Thursday, December 12, 2019

Fordham: Teachers Are Downloading Junk

Fordham Institute, the right-tilted thinky tank and tireless ed reform advocacy group, just released a new study that actually raises some interesting questions. "The Supplemental Curriculum Bazaar" takes a look at the materials teachers are downloading, and it finds them, well, not delightful. While I'm only going to argue with their findings a little, there are aspects of their methods that I find, well, not delightful.

The Playing Field

The study looked specifically at materials for high school English (ELA for the core-trained), which is right in my wheelhouse (39 years of secondary English classrooms). So I was prepared to predict the results of this study before reading it. My prediction: the stuff available on line today is much like the stuff available in catalogs and teacher stores twenty yeas ago-- kind of mediocre, but occasionally helpful. So now we can see if Fordham matches my findings.

They looked at two main sets of questions. 1) what types of materials are being downloaded, and 2) how do "experts" rate the quality. Also, how do the "expert" ratings compare to teacher ratings?

Yeah, about that-- who are these experts, and why is "expert" different from "teacher."

Experts include:

Morgan Polikoff, from USC Rossier, and we've seen him before as a big-time testing supporter. His background is ed policy and math.

I think I see a good Hamlet unit in there
Jennifer Dean, freelance educational assessment consultant. She's worked for Student Achievement Partners, was involved in K-122 assessment for "a large assessment company" (looks like maybe ETS). At SAP she developed standards alignment guidelines and sample assessments. She supposedly started her career teaching secondary ELA.

Jenni Aberli is an ELA instructional lead. It's not clear how much actual teaching she does, but she does work hard at that old Core alignment and she is National Board certified.

Sarah Baughman is an educational consultant "with over a decade of middle and high school English teaching experience in public, charter, online and international schools." That's a l;ot of variety for a decade. She's also associated with Student Achievement Partners.

Dr. Bryan Drost. An administrator in Ohio and a big testing guy, including national supervisor of edTPA (boo).

Joey Hawkins is a national literacy consultant. She taught in rural Vermont. Lots of writing background.

So, some actual teachers, heavy on the love of assessment and the core. It is not quite clear to me why they, and not the classroom teachers, are the experts here, but let's forge ahead.

How Were the Materials Judged

The study used the list of commonly consulted sites from a 2015 RAND survey, omitting Google and Pinterest (because there's no way to track what's found there) and Readworks and Newsela (because they are narrowly focused on reading). So that left Teachers Pay Teachers, ReadWriteThink, and Share My Lesson.

For the last two, the study simply used the list of most-downloaded material, sticking to reading, writing, speaking and/or listening lessons. For Teachers Pay Teachers, they used the 15 free units, top 15 free lessons, top 47 paid units, and top 47 paid lessons. Then the evaluators whipped put their rubrics and went to work. Here are the ten areas covered.

1) Basic descriptive data. What's in it, metadata, title, etc.

2) Alignment to Standards. I'm a little fuzzy here/ The question is "does it include standards it aligns to." But the rating is based on whether or not it aligns to the target standard. I'm not sure why I care about either one. We really don't talk often enough about how "alignment to standards" has nothing to do with the level of instructional material suckitude.

3) Depth of Knowledge. Oh, lordy, spare me. DOK is a bunch of baloney that fastened itself, barnical-like, to the back of the standards.

4) Text complexity and quality. In other words, is this unit for Grapes of Wrath and not Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Unfortunately, it includes lexile scores, and according to those, Diary is high school appropriate and Grapes is not.

5) Close Reading and Evidence from the Text. If there's a reading comprehension task, it has to require "close reading and analysis" as well as the use of "evidence from the text." Also, it must focus on tyhe ,ain idea and important details in the text. All of this might be a good sign, if we don't wander too far into the David Coleman version of close reading.

6) Writing Task Quality. Does the task involve writing to a text? Because, of course, writing that isn't about a text is just a waste of time? SMH. This also includes an overall measure of task quality, in which the experts had to decide whether the task was too easy or too unimportant. How long has it been since those experts were in a classroom, I wonder.

7) Speaking and Listening Task Quality. Again, it's only high quality if it's to a text or recording, and it can't be too easy or frivolous.

8) Usability. Is it interesting? Is it free from errors? Is it visually attractive? Does it give clear guidance for teachers? Does it support diverse learners? Is it going to be used by some gormless drone with no personal knowledge of teaching? No, I just made that last one up. But seriously-- if the teacher using this can't figure out how to use it or spot errors in it, then we are already in more trouble than a lesson from an online vendor can solve.

9) Assessment quality. There are plenty of assessment experts on this case, so I'll give them this one.

10) Knowledge Building and Cultural Responsiveness. If this is a full unit, does it involve students showing that they know something. And does it include diverse perspectives, authors, topics.

What They Found Out

The report has some good news and bad news.

Good news: The text quality is good, with only a few hitting the "very low quality" score. The materials also mostly involved text-based evidence.

Good news: The materials are generally error-free and well designed. So, pretty and not filled with goofs. The report takes no position on the use of comic sans.

Bad news: The reviewers thought the materials were mostly mediocre. They particularly criticized the instructional guidance. "If busy teachers are going to take the time to look for supplemental materials," says the report, "they certainly want to know (quickly) how to use them." I am not so sure. Or rather, I'm not so sure that they need someone to spell it out for them. I suspect a teacher, particularly one who knows just what she's looking for, doesn't need someone else to tell her how te material is "supposed" to be used. And as it turns out, the expert ratings was a bad predictor of whether teachers seemed to think the materials were any good or not. Almost as if the academic experts and the actual classroom teachers are using different criteria.

Bad news: Materials have weak alignment to standards they say they're meeting. Well, duh. At this point, "alignment" is a pointless piece of paperwork, and the standards have spread out and been reinterpreted a hundred different times by a hundred different experts. They're a set of numbers that you have to slap on unit and lesson plans to make administrators happy, and few districts are teaching exactly what each standard means because nobody is certain they know. The good news or all those folks is that after ten years, thee isn't a lick of evidence that the standards are actually linked to life outcomes or college and career readiness.

Bad news: Writing, speaking and listening task quality is weak.It's a sign that we're in Coleman territory is that one "sign" that an assignment is weak is that it is "largely focused on personal feelings." The evil of all evils is to not be text-dependent, as if the only way a piece of writing can be legitimate is for it to be about a text. Writing in response to a text is an excellent path to take-- I won't argue that for a minute. But to argue that it is the only path to a good writing assignment is nuts, and again without a shred of evidence.

Bad news: Assessments are weak because they don't always cover key content and "rarely provide the supports needed to score student work." A recurring issue in this study is that it seems to assume that the end user of these materials is some shmoe off the street and not an actual classroom. The study says that quality material includes an assessment rubric. No, thanks. If I'm bringing it into my classroom, i'll decide how I want to assess it.

Bad news: Lessons do a bad job of building content knowledge and are not cognitively demanding. They looked for units to introduce and sequence content knowledge, which means if you are downloading a unit to use as review, you're in trouble here. They also slam "skill building," which has, of course, been the major focus under Common Core and its attendant testing regime. Given the close association these experts have had with Core-pushing groups, it seems a b it disingenuous for them to get religion about rich content and background knowledge without acknowledging that they helped fuel the movement that drove these things underground in the first place.

This carries through with their examples of "bad" units (e.g., a unit on Romeo and Juliet without any reference to Elizabethan England or a unit on The Great Gatsby without any reference to the Roaring Twenties). These are exactly the sort of units that David "Stay Within The Four Corners of the Text" Coleman endorsed when he was pushing his ELA standards. Exactly.

Bad news: Super-lousy job on the whole sup0port or diverse learners thing. Few units offered differentiation.

Bad news: Potential to engage students, low on cultural diversity. Once again, the end user here is a classroom teacher, and I can't remember a single thing I taught in 39 years for which I said, "Oh well, this unit is so super-engaging on its own I can just nap.' The engaging part comes from the human who presents it. Nor am I sure how you rate how interesting something is without asking "interesting to whom?" Diversity? Yes, that's an issue.

What they didn't ask about

The report actually does pull in some teacher quotes about things like why teachers search out these sites for supplemental material, but there are still some things they don't/can't know.

In particular, it's impossible to know how much modifying teachers do to these materials. Do they pick and choose parts? Do they modify activities and assessments to suit their classes? I'll bet they do plenty of both. I'd also be curious to know how often teachers adopt the materials ("I'm going to use this again next year) and how often not (Well, that was worth a try, but never again).

What they want to do about it.

The researchers have some "policy implications."

1) Supplemental ELA materials on these sites have "a long way to go." Yeah, we got that from the rest of the findings.

2) The supplemental materials market "begs curation." Somebody needs to sort this stuff out. I'm not sure who would be in a position to do that, really. The teacher knows her classes better than anyone.

3) More materials need to provide "soup-to-nuts" supports. Meh. Maybe. But the things is, these are supplemental materials, and so it's going to make a difference exactly what the teacher is supplementing. One size fits all is not going to be helpful. More materials to adapt could be.

4) More cultural diversity, diverse authors, culture of pluralism. Well, yeah. Not exactly an issue confined to supplemental materials.

5) School and district leaders need to decide whether and how to monitor this stuff. Nah. They need to leave their teachers alone, or maybe even ask how they can help. Further teacher surveillance and micro-management is not helpful ("Can't get this run off until I pass it through the Office of Worksheet Review").

So in the end

Teachers look for supplemental materials wherever they can find them, because all schools hand us are textbook sets and those are almost universally mediocre (I had one good lit series in my career, and it went out of print when the company was bought). One of the ongoing jobs of teaching is to make silk purses out of sows' ears, and the ears don't have enough material, so you're always looking for some sows' nose lining and cows' liver casing and whatever else you can get your hands on, then modifying it for the students you have.

This is an ongoing process. No teacher worthy of the title teaches exactly the same stuff exactly the same way two years in a row (this is just one of the reasons that scripts and teacher-proof programs in a box are absolutely junk). The dream is not supplemental material that does the work for you; it's material that includes little gems that you can use. If teaching is house-hunting, teachers never expect to buy a place that's move-in ready; they're just looking for a place with good bones and a nice floor plan that they can renovate without too much trouble.

What we used to have to depend on-- supplemental materials from publishers via teacher stores, catalogs, and the filing cabinet that the last lady who taught in this room left behind-- were never super. Created by people nowhere near a classroom, they were always an ill fit, always in need of adapting, trimming, cutting. The Common Core revolution brought a tidal wave of this crap-- workbook after workbook of short reading excerpts bundled with multiple choice quizzes. Your best source for extra material was always the teacher up the hall who used to teach this same thing, who knows the kinds of students you have, who had field tested the material in her own classroom laboratory. The internet just made that hall a lot bigger. Internet teachers are less familiar with your school and classroom, and not al of them are necessarily teachers you would aspire to imitate. But some teaching ideas from a fellow professional are at least as useful as publisher junk.

We could have a whole other discussion about why so much-- so very, very much-- of what teachers are given is junk (that it's created by non-teachers who think that alignment to bad standards has something to do with quality is probably on the list). But the question this study didn't ask might be the most important one-- if the online materials are junk, are they any more junky than what publishers crank out? Maybe next time.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Privatization Is Their North Star

Remember when ed reform was complicated, when it felt as if the whole business was a perfect storm of hydra heads, and it was all a public school supporter could do to try to track all the heads, let alone the body of the beast to which they were all attached?

Things have changed. And the change tells us a lot about the body of the beast, as the many heads of the hydra have become neglected or even abandoned.

Oh, Common Core. Once upon a time it looked like some folks really, truly wanted to lash all of US education to a single set of standards. But one of the first signs of Maybe Not was when the very guys who wrote the thing immediately moved on to new gigs, rather than sticking around to watch over their baby. And when the political winds shifted and conservatives turned on what had been essentially a conservative idea (except that it was being pushed by That Black Guy In The White House, and it turns out that sensitivity to federal overreach has a lot to do with who's doing the reaching)-- at any rate, besieged from both sides, the Core was abandoned. It was not, it turns out, the most critical priority of the disruptive reformster movement.

Nor have they stuck around to keep defending high stakes testing. Remember when they were pitching it so hard, comparing it to bathroom scales and medical check-ups and, hey, you have to take tests your whole life. But pushback has been steady for HST, with parents and teachers and students fed up with the whole test-centered schooling thing. And while disruptive reformsters have managed to get HST enshrined in law, they've mostly stopped arguing for it and fighting to keep it front and center. Turns out it's not the major priority, either.

Of course, the Core and high-stakes testing have accomplished one thing-- they've gotten plenty of parents and journalists convinced that "students achievement" and "score on a single narrow standardized test" are synonyms, that you can look up test scores and judge the quality of a school.

Another head of the hydra was going after the fabled Bad Teacher. Use VAM to judge them, mark the bottom 5, 10, even 15 percent and then just fire your way to excellence. Of course, to do that you have to first get rid of job protections ("tenure") and seniority rules. But-- as they kept telling us-- a teacher is the most important (in school) factor in a child's education (cue Raj Chetty's BS about how a bad first grader teacher will cost you millions in lifetime earnings). And yet this deep concern with high quality teaching never really got beyond getting rid of bad ones. How would we create and retain good ones? Nobody was talking so much about that. Sure, there were pitches for merit pay and bonus systems, but that was just pretty side of getting rid of job protections and slashing ay for everyone who wasn't getting a bonus. There was some talk of moving the best teachers to the worst schools, but nobody ever really tried to come up with a serious plan to make that happen. And of course we also threw in Teach for America, proof that actual training didn't matter, and once the mysterious teacher shortage hit the news, that was en excuse to throw any warm body in a classroom.

It's almost as if out of all that discussion of teacher quality, the only real priority was to get rid of pay, benefits and job protections for teachers, to make teachers less like gourmet chefs and more like the guy who drops the fry basket at McD's. Cheaply paid, easily fired, easily replaced.

We heard about making students ready for the future, for the jobs that will be appearing, for global economic competition. But somehow that has always been framed in terms of what corporations want, as if the purpose of schools should be to provide meat widgets for employers. Talk about students as product and companies as consumers. That sort of thing. Almost as if providing students with a better, broader, deeper education was not actually the priority at all. And this talk always comes with the idea of harvesting data-- lots and lots of data, which is in and of itself plenty valuable. As if students are a resource to be tapped and not young citizens to be served. With all the For The Children talk, doing things For The Children doesn't seem to be much of a priority.

School reform was about equity and helping the non-white non-wealthy students. But then Trump entered office and a whole bunch of free market reformsters said, "We can't just walk away from reform just because its major spokesperson now seems kind of racist."

School choice, in its many forms, has been a theme of disruptive reformsterism, yet it has been a shifting one. We need choice so that free market competition will make schools better. We need it so students can escape the regulations that we ourselves imposed on schools. We need laboratories of innovation. We need it to provide equity. We need it because fairness and freedom.

In fact, choice has been its own many-headed beast within a beast, but one thing has stayed constant-- the method of providing what's wanted.

Think about it. We could provide choices, freedom, options, innovation, even competition in a hundred different ways. If we are concerned that your neighborhood determines your school quality, we could decouple school districts from neighborhoods, or force neighborhoods into economic desegregation. We could (and in many cases do) provide educational choice under one roof. We could step in with funding and resources for poor schools in poor neighborhoods.

But I'm going to own the damned ship, and anybody
who doesn't like how I run it will be thrown over the side.
But alternatives have never been discussed.  The choice conversation sticks to the premise that all choice must involve schools that are privately owned and operated, that put public funds in private pockets. We have now seen dozens of models for charter schools and choice programs, but they all stick to that premise-- the choices must be privately owned, operated and controlled.

This and this alone has been the constant, the north star of disruptive reformsterism. Accountability and teacher quality and standards and models for choice may wax and wane, but the drive for a privatized education system, operated like a corporation and for the benefit of corporations-- that particular part of the reform vision has never wavered. It has been and remains consistent. As with any vision, there are those who sincerely believe in it and, in this case, many many more who steer by it because of a venal desire for money and power (you can spot them because they are sure that teachers and their unions are only interested in money and power). Everything else can be compromised or even abandoned, but privatization is the hydra head that will not fall, that belongs to the main body of the beast. This is what the last twenty-five years have been all about.

This is why charters have emerged as a main issue in discussing Democratic candidate education platforms-- because while other things like testing and pay matter, charters and choice come closest to the real heart of reform, the push for privatization.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Can Rich Content Improve Education?

Modern high-stakes testing really kicked into gear with No Child Left Behind, and then got another huge boost with the advent of Common Core. All through that era, teachers pushed back against the fracturing of reading instruction, the idea that reading is a suite of discrete skills that can be taught independent of any particular content
The pendulum has begun its swing back. Content knowledge is coming back into vogue, and while there are plenty of cognitive science-heavy explanations out there, the basic idea is easy to grasp. If you know a lot about dinosaurs, you have an easier time reading and comprehending a book about dinosaurs. If you are trying to sound out an unfamiliar word on the page, it’s easier if you already know the word by sound. If you learn and store new information by connecting it to information you already have banked, that process is easier if you actually have plenty of information already stored away. 
Classroom teachers have known this. Some have argued that the Common Core acknowledged this (but did so in the appendix, none of which is tested material). And while much of the education reform crowd joined the “skills” push (one attempted catchphrase of the new SAT created under Common Core creator David Coleman was “skilled it”), some reformers never lost faith in the work of Ed Hirsch, Jr., who has himself stayed committed to the idea through his Core Knowledge Foundation.
So if we restore rich content to education and provide students with a wealth of background knowledge, will that revitalize education and fix some of the issues that have plagued us? Or will this, like the great skills revolution at the beginning of the century, turn out to be a terribly misguided idea?
Well, both. Hirsch’s 1983 book, Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs To Know, underlines two of the potential pitfalls of rich content in education.
First, consider the subtitle–what every American needs to know. If we had every single American compile a list, what are the odds that any two would match? English teachers especially are familiar with the problems of an ever changing canon. Kate Chopin was once a somewhat obscure U.S. writer; she’s now solidly in the canon. Alfred, Lord Tennyson was beloved, then reviled, then beloved. Someone is always looking to kick Shakespeare out of the canon, even as others will fight for him with their last breath. And somewhere, someone is at this very moment getting ready to correct me on one or all of those last three sentences. 
Agreeing in what should make the cut is, as all English teachers well know, an endless wrangling debate. Any discussion about loading up rich content knowledge for students will be accompanied by an endless argument about what content will be included–and I do mean endless. This is not to argue that the attempt should not be made–only to point out that if you insist that nothing will do other than your exact list, you will never get it done at all. Not only that, but the list that seemed sort of okay this year will need fixing next year.
Second, there is a danger in having a list, particularly if the list is generated by a large committee. A teacher has 180 teaching days, minus days spent testing, minus days spent practice testing, minus days lost to a school assembly, minus days lost to being randomly pulled from class for a conference, minus time lost for procedural things like handing out lockers. A really, really generous estimate of actual teaching days would be 160. So at the rate of one item of critical rich content background knowledge per day, we can hit 160 items. But there is no such thing as “rich” content that will be learned by a student in one day. 
One of two things may happen. Your list of crucial background knowledge may be radically reduced to, say, thirty items. Or the teacher will spend the year racing through and checking off a list (”Students! Please look at the front screen. That’s a picture of Plato, an old dead smart Greek guy. He wrote some stuff about a cave. Boom! Moving on to our next unit now...”).
There’s a further danger that the speedy check-off list approach finds bureaucratic expression in a big standardized test used to judge and compare schools. Such a standardized test would be a bad way to assess the richness of student achievement and education–different from our current bad tests, but still bad, and still incentivizing teaching the test, rather than to the richness of the content (Question 1: Plato is associated with A. a cave B. a boat C. a nation or D. the trombone). 
Nearly twenty years of test-driven top-down education reform has hollowed out too much of our education system. A rich content focus can reverse some of that damage, particularly by reversing the practice of pulling students out of history and science classes so that they can spend more of their day practicing reading skills (you may think that sounds nuts, but a principal in my old district regularly did it, and he was not an anomaly in the U.S.). Students could read full works of literature instead of excerpts of bad articles. Students could experience the fun and excitement of becoming knowledgeable experts on particular topics.
But it would be a mistake not to recognize that a content knowledge movement could be botched in ways that do new, different kinds of damage to the education system of this country. As the pendulum swings back, we need to be careful that it doesn’t become a wrecking ball.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Kristen Bell, Celebrity Charity, Flaming Possums


I was already thinking about this, about how Dana Goldstein's Common Core retrospective for the New York Times collapsed a lot of history, but still had room for that time that pre-disgraced Louis CK made a crack about Common Core math. A great reminder of how a gazillion teachers and parents can comment on the quality of the Core, but a celebrity makes a comment and suddenly people listen.
Well, here comes another one of those feel good stories that doesn't make me feel so good. Kristen Bell, actress, star, celebrity, has started doing a little crowd-sourcing charity for classroom teachers. She's been at this for a while--every Friday on Instagram she posts the story of some heart-warming teacher somewhere and the good work that teacher has been doing and the wish list that teacher has for her classroom. Bell's followers then flood that teacher with supplies forn the classroom.

Yes, it's nice that a celebrity is raising the profile of classroom teachers across the country. Yes, it's nice that the appreciation takes the tangible form of supplies a teacher can use. But it brings us back to the old flaming dead possum problem, which I'll illustrate with this conversation:

Employee: Boss! Boss! Come here. I want to talk to you. I have a huge problem. Somebody put a big flaming dead possum on my desk.

Boss: [Looking into employee's office] I don't see any flaming dead possum.

Employee: Well, I put out the fire, then I took the possum out back and buried it.

Boss: Well, then. It's look to me that there is no problem.

Employee: But-- but-- I shouldn't have to do all that!

Boss: [Walking away, wiping kerosene and possum hair off his hands] Keep up the good work. Glad you have no problems.

The flaming possum problem is always a tough choice-- you don't want the office to burn down, and the fdp really interferes with work, but if you solve the problem yourself, your boss dosn't hve a problem he needs to solve, and before you know it, you are dealing with flaming dead possums on a daily basis. Flaming dead possums happen in all sectors, public and private, but education is particularly prone to it because teachers don't want the possum to burn down a classroom filled with children, nor does anyone want to turn down the generosity of concerned parents and citizens who just want to help. Still, this year's "we received this equipment through the generosity of the PTA" is next year's "we don't have to budget for that-- the PTA will take care of it" which may sound find, but plugging holes in a school budget with scented candle sales is not a sustainable approach.

Plus, not every PTA is equally able to pick up the slack. Using charity to fund education exacerbates problems of inequity. 

You can't deny something like Bell's program. If a hundred Amazon boxes had showed up at my classroom with supplies I needed, I wouldn't have jumped on my high horse and declared, "No, until schools are properly funded, I will not accept these." Damned right I'd have accepted them (though I probably would have shared the wealth with colleagues).

But wouldn't it be cool if someone like Bell, in addition to the teacher's classroom address, also provided the addresses of that teacher's school board and legislators and each Instagram follower who sent a donation also sent a letter or email to the folks in charge saying, "Why do I, a complete stranger, have to help out this teacher? Why can't you properly fund the classrooms in this building?!" What if Bell herself started exerting pressure on the funders of classrooms instead of just helping put our possum fires.

Mind you, I'm not arguing to let the flaming dead possums burn. But at the same time, working on finding and stopping the guys who are killing and igniting the possums needs to happen, too. It may not feel as good, but if celebrities are looking for an education project, that's one I'd suggest.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Next Saturday: Dem Education Forum in Pittsburgh (Yes, I'll Be There)

Next Saturday, December 14, some assortment of Democratic Presidential hopefuls will offer their two cents about education. The crowd will be an invitation-only group of about a thousand public education stakeholders, including yours truly. The Network for Public Education kindly gave me the chance to attend this event, and I am looking forward to it.

If you are not among the thousand invitees, you can still catch the evens as they unfold on several  streaming options. NBC News Now, and NBC News Learn are all supposed to be carrying it, with MSNBC doing some coverage of it throughout their programming.

You can also head to this page for a look. If nothing else, I'm sure many of us will be tweeting along madly throughout the day (find me at @palan57).

Right now most of the big names are expected (though not, as of the moment, Booker or Bloomberg). Vice President Joe Biden, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Harris had expected to attend but then, well...).

Do I think amazing, momentous things are going to happen? I do not--any candidate who cant get his message locked and loaded for this particular crowd has to be exceptionally dense. The format doesn't allow for many surprises-- candidates talk, moderators ask stuff, crowd (or at least carefully selected members thereof) get to ask questions, rinse and repeat.

But I'm excited the thin is even happening. Remember 2016? You may recall that Campbell Brown set up The74 in hopes of using it to be a player, even a kingmaker, around the hot topic of education. Jeb Bush was poised to use his Florida education record as launch fuel. The74 intended to host two big education fora--one for each party. But the NH forum for the GOP pulled only six candidates out of the clown car field of something-teen (Bush, Kasich, Fiorina, Christie, Jindal, and Walker, and you'd already forgotten a couple of those people had even run, hadn't you). The GOP forum was just a big sloppy wet kiss for school choice and it didn't really matter because by that point it was clear that not one of those six was ever going to be setting national policy for anything. The Democrats snubbed Brown entirely, which didn't matter because none of them could muster anything more robust than "Pre-k is good, we should do it" and "College shouldn't be so expensive." They might eventually dip their toes in the K-12 charter pool, but it was all pretty weak sauce.

Pre-2016, name a single national election in which education was a big enough deal to merit the candidates sitting down to jaw about it.

So even if no news breaks, it's news that major candidates are going to perform some greatest education hits in front of an education audience.

Personally, I've never been to a big time political circus like this (I was at a coffee house meet-and-greet with Pat Toomey once) so I am looking forward to seeing the candidates live and in person, not to mention the chance to say hi to some of my favorite education folks. If I get to ask a question, that would be icing on the cake.

Later this week I'll make my predictions about the forum, once the candidate list is a little more firmed up. Block out your day next Saturday (because eleven days before Christmas, you're probably not super-busy or anything). I think it's going to be a great time.

ICYMI: New Car Edition (12/8)

So yesterday we replaced my wife's car, which has lost an argument with an errant deer. Used car shopping is a pain, but if you want to talk about something that has truly and completely been disrupted by technology. Little browsing, because everyone does that on line. Little haggling compared to the old says because everyone can go online and see what the car is worth. Few tremendous bargains, but few total rip-offs. But still enough paperwork to fell a tree. At any rate, we're mobile again. Now here are your readings from the week.

A Harlem School That Former Students Say Was Run Like A Cult 

Rebecca Klein at HuffPost with a scary tale of one private school that promises, among other things, to save its students "from te homosexual demons in the public school system."

Life For US Students Under Constant Surveillance  

The Guardian takes a look at how bad surveillance has gotten for US students. Spoiler alert: really bad.

How the Denver School Board Flipped  

Denver's super-reformy district was a point of pride for reformsters, but public school advocates just took it back with the last school board elections. The Have You Heard podcast has the story of how it was done.

Uber's Self-driving Car Didn't Know Pedestrians Could Jaywalk  

Speaking of Betsy DeVos's metaphor for school choice, and speaking of using AI for all sorts of edubusines... Wired reports on a cyber-car fatality and its cause-- bad programming.

PISA: Illusion of Excellence, Marketing Baloney  

Okay, I paraphrased the title a bit, but this Washington Post column from Yong Zhao, an education expert with a keen knowledge of China, is the week's best antidote to all the chicken littling over PISA scores.

The Teacher Walkouts

A California Sunday Magazine piece that interviews ten teachers with different perspectives on striking. Interesting piece, with photos by student photographers.

How GreatSchools Nudges Families Toward Schools With Fewer Black and Hispanic Students   

Matt Barnum ruffled many feathers with this Chalkbeat piece that takes a look at how those school ratings really work. Not well, as it turns out.

PA's Weakest Districts Targeted

The York Dispatch editorial board offers an absolutely blistering take on charter schools.

How Corporate Tax Credits Rob Public School Budgets

The headline of this CityLab article pretty well lays it out. A look at some fresh data shows just how bad the hit is.

Support for Charters in 2020 Elections Comes with a Price  

Andre Perry, at the Hechinger Report, is just the king of nuanced and balanced looks at charter policy that clarifies some of the root issues. Here he talks about the week's flap over Black leaders anjd charter support.

Teacher Turnover and Retention   

Brookings did a big fat meta-analyis of the research on teacher retention and attrition. Interesting discussion starter ensues.

America's Epidemic of Unkindness  

From the Atlantic, the best thing not ab out education that I read this week, and a hopeful, thoughtful piece. God damn it babies, you've got to be kind.

End of Semester Bingo  

From McSweeney's, the end of the semester bingo card you've been waiting for. An oldie but a goodie.

Friday, December 6, 2019

MI: Governor Whitmer Files Private School-Whomping Brief

Back in 2016, the Michigan legislature, always on the lookout for a way to send public tax dollars into private pockets, passed Section 388.1752b, a little amendment to the School Aid act that required the state to reimburse private schools for any money they spent "complying with health, safety, or welfare requirement mandated by a law or administrative rule of this state."

In other words, the state would pay them to follow the law.

This lady. I like this lady.
It's intriguing to imagine how a law like this would play out in the rest of the private sector. "We have a bunch of work to do to get up to code, but don't worry-- the state will pay for all of it." It's easy to imagine how this could be abused as well. Church needs some more access ramps and that will mean redoing the whole fa├žade of the building; just call the state and have them write a check.

But Michigan has an constitutional ban on giving public money to private and/or religious schools. So roughly five minutes after 388.1752b was passed, it was being taken to court. Now that it's made it to the Michigan Supreme Court, it's been generating a steady string of motions and amicus briefs from interested parties, like the Michigan Catholic Conference.

Today the stack of briefs got a bit taller with an addition from Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Michael Rice.

Having taken a look at the case, the governor and superintendent have concluded "that the state can provide funds to nonpublic schools to help them pay the costs of complying with state mandates, but only if those mandates are related to student transportation. Beyond that, the statute’s funding of nonpublic schools is constitutionally prohibited."

In other words, the private schools, says the governor, may go pound sand, and do it on their own dime. But they can have busses.

Hard to say how this will turn out, but I have to say that it's certainlyj a breath of fresh air to see a governor, particularly in the state of Michigan (Motto: Betsy DeVos is our least popular export).