Tuesday, February 28, 2017

TX: Senator Ambushed by Students

Texas GOP Senator Don Huffines is a huge fan of choice systems, and does his best to shill for them. But he ran into a rough time trying to pitch them to 7-12 grade students at Richardson ISD on, of all things, Texas PTA Day.

While the senator might have gotten just a bit over-salty with the students, his spokesman spun Huffine's behavior as nobly passionate:

It was dark. There were so many of them

While the policy was right, Senator Huffines' tone and delivery today did not live up to the level of civil discourse that he always expects of himself and others. Senator Huffines is unapologetic in his support for education choice, because it's a policy that supports students. He will not hide from passionate or heated debate on the issue. Where other politicians might have run, Don Huffines stayed and endured the ambush-style attack, then calmly answered more questions for 15 more minutes, including questions from students.

Yes, just like an ambush. You have to watch those wily middle school students. No doubt many students at Richardson are on that protestor payroll, raking in $1,500 a week to complain about GOP policies (and making more money than their teachers in the process, which means the all-powerful teachers union must be really falling down on the job-- honestly, it's a wonder that many of these global liberal conspiracies don't fall apart more often).

What did this terrible ambush entail?

One students pointed out that that Huffines' proposed voucher for students would not cover the cost of many of the higher-priced private schools.

Replied Huffines, "It doesn’t pay for all their education does it? The $5,000 won’t pay for it. So it doesn’t pay for it. So you’re saying that OK, since we’re not giving them enough money to pay for all their education then screw ‘em they can’t go to private school?” Huffines said. “Do you want me to give them $15,000, is that what you want? So they can all go to Hockaday, they can all go to Saint Mark. You want me to give them a full tuition? That is the most selfish thing I’ve ever heard!”

A parent questioned the use of public tax dollars for a private school.

Responded the senator, “What makes you think it’s your money? They’re the taxpayers. It’s the businesses. They’re the taxpayers. Sixty-two percent of all property tax is paid by business.”

You can see Huffines on a video taken by one of the parents and posted at this news outlet.  He paces back and forth, talks angrily, stabs forcefully at the table top with a finger.

Huffines is a real-estate developer who won office in 2014. He has received 100% ratings from Americans for Prosperity Texas, Texas Values, and  Texas Eagle Forum, and his stated goal is to "achieve unimaginable prosperity through limited government so we may cherish our liberty that God alone has bestowed upon us." Nowhere on his website is there anything about hectoring children who dare to ambush him with ideas that disagree with his own.

Dangerous Amateurs

Not all amateurs are a problem.

I live in a small town  world, and much of the community's important work is done by amateurs. Most of our major local organizations are run by amateurs, and our elected officials are all folks with a real day job-- there's no real money in being a professional politician on the local level.

I have been one kind of amateur or another most of my adult life. My actual training is to be a high school English teachers, but I have been a radio dj, church choir director, technical stage manager, band director, graphic artist, photographer, musician, all-around theater guy, and writer/fake journalist. I always knew I would be a generalist, so I grabbed some coursework here and there to back some of these jobs up, but mostly in these pursuits I am an untrained amateur.

My saving(ish) grace is that I know what I don't know, and I know there are professionals out there from whom I can learn. Before I take on a responsibility, I do my homework, read up, study up, talk to people who are pros, watch them work and learn from them. And in a community like mine, there are plenty of people like me around. We backstop each other as well.

But there are other types of amateurs in the world. More problematic. More dangerous.

It is one thing to know you lack the professional expertise, the trained knowledge for a particular field. It is another thing to believe that no such body of knowledge exists, or that any such knowledge and expertise is unimportant as long you are, you know, really interested in whatever field we're talking about.

These are the folks who figure that since they occasionally eat at a restaurant, and they like food, well, they're qualified to open a restaurant. These are the folks who figure that public speaking is just standing up and flapping your gums for a while (usually a really long while). These are the people who feel that since they have seen performers they like on tv, they know more than enough stagecraft to direct live performers. These are the people who figure they're smart enough to run a country just because they think so. These are the people who are sure they are just as smart as those fancy-pants climate scientists or those doctors with all their vaccination baloney. These are the people who have been fortunate to find success in one area and who therefor conclude they possess all-encompassing wisdom.

And of course these are the people who believe they know more than enough to open a school, run a school, create education policy for a state or nation because, you know, they went to school once.

Sometimes they're honestly ignorant. They really don't know what they don't know, have no idea that there's more to an endeavor than meets the eye. Sometimes they are proudly, aggressively ignorant; they know there are supposedly experts, people who claim to Know Stuff, but the proudly ignorant amateur is sure that expertise is a scam, a con being run by people who want to hold onto power. The proudly ignorant amateur is certain he's smarter than all those guys.

These dangerous amateurs make a mess, both by deliberately destroying structures that have been carefully built over time and by stupidly breaking what they don't understand. Eventually they may emerge from the rubble to make wise pronouncements like "It's hard to educate people trapped in poverty" or "Health care is complicated" or "I have discovered that water is wet."

There is nothing wrong with venturing into new areas with an awareness of what you don't know, and a determination to fill in the blanks. But there is danger in amateurs who don't know what they don't know, and even more danger in amateurs who believe there's nothing they don't know that's worth knowing, who brandish their ignorance like a club and their privilege like a battle ax. When these dangerous amateurs grab the reins of power, we are all in for a bad ride.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Free Market vs. Customers

I write so much about the free(ish) market that one might assume that I hate it. I don't. I think the profit motive, properly harnessed and directed, can accomplish a great deal. Making money is not inherently bad.

However, there are certain things that the free market will not do, and those weaknesses are in direct conflict with the purposes and goals of public education.

If you want to see what the problems would be, all you have to do is look around right now at every other sector of Trumpistan, where the Privatizer-in-Chief and the members of his Free Market Fan Club have been pursuing a particular set of goals.

This week the FCC took some steps to "relieve thousands of smaller broadband providers from onerous reporting obligations." More specifically, they removed some regulations that require ISPs to publish pricing and service information. This is seen by some as a first step of a general assault on net neutrality.

Meanwhile, some environmental regulations are already rolling back, a trend that is expected to accelerate under the new EPA head. Elizabeth Warren's Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is under attack. And in the education world, for-profit colleges that were feeling some pressure under Obama (though, seriously, how much pressure really) are feeling like there's a fresh new day a-borning.

These and the many government actions like them come from the same basic free-market complaint, addressed to government:

"We could make a lot more money if we didn't have to [insert regulation you don't like here]."

Free market fans (like Betsy DeVos) prefer to argue that free market business needs no regulating because customer reactions provide all the regulation needed. If the business fails to do a good job, customers can vote with their feet, and free market justice is served by the invisible hand.

This is bunk, and any successful business people know it's bunk.

In fact, between "this company is awesome and I love them" and "these guys suck and I'm going to start foot-voting right now" is a whole grey area where businesses actually operate. Awesome-love is really expensive to provide, so the smart business play is to figure out just how little you can get away with providing before the foot-votes start to hurt.

Government regulations are a pain in the ass because they interfere with the search for that sweet barely-enough spot. Auto makers might love to cut the costs associated with things like air bags and seat belts, but regulations won't let them. Industries could be far more profitable if they didn't have to follow environmental regulations. Internet providers could make way more money if they were allowed to give special treatment to rich customers. Any business could be more profitable if it could pay workers the very lowest pay it could get away with.

If Donald Trump possesses anything like a business genius, it would be this-- he has really pushed the boundaries on "the least you can get away with." Lying to investors and refusing to pay contractors, as well as extracting pay-to-play bribes good treatment, Trump has dared people to walk with their feet or hold him to any code of conduct. And he has mostly won. Like that annoying kid in your fourth period class, he has a genius for figuring out exactly how little he has to actually do to get by.

This is what the privatizers want to see-- a world in which the bare minimum required to run a school is hugely lowered bar. They want a friendly federal government, someone prepared to listen to them when they say, "We could make so much more money running this school if we didn't have to [fill in any school function or service here]." We could make so much more money if we didn't have to serve high-needs students. We could make so much more money if we didn't have to pay teachers more than minimum wage. We could make so much more money if we didn't have to pay prevailing wages to our contractors. We could make so much more money if we didn't have to meet all the items on this list of regulations.

Can government go way too far when it comes to regulation? Absolutely-- particularly when it's going in the wrong direction.

But what the privatizers promise to do to education is put the needs of the business operators ahead of the needs of the students. In the business world, that is common and results in a kind of sorting-- the business chases away some customers and focuses on the smaller assortment of customers whose needs best match what the business wants to do as its bare minimum.

That's a rational business approach, but it is an immoral approach to education. And it creates a hugely unbalanced contest. On one side, we have the businessmen and hedge funders and national charter chains plus the elected and unelected government officials who are looking out for their interests. On the other side, we have parents.

That's why it's absolutely necessary that government stand up for those parents and for the interests of those students. That's why it's up to government to set boundaries, to determine what the barely acceptable minimum will be (because businesses will always sink to that low bar). That's why it's up to government to stick up for citizens, and not the invisible hand.

ICYMI: Here Comes March Edition (2/26)

A wide assortment of stuff today, because fake spring is over and real winter is back.

Homeschoolers Revolt Against Republican School Choice Bill

Yeah, it's Breitbart, so it may be 100% crap. But it might also be an interesting look at how very conservative  folks end up opposing school choice.

Charter Schools Have Lost Their Way

A look at how folks who started out as charter supporters could end up disaffected and abandoning the cause.

4Chan- The Skeleton Key to the Rise of Trump

A really interesting look at 4chan, anonymous, gamergate, and the whole angry young white guys in their Mom's basement part of society. Not directly related to education, but still a fascinating read.

Decaying Buildings and the Rise of Digital Education

Using the deliberate abandonment of physical plants as a way to drive the new industry

The Failure of the iPad Classroom

A long look at how the movement to put ipads at the center of classrooms has been a sad and wasteful failure.

Betsy DeVos and the Plan to Break Puiblic Schools 

Ffrom Rebecca Mead at the New Yorker, a well-thought-out look at the Big DeVos Picture, with lots of links.

The Disappearing Educator

At the Michigan Education Association website, a look at why the teacher pool is shrinking.

Have We Lost Sight of the Promise of Public Schools

At the New York Times, Nikole Hannah-Jones looks at the difficulties we've always had fulfilling the promise of public education (hint: they're related to our problems acepting all citiizens as equal parts of the public).

Betsy DeVos and the Task of Satffing Donald Trump's Education Department

Andy Smarick at US News breaks down the five hurdles future USED staffers will have to clear, and in the process, he gives us a picture of what the Trump-DeVos USED will look like. Forwarned is forearmed.

W.E.B. DuBois and Dual Consciousness for Teachers of Color

Jose Vilson looks at DuBois and the questions teachers of color must ask.

It's Not About Them (It's About Us)

Blue Cereal Education with a piece that looks at the basic foundation of how principled people behave toward other people.

Oh, Hey-- a Lot of Private Charter Schools Are Just Dumping Grounds for Poor Students-- Imagine That

I suppose I could have just linked you to the original report, but Wonkette's take is so much more spicy and entertaining, while still presenting the meat of these shameful findings.

Success Staff Questions Moskowitz's Ties to Trump

From Politico, we learn that Eva Moskowitz suddenly has scruples about being politically active in her position. Who knew?

Saturday, February 25, 2017

WI: State Superintendent Vs. Voucher$

On April 4, two former school superintendents will square off for the state superintendent spot. The shape of that race tells us a lot about what the new politics-as-usual will look like in the years ahead.

Wisconsin state animal. She is not rich, either.

In one corner, we find Tony Evers. Evers has been the state superintendent of public instruction since 2009; before that he was deputy superintendent for eight years. He's a Wisconsin boy, born raised and 3educated, and he married his high school sweetheart. He's also the president of the Council Chief State School Officers. Policy-wise, he's a mixed bag-- on the one hand, as CCSSO president, he's been a Common Core advocate; on the other hand, he has steadfastly resisted attempts to expand vouchers and privatization in Wisconsin.

For those reasons, he has been in the GOP cross-hairs for a while. Don Pridemore (his real name) had a brief career in the legislature, during which he backed legislation for photo ids for election and a resolution declaring unmarried parenting as a contributing factor in child abuse. He took a run at the state superintendent job in 2013 and got his ass handed to him by Evers.

So this time around, Pridemore reached out to another unsuccessful superintendent candidate, and Lowell Holtz was brought in to try again. That led to several contentious moments with a third candidate-- John Humphries (in Wisconsin, the state superintendent race is non-partisan-- everyone runs in the primary, and then the top two vote-getters from the primary face off in the general election). Humphries claimed that Holtz offered him the bribe of a $150K job, a car, and the right to manage five big Wisconsin districts. Holtz said, no, it was an offer from an unnamed business leader to both of them. They both called each other big fat liars.

Then it turned out that Holtz hadn't even expected to do any of the hard work of running for office himself, that he felt that the deal was that an advocacy group run by Pridemore would do the grunt work. Much of this was documented in emails that Holtz sent with his school account (oops).

Why were Holtz and Humphries, neither of whom emerges from accounts as a particularly formidable political player, attract such attention and support?


Or as Holtz said when he was explaining why he really hasn't done any local fundraising, "The folks that support the vouchers nationally have lots more money than I could ever raise in the state of Wisconsin."

And why would the business interests and voucher fans think that they had a better shot than usual against the popular Evers? The clue rests in this paragraph from Wisconsin State Journal coverage of the race:

Evers is seeking a third term in the wake of massive membership losses for the state’s largest teachers union — a strong campaign contributor for Evers in the past— setting the stage for the potential of third-party groups spending on behalf of Holtz to ensure the election of a voucher supporter.

Scott Walker's assault on public sector unions was never just about putting the help in their place, but about reducing their strength as Democratic Party supporters. Unions were, among other things, an effective way for working people to put together the same kind of clout-commanding contributions that rich folks are now allowed to toss around with abandon (thanks, Supreme Court). So now even clumsy amateur-hour puppet candidacies like Holtz's can stand a chance because they can muster the big bucks, while Democrat money has been hobbled. 

Evers cleaned Holtz's shiny clock in the primary, and so he still looks like the odds on favorite, and he has a well-stocked war chest, but he's still worried.

“If it’s all in, it’ll be very difficult to compete with that amount of money. There’s just not that much in the state that’s available,” Evers said. “And we’re talking about Amway money and the money from the family that owns Walmart and I don’t know any of those people.”

The election will be April 4. We'll have to wait and see how badly national voucher fans want it, and how much they're willing to spend to buy it. Pay attention. This is how these sorts of elections work these days.


Friday, February 24, 2017


One of my regular reads is Blue Cereal Education, a blog that regularly makes me say, "Gee, I wish I'd written that." Just this week, the post "It's Not About Them (It's About Us)" gave me both that feeling and a wave of flashbacks to when my children were young.

The point is deceptively simple-- we should treat people based on our understanding of the right way to treat people, not based on what we think they've earned. We oppose, for instance, cruel and unusual punishment not based on what considerations the felon in question has earned, but because we'd rather not be the kind of people who use cruel punishment on others.

How we treat others is not about who they are, but about who we are-- or at least about who we want to be.

It's a good piece. You should really go read it. Go ahead. I'll wait right here.

It takes me back twenty years because this was how the children's mother and I would short-circuit all protests about why somebody really needed to be hit or "you just don't understand the awfulness of Person X"-- you don't hit people because you don't hit people. That's not how you treat other people.

As a moral principle, it really is a great simplifier, which is probably why the basic principle has been around for so long (including that Jesus guy with his "do unto others' and "let he who is without sin" and "judge not" or "the least of these" stuff). We are to extend loving, caring behavior to others because of who we aspire to be-- not because of who they are.

There are always some concerns with this approach. Surely we're not meant to extend decent, caring attention to people to people who lie to us, attack us, try to hurt us (What's that? "Turn the other cheek?" Ssshhhhh!). But there is nothing about living a principled life that means we have to be stupid or self-destructive.

As human beings, we have created lots of loopholes. One is otherize people and provide them with a label that makes it clear they aren't really people at all, as in "Well, of course, I strive to treat all people decently, but that Mugwump over there is a whole other matter."

Mostly we like the judging. We insist on including a clause that adds "who deserve it" to all "this is how we treat people" statements.

But when we start talking about "deserving" people, we invariably end up de-serving people.

In other words, talking about "deserving" is usually an excuse to select people that we can legitimately refuse to treat with love or caring or consideration or decency or kindness or whatever we're figuring out an excuse to withhold. When we talk about who deserves to be in this country, we're really highlighting the people that it's "okay" to throw out. When we talk about good pay for deserving teachers, it's really a conversation about how we can pick out the teachers who will be paid poorly. When we make convoluted arguments and assumptions that poor people "deserve" to be poor, we are justifying a callous, careless, neglectful approach to poverty and the poor.

Teachers already understand much of this. Most of us understand that the gig does not include deciding which students deserve our assistance and compassion and instruction and support-- we are supposed to treat them all well not because of who they are, but because we are teachers, and that's how teachers are supposed to behave. The principled teacher does her best for her students-- regardless of their race, their background, their gifts, their talents, their willingness, their inclination to work, their personality-- because that's what she is supposed to do.

As BCE notes, this principled approach is hardwired into our nation, that this is a place where how we treat each new arrival is based on who we want to be as a nation, not on who you are as a person. There's absolutely no doubt that we have usually failed to fully live up to that ideal, to that principle-- but it has been the business of steering toward that principle that has helped us at best get better and at least acknowledge that some things are just not right. And sometimes, we lose sight of it entirely. These are not our best moments as a nation.

When I say that public schools are foundational to our country, that's part of what I mean-- we are an institution that is supposed to be dedicated to doing the best for each child, regardless of who that child is.

But that's been suffering a toxic erosion for a while now. The modern reform era has been all about sorting and deserving-- who are the deserving schools, who are the deserving teachers. Never mind how schools are treating and serving their students-- what outcomes can they show, what test results have they generated, that prove these schools and teachers are deserving. Obama-Duncan waiver-palooza codified that further by saying that rather than honoring a commitment to support and fund education across all fifty states because that's the kind of administration they wanted to be-- instead of that, they raised a bunch of funding for schools and said, "We are only going to give this money to the states that deserve it, and all other states will be de-served."

No child that enters my classroom should ever have to prove that he or she deserves my attention, my help, my best effort. But reformsters have, for over a decade, made the central tenet of public education not "we will serve all students without asking if the deserve it" to "at all levels, everyone must always be ready to prove what they deserve."

And now in the Trump era, it becomes even worse. Because now a simple statement such as "all human beings of all races, genders and background should be treated with love and support" is viewed as a political statement. A school in Maryland required teachers to take down the series of "we the people" posters because they were seen as anti-Trump. Because that's where we are-- stating that you value human beings of all types means that you are a political opponent of the President of the United States of America.

Use every man after his desert, and who should ’scape whipping? Use them after your own honor and dignity. (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene ii)

Shakespeare reminds us that nobody deserves anything but punishment, and therefor nobody deserves to be the one who judges and punishes. The choices we make about how to treat others reveals much about our character and the principles that drive it.

In the end, how we treat others says a lot more about us than about them. The Trump administration's treatment of its many others tells us much about the administration. The refornsters treatment of teachers and schools, as well as the kind of treatment that they have pressured us to pass down the line, all the way to the students. It is a challenge to stay focused on principle in unprincipled times, but that is, these days, the gig, just as it remains the gig to treat students (and others) well, whether they deserve it or not. Not because of who they are, but because of who we hope, strive, wish to be.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

DeVos Folds

It was pretty much zero surprise that the Trump administration chose to undo the Obama protections for transgender students (despite his vociferous campaign assertion that he would be a far better friend to LGBT folks than Clinton).

Yeah, that's a real Trump tweet.

Only a tiny bit of my soul died this week. Hardly hurts at all.

But no-- the actual surprise was that according to several published reports (because, apparently, DC leaks like a buckshot-blasted colander) Betsy DeVos balked at this move. Rescinding the protections required two departments to sign off, and DeVos reportedly did not want to do it. She expressed her concern that transgender students could be more vulnerable to harm without the rue, according to "three Republicans with direct knowledge of the internal discussions." Attorney General Jess Sessions escalated to Defcon Five. Per the New York Times:

Mr. Sessions, who has opposed expanding gay, lesbian and transgender rights, pushed Ms. DeVos to relent. After getting nowhere, he took his objections to the White House because he could not go forward without her consent. Mr. Trump sided with his attorney general, the Republicans said, and told Ms. DeVos in a meeting in the Oval Office on Tuesday that he wanted her to drop her opposition. And Ms. DeVos, faced with the alternative of resigning or defying the president, agreed to go along.

Soon after, DeVos was toeing the party line and issuing a statement that boiled down to "vulnerable students are vulnerable, and somebody really should look out for them, but it won't be the federal government."

The actual policy doesn't tell us anything about this administration that we didn't already know. But the way it happened tell us-- and perhaps DeVos-- a bit about her role in this administration.

First, I was actually a little surprised that DeVos rolled over so easily. I thought she was tougher than this. I thought she was a policy pit bull. But she is also a DC newbie. GQ has called her, more than once, a rube. Now Lord knows, when it comes to the DC political world, I am worse than a rube. But I can't help thinking this would have been a time for DeVos to read the national room and say, "Do you really want to fire a cabinet official one month in over where transgender kids can pee? Is that the story you want on Saturday Night Live this week?" Still, I'm certain that it's pretty hard to face down a US President, particularly one who is well-known for gutting enemies and holding long grudges (an approach that DeVos knows something about). Bottom line-- she had her first test, and she folded like a cheap lawn chair.

Second, while this was a protection of huge importance to trans kids and anyone who cares about them, and while this makes a huge statement about our compassion or lack thereof for vulnerable students, it was still relatively small potatoes to the Trump administration. It's not repealing Obamacare or building a wall or any of the marquee promises on which Trump built his brand. And yet he was willing to take DeVos to the wall on this.

Which raises the question-- just how much autonomy will DeVos have as Secretary? Will Trump and his boys micromanage her on every single issue? And yes, it's worth noting in this administration that along with a lack of administrative experience and management background and any time at all working in government, the other thing that Betsy DeVos lacks is a penis, which in any administration should make zero difference-- but in a Trump administration? I have to wonder if DeVos went home yesterday and sat thinking, "Why the hell did I even take this job? Have I made a huge mistake?"

Third, I told you so. And not just me. Regardless of how you feel about her actual preferred education policies, DeVos was always unqualified by her sheer lack of any experience that would have prepared to run a cabinet-level department while going head to head with other major players in the federal government.

It's possible we've been worrying too much about DeVos's beliefs and policy goals because her voice simply isn't going to matter in this administration. Maybe she'll find herself a crash course in How To Be An Effective Cabinet Secretary, or maybe she'll just sit in her office, holding a rubber stamp and waiting for Fearless Leader to tell her what policy she's supporting this week. We'll just have to wait and see if the story, or DeVos, will unfold.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Decline of Accountability

It was just a few years ago that outcomes were all the rage with the reform crowd. The problem with public schools, they said, was that we focus too much on inputs. Outfits like the Rand Corporation produced big reports on giving more weight to outputs. Or here's a paper by Mike Petrilli (Fordham Foundation) telling the state of Wisconsin how to look at those all-important outputs for quality control. The basic sales pitch for charters, repeated again and again, was that charters traded greater autonomy for greater acountability.

But there's a new breeze a-blowin', the same breeze that brought Betsy DeVos, Poppins-like, into town. As has been noted repeatedly, DeVos was never really on board with that accountability thing. Her faith is in God, the free market, rich corporate leaders, and parental choice (well, as much as the first three allow for)-- and that's all we need. In her spate of early interviews, she allowed as how there's not really any issue on which the feds need to intervene. The invisible hand will fix everything.

We don't need accountability. The only part that matters is choice. That is the output that matters.

You can see this new attitude sneaking into the reformsters themselves.

Every year the Fordham Foundation holds a wonkathon, in which they solicit policy ideas and proposals. Last year they also held a design competition in which they solicited ideas for accountability systems under ESSA (I entered that one but, shockingly, did not win). Last year's wonkathon was about looking for a choicy silver lining in the ESSA. 

This year?

This year the Fordham is looking for ideas about how to spend the Trump $20 billion in voucher money. There are three requirements that the submission must meet:

  • It promotes the expansion of parental choice in education
  • It could reasonably be included in a tax reform bill and passed via reconciliation (since, as Politico is reporting, that appears to be the vehicle the Administration and leaders in Congress will try to use)  
  • It includes the number “$20 billion” (though of course it need not start there and might not grow to there)

Notice what's not here? No accountability requirement. No component to make sure that the $20 billion is not spent on fraud or waste or Jesus school or Sharia Law academy or White Kids Only High School or a school run by some guy who knows nothing about schools except how to make money at setting up pretend ones.

I mean, I have my entry ready right now. There are (very) roughly 50 million K-12 students out there. Divide up the $20 billion and write each student a $400 check, which their parents can then choose to spend on whatever they think would be educational-- textbooks, trip to the zoo, Playstation. Get the $20 billion by cutting the defense budget.

That's $20 billion in taxpayer money, to be spent on a new set of entitlements. Why would any plan not include some means of accountability, some way for taxpayers to know that their money had not been flushed away by unaccountable schools run by unelected businesses?

Mind you, the way we've been doing accountability is terrible. The Big Standardized Tests do not provide anything remotely like a measure of student achievement or school success. But after listening to years of reformy cheerleaders say, "Yeah, you teachers hate BS Tests because you don't want to be held accountable," it seems more than a little ironic that reformsters themselves are now ready to jettison accountability as a leg of school reform. This is not a new position for me-- I've always welcomed accountability as long as it actually gives a true measure of an actual thing that matters. But it does seem like a bit of a shift for them.

Accountability matters. We'll just have to see how completely reformsters will stop caring about it now that they are sitting in the driver's seat as the new status quo.

The Lessons of Fordlandia

This week in the New York Times, Simon Romero took a fascinating visit (with photos) to one of Henry Ford's most monumental failures. It's reminder that billionaires who want to remake the world in their own preferred image are nothing new-- and their failures frequently come back to the same old lessons.

In the 1920s, Fordlandia was going to be Ford's solution to several problems. It would help break the British near-monopoly on rubber production, and it would allow Ford to set up his ideal American town. Even if it was going to be in the Amazonian forests of Brazil. It was a high aspiration, and it was doomed to failure.

Henry "History is bunk" Ford made no attempt to tap the expertise of people who knew about life in the Amazon. He dismissed the expertise of people who knew about how to cultivate and grow rubber trees. He made a series of rookie mistakes when it came to establishing his cash crop.

Ford also seriously overestimated his power to shape the lives of his workers (who were to live in made-in-Michigan bungalows). It was his growing belief that to fix the world, he would have to expand his horizons, creating not just factories, but entire cities and cultures in his image, all managed by an overseer who managed the city like a plant manager would manage a manufacturing floor.

Beyond producing rubber, Ford, an avowed teetotaler, anti-Semite and skeptic of the Jazz Age, clearly wanted life in the jungle to be more transformative. His American managers forbade consumption of alcohol, while promoting gardening, square dancing and readings of the poetry of Emerson and Longfellow.

But his workers just left town and procured alcohol anyway. And his vision of a world where workers knew their proper place and became good, compliant citizens ran into trouble as well.

Just when things appeared to be settling down in Fordlandia, violence broke out again on 20 December 1930. At the workers’ cafe, in which skilled workers were separated from manual labourers, an argument between supervisor Kaj Ostenfeld and Manuel Caetano, a brick mason working at the city, quickly escalated. Workers rallied behind Caetano, vandalising the city, destroying generators, manufacturing equipment, and even their own homes. 

Greg Grandin has written the definitive history of Fordlandia; published in 2010, the book lays out the still-important lessons of what happens when guys get rich and think their money means they can ignore the experts and bend the whole world to their vision

With a surety of purpose and incuriosity about the world that seems all too familiar, Ford deliberately rejected expert advice and set out to turn the Amazon into the Midwest of his imagination,” Mr. Grandin, the historian, wrote in his account of the the town. 

Today Fordlandia is a sparsely populated town, its factories empty, and some of its major buildings, like the hospital, long-since stripped of any valuable pieces. It lives on in a couple of pieces of music, and is sometimes cited as the template for new London in Brave New World. The city was never a success-- not as a rubber producer and not as a social experiment, and all of those failures can be traced straight to Ford's doorstep. Unwilling to heed experts and absolutely certain that he was right to inflict his vision of community on his lessers, Ford sowed the seeds of Fordlandia's collapse from Day One.

One can only hope that copies of the book find their way to men like Bill Gates and Michael Barber and Eli Broad and Betsy DeVos and all the other reformsters who have confused wealth with wisdom and believe they have the right to inflict their uninformed, unelected vision on the education world. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Free Market vs. The Poor

Some people just aren't worth the trouble and expense.

That's the underlying message that comes through repeatedly as GOP legislators across the country line up to cut the foundations out from under public education and the ACA.

Sometimes they're pretty transparent about it. Pat Toomey just compared sick people to burned out houses to make the point that it's just unfair to ask insurers to cover them when they are already, I guess, a lost cause. And in Pennsylvania, the chair of the State Senate Education Committee argued in an interview that we should stop wasting time trying to get minority inner-city kids ready for college and just put them in some vocational training.

But how can this be? I thought the free market approach would liberate everyone, provide students and families with the same choices available to the rich and so unjustly denied them in our current system?

That's the pitch we hear over and over-- the free market will liberate students from failing schools (as well as liberate health care and our pension funds).

It's a lie.

The free market (or, at any rate, the free-ish market we've occasionally enjoyed in this country) has never been about getting top quality products and services in the hands of all citizens. That's because of a simple reason-- the free market does not like poor people.

The free market has never said, "Let's find a way to get the very best product in the hands of every consumer, no matter how much they can pay for it." Instead, the free market is set to reward you with a product commensurate with the amount of money you have to offer. You get what you deserve, and what you deserve is determined by how much money you have to spend.

It is, in fact, the free market that helped us establish the unequal system that we have now. We tied school finance to real estate, and real estate is a free market world-- you get what you can afford (this free market system has occasionally been disrupted by cities that decreed that black folks could only live in certain neighborhoods e.g. Chicago). So we get a system in which poor people in poor people housing get underfunded schools, and rich folks live in rich folks housing near a rich folks school. Rich folks have choices that poor folks don't.

So, how can the free market possibly fix that?

There are two problems: 1) in a free(-ish) market, poor people get fewer choices (or none) because they cannot pay for more, better choices and 2) in a free market system (and most others as well) you cannot take choices away from rich people. I don't mean you shouldn't or it's wrong-- I mean you can't do it.

Consider abortion. If you remember the bad old days before Roe v. Wade, you know one simple thing-- it has always been possible for rich women to get safe, clean abortions. It will always be possible. No amount of law-passing will stop it from happening.

Likewise integration. Busing was going to fix inequity by sending poor kids to rich schools and rich kids to poor schools. But you can't take the choices away from rich families, who just enrolled their kids in private and charter schools. Inequity remained.

The problem remains that poor people cannot, on their own, "buy" rich schools. So the next solution is for the government to buy it for them. But so far, charter-choice systems propose to do that with the same inadequate pot of money that made poor schools so underfunded in the first place. It's like telling someone who was about to buy a used Kia, "I'll give you what you were going to spend on the Kia in a voucher, and send you right over to the Lexus dealer." Turning inadequate funding into a voucher does not make it adequate. Instead, poor folks will get the choices that the businesses choose to give them, the choices that make good business sense, not-a-Lexus sense. In the freemarket, you get the choices you can demand, and poor folks are not equipped to demand much.

No matter how you turn it, free market solutions for education will always result in inequity, with poor folks in poor schools. To give poor folks the "purchasing power" to allow them to go to better-funded, well-supported schools would require us to pump a bunch of money into the system over and above what we're spending now. You can say we're moving away from government schools-- but we're still funding everything with government money. And if we were going to pump a bunch more money into the system, why wouldn't we just use it to pump up the schools we already have? And don't forget-- if you don't make those poor schools appealing enough, rich folks will always have the option to make other choices that your government-sponsored can't match.

The free market reserves its best, most high-quality products for its most attractive, most wealthy customers. Poor folks are the least attractive customers in a free market system. There is absolutely no reason to believe that unleashing the power of the free market would lead to better schools for our poorest, our most vulnerable, our least market-attractive students. And I think on some level the acolytes of free market know that-- as someone who argues by analogy a great deal, I can't help noticing that no free market school fan has ever explained, "Of course it would work. It would be just like [insert business sector here]." There is no sector of the free market in which this trick has worked, because the free market always hates poor folks.

But I don't think leaders in this DeVosian age really care about the outcomes for students in a charter-choice system. It's not that I think they're evil and unconcerned, exactly-- but for this crowd, the free market is a Higher Moral Value in and of itself. When Betsy DeVos remakes Michigan in her preferred image, or praises Florida as a great model for the nation, she isn't concerned about how well students from across the range of backgrounds are being served by the system-- I am coming to believe that she thinks that a free market system that serves poor students poorly is better than a government managed system that erases inequity across the nation and provides each student, no matter what zip code, with a great education (not just "access") to one in their own neighborhood-- I am coming to believe that she feels that implementing the free market has a higher moral value than providing each child with an excellent school, that choice, or the illusion of it, combined with an unfettered opportunity for businesses to compete for tax dollars-- that is more important than actual education.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Barber: Let It All Burn

On Valentine's Day, Sir Michael Barber (the head education honcho at Pearson) took to the74 to offer a rather odd and ultimately confused metaphor for education reform by walking us through the story of St. Paul's Cathedral. It's the test from his speech at the 2016 Global Google Education Symposium. Yikes.

The problem, he asserts, began with the construction of the original St. Paul's, a classic Gothic construction whose spire had been shattered by a lightning strike in the 1560s, a mess that was never repaired. A century later, royal surveyors recommended patch and repair, but fortunately, just a few years later, the Great Fire of London leveled the city, St. Paul's included. Christopher Wren got to build a new cathedral.

Does this historic example of disaster-based opportunity remind you of Katrina-socked New Orleans? Well, it does Barber. And it represents for him a choice that he will repeat throughout the piece--- patch and mend, or transformation?

He proceeds with a litany of ills-- blacks men sent to prison, poor students not admitted to Oxford, Greece's huge levels of youth unemployment, illiterate Ugandan teachers, jobs at risk for automation.

Patch and mend, or transformation?

He's talking now about the education system. And he will now call out the reasons he think transformation isn't happening.

Cost-- it's easy to let short term concerns "override long-term aspirations." Kind of like poor people could save money over time by buying a Tesla with the $80,000 they don't have.

Entrenched status quovians-- Oh, those damn teachers' unions. They advocate for crazy things like smaller classes. Barber also accuses us of advocating for less accountability, which is simply a lie.

Psychological barrier-- This is clever. The many botched ed reforms of the past are not to blame for, you know, failing, but rather their failure has created a psychological resistance. Sort of like your psychological resistance to having your hair permed by a six year old, or your psychological resistance to taking your car back to the mechanic who botched your car repairs the last ten times you gave him a chance.

Barber then presents his chart of "false dichotomies" as part of the psychological barrier problem.

His point here is that we can actually have both/and of each of these.  Some of these are straw men-- has anybody ever said that we have to choose between best practices and innovation? Others are just glossing over some serious questions, like universal standards vs. personalization. And all of them skip over the question of the content of the ideas considered-- it's not a strategy vs. implementation issue if the strategy is junk to begin with and no implementation in the world will de-junkify it

Lack of imagination-- "We cannot build what we cannot imagine" is a facile observation, and not really applicable here. First, Wren's imagination was firmly rooted in a deep and thorough understanding of architecture and building. He did not imagine a cathedral floating on clouds, or with a roof unsupported by functional structure. Second, we're not talking about building a big stone structure; we're talking about an organization grounded in a complex web of human relationships. I can imagine that Angelina Jolie will fall madly in love with me the moment she sees me. I can imagine that I can staff a factory with a thousand obedient, compliant, happy meat widgets who will put loyalty to the corporation ahead of their own concerns. But imagination does not make it so.

But Barber believes that some systems and system leaders have made it happen, including Paul Pastorak and Paul Vallas in New Orleans, which is a bit of a stretch. Tony Blain and Lee Kuan Yew (Singapore) get nods as well. He allows as none is perfect, but all have "dramatically improved student outcomes within three to five years," a claim that is only true insofar as those "leaders" were able to swap out bad test taking students for meat widgets that did better on bubble tests.

Barber is attached to the romantic vision of the Hero CEO, the "courageous leader" who can transform an entire system, using the transformative elements of deliverology,a management consultant cathedral of bunk.

Barber wants to spend the rest of his life transforming the living daylights out of education, comparing that goal to Wren's forty-year work on the Cathedral. He wants to get transforming right away, and the big finish of his speech is a question--

Why do we have to wait for the fire?

So, I guess, step one is to burn it all down now. Disaster capitalism should never have to wait for a disaster to present itself.

But here's the really curious thing about Barber's speech. I have saved the first for last.

Barber opens this speech by introducing St. Paul's Cathedral via the famous WWII photo showing its dome rising above the rubble of a shell-shocked London.

This was the view my mother saw each morning as she crossed Southwark Bridge on her walk to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, where she was training to be a doctor. She found the sight of St. Paul’s rising majestically above the city very inspiring. Millions of Londoners felt the same way. St. Paul’s was still standing. Britain had endured.

So there was never a question about transforming this St. Paul's, never an issue of wanting to destroy it and replace it, in fact a celebration and gratitude that it survived the fire, held on through the disaster, and stayed standing. Barber's mother never encountered someone staring at the dome while waiting for the fire to come and ruin it so that replacement was the only option.

The monument that Barber seeks to honor maintains its status as an important monument precisely because the fire didn't take it, and nobody wanted it to, not even the madman in Europe whose imagination, whose vision was of a London completely destroyed-- even St. Paul's cathedral.

Barber answered his own question before he even asked it. Not all visions are worth pursuing, not all systems are waiting for the fire, and not everyone who wants to watch the world burn deserves the power to bring their imagination to life.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Toomey Doesn't Get It

Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey's office was one that was bombarded with phone calls, faxes, texts, tweets, emails, and messages strapped to the backs of delivery hamsters during the run up to the Betsy DeVos confirmation. At one point he was targeted as one of the GOP senators who might change his mind, which struck me as odd because I've met Toomey and heard him talk about school choice and I don't think he'll be abandoning that drum any time soon. That's okay-- it couldn't have hurt for him (or at least some member of his staff) to hear from actual constituents.

That may be why Toomey (or at least some member of his staff) took the time to write a Betsy DeVos mash note that appeared at PennLive this week. It doesn't make his support of DeVos any more palatable, but it does at least show in brief, painful detail why Toomey is not a supporter of public education.

Toomey opens with what is one of my least favorite pro-charter-choice lines:

No child should be forced to stay in a failing school.

Can anybody, anywhere, find me the person who wants to force a child to stay in a failing school? Nobody anywhere disagrees with this statement. There's considerable disagreement about the definition of a failing school, but let's let that slide for a moment and accept that pretty much everyone believes that there are some schools failing to get the job done. The disagreement starts immediately after that period at the end of this statement.

For modern charter-choice advocates, the next sentence is "That's why we're going to allow maybe five percent of those students to leave that school for some other school that may or may not be any better, and we're going to provide less funding for the school to try to help the remaining 95%."

That is not a solution.

No, the next sentence ought to be, "That's why we're going to marshal the resources, the finances, the support, and the same exercise will that this country brings to other major efforts, to improving that school so that every child within its walls is getting the very best education." The next sentence ought to be about making all schools better for all students.

That's never the next sentence. And it's not the next sentence here, either.

Toomey says that Betsy DeVos wants poor children to have the same kinds of choices that rich and middle class students have, and if you think that means she's a big fan of improved housing in urban areas, well, no. She means something more like her Detroit schools, where students who are forcibly "liberated" from their neighborhood schools are presented with an assortment of upscale schools that will not admit them.

Toomey (or one the members of his staff) works in all the reformy wiggle-words. Thanks to DeVos's hard work and use of her personal fortune, thousands of those poor "trapped" students "have been able to access a quality education." Oh, that word "access." Everyone on the Titanic had "access" to a lifeboat; just not everybody actually got to an actual seat.

"DeVos refuses to give up on any child," says Toomey, which makes me wonder how many children she has actually met. To read Toomey's Hymn to Betsy, you would think that she has been using her billion-dollar personal fortune to pay private school and college tuition for thousands of Michigan children instead of spending millions and millions of dollars to swing elections and earn the well-purchased loyalty of politicians.

Toomey also touts the success of Detroit charters, which are okay schools as long as you don't compare them to schools anywhere else in the country. Detroit public schools are a mess. Detroit charter schools are a mess. Michigan's school system is a mess, one of the failingest in the country. DeVos owns some of that mess, but she has yet to acknowledge it, has actively opposed regulating it, and told the Senate HELP committee that she could not think of any lesson she had learned from any of it.

But Toomey is not interested in exploring any of that because here's what he knows:

School choice works. 

You might expect that such a bold assertion might be followed with evidence. You would be wrong. Toomey follows up with anecdotes. A family that scrimped and saved and sent kids to private schools. And his own story-- the fortunate 8th grader who won a philanthropist's scholarship to a top Catholic school. Toomey and DeVos want a world in which all students can have that good luck, without it being luck. And yet, DeVos's work in Michigan has been all about solidifying the divide between what the rich and the poor can have for an education.

Toomey (or some member of his staff) will continue to run the usual talking points here.

Critics assert that DeVos has no experience in public education, even though she has spent decades aiding charter schools--which are public schools. 

She has spent decades as a high-powered lobbyist, which is "aiding" only if you think the most important part of operating a charter school is the getting money without oversight part. And no, Pat-- charter schools are not public schools.

Or they call Betsy DeVos "unqualified" because she is not proficient in D.C. jargon and does not fit the mold of previous Education Secretaries.

Nope. They call her unqualified because she is unqualified. Even in this piece, Toomey cannot list any qualifications for her other than her concern, her lobbying experience, and her money.

But where have these previous Education Secretaries left us? 

It's true. We've had a string of education secretaries who were also spectacularly unqualified and who did a lousy job. Toomey stops just short of declaring, "So what we need is someone with even fewer qualifications than John King or Arne Duncan!"

What Toomey does want to do is trot out the old "We've been spending more and more money on education and yet our standardized test scores haven't gone up," He's going to go deep twisty spin on this point, by listing points like "Our SAT scores were really low in 2012" or "according to NAEP some big number of students aren't ready for college.' Both of these stats are baloney, the kind of thing you cherry pick when you want to buttress a bad point, not when you're really trying to understand what's going on. (Pro tip: SAT averages depend on who's taking the test, and NAEP scores are highly suspect as predictors of success).

Toomey finishes up by saying that sure there are many swell public schools and they have nothing to fear from choice, and also, the money should follow the child.

"Money should follow the child" is wrong in many ways, but it signals that Toomey, like DeVos, would like to go full voucher. (Pro tip: parents are not the only stakeholders in public education. See also: separation of church and state).

It's also wrong because it signals that Toomey would like to run multiple parallel school systems for the same money we currently spend on one system. That is simply impossible. I'd respect Toomey and other choice advocates a bit more if they just said so-- "We really believe in choice, and to make it work we'll have to raise school taxes, but we think it will really be worth it." Oddly enough, they never say that.

As I mentioned, I met Toomey once at a local meet-and-greet with voters. He seems like a nice guy, was sweet with his kids, and looks far less scowly-librarian than all of his official photos. But he's not a friend of public education, at all. He's also a member of the new "I'd rather not meet my constituents face to face in a real town hall" club, so if you want to explain a few things to him, you'll have to stick with phone calls, faxes, emails, tweets, and the occasional hamstergram. Good luck to all of us in Pennsylvania.

ICYMI: Extra Homework Edition (2/19)

It's a big list this week. As always, remember to share, pass on, and amplify what speaks to you and provide that writer with a wider audience. 

Betsy DeVos Broke the Ed Reform Coalition-- For Now

Daniel Katz with a good historical overview of how we ended up where we are in the ed debates, and what a DeVos ed department means to reformsters.

Stop Learning To Read

From Blue Cereal Education, a reflection on the innate stupidity of certain Lear To Read Or Else policies.

Massachusetts Students Are Increasingly Diverse, but Their Teacher Are Not

Remember when just everyone was concerned about this issue for about five minutes? Here's a reminder from the Boston Globe that it has not gone away, with some actual facts and some acknowledgement that bashing teachers (as the Globe often does) is not helpful.

Detroit Parents Steered To Better Schools That Don't Actually Take Detroit Kids

Detroit continues to be on the forefront of screwing over poor children and their families. Here's how the whole "Once we close your school, you can go to a better one" plan actually works.

They Ruined It

Teacher Tom in Seattle, on the vagueries of playground design.

How I Was Schooled at The NAACP Charter Hearings

Karen Wolfe went to one of the NAACP hearings on charter schools. What she hears, said, and learned there.

DeVos's Stumbles at the Start Are Nothing To Laugh About

Jeff Bryant looks at Betsy DeVos's initial blunders and reminds us that we have no reason to just sit back and laugh

Investigation: Charter school leaders, founders linked to controversial Turkish cleric

This piece looks at New Jersey, but it's a good explanation of how the Turkish-linked Gulen schools, and why they remain one of the very worst abuses of charter school laws in the US

5 Ways Teachers Are Fighting Fake News

There are plenty of these "fake news" stories for classroom teachers, with plenty of minilessons and tips. This is just one.

Online Charter Legislation for This Year

A look at what's up in some states this year as far as regulating the failing cyber charter industry. Plus, a handy chart showing just how much money one of the major players is spending to lobby in state legislatures.

Saturday, February 18, 2017


This work is Romantic because the author used lots of Romantic ideas, and the characters behave in a Romantic way that captures just how very extremely Romantic the work really is. The author has really infused Romanticism into the whole writing in a way that makes in undeniably Romantic.

Welcome to my world. While this is not a direct quote of an actual student essay, it's of a type that English teachers often see. Call it support via assertion, or argument by modifiers (the more adjectives and adverbs you throw in, the more absolutely very clearly definitively true your argument is).

It is one of the few things that the Common Core actually gets right-- if you are going to make a case for a point, you need to provide evidence.

Evidence can take many forms, but it needs to be specific. It needs to be true.

Repetition is not evidence. Here's another archetypical essay paragraph.

Good parents need to be patient, because you need patience to be a good parent. A good parent is able to be patient. If you can't be patient, then you will not be a good parent. Every day, good parents must display patience, because if you are not patient, you cannot be a good parent.

It's hard to say exactly where students pick up the technique of un-supported ideas. Certainly we can reinforce it in school without meaning to. Tests where the student just has to mention a key idea or fact without backing it up help 0push the notion that we just want you to say the right thing. And of course our young humans come with plenty of pre-packaged ideas from home-- it must be true because it's what I learned from my folks, what do you mean I have to back it up with something.

And of course, it is tried and true in our culture that evidence is not really necessary. Yes, I can make the easy point that our current President and his administration are huge on the whole Just Repeat It Till People Believe It approach. Biggest inauguration crowd ever. Huge margin of victory. Millions of illegal voters. Urban hell holes. Just keep saying it and insisting that anyone who contradicts you is a liar, a faker, a Bad Person, even as you offer not one shred of evidence of the truth of what you say.

Yes, I could point at Herr Trump and say, "See! Our President does it. How am I supposed to teach children to do better, to use evidence?" But that would be the low-hanging fruit, and it would treat us all to the soothing notion that Trump somehow emerged out of the ether, full-blown flush with his lies and his fact-free anti-evidence zone.

But that would be going to easy on our culture. It's no coincidence that the Trumpistan flag was first planted on television, where citizens are bombarded with a constant stream of thirty-second playlets built on spin, deception, half-truths, and plain old bullshit. We soak in lies all the time, soak in them so that we can be softened up to be happy consumers of things we don't need that offer magic that doesn't work in order to solve problems that we don't have. We watch longer dramas that tell us lies about how people think, how the world works, what makes human beings click and work and become their best.

Where in our culture would students find examples of the notion that an idea should be grounded in truth, built out of evidence, supported by substance. What do we have in our culture that works that way?

The best I can do is present the practical notion that you have to do some sort of work in order to convince people to agree with you. The idea of pursuing the truth as a value in and of itself is a far bridge indeed. Evidence? That's a hard sell. We can all do better.

Friday, February 17, 2017

PA Senate Ed Chair Wants To Trash Education

John Eichelberger has been a Pennsylvania state senator for over a decade, and during those years, he has been no friend to public schools or the teachers who work in them.

Seriously-- this is District 30.

Eichelberger is a Republican upstart who was swept into office on the wave of voter anger over the infamous late-night pay raise of 2005. He was supported by an assortment of conservatives including Pat Toomey. He had previously worked in the insurance biz and as a Blair County Commissioner.He represents Pennsylvania Senate District 30, just one of the many completely gerrymandered districts in Pennsylvania.

In 2011, when Betsy and Richard DeVos were looking to finance a push for vouchers in Pennsylvania, Eichelberger was just the man to take point. Taking point included pushing the narrative that Pennsylvania's schools were a terrible, failing mess. (It's also worth noting that the DeVos push for vouchers included allies who were explicitly in favor of shutting down "government schools" entirely.)

When it comes to the pension problems of Pennsylvania, Eichelberger has argued for fixed contribution pensions-- you get a fixed amount of money chipped in and go play the market with your retirement fund. Good luck to you.

And most recently, Eichelberger has surfaced as the sponsor of the SB 229, a bill recycled from previous sessions and aimed at making sick days a locally-negotiated part of teacher contracts. In other words, putting them on the table as one more thing that can be stripped from a contract. He's also the legislator behind SB 166, the bill that would end paycheck deductions for paying union dues. Is he one of those backseat grandstanding hacks whose bills have no chance of success. Well, no. He's the chairman of the Education Committee.

Some pretty feisty language has been thrown around in response to Eichelberger's bill. Are we perhaps misjudging Eichelberger? Is he actually a friend of education who means well? Does he sincerely think he's looking out for teachers' and students' best interests?

Well, no, it doesn't look like it.

Yesterday Zack Hoopes at The Sentinel reported on a town hall meeting in which Eichelberger made it clear that he would like to stick it to teachers, with fire and barbecue sauce.

This guy. This frickin' guy.

One critic noted that the sick day policy seemed like a tax on employees, not something that would actually help students. Eichelberger doesn't much care. He wants to penalize teachers and union members because they're taking advantage of the system.

So what about that payroll deduction bill? Did Eichelberger have any elegant explanation of why that bill was necessary? Not according to Hoopes.

In response to a question, Eichelberger described SB 166 as “a lead-in to Right to Work,” meaning legislation mandating that employees be allowed to opt out of union membership while still receiving union benefits, obviating the existence of unions themselves.

And when discussing the sick leave bill, Eichelberger at first stuck to the script. School boards asked for this. It gives them more flexibility in negotiating (aka one more thing they can use to leverage giving teachers less and less). But later in the evening, he described the purpose a little more honestly.

But later in Monday’s meeting, Eichelberger indicated that his interest was not in easier bargaining, but in taking away benefits he didn’t feel teachers deserved.

“We’re talking about sick days for people who only work 8½ months. It’s ridiculous,” Eichelberger said, a comment that received an audible, collective groan from audience members.

Yes, if teachers really cared about their work, they would schedule illnesses for themselves and their families during the summer. Because what every parent wants is for their child to be greeted by a coughing, sneezing, germ-laden teacher who can't take the day off.

Eichelberger also revealed that he would like to look at getting rid of some state universities, with Clarion and Cheney likely targets for "the chopping block." Why does he think they are unnecessary? Because now we have lots of community colleges, and those should be good enough. Besides, enrollments down. When asked if he saw any correlation between lowered enrollment, slashed state support for the university system, and increased tuition to make up the difference, he said no, that didn't look like a meaningful connection to him.

Oh, but it gets even better,

Eichelberger also took the occasion to complain about "inner city" education programs that were trying to get minority students into colleges where they just failed anyway, so let's just put them in a nice vocational program instead and be done with it. Yes, that's right. In 2017 an elected state senator is suggesting that there's no point in trying to get black and brown kids to succeed in college, because you know how Those People are.

Like all good reformsters, Eichelberger also wants to effectively destroy tenure and allow school districts to get rid of teachers for purely economic reasons. You know, when schools don't have the revenue any more, just shut them down because it's "a sound business decision." One audience member disagreed:

The mentality is that we need to save money regardless of student demand. It seems like you’re just coming up with new reasons for districts to eliminate positions without taking students into account.

It surely did. And he wasn't done. He also wanted to stump for the new bill ending property tax in Pennsylvania, shifting the burden of school finances from property owners, including and especially business owners, to consumers. Rich folks get a tax break, corporations get a huge tax break, and poor folks get hammered. Seems perfectly fair, and like it will work really, really well and not, say, leave school districts with collapsing financial support.

Did I mention that this guy is now the chair of the senate Education Committee? Start calling your representatives-- the fight for education in Pennsylvania is only going to get worse.

PA: How Much Does Your District Pay in Charter Costs

An extremely handy spread sheet has been circulating lately, and if nothing else, I want to put a link here so that I can more easily find it. If you're in Pennsylvania, you'll want to look at this, too.

Yes, 502 districts is a lot.

The document covers every school year from 2009-2010 through 2014-2015 for every single one of our 502 pubic school districts (yes, that is a high number, but that's another conversation).  It shows how much money left the district to go to charters, broken down by nonspecial education students and special education students (the pay rate is different). I recommend that you browse on your own, but let me hit just a couple of points.

First of all, a bunch of my civilian friends looked at this and said, "How can our district be paying that much in charter costs when we don't have any charter schools here?" The answer is that all Pennsylvania students have access to cyber-charters. Not everybody gets that a cyber school is just another kind of charter-- a highly profitable one in Pennsylvania, where the pay rate for the charter has noting to do with the actual charter costs. Put another way, your district pays the same to send a child to a bricks-and-mortar charter with a real building and heat and light and live teachers in classrooms as it spends to send a child to a cyber school with a computer, an internet hookup, and remote teachers who handle hundreds of students at once.

You can use the data to see how PA charter costs have mushroomed. In 2009-2010, the total charter tuition bill was $805,621,738.88 (I'm dying to know what the 88 cents bought). But five years later, state school districts were shelling out a grand total of $1,486,434,770.88. The 88 cents, at least, hadn't budged.

Where you find districts in financial trouble, you find huge charter payments. This is a sort of chicken-egg death spiral. A district is financially strapped, so charters move in and students move out, taking a bunch of money with them, so that the district is even more strapped and has to cut more services and programs, which makes more students want to leave, which creates more financial strain. I know this contradicts the fairy tale that districts facing charter competition would pull up their bootstraps and get better better better, but it turns out that even bootstraps cost money.

So there's Erie City Schools, a school district so strapped that they seriously considered closing all their high schools, forking over $20 million to charters. Allentown is losing $26 million. And York School District, threatened with complete takeover, lost $22 million. And nobody beats Philadelphia, where the school district handed over $715 million dollars to charter operators.

Meanwhile, well-heeled districts like Mount Lebanon were only losing $381,424.77 to charter operators.

There's a lot of useful local data to be dug out of this spreadsheet built out of PA Department of Education data. Use it to enliven the conversation with people who don't understand the fuss about charters, or those other people who are certain that the local district is in financial trouble because the money's being wasted by administration.

And if you're wondering what keeps all this money flowing, check out this piece about charter lobbying at EdWeek, noting specifically this chart. Hooray, Pennsylvania! We're number one!!: