Sunday, November 10, 2019

ICYMI: Happy Birthday, Mom Edition (11/10)

Today is my mother's birthday, so there will be cake involved later. She's a pretty swell lady, so it's a day worthy of cake. Also, if you look to the right, you'll see that I've revamped the blog list and added a section of websites of interest that aren't necessarily blogs. So you can poke through that if you like. In the meantime, here's some reading from last week.

What Betsy DeVos Got Wrong About Detroit Schools

From the Detroit Free Press. Spoiler alert: almost everything.

Cassellius Puts Moratorium Onn District's Standardized Tests  

Boston's superintendent has concluded that an endless battery of practice and pre-tests might not be a great idea, so she's pressing pause.

The Failure of Betsy DeVos and 30 Years of Corporate Influence on Public Education

Nancy Bailey offers a brief but worthwhile history lesson about the true origins of public school problems.

The Stories of Segregation  Academies as Told By The White Students Who Attended

A fascinating new project gives us a chance to see an ugly chapter of US education history a bit more clearly.

Are Teachers Allowed To Think for Themselves

Steven Singer wants to know why teachers are highly trained, yet widely ignored.

More Testing Is Not The Answer For NYC Students, But Smaller Classes Could Be

Liat Olenick in the Gotham Gazette offers the cray thought that New York City schools might want to try a solution for which there is actual evidence of effectiveness.

What Is "Quality" Music? Choosing the Best Materials for Our Students

Nancy Flanagan is writing about the recent flap over what to include or throw out in the music ed library, but her thoughts here are useful for literature teachers, too.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Digital Curriculum And Lesson Management Is A Crock

Ed Tech overpromises in so many areas, but one the great lies is that implementing This Year's Great New Program is going to save teachers just oodles of time. It never does. It particularly never does when it comes to the kind of software leviathan's used to manage curriculum and lesson plans. 

The sheer volume of data entry for these programs (enter the curriculum, unit plans, lesson plans, all cross-linked to the state standards) is enough to suck up hours of work on a weekly basis, particularly if your district has saddle you with one of the more user-unfriendly examples of the species.
"Well, yes, at first," is the standard reply. "But once you get everything entered, there's barely any work at all." Which is almost sort of true-ish if you teach mostly the same stuff in the same order on the same days from year to year. Sometimes you get the build-as-you-go argument-- if you enter all your units and all your lessons as you go this year, you'll just sort of build the curriculum organically. 

But it's still not true, because Ed Tech is just like regular old Tech when it comes to its love for the latest fashion. The tech world is not much interested in longevity and staying power: "Let's come up with a device with an effective life of at least a decade and power it with software that we'll never mess with but alway support," is not the rallying cry of any tech company. 

This blithe dismissal of the future is sometimes stunningly obtuse. Years ago, yearbook publishing companies were pushing digital yearbook supplements, extras that would carry lots of pictures and even videos stored on cool new CD-Roms. I'm sure that some schools went for this shiny deal, and now, over a decade later, those discs are useful as coasters or mini-frisbees, while old fashioned paper yearbooks from a century ago work just fine. 

But curriculum management software is arguably worse.

Consider the example of my old district. Our first attempt at digitizing the English department curriculum came over a decade ago. It involved some very user-unfriendly software in which we invested a mountain of person-hours until the administrator whose pet project it was left the district and the project was mothballed.

Around six or seven years ago, the district did a soft rollout of another package that was a little more sophisticated. Some of us were trained to be the vanguard, and then the rest of the staff was added. This was supposed to follow the cumulative model, with units and lessons building to a curriculum. An administrator decreed that all weekly lesson plans would be submitted on the software; their successor directed us not to worry about it too much. It was glitchy and unfriendly and some folks took the bet that nobody was actually paying attention, and stopped using it (some won the bet, and some lost). 

During one of the very first training sessions, somebody (I might have been the person) asked  just how long the district's commitment to this software would extend past the initial free-to-us grant-fueled period. 

The answer turns out to be, "Till right about now." There is, of course, no compatibility between software platforms, so my former colleagues are now apparently condemned to manually enter everything all over again. 

A fair question-- is all this accumulated and discarded hourage resulting in some beneficial curricular datafication?

Well. During the first round of digitizing, we had to do a lot of formating, phrasing and framing on our own, so I asked (I'm certain I was the asker on this one) what exactly was the purpose of the end product. Who was going to open this up, and once they opened it up, they would be using it to do...... what, exactly? I did not get an answer, though I did get one of those administrative Not A Team Player looks.

With Program #2, it was clear that one of the supposed benefits was a feature that allowed us to drag-and-drop individual state standards to each lesson, unit, etc, thereby allowing administrators to see what "gaps" we had in our standards alignment. This is a benefit if one assumes that A) having all the standards (created by a small group of edu-amateurs with no basis in research or evidence) represented makes curriculum better and B) that screen-weary teachers don't align their units by simply dragging and dropping every standard in sight just to get the job done. 

So, useful for administrators. But for teachers? For teachers, these programs are mostly a solution in search of a problem. Is it easier to write your lesson plan on a computer or a piece of paper? More importantly, is it easier to consult your lesson plan on a screen or on a piece of paper? 

Here's an underdiscussed ed tech issue-- paper makes for a really versatile display medium, while software usually forces you to look at your stuff the way the software manufacturer thinks you should. Lesson plans-- particularly if we're supposed to cross-check them with units and other weeks of instruction and state standards-- are a fairly complicated thing to display, particularly because it involves some information that the teacher may or may not need  at the moment. And then there's the issue of making on-the-spot alterations (e.g. didn't get all the way through exercise 12, so start with that tomorrow). It's entirely possible that there are teachers out there who start every lesson by pulling up the digital version of their lesson plan, but I haven't met them yet (you can speak up in the comments). Meanwhile, plenty of teachers still use paper to plan lessons, transcribe it into the software, and then use the paper to do the work (that, of course, in addition to teachers who don't use traditional lesson plans at all,  but that's another conversation).

There are other benefits to digitized curriculum. The more detailed standardized format makes it easier to, say, tell Mrs. McTeachalot to go pull up Mrs. Teachovik's planning for her Modern Numerology class and take it over.  If we could just get teachers to record their lesson planning in greater detail, we could more easily replace them, and if multiple teachers have the same course, you've got one centralized digitized record of exactly how they should all be teaching it. And if you use software that also allows for entering all the assessments, pretty soon you'll have your whole district recorded and transferable to any warm body. As an administrator, you can check up on what your teachers (say they) are doing. And did I mention you can check to make sure that all the standards are being covered. 

Yeah, you may have noticed that none of these benefits are actually benefits for teachers. I can think of one-- if the district decides to fund extra hours to get the data entry done, teachers have a chance to make some extra money doing work that will be thrown out in a few years. So much better than filling up binders that will gather dust on some shelf somewhere in the district office. 

Friday, November 8, 2019

FL: Even The State Thinks Florida Virtual School Needs To Shape Up

Virtual charter schools have a lousy track record, so bad that even bricks-and-mortar charter advocates have called for them to shape the hell up. Meanwhile, Florida has implemented every reformy method of undercutting public schools that could be imagined. So it's entirely predictable that Florida would have its own cyberschool, and that it would be a mess. But a lucrative one, as under previous governor Rick Scott, the state added a graduation requirement that every student must take an online course.

The school itself? Well, a 2014 Harvard Kennedy School study found that FLVS was "not significantly worse" than public school. For some reason, FLVS did not include that in their marketing.

Florida Virtual School was launched in 1997 by the state, and has since spun off into a sort of private beast that offers franchises to school districts. Problems have ensued regularly since. For instance, in 2018 the on-line school suffered a massive data breach,  characterized by one expert as not so much a hack as the school "left the door open."

The most recent round involved the Orlando Sentinel trying to plumb the depths of the work of Frank Kruppenbacher, the once-attorney of FLVS. The Sentinel learned that the lawyer had been mixing his FLVS work with that of other clients, jobs, and his own family. He used school employees to do work elsewhere, hired family, and, additionally, was apparently a sexist jerk to staff. The school kept all of this under wraps, including a nasty court battle; FLVS not only refused to release documents, but filed a civil lawsuit against the Sentinel for asking.

How bad did it get? So bad that state edu-honcho and former actively anti-public ed legislator Richard Corcoran recommended a big-time audit of FLVS, and Governor Ron "Never Met A Privatizing Scheme He Didn't Like" DeSantis agreed. Previous Governor Rick Scott had loaded the FLVS board of trustees with folks who were cozy with Kruppenbacher, and DeSantis has made some noise about changing that, too.

This summer a new FLVS head was appointed, and some board was shuffled as the state took control of FLVS. The new appointees are all politically connected, with nary a molecule of actual education experience in sight (though Corcoran does know one from church). So there's no reason to expect things to look up there.

And last week, the audit arrived, sort of. Giant chunks of the almost $200K report were cut-and-pasted from existing sources. Because, Florida. Nevertheless, the report recommends "a new governor-appointed board, new ethics standards for employees and a new inspector general inside the school to oversee internal audits and investigations."

It's another top-notch Florida-style swamp of shenanigans, and at this point the nations first state-wide cyberschool doesn't seem to have anyone in its corner. Though at the same time, the only solution being considered is putting someone else sit on the deck and watch as FLVS continues to wander adrift. Maybe someone should be suggesting to scrap the whole mess.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Hanushek Offers Teachers A Grand Bargain

If there is anything we don't lack in the education sphere, it's economists who know all about how to make education work real betterer. Two faves are Raj Chetty and Eric Hanushek, who have both pushed some super-great ideas. You probably remember the one about how the right first grade teacher can mean you'll make umpty-zillion more dollars in your lifetime, a piece of foolery that might be called speculative economics, a house of cards based on so many tissue-thin assumptions, guesses and Hail Marys that it's hard to believe-- well, it boils down to sexy, memorable headline, so that's why you've heard it.

Anyway. Hanushek is over at EdWeek this week with a proposition, a proposal, a Grand Bargain, if you will-- but you probably shouldn't.

This guy, still.
Much of this is vintage Hanushek, but he's hung it on the current vogue for noticing that teacher4 pay is lousy and teacher working conditions are failing to attract hordes of awesome meat widgets. Sadly, this is what some folks think would be a grand solution.

Hanushek opens with some concern trolling-- teacher pay etc really is bad, as witnessed by tough job actions across the country over the past years, but "sequential appeasement of these outbreaks of union combativeness and teacher frustration will almost certainly not help the students and will likely make teachers worse off in the long run."

Hanushek is clear on the pay thing; he's done some of the research on the teacher penalty, aka the money that people give up to join teaching rather than other similarly-trained professions. And he is trying to dance on a thin line. On the one hand, he says, the low pay means that the teaching corps is not exactly the cream of the crop (and he throws in frickin' PISA results to underline his point, which is an odd  choice, given that US results have been mediocre forever, regardless of the ups and downs of the teaching pool). On the other hand, he says, "The bad balance between salaries and effectiveness does not mean that it is all right to bash teachers for not being better." And then he delivers his entry for the Backhanded Compliment Hall of Fame:

In fact, the nation ends up with a surprisingly good teaching force given the salary levels and working conditions. We attract many people who—for love of kids, for feeling of social purpose, or for what-have-you—are willing to take on the challenges of teaching.

Yes, I remember well the moment I realized that I could hear the call of what-have-you, and knew that I really wanted to pursue the something-or-other that could express my whatchamacallit somehow-or-other through kind of doing the teaching thingy. Thanks for noticing, sir.

But we're finally coming up on the meat of his argument, and it's the same old full-of-filler burger that he's pushed before. We need to fix schools by filling them with better teachers. How to do it?

First, he wants you to know that some teachers are more effective than others-- but we don't know what characteristics make some teachers more effective than others (but it's not education or longevity). Second, he wants to point out that simply raising salaries won't help, because it will retain both most and least effective teachers.

This is where the Grand Bargain comes in.

This bargain is simple: a substantial increase in teacher salaries combined with policies that produce a significant tilt toward more effective teachers.

Sigh. There are so many things wrong here, but this exercise in unicorn farming has been a favorite of modern reformsters.

First, we don't know what characteristics mark a highly effective teacher, so we inevitably go back to outcomes, aka test scores. The Grand Bargain has been proposed many times, and it's not that grand-- it just says "We'll pay the most money to the teachers with the highest test scores." But test score results are inconsistent and only cover math and reading. There's an underlying assumption here that's problematic-- the assumption that a teacher's effectiveness is some sort of set, permanent state, like their eye color or height. But with the exceptions of the extremes (superteachers and classroom disasters), most teachers are different levels of effectiveness on different days with different students. Teacher effectiveness is hard to measure in part because it is a moving target.

Hanushek has anticipated the argument about a lack of valid, reliable evaluation tools:

Mentioning evaluation often brings out a slew of arguments aimed at showing that any evaluation system—whether involving measures of student learning, supervisor and peer ratings, or parental input—has potential flaws. The claim that teachers can't be evaluated meaningfully stands in stark contrast, however, to what is seen in the vast majority of complex jobs across the economy.

Hanushek frames this as if these objections emerge as some rhetorical ploy; I'd say these objections emerge because there are real problems and people just keep pointing them out. And that last sentence-- I bet you think the next paragraph is going to offer an example of a complex job comparable to teaching that is meaningfully evaluated. Nope. He has no example to offer, and granted he has only so much space, but I'm going to argue that he has no example because there is no example because teaching is actually unlike any other profession. It stands in "stark contrast" to "what is seen" (by whom, anyway--oh, that passive voice) because the profession has some stark contrasts to other professions. For instance, health care professions might seem similar, but everyone who seeks medical help has the same basic goal-- to be made healthy. But the "customers" of schools have hundreds of different desired outcomes, from employable skills to bolstered self-esteem. Not to put too simple a spin on it, but education seems different because education is different.

So what else can Hanushek throw in? Perhaps some condescension.

To set a new, more positive path on evaluation, union leaders might take seriously one strand of their own rhetoric: We need to professionalize teaching. To some, professionalizing teachers means paying teachers the same as accountants. A more apt definition is professionals are people willing to be held responsible for their performance.

Really, dude? You are going to go with the old reformster whinge that teachers don't want to be held accountable for their performance? Because teachers are held accountable every day of their career. If you design a lousy lesson, you suffer some immediate accountability delivered by the roomful of small humans who will make you pay for your bad choice. Every parent has access to phones and email. Parenrts, administrators, board members, taxpayers--A teacher has a thousand bosses, and every one of them has some ideas about what that teacher should be doing.

Maybe what you want to say is that teachers should be subject to a formal accountability system that makes them pay a financial price for not meeting whatever standards we're measuring this week. But first-- as you've already acknowledged-- teachers have already paid a financial penalty for being teachers. And second-- and this is a huge one-- you don't have a functional, valid, reliable system for evaluating teachers, and until you do, teachers have to live with the possibility of those levers falling into the wrong hands, because here's the thing-- there is always someone who thinks we suck, someone who is a sure that we're a terrible teacher and a blot on the profession.

But to argue that because we don't want bad accountability systems, we don't want acountabillity at all-- that's just insulting. Teachers are just fine with accountability-- it's part of the what-have-you that drove us to teach in the first place, the drive to be able to look in the mirror and say, "You did good."

Hanushek winds up imagining that somehow such a system would involve union input and manages at the very last minute to throw in the old chestnut that "enhanced student achievement would engender broad economic gains across society." This is a piece of unsupported baloney,. but it fits the "if we just get everyone to score real high on the Big Standardized Test, poverty and income inequity will be erased and we won't have to address those issues at all" narrative. We've had years to see if this really works. Spoiler alert: it doesn't. One would hope that a truly professional economist would be willing to suffer some financial accountability for having pushed an inaccurate theory on education policy.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

FL: How The State Supports Discrimination By Charters

A Florida news station has heard from the state's department of education exactly how charter schools can discriminate against students with special needs.

Part of the charter sales pitch has always been a claim that charters offer alternatives to all students. Just look at this happy blurb from the National Alliance for Public [sic] Charter Schools:

The answer to “Can charter schools deny students?” is a beautiful-sounding “no.” Charter schools are free, public, and open to all students.

It may sound beautiful, but the reality is less lovely.

There's no surprise here. Charter schools are businesses, and no business thrives or survives without targeting certain customers for inclusion and others for exclusion. Every business has to have an answer to the question, "Which customers do we want, and which customers do we not want?" Wal-mart, McDonalds, Olive Garden, Louis Vutton-- they've all made choices and they all communicate clearly through marketing, store design, and product offerings which customers are welcome, and which are not. If you are committed to fine, upscale dining, you aren't forbidden to walk into Micky D's, but they've made it clear that they are not going to expend the money and effort involved in providing you with the kind of experience you desire.

This is normal, natural--even necessary- business behavior. And charter schools are businesses.

So charters have found ways to control their customer base. An involved application process. Just kind of ghosting applicants with special needs. Some charters just flat out deny admission  to special needs students. Texas has a loophole law saying that charters can deny any students who have had disciplinary referrals ever for anything. And in area after area, we find that charters, somehow, end up serving fewer of the high cost special needs students.

Theoretically this is mostly illegal in most states. But a law only counts if somebody enforces it, and Florida has never shown any inclination to punish charter schools for anything ever.

ActionNewsJax is a Fox and CBS affiliate in Florida (someone has to tell me how that works some time) that has been following up on the story of charters denying autistic students. They determined that A) it happens and B) the state department of education is okay with that.

It’s against the law for public schools and charter schools to turn away students because of special needs.

However, Action News Jax learned there’s a catch.

The Florida Department of Education said it’s not discriminatory for charters to suggest a different school that would better serve a student with disabilities.

And as far as that beautiful-sounding no goes, that idea that a charter must welcome any student...

FLDOE spokesperson Cheryl Etters said every school can’t serve every child and what matters is that the student thrives academically.

“Just like traditional public schools, each charter school has different resources and may not have the ability to meet the demands of a student with specific disabilities,” Etters said via email.

Just like a traditional public school? I think Ms. Etters is a bit confused, because if a public school doesn't have the resources they are required to by-God find those resources and not just wave the student away with a "You should go look for an education somewhere else."

I mean, this is not so much a loophole as an unraveling of the law. A charter operator could get rid of any student they wanted to deny simply by saying, "We would require your child to be tied up in a gunny sack all day and their special education instruction would be delivered by the school janitor once a week." This is a license to scare away anyone, permission to discriminate at will.

Monday, November 4, 2019

PA: House Speaker Mike Turzai Is Upset, Again

PA House Speaker Mike Turzai is not a huge fan of public schools, and especially not the teachers who work. He was happy to host Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos when she visited Harrisburg. It was that visit that yielded the special moment when Turzai told some protesting teachers that they were special interests who are  part of a monopoly and that they don't care about the children. Personally, I've heard the tale of elected school officials who were visiting Harrisburg and dared to ask about funding. "You people already get plenty of money," the speaker allegedly snapped. At least he didn't do it publicly-- Mike Turzai is the guy caught on video bragging that Voter ID laws would give the state to Mitt Romney.

Turzai was the author of the bill intended to double the educational tax credits (aka vouchers) in PA. His idea of bailing out Harrisburg schools is to force them to go to a voucher system.

So it's no surprise to find him in the Philadelphia Inquirer writing an op-ed arguing that choice opponents should stop talking so mean. It's a fine example of the kind of spin and obfuscation used by anti-public ed politicians.

This guy
Turzai's preferred argument is that old "we give you people too much money already" complaint, with a variety of corners cut.

"Pennsylvania spends more that $33 billion in state and local taxes on public education," he says, which is true, but the devilish detail here is that the lion's share of that comes from local taxpayers. Pennsylvania ranks 43rd in the amount of state funding for schools. That means that there is a huge spending gap in PA districts based on the local wealth. In the size of that gap between rich and poor, PA is first in the nation. We're Number One!! Yay!

PA spends $13 billion-ish on Pre-K to 12 education, which is the most we've ever spent. Turzai has some fun with that figure, calling it 38.6% of the General Fund budget rather than 20% of the total budget. And just watch this next trick--

Thanks to these record levels of spending, Pennsylvania ranks third of the 50 states and Washington, D.C., in average teacher salary, average starting teacher salary, and average school spending per student when these figures are adjusted for cost of living. 

See that? All those record-breaking billions of dollars are going to give teachers big fat paychecks. Well, average teachers. Of course, there's a problem with measuring by average teachers. First of all, Pennsylvania's teacher force picture has some unique quirks. We got ahead of the teacher "shortage" at the beginning of the decade by shedding almost 20,000 jobs (so one of the reasons the teacher pipeline numbers dropped in PA is because students believed there were no teaching jobs--and for a while, they weren't wrong). Put that all together and you get a slightly older/wiser/more experienced teaching force which raises the average teaching salary.

But the other key here is that word "average." Peter Green the classic blues guitarist has been in at least two major bands (Fleetwood Mac and John Mayall's Bluesbreakers). That means that, on average, musicians named Peter Green(e) have been in an average of one major band. And yet, my invitation to join the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Peter Greene, actor, has appeared in over 60 films, which means that on average, Peter Greenes who have done any acting have made thirty films.

Remember that PA has the nation's largest gulf between rich and poor districts, which makes averages particularly useless in this state. If we look, for instance, at per-pupil spending, we range from the bottom of $6,324 all the way up to the #2 district for spending at $17,409 (we'll skip #1, which is a bizarre outlier). Discussing averages in this way just becomes a bizarre excuse to keep the poorest districts poor-- because to raise them up would raise the state average.

Turzai takes a paragraph to plug the education tax credit scholarship programs that the state runs. He's still sad that Governor Wolf vetoed an attempt to expands these backdoor vouchers that let wealthy folks and corporations get out of paying state taxes by giving money to schools instead--that is, almost exclusively private and religious schools, with a program income cap so high that it supports plenty of families that are not exactly struggling. And some rich schools are benefiting, though they show no sudden influx of non-wealthy students.

Turzai then calls Pennsylvania a "gold standard with respect to funding public school districts," which is a joke. 43rd in state funding level. Biggest gap between rich and poor districts in the nation. That is not a gold standard. But what Turzai really wants to plug is choice-- vouchers, charter, private, parochial. Part ofg his argument is baloney, as when he says that charters "often" provide "innovative, cutting-edge approaches to education." Nope. We're well into the Great Charter Experiment and one thing is abundantly clear-- no charter, not even the nominally successful ones, has discovered some new, previously unknown technique for educating students. There is nothing that charter schools have to teach public schools.

But the juxtaposition of his two main points-- we spend too much money on education, and we should have more choice-- underscores a central problem with his argument. As he well knows, one of the likely causes of high education spending in the state is that we have too many school districts-- about 500 in the whole state. And that actually represents a considerable cut that occurred in the sixties when the state pushed districts across the state to combine. My own small county (approximate population- 50,000) contains four major school districts (and small pieces of a few others. That represents considerable duplication of services, particularly on the administrative level.

Point being-- you don't cut costs by adding schools. In fact, as Turzai should also know, many districts have been combining schools in order to cut costs. Nobody-- nobody-- says "Hey, the budget is tight, so I think we should open some new facilities."

So if Turzai doesn't like the cost of supporting 500 districts and roughly 3,000 schools, how does he imagine that adding more schools will help, or will represent the most efficient use of tax dollars?

Set aside for a moment the quality issues, the church-state issues, the problems of turning public schools into a private business-- I would like to hear choice fans like Mike Turzai tell the truth about school choice. "Folks," I'd like to hear him say. "I think school choice is a good thing, but to run a bunch of parallel education systems is going to cost more. So I'm going to push for choice, and I'm going to raise your taxes to pay for it properly."

Sure, you can have them all.
But no-- time after time we get School Choice Santa who will somehow magically make the current funding, which couldn't adequately support a single public system, suddenly stretch to fund the old system and the parochial system and a whole bunch of new education flavored businesses that will spring up.

School choice is the Daylight Savings Time of education, the magical belief that if we just move resources around, there will somehow be more of them. We have a king-sized bed filled with children and a twin bed blanket, and choice fans keep arguing that if we move it around, somehow it will cover everyone. It won't. Some choice advocates believe  in a magic blanket; others know full well that only some children will be covered, and they have some ideas about which children that should be, but they know better (most of the time) than to say that part out loud.

I don't know which kind Turzai is, but his argument in favor of choice is weak, which is why he ultimately resorts to the old "think of the children" argument, citing the 70,000-out-of-200,000 children in Philadelphia as if the 130,000 still in public schools don't really matter. "These schools are saving lives" is his plea, and that may be true now and then, but it's also true that in PA some of these schools are profiteering scams benefitting from lax oversight and absence of accountability, while at the same time costing the public system resources that could have been used to save a few public school lives as well.

Turzai also repeats the fiction of calling charter schools "public." They aren't. Public schools are publicly owned, publicly operated, publicly accountable, and run by publicly elected officials. Charters are none of these (and of course private and parochial schools aren't, either). But going into his finish, Turzai throws lots of exaggerated rhetoric at the issue. He talks about "the all-out attack" against charters, and I'm not sure what that is supposed to be. Wolf said some things that made charter fans sad, like calling them not-public and suggesting that they should be accountable to the public whose tax dollars they spend, but an all-out attack would be more like, say, outlawing charters and choice entirely. That's not happening. But it's time for the finish:

We can have thriving public school districts, public charter schools, and private and parochial schools available for our kids and parents. Competition raises the quality of each, ensuring that the needs of every student and family are being met.

Again, I thought the GOP was the party that understood that you can't have ten ponies just because you want them. Yes, we could have a thriving many-headed system (I can think of some reasons not to, but let's set that aside for a moment)-- but we would have to pay for it.

And the part about competition-- no. Just no. Free market competition does not foster superior quality; free market competition fosters superior marketing. But hey-- if Turzai believes this, he4 should be delighted with the governor's recent activities, which are a clear signal that charters and choice are going to face much fiercer competition, so we should be expecting new heights of greatness. I can't wait to see how this new tougher market environment raises the choicey ships.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

ICYMI: It's November Already Edition (11/3)

One storm front pushes through and all of a sudden it's much less like summer and much more like winter. But when it's cold outside, that's a good time to hunker down inside and read. Remember to share, folks.

Schools and Surveillance  

Buzzfeed offers a package of pieces about some of the creepy surveillance going on out there (for our own good, of course). It's all plenty alarming.

Education Technology Running Rampant  

As always, the view form China is scary. I can tell you that the headband thing was apparently scrapped later in the week, but still... Alan Singer has some thoughts.

Bus Struck In Sinkhole  

Not remotely education related, but in western PA we love ourselves a good sinkhole story.

My Tour of Achievement First    

Senator Sam Bell took a tour of an Achievement First charter school and came away...well, not favorably impressed, that's for sure.

What's Blockchain Actually Good For?  

Wired takes a look at the promises of blockchain. It was going to fix everything. including carrying your digital credential profile. So far, it looks as if one more technowonder has seriously overpromised beyond what it can actually do.

The Haunted Third Grade Classrooms Children Fear  

Nancy Bailey with a look at the bad policy that is third grade reading retention. Spoiler alert: it still doesn't work.

The Big Lie About the Science of Reading: 2019 Edition    

Paul Thomas breaks down some of the baloney surrounding the "science" of reading, with a special look at the new NAEP scores.

Stop Devaluing the Wisdom of Teachers  

Joseph Murphy at EdWeek points out that researchers don't have a monopoly on "evidence," and maybe classroom teachers actually know a thing or two about teaching.

NOLA Book Cooking  

Mercedes Schneider (she's indispensable) has been following the story of the administrator who told teachers to fix their grades. It's not pretty.

Why Democrats Are Rethinking School Choice  

From Have You Heard comes a great interview with Jon Valant. Thoughtful, nuanced stuff about the tides affecting the charter movement.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Why Market Forces Will Not Provide Charter School Accountability

It has been a rough day at my house. The IRS is auditing me and needs me to send them money now. My computer has a virus. My Microsoft Windows is expired and will shut down soon. And if I don’t re-enter my personal information, my email, Netflix, and bank accounts will all be shut down. The only good news is that I still have a chance to buy great insurance, and I’m still waiting to hear back from that Nigerian prince. 
Why do phone and online scammers keep at it, long after the vast majority of folks have heard about the most common scams, and even your mother knows not to say “yes” to a robocaller? Why don’t these scammers think, “Time to change my business model?” Because if scammers get a return on even one hit out of 10,000, that’s more than enough to keep them in business.
Charter school advocates have long argued that one reason that charters don’t need much formal government oversight is that they are subject to a greater accountability, that they must answer to parents who can “vote with their feet.” But the feet of charter parents don’t exert very much pressure.
The vast majority of charter school operators have nothing in common with phone scammers, but the same basic market principle applies.
Take, for instance, the Success Academy chain of New York City. New York City schools have an enrollment of roughly 1.1 million students; Success Academy has roughly 18,000, plus a waiting list. Over 1 million students have already voted with their feet against Success Academy, but there are no signs that SA head Eva Moskowitz is worried about tweaking the school’s approach to entice some of those million students to “vote” differently. She doesn’t need them. Nor do I suspect she’d bat an eye if even a dozen parents came to her and said, “Change this rule or we are pulling our kids out of here.” 
A charter school doesn’t need to corner a market; it needs to attract just enough customers to keep the business going. Out of the large pool of possible students, it only needs a bucketful. It can even afford to push some potential customers away–to encourage them to vote with their feet–in order to make space for a customer who’s more to its liking. it doesn’t need to adjust its business model or shift its pitch to appeal to everyone. Yes, a charter that wanders seriously, disastrously into the weeds might manage to put itself out of business, but in some cases even flagrantly bad charters have pulled in enough loyal customers to keep going. 
And charters have another advantage–in addition to the large pool of students already available, there are fresh new customers aging into the market very year.
The notion that parents can exert some sort of accountability pressure on any but the most terribly run charters seems unlikely. It is one advantage that charters have over public schools; charter school families are easily replaced, while public school families are not. A charter school doesn’t need to serve the entire market; a public school does. Public schools are tasked with keeping everybody happy; charter schools just need to reach enough families to fill the seats they have. There are certainly many tools available for holding charters accountable, but voting feet are not among them.
Originally posted at

Friday, November 1, 2019

DeVos Honored By Prominent Dominionist Group

Dominionism argues that the US should be a literal Christian nation, its government run by Christians. It comes in varying degrees of severity, with varying amounts of nationalism mixed in. One of the major proponents of American (i.e. US) dominionism was D. James Kennedy, a minister and broadcaster in Florida. Sample quote: To be a true Christian citizen means to "take dominion over all things as vice-regents of God." Or there's this one:

Our job is to reclaim America for Christ, whatever the cost. As the vice regents of God, we are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government, our literature and arts, our sports arenas, our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors—in short, over every aspect and institution of human society.

Kennedy has done some whacky things, like teaming up with Roy Moore to turn the Ten Commandments into a cause celebre. He also created the D. James Kennedy Center for Christian Statesmanship, located in DC and dedicated to helping the Right Kind of Believers take their place in government. They offer leadership training with three weeks of intensive training that covers both the theology and the ins-and-outs of federal government.

As God’s special revelation to humanity, the Bible is the authoritative source on how we ought to live personally and in society. In a rapidly-changing world of moral ambiguity, a worldview based on the Bible orients us to the truth and shows the way to human flourishing. Men and women trained in this approach become wise, persuasive, desirable candidates for elected office.

The distinguished faculty includes folks from Moody Bible Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Buckley School of Public Speaking, the American Center for Law and Justice, among others.

It's a view that represents what we think of as the culture wars, only on steroids. These are folks who see themselves as warriors for God, fighting to drive secularism and evil and wrong religions (like, you know, Islam) out of all aspects of US life. Or if you like a visual representation:

It should be said that plenty of folks within the Christian church are not fans of this stuff--but plenty of others are all too happy to see themselves as warriors for God, and many of those folks are in elected office right now. The Center stays in touch with many of these folks, holding Bible classes for Congress and support for those who are doing God's work of reclaiming the seven mountains. The Center also gives out an annual award-- the Distinguished Christian Statesman Award. You can see the kind of goals these folks support. Past recipients include Mike Pence, John Ashcroft, and Mike Huckabee. They just handed out the 2019 award.

The recipient was Betsy DeVos.

There's no big shock here. The DeVos family has always been, if not dominionists, certainly dominionist-adjacent. It's the kind of thinking that yields the oft-cited quote about advancing God's kingdom. I've talked to religious conservatives who talk about "taking back" schools for the church. They think DeVos is a great choice, that everyone should be pulling their chidren out of government schools.

There's nothing to learn about DeVos from her acceptance of this award from these folks, b ut it underlines what we've already seen-- DeVos does not believe in public education as created and maintained by a secular government. Schools (as with most of government) should be operated by people who Believe Correctly, using the divinely-ordained free market system that allows God's chosen to rise and the unworthy to fall. And now she has a fancy award for her mantle.