Friday, December 14, 2018

In Praise of Inconsistency (TL;DR)

At my school, there was an academic question that would come up fairly regularly-- should all teachers use the same style guide for writing essays and papers?

The argument in favor of consistency is that it's easier on the students. Not only that, but with only one set of rules to learn, they might actually learn how to use it properly. It would also create a sense of unity across the classes and disciplines, making the whole institution seem like a unified whole.

Lord knows it would make teaching easier in some respects (though I have a confession to make-- for the past several many years, I stopped doing any direction at all of MLA documentation, mostly because I could use the time for other things and no matter how cleverly I taught the stuff--and let me tell, you, I have some incredibly droll sample fake bibliographies-- my students just went ahead and made stuff up anyway-- so for the tail end of my career I just said, "Use MLA style. Look it up on the internet, and if you get it wrong, it will count against you"-- but I digress).

I was never on the side of consistent standards (surprise). I attended a liberal arts college and had to take courses in at least nine different disciplines. Writing is messy and as I always told my students, there's really only one rule: The format preferred by the person giving you your grade is the correct format. Nobody ever won an argument about a paper grade with her college professor by saying, "But my 11th grade English teacher said I should do it this way."

Now I can add another argument to my side. In my new life as stay at home dad and writing side hustler, I do writing and editing work for five different bosses, and no two of them want things exactly the same way. Nor am I about to write to all of them and demand that they adopt a common set of rules to make my life easier.

I have four children, three grandchildren, and a lifetime total of two wives. None of them have needed exactly the same things in the same way at the same time (not even the twins, who began as a single fertilized cell and are now two entirely different people). I have a large extended family, a bunch of in-laws, and bunch of ex-in-laws who are still my son and daughter's family, so they are still mine. I have had many hundreds of students, and I've lived in one small town for almost m entire life, so I know a bunch of people. Every single one has been different from every other one.

There's a Talking Heads song called "Heaven" and the lyrics include

When this party's over, it will start again. It will not be any different. It will be exactly the same.

When this kiss is over, it will start again. It will not be any different. It will be exactly the same.

and finally

Heaven is a place, a place where nothing, nothing ever happens.

It's a subtle smart challenge to our notion of perfection, which is imagined as perfect consistency, a static state in which nothing ever happens, because everything is exactly the same. Perfectly consistent. It sounds alien and awful.

We could turn back to the oft-quoted "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then. I contradict myself. (I am large. I contain multitudes.)" or "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." I'm partial to "Speak what you think today in hard words and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today." They all represent just one side of the American conversation; we love mess, and we strive constantly to wipe it out, and I get that because I do the same in my own life. Perhaps this is one of those things where our lives are strings that only sound notes of depth and beauty when stretched taint between the two poles.

Of course, much of it is fear. For whatever reason, we believe that order and neatness and consistency protect us, while chaos and mess harbor all manner of dangerous beasts. We get that way in the classroom-- if there's too much disorder, too much chaos, then Something Very Bad will happen. That fear may not be ungrounded, but what is ungrounded is the belief that neat order will save us. It won't. Order gives birth to just as many monsters as chaos. Neither is safe.

The understanding that there is no safe place is both terrifying and liberating , because now we can start to deal with the real fear. Because "Something Very Bad will happen" is really short for "Something Very Bad will happen and I won't be able to handle it." The first half of that proposition is hard to affect, but the second part-- the second part is where our power lies.

The power reveals itself in odd places, like the warmth of nostalgia that grows in the same patch where fear and chaos grew up. I'm not talking deep stuff here. Elvis was a terrifying threat to civilization, but then he didn't destroy civilization and in the rear view mirror of nostalgia he was suddenly bathed in a warm friendly glow. Martin Luther King Jr was a terrible threat and a dangerous radical then, but now he's an exemplar of a Great American. Every President (so far) travels an arc from "Oh my God he's going to kill us all" to, years after he's left office, "He was an okay guy after all." When the worst doesn't happen, we get all warm and fuzzy about things we used to consider chaotic danger.

That is the other scary part of chaos and inconsistency-- they make it hard to know what's going to happen next. What's coming? Will we be able to handle it?

These are the questions our students ask, somehow, all the time. Our impulse is often to  cocoon them in a stable, ordered, static, controlled, neat environment. We try to send the message that nothing too terrible is going to happen to them here (though at times we really, really botch the job). That's not wrong-- they're children, they can use a little protection, and we need to pull on that end of the string to make the music. But we need to pull on the other string as well-- whatever is coming, you can handle it. You are strong. You are resilient. (Note: we do not send that message by approaching them in a place of "you have a grit deficit we need to fix"). We need to show our students their own toughness so they can believe that they are equal to the task.

So here's to chaos, disorder and messiness. And here's to the music we make when we are stretched tight. Here's to facing it and here's to rising up, stronger the next time because we saw how strong we could be the last time. Do we contradict ourselves? Tough. Deal with it. A million paths, a messy map, and the chaos road-- it's the only way to get to heaven.


Has it been six years? It seems forever, and yet it seems yesterday.

There will be many retro pieces today, looking at the events at Sandy Hook, the children, the families, the killer, the damaged whack jobs who have denied its existence, and of course many reflections about the turning point where we chose as a culture not to turn.

I'll leave all of that to others. I just want to imagine.

Imagine a country where people rose up and said decades ago, "Guns are nice and important and all, but nothing is more valuable than the lives of innocents. We're going to have reasonable gun controls in this country before another young life is lost." Don't imagine it happening after Sandy Hook. Imagine it years earlier, after the death of just one or two children by gunfire. In this world, Sandy Hook is just one more small school most people never heard of.

Imagine that when people marched against abortion, they simultaneously marched against gun violence. "We are pro-life," they yelled, "and that means that we want to see every step necessary to preserve the lives of children." Imagine a world in which pro-life activists chained themselves to the gates of gun factories and shamed gun company executives on their way to work every day.

Imagine that these attitudes were part of a culture wide valuing of children, a culture that loved children so much that it took extraordinary steps to preserve their lives. The government provided free health care for every single child, regardless of family income. People brought their children here from other countries for our free health care and we said, "Great. Bring them. Children are so precious and valuable that we wouldn't sleep knowing that there was a suffering child in the world that we could have helped, but didn't."

Imagine that this love of children extended to education. In fact, imagine that education was one of the biggest budget items for federal and state spending. "Nothing is too good for our children," said political leaders. "We will make sure that every school has nothing but the newest and best facilities and enough qualified teachers that class sizes can be small. Every child has the personal attention of excellent teachers, and that goes double for children growing up in poor neighborhoods." Not all the politicians believed this, of course, but in this world, the only way you could get elected was by being a good friend to public schools. And no, there aren't any charters or vouchers in this world-- why would you need them when every public school had the very best in resources, staff and facilities, with the necessary resources to meet the individual needs of each child. "Man," groused the Pentagon in this world. "I wish we could get the kind of unwavering support public schools get. We have to fight and scrape and argue for every cent."

Imagine a country where all resources are directed to giving each child a healthy, happy childhood, complete with not just education, but counseling support, medical support, food support, resources to support the neighborhoods where they live-- in short, a culture that took such good care of families that children grew up to be healthy well-educated unbroken adults.

Imagine, in short, a country where people don't look at education and say, "Well, what's the least we can get away with spending on education for Those People's children?" Imagine a country in which people don't say, "It's unfortunate that children must suffer for the bad choices their parents made, but there it is. Tough." Imagine a country in which our policy is not,  "Well, if you wanted good health care and food and housing, you shouldn't have decided to be poor."

Imagine a country in which we do not look at the bodies of twenty innocent children and six adults who were looking after them and say, "Well, that's sad and all. But the right to stockpile a bunch of weapons that have no purpose except to kill other humans-- that right is more important than trying to save a bunch of children. Dead children are just the price of the freedom to kill people."

As a country, new like to make a bunch of noise about how swell children are. Hell, now that Tis The Season, we are positively awash in beautiful sentiments about children. But it's noise. Talk is cheap, but inaction is really expensive. Today, unfortunately, is one more day to remember just how much it costs us.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Why What Works Doesn't Work

One of the dreams of reformerdom has been to identify classroom practices that are solid, successful, even foolproof, and to send them out into the world so that every teacher can use them in her own classroom. Students learn, angels sing, and education is one step closer to being neat, scientific and efficient, and one step further away from being a big higgledy piggledy mess.

This may strike you as a pretty picture, or it may not-- it doesn't really matter, because it is never going to happen.

Mike Petrilli (Fordham Institute) has been working on a series of essays about shifting reformy attention from policies to practices, and today's entry is about What Works, and it almost perfectly encapsulates what folks get wrong about this whole business. But he is searching for an answer to the puzzle.

There are many debates in education policy that will never be settled by science because they mostly involve values, priorities, and tradeoffs...Instructional practices, on the other hand, are different. Or should be. Consider elementary schools, those magical places where we work to turn pre-literate, pre-numerate kindergarteners into avid readers, writers, and problem solvers, ready to tackle the Great American Novel in middle school, capable of writing a clear five-paragraph essay, and possessing a mastery of math facts and an early understanding of algebraic reasoning.

The stock photo for the piece even features a microscope, to underline how scientific this process should be.

Petrilli rattles off a long list of practice type questions-- how do we do small groups? how do teachers best manage classrooms? how can students be taught to write effectively? And so on. It's a long list and rightly so, but it leads him to this:

The best part about these questions is that their answers are knowable.

Ummmm.... Yes, and no. He outlines a process: Teachers develop key instructional questions to get empirical answers to (see above list. Scientists design studies and develop hypotheses to find answers to those questions. Professional educators sift through the results and decide on the strength of the evidence what should be widely adopted as preferred practice in guidelines for educators.

Why not, he says. That's what other fields do, like, most notably, medicine.

He acknowledges that some people won't like that analogy, and he's correct. I'm one of them. It's not just the "teaching is part, not all science" business. It's that teaching is way more complicated than medicine.

The scientific foolproof everyone just follow the policies and procedures approach will not work. The simplest evidence can be provided by evert single secondary subject area teacher who can tell you a version of the same story:

"I used this lesson with my second period class and it was awesome-- the kids were completely hooked, I was on fire, everyone totally got it and got into it. Then sixth period I used the exact same lesson and not bombed. The kids hated it, nobody learned anything, it was a disaster."

This has happened to every single teacher in the history of ever. You simply can't set a particular classroom practice in stone and count on it to work every time. Certainly not for every teacher. The learning in a classroom occurs at the intersection of all the humans in the room, plus all the long-term and short-term baggage they brought with them, plus the material itself, plus the time of day, plus the lunch menu, plus plus plus plus. Yes, it would be just like medicine, if doctors treated thirty people at a time and every disease presented differently and responded to different treatment every time it appeared.

Petrilli offers as an alternative Dan Willingham's comparison to architecture, where there is a great deal of variety and creative difference between works, but certain physical rules that everyone has to follow. That's better, but still...

This nice collections of What Works that various government agencies mostly gather dust not because teachers wonder about the evidential base. They aren't asking "I wonder if this works." They're asking, "I wonder if this will work for me, with my particular students." The selling strength, rightly or wrongly, of the teacher-selling-lessons site is that the answer, "Yes, I have used this with actual human students in a classroom somewhat like your many times."

Clearly there are good and less good and really not very good practices. But if I wanted to measure and chart such things, I would skip architecture and turn to chaos theory and the idea of strange attractors. If we could chart all the practices that mostly work most of the time, our graph would not show a point, but a cloud, clustered around, but not strictly attached to a shape. There would be outliers-- points on the outskirts of the cloud, and some far away from it (as I have heard, only, from three different sources in the last three days, "Everything works in some places, but nothing works in all places").

It's a fair criticism that some of what we do know about brain science doesn't carry as much weight in some classrooms as we might like. But there is a real danger in trying to make this Hard Science model fit educational practices-- and we already know about it because the exact same problem infected the policy ideas that Petrilli wants to step away from.

Petrrilli earlier held up the five paragraph essay on a list of basic skills that is "uncontroversial," that everyone agrees students need to have. Except we don't. While I was in the classroom, I would have been happy to have the power to kill the five paragraph essay dead-- especially in the elementary classrooms. But some teachers and administrators like the five-paragraph beast because it's easy to evaluate. Assessing writing is hard. Really, really hard. Assessing whether or not somebody followed a five-paragraph template is easy. And using "scientific" methods to determine the best way to get students to follow the template is easy, too. So once again, here we are scoring bullseyes on a target we shouldn't even be shooting at.

Campbell's Law infects classroom practices just as easily as it infects policies about test-centered accountability. Telling ourselves that we're okay because we've got hard science and data is exactly how education ended up so deep in the Big Muddy over testing. It is the parable of the drunk and the car keys, the guy who is searching under the lamppost instead of where he dropped the keys because the light under the lamppost is better.

Since the beginning of the modern era, reformsters have been notable for their aversion to mess. Teaching is too messy. Democratically elected school boards are too messy. Human beings are too messy. Sorry. That's life. Reform's enthusiasm for eradicating mess is dangerous and destructive, like the person who loves Latin but forgets that all that was required for Latin to become perfect was for every native speaker of the language to die.

You can no more create a binder full of classroom practices that are scientifically proven to work than you can create a scientifically proven courtship and marriage manual. Yes, some practices are more likely to work more often for more practitioners than other practices are, and yes, some practices are probably not going to work most of the time, mostly. But there will always be outliers and exceptions, and there will never be guarantees. Never.

Petrilli's desire to collect better evidence for more practices is a worthy endeavor, and it certainly would help to have more mechanism to separate tested medicine from snake oil. But teaching is always going to be fuzzy and messy and any system set up to talk about "what works" needs to not simply acknowledge that, but embrace it. You can hope for a nice tight blueprint, but you're really looking at Jackson Pollock.

Chris Cerf: Who, Us?

After Robin Lake decided to reject the "reformy" mantle, Chris Perf has decided to add his two cents, but I'm not sure that his two cents is not overpriced.

Cerf came up in the Klein-Bloomberrg overhaul of NYC pubic schools, by virtue of having taught at a private school for a year, then working as a lawyer in Joel Klein's law firm. The arrangement was a curious one-- his salary was paid not by the city, but by private donors. From there he went on to run New Jersey's department of education (thanks Chris Chistie); he also spent some time as a lobbyist for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. He left New Jersey to join Amplify under his old boss, Klein. After fleeing that disaster, he resurfaced as Superintendent of Newark Schools. He appears to be between gigs at the moment, but like most reformsters, Perf has a network for falling upward.

Short form: Cerf is certainly familiar withe the reformy world.

His brief essay at The 74 has just a few points to make, and all of them are either disingenuous or deliberately misleading.

In a curious linguistic twist, over the past decade, opponents of transformational change have co-opted the word “reform” and essentially converted it into a malediction.

"Gosh, you guys. I have no idea how the term "reform" collected bad connotations. Our evil opponents must have done it!"

Nope. Reformsters grabbed the term and held on tight because it had the power to immediately frame ed reform as a bunch of white hat heroes coming to rescue education from the Powers of Badness as typified by teachers, unions, regulations, etc. Those of us in the defense of public ed camp worked hard not to let them have the word-- hence the use of words like reformster, rephormes, privatizers, colonizers, GERM, etc-- but they clung to it as fiercely as they have worked to attach the term "public" to charter schools.

If "reform" became a malediction, that is on the reformy camp. They are the ones who attacked the teaching profession , silences communities by stomping democratic processes, treated teachers like the enemy, allowed charter fraud and malfeasance to bloom unchecked, unleashed profiteers under the guise of free market competition, and promoted various programs with toxicity levels evident even too casual observers (test-based accountability, anyone).

In short, if Cerf is sad that reform has a bad name, I recommend some soul searching. Public ed teachers do it daily, and it helps keep them harp and focused. When you stop thinking and just start blaming Those Guys, you're in the weeds.

Perf says it's curious to turn on reform when non-white, non-wealthy students are lagging in success and test score growth has stalled (a stall that coincides with the rise of modern ed reform).  

One would think that seeking to “reform” a system that yields these outcomes would be considered a good thing.
"I swear, nothing that went wrong was our fault."

This is the classic reform fallacy. There is a real problem, therefor my solution must be a good one. No. No, no, no. You do not prove the effectiveness of your solution by proving the severity of the problem. Are there real problems in public education? Absolutely-- despite reform rhetoric to the contrary, I've never heard anybody say that pre-reform education was perfect and all we need to do is go back to that. We have some serious problems with how we support education in some communities, and issues with the same racism baked throughout our society. We have schools and communities that are terribly underserved. None of that means that reformy ideas are good ones.

But Cerf is fine with chucking "reform" with just a few caveats:

What does matter is that the urgency of bravely pushing for positive change remains front and center; that we resist the temptation to return to the “anything goes” mentality that preceded the standards movement and No Child Left Behind; that we improve on, rather than abandon, proven ideas (like standards, accountability, empowering parents with more options, and acknowledging differences in teacher efficacy); and that we not fall prey to politically safe slogans like “personalized learning,” “student agency,” or “community schools” to the extent they operate as a substitute for making sure that every child, regardless of birth circumstances, is launched into adulthood prepared to succeed in life.

Was there an anything goes mentality before NCLB? That's a pretty huge assertion, and it takes us back to the bad old days of reformsters suggesting that everybody in the education world, including all the people who had devoted their adult lives to educating children, just sucked eggs and needed the noble amateurs of the ed reform movement to rescue children from the awful school system.

But more importantly, virtually nothing on Cerf's list of proven ideas has actually been proven. None of it. The reformy team has been trying to prove them for at least two decades, and they've got nothing to show for it (well, except those who have big fat piles of money to show for it). 

And woah-- if Cerf thinks that personalized learning is just a safe euphemism, he's been out of the loop. It is the next big reform pay day. Hr'd better make some calls to iNACOL or the folks at Chan-Zuckerberg.

Look, lots of ed reform figures have taken a moment to examine their choices and programs. Some, like Rick Hess, have pressed for uncomfortable truths all along, and some are just showing up at the party. But if reformsters like Perf think the solution is to insist that their ideas were awesome and they were just thwarted by a vast conspiracy of naughty public ed fans, they are going to stay stuck right where they are, the reformy equivalent of that fifty-year-old paunchy guy on the porch who is still telling anyone who will listen how he should have won that big football game in high school. 

You guys screwed up. In some big ways, and some small ways. In avoidable ways, and in ways that are baked into your ideas. In lots of ways related to your amateur status coupled with your unwillingness to listen to trained professionals.  You can face all of that, or you can just keep stamping your feet.

I recommend the former. Look, in public ed we confront our failures all the time, often in real time as we watch a lesson plan crash and burn right in front of us. Being able to face failure is a basic survival technique in the classroom. I recommend that Cerf and those like him try it out, because this kind of whiny self-justification with a touch of moral one-upmanship is not abroad look on anyone. I offer this advice in the spirit of the season because, really, if they ignore it, they will only disappear from view that much faster, which would not be the worst thing for those of us who support public ed. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

FL: DeSantis Tabs Team To Crush Public Ed

It is always difficult to say just which state is the most hostile and inhospitable to public education, but no matter how you slice it, Florida is always working hard to stay at the top of the big, smelly heap. And the administration of Gov-elect Ron DeSantis is committed to finding ways to make Florida worse.

The new public school cafeteria
There's Jennifer Sullivan, the 27-year-old homeschooled college drop out (and we're talking Liberty University here) who will be head of the House education committee. There's the longtime grifter and profiteer who, now term-limited out of the legislature, is looking for a new job and has been lined up for education chief (here's another take on just how bad Corcoran is). Both of those have been widely noted.

But for a further sign of how badly DeSantis wants to cut up public education and sell off the parts, just look at his education transition team. This will take a bit, but you need to see the full picture.

Dr. Elizabeth M. Bejar, Vice President for Academic Affairs, Florida International University.

Dr. Desmond Blackburn; CEO, New Teacher Center. NTC is a reformy teacher-fixing mill, heavily sponsored by all the usual suspects (Gates, Walton, Hewlett, Chan-Zuckerberg, et al). Blackburn last May ended his three years as Brevard County superintendent to take this job.

Emily Bouck; Policy & Advocacy Director, Higher Learning Advocates This group formed just last year to lobby for outcome-based approaches in higher ed. Initial board included Margarett Spellings, George Miller, and John Engler. All advocates of privatizing pub lic ed.

The Honorable Bob Cortes; Former Representative, Florida House of Representatives. Cortes, among other things, was a strong advocate for the Schools of Hope, a law that allows charters to prey on struggling public schools.

Brenda Dickinson; President, Home Education Foundation. The group that lobbies for home schoolers in the state capital.

The Honorable Erika Donalds; Former Board Member, Collier County School Board. Well, here's a winner. Donalds is a partner in a New York investment group. She founded Parents' Rights of Choice for Kids (Parents ROCK). Then she got herself elected to a school board, and founded the Florida Coalition of School Board Members, a group with only six founding members and which seems devoted to austerity and school choice.  Also on the FLCRC board is Patricia Levesque, a well-known name in the reformster world. Donalds was behind the whole Amendment 8 sneak attack on public schools.

Aubrey Edge; President & CEO, First Coast Energy

T. Willard Fair; President & CEO, Urban League of Greater Miami. Fair has led the Urban League in pushing for charters in Miami. The charter-loving Center for Education Reform recognizes him as an ally.

Dr. Angela Garcia Falconetti; President, Polk State College. Polk State operates three charter schools.

Dr. Alvin S. Felzenberg; Presidential Historian & Lecturer, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania. He worked in the Bush II Department of Defense and was  Assistant Secretary of State in NJ under Governor Thomas Kean.

Bruce Ferguson; President & CEO, CareerSource Northeast Florida. Job placement and training.

Keith Flaugh; Managing Director, Florida Citizens Alliance. Right wing "liberty and learning" group. They actually have two representatives in this group.

The Honorable Don Gaetz; Former President, Florida Senate. Lover of charters, hater of teachers.

Robert Haag; President & CEO, Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools

Jonathan Hage; CEO, Charter Schools USA

Greg Haile; President, Broward College

Bill Heavener; Chairman, University of Florida Board of Trustees. Heavener also owns a for-profit college and was a deep-pocketed supporter of Rick Scott.

Warren Hudson; President, Lake Highland Preparatory School. LHPS is a huge private school in Orlando, founded as a segregation academy.

Russell Hughes; Superintendent, Walton County School District

Dr. Allan I. Jacob; Chairman & Chief Medical Officer, Physicians Dialysis

Mimi Jankovits; Executive Director, Teach Florida. The group lobbied hard for tax credit scholarships (another version of vouchers).

John Kirtley; Founder and Chairman, Step Up for Students. Certain types off vouchers require a sort of middle man; here they are.

Eugene Lamb; Board of Trustees, Tallahassee Community College

Craig Mather; Founder & CEO, Bags, Inc.

Dr. Kim McDougal; Former Chief of Staff, Governor Rick Scott and Education Policy Expert. Yeah, she worked with Job Bush, too. Expert, sure.

Dr. Edward Meadows; President, Pensacola State College

Connie Militio; Chief Government Relations Officer (that means "lobbyist"), Hillsborough County Public Schools. Interesting choice; you may remember this as the district that crashed and burned letting Bill Gates experiment on them.

Keli Mondello; Co-Founder & Board Chairman, LiFT Academy. Private school specializing in neurodiversity.

Steve Moore; President, The Vestcor Companies, Inc. Real estate and housing projects.

Dr. Ed Moore; President, Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida

The Honorable Lubby Navarro; School Board Member, Miami-Dade County. Navarro backed a move to keep Miami-Date from joining the lawsuit over Schools of Hope.

Lynn Norman-Teck; Executive Director, Florida Charter School Alliance

Dr. Madeline Pumariega; Former Chancellor, Florida College System. Earned her spurs working with Take Stock in Children.

Randle Richardson; CEO, Accelerated Learning Solutions, a school management company.

Lyn Stanfield; Strategic Relations Manager, Apple. Apple recent demonstrated again that they're willing to work with anyone if it means they can move some product.

Rev. Rick Stevens; Managing Director, Florida Citizens Alliance. The second rep from the right wing group.

The Honorable John Thrasher; President, Florida State University

Andy Tuck; Vice Chairman, Florida State Board of Education. Tuck is a citrus grower who has, at times, seemed a bit out of his depth.

Fernando Zulueta; President, Academica Corporation. One of the largest charter operators in the state.

So there you have it-- a collection of folks from the charter biz, the voucher biz, and the biz biz, with barely a whiff of representation of actual; pub lic education folks. Not that there's been any real doubt, but here's some further proof that DeSantis will continue Florida's tradition of open hostility toward public education. Merry Christmas to Florida's privatizers and profiteers. Floridians who care about public education must continue to be vigilant and vocal.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

ICYMI: The Tree's Up Edition (12/9)

The tree is up, but we're waiting to see how the board of directors does with it before we add ornaments. Tis the season. In the meantime, here's some reading from the week. Remember to share.

Cashing in Immigrant Children

The warehousing of immigrant children has been a gold mine for one business. And guess what-- charter schooling is part of the business plan.

Dora Fisher: Down The Dark Money Hole

About one of the big dark money backers of charter schools whose name you might not know-- but you should.

What Really Should Be Happening in Kindergarten

Do I seem repetitive on this subject. I'll continue to be so until we stop screwing it up.

Lawmaker Shows How To Become a Charter Millionaire in Five Steps

Short, sweet and clear-- how an Arizona cashes in on the charter laws he helps write.

You Don't Have To Like It, But The Students Talk About Us

The Jose Vilson on a major aspect of the teacher-student relationship.

Does High Impact Teaching Cause High Impact Fatigue

Spoiler alert: yes. Read more about what that looks like.

No School Needed For Politician Overseeing Florida Schools

You probably didn't miss this, but in case you did (which is kind of the point of these Sunday roundups), here's the story of the homeschooled college dropout who will head up the Florida house education committee. Oh, Florida.

Six Questions We Should Be Asking About Personalized Learning 

Ed Week is right on the money this time, with some questions we should be asking about ed reforms Next Big Thing

Don't Teach Kids Coding

Slate piece from a computer programmer who says he will not teach his kids to code, and you shouldn't either.

100 Christmas Songs Ranked

Not about education, but this ranking by Alexandra Petri is hilarious and well worth your time. Tis the season.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

KY: Setting More Bad Goals for 2019

Oh, Kentucky. A state slowly being beaten down by the usual gang of mediocre businessmen masquerading as public servants.

Big data, charter entrepreneurs, voucher fans, pension vultures, testocrats-- they've all taken a shot at grabbing tax dollars from Kentucky taxpayers with a great deal of patience and varying degrees of success, even if Kentucky's teachers did raise a fuss (prompting Governor Matt Bevin to demonstrate yet again what low regard he holds the profession in).

Now Kentucky's Department of Education has let everyone know what their priorities are for the coming year, and it is once again not good news for fans of actual public education.

There will be a push, of course, for charters. It's worth noting how the push will come, because it's a lesson in some of the nuances of the budgeting process. Kentucky has, as of last year, a charter law. What it doesn't have is a mechanism for funding a charter school, and so, no charter schools, yet.

Yeah, let's hit this kid with some more tough love

Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis to change that. Lewis is a former teacher by way of the Teach New Orleans, the TNTP-run sister program of Teach for America. In creating a funding stream for charters, he faces a challenge. It's not a budget year, so it would take a super-majority of legislators to pass such a thing. The last set of elections were a mixed bag-- a teacher ousted a legislator who backed a crappy teacher pension bill in the primaries, but in the general election, teachers were mostly close but no cigar. However, even in losing, teachers sent a clear signal that education is a hot issue in Kentucky. So the super-majority supporting a new revenue stream for charters may not be doable.

What may be doable, however, is the same old diverting of tax dollars trick beloved in the charter world, because that doesn't require any new money-- just the same old "we can take the money that used to run one system and use it to run multiple systems, easy peasy" baloney.

Meanwhile, Kentucky would also like to get on that stupid third grade reading retention bandwagon.

When it comes to retaining third grade students over reading skills, the research is pretty clear-- it's bad news. It can be even worse news if the policy is not simply to retain students who read poorly, but to retains students who do not pass the test. This leads like the stupidity we saw in Florida, where students who had clearly demonstrated their reading ability were still retained because they wouldn't take the test. What are the odds that Kentucky, land of Opt Out Equals Zero Score, would follow a similarly dumb policy.

Board of Education Chairman Hal Heiner has tried to frame this as a reading "guarantee," and said that, well, don't pay any attention to the retaining part, just figure that we won't have to retain very many. This assumes that teachers or students or both are simply holding back, and once properly threatened. Or as one retention policy advocate once put it, "Retention policies are badly needed tough love." This set of assumptions would be ridiculous and insulting if real, live eight year old human children weren't made to suffer because of them.

In keeping with the general ed reform policy of diminishing the democratic process, the department also plans to spend 2019 stripping elected school boards of some of their powers. Because elections are dumb. Hope that Kentuckians don't have too many reasons to regret the choices they made in the last elections.