Sunday, September 25, 2022

It's not the books that suffer

I've started trying to avoid using the phrase "book bans" or "banning books." Here's why.

I understand that the phrases carry power and punch. They're short and sharp and they have associations; nobody ever thinks that someone who's proposing a book ban is the good guy. For that matter, nobody who wants to ban a book ever says, "We want to ban that book."

But I'd like to suggest a refocus on the language. I don't have a punchy substitute, but I'm tending toward "reading restrictions," and here's why.

A book ban is about a book. We imagine a book being pulled off a shelf, maybe even thrown on a fire.

But the real damage done is not that a book has been shackled. The actual damage is that some human being has been restricted from reading about certain ideas or certain strings of words.

This is particularly true these days in which many of the folks who are trying to restrict student reading rights aren't targeting particular books so much as they are targeting particular ideas or types of people. The specific books being banned are incidental. In many cases, we're seeing something like Texas State Representative Matt Krause's big list of naughty books, which was clearly assembled not because of objections to particular books, but by doing a blunt instrument search for books that contained particular words or phrases and therefor, he presumed, certain forbidden ideas.

These gag laws and moves to restrict aren't about limiting the movement and activity of books; they're about restricting the reading (or more accurately, the thinking) of students. 

While locking up a few books may offend the sensibilities of some, I suspect a larger group of people would be alarmed if we started fitting all school age children with blindfolds and ear plugs.

That's what these reading restrictions and gag laws are all about-- forbidding students from seeing or hearing anything about certain parts of human experience, about the reality of the world as it is today. 

It's not about banning books; it's about restricting the freedoms of children. Yes, as a parent you absolutely set the guardrails of experience around your kids as you see fit. But as soon as you want to limit the freedom of everybody else's children, you're just one more kind of tyrant, one more person trying to exercise authority over others. 

It's not about parental rights when it's about one set of parents infringing on the rights of other parents to decide on the range of experience for their own children (note: the existence of a book does not infringe on your parental right to limit the experience of your own child). 

The term "book ban" is doing a lot of heavy lifting right now, collecting a wide range of actions an initiatives. But what unites them all is their real purpose--to restrict students' experience and limit their freedom to read and learn. 

ICYMI: Fall At Last Edition (9/25)

We're big fans of Fall here at the Institute, and it arrived in Western PA in a very Fall-like fashion, so we are switching to hot chocolate and flannel sheet mode. Nothing better. In the meantime, here are some items for your reading edification from the week.

Denver students sue district over podcast

Denver students created a podcast that the district decided was so great that they'd just go ahead and appropriate the brand, but the students are not okay with that. From Chalkbeat.

To Build a Pipeline of Black Teachers, This Program Starts Recruiting in High School

A program in Pittsburgh seeks to address Pennsylvania's egregious shortage of Black teachers. Emily Tate Sullivan at EdSurge. 

Madeline Will at EdWeek talks to some actual educators of color (including The Jose Vilson)

My Former TX District Has Collapsed into Cruelty and Absurdity

In The 74, a first person account of how one Texas district lost ots damn mind over book restriction politics.

The latest report from PAN America on the growing attempts to restrict what people can read.

From the Christian Science Monitor, an explainer about how Arizona became the education mess it is today.

Public School Closures in Oakland: Another Example of Failed School Reform and Charter School Expansion

Jan Resseger takes a deep dive into the history of public school dismantling on Oakland, CA.

At EdWeek, Shane Safir offers some practical alternatives to the Big Standardized Test. If you want to see a concrete example of how this could work, Leonie Haimson at Class Size Matters revisits the Opportunity to Learn Index that was developed in 2017 (but not adopted). 

I've written a ton about the inadequacies of the Big Standardized Test, but David Lee Finkle nails it in just 7 comic strip panels.

At Blue Book Diaries, Jonathan Wilson offers a piece that reminds us that students are having their own conversations about what may or may not be taught.

From Idaho Press, a report on a panel presentation that discusses some of the money and organization behind the reading restriction push.

Essay by Esau McCaulley in New York Times connecting experience to the current teaching debates.

In Pennsylvania, public education supporters were pretty bummed to learn that Johs Shapiro, the gubernatorial candidate who isn't a crazy-pants right-wing christian nationalist authoritarian, supports a school choice voucher that any far right Republican would love. Here, Steven Singer begs Shapiro to reconsider.

‘Swatting’ Hoaxes Disrupt Schools Across the Country. What Educators Need to Know

When I was growing up, disrupting school by calling in a fake bomb threat was a thing. But the new thing is swatting--telling authorities there's an active shooter incident or something else that will cause a swat team to descend on the school. It's a growing trend, and it's ugly. Evie Blad at EdWeek.

Cowards, Censorship, and Collateral Damage: The Other Reading War

Paul Thomas doing what he does best--connecting the dots to important ideas. In this case, about reading.

One of Higher Ed’s Worst-Kept Secrets Is Out. It’s Even Grimmer Than We Knew.

John Warner is in Slate, explaining how the practice of student swapping is one more factor driving college costs (and putting students in debt).

I did not know this was a thing, but apparently so. Some researchers in Rome have a theory, and it has to do with too much screen time. 

McSweeney's is at it again. "Drawing on diverse culinary traditions, including salad-left-over-from-last-night’s-school-board-meeting and the reduced-for-quick-sale aisle at Sam’s Club, the newly reimagined Thurgood Marshall Middle School Lounge is a feast for both the palate and the eyes."

Meanwhile, I had a busy week at Forbes. There's a piece about a joint international ed tech thingy from UNICEF and Micrisoft, a look at the latest GOP attempt to roll back charter regulations, and an attempt to see if closing school buildings is really the culprit for the pandemic test score plunge

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Another Plug For The Robot Teaching Future

"Can robots fill the teacher shortage?" This is what some corners of the industry are thinking. It's dumb, but it's out there.

That dumb question headline ran in Digital Future Daily, a "newsletter" under the Politico banner that is "resented by" CITA-The Wireless Association, an industry group that "represents the U.S. wireless communications industry and the companies throughout the mobile ecosystem." The piece is written by Ryan Heath, who is a Politico staffer, so we are somewhere in the grey mystery area of newsvertisement (which we're in far more often than we realize, but that's a topic for another day).

The piece is essentially an interview with Cynthia Breazeal, who recently became dean for digital learning at MIT, where she's been with the media lab since getting her PhD there about twenty years ago. Breazeal has a long-time interest in personal aid robots

She's also an entrepreneur and co-founder of jibo. Jibo started out as an Indiegogo project in 2014. The first home social robot was supposed to release in 2015, then 2016. It was finally released in 2017 by MIT. Even though Time profiled it as one of the best inventions of the year, things did not go well. Less powerful and more expensive than Alexa or Google Home. Software kit for developers never released. Jibo was released in November, and in December layoffs began at the company. Wired wrote a thorough eulogy for the little robot in March of 2019. 

In 2019 the disruption division of NTT (Nippon Telephone and Telegraph) bought up the scraps of the failed company and product and has been "working on preparing jibo for an enterprise scenario mainly focusing on healthcare and education" but only as a business to business product, including applications for education,. They proclaim that Jibo provides the "perfect combination of intelligence, character, and soul." Sure. 

None of this comes up in the Politico piece, which presents Breazeal as an academic and "evangelist" for AI who has come to the UN to pitch educational robots. In particular, the piece notes the international needs of students dealing with covid, students with special needs and "displaced children" (aka refugees). This is the second time in a week I've come across someone plugging an ed tech solution for these children, and I get the interest in what is, unfortunately, an emerging market--when you have students who have been ripped away from their home country, how do you give them some continuity of education while they live in a place where their usual educational system does not reach?

The UN expects a global teacher shortage of 70 million by the end of the decade. But folks have concerns about AI and "socially assistive robots." Given AI's previously demonstrated ability to turn racist on top of the fact that these constructs are not actual humans, those concerns seem appropriate. 

How do you test AI with children? “We actually teach the teacher and the parents enough about AI, that it's not this scary thing,” Breazeal said of plans for a pilot project in pro-refugee Clarkston, Georgia — the “Ellis Island of the south.”

“We want to be super clear on what the role is of the robot versus the community, of which this robot is a part of. That's part of the ethical design thinking,” Breazeal continued, “we don't want to have the robot overstep its responsibilities. All of our data that we collect is protected and encrypted.”

How do parents and teachers react to the role of a robot in their children’s lives? “It's not about replacing people at all, but augmenting human networks,” Breazeal said, “This is not about a robot tutor, where teachers feel like competing against the robot,” she said.

Breazeal said the children she’s studied are “not confusing these robots with a dog or a person, they see it as its own kind of entity,” almost “like a Disney sidekick that plays games with you, as a peer.

How, exactly, does a robot enhance human networks without replacing humans? If the robot is not an actual teacher or even a tutor, then exactly what role is it filling, and how, exactly, is it filing that.?

Granted that Breazeal is at the mercy of Heath's editing of their conversation, but it's striking how much of her pitch focuses on what the robots won't do, rather than things like, say, what they are actually capable of doing, or how she plans to solve the issue of what teaching materials the robot can manage and where those materials will come from. And before I let Breazeal handle any of this sort of thing, I'd want to hear from her what she learned her in her previous attempt to launch such a business--the attempt that failed, but she has apparently remained pretty quiet about the whole chapter.

Like the vast majority of ed tech stories, this one is aspirational--dreaming as marketing, prognostication as advertising. It sure would be great if more ed tech was about things we can actually do to help educate children and less about fantasies about products we might be able to move, someday, if we can just convince people they're inevitable. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

PA: Yet Another Don't Say Gay Bill

House Bill 2813 is like a cut and paste version of every "sexual orientation and gender identity" gag law we've seen over the past couple of years. Its one useful feature is that it is a stripped-down, bare bones version of its many predecessors, which throws its many problems into stark relief. There's no poking around and digging to see what's wrong with this bill.

So here are the highlights of this "Parental Rights In Student Health Care Act" This will be quick; the bill is just three pages and change.

The legislative intent is to declare "that it is the fundamental right of a parent or legal guardian of a student to make decisions regarding the student's upbringing and well-being." As with many such parental rights bill, this one completely slides past the question of what rights the student might have in regards their own well-being. 

The bill does cover public school districts, vo-tech schools, intermediate units, cyber charters, and charter schools. 

Section 4 states in its entirety, "A school entity may not offer instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity to a student in kindergarten through fifth grade."

That's broad and vague as these bills are, leaving schools to wonder what, exactly, violates this language. Every single children's book that depicts a male Daddy and a female Mommy, every book that depicts a Mommy who stays home and cooks and a Daddy who goes to work--every single one of these depicts a particular lesson about sexual orientation and gender identity. Of course, what the sponsors almost certainly mean is that they don't want any of that gay and trans stuff--but that's not what the law says. 

What does this language mean to a teacher or aide who has in a same sex marriage? Should that teacher hide all pictures from home and refuse to answer the questions that students inevitably ask about a teacher's personal life? What about a child who comes from a household with two moms or two dads? Should that child be silenced if she tries to share a story about her same-gendered parents? Must the school refuse to sponsor any LGBTQ-related groups? Must teachers take down any rainbow flags?

You may think that all this hinges on the word "instruction." If none of these things rise exactly to the level of instruction, then the school's in the clear, you may argue. You are wrong, and we'll get to that in a second.

Section 5 says that the school must notify parents of health services provided to the child, with the parents having an option to refuse, and "A process for notifying a student's parent or legal guardian of a change in the student's health care services or monitoring related to a student's mental, emotional or physical health."

All of this speaks to the conservative fear that schools are secretly turning their kids gay or trans. This particular bill is worse than the usual. Many of the Parental Rights bills acknowledge that a student may find himself in a home where revealing an LGBTQ identity will put that child at risk or abuse or abandonment. Those bills give the school the right to keep the child's secret if they believe that it's in the best interest of keeping the child safe.

This bill does not do that. 

Under this bill, if a student comes to a school staff member and asks for counseling to help deal with an LGBTQ situation, the school must out the child to the parents. Which means, practically speaking, that if a child is afraid they'll thrown out or beaten for being gay, they dare not seek help at school. This kind of policy puts LGBTQ children at risk of suicide, among other potential issues.

Section 6 puts restrictions on school well-being questionnaires and health screenings. This is a relatively minor feature, though it does provide one more level of cover for abusive parents.

Section 7 makes it illegal for a school staff member to encourage students to withhold information from parents, to keep parents from accessing student education or health records, or retaliate against a student who reports a school's violation of any portion of this law. That's all fine. I can see some problems with some inexact language when it comes to divorced parents who do not share custody, but that's easily clarified.

Section 8 is the kicker. This section creates a right of private action. In other words, any parent or guardian who thinks the school has violated any part of this law may sue the school district.

This is why the words "any instruction" up in section 4 don't really matter. The school district does not have to ask itself if it has violated the actual law; it has to ask itself if any of its parents might decide they've violated the law.

You can argue that the school will win the lawsuit if the parent is full of it and the school didn't really violate the law, and you might be right--maybe--but in the meantime, the school district has to spend time and money dealing with the suit, and gets to have its name smeared in the paper and across social media as well (which given the kinds of attacks being spurred by made-up social media baloney these days, is no small thing). 

The right of private action is what gives this kind of law its extra special kick, its ability to scare schools into silence. School administrators who are risk averse, especially those who are already dealing with a vocal minority of right wing grievances, will sit their staffs down and declare, "We don't want any trouble, so I don't want you bringing up anything ever that is even remotely close to the line on this."

Who pays the price? Students. LGBTQ students who find themselves erased from conversation and required to stay silent about their own identities. Straight students who receive a redacted experience, in which they find that some things just can't be discussed at school; in some cases, those forbidden subjects may include friends and family members. Teachers who have to wonder about how, if at all, they can continue with their careers. Who benefits? I suppose, eventually, some lawyers.

Where did this particular bill come from? It was introduced by a whole batch of legislators, starting with:

Stephanie Borowicz:  Grad of Altamonte Christian School who famously started a state house session by invoking Jesus thirteen times, praised Trump, and declared "at the name of Jesus, every knee will bend"-- right before the House swore in its first Muslim member.

Rob Kauffman: One of the PA House Republicans who called for withdrawal of the certification of Presidential electors. 

Also, Francis Ryan, Bud Cook, MiLou Mackenzie, David Millard, Joe Hamm, Lesli Rossi, Ryan Mackenzie, Aaron Bernstine, Rich Irvin, Daryl D. Metcalfe, Seth M. Grove, David H. Zimmerman, Barbara Gleim, Dawn W. Keefer, Jim Cox, Kathy L. Rapp, David H. Rowe, Keith J. Greiner, Craig T. Statts, and Clint Owlett.

I'd like to believe that some of these folks just kind of signed on without really thinking things through, and if you're in Pennsylvania and one of these is your person, please give them a call.

And if you're in one of the states that doesn't have one of these Parental Rights bills yet, keep your eyes open.

The Problem That Vouchers Won't Solve

U.S. education is an unending struggle against certain hard-to-solve problems, with the frequent eruption of innovations and reforms that are sold based on the notion that these will solve a particular problem.

Some problems are rarely directly addressed by their actual name, either because to name them would be to claim them and then we'd have to sweep away a bunch of foolishness in order to have a real conversation, or because the problems look different from another vantage point. 

Here's a problem that has been with us since before we were even an actual nation:

Too many wealthy people don't want to pay for a quality education for poor people. And too many white people don't want to pay for a quality education for non-white people.

We have a bad system, worsened by school district gerrymandering, that links funding to real estate so that-people in East Egg don't have to pay for schooling in That Neighborhood. To the extent that state and federal taxation tries to mitigate the problem, certain folks fight state and federal government. 

Objections boil down to things like, "That much??! Surely we don't have to spend that much of my money to get Those Peoples' Children an acceptable level of education." and even "This is a big scam! Somebody is soaking me for way too much money--I bet it's that damn union."

Because from another vantage point, the problem is that state and federal government keep trying to take too much of your money to pay for a quality education for Those Peoples' Children. And if that's what you think the problem is, vouchers as currently envisioned are a pretty good solution.

Vouchers let you strip state and federal government out of the equation. There's no accountability and no regulation, so you can reassure the private education vendors that they will be allowed to conduct business as they see fit. If they want to discriminate against certain types of students or families, if they want to teach God created the Earth flat, if they want to use a reading curriculum that their Uncle Bob the podiatrist concocted in his spare time--well, they can do all of that, untroubled by anyone telling them to stop. 

You can sell vouchers by telling folks that with a voucher, they'll be able to choose the education of their dreams. They won't, private education vendors don't have to accept them as students, and their voucher money won't be enough to get into top private schools. But by the time they figure that out, they won't have any other options available. Guys like Josh Shapiro can say that they want vouchers so that others can have the upscale private school option he grew up with, but that school is not going to be accepting just any student who shows up voucher in hand. 

Wealthy folks will still have all the options they want. They just won't have to pay for those kinds of options for Those Peoples' Children. Because a voucher program is set up to avoid adding any more revenue to the education system. In fact, by funding students and not schools, vouchers will make it easy to shrink school funding as well as slamming the door on any kind of capital improvements and upkeep.

Meanwhile, as currently structured, vouchers are like a rescue at sea, where the lifeboat rides up to a floundering ship to rescue the people on board, only there's a limited number of seats on the lifeboats, and only some select people will be allowed on the lifeboats, and some of the lifeboats turn out to be sinking fast, and every time someone gets onto a lifeboat they punch another hole in the hull of the floundering ship. And all the while, a nearby luxury cruise ship's passengers watch and say, "Well, they've got lifeboats. They aren't our problem."

Vouchers do solve a problem, but it's not the problem of inequity. It's the problem of people who are tired of the government trying to make them help pay for Those Peoples' Children to get a quality education. 

Okay--here's my usual caveat. There are voucher supporters who sincerely believe in the power of a voucher system to fix things. They're closely related to the people who really believe in the power of the free market to fix education. I think these people are wrong, but I want to acknowledge that they exist.

I will also acknowledge that state and federal government has not done a great job of fixing the problems of educational inequity, though I'll argue that this ineffectiveness is largely the result of the two truths I led off with above. 

Wealthy parents have always had choice, exercised via the real estate they buy. Some school choice supporters have focused on extending that same kind of choice to non-wealthy parents. But what we've got under modern choice systems doesn't do the job. "You can choose between a microschool or a mediocre computer program or a school that's run by people who don't know what they're doing but they have good marketing or even--oops, sorry, your kind aren't welcome at that choice and also we are simultaneously defunding your public school option" is not the same as "You can choose to live in East Richville or Downtown Buckston." 

A true, functioning choice system that finally served the underserved in this country require a big infusion of money. Those students whose education underfunded and under-supported now will not gain that funding and support just because they are shuffled around, nor will market forces suddenly make the funding and support either appear or become unnecessary. A true choice system would require more money than we spend if for no other reason than a true choice system would require a whole lot of excess capacity--otherwise every student would be locked in place.

And no, I'm not convinced by examples of charter or choice schools that do "more with less," because every one of those models depends either on carefully de-selecting students who would be costly to educate or cutting corners or both.

This is one of the ongoing internal tensions of the choice movement--people who want the same choices for poor kids that rich kids have are allied with people who feel that they don't want or need to spend a bunch of money to educate Those Children. The people who say "This child deserves the same rich opportunities as that child" teamed up with the people who say "This child is not going to make a huge contribution to society, so why waste a bunch of money on his schooling?"

I'll say it again. Too many wealthy people don't want to pay for a quality education for poor people. And too many white people don't want to pay for a quality education for non-white people.

Vouchers don't change that. As currently envisioned, they enable it.

And since this post is already turning out to be long, we might as well move on to the next obvious question.

What should we do?

We could have a full choice-supporting voucher-type system, I suppose, but unless we are going to openly reject as a nation the mission of a quality education for every child, we'd need a few tweaks to what voucher fans push these days. 

Regulation and oversight, so that every education provider is proven and certified to be of high quality. No discrimination. Safeguards for the rights of parents and students. If you are part of the publicly funded system, you live by public school rules. Nor should public tax dollars be funding a private religious operation; it's bad for taxpayers and bad for religion. And adequate funding. When a voucher is issued to a student from an underfunded school, base the amount not on what that school currently spends, but on what it ought to be spends. Nor can funding be simply a money-follows-the-child-model, because that excess capacity has to be funded somehow. Buildings have to be maintained somehow. State and federal investment in education would have to be increased. 

And if you say, "Well, if we are going to spend all that money, wouldn't it be more efficient to have one school instead?" Well, I agree. I also believe that it's entirely possible, even preferable, to provide a variety of choices under one roof. But if you believe that having a choice between different buildings and schools is important in and of itself, then argue for funding it. Don't pretend that the money that wasn't enough to run one school will somehow be enough to run five. 

What else could we do?

Fix the boundaries. No more school districts bult along the same red lines that segregated housing. No more splinter districts seceding to make a tiny district that blocks Those Peoples' Children. Redraw boundaries to be inclusive and diverse. End educational gerrymandering. I know-- finding leaders with the will to do it would be a heavy lift. 

And we could, of course, simply fully fund all schools--even the ones in Those Neighborhoods. But that would run against the "I've got mine, Jack" spirit of our times, and takes us right back to our problem, the difficulty in convincing some folks to help pay for educating Those Peoples' Children. So it becomes a challenge of advocacy and political will.

Funding public ed and confronting this foundational problem isn't very sexy or shiny, but burning down the house and building a new, cramped, limited structure on the exact same foundation doesn't solve the problem. It just buries the old problem under a whole mess of new ones. We need to do better. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

CAP And Feckless Democrats On Education

Public education has been a political orphan for so many years now, going back roughly to the time that the Democratic Party sold itself to neo-liberalism. Here is the whole problem in one infuriating piece.

It's the Center for American Progress (CAP). CAP was once the holding pen for folks awaiting their spot in a Hillary Clinton administration, a sort of left-leaning thinky tank. And now they've decided they want to speak out on the subject of public education.

The piece, leaning heavily on the results of a couple of surveys, is entitled "Book Banning, Curriculum Restrictions, and the Politicization of U.S. Schools,' written by Akilah Alleyne, and it is devoid of any sense of irony or self-awareness. But Alleyne has only been at CAP for a year, and prior to that she was studenting at the University of Delaware (she went in in 2011 and came out in about a decade later with a PhD while doing a bunch of other stuff), so she may not be so aware of where CAP has been on the whole "politicizing education" thing.

There's a lot that's good in this piece. I kind of love the end of this sentence:

At least 17 states have introduced bills containing gag orders or taken other steps that would restrict how teachers can discuss American history and current events, including pulling books off library shelves in an effort to suppress so-called “divisive concepts”—a shorthand affectation nearly always referring to issues about race and identity.

Yeah, "shorthand affectation" is about right. 

She gets a bunch of other things right. 

Efforts to censor teachers, omit history, or ban important conversations about race in our schools go way too far. Our children deserve an education honest about who we are, demonstrating integrity in how we treat others, and creating a sense of belonging so every child has the freedom to learn, grow, and pursue their dreams.

Check. It is hugely undernoted that all of these gag laws and book restrictions are not about parents' rights or teachers' rights but about restricting the rights of students. So applause for touching on that.

Certain politicians try to use race to turn us against schools and teachers, or point the finger at parents. These politicians want to keep us from coming together to demand every school provide a quality education to every child, not just the children of the wealthy few.

Sure, though I'd go a step further and note that the subtext of all these gag laws and CRT panic and book restrictions is that public schools can't be trusted, and we should burn down the whole system and replace it with vouchers (used, ideally, at private Christian schools). 

But honest--there are some decent ideas in the piece. But there is also this big, bold headline:

Education should not be politicized

Here's the thing. This kind of clueless reversal has become a staple of the reformy crowd. "We really need to improve the quality of discussion about education," reformsters would say, after years of rough unrestrained attacks on teachers. "We must do something about this terrible over-emphasis on high stakes testing," said Arne Duncan, after spending years helping double down on the federal emphasis on high stakes testing.

This is more of that. CAP has been in there swinging for all the reformster standards, including and especially Common Core and high stakes testing connected to it. They leaned on that stuff so hard that I literally ran out of headline ideas for posts about it on this blog. And they pursued all of these reformy goals through political means. 

Democrats have completely lost the knack of supporting public education, leaving them to just sort of make feckless noises in the general direction. They slipped into some kind of neo-lib stupor decades ago leading them to become enthusiastic partners in the right-wing led business of dismantling public education and selling off the parts, all the while listening to politicians and political operatives instead of people actually working in schools. Should not be politicized??!! Don't tell me--get in your time machine and go back and tell the members of your own party.

Do I seem cranky? Probably because of the breaking news that the Democratic candidate for governor of my state, Pennsylvania, is supporting a voucher program that is built on the same model as the vouchers legislation created by the GOP all across the country. Democrats continue to be a feckless, useless, and faithless when it comes to public education. Framed another way, I'm not so sure the issue is politics in education but that the Democratic party so often insists on being on the wrong side of the politics. And CAP has typified that problem every step of the way.

There are some good things in this piece, and I'm sure I'm in a bit of a mood over Shapiro, but damn-- just once I want some Democratic operation (like, say, the entire Biden administration) to say, "We're sorry, but we got a bunch of stuff wrong before, and we'd like to correct that" before they launch into their next round of advice about how to Fix Things. 

Monday, September 19, 2022

PA: Josh Shapiro Joins GOP On School Vouchers

Well, shit. There are no pro-public education candidates for governor in Pennsylvania.

Josh Shapiro is for vouchers. 

In an interview with the Patriot News, Shapiro said, "And I’m for making sure we add scholarships like lifeline scholarships to make sure that that’s additive to their education. That it gives them other be able to help them achieve success”

Nor is his support an interview bobble. From his campaign website:

Josh favors adding choices for parents and educational opportunity for students and funding lifeline scholarships like those approved in other states and introduced in Pennsylvania.

The Lifeline Scholarship bill is a GOP education savings account bill--a super-voucher bill-- currently sitting in the appropriations committee in the House; the Senate has passed their version. Not just charters. Not just traditional vouchers. But nice shiny, super vouchers. Take a bunch of money from public schools (based on state average cost-per-pupil, not local numbers, so that many districts will lose more money than they would have spent on the students). Handed as a pile of money/debit card which can be spent on any number of education-adjacent expenses. (Excellent explainer at greater lengths here.)

The state will audit the families at least once every two years. The bill contains the usual non-interference clause, meaning that the money can be spent at a private discriminatory school, and no one will be checking to see if the school is actually educating the student. The bill is only old-school in that it uses the old foot-in-the-door technique of saying that this is just to rescue students from "failing" public schools (but includes no provisions to determine if the child has been moved to a failing private school).

Choicers are ecstatic.

The Center for Education Reform, the ardently pro-school choice anti-teacher advocacy group, has gleefully sent out the news. Choice advocate David Hardy from the right-tilted Commonwealth Foundations says, "I am happy that Mr. Shapiro has indicated his willingness to consider for poor families what has obviously worked for his family. The families most satisfied with their children's educational experience are those who were able to choose it."

Pastor Aaron Anderson, who operates a private religious school of his own and has a degree from Liberty University, thinks this is super. 

Could it be that both Republicans and Democrats finally agree that a child’s zip code, ethnicity, or class should not determine whether they have access to a high-quality education?

You know a great way to make sure that zip code, ethnicity, and class don't determine a child's educational quality? It's not to give some of them voucher money that may or may not get a few students to a better education. 

It's to fully fund and support all the schools in all the zip codes.

Boy, would I love to vote for a governor who supported that for a plan.

But no--we now have a choice of two guys who are barely different on education. Mastriano would gut spending completely while implementing vouchers, while Shapiro would just slice open a public education vein.

In fairness to Shapiro, his site says he's going to fully fund education, too, which would be kind of like putting a hose in one side of your swimming pool while chopping a gaping hole in the base on the other side. It's not a great plan. If he means it, which now, who's to say. 

Shapiro's position is awful. It would align him with just about any GOP candidate in any other state, and the only reason it isn't a disqualifier in this state is because insurrectionist Doug Mastriano is so spectacularly, so uniquely terrible, so ground-breakingly awful. Mastriano is still a terrible, terrible choice.

Voucher fans were sad because they could see their hopes and dreams going down in flames with Mastriano, but now they can rest assured that whoever wins, they will get a governor who supports an education program that any right wing Republican would love. For those of us who support public education, it is brutally disappointing.