Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Jebucation Follies (Part II: The Nuts, Bolts and Screws)

Jeb! Bush has a shiny new education plan, and he hopes that it will be the big lightning bolt that will shock his comatose candidacy back to life. In Part I, I examined his premises and theories, arguing that the big crack in his foundation is the conservative-thwarting oxymoron of imposed choice. In this part, I want to look at the actual nuts and bolts of Bush's grand plan.

I'm using the "backgrounder" that EdWeek is kindly hosting on its site. After three pages of general argument, the plan gets down to some nitty with a side order of gritty. Here are the pieces of this master action plan.

Empower Parents and Students with Quality Options

For some reason or other, part of this list includes some specific plans for DC. Why federal ed proposals need to keep singling out one district in the whole country remains a bit of a mystery, unless, of course, it has to do with DC-dwelling bureaucrats and policy makers wanting to exercise local control over their local school district.

Beyond the beltway, Bush wants a thousand charter schools to bloom. He invokes the oft-debunked spectre of waitlisted students. Bush wants to double the amount of money that the feds would throw at charter schools, which is curious since I keep hearing that more money is not the solution in education. Bush also threatens to use the bully pulpit, which is kind of cute, given that the bully pulpit arguably hasn't had any effect on American policy for over a century (and given that Bush's powers of oratorical persuasion are currently earning a solid "below basic" from the citizenry). Plus, fewer regulations. Let's expand charter schools so that "students around the country have all the options they want, need and deserve" which is nice but A) who decides what they deserve and B) do any of them really want more than one good school to attend  (granted, you can make a case for B since many waitlist students are on multiple waitlists-- maybe they do want to attend many schools at once).

Support States With The Flexibility and Resources To Create Great Pubic Schools

Specifics include "Defend State Control of Education" by keeping the feds out of everyone's business. "The federal government cannot, and should not, impose a one-size fits all [sic] model of anything on states," says the man who pushed Common Core forever, and when he stopped saying its name still insisted that all states should adopt Core-like standards.

"States need to be held accountable for serving their citizens, not federal bureaucrats," says Jeb! But he doesn't say who will hold the states accountable, or how.

Bush wants to make Title I portable by way of bock grants to the states, so that states can be free to shaft low-income high-needs students in new and creative ways. He also wants to make IDEA funds portable because, again charter choice argle bargle. I can't think of a better example of the inefficiency of choice. How does it work to have several schools trying to duplicate the expensive technology and services required by students with special needs, instead of using one facility to consolidate those costs. But, choice!

Bush also wants to reward student success. All this involves is the federal government giving out extra money to states that match the federal government's idea of success. Somebody explain to me how this is different, in principle or in execution, from Obama/Duncan's Race to the Top program. Bush thinks it's different because those programs were bullying and punitive, but rewards are different. But this is splitting hairs. A bonus is only a bonus if all your essential needs are already taken care of, and that describes very few school districts. If you "reward" me with supper, then "not rewarding" and letting me go hungry feels an awful lot like punishment.

Reward Great Teaching and Successful Student Outcomes

Bock grants with Title II money blah blah teachers valuable resource blah blah rewarding top teachers blah blah blah and at the end of it all, student success is still defined by the feds. Want to bet it looks a lot like "good test scores."

Give Parents, Teachers and Taxpayers The Information They Need

We'll have public reports of critical student outcome measures. Who decides what qualifies as a critical outcome measure? According to ESSA, that is still mostly the feds, mostly test scores. Is Jeb running on Obama's education record? Will it be long before someone calls him Jebama?

Bush wants to guarantee parent and teacher access to information, and coming from the guy whose state went all in on meaningless letter grades for schools, that's a nice step forward. The question will be, "How much of what information?" For instance, information in the form of copies of the tests that the students took, showing how each student answered each question-- that would be great. Bush does promise teachers information about last year's test result before next year starts.

But at the same time, student privacy must be preserved with "strong governance, use of best practices in information security and privacy protection" and also more training. Sigh. I feel like 21st Skills and Knowledge include understanding that if you're going to put it in the system, somebody will be able to get at it. As we repeatedly say to starlets with nekkid online pictures, "If you don't want anyone to see it, don't put it out in the digital world to begin with."

Drive Innovation and Research To Break The Stranglehold of the Status Quo

Bush is being direct and clear-- he would like to get rid of traditional public education. He thinks schools still work like they did two generations ago (there is no excuse for this belief). And he likes blended learning and competency based education, which means he is destined to meet the same people who hammered him over Common Core, only they'll be carrying different signs.

Also, remember-- it's important to give parents and students a choice, as long as they choose the choices that Bush chooses for them. Under Bush, you can have lots of choices-- except for a traditional public school.

Post Secondary Education and Training

Jeb! has noticed that people are making an issue out of post-secondary education, so he's on that, too. He has noticed some problems in access to the level of education "critical to upward mobility" (though he hasn't noticed that upward mobility is itself in big trouble). But he has a smorgasbord of ideas:

* Education savings accounts. Complete with $50K line of credit, because more loans will help with debt? I'm not seeing how this works. Was anybody having trouble getting in debt already?

* Drive down costs and hold post-sec institutions accountable. Somehow-- also puppies for everyone. He would put institutions "on the hook" for a portion of what grads can't repay.Super. So colleges will make sure not admit or give financial aid to poor students. Genius.

* Expand student access to innovative types of training. It's possible this idea is not stupid, although how it should involve the feds is less clear.

* Give students and families the information they need to make good decision. Again, requiring that the feds decide what information they "need."

* Help existing borrowers repay their loans. Jeb-grants for everyone! No, sorry. Somehow this will be part of the Jebbified finance system that will be helping bankers make more money from college loans helping students pay for school. Also, easier bankruptcy, so there's that.

So what have we got here?

Man, if Jeb! wanted to woo back conservatives, this figleaved federalism is probably not going to do it. I mean, Rick Hess likes it, and Rick Hess is no dummy, but to me it looks like rehashed reformsterism with a side order of Same Old Thing We've Had for the Past Decade. There's not a new idea in sight, and not a single old idea that comes equipped with an example of how well it worked anywhere. I suppose Bush can get points for having scrubbed Common Core from his resume, but it's going to take a lot more than that and sucking up to all the venture vultures who want their slice of money baked in an edu-charter pie to resuscitate the Bush shot at Presidency. Certainly, I don't see anything new and exciting or worn and practical about which to get edu-excited.

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