Wednesday, October 14, 2020

ME: Charter Pushers Quietly Switch To New Product

Maine has suffered through its own brands of education disruption. Most notably, they became the target for a bunch folks who wanted to use Maine as a proof of concept state for proficiency based learning grafted onto standards based grading. At best they showed that a poorly implemented and underfunded disruption of this sort is disastrous; at worst, they showed that re-organizing education around the needs of data miners is a terrible idea. However you slice it, Maine's little experiment failed hard.

But what education in Maine hasn't had to deal with much is the rise of charter schools. The charter industry hasn't infected Maine as badly as, say, Ohio or Indiana. There are ten charters, with fewer than a total of 3,000 students enrolled. There are plenty of possible explanations, not the least of which is that once you get away from Theme Park Maine on the coast, Maine is pretty rural (I have an old friend who used to describe his central Maine high school as fifteen miles and an hour and a half away from the nearest rival). But that limited role for charteristas may be about to change.

Like every state where charters are legal, Maine has a group that promotes, advocates, lobbies and generally cheerleads for the charter industry-- the Maine Association for Charter Schools, whose stated purpose is to promote "high-quality options for all children within Maine's public education system." But last year the legislature indefinitely extended a charter school cap. 10 is all the charters they may ever have.

So what's a chartery education disruption group to do? 

How about renaming yourself? And rebranding yourself with a whole new mission by declaring yourself the leaders of the state's education community?

So let's meet a fun new group launched just a few months ago. It's the Education Action Forum of Maine and it is, well-- from their About Us page:

The Education Action Forum of Maine operated for twenty years as the Maine Association for Charter Schools. On June 17, 2020, the MACS board voted to change the name and expand its mission to adapt to the realities influencing the education landscape in Maine.

Think of them as the Pandemic Down East Opportunist Society. Also from their About Us...

The time is ripe for an organization, such as ours, to provide leadership to assist the education system to move forward safely, and to develop strategies to restructure the system in ways unimaginable before the pandemic struck.

It takes its "inspiration" from "analogous" groups like the Mind Trust of Indianapolis and Education Evolving in Minnesota. I've written about the Mind Trust before (you can read about them here and here), and they are the same old disruptor model. Declare the public schools a mess, and then declare yourself "leaders" in the education space by virtue of the fact that 1) you say so and 2) you have collected some money and political connections. Mind Trust was, in fact, saying a couple of years ago that they wanted to scale up their model to other states. 

So when EAFoM says that they are "designed to amplify the voices of families, students and teachers," you can take that with a few tons of salt. When they talk about "restructuring the education system," assume they mean dismantling and privatizing the public system. And when they say they are looking to develop some "critical partnerships," pay attention to the people they partner with.

The organization is still led by Judith Jones, the chair of the board. She's been at this for a while, incuding a stint in DC during their chartery formative years. The new hire at EAFoM is John Mullaney (not the funny one), who previously spent twenty years at the Nord Family Foundation, a less well known philanthropic outfit with a charter-heavy ed portfolio that he helped manage.

EAFoM has already made some friends and is getting ready to get back in the game. Jones just sent out an e-mail announcing their "Educator Innovators Series, an online forum where regional and national thought leaders share their views on the future of education." And who doesn't love a good thought leader. They're partnering with the Thomas College Center for Innovation in Education and Educate Maine. 

The Thomas College center is fresh and new itself, launched with a grant just a few years ago. They have a program that can crank out a new teacher in just three years, and their facility is open concept. One write up of the program is argle bargle heavy, saying this is more than a "quixotic pursuit" and laying on lots of pretty detail-free descriptions. They have a program for recruiting high schoolers as future teachers, and a "residency" program that places "pre-service teachers" in a rural community and school for a whole week. Founded in 1894, Thomas College is a private business college that focuses mostly on business, technology and education. I don't know whether they know what the heck they're doing or not.

Educate Maine, on the other hand, is cut from familiar cloth. It's another one of those business-centric reformy organizations, and its mission should ring a bell--To champion college and career readiness and strive to increase the educational attainment of the Maine workforce. In other words, to make sure that schools keep them supplied with meat widgets, specifically those that have been trained in the Common Core. They're rich with corporate sponsors. And at some point they folded in the Maine Coalition for Excellence in Education, a group that was involved in the PBL adventure.

So what does EAFoM want to do with its new friends? Well, the email offers some more hints:

This partnership presents a new opening for Maine educators, business leaders and families to participate in conversations that envision new and more personalized approaches to education in our public system.

And there's this

Our inaugural speaker is Jason Snowdon of Knowledgeworks. His research into potential models for education sets the foundation for our efforts to imagine a restructured and vibrant network of public schools in Maine.

The name Knowledgeworks should ring a bell--these guys are another Gates-backed outfit pushing hard on the computer-based algorithm-driven teacher-free data-collecting system marketed as Personalized Education. Really-- they've written a whole prospectus of what education could look like with more computers and fewer--as in none--teachers.

So it looks as if the folks who previously thought that Maine really needed charter schools have now decided that what Maine really needs is more personalized [sic] education. It's an unsurprising choice--Maine's rural nature makes it a bad fit for charter schools, but advocates of computer-driven personalized [sic] education love to tell the story of Chugach, Alaska and how competency based personalized [sic] education worked so well for that isolated tiny community (spoiler alert: what Chugach did is not what they're selling). 

So, wolf in sheep's clothing? Wolf in a different kind of wolf's clothing? Whatever metaphor you choose, it appears that Maine gets yet another round of privatizing, data-mining education disruption. Bummer.

1 comment:

  1. Maine charter schools are limited in number by law. 20-A MRSA 2401, et. seq.