might also have mentioned the College Board's success in getting some states to use the SAT as their required Big Standardized Test. He also talks happily about how these days, they are happy to be competing with the Big Boys for tech department talent.

At no point in the article does he talk about working to make the SAT a more accurate and useful measure of student academic ability.

But that's the SAT-- a test that mostly measures student socio-economic background and, of course, how well the student has prepped for the SAT. It is one of the great testing tautologies in the US education scene. Meanwhile, the best measure of college readiness and predictor of college success remains a student's high school GPA.  I don't want to see the 1,700 people at the College Board hungry and out of work, but I still have to wonder why we're still bothering wit the SAT at all.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

ICYMI: Jazz In Church Edition (1/13)

Today was m day to visit my brother's church to play some jazz versions of old hymns. Fun times, but it ace for a full family day. Nevertheless, I have some reading for you from the week. Remember-- if you think it's a good one, share it and amplify the voice.

Charter Lobby Still Spending Money in Connecticut

Wendy Lecker lays out the ways in which the usual charter lobbyists are still plying their trade in Connecticut to garner as much influence as they can.

Challenging the Myths About Teachers

Love Long and Prosper is a new blog to us here at the Curmudgucation Institute, and this is a worthwhile post to serve as an introduction.

100 Arizona Charter Schools In. Danger Of Closing

No, that's not one of my usual typos-- about 100 charter schools in Arizona re in danger of going out of business because they've botched their financial management. Just mazing.

Whatever Happened to the Waiting for Superman Kids

Gary Rubinstein always asks the good questions. Like, whatever happened to the students who were used as the focus of Waiting for Superman, the classic public-school-trashing film.

Fables of School Reform

Audrey Watters is one of the great chroniclers of ed tech. Here is another great look at the long history of reformy baloney.

How To Teach Virtue? Start with a Charter School

Nancy Flanagan has been watching reformster Checker Finn clutch his very expensive pearls for years, and she has a few thoughts about his latest outburst.

When You Give a Teacher A Gun

Mitchell Robinson takes a look at a piece about arming teachers, and he has a few thoughts.

Public School Students Are Being Erased From TV,  Movies, and Other Media

Steven Singer has noticed something odd happening with school aged characters in pop culture. They've stopped going to public school.

South Carolina Hasn't Enforced Class Size Limits Since 2010. It's Starting To Show.   

South Carolina continues to cut educational corners while hoping that its underpaid teachers can somehow pick up the slack.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Four Reasons Charters Are A Bad Fit For Rural Communities

For just a moment, I'm going to set aside the larger problems of charters and privatization nationally. Charter advocates and education reformers have recently turned their attention to rural communities. Last summer, Mike Petrilli (Fordham Institute) unleashed one of his wide-release op-eds to point out the "problem" of "charter deserts"--those markets where charter schools have made few inroads. Andy Smarick and Mike McShane just released an entire volume of essays about rural education, and at the 74, Arielle Dreher published a thoughtful piece about one of the tensions inherent in rural education--are schools supposed to educate students to revitalize the local community or to escape it?
There are fewer than 800 charter schools in the rural parts of this country, and some advocates of choice are anxious to open up that untapped market. But there are some reasons that charter schools are particularly bad fits for rural areas.

Rural Schools Are Part Of The Heart Of Their Communities

My children went to school in a tiny village where the two central institutions were the elementary school and the volunteer fire department. In rural and small town areas, grown adults still identify themselves by what high school they graduated from. Sporting events, school concerts, art displays--these are attended by all sorts of people who are not actual parents of the participants. Launching a charter school in this setting is about as welcome as having a guy move into the house next door and inviting your children to call him "Dad."

Rural Schools Run On Tight Budgets

One does not remove a few hundred thousand dollars from a rural school budget without really feeling it. Most rural districts are lean operations already, without fifteen jobs like Assistant Vice-Superintendent in charge of Paper that can be easily absorbed. Transportation may be a huge chunk of the budget, and there really isn't any way to tighten that particular belt. The minute a charter starts "redirecting" tax dollars away from a rural district, that district will feel the hurt.

Rural Communities Are Not Always Easily Entered By Outsiders

This is not to suggest that every rural community is straight out of Deliverance. But city folks often drastically underestimate how important it is to know the territory. Every small town can tell a story about some city big shot who rolled into town and thought he was going to institute sweeping changes, only to fall flat on his face.
In part, there is no mystery here. Someone who is a big-time operator in New York City would not imagine that he could just stroll into Chicago without first studying the lay of the land and getting connected to the right people. Why imagine that moving into a small town would be different. If anything, a small town is more difficult, because everybody knows everybody. True story: a sharp operator moved into our area as operator of the hotel in town and planned to make it the arts hub of the area. He planned to kick things off with a big festival featuring choirs from all four area high schools and to do that he called each director and told her that the other three were already on board. Those choir directors were neighbors and sang in the same church choir; his lies didn't help him get launched. Even when they are honest, outside operators have a hard time moving and shaking in rural areas.

Charter operators have a history of bypassing the local community they enter, of doing charters to the locals instead of with them. In cities where the power centers may be located far from the neighborhoods in question, that may be successful. In rural areas, it's less likely to succeed.

Rural Communities Are Limited Markets

Charters are launched with primary attention to business concerns, not educational ones. It is more appealing to launch your charter business in a city with a half a million potential customers than a rural area with five hundred potential customers. Rural areas offer little in the way of the attractive real estate deals that have powered some urban charters. Nor do rural areas have large numbers of wealthy backers willing to help finance a charter operation. If you are hoping, directly or indirectly, to make some money running your charter, there are riper markets to approach than rural ones. Even if you hope to do good, but want to be sure you have a solid financial basis, there are better places to launch than in a rural area.

When Do Rural Charters Make Good Sense

The small community of Tidioute, Pennsylvania, lost its public school due to budget cuts in the larger district of which they were a part. So to keep the heart of their community intact and their children's education local, they re-opened their local school as a charter school, operated and controlled by local folks.

It is the one approach to rural chartering that makes sense--a local school under local control created to meet a local need. That's a good charter.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Why The Reading Wars Will Never End

I made the mistake of tossing a comment into the middle of a twitter thread on Monday. Not a nice quiet subject like vaccinations or abortion or Trump's wall, but reading. As soon as it became apparent that thread would blow up and swallow my feed, I could have asked to be cut loose or just muted the participants, but I was curious. How much longer would this go on? The answer is that after five days, the argument is still flopping around like a beached herring.

The latest explosion in the ageless reading wars was sparked by Emily Hanford, who has been making the rounds with variations on an article asserting that science tells exactly how people learn to read and teachers should be doing more of that.

Will Hanford's piece, or some blistering response to it, finally settle the reading wars once and for all?

Of course not.

Teach phonics. Don't teach phonics. Whole language! Decoding is everything. Knowledge base is everything. On and on and on we go. It will never end.

The reading war will not go on eternally because Some People are obdurate dopes. I mean, Some People are obdurate dopes, but that's not the heart of the problem.

The heart of the problem is that we don't know how to tell what works. And that's because we don't have a method to "scientifically" measure how well someone reads.

Yes, we have tests. But testing and pedagogy of reading are mostly locked in a tautological embrace. I think decoding is The Thing, so I create a test that focuses on decoding, then implement classroom practices to improve decoding skills and voila-- I scientifically prove that my decoding-based pedagogy works. Mostly what we're busy proving is that particular sorts of practices prepare students for particular sorts of tests. Big whoop.

We get stuck because we don't know what Being A Good Reader really means. Chris can read a book about dinosaurs and tell you every important fact, idea, and theme after just one reading, but ten times through a book about sewing and Chris can't tell you the difference between a needle and a bobbin. Pat reads the sewing book and can't pass a test about it, but can operate a sewing machine far better than before reading the book. Sam can read short passages and answer comprehension questions, and so aces tests like the PARCC-- but Sam can't read an entire book and come away with anything except the broadest idea of what it included. Gnip and Gnop (I'm running out of gender neutral names) can both read the same article, but when they're done, Gnip understands exactly in detail what the article says, but doesn't realize it's bunk, while Gnop only about half gets what the author says, but can explain why it's all baloney. Blorgenthal reads car magazines daily, voraciously, with great understanding, but can't get through a single paragraph of their history textbook. I know a woman who keeps devouring books about Jewish theology and building a deeper and deeper understanding, but who could not finish a work of fiction if you paid her. And lots of folks can't make any sense out of poetry (including the vast number of people who misread "The Road Not Taken")

Now go ahead and rank all these people according to how well they read.

As with writing, we can mostly identify those who are on the mountaintop and those who are in the pits below, but on the mountain side, it all gets kind of fuzzy.

In writing, at least, we talk about purpose and audience. Doesn't purpose make a difference in reading? Does it make a difference if the purpose is artificial, like, say, reading in order to take a test or to satisfy a teacher? (And no, Common Core's artificial division of fiction and information doesn't really address these questions.)

We know a bunch of different problems that struggling readers can have, and we know solutions to some of those problems (though many wash up on the shores of The Student Has To Care Enough To Want To Do The Hard Thing). We know that past a certain point, readers get better by doing more reading.

And every actual classroom teacher knows that some combination of a wide variety of tools is necessary-- and different-- for every student. There is, in fact, science to (sort of) back them up. So the war can be over, right? Everyone can go home? If only.

The most important lesson of the reading wars is that when any one side wins, students lose. In schools where all decoding was dropped and students were left to touch and feel their way through texts, the students suffered. And we are, hopefully, just emerging from as period when the mechanic were ascendant, with their insistence that reading was comprised of free-floating "skills" that could be developed and applied completely separate from context and content knowledge. That has been bad for everyone.

People know what the answer is. A full tool kit, applied thoughtfully by a professional. When one side is winning, many kits are missing some of the tools. But to have the argument that the house must be built with only a hammer or only with nails is just foolish.

So why will the argument not die?

Well, partly because Some People are obdurate dopes. But also because we will always have a chorus of people saying, "Can that kid read? How well? Prove it." Reading, as much as anything in education, demands that we measure what cannot be measured. So we create ways to measure a text's "reading level," and it's mostly bunk. We crank out reading tests, and some are diagnostically useful, but as a means of precisely quantifying how well a student read-- bunk. Reading assessment brings us up against the biggest challenge in education-- how to make visible a process that goes on entirely inside the student's head. And every attempt to measure the process/skill/knowledge requires test manufacturers to simplify it, to take something with twelve dimensions and squeeze it down to two.

Every attempt to measure means a truncated understanding of what's going on, which in turn leads to a distortion of the relationships between the many tools, which in turn leads to the false sense that one tool is The Only True Tool. And the war breaks out anew.

The attempt to make the invisible visible accurately really requires a whole toolbox full of artificial activities to try to tease out what's going on in there, and those tools will always be imperfect. That's fine. I am not arguing that we just give up on the whole business and go home. Nor do I know how to design a test that would really absolutely measure reading or literacy in a way that would let us slap a nice clear number on it. I am imploring teachers, reading experts, policy wonks, reformsters, bureaucrats and politicians to remember the nature of how we generate the "data" and to stop mistaking it for a Great Objective Truth handed down from God. Stop imagining that any single test tells you how well a student or many students read. Let the reading wars rage on, but most of all, never let there be a winner.