Wednesday, February 28, 2018

What Jonathan Chait Doesn't Know

Jonathan Chait has waded again into the education policy field, and despite the confidence with which he speaks, "Obama Has To Save His Forgotten Education Legacy" is a dazzling display of bold, sparkling wrong, welding revisionist history onto a hard shell of incorrectness that is used to cover gaping holes where facts, or at least interpretations grounded in the reality of our own earth, ought to be.

In short, this piece has a lot of wrong in it.

Let's look at all the things that Chait doesn't know.

1) Chait doesn't know how Race to the Top happened.

On February 17, 2009, Barack Obama signed one of the most sweeping federal education reforms in American history.

It wasn't.

In fact, it owed most of its substance to No Child Left Behind, the bi-partisan train wreck implemented under the George W. Bush administration.

Chait notes that RttT was a grant program, modestly sized and hidden within the stimulus package. What he doesn't note is how much of it was simply an extension of NCLB. In fact, the RttT grants were no more influential than the waivers offered to states that followed the RttT requirements, and those waivers were attractive only because every single state was in imminent (if not current) violation of the law under the still-operational NCLB.

NCLB, as we all recall, required 100% of students in 100% of schools in 100% of districts to be pull above average scores on the federally-mandated Big Standardized Test. I occasionally exaggerate for effect; this is not one of those times. Congress had passed a functionally innumerate and literally impossible law on the theory that they would fix it later, before the bill was due. They didn't. So the Obama/Duncan offer was simple-- run your schools the way we tell you to, or be found in violation of federal education law. Most of the states caved.

So NCLB was the stick with which RttT was sold. RttT did one good thing-- it took away the impossible 100% goal. But in all other ways, it assumed that the problem with NCLB was that it was too loose. So the feds would tell states what BS Tests they had to give, they would make the penalties for those tests more punishing, and they would reduce the state/district autonomy over their education standards and plans (howdy, Common Core).

The result was “a marked surge” in school reform, rooted in studying data and spreading best practices.

Also incorrect. The result was a huge emphasis on test results over everything else, with the BS Testing tail wagging the educational dog. Curriculum was narrowed, students were sorted out according to how much their test scores would help or hurt a school. There were no new "best practices" to spread, except for practices intended to increase BS Test scores-- and those practices usually came at the cost of actual educational best practices.

So maybe RttT was "most sweeping" in the sense that it picked up the sledgehammer of NCLB and swung it around the China Shop of education with greater vigor and gusto. But that's nothing to brag about.

2) Chait doesn't know that people talked about it.

Chait seems unaware that RttT was used to push the Common Core. I cannot imagine what rock he hid under to have missed the considerable discussion about that bit of educational awesomeness.

Another reason is that, since the policy split both parties, nobody had an incentive to talk about it.

"Split" seems an odd word. United might be a better one.

3) Chait doesn't know how teachers unions reacted.

Teachers’ unions hated the entire premise of the reforms, which spurred states to adopt policies that gave more money to the most effective teachers and allowed schools to replace the least effective ones.

Wrong again. Teachers union leadership mostly like RttT just fine. Actual teachers, on the other hand, hated it a lot. This had nothing to do with giving more money to the most effective teachers, a policy that was implemented practically nowhere. Teachers hated it because suddenly our classroom practices were tied to a set of amateur-hour, top-down inflicted standards, and our reputations and, in some cases, careers were tied to the result of a single narrowly-aimed, poorly-designed standardized test.

Chait notes that the unions didn't want a public split with a beloved President, and he is correct hen he suggests that many teachers held out the vain hope that somehow Obama didn't know or understand what terrible policy his buddy Arne Duncan was inflicting on education. It is also true, however, that union leadership had to be pushed-- hard-- by members to even issue the milquetoast critiques of Duncan that they finally coughed up.

As long as Obama occupied the White House, though, teachers’ unions had to hold back from a full-scale assault on his education policies, and Obama had no need for a high-profile public defense.

Not wrong, but it was more than Obama-- lots of pseudo-left groups like DFER provided cover for a raft of conservative ed reform policies.

4) Chait hasn't heard of neo-liberalism.

The Obama administration is no longer the public face of liberal education reform. Instead, its opponents are attempting to attach that policy to Donald Trump and his Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Chait makes it sound as if this is some sort of trick to "attempt," when in fact it's like attaching the idea of wetness to water. But the real problem here is that Chait is trying to attach the idea of ed reform to some sort of Democrat versus Republican struggle, and while it is true that the parties have made various attempts to leverage ed policy for political points (e.g. "Common Core will turn your daughters into lesbian socialists" or "Only charters can save poor children from poverty"), ed reform has found a coalition standing shoulder to shoulder since the days the both parties signed off in No Child Left Behind.

What ed allies like Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush have in common is a dedication to the idea that public spaces like public schools should be carved up, sold of, and left to the private sector to run. You can call it neoliberalism or corporate power grabbing or whatever you like, but the arc of ed reform follows the idea that if we have the right tools, we can prove that public schools are failing and open up that giant mountain of education money to private entrepreneurs, while simultaneously launching a massive program of data mining that will make some folks rich even as it makes the Lesser Classes more useful tools for their Betters.

But none of that matters here because...

5) Chait doesn't know what the "sides" are.

Chait posits that there are three "broad approaches" to education policy. They are...

A) The "left wing" which supports neighborhood-based public schools, "opposes any methods to measure or differentiate the performance of teachers or schools," and argues instead for "alternatives to school reform" like increased anti-poverty spending and getting middle-class parents to enroll in high-poverty schools.

I literally cannot think of a single person who fits this description. In particular, I do not know anyone who opposes any attempt to measure the performance of teachers or schools. I know lots of people who oppose bad attempts to measure performance using tools that cannot actually do that job, but that's a different problem. The "alternatives to school reform" line is particularly clever, since school reform itself is touted as a means to erase poverty, so one might say that the opposing position is less about alternatives to ed reform and more about saying, "The best way to fight poverty would be to spend money actually fighting poverty.

B) Conservative education policy which "believes market competition holds the key to improvement." They like vouchers "to send low-income students to private schools" and want to open charters "with as little regulation as possible" and let the Invisible Hand sort them out.

This is a bit incomplete. Conservatives like the theory that competition breeds excellence-- and so did Arne Duncan and Barack Obama, which I'm pretty sure is not where he's going with this. Voucher fans like to sell vouchers as a poor-kids-go-to-private-schools measure, but mostly what vouchers do is funnel public tax dollars to selective religious schools.

C) The liberal position "sits between the two." Which is why Chait had to pretend that the Left Wing education stance is a thing-- so that he can seem to be championing the reasonable middle. Liberal wingers, apparently, believe in charters, and believe that schools need "more ability to reward excellent teachers and fire low-performing ones." Because teacher contracts make it "virtually impossible" to fire bad teachers. So, so far, liberal reformsters are exactly like conservative reformsters.

But wait! Liberal reformsters also believe that the market is not enough, and that strong oversight boards are needed to keep charters in line. He's going to cite Massachusetts as an example of charter awesomeness here, as well as proof that left-wingers oppose charters even when those charters are awesome. He does not explain where the gazillion people who voted against Massachusetts charter expansion came from, nor does he place the failed dark money astro-turf support group that backed the expansion-- where do they fit here?

Chait has other fish to fry. He wants you to know that his guys-- the liberals-- spoke out against Betsy DeVosian reform in Michigan, and that his side does pay attention to things like the research that says voucher schools do poorly. Because he really, really, really wants there to be some space between Obama and Trump on education reform policy. He wants you to know that the left and the right keep trying to make this a two-sided debate, but his team is totally all by itself in the middle. Also, he wants you to know that only his liberal buddies pay attention to facts and research-- everyone else is just a raving loon.

6) Chait doesn't know what planet he's on.

It's at this point that I can barely track his reasoning.

The left (as defined by Chait) is out to drive Democrats away from liberal reform (as made up and defined by Chait) by treating it as identical to the conservative agenda. But they aren't the same, because even though they both favor charters and both distrust teachers and both think the market should drive school and teacher behavior and both think we should pay (and fire) teachers on merit they are different because.... because.... Wait. Why are they different again? Liberals don't like vouchers?

Never mind, Chait considers this point already made, somehow, so he's moved on. DeVos doesn't count because she's an inadequate failure (Best line: "You can’t do much to alter primary education without some money to spend and a lot of cleverness. Obama had both. Trump and DeVos have neither.") But see, that's okay with the GOP because they just want to shrink the federal government, and so do the unions because the feds are "the only force powerful enough to upset tenure arrangements unions have decided to prioritize" and now I feel like I'm reading one of those articles where a Trumper talks about how the President has increased our prestige abroad and moral authority at home and all I can think is what are you even talking about-- I don't even know where to start. Chait is no help-- his link to support the idea that the GOP and unions are forging "low-key alliances" is a short piece (by himself) that offers as evidence that one time that Diane Ravitch used the word "local" seven times in an article. And he backs that up with an article Ravitch wrote in 2010.

7) Chait doesn't know what his problem is

So the real threat to real education reform is the alliance between the left-wing (as defined by Chait) alliance with the GOP, which in turn has led to the left-wingers attacking liberal reform "as crypto-allies of the GOP." Left-wingers are a wily bunch; I really hope I meet one some day.

But they might succeed because, as Chait posited at the top, nobody knows anything about ed reform, and into their ignorance will swoop the wily left-wingers to paint lovely liberal reform with an ugly Trump brush. And it might work, because to people with eyes and ears, it looks kind of true. Go figure.

But there is a solution!

8) Chait does not know what Barack Obama is capable of

There is, however, one person who has the power to change that: Barack Obama. The former president has nearly universal support among his own party, and he has the platform to command attention to issues he wants to highlight. The people who want to dismantle Obama’s education legacy can only exploit Obama’s absence from the public stage if Obama stays absent from the public stage. If instead Obama decides to speak out for his agenda, and to create room for Democrats to sustain his agenda, he’ll have enormous leverage to do so. Obama could make the case to teachers that they would be better served by unions that prioritize higher pay rather than job security for the least competent members. And he can can explain that progressives should support an active federal role in education, not local control that has perpetrated mediocrity and segregation.

We have now entered the magical thinking portion of our program.

First, Obama never made a compelling case for his education program in the first place. Second, his legacy is not his legacy, but a legacy that belongs to a whole lot of people, including Jeb and George Bush. Third, many teachers still have a funny ache in the middle of their backs, right where he stabbed us.

And nobody-- nobody-- can make a good case for merit pay based on bad metrics like student scores on bad standardized tests (which is what, in Chait's statement, "higher pay" really means-- along with no job security).

Finally, while Chait may be contemptuous of what local control "perpetrates," the feds have had well over a decade to make their case for the reforms they anted to push, and they have failed. The Common Core did not make schools better. Using standardized tests as a proxy for educational achievement, and attaching those tests to punishments and rewards and more punishments did not make schools better. Unleashing charters and the power of competition did not make schools better. Disenfrachising local elected school boards did not make schools better. They had their chance. They failed. Better PR and a more charismatic spokesman will not change that.

9) Chait does not know that people have already been talking about all of this

For about two years, reformsters have been talking about how things break down within their movement, what worked and what didn't, what alliances have been formed and which ones have been tested. Honestly, they've been pretty thoughtful about it, and considerably more reality-based than Chait is here. The next time he gets an urge to write a piece like this, he should try talking to or reading the work of other reformsters. I think they could help him out here.

Four Years?

Every year the Fordham Institute holds a Wonkathon, a sort of nerdy policy writing contest with many of the usual reform voices. And every year I write to Mike Petrilli and offer him my own answers to his question for the year. This year he actually took me up on it, but on the off chance that many of you are not regular Fordham readers, here's the piece that is now running over there. Now we'll have to wait nd see if I win. The question this year is, given the diploma scandals now coming to light, do our graduation requirements need to change. 

The battery of questions in this year’s Wonkathon prompt is a good one, and they are all deserving of consideration. But I think it overlooks a major consideration: Why four years?
The definition of high school graduation that includes the qualifier “within four years” is now rarely even explicitly expressed, and yet it represents a perverse disincentive in the current system.
Consider this story from early in my own career. I met Pat (not the person’s actual name, of course) in Pat’s freshman year. Pat was taking low-level courses to avoid challenges that were well within Pat’s capabilities, but for a variety of reasons, school wasn’t really Pat’s thing. Pat stumbled through freshman year, and then completely bombed sophomore year and had to repeat most of those courses. Pat turned up in my eleventh grade classroom—now taking higher level, college-bound courses. Pat was a new student. “I was a dope,” Pat told me. “I was wasting my time, but now I’m going to do something with my life.” Pat worked through eleventh grade, continued taking college-prep courses as a senior, graduated, and went on to college, earning a degree in communications.
I would consider Pat one of our great success stories. But it took Pat five years, so to the graduation rate figures, Pat is no different than a student who drops out halfway through high school and never comes back.
Pressure to inflate grades, bogus credit-recovery courses, just plain D.C.-style fraud—these things don’t happen just because school districts are under pressure to graduate students. They happen because districts are under pressure to graduate students Right Now! In Four Years! (The formula has been fiddled with in the last decade, but the four-year deadline remains.)
For all the reform talk these days about personalization and flexibility, policymakers still deny public schools the flexibility to say to a student, “We are going to get you through this. We are going to see you succeed, even if it takes a little bit longer than it does for some of your peers.”
Instead, we have a measuring system that says the instant a student falters or stumbles, there is no benefit to the school in helping that student make it to the finish line a little bit later. A student who has to repeat a year is as bad on paper as a student who walks away and never comes back—but the student who stumbles and stays is far more trouble.
I’ll say without hesitation that the vast majority of schools and teachers work with that stumbling student on the five- (or six-) year plan because it’s the right thing to do, the choice that best fulfills our professional sense of responsibility. But it’s not the choice that our current definition of “graduation rate” rewards. Instead, our current definition rewards getting a diploma in every student’s hand after just four years, no matter what corners must be cut to do so.
Course credits and attendance are more than enough to determine readiness for a diploma. Exit exams, the Big Standardized Test, and credit recovery don’t really add any useful information, and they are all tightly tied to other systems of perverse incentives.
There is no reason for the traditional frame of coursework to be wired to a ticking four-year time-bomb. Removing that four-year deadline would give schools and students some breathing room to get things right instead of worrying about getting it right now.

Should Dems Get Behind Charters

Last week the Voices of San Diego website featured an opinion column by charter high school senior Katie Anderson. The title pretty much cuts to the chase-- "Charter Schools Should Be Part of the California Democratic Party Platform."

It's a good quick look at the fallacious arguments still circulating in favor of charter schools. Anderson up front announced her intention to register Democrat on her 18th birthday, because the party aligns with so many of her values. Except one. Why, she asks, is the Democratic Party not aligned with her on "the value of charter schools in the public education system."

It's an.... interesting question, because at this point, the Democratic Party's position on charter schools is a bit vague. You may recall that the battle over the Dem platform for the Presidential campaign involved some battling between DFER ("Fake Democrats for Education Reformy Stuff") and actual supporters of public education; the public ed supporters won, but that was in crafting a platform to support a Presidential candidate who was always pretty charter-friendly. The Obama administration was pretty charter friendly. And plenty of prominent Democrats are big charter fans. So does the party itself have an official position?

Sure, they've worked hard to disavow a whole bunch of policies for no real reason except that those reform policies (including charters) are now the official policies of the Trump/DeVos administration, but that disavowal has involved a lot of dancing and twisting and selective amnesia. Democrats now disavow some reform policies because of the current administration, but that involves being shocked-- shocked!!-- that charters are primarily a conservative policy. But they always have been.

Bottom line: I'm not sure that asking the Democratic Party to get behind charter schools isn't much like asking a hungry person to get behind an all-you-can-eat buffet.

But Anderson further muddies the water with standard charter talking points:

Charter schools are public schools of choice that offer a valuable alternative to the traditional, one size-fits-all educational model. They allow families to choose the best path that will offer their children academic success. They are independently managed, and for that independence they offer greater accountability — they must be re-approved every two-to-five years by a local district, county or state education board to operate.

No, charter schools are not public schools, because they are not accountable to representatives of the public, nor do they have to accept any student who shows up at their door, nor are they subject to public oversight. They allow some families to choose-- but even if they allowed all families to choose, that would leave unaddressed the issue of disenfranchised taxpayers, who have no say about how their school tax dollars are spent under a choice system. Trading independence for accountability has always been the sales pitch-- but the accountability simply doesn't happen. Charters keep their financial records a secret, feel free to push religion, discriminate against the Wrong Sort of Student, and in many locations, avoid being shut down even when they are disastrous and obvious failures. And that's before we get to all the frauds and scams that operate under the charter banner.

Aren’t choice and the desire to raise up those in socially and economically disadvantaged populations part of the Democrats’ core values? A charter school education is not a red or blue issue; it is a students’ educational rights issue.

So far, there is little evidence that charters raise up those in socially and economically disadvantaged populations. And because states consistently refuse to fully fund schools, but instead insist that multiple parallel system can be run for the same money previously used to run just one system, we have a zero-sum game where every charter that prospers does so at the cost of a public school. Even if charters did raise up the "socially and economically disadvantaged," the current system insures that for very student who is "rescued" from a public school, there are a dozen students left in that public school who are now facing greater challenges with fewer resources.

Anderson does have one good point:

It’s unfair that children and grandchildren of Democratic school board members and California legislators get access to charter schools while these same elected officials are creating roadblocks that limit more students from having that educational choice. This is elitism and hypocrisy at its worst and really should have no place in the Democratic Party.

I don't know if it's unfair, but it's certainly hypocritical. But if Anderson thinks that elitism and hypocrisy are out of place in today's Democratic Party, it's possible that her charter-school education sheltered her from a few things. Particularly when it comes to charter schools, the Democratic Party is deeply committed to having it both ways, depending on which way the wind is blowing, what money is being wafted on that breeze, and, occasionally, the actual principles of the individual politician. I hope Anderson enjoyed her demonstration at the California convention; now that it's over, I encourage her to study up a little harder on charter school policy.

In the meantime, what the Democratic Party should get behind is transparent, publically owned and operated schools that are fully funded and committed to providing excellent education for all and not merely "access" to a select few."

Monday, February 26, 2018

Have I Got This Straight?

Teachers cannot be trusted with fragile young minds, because we will try to inculcate them with Very Naughty Ideas, like socialism...

But we can be trusted to use guns around those young minds.

Teachers cannot be trusted to professionally set and follow their own academic standards, and probably shouldn't design curriculum either...

But we should use guns in school.

Teachers must stop teaching and give a standardized test every year because they can't be trusted to do their job unless the test is there to check up on them. In fact, we have spent the last fifteen years developing a whole new system of schooling that is based on the assumption that teachers can't be trusted to do their jobs well...

But we can be trusted to use a gun in school.

Teachers, in many cases, are not allowed to use copy machines or laminators or other scary equipment...

But we should be allowed to use guns in school.

Teachers have shown a measurable tendency to act out of bias and prejudice...

But we should allowed to use our judgment when assessing a threat and shooting a gun at it.

Teachers can't have the money for new books, new equipment, new supplies, improved building conditions, or boxes of Kleenex...

But we have money to buy them guns and gun training.

Black teachers who legally carry guns outside of school should expect to be questioned, held, maybe arrested, possibly killed...

But everyone will be totally cool with letting them use guns in school.

Teachers have to be taken to the Supreme Court in order to hamper their ability to organize into a group of union thugs....

But we should use guns in school.

Teachers should be forbidden to strike or interfere with the school system bosses or otherwise refuse to do as their told without trying to exert their own judgment...

But we should be free to use guns in school as we see fit.

Teachers in public school are so terrible and have failed so badly that an entire new system of schools should be opened up so that students can escape those terrible public school teachers...

But we terrible teachers should be allowed to use guns in our schools.

Teachers cannot have support staff like psychologists or counselors or librarians or aides...

But we should have a gun.

Teachers are such a low-skill workforce that the best way some states can think of to get more is to just lower the requirements to fill a teaching job. In those states you don't need any special training at all to enter a classroom...

And they should also use a gun in school.

Teachers represent such a scary bunch of liberals that the NRA has taken to pushing videos and talking points about how the country is basically at war because those (Jews) liberals and (Jews) socialists are out to take away everyone's freedom and we should all arm ourselves heavily so that we can shoot those (Jews) liberal socialist unionist Democrats before they destroy the country...

But yeah-- the ones that are teachers? Give them guns to use in school.

Look, I totally get that "arm teachers" is a response, in some cases, to a reasonable, heartfelt desire to do something-- anything-- to change the script and reduce school shootings in this country (and in other cases it's an attempt to do something-- anything-- other than implement reasonable gun control, plus it sells more guns). I sympathize with that desire.

But policy makers and talking heads and various leader-ish types have spent the last decades hammering home that teachers are awful and failing and anti-liberty and not to be trusted, and that schools are money-sucking black holes that should have their budgets slashed and slashed some more.

So when you tell us that all of a sudden maybe we should be trusted using guns (because that's what we're really talking about-- not carrying guns in school, but using guns in school) around children and maybe there is a money tree somewhere that can pay for this massive new requirement for equipment and continuous training-- well, excuse us if our eyes start to roll so heavily that we get dizzy.

And if you're serious about trusting us so much, and having so much money to spend, then we have a few ideas more useful than arming teachers.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

ICYMI: So Long February Edition (2/25)

You're suggested reading for the week. Remember to pass along what you think should be getting attention. Amplify!

Is Exclusion Education's Haiti?

This piece is from the UK and provides a slightly different perspective on the issue of making your school look good by managing just who gets to be a student there.

Gates Foundation Uable To Address Real Needs in Schools

Jan Ressenger takes a good hard look at the Gates annual letter.

Marjory Stoneman Students Give Legislators a Civics Lesson

There has been plenty of good writing about these students, but don't miss this one about the lessons to be learned by the Worst Legislature in America

There Is No Progressive Case for Charter Schools

The modern charter movement has long claimed a progressive element; Jeff Bryant explains why that case is hollow.

The Boys Are Not All Right

I never even liked Michael Ian Black when he was a comedian, but this piece about the problem of raising non-toxic men in our culture is pretty good stuff.

Skills Don't Matter

From Inside Higher Ed, a great dissection of the skills movement and micro-credentials.

The Misguided Drive to Measure Learning Outcomes

The same test-centered baloney that is polluting K-12 schools is arriving at the college level, and it doesn't look any better there.

Somebody Should Make a Movie about John Shuster and His Ragtag Team of Curling Rejects

Yeah, there's barely an education angle on this. I just happen to like curling, and this is a great story (particularly since it ended in a gold medal).

Saturday, February 24, 2018

WV: Teachers Stand up to Trump's Billionaire Ally

While the rest of the nation was reeling from the murder of seventeen students and teachers in Parkland Florida, and while we've been wading through the resulting conversations about what we're (not) going to do about gun violence in America, the teachers of West Virginia have been taking a stand on another issue.

West Virginia's teachers walked out Thursday and Friday and shut down every single public school in all fifty-five counties across the state. They plan to do it again on Monday.

What's the issue?

Just the usual-- pay and respect.

The pay issue has been brewing in West Virginia for a while. According to the NEA, WV teachers rank 48th in US teacher pay, with an average starting salary of $32,435, and an average teacher salary of $44,701. You will be unsurprised to learn that West Virginia has trouble filling teaching vacancies; it's hard to attract teachers when the list of better places to work is basically "Anywhere else." Teachers in the state have pretty much had it.

Yeah, that kind of figures, doesn't it

West Virginia is ruled over by Governor Jim Justice, the state's richest man and only billionaire (he inherited a lucrative coal business from his father), who made some news by stepping up to change his party from Democrat to Republican  while standing side by side with Donald Trump.

Justice was reportedly offering just a 1% raise for each of the next few years. That wouldn't be enough of a raise to offset inflation, but it's even less of a raise when it's coupled with increased health insurance costs. West Virginia teachers were facing a pay cut, after going without a raise for a decade. Democrats were not much more help, offering to try to stump for a 3% raise.

Justice made some last minute sort-of-concessions, signing into law a whopping 2% increase for teachers and offering to freeze health insurance increases for sixteen months, but it was too little, too late.

The state-wide strike (first since 1990) is all the more extraordinary because strikes are illegal in West Virginia. And the Attorney General wants teachers and their district supervisors to remember it:

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, a Republican, also issued a statement on Wednesday calling the strike unlawful and threatening to take legal action.

“Let us make no mistake, the impending work stoppage is unlawful,” Morrisey said. “We also stand ready to assist and support any county board of education or county superintendent as they enforce the law.”

“Breaking the law does not set a good example for our children,” he added.

You know what else does not set a god example for our children? Treating their teachers like second-class citizens and offering them bottom dollar. Telling children, "You don't really deserve the best we can attract to the state." However, the teachers' union is not terribly concerned:

“There’s rumor out there that anybody who takes this action is going to be fired,” West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee told the Gazette-Mail. “That’s not a major concern of mine, we have 727 vacancies right now.”

State officials have also invoked the children, but WV teachers are way ahead of them-- one school that regularly makes food available for students to take home over the weekend provided an extra supply on Wednesday, and other schools are working with churches and local charities to make sure children's basic needs are still taken care of.

The teachers do reportedly have strong support from their communities, but it remains to see how things will turn out as the underpaid, under-respected teachers of West Virginia face off against the state's richest citizen. But there's no question they can use some support from the rest of us.

Bogus Measures of Learning

There may be more ridiculous ways to measure education than "days of learning," but this bogus measure remains popular, particularly among charter cheerleaders.

CREDO studies often attribute, say, an extra 26 days of reading to charter programs. What the heck does that even mean? Which 26 days would that be? 26 days in September, because noticeably less learning gets done in that first month of school. Is it 26 Wednesdays? Mondays? Fridays? Because each of those days looks a little different in my classroom. And is that a day of First Grade or Tenth Grade? Is that a day for some sort of standardized student, or an average student? Do we correct for distractions, like a day on which a student is upset about some problem at home? How do we arrive at that metric for a single day-- take the gains that somebody somewhere says students are supposed to make from one year's test to the next and divide it by 180? Because, of course, there are some days on which no learning takes place at all (for instance, the days we spend taking that Big Standardized Test). Can we keep breaking this down-- can I talk about hours of learning or minutes of learning? Seconds of learning?

Most importantly, has anybody ever provided any validation of this kind of measure at all?

The answer, of course, is no. If you want the real researcher's explanation of what that means, I recommend this piece by Mark Weber (Jersey Jazzman), which as always makes the complicated sciency stuff clear.

So why should you call bullshit when somebody starts throwing the "days of learning."

Well, first, per Weber's piece:

The consistently small effect sizes have been pumped up by an unvalidated conversion into "days of learning" which has never been properly justified by the authors.

In other words, "days of learning" is a way of making a tiny little effect look like a big one, like saying you doubled my pay when you raised me from $0.10 an hour to $0.20. I recommend Weber's piece for a clearer sense of how much nothing is being converted to the illusion of something. But it's also worth noting that besides inflating the size of the effects, the "days of learning" dodge allows us to skip right past the question of whether the Big Standardized Tests are a valid measure of anything at all.

But there's another problem. The "days of learning" plays straight into the engineering model of ed reform, as laid out by semi-repentant reformster Larry Berger (CEO, Amplify):

You start with a map of all the things that kids need to learn.
Then you measure the kids so that you can place each kid on the map in just the spot where they know everything behind them, and in front of them is what they should learn next.

Then you assemble a vast library of learning objects and ask an algorithm to sort through it to find the optimal learning object for each kid at that particular moment.

Then you make each kid use the learning object.

Then you measure the kids again. If they have learned what you wanted them to learn, you move them to the next place on the map. If they didn't learn it, you try something simpler.

"Days of learning" assumes that education is like tofu-- any slice is like any other slice. It assumes that education is a steady journey down a fixed track in a constant-speed train-- X number of hours traveled always equals Y number of feet traversed. It's a comforting enough model and gives the technocrats of ed reform the comforting feeling that everything about education easily measurable and therefor technically manageable. The only problem with the model is that it doesn't have anything to do with how actual live humans function.

Live humans progress in fits and starts, plateaus and step climbs. Live humans travel on a million different paths to a million different destinations. Trying to talk about how many days of learning you gained in your education program is like trying to talk about how many ounces of love you added to your marriage or how many tubs of anger you emptied out of your basement. It's like trying to use a yardstick to measure history.

In other words, when you hear someone talking seriously about "days of learning," you can be sure you're listening to someone who doesn't know what the hell they're talking about.

Friday, February 23, 2018

PA: Dropping the Data Ball

This email was waiting for me when I arrived this morning, forwarded to all of the staff by our superintendent.

From: ED, Secretary of Ed Res Acct [] 
Sent: Thursday, February 22, 2018 7:03 PM
Cc: ED, Deputy Secretary Admin
Subject: Important notification regarding TIMS
Importance: High
The incident occurred between 12:00 and 12:30 PM on Thursday, February 22. The exposure was the result of human error by an employee in the Office of Administration (OA); no hacking occurred. Upon discovery of the security incident, TIMS was taken offline immediately, and remains unavailable. PDE and OA are currently investigating the scope of the potential compromise.
In the coming days, PDE and OA will notify in writing the individuals who were potentially impacted, and will provide information about free credit monitoring services. PDE and OA will review their internal procedures to prevent similar mishaps in the future and sincerely apologize to anyone impacted. 
Additional information will be forthcoming. Immediate concerns can be directed to Deputy Secretary Debbie Reeves
Pedro A. Rivera II | Secretary of Education
Department of Education | Executive Office 
333 Market Street | Harrisburg PA 17126
Twitter: @PADeptofEd
TIMS stores basically every piece of important personal information there is to know about PA teachers, so the breach of security is a big deal. We'll have to wait and see what actually happened and how much trouble has been caused, but let this serve as the sixty-gazzilionth reminder that collecting a whole bunch of critical data and storing it in one digital bucket is an invitation for all sorts of disaster.

Put another way, when someone who wants to collect All the Data tells you that their plan is nothing more than "We'll just guard it real good so nothing bad will ever happen," that is not a realistic, viable or believable plan. Require them to do better, or don't let them have the data.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Coleman's College Board Hits a New Low

Most folks looked at the mass murders of students and faculty at Marjory Stoneman Douglass High and saw an unspeakable horror, a moment for national mourning and action. Unfortunately, some looked at it and saw a call to defend gun ownership against people who dared to think that human lives are more important than gun ownership. 

And then there's David Coleman's College Board. Somebody there looked at the loss of life in Florida and saw, apparently, a marketing opportunity.

Wednesday, the College Board reportedly sent out an email to admissions leaders over the signature of College Board president (and Common Core architect) David Coleman. 

"The shootings in Florida reverberate throughout our halls, hearts and minds," the letter begins. Then it gets down to business. Coleman (or whoever wrote the letter-- I'll give him the benefit of that doubt) goes on to praise the speech by Emma Gonzalez, noting that "One of the things that makes Emma's speech so striking is that is infused with references to her AP Government class" AP tests, and the AP classes that lead up to them, are a product of the College Board.

Coleman (or someone) also praises David Hogg whose "words honor Advanced Placement teachers everywhere, for they reflect their power to open worlds and futures to readers." 

But just in case you worried that the Coleman and hi company are advocating the kind of crazy radical ideas that those AP-infused students actually expressed--

I do not write today to endorse Emma's every word; her speech may have benefited from a less partisan approach and an attempt to better understand the positions of gun rights proponents.

So the letter not only tries to use the students as advertising props, but it simultaneously criticizes them and undercuts their position. 

The letter hit twitter along with the less-than-impressed reactions of some admissions officers. 

I've seldom seen something in poorer taste.

In all seriousness, who are the individuals at the @CollegeBoard that wrote and approved the sending of this message?! Absolutely disgusted with bthis horrible judgment.

It's an astonishingly lousy moment for the College Board; I'm not sure who needs to be fired and what kind of apology needs to be issued, but something sure needs to happen. We'll see if somebody there has enough sense to figure out what to do next.

[Update: Somebody did. An apology of sorts followed, although not from David Coleman himself, which adds fuel to the notion that he did indeed write the spectacularly bad original note. Which would not be a surprise.]

Florida Legislators Might Be The Worst People in America

About fifteen years ago, I was the president of our local teachers union. We were on strike. It was not fun. But the most not-fun part about it was the number of people-- many strangers, but also friends and neighbors and even former students-- went out of their way to call me or look me in my eye and tell me just how little they value the work that I do, just how much they don't care about the school and the people who work in it.

It's not like any of it was news to me. But it's one thing to kind of know, somewhere in the background, that your work is not valued, that you are not valued. It's another to look that dark straight in the face.

I've thought about that in the last few days, along with my thoughts of the young people across Florida and the rest of the country. I think, for instance, of this picture:

That's a photo of some students watching the Florida legislature send a clear message, and the message was, "Your friends and classmates are dead, and while you may want that death to mean something, thereby giving their too-short lives some meaning and value, we reject all of it. We don't care. You don't matter. Your dead friends don't matter. We aren't even going to talk about it." They could, however, consider a bill that dealt with the evils of pornography. One GOP lawmaker noted

a connection between pornography use and mental and physical illnesses, forming and maintaining intimate relationships and deviant sexual behavior

No word if any Florida legislators had discovered any connection between mental illness and holding a weapon of war while shooting a bunch of innocent civilians.

This goes beyond the mockery of an ass like Dinesh D'Souza or Ben Shapiro, who apparently believes that only he was given the gift of wisdom at age 17.  This is beyond the attacks by the morons who claim this is all an act, that these grieving teens are crisis actors (as if that's even a thing in the first place).

It was more closely expressed by the poster on social media who stated bluntly, "My right to own a gun matters more to me than your dead child." Except that, of course, what's pouring out right now is being addressed directly to the children themselves. If it were, it would come out more directly in something like, "Some day someone may decide to shoot you dead, and I don't care. You can go die, as long as I get to keep my guns."

In many ways, there is no news here. Not in Florida, where the legislature has also been busy gutting public education  some more so that private operators can have a better shot at making money by operating education-flavored businesses (while giving a boost to car sales-- I'm not kidding). Florida's legislator has shown in so many many many many many many ways that there is such a very long list of things that they care about more than they care about the education, health and well-being of children. Remaining unmoved and unconcerned about the actual deaths of those children is not a huge leap, or even a big step.

This has not been about, "We share your concerns, even as we have different ideas about how to best address them." This has been "Your blood might be the cost of freedom, and we're okay with that."

This is my biggest worry for these students-- that being forced to confront how little they matter in the political calculus of their elected leaders will be too hard to bear. But this is where we are-- our students face an unthinkable trauma, a horror that most of us can't even imagine, and as they stand up and cry out in their grief, a sizable slice of our state and national leaders belittle them as fakers and dupes, and another sizable slice looks at their grief and says, "You just aren't all that important to us."

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

It Shouldn't Make Any Difference

You may have heard this in a discussion of education policy in general, or if you're a teacher, you may have heard it in internal discussions of curriculum and instruction.

It shouldn't make any difference.

It shouldn't make any difference which teacher you have. It shouldn't make any difference who teaches that course. It shouldn't make any difference if we have to replace you with a new hire next year, or next week, or tomorrow.

It's a variation on the dream of the teacher-proof classroom, a hope for standardization so rigorous that individual teachers can be switched like cogs in a machine or bricks in a wall. And it's wrong. Really wrong.

It is a call to bland mediocrity. Anything that sticks out about a particular teacher, anything that they do better than their peers, anything that is a special strength they bring to the table-- those things must all be lopped out and ground down, because they would be a difference. Do you (like my colleague) teach a unit centered around reading Paradise Lost and putting John Milton on trial in front of a jury of local attorneys and educators? Well, not any teacher who stepped into your job could pull that off, so that unit should not be part of your class.

Are you someone with a particular gift for teaching writing? Well, knock it off-- if you are going to deliver the prescribed, aligned curriculum with fidelity, then you can devote no more or less time to that material than anyone else in the department.

You might remember a time when schools were staffed by a veritable Avengers roster of teachers-- each with her own special power, special field of expertise, special style. It was, in fact, one of the most effective ways to provide school choice-- by having a wide variety of teachers under one roof, so that students could find a good fit without having to leave their friends or their neighborhood schools behind.

In truth, such schools still exist. But they are not the dream of many education "leaders."

Instead, the dream is a cookie cutter school, a school where the scope and sequence are set in stone, bought in a box, or meant to be executed with extreme fidelity. If it's Tuesday, this must be adverbs.

Some school "leaders" will insist they don't want to stamp out differences between teachers. "No. of course not," they declare. "Once you have properly taught all the material that we've aligned to the standards, you can go ahead and spend the rest of the time on those little extras you like to do." Because, of course, the material aligned to the standards is what matters, and those things you teach because you are knowledgeable and passionate about them, because you know how to connect students to them like connecting a light bulb to a live wire, because your professional judgment tells you that they are an important part of the body of knowledge in your field-- those things are just silly little frills.

I get that no administrator or parents wants to discover that Pat and Chris aren't getting some critical content because they happened to land in the classroom of Mrs. Suxalot. But that is not a standards problem or a curriculum problem or a get everybody aligned with fidelity problem. It's just a bad teaching problem, and if administrators do their jobs, that problem can be addressed without trying to turn the building staff into Stepford Teachers.

No teacher ever went into the profession to not make a difference. No teacher gets up in the morning and thinks, "Today, I just hope that I can do my job in a way that's indistinguishable from anyone else's job performance." Hell, nobody does any job anywhere thinking, "I just hope that my work could have just as easily been performed by anybody else."

But this is where we are right now. And we wonder why teaching looks progressively less attractive to a new generation, a generation that has watched teachers try to become interchangeable content delivery widgets.

If you are a teacher, it should absolutely make a difference that it's you in the room and not somebody else. If you are a teacher, your relationship with the work and your students should be personal, and therefor different. If you are a teacher, you are certainly not irreplaceable, but when your replacement arrives, it should be different, because you were different, because you made a difference.

It should make a difference. That's the job-- making a difference. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Is PA Chasing Teachers Away

The Economic Policy Institute has just released a new report, and announced it with this subheading: "Undercompensation is likely a factor in Pennsylvania’s growing teacher shortage."

Pennsylvania has been working on a teacher shortage for a while, but for years we cleverly masked it by shedding teacher jobs by the thousands. From a distance, that made it appear that our teacher supply was reasonably stable, because districts were complaining far less about a teacher "shortage" than other states were. But it was also exacerbated the problems with the teacher pipeline long term because high school and college students could look around their home districts and see that nobody new had been hired for years. "Why pay college tuition to pursue a field in which there are no jobs," was the comment I heard more times than I could count from my own students. That in turn led many universities to trim their own education programs.

EPI describes the decline this way:

Pennsylvania is in the midst of a growing teacher shortage. The rate of Pennsylvania teacher certifications has declined by two-thirds between 2010 and 2015 (Benshoff 2016). College students are shunning education majors, with reports indicating that enrollment fell by 36 percent in traditional teacher education programs at the 14 Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education colleges (Palochko 2016). In 2013, 16,631 students graduated from teacher-training programs; by 2015, that number had dropped to 6,125, a 63 percent decline, according to data from the state’s Department of Education (PDE) reported on WHYY public radio in Philadelphia (Benshoff 2016).

EPI also notes that this is found in the substitute teacher sector, and from big districts like Philadelphia all the way down to my own tiny corner of the world, the substitute shortage is pretty dire.

EPI set out to see if compensation was an issue, and they did the old "compare teacher pay to pay in fields requiring similar education and skills" research. Their findings are not particularly surprising:

We find that Pennsylvania public school teachers are undercompensated relative to other full-time workers with similar education and skills. Their weekly wages are 12.1 percent lower than the wages of comparable full-time employees in Pennsylvania, and their weekly compensation (including both wages and benefits) is 6.8 percent lower.

In addition, EPI also looked at pensions-- and here's where PA is in real trouble.

We are outstandingly underfunded, our system suffering from some epic bad choices made by the legislation over a decade ago (among other things, we bet heavily on the housing boom of 2007). The legislation has been looking for a variety of fixes:

Pension legislation passed in 2010 (Act 120) decreased PSERS benefits for teachers hired in 2011 and later, while a 2017 law (Act 5) will further cut pension benefits for teachers hired in 2019 (and beyond). Act 5 will require new teachers to participate in a pension plan that significantly shifts funding from the state and school districts onto employees. The new plan includes 401(k)-style offerings, which also shift retirement income risk onto teachers.

Which is why the pension for me with 39 years in the classroom is looking far rosier than the pension that my wife faces with her 5 years. And as EPI notes, the state still isn't done fiddling, which means that lifetime compensation for PA teachers continues to be cut, and cut, and cut. "Well, the pay may not be super, but at least you'll can rest secure in the knowledge that when you finally retire, you may or may not be financially screwed in your old age," is not a very snappy or effective recruitment slogan.

And so we're back to the same old point. There is no teacher shortage. What there is is a shortage of states and districts willing to make teaching attractive enough to draw the candidates they want. If I can't buy a Porsche for $1.95, it does not follow that there is an automobile shortage. Pennsylvania has not yet put real muscle into trying to "solve" the problem by, say, letting anyone with a pulse hold a teaching job, or by trying to bolster growth of charters that can hire without regard to actual qualifications. But the state also hasn't shown any inclination to try to make teaching more attractive as a career, either. We could do better. It remains to be seen if we'll actually try to.

Another Choice Diversion

Over at School Leader, "an education administration blog by Dr. Gary Houchens (Western Kentucky University), Houchens talks about his podcast discussion of proposed school vouchers under the name "Scholarship Tax Credits" for Kentucky.

STC are the Kentucky version of Education Savings Accounts, a particularly destructive version of voucherism. Pro-voucher folks are pushing hard, and there's been some attempt (including by Houchens) to paint these as relief for poor families, yet proposals like House Bill 162 aren't aimed at low- and middle-income families at all.

Houchens is a big choicer, and he has some pretty standard lines about school choice, none of which strike me as very solid. But he's been at this for a while, railing against "status quo" folks in a dismissive manner. But these issues matter in Kentucky, where there are some major financial challenges. 

We could at many Houchens posts, but let's focus on "Does giving parents education options "divert" money from schools? My TeachThought Podcast discussion on scholarship tax credits" because it's a nice clear question with a nice clear answer.

The answer is "Yes. Yes it does."

Now let's look at the fallacies Houchens uses to avoid arriving at that answer.

I believe in school choice because, while education is a public good, it's not a generic, one-size-fits-all public good like the fire department provides.

Since when does a fire department provide a one-size-fits-all public good? Fire departments are the very definition of the opposite-- every fire they respond to presents a unique set of circumstances, from the distance to the fire to the access to the availability of resources like water to specific configuration of the building to the placement and nature of the fire itself. If the fire department in your own is providing "generic" service, they are doing it wrong.

Every child is unique and no school, no matter how good, can meet the needs of every single student.

But that is, in fact, the gig. I will not pretend that every public school achieves that goal every single time, but here's the critical difference between a public school and a private or charter school-- a public school is legally compelled to try. If I feel that the public school is failing to meet my child's needs, I can take that school to court. If a private or charter school is failing, they can just shrug, say "Well, I guess your child isn't a good fit" and show me the door. Houchens claims that choice increases the "likelihood" that every family can find a school that fits, but that's not true. Choice increases the likelihood that hard-to-fit students, students who cannot profitably be served by choice schools, will find themselves stranded, an educational hot potato.

Houchens' podcast partner expresses a concern that tax credit encouragement of school choice "drains money from public coffers at a time when the state budget is in shortfall and schools are facing potentially large funding cuts." Houchens sympathizes and longs for a day when pension and tax reform create a different picture. "But our gloomy budget forecast is not a reason to continue denying low-income families choices in how their children are educated" (Again with the marketing talking point of "but it's for the poor kids!")

But having said all that, Houchens is going to throw it out the window, and pitch a "new paradigm"

For starters, if you accept that families should have some choices in who educates their children, then you've got to start thinking about education spending in a different way. Education dollars are a benefit for students, not for institutions.

Again, a time-honored talking point. But it's incorrect.

Education is not a service provided for families, and it is not exclusively for the benefit of the students. Public education is for the benefit of the public, the community-- not just the students, but their future neighbors, employers, fellow taxpayers, and people to whom they will provide some good or service. That is why members of the public pay taxes for schools, even if they don't have children to attend, and that is why school boards are properly elected by all taxpayers and not just parents.

But education should be treated like other highly personal public goods. Medicare and Medicaid are personal benefits for the health care of the elderly and poor. Pell grants and the GI Bill are a benefit for the education of low-income college students or veterans. Foods stamps are a food security benefit for low-income families. But in all these cases we give the beneficiary some choice in where they obtain these public goods, because the needs and preferences of individuals are so diverse and the good in these cases is so highly personal.

I will give Houchens credit at least for not comparing schools to Ubers. But there are some critical differences here in these diversionary analogies. First, none of these "benefits" provide the sole support for the providers on which they are spent. Hospitals, colleges, and supermarkets do not depend on these benefits for their existence, because none of these institutions are created for the sole use of the people who use these benefits. Second, uses of these benefits are highly regulated-- you can't spend food stamps on beer and cigarettes, your Pell grant has to go to an approved school, and Medicare won't pay for your toad-sacrificed-under-a-full-moon treatment for broken bones. Kentucky is not proposing any such accountability or oversight for the recipients of the voucher money.

And here's something I find mysterious about voucher programs and their supporters. Medicare/aid, Pell Grants, and food stamps are all program that conservatives have worked (and are still working) to roll back or kill, because "entitlements" are bad. I have always wondered-- why don't these same conservatives see vouchers as an entitlement for sending the children of Those People to a private school? I suspect the answer is, in part, because the vouchers proposed are never enough to make top schools affordable to the poor. More importantly, hospitals, colleges and supermarkets cannot refuse to serve certain customers because of race, religion and sexual orientation (well, mostly, so far) whereas nothing in a voucher program says that private and charter schools have to accept anybody they don't feel like accepting.

Health care is also a lousy comparison for Houchens' purposes because we've put the health care market in the hands of the insurance companies, and now we have one of the most expensively mediocre systems in the world. What works really well? A single payer system that more closely resembles our public education system.

But most notably, none of the programs that Houchens brings up is designed to serve all citizens of the country. In effect, these are programs designed to plug the holes in a private free market approach to goods like health care and food. Public education, on the other hand, is in place of a free market, precisely so that we can insure that all citizens are served and represented. Vouchers do not offer to plug holes in a free market system, but propose to create a free market system by dumping the public tax dollars into the free market. Vouchers don't plug holes-- they create them, by defunding the public system that will be the last resort of the educational hot potatoes who can't find a private or charter school to accept them.

Houchens wants to argue that there is no draining or diverting with a voucher system any more "than we 'drain money' from Hospital A when a Medicare patient has a procedure at Hospital B." But that is a false analogy, implying that a public school and a private school are equal entities on equal footing, like to equal competing hospitals (the analogy also fails because there are few markets left that actually have competing hospitals, but that's another discussion). They are not. The public school is a public entity fully and only funded by public tax dollars, while the private school is a private entity funded by a variety of sources (ditto the charter). Voucher fans counter that by saying that public schools are not "entitled" to those funds, but that's beside the point-- those funds were collected from the taxpayers for the purpose of funding an institution that would educate all students. What voucher fans propose is the equivalent of collecting money from everyone on the block in order to throw a barbecue for all the neighbors, then announcing that you gave half of it to the Smith's so they could cook a steak dinner for themselves. Of course the money has been diverted from its original purpose.

Later in the piece Houchens will argue that there is no financial damage to the public system because a measley 1-1.5% of the students will use the vouchers. But if that's true, why bother. If the vouchers really aren't going to help much of anyone, then why have them. Are these STCs going to rescue scads of poor students, or are they going to have a piddly effect and "rescue" hardly anyone at all. It can't be both.

Then Houchans tries to argue that ESA systems actually save money, which is simply unvarnished baloney. The theory is that you fill the accounts with money from private and corporate donors which pays for the education of certain students, and therefor the public system doesn't have to bear that cost. This is true only if Kentucky proposes to give contributors exactly zero deductions or credits for their contributions, which does not appear to be the case. So HugeCorp gives a thousand dollars to the STCs, and it doesn't pay that thousand dollars in school taxes. This is not a savings to the school, particularly in the face of fixed costs and costs of scale that do not change with the loss of a few students (the buildings stay the same size, the buses run the same, and you probably can't even get by with a smaller staff).

This doesn't save the school a cent, but it cuts the school's revenue considerably.

Houchans' conclusion sums up his many-holed argument:

I believe we need to make bigger investments in education, but whether our policy makers do that or not is not a reason to deny low-income families the dignity of a choice in who educates their children. We either believe that we should have policy mechanisms that give parents education options, or we believe that local government schools should have an exclusive franchise on education delivery for low- and middle income families.

Houchans line about "dignity" would carry a lot more weight if a choice system promised to preserve that dignity by, say, requiring all private and charter schools to accept any students who apply, and meeting their educational needs, no matter how expensive or inconvenient those needs might be. And his line about bigger investments might carry more weight if he addressed the central falsehood of choice policy, the lie that we can run multiple school systems with the same money we previously used to run just one.

Education is the only industry anywhere with folks suggesting, "Since we're having trouble financing the facilities we have, the next logical step is to open more facilities and create excess capacity."

I'll make my usual offer. If some policy maven or politician wants to stand up and say, "I believe that charter and choice systems are so important that I will call for a tax increase to properly fund them," I will applaud that person and drop some of my objections to school choice. And if they want to further add, "And I will require those choice schools to accept any and all applicants, and to have a governance model that allows all taxpayers a say, and to be required to meet accountability and oversight measures put in place by the state," I will drop most of my objections.

But as it stands, that's not what folks like Houchans are calling for. ESA/STC systems propose a world where a private school that, for example, wants to teach that black folks are genetically inferior can collect tax dollars from black taxpayers, even as they refuse to teach black children, who must then be sent back to a public system that can now offer them far less because that system is now missing the resources that were diverted to the voucher school.

A public school system is not about an "exclusive franchise on educational delivery." It's about giving the taxpayers what they paid for-- a public system that accepts and teaches every single student, is governed by elected community representatives, and serves the community as a whole, both the present and the future. Calling it anything else is simply a diversion.