Sunday, July 5, 2020

ICYMI: Pet Recovery Day Edition (7/5)

Our current dog is impervious to pretty much everything other than people on our front porch. But my previous dog spent every July 4 cowering under a shed, and every year I think of him and all the pets like him. This year, a number of things derailed our usual Fourth celebration, including the cancellation of local fireworks. But today can still be a rest and reflect opportunity. And I have things for you to read.

You know that I sometimes paraphrase these headlines, right. Here's Wesley Whistle at Forbes with the latest in DeVosian misbehavior. 

Nancy Flanagan spins off some meme wisdom.

So, NEPC wrote a study that suggests that Summit Education is big on claims, low on actual evidence. This made Summit (even though they had steadfastly stonewalled NEPC while they were trying to do the study), and they wrote a rebuttal. Now you can read NEPC's rebuttal to the rebuttal, pointing out that Summit's "defense" repeats all of the problems they were called out on in the first place.

The Grio asked a slate of writers to contribute to this list, including Andre Perry and Jitu Brown.

Along with everything else they've been up to, it turns out the department left a bunch of borrower SS numbers exposed on the web for at least six months. Yikes. From the Washington Post.  

Rick Hess (AEI) at EdWeek makes a case for renaming the schools named after Confederate heroes. 

I have shied away at ICYM from the new sub-genre of "We can't open schools but we must open schools but we can't but here's how to do what can't be done" because, as I'[ve said repeatedly, solutions will be specific and local. But this is a pretty good example in plain language, from CNN of all places.

This one, too. Jersey Jazzman lays out some of the details that crafters of these nifty plans have overlooked (because they don't nbecesarily know them to begin with).

York, PA schools are in a mess and have been for a while (extra notable because that's our governor's home town). Here the editorial board of the York Dispatch points some fingers and names some names about how this happens, and how bad it is.

This Chronotope piece from 2015 recently resurfaced and it's worth a read-- a good explanation of how devotion to data over everything else leads to things like catastrophic land wars in Asia. Lots for education to learn.

A Success Academy parent contacted Mercedes Schneider about problems with the infamous charter chain. Pushing kids out. Classroom bias. 

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Trump Comes After Public School Teachers

Against every law of society and nature, our children are taught in school to hate their own country and to believe that the men and women who built it were not heroes but that were villains.

One of the big pull quotes from Donald Trump's historically shallow paean to the idea of American exceptionalism on July 3rd at Mount Rushmore, an attack on public education and the teachers who work there echoed at other points in his speech.

There was never any doubt that we'd end up here, never any doubt that he would come at teachers.

There can't be more than 11 undecided voters in the country right now, and very little likelihood that this campaign will be about winning folks to one side or another. It will be a contest to see who can get the most people to actually vote. That means energizing the base, which in Trump's case means a steady diet of "They are coming to get you, and only I can protect you from them." The "they" includes all those brown and black folks (you know, except for the "good" ones) and anybody who wants to say anything critical about the country, or about this President. They are coming to get you, and only the strength of Beloved Leader can stop them. Also, Jesus, freedom, America.

So why teachers?

Well, the administration has been clear on its anti-public education bona fides. But it has also been clear about using private school vouchers as a means of currying favor from the Catholic Church, by far the largest beneficiary of voucher programs. Trump and DeVos have both been painfully clear that they want to quid pro some quo when it comes to Catholic school support and Catholic votes for Trump.

Then there's the matter of the unions, which provide much of the financial and organizational backbone of the Democratic party (okay, "backbone" and the Dems don't really go together, but you get my point). So anything to weaken them helps feed the hard right dream of one-party rule in the US.

It seems like an odd choice, given that large number of teachers voted for Trump. Why risk turning them off? Probably because there is no risk--at this point it's clear that the Trump base voter can't be turned off by anything. Literally anything. I expect that teacher Trumpers will look at any criticism of teachers and say, "Yeah, he's right. These jerks I work with are awful. He's not talking about me, though." It's a version of the old question of why asshats have friends--because the asshats friends say, "Well, sure he's an asshat, but I feel certain he'll never be an asshat to me."  This is one of the great tricks narcissists can pull off-- to make you feel so charmed that you can see every one of their terrible faults, but feel certain that you are exempt from their effect.

An attack on teachers is also part of the attack on all sources of authority outside of Beloved Leader, as in the point last night where he blamed all the rioting on "the predictable result of years of extreme indoctrination and bias in education, journalism, and other cultural institutions." In other words, there are no institutions you can trust, no source for evidence that can be believed, because They have corrupted them all. Only Beloved Leader remains pure.

So, yes. There was never any question that Trump was going to come at public school teachers, all busily teaching children to hate America. Expect more of the same in the months ahead (including from the students of Trumpers that are in your classroom). 2020. Hell of a year.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Baradaran: The Neoliberal Looting of America

Mehrsa Baradaran, who wrote The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap (a properly self-explanatory title), had a great piece this week in the New York Times-- not directly about education, but involving many points that folks in the education world will recognize. "The Neoliberal Looting of America" is behind the usual paywall, and if you have means to get past it, I recommend that you do. If not, here are a few key points.

Baradaran traces the history and growth of neoliberalism's "ideological coup" that transformed our society, rising out of post-war concerns about them damn commies, rising through the sixties, until

By the 1980s, neoliberalism was triumphant in policy, leading to tax cuts, deregulation and privatization of public functions including schools, pensions and infrastructure.

Ronald Reagan aimed to unleash "the magic of the marketplace," and "neoliberalism led to deregulation in every sector, a winner-take-all, debt-fueled market and a growing cultural acceptance of purely profit-driven corporate managers." The rise of private equity firms have squeezed every last drop out of some businesses (see Toys R Us, J Crew, Hertz, etc). And while Baradaran notes that 2019 was the best year yet for the Captains of finance, she also notes that time has been hard of some of their favorite theories. See if you can recognize some of these terms from the neoliberal assault on public education:

An examination of the recent history of private equity disproves the neoliberal myth that profit incentives produce the best outcomes for society. The passage of time has debunked another such myth: that deregulating industries would generate more vibrant competition and benefit consumers. Unregulated market competition actually led to market consolidation instead. Would-be monopolies squeezed competitors, accrued political power, lobbied for even more deregulation and ultimately drove out any rivals, leading inexorably to entrenched political power. Instead of a thriving market of small-firm competition, free market ideology led to a few big winners dominating the rest.

Perhaps the ultimate argument against the privatization of public education, the championing of choice, the childlike faith in putting the invisible hand in charge of an education marketplace is that beyond the questions of ethics and morality and the mission of public education in this country, above all those arguments, is the fact that it simply doesn't work. It doesn't produce better schools. The profit motive does not drive better educating. Competition does not drive excellence. Even if the neoliberal promises for education are made in good faith, they simply don't deliver.

Baradaran offers some examples, like the banking collapse of 2008 in which the feds picked up all the risks on the theory that the invisible hand would "discipline risky banks without need for government oversight." This is another huge falsehood that neolibs love; Baradaran doesn't quite name it, but it's that belief we've heard over and over, that no accountability system is needed because the market will hold people accountable. Except it doesn't.

We've been trying neoliberal market-driven invisible-handy McKinsey-embracing privatization for at least half a century; it has been really good for folks at the top, and lousy for everyone else. Baradaran's prescription is simple--take things that belong in the public sector back to the public sector.

We can have competitive and prosperous markets, but our focus should be on ensuring human dignity, thriving families and healthy communities. When those are in conflict, we should choose flourishing communities over profits.

Amen to that. Nobody in the US should have to do without basic services, such as education, just because they can't make some hedge funder a few more bucks. And now I'm going to go order Baradaran's book.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Oh Good Lord In Heaven We're Going To Mess With College Loans Again

One hallmark of the DeVos era has been a deep devotion to debt-- specifically the debt of students who tried to go to college, and making sure that Those People don't try to wiggle out of it. She has stayed close to companies in the debt biz, a biz that she has her own ties to.

All of this is why some folks have looked askance at her stated desire to shake up Federal Student Aid, the gazillion-dollar operation that helps finance so many college educations. At one point she wanted to spin it off into a stand-alone business, perhaps because that would insure that no future politicians would mess things up by forgiving student debt.

Now she has announced new contracts with some fun new playmates in the loan biz, and also, some no-more-new contracts for other loan biz folks who had previously thought they were doing okay. The stated purpose is to give FSA customers some world class service, and as one such customer may I just say "Oh Good God in Heaven can't you just leave this stuff alone!!??!!"

My older children graduated from high school in 2004 and 2006, then moved on to higher education of one sort or another. I made it a year or two, and then it was time to start borrowing, kicking off an experience that I have mostly blocked out of my memory because Sweet Jesus on a unicorn!

When I started, you had to deal with a bank to get the loan, which meant finding a participating bank with a pile of money, which involved filling out FAFSA etc, a royal pain of its own and heaven help you if you're divorced and not, as I was, co-parenting with someone who feels cooperative. What I didn't really understand at the time was that I was dealing with a bank, and a financial aid office, but also some loan outfit, but also the feds. I am not a stupid person, but I constantly felt like one trying to navigate that stuff. And naive-- believe it or not, there was a time when I was deeply worried that I would be so extended that the banks wouldn't lend me any more money. Ha!

So I started paying back one set of loans (one separate loan for each semester) and then child #2 started school, and we started over with getting money, but somewhere in the next year or so the feds decided that it would really streamline things to make the financial aid offices take point on the process which, well, I love those folks, but banker/loan officer was not necessarily the job they signed up for.

And the paying back. For a long time, I got little payment coupon books, and that was a helpful system except that during that phase the banks or ,loan companies would pass the time by selling loans back and forth to each other, creating new coupon books and putting new account numbers on the individual loans and not actually saying anything to me about it not buried by that cool technique financial institutions have of sending out 5,972 pieces of junk mail, within which is concealed 1 item you actually need. Anyway, it was during all this shuffling around that I discovered that I had been double paying on one loan and not paying another at all for like, six months.

And the phone calls-- the endless phone calls-- from shady operators who wanted to help me consolidate my loans. Blerg.

Eventually, things settled down. All of my loans anded up in the hands of AES and Great Lakes, and the paperwork was clear and in plain English, and then they had websites that were also clear and easy to use (though for years I made AES send me paper copies anyway, because passive-aggressive crank).

After all these years, it was a system that actually worked. I'm even getting relatively close to the end of paying everything off, thinking every single time I make a payment "How the hell do struggling millennials have a hope of dealing with this kind of debt." But I'm almost there, and now they're going to screw with me again.

Supposedly, the feds will assign me a new servicer, at least for the Great Lakes loans; AES isn't mentioned in anything I've read which I presume to mean that it is really some other company with a mask on. I'll get some new friends to take my money and I'm sure that the whole switchover will go off without a hitch, especially since it's supposed to happen as the year turns over, but I'm sure that if we have a whole new administration that won't affect this at all (don't worry--that's not enough reason for me to vote for Trump).

But for the love of a good blueberry donut, you don't screw around with systems that are actually working. Well, not unless you are up to something. I don't know what DeVos is up to, but somehow in my heart I don't think it's really about insuring I have world class customer service, because world class customer service wouldn't refuse to honor the rules about loan forgiveness. The press release talks about things like measurable metrics, so we'll now deal with people who are focused on making their numbers. Cool. That never ends badly. Yeah, somebody is going to get serviced here. Don't get  me wrong--letting my children start out debt-free as adults is one of my prouder parenting achievements, but why does it have to be such a slog, and on what planet can we expect 18-year-olds to navigate it?  Why do I have the feeling that Betsy DeVos didn't just make things better.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Betsy Devos's Happy Day

There is plenty of joy in some Reformsterville neighborhoods these days, thanks to the not-unexpected ruling by the Supreme Court on Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue.

As some education folks have pointed out, it could have been worse. The court said that if states are going to pay for any non-public schools, they must include religious schools in the mix, which is not as bad as saying the state must help pay for religious schools in all cases. Granted, that move is undoubtedly just one lawsuit away, and the reasoning isn't hard to conjure up: if states can't exclude religious schools from voucher funding just because they're religious, then why should they be able to exclude them from any and all funding?

But that's a lawsuit for another day. Right now, folks are doing a happy dance. "Freedom of Religion Narrowly Upheld" says the Heritage Foundation. "The Supreme Court delivers a huge win for kiuds--and against bigotry," says the always anti-public ed N ew York Post. "Win for Students, Families," says Americans for Prosperity. "U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Religious Freedom," says First Liberty. "Landmark Victory for Parents," declares Institute for Justice. "Important Free Exercise Victory," says National Review. Winner of the Grand Irony Award is the group Yes. Every Kid, which hails this as a "win for students, families," even though it's a win for schools whose policy is "No. Not every kid. No way!"

Response has been restrained in some other Reformsterville neighborhoods. AEI's Rick Hess calls it a "landmark" and provides a pretty straightforward explanation with no confetti in sight. As of today, Education Post has been silent on the decision, nor does the Fordham Institute yet have its 2 cents out there. Ditto the Cato Institute website.

There are several possible reasons for this. First, it's not sort of a surprise at all. The closest thing to surprising feature of this decision is that it didn't go farther. Second, it's not really good news for charter fans, whose insistence (irony alert #2 here) that they are public schools puts them on the wrong side of this decision. Third, some people like to take some time to think about what they're going to write (I hear). And folks who are from the religious side of this debate--well, some of them might be smart enough to see that this push has some real long-term threats to religious liberty. But we'll get back to that.

Of course, you know who's delighted with the decision. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos declares that "Religious Discrimination Is Dead" by which I presume she does not mean any of the religious discrimination exercised by private religious schools which they are, of course, still free to exercise all they like--and at taxpayer expense.

DeVos's short but energetic press release is her standard argument on this subject. The history of American education is "sad and static" and "too many students have been discriminated against based on their faith and have been forced to stay in schools that don't match their values." (Again, this makes far more sense if you recognize that by "faith," DeVos means "Christian.") But in DeVos's world, Christians are victims of the "last acceptable prejudice." Mind you, this is the woman who has been crystal clear since her confirmation hearing that she cannot imagine a situation in which the feds would speak up to prevent a school from exercising bias against race, that she cannot (and has not) imagined a situation in which she would step in to stop discrimination against LGBTQ students. But oppressed Christians are another thing.

If you've missed the part where Christians have been oppressed, that may be because you are not up on the current definition. Attorney General Barr also put out a press release to say he was happy that Montana lost because the exclusion "prevented parents who send their children to religious schools from receiving scholarship funds."

This is the argument that voucher fans have been test-driving for a while--that to be truly free, religious folks must be subsidized by the taxpayers. If I'm really going to be free to exercise my faith,  taxpayers have got to pony up (but I just still be free to discriminate against anyone I'd like to discriminate against).

In Constitutional terms, what we're seeing is the exercise clause (the state can't interfere with people's exercise of their religion) take precedence for the first time over the establishment clause (the state can't set up an officially approved religion).

There are problems with poking holes in that wall between church and state--and they aren't just problems for the state. For instance, if we have taxpayers funding schools that reject and expel LGBTQ students, or teach that slaves and slave-owners lived in happy harmony (just like dinosaurs and humans), we can either let them do it, and tell the taxpayers that they get zero accountability for how their money is spent (imagine a world in which you must spend tax dollars to support a school that would rejects your own child. Or the state can step in and insist that it have some accountability to go with its investment. This can get super-messy; for instance, Kevin Welner (NEPC) suggests that since SCOTUS split the hair around actual religious activity, the state could carefully examine a school to make there were no religion classes being taught during the day. (The rest of his analysis is good, too.) Goodness--they might even be forced to accept some of Those Peoples' Children into their school.

People too often think of the imaginary wall between church and state as a protection for the state, but it's also protection for the church. As certain occupants of the nation's highest office are demonstrating, any shmoe can claim to be a Christian, and any shmoe will if there is advantage to be gained by it. As the saying goes, when you mix religion and politics, you get politics. Government money comes with government strings.

Some Christianists have bigger pictures in mind. Many's the time I've heard religious conservatives talk about taking schools back (along with some other institutions). For these folks, the dream is a world in which public education is gone (or at least limited to warehousing Those People's Children). Theocratic rule suits them just fine.

We'll see where this decision takes us. Some states (looking at you, Ohio and Florida) have already constructed their own workarounds and won't be much affected. A couple of others have voucher systems that will now have to be changed.

In the meantime, we get to see DeVos once again put on full display her disdain for and ignorance of "sad and static" public education. She wants states to "seize the extraordinary opportunity to expand all education options at all schools to every single student in America." Well, of course, she doesn't mean "all" students (get those dreamers outta there), but she's sure hoping this is the beginning of the end for public education. May she not have days this happy again for a long long time.

Monday, June 29, 2020

To Everyone Who Was Never A Classroom Teacher, Re Pandemic School Openings

To everyone who was never a classroom teacher but who has some ideas about how school should be re-opened in the fall:


Just hush.

There are some special categories of life experiences. Divorce. Parenthood. Deafness. Living as a Black person in the US. Classroom teacher. They are very different experiences, but they all have on thing in common.

You can read about these things. But if you haven't lived it, you don't know. You can study up, read up, talk to people. And in some rare cases that brings you close enough to knowing that your insights might actually be useful.

But mostly, you are a Dunning-Krueger case study just waiting to be written up.

The last thirty-seven-ish years of education have been marked by one major feature-- a whole lot of people who just don't know, throwing their weight around and trying to set the conditions under which the people who actually do the work will have to try to actually do the work. Policy wonks, privateers, Teach for America pass-throughs, guys who wanted to run for President, folks walking by on the street who happen to be filthy rich, amateurs who believe their ignorance is a qualification-- everyone has stuck their oar in to try to reshape US education. And in ordinary times, as much as I argue against these folks, I would not wave my magic wand to silence them, because 1) educators are just as susceptible as anyone to becoming too insular and entrenched and convinced of their own eternal rightness and 2) it is a teacher's job to serve all those amateurs, so it behooves the education world to listen, even if what they hear is 98% bosh.

But that's in ordinary times, and these are not ordinary times.

There's a whole lot of discussion about the issues involved in starting up school this fall. The discussion is made difficult by the fact that all options stink. It is further complicated by the loud voices of people who literally do not know what they are talking about. Here's a handy flow chart to help you work it out.

Media can help with this. There is no reason for anyone to interview Arne Duncan or Jeb Bush about how to re-open schools in the fall. Knock it off with that sort of thing, please. And now it turns out that Bill Gates has given the Chiefs for Change, a group of reformy amateurs who keep failing upwards, $1.6 million "to provide a co-branded (CCSSO and CFC) set of comprehensive COVID-19 state education reopening plans that address health and safety guidance at both the SEA and LEA levels." That's no help, either.

Look. Actual teachers have already thought of at least a dozen different issues that haven't even occurred to the usual gang of edu-amateurs. Solutions to the fall will be local and specific, and it's the people on the ground who will come up with them (they have to, because state and federal authorities vary somewhere between silently useless and just plain useless). The goal here is not  something that can be "scaled up." The goal is to come up with a way for your local school to survive and do its job. I'll say this again-- if you have not lived a significant portion of your professional life inside a school, you just don't know. You are just a person at an accident scene who thinks he should get to direct life-saving efforts because you watch a lot of medical shows on tv, or you're very rich and important, or you smell a profitable opportunity, or you just want to.

Yes, there are some scholars who mostly get it, and a lot of stakeholder voices that must be paid attention to (starting with parents, parents and more parents). But for the rest of you who think that just because an idea about education passes through your head, it ought to be shared and maybe even shared widely and given the force of policy-- You may mean well, or you may not. I can't read your heart. Nevertheless, we're in an unprecedented situation with lives at stake. So, please.

Hush. Just hush.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

ICYMI: Yes, It's Still Happening Edition (6/28)

I haven't reminded you for a while-- if you read something here that speaks to you, go to the original posting site and share that puppy. You have the power to amplify voices. Everything that ever went viral was shared one person at a time. So do your part and spread the word.

An Experiment in the Socially-Distanced Classroom   

From the blog "Counting From Zero," some teachers head to the classroom and take a look at the practical issues of social distancing for the classroom. The good, the bad, the ugly. I told you it was going to be up to teachers to work this stuff out.

Cleveland/University Heights City Schools On Board for Ohio's Ed Choice Lawsuit

I student taught in Cleveland Heights (Wiley Middle School). They may join many other Ohio districts fighting back against Ed Choice, Ohio's attempt to follow Florida in siphoning off unlimited money to choice schools. I hope they get it stopped.

The often ugly reality Black students face

Allan Blodget guest-writes at The Answer Sheet about what he found when he discovered an Instagram community of Black students writing about their school experiences.

Ed Department Killed Website That Made Applying for Loan Forgiveness Too Easy  

Lauren Camera at US News has this important story. The coda is that, thanks to coverage, the department decided to go ahead and put the website back up. But if you want further confirmation of what USED prioritizes these days (spoiler: not students), here's a story.

Lamar Alexander Said What?  

What he said, reported by CNBC, is that the feds have to provide extra funding to schools if it wants them to reopen this fall. Yes, really.

Michigan Republicans Try To Head Their Governor Off At The Back-To-School Pass

Nancy Flanagan has the story of Michigan's GOP trying to push some crappy policies quick-like before the governor can actually do something useful. Because if we're not learning anything else, and we hadn't already learned it from school shootings, the pandemic can teach us that to some folks, absolutely nothing matters more than politics.

What an actual school reopening plan looks like    

Jersey Jazzman runs down the characteristics necessary for a decent school reopening plan

Jamaal Bowman Scores Victory  

Call it an upset. Call it the Progressive wing of the Dems taking the old guard to school once again. Call it one more example of an outstanding educator moving into the political world. But whatever you call it, cheer.

The Standardized Testing Horror Show Is Not Over

There are plenty of reasons to think that the support for the Big Standardized Test is flagging, but as Nancy Bailey points out, there are zero reasons to relax vigilance. That fight is nowhere close to over.

For some California teens, school closures led to work in the fields

From Elizabeth Aguilera at CalMatters, a story about how huge a failure distance crisis learning was for some teens, and what school closure means for students who are also migrant workers.

Trying to make sense of fluid fall  

From Inside Higher Ed, a couple of simulations suggest that colleges are going to have some real problems in the fall.

You want a confederate monument? My body is a confederate monument.

From the New York Times, a powerful piece of essay writing from poet Caroline Randall Williams.

Teachers in Fairfax revolt against fall plans  

Meanwhile, what may be the first open revolt by a staff against the district's plans for next fall. From the Washington Post.

The Ed Tech Imaginary

I can't imagine why you would not be subscribing the Audrey Watters' newsletter, but just in case, here's the text of a recent address, looking at the stories we tell ourselves about ed tech. Well worth your while.

A message from your university's vice-president for magical thinking  
Speaking of school reopening plans, here's McSweeney's with a piece that is, I guess, darkly humorous.