Friday, February 15, 2019

PA: The Death of Cyber Charters (Maybe, Finally)

In the entire education ocean, cyber charters continue to be a festering garbage patch, and a recently proposed bill could clean them out of Pennsylvania.

It is not that cyber charters could not be useful for a select group of students with special needs. But in the whole panoply of failed reform ideas, none have failed harder and more thoroughly than cyber charters. In fact, they have failed so hard that among their opponents you will find many supporters of bricks and mortar charters. CREDO, the clearing house for choice friendly research, found them hugely ineffective. Their problems are legion. Even The 74, a generally pro-choice site, recently took a hard swing at cybers. In at least five states, cybers are being shut down.

But in Pennsylvania, it's still cyber-Christmas. Pennsylvania has one of the largest cyber-sectors in the country, and provides no oversight or accountability? How little? No PA cybers have yet "passed" a single year of school accountability scores. One of the biggest fraudsters had to be caught by the feds. And perhaps most astonishing, we learned last month that ten of the fifteen Pennsylvania cyber charters are operating without a current charter agreement! In one case the charter expired in 2012.

PA cybers are huge money makers; they are reimbursed at the full per-pupil formula, but spend far less. So a cyber collects generally from $10,000 to $25,000 for each student, and spends a fraction of that on each student, pocketing the rest.

Several lawmakers in Harrisburg would like to put a stop to that.

Senate Bill 34's prime sponsor is Judith Schwank of Berks County, a former dean at Delaware Valley College who's been in the Senate since 2011. Her bill's principle is pretty simple-- if a district has its own in-house virtual school, it does not have to pay for a student to attend an outside cyber. If a family pulls a student from Hypothetical High and decides that instead of Hypothetical's own cyber school they want to send Junior to, say, K12 cyber school, then the family has to pay the bill-- not the school district.

“It’s crazy,” said State Sen. Schwank, of the fees districts pay to cyber charters. “It’s not based on actual delivery of educational programming.”

What the impact be?

“I think cyber charter schools would no longer exist,” said Maurice Flurie III, CEO of Commonwealth Charter Academy, the state’s second-largest cyber charter.

Most school districts already have that in-house cyber-capability, either within the district or through the state's regional Intermediate units, and could start handling the cyber influx tomorrow.

How important would this be to school districts? Well, the commonwealth's 500 school districts paid about $454,000,000 to cyber schools in 2016-2017. So financially the impact is huge. There is also the human impact-- a large number of cyber charter students return to public school, academically behind (and if the charters hold onto the student past a certain date, they get to keep all the money but jettison the costs back to public schools). In short, the financial cost is huge, but the human and educational costs are incalculable.

Cybers are complaining that families could not afford the tuition, but then, the tuition is grossly over-inflated (the cybers have none of the expenses of a school with a physical school, yet collect the same funding as a bricks and mortar charter), so maybe they would go out of business or maybe they would have to cut tuition costs and lose their huge profit margins if they really wanted to stay in business.

How likely is it that any of this will happen? Well, a similar bill is slated for the House of Representatives by Republican Curt Sonney of Erie, who is now the new head of the education committee, so that's good-- but this bill has been raised in Harrisburg before, where it died a quiet death. Our GOP controlled legislature is not very public school friendly. And when you are making truckloads of money, you can afford some pretty aggressive lobbying. Just two companies-- K12 and Connections-- spent tens of millions of dollars over fifteen years to keep legislatures friendly, and plenty of that has been spent in Harrisburg.

And yet. And yet.

The drumbeat about charter funding general and cyber charters in particular has been heard in this state for years now, particularly from local boards of all political stripes who are getting tired of taking heat for decisions made by the legislature (I have heard more than one board member express "They yell at us for mismanaging the money, but it's the damn state!" There's no reason this couldn't be the year we hit a tipping point. There's a big state push for full funding for public schools and if your representative wants to ask where he's supposed to find the money, well, there's a whole big pile marked "cyber schools" that is essentially thrown away.

So if you're in PA, contact your legislator and tell him the time has come to pull the plug on the most failed experiment in education. Tell him to put the taxpayer's money back where t belongs-- financing public schools.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Speedbumps on the Road to Curriculum's Golden Age

Among the recent shifts in reform thought is one to a focus on curriculum and content, and I don't hate it. One of the hugely screwed up features of the last two decades has been the content-stripped focus on hollow skills. Reading is not a set of skills that can somehow be taught and practiced in a content-free vacuum, but that's what we've been trying to do for most of the 21st century, so far.

So this piece by Robert Pondiscio on the Fordham's blog is a welcome addition to the ongoing conversation about education. Pondiscio has been a rich content guy all along, and it's good to see him arguing how strong content can push aside the bad practices of recent years rather than making twisty arguments that Common Core and rich content are somehow two peas in a pod.

There are several points in the piece I want to underline, but I also want to note a huge roadblock or two on the trail to Contentville.

Most important: Under NCLB and Common Core, curriculum is judged strictly on its "alignment."

There are a variety of problems like this, not the least of which is that "alignment" can be completed successfully as a complex paperwork problem. But as Pondiscio correctly points out, alignment doesn't care about content:

“Alignment” also tells us nothing about literary merit, quality, or lasting value. You can explore themes of fratricide and revenge by studying Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Disney’s The Lion King. In no way are they “equal.” A three-star restaurant and Taco Bell may both get “A” ratings from the board of health if they’re aligned (as they must be) to safe food handling standards, but they are not otherwise comparable.

Pondiscio also notes that the skills-centered movement we've been living under completely ignores the importance of prior knowledge in reading-- and writing, too, for that matter. This is huge. At the lower levels, it is useless to decode a word you've never heard of. At higher levels, it's hard to comprehend what you know nothing about, no matter how well you've practiced your drawing inferences and context clue reading. When you don't know anything about the context, it will not yield any clues.

The article is written mainly to plug a new tool for measuring ELA curricular sweetness, and I have no opinions about it at this point. As described by Pondiscio, it sounds like a good idea.The team to watch for is David Steiner and Ashley Berner, and their tool is about knowledge mapping. For the moment, I'm agnostic. At the same time, Chiefs for Change are involved, so I am hesitant to get excited. But all of that is for another day and the general topic of "How are reformsters going to screw this up?"

One line of Pondiscio's piece brought me up short and reminded of other major obstacles in the path of any golden (or even bronze or pewter) age of curriculum:

It’s been a pleasant surprise to see curriculum come into its own in the last few years as a potentially powerful lever for improving student outcomes.

Please, God, no. "Improving student outcomes" still means "raising test scores," and as long as that's our metric, the quartz age of curriculum is doomed.

Test scores are still tied to the skills-centered baloney of the last two decades. They still ignore, for instance, any of the type of learning involved in reading an entire work, chewing on it for a week or two, and then writing a thoughtful self-directed response to the work as a whole. The tests are still based on reading a short excerpt and answering some multiple choice questions.

It would not matter if we could some how drop a rich curriculum into the hollow heart of the current test-centered practices. But that's not quite possible, for two reasons.

First is that high stakes testing drives curriculum. We may measure curriculum in the abstract by checking on its alignment, but on the ground, in schools, the test is driving the curriculum. For example, the standards include speaking and listening standards, but nobody cares because they aren't on the Big Standardized Test. Meanwhile, English teachers are being pummeled with test prep materials and practice and giving the NWEA MAP test or some other pre-test test and crunching the "data" to see what they need to teach harder in hopes that students will get a couple more questions correct.

Second. Although I like to call the skills-centered standards hollow and without any content knowledge involved, that's not exactly true. There is content, but it's content along the lines of "Types of Distractors Preferred by Makers of the Big Standardized Test" or "What Testmakers Mean by Terms Like Mood and Best." The test manufacturers have their own language, their own preferred lines of reasoning. That's why they think opinion questions like "Which sentence best supports the author's intent" only have one answer-- their answer. This is not valuable content, and it certainly isn't rich content, and it has no use except to prep students for the test-- but it is content and as such takes up space, time, and oxygen in the classroom. And while plenty of teachers are quietly thumbing their nose at it and ignoring it, many are using it as their course content.

Which means that in order to make space for an actual rich curriculum, this other crap has to be cleared away. And that won't happen as long as too many administrators are "data driven" acolytes of testing.

In order for the golden age of curriculum to dawn, the chintz age of testing has to end. The Big Standardized Test has to be swept away, drawn and quartered, killed with fire then its ashes spread to sea-- pick your metaphor. It has to go. Otherwise school districts and administrators and policy makers are going to look at curricula certified by knowledge maps and go back to the same old question-- Will this raise test scores. Administrators and school districts will look at a rich content curriculum and say, "Yeah, this looks great. You can definitely go ahead and do this once your kids are ready for the test-- hey! maybe you could do this in the last half of May once the testing is over!"

For us to enter a golden age of curriculum, tools like the one Pondiscio describes will be necessary, and they will involve a fight that will never ever end about which works, exactly, belong in such a curriculum. But we have other work to do before those tools can be used. Perhaps a silver or wooden age of curriculum-- then we could make bullets and some stakes.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

NY: Parents Call For Charter Pause and Evaluation

NYC school district's parent board has come out in opposition to raising New York's charter school cap. Will Governor Cuomo hear them?

The New York City schools are under mayoral control (never, ever, an ideal system), so they have no school boards. What they do have is thirty-six Community Education Councils composed of elected parents. Those CECs in turn have an Education Council Consortium, composed of representatives from each of the CECs. Their stated purpose is "to address issues that affect schools and communities throughout all the boroughs and meets regularly with the Chancellor to help shape, advise, provide feedback and comment on educational policies, visions and goals."

Time to check his hearing.
The CECs are more like a community school board than, say, a PTA, and they have been known to get feisty and vocal. Last fall they wrote to the state legislature to ask the mayoral power over NYC schools be "reined in."

Now the ECC has issued a unanimous statement about both the charter cap and the subcap (the cap for the state and for the city, respectively). The resolution, passed last Saturday (Feb 9) is heavy on the whereas, but it has some strong points to make:

The resolution characterizes charters in New York  as a "charter experiment" or the "unproven experiment" and describes New York City as "oversaturated" with charter schools (NYC has 39% of the state's students, but 71% of the state's charter schools). Noting that the city also has plenty of private and public options, the resolution asserts that NYC "is demonstrably not a region with a lack of alternatives as originally contemplated" in the original charter law. Meanwhile, other parts of the state have few or zero charters. If choice is so important, the resolution suggests, why aren't charter fans working on areas that have few options instead of focusing on the hot market in the city.

Charters take "substantial"resources from public schools, to the tune of $44 million in NYC (in part because NYC charters are allowed to commandeer public school buildings for free).

Charter schools lack sufficient oversight and accountability by design. Increasing the number of charters operated by CMOs would "further weaken public accountability by placing even more public funds and space resources under private CMO management" basically acting as "parallel independent school districts that operate free from public oversight"

The ECC also takes on the issue of audits. "The substantial use of public resources by Charter schools combined with a lack of oversight merits regular financial audits of all Charter schools and their CMOs through the state or city comptroller with enforced recommendations." According to law (§2854(1)(c), the charters are sub sect to audit by the state or city comptroller. The ECC is only aware of four audits actually occurring, and of course we know that some charters have fought hard against being audited. ECC notes that after the 2016 audit of Success Academy, the charter simply ignored the recommendations of the auditor.

Meanwhile, there has been no full-scale examination of what effect charts have had on the NYC system, no look at the fiscal impact of collocation, no look at the academic impact across the city, no look at the social impact on factors like diversity, no look at how waitlists actually work, no look at recruitment and retention practices.

It's a lot of whereasing, a lot of issues that the ECC would like to see addressed. But finally we arrive at the conclusion:

The Education Council Consortium, therefore,

RESOLVES, to propose a five-year moratorium on issuing new Charters in New York City and complete a system-wide impact evaluation by an outside evaluator.

Via email, Antonia Ferraro of CEC15 said yesterday:

We understand that the NYC Charter Center as well as other Charter school lobbyists and advocates are descending on Albany tomorrow [Tuesday, Feb 12]. We have been told the Governor may slip a Charter Subcap increase into the budget without consulting the public. This can’t happen. Frankly, a Charter Cap/NYC Subcap increase should be a ballot measure, not a backroom deal.

It should be noted that the parents are not pushing for a rollback of charters or an end to to charter schools in NYC,  but are asking to hit pause and evaluate, to take a few years to figure out exactly what charter schools are doing to the NYC educational landscape. Will charter-loving Governor Andrew Cuomo or the charter-friendly legislature in Albany listen to them? Well, if all their rhetoric about how choice is needed so that parent voices can be heard and n to just ignored by the system-- if all that rhetoric isn't just political banana oil, then certainly they'd stop to take seriously the resolution passed by the elected representatives of all the school parents of NYC.

We'll see if they really want to listen to parents, or if parent voices only matter when they are pro-charter.

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Problem with "Monopoly."

A standard piece of charter/choice rhetoric is to refer to the public school monopoly, the suggestion being that school choice is needed in order to break the public school stranglehold.

I'd argue that the term is not accurate, that it suggests a single nationwide education entity that imply doesn't exist. Can an enterprise be a monopoly if it's actually several thousand individual entities?

But that's not what I want to talk about today. Instead, I want to talk about what the use of he word "monopoly" reveals about the choice cheerleaders ho use it.

Let's think about this for a second.

What is a monopoly, anyway? It's a way to capture all of the market for a particular business. If I have a monopoly on widgets, that means everyone who wants to buy a widget will be giving their money to me. If you want to start a widget business, your problem is that I have captured all the customers and therefor all the money.

For many choice fans, the complaint is that the public school system had boxed out all competitors. "We would like to make money in the education business," they opine. "But the public system has captured all the customers. We could collect some of those sweet, sweet tax dollars, but first we have to bust some of the market loose."

Now look at what this framing does to students and their families. They are now part of a market to be captured in order to generate some revenue, not people to be served by fulfilling the promise of a free education for every single student. We are back to free market thinking, which has not, does not and will not serve education or students well. Where providers fight for a slice of the market, they will fight for the best parts of the market. In the free market, all customers are not created equal, so that competition to deliver mail to customers fifty miles out past East Nowheresville, to build roads through less-traveled regions, to educate students who have costly special needs--that competition isn't going to happen.

The use of "monopoly" is a signal that someone sees education as just one more market to be "liberated," and while I like the free market just fine for many things, I'll argue at length that it does not fit the needs or aims of public education. (Here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, for starters.) It signals that someone wants to have an argument about business, not education. But education is not business, and students and families are not a market.

Does public education have issues? You betcha. Are there some students who are not as well-served as they ought to be? Absolutely. But in the search for solutions, there's no reason to jump immediately to "how about a bunch of privately owned and operated schools with no transparency or local control." Even if a charter fan is not simply a privatizer looking for a way to score some tax dollars, framing education problems as business problems leads, unsurprisingly, to looking only for business solutions.

The use of "monopoly" is a signpost that tells you you're on the wrong road. It often, but not always, signals that you're dealing with someone who's more interested in privatizing education than actually solving education problems.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

ICYMI: Valentine's Edition (2/10)

A handful of worthwhile reads this week. Remember to share!

Defining High Quality Curriculum

Nancy Flanagan wants to know why curriculum is supposed to be so hard for actual teachers.

Charter Schools Are Pushing Public Education To The Brink

Jeff Bryant looks at how badly charter schools squeeze public school finances. (Spoiler alert: pretty badly)

Active Shooter Drills

A reminder, if you need one, of just how badly this business stinks, and how damaging to a school's atmosphere these little death plays are becoming.

A Wake-Up Call To AI Companies

An interview with Anand Giridharadas, a guy you should definitely know about.

What Part of No To Vouchers Do Lawmakers Not Understand   

Arizona lawmakers are determined to just sort of ignore the results of recent elections, decisions, uprising-- you name it.

The Myth of De Facto Segregation    

From the Kappan. Segregation didn't just kind of happen, and the soft bigotry of low expectations is not the major problem.

Third Grade Flunk Laws and Unintended Consequences  

Yes, Nancy Flanagan is on here twice. I can't help it if she keeps writing indispensable stuff.

The Trouble With Test-Obsessed Principals

Steven Singer takes a look at how testing messes with the front office and what that means for everyone else in the building.

Portfolio Governance Creates Unstable Charter Sector    

Firing your way to excellence involves closing lots of schools. That's not really helpful in any district.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Field Guide To Strike Objectors

In my four decades of teaching, I went through a strike twice--once as a first year teacher, and once as the president of the local union. Writing about education, I have followed dozens more. No matter what kind of public support a strike is getting, there are always some familiar tunes you can expect to hear played in opposition to a teacher walkout. Here's your guide to all the classics.
Don't they understand the district can't afford their demands?
When we were strike, a member of the board's negotiating team said publicly, "Yes, we have the money. We just don't want to give it to them." That's not usually how it goes. Folks all the way up to former US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have been chicken littling the impending financial doom of Los Angeles schools, and that's a fairly typical stance. Here's the thing to remember. When we were on strike, our state association sent us a trained education accountant to dig through the district's records (which, as a public school system, are completely public). By the time he was done, we knew as well as they did exactly what they could and could not afford. We kept that information in mind when negotiating because it would have been stupid to make demands that the district couldn't fund. When it comes to the financial side of negotiations, no union is flying blind, and no union is making demands that can't possibly be met.
It's those damned union leaders.
The teachers are fine, but those damned leaders are forcing them to strike. This tune appears in the coverage citing union president Alex Caputo-Pearl's "blind ambition." While people taking this approach often claim to love teachers, just not the union, this framing of a strike assumes that teachers are just a bunch of sheep that can be easily guided by a power-hungry union leader. Teachers are educated, used to working as individuals, and--this cannot be said often enough--not generally desirous of a walkout. Leading a teachers union is more like herding cats than sheep. And, as with most leadership positions, it's much more about following the group where it wants to go- not making up their minds for them. As the statewide strikes demonstrated last year, you can take away the union, and teachers will still find a way to unite and stand up.
Striking is so unseemly and unprofessional.
If teachers want to be treated like professionals, the argument goes, they should act like professionals, and professionals don't strike. Well, no. When your lawyer or your plumber decide they need to be paid more, they don't go on strike--they raise their rates, and the customers can take it or leave it.
Nobody gets those kinds of benefits.
This argument says that since people who work at box stores and gas stations get low pay and no benefits, why the heck do teachers need such great stuff? This is the race to the bottom. Rather than ask why teachers deserve a living wage and good benefits, better to ask why so many workers in other sectors do not.
But wait--these teachers get great pay!
The Los Angeles strike has brought up the question of how well teachers are already paid, though, of course, the LAUSD strike is about far more than teacher salaries. It is true that the average LAUSD salary is more than I ever made in a year of my entire career. It is also true that if my house were somehow replanted in L.A., it would cost ten times what I paid for it. My son lived in Los Angeles for a few years; I know how expensive it is to live there. LAUSD teachers are not overpaid. Nor are teachers generally overpaid compared to similarly-educated professions.
But what about the children?
Believe it or not, this is the objection that keeps striking teachers up at night. In fact, this might define the tipping point at which teachers walk out. On the one hand, there will be disruption and a loss of educational continuity while the strike is going on. On the other hand, things like 45-student classes are already damaging education for students, and will continue to do so for years to come. At some point, the short-term educational disruption for students right now has to be weighed against the long-term educational disruption of a system that is overcrowded, under-resourced, understaffed, and unable to attract the best teachers to work. Strikes happen when the needs of tomorrow's students loom large.
I sympathize, but this is not the way.
Ah, concern trolling. "You have a good point, but you're just hurting your own cause with this strike business. You should really find some other way." There's only one response to this song--what other way would you suggest. A strike is the tactic of last resort; when teachers strike, it's because every other option has been either been exhausted or ruled out by district administration. Sometimes what this objection means is "Strikes are hard on people and I really don't like it" and that's understandable. I don't think you can find a teacher anywhere--particularly one who has been on strike before--who would say, "Boy, I really wish I was on strike right now. Those were good times." But sometimes what this objection means is "I wish teachers would just complain in some way that was easy for everyone to ignore, like lighting candles at home or something that would let me pretend that nothing is wrong and nothing is happening" and even that is understandable, but of course it doesn't solve a thing.
The worst version of this concern trolling is when it means "Teachers should not strike or complain at all. They should just accept what the district brass decide to give them. They should know their role and shut their hole." But here's the funny thing--even if you, for instance, rewrote state law so that teachers only had the shut up and behave option, you wouldn't end teacher walkouts. In those states, teachers still walk out--but they do it one at a time, and they never come back. That's why the state of Florida, as rough as they are on teachers, are not talking about any big strikes. Instead, they're talking about teacher shortages and the vast number of students being taught by non-certified teachers.
In the end, while there are many reasons to be sad about a teacher strike, there is only one solution--the district creating a trustworthy path to resolution of the issues that the teachers have raised. Anything else is just whistling to pass the time.

Friday, February 8, 2019

IA: Choice Is Taxation Without Representation

An Iowa state senator has caught on to one of the problematic side effects of many choice programs-- disenfranchised taxpayers. Or, as somebody put it a while ago, taxation without representation.

Iowa has long allowed open enrollment; an Iowa family can enroll their student in any public school district, whether they live there or not. Currently the full per-pupil expenditure follows the student-- including the part of the expenditure that is collected by the taxpayer in the student's home district.

In other words, if I live in East Spamwich and pay taxes on my home there to fund the school. Only a large number of students from the area may attend school in West Spamwich. I'm able to vote for the school board members in the East Spamwich school board, but in West Spamwich, where much of my money goes to be spent, I have no say at all.

Republican State Senator Tom Greene (no relation, as far as I know) was newly elected in an upset contest in 2016. In real life, he's a pharmacist, but he was also the board president of Burlington School Board, and that gives him some perspective (from Radio Iowa).

“The Burlington School District totally surrounds the West Burlington School District. The West Burlington School District has 800 and 900 students; 53 percent of those students reside outside the boundaries of the West Burlington School District,” Greene says. “A huge amount of money comes into the West Burlington School District from outside, but those taxpayers have no say in how that money is spent. That’s my biggest concern.”

This, of course, is not just a problem with an open enrollment system like Iowa's, but with any choice system around. Charter and voucher fans like to extoll the free market mechanics of such a system-- if a school is bad, everyone will vote with their feet and it will deservedly close. But there are other taxpayers paying into that system-- taxpayers without students and so who cannot vote with either their feet or any other appendages. A choice system completely disenfranchises taxpayers without school age children.

Greene is proposing that only the state and federal money follow the student, which is not much of a hardship for receiving schools in a state in which local property tax only pays about 12% of the total cost.

But to establish the principle that you can't just take tax money and stick it where the voter representation don't shine would be a big change in how choice systems are handled and would have immediate implications for charter and voucher systems (though Iowa charters must be authorized and supervised by local school districts, so it's not quite as bad as California or Ohio or Florida where schools can be foisted on taxpayers by people who are neither elected nor in the district). If the bill passes, and if anybody pays attention to the implications. Keep an eye on Iowa.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

DC: Charter Leaders Make The Big Bucks

It's a phenomenon noted in many urban education-scapes. The leaders (CEO, Education Visionary, Grand High Muckity Muck, whatever) of a charter operation makes far more money than a) the local public school superintendent responsible for far more students and b) the teachers who work within the charter. But a recent Washington City Paper article by Rachel Cohen lays out some stark examples.

The article starts with Lisa Koenig who left the lawyering biz to teach at a charter. She note that her first year teaching assistant salary was less than her year-end bonus as a lawyer. Koenig stuck with it for seven years, but at one point she asked to see the salary schedule so she could evaluate some further education choices she was considering (would the additional education debt be balance by salary increases). Her charter said no, she could not see that. In fact:

“There are 120 schools but you can’t just call them up and learn their salary schedules,” she says. “It puts us in a position where we can’t make informed choices about where we work. Charter schools are free markets for all the parents and kids, but screw those teachers.”

That kind of information isn't available to anybody, because even though DC charters are funded with taxpayer dollars, they are not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests. As the DC public schools for budget information and they have to tell you. But DC charters, as with most charters in the US, can just say "Nunyabiznis."

Nor is anybody trying to find out. The charters don't attempt to figure out what average charter salary is, and the State Board of Education told City Paper that it's all outside their area.

But while charter teachers are getting shafted, charter leader are making out like bandits.

A Washington Post story in 2015 found that charter boss salaries ranged from $90K top to $350K in 2013, and that two DC charter leaders made more than the DC schools chancellor, even though she was responsible for far more students.

City Paper found that things have escalated since then. In 2017, three charter chiefs made less than $100K, while eight made more than $200K. Some of the raises-- paid for, remember, with public tax dollars-- are astounding.

Allison Kokkoros, the head of Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School and the highest-paid charter official in D.C., has gone from $248,000 in 2015  up to $541,000 in 2017.  Patricia Brantley, head of Friendship Public Charter School, was bumped from $231,000 to $308,000 between 2016 to 2017. Nor are other DC charter chiefs hurting:

In 2017, KIPP DC had four administrators making approximately $200,000 annually, and its president earned $257,000. The chair of Friendship, Donald Hense, earned over $355,000 annually between 2015 and 2017, and its CFO earned between $171,000 and $197,000 in each of those years. DC Prep’s Chief Academic Officer earned $203,000 in 2015, and $223,000 one year later. The board chair of AppleTree Early Learning earned over $231,000 annually each year since 2015, reaching $245,000 in 2017. 990 tax forms list another 110 charter administrators earning between $100,000 and $200,000 annually, although this list is likely not comprehensive, as schools are only required to disclose their top five highest-paid employees.

Probably the most amazing example City Paperr turned up was this one:

In one remarkable instance, Sonia Gutierrez, the founder and former CEO of Carlos Rosario, who now sits on the school’s board, earned $1,890,000 between 2015 and 2017. Board chair Patricia Sosa, when contacted about this large sum, says much of that had been awarded as deferred compensation from Gutierrez’s time working between July 2010 and December 2015. However, according to tax records, she was also paid an average of $326,000 annually during that period.

The argument is, of course, that charters must pay competitive salaries to attract and retain top talent.

It is free market hypocrisy of the worst sort. On the one hand, charter leaders embrace the free market in order to throw big piles of taxpayer money at charter leaders. On the other hand, charters avoid transparency in order to thwart the free market when it comes to paying teachers. Charters suffer from huge turnover, but apparently they just don't care. But keeping teachers poorly paid and in the dark so that more money can be spent on top managers is inexcusable and unsustainable, and the rules that allow charters to hide their use and misuse of taxpayer dollars ought to be changed.

Count Them As They Go

I'm asked from time to time (mostly, I think, because some people are curious but reluctant to ask) what it's like to be in my particular spot in life. Retired from teaching, sixty-one years old, raising two babies about thirty years after I raised two other babies-- as my wife and I have said at various times over the last decade, we are kind of off the map here.

So my honest answer is that I'm figuring out what it's like, trying to grow into it. But here's what I know, and I promise, beyond this navel gazing, there's a point about education.

When you first have kids, everyone tells you to focus, to pay attention, to enjoy this time because it goes by so fast. You sort of get it, but not really-- not until you've turned around the world a couple of times and suddenly your babies are gone and your full-grown human offspring have arrived.

With the twins, I can feel all the usual things-- the checking and rechecking of the developmental mileposts and getting anxious when it seems as if, maybe, they're lagging. And there is no doubt in my mind that this is far, far worse than it was thirty years ago. I already knew that-- I spent the tail end of my career teaching students who were pulled out to a high-tension stretched-thin level of anxiety driven by the certainty that they had to be on The Path or their lives would be desolate and disastrous. It's not their fault. Their parents are panicked, and why not-- there shrinking of the comfortable middle class means that folks are increasingly likely to end up either rich or poor, winner or loser, feast or famine. Despite that, I suspect we spend too much time anticipating disaster that could destroy us around every corner.

At any rate, I can feel that pull with the twins. They're about twenty months-- why isn't their language development further along? Are they too clingy and fragile? Should we re-try the thousand-and-one techniques for getting them to sleep in their own beds all night? They're almost two-- should we start looking for a pre-school, because lord knows we need to get their math and reading skills going here. After all, time's a-wasting.

I feel all of that, but at the same time I know that we will turn around a few times and they will be young men. Before you know it, they'll live on the other side of the country and we'll be futiley trying too get them on the phone. They'll have families of their own, with their own struggles and challenges, occurring (if life in this small town runs true to form) some place beyond our immediate reach. I know it will happen, because for me it is happening already.

American society has always leaned into the hustle, but we now live in desperate haste, and we have successfully communicated both the haste and the desperation to our children. Kindergartners must do what first graders, even second graders used to do. Why? What benefits will come from it? Don't ask-- just get moving. Go! Go! Go! Now! Now! Now! Make sure that four year old is learning letters-- you don't want to be left behind.

There's nothing wrong with learning early. One of my grandsons, a preschooler living oh so far away, has discovered that he can use letters to spell words, and no scientist in the history of the world has been as excited to discover anything. But nobody pushed him. Nobody sat him down at a desk and said, "You can go play when you've written your own name five times."

If there's anything we routinely ignore in education, it's that people get where they're going in their own way in their own time. That doesn't mean that people don't benefit from a push, a nudge, a little pressure. But to try to push everyone down the same track at the same speed to the same place is a fool's game.

So when a son demands to be held off his nap, or has to curl up in bed with us (and by "curl" I mean "fling his legs around like a sleeping kung-fu master") there is always a voice that says to push him to be more grown up, but that voice is drowned out by the one that says, "I would swear it was just yesterday that I held my daughter like this, and now she's thousands of miles away and busy enough that I'll be luck to catch her on the phone this week." And I leave the child right where he is.

One of the great mysteries, for me at least, of education reform is how much energy is directed toward eradicated childhood, how little trust there is in our children. We must push and contrive and control their "educational achievement," as if they were not already natural learning machines of great and terrible beauty. As if they were not built to grow, quickly and soon, despite our best efforts.

I have always described the business of education as that of helping people become more fully themselves, learning to be what it means to be fully human in the world, and seeing my four children-- two on either end of that business-- only makes me more acutely aware of awesomely mysterious, brutally challenging, and heartbreakingly swift the business is.

I've watched people caught in the middle, teens working their way through, my whole career. It's messy. It's filled with obstacles (and obstacles are not always bad-- they're the weight against which we build our strength). And it flies by on its own; why some folks feel the need to accelerate-- well, why be in a hurry to get to the end?

Education is part art, part science, but it is not a job for technicians. You cannot engineer tiny humans as if they were toasters. They are not machinery on which you can press button to reliably achieve result X. They are also not mysterious wisps at which you vaguely wave your hand and somehow they transform in magical ways, but it's the button pushers, the technicians, who hold sway in education these days.

Are there secrets that I learned from my first two children that I can apply now? Ha. I'm older now, and if not wiser, at least less of an ass. Like every other parent, I've learned that the secret is there's no secret; love them, pay attention, listen, hold them while you can, let them go and grow when you must. Be with them as they are and not as you wish they were. Do not rush the time; it will move swiftly all on its own.

Teaching is not that different. Meet them where they are. Care about them. Respect them. Help them. Support them. Push them, but don't be a jerk about it. If you must think of education as a technical engineering problem, then let me phrase my concern this way-- do not try to force what cannot be forced. This is where we are now-- technicians who are frustrated that their beautiful machine is not cranking out perfectly formed meat widgets fast enough have decided that the problem is the raw material, the tiny humans, and so we must move backward to a point before the manufacturing process, back to when the raw materials, the tiny humans, are being first formed, and commandeer that process so that the system can have raw materials that better serve the system. And so the dehumanization of education marches on, and policy leaders eye my twins with suspicion because they just might not be getting enough test preparation soon enough.

If I were a first time parent, it might be possible to scare me. But I taught for thirty-nine years and raised two wonderful human beings through a divorce and, in one case, more than a little conflict. My wife and I will get things wrong and get things right, and there will be no way to be certain ahead of time which things are which. But most of all I know that time is short, life is fleeting, and there is not only no need to rush, there is a need to not rush. Every day is a day you don't get over, and every moment may very well be the last of its kind.

Breathe. Focus. Listen. Hold on.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Portfolio School Management For Dummies

One of the issues that was hanging over the Los Angeles teacher strike is the idea of portfolio management; the UTLA asserts that Superintendent Austin Beutner already has a plan prepared for converting the LAUSD to a multi-portfolio model. In Denver, the model has already been rolled out, to less than stellar result. It's a challenging issue to discuss because so few people understand exactly how a portfolio model is supposed to work.

So here, with issues over-simplified and corners cut, is your dummies' guide to portfolio management.
The first thing to understand about the portfolio model is that nobody anywhere knows exactly what a portfolio model is. Back in 2010,  it took three writers at Education Week (Jeffrey R. Henig, Katrina E. Bulkley, & Henry M. Levin) to come up with this pretty good explanation:

The strategy is, rather, a loosely coupled conglomeration of ideas held together by the metaphor of a well-managed stock portfolio and its proponents’ unshakable belief that the first step for successful reform must be to dismantle the bureaucratic and political institutions that have built up around the status quo.

That's the second thing to know--that "portfolio" here is based on the idea of an investment portfolio (Austin Beutner, for what it's worth, made his bundle in investment banking). With an financial portfolio, you move your money in and out of various investments depending on how they're performing and what your goals are. With a school portfolio, you move your resources in and out of schools--all schools including public and charter--based on how those schools are performing.

The Center for Reinventing Public Education, a Washington state ed reform thinky tank, has tried to work up a portfolio model strategy guide, and they list seven characteristics of portfolio strategy: Unbridled school choice, school autonomy under strong principals, funding on per-pupil basis (the money follows the child), recruitment of talent, outside "partnerships," performance-based accountability, and public engagement.

There are ideas here that are implied but not always said out loud by portfolio fans. A big one is the notion that all of the old educational bureaucracy will be obliterated. Each school is run by a high-powered CEO who answers to the high-powered super-CEO (or super-CEO board) who runs the whole portfolio. This means removing as many rules as possible and, ideally, union protections for teachers. These hero CEOs would be able to do as they see fit without having to deal with regulations and bureaucracy and elected school board members.

Another idea is that public schools and charter schools are gathered in the same portfolio, so that charters have easy access to the same pile of public tax dollars that public schools do. Portfolio models favor the common enrollment system, a one-stop shop that has the effect of turning all students in the system into potential charter customers.

Even less openly discussed is that portfolio models are privatization writ large. In places like Indianapolis, the portfolio model has been pushed and overseen by a group of "civic-minded" private operators. The Mind Trust of Indianapolis flexed its political and financial muscle and elbowed its way into "partnership" with the public school system, pushing for the expansion of charters in a manner perhaps calculated to destabilize the public schools and create financial peril for low-scoring schools. There is a certain gutsy aggressiveness to how portfolio models are established. Step One: Bob sets up a snack vending stand in the lobby of a local restaurant. Step Two: When the owner complains about how Bob is draining business, Bob smiles and says, "Look, let's just become partners under one brand. And I just happen to know a guy who would be great to run it."

In other words, another way to understand the portfolio model is as a forced merger between public and charter schools, with the charter school management model used to run the new entity. With a good helping of "firing your way to excellence" on an institutional scale.

A variety of wrinkles can be added. Beutner's idea for L.A. involves thirty-two separate "portfolios" that would compete against each other for resources. The results of such competition are easy to predict--the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

The problems with the portfolio model are numerous.

Central to the model is the ability to measure success in schools, so that the least "successful" can be closed and their resources redistributed, their operation replaced by some hot new edupreneur. The problem is that here in 2019 we still have no reliable valid means of measuring school success, still defining it most commonly as scores on a single standardized math and reading test. Trying to fudge that evaluation gap gives schools powerful motivation to cream the best students and push out the rest (just one of the problems to emerge in New Orleans, another supposed example of portfolio awesomeness). The result is a school choice system that is really a system in which the schools choose their students, and low-performing students who struggle get no choice at all. And there is no place for parents to voice that concern, because in sweeping the bureaucracy away, the portfolio model also sweeps away local voice.

At its heart, the portfolio model is about the school czar being able to move resources in and out of the best and worst schools, like dollars shuffling between stock portfolios. But dollars don't care where they're invested. Students, on the other hand, do not benefit from a system in which they are shuffled around like poker chips on a tilted table. Within its discussion of portfolio strategy, CRPE writes "Portfolio cities make sure there are good schools in every neighborhood." But cities and states could do that now, by simply investing fully in the public school system, fulfilling the promise that every child in this country should be able to attend a great school without leaving her community.
Originally posted at Forbes

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Hammering the Littles: Are The Kids Really All Right?

The headline says "Kindergarten classes are getting more academic. New research says the kids are all right." The news is that a big shiny new study shows that the increasingly academic approach to kindergarten is okee dokee.

The quick take is that the study followed 20,000 kindergarten students and found that they both achieved academically and their social and emotional development was just fine. So, apparently, all the adult humans who were concerned that over-emphasizing academics with five-year-olds was developmentally inappropriate, at best a waste of time, and at worst destructive-- well, all of those folks can just chill because this study says everything is hunky and dory.

Here are some of the reasons that you can ignore this study.

1) The study is based on the 2010-2011 school year. That means these students were barely, if at all, subjected to the rollout of Common Core, a set of standards that seriously pushed developmentally inappropriate instruction into the primary grades. It means that the study was only looking at the academic advances in kindergarten that happened under No Child Left Behind, but predates the even huger ramping up that happened in the last decade.

In other words, this is like saying, "A study of increased auto speeds between 1910 and 1915 showed little correlation between auto speed and traffic fatalities, so there's no reason we can't increase the current speed limit to 150 mph."

2) If you're a regular reader, you already know what I'm going to say-- their measure of academic achievement is based on a math and reading test. That's it. For the love of God-- show me a parent who sends their precious five year old off to school saying, "Take good care of her this year, and whatever you do, get her to score well on a standardized math and reading test."

And that was a test given at the end of the kindergarten year, which means that if the study proved anything at all, it proved that spending a year getting students ready to take a test tends to improve their score on that test. Give them the test at the beginning of first grade and then we can talk.

Those first two points are, for me, enough to disqualify the study from serious consideration. But there's more.

3) For instance, the folks at Defending the Early Years (who also responded to this study with a much more scholarly and grown-up response than you can expect from me) point out one other important fact about this business of giving littles a math and reading test:

The authors based their conclusions on kindergartners’ test scores in math and English language arts. They note that, in the standards-and-testing-based “reform” movement of the 1980s and 1990s, “standardized testing was not mandated until the third grade.” But they don’t say why. The reason is that testing experts universally agree that standardized test scores have virtually no meaning before third grade. According to the findings of the National Research Council’s definitive “High Stakes” study, basing educational policymaking on kindergarten test scores is essentially a form of educational malpractice.

4) The other missing link here? Any kind of causal connection between early display of reading skills and benefits to the student further down the line. Do children who start reading earlier end up lifelong readers or outstanding students? And if so, is that simply correlation and not causation. In other words, we might find that students with larger shoe sizes at age 5 are more likely to grow up to be basketball players, but it would not follow that surgically enlarging the feet of kindergartners would turn them into later-life NBA material.

There are other problems.

5) How, exactly, are we measuring social and emotional health in five year olds. DEY has some thoughts about that, but I find the idea of measuring SE health in littles a bit mind-blowing. I'm especially afraid of systems that mark compliant behavior as healthy. But that's a conversation for another day.

6) The study hinges on spending "additional time" on "advanced" material. Neither term is clearly or exactly defined.

One more bad study would be neither here nor there, except this is exactly the kind of study some folks are dying to use against the umpteen studies that show that hammering littles with academics is a bad idea. If you are having a spirited discussion with one of those folks, and they try to wave this study in your face, do not be impressed or intimidated or silenced.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Reclaiming Choice

So we just froze our way through School Choice Week, the annual PR blitz in favor of privatizing public education, and I find myself troubled and annoyed by the word "choice."

See, I favor choice. In all my years at our tiny small town/rural high school, we'v e graduated students who went on to become doctors, artists, teachers, welders, construction workers, lawyers, telephone linemen, and jobs you don't even realize exist. We have sent them to Ivy League schools and community colleges and two year tech schools and straight into jobs they love. And our students were able to choose those paths in life because they were able to choose the kind of education they wanted while they were with us. They could spend half their days in a shop at the CTE program we've offered for fifty years. They could pursue extra challenging courses in our honors track, prep for college, or aim for working world skills. They could take art classes, cooking classes, go full band geek.

These students had ample choice-- and they could exercise that choice without to apply and re-apply if they changed their minds. Changing their life goals (not exactly an uncommon activity for teens) could be done without having to change schools and upend their entire lives.

But somehow, charter advocates keep trying to paint this as "one size fits all" schooling, as if every student in a public school must follow exactly the same path-- which is pretty much the opposite of how public schools actually work.

It's true (and maybe ironic or maybe ill-intentioned) that standards-based reform has tried to turn this one-size-fits-all model into reality, with Common Core college and career ready standards the special dream of folks who think that uniformity and conformity are virtues. It is absolutely tragic that some school districts have bought into the notion that education should be like tofu-- exactly the same however you slice it.

Part of the language we should have been using to beat back the standards movement is the word "choice"-- students should be able to choose from a variety of paths within their school.

But "choice" hasn't been available because the term has been co-opted by another brand of reformster-- the charter cheerleaders, who are not just interested in charters, but in privately operated corporate style run-like-a-business charters. So the word "choice" has not only been co-opted, but narrowed to serve as a stand-in for "privatization."

We don't even see it anymore. School choice could mean any number of ideas, such as the pioneering schools-within-schools of New York City (see Andrea Gabor's After the Education Wars for a history of these revolutionary schools). It could mean deliberately fostering multiple approaches within a single public school district run by various and varied teacher leadership teams. Heck, on the other side of the scale it could-- and once did-- refer to voucher systems. But vouchers are controversial even as they reveal the empty promise of school choice-- no voucher in the world can make a private school accept your child if they don't want to. And choice fans have backed away from including vouchers in the "choice" brand.

My point is that "school choice" could have a big broad batch of meanings, but it has been carefully narrowed by and large to mean a system of privately owned and operated charter school businesses.

It's a deliberate framing maneuver, of course, suggesting that if you are anti-charter, you are against choice and freedom (and probably hate apple pie, too).

Yet a modern charter system is no better at providing choices than a traditional public system. A modern charter system provides only the choices its operators decide to provide, and only to the students that "fit" their charter, and no group of parents have the option of showing up at a board meeting to demand other choices. Meanwhile, charters drain resources from public schools, reducing the choices available to students there.

Charters were going to be laboratories that taught us new things about education. That, of course, turned out to be a crock (name one new educational instructional pedagogical anything discovered and disseminated by a charter school). Charters have "discovered" that if you spend extra time on students who are "good fits" you might do well on standardized tests. And charters have underscored one other piece of not news-- the best way to get more educational choice for students is money. The more money, the more programs, and the more choice.

Wealthy public schools have all the languages and arts and music and theater and AP courses and specialized classes. Poor schools get the basics. Charters develop resources of wealth by managing costs (no students that are costly to teach, low wages for teachers) and by hitting up donors.

If we were having a real discussion about educational choices, we'd be talking about how to get more money to public schools, the schools that are already well-structured to provide choice inside their big tent. But we've been suckered into accepting that "choice" must mean privately owned and operated charter schools.

If you want poor families to have choices like Latin, a strong theater program, and awesome science labs, you don't get there by spreading dollars thinly across multiple charters that those families may or may not have access to. You get those choices by pumping money and resources into the schools that are already in place and already committed to educating those students. This is one of the crazy assertions of modern charters-- if we take the same money that wasn't enough to run a single school system and spread it across multiple systems, it will suddenly act as if there were more of it.

We need to take back the word "choice," because it's an important word in education. Students do deserve choices-- real choices-- and the best way to get them is to fully fund and support the public school system so that we can build variety and meaningful options under one roof. That's real choice

Sunday, February 3, 2019

ICYMI: Really Big List Edition (2/3)

Was it the cold? Did we all just have more time to wander the internet? I don't know, but it's a huge list this week. Remember to share-- that's how the word gets out.

LA Strike: Charters Are An Existential Threat To Public Education  

The LA strike was extraordinary in that it addressed so much more than wages and benefits, but also addressed policy as well. Here's a good look at where the LA charter movement fits in the bigger picture.

The Headband Obsession with Student Concentration.

From the "You Can't Make This Stuff Up" files, the program that's going to read student minds via fancy science headbands.l

Betsy DeVos Fabricating History To Sell Bad Education  Policy

DeVos has been talking a lot lately-- well, at least for her-- and much of it has been a sales pitch based on history that is not exactly accurate

Only Two Percent of Teachers Are Black Men Yet Research Confirms They Matter. 

Let's go over this again- we need more black men teaching in the classroom.

Teacher Strike Interview

NEPC fellow Terrenda White creates some context for the strikes of the last year, up to and including the current struggle in Denver

Betsy DeVos's Favorite Teacher Story Wants Her To Stop

DeVos likes to tell a story about a teacher named Jed to help make some of her points. Rebecca Klein tracked Jed down; turns out he wishes DeVos would knock it off.

Can Altschool Save Itself From Failure

This might be the "if you only read one piece this week" article. Susan Adams is the education editor at Forbes, and she took a good hard look at Max Ventilla's super cool ed tech charter, Altschool, and probably got one of the most fluff-free looks at it ever (complete with cringing PR people). Joins Andrea Gabor's book in pointing out that some of these guys thinking they can business model their way to ed reform are actually using bad business models.

Shark Tank Recap: Teaching Harvard Grad Financial Lesson

Speaking of bad business. A Harvard grad goes on shark tank with her idea for mail order Montessori and her tail of having blithely burned through a mountain of investor money. Things do not go well for her.

This Is How Horribly Teachers Are Paid In The US

The story here is that this piece ran in Vice, not exactly known for their prodigious education coverage. This is brief, solid, and sad.

DC C charter Administrators Have Some Of The Highest School Salaries In Town; Their Teachers, Some Of The Lowest

City Paper goes digging, and has to work at it, because of course Freedom of Information Act doesn't apply to charters. Most amazing part-- a charter wouldn't let a teacher see her own salary schedule to know what steps up she might expect.

Another KIPP Teacher

Need another reminder of how awful a Teach Like A No Excuses Champion school can be. Here's are some words from a teacher who used to be a KIPPster.

Their Levers Are Destined To Fail.

A new-to-me blog with a post looking at the different ways reform has tried to bring teachers to heel.

America Is Falling Out Of Love With Billionaires

Not exactly an education story, except of course it is. Are US citizens getting fed up with the oligarchs?

Here We Go. Another Koch Push 

More news you didn't want to hear-- the Koch brothers have decided to help fix education some more.

When Schools Say "All Means All," What Do They Really Mean.

Peter DeWitt talks about safeguarding our LGBTQ students

10 Out Of 15 PA Cyber Schools Are Operating Without A Charter

Steven Singer calls for a little less cyber charter baloney and a little more-- or just some-- oversight.

Broken Promises: Camden's Renaissance Charter Schools

Jersey Jazzman with yet another tale of charter shenanigans.

That's it. I mean, that's not really it, because there is always more (which reminds me-- your recommendations are always welcome).

Friday, February 1, 2019

Measuring Success: A Study in Contrasts

Two items tossed my feed this week that underline contrasting ideas about what constitutes success in  education.

First, let's go to the Jackson-Madison County school system of Tennessee. At JMCSS folks are pretty excited because they've made such strides with the addition of a unified curriculum. They know this worked because they have all sorts of growth data, much of it exceeding expectations.

Not on the same page.
Now, I don't want to gloss over the good parts here. Having some sort of planned curriculum is probably a good step (no district has "no curriculum," even if that curriculum is "whatever the teacher decides to do today"), and I'm sure that it probably helped. But we can't really tell, because all JCMSS has to say for itself is "We made test scores go up." And as every teacher knows, you can raise test scores without really teaching anything worthwhile except how to do better on standardized tests.

Nor is the "how they did it" part of the article very encouraging. Talking to Superintendent Jared Myracle (I swear I am not making that up):

“It’s a game changer,” he said. “Getting everyone on the same page, having everyone use the same approach is a huge thing.”

With a new, uniform curriculum, there is consistency across the district. He said that’s important because students at one school shouldn’t be learning differently than students at other schools, especially because families move across the district.

Sigh. So they found a super-duper one-size-fits-all program and jammed the entire teaching staff into that one size. All students learn the same thing at the same time in the same way, and that's how we raise test scores. This is how public schools help promote charter school and home schooling-- by insisting there's just one way to teach and learn and measure what has happened.

But meanwhile, elsewhere in the world, there is this:

In many people's lives there is at least one teacher who inspired them, and helped them become who they are today. In our early years, when we are still being formed, they often see in us more than we see in ourselves, more than our families see and, as a result, help us to evolve into who we ultimately become. These inspirational people are not often recognized for the life changing role they have played. These are the teachers who define us, teachers who widen our horizons and encourage us to explore. These teachers are touchstones to paths of achieving more than we might have otherwise accomplished, in directions we might not have gone.

That's from the website for the Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards. It's time again for nominations to this prestigious award that recognizes teachers who-- well, you just read the paragraph. I've poked through the whole site, and there doesn't seem to be anything about "teachers who faithfully got one the same page as everyone else in their building" or "teachers who implemented one-size-fits-all programs with fidelity" or even "teachers who helped students get higher scores on the Big Standardized Test."

But here's what one nominator wrote about the teacher she put up for the award:

At the age of 15 the word "different" was something I never wanted to be. Despite detecting my "differences" at a very young age, I decided to try to deny that part of myself existed in order to fit in... [Coach Brown] helped me recognize my differences not as flaws, but rather my most precious and unique pieces that make me special.

So you tell me. Would you rather have your child in the classroom of that guy, or of the guy who carefully stayed on the same page of a one-size-fits-all program? If you teach, how would you like to be remembered by your students? As someone who widened horizons and inspired students, or as someone who helped raise standardized test scores?

The information about how to nominate someone for the Kennedy/Sondheim award is on the website.