Thursday, December 12, 2019

Fordham: Teachers Are Downloading Junk

Fordham Institute, the right-tilted thinky tank and tireless ed reform advocacy group, just released a new study that actually raises some interesting questions. "The Supplemental Curriculum Bazaar" takes a look at the materials teachers are downloading, and it finds them, well, not delightful. While I'm only going to argue with their findings a little, there are aspects of their methods that I find, well, not delightful.

The Playing Field

The study looked specifically at materials for high school English (ELA for the core-trained), which is right in my wheelhouse (39 years of secondary English classrooms). So I was prepared to predict the results of this study before reading it. My prediction: the stuff available on line today is much like the stuff available in catalogs and teacher stores twenty yeas ago-- kind of mediocre, but occasionally helpful. So now we can see if Fordham matches my findings.

They looked at two main sets of questions. 1) what types of materials are being downloaded, and 2) how do "experts" rate the quality. Also, how do the "expert" ratings compare to teacher ratings?

Yeah, about that-- who are these experts, and why is "expert" different from "teacher."

Experts include:

Morgan Polikoff, from USC Rossier, and we've seen him before as a big-time testing supporter. His background is ed policy and math.

I think I see a good Hamlet unit in there
Jennifer Dean, freelance educational assessment consultant. She's worked for Student Achievement Partners, was involved in K-122 assessment for "a large assessment company" (looks like maybe ETS). At SAP she developed standards alignment guidelines and sample assessments. She supposedly started her career teaching secondary ELA.

Jenni Aberli is an ELA instructional lead. It's not clear how much actual teaching she does, but she does work hard at that old Core alignment and she is National Board certified.

Sarah Baughman is an educational consultant "with over a decade of middle and high school English teaching experience in public, charter, online and international schools." That's a l;ot of variety for a decade. She's also associated with Student Achievement Partners.

Dr. Bryan Drost. An administrator in Ohio and a big testing guy, including national supervisor of edTPA (boo).

Joey Hawkins is a national literacy consultant. She taught in rural Vermont. Lots of writing background.

So, some actual teachers, heavy on the love of assessment and the core. It is not quite clear to me why they, and not the classroom teachers, are the experts here, but let's forge ahead.

How Were the Materials Judged

The study used the list of commonly consulted sites from a 2015 RAND survey, omitting Google and Pinterest (because there's no way to track what's found there) and Readworks and Newsela (because they are narrowly focused on reading). So that left Teachers Pay Teachers, ReadWriteThink, and Share My Lesson.

For the last two, the study simply used the list of most-downloaded material, sticking to reading, writing, speaking and/or listening lessons. For Teachers Pay Teachers, they used the 15 free units, top 15 free lessons, top 47 paid units, and top 47 paid lessons. Then the evaluators whipped put their rubrics and went to work. Here are the ten areas covered.

1) Basic descriptive data. What's in it, metadata, title, etc.

2) Alignment to Standards. I'm a little fuzzy here/ The question is "does it include standards it aligns to." But the rating is based on whether or not it aligns to the target standard. I'm not sure why I care about either one. We really don't talk often enough about how "alignment to standards" has nothing to do with the level of instructional material suckitude.

3) Depth of Knowledge. Oh, lordy, spare me. DOK is a bunch of baloney that fastened itself, barnical-like, to the back of the standards.

4) Text complexity and quality. In other words, is this unit for Grapes of Wrath and not Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Unfortunately, it includes lexile scores, and according to those, Diary is high school appropriate and Grapes is not.

5) Close Reading and Evidence from the Text. If there's a reading comprehension task, it has to require "close reading and analysis" as well as the use of "evidence from the text." Also, it must focus on tyhe ,ain idea and important details in the text. All of this might be a good sign, if we don't wander too far into the David Coleman version of close reading.

6) Writing Task Quality. Does the task involve writing to a text? Because, of course, writing that isn't about a text is just a waste of time? SMH. This also includes an overall measure of task quality, in which the experts had to decide whether the task was too easy or too unimportant. How long has it been since those experts were in a classroom, I wonder.

7) Speaking and Listening Task Quality. Again, it's only high quality if it's to a text or recording, and it can't be too easy or frivolous.

8) Usability. Is it interesting? Is it free from errors? Is it visually attractive? Does it give clear guidance for teachers? Does it support diverse learners? Is it going to be used by some gormless drone with no personal knowledge of teaching? No, I just made that last one up. But seriously-- if the teacher using this can't figure out how to use it or spot errors in it, then we are already in more trouble than a lesson from an online vendor can solve.

9) Assessment quality. There are plenty of assessment experts on this case, so I'll give them this one.

10) Knowledge Building and Cultural Responsiveness. If this is a full unit, does it involve students showing that they know something. And does it include diverse perspectives, authors, topics.

What They Found Out

The report has some good news and bad news.

Good news: The text quality is good, with only a few hitting the "very low quality" score. The materials also mostly involved text-based evidence.

Good news: The materials are generally error-free and well designed. So, pretty and not filled with goofs. The report takes no position on the use of comic sans.

Bad news: The reviewers thought the materials were mostly mediocre. They particularly criticized the instructional guidance. "If busy teachers are going to take the time to look for supplemental materials," says the report, "they certainly want to know (quickly) how to use them." I am not so sure. Or rather, I'm not so sure that they need someone to spell it out for them. I suspect a teacher, particularly one who knows just what she's looking for, doesn't need someone else to tell her how te material is "supposed" to be used. And as it turns out, the expert ratings was a bad predictor of whether teachers seemed to think the materials were any good or not. Almost as if the academic experts and the actual classroom teachers are using different criteria.

Bad news: Materials have weak alignment to standards they say they're meeting. Well, duh. At this point, "alignment" is a pointless piece of paperwork, and the standards have spread out and been reinterpreted a hundred different times by a hundred different experts. They're a set of numbers that you have to slap on unit and lesson plans to make administrators happy, and few districts are teaching exactly what each standard means because nobody is certain they know. The good news or all those folks is that after ten years, thee isn't a lick of evidence that the standards are actually linked to life outcomes or college and career readiness.

Bad news: Writing, speaking and listening task quality is weak.It's a sign that we're in Coleman territory is that one "sign" that an assignment is weak is that it is "largely focused on personal feelings." The evil of all evils is to not be text-dependent, as if the only way a piece of writing can be legitimate is for it to be about a text. Writing in response to a text is an excellent path to take-- I won't argue that for a minute. But to argue that it is the only path to a good writing assignment is nuts, and again without a shred of evidence.

Bad news: Assessments are weak because they don't always cover key content and "rarely provide the supports needed to score student work." A recurring issue in this study is that it seems to assume that the end user of these materials is some shmoe off the street and not an actual classroom. The study says that quality material includes an assessment rubric. No, thanks. If I'm bringing it into my classroom, i'll decide how I want to assess it.

Bad news: Lessons do a bad job of building content knowledge and are not cognitively demanding. They looked for units to introduce and sequence content knowledge, which means if you are downloading a unit to use as review, you're in trouble here. They also slam "skill building," which has, of course, been the major focus under Common Core and its attendant testing regime. Given the close association these experts have had with Core-pushing groups, it seems a b it disingenuous for them to get religion about rich content and background knowledge without acknowledging that they helped fuel the movement that drove these things underground in the first place.

This carries through with their examples of "bad" units (e.g., a unit on Romeo and Juliet without any reference to Elizabethan England or a unit on The Great Gatsby without any reference to the Roaring Twenties). These are exactly the sort of units that David "Stay Within The Four Corners of the Text" Coleman endorsed when he was pushing his ELA standards. Exactly.

Bad news: Super-lousy job on the whole sup0port or diverse learners thing. Few units offered differentiation.

Bad news: Potential to engage students, low on cultural diversity. Once again, the end user here is a classroom teacher, and I can't remember a single thing I taught in 39 years for which I said, "Oh well, this unit is so super-engaging on its own I can just nap.' The engaging part comes from the human who presents it. Nor am I sure how you rate how interesting something is without asking "interesting to whom?" Diversity? Yes, that's an issue.

What they didn't ask about

The report actually does pull in some teacher quotes about things like why teachers search out these sites for supplemental material, but there are still some things they don't/can't know.

In particular, it's impossible to know how much modifying teachers do to these materials. Do they pick and choose parts? Do they modify activities and assessments to suit their classes? I'll bet they do plenty of both. I'd also be curious to know how often teachers adopt the materials ("I'm going to use this again next year) and how often not (Well, that was worth a try, but never again).

What they want to do about it.

The researchers have some "policy implications."

1) Supplemental ELA materials on these sites have "a long way to go." Yeah, we got that from the rest of the findings.

2) The supplemental materials market "begs curation." Somebody needs to sort this stuff out. I'm not sure who would be in a position to do that, really. The teacher knows her classes better than anyone.

3) More materials need to provide "soup-to-nuts" supports. Meh. Maybe. But the things is, these are supplemental materials, and so it's going to make a difference exactly what the teacher is supplementing. One size fits all is not going to be helpful. More materials to adapt could be.

4) More cultural diversity, diverse authors, culture of pluralism. Well, yeah. Not exactly an issue confined to supplemental materials.

5) School and district leaders need to decide whether and how to monitor this stuff. Nah. They need to leave their teachers alone, or maybe even ask how they can help. Further teacher surveillance and micro-management is not helpful ("Can't get this run off until I pass it through the Office of Worksheet Review").

So in the end

Teachers look for supplemental materials wherever they can find them, because all schools hand us are textbook sets and those are almost universally mediocre (I had one good lit series in my career, and it went out of print when the company was bought). One of the ongoing jobs of teaching is to make silk purses out of sows' ears, and the ears don't have enough material, so you're always looking for some sows' nose lining and cows' liver casing and whatever else you can get your hands on, then modifying it for the students you have.

This is an ongoing process. No teacher worthy of the title teaches exactly the same stuff exactly the same way two years in a row (this is just one of the reasons that scripts and teacher-proof programs in a box are absolutely junk). The dream is not supplemental material that does the work for you; it's material that includes little gems that you can use. If teaching is house-hunting, teachers never expect to buy a place that's move-in ready; they're just looking for a place with good bones and a nice floor plan that they can renovate without too much trouble.

What we used to have to depend on-- supplemental materials from publishers via teacher stores, catalogs, and the filing cabinet that the last lady who taught in this room left behind-- were never super. Created by people nowhere near a classroom, they were always an ill fit, always in need of adapting, trimming, cutting. The Common Core revolution brought a tidal wave of this crap-- workbook after workbook of short reading excerpts bundled with multiple choice quizzes. Your best source for extra material was always the teacher up the hall who used to teach this same thing, who knows the kinds of students you have, who had field tested the material in her own classroom laboratory. The internet just made that hall a lot bigger. Internet teachers are less familiar with your school and classroom, and not al of them are necessarily teachers you would aspire to imitate. But some teaching ideas from a fellow professional are at least as useful as publisher junk.

We could have a whole other discussion about why so much-- so very, very much-- of what teachers are given is junk (that it's created by non-teachers who think that alignment to bad standards has something to do with quality is probably on the list). But the question this study didn't ask might be the most important one-- if the online materials are junk, are they any more junky than what publishers crank out? Maybe next time.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Privatization Is Their North Star

Remember when ed reform was complicated, when it felt as if the whole business was a perfect storm of hydra heads, and it was all a public school supporter could do to try to track all the heads, let alone the body of the beast to which they were all attached?

Things have changed. And the change tells us a lot about the body of the beast, as the many heads of the hydra have become neglected or even abandoned.

Oh, Common Core. Once upon a time it looked like some folks really, truly wanted to lash all of US education to a single set of standards. But one of the first signs of Maybe Not was when the very guys who wrote the thing immediately moved on to new gigs, rather than sticking around to watch over their baby. And when the political winds shifted and conservatives turned on what had been essentially a conservative idea (except that it was being pushed by That Black Guy In The White House, and it turns out that sensitivity to federal overreach has a lot to do with who's doing the reaching)-- at any rate, besieged from both sides, the Core was abandoned. It was not, it turns out, the most critical priority of the disruptive reformster movement.

Nor have they stuck around to keep defending high stakes testing. Remember when they were pitching it so hard, comparing it to bathroom scales and medical check-ups and, hey, you have to take tests your whole life. But pushback has been steady for HST, with parents and teachers and students fed up with the whole test-centered schooling thing. And while disruptive reformsters have managed to get HST enshrined in law, they've mostly stopped arguing for it and fighting to keep it front and center. Turns out it's not the major priority, either.

Of course, the Core and high-stakes testing have accomplished one thing-- they've gotten plenty of parents and journalists convinced that "students achievement" and "score on a single narrow standardized test" are synonyms, that you can look up test scores and judge the quality of a school.

Another head of the hydra was going after the fabled Bad Teacher. Use VAM to judge them, mark the bottom 5, 10, even 15 percent and then just fire your way to excellence. Of course, to do that you have to first get rid of job protections ("tenure") and seniority rules. But-- as they kept telling us-- a teacher is the most important (in school) factor in a child's education (cue Raj Chetty's BS about how a bad first grader teacher will cost you millions in lifetime earnings). And yet this deep concern with high quality teaching never really got beyond getting rid of bad ones. How would we create and retain good ones? Nobody was talking so much about that. Sure, there were pitches for merit pay and bonus systems, but that was just pretty side of getting rid of job protections and slashing ay for everyone who wasn't getting a bonus. There was some talk of moving the best teachers to the worst schools, but nobody ever really tried to come up with a serious plan to make that happen. And of course we also threw in Teach for America, proof that actual training didn't matter, and once the mysterious teacher shortage hit the news, that was en excuse to throw any warm body in a classroom.

It's almost as if out of all that discussion of teacher quality, the only real priority was to get rid of pay, benefits and job protections for teachers, to make teachers less like gourmet chefs and more like the guy who drops the fry basket at McD's. Cheaply paid, easily fired, easily replaced.

We heard about making students ready for the future, for the jobs that will be appearing, for global economic competition. But somehow that has always been framed in terms of what corporations want, as if the purpose of schools should be to provide meat widgets for employers. Talk about students as product and companies as consumers. That sort of thing. Almost as if providing students with a better, broader, deeper education was not actually the priority at all. And this talk always comes with the idea of harvesting data-- lots and lots of data, which is in and of itself plenty valuable. As if students are a resource to be tapped and not young citizens to be served. With all the For The Children talk, doing things For The Children doesn't seem to be much of a priority.

School reform was about equity and helping the non-white non-wealthy students. But then Trump entered office and a whole bunch of free market reformsters said, "We can't just walk away from reform just because its major spokesperson now seems kind of racist."

School choice, in its many forms, has been a theme of disruptive reformsterism, yet it has been a shifting one. We need choice so that free market competition will make schools better. We need it so students can escape the regulations that we ourselves imposed on schools. We need laboratories of innovation. We need it to provide equity. We need it because fairness and freedom.

In fact, choice has been its own many-headed beast within a beast, but one thing has stayed constant-- the method of providing what's wanted.

Think about it. We could provide choices, freedom, options, innovation, even competition in a hundred different ways. If we are concerned that your neighborhood determines your school quality, we could decouple school districts from neighborhoods, or force neighborhoods into economic desegregation. We could (and in many cases do) provide educational choice under one roof. We could step in with funding and resources for poor schools in poor neighborhoods.

But I'm going to own the damned ship, and anybody
who doesn't like how I run it will be thrown over the side.
But alternatives have never been discussed.  The choice conversation sticks to the premise that all choice must involve schools that are privately owned and operated, that put public funds in private pockets. We have now seen dozens of models for charter schools and choice programs, but they all stick to that premise-- the choices must be privately owned, operated and controlled.

This and this alone has been the constant, the north star of disruptive reformsterism. Accountability and teacher quality and standards and models for choice may wax and wane, but the drive for a privatized education system, operated like a corporation and for the benefit of corporations-- that particular part of the reform vision has never wavered. It has been and remains consistent. As with any vision, there are those who sincerely believe in it and, in this case, many many more who steer by it because of a venal desire for money and power (you can spot them because they are sure that teachers and their unions are only interested in money and power). Everything else can be compromised or even abandoned, but privatization is the hydra head that will not fall, that belongs to the main body of the beast. This is what the last twenty-five years have been all about.

This is why charters have emerged as a main issue in discussing Democratic candidate education platforms-- because while other things like testing and pay matter, charters and choice come closest to the real heart of reform, the push for privatization.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Can Rich Content Improve Education?

Modern high-stakes testing really kicked into gear with No Child Left Behind, and then got another huge boost with the advent of Common Core. All through that era, teachers pushed back against the fracturing of reading instruction, the idea that reading is a suite of discrete skills that can be taught independent of any particular content
The pendulum has begun its swing back. Content knowledge is coming back into vogue, and while there are plenty of cognitive science-heavy explanations out there, the basic idea is easy to grasp. If you know a lot about dinosaurs, you have an easier time reading and comprehending a book about dinosaurs. If you are trying to sound out an unfamiliar word on the page, it’s easier if you already know the word by sound. If you learn and store new information by connecting it to information you already have banked, that process is easier if you actually have plenty of information already stored away. 
Classroom teachers have known this. Some have argued that the Common Core acknowledged this (but did so in the appendix, none of which is tested material). And while much of the education reform crowd joined the “skills” push (one attempted catchphrase of the new SAT created under Common Core creator David Coleman was “skilled it”), some reformers never lost faith in the work of Ed Hirsch, Jr., who has himself stayed committed to the idea through his Core Knowledge Foundation.
So if we restore rich content to education and provide students with a wealth of background knowledge, will that revitalize education and fix some of the issues that have plagued us? Or will this, like the great skills revolution at the beginning of the century, turn out to be a terribly misguided idea?
Well, both. Hirsch’s 1983 book, Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs To Know, underlines two of the potential pitfalls of rich content in education.
First, consider the subtitle–what every American needs to know. If we had every single American compile a list, what are the odds that any two would match? English teachers especially are familiar with the problems of an ever changing canon. Kate Chopin was once a somewhat obscure U.S. writer; she’s now solidly in the canon. Alfred, Lord Tennyson was beloved, then reviled, then beloved. Someone is always looking to kick Shakespeare out of the canon, even as others will fight for him with their last breath. And somewhere, someone is at this very moment getting ready to correct me on one or all of those last three sentences. 
Agreeing in what should make the cut is, as all English teachers well know, an endless wrangling debate. Any discussion about loading up rich content knowledge for students will be accompanied by an endless argument about what content will be included–and I do mean endless. This is not to argue that the attempt should not be made–only to point out that if you insist that nothing will do other than your exact list, you will never get it done at all. Not only that, but the list that seemed sort of okay this year will need fixing next year.
Second, there is a danger in having a list, particularly if the list is generated by a large committee. A teacher has 180 teaching days, minus days spent testing, minus days spent practice testing, minus days lost to a school assembly, minus days lost to being randomly pulled from class for a conference, minus time lost for procedural things like handing out lockers. A really, really generous estimate of actual teaching days would be 160. So at the rate of one item of critical rich content background knowledge per day, we can hit 160 items. But there is no such thing as “rich” content that will be learned by a student in one day. 
One of two things may happen. Your list of crucial background knowledge may be radically reduced to, say, thirty items. Or the teacher will spend the year racing through and checking off a list (”Students! Please look at the front screen. That’s a picture of Plato, an old dead smart Greek guy. He wrote some stuff about a cave. Boom! Moving on to our next unit now...”).
There’s a further danger that the speedy check-off list approach finds bureaucratic expression in a big standardized test used to judge and compare schools. Such a standardized test would be a bad way to assess the richness of student achievement and education–different from our current bad tests, but still bad, and still incentivizing teaching the test, rather than to the richness of the content (Question 1: Plato is associated with A. a cave B. a boat C. a nation or D. the trombone). 
Nearly twenty years of test-driven top-down education reform has hollowed out too much of our education system. A rich content focus can reverse some of that damage, particularly by reversing the practice of pulling students out of history and science classes so that they can spend more of their day practicing reading skills (you may think that sounds nuts, but a principal in my old district regularly did it, and he was not an anomaly in the U.S.). Students could read full works of literature instead of excerpts of bad articles. Students could experience the fun and excitement of becoming knowledgeable experts on particular topics.
But it would be a mistake not to recognize that a content knowledge movement could be botched in ways that do new, different kinds of damage to the education system of this country. As the pendulum swings back, we need to be careful that it doesn’t become a wrecking ball.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Kristen Bell, Celebrity Charity, Flaming Possums


I was already thinking about this, about how Dana Goldstein's Common Core retrospective for the New York Times collapsed a lot of history, but still had room for that time that pre-disgraced Louis CK made a crack about Common Core math. A great reminder of how a gazillion teachers and parents can comment on the quality of the Core, but a celebrity makes a comment and suddenly people listen.
Well, here comes another one of those feel good stories that doesn't make me feel so good. Kristen Bell, actress, star, celebrity, has started doing a little crowd-sourcing charity for classroom teachers. She's been at this for a while--every Friday on Instagram she posts the story of some heart-warming teacher somewhere and the good work that teacher has been doing and the wish list that teacher has for her classroom. Bell's followers then flood that teacher with supplies forn the classroom.

Yes, it's nice that a celebrity is raising the profile of classroom teachers across the country. Yes, it's nice that the appreciation takes the tangible form of supplies a teacher can use. But it brings us back to the old flaming dead possum problem, which I'll illustrate with this conversation:

Employee: Boss! Boss! Come here. I want to talk to you. I have a huge problem. Somebody put a big flaming dead possum on my desk.

Boss: [Looking into employee's office] I don't see any flaming dead possum.

Employee: Well, I put out the fire, then I took the possum out back and buried it.

Boss: Well, then. It's look to me that there is no problem.

Employee: But-- but-- I shouldn't have to do all that!

Boss: [Walking away, wiping kerosene and possum hair off his hands] Keep up the good work. Glad you have no problems.

The flaming possum problem is always a tough choice-- you don't want the office to burn down, and the fdp really interferes with work, but if you solve the problem yourself, your boss dosn't hve a problem he needs to solve, and before you know it, you are dealing with flaming dead possums on a daily basis. Flaming dead possums happen in all sectors, public and private, but education is particularly prone to it because teachers don't want the possum to burn down a classroom filled with children, nor does anyone want to turn down the generosity of concerned parents and citizens who just want to help. Still, this year's "we received this equipment through the generosity of the PTA" is next year's "we don't have to budget for that-- the PTA will take care of it" which may sound find, but plugging holes in a school budget with scented candle sales is not a sustainable approach.

Plus, not every PTA is equally able to pick up the slack. Using charity to fund education exacerbates problems of inequity. 

You can't deny something like Bell's program. If a hundred Amazon boxes had showed up at my classroom with supplies I needed, I wouldn't have jumped on my high horse and declared, "No, until schools are properly funded, I will not accept these." Damned right I'd have accepted them (though I probably would have shared the wealth with colleagues).

But wouldn't it be cool if someone like Bell, in addition to the teacher's classroom address, also provided the addresses of that teacher's school board and legislators and each Instagram follower who sent a donation also sent a letter or email to the folks in charge saying, "Why do I, a complete stranger, have to help out this teacher? Why can't you properly fund the classrooms in this building?!" What if Bell herself started exerting pressure on the funders of classrooms instead of just helping put our possum fires.

Mind you, I'm not arguing to let the flaming dead possums burn. But at the same time, working on finding and stopping the guys who are killing and igniting the possums needs to happen, too. It may not feel as good, but if celebrities are looking for an education project, that's one I'd suggest.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Next Saturday: Dem Education Forum in Pittsburgh (Yes, I'll Be There)

Next Saturday, December 14, some assortment of Democratic Presidential hopefuls will offer their two cents about education. The crowd will be an invitation-only group of about a thousand public education stakeholders, including yours truly. The Network for Public Education kindly gave me the chance to attend this event, and I am looking forward to it.

If you are not among the thousand invitees, you can still catch the evens as they unfold on several  streaming options. NBC News Now, and NBC News Learn are all supposed to be carrying it, with MSNBC doing some coverage of it throughout their programming.

You can also head to this page for a look. If nothing else, I'm sure many of us will be tweeting along madly throughout the day (find me at @palan57).

Right now most of the big names are expected (though not, as of the moment, Booker or Bloomberg). Vice President Joe Biden, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Harris had expected to attend but then, well...).

Do I think amazing, momentous things are going to happen? I do not--any candidate who cant get his message locked and loaded for this particular crowd has to be exceptionally dense. The format doesn't allow for many surprises-- candidates talk, moderators ask stuff, crowd (or at least carefully selected members thereof) get to ask questions, rinse and repeat.

But I'm excited the thin is even happening. Remember 2016? You may recall that Campbell Brown set up The74 in hopes of using it to be a player, even a kingmaker, around the hot topic of education. Jeb Bush was poised to use his Florida education record as launch fuel. The74 intended to host two big education fora--one for each party. But the NH forum for the GOP pulled only six candidates out of the clown car field of something-teen (Bush, Kasich, Fiorina, Christie, Jindal, and Walker, and you'd already forgotten a couple of those people had even run, hadn't you). The GOP forum was just a big sloppy wet kiss for school choice and it didn't really matter because by that point it was clear that not one of those six was ever going to be setting national policy for anything. The Democrats snubbed Brown entirely, which didn't matter because none of them could muster anything more robust than "Pre-k is good, we should do it" and "College shouldn't be so expensive." They might eventually dip their toes in the K-12 charter pool, but it was all pretty weak sauce.

Pre-2016, name a single national election in which education was a big enough deal to merit the candidates sitting down to jaw about it.

So even if no news breaks, it's news that major candidates are going to perform some greatest education hits in front of an education audience.

Personally, I've never been to a big time political circus like this (I was at a coffee house meet-and-greet with Pat Toomey once) so I am looking forward to seeing the candidates live and in person, not to mention the chance to say hi to some of my favorite education folks. If I get to ask a question, that would be icing on the cake.

Later this week I'll make my predictions about the forum, once the candidate list is a little more firmed up. Block out your day next Saturday (because eleven days before Christmas, you're probably not super-busy or anything). I think it's going to be a great time.

ICYMI: New Car Edition (12/8)

So yesterday we replaced my wife's car, which has lost an argument with an errant deer. Used car shopping is a pain, but if you want to talk about something that has truly and completely been disrupted by technology. Little browsing, because everyone does that on line. Little haggling compared to the old says because everyone can go online and see what the car is worth. Few tremendous bargains, but few total rip-offs. But still enough paperwork to fell a tree. At any rate, we're mobile again. Now here are your readings from the week.

A Harlem School That Former Students Say Was Run Like A Cult 

Rebecca Klein at HuffPost with a scary tale of one private school that promises, among other things, to save its students "from te homosexual demons in the public school system."

Life For US Students Under Constant Surveillance  

The Guardian takes a look at how bad surveillance has gotten for US students. Spoiler alert: really bad.

How the Denver School Board Flipped  

Denver's super-reformy district was a point of pride for reformsters, but public school advocates just took it back with the last school board elections. The Have You Heard podcast has the story of how it was done.

Uber's Self-driving Car Didn't Know Pedestrians Could Jaywalk  

Speaking of Betsy DeVos's metaphor for school choice, and speaking of using AI for all sorts of edubusines... Wired reports on a cyber-car fatality and its cause-- bad programming.

PISA: Illusion of Excellence, Marketing Baloney  

Okay, I paraphrased the title a bit, but this Washington Post column from Yong Zhao, an education expert with a keen knowledge of China, is the week's best antidote to all the chicken littling over PISA scores.

The Teacher Walkouts

A California Sunday Magazine piece that interviews ten teachers with different perspectives on striking. Interesting piece, with photos by student photographers.

How GreatSchools Nudges Families Toward Schools With Fewer Black and Hispanic Students   

Matt Barnum ruffled many feathers with this Chalkbeat piece that takes a look at how those school ratings really work. Not well, as it turns out.

PA's Weakest Districts Targeted

The York Dispatch editorial board offers an absolutely blistering take on charter schools.

How Corporate Tax Credits Rob Public School Budgets

The headline of this CityLab article pretty well lays it out. A look at some fresh data shows just how bad the hit is.

Support for Charters in 2020 Elections Comes with a Price  

Andre Perry, at the Hechinger Report, is just the king of nuanced and balanced looks at charter policy that clarifies some of the root issues. Here he talks about the week's flap over Black leaders anjd charter support.

Teacher Turnover and Retention   

Brookings did a big fat meta-analyis of the research on teacher retention and attrition. Interesting discussion starter ensues.

America's Epidemic of Unkindness  

From the Atlantic, the best thing not ab out education that I read this week, and a hopeful, thoughtful piece. God damn it babies, you've got to be kind.

End of Semester Bingo  

From McSweeney's, the end of the semester bingo card you've been waiting for. An oldie but a goodie.

Friday, December 6, 2019

MI: Governor Whitmer Files Private School-Whomping Brief

Back in 2016, the Michigan legislature, always on the lookout for a way to send public tax dollars into private pockets, passed Section 388.1752b, a little amendment to the School Aid act that required the state to reimburse private schools for any money they spent "complying with health, safety, or welfare requirement mandated by a law or administrative rule of this state."

In other words, the state would pay them to follow the law.

This lady. I like this lady.
It's intriguing to imagine how a law like this would play out in the rest of the private sector. "We have a bunch of work to do to get up to code, but don't worry-- the state will pay for all of it." It's easy to imagine how this could be abused as well. Church needs some more access ramps and that will mean redoing the whole fa├žade of the building; just call the state and have them write a check.

But Michigan has an constitutional ban on giving public money to private and/or religious schools. So roughly five minutes after 388.1752b was passed, it was being taken to court. Now that it's made it to the Michigan Supreme Court, it's been generating a steady string of motions and amicus briefs from interested parties, like the Michigan Catholic Conference.

Today the stack of briefs got a bit taller with an addition from Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Michael Rice.

Having taken a look at the case, the governor and superintendent have concluded "that the state can provide funds to nonpublic schools to help them pay the costs of complying with state mandates, but only if those mandates are related to student transportation. Beyond that, the statute’s funding of nonpublic schools is constitutionally prohibited."

In other words, the private schools, says the governor, may go pound sand, and do it on their own dime. But they can have busses.

Hard to say how this will turn out, but I have to say that it's certainlyj a breath of fresh air to see a governor, particularly in the state of Michigan (Motto: Betsy DeVos is our least popular export).

White Flight, Without The Actual Flight

We can talk about lots of complicated economic and sociological forces that have fed the problems of school segregation in this country, but the root causes are pretty simple–historically, we have a whole lot of white folks who don’t want their children to go to school with the children of black folks, and they have been creative about finding ways to avoid it.
When Brown v. Board of education forced desegregation, communities all across the South responded with segregation academies, private schools where only certain children were welcome. While we’ve long known about these schools, a new website called Academy Stories has launched, featuring first persons stories from people who attended those schools. The site has only a handful of stories at the moment, but each one is worth the read, a story of what the years of desegregation looked like to students. In some cases, the move to a private academy was masked by language about quality and being “pioneers.” Some were more direct. Writes one:
Others might cloak their racism in talk about providing “quality education” or “upholding our traditions,” but my father voiced his prejudices for all to hear.
There was also, of course, white flight. White families exited areas in search of neighborhoods that came with whiter neighbors, and whiter schools, taking their children and their money with them.
In recent years, another approach has appeared–the splinter district. These occur when a community aims to secede from their current district; these new districts frequently adopt a new border that corresponds to racial and/or economic borders–a sort of school district gerrymandering. It’s white flight, without the actual flight.
At least two studies in the last year have provided data on this splintering, and the picture is not pretty. EdBuild, a group that is aligned with education reformers, issued the report “Fractured: The Breakdown of America’s School Districts.” It comes complete with a map that shows the location of 128 attempts to secede. (The cluster in Maine is a different phenomenon, the result of a state attempt to force massive consolidation of districts; later administrations reversed that policy, and districts rushed to return to their original form.) EdBuild found that thirty states have processes in place to facilitate school district secession.
A study released by AERA in September found that this kind of school secession in the South had increased the level of segregation. The study looked at East Baton Rouge (LA), Shelby County (TN) and five counties in Alabama; it found that secession is “eroding what has historically been one of the cornerstones of school desegregation in the South: the one-county, one-school-system jurisdiction.” In East Baton Rouge, an October 12 vote was held on the formation of the City of St. George, a wealthier, whiter enclave within the larger city. Supporters argued that they just wanted local control, particularly of their tax dollars, but a separate school district is part of the deal. The measure passed the vote, and though the process would take several years to complete, it will leave the rest of the parish that much poorer.
St. George will become an “island district,” completely surrounded by the larger district. Sometimes island districts are wealthier than the surrounding districts, though in some areas, they may be isolated pockets of poverty. They are not strictly a southern phenomenon; such fractured districts can be found in states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania. Ohio also saw a new wrinkle this year when the tiny village of Hunting Valley (pop. 700), the state’s wealthiest community, briefly won a state tax law that excused them from paying $3 million in taxes to the area school district. 
Why is there an apparent rise in such shenanigans? In 2017, Emmanuel Felton at Hechinger Reports suggested that the federal government has simply stopped monitoring and enforcing desegregation orders. Betsy DeVos has been regularly criticized for undercutting the effectiveness of the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights. That falls in line with her hearing appearance in which she could not offer a single example of discrimination that would trigger a federal intervention.
We should not pretend that putting a stop to the fracturing of school districts would be a cure-all. In 2015, reporters outlined in painful detail how the school district of Pinellas County, Florida, had systematically segregated and underfunded five elementary schools, turning them into the worst in the state. We know that tracking and gifted programs can often be used to create segregation within a school. More recently, the documentary series “America To Me” has shown that even in a diverse and integrated school, racial issues abound. Nor do charter schools show any promise in solving the issue of segregation.
History tells us that white folks who want to keep their children separate can be creative and determined about doing so. Meanwhile, the white school age population has decreased steadily, leaving whites a majority minority in U.S. schools. Allowing the continued fracturing of school districts with widespread gerrymandering and the erection of a hundred little walls are not productive ways to deal with the new reality.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

My Toddlers Can't Read

Here at the Curmudgucation Institute, the Board of Directors has taken a great interest in the printed word.

We have, for instance, entered the Me Do It phase for one of our most beloved tomes (Little Excavator, by Anna Dewdney). I am no longer allowed to read that book to the Board, but must hold it open while a Board member recites the text. We can do then same thing for select portions of that other best-seller, Digger, Dozer, Dumper. The Board also enjoys just sitting and holding a book and flipping through the pages, one at a time, just like the Institute's CEO and his wife, the Executive Breadwinner.

A Board member considers the deeper themes
of Hank the Cowdog
The Board is currently 2.5 years old. In my professional opinion, they cannot actually read. They do a great job of picking up visual cues and hints from the illustrations and context of the books, but I'm not sure they even fully grok the connection between the A-B-Cs all over the page and the words that go with that page.

I have two older children, so I've seen this movie. At some point the letter-sound connection will click. At some point they will start to learn that particular letters make particular sounds, and they will start connecting the marks on the page to the words and stories that they already know.

When that day comes, there's one thing I know for sure-- the damn reading wars arguments will still be going on.

How can this argument still be going on? How?

Look, maybe, somewhere, there's a whole balanced literacy language fan who would claim that my toddlers are now actually reading. Maybe. But they aren't. They need to add the decoding piece that allows them to sound out actual words and not just depend on random lucky guesses.

But by the same token, if you "sound out" a word that you don't know, what have you got? Nothing.

The current push for the "Science of Reading" insists that the science is settled. It isn't (you can read the article, but don't skip the comments). Even if the "brain science" were completely settled, so what? We know a lot of science about love and relationships, but that doesn't mean you can use it to scientifically make someone become the love of your life. There's a limit to how much you can program people like computers. Why this current crop of agenda-driven journalists and amateur reading analysts is so devoted to phonics and phonics only is a mystery (well, partly-- some folks depend on this stuff to make a living). What's also striking is how unscientifically the science argument is often made-- this article follows the usual pattern, built around a heart-tugging anecdote and vague on specifics.

I worked on the top end of this, working with lots of not-very-proficient readers nearing the end of their school careers. They came in a few types. Can sound the word out, but has no idea what it means. Can only bring themselves to read when the material is interesting. Will guess wildly based on first letter. Lacks the life experience to make sense-- literally to construct any sense--  of what they're reading. Reads words, but not sentences. I had poor readers who couldn't (or wouldn't decode). I had poor readers who could decode, but couldn't do anything with the decoded words. Humans who have trouble reading come in a million different configurations, and so remediation has to come in a million different configurations as well.

Why is this so hard? You can't have reading without decoding. You can't have reading with only decoding. Reading involves a whole complex of skills, and none of those skills can be taught or acquired outside of the business of actually reading. Every reading student brings a different web of experience, knowledge, interest and processor power, which means that teachers need a toolbox filled with many tools.

In the meantime, too much literally meaningless phonics drill kills an interest in reading. Too much practice with material that is too hard kills an interest in reading. Too much drill that suggests that everything can be read only one way and someone else knows that way and you don't and if you can't figure out what that other reader thinks then shame on you for being wrong wrong wrong-- well, that doesn't build anyone's interest in reading, either.

The reading wars, at their worst, are always the same thing. A bunch of chefs standing in a kitchen, trying to make a salad, with a couple of them insisting "It has to be all lettuce and nothing but lettuce" and another arguing, "No, it has to be all cucumber slices, and they have to be sliced exactly like this." Also, one of them will turn out to not actually be a chef at all-- just someone who read a book about vegetables.

I suppose the wars are exacerbated by the current decidedly unscientific notion that reading must be pushed to younger and younger ages. I can mock the stupidity of thinking that pedagogy can somehow overcome human development. I can understand that this emphasis on making kindergarten the new first or second grade is wrong and even harmful. But even I feel the pressure-- the Board whiled away the morning just playing with toy cars all over the living room and at the time I was impressed by their focus and touched by how they played together so well. But now it's the afternoon and I am second-guessing myself and wondering if I should have been providing them with more enrichment. In times like this, it's no wonder that so many people are reacting so strongly to the argument that we must have all phonics all the time right now or how will we ever get these tiny humans to read in time??!! The reading wars seem mostly fought between folks on the over-simplified extremes of the different camps.

It's a dumb argument, raging while the real work is done by folks who live in the complex middle between the poles. At some point, the Board of Directors will be ready to start actually reading, at which point, the EB and CEO will provide all manners of support, and hope to high heaven that their school does the same. They'll have to, if we're going to have the Board reading and writing novels by December of kindergarten.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Buddy, Can You Spare A Ride (To The Charter School)?

Remember the days when charter school fans were bragging that they would do more with less? That chorus has been replaced by complaints of how unfair it is that they don't get as many tax dollars for their privately-owned businesses as the public school system gets, resulting in fun new ideas like Florida's notion that charters should be entitled to a cut of any special levies that taxpayers pass to support public schools.

A new demand is surfacing now-- privatizers want taxpayers to help cover transportation costs.

Right in the front row of this new choir is Ben DeGrow. DeGrow is currently the ed policy point man for Mackinac Center, located in Michigan (motto: "We helped grow Betsy DeVos and now she's our gift to all America, you're welcome"), an advocacy thinky tank focused on "economic freedom," aka "the freedom of rich folks to get more rich." He previously worked at Denver's Independence Institute, a Libertarian thinky tank. Like many good think tank education experts, he has no actual education background. Well, okay-- according to the Mackinac website, "Ben’s classroom experiences include service as a university graduate assistant and as a substitute teacher in Michigan public schools."

DeGrow popped up at The Hill last week to make the argument for transportation scholarships (well, that, and to oddly try to accuse Jennifer Berkshire of a progressive and being weirdly obsessed with Betsy DeVos). We need these scholarships, he argues, to reduce obstacles to school choice.

We'll get to what he proposes in a moment, but first, let's note that he makes a huge, huge leap in his argument-- namely, that charter operators actually want to remove this obstacle. The patterns of segregation, the use of charters to gentrify neighborhoods, the fact that some charters do in fact provide transportation-- all of this might suggest that the transportation obstacle is just another way for charter operators to legally keep Those Peoples' Children out of their school. At a minimum, the transportation obstacle weeds out families that don't have a firm commitment to providing total support for their child (the kind of thing that Robert Pondiscio discuses at length in How The Other Half Learns).

So I'm not so sure that all charter schools really want DeGrow's "help" with this "problem." There's no way of knowing how many, exactly, but I'd bet that a large number of charters consider the transportation obstacle a feature, not a bug.

DeGrow drops some intriguing ideas into his Hill piece, like the notion that some "young and growing companies" have In recent years "have given parents in certain areas digital tools they can use to hire qualified drivers"-- so, Uber money (as we'll see, not exactly)?

His focus is mostly Michigan where one might think that good solution for the mostly-for-profit charter sector would be "dig into your pockets and pay for transportation since that's part of the cost of doing business as a school.' But no--it's a standard-issue reformy disruptor model, where instead of even suggesting that government or the charters should solve this problem, tax dollars should just be given to parents who are then "free" to figure it all out for themselves.

DeGrow has actually written a whole thinky tank paper report thing about this. The details aren't entirely compelling. For instance, a Mackinac survey of 950 charter school parents found that 200 didn't get their first choice because of transportation issues. 15%. That's similar to the percentage of students with special needs in Michigan (depending on who's counting). This recent piece puts students with special needs as 10% of public school population, but only 3% of charter school population. Mackinac ought to take a look at what the obstacles are keeping students with special needs out of charters.

DeGrow discusses other models for such a program. In the US, it's Florida again, with Step Up For Students, a tax credit scholarship program that allows you to give money to ed-related businesses instead of paying your taxes. Step Up includes a transportation scholarship program. Outside of that, we have to go to Australia for examples.

Meanwhile, the Urban Institute has been studying up on the issue, resulting in some data that DeGrow might find useful, if not exactly helpful. New Orleans doesn't come up in his discussion, but the UI paper looked at it, and in New Orleans, they've solved the "obstacle" problem easily-- charter schools are required to provide transportation. It costs them money. But then, so do books and desks and other items that are part of the cost of doing business. UI researchers did also find that transportation issues affected how schools handled recruitment.

Funding is a challenge here; there's no pretending that the gas money follows the student, or that moving five students off a single bus helps it run cheaper somehow, or that a child's cut of te bus costs could pay for anything other than inflating bicycle tires. So how is this supposed to be paid for.

DeGrow says "the concept is relatively simple"-- some "discrete" amount of state funding (aka tax dollars) could be "set aside" (aka "spent") for this program. The money would go on a debit card. From there, the families spend their travel vouchers however. Uber and Lyft don't handle under-18 folks, but DeGrow knows of a couple of hot new companies that do. Or you could pool with neighbors. DeGrow takes an entire overwritten paragraph to note that rural folks don't use ride shares much because ride share companies don't open in rural areas because it's hard to make money there.

The costs are not cheap. DeGrow wants to do a pilot in Detroit, and he estimates that rideshare costs work out to roughly $1,400 per student, or a million for 700. At $7.77 per student per day, that seems mighty optimistic (DeGrow's touching article anecdote involves a woman who travels 100 miles). In fact, UI's study also looked at Detroit and found it that it had the highest percentage of students attending outside their neighborhood-- in fact, "75 percent of nearby high-quality schools are located outside city limits." DeGrow envisions some philanthropic buy-in or special funding-- in fact, he thinks that DeVos's Education Freedom Grants (another tax alternative funding deal).

UI researcher Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj passed on a "widely shared sentiment" from New Orleans official:

If you are going to say you have school choice, it is somewhat meaningless if parents can't get to the schools they are choosing. I do think school choice and the requirement to provide transportation go hand in hand. ... Not providing it essentially negates choice.

That idea was, she reports, "less prevalent" in Detroit and NYC.

It is another face of the same old problem. Charter advocates want to have a multi-headed educational ecosystem with many parallel parts, but they want to pay for it with the same money that used to run a single system. Too many charter operators want to be in the school biz, but they don't want to actually pay the costs, and keep looking for ways to get someone else to pay the bills while they reap the revenue.

It's like a guy who says, "I want to open up a new burger joint next to Burger King, but I want the city to give me the building, and I want a cut of every meal that Burger King sells, and I wan someone else to pave the parking lot, because I find the lack of a parking lot is an obstacle to my customers."

If you want to be in the business, pay the costs.

Monday, December 2, 2019

PA: Voucher Bill Still A Threat

Pennsylvania House Speaker and Betsy DeVos fanboy Mike Turzai has suffered a momentary setback in his drive to use Harrisburg schools as a launching pad for a PA voucher program, but he reportedly has not given up.

HB 1800 targets the ailing school district at a point where it has only recently been placed in financial receivership under the control of a state-appointed overseer. One might think that the legislature might take a minute or two to see if their Plan A is going to work, but Turzai smells an opportunity, and he's willing to be the guy who runs into the operating room five minutes after the start of a critical operation and hollers, "She's gonna die anyway-- let me have some of those organs."

The PA Auditor General has weighed in, pointing out that the bill would "bleed out" the district. This is particularly true because the bill would actually award vouchers to students who live in the Harrisburg district, but have never actually attended public school. For those families, the vouchers would be a tasty little windfall. For the district, the vouchers would mean that the district would lose a mountain of money before their enrollment dropped by a single student.

The bill has plenty of other lousy features. It expressly forbids the legislature from exercising any accountability or oversight over voucher-receiving schools, and it expressly preserves the power of voucher receiving schools to reject any applicant for any reason. Under this bill, private and religious schools get to decide; it is truly school's choice and not school choice.

The bill squeaked out of committee over two Republican no votes. Then it was pulled from a full house vote; Turzai didn't have the votes.

According to the PA Association of School Administrators, the speaker is pulling GOP representatives in for some arm-twisting. The bill is not dead yet. If you want to stop the push of vouchers into Pennsylvania, keep calling and emailing your favorite legislator.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Patriot Act: No More Batman

This is a genius clip from Hasan Minhaj's Patriot Act show. An interview with Anand Giridharadas about his book Winners Take All, and as Giridharadas tweeted, "he explained my book better than I can." It's all about Bruce Wayne. This is a 90 second clip, well worth your time.

Noblesse Oblige And the End of Public Education

Maybe you don't usually get around to reading David Dawkins, the Forbes staff member whose beat is billionaires. But back in October he ran an interview that should send a familiar chill through those of us who follow the great education disruption debates.

Dawkins talked to Josef Stadler, the head of Ultra High Net Worst at UBS (the big Swiss bank, about why folks don't trust billionaires these days, and why they probably shouldn't. It's a conversation that echoes much of Anand Giridharadas in Winners Take All, but Stadler offers one further observation about the future.

In “the future”—Stadler pauses—“it is likely that those who benefit most—the entrepreneurs—will substitute public institutions when it comes to the big questions of our lifetime. [Only] they have the money. The public side …” by that he means governments, “will no longer have the money” needed.

Stadler predicts a future where the needs of society are met by the generosity of the brightest, best and richest “entrepreneurs” and business “leaders” of the age—the likes of Buffett, Gates, Branson and Soros.

“We’re going to see the return of something that went away at the end of the 19th century,” he pauses, “the reemergence of a benevolent aristocracy, supporting the people because the public is running out of money.”

We have, of course, seen the beginnings of this in education, most notably with Bill Gates attempt to single-handedly fund a redesign of US education. We see it also in the choice movement-- hand public education over to entrepreneurs and under the magical sway of market forces, they will deliver a better version of education with better quality, better choices, and better educated graduates. The trade-off, of course, is that the entrepreneurs and philanthropists get to decide what better looks like. Meanwhile, as Stadler predicts, public education is drained of the money and resources needed to do the job. The end-stage of school choice looks like a city in which there are no public options, and families must depend on the kindness of rich strangers, the noblesse oblige of the wealthy class, to find an education for their children.

They will get the choice that the wealthy class want them to have. Google "cradle to career" and look at the many companies lined up to use a child's data file to match her up with her proper career. "We see you'd like to enroll your child in our private academy? Well, let's take a look at her file and see what would be the best fit." And if your child has special needs? Well, good luck to you.

When the funds of public education have been emptied, there will be nothing left but the choice and charter programs, unregulated and unaccountable, the public forced to accept whatever the monied class wants to offer them.

Charters are the least likely disruption in this oligarchy, because as currently conceived, they still depend on money that flows through government hands. Keep an eye on instruments like tax credit scholarships (like the one proposed by Betsy DeVos as education [sic] freedom [sic] scholarships [sic]), in which the wealthy get to skip paying taxes by contributing to their favorite privately-run education voucher program instead. Or education savings accounts, in which the government has no role except as a pass through, an office that issues an education allowance to each family and says, "Okay, you go spend that on something educationy. Seeya, bye." Or watch for social impact bonds, a method giving private companies big piles of money as a reward for taking over government programs (and cutting corners off them like crazy).

When we talk about privatization, focus often goes to the way that private companies and individuals make money. But privatization is also about putting the control, the decision-making in the hands of private individuals. The aristocracy grabbing the power to decide what they'll let the little people have. This is rigging the system to make yourself a winner and then blowing some philanthropic smoke to keep people from noticing that you're the one keeping them poor, that you're the one who commandeered their school system (and health care and social safety net etc).

This is not an attractive future (unless you're part of the aristocracy). Whatever we can do to avoid it, we should do.

ICYMI: Deer Season Edition (12/1)

Yes, it may be Thanksgiving weekend where you are, but in my neck of the woods, schools are closed tomorrow for the first day of deer season. Don't knock it if you haven't eaten some excellent deer baloney. In the meantime, hre's some reading from the week

School District's Computer Servers Hacked

Sign of the times. This one was in New Jersey. One more reminder of the vulnerability of school data systems.

Betsy DeVos Gives Defrauded Students The Back of Her Hand    

Over at The Hill they've noticed that DeVos is not exactly racing to help students drowning in debt incurred at frauduversities. Fun detail I hadn't previously seen in coverage of this-- when DeVos signed off on claims already approved, she added "with extreme displeasure" below her signature. What a sweetheart.

Teachers Effects On Student Achievement and Height  

This is just awesome. Researchers took a look to see what happened if you used VAM to check on which teachers had the best effect on student height. Turns out VAM is just as valid for that purpose as it is for measuring teacher effect on test scores. A great addition to everyone's VAM is a sham file.

Research Center's Leadership Professional Development Program Had No Impact. Why?

In a shocking development, yet another set of PD stuff turns out to be largely useless (I know-- I'm shocked, to). Peter DeWitt at EdWeek asks what the problem might be.

Vouchers Explode In Ohio

Stephen Dyer at 10th Period takes a look at how Ohio charter vampires are upping their blood intake to even more dangerous levels.

i-Ready Sells 50-Year-Old Education Failure  

Thomas Ultican has a thoroughly researched look at all the reasons i-Ready is a snare and a delusion. A great read (and not just because he included me).

Kindergarten Teachers Speak Ot For Children's Happiness

Peter Gray at Psychology Today reminding us, again, that pushing academics on the littles is not doing anybody any good.

Ed Tech Agitprop  

Audrey Watters is freakin' awesome. Here's the text of a recent speech she delivered about the stories that ed tech pushers use to sell their junk. A must read.

When the Teachers Are Avatars and the Students Are Data  

Wrench in the Gears traveled to Seattle to speak about some of the threats hiding behind the tech revolution in education.

Trust Issues for Billionaires

David Dawkins at Forbes identifies one of the many longterm problems that come with the rise of our philanthropist kings.

Murmuration: Emma Bloomberg's Obscure Nonprofit    

The indispensable Mercedes Schneider has been digging again, and she's found another project messing with education being funded by Michael Bloomberg's daughter.