Sunday, January 31, 2016

Detroit: Snitch or Be Fired

Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Darnell Earley (already famous as the emergency manager who poisoned the Flint water supply) has a problem on his hands.

Well, actually, he has several problems, including crumbling, disgusting, unsafe schools. That's not the problem he's concerned about-- he's concerned about the teacher sick-outs. Michigan teachers are not legally permitted to strike-- but they can call in sick. And like any manager whose people are desperately going to great lengths to let him know there's a problem, Earley has sat down with them to talk and try to get to the root of the issue so that the school system can better meet the needs of the students and community. Ha! Just kidding. Earley has tried to cudgel the teachers back into line.

He's tried a court injunction against the union. Twice. The court has correctly noted that there's no evidence that the union is behind the sick-outs.

So last week, teachers reportedly became aware that there was a new policy document on the DPS website.

You can see the document here.

The first sections are old news. Employees may not strike. Supervisors may not encourage a strike.

Then we get to the snitching portion.

"Each and every employee" who becomes aware of any plan for a strike or work stoppage must report it, in writing and in full and in detail.

And the bottom line on all of this?

Failure to immediately comply with this order may be grounds for discipline up to and including termination.

So now, instead of spending money trying to fix decaying schools or get non-rancid food in front of students, Earley and DPS can spend money hauling teachers into tribunals to charge them with having prior knowledge of another teacher's intent to call in sick, with everybody's job on the line.

Michigan does have a whistleblower statute, which protects, among other things, an employee who "reports or is about to report (either verbally or in writing) a violation or a suspected violation of a law, regulation, or a rule" whether the law is state, federal, whatever. I'm not a lawyer (nor do I play one on tv), but it would be interesting to see if the teacher sickout qualifies as a last-ditch attempt to "report" the terrible conditions, many of which violate all sorts of rules, would qualify them as whistleblowers, and therefore protected from retaliation for the sick-outs.

But it's an even more bizarre stretch to try to implement a regulation aimed directly at anyone who knew that someone else was about to blow a whistle.

Earley's snitch-or-be-fired directive is just one more example of how this kind of management-by-czar model can turn into messy tyranny. I hope DPS teachers continue to defy Early, and I hope he looks as ridiculous as he clearly is when he tries to go after them. But what I really hope is that somebody in the state of Michigan wakes up and starts properly funding schools, communities, and the very citizens of the state. Though I should probably check to make sure that Pennsylvania doesn't have some sort of extradition treaty with Michigan before I post this-- I've just encouraged Detroit teachers to continue their sick out and you're just read me doing it, which means we could all be in trouble now. What country do we live in, again?

ICYMI: Browsing the edu-info

Here's just a bit of what's happening out there. As always, I highly recommend that you look down the right-hand sidebar, which is probably the best part of this blog!

Star Wars and Education Reform

Yes, Andy Smarick is part of the Bellwether-Fordham axis of reforminess. But he has a history of carefully considering the implications of ed reform and the unrestrained impulse to just throw out everything old. This quick take raises some useful questions. Also, Star Wars.

Common Core Can't sped Up Child Development

From last summer, this piece lays out the problem with the Core versus the development of small children.

The Blasphemy of School Vouchers

It's voucher-pushing time in Tennessee again. A perspective from a parent whose child attends one of those "failing" schools, and who does his homework on the larger issues.

The School Choice We Have vs The School Choice We Want

A good look at the joyous PR of Choice Week held up against the backdrop of Detroit, courtesy of edu-journalist Jeff Bryant

Have You Heard

Jennifer Berkshire (Edushyster) has entered the world of podcasting, and the world of podcasting is better for it.

Higher Education Is More Than Workforce Development

Tom Eblen gives a brief history of higher education in Kentucky and looks at how the new governor is poised to screw it up.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

CCSS: Safe and Secure

The Collaborative for Student Success is yet another Common Core shilling group, supported by folks like the Gates Foundation, the New Ventures Fund, and the Fordham. It has to be lonely over there, standing up for the Common Core when nobody will even mention its name unless they're paid to do so.

Election Doesn't Matter

Last week executive director Karen Nussle issued a memo declaring Common Core a non-issue in the race for President, and she has a legitimate point. At this point Common Core lacks support among Presidential candidates as surely as roasting and eating baby pandas does. But Nussle sorts out the different types of non-support.

Many of the contenders have a complicated relationship with the standards marked by inconsistencies and shifting positions, while others have staked out governance positions on standards that are unconstitutional.

I think "complicated relationship" is a nice way to put it. There are, for instance, the flip-floppers. She calls out Rubio, who used to brag about his role in getting CCSS adopted in Florida. And Chris Christie and Fiorina and Huckabee (and Jindal and Walker) who are all for Common Core before they were against it. Nussle does not dig further, considering that this might be a result of selling the Core, not on their merits as educational standards, but on their merits as a good political posture. I suppose you can argue that the flip floppery is a sign that these candidates are unprincipled, but I think it's also a sign that Common Core was never a matter of principle to begin with. The Core were sold as politically expedient and politically sale-able. These deserters of the Core deserted the standards as soon as it became evident that they did not possess the only qualities that ever made CCSS in the first place.

Nussle's "unconstitutional" crack is for Cruz and Trump, both of whom have promised to undo the federal Common Core laws, and while I hold the feds responsible in large part for the Core's existence and prevalence, even I understand that talking about undoing the federal Common Core laws is like promising to repeal the federal laws requiring it to snow in Alaska. It's a cynical, cost-free to promise nothing, appropriate for two supremely cynical sonsabitches. To even sort of make good on the promise, Nussle points out, they have promised to use any Presidential power they can to undermine the Core, which would make for spectacular overreach and abuse of power. Oh yeah-- Ben Carson is in this group. Is he still here? Apparently.

Nussle also brings up the "principled leaders" while simultaneously giving them a pass for actually being flip floppers. Bush and Kasich "have consistently and unapologetically supported higher standards" she says, conveniently switching from "common core" to "highers standards" because otherwise both would just be flip-floppers who were a little slower on the flop than the rest. That would be appropriate for Kasich, who was still spouting the "but these were created by the governors" line long after even Common Core PR flaks had dropped that fiction (I watch him at the NH beauty pageant and my impression that Kasich is more clueless than diabolical). Bush, on the other hand, had staked out education as the issue-based limo that would drive him to DC, and ever since the wheels came off, he's been unsure about whether to wait next to the vehicle for a tow-truck or to just hitch a ride with something else.

Nussle does a nice call-back to the Washington Post prediction that Common Core would be the most important issue of the election before pointing out that it barely came up at all in GOP debates, and devotes twelve whole words to acknowledging that Democrats are also running for President and not talking about Common Core.

The Core Is Safe

Nussle wraps up by explaining why the Core standards are in no danger.

The enactment of ESSA forever ends what has long been the greatest point of vulnerability for Common Core: federal entanglement through Race to the Top and secretarial waivers in states’ decisions surrounding the adoption of standards and the selection of aligned assessments.

Yes, for people whose theory is that the Core was doing fine until Obama and Duncan and the feds messed everything up, ESSA is good news because it protects the states from the results of any federal elections, and Nussle is convinced that CCSS is firmly entrenched in forty-three states.

On the one hand, she has a point. Most states that "replaced" Common Core did it through the highly technical Lipstick on a Pig technique of changing the name and a few words here and there.

On the other hand, Common Core is dead, and public education is fighting a long clean-up battle against the shambling zombies that still grunt its name.

The portions of Common Core that are not on the Big Standardized Test are dead and gone, gone, gone. When was the last time you heard about a school sinking big bucks into the Common Core speaking and listening program? How many teachers are under intense pressure to implement instruction that meets those standards? Speaking and listening standards are absolutely part of the Core, but they're not on anybody's BS Test, so nobody cares. For all intents and purposes they don't exist.

What about schools and teachers who claim they are being led by the Common Core to new heights of educational awesomeness? I have read dozens of essays by these folks, and they all have one thing in common-- they are full of baloney. Here is the process followed by every single one of these schools and teachers:

1) Do whatever your professional judgment tells you is best for your students.

2) Credit it to the Common Core standards.

At this point, "Common Core" has about as much clear and specific meaning as "stuff." It means something completely different to every person that uses it, encounters it, or interprets it, and its decay into empty nothingness is accelerated by the lack of any sort of anchor-- there's no person, no group, no "authority" in place to say, "No, this is what it really means."

Common Core still exerts an unhealthy influence in a thousand corners of the country, depending on how deep the kool-aid runs in the veins of the People In Charge. But it's no longer possible to have a real conversation about it because nobody means the same thing by the words. So in a sense, Nussle is correct in believing that nobody can hurt the Core any more. However, nobody can hurt the Core anymore because it's already dead, shambling and shuffling around, desperate to eat brains but unable to form a single useful thought or join up with any of the other policy zombies.

Friday, January 29, 2016

USED: Dear Colleague

TO: State and Local School Officials
FROM: Faceless Federal Bureaucrat at US Department of Education

I hope that our recent letter about participation rates in accountability testing has clarified the department's stance on the 95% participation requirement. This most recent threat of Dire Consequences should be heeded, and should not be confused with this other time we made the threat, or the time before that. This time, if more than 5% of your test-worthy students are opted out of testing by their families, we will rain hellfire and damnation down upon you, or at the very least take away some of your funding.

ESSA requires a 95% participation rate. Yes, ESSA also recognizes the right of parents to opt out, but that does not mean that we can't hold you responsible for what they choose to do.

In fact, we like this regulatory principle so much, we have whipped up some regulatory extensions of this great idea.

We note with alarm that more and more of our younger children are unattractive. We are also concerned that parents are selecting clothing for their children without proper regard for aesthetic qualities of the child's wardrobe. Therefore, if we determine that more than 5% of your state's children have been told, "You're ugly and your mother dresses you funny," we will be cutting your federal subsidy.

We believe children's health is suffering because they are being fed too many fried foods such as french fries. We would like to see healthier choices made, such as broccoli. Therefore, if we determine that more than 5% of your families are not feeding their children broccoli every night, we will be cutting a portion of your Title I funding.

We are concerned that American children are falling behind other countries in median height at age 8. We recognize that height is often genetic, and so we intend to encourage short people to procreate with tall people. If we find too many short people pro-creating with other short people in your state, we will slash all federal school funding.

Of course, most experts agree that even mild corporal punishment is inappropriate and bad for children. Therefore, if we discover that more than 5% of the parents in your districts ever spank their children, we will send somebody over from USED to punch one of your administrators in the face.

We are certain you share our belief that when adult citizens of the USA choose to exercise their rights in ways that are inconvenient to federal purposes, it is the state and local school system's responsibility to separate those citizens from their rights; and that it only make sense that systems which fail to convince those citizens to give up their rights should be punished. Parents may have a federally-recognized right to opt out, but schools have a federally-imposed responsibility to keep parents from exercising their rights.

We are aware that some critics have argued that schools have no control over factors such as parental choice. We believe that concern will be addressed in our upcoming letter in which we will outline our plan for tying federal school funding to the price of tea in China. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

OH: Opt Out Under Attack [Update]

UPDATE: Courtesy of Board Member Wagner in the comments below:

UPDATE: OEA spoke with the primary sponsor of the bill that contained the provision to penalize educators who suggest opting-out as a possibility, Representative Kimberly Roegner. Roegner agreed to completely remove that provision from the bill in question, House Bill 420. Apparently she and others on the education committee have realized that this provision went way too far, was ill considered, and should have received more thoughtful consideration before being placed in the bill.

My thanks go out to all of you, including Crumudgucation, who joined into the collective voice that changed the minds that needed to be changed. My thanks go out to Representatives Roegner and Brenner, chair of the House Education Committee, for being open to our message. 

Here's what the original fuss was about.

Word came from a high-ranking official through Facebook today that somebody is gunning for those mean old Ohio Opt Outers.

The vehicle is Ohio House Bill 420, a bill "to amend sections 3302.01 and 3302.03 of the Revised Code to prohibit the Department of Education from including students who 'opt-out' of state assessments in calculations of certain grades in the state report card and to declare an emergency."

But that title sounds like a Good Thing, right. In fact if we look at some of the specific changes, we find versions of this language:

any student to whom a district or school is required to administer an assessment under section 3301.0710 or 3301.0712 of the Revised Code, but who chooses not to take the assessment, shall not be included in the calculation of the district's or school's grade under division (B)(1)(b) of this section.

In other words, students who opt out of the Big Standardized Test (still PARCC, in Ohio's case) will not be counted against their school's state rating.

However, the bill is listed as still in committee, where apparently the following language has been tacked on as an amendment:

“No employee of a school district or public school shall negligently suggest to any student, or parent, guardian, or custodian of that student, enrolled in the district or school that the student should choose to not take any assessment prescribed by section 3301.0710 or 3301.0712 of the Revised Code.” Violation of this law is termination, loss of license, and a criminal record. 

That's right. Tell your students or any of their friends and family that you think opting out might be a good idea, and you would lose your job, your license, and your clean record. Post a complaint about PARCC on the book of face, and you are in the slammer. Testify before a government agency that you think the PARCC is a big fat waste of time, and you could be an unemployed lawbreaker.

Word of this astonishing (and probably illegal) amendment slipped out courtesy of Ohio Board of Education member A. J. Wagner. We've met Wagner before-- he's the board member who led a small revolt when Ohio tried to cut special area requirements for elementary schools. And he shared a few thoughts about this move on his Facebook page which I am sharing now with his permission.

So, a teacher who says on Facebook, “These tests aren’t helping our kids;” a janitor who reports to his neighbor what he heard in the teacher’s lounge about the waste of time these tests are; a superintendent who honestly says to the PTO president who challenges the tests, “I’m only doing this because the state makes me do it, this doesn’t help your children;” a principal who testifies to a legislative committee that the tests are damaging our schools; a counselor who says to a parent of an anxiety ridden child on the verge of a breakdown, “The testing pressure is too much for her;” a parent who works in the cafeteria and opts her son out of the tests; a school board member who votes for a resolution condemning the tests; all of these risk losing their job and can end up with a criminal record. 

“Silence them!”
“Stop them before the public finds out what we’re doing!”
“Ruin their lives before they ruin our political careers with the truth!”

Let’s review.

• These tests have had no real value, at least not to student performance. They have tremendous value to testing companies.

• They cost a lot of tax dollars taken from your house budget and given to testing companies rather than classroom instruction.

• They cost significant time. Last year teachers in Ohio spent as much as 8% of their classroom time on tests.
• They cause needless, harmful angst in children who understand the high stakes placed on the outcomes.

• They cost schools the loss of good, experienced teachers, especially schools in poor communities where teachers are blamed for the poor performance of kids who come to school, hungry, stressed, sick, and beaten.

• They cost discouragement and hopelessness in impoverished communities whose houses are vacant as parents move, when they can, because they’ve been told, falsely, that their schools aren’t any good.

• They are telling us that our kids are stupid when they’re not. If the scores from last year’s tests are believed, about two-thirds of Ohio’s kids are not on track for college or a career. That’s not true. But just in case you don’t get the message, standards are being raised for next year’s test to make that point more emphatic. TWO OF THREE OHIO KIDS ARE TOO DUMB TO GO TO COLLEGE!

• These tests aren’t timely. More than half the school year is gone and we still don’t have final scores on last year’s tests! What is a parent or teacher supposed to do when they find out, in late February, that Junior didn’t do so well? Send him back a grade?

• Education Week has moved Ohio from a state ranking of 5 to a ranking of 23 in the past two years. Ohio hasn’t seen a meaningful increase in NAEP scores in more than a decade. Last year’s NAEP scores for Ohio moved us down.

• The test results are used to terminate local control by firing elected school boards and allowing outsiders appointed by outsiders to take control of our schools. They are not just burying the constitution; they are ending democracy.

If you are an Ohioan who cares about education, you might want to send Wagner a little message of support. And if you're employed by a school district, feel free to share this post-- but do it soon, because before you know it, spreading this kind of dissent and disagreement could cost you your job.

Coercion, force, threats, and more threats-- this is what it takes to get people to go along with the PARCC. You would think that legislators and policy makers might ask themselves why exactly PARCC has failed to win hearts and minds. but no-- instead, we'll just force people to shut up about it at gunpoint. Good luck with that, Ohio.

Power and Order

It's School Choice Week and all the usuals have to check in, and I've been trying to read the work of the more serious choice advocates. And that would have to include Andy Smarick.

Smarick's entry at the Fordham Institute blog is School Choice: The end of the beginning in which he would like to suggest that charter-choice systems are a done deal, and he has a lesson from his years of pushing choice that he wants to share:

But probably the most important lesson I’ve learned over the last fifteen years—the reason why school choice progress moves so slowly—is this: An education system without school choice makes perfect sense from the point of view of central administrators.

Thas's probably true in the sense that it's true to say that I married my wife because she smells nice-- it's true, but a rather incomplete picture. Or to phrase Smarick's observation another way-- we have the traditional pubic system we have because the trained professionals who have devoted their adult live to working in the ed biz have, in their constant work at growing and testing and refining, have settled on several best practices. Smarick might as well complain that the only reason that surgeons like to operate on tables instead of floors is that it makes it easier to operate safely and accurately.

Smarick observes that a centralized authority for a large cityful of students (like most people in the ed debates, Smarick is really talking just about large urban school systems) is efficient and sensible, except when it isn't.

When there’s a single school operator, it’s a big problem if it’s not good at operating schools. Large, centralized bureaucracies remove power from practitioners. A single political governing board can be captured by interest groups. Monopolies are able to resist unwelcome reforms and find it difficult to evolve to meet changing circumstances. A family may not like the school to which its children are assigned. A teacher may not like the school to which she is assigned. A school assignment system, as Senator Elizabeth Warren has pointed out, reinforces residential segregation. A single-provider model, as Ashley Rogers Berner argues, undermines pluralism while implying ideological neutrality. And so on.

All of these are, again, sort of partially legit kind of. Large centralized bureaucracies are nobody's favorite thing, though as a classroom teacher, you can appreciate a large central bureaucracy that is too lumpy and slow to really interfere with you. A school board can be captured by special interests, but the election process allows them to be UNcaptured-- and a charter operating company IS a special interest, and it cannot be changed by the voters. Teachers and students "may not like" their school. I'm not sure that rises to the level of a Big Problem. School assignment systems may reinforce residential segregation, but the charter record on fixing segregation is crappy. You know who could fix school segregation? A centralized school administration. And I think Berner is full of baloney.

There are actually other legit complaints about a centralized single-payer-provider for education, particularly states and systems that exacerbate the effects of segregation along racial and class divides on purpose through policies loosely described as Let's Not Spend Any Money on Schools for Those People. That's a problem. I'm just not convinced that a choice system offers any solution to it instead of, say, "rescuing" a small handful of students from underfunded schools while making those schools even more severely underfunded for the many students still there.

Smarick is ideologically predisposed to be in favor of "our transition from a highly legible, single-provider model to a decentralized, choice-based model." But we have a pre-existing model for a decentralized choice-based model for providing a human service, and that would be the world's most expensive, inefficient and mediocre health care system.

Smarick sees a tension between the orderliness of our traditional system and a system that "empowers families and educators." And this may be one of the key points on which we disagree, because I'll be damned if I can see how a choice system empowers anybody except the people who want to run (and profit from) a choice system (also, a good public system allows for a great deal of energizing anarchy under the surface, but that's a topic for another day.)

Smarick is one of the few people to make the claim that a choice system empowers educators. Most choice fans correctly note that it's a great system for Putting Teachers in Their Place by getting rid of unions and job security from day one.

But choice doesn't empower families, either. In fact, it takes away one of the most fundamental powers a family has when it comes to education.

It's the power to make a school take your child. Show up at the school in your community with your child in tow, demanding that she be educated. The public school cannot say no. In fact, if your child comes equipped with challenges or disabilities, not only can the public school not say no, but they must provide your child with the necessary tools and instructions. If you don't like what the school is doing, you can call school officials, and if you don't like their answer, you can call a school board member. If you're really unhappy, you can attend a meeting where, by law, all decisions must be made in public view. You have the power to do all that, and in many cases you can even follow your complaint up by dragging the school district into a court of law.

What power do families have in a charter choice system? The power to take their business elsewhere. That's it. You do not have the power to demand that a school take your child, or that they teach your child in the most appropriate way. If a charter decides that it wants to push you out, you have no recourse. Information for judging choice schools is limited and mostly parents face a barrage of marketing rather than useful information.

Smarick is, finally, interested in assuming the sale. He lists some legitimately important questions about how a choicey chartery system would work (how do we do decentralized organization? who owns the buildings?) as a way of saying, "See! Choice-charter systems are a done deal. We just need to work out the details." That is perhaps premature, given that no charter-choise system has yet proven to actually work well at anything (other than making some charter operators a bunch of money) and none answer the question "How do you have redundant educational systems without ending up with a system that is an inefficient money-sucking tax dollar black hole?"

I agree that many centralized school systems need a great deal of work, and there are some problems that some public school systems need to solve. What remains unclear is how a choice-charter system solves any of those problems.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

CATO, Choice and Freedom

It's School Choice Week, one more faux celebration created as a hook on which to hang a hundred press releases.

School Choice Week does indeed launch a thousand events and commentaries, and plenty of them are not very serious puff pieces by not very serious people. But some choice supporters are reasonably thoughtful people, and their words are worth reading if for no reason other than to spark the mental exercise of figuring out why, exactly, you disagree with them.

Which brings me to Neal McClusky's pro-choice piece for CATO, the Koch-flavored Libertarian thinky tank. It's short and sweet and draws a line directly between school choice and freedom. And I appreciate the clarity of his argument, because it helps me understand why I believe he's wrong.

First, the liberty part.

Freedom must have primacy because society is ultimately composed of individuals, and leaving individuals the right and ability to control their own lives is fundamentally more just than having the state – be it through a single dictator, or majority of voters – control our thoughts, words, or actions.

The sticky part here is "the right and ability to control their own lives."  The ability to control your own life is directly connected to wealth and status, and wealth and status are directly connected to the wealth and status of your parents. The state is not the only entity capable of limiting individual freedom, and more and more often, it does so not out of its own interests, but at the behest of the corporate interests who have paid mightily to have government represent their interests and not the interests of citizens without wealth, access of power.

Then, the extension of the liberty argument:

But a corollary to free individuals, especially when no one is omniscient and there is no unanimous agreement on what is the “right” way to live, or think, or believe, must be free association – free, authentic communities. We must allow people and communities marked by hugely diverse religious, philosophical, or moral views, and rich ethnic and cultural identities and backgrounds, to teach their children those things. Short of stopping incitement of violence or clear parental abuse, the state should have no authority to declare that “your culture is acceptable,” or “yours must go.” Indeed, crush the freedom of communities and you inevitably cripple individual liberty, taking away one’s choices of how and with whom to live.

This is a swell ideal, and I would love to live in that country, but it requires a level playing field and a shared definition of free. For instance, I can't think of any way in which same-gender marriage in any way infringes on or damages my perfectly happy heteronormative (second) marriage. But I know plenty of people who are pretty sure there IS an infringement, and now are equally angry and certain that they have been told their culture must go. When it comes to crushing the freedom of communities, there is wide difference of opinion of what constitutes crushing, and there is no level playing field for the debate between those cultures. For centuries the traditional straights have had the upper hand, and the loss of that upper hand feels to many of them as if their freedom is being crushed.

The state does not have to declare winners and losers (and in fact I agree that it mostly should not), but it does have an obligation to even the playing field and to decide when certain communities are not fighting fair, which means it has to decide what is fair, which means while it may not decide winners and losers, it sure will look like it. While there's a level on which McClusky's ideal is an appealing and worthy goal, I cannot imagine how, for instance, we would solve, sans government, the collision of  one community that believes blacks should be subservient and poor colliding with another community that is composed of blacks who don't accept racist foolishness.Or a community of wealthy corporate heads who believe they should be able to reap all the benefits of corporate success and the community of laborers who believe they are entitled to a share as well.

Nor does it seem like a blow for equality to look at a authentic, poor urban community and an authentic, rich gated community and declare, "Well, let's let everyone be free to pursue their own goals without government interference." It's like a race between a one runner standing on the starting line and another tied up at the bottom of a deep hole, and the race officials say, "We can't untie that runner and lift them out of the hole-- that would be unequal treatment. Only if we leave that runner tied up and in the hole will it be a fair race."

In fact, one of our problems with the traditional system is that some folks identify authentic communities and then cut them off at the knees. Let's not fund schools in non-wealthy non-white communities and then just say, "Well, that's just how things are" when in fact we made things that way by failing to properly fund the schools we have.

This (to digress) is my problem with Libertarianism-- it assumes a level playing field. Rich guys who run companies are pitted against little guys who work in factories and that's okay, because Libs assume that the rich is rich because he earned it. But when the little guy wants to organize, say, a union, that's wrong. The rich guy has extra power because he deserves it, but for the little guy to try to acquire more power is wrong and unfair. Let the wrestling match between The Rock and Betty White commence. libertarians are too often happy with an uneven playing field because they think it's uneven in a just and correct way, not the result of previous unjust game-rigging.

If there are things on which all agree, choice is moot – all will teach and respect those things. But if we do not all agree, forcing diverse people to support a single system of “common” schools yields but three outcomes: first, divisive conflict; then, either inequality under the law – oppression – when one side wins and the other loses, or lowest-common-denominator curricula to keep the peace.  

Again, I appreciate his clarity because I can see exactly where we part ways. I agree at the start-- if we all agreed on what schools were supposed to do, we'd have far fewer educational debates and faux reformers. But his list of three outcomes is incorrect.

Divisive conflict is inevitable only if we imagine a school that must treat each student identically. There is no reason to imagine such a school. Properly operated, a school can be designed to meet a wide variety of needs for a wide variety of students. It's not even particularly hard to do. We only need a common denominator (low or otherwise) if we are putting all the students in the exact same class in the exact same program (one more reason that national standards and national standardized tests are stupid ideas). One side does not need to win at the expense of the other. My school's vocational training program does not need to thrive at the expense of a high-powered college prep program. Black students and white students, rich and poor, super-smart and struggling-- we can support all of those student populations at the same time. There is no reason at all for winners and losers.

In fact, charters do not even have to thrive at the expense of public schools. All we need is a commitment to fund all of these things. The problem is not that we are trying to force diverse people into common schools-- the problem is that we want to do it on the cheap.

The practice of squishing diverse people together in a system that denies sorting them into clear cut winners and losers is a foundational American practice, going all the way back to a Constitution that virtually every founding father hated some portion of. The idea that all cultural disagreements must be solved by the complete and utter obliteration of one side is a relatively modern invention, and we are not better off for it.

There is no net gain to freedom and excellence of our nation if we set up separate schools so that everyone is educated only among those with whom they agree. And I don't imagine that any government can erase all differences and create a happy land of perfect equality. But choice does not fix any of the problems McClusky refers to-- it does not make our country, or the people in it, more free.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

UT Offers Gobbledeegook Education Program

Here's one for the Has To Be Seen To Be Believed file, or perhaps the Ugly manhandling of English Language file, or most especially, the Why Regular People Don't Listen To Academics file.

The University of Texas is launching a... well, to be honest, I'm not sure. Some kind of MOOC. A newly tech-based instructional delivery system. Probably a version of Competency Based Education.  But Marni Baker Stein, Chief Innovation Officer of the University of Texas System’s Institute for Transformational Learning, is at Inside Higher Ed to plug the... whatever it is.

The entry is entitled "The Future Is Now." Treasure that phrase, because it's the last thing in the piece that will make plain sense (and was probably written by the IHE editor and not Stein). Can we figure it out?

UT is onto something new, and they've launched an initiative to "envisage" new models of delivery for a college education. For the first couple of paragraphs, one can almost make out some sense in the fog, some notion that a new workplace calls for new modes of preparation, and the UT campuses have been working on this in conjunction with certain disciplines and programs. But then we hit this...

These experimental sites disaggregate the post-secondary pathway as we know it into scalable and affordable verticals of connected educational experiences that can begin in high school and persist throughout a lifetime. In order to drive exponential increases in student engagement, retention and post-program success, our future models reinvent every facet of the learning experience, from the way that curricula and educational experiences are designed, developed, and delivered, to the services that support students along their educational journey, to how student learning is monitored and assessed.

You know, there's nothing I like better than a scalable and affordable vertical, though now that I think about it, that could also refer to an inexpensive rock-climbing wall at a gym, so maybe there are things I like better. But boy-- little old UT is going to reinvent every single part of the education process. How smart are they!?

What are some of the features of this Brave New Exponentially Disaggregated Cosmos of Educational Implementational Experientation?

Outcome focused. Well, you knew that was coming. And that outcomes focus will be, um, based on, um, "on the definition of the graph or scaffold of assessable outcomes that underlies each programming trajectory."

These graphs are complex and dynamic, often sketching out hundreds of outcomes across multiple levels of competency, and serve as the master blueprint over which we can then trace (and over time as the field evolves re-trace) the outlines of flexible program “packages” including foundational instruction, stand-alone modules, micro-certificates, stackable credentials, and degrees.

An atomic approach to design. This, sadly, will not involve plutonium or nuclear power plants. Instead, "atomic" refers to the high level of granularity in the pathway. Because the units will be extremely granular, they can be extremely personalized. Also, a bicycle, because a vest has no sleeves.

The approach also allows for more efficient management, updating, and expansion of learning experiences as we analyze object-specific impacts on student behavior or performance and as the targeted learning outcomes graph continues to evolve.

Commitment to high-impact pedagogies. 

High impact pedagogies such as problem-, project-, and team-based learning underlie the better part of instruction across every learning experience, presenting students with authentic assessments and driving challenges that need to be actively investigated and that are social by design.

I am beginning to suspect that we have moved beyond buzzword bingo and are in some sort of dimension of jargon-infused slam poetry, a world where Sarah Palin actually finished a college education but only learned the words.

A focus on personalization and gamification. Oh, hey! This part makes sense, and is the worse for it. "As learners make progress toward short-term and long-term goals, they earn points and are credited for a wide range of academic, co-curricular, and professional accomplishments." So, your education will be a video game which you will keep paying until you level up into a degree of some sort.

A persistent progressive profile that builds a universal transcript. This will go on your permanent record, young man. And when we say permanent, we mean permanent.

A next generation digital learning platform. Good gravy. The sun will come out tomorrow. Stop talking about next-generation software because if you actually had it, if you could actually do all the things you say you want to do, it would be THIS-generation stuff. "Next-generation" means "available only in my dreams." Which is useless. Oh, but they have it-- and it has a cute name.

Among TEx’s distinctive features is its ability to collect and integrate data from a variety of silos (including the Student Information System, Learning Management System, content services, and a broad array of learning and assessment applications) that offer real-time actionable insights into student pace, engagement, persistence, and performance, as well as measures of self-efficacy. This infrastructure empowers faculty and staff to provide high-touch services to those students most in need of encouragement and to personalize support and instructional development efforts as never before possible.

Software that can measure "self-efficacy"!! And it will offer real-time actionables (unlike say, a next-generation software platform which would, by definition, be offering tomorrow-time hope-to-actionables). And I have't told you the best part-- this will be a mobile app!! That's right-- play your UT Bachelor's Videogame on your phone! Is that cool, or what!?

A commitment to research. And that appears to be the most creative way to say, "While you are playing your TEx Earn-a-Bachelor's videogame, we will be data-mining the living daylights out of you. Why, in TEx's first season, it collected over two million data events. I was invited to a data event once, but I wasn't sure what to wear. I had to settle for the data after-party.

This data collection will involve many partners. "This is a strategy that rests on strong partnerships between campuses and the university system, between the System and best-in-breed application developers and analytics service providers, and between solver teams of faculty and curriculum and instructional designers, educational technologies, assessment specialists, and data scientists. " I cannot wait to find out how solver-teams are chosen, though I imagine it must be hard to be the kid who gets chosen last for a solver team. Probably makes you want to just sit in the corner and play TEx games on your phone.

At the end, Stein allows herself to get a little verklempt and personal:

The work is fascinating, complex, and rife with both opportunities and challenges.

Well, it is certainly rife with something. I've been concerned what will be coming down the pike marketed as personalized, digitized learning, but if this is how they're going to sell it, I'm less concerned, because this is more likely to induce giggles than fear. An e-mail sitting here tells me that UT is offering all manner of MEd's on-line; maybe this is part of that, in which case heaven help the teacher who has to get through it with a straight face.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Vouchers: Why Do Conservatives Love 'Em?

If the plaintiffs in Friedrichs vs. California Teachers (or the people for whom they're sock puppeting) don't like paying union fees (they already don't have to pay dues) because the union will spend their money on activities with which they do not agree, boy, they would really hate school vouchers.

The rhetoric of pro-voucher folks (who at this point are the most long-twitching of the various undead unsuccessful reformster species) is to frame the decision about those tax dollars in a very specific way. "These tax dollars belong to the students and their families, not the bureaucracy of government schools" or some equivalent is the usual construction. This money belongs to the deserving child, not the money-grubbing public school system. It's a clear choice. And it's a false choice.

The tax dollars associated with public schools belong to neither the child nor the school system.

Those tax dollars belong to the tax payers.

The foundation of public education is pretty simple. "Hey," said the members of various communities. "Let's put some money together and get the kids an education, because if they grow up stupid, we'll have to live with and depend on a bunch of stupid adults, and that seems like a bad idea."

Oh, "and we'll elect some of us to keep an eye on the school and the money we pooled to run it."

In fact, one the weird things about voucher-choice systems pushed by conservatives is how very un-conservative these concepts are.

Those communities did not say, "Let's collect a bunch of money, give it to the parents, and they can spend it on their kids however they like." That would be another entitlement, and conservatives are not huge fans of the E word. In fact, conservatives have been pretty vocally unfriendly to the idea of "free" college for any who want to attend, because it would just be another entitlement by which students would feel entitled to attend college paid for by tax dollars ripped from the public's wallets.

But how is a voucher-choice system anything other than an entitlement for children to attend private school with tax dollars ripped from public wallets?

Conservatives also dislike it when publicly funded universities use public tax dollars to pay professors who say things with which some conservative taxpayers deeply disagree. How is a voucher-choice system any different-- particularly in a place like Ohio where I can set up a charter based in Sharia Law or White Supremacy or Flat Earth Cosmology?

Because one thing is certain under a voucher-choice system-- taxpayers without school age children have no voice in how education is managed in their community. Yes, public schools can make choices that the taxpayers hate-- and then the taxpayers can come tell the elected school board how much they hate those choices, and the taxpayers can replace the board members with more amenable ones. In a voucher-choice system, if you have no child, you have no voice.

Conservative support for vouchers continues to mystify me. It's a new entitlement. It's taxation without representation. It's also expensive-- because as the public system loses money through vouchers, they have no choice but to raise taxes. Okay, that's not entirely true-- a community with a large majority of childless taxpayers could elect a board that gives everybody a huge tax cut and tells the voucherfied system, "Screw you. Go find the money for schools somewhere else." And then the system would either collapse or need a government bailout.

So tell me again why conservatives love vouchers and choice?

Counting on Superman

One of the saddest days of my life was when my mother told me Superman did not exist... I was like what do you mean he's not real. And she thought I was crying because it's like Santa Claus is not real and I was crying because there was no one coming with enough power to save us. 

-- Geoffrey Canada (Harlem Children's Zone)

That's the quote used to set up the 2010 edu-propa-mentary film Waiting for Superman. Like many parts of the education reform movement, it's an inspired piece of misdirection, because reformsters have not only been waiting for Superman-- they've been counting on him.

The Flint and Detroit school disasters have focused national attention on Michigan's emergency manager law. That law has been percolating in Michigan for years, heated up by the folks at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy , a right-wing thinky tank that loves the idea of privatizing government and which has been funded by the usual suspects (Koch, Walton, DeVos). They started pushing for a new, powerful Czar-ship in 2005 and finally sold it in 2012 (You can read a more detailed account of the rise of the Emergency Manager in Michigan in this piece.) The adoption of the law was contentious, but the leaders of Michigan were determined that Superman would come, and when he came, they would be ready.

Because the emergency manager model doesn't just believe that Superman is coming-- it depends on it. Superman is coming, and we must prepare a place for him.

The emergency management system we see in Michigan is just one way of expressing the Superman Theory of Change-- there are Supermen among us, and they could save the lesser beings, if only we stopped holding them back. Superman could bring us excellence, but the enemy of excellence is bureaucracy and regulation and rules and, most of all, democracy.

Counting on Superman has led to a variety of initiatives. The various attempts to break tenure (like Vergara and Reed before it) have come from the belief that when Superman takes over a school district, he must (like a CEO) be free to hire and fire based on what he alone can see with his super vision. (And schools would work so much better if every classroom was taught by another Superman).

The need to break unions is part of the same trend. Unions tie Superman down, forcing him to follow a bunch of stupid rules every time he wants to strap on his cape and take to the skies.

Likewise, government regulations get in Superman's way, keeping him earthbound in a web of red tape. For a Superman believer like Jeb! Bush, it makes perfect sense to say that Flint's crisis was caused by too much regulation-- if the Supermen who emergency manage Flint and Detroit hadn't had to deal with local and federal authorities at all, they would have avoided this whole mess.

Superman also needs to be un-hampered by "politics." Reed Hastings (Netflix) famously supported the idea of doing away with elected school boards entirely, because they are too unstable, too susceptible to the will and whims of the public. This distaste for politics gives, in hindsight, a new understanding to the common complaint from reformsters a few years ago, who kept bemoaning how ed reform ideas like Common Core were being tripped up by "politics," meaning, we can now see, that people were trying to keep Superman from exerting his full powers.

Hastings saw a solution, and he wasn't the only one, in the steady replacement of public schools and their kryptonite mountains of rules and unions and regulations and democracy-- replacing all that with charter schools which are, after all, simply schools run by Superman as a permanent emergency manager from Day One. You can see it on Eva Moskowitz's bemused face every time someone tries to argue with her- "Why are you questioning me? Do you not see that I am Superman, come to save the less fortunate? Nobody tells me what to do."

Superman will save our schools. Well, not all our schools. The Ubermensch is most needed where the cities and schools are filled with Those People, those Lesser Humans who can't be trusted to vote properly, act properly, learn properly, and certainly not to chart their own course properly. No, it is Superman's burden to rescue those lesser beings.

Of course, those lesser beings are rarely found in rich communities. No, it's the poor, the brown, the black that need to be rescued by Superman, and anybody who stands in Superman's way is a racist on the wrong side of the Civil Rights Issue of Our Time, which is, apparently, that poor black and brown people deserve the opportunity to be rescued by Superman. Of course Those People should be silently grateful that Superman will choose for them what choices they are desperately in need of, which often includes training in how to be properly compliant, how to be happy in their proper place.

So across the country, some are not just waiting for Superman, but counting on him. Banking on him. Michigan needs Superman to come run many of its cities ( particularly the mostly-black ones). States across the nation need Superman to come run their school districts (particularly the mostly not white ones). Superman somehow knows the secret of running a city. Superman somehow knows the secret of educating children.

Some folks, folks who have been paying attention, have seen this coming for a while. The old emergency manager model was like a nurse, a FEMA or Red Cross coming to town to help stem the tide of disaster until folks could get back on their feet. But the new emergency managers are here to deal with the crisis that never ends because the Crisis is democratic local control. The crisis is that The Wrong People are in charge. We can work the problem slowly by setting obstacles to keep The Wrong People from voting, but it's even easier in a city like Detroit or a school district like Philadelphia to simply remove the need to vote, to strip democratically elected officials of any actual power.

Peoples' willingness to go along with this is at times frightening. What is the Friedrich case except a group of teachers saying, "We really ought to know our place and stop tugging on Superman's cape." And what kind of dark road have we traveled down to find so many people who think that Donald Trump is the ubermensch who will Save America (from all those non-white Those People) ?

There are people who believe that Superman really will come to actually save us, that he will do Really Good Things and therefor it's okay to prepare his throne. We give up democracy for nothing but the very best reasons. Scratch an NEA or AFT leader and I believe you'll find a sincere argument about why the union must back Clinton no matter what union members think they want. Scratch some reformsters and you will find a sincere argument about how some of the poor and downtrodden really must be saved by Superman.

And some of the crisis are real (and some have been manufactured-- but are still real). Detroit was no sunny paradise before an emergency manager was installed. Democracy can indeed be twisted to create unjust, unfair, oppressive outcomes. Democracy is not magical.

But here's the thing. Democracy may not be perfect. But Superman is not real.

The Superman plan is no plan. The Superman plan is, "We have a bunch of problems and challenges, so we will install Superman as an emergency manager of the city or the school district, or we will build a school district from scratch with Superman as the CEO, or bring Superman into a turnaround school, and Superman will just fix all the problems. That's our plan!" That's not a plan.

Look at the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP) slide show about Detroit schools. GLEP is a charter-favoring group started up by Dick and Betsy DeVos (Amway billionaires), and they are currently pushing for Detroit Public Schools to just be shut down. The slides collect a litany of DPS wrongdoing, screw-ups and failures, and it's a pretty horrifying litany. But at the end of this long list of DPS inadequacies, the "plan" is "close down DPS and replace it with a bunch of charters, so Superman can come save the children, somehow." That's not a plan, but it's not the first time a similar proposal has been made in this country.

Superman is not real. Superman is not waiting out there with deep, complete knowledge of how to make a school or a city successful and healthy in a single bound. I know this because if a Superman with such knowledge existed, we would have heard about him or her, and that ubermensch would be famous, and probably rich. Not only that, a real Superman with real answers would be convincing millions of people to follow those answers.

Superman is not real, but democracy is. The genius of this country has never been a single superbeing who provided the answer for an entire system or city or even corporation. There may have been people who were the face of a system or city or corporation, but they had an army of collaborators behind them, every single time. Superman comes equipped with powers bestowed at birth which he then proceeds to use as he best sees fit, but our nation's genius is to understand that the powers belong to the people, that government is created by the people, deriving its powers "from the consent of the governed." And, of course, there's that all people are created equal thing.

The people counting on Superman don't believe in democracy because they don't believe in equality. In their model of the universe, some people are just better than others. Some people should be in charge, and some people should not have a say. Some of the people who believe in Betterocracy or Rule by Superman are clearly evil and amoral, believing that it's okay to bilk those Lesser People for every penny ("If they didn't want to be treated like crap, they shouldn't have chosen to be poor.") Some Bettercrats are not destructive thieves; they feel an obligation to look out for the Lesser People, to provide those Lessers with what Superman decides they should have. These Bettercrats may even occasionally lessen the suffering in the world. But at the end of the day, they still believe that they are better than the poor and downtrodden, that they know best, that they are right to substitute their own voices and judgment for the voice and judgment of the people they take care of.

Because, after all, if Superman can come save the day, if Superman can replace mere mortal judgment with his own, if Superman can be given the freedom and power to take run a corporation or a school or an entire city, what better system could we have? Why simply wait for Superman when we can plow the road for him, remove the obstacles, silence the opponents (and for that matter the allies or beneficiaries) that might get in his way? Whether he has "emergency manager" on a business card or a big S on his chest, Superman will save the day.

They are counting on it.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Transactions and Transformations

My wife is taking a professional development course this weekend, and one of her classmates (a football coach) brought up one the truly genius models of distinguishing between types of coaching. If you're active in the world of coaching, you may know these terms, but for the rest of us, let's talk about transactional and transformational coaching.

The transactional coach is trying to make a deal. The athlete has a skill, a power, a strength that the coach needs to win games, so the coach works hard to get that game-winning something out of the athlete. The work between athlete and coach is about developing a particular skill out of the athlete with the goal of wining. If the athlete loses the ability to produce, then the coach no longer needs the athlete, discards the athlete, replaces the athlete, moves on. If the athlete has no ability to produce, that athlete can ride the bench or just get off the team. If the athlete can't help get a W, the athlete is of no use to the transactional coach. For the transactional coach, the athlete is like a vending machine-- you put in money (time, attention) and out comes a treat (victory).

The transformational coach has a broader view. The transformational coach is there to transform the entire athlete, or as one site puts it "by giving individual consideration to all aspects of an athlete’s performance - skills and techniques, motivation and behavior, work ethic and sportsmanship - the transformational coach has the ability to positively affect, and to positively produce, the optimal sports performance of the entire team." The transformational coach looks to transform every athlete on the team (even those who cannot help get the W or have no future in athletics) into their best selves, to build up their strengths and overcome their weaknesses, and in the process teach them how to be their best selves not just in the midst of the contest, but in the larger world.

The transactional coach only needs to check the wins-losses numbers. The transformational coach looks at what kind of people the athletes are when they emerge from the program. For that same reason, it's very easy for a transactional coach to measure "success" with a clear, simple metric, while for the transformational coach, it's much harder to reduce "success" to a quick number.

And yet, most parents want their child to have a transformational coach, and most arguments about the value of athletics-- how it develops character, teaches life skills, strengthens athletes as people-- rest on the presence of a transformational coach.

The terminology was borrowed from the business world, and it transfers nicely to the classroom as well. Most of us went into teaching precisely because we imagined becoming transformational teachers, making a difference in students' lives by helping them become their best selves, helping them transform themselves into more fully whole and human persons.

But advocates of education reform have, intentionally or not, worked to redefine teachers as transactional coaches. We are supposed to be there just to get that good test score out of each kid. We should use test prep, rewards, threats-- whatever works to get the student to make the right marks on the Big Standardized Test so that we can have that easily measured, numerically-coded win. Charter schools have the additional freedom to sort students based on which ones can best complete the transaction and which ones need to be benched. And since the transaction is a fairly simple, we have no shortage of ideas about how to have it broken into short, simple competency-based transactions that can be handled by a computer.

Transactional coaching is simple, clear and can provide distinct short-term rewards. It is also narrow, shallow, and ultimately subordinates humanity and the value of individuals to an artificial and ultimately meaningless excuse for a life purpose. Transformational coaching is way to see the pursuit of athletic excellence as a means of pursuing human excellence and giving an athlete the tools to pursue whatever goals they might set for themselves. A transformational approach puts humanity at the center, setting goals that recognize higher values than the simple pursuits in front of us. A transactional approach sets up an artificial goal and holds it up as a god to be worshipped and pursued at the expense of any human beings who stand in the way. Can there be any doubt that education should be transformational?

ICYMI: This Week's Reading Stuff

No blizzard here, but if you are socked in, here are some things to read while you're waiting for the world to dig itself out. And for the rest of us, just some Sunday reading for our cup of cocoa.

If You're a Teacher, Say Please and Thank You

Ray Salazar with an absolutelyl bang-on response to the scourge of no-nonsense compliance demanding being advocated by some reformsters these days. 

No, My Kindergartner Will Not Be Doing Y0our Homework Assignment

Okay, it's possible that you haven't missed this because it's been heavily liked and read on the book of face, but just in case, you need to catch Cara Paiuk's parental take on the ridiculousness that is academic homework for kindergartners.

Will Ethical Walls Protect Education Journalism from Billionaire Influence

If you are Eli Broad and you propose to buy half of the L.A. school district for fun and profit, it makes sense to buy a big L.A. newspaper so you can get the kind of favorable coverage you need to sell your rather audacious and horrifying idea. Anthony Cody collects and sums up the best explanations of why it's a terrible idea.

ESSA Answers

Amid the many, many posts on Diane Ravitch's blog is a unrolling-in-segments series offering answers to questions about ESSA from Lamar Alexander's chief of staff. Here's what DC thinks they did.

Eva Goes To Court

John Merrow's Eva Moskowitx interview was part of the Very Bad Month that showed many cracks in the Success Academy facade, so it seems only fair that he should report on the legal trouble she now faces for her failure to properly educate students with special needs.

The Truth about Flint

This Salon piece from Paul Rosenberg isn't just about Flint-- it looks more thoroughly at the systematic process of stripping democracy from poor, black Americans. His one mistake is ascribing the process strictly to the GOP, but otherwise this is a thorough and thoughtful look at the trend threatening US democracy.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Non-White Teacher Problem

And here comes yet an other piece of research to add to the stack.

New research from Jason A. Grissom and Christopher Redding looked for new information to explain the underrepresentation of students of color in gifted programs. It's complicated problem, but the researchers came up with one answer-- white teachers are far less likely than teachers of color to identify students of color as gifted. (Consider this the second cousin of the finding that police view young Black men as older and less innocent than whites).

Research from last spring suggests that students do better in classes taught by same-race teachers.

Common sense that says students need to see an adult in school who is like them.

And yet, the trend in education has worked the other way since the days of Brown vs. Board of Education. At a moment when the student population in the US is less than 50% white, the teacher pool is overwhelmingly white and female.

In some cases, Black educators have been pushed out of the classroom (post Katrina New Orleans went from a 71% Black teaching pool to less than 50%). But research keeps repeating the same basic finding on a larger scale-- we are failing to hold onto men and non-white teachers.

Why? Articles keep asking the question, but nobody seems to have an answer.

There are theories. The low pay, which can have impact on men who feel the need to support a family with their job. Richard Ingersoll, a leading researcher of the teacher pool tags working conditions, specifically lack of autonomy and input in school decisions. This first-person account slams home the degree of cultural insensitivity that teachers of color can encounter. And that's before we even get into systems and communities where just-plain-racism is a huge obstacle.

It's a problem, and it's larger problem than it was decades ago precisely because the racial balance of our students is shifting, and -- as with the article that kicked this piece off -- there are real, damaging consequences to students of color.

And yet, nobody is really working on the problem. Reformsters says next to nothing about teacher retention-- they're much more interested in tracking bad teachers down and consequently have done a lot to make teaching seem less like a stable job. Teach for America has taken a stab at it, sort of, but since TFA is in the business of creating short-term teacher tourism instead of building lifetime teaching careers.

Local districts are caught up in a variety of other issues, many of them completely legit. The non-white (male) teacher gap is not sexy, it's not headline grabbing, and it isn't costing anybody a lot of money. It intersects with race, which white America isn't often good at discussing (or even willing to try), and it tweaks the egos of white teachers who, if they don't listen carefully enough, hear, "You aren't good enough to teach students of color," which is of course beside the point.

But with every additional data point, it becomes more and more clearly a problem that we can't just ignore.

Friday, January 22, 2016

The GOP, Trump and the Bear: A Parable

Once upon a time, two large hunting parties came to live in two gigantic, beautiful lodges high on a mountainside-- the red and the blue.

The red lodge was home to a wide variety of people. Upstairs in the luxury suites were the richest, most wealthy and powerful members of the party. A few floors below them were well-to-do members of the party who were only too happy to help the top floor party members out. Way down in the basement were the least well-off members, living in squallor and want.

For many years, all the red lodgers worked together to keep the giant building strong and clean and in good repair. Even the basement dwellers pitched in. "We don't want those crazy blue-lodgers to come in here and take over," they'd say.

Occasionally the basement dwellers in the red lodge would question the order of things. "Why do we live down here in the basement," they'd say. "Why can't the people on the top floor at least send down some lobster bisque and champagne?"

To help keep the peace, the penthouse dwellers would send word down, often through their assistants on the lower floor-- "We have to stay up here to keep you safe! We have a better view from these windows. We can keep an eye on the world, and we can watch out for danger-- you know there's a bear out there and we don't want him to surprise us. Trust us. We know best. Besides, if you work really hard, some day you may earn a spot up here on the top floor." And for many generations, that was good enough. Even though the penthouse dwellers chose new leaders from among their own ranks, many of those top floor dwellers were responsible and capable leaders, and those on the lower floors trusted their word.

But over the years, the top floor dwellers got sloppy and lazy. They rarely left their comfy rooms, simply luxuriating and eating all day. They and their helpers on the not-quite-floors discovered they could use the bear to get more. "What about new bedsheets for our rooms," someone on a lower floor would say, and the word would come down-- "We've seen the bear in the neighborhood; you'd better trust us so he doesn't attack." And when it came time to install new leaders, the penthouse crowd made poor choices, but kept the crowd in line by reminding them, "You don't want a bear attack, do you? You'd better support our guy because he can save you from the bear."

The more the penthouse crowd grasped for power, the more useful they found the bear. The stories grew wilder, more terrifying, more frequent. The bears are angrier and hungrier. There's a family of bears. The blue lodge has been training the bears to attack us. The bears have laser beans strapped to their heads and carry dynamite in their paws. So give us your money, your food, your furniture, your children to send out into the cold to fight the bear. A dozen bears. A thousand bears! And they're right outside our doors!!

Soon the red lodgers were in a frenzied state of panic and terror all day, every day. Occasionally a bear would actually show up at the window, angry and snarling, and that only fed the panic. At first the penthouse thought, "This is great. They will give us anything." True, the lodge was noisy and disorderly now with the constant noise of panic and despair, but it was a small price to pay.

But then the day came to install their new leader. They selected him and escorted him to the balcony where such men were traditionally introduced to the crowd, and they realized that the crowd below would not hear them, was not even paying attention. And for the first time in years, tey looked down and saw what was really going on in the red lodge.

The residents of the lodge were breaking up the furniture and setting fire to it. They were crudely nailing all the doors and windows shut. They were tearing up the floorboards and tearing down the ceilings, ripping the very cords and pipes out through huge gaping rents in the walls. Suddenly someone yelled, "He did it! He's helping the bears!!" and the crowd would suddenly turn like a roiling mob and fall upon the victim, rending him to shreds of flesh and flecks of blood.

"Good lord," said the penthouse crowd. "What in the name of God are you doing!!??"

"The bears!!" shouted the crowd. "The bears you said were coming to get us! We're just protecting ourselves from the danger you warned us about!"

"Stop!" pleaded the penthouse crowd. "Stop and listen. We have a new leader for you! He's wise and reasonable! Listen to him."

But the crowd was not listening. "No!" they roared. "We have our leader! He is strong! He is powerful! He's come down here to save us from the bear!!"

And the penthouse crowd found themselves staring down at one of their own who, when they had been busy counting money and eating caviar, had slipped downstairs amidst the havoc. "You are done," he called up to them. "You made these people so frightened and blind that they would listen to the first strong voice they heard, and you are lazy and sloppy and weak. What's more, your fear-mongering has made them unable to hear your most reasoned, intelligent arguments. But I'm strong, and I don't care what happens to the house you built. You readied them for me. When we are done, this lodge will be a pile of rubble, but I will be standing on top of it, and you will be buried beneath it. You did not understand the power of the fear and panic you stirred up, but I do, and I will reap what you have sown."

And that, boys and girls, is why an issue of National Review devoted to Anti-Trump essays will not change a damn thing, and why we're in such a mess for this election. Thanks a lot, conservatives.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

More Common Core Business Panic

High Achievement New York, a group of Gates-funded Common Core pushing business types, is back in the new chicken littling the hell out of rejecting the Core.

This time they've managed to get Crain's New York business magazine to pass along their terrified concerns! "Oh nos!" they declaim. "If states try to replace the Core, there will be a big expensive debacle."

“Chaos ensued in both Indiana and Oklahoma after repealing the standards, creating a nightmarish situation for confused teachers and lowering the bar for students,” it claimed, adding that Indiana students now spend 12 hours per year taking standardized tests, up from six previously.

Human sacrifice. Dogs and cats living together. Mass hysteria. Run away! Run away!

You can read the report here (at least for now) in its fourteen-page glory. It depends on all the same old baloney that HANY and other Core-pushers have been repeating. Heck, HANY tried this same alarm-raising back in October, 2014.

This report (Much Ado: The Cost and Chaos of Replacing Common Core) seems aimed primarily at New York State, and they claim that there are five lessons for the Empire State based on, well, something.

1. Trying to “repeal” or substantially “replace” Common Core standards would be a waste
2. New “New York” standards must be as or more rigorous than Common Core standards
3. The review process needs to be driven by the State Education Department
4. Classroom teachers must be the driving voices in any revisions; and
5. A new name matters.

Lets look at these.

1. No reason to believe that's true. It would certainly cut into a lot of folks profit margin, and with companies like Pearson laying off 4,000 workers, I'm sure that lost revenue is a concern in some board rooms. But I think I speak for many people in education when I say that I'd rather make education decisions based on educational concerns, and not corporate bottom lines.

2. That should not be hard. The Common Core standards are not all that rigorous. In fact, the newest issue of the AASA Journal includes an article showing in detail how much below the old NJ standards CCSS actually falls. Was NY that much more rigorous and complex than NJ?

3. Well, yes. Since that department is run by lots of corporate shills, they would be the logical choice for making sure that the process watches out for the interests of businesses.

4. Oh, me! Pick me!! Okay, I'm not technically a New York teacher, but let me pick some NY teachers that I know to be a "driving voice," whatever the hell that means.

5. Yes, let's not forget that good branding help provide protective cover for replacing the old damned stupid thing with some brand new version of the same old damned stupid thing.

Once again, the Core-sters are crying, "Think of the teachers! The poor, confused teachers!" And you know what? Having to go through one more damned stupid paperwork change is hard as hell on teachers and classrooms. Of course, we could always change to a system that valued teachers' voices and gave them the freedom to use their professional judgment, instead of trying to switch one micro-managing one-size-fits-all system for another. That transition, to a teacher directed classroom, would be much easier to navigate.

Look, these guys have a point when they say that Indiana and Oklahoma spent a lot of money and caused a lot of chaos by switching to standards that were basically the Common Core pig with lipstick and a shave. But the painted pig is not the only alternative to CCSS-- there are, in fact, alternatives to a system in which teachers are reduced to glorified clerks in a content delivery system aimed at a bad test that is loosely aligned to bad standards.

The report quotes an Oklahoma 8th grade teacher:

How are you supposed to plan and prepare when you have so much uncertainty around what you’re supposed to teach and how you’re supposed to teach and how you're supposed to teach it?

I have an answer for that-- you operate an education system in which teachers do not have to wait for some top-down manager to direct them in how they are to answer those questions. You don't make teachers wait to be told exactly what they should teach and how they should teach it (and what Big Standardized Test they should teach to). Instead, you use a system where teachers are free to use their trained, professional judgment to answer those questions themselves on the local level. 

The whole thing rankles because it is such transparent non-serious bullshit. Exactly what principle is being espoused here-- it's always sound policy to throw good money after bad? when you're doing something that demonstrably doesn't work, for God's sake, don't change a thing? stay the course? when you're failing, grit your teeth and fail harder? Would they apply ANY of these principles to the businesses that they run? And where were they and their deep concern for classroom confusion and the spending of great stacks of money back when Common Core was inflicted on schools in the first place?

Why were the cost and chaos of implementing Common Core such Really Good Things, but the cost and chaos of getting rid of this unpopular failed experiment suddenly cause for a giant clutching of massive pearls?

Go back to your boardrooms, boys. Get your noses out of education, stop imagining that schools exist just to serve you, and let us do our jobs.

Free College, Charter Schools, and Irony

Yesterday's New York Times included a Room for Debate argument over free college, plugging into one of the few education related issues that (some) of the Presidential candidates have been (sort of) willing to (kind of) talk about. The debate unleashed a hurricane of irony from the commenters on the "anti" side.

Here's Andrew P. Kelly from the American Enterprise Institute arguing that "The Problem Is That Free College Isn't Free." Kelly argues that free college is a "flawed policy," because rather than being free "it simply shifts costs from students to taxpayers." If "public generosity" doesn't keep pace, then colleges won't be able to keep pace with the level of students, and they'll have to make cuts to meet their budgets.

Second, Kelly argues, " free college plans assume that tuition prices are the main obstacle to student success," and ignores other obstacles to student college success, like students who aren't fully prepared or who lack the personal resources to fully follow through.

Weighing in against free college is also our old buddy Mike Petrilli from the Fordham Institute, arguing that this would be "A Needless Windfall for Affluent Voters and State Institutions."

Nothing in life is truly free — but don’t tell that to dogmatic liberals and their pandering politicians, who would turn the first two years of college into a new universal entitlement.

Petrilli goes on to toss out some more of the standard old data points about college preparedness, including the NAEP claim that only 40% of 12th graders are prepared for college (a bogus piece of data that presumes that NAEP knows what "college-ready" means, even though previous research finds half the students they labeled unready going on to get college degrees). He also helpfully suggests that college not admit students "who are clearly unprepared academically and therefor have virtually no shot at leaving with a real degree or credentials."

On the one hand, this is a logical extension of Petrilli's thesis that some Strivers deserve an education and Those Other Students should be left behind in struggling public schools. Petrilli has long argued that education should be about separating Strivers from Those People, going so far as to defend Eva Moskowitz's push-out policies. So it makes sense that he would  argue that only certain people deserve to be in college. Some day someone needs to explain exactly what society should do with all those undeserving non-strivers. But there's no irony in this part of Petrilli's argument.

On the other hand, the rest of the anti-free-college argument seems vaguely like...hmm.. the argument against charter schools.

The promise of the charter movement has been that we can open free private schools for an added cost of $0.00 over what we're currently spending. The pushback has been that no, charter schools are not free and to exist they must drain resources from other places, including the existing public school system, so that the cost of sending K-12 students to a private school is sloughed off on the taxpayers. (The addition of pricey administrative costs alone guarantees that charters add to the overall cost of K-12 education.)

Kelly's critique-- that free school assumes that getting the students into those schools is all that's needed for success-- exactly mirrors the assertion of charter fans that all we need to do is drop the barriers that keep K-12 students from entering charter schools in order for success to blossom. He says that their are other obstacles to their success that must be addressed before students can succeed; when pro-public school folks say that about charters, they are accused of making excuses and blaming poverty.

Meanwhile, as far as Petrilli's lead goes--

Nothing in life is truly free-- but don't tell that to dogmatic charter fans and their pandering politicians, who would turn twelve years of private school into a new universal entitlement.

There. I fixed that for you.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

CA: One More Charter Get Rich Quick Scheme

California's charter law has an odd little wrinkle-- as some folks read it, one school district can become the authorizer of a charter school within another school district's boundaries. Yup. I can sit in my district and give Bob's Big Charter School permission to set up shop in your district, to start poaching your students, and start sucking up your public tax dollars.

You can see why the district that's being raided would object. But why would any district want to get involved in some distant charter school?

Meet Steve Van Zant.

Van Zant acquired a BA in English from San Diego State in 1985 and an MS in Education Administration in 1988. He indicates that he started as "an elementary teacher with leadership responsibilities," but in 1991 he stared his first principal job and worked his way up to superintendent in 2006. In 2013 he was hired at his sixth administrative position-- superintendent of Sausalito Marin City School District, a district with deep pockets but a shrinking student body. He's been working there three days a week, but it was at his previous superintendent gig with Mountain Empire Unified School District that Van Zant really hit paydirt.

Van Zant turned into Mountain Empire into a prodigious authorizer of charter schools in other peoples' districts. And then those charters turned around and hired Van Zant's consulting firm to help them run their schools. He would scratch their back, and they would make it rain all over his. Here's how he puts it on his LinkedIn account:

Specialties: I have found my real niche is developing funding sources for schools and streamlining budgets to allow for increased innovation and technology upgrades in the classroom. Recently, I have become very involved with charter schools. I am able to provide new charter schools with assistance with their proposed authorizing distrct - or help find an authorizing district for a proposed new charter school. In addition, I can provide sound advice to charter schools and school districts regarding issues concerning school finance or charter/ district relations.

The San Diego Superior Court put it differently. Their term was "one felony count of conflict of interest." Van Zant is not in custody, and the case hasn't been settled yet, so throw "allegedly" in wherever it suits you. 

The business is called EdHive because reasons. The website is still offering to help charters "make it happen" and touting their ability to "connect you with who you need to know." They also claim that "the team" has over 300 years of experience, although currently "the team" does not appear to have names or faces. And they have a collection of articles all dated from 2012. Van Zant also had a business-related twitter account-- @the_ed_buzz (hive? buzz? get it?) that started in September of 2011 and went dark at the end of December 2012 after a mere 128 tweets.

Critics say that Van Zant's behavior violated the spirit of California's charter law. San Diego is among the districts that have resorted to cease and desist letters to keep the charter vultures at bay, but attempts to rewrite/clarify the law have been unsuccessful to date. Chances are that Van Zant is not the only person in California to figure out how to use the law's vagueness to get rich quickly.