Wednesday, October 17, 2018

DeVos Organization Issues School Choice Guidebook

The American Federation for Children is a dark money group that advocates for school choice in general, and vouchers in particular. It was founded and funded by the DeVos family (Betsy was chair right up through the summer of 2016), and is well-connected via ALEC, that special organization in which corporate sponsors get to write bills for legislative members. The AFC Growth Fund is another wing of the group, and they produce an annual School Choice Guidebook. This year's book is out, and I've looked at it, but you probably should anyway.

The report is 88 pages of reform chatter, so this trip will be neither quick nor easy, but if you stick with me, you'll get to see some stunning reform logic at work, gather some fun factoids along the way, and see exactly what their idea of a perfect voucher program would be.

It's Not All Awful

Okay, it is kind of awful, but it's worth noting that the guidebook contains a ton of information, much of it arranged in handy charts. If you have questions about, say, which states have which kinds of voucher programs, and how the details of those programs vary from state to state, this guidebook has answers, often arranged so that they can be viewed easily at a glance. I doubt that it's all perfectly accurate, but honestly, this is a resource I'll probably return to for answers to certain questions about the state of voucherdom.

So let's dig in and see what the report has to offer.

Types of Private School Choice Programs and $$$

A whole page of the different flavors of choice, though oddly they lump magnet schools and homeschooling as "private school choice programs." They've even included charter schools, despite the insistence of charter fans that charter as public schools. 

Of the ten different flavors listed on the page, AFC is going to focus on three-- tax credit scholarships, vouchers, and education savings accounts.

This is followed by a map and chart that shows which states have charters, which have some sort of voucher, which have both, and which have neither. Only four states have neither. There are fifty-four voucher programs in the US-- twenty-four voucher, twenty-two tax credit scholarship, six education savings account, and two individual tax credit programs. The average "scholarship" amount is a measly $5,408. Of the three types, ESAs have the highest average amount.

According to AFC, the total amount expended for the programs is $1.1 billion for vouchers, $1.1 billion for tax credits and $158.3 million for ESAs.

There's a cute graph of annual enrollment in these programs that starts with 29,03 enrolled in 2000-2001 and comes up to the last hard figures, from 2016-2017-- 442,475. Likewise, the number of states involved has grown.

More Charts!!

This guidebook really is a chart and graph fan's playground.

The next set of charts show the enrollment and funding for various programs by state, with separate charts for each of the types of voucher programs.

So if we look tax credit scholarships, we find that Montana has such a program-- and it took in #29,950 in donations that were divided among the 39 students who signed up for the program.  Five of the programs only make triple digits for students enrolled. Only one state hits six digits for students enrolled, and that's Florida, with 108,098 students in a $631 million dollar program (that's not counting the Hope Scholarships). There are some states that have a fairly impressive dollars-to-students ratio, including Alabama where the Tax Credit for Contributions to Scholarship Granting Organizations program only enrolled 4,181 students, but took in a whopping $29,699.374 in donations. Kansas took in over $4 million to serve 307 students. And New Hampshire had 332 students enrolled in a program funded to the tune of $713K. Incidentally, all of these figures are from the 2017-2018 year.

The six ESA programs make a wild field, including as they do Nevada's ESA program which was passed, but then denied any funding. So it exists, but it currently serves 0 students with 0 dollars. Florida, however, has over 10K students in its Gardiner Scholarship program, funded with $105 million. In fact, two thirds of the total ESA funds in the US are in that Florida program.

For the regular old voucher programs, the leading spender is, once again, Florida leads again with $220 million spent on vouchers for 31,000 students. Wisconsin and Indiana are close behind, with Indiana actually serving more students. Ohio is the only other state in the big leagues for vouchers. Are any of these factoids surprising you

Florida Blue Ribbon

By AFC's count, of the $2.4 billion total spent on various voucher programs in the US, $956 million of that was spent in Florida-- that's 39%. No wonder Betsy DeVos thinks Florida is an exemplar of how education should work. That's almost a billion dollars taken out of taxpayer pockets and placed in the bank accounts of educational entrepreneurs. In one year.

Who's Eligible

One of several interesting breakdowns in the report, this shows which states have which kind of eligibility requirements. So we learn that there are twenty-eight means-tested program, nine for failing schools, twenty-one for students with special needs, two for bullied students, and three that are open to everyone (Arizona, Georgia and Montana).

Why so many for special needs? Because it's a political winner, and because it's a better money-maker. As we've learned repeatedly, a school that can gather students with low-cost special needs (like a mild speech impediment) can still rake in the extra money that follows students with a special needs label.

Accountability

Perhaps because it is aimed in part at investors, the guidebook is more exacting on the subject of accountability than you might expect. Again, some nifty charts guide us through the type of accountability standards that are or are not present, program by program.

For instance, on the voucher chart, we learn that only six of the twenty-four programs require independent evaluation of academics in the voucher school. Only ten require proof of financial viability. Only thirteen require annual financial reports, meaning that eleven do not. And four programs require no background checks for personnel.

Tax credit scholarships come with even fewer background checks, and only four out of twenty-two require proof of financial viability. Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island have non academic accountability requirements at all. Most programs require some sort of financial reportage.

ESAs are academically lax. And North Carolina's ESA program is the only one of all the active programs listed in all categories that has no non-discrimination requirement.

Now for the Sales Baloney

If all those facts and charts are getting you down, let's move on to the sales pitch.

AFC strongly believes that all school choice programs should collect and report data on how the students are doing in the programs–both academically and socioemotionally–and also on their academic attainment after they graduate from the programs. Our hope is that a greater number of choice programs do this important research, particularly on postsecondary outcomes.

This is a pleasant dream, and it's also carefully placed right in front of a graphic about "gold standard, random assignment empirical studies of private school choice programs." The seventeen studies they picked are broken down to eleven positive, four neutral and two negative "effects on student learning." Not about post-graduate results.

There are no footnotes, endnotes-- nothing to indicate which seventeen studies they are talking about. A quick check with my research assistant Dr. Google tells me that at least three legitimate studies show vouchers producing negative effects for students. And when we talk about these kind of student effect studies, generally all we're talking about is test results, anyway-- and so what? AFC itself seems to be trying to shift rhetoric away from test scores and on to college enrollment and "persistence" and so they toss out two studies about those things, neither of which is exactly earth shattering. In both, researchers found that students who enrolled in voucher programs were more likely to enroll in college than their peers who did not. Since voucher enrollees are a self-selecting group of students with families that are supportive of education, it seems safe to assume that they are also more likely to attend college. In other words, the studies found that students who care about education often later seem to care about education.

Mostly this seems like a page designed to distract attention from findings that voucher programs actually hurt the students who participate.

Myths and Facts

Oh, these are my favorite. This is the part where reformsters say, "Look, here's a mean thing that people are saying about us, but nanny nanny boo boo to them." It's also where we find out what they think their vulnerabilities and strengths are, and where they try to steer the discussion. All fun stuff.

AFC has a whopping ten myths they want to address. Let's see how they do.

Myth #1: Private school choice programs drain money from public schools.

AFC's claim is that school choice programs "save our government millions of dollars each year." They even attach a number, claiming that the participating states saves "anywhere from $13 million to $120 million annually." They offer not a single piece of support, which is a wise choice. There's some carefully worded argument here-- "the cost to educate a child in a traditional district school is greater than the public funding provided for each child in a scholarship program." Technically sort of correct in the case of tax scholarship or ESA programs, because in those programs the donors give money to fund the voucher rather than paying that money in taxes, so we can argue that it's not public money because the government never actually touched it. However, tax revenues for the school district are still reduced because donors paid for a voucher instead of paying school taxes.

AFC also tries the old "the district saves money because they don't have to educate that kid" argument, which ignores problems of scale-- a district can easily shed a couple of students with no reduction of expenses for the district. And in some voucher programs, the student didn't even have to be in public school to begin with, which means a chunk of money is diverted from the public school but public school enrollment is reduced by exactly zero.

Of course vouchers drain money from public schools. If you're household budget is tight, do you buy a second house to save money? Of course not-- and you can't run multiple school systems for the same money you used to operate one. And since all that money was collected in a bin marked "public education," you can't take anything out of the bin without reducing the money going to public education.

Myth #2: Private school choice programs violate the separation between church and state.

AFC's argument is "some courts ruled in our favor." Of course, some courts also ruled against them, but we're not mentioning that. Voucher systems overwhelmingly direct money to religious schools. And voucher backers like DeVos know this full well-- the whole point among many religious conservatives is to take back society from the Godless heathen liberals, and that includes, especially, schools. They know that vouchers violate the separation of church and state-- they just don't believe that separation was intended by the Founding Fathers of this Christian Nation. As far as they're concerned, breaking down the wall is just setting things right. As one of my Christina right friends explained to me (yes, I have Christian right friends), the whole wall between church and state is the result of confusion and failure to really understand the Constitution.

Myth #3: Students don't benefit from private school choice.

This is based on their cherry-picked set of studies (the list we aren't allowed to see) and the two post-grad studies they found that helped their cause. That's before we even get to all the studies that show that the measure of choice-- raised test scores-- is bunk. We should believe that this is a myth because AFC says so.

Myth #4: School choice is anti-public school.

AFC doesn't really answer this, but then, this is a group founded and led by the woman who said that public schools are a "dead end." They go with the old "public schools have their place, and we're sure there are some fine ones." And it is largely true that DeVosian style reformsters don't want to see an end to public school, because Those Peoples' Children have to go to school somewhere.

Myth #5: There is no accountability in private school choice programs.

They harken back to the charts showing that things like health and safety regulations are followed by choice schools, and that some even have to take the same Big Standardized Test as the publics. They have "some level" of financial accountability, which is not true in all states per their own charts. And families can vote with their feet, which simply doesn't count as an accountability measure.

Myth #6: School choice hurts traditional public schools.

There are studies that show students who stay in public school near choice schools improve. There are many of them, but AFC requires us to take their word for it. And wait- I thought that studies showed that voucher students outperformed public students.

Myth #7: Only private schools have selective admission policies.

They argue that plenty of public, magnet, charter etc schools also have selective admission requirements. They are correct-- because they have carefully misstated the "myth." In their defense some public school advocates also misstate this. But the real point is this-- only private school systems have selective admission processes. A magnet school may have a selective admission process, but that is for students who are within the system-- and nobody has to apply to get into their public school system. Within that system there may be requirements or pre-requisites to get into a course, a performing group, a sports team, or a magnet school. But nobody has to apply to get into their public school system. And no, charters aren't public schools.

Myth #8: Private choice programs increase racial segregation in schools.

"No reputable study shows that private school choice increases racial segregation." Oh, we should just be done here, because the rest of the paragraph is carefully worded attempts to deny and shade what has been true since the first segregation academy opened in the South. We can look at a city in the DeVos's own home state to see the effect in action. AFC cites a study of Louisiana from 2016 as evidence that segregation is not increased, but another scholar looked at the same data and got very different results-- more segregation. The fact that choice appears to free lots of white parents to indulge their desire to get their own children away from Those People-- well, it's not an admirable impulse, and it's not choice's fault that the impulse to segregate is there, but it sure does seem to empower that impulse.

Myth #9: School choice only helps urban students.

Choice can help rural students? Well, let's not talk cyber-schools, the kind of choice that's prevalent in my neck of the woods, because cyber-schools kind of stink. Bricks and mortar charters aren't interested in the rural market because there isn't enough market there to make a strong business case for the rural charter-- and charters are businesses. There are rural-ish religious schools, and vouchers might be a windfall for them, but for students they won't make any real difference.

Myth #10: Private schools don't serve students with special needs.

Well, now we see why all; those charts made sure to break out the programs specifically for students with special needs. If I go back and crunch the numbers, the total number of students enrolled in the voucher programs aimed at those with special needs, I get a grand total of 50,786, out of the under-500K students using any voucher program. And of that 50,786, a full 31,044 come from just one state. Can you guess which one? Yes, it's Florida's John M. McKay Scholarship for Students with Disabilities.

It's a small number of students in just twenty targeted programs in the country, but admittedly 1 is a big enough number if it's your kid. But AFC doesn't answer two critical questions. One is the nature of the special needs, because there's a big difference between providing services for a student with a mild speech impediment and services for a non-verbal student confined to a wheelchair. The other critical question-- how do students with special needs fare in schools that belong to the other programs? Having targeted special needs programs is no plus if it's just an excuse for every other program to say, "We won't take you-- there are programs set aside to handle your problems, so go see them."

They are correct that ESAs can be used to provide special services in the home, but that really dodges the question. They also say that each year 0ver 70,000 students with special needs use ESAs and other private choice programs to meet their needs, and I have no idea where that number comes from. And it still doesn't address the criticism. Can a student with special needs be accepted at any voucher school (as they must be by any public school), or can they only expect to get in to schools that are specially marketed to them.

The States

The rest of the report (we're only on page 17) is a state-by-state evaluation of the various voucher programs. The tax credit scholarship programs are actually ranked based on scores in various categories-- we'll get back to that in a bit. Of the eighteen tax credit scholarship plans ranked, number one is-- ta-dah-- Florida's. Of the eleven ranked voucher programs, number one is Wisconsin's Racine Parental Choice Program.

Each program (some states have more than one) gets a page loaded with information and details. It is a good at-a-glance reference for seeing what's going on around the voucher world.

Alabama's individual tax tuition credit program only involved 127 taxpayers-- but the total tax credits refunded were $351,140. Arizona's ESA program requires parents to sign an agreement to provide education in reading, grammar, math, social studies, and science. Enforcement of that agreement...? That "parents must sign" requirement is a common one, as is the absence of any stated accountability for the parents. Florida's tax credit program requires teachers at participating schools to have three years of teaching experience-- or a bachelor's degree or "special expertise." So, anyone. Rhode Island requires at least a bachelor's degree.  Some tax credit scholarship programs allow a tax credit of 100% of donation, while stingy states like Indiana allow only 50%. Iowa, Virginia, and some other state families are eligible with up to 300% of poverty guidelines. Lots of states forbid discrimination on basis of race, color or national origin; LGBTQ discrimination is largely unmentioned (Maryland is one state that does forbid discrimination based on "sexual orientation.") Mississippi has a voucher program for students with dyslexia and very specific directions about what therapy must be used. New Hampshire's tax credit program, unlike some others, does not allow donations to be tagged for one specific school. In Tennessee, the ESA requires parents to waive their child's rights under IDEA. In Utah, students using the special needs voucher must have an IEP; however, if they are already enrolled in a private school, that school can do an assessment to see if the student is eligible to bring the school a voucher bonus for special education services. Wisconsin's parental choice voucher program has a slow-releasing cap, raised one percent of public school district enrollment per year until 2025-2026, when the cap is completely lifted.

There's a lot to dig through

The Rankings

This section presents the same info in different formats and lets you check and compare the scores. It also shows how the points are awarded, which provides a straightforward look at what AFC thinks matters most. Here's the breakdown by categories, showing what AFC's ideal voucher program would look like.

Student Eligibility

The less limited, the better. Highest score for income limits over 200% of free and reduced lunch. Highest score for no limits related to public school performance-- you get zero points for a voucher program set up only for students in a "failing" school. No geographical limits-- highest score for program that includes all students in the state.

This one is important-- AFC wants to see no limits based on students' previous school. That means that money would flow away from public schools for students who never attended the public school in the first place. On the day those vouchers start, public schools lose a ton of money and no students. Meanwhile, the voucher schools-- who had already enrolled these students-- get a tremendous windfall.

AFC also wants to see "once in, always in" so that even if the family moves above the income limits, they don't lose eligibility for the program.

Program and Scholarship Size

Highest score for programs that give 100% of per-pupil expenditure to the choice school/ 100% of students eligible. No caps on enrollment or the amount of money the program can suck up. Schools that are new start-ups can play, too. And of course high growth rate and participation rates are preferred.

School Accountability

These are not heavily weighted, but at least they're here. AFC says school's scholarship students should take the Big Standardized Test, and their results should be reported. Schools should run background checks on staff. Annual financial reporting is required (for whatever reason, they consider this less important for ESAs). Beyond these items, however, AFC says no additional regulation should be required.

Additionally, For Tax Credit Scholarship Programs

100% of donation should be a tax credit. The cap should be 100% of donor's tax liability. The scholarship organization must use 90% of donations for actual scholarships. Donors should not target particular school or particular student. Annual reports and background checks for scholarship organizations.

And For ESAs

Someone from the state should keep an eye on how the program debit card is being used. Tutors and other practitioners must be licensed or accredited. Really? You were going to let people with no teaching credentials teach in schools. And "extra" money can be rolled over for later college expenses.

And you can see all the point totals, program by program.

And we've reached the end! Still here? God bless you. My overall impressions? Well, given the amount of groups like AFC have made, it's a little surprising to see what a small portion of the US education landscape is taken up by these folks. Especially if you take Florida out of the mix (and taking Florida out of the mix makes almost everything in this country better). They've had all these years, and thrown spectacular amounts of money at the issue, and this is what they've got to show for it? No notable clearcut successes, and while they have grown steadily, they're still smaller than the average number of viewers on a Justin Bieber video.

Voucher programs involve fewer students than are enrolled in Catholic high schools. AFC claims under 500,000 students in voucher programs. There are over six million students in 4-H clubs. There are 2.4 million Boy Scouts. A little over 1 million students play high school football. Roughly 12 million teens (47% of 25 million) use Snapchat daily. 18-year-old Bretman Rock has well over a million followers on YouTube (and you don't even know who he is, do you). Over one million people bought the soundtrack to the first Alvin and the Chipmunks movie.

I'm not saying half a million is nothing. I am saying that in a country where there are 56.6 million K-12 students, half a million (less than 1%) do not represent a major piece of the action. Vouchers deserve our attention, because they are a bad anti-public ed, privatizing idea that is being pushed hard by some folks who know less about education than they know about Bretman Rock and the Chipmunks. But as much as they have managed to grow their movement over the last two decades, they are still just a blip on the education landscape. That's one big message they unintentionally conveyed to me with the handbook.

PS: Shame on you, Joe Lieberman

For sitting on the board of AFC. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

PA: Testing Good News And Bad News

As was reported a few months ago, the Pennsylvania legislature has been working on finally lowering the stakes on our high school Big Standardized Tests, the Keystone exams (or rather permanently failing to raise them, as Harrisburg could never quite bring itself to say "Pass these tests or no diploma for you.")

Gov. Wolf gets a partial win
Now the bill has passed both houses, and the governor has indicated that he will sign it.

This is a good news--bad news situation. Here's why.

Good News

Students will now have a very broad range of methods for proving they are diploma-worthy. Graduation will not depend on their successful score on a lousy standardized test on which the cut score wanders from year to year, essentially norm referenced so that someone must fail, always. This new bill is excellent news for students, who can now graduate based on grades or big-time tests like the ACT or even a college acceptance letter.

For high school students, the Keystone exams are now no-stakes, meaningless nothing-tests. And that's a very good thing.

Bad News

The no-stakes meaningless nothing-tests will still be used to evaluate teachers and schools. Teacher professional rankings and school standings will rest on students taking a test that is a complete waste of their time, a game in which they have no skin at all. Will students try their very hardest to make their teacher and their alma mater look good, or will they breeze through quickly so they can take a nap? And will local school districts undo the legislature's work by making the test a local graduation requirement as a way of extorting effort out of their students (as many districts have done in previous years while waiting for Full Keystone to kick in)?

There may even be a bitter irony here for district's that restructured as a way to game the test. Some schools rolled their middle schools into their high schools. See, eighth graders generally test poorly (because have you ever met an eighth grader), so putting them under the same roof as high school students helped pull the average up. I do wonder if that trick will keep working.

So Here's Hoping

That Harrisburg completes the job and uncouples teacher and school evaluation from a test that students have officially no reason to care about. The new bill is a great step forward, but there are more steps left to take.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Lesson of Child Care Expenses

The group Child Care Aware last summer posted their answer to the question every parent of a little asks-- if child care costs so much, why aren't child care providers rich? They have a nifty little video that simplifies the answer so that even the math-impaired can get it.

Imagine your going rate is $10,000 per year per child. Assume a child care center with forty students, and therefor looking at revenue of $400,000. Where does that go?

$45K for building and maintenance.

$92K for classroom materials, food, and administrative costs (niceties like liability insurance).

Boom. You've burnt through all but about $260K, and you need to hire a director, three lead teachers (one for each classroom) and six assistant teachers (in most states, the law dictates what you need for personnel). That means your director makes about $22/hour while your assistants get about $10.50/hour. Nobody here is getting rich. In fact, depending on the specifics of your location, the whole thing may barely be staying in business.

I'll think of this now every time somebody wants to complain that the public school system is filled with waste and that spending just keeps increasing but taxpayers aren't getting more bang for their bucks. Because what is the above model except a much simpler version-- to get a real public school we'd have to add students with assorted special needs for which we needed more classrooms and more materials. Of course, we'd have to add more expensive professionals, but we'd compensate for that by cutting the number-- where your state law might require nine teachers and assistants spread over three classrooms for forty students, in some schools we just pack forty students into one room with one teacher (because while we have laws to protect the tiniest children from being under-supervised, we're not so concerned about actual school students).

It's not cheap to do education right, or even half-right. If there are any simple truths we struggle to avoid in this country, that's one of them.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

What Just Happened To Summit?

Summit Schools were an early entry (2003) into the world of charters, with founder Diane Tavenner trying to do personalized learning the low tech way. Tavenner is reportedly a former teacher, asst. principal and a graduate of the Broad Faux Academy of Superintendenty Stuff-- (oh, she's the board chair for the California Charter Schools Association, a board that includes Joe Williams, head of DFER as a member). Mark Zuckerberg ran across the Bay area school in 2014 and decided that he would give it not just an infusion of cash, but an infusion of technology. Including engineering support to "make this better."

Not feeling the magic here
Like AltSchool, another super-duper techno-personalized charter system, Summit decided they could make some real money selling their program to schools across the country, and in fact a few hundred schools are now Summit schools, using some form of the computer-based algorithm-driven education-flavored product.

Summit is one of Zuckerberg's pet projects, and it's also beloved by that other well-connected super-rich education amateur, Bill Gates, who has some of his Top People promoting hell out of it. Summit is, I presume, a dream product for many in the privatization biz, because it has been so successful in getting actual public schools to invite it to come and stay.

Not that everyone is a fan. Take a look at some of the comments in this piece "The Inherent Racism of Summit 'Public' (Charter) School." And many schools have backed away from the Mass Customized Learning Program (a term that deserves a place on the oxymoron shelf right next to Jumbo Shrimp and Peacekeeper Missiles). The program is a model for Personalized [sic] Learning via Competency Based Education, featuring playlists for students to work through at their own pace.

Indiana, Pennsylvania schools tried to quietly implement Summit programming, and parents began to squawk almost immediately. After just one month

parents began telling the school board that their kids were not adjusting to the new learning style, that they found questionable and objectionable material in the recommended online resources in their classes, and that their children were spending too much time in front of computer screens.

NY Magazine just profiled Cheshire, Connecticut, another town that fought back when the mass customized learning program came to town (or rather, the town came to them, since the Summit model involves logging on to the Summit website). The Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative had paid for the 130 Chromebooks needed, but once again, reality got in the way of CZI dreams.

Students rarely met with teachers, but instead had lots of screen time with a computer program that was reportedly easy to trick (just skip the lessons and go straight to the tests). The program still has glitches, including questions that cannot be answered correctly (maybe some nerdy programmer decided Summit needed its own Kobayashi Maru?) And there's the problem of the open-sourced playlists themselves:

Nothing about the platform said Silicon Valley more than the open-source approach to the “playlists.” Teachers were encouraged to customize them, to add and subtract — and Cheshire’s teachers were working on this, Superintendent Jeff Solan said in an email — but the base material was often just a bunch of links, to sites ranging from Kids Encyclopedia to SparkNotes to the BBC. I interviewed several educators who were involved in developing the platform in 2014, and when I mentioned this to one, he agreed they were “shoddy.” “We knew it,” he said. They were in such a hurry, he said, “we were just throwing things in there, that, at least from a Google search, looked reputable.”

Yikes. It's almost as if the actual education piece is secondary to some other part of the operation. I wonder what that could be...

And there was the question of data. Summit is clear about the 18 partners it shares its data with, and subjects itself to its own strong privacy agreements in addition to the legal protections around student data already in place, but parents and other locals were nonetheless concerned. “The Chromebooks were free. Nothing’s free. There’s always a reason,” said Mary Burnham, a retired educator who was part of the campaign against Summit. “If somebody’s giving you something free, chances are, they want something back, or they’re already getting something from it. As best I can tell, with Summit, it’s data.”

All of which brings us to the newest news from Summit Learning.

As we look to the future, we are excited to continue expanding our impact within the broader public school system by sharing the Summit Learning Program with more schools and refining the Program to best meet the needs of all students. To do this, and with our support, a new nonprofit organization will independently lead and operate the Summit Learning Program beginning in the 2019-2020 school year.

My emphasis. Who will be on this new board operating Summit. Well, Tavenner herself. And Priscilla Chan. You know who she is. Peggy Alford-- she's the CFO and Head of Operations for CZI. And Alex Hernandez. Tavenner plugs him as a "seasoned educator," but I'm betting he's on this board more because of his experience as a Broad graduate, a venture capitalist, the lead on Charter Schol Growth Fund's Next-Generation Schools practice focused on personalized learning and school model innovation, and superintendent at the Aspire charter school chain.

At this juncture, we might want to take a moment to step aside and review what CZI actually is-- not a strictly philanthropic organization, but an LLC-- an actual business with certain legal and tax benefits, but still able to think about things like profits and control and not having to divulge that which one does not wish to divulge.

So my question is, did Summit just become a subsidiary of the Zuckerberg empire. Did Mark Zuckerberg, who's entire fortune is based on the biggest data-mining operation ever seen in human history, just manage to grab himself a piece of (currently) 380 schools and all the students therein?

If you are the connect-the-dots kind of person, we've got public schools connected to charters connected to one of the biggest data grabbers on the planet, all tied up in a personalized [sic] learning bow. If your school district decides they'd like to let Summit, I'd recommend you ask some big questions, before someone in your district gives away the data cow in return for some not-very-magic beans.



ICYMI: October At Last Edition (10/14)

Is fall finally here? We can only hope. 

Remember, if it speaks to you, pass it on. 

Every Morning Is An Affirmation

If you're only going to read one thing this week, make it this piece by Jose Luis Vilson. Affirmation indeed.

Wick-ed

Burning that candle without being consumed.

New Orleans Teacher Held Against Her Will      

What a bizarre story! Mercedes Schneider has the details.

While Kavanaugh Craziness Rages, DeVos News Gets Lost    

Jeff Bryant reminds us about what DeVos has been up to while everyone else was watching Bro Brett audition for the Supremes.

Teacher Autonomy-- An Often Ignored Victim of High Stakes Testing

A reminder of one important casualty of test-centered school.

Quit Saying Special Ed Costs Too Much 

Nancy Bailey talks about the eight signs that someone is about to take an ax to special ed.

     

Saturday, October 13, 2018

How Teachers Avoid the Common Core

Here's an important thing to understand about the Common Core Standards--nobody is in charge of them.

Many standards have official gatekeepers. For instance, the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Colorado is the official civilian source for the answer to "What time is it?" through the national atomic clock.

There is no such body for the CCS. When the standards were first unleashed, the official word was that a state could not change a single word of them, and the states could add no more than 15%. The unanswered question was, "Or what...?" There has never been an official body to monitor state use of the standards. The folks who wrote the standards might have fulfilled such a function, but they dispersed almost immediately to new jobs (David Coleman took over the College Board, Jason Zimba booked some consultant gigs, etc). Sure, there's a site where you can look at the standards and read some PR, but it's the equivalent of a business site that won't let you contact the company or order product.

There has never been an official Common Core office to say, "This is correct, but that is not."

The implications for the use of the standards are huge. There is not, for instance, a body that approves whether or not a textbook can call itself "Common Core ready." Some organizations have tried to fill that gap by doing reviews based on textbook alignment to the Core, but those groups are themselves taking an unauthorized stab at what the Core says.

When the Core started finding its way to individual districts and schools, an army of consultants was unleashed to lead sessions on "unpacking" the standards. At these sessions, teachers would be put through the painstaking process of saying, "Well, what this standard is actually after is this..." with an explanation of what the consultants believed the standards said. Again, there was no oversight, no authority to "certify" that a consultant had a True Understanding of the standards.

That process was often followed by alignment--a process by which curricula were supposed to be written to match the requirements of the newly unpacked standards.

Problems emerged almost immediately. For instance, the lack of a Central Common Core Office meant there was also no Common Core review and revision process. If 500 schools all discovered what they believed was a flaw, omission, or misplacement of a standard, there was nobody to call, no process by which the regular review of the Core would lead to a Core 2.0 that improved the flaw. The Core's writers were either so confident or unconcerned that they created a system in which the standards would be more set in stone that the United States Constitution. All of that meant that if a district or state felt that there was a flaw in the standards, they had no option other than to just be rebels and change some standards anyway.

Another issue was the parallel roll-out of the Big Standardized Test, a test which immediately signaled that some standards mattered and some did not. Some states gave some standards fancy names like "anchor standards" which meant, roughly, the only standards you need to care about. For instance, there are ELA standards about speaking and listening, but they don't matter, because speaking and listening will never be on the Big Standardized Test.

The theory was that if one unpacked the standards and aligned one's curriculum, higher test scores would fall like manna from heaven. It became almost immediately obvious that this was not true--higher test scores would result from teaching to the test, standards be damned.

A few years in, all of these factors contributed to one important revelation.

What happens to a teacher who doesn't teach to the standards?

Nothing.

Oh, teachers still had (and have) to submit lesson plans that show alignment to standards, based on curriculum that is aligned to the standards. However, the alignment process is simply a piece of bureaucratic paperwork-- you can simply write down the lessons and units that your professional judgment considers best, and then just fill in the numbers of various standards in the blanks. Maybe you have an administrator who will hold your feet to the fire ("Mrs. McTeachalot, I believe your use of standard RL.5.2a is not entirely on point"), but mostly, life will go on, your paperwork will be filed, the district's report to the state will show that teachers are teaching to the standards with fidelity, and you can close your classroom door and do what you know is right. As long as the paperwork is good, reality can take care of itself.

This avoidance of the Common Core is also widely practiced by teachers and administrators who will deny that they're doing it. Innumerable teachers have written glowing essays about how they've used the Core to open up new avenues of swellness in their classrooms, and then go on to describe lessons that have nothing at all to do with the standards. But that's where we are. I can claim that my lesson about students meditating on a head of cabbage is Core aligned, and I may know I'm lying, or I may sincerely believe that I'm doing great Core things, but it doesn't matter--nobody is ever going to show up at my classroom door to say that the lesson is not Core-approved.

There are teachers who are less able to escape, who are trapped in micromanaged situations where administrators insist on scripted lessons straight out of the box. Mind you, those scripted lessons may also be a poor representation of the Core, but that's a small matter compared to scripting (it's a topic for another day, but the short line is that any administrator who insists their teachers teach from a script should be banished from education forever).

The Common Core Standards remain a sort of toxic vaporware--dangerous and damaging when first released, but slowly dissipating into a vague and formless while people try to recover from the damage they originally caused and are, in some places, still causing. We can only hope more teachers figure out how to escape.

Originally posted at Forbes.

Friday, October 12, 2018

One More Lousy Side Effect

One of my former colleagues and her husband are expecting a baby, and that is good news for everybody-- except, maybe, all the rest of my former colleagues.

Here's the problem. Since my retirement and the concurrent non-filling of my position, four English teachers are divided among the four high school grades. One teacher for each grade-- and that means that my colleague teachers all the students in the grade our high school subjects to the Big Standardized ELA Test.

She's due in March.

"Sorry to be a problem."
That means the district will be searching for a sub to fill in for the critical weeks before the students take the BS Test. My colleague has that test prep down to a science, so maybe her sub will be able to just kind of follow along and.... no, my district is probably about to experience a sudden mysterious dip in the effectiveness of high school teaching.

And while the state of Pennsylvania is on the brink of making our BS Test (the Keystones, because Pennsylvania is the keystone state-- get it?) optional for graduation, so that the stakes for students will be little-to-none, the stakes for the school remain large. Test scores (both raw scores and VAM-soaked "improvement" scores) are used to evaluate English and Math teachers- but they are also part of a score given to the entire building. And that building score is used as part of the evaluation score for every teacher in the building. That's right-- we still do that thing where teachers are judged in part based on the scores of students they never see in courses they never teach.

So that's where we are in this awesome teacher evaluation system-- one teacher experiences one of life's great personal joys, and a building full of teachers have to sweat their professional standing.

You may say that her maternity leave shouldn't really make any difference, that years of awesome instruction will be more than enough to lift those students to heights of swellness on the BS Test and all I can say is, Honey, aren't you cute. The test requires test prep-- not the kind where students drill and memorize certain facts and figures, but where they learn certain key vocabulary and learn to navigate the kinds of tricky gotchas favored by these test manufacturers.

Plenty of schools face this extra challenge-- a pregnancy or injury at an inconvenient time. And don't imagine that test-centered accountability doesn't affect which teachers will accept a student teacher, or if they do, what they allow those student teachers to do. Families are encouraged to schedule vacations at Not The Wrong Time. All sorts of events that used to be normal pieces of the ordinary life of a school have become dangerous bumps in the testing road.

My old department will pull together, and plenty of commercially available test prep materials will be marshalled, and my former colleague will help more than she should have to at such a moment because she's That Person, but the whole exercise is just a reminder of how far the Big Standardized Test is from measuring any of the things it pretends to measure.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

John White Remains Confused

Last week the Policy Innovators in Education (PIE) network held its annual meeting, this time in New Orleans. It's a jolly gathering of all our reform friends, and this year it featured a speech from Louisiana school chief John White, the test of which was run by Fordham's Flypaper blog. I'll warn you-- this starts out just sort of ill-formed, and ends up pretty awful. But it is a window, once again, on how fully lost some reformsters are.


White has a hefty reform pedigree-- Teach for America, TFA director, Joel Klein's team in NYC, Broad Academy of Faux Superintendency). The headline that gave this piece some legs and attention was White's observation that education is no longer a political winner, which is only slightly more insightful than suggesting that Barack Obama will probably win the Democratic nomination over Hilary Clinton. Or as I've commented elsewhere, 2018-- the year I run out of new ways to say "And you just figured this out now..."

White does note that the 2016 election put paid to the notion that education would be an important political issue. Jeb! Bush tried to make education a chunk of his campaign foundation, and Campbell Brown tried to set up a website that would position her as arbiter of the education discussion (remember when she staged education summits and nobody came). In 2016, people who banked on education as an issue were like folks who speculated in real estate, but the railroad went through some other town.

But White believes this lack of political interest in education is a serious problem. I don't disagree with that basic point-- it sucks that politicians, leaders, media outlets, and strangers on the street aren't more interested in what goes on in the world of education. But beyond that-- well, I find White's analysis suspect at best.

Education reform has made positive gains in this country for the people whom it’s set out to serve without question.

Yes, "without question" probably belongs somewhere else in that sentence, but it's a sentence that should be stricken, anyway, without question. Unless he means that the people ed reform set out to serve were profiteers and privatizers, in which case he may have a point. If he meant actual children, I don't think he does.

Nor does he offer much to back it up:

And whereas, when I started out my career in the 1990s and people ask you, “Point me to a set of schools where large groups of students are beating the odds, and are achieving some semblance of hope in the American dream in spite of challenging conditions as a child,” you could count on your hand how many schools met those criteria. Today, there are hundreds of them.

How many times do miracle schools have to be debunked? Roughly a zillion, I guess. What are miracles based one? Extra resources. Careful attention to which students they let in the door. Depending on a lousy measure of students achievement to make pretty numbers. None of that is particularly miraculous. Where are the thousands upon thousands of students who, by now, should have swelled the college ranks with success and gone on to richer, happier lives? And what do we know about the cost of those "miracles"? How many students had to be left behind in schools with even fewer resources so that some charter operator could stage a "miracle"?

And yet for some reason, today we have a political climate in which—whatever side of the Common Core issue you are on, whatever your take on school vouchers, wherever you come out on standardized testing or what have you—you cannot question the fact that politicians are running from education and not toward it. They are running from our elementary schools, our middle schools, and our high schools. And where they are even remotely interested in our education, it is in thin solutions for our postsecondary education and thin solutions for early childhood education. Somehow it’s the thirteen years, the thirteen deeply formative years, of school that they seem to want nothing to do with.

This is a great paragraph, capturing both the current state of politics vs. reformsterism and also capturing the confusion and cluelessness of some Reformsters. It's as important, in its own way, as Arne Duncan's sweetly oblivious memoir.

Politicians have decided to shy away from those thirteen years because virtually everything reformsters have talked them into in the last couple of decades has been a mess. Common Core turned out to be a nightmare, a disaster. Test-centered schools-- disaster. Charters-- looked like they might not be a disaster, but now stalled out. To the extent that White is correct, politicians have learned that many policy wonks are not very wise about schools, and that their ideas are often laced with kryptonite.

Of course, they have also learned to keep a lower profile. They've learned that you can get away with Common Core if you just call it something else. And they've learned that the next round of privatizing profiteering (personalized learning, competency based education, techno-data-everything, etc) can be better played close to the vest.

I'd also like to think that they've learned that education does not boil down very effectively to a sound bite on the stump. And that many people are very invested in education, so when you say something stupid, they will make a fuss.

White is missing one other puzzle piece. I'd argue that a huge reason that education wasn't a big deal in 2016 is because everyone, from corporate GOP candidates to corporate Democrats, agreed on one basic education policy-- "those smart guys with all that money should get to call the shots." You can't have much of a debate between people who are all on the same side.

Having missed that, White has also missed that something is changing right now. Teachers are running for office. And in several major races, education is actually a big issue. The problem for White and his PIE cronies is that the political noise about education is coming in opposition to reformsters and their legacy of educational vandalism. And with the election of Trump, reformsters had to learn another lesson that is coming back to haunt them this cycle-- when people are your allies only because it's politically and financially expedient to be so, then when it's no longer expedient, they will no longer be your allies.

White's confusion is as great as ever. When trying to explain "the brilliance represented in this room and in your organizations" is not about their ideas, but  instead

it has to do with the fact that over two or three decades, some of the nations most committed, invigorated, finest people, rich and poor, from west and east, from all racial backgrounds, have actually come together to focus on public education, or publicly-funded education. They have brought tremendous and uncommon energy to this issue, Republicans, Democrats, and independents alike. And we have achieved the gains we have, not because we are smarter than everybody else, but because we have great people who saw this as an issue to which they wanted to dedicate their life.

It occurs to me at this point that among his problems, White is a policy guy, defining "the spectrum" as a bunch of policy and political operatives (but not any actual teachers or people who work in the field), and that "success" in this context means issued some position papers and schmoozed some statehouse allies and got some laws passed here and there, and that John White neither knows nor cares how any of that played out for actual children in actual classrooms.

Sure enough. He defines the biggest crisis facing education reform and it has nothing to do with the lack of perceptible positive life effects for students or the state of actual learning or the problems of poverty and racism as they affect students' ability to be their most excellent selves-- no, the "crisis" is "the relevance of our issue, and therefore the attractiveness of our issue, for the next generation of activists, advocates, philanthropists, and politicians." John White isn't even worried about a teacher shortage-- it's the politician shortage that he thinks is the biggest crisis.

And as he outlines the problem and possible solutions, he talks about how he used to think that the solution was better PR (I'm paraphrasing here) as in a set of issues that would play better, or some billionaire who could kick them loose from a tired message or, well, "finding value in things that offer more value to a more diverse audience." He's just not so sure any more.

But here comes the big finish-- if reformsters are going to grow more reformsters like Bill Haslam or Mike Bloomberg, who can "create newness" or invent, they will have to reinvent, "be new." He wants the PIE folks to appreciate how rare and precious it is for folks to join across party lines. So think about how to "remain relevant" and "remain on the front page." Because PR.

Just when I think he will manage to discuss education without mentioning a single human being who's actually involved in doing it, as if the whole "do it for the children" mantra is only for the public and not something reformsters say to each other when they're the only ones in the room, he busts out the children-- and it's even worse.

I believe it’s possible because the good news is, whether you are in New Orleans or New York or anywhere in this country, there is one force that we can harness, that no other issue can harness, and that is the love of Americans for their children. Everyone knows that children are our most precious assets, and therefore we have a tremendous platform from which to get advocates. 

So don't forget-- people love their damn children and we should be able to leverage that love into political capital. Think I'm being harsh? Here's the very next, and final, two sentences:

But for some reason we are not converting that into attention, into political capital, and into new ideas. And that has to change.

Well, something has to change. Perhaps the cluelessness of reformsters like White could change. I would recommend less time schmoozing with the members of PIE and more time in an actual classroom, because this is a stunning display of reform disconnect, of a focus on policy winning (at whatever policy, as he seems none too attached to any particular policy-- just one that could get them winning again) at the complete neglect, ignorance, dismissal and obliviating of the children. It's a world in which education policy looms large, but actual schools and classrooms and teachers and children are virtually invisible.

And, yeah-- that has to change.


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Follow Nancy Flanagan

When I first wandered into the world of edubloggery, one of the first names I learned was Nancy Flanagan's. Her voice and insights jumped out as being uniquely smart, insightful, and valuable, and she turned out to be an exceptional persona as well). If you are like me, then she is already part of your required reading and you can skip what follows. But for the rest of you, take a second and check this out.

Her nine years writing Teacher in a Strange Land at EdWeek were a Master's class in how to balance the personal and the professional, the passionate and the rational in talking about what is happening in the world of education these days. Hers is exactly the kind of point of view that the education debates need more of-- a knowledgeable, accomplished, and articulate classroom teacher (now retired).

She's making a big leap; she has closed down the EdWeek blog and has set up shop out in the open internet-- behind a paywall no longer!

Teacher in a Strange Land can now be found here, and if you have not been a regular reader, now is the time to start. Bookmark it, add it to your feed list, write it on a sticky note, subscribe-- whatever it is you do to keep up with your preferred blogs. No collection of education blogs is complete without it.

DEY: Opposing Online Preschool

Defending the Early Years and Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood have released a co-authored statement in response to the rise of online "preschools." This exceptionally dumb concept has been around for a few years (Utah leapt in with UPSTART in 2015) and yet there is still scant evidence that it's a good idea to plunk three and four year olds down in front of a computer screen to practice academic subjects.

Never not a terrible idea
Utah, a state unwilling to provide state funded preschool, did their own study and found that UPSTART students did better on standardized exams from kindergarten through fourth grade than "non-participating" students. In other words, online preschool provided better test prep than no preschool at all. The whole business is enough to make one rage-weep because A) there's no evidence that the standardized test means anything important (and even reformsters are coming to understand that) and B) why in God's name are we giving standardized tests to K-4 students?

Unfortunately, there is plenty of evidence that while this idea may suck from an educational, developmental, spiritual, and general being human standpoint, it is absolutely awesome from a make-a-whole-bunch-of-money standpoint. Some of the programs are "non-profit" which, as we've seen repeatedly, is a distinction without a difference-- somebody, somehow, is making money off them. Some programs are sold to the state, and some are sold to individual families, and yes, the damned feds are in there throwing money around, too ($11.5 million to help expand the UPSTART program).

The cyberpreschool programs are not just bad in their own right-- they also help feed the notion that the little should be spending more time on academics and less time playing and messing around like a bunch of little kids. This flies in the face of virtually everything we know about the development of tiny humans, but there's not nearly as much money to be made in having kids go out and play in a field with each other.

From the DEY/CCFC statement about cyberpreschool:

Recognizing the estimated $70 billion a year “preschool market,” an increasing number of Silicon Valley companies with names like “K12 Inc.” and “CHALK" are selling families and policymakers the idea that kindergarten readiness can be transmitted through a screen. What these companies offer is not preschool, but a marketing scheme designed to sell a virtual facsimile of real preschool. By adopting online pre-k, states are selling out kids and families for the benefit of private industry.

All of our knowledge about human development demonstrates that children learn best through exploratory, creative play and relationships with caring adults. As the American Academy of Pediatrics notes, “Higher-order thinking skills and executive functions essential for school success, such as task persistence, impulse control, emotion regulation, and creative, flexible thinking, are best taught through unstructured and social (not digital) play.” By contrast, there is virtually no evidence showing that online preschool improves outcomes for kids.

Online pre-K may expose kids and families to new types of risks. Research shows that screen overuse puts young children at risk of behavior problems, sleep deprivation, delays in social emotional development, and obesity. Extended time on screens diminishes time spent on essential early learning experiences such as lap-reading, creative play, and other social forms of learning.

All of the assertions come with footnotes to back them up. And if you like your experts a bit more live, here's an important quote from the news release that came with the statement this morning:


"All children should have access to high-quality, fully funded preschool," said Diane Levin, Professor of Early Childhood Education, at Boston University's Wheelock College.  "Online ‘preschool’ lacks the concrete, hands-on social, emotional and intellectual educational components that are essential for quality learning in the early years. Further, online preschools are likely to exacerbate already existing inequalities in early education by giving low-income children superficial exposure to rote skills and ideas while more privileged children continue to receive developmentally sound experiences that provide a solid foundation for later academic success.”

And another point well worth remembering:

“Allowing tech companies to push online preschools will lead to further marginalization of low-income families who already lack access to high-quality affordable child care,” said Dr. Denisha Jones, Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education at Trinity Washington University and DEY Advisory Board member. “If the parents of Silicon Valley won’t put their own children in online preschool, why would we think this is good for other people's children?”

The statement has been signed by an extraordinary list of 100+ organizations and education professionals, including Parents Across America, the Network for Public Education, Common Sense Media, the CEO of Chicago's Children's Museum, Peter Gray, Rae Pica, Tim Slekar, and author Joe Clement.

Read the statement, and check out the press release for more details.

Holding the line for the littles is one of the most important things we can advocate for, because running some unfounded bone-headed profiteering experiment on a four year old creates a lifetime of issues for that child. Online PreK should not be a thing at all, ever.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Is The Big Standardized Test A Big Standardized Flop?

Since No Child Left Behind first rumbled onto the scene, the use of a Big Standardized Test to drive accountability and measure success has been a fundamental piece of education reform. But recently, some education reform stalwarts are beginning to express doubts.
There are plenty of reasons to doubt the validity of the Big Standardized Test, be it PARCC or SBA or whatever your state is using these days. After almost two decades of its use, we've raised an entire generation of students around the notion of test-based accountability, and yet the fruits of that seem.... well, elusive. Where are the waves of students now arriving on college campuses super-prepared? Where are the businesses proclaiming that today's grads are the most awesome in history? Where is the increase in citizens with great-paying jobs? Where are any visible signs that the test-based accountability system has worked?

Two years ago Jay Greene (no relation), head of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, was writing about the disconnect in test scores-- if test scores were going up, wasn't that supposed to improve "life outcomes." Wasn't the whole argument that getting students to raise test scores would be indicative of better prospects in life? After all, part of the argument behind education reform has been that a better education was the key to a better economic future, both for individuals and for the country. Greene looked at the research and concluded that there was no evidence of a link between a better test score and a better life.



On Forbes.com, contributor Frederick Hess (director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-tilted thinky tank) expressed some doubts as well. AEI has always supported the ed reform cause, but Hess has often shown a willingness to follow where the evidence leads, even if that means challenging reform orthodoxy. He cites yet another study that shows a disconnect between a student's test scores and her future. In fact, the research shows that programs that improve "attainment" don't raise test scores, and programs that raise test scores don't affect "attainment."
Test scores can be raised with several techniques, and most of those techniques have nothing to do with providing students with a better education. Drill the test prep. Take at-risk students out of electives and make them take test-related courses instead. And have teachers learn, over the years, how to teach more directly to the test. But do you want higher test scores or better education? Because those are two unrelated things.
The end result is that the test scores do not tell you what they claim they tell you. They are less like actionable data and more like really expensive noise.
Hess and Greene represent a small but growing portion of the reform community; for most, the Big Standardized Test data is God. For others, the revenue stream generated by the tests, the pre-tests, the test prep materials, and the huge mountains of data being mined-- those will be nearly impossible to walk away from.
But there is one critical lesson that ed reform testing apostates should keep in mind. The idea that the Big Standardized Test does not measure what it claims to measure, the idea that it actually does damage to schools, the idea that it simply isn't what it claims to be-- while these ideas are presented as new notions for ed reformers, classroom teachers have been raising these concerns for about 20 years.
Teachers have said, repeatedly, that the tests don't measure what they claim to measure, and that the educational process in schools is being narrowed and weakened in order to focus on testing. Teachers have said, repeatedly, that the Big Standardized Tests are a waste of time and money and not helping students get an education. Teachers have been saying it over and over and over again. In return teachers have been told, "You are just afraid of accountability" and "These tests will finally keep you honest."
After 20 years, folks are starting to figure out that teachers were actually correct. The Big Standardized Test is not helping, not working, and not measuring what it claims to measure. Teachers should probably not hold their collective breath waiting for an apology, though it is the generation of students subjected to test-centered schooling that deserve an apology. In the meantime, if ed reform thought leader policy wonk mavens learn one thing, let it be this-- the next time you propose an Awesome idea for fixing schools and a whole bunch of professional educators tell you why your idea is not great, listen to them.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

ICYMI: Post Show Edition (10/7)

Final performance and set strike last night, so I'm operating on too-little sleep. But that doesn't mean I didn't find you some worthwhile reads for your Sunday afternoon.

Tackling Bro Culture Is Hard

The Kavanaugh spectacle has opened up sopme discussion of dealing with bro culture in high schools. Here's a NYT take on the subject.

School Hopping Brings Chaos

A visit to Detroit shows how the proliferation of shake shady charters leads to a great deal of destructive disruption in students' educations.

The Easiest Money Bill Ackerman Has Made

The umpteenth example of how charters can be great tools for profiteers (particularly if they are also legislators who get to write the rules of the game).

It Didn't Start with Trump

The Guardian takes us back to the roots of modern teacher-bashing. Let's go back to 1983 and Ronald Reagan...

What Top-Rated Schools Have In Common- Fewer Poor Kids

The Nevada Current takes a look at high-achieving schools and discovers a strong link to wealth.

Guilty Verdict for Man Who Defrauded Newpoint Charter Schools

A look at yet another scam artist who uses the unregulated freedom of charters to make himself rich at taxpayer expense. Will you be surprised if I tell this story is from Florida?

Don't Let Richmond Dictate Charter Schools

Laura Bowman's plea to keep Virginis relatively clean of charter blight.

The  Truth About Money in Public Education Politics

Yet another look at how dark money worms its way into local education elections.

What Happens When There Are No Public Schools      

Jeff Bryant takes us to Michigan for a look at the bad outcomes of bad choice programs.


Saturday, October 6, 2018

DeVos Secret Vist To View Koch Program

Betsy DeVos visited Wichita last Monday, but it was a very quiet visit. Her online schedule shows Monday an unscheduled day, and neither the Department of Education nor the group she visited issued any news release. It was a local source-- Suzanne Perez Tobias at the Wichita Eagle-- that picked up the story.

So what did DeVos travel to Wichita to see? She traveled to Koch Industries to meet a teacher and some students from the Youth Entrepreneurs, a group founded by Charles Koch and his wife Liz in 1991. It started out as an eight week course at a Wichita high school "designed to improve the professional potential of at risk students." That's not a shocker-- the Koch brothers have been pretty clear about preferring business solutions to educational problems, as well as their desire to have schools crank out useful meat widgets for the business leaders of America. According to their annual report, the program was in 126 schools with 182 teachers working with 3,487 students.

Their foundational values are unsurprising for a Koch venture. Responsibility-- "take responsibility for your own life." Be principled-- act with respect, integrity and toleration. Knowledge-- seek and use the best knowledge. None of that low-quality knowledge. Freedom-- "respect the rightgs of others and study the links between freedom, entrepreneurship, and societal well-being." Passion-- Find fulfillment by improving lives of others. That may not sound very Kochian, but the next one does. Opportunity-- "You make your own opportunities." Sound judgment-- by which we mean using "economic thinking to create the greatest benefit while using the least resources."(Yes, that's incorrect usage.) Win-win focus-- cooperation creates value for yourself and others. It's an interesting list, a portrayal of the conflicted shore where Christian do-unto-otheriness crashes in to Ayn Randian "take care of yourself and let everyone else rot," a neighborhood where the DeVos and Koch families have long lived. I'm glad this course is only an elective.

The program notes its differences from the Junior Achievement program. YE is a yearlong elective course taught by teachers who get YE training. The program offers students and program alums the chance to earn money for a business or continuing education.

No local superintendents were informed of DeVos visit ahead of time; the teacher involved, Zac Kliewer, e-mailed to let him know that the students would be meeting Betsy DeVos on Monday. Kliewer tweeted a photo of himself, the students, DeVos, and Liz Koch on Monday, When media picked that up, well... per the Wichita Eagle:

After a reporter contacted Kliewer seeking information about DeVos’s visit, “He got a call from somebody with the Kochs, and they said, ‘We would prefer not to have any media coverage,’” Burke said.

The visit to Wichita came two days before DeVos kicked off a four-state tour entitled "Rethink School."

It's not entirely clear why the visit needed to be hush hush, nor even whether DeVos wanted to avoid association with the Kochs or vice versa. Maybe everyone was just trying to avoid that unseemly spectacle in which journalists presume to bother their betters with questions. No word from the Wichita Eagle on whether or not DeVos was attended by her high-priced security detail.