Sunday, January 26, 2020

ICYMI: Is It Still January Edition (1/26)

Every Sunday (well, almost every Sunday) I post a collection of goodies from the week that I think are worth reading. In case, you know, you missed them. I also encourage you to share anything you like (use its "home" location to share so that they get any benefits of traffic). That's what's going on here. You can dig into the ICYMI archives just by using the little search block in the upper left corner of the page (just search for "ICYMI").

Thanks. I haven't explained myself in a while, so I thought I'd do that. Now for this week's list.

The Dark Money of NPE

There have been some hints that maybe the Network for Public Education is backed up by some dark money, so the indispensable Mercedes Schneider dug out the receipts. Here's the facts.

Teachers belong on the State Board of Education

A remarkably not-crazy idea from Florida from a teacher, suggesting that maybe a few non-amateurs might help ou with Floirida's failing flailing ed policy.

Trump Scores Better Than Us on GREs

Education historian Adam Laats specializes in conservative Christian thought, which makes him a good guy to parse Trump's non-solution to a non-problem in which Beloved Leader announces that he has restored prayer to public schools.

No justification or money for private school vouchers in Georgia

Georgia state senator Elena Parent explains at AJC why Georgia doesn't need-- and can't afford-- vouchers.

This teacher had to tell her deaf students that people can hear farts.

Look, teachable moments come in a lot of shapes and sizes. This will satisfy your cute story needs for the week.

If your university's administration ran a polar expedition.

McSweeney's brings the satire. Warning: some readers found this entirely too realistic.

The JLV on TeachLab

Jose Luis Vilson did a podcast. It's a half hour of your time well spent.

Annotated by the author  

The New York Times is trying something new with its mentor texts-- author annotations talking about how and why they did what they did. This is a very cool new tool for writing instructors.

Virtual charter schools need to be reined in

The Muskogee Phoenix editorial board takes a stand and call for more careful monitoring of cyber schools.

Even facial recognition supporters say it won't stop school shootings  

As we slide into more and more student surveillance, it's important to note that even the people who like this stuff don't think it will actual help prevent the worst kind of events. This piece is at c/net.

Jesse Hagopian on bring Black Lives Matter into schools

Another podcast, this one featuring one of the great teacher activists of the Pacific Northwest.

Mike Turzai's PA education legacy

Mike Turzai is leaving the PA Senate to get a job in the private sector, which is bad news for fans of school privatization, because he was the best friend they had in Harrisburg. This is a good look back at some of his "greatest hits."

A Decade of expensive video math lessons for entrepreneurs

EdSurge, believe it or not, is going to point out some of the obvious dopey moves of ed tech video math whizzes over the last decade. Khan Academy isn't mentioned by name, but if the shoe fits...

Teacher Evaluation Recommendations Endorsed by the Educational Psychology Division of the American Psychological Association (APA)

Audrey Amrein-Beardsley at VAMboozled repoorts back on a report about which teacher evaluation methods the APA thinks are actually worthwhile.

You Get Up  

Blue Cereal Education with a very nice piece about crashing and learning. You've had at least one of those moments; apparently he has had a couple, but they make for good stories and some good thoughts about what you learn.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Ed Tech Reporters Should Make These Eight Resolutions For 2020

This ran three weeks ago over at Forbes. Three weeks into 2020 it still applies.

Audrey Watters bills herself as “an education writer, an independent scholar, a serial dropout, a rabble-rouser, and ed-tech's Cassandra.” Her Hack Education blog is required reading for anyone who cares about technology in education. Since founding the blog in 2010, she has provided a meaty, thoroughly researched and well-thought-out end-of-year assessment of ed tech. This year, she looked back over the entire span with “The 100 Worst Ed-Tech Debacles Of The Decade,” and it deserves a spot on every list of education end-of-decade lists.
There are several threads that run through the list of 100 failures, including hubris, wild over-promising, and simple ignorance of what the education field actually needs or wants from tech. But one of the biggest recurring themes is the failure of journalism to adequately cover stories. Time after time, journalists cover a new ed tech story with uncritical breathlessness. In almost none of the 100 examples can you point to early press coverage that said, “Hey, wait a minute. Here are a few reasons to think this might not really be a thing.” In just the last few months, the Washington Postpublished a glowing report of serial edupreneur Chris Whittle’s latest venture, and theNew York Times plugged Bakpax, the newest edtech wunder-product from the man who brought us Knewton, a company that promised to be able to tell students what breakfast they should eat on test day (it did not succeed).
So as we roll into the new year, let me suggest eight resolutions for journalists who cover the ed tech beat.
1) Ask what this person knows.
As you interview the latest hot new entrepreneur, probe his history. Does he have any experience or training in education, or has he spent his whole life in computer tech or investment banking? If he has no actual education in his background, a good follow up question might be, “What makes you think you have any idea what the heck you’re doing?” Note: two years in the classroom does not make someone a teaching expert.
2) Check the history of the idea.
Hardly a quarter goes by without the announcement of software that will make it possible to grade student essays. That promise has been made repeatedly, and even though some states are using versions of such software, there’s still no reason to believe that anyone has actually delivered the real thing. Les Perelman has made an entire side-career out of debunking essay grading software (including fooling computers with other computers). The vast number of ed tech “innovations” are not actually innovative at all. When confronted with the latest “new” idea, journalists should be studying up on the history of that idea and then, at a minimum, asking, “What is different about your iteration of this oft-attempted idea?”
3) Check the entrepreneur’s track record.
Ed policy is a field in which many somehow continue to fail upward. What is this innovator’s previous record? If his last three attempts at Changing The Face Of Education all failed, consider that a significant part of the current story. Also, when looking into the causes of his previous failure, you might want to talk to someone other than the innovator himself. 

4) Cultivate a team of actual teachers.

Every single time a piece of ed tech tanks, every single time the Next Big Thing has to close up shop, in classrooms across the country there are teachers saying, “Well, duh. I could have told you that junk was doomed.” Every ed tech journalist (just plain education journalists, too) should have a group of actual classroom teachers that she trusts. When the Next Big Thing lands on her desk, she should get ahold of her teacher squad and say, “Could you take a look at this and tell me what you think?” Interviewing teachers who have been hand-picked by the ed tech company does not count. 

5) Get an explanation, in plain English, of how the tech works.

A line-by-line look at proprietary programs is not necessary. But the tech company should be able to explain, in plain English, what the tech actually does. “Computer magic” is not a legitimate answer. “Sophisticated machine learning growth algorithms detect biometric cues which, through deep data large authentic engagement learning-centric analysis, provide flexible insights into individualized personal AI-selected metrics of the student’s systemic growth,” is not a legitimate answer. “We measure how long it takes the student to push the button because we think that correlates with how engaged she is,” is a legitimate answer. Follow up questions should include, “Is it even possible to actually do that” and “What reason is there to believe that the thing you’re actually measuring is a good proxy for the thing you want to measure?”

6) Remember that numbers aren’t automatically science, and science isn’t automatically correct.

The fact that the tech reduces something to a numerical value does not mean that it has actually measured anything worth measuring. Also, scientists once scientifically measured brain activity in dead salmon. Some science is bad science.

7) Correlation is not causation.

The marriage rate in Kentucky correlates with the number of people who drown after falling out of a boat, but the number of people who drown in a pool correlates to the number of films that Nicolas Cage appears in. Every time an ed tech pitch includes the claim that A correlates with B, go to this website (or buy the book) and remind yourself that ending Cage’s film career would not reduce drowning deaths in the U.S.

8) Be skeptical.

Talk to people who have knowledge and expertise, but no personal interest in the endeavor you’re writing about. Ask questions. In particular, ask questions such as “Can they really do that? How?” and “How would this benefit actual teachers and students in actual classrooms?” Journalists might even get extra rigorous and ask questions such as, “Should I believe these people?” Most of all remember that an ed tech declaration “This is what the future will be” is more about aggressively hopeful marketing than legitimate insightful prediction. 

Ed tech will continue to be a field full of hustling entrepreneurs and hopeful investors, and that’s fine. But it would be helpful if ed tech journalism was a little less breathless gee whizzery wrapped around the uncritical echoes of PR spin, and a little more carefully analytical skepticism.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Impersonating A Teacher

In a John White valedictory piece, he's called "a former English teacher in New Jersey." I have twice this week come across a reformster who says he "started out as a teacher." Regular students of ed reform have seen similar pattern over and over-- the reformy whiz who has been busy at the ed reform or ed leadership or ed consulting or even ed leadership biz for a while, but who claims to have been a teacher. Sometimes you have to dig hard, and sometimes it's just right there in the LinkedIN profile, but the answer is invariably the same.

Teach for America.

My hackles raise right up, all by themselves. If you clerked for a year before you went to work as a welder, you are not a former lawyer who's now qualified to sit as a federal judge. If you were pre-med in college and spent a summer working as a hospital orderly before you started managing a Piggly Wiggly, you are not a former doctor who's now qualified to serve as head of surgery for a major hospital. And if you spent two years in a classroom after five weeks of training and before you started law school and went into practice doing corporate acquisitions for hedge funders, you are not a former teacher who is now qualified to run an entire school district.

There are lots of complicated policy issues and intricate nuances to analyze about the last few decades of education reform. But one of the biggest problems with the modern ed reform is actually pretty simple-- ed reform has put a whole lot of unqualified amateurs in positions of responsibility that they lacked the knowledge or experience to manage well. John White, Kevin Huffman, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Chris Barbic, David Coleman-- unqualified amateurs all. And that's just the national stage-- it would be a herculean task to track all the regional amateurs, guys like David Hardy, Jr., who have trashed a local district after finding themselves in leadership positions they weren't qualified for. The graduates of the Broad Academy. Most of the Chiefs for Change. The rich guys like Gates and Zuckerberg who decide they should steer national education policy. All amateurs. Almost every boneheaded policy idea that made teachers shake their heads and roll their eyes-- produced by some unqualified amateur.

We can talk about the deep details of the last thirty years, but at heart it's as simple as a whole lot of important decisions made by people in charge who didn't know what the hell they were talking about.

And so many of these amateurs proudly touted "former teacher" on their resume, based on their two years with Teach for America.

Two years is nothing in teacher years. A second year teacher is still a teaching baby. Particularly if they started out behind and having to learn things that other beginning teachers had already learned before they arrived in the classroom. Particularly if, instead of asking questions like "How can I better grasp and develop this technique so it will serve my students better for the rest of my career" they are thinking things like, "Well, this is good enough to get me to the end of the year and then I'll never have to worry about it again."

Five to seven years is what it takes to get most folks up to speed. If you've got at least five years in in a classroom, I'll agree that you are a former teacher. At two years, you're just somebody who tried teaching and bailed. You are not a "former teacher" or someone who "started out as a teacher." I'd buy "tried teaching for a bit," but then, that wouldn't provide the kind of resume-enhancing, virtue-signaling, expertise-claiming punch you're looking for.

Are the Teach for America folks who were really sincere about their interest in teaching, or some who really meant to give it a shot but fund it wasn't for them? Sure. You can spot them because they kept teaching, or they got out and didn't try to pass themselves off as education experts for the rest of their career.

Can people develop expertise in education without having spent five years in the classroom? Sure-- mostly by doing a lot of listening to people who have.

Is this kind of snotty and elitist? Yes, I'll own that. Not everybody can teach, and not everybody who can teach can do it really, really well. I get that it's a club lots of people want to belong to, for a variety of reasons, but not everyone can. If you want a membership, then earn it.

I'll give David Coleman credit-- he at least proudly admitted to being an unqualified amateur. But I do wish that the rest of these folks would stop impersonating teachers. It demeans the profession and enables their claim to expertise that they simply don't possess. The world has always been filled with people who were sure they were education experts because they went to school, but now some of them have found a way to formalize that baloney.

One of the hallmarks of modern ed reform is language that is at best imprecise and at worst deliberately misleading. It's the score on a single two-subject standardized test-- it's "student achievement"! Well, memo to education journalists-- John White is not a former teacher, and neither are any of the rest of these impersonators running around trying to make a brief bout of edutourism look like a previous career choice.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

PA: Another Bill To Take Down, Sort Of, Cyber Charters

Rep. Curt Sonney is a GOP top dog in the Pennsylvania Education Committee, and he's never been known as a close friend of public schools. But he represents Erie, a district that has been absolutely gutted by school choice, so maybe that's why he has spent the last couple of years nipping at the heels of Pennsylvania's thriving cyber charter industry.

Harrisburg just had hearings on his latest proposal, a bill that he first announced last October and which has something for virtually everyone to hate.

Pennsylvania cyber schools are an absolute mess, barely covered by laws that never anticipated such a thing and protected by a massive pile of money thrown both at lobbying and campaign contributions.

The cybers do offer a service that is useful for some students (I personally know of one such case). But they also provide a quick exit for parents who don't want to deal with truancy issues or other disciplinary problems. Their results are generally very poor (none have ever been ranked proficient on the Big Standardized Test), and state oversight is so lousy that many were allowed to continue operating for years without ever having renewed their charters.

But what really has drawn the wrath of even people who don't pay much attention to education policy is that they are expensive as hell. Because the charter laws didn't really anticipate this cyber-development, cyber-charters are paid at the same rate as a brick-and-mortar charter. So an individual student may bring in $10-$20K, but costs the cyber charter the price of one computer, one printer, and 1/250th of an on-line teacher. The profit margin is huge, but so is the cost to local districts, with poorer districts in the state being hit the worst.

A year ago, there was a bill floating around Harrisburg to change the game-- if a local district opened a cyber-school, then any families that wanted to send their kid to an out-of-district cyber would have to foot the bill themselves.

The bill (HB 1897) is a bit involved, and we'll go digging in a moment, but the two headline items are this: all cyber-charters will be shut down, and all school districts will offer cyber education. Now, to look for some of those devilish details.

The timeline is nuts. The bill requires districts to have a full cyber education plan developed and submitted to the state by November of 2020. This pretty well guarantees that the plans will be a rush job for some districts, though many already have some sort of cyber-learning thingy in place. I appreciate the need for speed, but this is the kind of process that guarantees that some districts will be submitting paperwork-satisfying plans that don't necessarily have anything to do with reality. But all of that can be brought up at the public hearing required locally within 60 days of submitting the plan.

In addition to their own cyber-school, districts must also "provide provide students with the option to
participate in at least two alternative full-time cyber education programs." Those two programs must be provided by a third-party vendor. Why? Well, the cynical answer would be that this throws the cyber-charter industry a bone in the hopes that its lobbyists won't descend in numbers that blot out the Harrisburg sun. "Yes, I know we shut down your school, but there are now 500 districts that must hire cyber-providers for 1000 programs, so, you know-- ka-ching, and you're welcome." In fact, buried further down the bill, is explicit permission for the dissolved cybers to go ahead and do that.

There is a student-teacher ration requirement-- 25:1 for elementary and 30:1 for secondary. The state may waive this if the secretary is convinced that a higher ratio "will not adversely impact the academic quality of the program." Okay, question-- does that mean that if the program is lousy, it can have a waiver because a 150:1 ratio won't make it any lousier? Just asking.

All staff have to be properly certified-- an excellent protection for students in the program.

If a district pulls 20% of its students into cyber-education, it shall establish a cyber-school. It has the discretion to do this even if it doesn't meet the 20% mark.

It lays out the items that may be included in those third-party vendor contracts, which sets those vendors up to have at least some level of transparency. And those contracts will be available to the public (as are all such records in a public school system) and not kept secret (as in a charter school).

If a student is habitually truant, that student will be bounced out of the cyber-progam and not allowed to re-enter for two years.

Students can't be required to enroll in the cyber.

The department will offer some guidelines and "best practices" stuff to help districts set this all up. And there will be a state cyber-advisory committee. Those third-party vendors get a rep on this, but not anyone from an actual district.

And then the part about all cyber-charters being dissolved. They would be done at the end of the 2020-2021 school year.

Cyber-schools and cyber-student parents are freaking out about this, deploying op-eds wit varying degrees of accuracy and half-truthiness. But cyber charter operators are being offered a sweet market of captive customers. My numbers earlier were not exaggerations-- Pennsylvania has 500 school districts, so the law would call for 1,000 cyber-education programs to be run by third-party vendors. And seriously-- who but the companies that have been running cyber-charters will be ready to operate as third-party cyber-vendors within a year? Okay-- fun wrinkle, universities and other school districts are allowed to be third-party vendors, too. But cyber-school management companies will still have a leg up.

So what is there for the cyber-charters not to like? They will be forced to work with public school districts instead of around them, and they'll be forced to operate with more transparency than they're used to, and they'll have to hire more staff, and they will probably have to give up some of that tremendous profit margin they enjoy (although the bill is not super-clear about the money side of things). So, okay-- plenty.

For public schools, the biggest head scratcher is the need to offer three cyber-education programs.

Will this be the bill that finally does something about cyber-charters in Pennsylvanmia? Maybe, maybe not. It is one more sign that legislators are understanding more and more that cyber-charters have a huge funding and accountability problem. Let's see what they come up with next.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

A Teacher's Role In The Post-Truth Era

This piece from Sean Illing at Vox-- “Flood the zone with shit”: How misinformation overwhelmed our democracy-- captures the issue as well as anything I've seen in the past few years. Here are a couple of key bits:

We live in a media ecosystem that overwhelms people with information. Some of that information is accurate, some of it is bogus, and much of it is intentionally misleading. The result is a polity that has increasingly given up on finding out the truth.

How is that affecting the times?

We’re in an age of manufactured nihilism.

The issue for many people isn’t exactly a denial of truth as such. It’s more a growing weariness over the process of finding the truth at all. And that weariness leads more and more people to abandon the idea that the truth is knowable.

Illing suggests that this is deliberate, a strategy aided by technology and perfected by folks like Vladamir Putin.

In October, I spoke to Peter Pomerantsev, a Soviet-born reality TV producer turned academic who wrote a book about Putin’s propaganda strategy. The goal, he told me, wasn’t to sell an ideology or a vision of the future; instead, it was to convince people that “the truth is unknowable” and that the only sensible choice is “to follow a strong leader.”

And there it is.

We're used to the idea of propaganda aimed at getting us to believe something in particular, that it is designed for linear goals-- we will get people to believe that a balanced breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so that they'll buy more cereal. By convincing people that X is true, we can get them to do Y. Our idea of good, traditional propaganda is that it is focused and on message. Repeat your main talking point. Chip away. (After a couple of decades of hearing it repeated, everyone will believe that US schools are failing.)

But in the information age, the era of computerized super-communication, we have Propaganda 2.0. We don't need you to believe X; we just want you to believe that you can't believe anything. We don't need to substitute our "truth" for the actual truth; we just have to convince you that the truth is unknowable, possibly non-existent. You have no hope of navigating this world on your own. Just give all your obedience to a strong boss; take all your navigation from Beloved Leader.

Does he contradict himself? Well, it may seem that way, but the truth is complicated and unknowable, so why should the truth he peddles feel any different. Does his truth seem to be contradicted by actual reality? That's only because you can't trust your own perception of reality.

So what does that mean in the classroom?

Most classrooms are well behind this curve. Grappling with the information age has been about shifting the teaching of research; I retired with several great library units gathering dust because the internet changed research from hunting for three sources to sifting through 100. It has been units about "digital citizenship" and "how to spot a fake story," which students still suck at (my experience totally backs up this research).

These are all fine things, but they aren't nearly enough.

First, every teacher should know about epistemology, because teachers have to tackle the question of "how is it possible to know things, and what does that even mean?" This, as numerous pundits have noted, is what Trump and Putin and others like them have managed to smash-- the notion you can know anything at all if you are an ordinary person without a very yuge brain and all the best thoughts.

We have to teach young humans how to know things. We have to teach them that things can be known.

More than ever, the classroom can't operate as an authoritarian space.

"You can just take my word for it because I know things you don't" is, in a post-truth era. This is equally true if the authority of the teacher has been usurped and displaced. If, for instance, you teach in a school that has subordinated teacher judgment to The Standards and/or The Test, and you've been reduced to a conduit for the curricular choices of others, that's also problematic (in the context of this conversation-- it's problematic for many other reasons, too).

Propaganda 2.0 seeks to divide the world into two groups-- those who Know and those that don't. A classroom shouldn't feed that world view. It should make explicit that not only can things be known, but there are pathways to that knowledge. Propaganda 2.0 says that the two groups can't be bridged; if you don't know, you'll never know. Students must be taught that they can know, that they can grow in knowledge and wisdom, most of all that they can learn to learn, learn to teach themselves so that they will always be able to study and understand on their own.

As a teacher, that meant tracing steps to a conclusion. Maybe I had to check an authority, but I always went back to figure out the path myself, because my teaching became more and more explicitly "This is how I figured this out."

The Big Standardized Test serves Propaganda 2.0 far too well, with an implicit statement that for any question there is one correct answer and someone else knows it and you have to figure out what that unseen authority wants you to say.

We all have to become comfortable with uncertainty.

One of the biggest selling points of authoritarianism is that it claims to know exactly what the answer is, and that's comforting, because most of us are never quite sure that we're getting it right.

The solution is not to seek certainty, because that's a hard place to get to. The solution is to be comfortable with uncertainty. To accept that it is part of the human condition to usually be somewhere below 100% on certainty at any given moment. To recognize that that uncertainty is a thing that makes us vulnerable to bad actors and bullshit artists. To embrace that the slice of uncertainty is the impetus to keep us moving and growing, and that it helps make us fully human.

And then, somehow to transmit all of that to our students. I won't say it's not tricky; Step 1 in running a classroom is to be the grown-up, the experts, the person who knows what the hell she is doing. But living with that sliver of uncertainty means that we don't wait to be 100% certain to act or talk. Live in the amount of certainty you have without ever forgetting that you could have to change your mind. Humility helps.

In the classroom this also translates into a place where it's okay to be wrong, because that's just part of moving forward. In an authoritarian, truth-free world there is no journey-- you either know the right answer or you don't, and that's it. There's nowhere to go from there (mirrored in the way that the BS Tests don't allow students or teachers to ever revisit the questions and answers-- you either chose correctly or not, and there's nothing more to do or say).

Process matters.

It's not just where you get; it's how you get there. That has to be an explicit part of the lesson. It has to be party of the curriculum because it is part of the challenge of being in the world right now-- knowing how to evaluate the process by which someone reached their conclusion. That has to be part of how to evaluate a conclusion (not just "does this conclusion support or contradict my pre-existing biases?").

Some of this is practical nuts and bolts-- for the love of God, can we all just learn the difference between correlation and causation? Some of it just means having read enough to have ground on which to stand when you start probing and picking.

Yes, we sort of started down this path a while back. But.

The calls for critical thinking, the call for evidence, the idea that we should drop straight sage on the stage teaching (though a sage can still cover al of the above)-- we've long accepted the idea that classrooms need to do more than just spoon information and facts into student crania. But we are still behind the curve, and it gets harder because the people who breathe Post-Truth America have children and send them to school and before I retired I was already dealing with students who simply insisted that some bullshit was true because some Beloved Authority said so and who did not believe that trying to actually support an idea is even a thing.

NCLB, Common Core, the BS Tests-- they've all made matters worse and pushed us back in the wrong direction. You can say it's because there are forces interested in keeping folks dim and malleable, and that may be true, but I think the Post-Truth Beloved Leader mindset is set in many of them and they are simply trying to enforce their world view. At the top, however-- yes. You find the Putins of the world who are doing the ongoing work of undermining the very idea of things being knowable.

In the Post-Truth world, "education" means a whole other thing and "thinking" is a dirty word. You can try to sell it by noting that if something really is True, then examining it and probing it and questioning it can only make its true-ness more clear and strong. But for the acolytes of Post-Truth, this kind of intellectual inquiry is a trick, a sneaky way to lure students into leading themselves instead of falling in line behind Beloved Leader.

For most of my career, I thought of teaching as a subversive activity. In a Post-Truth world, that is even more a fact of the teaching life. They are flooding the zone with shit, and they are looking to deliberately undermine and remove anyone who is doing too good a job of cleaning up their corner of the world. Journalists and teachers are always at the top of the damned list. (Not that I trust Noble Crusaders-- those folks are too close to cut-rate Beloved Leaders.)

You're flying in a plane.

The instruments are busted or sabotaged or simply untrustworthy, so you have to use your eyes and ears and you can only rely on those up to a point. The only way to complete the trip successfully is to teach all of your passengers how to fly the plane themselves and hope to God that they don't give too much credence to that asshat in the back who insists that he should be put in charge because only he can land the plane, and anyone who questions him should be thrown out of the hatch.

There are times in history, times when I imagine that people, particularly people with responsibility, looked around and thought, "Shit, why couldn't I be alive in less interesting times. I don't want this. I don't want this now." But sometimes the times just call on you, whether you want them to or not, and I suspect these are those kinds of times. They are flooding the zone with shit.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

OH: A Superintendent Who Gets The Problem of EdChoice

Woodridge School District is located a bit north of Akron. The district is highly rated and has escaped the current Ohio school rating system with no low ratings. Which means they didn't have to speak out against the problems being created for districts across the state by the EdChoice program. But on their website, you'll find this message from their superintendent, who offers a clear an explanation of what's going wrong. I'm going to reprint the note in its entirety here:

A Message from Superintendent Davis:
January 15, 2020

When we become parents, we want to do whatever it takes to provide the very best for our children. We want them to have every opportunity to achieve, to realize their dreams, to be healthy and happy. As parents, we make many important decisions as our children grow, decisions that will have long, lasting impacts on them as they mature. Choosing what school(s) our children will attend is one of the most important decisions we will make as parents. In Ohio, we have many options when it comes to schooling. Some are clearly better than others. There are private schools, parochial schools, charter schools but we believe the best option for families is the local public school system in any community.

Historically, some of the school choice options in Ohio have included costs for families. If you chose a private school, a religious school or some other non-public option, you typically paid tuition to enroll. Private and parochial schools have historically been selective, admitting only those students that fit their defined profile. Public schools, supported by property taxes, however, take ALL resident students without tuition, a free public education. In recent years, in an attempt to expand choice and, in the opinion of many, attempt to destroy the traditional public school districts in our state, legislators have created special programs designed to divert local property tax dollars from the public schools to fund charter and non-public, religious and private schools. Such programs are known as “scholarship” or “voucher” programs. 

Looking for a way to determine eligibility for vouchers and scholarships, the legislature decided to use the state’s flawed report card system to justify the siphoning of funds from local school districts. If the state determines your school to be “failing” (as determined by the local report card that the legislators themselves have admitted to be flawed), students residing in your school’s attendance area are eligible to obtain a voucher to attend elsewhere. For high schools, the state will “deduct” $6000 from the eligible district’s funding to pay for a voucher. For elementary schools, they take $4650. These funds, taken from local district budgets is NOT reimbursed. It is taken. 

This year, the Woodridge Local School District has NO schools that are voucher eligible. Our district has no “failing schools”. We do, however, recognize that the state’s flawed accountability system could, in future years, cause us to have eligible schools. This year, however, we will not lose any funds to the EdChoice Voucher program. Regardless, it is important to consider what would be happening if we were eligible. Like some other districts nearby, we receive so little in state funding that a voucher program could result in a dramatic loss of LOCAL funds. This year, we receive roughly $957 per pupil from the state of Ohio. If we were voucher eligible and lost just one high school aged student through the voucher program, the state would take $6000 from our budget for that child and send it to the private school. Since we only get $957 per pupil from Columbus, the state would stop payment on that for this student and then they would have to dip into our LOCAL TAX REVENUES to the tune of $5043 to get the full amount “due” the private school. When voters go to the polls to consider local property tax levies for the school district, I do not believe that any of them do so thinking that ANY of the funds being approved will be taken from the district to support individual students attending private or parochial schools. I cannot envision a way that such a system is constitutional. That state is taking money that voters earmarked for a specific purpose and using it for something far different.

As currently written, the rules would make vouchers available in eligible districts for students who NEVER even attended school in the district. For example, a student who would be coming for kindergarten, never having attended school in the district, would be eligible for a voucher IF the school were eligible. In this case, $4650 would be taken from the district to pay for that child to attend a private school with NO reimbursement from the state or the family for a student that was never enrolled in the district to begin with. Similarly, students that are already enrolled in a private school would suddenly become eligible for a voucher even if they had never attended school in that public district at all.

There is so much that the legislature failed to consider when setting up this system. The private schools receiving voucher funding are NOT subject to the same mandates, rules and requirements as the public schools that are losing this funding. Unlike public school districts, these schools are not subject to public audit, public representation, uniform accounting, teacher licensure, public records rules, student testing requirements, or many other mandates that public schools are forced to follow. And then, many of us ask, should public funds be used to support religious schools at all?

The Ohio EdChoice Voucher Program is seriously flawed. To help the public better understand the issues, the documents that follow contain more specific information about the program AND suggested solutions. Produced by educational experts and leaders from across the state, this information is provided with the hope that local citizens will stand up to be heard. We urge you to contact your elected officials – the very people who put these provisions into law are the ones that can fix this. Below, you will find contact information for the Ohio House and Ohio Senate members who represent our district. Contact them and DEMAND that they act! The future of public education is at stake.

You can be assured that Superintendents, Treasurers and Board Members from all across Ohio are busy advocating for change. Boards are passing resolutions in opposition to The EdChoice Voucher Program. Press Conferences are being held across the state to voice concern and opposition. Meetings are being held with legislators to share concern and to offer ideas for common sense reform. Calls are being made. Together, we can and must ensure that the legislature acts THIS month before the voucher application process is set to begin on February 1, 2020. Join us. Add your voice to the cause. Read below for more information.

Walter Davis, Superintendent 

ICYMI: Saturday Snow Day (1/18)

A Saturday Snow Day is when the weather is so awful that adults are absolved of any obligation to go anywhere and get anything done. We were having one right now in NW PA, with Interstates shut down and folks huddled up home. It's not a bad thing. If you need something to read while you huddle, I've got you covered.

Why Aesha Ash Is Wandering Around Inner City Rochester In A Tutu

Let's start the week with a really cool story about a Black ballerina creating her own project to make a difference.

The Rhetorical Secretary

Okay, so much for good feelings. Here's Mark Hlavacik in The Kappan breaking down Betsy DeVos for her part in the history of the Ed Secretary as leader of a national conversation about education. This is actually from last November, but I missed it till now. It's thoughtful and worth a look. Here's a snippet, considering some of DeVos's attacks on her opponents:

Such rhetoric is not an attempt to persuade those who disagree with her. It is not even an invitation for further conversation or meaningful debate. Instead, the insults that pepper her addresses serve to exclude any part of her audience that disagrees with her and — given how many Americans disagree with her, by her own account — functionally makes the enactment of rhetorical leadership on a national scale impossible.

Two States. Eight Textbooks.

Dana Goldstein at the New York Times does some detailed comparison of history texts from Texas and California. The differences may not be surprising, but they're still concerning.

Texas School District Falls For Email Phishng Scam, Loses $2.3 Million  

Reminder-- your security is only as good as the people you let get behind the keyboard. A cautionary tale.

Minneapolis Public School Stands To Lose 1/3 of Families with Redesign  

Sarah Lahm continues to provide a sharp and insightful look at what some brands of ed reform look like on the ground in Minneapolis. Not pretty.

Are You Ready to Make 2020 the Year of Early Childhood Education  

The folks at Defending the Early Years have lots of important stuff planed for this year. Here's the rundown so you can mark your calendar now.

The Misleading Rhetoric of School Choice

Jersey Jazzman digs down and looks at how the word "choice" is deployed in ways that are misleading. This is a really good piece.

The Tennessee ASD: Booted or Re-Booted?

Gary Rubinstein has been following the ill-fated Tennessee Achievement School District since Day One (the one that was use magical state takeovers and charter management to move the bottom 5% of schools to the tippy top), and now that they appear to be throwing in the towel, he takes a look back. He also, unfortunately, makes a convincing case for why folks can't heave a sigh of relief just yet.

Equitable Education Funding Isn't Happening Yet

Andre Perry at Hechinger talks about what we don't like to talk about-- that wealthy and nmiddle-class folks just don't want to pay to educate the poor.

About That Montana Choice Program

Espinoza v Montana is coming up, poised to take down the wall between church and state when it comes to school funding. But Rebecca Klein at Huffington Post took a look at the schools in that tiny choice program and found lots of explicit discrimination against LGBTQ students.

How Higher Salaries for Teachers Became a GOP Governor Thing 

Erin Einhorn at NBC news takes a look at the new sort of trend. Not sure I agree with all of this piece, but it's still an interesting overview.

Charter Schools Have No Valid Claim To Public Property

From Shawgi Tell, at Dissident Voice, an argument against handing public property like school buildings over to private companies.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Trump, Prayer and School

Donald Trump yesterday took the very Trumpian action of solving a problem that didn't actually exist until he made it up, in this case involving religion and education (two things in which he appears to have no actual interest). But hurray-- after today, students and teachers are free to pray in schools, which they were also free to do yesterday and last week and last year, etc etc etc. That's why accounts have said it "updates" or "reinforces" the rules-- because it doesn't actually change a thing. There is one new wrinkle in today's decree-- school's now have to provide a means of officially complaining if someone thinks their right to pray has been stomped on.

Well, there is one other wrinkle. Betsy DeVos has steadfastly refused to provide an example of misbehavior by a school or state that would prompt her to flex federal muscles to say, "Knock it off--now!" Not discrimination or abuse of students' civil rights. But now, here, finally, we've got one. If DeVos thinks you're interfering with someone's exercise of religion, then she's ready to extend that federal reach and lower that federal boom, apparently. So yesterday was kind of a milestone in that respect.

This will have next-to-zero effect on my neck of the woods. A neighboring school district was the subject of a lawsuit from an atheist student years ago aimed at keeping them from having a school official offer a Christian prayer at graduation. They folded, of course, and even that close encounter has had little effect on how schools do business in my neck of the woods. We never stopped having a Christmas concert. My former superintendent would open sixth grade graduation ceremonies with a Jesus prayer. At graduation ceremonies, most schools did turn to having a student offer prayer, with some folks thinking they were cleverly pulling a fast one rather than simply following the rules. When it comes to school prayer, folks really have trouble understanding that praying in school is, and always has been, totally okay, but having an official prayer and therefor giving an official government endorsement of a particular religion is not okay.

Christianity is huge in this county, in one form or another, so we have had regular demonstrations of why the rules are important. If you think a superintendent's personal Jesus prayer at an official school event is cringy, imagine an elementary teacher trying to "straighten out" the only Jewish student in the room.

Yesterday's event included tales of folks suffering discipline and job loss for their praying, and I have no doubt that there are places where the wall is enforced a little aggressively. But I have my doubts that it is because of some far-leftie suffering "a growing totalitarian impulse." I'm betting that these incidents are more likely motivated by one of the most powerful forces in schools across the country-- fear of an annoying phone call. The phone call might be an angry parent or somebody from the state, but many administrators base an awful lot of policy on "What is most likely to cause my phone not to ring?" This, unsurprisingly, does not always lead to the very best decisions being made.

Not that this administration is interested in explanations that are so mundane, because this is yet another move designed to tap the deep vein of evangelical paranoia. The ongoing fiction of a war on Christmas and Trump's heroic work to get Americans to say "Merry Christmas" again was an early salvo in the battle to win evangelical support by solving problems that don't actually exist. This is more of that, and we'll certainly get more of it because it absolutely works, just as surely as it worked to say that Obama is coming to take your guns. Already we've got bullshit quotes like Dr. Robert Jeffress telling Fox News that this is "the beginning of the end of the war on faith." Spoiler alert: The actual end will never come because A) that imaginary war hasn't started yet and B) guys like Jeffress are never going to say, "The war's over and we won, so you can stop sending me money and elevating me to a position of political power." It would be silly if it weren't so insulting to people of faith who live in countries where, because of their faith, their lives are actually threatened, not just filled with the inconvenience of having to consider other humans and share power with those you don't approve of.

I've been in the church most of my life, and there have always been people claiming this stuff. The end of official school prayer in 1962 has been blamed for every child-related problem that ever happened since. Of course, 1962 was the year Marilyn Monroe died, the Beatles scored their first hit, and Wal-Mart opened its first store-- any one of those could also be blamed for the decline of civilization since.

And yet, students and teachers have always been free to pray-- just not with the official backing of the school. And of course, Christians have always been free to act like Christians, to treat their fellow students and colleagues with the sort of love and Christlike behavior that some actual Christians manage to display on a daily basis no matter where they are. But somehow, these days, that's not enough. My own denomination is currently in the process of splitting itself apart because some folks feel that they can't really exercise their faith unless they get to deprive LGBTQ members of the chance to become ministers or get married, which would seem to be a freedom of religion problem if you are an LGBTQ human who feels called by God to ministry or who feels a need to solemnize your union with your partner before God and humans alike. It's the all-too-common conflict between those who feel living out their faith means acting a certain way and those who feel that they are only getting to express their faith if they can keep other people from acting a certain way (or, in extreme cases, punish them for it). Personally, I think only one of these views of faith is supported by scripture.

And of course the whole religious freedom conversation only ever seems to be about Christians. Betsy DeVos (or some staffer) made sure to include a line about Ramadan, but that's not what this is about. Other religions aren't on the radar for these folks who are certain that this is a Christian nation, all other shut up.

But it will be. That business about being able to turn your school in to feds because you feel your religious freedom has been stomped on? You can start counting down right now to the moment that a bunch of sophomores form a Satanist worship club specifically so that they can get shut down by the school and then sic the feds on their administration.

Look, this is one of the quintessential American issues. The Pilgrims didn't come here to escape theocracy and establish religious freedom; they came here to establish a theocracy where they could be on the top instead of the bottom. But the founders were smart enough to see that when you mix religion and politics, you get politics, and everybody--including the church folk-- loses.

This little sideshow will not change much about the way most schools operate, which is determined as much by local custom as anything else. Religion has no place in public school, even more so than in national politics, because every student who walks in the door should feel safe and welcome. But then, another way of stating the DeVos doctrine of "students should be free to find the right fit" is to say "students should be able to go where they are welcome," which is just another way to see "schools should be free to only welcome the students that they want to welcome."

In the meantime, be far more concerned about things like Project Blitz, which hopes to bring repressive theocracy on a state-by-state basis.

This was just for show and to shore up the base. The real event comes later, when the Supreme Court hears Espinoza v. Montana, a case that could break the wall between church and state. That's what DeVos is hoping for. We'll see how it goes.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Six Stories To Watch For In 2020

I made these predictions about three weeks ago, and now that we're halfway through January, I still stand by them. It's a cheap writer's game-- we won't know if I'm right until December, and I predict that nobody will remember what I predicted. So here are my guesses wise predictions about six stories that will heat up in 2020.
Ed Tech Will Try To Grow Its Market
Tech companies are sure that education presents a great growth opportunity, and they have products to push. Personalized Learning! Artificial Intelligence! Machine Learning! Learning Management Systems! Integrating all sorts of data and making life easier for teachers! It will all be promised, multiple times, in the hopes that folks have forgotten all the failures of the recent past.
When reading ed tech stories about the Next Big Thing, always remember that when a tech company says “This is what’s coming next,” they mean “This is what we’re betting on. This is what we have a vested interest in pushing.” Ed tech’s crystal ball is a marketing tool, not a prognosticatory device.
Student Surveillance Will Be On The Rise
This is part and parcel of the rise of ed tech; any data that passes through a computer can be stored, analyzed, sold, and repurposed. As has always been true, the best way to get people to give up freedom is to scare them. So from Florida to college campuses, the message is that we are going to put students under constant surveillance for their own good. It will protect us from school shootings and stop suicides. And while we’re at it, we can build a cradle to career pipeline that will insure that each child is an employable, useful meat widget for future employers (there are plenty of folks lined up to work on this, some with creepy slogans like “Every child. Every step of the way”).
There are two questions to ask in response to these stories: Is there any evidence that this kind of hopped-up surveillance actually works? Whose interests are actually being served here?
Personalized Learning Products Will Flood The Market
Personalized learning will continue to have a moment. It just sounds so good, like something everyone would want for their own child. As high stakes testing continues to come under fire, PL seems like a perfect antidote. And it feeds perfectly into (and provides protective cover for) the two trends mentioned above. We’re not going to sit your child in front of a computer to be strip-mined for data—no, we’re going to provide a personalized learning experience curated by hot new artificial intelligence that uses machine learning to understand exactly what your child needs. We’re going to provide teachers with freedom from grunt work while rolling out pages of data analytics. 
There are so many things to watch out for. Consider, for instance, if the vendor admits to any shortcomings of the program—is there something that it can’t do? An honest discussion of the product’s value would include a discussion of limits—anything else is just marketing. Spoiler alert: Whatever the program is, it can’t assess essay writing. No software can. 
Other questions to ask: Has this been tested by anyone other than the company selling it, and what were the results? How does the AI algorithm work? You don’t need to know the lines of code, but if the answer is “By special secret proprietary computer magic,” be highly suspicious.
Folks Will Continue To Puzzle Over How To Fix The Teacher Problem
The challenge of attracting and retaining teachers will continue to attract attention. Folks will continue to recognize that teaching is more attractive if teachers are given better pay, good benefits, and professional autonomy. Policy makers will continue trying to think of ways to attract and retain teachers without giving them more pay, better benefits, or professional autonomy.
The Accountability Pendulum Will Swing
The Every Student Succeeds Act has given states an opportunity to make some of their own choices about how to hold teachers and schools accountable for performance. While states have been slow to embrace that little bit of freedom, the new plans are finally starting to take effect, in particular reducing the influence of high stakes testing. By the end of 2020, we should be hearing the first wave of complaints that there are now fifty different systems creating a higgledy piggledy patchwork of non-comparable accountability systems, and wouldn’t it be better is there were one accountability standard for all the states?
The Combination Of Elections And Stubbornness Will Make Betsy DeVos A Target Up Through November
Who could have predicted that the issues of loans for students at predatory for-profit colleges would be the issue that would really get under the Secretary of Education’s skin? But it has all the elements that hit her nerves—government trying to interfere with the operation of a business, Those People trying to get away with shirking debts and avoid consequences for their own bad choices, courts telling her what to do. After signing off “with extreme displeasure” and being found in contempt of court for willful non-compliance, DeVos has shown that this is a hill she’s willing to fight (or at least drag her heels) on. 
As one of the least-beloved members of the Trump cabinet, DeVos was always going to draw fire from the Democratic candidate. Latching onto an issue that plays as corrupt wealthy people out to get ordinary folks only makes it easier to target her without resorting to worn clich├ęs about grizzly bears. We’ll find out this year whether DeVos has the political savvy and self-control to drop her profile, or whether she’ll hold tight to her righteous principles and continue to gift the Democrats with a cartoon villainess to campaign against.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

National Parents Union: Do You Smell Astroturf

This week Lauren Camera treated us to a warm, fuzzy piece of launch PR for the National Parents Union; the US News editor announces right in the headline that this group is here to challenge the teachers unions, but in a totally organic grass roots kind of way.

Two Latina mothers from opposite sides of the country have joined forces to form their own union to disrupt an education agenda they say is pushing out parents like them and, more importantly, leaving behind poor students and students of color.

Well, maybe not exactly like them, because these two moms have a pretty hefty record in the ed reform world.

It's always a good idea to look underneath
Weirdly enough, the National Parents Union already exists-- well, a group with that same name. They were/are a coalition of state groups in New York City, Connecticut, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, plus Moms for School Choice, which gives you an idea of what they were up to. They even had a gathering in 2013 featuring such notables as Howard Fuller, Steve Perry, and the California state director of DFER, the hedge funder-founded group intended to nudge the Democrats in the direction of school choice. However, the New York chapter was part of the push to close down InBloom and stop then-commissioner John King from cashing in on student data.

In fact, when invited to join as a founder of the new group, Gwen Samuel, a founding member of the old group, declined and reminded one of the new founders that NPU already existed, and that she would pass on the new group. We are going to come back to these folks.

So there's a Columbus-like "Look we discovered this thing that people already knew about because they're there" quality to the new NPU. But maybe that's just an unfortunate hiccup. Perhaps this new group is different. Is there any reason to suspect this isn't good old-fashioned grass roots activism? Let's take a look at the folks involved.

The West Coast is represented by Alma V. Marquez. The Camera profile notes that Marquez founded the Los Angeles Parents Union and worked with Green Dot Schools, a chain with a somewhat checkered past, including that time they tricked some parents into activating the parent trigger law. She was Green Dot's VP of External and Government Affairs. She headed up California's Obama Latino campaign. And she's the founder and CEO of Del SOL Group, "A full service communications and public affairs firm, providing expertise in Communications, Public Affairs and Coalition Building." Their stated specialties are communications, public affairs, and coalition building. Their clients include ACLU CA, the LAUSD board, KIPP:LA, and EducationPost.

In this context, it's worth looking at part of the descriptions of their services:

Our strategic message development establishes clients as authentic and innovative thought leaders, and desirable partners within their industry and community.

Our team of policy experts anticipate public concerns, and assists clients with advocacy efforts, promote and defend our clients’ interests, and coordinate grassroots coalitions and public relations initiatives.

Our team offers decades of successful experience initiating, organizing and managing national coalitions of individuals, companies and interest groups.

Marquez's company has been in business for over two decades, so clearly she knows her business. And her business is exactly what NPU is setting itself up to do. There's nothing wrong with being in that business, and there's nothing wrong with hiring professionals if you want to get in the advocacy business. But the picture of this group as just a bunch of folks trying to get their message out seems a bit disingenuous given Marquez's professional chops.

And then there's her partner.

When the story, Massachusetts residents on Twitter rolled their eyes so hard that the internet almost had to sit down for a second.

Keri Rodrigues has a hell of a story. Runaway tween, foster child, recently widowed, radio talk show host dubbed the "pint-sized Portuguese pundit" (she is Irish, Venezuelan and Portuguese). Union organizer, campaign consultant. I don't imagine for a minute that she's any kind of lightweight. But folks in Massachusetts may best remember her as the face of Question 2.

Specifically, she was fronting for Families for Excellent Schools-- the group that was caught and fined for hiding its dark money donor list, which turned out to be a short list of deep-pocketed Wall Street types who wanted the Massachusetts charter cap lifted and donated many dollars to do it. . The group never really recovered (what good is a dark money group that can't keep its donors hidden?) and one final scandal shut down the parent organization.

Rodrigues later tried to distance herself from the doomed effort: "Honestly, I felt I was being used as a prop. It was a lot of white men at the table." She added that she saw Question 2's huge loss coming and critiqued the backers. "I think fundamentally this reform sector does not respect or understand organizing." She says that FES wasn't wrong, but their methods sucked (I'm paraphrasing). She has connections and skills. She's on the board of DFER. And she knows her way around Walton money.

Who else is involved in this organization?

Well, one document from the group includes a list of founding council members. It's called "in formation" so it may be aspirational rather than real, but it still gives an idea where their aim is. The list includes Sarah Carpenter of Memphis Lift (the Walton-funded group of charter parents that tried to disrupt a Elizabeth Warren speech), Chris Stewart of Education Post and vocal charter advocate, Charles Cole III, Vesia Hawkins of Volume and Light in Nashville, Sharif El-Mekki, principal of Mastery Charter School in Philly, and Seth Saavedra. Most of these folks are connected to Education Post, and many of them are Teach for America grads.

The actual board listed on the website includes Rodrigues and Marquez. There's also Peter Cunningham, edu-flack for Arne Duncan and founding father of Education Post; Gerard Robinson, executive director of the Center for Advancing Opportunity, a Koch-funded thinky tank; Dan Weisberg, CEO of TNTP; and Bibb Hubbard of Learning Heroes.

Advisors for the group include John King, currently of The Edeucation Trust, and Shavar Jeffries of DFER. Their email address is aimed at MercuryLLC, a PR "high stakes public strategy" firm that helps with strategic media relations and has "a proven ability to counsel leaders of Fortune 500 companies.".

So what are these folks setting out to do? Well, the launch document offers this:

National Parents Union is a network of highly-effective parent organizations and grassroots  activists across the country that come together to unite behind a set of common goals and  principles to channel the power of parents. Our family advocates improve the quality of life for  children across the United States and define the education conversation in the 2020 election  cycle. 

And when they break that down into three specific goals:

1) Affect politics. 2) Coordinate the various parent groups across the nation for the election and 3) Grab some headlines the same way all them striking teachers are doing. As the document observes, "The teacher unions currently have no countervailing force." You see the central theme here-- the election, and opposing teachers. In the article, Marquez goes to great pains to say that the NPU is not anti-union, but everything else about the group screams anti-teacher union, including the repeated emphasis that the conversation must be child-centered and not teacher union centered. There are many echoes here of the old notion that the public school system is just a union-run scam to create income and political power for the union bosses.

Someday I would like to see a journalist really examine the question of how much political clout the teacher unions really have, but it won't be Camera, who writes lines like "the state of K-12 politics, which, as it stands, is largely controlled by the two national teachers unions" and "the two national teachers unions have a veritable stranglehold over the majority of the 2020 Democratic hopefuls." So today isn't going to be that day.

Camera in the article cites the two unions for spending $64 million on the 2016 cycle, including money through various organizations it contributes to. But the NPU has Walton money on their side, and as Camera admits, the Waltons have spent at least $595 million in grants in 2018 (that would not include, say, the various political contributions they make as well). I have heard the argument over and over and over again that philanthropist money and Walton and Gates and Broad and Jobs money is necessary to counterbalance the vast financial resources of the unions, but the union is a bb gun in a field of howitzers. And the Waltons are apparently dipping into their deep pockets for this group as well.

The new NPU's plans are ambitious-- they want to "roll out" an agenda that will "define the Education K-12 debate in the 2020 Presidential cycle" as well as field "rapid response" ground-level teams for local elections. In  this respect, they sound a great deal like Education Post and the 74. And then there's this:

Launch aggressive communications strategy (earned and owned national, local, ethnic and  social media) to position NPU as ​the organization representing parent interests in Election  2020.

They want to own the parent voice in 2020 (which seems, honestly, a little like the opposite of wanting to give parents a voice). But wait-- what about groups like the first NPU, who already were a parent voice in education?

Well, it turns out that at least one founding member of New York Parents Union has some thoughts about this new group. You can read the whole letter from Mona Davids, a Black parent and one of the original founders of the first NPU, right here. But here are some highlights:

If you don't know who Davids is, she'll tell you

I have lost count of the defunct local and national AstroTurf organizations during my decade of being an independent, grassroots, unbought and unbossed, parent advocate. The inauthenticity, arrogance, chicanery and lies, of the many AstroTurf organizations seeded by tens of millions of dollars is what inevitably leads to their failure and downfall. 

For those that do not know me, I am a New York City parent. I am the founder of the New York City Parents Union. My two children have both attended district schools and charter schools. I fight for the rights of students and parents in the district schools and charters. I fight for a parent’s right to choose the school that best fits the educational needs of their child. I hold district schools and charters accountable to the parents and for educating our children. I fight for school funding and I fight for parents to have a seat at the education policy table. The only side I belong to is the side of students and their parents. I am not paid by anyone and I do not have contracts with anyone. Nobody controls me. Nobody can bully me. Nobody can silence me. You can find my receipts here.

To be clear, Davids and I are not on the same side of most ed policy issues. She's is absolutely pro-choice, and she was the one who went head to head with Campbell Brown over who, exactly, would get to be running the New York version of the Vergara lawsuit. But Davids surely does not suffer high-paid fools on her side of the issues:

The president is supposed to be Keri Rodrigues Lorenzo, a White woman from Boston [Rodrigues allegedly actually lives in a suburb]. She is not Latina although she purposely misleads everyone to think she is. Rodrigues Lorenzo is founder of Mass Parents United, that was created in 2017. She is the former Massachusetts state director for the defunct, AstroTurf, Families for Excellent Schools. The ones responsible for the biggest, most expensive, education reform defeat in history. It was epic. Not only did the parents and people of Massachusetts see through and reject their hypocrisy, but the chicanery, corrupt, unethical and illegal actions of the education reformers resulted in historic huge fines and banishment from Massachusetts.

She says Marquez must be a failure because California keeps beating back ed reform. She blames John King for making ed reform toxic in New York. And she calls DFER a "huge failure." Lots of folks have theories about why charters and ed reform have been having a rough time. Here is her theory:

There is not an AstroTurf organization, defunct or still active, that Walton does not fund. From StudentsFirst, to Families for Excellent Schools, to Great Schools Massachusetts, to Partnership for Educational Justice – all doomed to fail from day one because they are not organic, authentic and grassroots. 

The fruits of the many, multi-million-dollar funded AstroTurf organizations and DFER is parents, students, entire communities, politicians and democratic presidential candidates all want nothing to do with charters because their AstroTurf organizations have successfully made charters toxic.

After laying out how many folks had informed Rodrigues that NPU already existed, she winds up her blistering letter like this:

I know of no one in the education world — teachers, advocates, or the teachers’ union, that would steal something that belongs to parents. We teach our children not to steal. We teach our children not to take something that belongs to someone else. 

But, clearly, ethical, honorable behavior does not apply to Walton, DFER, John King, Rodrigues Lorenzo, Marquez, and everyone else listed as their advisors. They are thieves. Plain and simple. 

Go ahead, steal the name and continue to expose who you are and what your real interests are – because it is not the education and best interests of our kids.

Nobody will be fooled, and this will be the final nail in the education reform, AstroTurf coffin.

This, I will remind you, is from the pro-school choice side of the aisle. It would appear that some parents are not quite ready to let the new NPU serve as their voices, and that some folks can smell astro-turf a mile away. That matches this quote that Camera includes from Lee Adler, a labor, criminal law and civil rights practitioner who teaches at Cornell University's' School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

"The real battle is who is going to shape the education policies within the Democratic Party," he says. "Essentially they wish to unionize parents as a counterforce to educational unions to influence policy in the Democratic Party. They're not functioning as parents, per se. They're making it look like a grassroots, community organization, but they're really fronting for dark money billionaires who wish to shape education policy in America."

Rodrigues points out that she's not for sale, but Camera also talks to Jeffrey Henig, professor of political science and education and the director of the Politics & Education Program at Columbia University's Teachers College who points out that's not how the big money folks do this sort of thing.

"By hooking up with parent and progressive groups that are already operating in key cities and states and building alliances with them where they are, they're operating like a front organization," Henig says. "It's almost like, and this should be in quotes, 'hiring' or 'bringing on to contract' existing parent and progressive groups, so that they can have something more resembling a genuine link to a genuine community-based, grassroots set of organizations."

Don't buy people to make them say something; rent people who already say what you want them to. Is it wring for rich folks to support causes they believe in, or for people to get financial support for their own crusades? I suppose not. But when the super-wealthy start amplifying groups to serve their own purposes, it distorts the national conversation. And it's dishonest, to boot. The new NPU may be many things, but an organic grass roots outpouring of ordinary folks it is not. And when you set your agenda before you sign up your members, that distorts the truth of the conversation as well. Nor is democracy served by having the wealthy buy their way around it.

The New NPU meets today in New Orleans, with delegates from all over the country. We'll see what they have to say, because I'm sure somebody in the press (Fox News picked up the story) will cover it. We'll see if the Trump administration gets any useful talking points out of them (though Martquez has been pretty critical of Betsy DeVos) or if they can get any of the Democratic candidates to take a meeting or if they can convince the nation that they are the one and only voice of parent concerns about education.