Sunday, March 31, 2019

DeVos, Class Size, and the Reformistan Bubble

I almost feel sorry for Betsy DeVos. Her two big news breaks this week are not entirely her fault.

First, there's the Special Olympics fiasco. It appears that the budget office made the hugely unpopular cut, and DeVos stood by it like a good soldier, right until Donald Trump threw her under the bus and canceled the cuts (that were never going to get past Congress). But now DeVos is the one who gets to carry that policy albatross around her neck, right next to her grizzly-shooting merit badge, even though she did previously, in fact, give Special Olympics her own salary.

Okay, but that's the last time I'm going under that bus for you.
Then there's the business of students benefitting from higher class sizes. Make no mistake-- this was awful and stupid and just all-around bad (though by no means the worst thing to come out of her mouth at the hearings). But it's not really fair to hang this one on DeVos-- the idea of the super-teacher crammed into a room with a gazillion students has been on reformsters' preferred policy list for at least a decade.

I wrote about this almost exactly four years ago ("Super Sardinemasters: Paying More To Teach More"), then as now leaning on the work of Leonie Haimson at Class Size Matters.

The big class with a great teacher idea seems to have made its public mainstream debut in a 2010 Bill Gates speech to the CCSSO. Not surprisingly, Arne Duncan was shortly thereafter talking it up.

We spent billions of dollars to reduce class size,” Duncan told ABC’s Andrea Mitchell in 2011, when we could instead give teachers higher salaries in exchange for larger classrooms, thereby attracting much more talented teachers.

That was back in 2011, and as near as Haimson can tell, nobody ever actually tried to do it. Broad "graduate" (can you graduate from a fake superintendent training program?) John Covington was going to give it a try in Kansas City Schools, but instead resigned and went to Michigan to work for EAA which played with using computers as a way to shoehorn many many students into single classrooms.

I was writing back in 2015 because no less than Georgetown University's Edunomics Lab had put out a paper supporting this nonsense by Marguerite Roza and Amanda Warco. The paper was almost honest about the problem it was trying to solve-- how can you pay teachers more without raising your payroll costs? Easy peasy-- fire all your bad teachers and give their salaries, and their students, to your remaining super-teachers.

The hook from which any such proposal hangs is the assertion that great teaching matters more than small class size, but even in the Edunomics paper, that's a shaky hook indeed. The "research" cited includes "research" like a paper from the Fordham Institute and research that "modeled the effects"-- in other words, not actual research on the actual stuff we're talking about. The critical point it completely ignores is the degree to which great teaching depends on class size.

Edunomics also has to tap dance around preferences. Parents prefer smaller classes; that's unequivocally true, but Rozas and her co-author try to get past that by citing research that says parents would prefer a 27-student class with a great teacher to a 22-student class with a random  teacher. This ignores a great many things, not the least of which is that in many districts, a 27-student class would represent far smaller class-size than most teachers and students are currently dealing with.

There's also some useless research suggesting that a majority of teachers would rather have a $5K bonus than two fewer students in class. This research comes from Dan Goldhaber, Michael DeArmond and Scott Deburgomaster, “Teacher Attitudes About Compensation Reform: Implications for Reform Implementation,” Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Vol. 64, No. 3 (April 2011) and we could spend some time trying to evaluate its bona fides, but really, who cares? We aren't talking about two students-- we're talking about enough students to significantly cut the teaching staff. This is like trying to argue that because you like having your back scratched with a one of those little backscratchers, you would undoubtedly like to be impaled with a rake.

But Roza has made a career out of this. She went to work for the Gates Foundation back in 2010. She's been cranking out work for EducationNext, as well as turning up with CRPE and Harvard and FutureEd.

My point is this-- it is not unlikely that DeVos has, over her years in the reformster biz, encountered something passing itself off as research to support this idea. She is certainly not the first person to say it out loud.

Her doing so points to many things, in particular the reformistan bubble, which has been built from Day One without any actual educators inside it. Instead, the bubble is populated by rich people, people who want rich people's money, people who think they have great ideas about education, and even people who sincerely want to make education better. The bubble does not include people who can turn to an Arne Duncan or a Betsy DeVos or a Bill Gates and say, "Based on my years of experience in a classroom, I'd have to say that idea is ridiculous bullshit."

In fact, the bubble includes an entire buffer system that stands ready to reject anyone calling bullshit, primarily by dismissing all attempts to defend public education as simply a ploy by the unions to gather money and power.

There are a tiny handful of people within the bubble who will occasionally act as bullshit detectors, but they are not enough. The ed reform movement has gathered power and money ands set up a parallel education even as it has managed to capture leadership roles within public education, but the ed reform movement still lacks what it has always lacked-- actual teachers and experienced educators who know what the hell they're talking about.

The shock and scandal and outrage is not that DeVos would offer up this class size bullshit on the Hill, but that she stands on top of a whole pile of educational amateurs who have been pushing this bullshit for at least a decade, despite the mountain of evidence and the actual teachers who speak against it. The biggest scandal is not that an agent of ed reform like DeVos would say something this dumb, but that she could be part of a larger machine that eats dumb for breakfast and then spits dumb back out for the rest of the day, for a decade, without ever listening to a dissenting voice. It's one thing to be ignorant, but to be willfully, deliberately stubbornly ignorant and to take pride in that ignorance, to actively preserve that ignorance like it's a precious flower and not a dried cow patty-- that's just inexcusable.

It's worth remembering that, with the exception of her stand on civil rights, there really isn't much going on with DeVos that would have disqualified her from the Obama-era USED leadership spot. If we focus strictly on her, we're letting a whole lot of people inside that bubble off the hook.

ICYMI: Snowy Relapse Edition (3/31)

The weather outside is, in fact, frightful. So here's a list of things to read inside today.

Teen Boys Ranked Their Female Classmates Based On Looks, And The Girls Weren't Having It

It's a great story, in part because it's about working the issue out, not just getting somebody in trouble.

Small District Reaps Big Profits With Chart Fees

There are a lot of things wrong with California's charter system; here's an explainer for one of them. Are you a small district with money problems? Become a popular charter authorizer and you can make a bundle.

The Digital Expansion of the Mind Gone Wrong

Daniel Willingham looks at three areas where technology was going to make education so much better-- and why none of them lived up to the hype.

Experts Call for an End To Online Preschool

Please.

NJ Tax Money Disappearing Into Charters

A look at charter fraud and waste in the Garden State.

Six School Voucher Myths

A quick debunking of some common voucher talking points.

Trump, DeVos. Special Olympics

The NYT breaks down the wheels within wheels of this massive cluster


Betsy DeVos Told Us Her Real Plan


All Special Olympics and class sizes, Nancy Bailey picks out the most concerning DeVosian quote that tells us what she wants to do.

The Single Most Telling Sentence

If Bailey tells us what DeVos wants to do, Valerie Strauss picks out the sentence that explains why she wants to do it. This is probably my top DeVos hot take of the week.

School Freedom Plans Aren't About Schools Or Education

Leon Galis with a pretty good explanation of why some reformsters and public ed defenders don't seem to be on the same planet.

A Parkland Teacher Speaks Out   

One of the most shameful failures of any school system-- public, private or charter. A teacher talks about the follow-up failure after the murders. I'm sorry I have to send you to the 74 to read this, but schools have to do better.

Don't Cry Over the Death of Arizona's Charter Reform Bill. It Was a Joke.

Well, that's disappointing.  

Charter Schools Are Closing, But DeVos Wants More  

USA Today ran this piece, and it doesn't even include a quote from Mike Petrilli.

How One Couple Made Charter Millions

If you want a specific example of how California's lax charter oversight allows fraud, waste and profiteering, here's a perfect example from the LA Times.


Saturday, March 30, 2019

Is CTE Good News Or Bad News

In the last two decades of education reform, a great deal of emphasis has been put on sending high school graduates to college. President Obama in his 2009 State of the Union address proclaimed that by 2020 America would "once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world" (though he hedged that a bit by later saying simply that everyone would need some kind of post high school education.) We've repeatedly used college enrollment and completion as a measure of K-12 success. While the modern reform movement paid lip service to "college and career," policies have always suggested that college is the superior part of that team.
Now it is finally occurring to some folks that A) college is not necessarily the best choice for all students and B) the world needs people who do what Mike Rowe always called the jobs "that make civilized life possible for the rest of us." Done well, new studies show, it can boost both academics and wages for students. It might even help solve the mystery of the missing non-college educated male workers. And so Career and Technical Education (CTE) is coming back into its own.
This movement does not come without some concerns. Mishandled CTE can end up replacing a full education with simple vocational training, reducing public education to a provider of free meat widgets for selected employers, but opening up a limited future for the students who receive the narrow education. CTE programs are most effective when schools partner with relevant industries, but that partnership can't be one-sided, with schools subordinated to HR departments. Badly mishandled CTE can also become a dumping ground for "problem" students, a type of education that some students are encouraged to "settle for" by adults who have decided that the student just isn't smart enough or good enough for college education.
In short, CTE reflects our own culture's conflicted feelings about blue collar workers. On the one hand, we venerate the idea of hard work and getting one's hands dirty during an honest day's work. On the other hand, we tend to assume that someone sitting behind a desk making a six figure income must have some stellar qualities that the hard-working blue collar guy does not.
CTE as a dumping ground for system-rejected students where they can be fashioned into fodder for dead-end employers is a bad, bad idea. Fortunately, because CTE is not a new idea, there are many schools that can show how to do it properly.
I had the good fortune to work in a district that was part of a seven-district consortium operating a CTE school (called vocational-technical for many years, now called a Technology Center) that has been in business for around 50 years. Many of my students over the years attended that school, and it served them well. Here are some of the ways that school does CTE right.
Students attend the Tech Center for half a day; the other half of the day they attend their "home" school. This insures that in addition to the technical education they receive at their shop, they get the same core of academics that all our students study. They don't have to give up their full high school education to get their technical training.
The Tech Center is not a dumping ground. In fact, students who don't maintain good academic standing at their home school lose the privilege of attending at the Tech Center.
The Tech Center is staffed by people who really know their fields, and so the programs have a good reputation for providing students who are well-trained not just in the particulars of their field, but in the work ethics of them. And the learning is hands on. The construction students build a house. The auto body students work on cars that have been brought in for service. Welding students work toward their certification. Students graduate from the program educated and employable.
The experience is not seamless. Within the school, there are people who look down on tech students just as their are people in the world who look down on blue collar workers. And tech students themselves have to navigate the contrasts between two different systems; in the morning, a student may be trusted to operate heavy machinery outdoors, and in the afternoon, that same student has to sit in a desk indoors and ask permission to pee.
But it's a system that by and large works and serves students and employers well. It's not cheap, and it's not easy to set up. It is certainly not setting up a "vocational ed" room in some back hall where students are sent when the school doesn't want to deal with them any more. If CTE is coming to your school district, it could be good news or bad. The trick, as with many education programs, is to look at the specifics and make sure that the program is going to be done right.
Originally posted at Forbes (where it was picked up by Mike Rowe, and don't think that didn't make my day.)


Squeezing the Clock

Put this on my list of Things I've Noticed Since Retiring From The Classroom.

In a teaching day, every single second counts. Teachers squeeze the clock till it screams. Five minutes left in the period? Just enough time to review the main concept from yesterday. Three minutes between classes? More than enough time to pee and swing by the office to pick up my mail. Twenty-five minute lunch period? If I get my eating done in ten minutes, then I have time to make some copies, answer three parent e-mails, check my phone messages, and finish making up a test for tomorrow.

You know you're operating at a fast clip when you're still in it, but like many things about teaching, you just don't realize how very hard you are working at using every minute of your day. Ask a civilian how long X will take, and the answer is, "I don't know-- about five or ten minutes?" Ask a teacher and the answer is, "Three minutes. Four if someone asks a question." Five or ten minutes? To a teacher that is crazy inaccurate, a difference of an entire five minutes. Five minutes! Do you have any idea what I can do with five minutes?!

And I'm talking about a high school setting. Ask an elementary teacher how long it takes them to pee and the answer will be, "It takes until I get home after school."

This is one of the things about teaching that non-teachers just don't get. If you have an office job and someone says, "Hey, I want you to work in this little project some time this week-- it should just take a half an hour or so," then nobody gets excited because, hey, you can always find a spare thirty minutes here or there. But teachers are desperately sick to death of all the politicians, policy makers, administrators, and public spirited folks who propose, "Here's a worthwhile thing to do-- let's just have teachers add it to their classroom. It won't take much time out of their day." If teachers are feeling polite or restrained (or just resigned) they'll smile and say, "Sure. Sure. Just send me the materials." If they're feeling undiplomatic they will say, "Sure. Please tell me exactly what you want me to cut, because every damn second of my day between now and July is spoken for." And we're not talking about blocks of "an hour or so." Teacher time is measured out in minutes. It is one of those things that you just don't get if you haven't been there.

And God bless and defend teachers from the parents who call to say, "I'll just take a minute of your time" and then take thirty.

Being at home with the Board of Directors is different. If I try to measure out time in minutes, all I do is increase my own blood pressure, because for the twins, everything takes as long as it takes (as one parenting site wag noted, "Sorry we were late, but we had to get from the house to the car.") All times are measured in "arounds." It will take around this much time for them to eat lunch and around this much time to go down for naps, and they will keep napping for around this time. When I said "ten minutes" as a teacher, that meant ten minutes; now "ten minutes" means "somewhere between five minutes and an hour."

I know that I could have used more of this in the classroom, that at times I had to step back and check myself before I started thinking that my students were an obstacle to the proper following of the schedule. But it's still a bit of an adjustment shock to realize that I can now glide through hours without noting the time, when a few years ago my world suffered a major upheaval when class periods went from 43 minutes to 40 minutes.

Every once in a while it's a useful skill (while the boys are eating a banana is enough time to start a load of laundry), but it's kind of tiring and stressful to push push push, and I wonder how much stress and tension teachers operate under, how much teacher healthy is hit by swimming in a slightly toxic soup of being pushed pushed pushed by the clock, by fighting with that clock to squeeze every second out of it. I have renewed respect for the teachers I have known who were able to stand their ground and maintain a steady human pace even if, of course, they're seen as not working hard enough.

This is yet another reason that teachers should have lives outside of school; it helps them stay in touch with the part of the world that isn't squeezing minute by minute out of the clock. It is okay to remember to breathe. Just don't use more than, say, two and a half minutes for it.

Friday, March 29, 2019

What Did We Learn From DeVos Hearings This Week?

So during Betsy DeVos's terrible horrible no-good very bad week of hearings, what did we learn?

Opposition Parties Matter

This is the third budget in which DeVos tried to zero out Special Olympics. The third. So why so much fuss this time around? Perhaps because somebody made her go before Congress and explain herself (or not) in some exchanges that made for insta-viral hits.

Just imagine what it would be like if more legislators acted more like actual defenders of public education more often.

Finally, Evidence of the Deep State

Donald Trump stepped in to "override" his people, so the Special Olympics are off the chopping block sooner rather than later (this was a cut that was never, ever going to happen). Then DeVos said she was delighted because she has "fought behind the scenes" for the Special Olympics for years. She's the head of the department, and he's the President-- who put that cut in there if neither of them wanted it? It must be--gasp-- the Deep State, trying to make them look bad by somehow sneaking damn fool items into the budget.

But boy-- for someone who fought for it behind the scenes, she sure stood up for it in front of the scenes.

The Benefits of Big Classes

DeVos touted the advantages of larger classes. This is the second time in one month that a North American education official has tried to argue for this piece of fried baloney. It's an idea so bad that even Education Post ran a rebuttal. But it really should not be a surprise-- reformsters have been arguing for years that we should fire all the bad teachers, gather up all the students in front of the remaining teachers, and maybe pay those teachers more, because a good teacher will still be great if she's teaching a few hundred students. In fact, Arne Duncan thought this was a swell idea.

The actual benefit? Lower personnel costs. Benefits to students? It's easier to hide from the teacher.

About Race

For my money, the more important was not the kerfluffle about Special Olympics-- it was the DeVos exchange with Representative Clark, in which Clark took us back to DeVos's safety commission-- the one that was supposed to study the problems of school shootings and concluded that school problems actually stem from Black kids. Clark went back to look at the research basis for DeVos's recommendations and discovered that-- surprise-- it was racist as shit.

Don't expect DeVos to crack on this--she never will. The Secretary stuck with "all children should be treated as individuals" which leaves plenty of room for "if all the Black students in school are individually bad apples, we'll just have to deal with them, won't we."

Charter Cheerleading

There were several references to the Network for Public Education report that shows just how much federal money has been lost to fraud and waste through charter school support. DeVos smiled that smile of hers and declared that we need more charter schools, not less. This was the least surprising thing that happened all week.

Betsy DeVos still does not owe you a damned explanation.

I remain steadfast in my belief that DeVosian stonewalling and awkwardness is not because she's a dope. To some degree it's predictable and predicted; remember that DeVos doesn't just have zero experience with public schools. She also has zero experience with situations in which she has to be accountable to others or in which she has to convince people to agree with her using tools other than her checkbook and power. But she's doing God's work, and she doesn't need to explain herself to all these heathens.

And if you've ever needed further evidence of how disconnected she is, watch this painful video of what Anderson Cooper calls an "epic non-answer."



Finally, who wore it best?

And by "best" I mean "a stunned look of disapproval." From the DeVos hearing, we have NPE co-founder Anthony Cody:














And then we have the Swamp Creatures that descended on the hearing for former oil lobbyist and future Interior Department chief:












Just a reminder that the USED budget cuts a ton of worthwhile stuff, and will ultimately be decided by Congress. Study up and contact your Congressperson.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

What To Look For In A Teacher School

Robert Pondiscio just reviewed a new NCTQ book for high school students about how to become a teacher. I haven't seen the book, so I'm in no position to comment on it, but it does remind me that we don't spend nearly enough time talking about teacher prep, not from a policy point of view, but the point of view of high school students who want to end up teaching some day.

I am not the person to come to for a spirited defense of traditional teacher prep programs. I've sent students off to them and hosted student teachers from them, and the fact is that some are fine and some suck with the suckage of a thousand black holes. There are many current alternative paths to the classroom that also suck, but dammit, we asked for it by letting North Shmeretown State Teachers College get away with doing a terrible job. I've written before about fixing that, but this time, let's talk about your teen should be looking for when she goes teacher school shopping.

If you (or your child) want to become a teacher, what qualities should you look for in a teacher prep program?

1) Emphasis on content.  

My own program prepared me to be an English teacher by requiring me to be an English major, so I was shocked to discover that some teachers were arriving in the classroom with no more subject matter knowledge in some areas than they remembered from their own high school classes.

The foundation for everything you do in the classroom-- including classroom management-- is you knowing what the hell you're talking about. Yes, you need classes about the pedagogy and technique, but all the lesson-writing skill in the world will not save you if you don't know what the hell you're talking about.

"But I'm going to teach elementary grades-- everybody already knows that stuff, right?" First, no, not as much as you think they do. Second, the elementary grades need more understanding of child development. And every elementary teacher should be an expert in teaching reading. Every one.

Look at the course requirements for the school's program. If it's mostly education methods with little room for the content that you'll actually have to teach, that is a weak program.

Note: Teaching you your state standards is not teaching you content. If state standards are a major theme of the program, it's a bad program.

2) Professors with classroom teaching experience.  

No, teaching college courses does not count. Way way way way waaaaaayyyyyy too many college education professors teach methods and instructional techniques based not on experience, but on a couple of pieces of research they read, or their own pet theories, or their ideas about what ought to work in a classroom. Every teacher who ever hosted a student teacher has had that moment when, hearing the student teacher describe what her professor told her to do, they wish they could teleport that professor into the classroom to try the technique himself. But of course many college ed professors don't even go out into the field to watch their students work in a classroom.

And no, having been in a classroom for one or two years when he was 22 also does not count. Look for colleges that have ed course taught by professors who took the job as a second career after a first career in the classroom. Look for professors who work one day a week as substitutes in the local public system.

3) Practice practice practice  

Teaching is large part performance, and there's only one way to get ready to perform, and that's to stand up and do it. In my most useful methods class, we did weekly workshops in which we presented trial lessons while the professor sat in the back of the room as "Bobby," a good representation of That Student. For years after, when a student posed a problem in a class, I would think, "Oh, hi, Bobby!"

Practice can take many forms-- the important part is that you do something with the theories about practice. You have to stand up in front of real live humans and try to make your pitch for Hemmingway or punctuation or the Louisiana Purchase or integers or whatever. There is no substitute. You can help prepare to perform Hamlet by reading criticism and studying Shakespeare and watching videos, but until you physically stand up and start doing it, you won't be ready.

4) Field experience with support      

A full semester of student teaching is a minimum requirement. If a program promises that they can get you already with less, or none, take a hard pass. It's a good sign if the program also has other field experiences built in. Several local colleges have added a shadowing experience that seems to be useful for getting pre-teachers ready for the more intensive world of student teaching.

You may think this is not so necessary. "Hey, I was just in school!" But elementary school was a lonnnng time ago. And high school-- well, there were many parts to which you were not paying attention. You didn't see what happened in classes you didn't take, and in your own classes, you weren't paying attention to what the teacher actually did.

But the most important question to ask is about what sort of support you will get while in the field. This is by far one of the weakest areas in many programs. In your fifteen weeks in the field, you might see your supervisor three times-- and it will b a supervisor who has never previously met you and doesn't know you from a whole in the ground. In these programs, your success and the foundation of your career rests on the blind luck of your cooperating teacher selection.

Your supervisor should see you often-- weekly is not too often. It would be nice if he was a professor who already knew you, but many programs hire retired teachers to do supervision, and they can turn out to be good mentors as well.

Support also means processing and reflection time. Say, a methods course taken while student teaching in which student teachers and their supervisors talk about the hows and whys of what's going on in those classrooms during that same week.

But if the school's approach is to say, "We got a placement lined up. There will be someone by a couple times to make sure you're still alive. See ya next semester," that's not a good program.

5) Getting you outside of your box.    

One of our local colleges is fairly socially conservative, and it draws many students from private religious schools and homeschooling. They train their student teachers with a strong content background, but when they land here in a public school, there is often some culture shock. "It's almost as if," one frustrated student teacher told me, "as if these students don't really care about Shakespeare." Yes, almost. Another told his co-op, "Oh no, I don't want to teach those classes. Can't I just teach the honors students?"

My own experience was going from this rural, small town mostly white district to student teach in a mostly black urban school. I had preparation and support for that, and it was far better for me as a teacher than if I had simply student taught in a school similar to the one I came from.

Your job as a teacher is not to get students to see the world the same way you see it. It's not just about being culturally sensitive. It's about getting outside of your own box, about being challenged in all of your assumptions about what is normal and reasonable to expect. This will open up your own understanding of the world and how your content fits into it. It will also serve your students because it will keep you from mistaking "different" for "wrong." Every student ought to see someone like them in front of a classroom at least-- at least-- once in their educational career. But barring that, they should at least have a teacher who sees them as they are, and doesn't just see a bunch of deficiencies or differences. If you think you're sure what "normal" is, you are a menace to your students. Your program should, somehow, get you out of that box.

Programs, traditional and alternative, that come up short in these areas are not your best choice. Keep looking and keep asking questions.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Red Flags In Kamala Harris's Pay Raise Proposal

I was so determined not to get into the 2020 election this early, dammit. But the Kamala Harris teacher pay raise proposal hit my screen this morning, and there I was on twitter. I've addressed the larger concerns with the proposal here, but there are other concerns that are less interesting to the Forbes audience.

When I read the Harris op-ed in the Washington Post, I thought, "Hmmm. Well...."

When one of her campaign people directed me to the write-up on her website, I thought, "Uh-oh."

Some of the language she uses is unfortunately familiar. Here's just the first two sentences:

Every child deserves a world-class education, regardless of their ZIP code. Of all in-school factors that impact their success, there’s nothing more important than our teachers.

This is straight out of the corporate reform playbook. It's the rhetoric that's been used to sell charters and bad teacher evaluation programs.

Things are quiet for a while, and then we get this:

Our plan will include a multi-billion dollar investment in programs that help elevate the teaching profession and support principals and other school leaders. This includes high-quality teacher and principal residencies, early-career induction programs that pair new teachers with mentors and master teachers, career ladder models that allow for advancement opportunities for teacher leaders, and “Grow Your Own” programs that help increase teacher diversity.
Career ladders are another red flag, mostly because under ed reform, instead of building more rungs on the top of the ladder, they dig a hole and put the bottom of the ladder below ground level. 

There is also a neo-liberal style flourish at the end that feels like the same old "education is the cure for poverty and social ills (so we don't need to do anything else)." But maybe by that part I was simply tired and over-concerned.

Oh, and one more problem as spotted by several folks on Twitter-- Arne Duncan thinks this is awesome

I don't know much about Harris at this point, and she does say some other things that I rather like, so if someone wants to hop in the comments and reassure me that she's not one more corporate Democrat, I'd appreciate that, because I really want to just take an election nap until at least August. 



Education Scholarship Tax Credits and Undercover Boss: Feeling Good While Fixing Nothing

You remember Undercover Boss. The mostly-reality show shows a high-level executive putting on a disguise and going out into the trenches of the company. There, they'll meet real employees--often employees with touching hard luck stories. At the end of the episode, the boss meets the employees and metes out a sort of justice--"You get a car, you get a college fund for your kid, you get retraining, and you get fired."
The moments in which a struggling employee receives a bonus, or money for medical treatment, a car, or some other much-needed benefit are feel-good TV, as long as you don't think about them too hard. While some bosses on the show gain insights about their whole system and try to address them, too often the insight is more along the lines of, "I just learned that I don't pay my people enough to afford to raise a family, so I'll give a nice bonus to this one worker and leave the rest of my employees to continue struggling."
At the end of the episode, the boss hasn't fixed anything. A couple of employees have won a sort of TV lottery by getting the attention and charity of their boss, but "Let's hope some of these folks get lucky now and then," is not a sustainable plan for a business. Bosses should not be congratulating themselves for little acts of generosity when they should be asking themselves why those acts of generosity are necessary in the first place.
Betsy DeVos is proposing to use similar acts of charity and luck to address educational inequity in this country. Her $5 billion education scholarship tax credit proposal is an incentive program, a nudge for rich folks and corporations to give charitably to some private schools and the few students who attend them. Instead of paying this chunk of money in taxes to the government, pay it to a private school by helping foot some student's tuition; that way, the student will be able to leave an underfunded, undersupported, struggling public school. But this act of generosity will not help that underfunded, undersupported, struggling public school, nor any of the students who weren't lucky enough to win the rich patron lottery to leave that school.
The folk directly involved may feel good, but they've fixed nothing.
Yes, getting that student into a nice private school might be good for that one student (if the family can afford to finance the costs above the "scholarship," and provided the school will accept that student), but it won't do a thing to improve the system. It will not, for instance, address the $23 billion funding gap between majority-white districts and majority-nonwhite districts.
There are plenty of other problems with DeVos's neovoucher proposal. Perhaps most notably, it cuts holes in the wall between religion and government, putting the federal government in the position of spending tax dollars on religious schools, and exposing religious schools to the imposition of the rules and regulations that invariably follow federal money. DeVos's program is also an overreach of the department's power remarkably similar to the Obama-Duncan's department push for Common Core and Race to the Top. In both cases the department's defense is, "We aren't requiring states to participate; we're just waving a huge pile of money and federal pressure at them."
But beyond all the other issues of education scholarship tax credits is something more fundamental. In this country, you're not supposed to have to depend on the kindness of strangers or the generosity of wealthy patrons to get a decent education. The DeVos proposal gets the mission wrong, suggesting that offering a good private education for a lucky few is an acceptable substitute to guaranteeing a good free public education for all. She needs to stop trying to find ways to steer federal money to a private system for the few and start finding ways to strengthen the public system for everyone.
Originally posted at Forbes

Monday, March 25, 2019

I Will Not Like The Democratic Nominee

And you probably won't, either.

The Trump Presidency is going to be the gift that keeps on giving, and we'd all better start adjusting now. 2016 was a disorienting mess, a confluence of so many surreal elements that we could all be a little fuzzy-headed. But 2020 will be time for cold, hard reality, and Democrats and public education voters had better start adjusting now so we don't get sidetracked by any Jill Stein-like nonsense.

Those were the days.
The field is filling up, and shockingly, not a single candidate is perfect. We've got corporate Democrats and we've got huge ego Democrats and we've got really getting too old for this shit Democrats (okay, just one). They've either got a weak background in government, or they have a background in government that includes doing something dumb and/or crappy.

Most of all, as has now been noticed by many folks, none of them are talking about education.

Bernie has caught on a bit since his last rodeo. Harris has offered a unique pander-- federally-backed teacher pay. Details haven't arrives yet, but it strikes me as a terrible idea because A) teachers should not have to negotiate with the mass of political bozoidosity in DC for their pay and B) I can't imagine any possible way to guard against local districts simply using the federal money to supplant rather than supplement their local money (this is, in fact, exactly what the state of Pennsylvania did with the Obama stimulus money).

When it came to education issues, Democratic candidates and leaders were caught flatfooted in 2016. Now they've had time to study up a bit, but I don't think any of them (except maybe Bernie) has gotten past the simple calculus--

Support for public education and the people who work there is where the votes are; support for the privatizers and charter boosters and corporate reformsters is where the money is.  (Here's a reminder of what a hrd time some folks had threading that needle.)

The solution in 2016 was to pick safe education issues-- pre-K education, affordable college, be nice to teachers, good schools for everyone. I'm not sure that's going to cut it this time. Public school and privatizers have had a few high-profile showdowns; they were billed as teacher strikes, but if you (and Harris) think those were just about pay, you weren't paying attention. They were also about charters and support for public education, and the Democratic candidates will have a harder time hiding from the conflict this time, though Lord knows so far they are trying.

Incidentally, the most interesting punch thrown in this round of public vs. privatizers is the study from Rick Hess and Jay Greene asserting that education reform is hugely a Democrat's game now. This doesn't make a lot of sense if one looks at, you know, reality-- but it makes perfect sense if one is a conservative corporate ed reform backer looking for a way to send a message to Democratic candidates that they had better support ed reform when they run.

Anyway. If we were going to have a great supporter of public education in the field, we'd know it by now. It's not going to happen, and if it does appear to happen that just means that someone has decided to adopt education as a tactical move, which means we can count on them as an ally exactly as long as it serves their purposes.

Yeah, I get grumpy just thinking about 2020, sulky knowing that the Dems have absolutely no reason to try to court my vote because the alternative is so wretched.

But here's what I hope the Dems figure out. The atmosphere, the toxic attitudes, the ugly machinery that spit up Trump will spit up something else once he's out of there, and chances are that the next one will not be so transparently dumb and self-dealing. By the time that happens, the Dems had better get their act together.

In the meantime, I will vote for Somebody Not Trump in 2020. I don't know who it's going to be, and, God help us all, I don't know if they're going to win. I'll vote for them, but I probably won't like it. I don't need the next year and a half to know that so much as I need the time to just get used to the idea so I can stop whining and get on with it.

OK: Bogus School Efficiency Report

EPIC charter schools are boasting about the results of a new efficiency study of Oklahoma schools, and there are so many layers of deep-fried baloney here it takes a minute or two to dig through them. But when charter boosters start talking about "accountability" and "transparency," this is the kind of bullshit that makes their claims less than believable.

The very top layer is the least important, but it's worth noting because this is exactly the kind of foolishness that gives journalism a bad name. The Oklahoman is a legitimate news organization out of Oklahoma City; they run a website which also powers another site called newsOK. That site includes BrandInsight which connects "local experts and business leaders with the NewsOK audience" which means that it runs puffy marketing dressed up to look like a news item. It's there that we find a piece ostensibly about the Oklahoma schools efficiency report, with a note at the very bottom that this was sponsored by EPIC.

Sommers takes a rest.
Why care? Because the charter free marketeer stated dream is that parents will sit down with clear, useful data to drive their decisions about where to send their children. But what we keep finding in reality is that parents have to sort through a lot of marketing foofery masquerading as facts. We keep getting rhetoric about empowering families when what happens is that charter businesses are hoping that they can drive families into their arms.

Unfortunately, some news outlets have picked up the story and run it as if it's legit news. It's not. If you're in Oklahoma, here's why you can safely ignore the findings.

A copy of the report is living on the Oklahoma Public [sic] Charter School Association website; we'll just skip to the executive summary.

The entire measure efficiency rests on a thing called the Kalmus Ratio, which never appears without a little copyright symbol beside it. So, not just baloney, but proprietary baloney. The formula for the Kalkmus Ratio is dollars expended divided by student success points. Want to take a wild guess and what student success points are based on? The report is clear:

This report defines student success as passage of state academic tests.    

SMH. On top of the usual malarky about saying "student success" when we mean "student test scores," the report adds another layer of faux data fluffernuttery by assigning each test category a number. So ever advanced test result equals 1.2, proficient equals 1.0, limited is 0.3, and unsatisfactory is 0.0.

But wait, you may ask, does the Kalmus Ratio allow for factors like poverty? sure it does-- the report notes that each "student in poverty increases the value of success by .25." After that, it becomes less clear somehow:

This is the same percentage adjustment provided schools for students in poverty. The adjustment increases the number of student success points a school district earns. For example, a district with 100 proficient students would typically earn 100 student success points. If the district poverty rate is 50%, those same 100 proficient students would earn 150 student success points.

Something seems wrong with the math here, but I was an English teacher. If you want to examine the theoretical and evidence-based underpinnings of this factoring for poverty, well, the report says, "The adjustment accounts for the challenge," so there you have it. Does the Kalmus Ratio factor anything else in, or add factors for growth. No. No, it does not.

There are other layers of foolishness here. The report argues that the Kalmus Ratio is better than cost-per-pupil because schools can cut cost-per-pupil by getting rid of staff and programs "irrespective of impact on student achievement [aka test scores]." But clearly the way to increase Kalmus Ratio efficiency scores would be to cut every teacher and program not involved in prepping for the test. You could raise your Kalmus ratio by cutting all sorts of enrichment programs, which may, in fact, tell us something about the results of the study.

At this point you might be thinking that the Kalmus Ratio must have come off the back of a cereal box, or from Bob's Friendly Consulting Firm. But no-- looking for the factory that created this slab of baloney takes us to a guy who was almost head of education for the state of Ohio.

The company involved is CF Educational Solutions. "Student success is our passion," they declare. They are all about future ready graduates and technology and continuous improvement and focusing on student results.

We must singularly define educator success in terms of real intellectual, emotional, and physical change within the student. Every activity we undertake must answer the question, “What good for whom?”

Okay, so they're not poets. CFES was co-founded by Robert Sommers and Rob Sommers, a father and son team. According to LinkedIn, the son's background is in sales, and he did his co-founding in October of 2018. According to LinkedIn, Dad did his co-founding in January of 2018.

Robert Sommers (dad, mid-60-ish) has a long and checkered education history. Sommers worked for years in the Ohio Department of Ed, then moved to Butler Tech, a career and technical school, as CEO. He spent one year as CEO of Cornerstone Charter Schools in Detroit, then became director of 21st Century education for Governor John Kasich in Ohio. Somewhere in there Sommers took on the job of expanding Arizona's Carpe Diem charter chain into other states; the students-sitting-in-cubicles-working-on-computers didn't do well. Sommers somehow ended up in Oklahoma, where Governor Mary Fallin put him in charge of education (we're up to 2013 now). CompetencyWorks was delighted, given his ties to several reformster groups, but he left the job within a year; he noted that aging relatives scuttled his plans to relocate to OK. In 2016, he was up for the education chief job in Ohio, but by then the past had started to pile up. One news organization reported that his Carpe Diem school in Ohio was a low performer. And Plunderbund brought up the story of his truth-impairment during his Kasich days. The Cleveland Plain Dealer said that even though he pledged to sell his financial interest in Carpe Diem if he got the job, he was perhaps far too cozy with the charter school industry to become the guy who brought Ohio's sprawling charter mess under control. He did not get the job.

And so CF Educational Solutions was born, landing work in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Georgia and Oklahoma. They were sometimes greeted with less-than-open arms, in particular questioning the wisdom of hiring a charter guy to run strategic planning for a public system.

The Kalmus Ratio? It would appear that this is the brainchild of Sommers himself, who was using it all the way back in his Butler Tech days (it appears in 2004, already copyrighted). I've found no examples of its use by anyone but Sommers; that copyright might not be entirely necessary.

There is one other small mystery-- who hired CFES to write the Oklahoma schools efficiency report? I'm going to assume that the fact that OPCSA is web-hosting the copy is a huge hint.

You can read the full report if you like (it's only 27 pages long), but I'm not sure how you build a strong study on a foundation of bunk. But this is how hustlers keep hustling and how bad policy gets fed by bad research. Granted, in the mess that is Oklahoma education policy, this is small potatoes, but it's important to remember how the baloney gets made.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

ICYMI: My Brother's Birthday Edition (3/24)

It's my brother's birthday today. I'll have to tell you my brother's story someday-- it's an object lesson in how predicting a child's future when they are still in school is, in fact, a fool's game. In the meantime, here is your weekly batch o'reading.

If More Teachers Were Men  

Another way of looking at the issues surrounding teacher policy as the result of teachers being mostly women and teacher policy writers being mostly sexist. One of those "you may not agree with everything  but it's something to think about" articles.

Can We Recommend Teaching As A Career

One more Floridian voice contemplating the wretched mess that is Florida education policy

Ohio Charters Need a 22% Raise? Really?

As Ohio charters shift from "We can do more with less" to "We need more money," a blogger looks at some of the numbers behind that request.

New York's Testing System Is Broken

As Black and Brown students are once again shut out of NYC's top high schools, Jose Luis Vilson takes a look at how messes up the system is.

Parents Are Part of the Problem

Looking at the issues of academic anxiety for teens, and how parents are making it all worse.

Here's What Betsy DeVos Has To Say About Indiana's Failing Virtual Schools  

Almost everyone agrees that Indiana's cyber schools are a mess crying out for serious intervention. Guess who thinks they're just swell.

Arts Should Be Core Education, Not Optional Add-ons

From Commonwealth magazine, an argument for arts education .

Trump Is Trying To Change the Meaning Of Instructor, and It's Not Good 

From Forbes (and not by me), this looks at another troubling trend on the federal level.

How Do We Know It Won't Work?   

A look at the historical record on public-private funding of schools.

Code of Conduct for Politicians and Test Makers 

If we're going to worry about accountability, Steven Singer has some thoughts for an oft-overlooked group.

Blaming Teachers Easier Than Addressing Poverty  

Somebody should point out how wrong Eric Hanushek is at least once a month. Here's this month's entry.

Campbell Brown's Union Busting Organization Is Dead   

And here with the autopsy is the indispensable Mercedes Schneider.

Atlanta Votes To End Democratic Control Of Schools

Thomas Ultican looks at how Atlanta's board decided to go portfolio.

John Engler and Me

How much of a freakin' jerk is Michigan's education-busting former governor. Nancy Flanagan has a story. Spoiler alert: it will not make you like him more.

Reasons That Children Have Reading Problems That Reformers Don't Talk About   

What! You mean it's not just that teachers don't know how to do their jobs properly?? Nancy Bailey takes a look.

A Lifelong Teacher

Public education lost a dear friend and tough advocate with the recent passing of Phyllis Bush. Here's a beautiful tribute from the Journal Gazette

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Goodhart's Law And The BS Test

When discussing the problems of test-based accountability, we've long used Campbell's Law as the go-to framer of the related problems. For the absolute top of the field, get a copy of The Testing Charade by Danielk Koretz. Campbell's law is not very pithy, but it illuminates beautifully:

The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.

Campbell was a social scientist, and though he died before the modern age of test-driven education really kicked into gear, he was still clear on the problems with the Big Standardized Test:

Achievement tests may well be valuable indicators of general school achievement under conditions of normal teaching aimed at general competence. But when test scores become the goal of the teaching process, they both lose their value as indicators of educational status and distort the educational process in undesirable ways. (Similar biases of course surround the use of objective tests in courses or as entrance examinations.)

That's pretty well it. The Big Standardized Tests (and this can be applied to the SAT and ACT as well) don't really tell us what they claim to tell us, and they've warped the whole process of education as well, from months of education sacrificed for test prep to students forced to drop other classes so that they can take "extra" test related classes to the sorting of students into categories-- we don't have to worry about them, these students are hopeless, and these students are close enough to the line that we will invest time and money in pushing them over it.

But as apt as Campbell's Law is, it involves a lot of discussing and explaining, and it doesn't fit easily on a t-shirt. So if you really want to make a short, pithy statement, may I suggest the slightly less well known Goodhart's Law as restated by Marilyn Strathern. Goodheart was an economist and critic of Margaret Thatcher's policies, which led him to this observation circa 1975:

Any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes.

In 1997, Strathern, an anthropologist, translated that from economistese into punchy English:

When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.

There we go.

Goodhart is a broader version of Campbell, while Campbell serves as a good explainer of how Goodhart can be true. But for civilians who are just catching on, Goodhart is brief and clear. This law, incidentally, is a fave in the data sciences world, whereas Campbell was more popular with social scientists. So all those data-driven decisions fans may well have already heard of it.

If you are measuring the output of your nail factory, that's useful. But when you start making a particular output a target, that's when you get a factory that produces only tiny nails because that's easier to do. If you measure how many customers your phone bank people talk to each day, that's useful. When you give them a target of so many customers per day to talk to, that's when you get customer service in brusque, one word, unhelpful but quick burst. And (one of my faves) if you measure how many shoes your soviet shoe factory makes, that's useful. But if you make that quantity a target, that's when you get a factory that turns out only left shoes, because that's more efficient.

When you use a standardized test to measure how students are doing, that might be useful for telling you at least a little about how well your class or your school are doing. When you require a school to hit certain targets, that's when you get-- well, you already know what we get. And you test scores no longer tell you anything useful.

So make a note. Goodhart's law is short, clear and will fit on a t-shirt. The kind of t-shirt you could wear to your next data driven decision making in-service, or your next test prep professional development session. It ma be time for me to go into the t-shirt business.

Stop Talking About Student Achievement

If I told you that my student had achieved great things in school this year, what would you imagine I meant?
Maybe she started reading longer books with heavier vocabulary and deeper themes. Maybe she not only read them, but spent time thinking about the ideas they contained. Maybe she improved her technical facility and musicality when playing her flute. Maybe she conducted an impressively complex and ambitious physics experiment. Maybe she created a beautiful and useful website. Maybe she progressed to more complex problems in algebra. Maybe she completed some impressive in-depth research on a particular historical period. Maybe she passed welding certification tests. Or maybe she packed away some chunks of learning that won't really come to life for her until years from now.
But we have a problem in current education policy discussions; when we say "student achievement," we usually don't mean any of those things.
One of the great central challenges of education in general and teaching in particular is that we cannot read minds. We cannot see inside a student's head and see what has taken root and what has taken flight.
So part of the gentle art of teaching involves the creation and deployment of performance tasks designed to get us at least a peek inside the student brain to see if they have in fact mastered what we tried to get them to master. It is an ever-evolving challenge, made complex by the many types of students and the many levels of learning, further complicated by the fact that the best assessment is never as accurate as it was the first time you used it (unless you believe that students never talk to each other).
Some pieces of learning are easy to measure (does the student know her times table) and some are much more challenging (does the student have nuanced insights into the psychological aspects of Hamlet).
So to measure student achievement, we depend on various proxies. Once we start doing that, we are in danger or mistaking the proxy, the symbol, for the actual thing. If we're using high-quality assessments for low-complexity learning, there's not much danger of inaccuracy in confusing the two; if Pat scored 100% on the times table quiz, it's probably safe to say that Pat really knows the times tables.
But if the assessment is not high-quality, and the learning is high-complexity, we can jump to unsupported conclusions. If Chris scored 80% on a five-question multiple-choice quiz about Hamlet, we cannot safely say that Chris has a solid grip on the deeper nuances of the play.
And that, unfortunately, is where we are at the moment. Since the launch of No Child Left Behind, we have gotten in the habit of using a single multiple-choice test of reading and math as a proxy for student achievement.
The tests, like the PARCC, SBA and other newer assessments, have a host of problems of their own. For instance, studies keep finding issues with inappropriate reading levels on passages. There have been incidents like the infamous talking pineapple questions, and the poet who discovered she could not correctly answer test questions about her own poems.
But there's an even bigger issue, and that's the continued unquestioning use of these test scores as a proxy for the larger picture of student achievement and teacher effectiveness. It's a mistake repeated by countless education journalists, researchers and policy wonks. It's a quick and easy shorthand, but it's inaccurate and misleading.
We should just stop. Instead of saying, "Strategy X was found to have a positive affect on student achievement," we should say "Strategy X helped raise test scores." Instead of saying, "Technique Z led to improved reading by third graders," we should say, "Technique Z led to improved reading test scores for third graders."
It's not that we shouldn't discuss standardized test results, but we should stop pretending that they represent some larger truth. We should call them by their name -- not "student achievement" or "effective instruction" or "high-quality school" but simply "scores on the standardized test." By using lazy substitution, we end up like a tourist sitting beside the Grand Canyon looking at a handful of pebbles and imagining that those pebbles tell us everything we need to know about the vast beautiful vista that we are not bothering to see.
After all, if I told you that my child achieved great things in school this year, your first thought would not be, "Oh, good test scores!" Let's use words to mean what they actually mean.
Originally posted at Forbes