Sunday, December 31, 2017

Reformster Rhetorical Routines To Watch for in the New Year

,From year to year in the reform era, a variety of rhetorical angles have ben played. Some have been largely abandoned (e.g. most have stopped claiming that public schools are a disaster because teachers suck, though some still hold onto this particular stick-- lookin' at you, Jeanne Allen).  But some old favorites remain on the playlist, and it's worth recognizing them when they appear again.

1. Bait and Switch

This has become hugely popular, and while it played a supporting role in the failed marketing of Common Core, it is hugely popular among ed tech aficionados.

The basic technique is to paint a beautiful picture of a utopian world built on a bright, shiny product-- then, while the sparkle is still in their eyes, introduce the customers to what they are actually getting, which is a sad cardboard imitation of the shiny dream.

Wouldn't you love a school where each child had a teacher who sculpted an educational program perfectly customized to the interests, abilities and pace of each individual child? Well, here's a computerized bank of worksheets with an algorithm for assigning them to the students. Algorithm-driven mass-produced program-in-a-box is almost exactly the same thing as real personalized learning.

Don't pay attention to what they're promising you-- keep your eye on what is actually being delivered.

2. Real Problems and Fake Solutions

As old and beloved as the inability to distinguish between causation and correlation, this argument focuses on selling the problem in order to get an okay for the solution.

Pat : You have high blood pressure!

Chris: What?!

Pat: You have high blood pressure. I'm looking at your test results right here. 

Chris: Aaah! Wait! What are you doing with that chainsaw?

Pat: I'm going to cut off your hands. Because you have high blood pressure!

Chris: How does that help? 

Pat: Look, high blood pressure can lead to all sorts of problems, from eye problems up to strokes. It's a real strain on your heart. And you can see that the blood pressure cuff shows you have a blood pressure of 160 over 120-- and look! It's climbing even as we speak!

Chris: Okay, so that's bad. But what good will it do to cut off my hands with a chainsaw?

Pat: Look. You have a serious problem here. Do you want to solve it, or not?

Chris: Yeah, but--

Pat: I guess you don't think high blood pressure is a big deal. You don't even believe you have a problem!

Chris: But but but--

Chainsaw: Rrraaaaawwwwrrrr!!!!!

Do not be distracted by discussions of the trouble. The important question is, are the proposed solutions actual solutions?

3. Chicken Littling

Often travels hand in hand with #2, but this is about creating a sense of urgency. Hit its stride first in 1983, with A Nation at Risk, a work that raised the rhetorical stakes from "let's try to provide every child with a solid education" to "Oh Nossss!!! America will be conquered because crappy schools!!" And the Fall of the USA has ben about a day away ever since. 

Chicken Littling is about creating a sense of urgency. It's not as popular as it once was; you may recall that charter fans used to say that students couldn't wait one more day for public schools, until they decided that charter schools needed several more days to get up to speed.

Don't accept the notion that things are so urgent that it's better to make an immediate choice thyan a smart one.

4. Fight the Status Quo

Anything that has always been in place must be changed, disrupted, blown up, etc. This is the argument that gives us the assertion that public schools have not changed in 100 years, that teachers who have been on the job for decades probably suck, and that all old policies and approaches need to be disrupted. This is the argument that paints all defenders of public education as agents of the status quo.

There are three problems with this argument, First, that practices that have ben in place for decades have, in most cases, been retained because they have been tried and tested.  Second, anyone who thinks public schools haven't changed in 100 years hasn't set foot in any. It's amazing to me how any critics of public education operate on the assumption that nothing has changed since they were students.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, much of the reform agenda is now, in fact, the status quo. Test-centered schools driven by a bad standardized test? That is now the status quo. A champion for the dismantling of public education who dreams of a privatized system-- that's now our Secretary of Education, and, in fact, few politicians or high-ranking bureau rats from either party are full-on supporters of public education. Neither political party stands up for public education. And other reformsters pump millions of dollars into elections an networks of astro-turfy advocacy groups. That's the status quo-- corporate privatizers and their agenda not exactly ascendant, but an inescapable part of the education landscape. Reformsters cannot pretend they aren't part of the status quo (but they will).

5. The Value of Choice and the Market

For many reformsters, the argument is no longer about educational quality-- it's about choice, and only choice. For them nothing else has a higher value, and so we've stopped talking about which system might provide the best education but rather which system lets parents choose. If parents choose Flat Earth High School or Aryan Race Elementary or a generally lousy school, that's okay-- because parents are choosing, and nothing is more important than that.

This is what Betsy DeVos is talking about when she says we must value the individual student over institutions. Parents must be free to choose (and the market must be free to tell them what choices they are allowed to have).

This is privatization at its worst, because this argument eliminates the idea of education as public good that serves the community and country as a whole. Community and country have a stake in raising well-educated citizens who believe neither that the world is flat nor that whites are the master race. Community and country have a stake in educating citizens who can question and think. Community and country have a stake in a system that educates all students well.

Focus on choice and the market eliminates all of that, even as it removes an entire list of stakeholders in education and says instead, no, only parents are stakeholders. Well, only parents and the owners of the privatized schools. 

There are more than these five rhetorical strategies, of course, but they remain popular with fans of ed reform. Better we should all pay attention and watch for them in asction.

ICYMI: Year in Review Edition (12/31)

Got nothing to do tonight? Ring in the new year with the best of the things you might have missed this year (or just forgotten about). I have slanted this collection toward pieces outside the blogosphere, because you should be reading and sharing my blogroll. Here's a year's worth of in case you missed them...

Good Business Models for Education
We don't talk enough about the fact that reformsters don't just want to schools to be run with business practices, but with bad disproven business practices. Here's Sam Abrams in the LA Times suggesting some better business practices to use.

The Red Queen
Jennifer Berkshire (Edushyster) spent nine days in Michigan interviewing over forty different people. She came back not only with the definitive DeVos nickname, but how the Education Secretary nominee looks to the people who have lived under her shadow.

How the Pioneers of the MOOC Got It Wrong
about how the launchers of MOOCery screwed up some pretty basic fundamentals

A Visit to the For-Profit Edu-Mall
A comic strip series from Mr. Fitz. Great explainer to share with people who aren't up for reading whole paragraphs.

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' Holy War

So this is where we are now-- Rolling Stone decides to go ahead and cover the Secretary of Education. Much of this will be familiar to those of us who have been studying up on DeVos, but Janet Reitman's piece connects all the dots and lays out the bigger, scarier picture.

Dismantling Public Education: Turning Ideology into Gold

Alex Molnar at the Institute for New Economics takes a look at the big picture in the school privatization movement.

Rest in Peace, EVAAS Developer William Sanders
At VAMboozled, an obituary for and recap of the developer of EVAAS, one of the widely used VAM models. If you want the incredible story of where this thing came from, here it is (with links, for advanced students). 

The War on Education as Public Good
Wendy Lecker with another great set of insights on the assault on Public Education

What Betsy DeVos Calls Education Transformation Is Actually Public Theft

Jeff Bryant walks us through what DeVos is actually telling us, and what's she's telling us is that she's going to turn education over to privateers.

The Histories of Personalization

Audrey Watters takes a long, detailed look at the history of the school personalization movement and the many ways in which it is not what it's cracked up to be.

Betsy DeVos Doesn't Get It

Jan Ressenger looks at how DeVos's Libertarian beliefs do not serve the public good.

White People Keep Finding New Ways To Segregate Schools

From Mother Jones, a piece that looks at ed reform through a different lens, and shows how creative white folks have been about getting their children away from black and brown students.

The Charter School Free Riding Problem

Jersey Jazzman takes a look at a little-noted phenomenon: how public schools are doing the work of recruiting teachers for charter schools.

Field Guide To Jobs That Don't Exist Yet

That annoying stat about how 65% of the jobs our students will have do not exist yet-- it turns out to be pretty much made up. Here is a beautifully researched explanation of where that little slice of baloney came from.

Internalizing the Myth of Meritocracy
Another hard-hitting Anderson piece in the Atlantic, looking at how the myth of meritocracy becomes damaging to children of color. Because if I believe that the system is fair and rewards excellence, and I'm not being rewarded, I can only conclude one thing...

Three Myths About Reading Levels

Psychology Today takes a shot at those damned reading levels.

A Black Face in a White Space
A graduate talks about his four years as a black student at University of Pennsylvania. Plenty to think about here. 

Reality Check: Trends in School Finance
Bruce Baker looks at that old reformy refrain "We've spent double the money and test results have stayed flat." Is that actually true. (Spoiler alert: no). With charts and explanations that civilians can understand.

Standardized Tests Are So Bad I Can't Answer These Questions About MY Own Poems
here's a reminder about how absurd these tests are. A poet discovers her own poems used on a standardized test-- and that she can't correctly answer the test questions. A classic.

The History and Future of Learning Objects and Intelligent Machines
Nobody is better than Audrey Watters at drawing the lines between the cold, hard specifics of ed tech and the bigger ideas and issues behind them. If you only read one item on the list, make it this one.

Pence: Black Is White
Sheila Kennedy on the Pencian habit of setting truth and reality aside in the pursuit of privatization.

Who Can Say What 20 Years of PA Charter Schools Have Taught Us?

Philly paper takes a look a twenty years of charter not-so-success in Pennsylvania.

Dark Money in Mass
Andrea Gabor with a good summing up of the dark money mess in Mass, where various bad actors tried to secretly support raising the charter cap.

Teachers Are Grown-ups, Not Children
From across the Atlantic, this piece about someone who changed careers and was astonished to discover that teachers are not treated like grown-up professionals. 

Why Privatization Is a Disaster for any Democratic Society
Salon looks at privatization in education and other areas

Teaching: If You Aren't Dead Yet, You Aren't Doing It Well Enough
Read this piece from Othamr's Trombone about teaching as an act of self-sacrifice and martyrdom

The Great Tennessee Achievement School District Experiment Finally Comes to an End
Gary Rubinstein revisits the Tennessee ASD, the ASD that launched a bunch of other ASDs, now that it has reached its sell-by date, to ask how it did. (Spoiler alert- not so well)

Florida School Voucher Investigation
How bad is voucher fraud and corruption in Florida? The Orlando Sentinel gives us a three part series that answers the question (and it's not pretty)

We Libertarians Really Were Wrong about School Vouchers

Well, here's a perspective that's different in many ways

What We Talk About When We Talk About the Corporate Education Agenda
A not-very-uplifting episode of the Have You Heard podcast, interviewing Gordon Lafer, author of the One Percent Solution.  Important but grim.

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

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.

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.

Top Ed Tech Trends Fake News
A long read of the week, but well worth it, putting fake news in the context of our country as a whole and ed tech baloney in particular. From Audrey Watters.

She Breaks Rules While Expecting Students To Follow Them
Lisa Miller reviews the Moskowitz memoir and identifies some of Eva's central problems, like how she is proud of being a rebel, and demands that all of her students never rebel at all. It gets better.

Voucher Schools Can Teach Whatever They Want
HuffPost did some heavy-duty research into what is actually taught at the mostly-religious schools that benefit from vouchers in this country. You may have expected the emphasis on anti-evolution and anti-science, but there's a also a healthy dose of political conservatism (and get them women back in the kitchen). How Betsy DeVos wants your tax dollars to work.

The Other Tech Bubble

I prefer the other title this piece appears under-- "Silicon Valley Techies Still Think They're the Good Guys. They're Not." This Wired piece doesn't address education directly, but its portrayal of Silicon Valley guys as entitled, arrogant jerks in a toxic culture will be recognizable to everyone who deals with edtech wizards.