Friday, November 17, 2017

Data and Numbers and Audiences

During the last week, Pat has shown a 6.3 rate of response in class, with a score of 75 on the Hendrix Orientation Scale. Informal assessment yield a 82 (well within the "moderate" range) for response accuracy. In a forty-minute period Pat showed a 45 for Attentiveness Measure, but Pat's interactions with peers score a 21 on Hemmings Interaction Index. However, that places Pat's Optimal Utilization Index Score well under the minimum desired level of 55. 

That's one report I could fill out for Imaginary Student Pat. Or I could say:

Pat has some trouble paying attention, but Pat can still answer questions if I call on Pat. Pat's not really distracting any of the other students, but it's pretty clear that Pat isn't trying and is still managing to do just enough to get by. Pat's a good kid; just kind of bored.

In fact, the first one is composed entirely of fake data measures, but you weren't sure, were you. It sounds more official than the second one. Because it's data, with numbers.


The thing is-- the second explanation is also packed with data. In fact, it's the same data, but expressed in human terms rather than in numbers and technobabble. Reform-resistant teachers are often accused of being anti-data, but the problem with much of the data we're offered by education technicians is that it is flat and meager compared to what we are used to gathering on a daily basis. To reduce and aspect of a student's behavior, performance or existence to a single digit on some manufactured scale means I must actually flatten or simplify the data I have, throwing out plenty that is valuable.

It's like coming up with a digital rating for a kiss. It can be done, but what I end up with will be far less descriptive, rich or thorough than a poem or a song or a description.

Data Overlords don't like verbal packages of data because they are "messy," but the only way to make them less messy is to throw a bunch of "extra" data out. The resulting digit score actually contains less data than the messy version-- and the mess that we've thrown out can be hugely important. We complain a lot about what the Data Overlords decide to focus on, but what they choose to ignore is at least as large a part of the problem.

But Big Data requires digital data so that it can be crunched and spread-sheeted and used for big picture centralized measuring and planning (someday we will have to talk about Seeing Like a State, a somewhat wonky but also brilliant book about this phenomenon). And in the process, Big Data has also usurped the anser to the question, "What data are important, and which can be safely ignored."

In fact, the shift to digital data is about a shift in audience-- schools are no longer expected to be accountable to local taxpayers and parents, but to some larger government or corporate entity. If I give Pat's parents that digital data report, their first question will be some version of "What does that mean in plain English." And then I'll give them the second explanation, which will have far more data in a far more useful context.

Do not buy the idea that teachers do not gather data. We have never done anything except gather data. What we haven't done is gather bad flattened data selected according to the instructions of functionaries who are far away from the intersection of the rubber and the road. And just because it's a digit, that doesn't mean it's good data-- in fact, it may be exactly the opposite.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

FL: What?! A teacher shortage??!!

Shocking news in today's Sun-Sentinel:

Almost three months into the school year, thousands of public school students in South Florida still don't have a permanent teacher —a problem expected to get worse as more educators flee the classroom and the number of those seeking teaching degrees plummets.

Okay, not shocking. Utterly predictable, given Florida's unending efforts to create the worst atmosphere for public education in the country. Here are some of the things they've done, in no particular order:

* They have tried to make it possible for parents to stamp out the teaching of science.
* They have given charters the unchecked ability to steal local tax dollars.
* They have made an absolute disastrous amateur-hour hash out of their Big Standardized Test.
* They have made successful students repeat third grade for failing to love the BST
* They have declared-- in court-- that teacher-prepared report cards are meaningless
* They have demonstrated how badly teacher merit pay can fail
* They made a dying child take the Big Standardized Test 
* They turned recess into a political football.
* They based a strategic plan based on bad retail management.
* They abolished tenure, and fired teachers for advocating for students.
* They've allowed racist underfunding of schools to flourish.
* They have provided ample proof that an A-F school rating system doesn't work.
* They host experiments in computerized avatar classrooms.
* They have charter legislation hustled through the capital by lawmakers who profit from it
* They allow more charter misbehavior than you can shake a stick at
* They have created a charter money grab law so onerous and obnoxious they have actually moved public schools to sue the state government.

All of this over and above the continued drip, drip, drip of starving public schools of resources and finding new ways to treat public school teachers with disrespect. And the pay stinks.

There is no reason to be surprised that Florida teachers are "fleeing." And the article notes just how much fleeing is going on. Broward County lost 1,000 teachers last year-- and that's not counting retirees.


The Sun-Sentinel article is brutal, noting that the drain of teachers leads to economic problems for communities, as well as becoming a self-perpetuating problem-- as the teacher pool is drained in schools, schools become less effective, which means they turn out fewer and fewer grads well-prepared for or interested in teaching. The article piles on the anecdotal evidence. A teacher who left, tired of constant testing and lack of autonomy. A teacher who left because you can't afford to be a single mom on a Florida teacher salary. A teacher who handles over thirty kids in an honors class because the state class size law only applies to "core" classes.

And of course, Florida is "solving" the problem by opening up alternative paths, because the way to get better teachers and fill teaching jobs is by making it possible to slap any warm body into a classroom. My favorite bar-lowering idea-- Florida Atlantic University will give Palm Beach Schools a list of students who flunked out of medical and science programs so that those students can be recruited to teach. And meanwhile the remaining dedicated, qualified teachers of Florida wonder how much longer they can hold on.

Of course, somehow, these champions of free market, these lovers of the invisible hand, cannot figure out that if people won't sell you a good or service under the terms you set, free market competition demands that you offer better terms and conditions. It's as simple as that. If you can't buy a Porsche for $1.98, that doesn't mean there's an automobile shortage. Even convenience stores understand that if you can't get enough quality people to work for you, you have to offer better terms of employment. Florida's leaders simply insist on pretending not to understand this, even as they try to starve pubic education so that the unregulated world of Florida charter schools will look more appealing. This is like setting fire to an apartment building so that the tenants will "choose" to move into a shifty trailer park operation, while in the meantime you "try" to hire firefighters by offering $1.00 an hour wages and a punch-in-the-face benefits.

This-- all of this-- I have to remind you, is what USED Secretary Betsy DeVos thinks is the shining light that our nation should be following. This disastrous train wreck, this state that has worked hard to destroy its public education system-- this is what DeVos thinks the nation should be emulating. Run the public system into the ground, drive the teachers away, and sell the pieces to privatizers.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A TURN of the Screw

You may not have heard of the Teacher Union Reform Network (TURN). They have kept a lowish profile despite having been around for a couple of decades (founded 1995) (I hadn't really paid attention until writer Rachel Cohen contacted me for a piece she was writing). Mostly they've just kind of talked about stuff in an aspirational way, occasionally throwing their weight behind someone else's delightful idea as a way of putting a teacher and union stamp of approval on those ideas (more about that in a bit). But now they've decided to float an idea of their own, and we need to talk about that.

This is cold fusion, as far as you know

The group is a network of teachers affiliated with NEA and AFT, originally formed by a group of local union leaders. One of those leaders (Adam Urbanski) wrote a spirited defense of the idea of getting unions involved in reform and not seen as an obstacle. That piece appeared in the reformy journal Education Next in 2001, back before the reformy excrement really hit the fan. Their goal was basically “to promote progressive reforms in education and in teacher unions.” Nowadays their stated goals are a little fuzzy--

It brings local unions together to promote progressive reform in education and teacher unions, build relationships among key stakeholders and to cultivate the next generation of teacher leaders to influence education policymaking and improve teaching effectiveness and student learning

The idea of getting teachers involved and out in front of reform attempts in education has some obvious appeal (better, for some folks, than simply sitting and waiting for another batch of reformsters to drop another schoolhouse on us). I would be swell if more of us were "empowered." But collaborating and cooperating with people who mean you harm can be tricky business, and there are some red flags in TURN's history. There's the big chunk of money they took from Eli Broad. There's the time they apparently let TNTP come edu-splain to them about the damn widget effect (a made-up thing that TNTP never tires of using as "proof" that teacher pay and job security should be worse).

But let's leave it for the moment that we may or may not be able to trust these guys, and let's look at what they've come up with.

Our TURN: Revitalizing Public Education and Strengthening Our Democracy Through the Collective Wisdom of Teachers is a big title that makes big promises. And in the conclusion of the paper, they make a pretty clear statement about the broadest of goals:

The unprecedented threat to public schooling that we face requires us to think creatively about some basic questions: How can public education, once again, become “the great equalizer”  and the foundation for our democracy? And how could it be made to benefit all our students,  not just some?

Those are good questions, but they come at the end of a document that only sort of tries to answer them. They also come, it should be noted, at the end of a document that TURN thanks (in an endnote) Richard D. Kahlenberg for helping to write. Kahlenberg is a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a NYC-DC thinky tank. His involvement likely explains why a thinky tankish verbal fog seems to roll in and obscure plain English at many points of the document.

The document is organized around four "pillars" of educational swellness, which are then expanded into a four-part vision, which then is upped to policies and practice. And frankly, if you try to read the document too closely your head starts to hurt, due in no small part to a anesthetizing blend of repetition, self-contradiction, and billowy verbage. So I'm going to approach each pillar-policy once, rather than circling the track multiple times.

Pillar One: Learning Centered Schools

Many. many ideas have been dumped into the first pillar. The focus is not on "coverage" but on what is "actually learned" which s0omehow requires a "fundamental shift" (because none of us were paying attention to what our students learned?) from skills and facts to "preparing learners to understand ideas and processes" for applying "flexibly and autonomously." Somehow this means that teachers will need to understand student individual needs, learning styles, and cultural backgrounds. But in LCS, "students are rarely lectured to" but instead  "do most of the work themselves" through "well-crafted active learning opportunities."

And that's just the first three paragraphs.

This type of school connects learning to the real world, and "lessons often take place in real life settings, not just in classrooms," which betrays the belief here that a classroom is not a real life place.

But TURN believes this all has "enormous implications," including the idea that we must measure what we value, not the other way around. Which sounds correct, if not particularly new. Standards must be broad and assessments must be performance-based to "assess not only what students know but rather what students are able to do with what they know" which-- are you kidding me? This is outcome based education, with lesson plans built around TSWBAT ("the student will be able to...") So this is a thirty-year old idea that currently is stumping around as Performance-Based Learning aka Competency-Based Education, and now I'm suspecting that TURN has deployed all of this verbage as the biggest, lushest fig leaf that was ever grown to cover the naked naughty bits that are modern CBE.

It gets worse. We're also going to assess the students on "whether they are ethical human beings" and whether they can "get along with those how are different than them." Damn. Am I the only person who remembers that OBE was gutted and rejected over just this exact point-- the idea that schools would mold and judge the characters of tiny humans?

AND we are going to test all day every day, by integrating assessments into learning which is either A) exactly what every competent teacher has now and always done or B) a pitch for computerized CBE programs in a can.

Because TURN wants to see big exams "fully funded by the federal government" (like, you know, PARCC and SBA), I'm going to assume that TURN leans towards the big-brotherly CBE approach, though honestly, there is just so much raw jargon clogging this report, it's sometimes hard to tell. Big Standardized Tests have all sorts of problems, especially when norm-referenced, but we still want high-quality BSTs.

And finally, don't forget that having high standards and tests to go with them "can be powerful engines for equity," as the reformsters have been telling us since NCLB launched, without a shred of evidence or support for this notion.

It occurs to me that it's possible that TURN is trying to synthesize every education reform idea that has surfaced in the last forty years, somehow folding them into one gooey mass. It is not a good look.

Pillar Two: Recognizing Teaching as a Profession

This very pillar captures a feature that I alluded to in the previous pillar, a sense that TURN simultaneously remembers everything and nothing from the past several decades. Is teaching not already a profession? TURN (which, don't forget, is supposedly a union-spawned group) has some self-contradictory thoughts.

The United States today has a teacher shortage in part because educators are not paid enough and are tired of being micromanaged and  denigrated. The inability to consistently  attract the very strongest candidates to  teaching is deeply problematic, because  even the best redesigns will not be well  implemented without high-performing  professional teachers.

So on the one hand, as teachers have said,  teachers are poorly treated and paid. But on the other hand, as reformsters have charged, teachers are the bottom of the barrel.

TURN talks about what requirements would make teaching a profession, and they invoke Albert Shanker, which is almost always a bad sign because Shanker is usually brought up to say "This may seem like a terrible idea, but Saint Shanker of the Teacher Union endorsed it, so shut up." TURN says get a degree, get specialized training, pass an examination, be inducted and work your way up, collaborate with other teachers, keep learning, and be rewarded by autonomy and great pay. All of which sounds okay in the large, vague picture, but the details matter. Who creates the exam? Who measures the degree to which teachers do all these things?

The answer should be "teachers," but it isn't. TURN calls for "greater voice," but they cite the supremely unimpressive Teach To Lead token teacher project from USED. They think the Dewey lab school at University of Chicago is an exemplar, too. But once again they cannot make up their minds. Current teacher eval stinks, and good teaching is more than a student's score, but evaluation "can't ignore the importance of student learning" (aka test scores).

TURN wants a career ladder and differentiated pay and they have insisted elsewhere that they don't mean merit pay, but pay differentiated and certified by the National Board of Professional Teaching Standard. But while NBPTS has some thoughts about the career ladder part, I'm not aware of a differentiated pay plan. So they're just going to certify it? After it comes from... somewhere? But TURN is sure "the program rewards excellence" without creating any sort of zero sum game except that of course there's a zero sum game. Education funding can't be anything BUT a zero sum game because the pile of available money is always finite. "Just spend all the money you need and send us the bill," said no bunch of taxpayers ever. One of the reasons that districts like the lock-step salary scales (that this document quietly rejects) is because it makes rational budgeting possible.

TURN supports due process and job protections, likes peer review (actually, so do I) .

Pillar Three: Excellence with Equity

TURN would like to underscore that poverty makes a difference when it comes to education, and that although this has been established through plenty of research, modern ed policy continues to ignore it. True enough. They have some policy solutions to propose, like adopting policies "to increase wages and reduce poverty." Well, that seems like a simple fix. Surprised nobody's considered that before now. All right-- I don't mean to be a jerk, but if we're going to list grand policy wish lists that we have no practical ideas about implementing, let's also ask for cold fusion and a perpetual motion engine.

Also, TURN would like "high-quality" Pre-K as part of the public school system. And they would like more resources directed to high-poverty schools. "Students with the greatest needs deserve the greatest resources." How would this affect the student-centered school approach, or the differentiated pay of teachers? Shh-- we're not talking about those things now, because the TURN plan deals with much of its internal confusion by not trying to connect any of the pillars to each other.

TURN also calls for less segregation, somehow.

And teachers and parents should build stronger ties, including the idea of consulting parents during the collective bargaining process, apparently mainly for language items like class size. Though TURN says this has been done, it seems like a challenging choice. I'm imagining a negotiating team at the table as the administration team says, "Well, you've promised your parents smaller class sizes and your members better health insurance. We're only going to give you one. Pick."

But hey-- that takes us to the fourth pillar...

Pillar Four: Promote Collective Bargaining for Educational Quality

TURN calls for nationwide collective bargaining nationwide, and it's not absolutely clear whether they mean one nationwide contract for everyone or making all the right-to-work states that did away with teacher collective bargaining start doing it again. I think it's the latter, in which case maybe we should go back to discussing cold fusion feasability.

And if getting Scott Walker to give up all of his victories against the teachers union seems improbable, well, TURN would also like contract negotiation to include educational issues, basically negotiating teachers some say over issues previously considered management prerogatives. So double cold fusion.

TURN thinks the path to this is "education quality bargaining," in which bargaining is strictly focused on educational issues and contract decisions ultimately hinge on whether or not student achievement is aided, which strikes me as a way to tie everything in the contract to test scores, which seems like an epically awful idea. Also, higher teacher salaries can be financed by cutting administrative salaries, which strikes me as a hard sell and, in a district like mine where there aren't that many administrators (and my assistant principal makes less than I do and works in an office with a revolving door).

Even less helpfully, TURN advocates a "living contract," which seems to mean a contract that can be opened at any time because reasons. And a majority of the union could vote to change the contract. So basically an answer to the question, what would a contract be like if it weren't actually a binding contract.

My Pillar

So what have we got here? A policy wish list which A) dreams of huge things and doesn't offer much in the way of plans to achieve those things and therefor B) opens up all sorts of doors to reformy ideas that could easily fit under the broad tent that TURN has pitched. Common Core State [sic] Standards, test-based accountability, computer-centered personalized [sic] education, computer-driven competency-based education, merit pay-- these are all terrible ideas that would fit comfortably within TURN's four pillars. There are some grand ideas that would be achievable only after a massive culture change (like having Alabama welcome teachers unions) and others that would be achievable only with a breach of the physical law of the universe  (the school district budget can expand to handle any sort of expanded differentiated teacher pay).

It may be my cynical mistrust, but I suspect this is a bad bargain, like someone who says, "If you let me keep any change I can find in your house for the next ten years, I will give you all the fairies you can locate in my magic spaceship." If I turn off the cynical part of my brain, then this report looks like a spastic camel-- a horse built by a committee and then run through a xerox machine twenty times.

Whatever the case, I'm trying to imagine the audience for this paper, and I can't. Is some lawmaker to pick it up and start trying to make it real? Doubt it. Are a bunch of union members supposed to read it and say to their officers, "Get us this, now!" Also unlikely. Resume builder for TURN members? Possibly.

I can't tell for sure, but one thing I'm certain of-- this is no game changer.












Sunday, November 12, 2017

ICYMI: Baby It's Cold Edition (11/12)

You know the drill. Here are some pieces worth your while. If you really think they're great, post them, tweet them, or otherwise pass them along. That's how voices get amplified-- people listen and pass them on. Do that.

How Do You Keep an Iceberg Fresh?

From I Love You But You're Going To Hell, possibly the most perfectly-named blog out there. Addressing the problem of taking education ideas to scale, with a perfect analogy.

The Proselytizers and the Privatizers

If you haven't read Katherine Stewart's piece from American Prospect yet, do it today. A well-sourced keen analysis of how privatizers and religious conservatives have used each other in the school choice movement. And good news- this is from the magazine, which means you can buy a copy to share with your friends who don't do internet.

Times Editorial Hypes Charter Schools

Several of us wrote a reply to the NYT's editorial supporting the lowering of the professional bar for charter teachers. But Alan Singer wrote a response poking the editorial full of holes by citing the Times' own education coverage. Nicely done.

Starve the Beast, Hurt Our Schools

In US News, Lisette Partelow shows how the GOP's beast-starving budget is bad news for education, both in short and long terms.

Life Lessons from Eva Moskowitz

Rachel Cohen read Moskowitz's biography so none of us have to, which is good, because we'd probably be chucking the damned thing out the window anyway.

Texas Pastors Who Have Conservatives Quaking

Pastors for Texas Children is a group that's been successful in standing up for public education. Jennifer Berkshire talks to Pastor Charles Johnson about how they do it-- and why.

What Happens When School Districts Use VAM to Make Decisions?

21st century principal is wrapping up a dissertation about VAM and he's sharing some of the outcome.

What We Talk About When We Talk About the Corporate Education Agenda

A not-very-uplifting episode of the Have You Heard podcast, interviewing Gordon Lafer, author of the One Percent Solution.  Important but grim.

Big Education Ape

If you do not follow the Ape, you should. Not only does the site aggregate all of the best blogging about education, but it adds mighty entertaining artwork. If the site is not on your follow list, it should be. 


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Inside a Proficiency Based Classroom [updated]

Robbie Feinberg took a trip into a Maine classroom for NPR, trying to see what things look like in the state that has shifted to Proficiency-Based Education (aka Competency Based Education, aka some form of Personalized Learning aka in the 90s Outcome Based Education). You know that I have my doubts about this bold new not-so-new idea (see here, here, and here for starters). But the devilish proof is in the details of the pudding, so let's see what Feinberg found.


The piece opens with a "first thing you notice" anecdote. At Oak Hill, Feinberg first notices that there are sticky notes on desks, colored pink, green and blue depending on whether the students are on pace, a little ahead or a little behind. And the students have their seat for the day based on the color of their sticky note. And I'm already thinking, yes, that's cool, and we could spark it up by calling them the bluebirds and the green alligators and the cardinals, because this sure seems familiar to anyone who went to school a several decades ago. Did I mention that the school Feinberg is profiling is a high school, not an elementary school?

Once in their group, they get out a "personal learning plan," which is basically a checklist of the tasks they have to perform (aka the worksheets they have to finish) in order to complete this particular months worth of stuff. And I'm going to go ahead and jump in here to say, with all due respect to the teachers who are doing this stuff, that this is not personalized learning, because personalized learning is about each student pursuing her own path to achieve her own goals. This is personalized pacing (a fact underlined by the fact that it's marked on a Pace Chart)-- each student is following exactly the same path, just at his or her own speed.

The teacher? The teacher occasionally presents mini-lectures and leads discussions, but mostly he floats around the room and "checks in" with each student as the students slogs her way through the batch of tasks. How does this particular teacher feel about it?

“The reason why I like it is because I get to talk to every single student,” he says. “One-on-one. Which never used to happen 10 years ago. There would be months going by, and I wouldn’t have a conversation with a student. So at least this way, I’m able to talk with every student a little bit at a time each day.”

Yeah, if it never happened ten years ago, and you went months without talking to students, that is totally on you, not the educational system.

In this particular district, the advent of this new system coincided with the merger of three districts, so the schools were already wrestling with a loss of local control. But like the comment about conversations, some of what they are saying about the new system is hard for me to see sense in.

The old system of grading A-F "would have to go," and in its place is a system of grades marks 1-4. Yes, that's quite a game changer there. The school hired consultants to help them deal with the new system, and the school watched a whole bunch of teachers, including, apparently, "really good, popular" ones, head out the door over the shift (the superintendent says he was glad to see them go).

Some of what is mentioned in the article is more that just befuddling-- it's appalling. The school sends out a list of "behind" students to parents, so not only do students get to suffer the public embarrassment of having to sit in the front of the room with the bluebirds, but their behind-ness is published to the world. I can't think of a single educational justification for that action-- not one at all. If you are reading this, Oak Hill administration, you should stop that right now. [Update: Feinberg reached out to me to clarify that the failure notices are sent individually to parents of students who are behind, for their own student. So not quite as horrifying. I will also clarify however, that my "stop it right now" also applies to seating by current progress.]

[Update: Since many have asked-- the article does refer some student reaction. Students note that the teachers roles is basically to tell the to stop talking and get back to work.]

It is possible that Feinberg is belongs in the reporter bluebird group*, but the picture that emerges from his story is not of a school that's on the cutting edge of anything educational. Students have a pile of worksheets and other assigned tasks to work through, teachers don't so much teach as try to push them along through the stack, and students are ranked on whether they are ahead, behind, or on pace. Nothing in the article hints at true personalization, and nothing addresses the tricky issues (what happens when the year is over and the bluebirds are still behind by forty or fifty tasks-- what happens to them then, or the next fall?) And all of that is before we even get to the thorny pedagogical questions of whether or not these sort of tasks truly show that a student has mastered a skill or a chunk of knowledge. Can education really be reduced to a checklist of tasks (and that is what Oak Hill is described as having-- the teacher literally stops by the student to check off tasks on a list).

This could be a school from fifty or sixty years ago. There's certainly nothing admirable or inspiring here, certainly nothing cutting edge. I have always argued that PBL/CBE/Personalized Learning would end up delivering far less than it promised, but even I didn't imagine it would be this much less. As I said, it may be that Feinberg simply dropped the ball (and, I should note, this article is first in series). Maybe something magical is happening at Oak Hill that he didn't see. But if this piece is an accurate portrayal of what the PBL classrooms of Maine look like, the rest of us should run-- not walk-- in the opposite direction.

Oh, and this is the first article in a series. Stay tuned for more.

*Check the comments for more about Feinberg.


Friday, November 10, 2017

CA: A Silly Proposal

It should be said right up front that this measure has little chance of making it all the way to becoming an actual law, and the only big mystery here is why a local news station would bother to cover it at all. But it's an example, I guess, of just how silly and mouth-frothy some folks get about public education and their desire to do away with it. But this is an unvarnished look at how some folks feel about education issues.

This California ballot initiative is called the California No Taxes on Residents Without Students for Public Schools Initiative. This proposal to amend the state constitution comes courtesy of Lee Olson, chairman of the Committee to End Slavery, headquartered in Huntington Beach, CA. The committee seems to have no online presence, (there is a Lee Olson running a one-employee real estate company in Huntington Beach) but if you're thinking that Huntington Beach seems like an odd home for the fight against slavery, well, you may be thinking of the wrong kind of slavery. (Olson has been down this road, and others like it, before.)

Let's look at the bill. 

The formal title is the "California Tax Relief Act" and it's based on twelve findings  by the committee, each frothier than the last:

1) The NEA says California per-pupil costs are $11,329

2) Ed Week ranked California near the bottom among the fifty states

3) Common Core resulted in colleges flooded with unprepared students. And now it gets good...

4) Government school graduates "have not only been dumbed down they're afflicted with arrested emotional development (AED) requiring universities and colleges to provide safe spaces stocked with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and videos of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma."

5) Parents are taking their children elsewhere

6) These elsewheres are better and cheaper.

7) In particular, the committee recommends the Ron Paul Curriculum which emphasizes liberty and equips students to run businesses "without putting ideological indoctrination ahead of education, unlike government schools."

8) Parents who choose these better alternatives are penalized because they still have to pay for  government schools through taxes and "other schemes, which extract their financial resources at gun point."

9) All California residents are forced to pay for students, "whether or not they are financially responsible for those students." Also at gun point. Can't overemphasize the gun points.

10) The Committee supports parents' right to control the education of their children. "Our Creator never assigned the right and responsibility of a child's education to a government entity; the government has usurped that inviolable right and responsibility at gun point."

11) The Committee condemns the theft of property from Californians "euphemistically called taxation" to pay for government schools, particularly "when their purpose is to create a dumbed down populace easy to control and prepared only to service the (slave) labor needs of the oligarchy that rules over us."

12) "Any registered California voter who votes against this initiative is telling the whole world and their Creator that they support and endorse the theft of their neighbor's financial resources to finance government schools and,therefore, that they reject and are in full, open rebellion against the Creator's command, 'Thou shalt not steal.'"

So the purpose of the bill is to relieve the "unfair and immoral government imposed penalty on loving parents" who have to pay for school twice. At gun point.  Also to relive other CA residents who are being forced to pay for children who are not their responsibility, because why should we have to pay to send Those People's Children to school. At gun point.

That's just what the proposed bill would do-- if you don't have a kid in government school, you don't have to pay taxes.

The proposal would require over 500,000 signatures to make it onto a California ballot, and if you think they won't get at least partway there, you haven't been paying attention to the people opposed to public education and government schools. At gun point. In which case you should read the proposal again, because it may be silly, but it's an unveiled look at an attitude that is not too far removed from the belief system of our Secretary of Education.


What Is A Child Worth

If you are a regular reader, you know how I feel about the idea that education's main or sole aim is to prepare children to be the worker bees of tomorrow, to become a "product" to be consumed by the future corporate overlords.

Snacktime's over, you little slacker. Go get a job!


I've been tracking this baloney since I started blogging. Here's Allan Golston from the Gates Foundation website:

Businesses are the primary consumers of the output of our schools, so it’s a natural alliance.

Or then-corporate exec Rex Tillerson:

But Tillerson articulates his view in a fashion unlikely to resonate with the average parent. “I’m not sure public schools understand that we’re their customer—that we, the business community, are your customer,” said Tillerson during the panel discussion. “What they don’t understand is they are producing a product at the end of that high school graduation.”

Or members of the Florida legislature:

The purpose of the public education system of Florida is to develop the intellect of the state's citizens, to contribute to the economy, to create an effective workforce, and to prepare students for a job.

This is all alarming because it is such a narrow, cramped, tiny vision of education, a low bar to clear, an unworthy target at which to aim. All the depth and breadth of human experience, all the joy and heartfelt fulfillment to which humans can aspire, all the glorious discovery of one's best self, all the varied and beautiful experience of being a human in the world-- these folks would have us toss all of that away to better turn children into meat widgets who can serve not their own human aspirations and dreams and goals, but the corporate need for drones to fill jobs so that the rich can get richer.

This is all awful. But something else is rotten in this point of view.

In this view of the world, children are worthless.

In this view, children are lumps of raw material, useless and therefor worthless until they can be molded into job-ready drones. These are people who would look at my new twins and my beautiful grandbabies and say, "Well, they're pretty and all. But they're kind of worthless, aren't they."

These folks are impatient for children to be made into useful tools. "Hey," they bark at the kindergarten teachers. "Stop screwing around with all that playing and start teaching them to read and write-- you know, things that will make them useful to a future employer." Perhaps this is why some hard-right folks complain about child labor laws-- after all, a child who's not working is a child who has no value.

They have even inveigled their language into the language of school and teacher evaluation-- we look for "value added" which means value added to the children in our care who, by implication, lack value now.

It's a stumper of a world view. How exactly do we convince grown-ass human beings that children are valuable (and not just because they have "potential" to someday become useful tools). How can any human with a halfway healthy heart not look at a small child and think, "You are quite enough, a valuable being, deserving of love and protection and care. You are absolutely enough, just as you are, right now." How do you get through to anyone who looks at a child and feels anything but full and unconditional love (or who thinks the way to express that love is to try to convert that "worthless" child into a worthy drone)? And if we can't get to that person, how do we get them to stay the hell away from matters of educational policy?


Thursday, November 9, 2017

DeVos to Headline Bush's Charterpalooza

Has it been ten years already?

Jeb Bush's reformsteriffic organization Foundation for Excellence in Education (now in the process of morphing its name to ExcelinEd) just announced its tenth annual national summit. This time it's in Nashville, and the big news is that speakers will include Bush Buddy Betsy DeVos! Squeee!


This annual Big Wet Kiss to privatization has always brought out the shiniest stars in the reformster firmament, and Bush himself will be there (because, really, does he have any place else he needs to be) to provide the keynote kickoff to the "content-rich" agenda on November 30.

The National Summit will focus on reform topics of educational opportunity, innovation and quality in general sessions with nationally renowned speakers, targeted strategy sessions and hands-on workshops featuring policy experts, legislators and educators sharing proven and next generation policy solutions for improving learning for all students.

Why attend? Well, it will be "the education networking event of the year" and a "one-stop shop for the nuts and bolts of education reform" and provide "opportunities to connect with nationally renowned speakers and leaders." Here's a nice summary from the press release:

Each year, the National Summit on Education Reform serves as a strategic convening for leaders who want a timely, comprehensive overview of all elements of transformative education policy. The unique gathering equips them with the knowledge, know-how and a network of experts to champion students in every classroom across America. Last year’s National Summit convened 1,045 education leaders from 47 states, with 94 percent of attendees praising the event as “outstanding” or “above average.”

What other talking treats will appear? Clayton Christensen (Harvard Business School professor and "disruptive innovation expert"). Dr. Steve Perry (charter school boss and self-aggrandizing scrapper). Derrell Bradford, Andy Smarick, and Chad Alderman.(reliable thinky tank and advocacy guys). Antwon Wilson (Broadie, DC Public School Chancellor and Guy Who Blew a Giant Hoe in the Budget of His Previous District). Neerav Kingland (Helped hash up New Orleans schools).

Kate Walsh (NCTQ) and Elisa Vilanueva-Beard (CEO of TFA) will be part of an "expert panel" about the teacher shortage led by Daniel Weisberg (CEO of TNTP). Mike Petrilli (Fordham and every article ever written about education) will moderate a panel about "the truth behind private school choice."

Not a public education advocate anywhere in sight. The crowd seems tilted a bit more toward the "free market profiteering" wing of the reform movement than the "social justice" wing. And a whole session about how to use the proper term for your branding so that you can sell your reform.

Media folks, including bloggers, can register to cover the event "from the designated press areas." And you can still join the distinguished list of sponsors, including the Walton Familu, Exxon-Mobile, the College Board, McGraw-Hill, Pearson, Amplify, K12, NWEA, Charter Schools USA, and State Farm.


Ten years of this summiting, or roughly the same amount of time Bill Gates said we would have to wait until we knew whether or not "our education stuff worked." Of course, the education stuff hasn't worked and doesn't work, unless of course by "work" you mean "makes it possible for a lot of people to get their hands on a lot of money."  

I could say that it's not normal for a Secretary of Education to attend this celebration of the privatizing and dismantling of public education, but Arne Duncan and Rod Paige have both done Bush's Happy Reformster Retreat. But it certainly underlines how clearly DeVos is not on the side of public education in this country. At least her security detail will be able to relax while she spends the weekend surrounded by friendly faces.


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

WeWork: More Education Dilettantery

There's a new batch of rich dilettantes ready to put their disruptive fix on education. It's WeWork, and if you don't know who that is, it may be because you are over thirty and work in a school.

Neumann's IMDB picture

WeWork  is many things, not the least of which is a huge real estate empire (10 million square feet of office space). Stories about the "unicorn" company talk a lot about "communal" offices, the company repeatedly billed as "a company providing community, shared workspace and services to freelances, small businesses, startups and entrepreneurs." A New York Times article described the corporate goal as "to over5take any conceivable venue for entrepreneurial-minded up-and-comers who are drawn to a clubby sense of community and the turnkey ease (if impersonal feel) of communal spaces."  But it's not just that they have the space-- it's that they have a vision for how to use that space super-efficiently:

In the future, you’re going to love going to the office. Everything you need to do your job effectively will present itself without effort. You won’t have your own desk, because your employer will know you only use it for 63 percent of the day. But you won’t mind sharing it, because said employer will make sure you have a private room with green leafy plants, soundproof walls, and warm light between 2 and 2:20 p.m. so you can call your daughter. At 3:30 p.m., when you need a conference room for the product managers’ meeting, you won’t even have to book it. It’ll just be there. And everyone attending remotely will already be invited.

Now you're thinking, "But to do that, the company would have to know..." Everything. Correct. Co-founders Adam Neumann and Miguel McKelvey want to collect every piece of data possible about how people use offices, how they work, how work itself works. In other words, while the surface business is real estate and dreams, the core that supports it all is data collection on an epic scale. Not for nothing are they also called "the first physical social network."

All this matters because the young titans are branching out. They've already launched WeLive, extending their concept to living space. Now they would like a shot at education with WeGrow. 

Taking point on this seems to be Adam Neumann's wife, Rebekkah Paltrow Neumann. This filmmaker-actress-entrepreneur went to Cornell and majored in Business and Buddhism. She was accepted into the Smith Barney Sales and Trading program, but left to pursue her acting and film career, which now includes launching WeWork Studios. And she's Gwyneth Paltyrow's first cousin. And she's WeWork's branding officer.

So what kind of school would these folks like to launch. Well, Rebekah Neumann has dropped some hints.

“In my book, there’s no reason why children in elementary schools can’t be launching their own businesses,” said WeWork co-founder Rebekah Neumann, the company’s chief brand office...

WeGrow is already up and piloting, and Bloomberg took a look at some of what is going on there. The school has seven students and two teachers, and hopes for sixty-five students next fall. . The school likes project-based learning, but this may not be exactly the kind of project-based learning you're used to thinking of:

The kids have already gotten lessons from the Neumanns’ employees in creating a brand and using effective sales techniques, and from Adam Neumann on supply and demand. Mentorships with WeWork customer-entrepreneurs are available. “Basically, anything they might want to learn, we have people in the field that can teach it,” Rebekah Neumann said. When one of their students, an eight-year-old girl named Nia, made T-shirts to sell at the farm stand the kids run, “we noticed she has a strong aptitude and passion for design,” Neumann said. She is securing an apprenticeship with fashion designers who rent space from WeWork.

Yes, apparently it turns out that you are never too young to learn to think, "This is interesting and all, but how can I make a quick buck from it?" We've all been arguing about whether five year olds should be playing or learning academic materials-- turns out we'e over looked another possibility, which is learning how to monetize the world around you.

Neumann's own vision for life is, well....

In her own family, she said, “there are no lines” between work and life or home and office. “My kids are in the office. I’m doing what I love, he’s doing what he loves, they are observing that, and they are doing what they love.”

This is in keeping with the WeWork vision, which is rolling out of bed straight into your workspace. I love my job. I love it a lot. I still go home and do things that are not my job. But I don't find this boundaryless existence as troublesome as some of her other thoughts:

Neumann argues it’s conventional education that is “squashing out the entrepreneurial spirit and creativity that’s intrinsic to all young children.” Then, after college, she said, “somehow we’re asking them to be disruptive and recover that spirit.”

You know who really likes "disruption"? Rich people who are so well-insulated by their wealth that they never have to worry about "disruption" actually inconveniencing them or forcing them to change their lives in ways they wouldn't like. Rich people who know that no matter how bad the disruptions get, they will stay safe and dry (and wealthy) through it all. That's who loves disruption.

 Neumann does seem to have consulted an actual educator-- Lois Weiswasser. And WeGrow has dreams of sliding scale tuition so that even the Little People can let their toddlers learn how to be Captains of Industry, though at this point nobody seems to know how to pay for this highly expensive model for school (the Neumanns might want to give Max Ventilla a call). In the meantime, let's not forget that WeWork's whole model involves collecting a huge amount of data, because these are people who believe the naive notion that if you know everything, you can predict and prepare for anything.

Once again, if these people weren't rich-- if a failed actress with no education background at all said, "I think I'd like to start a school"-- we wouldn't be talking about this at all. But wealth gives you the chance to run any experiment you can afford to finance. It seems early to make a prediction, but I'm calling it anyway-- WeGrow is not the school of the future. Let's just hope it creates minimal disruption along the way. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

$250 for Stripping

Among the many attempts to "simplify" the tax code, the GOP included the removal of the ever-popular $250 teacher deduction that allows teachers to claim a tax advantage for some sliver of what they spend on their own classrooms.

There is some disagreement about how much some teachers spend. The $1,000 figure is tossed around a lot, but nobody seems to know what the actual basis for that number is. Others use a more conservative $500. Certainly the amount varies by teacher. I buy class sets of books (used) that I want to teach in my high school classroom; it's not terribly expensive. On the other hand, my wife, the elementary teacher, spends roughly sixty gazillion dollars on her classroom.

This has sparked a fair amount of debate and defense of the teacher deduction, and it may well survive the upcoming ongoing raging tax-related debate.

But the whole business has reminded me of stripping.

Back fifteen-or-so years ago, I was a local teacher union president and we were in the midst of contentious contract negotiations (so contentious they eventually resulted in a strike). And those negotiations introduced me to the negotiating tactic of stripping.

Here's how it works. My side is asking for extended lunch and better parking. The other side proposes that they chop off our arms and our legs. So we negotiate. We agree to lunch that's the same length, and we agree to buy parking permits from the main office, and they agree only to chop off one of our arms. See? It's a negotiation, a compromise. We give up something and -- hey, wait a minute! They actually gave up nothing! Dammit-- I hope they chop off my non-dominant arm so I can still write an angry letter.

That's how stripping works in a negotiation. The other side proposing to strip away things you already have, and you end up giving ground on your side and in return, they let you keep some of what you already had.

That is why, for instance, some states (like Pennsylvania) have been toying with removing state mandates for teacher sick day allowances. Teachers may well end up with the same amount of sick leave, but they'll have to give up something in local contract negotiations to get it.

So look for the moment in the tax debates when the GOP says, "Well, we would like to be nice guys and give that $250 deduction , or maybe half of it, back, but we'll have to get a concession from somewhere else." (Spoiler alert: "somewhere else" will not turn out to be "taxing rich people or corporations").We may well get that $250 back if for no other reason than it's a cheap bargaining chip for the GOP. But if we get it back, it will cost us.


Monday, November 6, 2017

FL: Training Drones

No state in the USA works any harder than Florida to degrade public education. Setting ridiculous third grade reading test requirements, undercutting the teaching profession, stripping resources from public schools to make charters more attractive and profitable (but holding those charters to no real educational standards)-- just type "Florida" into the little search window in the upper left and see how many times I've had to look at Floridian shenanigans.








But Florida has looked for an even more efficient way to cut education off at the knees-- check out the proposed revisions for the state constitution:


That's tiny print, so let me spell it out for you:

The purpose of the public education system of Florida is to develop the intellect of the state's citizens, to contribute to the economy, to create an effective workforce, and to prepare students for a job.

Yikes. Not even "prepare students for a career"-- just plunk those meat widgets in a job somewhere so that corporations can benefit and prosper on the backs of useful drones. After all, what else is education good for. Hell, what else is human life good for-- except to help state leaders prosper and to perform useful functions so that companies can boost stock values. Really, it might be best if schools could actually replace all the human parts of students with cyborg equipment, because really, a robot that could just be packed up in a trunk at the end of the shift would be more useful than humans, who will probably want to have actual lives of their own once they clock out of their corporate functions.

Lord knows this is not a new or unique point of view. It was Rex Tillerson (back before he was neutered and given a State Department shock collar) who tried to get schools to understand that they are producing a product for companies to consume. Or Allan Golston of the Gates foundation who called students the "output" of a school system, meant for companies' consumption. And don't forget Florida Chamber of Commerce president Mark Wilson who said the purpose of schools is economic development, "plain and simple."

But none of these biz-whiz geniuses was rewriting a state constitution to codify his belief that public schools are built to crank out compliant worker drones, and that education has no higher purpose-- certainly not to improve the lives of young humans, to help them better become themselves, to help them best understand how they want to be human in the world.

No, if you want the higher qualities that we used to associate with education, you'll need to be wealthy enough to send your kid to private school. Because you can bet that if any of these corporate yahoos, any of these feckless reckless legislators discovered that their own child had been greeted on the first day of school with, "Your only purpose here this year is to learn how to be a better employee for your future bosses," they would yank that kid out of school so fast they'd have to go back later to retrieve the child's shoes.

And yet Florida remains, for Betsy DeVos and other reformsters, an exemplar, the state that most typifies their imaginary dreamed-of future. We should all be worried about what happens in Florida.


Personalization: You Can't Afford It

We have seen the future, and we can't afford to live in it.

Altschool has just let out word that the tech-powered boutique of personalized education will become one more purveyor of off-the-rack computer-centered education-flavored product. There are many lessons underlined here-- I want to focus on the reminder of why, exactly, we can't have nice things.


Altschool's original vision was ambitious. Hire really good teachers. Keep class sizes small. Back up that teacher with a high-powered array of tech resources, allowing the teacher to perfectly track each student's progress in nearly-real time, then give that teacher unparalleled power to select a perfectly personalized set of materials for every single student. Keep a full IT department right on the site.

What do we dream of when we dream of True Personalized Education? Teacher-directed, with support from a powerful array of resources and facilities.

The problem is, this would be really, really expensive. Really expensive. You have to pay top dollar to lure those super-star teachers, then design your perfect educational ecosystem, then get top-of-the-line tech and hire IT people to keep it running, then buy up the resources needed to meet every possible individual student need or interest that might arrive. Ultimately you have several staff people hired for every single child. Expensive. Altschool was dropping something like $40 million a year.

You can't afford it. Hell, even the rich folks in Silicon Valley couldn't afford it.

So what happens? And how does the Personalized Education dream turn into the "personalized" education nightmare?

There are only a couple of ways to deal with the huge expense of a personalized boutique school.

One is to cut corners. 

To be prepared for any individual interest or need, really prepared, you'd need a library of tens of thousands of units, covering tens of thousands of content areas at dozens of different ability levels cross-filed by particular skill or knowledge sets involved. The library would be huge, and would need to be reviewed and updated every year. That would be expensive, and the software needed to search it for the material with just the right qualities for Pat or Chris would have to be pretty heavy duty as well.

So let's, you know, cut that library down to a couple hundred items. Let's just focus on the most common stuff, and if we find some students who aren't a perfect fit, well, if we've got materials that are Close Enough, that should do. And we can reduce some of this coursework to simple sequencing. Take the pre-test, and if you miss numbers 1 and 2, you get Drill Sheet A, and if you miss numbers 3 and 4, you get Drill Sheet B. Simple, easy to manage, fewer materials to store. Cheaper.

And getting the very best teachers to run the classroom-- well, that would be pricey, too. Let's just round up some teachers who are Good Enough. In fact, since really good teachers might start to question all the corners we've cut, let's just grab some warm bodies, train them in how to operate our system, and let it go at that. If we let the classroom be driven by the software system and not the teacher, then it's easier and cheaper to just fill in the meat widget job with a handy warm body.

But if I started this "personalized" program because I thought I could really make school awesome, why would I cut so many corners that I hurt the quality of the school.

Because I need investors.

The other way to take care of the enormous amount of money I need is to get somebody to give me that money. And investors look at my classroom a little differently.

First of all, the corner cutting appeals to them hugely. To them, every dollar I spend on that classroom is one of their dollars. Do we really need three tech guys? Couldn't one handle everything by himself? Couldn't we scale back on the library of units that we're buying every quarter?

And having a highly-qualified and experienced super-teacher in each classroom-- that's great and all, but we can't really monetize that, can we? We can't sell it as a special secret. That proprietary software, on the other hand-- we could sell that to other schools and sell them the computers to run it on. And if we could streamline that whole software program and lesson library a little more, it would be easy to package as one-size-fits-all "personalization" for any classroom in the country. Because the more All our One Size fits, the bigger the potential market for this.

By all means, keep the Original Boutique School going-- when we bring people to see this or we show them videos or we send the master teachers out to talk about it, people will pee themselves with joy and fight to buy our off-the-rack version. We will make a mint.

But investors are not showing up to pump money into a Personalized School just so every schlubb's kid can actually attend there.

And asking those investors to work around a mountain of delicious, valuable student data and leave it alone is like asking someone to come to work every day and work at a desk that sits on a mountain of $100 bills without ever touching one. Theoretically possible, but sooner or later some investor is going to say, "You know, as long as the software is already working with all this student data anyway..." In fact, that's why some of the investors are going to show up in the first place.

This is how it works

This is how "personalized learning" ends up meaning two things-- actual personalized learning in which teachers lead a classroom armed with mighty tools and resources, and faux personalized learning where the classroom is software-directed, education is algorithmically-centered, and data is mined daily and promiscuously.

We cannot afford real Personalized Learning. Okay, if we can afford trillion dollar wars without end, we could afford real Personalized Learning. But as a country, we want education cheap (particular education for children who are not our own). So real Personalized Learning remains one of those things we know how to do, but we won't do it because we don't want to. So we'll cut corners and hustle for some ROI and just generally try to look like we're doing Personalized Learning when we're really doing something else entirely.

Altschool Lowers the Bar

If you're a Project Runway fan, you may remember those episodes where the designers have to create a couture design that could only be seen on a fancy shmancy high fashion runway-- and then have to create a ready-to-wear knockoff that could go into a department store near you.

Well, the wunderkind wunderschool Altschool is apparently going to do the same sort of shift.


We've talked about Altschool before for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that part of their operation has been a high-octane PR wing.In 2015, everyone was talking about the new high-tech personalized school that founder and former Googlite Max Ventilla was calling Montressori 2.0. The idea was epic-- person-to-person personalization backed up by an on-site IT department that could crunch the massive flow of data being gathered by teachers in real time. It reminded me of a highest-tech version of the 1960s open classrooms. And by the time you add up teachers and visiting experts and support staff and tech crew, the student-to-staff ratio was something unheard of in any other school.

Altschool was is the answer to, "If smart, rich, well-connected people could create a school from scratch, what would it look like?" Investors like Mark Zuckerberg lined up for a piece of the action. The challenge, as I saw it in 2016, was how to make Altschool anything other than a pricey boutique.

Well, after five years of operating at a loss ($30K per pupil tuition vs. $40 million annual costs) Ventilla is apparently ready to answer that question with an answer already familiar to folks who follow the world or charter schools. As reported by Bloomberg:

In Silicon Valley fashion, Ventilla broke the news to parents with a touch of misplaced enthusiasm. He wrote an email to families in Palo Alto, California, saying the school there would close at the end of the year due to business “challenges and opportunities,” according to a copy of the message reviewed by Bloomberg. Ventilla said AltSchool will only run classrooms near the main offices in San Francisco and New York. “We know this is tough news that will have a big impact on your family,” Ventilla said. But the moves are needed, he wrote, given AltSchool’s “strategy, path to growth and finances.” 

In other words, education considerations come in second to business calculations. So sorry, Palo Alto rich parents.

The other part of this business equation is the Altschool ready-to-wear knockoff product line. Now that Ventilla has some things that sort of work, it's time to sell a version of them to other schools and make some real bank. Bloomberg talked to an anonymous employee who described a company in which the Run A School side battled with the Create Software for Market side-- and the software side won. And now the remaining schools will call themselves "lab" schools, suggesting they are not so much actual schools as development labs for the product line of the business.

Ventilla's vision seemed to be closer to what people think of when they hear "personalized" applied to education. "Ventilla wanted to build physical classrooms with first-rate teachers and complement them with “personalized” learning technology, so educators can tailor lessons for each child. But now it appears that the Altschool brand is headed to market with an attempt to out-Summit Summit education-- a course in a box, where students log on and a human "mentor" stands by to help with wrinkles, should they appear.

Altschools were popular with their parents, but it's possible the business doesn't really understand why:

Although the company touts the magic of its technology, two parents said their children benefited more from the extensive attention of talented teachers and small class sizes. There are multiple instructors per class, and the school places a premium on interdisciplinary projects, like building a model house that can withstand different weather—a task that incorporates current events, science, engineering and budgeting. 

In other words, Altschool's execution underscored the importance of a top quality teacher leading the classroom, a full array of tools at her disposal. And somehow, Altschool has taken away the lesson that the important part is the tools.

If nothing else, the Altschool story underlines the yawning gulf between tech-supported personalized education as it would really serve students, and tech-centered personalization that is more focused on marketability. In fact, that gulf is important enough to be looked at in a separate post-- which I'm going to go write now. In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled for this newest version of off-the-rack, mass-produced, faux personalized education.





Sunday, November 5, 2017

ICYMI: Daylight Savings Edition (11/5)

Yes, this is up late. That extra hour screwed me all up. But I would still make it a point to read these offerings and pass along the ones you're most inspired by.

Betsy DeVos doesn't understand how markets really work

There are many things wrong with the DeVosian ideal or free market driven education, but one of the problems is that she doesn't have the "how markets work" piece correct. Here's a good explainer of hat she doesn't understand about the invisible hand.

School Choice in Rural America

Jenny Robinson looks at the particular style of destruction the school choice programs wreak on rural communities

Dark Money pours into school board races  

A look at just how bad the movement to buy local school boards has become, at The Answer Sheet

Protecting children's right to childhood

Nobody speaks up for the rights of littles like Teacher Tom.

A brilliant way to teach children 

An early childhood expert finds a great model-- just not in the US

I'm 10 and I want girls to raise their hands 

A young girl and the Girl Scouts take steps to empower young women

The Mis-education of Eva Moskowitz 

Great profile of NYC's top charter queen

What happened to big data?

Slate looks at the decline of big data, including its failure in education.

Siezing the civic education moment 

Civics education is needed now more than ever. How do we make it happen?

Aint That a Shame 

Russ Walsh and the problem of shame as pedagogy

Saturday, November 4, 2017

NY Times Offers Dumb Endorsement

The New York Times took a swipe at the teaching profession today by endorsing one of the Empire State's dumbest ideas.

Last month SUNY gave its pet charter schools the freedom to hire whatever warm bodies they could get their hands on, based on the theory that-- well, I'm not sure. That hiring real teachers is hard, and expensive? That getting trained educational professionals to take bad direction from well-connected amateurs (lookin' at you, Eva Moskowitz)? That the leaders of charters are just so awesome that their awesomeness will elevate the warm bodies they hire? That teaching isn't a real job and any schlubb off the street can do it? Pick your favorite theory.



In any case, the NYT thinks the warm body idea is awesome sauce.

The NYT fact-checking machinery is legendary. When my old friend got married years ago in NYC and his announcement was going to take up four whole lines of NYT space, the Grey Lady called my friend's mom back in our small town to confirm that she did in fact run the business that the announcement said she ran. So I believe that America's newspaper of record knows how to check it some facts.

And yet this editorial was written when the fact checkers were out to lunch.

The editorial notes that charter schools "made good on their promise to outperform conventional public schools," which is a fact-check fail two-fer. First, it slides in the assertion that charters are public schools, even though NYC's own Ms. Moskowitz went to court to protect her charter's right to function as a private business, freed from state oversight. I NYC charters are public schools, then McDonald's is a public cafeteria. Second, it accepts uncritically the notion that charters have "outperformed" anybody, without asking if such superior performance is real, or simply an illusion created by creaming and skimming students so that charters only keep those students who make them look good.

The Times thinks the warm body rule is "a reasonable attempt to let these schools avoid the weak state teacher education system that has long been criticized for churning out graduates who are unprepared to manage the classroom." Their support for this is a decade-old "report" by Arthur Levine, and even if that report were the gospel truth, that does not shore up the logic of saying, "I'm pretty sure the surgeons at this hospital aren't very good, so the obvious solution is for me to grab some guy off the street to take out my spleen instead."

The Times also commiserates with charter hiring problems.

New York’s high-performing charter schools have long complained that rules requiring them to hire state-certified teachers make it difficult to find high-quality applicants in high-demand specialties like math, science and special education. They tell of sorting through hundreds of candidates to fill a few positions, only to find that the strongest candidates have no interest in working in the low-income communities where charters are typically located.

Oops. There's a typo in that last part-- let me fix it for you: "only to find the strongest candidates have no interest in working for bottom-dollar wages under amateur-hour conditions that demand their obedience and donation of tens of hours of their own time each week." There.

But if you want absolute proof that the Times had no access to fact-checking for this piece, here comes multiple citations of the National Council on Teacher Quality.

If there is a less serious, less believable, less intellectually rigorous in all of the education world that the NCTQ, I do not know who it is. Kate Walsh may be a lovely human being who is nice to her mother and sings in her church choir, but her organization is-- well, I few things astonish me as much as the fact that NCTQ is still taken seriously by anybody at all, ever.

NCTQ has evaluated teacher ed programs that don't exist. Their evaluation technique involves looking at course catelogs. Their study of ed program rigor was just looking through a bunch of commencement programs. When they want to claim their research looks at something that would be rally hard to look at, they just make up proxies that don't stand up to the slightest bit of scrutiny. Their presence in any article or report is a sure sign that somebody is far more focused on reaching a preferred conclusion than in seriously studying the situation.

There's more in the NYT editorial. Teachers unions want to stop charters "any way they can." State education authorities are hypocritical because they lowered the bar on the state teacher exam, which, you know, is pretty much exactly the same as doing away with real certification requirements. Like, if you support lower fines for jaywalking, you might as well make murder legal.

And then there's the intellectually sloppy assertion that it is "beyond doubt ... that the state certification process is failing to provide strong teachers in sufficient numbers to fill the demand." No, no it's not. If I can't buy a Porsche for $1.98, it is not beyond doubt that automobiles are being manufactured in insufficient numbers." What's beyond doubt is that charters (like a few gazillion schools in the US) are having trouble finding people who want to work for them under the conditions they're offering. If the New York Times can't find enough good reporters to work for them for $2.50 an hour, the solution is not to just drag anyone off the street who can peck at a keyboard, and the New York Times editorial board damn well knows it.

Today's editorial is sloppy, lazy and just plain wrong. Shame on you, Times editorial board.


Friday, November 3, 2017

The 529 Plan

A 529 plan is a special type of savings plan that lets you set money aside for your child's college education while providing some tax advantages.

The plans come in two main types-- pre-paid tuition and college credits. The plans can come with a variety of fees and costs, as well as the risks that come with enrolling your child in a university eighteen years before she graduates from high school. But the money earned in a 529 account is free of state and federal taxes in most cases, as long as you spend it on college stuff.


529 plans are going to enjoy some news coverage because they are a part of the GOP tax proposal. Some of the changes are practical, some are intended to make a point, and some are probably part of a longer game being played here.

The basic proposal is this-- let parents use 529 plans to save for private school tuition for K-12.

The extra ideological wrinkle is this-- let parents start putting money in the account at conception, a slickly subtle way to drive home the point that the fetus is a person (after all, the fetus has a bank account) which can just be added to the steady drip, drip, drip of the anti-abortion crowd. It's rhetorically twisty because it brings the issues of choice and choice face to face. Folks are going to have to be clear about discussing school choice or abortion choice, because folks mostly don't oppose or support both, leaving us to discuss Choice (pick one).

Public education advocates are unhappy with the idea because they see it as promoting private school over public school. But as proposed, it's not going to make private school any more accessible than it ever was. If you can afford to send your kid to private school, this will give you a nice tax break, and if you couldn't afford to send your kid to private school before, well, you still can't.

But that's where the long game comes in.

One of the preferred pitches for school vouchers these days is the Education Savings Account. With ESAs. instead of handing parents an actual voucher, the state would place the money in a special education lockbox. From there, many things can happen depending on the state, but Texas, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire have all toyed with this approach.

What the new K-12 529 plans would do is create everything needed for an ESA/voucher approach except the funding stream from the state. And you can already see choice fans warming up their, "These accounts do not help the non-wealthy families of our state. To make this fair, the state should deposit some money in those 529s, or even allow corporations a deduction if they put money in the 529s of needy-yet-worthy students."

So the GOP proposal, in the short run, doesn't change much. In the long run, it sets the stage for another run at voucher/ESA systems in the states. Keep your eyes peeled.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

My Ex-Wife's Mail (or "One More Reason Not To Trust Our Data Overlords")

Look at this cool piece of junk mail I got today!


This came to my address, and offers a lovely necklace that does use the correct birthstones for Peter and Janet, but I probably won't order one, because Janet is my ex-wife.

Getting my previous wife's mail at my current address is not at all unusual. I used to get even alumni fundraising calls from her alma mater (I think we got that stopped after about the third time I left some poor work study undergrad tongue-tied).

I want you to appreciate what an achievement that is. My ex and I divorced over twenty years ago. Since then I have changed address twice, and she has changed address five times-- most recently to Hawaii. She has remarried twice; I have remarried once. Somehow some of her mail arrives at my current home with her current married name. And I know that at least one of her old addresses appears on my credit history report.

I'm not mad about any of this. My ex is a lovely person, a great mother to our children, and someone who deserved a better husband than I was back then. But for her mail to occasionally be sent here, especially as if she were still my wife, is an impressively epic piece of bad record-keeping. It is the kind of thing that an actual human could probably sort out, but the vast network of computers that store and share and track these kinds of data just keep perpetuating. And please note-- as m history suggests, this isn't just a matter of failing to clear out old records (like the mail that comes for my wife under her previous married name), but a cyber-creation of all new, all wrong records in the system.

So when we talk about Big Data and its desire to gobble up and store and use and sell every nit of data generated about our students, I'm appalled at the Big Brothery intrusiveness of it, the omnipresent creepiness of it, the horrifying way that such data records could be used to tack and tail and guide and shove students into a corporate pigeonhole pre-prepared for their adult lives. I'm alarmed at how students are steadily becoming "resources," little meat widgets whose use is to generate data points for the Data Overlords to gobble up, poop out, and sell off.

But I am also mindful of how wantonly sloppy and confidently inaccurate our Data Overlords can be. It's scary to imagine an Orwellian future in which a deathless data file determines a human being's entire life. But it's even scarier to imagine a Kafkaesque future in which that data file includes all sorts of shit the software simply made up. It's bad enough to imagine a high school grad who can't get a job because the computer record shows a streak of anti-authoritarian rebelliousness based on her behavior in fifth grade or because the scores from terrible tests indicate a lack of verbal skills. But it's even worse to imagine a future in which a high school grad can't get a job because of what the digital record says she did on a trip to Paraguay (a place she's never actually been) or the data from a standardized test that she never actually took. Will live humans monitor and check this stuff? Of course not-- the whole point is that it would take too many humans too long to sort and check this much data. And the software will not have the sense to question data that makes no sense.

We already know that we can't trust our Data Overlords to keep our data safe. But can we even trust them to get it right on the first place. "Trust us," they say. "We'll take all the best care of all the personal data." To which I say, dude, you can't even keep track of who I'm married to, a matter of public record that you've had two decades to sort out. Not only can we not trust their motives in storing and crunching all the personal data in the world, but they're not even very good at it.