Thursday, November 30, 2017

Keeping Up Appearances

Sometimes in this country we are far less concerned with actually doing a thing than we are with looking as if we're doing a thing.

Airport security is a prominent example. Year after year, security experts remind us that airport security sucks, that it is just an elaborate piece of theater. It doesn't actually make us safer, but it puts on a show. It certainly looks like we're making the skies safer-- unless, of course, you understand what you're looking at.

The Keeping Up Appearances approach is handy when really getting serious about a problem would be difficult and expensive. KUA is all about going through some motions that will reassure folks without actually having to expend the work and money it would take to really deal with an issue.

Ed Reform has been a great example of the Keeping Up Appearances approach. At every critical juncture, when we could be asking "How can we best deal with this issue," policy leaders, bureaucrats, and politicians have instead asked "How can we look as if we're dealing with this issue?"

Coming up with national education standards would be a huge and difficult undertaking, requiring a lot of eyes and ears and tons of brainpower, as well as collecting and sifting through a mountain of research that exists and creating another mountain of research that doesn't exist. And that's before we even get to creating a structure by which a robust, resilient and constantly-revising set of standards can be kept up-to-date while responding to ongoing  feedback.

But, hey-- that would be hard, and expensive. So let's just have a few self-appointed, high-self-esteem guys throw something together on the fly. We'll call in some political favors, get some rich backers, and push the Common Core out there. They aren't real national educational standards, but they make it look like we've got them. Close enough.

It's also really hard to tell exactly how well students are doing, or how effective schools and teachers are. It would require several more mountains of research into what real success looks like both in the short and long run, and that in turn would lead us to new, complex and creative measures of those most important factors that we have identified. It would take a whole organization just to collect, analyze, and interpret the data. It would be super-hard and hella expensive.

So instead, let's just make every kid take a standardized test. It won't really measure anything worth measuring, but it sure looks as if we're gathering honest-to-goodness data about student achievement and teacher effectiveness. Close enough.

Even school choice. I mean, we could set up a full, robust network of schools in a community, with each school offering different strengths and programs. We'd have to allow for extensive training and research into effective approaches, and the real expense would be staggering, with multiple facilities instead of one, and a surplus of seats. With students spread over several different entities, the oversight requirements just to keep students from falling through the cracks, let alone making sure that the various choice schools are delivering on their promises-- well, that would be a fairly huge extra department as well. The entire system could be impressive and exciting, but it would involve the costs of running several schools where we used to only fund one-- the taxpayer bill would be enormous, but if people were really serious about choice and variety and a superior education for every single child in America, political leaders would be able to lead a call for much higher taxes to make this dream real.

Or, we could just let anybody open any old kind of charter school, provide zero oversight, and let everyone fight over funding that is a fraction of what's needed. And just scrap that whole "make sure every child gets an outstanding education (and not just an opportunity)" business. Close enough.

High quality full education? Eh, just get some reading and math in there. In fact, just stick to the stuff that employers ask for. Attacking the problems of poverty? Just make some noises about how education will fix everything, somehow. Systemic racism? Just, you know, act real concerned occasionally. Trying to fix the teacher "shortage"? Have a committee issue some findings.

We could list dozens of ways in which policy leaders, politicians, and bureaucrats try to half-ass their way to looking as if they are addressing an issue in education. If you have been in the classroom for more than five years, you already have a list of all the times our "leaders" announced their latest plan to "fix" something about schools by way of some not-really-serious program whose real objective is to keep up appearances, to look as if we are actually working on the issues. The people really working on solutions-- those are the ones standing by the "leaders'" elbows saying, "Well, you know, that part where I get to make a bunch of money pretending to address this issue-- I like that part. Keep that part."

Meanwhile, teachers are in actual classrooms addressing actual issues with actual students, where authentic solutions are required. I can't help a student by trying to look as if I care about him. I can't teach a unit by trying to look as if we're studying it while I try to look as if I know what I'm talking about. I won't come up with evaluations for the students by looking as if I went over their work.

This lack of seriousness has always been a feature of public education. If it seems worse right now, that is perhaps because the White House is occupied by a guy who's mostly trying to look as if he's a President, surrounding himself with people who look as if they would be good for their jobs. Education has always been plagued by half-assed smoke and mirrors; now it's just a national problem for all sectors as well.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Killing Higher Ed

I will say this for the current GOP regime-- where there have been few features that can distinguish their ed policies of their Democratic predecessors, they are managing to find and underline one. Obama-Duncan-et. al paid lip service to the goal of a college education and made the college entry rate one of the centerpieces of their programs.

But the GOP is making itself equally clear that college sucks, that it is an institution that they neither respect nor love. Some data suggests this attitude is a recent development, though as with many ugly attitudes abroad these days, it could be that the anti-college feelings have always been there, but now feel a new-found freedom to tromp around in the light of day.

But the anti-college crowd is not just tromping around-- they have begun tromping on the institution itself, with policies designed to kill higher education as we know it.

Today's Wall Street Journal covers the House GOP's higher education package (I know-- paywall-- but if we use WSJ coverage, we can be assured that no liberal bias is tainting the report).

The proposal ordinarily would face a long year of hearings and revisions, but these days, God only knows. But we need to pay attention, because the bill is ugly. Ugly.

This, it should be noted, is over and above the assault on college that is folded into the tax "plan."  That collection of baloney takes away interest deductions for student loans, obliterates a tax credit, and counts graduate school tuition waivers as income (which will mean that people with actual incomes of around $15K will end up paying taxes on "incomes" of around $50K). All of these will make college more expensive.

The proposed bill is called The Promoting Real Opportunity, Success and Prosperity Through Education Reform Act (PROSPER), and it will also put higher education out of the reach of many students. However it does more than that-- it also changes the fundamental nature of higher education into something that really isn't higher education at all.

Student loans would be capped, so that students and their families would be limited in the amount of money they can borrow. So for many students, that would be enough for a "game over." The bill also rolls back loan forgiveness for those who spend a decade in the public sector, and loan repayments would no longer be adjusted to fit income levels. Working at a minimum wage job while trying to make your $600/month loan payments? Sucks to be you, college grad.

These changes favor people who are trying to use college as a profit center and students as their cash cows, so it fits that the bill also is a big fat wet kiss to for-profit colleges. The Obama administration had started to crack down on these predators (though they were none too quick about it). While Betsy DeVos's USED has been rolling back those rules, this bill goes a step further and prohibits USEDs of the future from implementing "gainful employment" rules. Those were the rules that said if you were advertising your predatory college by promising jobs and nobody who graduated from your predatory college was actually getting jobs, the feds were going to stop handing you money. Various other rules will also be scrapped, like rules against giving student recruiters incentive pay for every sucker they managed to con into attending these predatory schools.  The reasoning seems to be that a bunch of rules unfairly affect for-profit schools, when the for-profits ought to get the same breaks as everyone else, because how are those folks supposed to rake in the money if they have to follow rules and stuff.

The help for the for-profits underlines the change in the very purpose of higher education under the bill. Here's education opponent Virginia Foxx:

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R., N.C.), chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce which drafted the proposal, lamented that so much of higher education was considered “irrelevant” by employers. She hopes to better harness technology by pushing accreditors to lean on schools to accept more creative alternatives to higher education.

Or as the WSJ itself puts it:

The act focuses on ensuring students don’t just enroll in school, but actually graduate with skills that the labor market is seeking.

That's it. The purpose of colleges and universities is to provide companies with the trained meat widgets they require to make money. Anything else you thought was an important part of higher education-- inquiry, study, growth, expanding the horizon of human understanding-- that stuff is all crap. The only measure of "education" that matters is "does somebody want to pay you money to do that."

And since "higher education" is to be redefined as "place to fulfill more advanced employer desires," well, we don't really need those four-year ivy covered hotbeds of liberal quackery at all, do we? Here's Betsy DeVos just two days ago:

Students should be able to pursue their education where, when and how it works for them and their schedules. Financial aid should not be withheld simply because they pursue a nontraditional path. Politicians and bureaucrats should not dictate to students when and how they can learn.

In other words, when it comes to getting a piece of that sweet federal student aid money, why should actual colleges and universities have all the fun. Apprenticeships, for example, ought to count.

There's more. Community colleges will get money to form corporate partnerships (send your child to Exxon Training College) and minority-serving colleges will get tighter accountability rules (because, you know, Those People). And everyone has to prove that they support the freedom of right-wing speakers to appear on campus (because snowflakes).

And because we love the Law of Unintended Consequences, one last point from Foxx:

Under the committee’s proposal, if an institution’s program or repayment system doesn’t set up a student for success, then it cannot be eligible for student aid.

This has one clear consequence-- if colleges want to get paid, they must make sure not to accept any students with less than great prospects. It's just like charters! If you take a potential failure into your school, she'll cost you money-- so screen carefully.

While much of this is a continuation of Obama-Duncan (let the private sector in! judge education based on employability!) the GOP is bringing a heightened level of enthusiasm to this tromping of education.

You begin to see why this is the PROSPER act-- it is designed to help vendors of training services (including for profit predatory colleges) and future employers prosper. Of course, rich families will continue to send their children for an actual higher education, but for the rest of the Lessers-- well, what they really need is training that will help them become useful tools for their future corporate masters.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Experience, Expertise, Ed Reform and Existential Dread

Kathleen Porter-Magee offered up an interesting piece at Fordham's Flypaper blog last week, but before we even get into the article itself, let's look at the quote she used to open it, because I would like that quote on a t-shirt, or large poster:

“An expert is someone who knows some of the worst mistakes that can be made in his subject, and how to avoid them.” 
—Werner Heisenberg

Hmm. Does this seem like an insight that could have been applied to the world of education reform over the past few decades of policies imposed by non-teacher policy mavens who ignored the advice and insight and expertise of teachers (and then, years later, announced the very problems teachers had warned them about in tones usually reserved for the discovery of fire)? 

Is that where this article is going? Is this going to be a reformy acknowledgement that, "Yeah, we should have involved teachers and listened to what they had to say about education before we started trying to remake the whole institution?" Spoiler alert-- no.

So what is it about?

Porter-Magee starts out with a tale of starting out teaching science at a parochial school, where she was given a room and a closet full of books and told, "Have at it." This, she observes, was probably not the best way to get her started in the classroom. 

Porter-Magee, we should note, is a fellow at the ever-reformy Fordham, and the superintendent of the Partnership for Inner City Education, a sort of charter-style management organization that runs some Catholic schools in New York City. (At least one former employee is not a fan, but that's a small sample). She has also worked for the Archdiocese of DC, the College Board, and Achievement First.

She refers us to Tom Nichols's new book, The Death of Expertise, from which she pulls this quote:

[W]e cannot function without acknowledging the limits of our knowledge and trusting the expertise of others. We sometimes resist this conclusion because it undermines our sense of independence and autonomy. We want to believe we are capable of making all kinds of decisions, and we chafe at the person who corrects us or tells us we’re wrong.

So here's where we're going. In Porter-Magee's model, "proven" curriculum is the expertise, and teachers are the ones who need to learn trust. Some more quotes from her article:

We valorize teacher “freedom” and “creativity” over things like proven curricula, which are too frequently perceived as a constraint on teacher autonomy.

In education we have been conditioned to believe that mandating curriculum is akin to micromanaging an artist. That’s not only wrong, it’s dangerous.

So, teachers should suck it up and defer to curriculum that is research based and proven effective.

On the one hand, she absolutely has a point. Having good materials is half of the battle in a classroom, and it gives me an absolute pain in the gut to see some teacher do a quick google search and download their materials from God-knows-where. I have also had the experience of teaching with a bad textbook, and it is far easier to just park such a text in the closet and build all your materials yourself.

On the other hand, there are some real issues with her point.

First, who decides and selects the "effective" materials. She seems to be suggesting that such selections be made by someone other than the classroom teacher, perhaps based on some hard and fast criteria. But "effective" these days too often means "research links it to higher test scores" and that's a problem because A) test scores are a lousy measure of effective education and B) test scores only exist for reading and math.

She's distressed at a RAND study that shows teachers getting materials from Google and Pinterest. But both, as well as the various teacher-to-teacher sites, are excellent places to find materials that are tested, proven and endorsed by other teachers who use them. Porter-Magee stops just sort of saying so, but she seems to be from the camp that believes that teachers lack the expertise to make curriculum and materials choices. I can't dismiss that out of hand-- it has become a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy as more ed schools concentrate on training proto-teachers to align to the standards and teach to the test. But for the most part, I believe she's wrong. I am the number one expert on teaching my subject in my classroom. Nobody else knows the content, the students, and my own strengths and weaknesses, as well as how all those things intersect and interplay-- nobody knows that better than I do. Does that mean I ignore other experts and fail to consult other sources of expertise? Of course not-- that's part of how I got to be an expert in the first place.

Freeing me up from curriculum decisions-- don't do me any favors. Like every other teacher on the planet, I will rewrite whatever curriculum you hand me on the fly in the classroom every day as my professional expertise sees fit. The ongoing attempts to teacher-proof classrooms, to create a seamless system in which it doesn't really matter which teacher you get-- these do far more harm than good.  Framing them as concern trolling ("We just want to save you from having to do all this hard work") do not make them any more helpful.

Porter-Magee says, "We owe it to our teachers to give them the tools they need to succeed" and I don't disagree. But among those tools we will find teacher autonomy and the freedom to use our expert judgment in our classrooms. Porter-Magee has here once again repeated the classic reformer mistake, even as she seemed to understand it-- she has assumed that the experts on education are to be found somewhere other than standing in a classroom. 

We are educational experts. Not the only ones, not infallible ones. But any system that ignores our level of expertise is making a mistake that experts should know enough to avoid.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Don't Be Batman

Well, here's a piece of research you might not have expected.

The sexy headline reductive title is the Batman Effect (published almost a year ago), but the idea being tested here was a little broader than "Always Be Batman." From the abstract:

This study investigated the benefits of self-distancing (i.e., taking an outsider's view of one's own situation) on young children's perseverance. Four- and 6-year-old children (N = 180) were asked to complete a repetitive task for 10 min while having the option to take breaks by playing an extremely attractive video game. Six-year-olds persevered longer than 4-year-olds. Nonetheless, across both ages, children who impersonated an exemplar other—in this case a character, such as Batman—spent the most time working, followed by children who took a third-person perspective on the self, or finally, a first-person perspective.

While I generally support the idea of Being Batman, there are some hugely troubling implications of this study (and I'm not even counting that Queen of Grit Angela Duckworth is one of the co-authors). One problem is captured by this review of the study at Big Think:

With the onset of early childhood and attending preschool, increased demands are placed on the self-regulatory skills of kids.  

This underlines the problem we see with more and more or what passes for early childhood education these days-- we're not worried about whether the school is ready to appropriately handle the students, but instead are busy trying to beat three-, four- and five-year-olds into developmentally inappropriate states to get them "ready" for their early years of education. It is precisely and absolutely backwards. I can't say this hard enough-- if early childhood programs are requiring "increased demands" on the self-regulatory skills of kids, it is the programs that are wrong, not the kids. Full stop. 

What this study offers is a solution that is more damning than the "problem" that it addresses. If a four-year-old child has to disassociate, to pretend that she is someone else, in order to cope with the demands of your program, your program needs to stop, today. 

Because you know where else you hear this kind of behavior described? In accounts of victims of intense, repeated trauma. In victims of torture who talk about dealing by just pretending they aren't even there, that someone else is occupying their body while they float away from the horror. 

That should not be a description of How To Cope With Preschool. 

Nor should the primary lesson of early childhood education be, "You can't really cut it as yourself. You'll need to be somebody else to get ahead in life." I cannot even begin to wrap my head around what a destructive message that is for a small child. 

The researchers minimize this effect as just role play. The kids, they say, simply imitated someone they thought had the qualities needed to deal with the task. And hey-- role play is fun. But it's appropriate that Duckworth is in this pack, because we are just talking about other ways to grow grit:

Perseverance can pave the pathway to success. The current research suggests that perseverance can be taught through role play, a skill that is accessible to even very young children.

No.  I mean, I'm not a psychologist, nor do I play one on tv, but I have to believe that the root of grit or perseverance is the certainty that whatever happens, you'll deal with it. When my high school students are anxious or afraid, it's because when they imagine what's coming, they don't imagine themselves being enough to deal with it. I can't imagine ever telling them, "Well, you probably aren't, but maybe you can pretend to be somebody else." Because the "you probably aren't" part drowns out everything else. The most useful message for them is "You can handle this. You will be okay."

With my high schoolers, we're talking about challenging schoolwork, but we're also talking about real-life challenges that the world has put in their way. In Preschool, it's different.

Let's be clear what the study is suggesting as a process for four year old tiny humans:

1) Set standards and goals that the students are not equipped to meet.

2) Tell the students that they arn't able to handle the challenge, so they'd better pretend to be someone else.

I am thinking the solution to all the problems here lies in Step 1. Let's give small children tasks to perform that are developmentally appropriate. Let's set them up for success, and not for failure. Then when they someday discover on their own that you should, in fact, always be Batman, it will be so that they can have some fun with their friends, and not so that they can survive in school.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Horace Mann and Selfishness

My parents still bring us things when they come back from vacation, and on their last trip, my mother found me a copy of Thoughts Selected from the Writing of Horace MannThe book is copyrighted 1867 by his then-widow Mary, and it's an interesting read. I'm not going to pretend that the Massachusetts Whig got everything right in creating a progressive (for the time) secular public universal education system, but he certainly put more that into it than some folks almost 200 years later.

Here's the very first excerpt in the book:

If ever there was a cause, if ever there can be a cause, worthy to be upheld by all of toil and sacrifice that the human heart can endure, it is the cause of Education. It has intrinsic and indestructible merits. It holds the welfare of mankind in its embrace, as the protecting arms of a mother hold her infant to her bosom. The very ignorance and selfishness which obstruct its path are the strongest arguments for its promotion, for it furnishes the only adequate means for their removal. It is worthy, therefore, to be urged forward over the dead obstacles of listlessness and apathy, and against the living hostility of those sordid men who oppose its advancement for no higher reason than that of the silversmiths who trafficked in the shrines of the goddess Diana, and who would have quenched the holy light of Christianity for all mankind  rather than forgo their profits upon idol worship.
Let's skip past the 19th century male-centric and Christian-centric language for a moment. There are a couple of insights here that I find noteworthy.

Seeing ignorance as an obstacle to education is pretty obvious; seeing selfishness as an equal-billing obstacle is not. Certainly simple selfishness on the order of "I want schools to produce more workers for my business so I can make more money" has become an obstacle for education. But an unwillingness to see any point of view beyond the ones we already have, the kind of selfishness that says the universe must fit itself to our conception-- that is selfishness of a high order, and an absolute barrier to learning anything. But education can also open us up to understanding that there are other people in the world, and their understanding and experience is often different from our own. I often describe education with the phrase "learning what it means to be fully human in the world," and that, to me, means understanding there is a depth and breadth and complexity to humanity greater than what is contained within our own skin.

And of course in our century we still confront those "sordid men" who obstruct the path of education because they are intent on profiteering instead. And while I might not have laid on the "living hostility" of these persons, it is true that many of them seem awfully angry about teachers unions, money spent, rules that get in the way of commerce, and just generally the whole business of public education. So maybe the hostility shoe fits.

Mann may not have had a perfect crystal ball, but reading him reminds me that many of our current issues are not new ones. It also reminds me that it's nice to read the words of someone from any century who takes public education seriously and doesn't want to reduce it to something narrow and meager like test prep or college-and-career-ready training. Which is a little selfish of me, but I can live with that.

ICYMI: Leftovers Edition (11/26)

It's a shortish list this week, but then you're probably napping more this weekend. 

Software Is a Long Con

"Computer systems are poorly built, badly maintained, and often locked in a maze of vendor contracts and outdated spaghetti code that amounts to a death spiral. This is true of nothing else we buy."

Not specifically about education, but given the heavy attempt to turn education into a software product, boy is this about education.

Indiana Survey Issues

Indiana was the scene of a big study about how parents choose in a "robust" choice environment. Now here comes the National Education Policy Center to explain how chock-full of holes the Indiana study is.

A Rule That Stands Above the Golden One

Teacher Tom provides yet another useful lesson form the littles.

New Standards, Old Thinking

Enjoy the work of Charles Sampson, a New Jersey superintendent who is not afraid to call baloney by its name.

How To Get Your Mind To Read

Why content knowledge matters (and so, why the "reading is just a skill" approach of ed reform is wrong).

A Google, A Plan, A Canal

Business is a bad metaphor for education, and the failure of that brand of ed reform is reminiscent of the problems of building the Erie Canal (I love a good historical parallel). This piece comes with a challenge-- what is the correct metaphor for education?

Faking the Grade

The most brutal take-down yet of the imaginary reformy "success" of New Orleans. When some starts yammering how great things went in NOLA, send them straight to this piece. Caveat: it uses test scores in part to prove its point, and I'm no fan of using test scores to prove anything-- but they are the game that reformsters said they would win.

Friday, November 24, 2017

CCSSO Has Some Thoughts on Teacher Pipeline

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the same fine group of state-level ed bosses that brought us all the Common Core State [sic] Standards, have noticed that the teacher pipeline is looking a little busticated, and helpful folks that they are, they are offering six swell ideas about how to get that pipeline buzzing again. What could they be/ And are they as awesome as that CCSsS idea?

Let's take a look.

1) Elevate the Teacher Profession.

Hmm. This seems a bit ironic from the folks who brought us a whole standards system premised on the idea that teachers in this country don't know what the hell they're doing, so someone had better lay out standards for them. Oh, and to write the standards, let's hire a bunch of people who aren't teachers. The Common Core remains Exhibit A in how to use political policy to devalue the teaching profession.

Ah-- but we can cancel the irony alert, because CCSSO isn't actually proposing that we elevate the teaching profession at all:

State chiefs can change this narrative by making it a priority to share positive examples of the teaching profession, including through social media channels and public speaking engagements. In addition, states can conduct marketing and communications campaigns, highlighting how the state is creating new roles for teachers and innovative methods of teaching, such as personalized learning, 
blended learning or career education.

In other words, don't actually elevate the teaching profession-- just start cranking out more effective PR releases.

2) Make Teaching a Financially Appealing Career

Teaching is rewarding and all, but having to take a second job to feed your family is a huge pain. "States and local school districts can take action to alleviate financial pressures on teachers." This is not a bad thought. I'm just wondering-- you guys are all chief school officers in your home states, so I'm wondering how hard you're working on this one with your own legislators.

3) Expand Pathways To Enter Teaching

Dammit, guys-- you forgot Strategy 1 already. Only three strategies are mentioned here-- recruit students and aids, recruit ex-military, and make licenses good across state lines. They don't mention the states where Any Warm Body laws are in effect. But if you treat teaching as a job just anybody can do, that deprofessionalizes and devalues the profession and utimately makes it far less appealing to people who would be good at it. Of course, if your goal is to do for teaching what fast food did for cheffing, then this is all perfect.

4) Bring More Diversity to the Teaching Workforce

Absolutely a valuable goal, though many studies suggest that the retention problem is greater than the recruitment problem. The suggestions here aren't terrible, but they don't seem to include ideas like "talk to actual teachers of color." There are plenty of teachers of color out there talking about the issues, but the education establishment seems to want to focus on any solution other than, "deal with issues of systemic racism within the school system and the teacher pipeline."

Bring more diversity is a great goal, but like "raise all student test scores" or "make my wardrobe better looking," it's meaningless until you start talking details.

5) Set Reasonable Expectations for Retaining Teachers

One in five Americans born between 1980 and 1996—“the Millennial generation”—said in a Gallup survey that they had quit their jobs in the past year to do something else. That rate was three times higher than for other generations. Millennials are also much more likely to say that opportunities to learn, grow and advance on the job are important to them. Given these trends, states are assessing how long they can reasonably expect teachers to stay in the classroom and are rethinking policies to align with the career expectations of today’s workforce.

Or, in shorter terms, give up.

I don't know how accurate this information is-- there are plenty of millennials in my family and this doesn't sound like any of them. Or rather, many of them quit their jobs because their jobs sucked-- low pay, low autonomy, low respect, low support. The picture of millennials as flighty job-hopping wanderers feels, frankly, like an excuse that the older generation tells itself to excuse the shitty condition in which it has left the working world for the younger generation.

The rest of this is just some combination of wishful thinking and lying. Yes, there are lots of folks who are trying to fix it so that McTeachers come and go quickly, leaving before they require raises or pensions-- in other words, turn teaching into the same kind crappy job that millennials are unhappy about in other sectors. But folks who are into the profiteering side of the ed biz would like very much to cut their labor costs, to replace skilled lifelong professionals with churn-and-burn low-skill low-cost workers. Saying, "Well, that's just how those darn millennials want it to be" is disingenuous at best and weaselly at worst.

6) Use Data To Target Strategies Where Shortages Exist

Teacher shortages can be statewide, or more often, they are specific to particular districts, regions, subject areas or grade levels. States must analyze data to determine where the need is most critical, examining subjects and grades taught, expertise with specific student populations such as special education and English learners, and geographic regions.

Seriously? You mean that schools were currently using ouija boards and casting runes?  Or just guessing blindly and assuming that teachers are interchangeable widgets? Okay, now that I type it, that second one does seem possible. So sure-- "use less stupid ways to identify your problem" is good advice on any day.

This whole things is an odd exercise to begin with. It is presented as "advice to the states" but CCSSO is composed of all the top education people in each state, so why exactly is that conversation, which they could have amongst themselves, being expanded to include all the people who aren't chief education officers of states?

It doesn't really matter. As pipeline-fixing advice, this is exceptionally uninspiring. Perhaps we all need to look at how to repair the pipeline advice pipeline.

Thursday, November 23, 2017


Thanksgiving is a problematic holiday, like virtually all holidays aimed at celebrating versions of our nation's history. But it is also centered on the subject of gratitude, and for that reason, I honor the holiday every year. Because gratitude is hugely important.

Whether it's a busy moment with family

Or a quiet moment with family

We Americans are not great at gratitude. When we do attempt it, it comes out as some stranger version of "I'm grateful that I deserve all the good things in my life" or "I'm grateful that I'm just naturally better than everyone else." When Barack Obama suggested that successful people owed a debt to all the other folks that helped make that success possible, you would have thought he had suggested that successful people ate puppies in Satanic rituals.

My life is good. Really good. But my parents, my genetic gifts, my emergence from the womb in this particular place and time, the government that has kept my country of residence relatively stable, the diseases that I have never contracted, the catastrophic accidents that never happened to me, the consequences I haven't suffered for my more awful life choices-- I'm not responsible for any of that. I can't take credit for any of it. In fact, all of that represents a debt I owe the universe or God or fate or whatever Larger Power you prefer. Sure, I placed some good bets with the chips I was given, but that initial stake didn't come from me.

The only rational response to that is gratitude.

And that's important, because an absence of gratitude leads to a hardness of heart.

If I look at whatever success I have and declare, "I earned all of this. I am a success because I deserve to be a success," my sense of entitlement must lead me to condemn people who struggle for success. "If they're poor," I can confidently 'splain, "it's because they made bad choices, or are bad people. They deserve what they've gotten, and if they want something better, it's on them to make better choices. And none of that is my problem." This foolish self-importance is what leads people to say, "I shouldn't have to buy insurance because I am a righteous person who makes good choices and will never need insurance. People who need insurance are bad people-- why should I pay for their bad choices?"

The absence of gratitude flows from a false sense of indestructible rightness. I have it all figured out, therefor nothing bad will ever happen to me. This is the reasoning of a child, and not a very smart child at that, and lots of people have been taught a hard lesson in the school of life. Others, when something bad does happen to them, learn nothing, but blame it on the universe, or on a bunch of damned liberals in the gummint who have upended nature's law by mandating rewards for people who should be reaping punishment for their awful choices.

This hardened lack of gratitude is as old as the Pharisees saying, "I thank God I am not like [aka "better"] other men." And it remains toxic.

You can't have gratitude without humility. Sure, you can feel pride in good work done well, and you should. But doing good work is part of our responsibility. Humility is not self-flagellation, declaring we are but unworthy worms. If you've been given a gift, you have a responsibility to take good care of it, to use it well and to the benefit of others, who may well be just as deserving as you are, but for whatever reason didn't receive the same gifts-- or are supposed to receive those gifts via you.

Lack of gratitude ends in selfishness-- this is mine, I earned it, I don't owe anyone anything, and so I can use it for my own childish, selfish purposes, even destroying it in the process.

The sense of gratitude and obligation applies to gifts we didn't ask for and may have never wanted. It also and especially applies to gifts that have come down to us through less than honorable means.

So I'd argue that Thanksgiving may be one of the most important holidays we celebrate as a nation-- or would be, if we celebrated properly.

It has been a great day for me, celebrating with family, sharing some quiet quality time together. And it wouldn't have felt complete if I didn't check in with you folks as well. I hope it has been a great holiday and that you have had the chance to really feel thankfulness and gratitude. For my part, I continue to be grateful to be able to talk to you here and have you follow me as an audience. May the rest of this holiday weekend be a great one for you and yours.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Stop Asking Kids "What Do You Want for Christmas"

My daughter is a pretty terrific green mom blogger, but one of her recent pieces has, I think, a lot to say to those of us who spend a lot of our time with other peoples' children. I'm going to start the piece here, and encourage you to follow the link over to her blog for the rest:

My grandsons in a quieter moment

This week at the store, the person checking us out asked my son what he wanted for Christmas. I think that he said something about Santa coming.  It bugged me, but I couldn't figure out why.

The most annoying part of this question is how often we hear it. It comes up all the time, from family, from neighbors, and even from people we don't know. Santa is a scapegoat, but people cannot stop asking.

 It is used as an ice breaker with little kids all the time, even if they don't have much answer to the question (he just told everyone at checkout about lightning mcqueen wrapping paper).

Honestly, it's a terrible question. 

Why do people think this is an interesting thing to ask?

I don't want my kids to build a deep mental link between celebrating and getting stuff. I don't think getting things or having things is an accomplishment. In fact, I think our society of debt is based on this pressure to look like we have things, because that is what success means. I don't think these are useful values for my kids. My goal as a parent is that they have less and do more.

Even if you aren't out to live a more minimalist lifestyle, you still have to see there is something screwed up by constantly asking kids what they want to receive. As if they are passive vessels to pour toys into instead of interesting people who are already doing activities, thinking about the world (not just the toys in it), and planning adventures. They have more interesting things to tell you, and the constant question just minimizes them.

So just stop. Please stop. Stop. Seriously, it's so easy. Just stop.

Click here to continue reading...

DC: Should Charters Be Paid More?

Spoiler alert:

When Monday comes, however, the city stops treating its children — and the public schools they attend — equally. 

Sigh. That is, I'm sure, the view of some DC public parks. But let's consider what we would see if we went to a DC charter park. The charter park would be surrounded by a fence, and only some children would be allowed in through the gate. Mind you, it wouldn't always be explicit. It might turn out, for instance, that the gate is narrow and you can't fit a wheelchair through it. Or the playground monitors might keep yelling at certain children every two minutes until those children gave up and left. And of course every child would have to go through an application process first.

That's what happens to the children of DC on Monday morning-- the charter and choice schools of DC stop treating the children of DC equally.

The complaint from charters is predictable. Once upon a time part of the charter brag was that they could accomplish more with less. Inevitably, they decided that "less" wasn't enough. You might blame that on greed, but I'm more inclined to believe that they learned that their claim about being able to do more with less was.... excessively hopeful? Aspirational? Flat out wrong? Take your pick.

So now they find themselves up against one of the basic lies of charter and voucher systems, the lie that we can fund multiple school systems for the same money we spent to fund (or in DC[s case, underfund) a single system.

Until that lie is addressed by legislators, the problem will remain-- tax dollars may leave public schools, but many costs stay behind. It's a zero sum game and somebody will have to lose.

Charters don't want to lose, and that's understandable. But the plea here is that the multiple systems all have equal standing, so they should get equal funding.

That's incorrect, and to see why, I refer you back to the opening of this piece. Charters and voucher schools do not do equal work, and do not make an equal commitment to educate any and all students. Charter and voucher schools do not make an equal commitment to stay open and operating even if "business reasons" argue otherwise. Charters in fact enjoy one tool that public schools do not have-- charters can control their expenses by controlling their staffing (just keep churning cheap entry level teachers) and by controlling their student body (keep those high-cost students with special needs out of here).

In short, charter schools are not public schools (and the voucher schools of DC are certainly not public schools). The field is not level, the playground is not open to everyone, and not everyone has made a commitment to keep the playground open and operating for all students, no matter what. When charters decide they want to behave like real public schools, then and only then will they have earned the same funding that public schools receive from taxpayers.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

AltSchool -- Just Another Business

For several years, we've been following the fortunes of the Silicon Valley Wunderskool, AltSchool, created by a Google whiz master and funded by Zuckerberg and all the other tech whiz masters, this was supposed to be the Next Great Big Thing-- Personalized Learning Done Right. 

Alas, it is looking as if AltSchool is about to follow Rocketship Academies and Summit School-in-a-Box into the land of Snake Oil Education. Skoolmeister Max Ventilla has announced that he's shuttering several of the school sites and focusing on the market end of the biz, with AltSchool to be reduced to a brand name for one more school-in-software biz. This is perhaps not as sudden a decision as it might seem; in a BBC interview, Ventllla was already referring his schools as "lab schools."

One reporter I spoke to said that parents are upset at being left in the lurch. And Melia Robinson at Business Insider has found a few other parents who are not exactly beamful of high tech testimonials for the school.

Before we take a closer look into the Department of Toldyaso, the final quote from Robinson's article needs to be plastered in 100 point font across every article touting charter schools--

"We're not the constituency of the school," a parent of a former AltSchool student told Business Insider. "We were not the ones [Ventilla] had to be accountable to." 

Exactly. AltSchool, for all its benevolent trappings, is a business. And businesses make decisions for business reasons. This (as I often say) does not make them evil, but it does make them uniquely unsuited to run public education. Businesses are accountable to investors first. Not students. Not families. Investors. Every parent who enrolls their child in a charter school needs to understand that the school will only exist as long as it makes business sense to do so, will only educate their child as long as it makes business sense to do so, will only provide their child with a full range of educational services as long as it makes business sense to do so.

And parents have apparently been learning that at AltSchool for a while.

Personalized learning?

Parents told Business Insider they expected their children to be engaged in activities handpicked for them but that assignments were more or less the same for the class.

Learning with a human touch assisted by technology?

A parent told Business Insider that she figured the startup — which has poached talent from Google, Uber, Airbnb, and Zynga — would provide "cutting-edge" technology as a supplement to human instruction. Instead, she and others said, technology replaced it at the cost of learning. 

 Flexibility to meet all student needs, no matter how challenging?

A different mother, whose children no longer attend AltSchool, told Business Insider that her second-grader listened to audio books on a tablet in class, instead of being taught to read. The parent said she had taken her concerns to AltSchool several times and was repeatedly told to be patient as her daughter fell behind in reading. She was later diagnosed with a learning disability. 

Though it turns out that parents can pay extra for extra instructional help if their child needs it.

Some parents are upset that their children were used as guinea pigs or beta testers, but if they had been paying attention at all they had to know that's what they were signing up for-- a school-sized tech-based experiment performed by educational amateurs. These parents can be excused for discovering that Ventilla decided to ditch the money-losing school for the "far more profitable" software biz, but still-- it's a business making business decisions, not a school making educational decisions, and that's what you get with a charter school-- particularly one with investors. Savvy parents will have to learn to ask exactly what business their child's prospective charter operator is in.

There is one other issue that parents need to start paying attention to. In that same BBC interview from last summer, Judah asks one of the teachers about the great amount of data collected and stored by the school. Is she concerned about what might be done with that data, where it's stored, for how long? "I don't know," she says. "I just have trust." The AltSchool story, as it spins on to its business flavored next chapter, is a reminder that maybe a little less trust is called for. What will become of all the student data that AltSchool has already collected and stored, and just how much data mining will the new branded software be doing? Parents had better ask-- and remember that decisions will be made on business terms.

Schools Should Belong To Corporations

Corey DeAngelis is a scholar (I know because he says so) who has had a busy couple of years suckling off various Libertarian teats. He's a Fellow for the Cato Institute, policy adviser for the Heartland Institute, and a Distinguished Working-on-his-PhD Fellow at the University of Arkansas, all of this built on a foundation of a BBA (2012) and MA (2015) in economics from the University of Texas in San Antonio (because nobody understands education like economists). And while plugging away on that Masters, he worked first as the Risk Management Operations Coordinator and then the Fraud Coordinator for Kohl's. So yet another education experts with no education background.

He also hangs out with the fine folks at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE, not to be confused with the Jeb Bush FEE), where he writes pieces with catchy titles like "Legalizing Discrimination Would Improve the Education System" and "Governments Shouldn't Even Certify Schools, Much Less Run Them." So we should not be surprised to find his name attached to an article arguing that schools should belong to businesses.

"Government Is Not The Solution to Educational Inequality"  shows off DeAngelis's ability for gross overstatement (it's like he thinks he's a blogger or something) with statements like "it is almost impossible for one to imagine an aspect of society with greater inequities than those existing in the U.S. education system." He might want to look at justice or housing or economics. But no-- DeAngelis has a particular destination in mind, and he will not be distracted on the journey.

He's going to lead with the idea that schools, linked to zip codes, are racially and socioeconomically segregated. A useful question to consider here might be to ask how those zip codes end up segregated in the first place-- after all, if we made them that way, maybe we could unsegregate them. But that's not where we're going. But we're not taking that exit from this highway. Instead, he wants to forge straight ahead to peer effects-- in other words, poor minority kids do poorly because they have to go to school with a bunch of poor minority kids. 

Linking funding to real estate means that schools in poor areas are poorly funded. Is DeAngelis going to talk about how to change funding in order to solve that problem? No, he's not going there, either. 

Teachers? Well...

Teacher quality varies from one individual to the next. And teachers are paid based on years of experience rather than actual levels of quality. The result? Since the best teachers are not rewarded with pay, they are rewarded with an easier job. The highest quality teachers move to the schools with advantaged students that are relatively easy to educate. 

That's a bit of a mischaracterization. However, even if we accept it, a solution immediately presents itself-- make the jobs at the high needs schools more appealing or "easier." (And really, that word selection is a cheap shot, as if teachers are motivated by laziness rather than a desire to work in an environment in which they can better achieve the goals they set for themselves as professionals). But that's not on this journey. 

Instead, DeAngelis sets up a pair of straw men-- pay high-quality teachers more to move to high needs schools, or give teachers bonuses for raising test scores. Neither solution is the same as making the job at a high needs school more appealing, and as DeAngelis already knows, neither solution is actually a solution. As he correctly notes, we don't have a reliable measure of teacher quality (as he does not note, it would be impossible to divorce such a measure from the context in which the teacher teaches, which creates problems for a move-teachers-around plan). And tests are not strong predictors of future success, anyway. 

Part of what DeAngelis says as we breeze past these exits is kind of astonishing:

Rewarding teachers based on test scores could actually harm students that need character development. Disadvantaged children coming from single-parent families, or households that do not have the time to focus on behavioral development, would be harmed the most by such policies. 

In other words, those poor minority kids need help with the character deficiencies they have on account of their terrible poor minority background. Those Peoples' Children need a special kind of education over and above what wealthy white kids need, because rich white kids never suffer from character deficiencies because of a lousy family life. 

But DeAnglis has only begin the revolution, because we have been sailing down this highway to Oligarchy Town.

The best way to solve the educational inequality issue is to remove pieces of the education system from the democratic process. Over and over again, democracy has proven to work wonders for politically powerful groups, but not for minorities with less social capital.

Yes, once again, a reformster has decided that democracy is a bug, not a feature, and that we'd be better off without the damn thing.  Because nothing builds social capital like having no formal voice in the process? It's true that US democracy has often worked out poorly for minority voices-- but on what basis would DeAngelis like to argue that oligarchy would be better, that businesses have been, or would be, huge protectors of minority rights? But DeAngelis wants you to know he's in good company here:

As Milton Friedman and other education scholars – including myself – have pointed out, while governments may have an incentive to fund schools, it does not necessarily follow that governments should operate them.

Yes, this scholar imagines  a world of universal private school choice, and claims that it "would benefit the last advantaged children more than anyone," which is our sign that we have actually driven all the way down the highway to Baloneyville. You already know the full drill of his claims-- driven by unleashed demand, entrepreneurs would open up super-duper schools, and competitive pressures would drive down costs and drive up quality, and also erase the black-white achievement gap.

I have one question. Well, I have lots of questions, but I'll only ask one.

In what economic sector has this ever worked?

Did the economic pressures of serving many poor folks (including those who depend upon the government vouchers we call welfare) lead to an explosion of unparalleled quality in retailers like Wal-Mart? Or Kohls? What economic sector has been driven to provide top quality products for every single person in the country? What business has ever put meeting the needs of every single potential customer ahead of their own financial interests?

For businesses to own and operate schools while those schools are funded by the government-- that provides an obvious advantage to the businesses. But businesses are not philanthropies, and they serve their own interests-- not the interests of every single family in their community. This does not make them evil, but it makes them poor candidates for operating the public school system. Businesses sort-- it's fundamental to their nature. They sort human beings into "customers who are worth the business's time" and "customers who aren't." They deliver not what customers deserve, but what customers can afford (in fact,business folks have a hard time distinguishing between the two). To suggest that a business will say, "Well, helping these particular students get up from behind will be costly and challenging and probably lose us money, but we'll do it because we're just that committed to closing the achievement gap" is just-- well, come on. Even a fresh-faced twenty-something scholar with a couple of business degrees knows better than that. 

DeAngelis has sailed past all the better solutions-- invest in schools, invest in faculty, improve conditions, embrace democracy-- to somehow arrive at the conclusion that we should erase democracy, privatize public schools, and change the fundamental mission of public education in this country.He's going to have to propose a better vehicle for his journey than the one he offered here.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Singular Objectives

In the classroom, objectives are important. I remember my own painful experience as a student teacher (replicated by several of my own student teachers), imagining that we would simply read a book and the magical educationny things would just sort of happen, somehow. I had to learn to answer the question "Why are we studying thing?" I had to know what I wanted students to get out of the unit, and once I understood that, then teaching and instructional strategies and assessments all just kind of fell into place.

So do not imagine for a moment that I don't see the value of objectives. No teacher can function well in a classroom if she can't answer the question, "What is the point of any of this?"

But the modern reform era has given us objectives that hamper teaching rather than enhance it.

The standards movement has given us objectives that are strikingly narrow and literal, as well as completely blind to the content of the material that we teach.

ELA objectives (standards) are strictly skills based, so we approach a work like Hamlet focused strictly on items like this:

Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful.

Nowhere in the standards will you find any reference to grappling with the major topics and themes of Hamlet, like mortality and coming to grips with death and the search for meaning in existence. Nope. Find some words and figure out what they mean.

And the Big Standardized Tests double down on this objective myopia. There will be no questions about the content of Hamlet-- not even simple recall of plot and character, let alone the kind of deeply considered ideas that could only be examined in lengthy writing produced over a thoughtful period of time. No, the BST will say, "Remember how you figured out what some strange words meant in that one thing you read? Here are some strange words-- do that figure-them-out trick again."

In fact, many of us have been ordered to put up posters in our room reminding our students about their singular objectives. And many of us are now required to do the same with each and every lesson-- to focus our students on the one-and-only objective of the day's teaching. "This is our goal, our only goal, and our all-consuming goal."

This is education as a ride on a train, with only one destination, one purpose, one target. This is standardization at its very worst. This is a prospector who sets up his equipment to drill for oil on his property and declares himself a failure because all he found was silver, gold, and diamonds.

This is bad teaching. This is the kindergarten teacher who flunks Pat for coloring outside the lines. This is the English teacher who teaches that there is one-- and only one-- correct interpretation for every work of literature. In fact, this is not just bad teaching, but bad living-- the people who think there is only one correct way to be in the world, only one True system of belief, only one correct way to react to a given situation. This is rigid fundamentalism at its worst.

Should we have objectives? Absolutely. Should we be open to the possibilities of many objectives? Should we be open to the possibility of opportunities arising in the classroom? Also absolutely. We certainly shouldn't suggest to our students that there is only one goal and then tell them what it is in such a way as to suggest that all other possible discoveries should be ignored. We should never throw away diamonds because we were searching only for oil.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

NPE: Charter Effects Are Alarming

We can talk all day about the intentions of charter operators, about the possible ramifications of various charter policy decisions. Heck, on occasion I can talk about the conditions under which I would welcome charter schools (because I don't automatically default to the position that they're a Bad Thing).

There is a pattern in the ed reform movement. Reformsters hold up a bright shiny polished reform idea, people hop up to say, "Wow, that looks great! Let's have some of that!" And then something else entirely is delivered. So when we talk about any reform policy, we need to talk about what is actually happening on the ground. And what is happening on the ground is fairly alarming.

The Network for Public Education has now done that for charter schools. Full disclosures-- first, I'm a member of NPE and second, NPE is not predisposed to be kind to charter schools. Nevertheless, I recommend you read their new report Charters and Consequences and judge for yourself. NPE has taken a look at what is actually happening in the charter world, and it's not good.

The report is a collection of eleven separate pieces of investigation, created over the span of a year.  These are not policy arguments or debates about how public ed should be handled. These are heavily researched, fully sourced accounts of what is actually happening in America. You may disagree with NPE's position, but this is not a position paper. It's a fact-based picture of what is actually going on.

The first four pieces  deal with California, where there are more charter schools and charter school students than in any other state. The very first piece sets the stage for California charter shenanigans:

You can find a charter in a mall, near a Burger King, where students as young as 12 meet their “teacher on demand.” Or, you can make a cyber visit to the “blended learning” Epic Charter School, whose students are required to meet a teacher (at a convenient, to be determined location) only once every 20 days. There is an added bonus upon joining Epic—students receive $1500 for a personal “learning fund,” along with a laptop computer. The enrollment site even advertised that students could boost that fund by referring others to the charter chain. 

A superintendent can expand his tiny rural district of 300 students to 4000 by running "independent study" charters in storefronts in cities miles away, netting millions in revenue for his district, while draining the sometimes unsuspecting host district of students and funds. If he is clever, he might arrange a “bounty” for each one opened, while having a side business selling services to the charters. Charters can even provide lucrative investment opportunities for tennis stars and their friends. And then there is the opportunity "to cash in" on international students at a jaw dropping $31,300 per student.

The report is thick with such details. And why is California such a charter playground? Because there is plenty of big money that has come there to play, with the California Charter School Association pouring $2.3 million into just one school board election. Those pockets are deep.

The report also looks at independent learning centers, the kind of storefront charters that operate independent of any specific classroom setting. many of these turn out to be linked pieces of a chain of resource centers, and their track record is abysmal, with far fewer than half the students actually graduating.

The report threads its way through an example of how for-profits can hide behind a web of non-profits, essentially laundering money before turning it into a nice pile of cash to benefit owners of the operation.

And the report talks to some of the folks in California who have tried to fight back against charter fraud and abuse, from whole school boards to individuals like Mike Matsuda. None of them are arguing to eliminate charters entirely, but all would like to see charters operate fairly and within the rules. And that concludes the four-part trip through California.

In, "Charter High Schools and the Best of High Schools List," NPE looks at some of the high-ranking charters and how they get there. For instance, the BASIS charter in Phoenix earns a super-high "challenge" ranking by combining a high attrition rate with giving the AP test to many underclasspersons.

In "Charter Chains: Risk, High Costs and Consequences" the report looks at the growing dominance of charter chains and the risks that come from putting so many schools under the control of state-spanning corporations. There's a risk for fraud and abuse, as well as directing a ton of money to the top in groups like KIPP, which boasts $6 million in administrative costs. And of course there's the Gulen chain, allegedly a fundraising arm of an out-of-power Turkish government in exile.

"Draining the Coffers: The Fiscal Impact of Charters on Public Schools" looks at how charters suck the financial blood from public schools, and what better place to look than my own Pennsylvania, where cyber-charters in particular are driving schools into financial trouble. But across the state, we see public schools that are forced to slash and gut programs, even close schools, to survive the charter drain. I'll note as always that this doesn't have to be the case-- if legislators had the guts to tell the truth and not pretend that you can run three schools for the same cost as running one. But as long as that lie is the premise of charter policy, education will be a zero sum game in which every charter student represents damage to the public system.

In "Public Funding with Private School Advantages," the report looks at how charters often try to have it both ways-- public when they want access to public tax dollars, but private when it comes to following laws governing education. BASIS again provides an example of a charter that isn't really open to everyone (eg- each family must makes a $1500 donation).

"Ignoring the Community Voice" looks at how Philadelphia lost community voice in management of its schools. It's a pattern repeated across the country-- you can have a charter school if you are willing to give up any voice in how your child's school operates.

"Are Charters Public Schools?" Do they reflect the demographic make-up of their neighborhood? Are they committed to serving all students? Are they responsible to community voices? Here's some data to answer the question (spoiler alert-- no).

Finally, the report asks "Have NAACP concerns been addressed?" In other words, are charters still functioning as engines of segregation? Are they transparent and accountable? Are they damaging the rest of the community in which they exist? Are they still disproportionately punishing and pushing out some students?

The report package ends with a statement from NPE about charter schools, with a call for a specific list of legislative policies and reforms favored by the group. Bottom line: until charters follow the public school rules, they're still private schools that take public funds.

The report is under fifty pages and quite readable. Nothing I do here can really capture the sheer weight of detail and examples provided. it will make a great resource for when one of those charter questions comes up yet again, and it's a good primer for people wondering what the fuss is about. It's a worthwhile read.

ICYMI: Last Quiet Weekend Edition (11/19)

Some important reads this week. As always, I encourage you to share and tweet and email anything you read that you think deserves a wider audience, because you, dear reader, are how those pieces get a wider audience.

Florida Teacher Shortage

Many, many folks have read the piece I wrote in response to this Sun-Sentinel article about the teacher shortage [sic] in Florida, but I encourage you to go read the original reporting, which is really top notch.

After a Political Rout in Massachusetts, New York Astro-Turf Group Mulling Strategy

When a bunch of millionaires poured money into launching new charter rules in Massachusetts, tey had no idea they'd get spanked this badly. What now? A look at one of the big dark money groups driving the charter school movement.

The Every Student Succeeds Act's Hollow Educational Ambition

Rick Hess (AEI) is a reformster, but he's not afraid to point out when ed reform makes some stupid moves. Here's his take on how NCLB dropped the ball, and ESSA is dropping the same ball again.

Closing the Gap for Native American Youth

A new study, the first ever done, looks at what can be done to close the gap for native American children. This will take you to the study; if that seems daunting, I will try to get to it at some point.

How Ed Reform Ate the Democratic Party

Jennifer Berkshire looks at the sad history of how the Democratic Party decided to stop being the party of public education and instead transformed itself into GOP-lite.

How Stranger Things Shows Support for Public Schools

One small feature of the hit Netflix series is how it places the local school in the middle of the community.

Schooling Is Never Neutral

The JLV with a brief but important reminder

The DC School Reform Fiasco: A Complete History

John Merrow and Mary Levy have created a comprehensive look at the DC "reform" shenanigans of She Who Will Not Be Named and others.  An important counterpoint to all the folks who keep insisting that DC is an example of school reform working.

But It Was The Very Best Butter

Almost forgot this one-- a quick explanation of how a good test can still be a bad test

Saturday, November 18, 2017

DeVos: Vouchers Don't Have To Serve Everyone

You may recall the case of Endrew F. vs. Douglas County School District, in which the parents of an autistic child and the Douglas County schools of Colorado got into an argument about "de minimis" aka "how little education can a district get away with providing." Did Endrew's IEP require the district to pay for his tuition to a swanky school that provided fancy stuff like "education"? Somehow this made it all the way to the Supremes, who unanimously ruled sort of down the middle-- school district compliance with IDEA has to be more than a half-baked half effort, but education experts get to be the experts on education, not Mom and Dad.

The whole business now has a sequel, starring Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

Remember that time DeVos was being interviewed for her job and she didn't really seem to understand what IDEA actually was? Specifically, didn't seem clear on whether schools receiving federal funds would be required to follow the federal IDEA law?

Oh-- and remember that time when she called Historically Black Colleges and Universities "pioneers of school choice"? Which was kind of like calling the underground railroad pioneers of Uber?

Well, both of those moments had a sequel this week as reported by Ann Schimke for Chalkbeat. There are two take-aways here. One is not so big, and one kind of is.

First, the F family was none too happy about being used as props for one more DeVos love letter to school choice.

“Every family should have that ability to choose the learning environment that’s right for their child,” she said. “They shouldn’t have to sue their way to the Supreme Court to get it.”

Remember that DeVos quote. The Fs, Joe and Jennifer, were not pleased.

“To hold us out there as a poster child on how a private school is working for our child and how this is how school choice is supposed to work, really bugs me,” Joe said.

“It was a little disappointing,” Jennifer said. “She picked the parts that she liked and used them for what she wanted.”

 Now to the bigger takeaway. Turns out that the Fs had actually met DeVos, privately, at her request.

They were flattered by her interest, but felt she didn’t understand why private school vouchers would never work for them — or many other families who have children with disabilities.

Specifically, how a small voucher amount does not get you into a pricey specialized private school like the one Endrew attends. But according to the Fs, they raised an even larger issue, and DeVos gave them a straight, if not welcome, answer.

Do students with disabilities lose their rights to a fair and appropriate education — a guarantee under the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act — if they use vouchers to attend private schools?

Yes, DeVos said.

“She answered point blank,” Joe said.

So in the DeVosian voucher world, choice schools do get to pick and choose which students they will serve-- or not serve. The USED would not require recipients of federal dollars (which given a Education Savings Account approach to vouchers would be cleansed  of their federal taint) to obey federal law.

The huge irony here? DeVos doesn't think parents should have to sue somebody to have their child's needs met, but in a voucher world, parents like the Fs would not be able to sue anybody. School choice would mean that the school could choose to show Endrew the door. School choice would mean that parents would have to give up their rights in return for their voucher. It's a reminder that school choice and the privatization of education is largely about stripping citizens of the right to a free and appropriate public education. Voucher and choice systems aren't just a different delivery system-- they represent a fundamental change in our educational mission as a country. And that's a lot less than de minimis.