Wednesday, January 26, 2022

VA: Youngkin Invites Everyone To Turn In Teachers

 Figuring that pitting parents against schools had won him an election, Governor Glenn Youngkin has made good on his pledge to attack public education and the teachers who work there.

He started right in with an edict that schools should not teach anything "inherently divisive," one more anti-CRT law so fuzzy, subjective, and poorly-conceived that it will chill teaching of any subjects that anybody might object to. The text is spectacularly vague, and though it contains a list of some "divisive concepts" that are specifically naughty, its reliance on that "divisive concept" language guarantees that schools across the state will have no clear idea what exactly is forbidden, and so administrations not in the mood for a fight will simply instruct teachers not to talk about race, gender, or pretty much anything that might upset anybody. Is evolution divisive? History of the Civil War (particularly in Virginia)? My students were pretty divided on whether Lady MacBeth is a redeemable character or not. In fact, we used to stage debates, but I suppose those are inherently divisive, too.

To insure that the decree carries maximum power to intimidate and silence teachers, the governor has followed the lead of states like Texas and Florida and instituted a means for parents and community members to turn in any teachers for being naughty. As he explained in one interview:

For parents to send us any instances where they feel that their fundamental rights are being violated, where their children are not being respected, where there are inherently divisive practices in their schools. We’re asking for input right from parents to make sure we can go right to the source as we continue to work to make sure that Virginia’s education system is on the path to reestablish excellence.

Brown shirts and cultural revolution posters are optional.

James Fedderman, the head of the Virginia Education Association called the tip line "poorly conceived" and "designed to intimidate educators simply trying to do their jobs," which sounds about right.

But of course you know what else happened next. The tip line has apparently been hit with a variety of reports, like a complaint that Albus Dumbledor "was teaching that full blooded wizards discriminated against mudbloods." Some of this has been goaded on Twitter by folks like human rights lawyer Qasim Rasgid. And John Legend correctly pointed out that under the guidelines of the decree, Black parents could legitimately complain about Black history being silenced (because, as sometimes escapes the notice of anti-CRT warriors, some parents are Black). Ditto for LGBTQ parents.

Also, this has been floating about the interwebz.

Anyone can send their reports to the tip line email:

So if you have some thoughts about all of this that you would like to share with the governor, just send them to

Which is of course only for serious, meaningful, and real complaints about divisive concepts, and not fake racism tips or other things. I certainly wouldn't consult this twitter thread for any ideas, but I would send to

only the kind of serious comments that such a state-sponsored attempt to intimidate and silence teachers deserves. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Going To Battle Over 38 Cents

 Parents Defending Education is one of the several totally-not-astroturf groups that has turned up to fight against left-wing indoctrinatin' in schools. They are just regular folks and not at all representative of a conservative attempt to turn school controversy into political power.

PDE's vice president for strategy and investigations Asra Nomani dropped what I think was supposed to be a bombshell (like most PDE leaders, Nomani is a seasoned political operator--she voted for Trump and helped back his Muslim ban). It's those darned Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs.

"The amount of money put into social justice consulting since the tragedy of the George Floyd killing has just exploded," Asra Nomani, the vice president for strategy and investigations at Parents Defending Education, told Newsweek.

The total amount spent on programs "under the DEI umbrella" is $21,812,007 (an impressively exact number). That, I take it, is supposed to be a lot. That was not my reaction, nor the reaction of some others.

I'm not sure that's fair-- with around 54 million K-12 students, that works out to about thirty-eight cents per student, so it's way less than the cost of breakfast. 

Meanwhile, today we also learned that the about ten cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania spent around $35 million over two years--just for marketing.

There are several pieces missing here. For instance, it's an odd choice to start counting "since the George Floyd killing," as if these kinds of programs were just invented after that murder was committed, and yet I could swear these programs, and the concerns the6y address, have been around for a while.

And the huge missing piece here is the explanation of why, exactly, DEI programs are evil and terrible. The theory, per PDE website and many CRT panic folks, is that DEI is obviously just a front for CRT, which imbues DEI with some vaguely second-hand badness. 

Newsweek, which ought to be ashamed of itself for running with this silly story, at least includes some words from one of these evil DEI consultants so we can see just what they're up to:

One of those agencies is Akoben LLC, which says it offers consulting, coaching services, speaking engagements and a variety of workshops meant to "stretch thinking, provoke reflection and stimulate action." Subjects taught include "restorative practices, trauma-informed care, cultural relevancy and agency and assets."

"No significant learning happens outside of a significant relationship—it requires a relationship between teachers and students, and the deeper that is, the more learning and more challenges we can confront," Malik Muhammad, CEO of Akoben, told Newsweek. The vast majority of Akoben's work, 95 percent, is with public schools.

Goodness. And then there's this:

"In all of domains, whether it's a white student chasing sexual identity issues or a poor student who comes from Somalia trying to understand what's going on—oftentimes if we don't find time to talk about the differences we often default to the majority," said Muhammad said. "When we find the opportunity to be more inclusive, those are the environments where [students] want to learn."

Personally, I'd like to see more than 38 cents per student spent on that.

Of course, this is just PDE's estimate. Some other conservative groups are throwing around $25 billion based on this NYT piece, which doesn't really have much to do with education.

Look, I have no doubt that there are some crappy vendors out there cashing on a demand for DEI programming, but the notion that we should tell kids to keep their heads down and focus on reading, writing, and 'rithmetic and just keep quiet about all that race stuff is a bad, unproductive notion.

And if PDE wants to convince anyone that they are not simply political operatives trying to stir up racist anger and discontent to animate their base and score politics, they probably shouldn't try to stir up pretend outrage over what is literally nickel and dime baloney. 

Monday, January 24, 2022

NC: More Bad Ideas (That Will Not Recruit Teachers)

 North Carolina's public education system has been a mess for at least a decade, and some bright lights have another clever idea that will not help. 

North Carolina is tied for #3 on the Public Education Hostility Index.Just to recap where we are, here's a partial listing of all the lousy ideas North Carolina has implemented so far.

NC implemented one of those flunk third graders if they don't as the Big Standardized Reading Test laws. They froze their already-lousy pay schedule for teachers (in NC, the state sets the pay levels) even as that pay was shown to be Very Not Good.. When a report showed charter schools not doing so great, the Lt. Governor ordered it rewritten to look less negative; then a few years later they did the same thing again. Maybe it's because they are a great haven for charter profiteers. They decided to shovel even more public money into the voucher pipeline, while cutting millions from public ed funding (for Democratic areas). They tried to follow the failed Tennessee model of a state-run achievement school district (but it failed). When the legislature tried and failed to end teacher tenure, they told teachers they could have a raise if they gave up their job protections. NC legislature is one of the ones that decided to fight on the hill of denying transgender bathrooms. And last year the Lt. Governor decided to oirganize a task force to catch any schools or teachers doing any naughty indoctrinatin' stuff--a state sponsored with hunt. This in a state where county commissioners can take school districts hostage if they don't like what the schools are teaching.

Periodically, leaders in North Carolina stop to scratch their heads and wonder why their public school system has trouble filling teaching positions.

Last week, the Governor's Teacher Advisory Committee listened to a presentation by the Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission about how to attract and retain teachers in North Carolina, and you probably can't guess what the solution is.

Licensure. The "most effective way to get and keep teachers [is] to change North Carolina's licensure process."

Hey--you know this is going to be a good idea because it grew out of discussions at the North Carolina Education Human Capital Roundtable, a group of "state education leaders and practitioners working together to find innovative ways to address the state's teacher shortage issue." 

I'm guessing that "innovative" is the key word here, because ideas like "pay them more" and "treat them and the public education system with respect and support" are pretty inside-the-box old hat. As would be treating them like people and not "human capital."

The Human Capital Roundtable has been kicking this idea around for a while (they presented it to the state board about a year ago and they report that "there is nothing promised from the legislature at this particular point, but they are very interested in our work." 

The proposal has a collection of old familiar reform parts.

Make the pool deeper. Right now, they note, people who want to be teachers go to four year teacher prep programs. So they propose to "widen the entrance" by letting any associate or bachelor degree qualify someone for licensure. I am not sure how this helps--is there a widespread problem with people who get a degree in some other area and are surprised and disappointed to discover that degree doesn't lead to teaching? People who want to be teachers, but who want to go to school for something else--well, I guess Teach for America has sort of introduced this idea? But okay--wider entryway.

Off ramps. The proposal calls for "clear exit points for ineffective teachers," aka the old "it should be easier to fire people from teaching." One reason would be a lack of content or pedagogical skills or competencies; if only they could have gone to college to get that kind of background. 

Then there should be steps, so that there's a professional ladder for teachers to climb, because that will help. somehow. One of the presenters noted that teachers get good around years 5-7 and then plateau, and it's not clear if he thinks there are untapped levels of excellence that could be goosed or what. 

So in this plan there are four "entry-level" certificates. Learning Permit, and Levels 1, 2 and 3. Learner Permits earn a co-teacher salary, while the others get a tad more. All these entry level teachers are paired with an Advanced Teacher mentor.  Then there are three Professional-Level certificates that you can work up to.

The "working up to" part brings back some other old favorites, including getting competency-based micro-certificates. But the real kicker is called out in this quote:

The overarching goal is to create an outcomes-based licensure system.

The grand idea includes references to effective teaching and positive impact on students, which gets us right back to a system in which professional advancement depends on student test scores on the Big Standardized Test, which of course means that teacher's professional future is based on which students you are assigned to or the results of some criminally-inaccurate magic formula. (Oh look--brand new evidence that the popular measures for "effectiveness" are lousy.) If North Carolina officials are interested in outcomes, I'd suggest that the outcome of this idea will not be a bunch more teachers being recruited and retained by the state. 

In their pitch last year, the human capital folks claimed, among other things, that this will restore "the respect the professions deserves," and maybe that's just a passive-aggressive slam about how it doesn't deserve much, because this plan sure doesn't offer any. They also claim to be the first in the nation to innovate this way," but there isn't a single new idea here. 

These folks are also trying to sell this as a money-maker for teachers, saying teachers could "top out" around $70K instead of the current $50K, and that teachers could earn "almost $200,000 over a 30-year career than they do now" which is not impressive (that's $6,666 more per year). Increases would depend on getting through all the hoops, since this system would completely do away with annual steps. Not that North Carolina teachers haven't been left stuck on one step of the pay scale before. Nowhere is there an indication of what the bottom of this new scale looks like, which is an important item to look at, since plans to let teachers climb a ladder to success invariably start by digging a hole and dropping the bottom of the ladder a few feet lower than it currently stands (because part of the goal is always to pull off this triuck without actually spending more money on teachers).

GTAC also heard from BEST NC, which is a business coalition of education meddler/kibbitzers that's also been working on a plan called NC STRIDE that is supposed to help recruit teachers to NC. They've collected data and written recommendations and almost all of it is vague bureaucratic hoop and tape shuffling. They came up with 8 recommendations, 20 strategies, 150 actions, and 5 gateways. 

The five gateways they examined are: interest, licensure, employment, exposure, and preparation. “Somewhere along these five gateways, they hit a wall,” Berg said of potential teacher candidates.

In other words, they don't have a clue what the problem is. 

I can't figure out if all these folks are supremely clueless or are simply trying to paper over North Carolina's decade of unrelenting disrespect and erosion of support for public schools and the people who work in them. Do they really think they're holding a debutante's cotillion, or are they slapping lipstick on this human capital pig and hoping she'll pass? Either way, there will be oinking on the dance floor.

Money and respect, which includes professional autonomy and decent, well-resourced workplaces. It's not that big a mystery, except, apparently, in North Carolina. 

Sunday, January 23, 2022

ICYMI: So Now It's Winter Edition (1/23)

 Well, that was kind of sudden. Just last week we were all cozy and now it's all cold and that thing where the sun comes out and the world calls "Come on out--it's beautiful" and then you succumb to temptation and lose a couple of toes. So here's this week's reading list instead.

I Always Be Sneaky

Your uplift for the week. An eight year old in Boise wrote a book and then snuck it onto the library shelf, because you got to reach your audience whatever it takes. \

Legislator's Guide To Making Useful Education Policy

Ten absolutely useful guidelines from Nancy Flanagan. If only more policy makers followed these.

Judge Issues Stinging Free Speech Ruling Against University of Florida

This is good news. The University wanted to bar professors from serving as expert witnesses against the state. Turns out they can't do that kind of barring. New York Times has the story. "Stop acting like your contemporaries in Hong Kong," the judge told university administrators.

"Our Biggest Nightmare Is Here"

Yes, it's in Education Next, but this story from a school district IT director is an excellent look at the issue of schools suffering cyberattacks.

Why requiring lesson plan submissions from teachers right now is absurd

Angela Barton writes at Bored Teachers, explaining why submitting your detailed lesson plans should be the least of a teacher's problems right now.

One Jeans Day Won't Cut It (and what school leaders can do instead)

From the blog Organized Chaos, a great luck at the Do's and Don't's of raising staff morale right now.

Is "Learning Loss" real, or a function of America's need for speed?

From blogger and teacher Barth Keck, another look at the real issues connected to Learning Loss.

Public School Parents sue to stop West Virgina vouchers

From Public Funds Public Schools, the important information about an important lawsuit to stop vouchers before they get started in WV.

What to know about the charter school debate

Virginia is turning out to be another front in the charter attack on public ed. This explainer from NPR does a good job of laying out the issues in this particular iteration of the oft-repeated conflict.

A short history of Seth Andrews and Seth Andrews pleads guilty to wire fraud

Former Arne Duncan sidekick and charter school founder Seth Andrews is in some trouble with a whole embezzlement thing. Leonie Haimson at NYC Public School Parents and the indispensable Mercedes Schneider both offer useful insights and history on this guy and his current problems.

Kindergarten online data? Teacher observation is safer and better!

Computerized testing for early childhood? Nancy Bailey looks at one more dumb idea being aimed at the littles, and offers a superior alternative.

A Health Screening Questionnaire for Teachers

McSweeney's continues to demonstrate that dark times for regular humans are peak times for satirists.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Koch Education Wing Continues Rebranding

Remember when Charles Koch wrote that he had done an oopsie by being so partisan and dividing the country? That was back in late 2020, and it was followed by the rise of a new Koch Brand--Stand Together--which in turn spawned a new substack about fixing education called "Learning Everywhere." It turns out that the Koch metamorphosis was not done yet.

"Learning Together" was co-hosted by Lisa Snell, director of K-12 education policy for Stand Together, aka the Charles Koch Institute. Previously she spent 23 years as Director of Education at the Reason Foundation. Her co-host is Adam Peshek, who is part of the same Kochtopus, having arrived Jeb Bush's ExcelinEd (formerly FEE). Peshek also works at Yes, Every Kid, a rebranding of some standard reform ideas.

The substack started out playing the reformy hits (did you know schools are built on the factory model? well, they weren't, but did you think so anyway? Snell and Peshek would like you to think so).

So, Charles Koch Institute is now Stand Together Trust, an organization that now has a hip young vibe. Check out the website-- "We help you tackle the roots of America's biggest problems" in bold print over dynamic videos. Hugging! Clapping! Black people! "Everyone is tired of all the fighting over problems with very little focus on real solutions."

Among the issues they want to address is education, and their dynamic new solutions are...well, the same old ones. They insist that education is currently one-size-fits-all (news to teachers in public schools), and they have the same old right-tilted complaints-- we spent more money but test scores didn't go up! Families give education a C (but we're not going to point out that they give far higher grades to the local schools they know). Individualized education is where it's at. 
There's a video in which Sal Khan, promoter of an educational program that involves students sitting and passively watching a video, complains that education involves students sitting passively while listening to a teacher. Other "leaders" they bring up are Diane Tavenner, head of Summit Schools (a school-in-a-box not-great tech product). There are lots of pictures of exciting active learning, all of which could have come from a public school. Aaron Frumin, founder of unCommon Construction, who talks about how frustrated he became "as a teacher" which he was for the two whole years he spent with Teach for America. His program uses students as laborers to build houses, an innovative program pretty much like the one the vocational technical school in my county has had for sixty years. Here's Todd Rose "By any measure, the system doesn't work." Rose was a professor at Harvard's Graduate School of Education and founder of the Center for Individual Opportunity and he runs the think tank Populace. And he has a Story, in which he dropped out of high school ("The system failed me.") There's some more talk about believing in students (which, again, is not unheard of in public schools). "Success doesn't have to mean one thing. We need our education system to have a much broader view of success."

That's the pitch. Well, actually, the pitch is use your money to invest in these people doing this stuff. But also, we got 11 major education bills passed in 8 states in 2021, and somehow we don't talk about what those bills did, like pushing privatization of education or gagging of teachers. There are case studies of success, like Cadence Learning, one more cyber-school venture, this one launched by Chris Cerf, Ian Rowe and Steven Wilson--all god privatization champions.

Meanwhile, the known recipients of ST grants are not so much education revolutionaries as the same old Koch style conservative crews. Americans for Prosperity, Bill of Rights Institute, Bellwether Education, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Texas Public Policy Foundation, Vela Education Fund. 

The substack has now transformed into a new title-- Permissionless Education. That term has cropped up several places lately, and it really captures the Libertarian mindset of not wanting to have to ask for anyone's permission to do anything ever, a mindset I can recognize immediately because I live with a pair of four-year-old toddlers. 

The announcement of all these name changes on the substack comes with a listing of the priorities, which they assure us remain the same.

Individualized education, one not aimed toward students who "parrot back what they have been told or read" (because one weird recurring theme in reformsters is a desire to reform the schools of the 1960s).

Normalizing unconventional models. Specifically, privately owned and operated ones that involve no government oversight, tax dollars, or responsibility for people who can't pay their own way.

Ending residential assignment. You might think this means "find ways to get kids from poor neighborhoods into the schools that rich kids go to," but that does not seem to be the case.

Modernizing education funding. Vouchers. Just say the word, team. Vouchers. Because vouchers' most important characteristic is that in exchange for cutting parents a small check, the state washes their hands of any responsibility to provide people with an education, which in turn gets rich people out of having to pay taxes to educate Those Peoples' Children. 

There's been a lot of rebranding going on and plenty of tweaking of the message, but at root, this all feels very familiar. Privatize. Shrink government. Let people sink or swim in a free market, just as God intended. But the logo is pretty, and the graphics are great. 

The Search For Computerized Essay Grading Continues

It is the dream that will not die. For some reason, there are still people who think the world would be a better place if student essays could be evaluated by software, because reasons. The problem has remained the same--for decades companies have searched for a software algorithm that can do the job, but other than deciding to call the algorithms "AI," progress has been slim to none.

And yet, the dream will not die. So now we get a competition, mounted by Georgia State University has teamed up with The Learning Agency Lab (a "sister organization" with The Learning Agency).

The Feedback Prize is a coding competition being run through Kaggle, in which competitors are asked to root through a database of just under 26K student argumentative essays that have been previously scored by "experts" as part of state standardized assessments between 2010 and 2020 (which raises a whole other set of issues, but let's skip that for now). The goal is to have your algorithm come close to the human scoring results. Why? Well, they open their case with a sentence that deserves its own award for understatement.

There are currently numerous automated writing feedback tools, but they all have limitations. 

Well, yes. Primarily they are limited because they don't work very well. The contest says the current automated feedback programs is that "many often fail to identify writing structures" like thesis statements of support for claims. Well, yes, because--and I cannot say this hard enough--computer algorithms do not understand anything in the sense that we mean the word. Computer language processing is just weather forecasting--looking at some bank of previous language examples and checking to see if the sample they're examining has superficial characteristics that match what the bank of samples would lead one to expect. But no computer algorithm can, for instance, understand whether or not your supporting evidence provides good, er even accurate, support.

The competition also notes that most current software is proprietary so that A) you don't even know what it's trying to do, or how and B) you can't afford it for your school, particularly if your school is resource-strapped, meaning that poor kids have to depend on regular old humans to grade their writing.

For extra juice, they note that according to NAEP, only a third of students are proficient (without noting that "proficient" on NAEP is a high bar). They do not cite any data showing that automated essay grading helps students write better, because they can't. 

But if you enter this competition, you get access to a large dataset of student writing "in order to test your skills in natural language processing, a fast-growing area of data science."

If successful, you'll make it easier for students to receive feedback on their writing and increase opportunities to improve writing outcomes. Virtual writing tutors and automated writing systems can leverage these algorithms while teachers may use them to reduce grading time. The open-sourced algorithms you come up with will allow any educational organization to better help young writers develop.

902 teams have already entered; you can actually check their current status on a public leader board. There are lots of fun team names like Feedforward, Pomegranate, Zoltan and Fork is all you need. Plus many that are not in English. Poking through the site, you can see how much the writing samples are referred to ad discussed as data rather than writing; many of these folks are conceptualizing the whole process as analyzing data rather than assessing writing, and in fact there don't seem to be any actual writing or teaching experts in sight, which is pretty symptomatic of the whole field of automated essay evaluation. 

Who is in sight?

Well, you'll be unsurprised to find that the competition thanks The Gates Foundation, Schmidt Futures, and the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative for their support. Schmidt Futures, the name you might not recognize here, was founded by Eric Schmidt, former Google CEO, to technologize the future.

And if we look at the Learning Agency and the Learning Agency Lab, it's more of the same. The Agency is "part consultancy, part service provider," so a consulting outfit that works to "improve education delivery systems." They tout a team of "former academics, technologists, journalists and teachers." Sure. We'll see.

The outfit was founded by Ulrich Boser in 2017, and they partner with the Gates Foundation, Schmidt Futures, Georgia State University, and the Center for American Progress, where Boser is a senior fellow. He has also been an advisor to the Gates Foundation, Hillary Clinton's Presidential Campaign, and the Charles Butt Foundation--so a fine list of reform-minded left-leaning outfits. Their team involves former government wonks, non-profit managers, comms people and one woman who used toi teach English at a private K-12 school. The Lab is more of the same; there are more "data scientists" in this outfit than actual teachers.

I'm going out on a limb to predict that this competition, due to wrap up in a couple of months, is not going to revolutionize writing assessment in any way. But the dream won't die, particularly as long as some folks believe that data crunching machines can uplift young humans. 

Thursday, January 20, 2022

The Other Pandemic Unmasking

At first glance, I suppose it seems like a reasonable set of solutions. 

Expand the pool of who can be a substitute teacher. Anyone with a college degree. Anyone who already works in the building or district. Anybody with a high school diploma. 

In Oklahoma, police officers can now step in as substitute teachers (in Moore, they've already done so). In New Mexico, the governor has called in the National Guard to fill the teacher gap. 

It is amazing how quickly some folks have pivoted from "We must insure teacher and educational quality" to "We must get students into a building with the word 'school' in its name no matter what actually happens once we're inside." It turns out that an awful lot of that big talk about educational excellence and quality was insincere posturing and as long as we can get schools open and students stuffed inside with something resembling a probably-responsible adult with a pulse, that's good enough. Oklahoma has been oh so concerned about making sure nobody was in a classroom indoctrinatin' students, but now it turns they mostly just wants someone--anyone--in that classroom so they can keep the building open.

It is the ultimate expression of "anyone can do that job," even, incredibly, dwarfing the old Teach For America line that we can teach an Ivy League grad everything they need to be an awesome teacher in just five weeks. Hell, now we can teach any adult how to be a perfectly adequate teacher in no weeks.

For what other profession would we consider this a solution. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Fleegleman, but Dr. Hergensheimer is not well enough to perform your heart surgery. But don't worry--Sgt. Blinko from the 15th Precinct will handle it." The doctors and nurses are all out sick, so we'll just have the custodians and administrative assistants run the place. The plumber is too ill to fix your clogged sink, but here's a recent high school grad with a piece of wire. The judge is laid up with illness, so we've brought in the kid who delivers the judge's newspaper. In what other profession would we settle for any warm body to step in for the job.

Look, I know that the defining feature of education during the pandemic has been that all available options stink (though with two years to work on it, we should have figured out how to make some, like remote learning, stink much less). I get that all available choices are sub-optimal. And I have respect for those who have struggled to find a path to quality education for students, even when their choices are not the ones I would make.

But at the same time, there's no escaping that when push came to shove, a whole lot of people decided that they were far more worried about making sure school buildings were open than they were about what was going on inside them. Some have revealed that in their list of priorities, teacher safety and teacher quality come in far behind teacher presence and teacher pulse. Education, shmeducation--just get that child car service running again, whatever it takes!

I just want us all to remember this when the day comes for them to start posturing again. Their mask is off, and we can see what's underneath.