Sunday, January 19, 2020

OH: A Superintendent Who Gets The Problem of EdChoice

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

A Message from Superintendent Davis:
January 15, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walter Davis, Superintendent 

ICYMI: Saturday Snow Day (1/18)

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

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

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

The Rhetorical Secretary

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

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

Two States. Eight Textbooks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Misleading Rhetoric of School Choice

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

The Tennessee ASD: Booted or Re-Booted?

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

Equitable Education Funding Isn't Happening Yet

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

About That Montana Choice Program

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

How Higher Salaries for Teachers Became a GOP Governor Thing 

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

Charter Schools Have No Valid Claim To Public Property

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





Saturday, January 18, 2020

Trump, Prayer and School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, January 17, 2020

Six Stories To Watch For In 2020

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

Thursday, January 16, 2020

National Parents Union: Do You Smell Astroturf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then there's her partner.

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

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

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

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

Who else is involved in this organization?

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

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

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

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

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

And when they break that down into three specific goals:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, January 15, 2020

DeVos on Fox: Six Minute Baloney Digest (With Homelessness)

Betsy DeVos went on Fox and Friends this week, the softest of soft interview destinations form members of this administration. If you want a quick six-minute sampler of her current talking points, you could do worse, but it you don't think you can take looking at the patented smile d'smarm, here are the highlights- and there are a couple of revealing moments here.

The segment is nominally titled "Combating the Homeless Crisis In Schools," and it starts with some b roll of homeless folks while noting that over 114,000 students in NYC were homeless last school year, which works out to about one in ten. "So what can be done to make sure disadvantaged kids have access to top quality education?"

Well, from "homeless" to "disadvantaged" is a bit of a leap, but it really doesn't matter, because we're never going to talk ab out this issue for the rest of the segment. It's time to introduce DeVos, whose smile is having even more trouble than usual making it all the way up to her eyes. After the intro, we re-present the question as "what more can be done to make sure that everyone gets access to quality educations" (yes, that's how he said it). The homeless have now vanished from the conversation.

deVos opens by invoking NAEP and citing made-up statistics. Two out of three eighth graders "can't read or do math at the level they should be able to" which is a meaningless statement-- "should be" according to whom-- but shows her backing away from her earlier assertion that these students couldn't read at grade level, which is simply a misstatement of what "proficient" means on NAEP. But she's still talking baloney here.

"And so," she says, as if this next part follows logically, President Trump and this administration is focused on creating more pathways and freedom "for students and their families to find the right fit." She points out that kids learn differently and need different things, so more choices. (At no point in her answer does she make any attempt to connect this to homeless students, who need things like, say, a home.)

Now the left-hand host puckers up and observes that DeVos, being rich as shit, didn't have to take a government job, but gosh, she's always been so passionate about "finding ways to educate the disadvantaged in the United States." He points out she's always been dedicated to charter schools, school choice, vouchers, and so, he asks, are these some of the solutions to that problem. And I want to point out again that we've just sort of lumped homelessness and other "disadvantages" together, like there isn't a wide range of specific social issues with specific causes and effects. Just, you know, all them poor kids. But anyway-- are here favorite policy ideas the answer?

Freedom! Education freedom, and a whole range of choices. It doesn't even have to be a school building-- I guess those homeless kids could just cyberschool on their computers. Empowering families (but not, mind you, empowering them with food and shelter, because empowering is not the same as coddling) is a focus on this administration and probably the biggest fiction out of her mouth is the repeated insistence that Donald Trump really cares about this education stuff. But this is all so she can pivot back to her Education Freedom Tax Dodge Scholarship program, a program that is already DOA in the current budget, but I guess even for wealthy cabinet secretaries, well, the heart wants what the heart wants. Her program would give rocket fuel to current efforts in the states.

Now, Fox lady is going to ask about the Democrats and how the candidates have abandoned school choice (and if you were expecting some grasp of the differences between, say, charter and voucher policies, I'll just remind you which show we're watching). And we get some clips. Sanders saying that too many charter schools do a lousy job. Joe Biden (at the Pittsburgh ed town hall) saying that he'll throw out all DeVos's stuff, which is a curious choice given some of that stuff is leftover Obama/Biden stuff, and Mayor Pete making his meaningless pledge to wipe out for-profit charter schools. Then they bring up Cory Booker "who used to work alongside you" and then abandoned his pro-charter position "especially during your confirmation hearing." Then she asks m"hy would he do that," effectively canceling out all the previous stated and implied questions.

Ah, but you already know the true villain here. "The Democratic candidates are beholden to the teachers union." And she pivots off that question "But the fact is" there are a million fam,ilies on wait lists, which may come as a shock to the charters around the country that are closing because of low enrollment. That one million number comes from the National Alliance for Public [sic] Charter Schools, and you know their estimate has to be accurate. We need more of these schools, because they are providing the kind of "direction" and "opportunity" that students need. No word about providing education. "Results prove out and the demand is there," she says. Which results?
Prove what? Those are just some of the hard-hitting follow-up questions these repotrers have no intention of asking.

Righthand guy apparently checks his phone to get the quote from Congresswoman Fredrica Wilson who accused DeVos of being out to destroy public education-- he actually corrects himself to say "government run schools" instead of public. You may recall that Wilson hurt the seceretary's feelings with this accusation, and DeVos now takes this opportunity to, well, not rebut the Congresswoman at all.

The reality is that I care deeply about every single child, no matter where they are, no matter where they attend school, and this President and this administration cares deeply about the future and the opportunity that every child has to become everything that they can be. That's why we are not satisfied, we will not rest until we make the kinds of changes and reduce the kinds of empowerment and opportunities that all families need, that currently the wealthy, the powerful and the well-connected have, but those who don't have those means are stuck in too many cases in schools and situations that simply are not working for them, and we're not going to stand for that.

DeVos looks a little pissed as she delivers this non-answer, which could easily mean, "Yes, I intend to destroy public education and I have my reasons." Yes, I think she bobbled a word in the middle, but this is pretty vintage DeVos, particularly in the context because, hey, remember when this interview was about homeless students. I bet they find themselves in a situation that isn't really working for them, and I bet the solution is not to hand them a school voucher.

But now for a change of pace. Righthand guy says he still hears a lot about Common Core, and gee that math homework is hard, and what are you guys doing about it?

"Well, just as President Trump campaigned on to end Common Core, Common Core has been ended."

Nope. I'm as quick as anyone to say that the Core has failed, but ended? Nope. But DeVos is goin g to take (and share with Trump) credit for removing the Core from federal law. She's also, in Trumpian fashion, going to take credit for passing ESSA (December 2015). Getting rid of federal laws about Common Core is on par with the feds taking credit for ending polar bear attacks in Palm Springs. She's going to shoehorn a plug for CTE in here as well.

They thank her, she thanks them, and we're back to the panel on the couch. Rightbhand guy says he comes from a state that still has Common Core, and righthand guy says he has trouble doing math homework (center lady just has trouble doing math at all--ha-ha funny ladies and their weak thinky parts). Then righthand guy goes off about "experiential reading" and "there's no phonics" and dang--we ran out of time before we could get back to those homeless students.

DeVos: Remote Work Bad, Remote School Good

Betsy DeVos has long been a fan of cyber-schooling. Her husband was an investor in K-12, the cyber-charter behemoth, way back at beginning of the millennium (we can start saying that now, right?) Back when she was still running the American Federation for Children, she had this to say

Families want and deserve access to all educational options, including charter schools, private schools and virtual schools. States are well ahead of Congress on this and their efforts should be encouraged and supported. Twenty-three states plus DC have 48 publicly funded private school choice programs; 43 states have charter school laws; and virtual schools are growing across the country. Greater innovation and choice will contribute to better K-12 educational outcomes for our children.

AFC often spoke out in favor of cyber charters, and DeVos has continued to advocate as Secretary, even as the dismal results rolled in.

DeVos has been an unwavering supporter of remote schooling. But her support for remote work stops at the doors to the Department of Education.

One of the Trumpian initiatives (under the general banner of "Grampaw Says That Back In Has They Didn't Need That Stuff") has been to clamp down on remote working. Per the Washington Post:

President Trump’s government is scaling it back at multiple agencies on the theory that a fanny in the seat prevents the kind of slacking off that can happen when no one’s watching.

The initiative is government-wide, and so includes the Department of Education, where DeVos fully supports the notion that remote work is bad. Despite a survey suggesting the desired results weren't happening, DeVos decided to stay the course, because she believes that remote work is damaging to collaboration, communication and productivity.

Is there some cognitive dissonance evident here? Not necessarily. It would be in keeping with the DeVosian approach to believe that all public employees (aka those slackers who have been insulated from God's own free market private enterprise system) are probably lazy public teat-suckers who need to be kept under the hammer. This would include government workers and public school teachers. Also, there would be some hypocrisy involved if DeVos were advocating for cyber schools because she thought they actually did a good job. But the language quoted above is typical of DeVos on the subject-- she almost never argues that cyber-schools should exist because they educate children so very well. She just wants that choice to be available.

This little paired text exercise just reminds us that when DeVos says "parents should have choices" what she means is "business people should be free to tap this market any way they want to." They may be making a buck by marketing junk, but that's their God-given right.