Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The Test Many School Districts Failed Before The Pandemic Even Started

You’ve heard about an emotional bank account, a metaphor for the investments in personal relationships that keep them healthy and able to deal with the bumps and bruises that come along in any relationship. Build trust and deposit in the account in good times, make withdrawals in the lean times, and maintain a healthy balance. Organizations such as school districts have similar accounts, and 2020 is turning out to be the year some districts are finding out just how deep—or shallow—their reserves are.

Many districts are used to getting plenty of work from teachers without paying for it, either financially or emotionally. Teachers routinely work beyond their contracted hours, spend their own money on supplies, and fulfill many duties beyond simply instructing their students; all of this is part of the gig. Good teachers make regular deposits in the bank accounts of their district and their students. But district administrations have a wide variety of reactions.

Some districts are led by people who are appreciative and supportive, who look after their teachers and maintain conditions that help staff do their best work. These district leaders treat staff like valued, professional teammates. They build trust. They make regular deposits to the bank account.

Other districts are not so well led. Too may districts are bossed by people who consider the teaching staff adversaries, not to be trusted. For a while my own district was led by people who believed that if a teacher wasn’t in a classroom standing in front of students, she was wasting time (and the district’s money). The worst of these kinds of leaders manage with an inflexible fist, haunted by the fear that any concession or flexibility extended to staff somehow means that the administration is being taken advantage of. They treat staff like peons. They make no deposits into the bank account.

Making deposits in the account doesn’t require that administrators grovel before teachers and kiss their feet. Nor does it help to offer empty un-meant attaboys. Respect, trust and collaboration on a daily basis will do far more than hollow exercises that somebody learned at a management camp.

School systems are in many ways very different from businesses in the private sector, but in this managerial respect, they are much the same. When management fills the bank account, the organization runs more smoothly; when management drains the account, the problems may not be obvious because teachers, like other professionals, will put on their big girl pants and do the work. But when the account is empty, there’s nothing there to back calls to go an extra mile, let alone reserves for a rainy day. And now the Corvid-19 pandemic has provided the rainiest day schools have ever seen.

Going into the fall, money will be tight and needs will be great and teachers will be asked to make sacrifices of one sort of another. School districts must be clever and creative and flexible and adaptable. Districts that have cultivated an atmosphere of trust and teamwork with their staffs will be far more flexible and adaptable than those that have drained their accounts dry. As with any organization, years of quietly mediocre management become a big problem when they meet a large crisis. It’s difficult to get people to take one for the team today if you have spent years demonstrating to them that they are not actually members of the team. In a year that presents schools with unprecedented obstacles, it turns out that some schools are facing an obstacle that’s not new at all—the detritus of years of poor management. They’ve been taking this test of leadership for years; now they have to deal with the results.

Originally posted at Forbes.com 

Monday, July 13, 2020

NBA Includes Education Reform On Approved Social Justice Message List

So, the NBA and NBPA have created a list of approved social justice messages that players may put on the backs of their jerseys. Which is, I guess, a way to let players protest within a carefully delineated parameter, an official approved expression of disapproval. And the slogan will go in place of the player's name. But at least the NBA is doing something positive-ish, which is more than certain other sports ball leagues can claim.

That's Hayward
Not everyone is up for it. LeBron James is among the few who isn't going to make a choice from the list hammered out by the owners and the players association. Anthony Davis is another.

Apparently "equality" is turning out to be the early favorite, but here's a list of the 29 officially okayed items:

Black Lives Matter; Say Their Names; Vote; I Can't Breathe; Justice; Peace; Equality; Freedom; Enough; Power to the People; Justice Now; Say Her Name; Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can); Liberation; See Us; Hear Us; Respect Us; Love Us; Listen; Listen to Us; Stand Up; Ally; Anti-Racist; I Am A Man; Speak Up; How Many More; Group Economics; Education Reform; and Mentor.

Emphasis mine, because yes, there's "education reform" on the list. It's not entirely clear what that means at this point, since much of what we used to call "reform" is now the education status quo (e.g. high stakes testing, some degraded version of "college and career ready" standards). So there's Education Reform, which is what we've been suffering under for a couple of decades, and there's education reform, which is the desire to get education out from under all the Education Reform we've been suffering under for a couple of decades.

But at least one player has reportedly adopted the slogan for his jersey--Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward. No idea why. 

Biden's Education Platform

The Unity Task Force has been working hard to convince Sanders supporters to back Biden to come up with policy statements that will appeal to all wings of the party, thereby promoting Unity! Huzzah!

I almost didn't bother to look; this is a document that will be fed into the shredder that is the Official Platform Process, and it's pretty hard to compare about party platforms in a Presidential race. When was the last time that any President announced, "I am now going to push for this policy because even though I'm not all that invested in it, we did have it in my official party platform, so I'm totally going to pursue it." I'm pretty sure that is never.

But it's still worth tracking the thinking of the Democratic Party, a party which has not been a friend to public education in a very long time, and their identification of what the main issues are. And the Unity Gang has released their recommendations, and right here on page 22 we get to their education ideas. And since this comes mostly from the Sanders camp (which had a very good eduplan) and the Biden plan (which didn't have much of a discernible plan at all), it'll be interesting to see where they landed.

"Providing a world-class education in every zip code" is the header. From there we leap into a lead paragraph that rattles off the many "multiple, overlapping crises" with which the country is "beset." We should try to fix those. That sentiment leads us to this familiar thought:

Education is the key to addressing the challenges before us—to growing our economy, maintaining American competitiveness on the world stage, and building a more just, equitable, civically engaged, and socially conscientious nation.

So I guess we're sticking with that old fave, "It's the schools' job to fix everything wrong in the country." Thanks a lot, Unity Gang.

That thought is followed by a better one--education is a "critical public good--not a commodity" and the government should ensure that every child everywhere should get a "world-class education that enables them to lead meaningful lives" no matter what their circumstances.

There's a nod to the pandemic reminding us that schools are super-important and hard to replace. But there are also some golden oldies packed in here:

Despite ample research showing that early childhood education can improve outcomes for students for decades to come...

Harkening back to the old Chetty/Hanushek claims that a good first grade teacher will lead to richer students later in life (which is baloney).

Democrats fundamentally believe our education system should prepare all our students—indeed, all of us—for college, careers, and to be informed, engaged citizens of our communities, our country, and our planet.

I suppose it's a blessing that they didn't just stop after "careers," and the engaged citizen addendum is a step in the right direction.

And there's plenty of this sort of thing:

We are committed to making the investments our students and teachers need to build equity and safeguard humanity in our educational system and guarantee every child can receive a great education. We will support evidence-based programs and pedagogical approaches, including assessments that consider the well-being of the whole student and recognize the range of ways students can demonstrate learning.

Good old-fashioned task force writing, the kind of sewing together of various elements and concerns that leaves the stitches visible and still oozing all over the sentence. Well, so much for the intro. Moving on:

Universal Early Childhood Ed

Whatever is the opposite of the fabled Third Rail, that's what early childhood education is--safe and warm and fuzzy and everybody embraces it without fear. So, yay-- Pre-K for everyone! Some of the language here is hinky, like "we will drive increased resources to the communities with the highest needs," which could easily mean some program to get investors to put money there and privatizing the sector.

They do note that affordable childcare is a problem in this country, and they want to fix that. And they want to raise "early childhood standards" which is always the problem, isn't it--trying to quantify and measure ECE quality. But they are right on making sure providers are paid decently.

High Quality K-12 Schools 

The US spends more on white districts than non-white ones, so let's triple Title I spending, and see if we can get states to come up with better funding formulas. Also universal free lunch.

There should be multiple pathways available, like career-tech ed and magnet schools and International Baccalaureate and early college. And there's a committee-created list of stuff that education should develop, like 21st century stuff and deep learning and judgment and none of it's objectionable, but it doesn't mean much of anything, either.

Charter schools. The Unity Gang borrows some language from the Sanders campaign and reiterates that public schools are a public good and "should not be saddled with a private profit motive, which is why we will ban for-profit private charter businesses from receiving federal funding." This is an important step forward from the old "no for-profit charters" language we're used to hearing because that's not where the big privatized money is in charters, anyway. The Unity Gang also calls for "more stringent guardrails" for charters, including making them observe all the accountability rules that public schools must follow, which is long overdue in some states. They will also call for making federal funding for new or expanding charters contingent on the district review of how well the charter serves neediest students, which doesn't even begin to go far enough, given the broad range of ways in which federal funding for charters has been wasted and thrown at fraudsters.

They want schools to be places of "physical and psychological safety" and call for more resources, but no guns, and basically to put back all of the Obama-era guidance that Trump has removed. That includes reviving the ed department's Office of Civil Rights and keeping ICE off campus. They are unhappy that segregation is worse today than in the time of Brown v. Board, but they don't actually offer a solutions beyond busing and magnet schools. So, not a strong point there.

The Unity Gang would like to become the most recent group to promise to fully fund IDEA and, hey, it could happen.

They take a strong and specific stance against the Big Standardized Test. However, they then wander off into the Weeds of Vaguitude:

Democrats will work to end the use of such high-stakes tests and encourage states to develop evidence-based approaches to student assessment that rely on multiple and holistic measures that better represent student achievement.

That, of course, could mean pretty much anything. "Evidence based" in government speak means, literally, nothing at all. So this is not really encouraging at all.

This section closes with an Ode To Heroes, stating that teachers should have the right to unionize, be paid better, get good benefits. There's some language in here about support staff climbing a professional ladder, and recruiting a "diverse educational workforces," which is a major need right now, so they get points for at least mentioning it.

Higher Education Affordable and Accessible

Tuition-free public colleges and universities for anyone whose family earns less than $125K; community college free for everyone. Double Pell grant award maximums. Federal support for certain groups. Make sure grants and support make HBCU more affordable. Child care on campus. Wraparound services. Textbook subsidies for students. Fight campus food insecurity. A Title I type program for college.

Student Debt Relief  

Basically, they plan to reverse the giant DeVosified mess that student loans have become, including fixing up the loan forgiveness program. In fact, there's a whole paragraph about demanding that she get her act together right now. Also, pandemic debt relief.

Covid-19 Response 

Biden's folks really want you to remember how badly the Trumpers have dropped this ball. Promises include more funding. Assertions include coming down on the side of in-person school, and schools should get assistance in figuring out when alternatives are necessary, and by the way, let's pump some resources into the on-line infrastructure that is incapable of supporting distance learning in so many places.

So there's the document. Not sure what influence it's going to have either on the voters or the politicians for whom it pretends to speak. It counterbalances the emerging Trump campaign thrust ("They're coming to get you, and only I can protect you") and some of it sounds nice, but of course we've been led down the educational garden path before. Supporters of public education will have to pay close attention after November, and that's not new.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

ICYMI: Hell Of A Week Edition (7/12)

Well, that was a hell of a week, between administration backflips and dictates over covid policy and the general rising tide of panic. Here at the Institute, I've decided to skip the 642 pieces I've read about reopening schools this week, because chances are you didn't miss any of them. But in the meantime, a few other things have dropped that are worth your attention.

The Seven Habits of Highly Affective Teachers 

This ASCD piece by Rick Wormeli is five years old, but I have the feeling that the mental health of a school is going to be a trending topic for a while, and while this is not necessarily earth-shattering, it's still a decent read with some useful reminders.

Claudia MacMillan: A Remarkable and Inspiring Program of Learning 

Diane Ravitch included a couple of guest posts this week. This one focuses on the Dallas/Fort Worth based Cowan Academy in the Humanities, and while I tend to be leery of people who slap their copyright on pedagogy, it's still heartening to read about a program that is so assertively and effectively championing the liberal arts and humanities.

Jack Schneider: Why Study History 

Another guest post for Ravitch, this short essay answers the age-old question.

Is It Time To Cancel Teach Like A Champion? 

Have You Heard takes a deep historical dive to look at TLAC's predecessors and the current conversation (again) that maybe Doug Lemov's best-selling guide is just a wee bit racist.

What the Espinoza Decision Means for Other Aspects of Religious Freedom

At The Dispatch, Andy Smarick (Manhattan Institute, etc) has a nice breakdown of the decision, its roots, and its implications.

Assessing the Assessment

This will take you to an abstract of an article from December of 2019; if you want to dig further, it will cost you. But the last line of the abstract tells the story of this research into edTPA: "we argue that the proposed and actual uses of the edTPA are currently unwarranted on technical grounds."

Charter schools may have double-dipped as much as $1 billion in PPP small business loans

Roegr Sollenberger at Salon looks at just how well it has paid off fore charter schools to drop the mantle of "public school" and put on their small business hats.

Colleges and Schools Rethinking Role of Standardized Tests

UMass Lowell picks up the ongoing conversation about doing more than just pausing the standardized testing giants. Jack Schneider appears here, too--busy week for him, but he gets a nice picture this time.

Friday, July 10, 2020

DeVos and Trump Throw Cyberschools Under Bus

Here is Betsy DeVos speaking as part of a coronavirus task force presentation back in March:

Learning can and does happen anywhere and everywhere.

It's a sentiment that she has expressed numerous times in connection with the idea that technology could be the brand new key to better education. As in, cyberschool or its fancier name, "virtual learning." She has been a fan for years.

And here she is in April, announcing a new grant competition for three different categories of educational endeavors (emphasis mine):

1) Microgrants for families, so that states can ensure they have access to the technology and educational services they need to advance their learning
2) Statewide virtual learning and course access programs, so that students will always be able to access a full range of subjects, even those not taught in the traditional or assigned setting
3) New, field-initiated models for providing remote education not yet imagined, to ensure that every child is learning and preparing for successful careers and live

Now, here she is last Tuesday, from her conversation with the governors about what the hell to do next:

According to the Associated Press, Devos addressed ideas like distance learning and limited classroom instruction. She found neither of these acceptable, saying instead that schools must be “fully operational” when they reopen for the new school year. Specifically, she insisted that schools should be prepared to offer five days of instruction per week. 

And here's Donald Trump early this morning on the Tweeter:

So if I were a cyberschool operator, I might be a bit nervous at the moment, what with that big ole bus parked on top of me and all.

It's always possible that any day now, the administration will simply blink and say, "What do you mean? We think virtual learning is terrific and everybody should have some."

But for the time being, it appears that the policy of Let's Make Everything Look As Normal As Possible Before the Election is shoving aside Let's Replace Public Schools With Privatized Cyberschool Operations. Stay tuned to see where the bus goes next.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Betsy DeVos Is Failing Hard

In the midst of all this chaos and confusion, it's perhaps easy to miss how thoroughly Betsy DeVos is doing a terrible job as Secretary of Education. And by so many measures.

There's the business of managing college loans. DeVos, you may recall, has been pointedly spanked by the courts for going after students who owe money on their college loans even in those cases where the law clearly states she's supposed to lay off. She doesn't like loan forgiveness for people who enter public service or for folks who were ripped off by predatory for-profit colleges, despite being repeatedly told that the rules don't care how she feels about them.

Now she's doing it again by directly violating the CARES act. The CARES act mandates a full stop on garnishing wages for unpaid student loans, but the department has told the courts that they continued to do so (and blamed it on employers).

Meanwhile, after months of standing around offering zero guidance to schools navigating the coronavirus crisis, she has joined Trump in demanding that schools open in the fall. As in, regular bricks and mortar style opening, all the time. In the spring, she was all about opening virtually, which was at least consistent, since DeVos has long been an advocate for virtual schooling. Now, suddenly, virtual schooling isn't good enough. This is going to make it hard for her to return to advocating for cyber-school, but then consistency isn't turning out to be her strong suit.

Take her spirited belief in keeping the feds out of state business. That was her north star for a few years, and the heart of her criticism of the previous administration. Now she has decided that using federal arm-twisting and extortion to force state compliance with her personal policy goals is super-okay.

And nothing says federal overreach like her threat to withhold money from states unless they open up schools the way she wants them to.

DeVos's current behavior is also a great example of why it's a problem to have someone in the office who neither likes nor trusts the public schools she is theoretically supposed to lead and assist. To bolster her argument, DeVos has cited a CRPE study that shows about 1 in 3 districts was actually doing "real curriculum" over the spring pandemic pause. She actually mis-cited that as 10%, but the problem remains. DeVos seems to have concluded that the gap was the result of districts that are lazy, uncommitted, unambitious, or just happy find an excuse not to do their jobs, and so she has further concluded that what's needed are threats and punishments.

Someone who actually trusted and supported public education might have wondered if maybe challenges with technology or issues with training or even the department's own unclear guidance were making it hard for schools to work it all out. Nope-- DeVos just figures that public schools need threats and punishment more than resources and support. If a teacher stood in a classroom and declared that Pat is failing tests because Pat is lazy and trying to get out of doing the work and nothing was needed to teach Pat except lots of yelling a detentions and maybe no lunch until Pat gets those grades up, we would correctly conclude that this is a bad teacher who should get out of the classroom.

It's a fundamental problem-- when you put somebody in charge who neither likes, trusts, nor understands the organizations she's supposed to serve, you get lousy leadership. The person who believes that the building should be demolished is not a good person to have in charge while the building is on fire. When that person is also someone who has no real leadership background beyond whipping out her checkbook and saying, "I can either write something to help you or I can start backing your primary opponent," and that just makes things worse. And when it's also a person who doesn't believe they really answer to anybody...well, the bottom line here is that Betsy DeVos is very bad at her job at  moment when it would be really nice to have someone in that office who doesn't stink.

What school districts need right now is people at the top who ask, "What do you need? How can we help?" Schools need support, assistance, resources. Instead, all DC can offer is threats, baloneyand cluelessness. DeVos is failing hard, and everybody else is paying the price.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Trump and DeVos Can't Make Up Their Damned Minds About Schools

It doesn't seem all that hard to figure out how Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos feel about public schools in this country. And yet, they seem oddly conflicted.

DeVos famously called public schools a "dead end." Just last week, reflecting on the SCOTUS decision, she opined that the history of American education is "sad and static" and "too many students have been discriminated against based on their faith and have been forced to stay in schools that don't match their values."

Trump is admittedly a tougher read, since he's mostly ignored the topic, at least until he worked out that being pro-voucher would be good for some Catholic votes. Just last Friday he was standing in front of Mount Rushmore declaring--

Against every law of society and nature, our children are taught in school to hate their own country and to believe that the men and women who built it were not heroes but that were villains.

So schools are awful, terrible things that ought to be shut-- wait! What's that?

Trump tweet-hollers "SCHOOLS MUST BE OPEN IN THE FALL" and DeVos tweeters back, "American education must be fully open and operational this fall.”

And they really, really mean it because they promise to get schools the resources to safely--ha! No, just kidding. But Trump does threaten to cut school funding for any schools that don't open, and DeVos backs him up, slamming adults who are just too chicken and insist on making excuses. And Mike Pence has stepped up to let us know that the CDC is going to rewrite the guidelines for school re-opening so that it won't be so hard or expensive.

So apparently schools are not evil drains on America, but essential infrastructure that is so essential that getting schools open again is far more important than battling a pandemic or keeping students, teachers, staff and family members safe. Schools are not dead ends, but so hugely important that nothing should stand in the way of getting them open. OSHA, the CDC, worried parents and teachers--none of them are as important as getting schools open again. Indoctrination is good, and we should get back to it? I was making stuff up before and now I would like to make up different stuff?

Who knew that Trump and DeVos thought schools were this important? I suppose the cynical view here is that they don't give a rodent's posterior about schools, but just want to get babysitting services up and running so that all the meat widgets can get back to work making their corporate overlords richer. Or the cynical view that Trump needs things to look normal to bolster his election. Or the really cynical view that by forcing public schools to open without the funding or resources they need to do so safely, the feds can drive worried parents away from public schools and into the waiting arms of the various privatized options.

Well, it's possible that everyone in public education is now discovering that the feds like us, they really like us. That schools are super, super important and not really awful after all. That Trump and DeVos have had an education epiphany. It's a mixed message puzzler, for sure. We'll see how education stands in a month or two.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Teachers Face A Summer Of Soul Searching. What Do They Do In The Fall?

This originally ran in early June. No signs that things are looking up at all.
We know a handful of things.
We know that virtually nobody wants to continue the pandemic shut-down crisis school model in the fall (with the possible exception of ed tech companies that hope to keep cashing in on it). Elected officials across the country are calling for schools to open again, a position that’s easy for them to take because A) everybody is suffering from full-on pandemic fatigue and B) none of those officials will have to deal with the actual issues of opening schools.
We know that nobody really knows how dangerous re-opening schools will be. Will students become super-spreaders, sharing it at school and bringing it home to vulnerable family members? How great a risk will teachers be running? 
We know that “official” guidance on how to open schools is in short supply, and that what is out there is, for teachers, mind-boggling. The average teacher’s reaction to CDC guidelines is an eye roll powerful enough to shift the earth’s axis. Teachers have conjectured repeatedly that the members of the CDC must have never set foot inside a school, but that’s not the CDC’s job. Their job is to figure out what safety would require. Somebody else will have to figure out how, or if, that can be done.
Finally, we know that based on everything we think we know right now, the price tag for safely opening schools again is huge. Lots of folks are trying to run numbers, and everyone agrees that the figure will be in the billions—many of them. And simply throwing up our hands and going back to some version of distance learning is, we already know, not much of an option—unless we pour a bunch of money into getting it right. 
Teachers know, in their guts, where this is headed. They have seen versions of this movie before. For instance, in 1975 Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which promised every student with disabilities a free appropriate public education. Knowing that meant extra expenses for school districts, Congress promised funding to back IDEA. They have never, in 45 years, honored that promise, and schools have just had to find their own way to meet that unfunded mandate.
And it’s not just the big things. Teachers routinely spend their own money to help plug the gaps in support from local, state and federal authorities. We’re having a national conversation about controlling the spread of coronavirus in classrooms where teachers still have to buy their own tissues and hand sanitizer. We’ve already seen problems with adequate protection and supplies for actual medical workers. Many teachers have a sinking feeling about what is coming.

It will look like this. There will be considerable discussion about what measures should be taken and what measures can be taken. It will be punctuated by discussion of the cost. Congress may, perhaps, toss a little money at the challenge. In the background, there will be the voices of teachers pointing out things like, “With the recommended social distancing, only six of my thirty-two students will fit in my room.” The discussion will go on without them.

By August, elected officials will give themselves credit for discussing things, as if discussing a problem actually solved it. Some will insist that Covid-19 is no worse than the flu and we have to put America back to work. Others will admit that the money they approved is not nearly enough to meet the demands. District administrators will complain that they don’t have the necessary resources, but they’ll still get no more help.
And by fall, individual teachers in individual schools will have to figure out how to do the best they can with the little that they’ve got. The district guidance they get will range from restrictively stringent to hopelessly non-existent. Mostly, they’re going to have to figure out how to cope on their own.
This is not, in and of itself, unusual. It’s what teachers do—figure out how to McGyver a million-dollars education out of three paper clips and some toothpaste. But this time it’s different, because this time it will be a matter of life or death.
So this summer, teachers will ask themselves a whole new set of questions. Can I stand it if I’m required to do more of that online junk that I hated so much last spring? Can I withstand the depressing sight of children daily spending recess in isolated bubbles? If I’m in a high-risk group, will it be safe for me to go back under these conditions? Will doing this job mean I can’t visit my aging parents this year? What do I do if the district tells me that even though X, Y and Z are necessary to stay safe, I can’t have them unless I somehow get them myself? 
It would be great—absolutely great—if elected officials responded to the current situation by saying, “There is nothing more important than our children’s education, so we are going to do whatever it takes, spend whatever is necessary, to make sure that every single schools has every single resource it could possibly need to make its students and staff safe and secure and able to concentrate on the critical work of educating tomorrow’s citizens. We will spare no expense, even if we have to cut other spending, raise taxes on some folks, or spend more money that we don’t actually have.”
Nobody who has been in education longer than a half an hour expects that to happen. Classroom teachers will, as always, have to pick up the slack themselves, only this time it’s not yet clear how much slack that will be or how much it will cost, and many teachers may decide the cost is more than they can afford. Teachers will have a lot to think about this summer.
Originally posted at Forbes.com    

Sunday, July 5, 2020

ICYMI: Pet Recovery Day Edition (7/5)

Our current dog is impervious to pretty much everything other than people on our front porch. But my previous dog spent every July 4 cowering under a shed, and every year I think of him and all the pets like him. This year, a number of things derailed our usual Fourth celebration, including the cancellation of local fireworks. But today can still be a rest and reflect opportunity. And I have things for you to read.

You know that I sometimes paraphrase these headlines, right. Here's Wesley Whistle at Forbes with the latest in DeVosian misbehavior. 

Nancy Flanagan spins off some meme wisdom.

So, NEPC wrote a study that suggests that Summit Education is big on claims, low on actual evidence. This made Summit (even though they had steadfastly stonewalled NEPC while they were trying to do the study), and they wrote a rebuttal. Now you can read NEPC's rebuttal to the rebuttal, pointing out that Summit's "defense" repeats all of the problems they were called out on in the first place.

The Grio asked a slate of writers to contribute to this list, including Andre Perry and Jitu Brown.

Along with everything else they've been up to, it turns out the department left a bunch of borrower SS numbers exposed on the web for at least six months. Yikes. From the Washington Post.  

Rick Hess (AEI) at EdWeek makes a case for renaming the schools named after Confederate heroes. 

I have shied away at ICYM from the new sub-genre of "We can't open schools but we must open schools but we can't but here's how to do what can't be done" because, as I'[ve said repeatedly, solutions will be specific and local. But this is a pretty good example in plain language, from CNN of all places.

This one, too. Jersey Jazzman lays out some of the details that crafters of these nifty plans have overlooked (because they don't nbecesarily know them to begin with).

York, PA schools are in a mess and have been for a while (extra notable because that's our governor's home town). Here the editorial board of the York Dispatch points some fingers and names some names about how this happens, and how bad it is.

This Chronotope piece from 2015 recently resurfaced and it's worth a read-- a good explanation of how devotion to data over everything else leads to things like catastrophic land wars in Asia. Lots for education to learn.

A Success Academy parent contacted Mercedes Schneider about problems with the infamous charter chain. Pushing kids out. Classroom bias. 

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Trump Comes After Public School Teachers

Against every law of society and nature, our children are taught in school to hate their own country and to believe that the men and women who built it were not heroes but that were villains.

One of the big pull quotes from Donald Trump's historically shallow paean to the idea of American exceptionalism on July 3rd at Mount Rushmore, an attack on public education and the teachers who work there echoed at other points in his speech.

There was never any doubt that we'd end up here, never any doubt that he would come at teachers.

There can't be more than 11 undecided voters in the country right now, and very little likelihood that this campaign will be about winning folks to one side or another. It will be a contest to see who can get the most people to actually vote. That means energizing the base, which in Trump's case means a steady diet of "They are coming to get you, and only I can protect you from them." The "they" includes all those brown and black folks (you know, except for the "good" ones) and anybody who wants to say anything critical about the country, or about this President. They are coming to get you, and only the strength of Beloved Leader can stop them. Also, Jesus, freedom, America.

So why teachers?

Well, the administration has been clear on its anti-public education bona fides. But it has also been clear about using private school vouchers as a means of currying favor from the Catholic Church, by far the largest beneficiary of voucher programs. Trump and DeVos have both been painfully clear that they want to quid pro some quo when it comes to Catholic school support and Catholic votes for Trump.

Then there's the matter of the unions, which provide much of the financial and organizational backbone of the Democratic party (okay, "backbone" and the Dems don't really go together, but you get my point). So anything to weaken them helps feed the hard right dream of one-party rule in the US.

It seems like an odd choice, given that large number of teachers voted for Trump. Why risk turning them off? Probably because there is no risk--at this point it's clear that the Trump base voter can't be turned off by anything. Literally anything. I expect that teacher Trumpers will look at any criticism of teachers and say, "Yeah, he's right. These jerks I work with are awful. He's not talking about me, though." It's a version of the old question of why asshats have friends--because the asshats friends say, "Well, sure he's an asshat, but I feel certain he'll never be an asshat to me."  This is one of the great tricks narcissists can pull off-- to make you feel so charmed that you can see every one of their terrible faults, but feel certain that you are exempt from their effect.

An attack on teachers is also part of the attack on all sources of authority outside of Beloved Leader, as in the point last night where he blamed all the rioting on "the predictable result of years of extreme indoctrination and bias in education, journalism, and other cultural institutions." In other words, there are no institutions you can trust, no source for evidence that can be believed, because They have corrupted them all. Only Beloved Leader remains pure.

So, yes. There was never any question that Trump was going to come at public school teachers, all busily teaching children to hate America. Expect more of the same in the months ahead (including from the students of Trumpers that are in your classroom). 2020. Hell of a year.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Baradaran: The Neoliberal Looting of America

Mehrsa Baradaran, who wrote The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap (a properly self-explanatory title), had a great piece this week in the New York Times-- not directly about education, but involving many points that folks in the education world will recognize. "The Neoliberal Looting of America" is behind the usual paywall, and if you have means to get past it, I recommend that you do. If not, here are a few key points.

Baradaran traces the history and growth of neoliberalism's "ideological coup" that transformed our society, rising out of post-war concerns about them damn commies, rising through the sixties, until

By the 1980s, neoliberalism was triumphant in policy, leading to tax cuts, deregulation and privatization of public functions including schools, pensions and infrastructure.

Ronald Reagan aimed to unleash "the magic of the marketplace," and "neoliberalism led to deregulation in every sector, a winner-take-all, debt-fueled market and a growing cultural acceptance of purely profit-driven corporate managers." The rise of private equity firms have squeezed every last drop out of some businesses (see Toys R Us, J Crew, Hertz, etc). And while Baradaran notes that 2019 was the best year yet for the Captains of finance, she also notes that time has been hard of some of their favorite theories. See if you can recognize some of these terms from the neoliberal assault on public education:

An examination of the recent history of private equity disproves the neoliberal myth that profit incentives produce the best outcomes for society. The passage of time has debunked another such myth: that deregulating industries would generate more vibrant competition and benefit consumers. Unregulated market competition actually led to market consolidation instead. Would-be monopolies squeezed competitors, accrued political power, lobbied for even more deregulation and ultimately drove out any rivals, leading inexorably to entrenched political power. Instead of a thriving market of small-firm competition, free market ideology led to a few big winners dominating the rest.

Perhaps the ultimate argument against the privatization of public education, the championing of choice, the childlike faith in putting the invisible hand in charge of an education marketplace is that beyond the questions of ethics and morality and the mission of public education in this country, above all those arguments, is the fact that it simply doesn't work. It doesn't produce better schools. The profit motive does not drive better educating. Competition does not drive excellence. Even if the neoliberal promises for education are made in good faith, they simply don't deliver.

Baradaran offers some examples, like the banking collapse of 2008 in which the feds picked up all the risks on the theory that the invisible hand would "discipline risky banks without need for government oversight." This is another huge falsehood that neolibs love; Baradaran doesn't quite name it, but it's that belief we've heard over and over, that no accountability system is needed because the market will hold people accountable. Except it doesn't.

We've been trying neoliberal market-driven invisible-handy McKinsey-embracing privatization for at least half a century; it has been really good for folks at the top, and lousy for everyone else. Baradaran's prescription is simple--take things that belong in the public sector back to the public sector.

We can have competitive and prosperous markets, but our focus should be on ensuring human dignity, thriving families and healthy communities. When those are in conflict, we should choose flourishing communities over profits.

Amen to that. Nobody in the US should have to do without basic services, such as education, just because they can't make some hedge funder a few more bucks. And now I'm going to go order Baradaran's book.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Oh Good Lord In Heaven We're Going To Mess With College Loans Again

One hallmark of the DeVos era has been a deep devotion to debt-- specifically the debt of students who tried to go to college, and making sure that Those People don't try to wiggle out of it. She has stayed close to companies in the debt biz, a biz that she has her own ties to.

All of this is why some folks have looked askance at her stated desire to shake up Federal Student Aid, the gazillion-dollar operation that helps finance so many college educations. At one point she wanted to spin it off into a stand-alone business, perhaps because that would insure that no future politicians would mess things up by forgiving student debt.

Now she has announced new contracts with some fun new playmates in the loan biz, and also, some no-more-new contracts for other loan biz folks who had previously thought they were doing okay. The stated purpose is to give FSA customers some world class service, and as one such customer may I just say "Oh Good God in Heaven can't you just leave this stuff alone!!??!!"

My older children graduated from high school in 2004 and 2006, then moved on to higher education of one sort or another. I made it a year or two, and then it was time to start borrowing, kicking off an experience that I have mostly blocked out of my memory because Sweet Jesus on a unicorn!

When I started, you had to deal with a bank to get the loan, which meant finding a participating bank with a pile of money, which involved filling out FAFSA etc, a royal pain of its own and heaven help you if you're divorced and not, as I was, co-parenting with someone who feels cooperative. What I didn't really understand at the time was that I was dealing with a bank, and a financial aid office, but also some loan outfit, but also the feds. I am not a stupid person, but I constantly felt like one trying to navigate that stuff. And naive-- believe it or not, there was a time when I was deeply worried that I would be so extended that the banks wouldn't lend me any more money. Ha!

So I started paying back one set of loans (one separate loan for each semester) and then child #2 started school, and we started over with getting money, but somewhere in the next year or so the feds decided that it would really streamline things to make the financial aid offices take point on the process which, well, I love those folks, but banker/loan officer was not necessarily the job they signed up for.

And the paying back. For a long time, I got little payment coupon books, and that was a helpful system except that during that phase the banks or ,loan companies would pass the time by selling loans back and forth to each other, creating new coupon books and putting new account numbers on the individual loans and not actually saying anything to me about it not buried by that cool technique financial institutions have of sending out 5,972 pieces of junk mail, within which is concealed 1 item you actually need. Anyway, it was during all this shuffling around that I discovered that I had been double paying on one loan and not paying another at all for like, six months.

And the phone calls-- the endless phone calls-- from shady operators who wanted to help me consolidate my loans. Blerg.

Eventually, things settled down. All of my loans anded up in the hands of AES and Great Lakes, and the paperwork was clear and in plain English, and then they had websites that were also clear and easy to use (though for years I made AES send me paper copies anyway, because passive-aggressive crank).

After all these years, it was a system that actually worked. I'm even getting relatively close to the end of paying everything off, thinking every single time I make a payment "How the hell do struggling millennials have a hope of dealing with this kind of debt." But I'm almost there, and now they're going to screw with me again.

Supposedly, the feds will assign me a new servicer, at least for the Great Lakes loans; AES isn't mentioned in anything I've read which I presume to mean that it is really some other company with a mask on. I'll get some new friends to take my money and I'm sure that the whole switchover will go off without a hitch, especially since it's supposed to happen as the year turns over, but I'm sure that if we have a whole new administration that won't affect this at all (don't worry--that's not enough reason for me to vote for Trump).

But for the love of a good blueberry donut, you don't screw around with systems that are actually working. Well, not unless you are up to something. I don't know what DeVos is up to, but somehow in my heart I don't think it's really about insuring I have world class customer service, because world class customer service wouldn't refuse to honor the rules about loan forgiveness. The press release talks about things like measurable metrics, so we'll now deal with people who are focused on making their numbers. Cool. That never ends badly. Yeah, somebody is going to get serviced here. Don't get  me wrong--letting my children start out debt-free as adults is one of my prouder parenting achievements, but why does it have to be such a slog, and on what planet can we expect 18-year-olds to navigate it?  Why do I have the feeling that Betsy DeVos didn't just make things better.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Betsy Devos's Happy Day

There is plenty of joy in some Reformsterville neighborhoods these days, thanks to the not-unexpected ruling by the Supreme Court on Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue.

As some education folks have pointed out, it could have been worse. The court said that if states are going to pay for any non-public schools, they must include religious schools in the mix, which is not as bad as saying the state must help pay for religious schools in all cases. Granted, that move is undoubtedly just one lawsuit away, and the reasoning isn't hard to conjure up: if states can't exclude religious schools from voucher funding just because they're religious, then why should they be able to exclude them from any and all funding?

But that's a lawsuit for another day. Right now, folks are doing a happy dance. "Freedom of Religion Narrowly Upheld" says the Heritage Foundation. "The Supreme Court delivers a huge win for kiuds--and against bigotry," says the always anti-public ed N ew York Post. "Win for Students, Families," says Americans for Prosperity. "U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Religious Freedom," says First Liberty. "Landmark Victory for Parents," declares Institute for Justice. "Important Free Exercise Victory," says National Review. Winner of the Grand Irony Award is the group Yes. Every Kid, which hails this as a "win for students, families," even though it's a win for schools whose policy is "No. Not every kid. No way!"

Response has been restrained in some other Reformsterville neighborhoods. AEI's Rick Hess calls it a "landmark" and provides a pretty straightforward explanation with no confetti in sight. As of today, Education Post has been silent on the decision, nor does the Fordham Institute yet have its 2 cents out there. Ditto the Cato Institute website.

There are several possible reasons for this. First, it's not sort of a surprise at all. The closest thing to surprising feature of this decision is that it didn't go farther. Second, it's not really good news for charter fans, whose insistence (irony alert #2 here) that they are public schools puts them on the wrong side of this decision. Third, some people like to take some time to think about what they're going to write (I hear). And folks who are from the religious side of this debate--well, some of them might be smart enough to see that this push has some real long-term threats to religious liberty. But we'll get back to that.

Of course, you know who's delighted with the decision. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos declares that "Religious Discrimination Is Dead" by which I presume she does not mean any of the religious discrimination exercised by private religious schools which they are, of course, still free to exercise all they like--and at taxpayer expense.

DeVos's short but energetic press release is her standard argument on this subject. The history of American education is "sad and static" and "too many students have been discriminated against based on their faith and have been forced to stay in schools that don't match their values." (Again, this makes far more sense if you recognize that by "faith," DeVos means "Christian.") But in DeVos's world, Christians are victims of the "last acceptable prejudice." Mind you, this is the woman who has been crystal clear since her confirmation hearing that she cannot imagine a situation in which the feds would speak up to prevent a school from exercising bias against race, that she cannot (and has not) imagined a situation in which she would step in to stop discrimination against LGBTQ students. But oppressed Christians are another thing.

If you've missed the part where Christians have been oppressed, that may be because you are not up on the current definition. Attorney General Barr also put out a press release to say he was happy that Montana lost because the exclusion "prevented parents who send their children to religious schools from receiving scholarship funds."

This is the argument that voucher fans have been test-driving for a while--that to be truly free, religious folks must be subsidized by the taxpayers. If I'm really going to be free to exercise my faith,  taxpayers have got to pony up (but I just still be free to discriminate against anyone I'd like to discriminate against).

In Constitutional terms, what we're seeing is the exercise clause (the state can't interfere with people's exercise of their religion) take precedence for the first time over the establishment clause (the state can't set up an officially approved religion).

There are problems with poking holes in that wall between church and state--and they aren't just problems for the state. For instance, if we have taxpayers funding schools that reject and expel LGBTQ students, or teach that slaves and slave-owners lived in happy harmony (just like dinosaurs and humans), we can either let them do it, and tell the taxpayers that they get zero accountability for how their money is spent (imagine a world in which you must spend tax dollars to support a school that would rejects your own child. Or the state can step in and insist that it have some accountability to go with its investment. This can get super-messy; for instance, Kevin Welner (NEPC) suggests that since SCOTUS split the hair around actual religious activity, the state could carefully examine a school to make there were no religion classes being taught during the day. (The rest of his analysis is good, too.) Goodness--they might even be forced to accept some of Those Peoples' Children into their school.

People too often think of the imaginary wall between church and state as a protection for the state, but it's also protection for the church. As certain occupants of the nation's highest office are demonstrating, any shmoe can claim to be a Christian, and any shmoe will if there is advantage to be gained by it. As the saying goes, when you mix religion and politics, you get politics. Government money comes with government strings.

Some Christianists have bigger pictures in mind. Many's the time I've heard religious conservatives talk about taking schools back (along with some other institutions). For these folks, the dream is a world in which public education is gone (or at least limited to warehousing Those People's Children). Theocratic rule suits them just fine.

We'll see where this decision takes us. Some states (looking at you, Ohio and Florida) have already constructed their own workarounds and won't be much affected. A couple of others have voucher systems that will now have to be changed.

In the meantime, we get to see DeVos once again put on full display her disdain for and ignorance of "sad and static" public education. She wants states to "seize the extraordinary opportunity to expand all education options at all schools to every single student in America." Well, of course, she doesn't mean "all" students (get those dreamers outta there), but she's sure hoping this is the beginning of the end for public education. May she not have days this happy again for a long long time.

Monday, June 29, 2020

To Everyone Who Was Never A Classroom Teacher, Re Pandemic School Openings

To everyone who was never a classroom teacher but who has some ideas about how school should be re-opened in the fall:


Just hush.

There are some special categories of life experiences. Divorce. Parenthood. Deafness. Living as a Black person in the US. Classroom teacher. They are very different experiences, but they all have on thing in common.

You can read about these things. But if you haven't lived it, you don't know. You can study up, read up, talk to people. And in some rare cases that brings you close enough to knowing that your insights might actually be useful.

But mostly, you are a Dunning-Krueger case study just waiting to be written up.

The last thirty-seven-ish years of education have been marked by one major feature-- a whole lot of people who just don't know, throwing their weight around and trying to set the conditions under which the people who actually do the work will have to try to actually do the work. Policy wonks, privateers, Teach for America pass-throughs, guys who wanted to run for President, folks walking by on the street who happen to be filthy rich, amateurs who believe their ignorance is a qualification-- everyone has stuck their oar in to try to reshape US education. And in ordinary times, as much as I argue against these folks, I would not wave my magic wand to silence them, because 1) educators are just as susceptible as anyone to becoming too insular and entrenched and convinced of their own eternal rightness and 2) it is a teacher's job to serve all those amateurs, so it behooves the education world to listen, even if what they hear is 98% bosh.

But that's in ordinary times, and these are not ordinary times.

There's a whole lot of discussion about the issues involved in starting up school this fall. The discussion is made difficult by the fact that all options stink. It is further complicated by the loud voices of people who literally do not know what they are talking about. Here's a handy flow chart to help you work it out.

Media can help with this. There is no reason for anyone to interview Arne Duncan or Jeb Bush about how to re-open schools in the fall. Knock it off with that sort of thing, please. And now it turns out that Bill Gates has given the Chiefs for Change, a group of reformy amateurs who keep failing upwards, $1.6 million "to provide a co-branded (CCSSO and CFC) set of comprehensive COVID-19 state education reopening plans that address health and safety guidance at both the SEA and LEA levels." That's no help, either.

Look. Actual teachers have already thought of at least a dozen different issues that haven't even occurred to the usual gang of edu-amateurs. Solutions to the fall will be local and specific, and it's the people on the ground who will come up with them (they have to, because state and federal authorities vary somewhere between silently useless and just plain useless). The goal here is not  something that can be "scaled up." The goal is to come up with a way for your local school to survive and do its job. I'll say this again-- if you have not lived a significant portion of your professional life inside a school, you just don't know. You are just a person at an accident scene who thinks he should get to direct life-saving efforts because you watch a lot of medical shows on tv, or you're very rich and important, or you smell a profitable opportunity, or you just want to.

Yes, there are some scholars who mostly get it, and a lot of stakeholder voices that must be paid attention to (starting with parents, parents and more parents). But for the rest of you who think that just because an idea about education passes through your head, it ought to be shared and maybe even shared widely and given the force of policy-- You may mean well, or you may not. I can't read your heart. Nevertheless, we're in an unprecedented situation with lives at stake. So, please.

Hush. Just hush.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

ICYMI: Yes, It's Still Happening Edition (6/28)

I haven't reminded you for a while-- if you read something here that speaks to you, go to the original posting site and share that puppy. You have the power to amplify voices. Everything that ever went viral was shared one person at a time. So do your part and spread the word.

An Experiment in the Socially-Distanced Classroom   

From the blog "Counting From Zero," some teachers head to the classroom and take a look at the practical issues of social distancing for the classroom. The good, the bad, the ugly. I told you it was going to be up to teachers to work this stuff out.

Cleveland/University Heights City Schools On Board for Ohio's Ed Choice Lawsuit

I student taught in Cleveland Heights (Wiley Middle School). They may join many other Ohio districts fighting back against Ed Choice, Ohio's attempt to follow Florida in siphoning off unlimited money to choice schools. I hope they get it stopped.

The often ugly reality Black students face

Allan Blodget guest-writes at The Answer Sheet about what he found when he discovered an Instagram community of Black students writing about their school experiences.

Ed Department Killed Website That Made Applying for Loan Forgiveness Too Easy  

Lauren Camera at US News has this important story. The coda is that, thanks to coverage, the department decided to go ahead and put the website back up. But if you want further confirmation of what USED prioritizes these days (spoiler: not students), here's a story.

Lamar Alexander Said What?  

What he said, reported by CNBC, is that the feds have to provide extra funding to schools if it wants them to reopen this fall. Yes, really.

Michigan Republicans Try To Head Their Governor Off At The Back-To-School Pass

Nancy Flanagan has the story of Michigan's GOP trying to push some crappy policies quick-like before the governor can actually do something useful. Because if we're not learning anything else, and we hadn't already learned it from school shootings, the pandemic can teach us that to some folks, absolutely nothing matters more than politics.

What an actual school reopening plan looks like    

Jersey Jazzman runs down the characteristics necessary for a decent school reopening plan

Jamaal Bowman Scores Victory  

Call it an upset. Call it the Progressive wing of the Dems taking the old guard to school once again. Call it one more example of an outstanding educator moving into the political world. But whatever you call it, cheer.

The Standardized Testing Horror Show Is Not Over

There are plenty of reasons to think that the support for the Big Standardized Test is flagging, but as Nancy Bailey points out, there are zero reasons to relax vigilance. That fight is nowhere close to over.

For some California teens, school closures led to work in the fields

From Elizabeth Aguilera at CalMatters, a story about how huge a failure distance crisis learning was for some teens, and what school closure means for students who are also migrant workers.

Trying to make sense of fluid fall  

From Inside Higher Ed, a couple of simulations suggest that colleges are going to have some real problems in the fall.

You want a confederate monument? My body is a confederate monument.

From the New York Times, a powerful piece of essay writing from poet Caroline Randall Williams.

Teachers in Fairfax revolt against fall plans  

Meanwhile, what may be the first open revolt by a staff against the district's plans for next fall. From the Washington Post.

The Ed Tech Imaginary

I can't imagine why you would not be subscribing the Audrey Watters' newsletter, but just in case, here's the text of a recent address, looking at the stories we tell ourselves about ed tech. Well worth your while.

A message from your university's vice-president for magical thinking  
Speaking of school reopening plans, here's McSweeney's with a piece that is, I guess, darkly humorous.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Florida Tightens The Public Education Noose

I have run out of words for Florida. It's been a little more than a year since I dubbed them "the worst," and there really isn't anything to add to that, except of course there is. The leadership positions under Governor Ron DeSantis have been handed over to profiteers and people whose whole life story is anti-education, plus a very active astro-turfy group of folks determined to cheer the legislature on. Charter and voucher programs are largely unregulated, and Florida taxpayers get to foot the bill for schools that openly discriminate against LGBTQ students (or anyone else they feel like discriminating against).

Per a 2018 report from the DeVosian group American Federation for Children, Florida is where over a third of the voucher dollars in the US are spent-- and in 2019 they launched yet another voucher program. This year AFC gives 3 out of Florida's 5 voucher programs the top ranking in their category.

This frickin' guy.
But none of that is enough for DeSantis, who is intent on just tightening the noose around public education's neck (and gaslighting taxpayers while he's at it by continuing to claim that charter schools are public schools).

"But wait--" I hear you say. "Didn't the governor just raise the base salary for teachers in Florida?" Isn't that a good thing? Certainly better than the Best and the Brightest program that gave bonuses based on teachers' high school SAT scores?

Well, sort of.

The new $47,500 base starting salary is called "aspirational." So don't count on it just yet. As laid out in HB 641, each district will get a pile of money, and they have to somehow apportion that to raise their base salary, while at the same time, nobody anywhere else on the salary schedule can make less than the base salary. So this may attract young new teachers, but it isn't going to do near as much for teachers who are already there (and it does nothing at all for substitutes). It's cool to start out at $47,500; it's less cool to be making $47,550 after ten years on the job.

One wonders what effect this will have on contract negotiations in districts down the line. But I suspect that the important language in the bill is right here:

Each school district shall provide each charter school within its district its proportionate share calculated pursuant to s. 1002.33(17)(b)

Yep. The $47,500 is an aspiration for charters as well. With this bill, the state helps charter schools compete for teaching staff, helping them play financial catch-up with public schools. Pretty on brand for a state that decreed that taxpayers who raised taxes for improvements in their public schools must give some of that revenue to charter schools.

Meanwhile, DeSantis also just signed HB 7067, which takes us back to last year's new voucher program, the Family Empowerment Scholarship program. It's pretty much a recap of a voucher bill that Jeb Bush tried to enact back in his day, but which was kiboshed by the courts (that whole tax dollars spent on private religious institutions thing). DeSantis, rather than tweaking the program, tweaked the court instead and expected them to back him up. Even so, FES arrived with some limitations-- only families with up to 300% of the poverty level qualified (that's about $75 K for a family of four, and once in the program, you can never be booted out, and siblings are auto-matically in) and the scholarships were capped at 18,000. The program is an education scholarship tax credit program, so it's also a tax shelter for the wealthy.

HB 7067 is a rewrite of FES, joyously welcomed by choice fans as "the largest expansive private school choice bill ever passed in US history." Now the program has no real cap, but will add 28,000 more scholarships every year. And after any year in which more than 5% of the scholarships go unclaimed, the state can just raise the income requirement. In other words, it's not about saving the poor(-ish) kids so much as its getting the maximum number of vouchers in play. Because if they up the number of vouchers each year by 28,800, that income requirement is going to become meaningless pretty quickly. The only will limit will be the amount of money that rich people and wealthy corporations want to pour into it. Meanwhile every pile of money they put into the program will be a pile of money that the state doesn't collect, a hole that they will have to fill somehow.

Florida remains a reminder that no matter how bad something is, there's always a way to make it worse. With this action, Florida moves closer to a privatized system with privatized funding, leaving the public system to pick up whatever scraps they're left to struggle with. That will matter a great deal to the students who are denied any sort of choice, because the other thing you get with a faux choice system like this is a whole lot of Other Peoples' Children who are denied access to the well-funded schools and left to languish in struggling public schools.

I can imagine ways that Florida could make this worse, but I don't want to write them down and give anyone ideas. But for the rest of, it's important to remember that for folks like Betsy DeVos and Job Bush, this dismantling and privatizing of public education is the ideal, the model that all states should aspire to.