Friday, July 31, 2020

Report: PA Charters Game The Special Education System.

In a new report, Education Voters of Pennsylvania looks at “how an outdated law wastes public money, encourages gaming the system, and limits school choice.” Fixing the Flaws looks at how Pennsylvania’s two separate funding systems have made students with special needs a tool for charter gaming of the system, even as some of them are shut out of the system entirely.
The two-headed system looks like this. Public schools receive special education funding based on the actual costs of services, while charter schools are funded with a one-size-fits-all system that pays the same amount for all students with special needs, no matter what those special needs might be. 
Pennsylvania’s Special Education Funding Formula recognizes three levels of cost. Tier 1 is minimal interventions (eg a student who needs one speech therapy session per week). Tier 2 students need larger interventions, such as a separate classroom or physical therapy. Tier 3 students may require interventions such as a full-time nurse or even out-placement at a special school (for which the sending district is still financially liable).
Public schools receive state funding based on student tiers; charters get the same funding whether the student needs an hour of speech therapy a week or a separate classroom, teacher and aide.
This creates an obvious financial incentive for charter schools to cherry pick students who are considered special needs, but who need no costly adaptations or staffing to meet those needs, while at the same time incentivizing charters to avoid the more costly high needs students. Denial of those students does not require outright rejection of the students; charters can simply say, “You are welcome to enroll, but we do not provide any of the specialized programs that you want for your child.” Parents will simply walk away.
Examples of this technique are not hard to find in the state. Before they closed down in 2018, the Wonderland Charter School in State Collegel was caught over-identifying students with speech and language impairment, a low-cost Tier 1 need, by 1,000%.
The actual dollar amounts vary by sending districts, making some districts more attractive to charters than others. Chester Uplands has been so hard hit by charter operators that at one point its payment to charter schools was greater than its funding from the state. The district’s state-appointed receiver identified students with special needs as a major issue. He found that the public system had an enrollment for costly autism students of 8.4%, while the three charters had enrollments of 2.1%, 0% and 0%. Results are similar for other high-cost needs. However, when he looked at speech and language impaired students, he found the public school with 2.4% enrollment, while the three charters enrolled 27.4%, 20.3%, and 29.8%. It costs pennies to meet those special needs, but in Chester Uplands, each student with special needs, regardless of what those needs might be, brought $40,000 into charter bank accounts, far more than the reimbursement for a student with no special needs at all.
This matches the pattern that the report found. In Philadelphia, twenty-four charter schools enroll no Tier 2 or 3 students. In Pittsburgh, while some charters such as Environmental Charter and City High Charter enroll numbers from each tier that match the city, twenty-two charters enroll no Tier 2 or 3 students. In nine Pennsylvania counties, not a single one of the charter schools enrolls Tier 2 or 3 students. 
Across the state, the report finds roughly 10% of public school enrollment is students with special needs; for charters, the percentage across the state is about half that.
The result is that taxpayers, through their local districts, are overpaying charters for the services provided. If a student with a language impairment moves to a charter, the funding doesn’t just follow her—it increases by thousands of dollars. A student who cost the taxpayers $15,000 to educate in a public school now costs taxpayers $27,000, though no more money is being actually spent on that student’s education.
The other result pointed out by the report is that high-needs students do not have access to the same school choices that others have. Realistically, some students need highly specialized services available from limited providers. But parents of other Tier 2 and 3 students were promised all sorts of options when school choice laws were passed, and that turns out to be false. 
Charter schools are businesses, and a basic decision in any business is which customers are too much trouble or expense to serve, and which are more profitable. And so charters make a basic business calculation. Meanwhile, the public school system is still required to make good on the promise of a free and appropriate education for every single student.
The Pennsylvania legislature could fix the problem pretty simply; just apply the same funding system to both public and charter schools. The report shows that this would save taxpayers roughly $100 million. We’ll see if charter schools are willing to let that kind of income go quietly.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Pence, DeVos, And More Private School Choice Baloney

My thanks to Bill Ferriter, who raised some of this on Twitter, thereby allowing me to boost my blood pressure before I even got all the way home from vacation.

Mike Pence, Betsy DeVos and a few other notables took a trip yesterday to North Carolina, to plug an assortment of their favorites issues while visiting a private school that, unsurprisingly, underlined everything wrong with their favorite issues.

The school was Thales Academy; Pence visited with faculty and with a Fourth Grade class (where he and the teacher wore masks, DeVos did not, and Pence took his off to do his talky talky). He tweeted that "To Open Up America Again is to open up schools again."

Thales of Miletus. Nobody asked him if he wanted
a school chain named after him.
Thales is one of many schools founded by Robert L. Luddy, who made his bundle turning a sheet metal shop into a manufacturer of kitchen ventilation systems. He launched his first charter school in 1998, followed by a private Catholic Prep school, and the Thales chain. You may remember one of his schools being in the news for its policy forbidding the mention of anything related to LGBTQ--well, anything. His libertarian-ish bona fides are many, and he was not initially in the Trump camp in 2016, bnt he's since joined the team. And when it comes to pandemic response, Luddy is right there in Trumplandia; take this March 2020 piece he write entitled "Back To Work: America Has No Choice If It Is To Avoid Total Disaster."

That's a big part of what brought Pence and DeVos to Thales. As Pence noted in his remarks:

We were — we had a great discussion, and I could sense the spirit in the room — the enthusiasm the children feel for being back in school, which is where we want all of America’s children to be. We think we can safely reopen our schools. And I’m here to listen and learn from your experience here at the forefront of reopening a school here in America to understand how Thales Academy is doing it and how North Carolina is making it happen.

DeVos took the opportunity to restate some of her current policy positions:

“There’s not a national superintendent, nor should there be, therefore there’s not a national plan for reopening,” DeVos said.

Too many schools in North Carolina are giving families “no choice but to fall back on virtual learning,” she said. DeVos advocated for school choice, including private school vouchers.

North Carolina has a school voucher program that DeVos's American  Federation for Children ranks as 5th in the country, and both that and the 100% tax-deductible Luddy Schools Scholarship Fund offer financial support to Thales students. Nevertheless, Thales is an example of how choice ends up not being choice at all.

Thales is a uniform school, and families are responsible for buying the correct clothes, including phys ed uniforms.

Thales also won't be providing transportation; "parents are responsible for transportation to and from the school each day." Thales schools run a fairly typical school day, so that parents not only need to do their own transport, but need to be able to get students to school before 8 and around 3:00. After school care is offered, for an additional price.

Thales won't be providing lunch, either. Parents can order through My Hot Lunchbox, a business that is free to the school (and actually provides a little kickback fund raising to the school, though the school expressly eschews fundraising, because Self Sufficient)--just charge the extra costs to your Visa, MasterCard, or Discover card.

Thales also won't be providing IEP or 504 plan supports. You just let the school know what your child's plan calls for, and they'll let you know whether or not they accept your child.

Thales focuses on a classical education, aka Ancient White Guy and Eurocentric Stuff, plus Traditional American Values (Thales of Miletus was one of the Seven Sages of Greece).. They like Direct Instruction for K-5, Latin logic and rhetoric, and will get that important character education focusing on "virtues such as self-discipline, perseverance, respect, responsibility, and humility."

So if Thales represents choices available to students, it's worth noting that the choice is not available to students who need transportation, or subsidized school lunch and breakfast, or who have special needs, or who don't think white Latin-ish culture is the only culture they need to be steeped in.

In her defense, DeVos would probably not argue the point, saying instead that a school like Thales exists just to serve the students for whom it is a good fit. You know--the right kind of students. Other students should find another school with a better fit for their station in life. A subtext of DeVos's approach to choice has always been that people would all be much happier if they just accepted their proper place and role in society. In the meantime, let's have the taxpayers foot the bill for private schools who serve the right sort of students, and do it by stripping resources from public schools which are for, you know, those Other People's children.

Diary of a Socialist Indoctrinator



This ran over a year ago at Forbes.com in response to a comment by Trump Jr. and for some reason I never shared it over here. Correcting that now, since teachers are once again teaching students to hate America.

Monday

We started the week here at Karl Marx Middle School with the usual reminders about monitoring the hall between classes and limiting bathroom passes during class periods. Principal McBossface handed out the school nurse schedule for the week (remember not to send sick students when she's not in the building) and the lunch monitor schedule for staff. He reminded us that state tests are coming up, so we'll be giving pre-test practice tests soon. The grapevine says that there have been flareups among the eighth grade girls on Snapchat this weekend, so keep an eye out for any possible fights here at school coming from that. Also the new Healthy Students for Health, No-Bully Zone, Make New Friends At Lunch, Drug Free Students, Anti-Depression Army, and Honor Our Veteran programs launch this week, so be sure to talk to your students about those, and remember to hand out and collect the registration forms for the Read Your Way To Mars program. Finally, we were reminded to make our Socialist Indoctrination targets by the end of the month.

Principal McBossface held me over a minute after the meeting to let me know that he's aware I'm running behind on my Socialist Indoctrination and to remind me that it's super-critical that I get up to speed. I'm really feeling the pressure.

Tuesday

None of the students in fifth period algebra had completed their homework from last night. They said they didn't understand yesterday's lesson about quadratic equations, and could I go over it again. I've been working on this quadratic equation unit for three weeks now, but if they're struggling, they're struggling, so I scrapped my original lesson plan and spent the day reteaching the concepts we had covered before. When the bell rang in the middle of answering some really good questions, I realized I hadn't done any socialist indoctrinating at all.

Wednesday

Today, fifth period walked in talking about the Read Your Way To Mars program. Actually, what happened was Chris hollered, "Hey, you gonna read your way to Mars?" and Pat answered back, "No, I'm going to read all the way to Uranus," and then the whole class laughed for five minutes because they are eighth graders. It took a while to restore order because when they want to, they block me out so thoroughly you'd think they'd been told to ignore me by some prominent public figure.

Then in the middle of class we had a big argument about whether or not Puerto Rico is part of the United States. I said it was, looked it up on line for them, showed them several pieces of documented proof, but it didn't matter. They were pretty sure it wasn't, and they weren't about to take my word for it, or any other authority's. Convincing an eighth grader who doesn't want to be convinced is like trying to part the ocean with a rake.

Then, while I was walking around the room helping them with the quadratic equation work one to one, I discovered that Pat was just crying, so I talked to Pat for a bit. Mom is sick and it has made for a tough time at home. I told the rest of the class to keep working quietly while I gave Pat a chance to talk it out (it's a Wednesday, so there's no nurse or guidance counselor on duty to handle this kind of issue). At the same time, Sam needed extra extra help on the assigned work, so I kept Sam after and then missed doing my socialist indoctrination with both fifth and sixth period.

Thursday

We were informed in the morning that today would be the pre-test practice test, so my classes were canceled while I proctored.

At lunch, I asked some of my department members how they kept up with her socialist indoctrination work. One just laughed and said that she lies when she fills in the report forms.

Friday

This was a really exciting day. After I tried some new explanations of the quadratic equation material, something clicked and most of the class was starting to get it. I was excited. They were excited. They demanded turns at the board to show what they could do. When the bell rang at the end of the period, they were still at the board solving equations and hollering, "Come look at this! Check this!" I know the odds are that many of them will forget it over the weekend, because middle school brains are made of Teflon. And, of course, I was so busy teaching that I never got around to my socialist indoctrination.

I was depressed by the time I got home. I can tell my wife is losing patience. "Look," she said. "I teach kindergartners and we work on it every day between recess and art. How hard can it be? Just read off some Fabianist theory and then get out the construction paper."

I didn't bother to explain that I'm too busy teaching and doing all the extra stuff and, anyway, who can get kids interested in complex socio-political theory. It makes sense in my head, but then I realize that, like every other teacher, I didn't go into this because I wanted to help young people grow and learn and better understand the world and themselves-- no, like every other teacher, I entered the education field so I could be a Socialist Indoctrinator, but now all I ever do is teach. I feel like such a loser.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Archives: Personalization and Outliers

While the Institute is away at a corporate retreat, far, mostly, from the interwebz, I've arranged for some dips into the archives.

Personalization and the Outliers 

Henry Ford was an early proponent of personalization. "Any customer can have a car pained any color that he wants," said Ford in 1909, "so long as it is black."

There have always been limits to personalization. I like to wear hats, but my head is some sort of extra-large melon, so while hat manufacturers may offer choices to fit the personal size preferences of many customers, I'm an outlier. Many times I'm just SOL on a particular hat.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Archives: Myth of the Hero Teacher

While the Institute is away at a corporate retreat, far, mostly, from the interwebz, I've arranged for some dips into the archives.

Oh, that damn hero teacher. She does it for the kids, and not because she likes to eat and have a place of shelter. And now we need her to answer the call again. I've bitched about this myth a few times, but here's an early take on this damaging trope:

The Myth of the Hero Teacher

Oh, that hero teacher.

Larger than life. Leaping tall filing cabinets with a single bound. Taking a few moments out of every day to personally reach out to every single student and making that child feel special, while at the same time inspiring greater levels of smartitude just by sheer force of teacherly awesomeness. The Hero Teacher shoots expectation rays at students, making them all instant geniuses.

Archives: What Does The Free Market Really Foster?

While the Institute is away at a corporate retreat, far, mostly, from the interwebz, I've arranged for some dips into the archives.

If I ever get a "theory" named after me, let it be this one--

The free market does not foster superior quality; the free market fosters superior marketing.

And here are some of the many times I've talked about it.

What Choice Won't Do

Netflix and the Myth of Personalization 

Do Charters Create Pressure for Excellence? 

Coke Provides a Marketing Lesson

Choice and Cable 

Monday, July 27, 2020

Archives: Test Prep

While the Institute is away at a corporate retreat, far, mostly, from the interwebz, I've arranged for some dips into the archives.

As we argue about whether or not the Big Standardized Test should be given this year (spoiler alert-- no, it shouldn't), let's take a look at some of the reasons it sucks up so much time during the year. And no, test prep is not about memorizing a list of facts. It's even worse than that.

What Is Test Prep?

Yesterday I fell into a discussion of test prep on Twitter where a participant tossed forward the notion that test prep actually decreases test results. Others asserted that test prep doesn't really help. I'm pretty sure that both of those assertions are dead wrong, but I also suspect part of the problem is that "test prep" is an Extremely Fuzzy Term that means a variety of things.

Archives: Nobody Really Wants Choice

While the Institute is away at a corporate retreat, far, mostly, from the interwebz, I've arranged for some dips into the archives.

Despite the constant focus on school choice, I remain unconvinced that choice is what people really want.

Nobody Really Wants Choice

Families need a choice. Parents want a choice. Poor students deserve a choice. We hear the rhetoric over and over again, but I remain convinced that it's baloney.

People do not want choice.

When I sit down in a restaurant and order my favorite meal, the one I've been craving all day, I don't sit there eating it thinking, "Oh, if only there were more choices. If only, in addition to the meal I'm eating, there was a wider variety of other meals for me to not eat."


Sunday, July 26, 2020

Archives: Whitney Tilson and DFER

While the Institute is away at a corporate retreat, far, mostly, from the interwebz, I've arranged for some dips into the archives.

This profile of Whitney Tilson, a gabillionaire hedge funder and a founding father of DFER and a guy who got in on the ground floor of reformsterism, looks at many of the talking points that are still driving the discussions about education. You can team this piece up with this other piece about how Tilson decided it should be DFER and not RFER in the first place.

Whitney Tilson Is Better Than You 

When we're talking about the kind of hedge-fund managing, faux-Democrat, rich fat cat, anti-public ed reformsters who are driving much of the modern ed reform agenda, we're talking about guys like Whitney Tilson.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Archive: Support Public Schools

While the Institute is away at a corporate retreat, far, mostly, from the interwebz, I've arranged for some dips into the archives.

As various privatizers and profiteers try to use the coronavirus as a mean to Katrina public ed into oblivion, here's a listicle of reasons to support one of the US's oldest institutions.

10 Reasons To Support Public Schools  

Public education has become a political orphan in this country. So it's important to take the time to remember why US public education is actually a great thing. Here are some reasons.

Archives: Slow Schools

While the Institute is away at a corporate retreat, far, mostly, from the interwebz, I've arranged for some dips into the archives.

That time that Daniel Katz argued in favor of the educational equivalent of a slow foods movement, and I chimed in with a "Yeah, what he said, because this..."

Slow Schools

In a recent blog post, Daniel Katz made a plea for a slow schools movement (like the slow foods movement). It's a great piece and well worth your time.

Katz is the director of Secondary Education and Secondary Special Education Teacher Preparation at Seton Hall University, and he begins the post with observations about what he's hearing from his alumni when they return. They are hurried.

This is not a new problem. Teaching has always involved doing an infinite number of tasks in a finite amount of time. People who want to say, "Yeah, just like every other profession" just don't get it. Teachers are up against finite time in a way that no other professions experience. And boy does this resonate.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Archive: Forever Schools

While the Institute is away at a corporate retreat, far, mostly, from the interwebz, I've arranged for some dips into the archives.

From 2014, and spun from a Buzzfeed article that incorrectly predicted the beginning of the end for charters. But I still like the idea, take from those cute puppy posters about adopting a pet "forever."

Forever Schools 

Public schools are forever schools, not until schools.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Archive: TNTP and The Opportunity Myth

While the Institute is away at a corporate retreat, far, mostly, from the interwebz, I've arranged for some dips into the archives.

TNTP first crammed the discussion of education with the Widget Effect, one of those faux white papers that thinky tanks pop out. Their new attempt to "inform" everyone's conversation is Th Opportunity Myth which, sadly, I see quoted far too often. Here's what I hd to say about it when it first reared its head.

The Opportunity Myth Myth

Who are these folks? TNTP used to stand for The New Teacher Project; She Who Will Not Be Named created it as a spin-off of TFA, designed to put older career-changers into the classroom. At some point it changed into an advocacy group pushing a redesign of teaching (current slogan: reimagine teaching). TNTP is led by Daniel Weisberg, who started out as a lawyer and then served as a labor specialist under Joel Klein in NYC. The board is packed with entrepreneurs, PR specialists, and reform CEOs. You can hunt through the whole list of TNTP leaders and find that this organization devoted to teaching has no teachers in leadership positions (just a few TFA temps and other alternative paths to one or two resume-building years in the classroom).

So this report comes straight from the heart of reformdom.

Archives: Teacher Time

While the Institute is away at a corporate retreat, far, mostly, from the interwebz, I've arranged for some dips into the archives.

Teacher Time 

Every profession measures time differently. Doctors and lawyers measure time in hours or vague lumps. Teachers measure time in minutes, even seconds.

If a doctor (or his office) tell you that something is going to happen "at nine o'clock," that means sometime between 9:30 and Noon. Lawyers, at least in my neck of the woods, can rarely be nailed down to an actual time. Anything that's not a scheduled appointment is "sometime this afternoon." Even a summons to jury duty will list a particular time which just represents the approximate time at which things will start to prepare to begin happening. Further up the Relaxed Time Scale, we find the delivery and installation guys for whom "Between 8 AM and 3 PM Tuesday," means "Not at all on Tuesday."

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Archives: Not Loving Personalized [sic] Learning

While the Institute is away at a corporate retreat, far, mostly, from the interwebz, I've arranged for some dips into the archives.

Of course it's being pitched heavily, again, as a solution to Covid woes. But...

8 Reasons Not To Love Personalized [sic] Learning

As we roll into 2019, it becomes increasingly clear that much of the education debate is going to center on Personalized [sic] Learning. I've poked at various parts of PsL at length, but I'm going to respond to someone who just wanted me to lay out the problems in a simple list. Challenge accepted.

Archives: The Hard Part

While the Institute is away at a corporate retreat, far, mostly, from the interwebz, I've arranged for some dips into the archives.

The most-read thing I've ever published, with close to a million hits on HuffPost. As noted, I would have been a little more careful if I'd known this was going to be so widely read.

The Hard Part

They never tell you in teacher school, and it's rarely discussed elsewhere. It is never, ever portrayed in movies and tv shows about teaching. Teachers rarely bring it up around non-teachers for fear it will make us look weak or inadequate.

Valerie Strauss in yesterday's Washington Post put together a series of quotes to answer the question "How hard is teaching?" and asked for more in the comments section. My rant didn't entirely fit there, so I'm putting it here, because it is on the list of Top Ten Things They Never Tell You in Teacher School.

The hard part of teaching is coming to grips with this:

There is never enough.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Archives: Teacher Merit Pay

While the Institute is away at a corporate retreat, far, mostly, from the interwebz, I've arranged for some dips into the archives.

Again from seven years ago, and again, still completely applicable today.

Why Teacher Merit Pay Is Stupid 

Sometimes we forget the obvious, so let me spell it out. Here's why teacher merit pay will never make sense.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Archives: Defending Music Education

While the Institute is away at a corporate retreat, far, mostly, from the interwebz, I've arranged for some dips into the archives.

An important idea to bring up, now that districts are looking for things to cut.

Stop "Defending" Music  

Today I ran across one more xeroxed handout touting the test-taking benefits of music education, defending music as a great tool for raising test scores and making students smarter. It was just one more example among many of the "keep music because it helps with other things" pieces out there.

I really wish people would stop "defending" music education like this.

Archive: Schools Don't Serve Businesses

While the Institute is away at a corporate retreat, far, mostly, from the interwebz, I've arranged for some dips into the archives.

Hard to believe it's been seven years since the Gates Foundation mouthpiece set me off. But this still applies (and he wasn't the last to suggest this.

The Wrongest Sentence Ever In The CCSS Debate

At Impatient Optimists, a Gates Foundation website, Allan Golston recently wrote a notable piece entitled "America's Businesses Need the Common Core." It's a notable column, not because it has anything new to add to the discussion (it's a rehash of the usual pro-CCSS fluffernuttery), but because it contains this sentence:

Sunday, July 19, 2020

ICYMI: Vacation Edition (7/19)

The Institute staff and board of directors are headed for a corporate retreat in a place where the internet doesn't really reach, so things will be quiet here for a bit. But before I go, here's some reading for you to do. Sorry for all the paywalls today.

There have been several recurriing themes in this week's coverage. For instance, lots of folks have noticed that Betsy DeVos's current stance on getting schools open, and using federal muscle to force it, appears to be a complete reversal of her long-held beliefs.

Here's Matt Barnum at Chalkbeat with a pretty good take. Erica Green at the New York Times also offered some DeVosian historical context.

But other folks focused more closely on just how bad DeVos is at her job. Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post wanted to know who the heck thought it would be a good idea to send DeVos out onto the Sunday shows. Jessica Calarco is at the New York Times wondering what the heck DeVos is thinking. And Charles Pierce at Esquire observed, among other things, that "the only thing DeVos knows about education is how to turn a buck on it."

Local dispatches have thrown the pandemic school issues into sharper relief. A Missouri school district wants parents to sign a waiver of liability for any illness of death that happens to occur. Ohio provides yet more examples of public schools getting funding cuts while charters hoover up some of that sweet small business loan cash. In Orange County, a "bold" idea to reopen school as if nothing unusual was going on turns out to come mostly from charter school fans. And from Wyoming comes this top-notch piece of reporting about a school board meeting that shows some of the attitudes and ideas roll out in unreal time.

Nancy Bailey blogs about some ideas for facing the new school year, and people continue to point out that it really will take some money to do this right, but the headline of the week award may go to The Nation, with their piece entitled "There are literally no good options for educating our kids this fall." Actually, for the "We've got the money; tough noogies for everyone else" crowd, there is one option-- hire teachers to come homeschool your kids.

In other news. Education Next has a brief of research that suggests that No Excuses schools have some problems (quel surprise!) just as KIPP decides that it's time for a motto change and Schools Matter has some thoughts.

I'll be back in ten days or so. In the meantime, check out the blogroll that I keep here, wear a mask, and be kind to each other.



Friday, July 17, 2020

Everything's Made Up (And Nobody Is Behind)

This is the opportunity we're missing, but to grab it would require us to look at things that some of us would rather not look at.

We can start with the notion that students are currently "falling behind." Well, now-- behind what, exactly? Is there some line scribed by the Hand of God in the intellectual sand that tells us, yes, a child who has been on earth 193 months should have crossed this absolute line on the One True Path of intellectual growth?

No box. Also, no spoon.
No, because it's all made up. The line that says "This is where they should be" is made up. In fact, the notion that there is a single path along which progress should be measured is also made up. Hell, this should not be news, because it wasn't that long ago that we moved all the lines, accompanied by declarations about rigor and challenge and other baloney that posited that making kindergarten the new first grade was somehow a good idea because it would push students "ahead" of that made up line on that made up path. none of this "ahead/behind" baloney is based on anything scientific or objective or rooted in anything except that some people with power decided "This is the rule we'd like to make up."

People are really struggling. There are so many nuts and bolts questions that are coming up in the face of whatever-the-hell is going to happen in a few weeks, like "If a teacher is sent to quarantine for fourteen days, does she have to use her sick days" and the thing about most of these questions is that they involve made up rules that were made up without any inkling that we would find ourselves here some day. The rules about how many sick days a teacher can have are made up. The rules about what they can be used for are made up. And the most important implication of this is that to deal with brand new situations, people will have to make up some new rules (which will also be made up).

My colleague Nancy Flanagan has observed repeatedly that nobody is coming up with solutions that are remotely outside the box, and I think she's right, and I think a big reason for that is a desire (which in times of uncertainty and general messiness inflames into a burning gut-level need) to hold onto the fiction that the box is a Real Thing, and objective Box of Truth that emerged fully-formed from a burning bush.

It's not. The box is made up.

Now, I'm not suggesting that "made up" means fake or false or stupid. We make up rules all the time, often for very good reasons. "Drive on the right-hand side of the road" is an arbitrary made up rule, but it's a very useful made up rule. Some rules are rooted in experience, the collectively learning of things that work and things that don't. Some rules are rules because they have always been rules, but those reasons are long lost to memory. Some rules are the result of expert judgment exercised by trained experts who have expertly studied the issue, and some are the result of that youtube video you saw last night.

We US citizens have an uneasy relationship with the made-up nature of rules. Our religious ancestors  believed they were following rules literally handed down by God. Some of our founding fathers, following the Enlightenment ideas of the time, believed they were using reason and intellect to uncover the rules hard-wired into the universe. We were going to be better than those European royal mopes who just made rules up to suit their moods and self-interest (even if many founding fathers had trouble actually applying the rules they discerned to their own actual lives).

Making shit up is what humans do. I have what I call the 5% rule-- 95% of everything is just stuff that humans make up, and then, having made it up, examine it with great weight and import as if it had just fallen out of the sky and not out of a human head. We do things like decide a "week" will have seven days, and then ponder the deep significance of having seven days in a week. 5% of everything is actually important, actually matters, actually has weight and significance. The trick here is that none of us can agree on what the 5% is. Plus, if your 5% includes things like loving and supporting the people around you, well, then, that means going along with some of their 5%. It gets tricky.

Almost everything is made up, and that's not an indictment of it. The question is not, "Is this made up or not" because it probably is. The question is, "Is it made well, based on evidence and wisdom and good intent."

But I digress.

Pretty much everything about school is made up, an artificial construct created by parents and politicians and teachers and tradition--oh, so much tradition-- as well as a few decades of predatory profiteer activity. But in normal times, much of that stuff, from "students sit in a desk in a room" to "everyone eats lunch together in a big room" to "all students come at the same time and leave at the same time" works just fine. Some of it, from "this Big Standardized Test measures the intellectual growth and capabilities of students" to "anyone with a pulse can run a classroom," has been destructive. "Everyone needs to get back in the box, right now, and act as if nothing unusual is going on," seems like potentially a really bad idea.

We are clutching hard to our made up rules these days. I don't think it's just the pandemic. Nobody has personified the view that all these rules are just made up shit more than Donald Trump. We have held tight to our conventions about government and elected officials for what seems like ages, but Trump's whole life is about ignoring all rules and conventions. "It's not actually a rule," he says, "unless someone can actually do something to me for breaking it." For people who want to believe we live by laws and rules and not just a bunch of made up shit that exists only as long as we all agree to ac t like it exists, these have been really scary times.

And you know who make great rules followers? Who believe you just don't break the rules because you just don't? Teachers. It is one of their greatest weaknesses.

Back when I was a yearbook advisor, the first thing I told each new crop of student leaders was that when planning the new book, they were to ignore the old books. Imagine designing a book from scratch. What would you do? How would you do it? Even if you reach a conclusion identical to last year's book, at least you'll know you're doing it for a better reason than "That's what they did last year."

We could be doing that with schools right now, saying "If we were designing schools from scratch right now with zero rules in place, what would we do." Instead, the discussion (led mostly by non-teachers) is about how to keep as many of our made up rules as possible intact.

You would think reformsters would be all over this opportunity to get outside the box, but they've always been mostly about preserving the made up rules--just tweaking them to add a few that let privateers make a buck. It has always been a useful for tactic for them to act as if public schools are locked in a solid titanium box brought down by the gods and unalterable by human hands; that way, clearly, the only solution to supplant the public system with something else.And now even Betsy DeVos has dropped her noise about letting a thousand virtual flowers bloom and instead argues that school this fall should look just like every other fall.

If we started from scratch, one would hope that we decided that trained professionals in a setting that maximized student safety and provided education for every single child in the country would still be on the program. For me, that's the 5% of public education, and all the rest is less important, or only important insofar as it helps us reach those goals. (Charter and voucher fans are welcome to tell me how their favorite ideas would help, and I will go ahead an explain, once again, why they're wrong.)

But step one is to recognize that all of this stuff is made up, created by humans with a range iof intents and wisdom, and as humans we are perfectly capable of unmakimg it up and remaking something new up in its place. We can stop the stupid noise about where students are relatively to some made up standard and stop worrying about how a real pandemic response might require us to rewrite some made up rules.

We like the rules. We like the feeling of a solid earth under our feet. We like feeling that stuff came from some higher source than Made Up By Regular Humans. Just watch as July and August unfold-- I predict that the majority of school district administrators will wait to see what other districts do, and then adopt that plan, as if those other administrators have some pipeline to wisdom that local leaders do not. Shame on them. All the plans that come will be made up stuff. Have the nerve to make something up that best fits your local district. There is no box, and nobody is coming to save you with a Higher Truth. You're going to have to make something up.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

FL: The Broad Outlines of the PPP Cash-in

So it turns out that all you have to do to get some charter and voucher schools to admit they're businesses is just wave some sweet, sweet business-purposed money at them. We've heard the individual stories from here and there about this, but a friend of the Curmudgucation Institute sent along an astonishing piece of data crunching.

I don't have a handy way to attach a spreadsheet to this post, but you can do the work yourself if you want to head to the Small Business Administration site then start looking up other info for your state. I'm going to give you the big sweeping picture here. Just how many schools edu-flavored businesses had their hands out in Florida?

Charters

There are around 658 charter schools operating in Florida. At least 102 signed up for a PPP small business loan. Loans are okayed for a range of monies; the highest top amount a charter was okayed for is $5 million. River City Academy, Doral Academy, Youth Co-op Inc, Discovery Education Services, and Odyssey Charter School Inc were at the top for these biggest loans (minimum is $2 million).

Private 

Almost 400 private schools declared themselves small businesses. Of those, about 140 were just private schools, with the rest actually private religious schools (if they didn't call themselves religious, but had religious language all over their websites, they were counted as religious).

Of the non-religious private schools, about half (75) are also voucher schools. So not only grabbing taxpayer dollars via PPP, but also living on taxpayer dollars via one of Florida's many voucher programs. But of the 250+ private religious schools, only about 35 schools aren't taking vouchers. Everybody else on the list is double-dipping for Jesus. That makes roughly 300 voucher school signed up for PPP loans. In all fairness, I should note that Florida has something like 2000 voucher-accepting schools, so plenty are apparently happy to single dip at this time.

Other

There are some other edu-flavored outfits lined up for money as well, including some consulting firms.

Special Award

Special recognition goers to the Academica chain, a massive money-grabbing machine of edu-business, with schools in several of these categories. But it looks like at least ten of these beneficiaries are Academica properties.

Some grand totals

If every charter school on the list got only their minimum amount, that would add up to $47,850,000. If every private religious school got bottom dollar, that would be $96,450,000. So, a lot like real money. And you should remember that while PPP loans are loans, not grants, they all contain an option for forgiveness under certain conditions. So that's almost at least $1.5 billion in taxpayer dollars (or it may be more accurate to say taxpayer's grandchildren's dollars) to help keep some education entrepreneurs afloat in Florida.

I think I would admit to being a business for that kind of money, too. In the meantime, as soon as the institute's COO teaches me more about excel, I'll get back to this pile of info.

Report: Zuckerberg’s Favorite Digital Ed Program Is All Sizzle, No Steak

Last month, the National Education Policy Center released a new report: Big Claims, Little Evidence, Lots of Money: The Reality Behind the Summit Learning Program and the Push to Adopt Digital Personalized Learning Programs. It looks at one of the most prominent digital learning platforms, and how money and power are able to push such programs despite any real evidence that they work.

Summit Schools started out in 2003 with a low-tech focus on personalized education; in 2014, Mark Zuckerberg discovered the school and decided to gift it not just with money, but with technology. Zuckerberg was fresh off a high-profile edu-failure in Newark, and he had gleaned one particular lesson from that:

The most important lesson we've learned is to focus on problems we have some unique ability to help solve.

When the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative took form, its educational focus was on digital personalized learning. And Summit seemed like the perfect vehicle for that push. Summit Schools created the Summit Learning Platform, an algorithm-driven software system that delivers lessons to students via computer. Human “mentors” are on duty nearby to help out, but the program is the teacher.

Not everyone has loved it. Parents have occasionally revolted. The program has been accused of racism. But the program, offered free of charge, has spread to about 400 schools, making it one of the most successful digital platforms out there. Then, in 2018, Summit spun the digital program off into a non-profit entity whose initial four-person board included Diane Tavenner, Summit founder; Priscilla Chan; and Peggy Alford, the CFO for CZI.

Given that Summit is now widely used, seen as a model for personalized digital learning, and operating under the wing of a top US tech billionaire, it seems worthwhile to look under the hood. The NEPC, a non-profit education policy research center located in the School of Education at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has done just that.

Here are some of the major findings from the report.

The first is how “reluctant, and in many instances, unwilling to provide basic information about its educational program and platform” Summit turned out to be. The 2018 non-profit (T.L.P. Education) now operates as a kind of cloak of secrecy over many aspects of the operation. The experience of the researchers echoes the experience of parents, who often find Summit unresponsive. NEPC found the staff “unfailingly polite, but nonresponsive.” Requests were ignored, side-stepped, or greeted with some version of “we don’t have any information about that.”

Summit has constructed an image as a successful program. It repeatedly claims to be “evidence-based” and “grounded in science,” but it has never allowed an independent evaluation of any aspect of its product. Summit’s own self-promotion depends largely on anecdotes and testimonials. And some of its claims stretch credulity; it has said that 100% of its students are “eligible for a four-year college,” but no Summit charter school has ever graduated 100% of its senior class. Summit also claims that its students graduate college at twice the national average, but told NEPC that it has no records related to these claims.

Summit rejects the notion that standardized tests can measure the cognitive skills that they claim to prize, and they are absolutely correct to do so. But as NEPC notes, Summit’s own Cognitive Skills Rubric seems not to have been checked for either validity or reliability.

Many of Summit’s claims seem more like the puffery of marketing than the rigor of science, with the public record providing no support and Summit either unwilling or unable to provide evidence. But marketing, NEPC finds, is a big part of Summit’s success. It has attracted money and support from many major players, including the Gates Foundation, Silicon Schools Fund, and XQ Institute (the ed reform project of Laurene Powell Jobs). In 2015, Summit made a deal with Facebook to enhance software and develop a nationwide marketing strategy. This has included a 2017 publication, The Science of Summit, ”which purports to show that SPS’s pedagogical approach is research-based.” NEPC finds the report offers no actual research evidence.

Summit’s marketing also leans heavily on the non-digital aspect of the program. “Your child’s education will be delivered via computer screen,” is not a winning sales pitch, and so Summit emphasizes other aspects. The “free” part is a big hit, particularly when linked to the success of the original Summit charter schools. This is a marketing approach unique to tech-based charters—”You can’t send your child to Super Tech Charter High, but now we can offer you practically almost kind of the same sort of experience in a software package.” This ignores the importance of local school culture, a factor that as yet cannot be loaded into software.

NEPC finds one other major concern with Summit’s digital program. Anything managed digitally can be collected digitally. Summit promises to collect and analyze a great deal of data in order to “personalize” the student’s experience, but that means that the program collects a great deal of personal data, and CZI has access to that data in perpetuity. As NEPC observes, “It is important to note that the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) is not a charity or a philanthropic organization; it is a business.” It’s probably also worth noting that old internet wisdom, “If you aren’t paying for it, you’re the product being sold.”

Computer software often carries the illusion of objectivity, but as NEPC correctly points out, software is written by humans, and any algorithms carry the stamp, the biases, the ideology of the people writing them. Exposing a student to a program like Summit’s is like sending them to a school where they never meet the teachers and families are never allowed to know who designed the education program or the principles that guided them.

NEPC’s conclusion is direct:

Our analysis suggests that, rhetoric notwithstanding, the Summit Learning Program does not deliver on its promise to provide a higher quality education, with superior student outcomes, in the schools that adopt it. Moreover, aside from any valid education purpose, the Summit Learning Platform approach to assessment, coupled with enabling contract language, opens the door to the transfer of large amounts of student data to third parties without oversight or accountability.

A well-marketed nothingburger. All hat, no cowboy. All sizzle, no steak. Choose your favorite metaphor; this NEPC report suggests you should not support Summit’s digital education program.

Shortly after the report came out, Summit (which had previously been just somehow unable to really respond to NEPC) put up a blog post as rebuttal to the report. NEPC replied to that reply, and without getting into the nuts and bolts (you can find it all here if you wish), they rightly pointed out that Summit's reply was simply more of the same-- not transparent, and leaning on assertions rather than actual evidence. 

Originally mostly posted at Forbes.com

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

A Rebecca Friedrichs Reader

Friedrichs has been in the news yet again, this time appearing on Fox to accuse America's Evil Teacher Unions of being sexual predators. It's an accusation that will have traction in some circles; if you spend any time in conspiratorial comment sections of the interwebz, you're probably aware of the grand conspiracy theory that says that the entire Democratic Party is a smokescreen for pedophiles trafficking in children.

If the Friedrichs name seems familiar, that's because she first burst into the news as the chirpy face of a lawsuit to legitimize freeloading in teachers unions and not coincidentally try to gut the unions financially. That suit ran into an unexpected death on the Supreme Court and the issue was eventually decided by Janus, but while the lawsuit failed, it launched a whole new career for Friedrichs.

So that's who that woman is. Rather than rehash previous pieces I've written about her, let me just provide you with the listings and you can decide on your own how much of this you can stomach.

Friedrichs At It Again (1/29/17) 

All about the time she made one of those wacky Prager University videos, to educate Americans about the truth of evil unions.

What Ever Happened To Rebecca Friedrichs? (10/18/19)

Here's the basic outline of the lawsuit, the aftermath, and her post-lawsuit path into the land of Foxian anti-union noisemakers. If you're only going to read one of these, this is the one.

Social and Emotional Learning Is Drawing Fire (2/22/20)

If you were around in the 90's, you saw this one coming. Any school program that wants to teach values is going to draw fire from a certain brand of conservative. In the 90's, it was Outcome Based Education vs. Phyllis Schafly, among others. Right now, it's SEL vs. Rebecca Friedrichs and another batch of teachers she wants to boost.

Rebecca Friedrichs Still Hates The Teachers Union (6/18/20)

Just this summer she was going after Black Lives Matter by attaching it to the union plot to use Leftiness to Destroy America. This is the one where she claims that liberals are guilty of "forcing a chip onto the shoulders of black Americans." Also, the 1619 project is evil, too.

San Diego Vs. The Evil Union  (6/25/20)

The group Friedrichs formed also pushes the story of other teachers who have tragically suffered from Evil Union activities. In June, a piece about how "unions killed creativity" at a charter school in San Diego was suddenly all over the web. It might not have told the whole story.

There was a time when one could make a case that Friedrichs was just a teacher who had a sincere difference of opinion with the union about fair share (it's not unheard of). But that ship has long since sailed, as she has revealed herself to be the kind of virulent political anti-unionist who would feel perfectly at home on Laura Ingraham's show.


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.