Tuesday, December 31, 2019

OH: Ohio Excels and the Hostile Takeover of Education

Ohio is one of many states in which business leaders have appointed themselves education overseers. The most recent version of this phenomenon is Ohio Excels, a lobbying group that believes that Ohio's education system owes them better meat widgets for job fodder. "improving the quality of education will give students a better chance to succeed and will help Ohio businesses grow and innovate, fueling a robust state economy."

Their board includes a few heads of city-level "partnerships" or "committees," a method by which some CEO types form up a group and declare themselves civic leaders. There are some foundations like the Farmer Foundation and the Peters Foundation, an ed reformster "philanthropic" group. The Ohio Business Roundtable is here, represented by GOP Congressman-turned-business advocate Pat Tibiri. They also get funding from the usuals-- Gates, Walton. They belong to the PIE network with a long list of very reformy groups. You will be unsurprised to learn that their ideas for improving education include advocating for school choice.

If you pay any attention at all to Ohio education policy politics, you know the name Lisa Gray. Gray is the president of Ohio Excels since October of last year (the group actually "launched" in March) This newest job comes after a career in consulting and working with a list of clients that includes the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Achieve, Inc., Philanthropy Ohio, Battelle for Kids, Ohio Business Roundtable, and Teach for America.

Gray appears to be well-connected; her name often pops up in discussions of what's going on in the legislature re: education. She often turns up on op-ed pages with guest views, or calls for "partnership," and Ohio Excels, despite being fresh and new, seems to have a seat reserved ta the proverbial table. When a committee looked for input on whether or not to keep Ohio's lousy school letter grade system, Ohio Excels was one of eight groups consulted (and one of the only two, with the Fordham Institute, to recommend that the system stay in place). Ed committee chair Peggy Lehner has allegedly told constituents that she trusts Gray on education issues and consults with her almost every day. And that's how lobbyists give bang for the buck- by having nothing to do all day but pitch to and connect with legislators.

Ohio Excels scored big this summer when it managed, somehow, to write new graduation requirements for Ohio high school students. Ohio has been stalled for a few years with graduation requirements they didn't dare implement for fear of failing too many students. The Ohio Education Association points out that actual teachers have been trying to talk to legislators about this for years, but somehow Ohio Excels was able to swoop right in and hand over a plan and the legislature "gobbled it up."

The story is told in more detail in this gushing profile in ColumbusCEO. Plans were under way to scale the graduation requirements back to something realistic when, as Pat Tibiri put it, someone invited a skunk to the picnic.

“We threw a wrench into this at the very last minute,” says Tiberi during a recent interview around the conference table in his Capitol Square suite. “Can you imagine how pissed off they were? We came at it really late and upset what everyone thought was going to happen.”

You get a sense of the level of respect Ohio Excels has for the education community. The implication of the Ohio Excels proposal, despite Gray's claim that the business community wasn't trying to dictate policy, was that schools and professional educators couldn't be trusted to determine if a student was ready to graduate. OE's proposal basically stripped the graduation plan of all elements, like a capstone project, that would have involved teacher-managed alternatives to the test-heavy requirements. Peggy Lehner's summation of the outcome pretty well captures the significance of what came next.

While business groups always have found a receptive ear with Ohio GOP lawmakers, state Sen. Peggy Lehner, longtime chair of that chamber’s Education Committee, said choosing the Ohio Excels plan represents a new emphasis on listening to job creators over educators on key education policy questions.

“There’s no question that there was a tremendous amount of deference paid toward the workforce,” says the Republican lawmaker from Kettering. “We are really looking toward businesses to find out what they demand from students when they are coming out of high school. Choosing sides with the business community really represents a shift from the tradition of education policy being handled through educators and the school system.”

Gray's May appearance underlines that this is yet another example of business attempting to redefine education as simple job-training to make meat widgets that better serve the needs of business. This baloney never goes away, from the a Gates Foundation guy declaring that "businesses are the primary consumers of the output of our schools" to then-corporate guy Rex Tillerson mansplaining "I’m not sure public schools understand that we’re their customer."

Yes, students' needs are not being met if they graduate unfit for any kind of job, but their needs are also not served if they graduate with no education except job prep for corporate employers. And you can bet that no rich white parents are telling their children's schools, "Just get 'em ready to be employable at some simple job."

Businesses are stakeholders in education, but so are parents, children, future neighbors and fellow voters. Businesses deserve a voice in the direction of public ed, but not the only voice, and when they start trying to re-engineer education around their needs and not the needs of students and the community at large, then business needs to sit down and shut up. The fact that you have successfully run a business does not mean you know jack or squat about education.

Education at its best is about helping children become more fully human, more fully their best selves. It is preparation for life, not just job training. Ohio has already done plenty to advance the privatization of public education; the least they can do is protect it from a hostile takeover.

The Ground Level Ed Reform Decade Retrospective

Yeah, it's time for everyone to do decade lists (including "Ten Reasons The New Decade Doesn't Start For Another Year") from the list of education faces that Alexander Russo is doing on Twitter to this absolutely-the-only-list-you-need-to-read from Audrey Watters, "The 100 Worst Ed Tech Debacles of the Decade."

I'm not going to try to sum up the decade in education. Or rather, I'm going to sum up my decade. Because while most of these lists will take a look-from-the-stratosphere view, balancing policies and historical nuance etc blah blah blah, I want to talk about what it all looked like on the ground. We can talk about the decade in policy all day, but from the perspective of a classroom teacher, it was ten years of worsening train wreck. So this is my story. It matters not because it happened to me, but because it's one example of what happened to many many classroom teachers.

By 2009, there was a feeling in the air, a sensed that the earth under our teacher feet was becoming wobbly.

First and foremost, there was No Child Left Behind and the testing regimen attached to it. For the first several years the growth requirement (average yearly progress) was almost attainable, but by decade's end we were looking at targeted gains that were insanely high, culminating in 2014, when all students were supposed to be proficient on the test. There was no question that we were all going to fail-- was this what our leaders wanted?

In 2009 I sat through a state workshop about PVAAS, the value-added model that was being implemented to judge us as teachers. I described it at the time for my local newspaper audience:

PVAAS uses a thousand points of data to project the test results for students. This is a highly complex model that three well-paid consultants could not clearly explain to seven college-educated adults, but there were lots of bars and graphs, so you know it’s really good. I searched for a comparison and first tried “sophisticated guess;” the consultant quickly corrected me—“sophisticated prediction.” I tried again—was it like a weather report, developed by comparing thousands of instances of similar conditions to predict the probability of what will happen next? Yes, I was told. That was exactly right. This makes me feel much better about PVAAS, because weather reports are the height of perfect prediction.

I also noted the change in tone. When the state had first started claiming that all we had to do was teach the standards and test scores would rise and we'd be fine--in other words, when we had first been told that the state was essentially using the Big Standardized Test to dictate local curriculum-- there had been an attitude of cooperation, an attempt to sweet talk us into buying in. 2009 was different. The message was, "This is going to happen, and we don't give a shit if classroom teachers like it or not."

That was the sea change of the decade's opening. There had always been people and politicians who disrespected the value of teachers and teacher insights. But now it was coming from the state department of education, from the people who were supposedly caretakers of the system (as with many trends ten years ago, we had no idea how much worse it would get).  For years, we could at least speak up and say, "This seems like a bad idea," and education leaders would try to convince us it wasn't, as if our feelings about the issue mattered. No more. Now we could try to speak up, but the response was, "Don't care what you think. This is what's happening."

And that was how the decade started. The pressure to do test prep was huge, from the state and from the district administration. "Look at those anchor standards," we were told. "Anchor standards" is the fancy term for "the standards that are going to be on the test." The ones you're supposed to teach to.

The new President, we thought, could be good news. He seems like a decent guy, a smart guy, a person who respects and values teachers. This NCLB train is clearly headed for a cliff-- I'll bet he's going to save it.

As the decade opened, I heard that state standards were on a sort of hold, that nationally there was a new set of standards rolling out. Pennsylvania adopted the Common Core standards in July of 2010, leading to some confusion-- would the state test be based on the new standards or the old ones? Were the standards any good (because the old ones were Not Great)? I heard at first that they would be great because they were written by teachers and based on research, but when I actually laid eyes on them, that seemed... hard to believe. Later we would sort-of-but-not-really change them again.

And as the Obama administration rolled out policy, I began to realize that this was not going to be the guy to help us, that he was, in fact, going to take some of the worst parts of NCLB and keep them, boost them. Keep high stakes testing, but now judge individual teachers and not just schools. States were encouraged to fight for some additional funding, which they could do by handing over control of their state department of education to the feds. But then all states were encouraged to do the same for free to escape the penalties of NCLB, which Congress seemed completely incapable of fixing, as if-- and this seemed to be a recurring theme in the early 10s-- as if they actually wanted public schools to fail.

We said it over and over-- when we peeked at test questions and saw how bad they were, when we asked for actionable results from last year's tests, when we looked at the kind of crappy materials the state sent us, when we saw the unattainable goals-- do they actually want us to fail??

And the more I dug into things, the more troubling they seemed. Most of what we had been told about the Common Core standards turned out to be a lie. Everywhere there were new groups with "student" and "education" in their names, important rich guys like Bill Gates, the guys in DC that we had voted for, all agreeing that we teachers in public schools, we who were devoting our lives to education and who, mostly, had far more training and experience than any of them-- we were stinking up the joint. Public education was failing, and it was our fault.

"We don't trust you. We don't believe you or believe in you. We are trying to fix the system that you broke." They said.

"Is this over that test? That crappy bad test?? Is that what this is about??" We asked incredulously.

"Never mind," they said. "We're not talking to you. You've done enough already. We think you're going to need some motivation, like threats or maybe free market competition to get you to stop slacking and screwing up. Don't like it? Big deal-- we can get some of this teacher-proof curriculum in a box, or hire one of those five-week wonders from Teach for America. Your job, even though you suck at it, is not so hard."

It began to sink in. The newly-required aligned texts. The computer-based practice testing. The test prep materials. The education-flavored businesses designed to make a buck from ed solutions, from charter schools to consulting groups. The data collection. All of those narratives were based on one premise-- that public schools were failing and that some combination of solutions and alternatives were needed.

Added to that shock was the feeling of isolation. Who was on the side of public schools? Not politicians-- not from either party. Not wealthy and powerful people. Not even our damned unions, which cheerfully endorsed Common Core and implicitly accepted the premise that public schools were failing.

Our own local administration? Mostly what I heard was, "Yes, this is junk and yes, this test doesn't measure important things, but, hey, that's how the game is played now." Occasionally a chirpy, "Oh, if we just align to the standards and teach to them, everything will work out" It didn't. We started getting students from the middle school who had had three periods of reading and no social studies or science. My last boss believed that spread-sheeted testing data could tell her more than her actual staff.

We learned to game the system. We learned how to beat some aspects of the tests, and we invested in drill-and-kill workbooks to practice answering multiple choice questions in response to short articles or excerpts. We used pre-tests to separate students into three groups-- those who will pass the test on their own, those who are essentially hopeless, and those we might be able to drag across the finish line through sheer brute force. (We also studied the correlation between practice test scores and Big Standardized Test scores, and the correlation was weak, but we kept doing it anyway).

Every year, I was required to commit one more act of educational malpractice, and every year, I had to figure out how to meet my students needs and my own standards for excellence with less time. My growth as a teacher had always been about, "How can I get more done with the resources I have?" By the mid-teens, I was asking, "How can I minimize the loss of time and resources this year."

I had become the staff crank. I sent out mass emails headed "COF" for "cranky old fart" outlining some of what I was learning. When I felt like too much of a noodge, I shifted that writing to a blog, and the more I wrote, the more I dug, and the more I dug, the angrier I became. You can go back to the early months of this blog (2013) and see that I was barely scratching the surface, but I was just so pissed. This was the work I loved, the work I had built my whole adult life around, and here were all these powerful and important people just dumping all over it and most of them didn't even know what the hell they were talking about-- it was just a perfect storm of powerful people who wanted to launch their own pet projects and public education was just some obstacle they wanted to clear out of their path. Yes, these people had always been around (I knew about A Nation At Risk from the beginning of my career) but now they had gotten really serious about it. Now they could really taste blood.

Most of the people I worked with were, honestly, just trying to get through their day. Like many school systems, we had plenty of day-to-day issues of our own, and by focusing on the local, you can find the chance to keep doing good work.

But I knew there were other angry teachers out there. NEA ran a piece on their website about the awesomeness of the Core and the usually empty comments filled to overflowing with nothing but negative comments. I found Diane Ravitch's blog-- I knew about the Bush era woman who had dared to change her mind about ed reform-- and that in turn opened a whole world of writers to me, and in turn a whole lot of information.

I had never believed that public education was perfect, but I could not understand why so many people in power seemed bent on destroying it. After a decade, I have a better idea why, a better sense of how complicated some of this mess is, of how many different lines cross in the public school house. In many ways, becoming a student of ed reform prepared me for a Trump presidency, because it made me really confront the degree to which many of my fellow citizens do not share values that I had somehow assumed were fundamental to being a citizen of this country.

The 2016 election was discouraging-- nobody was running as a supporter of public education, and the ultimate result was a Secretary of Education whose best feature is her ineffectiveness in selling virulantly anti-public-ed policies, but it's not like she represents a sharp break with the past.

I, of course, finished the decade by retiring. That decision, like much of the decade, was complicated. I can't say that in the absence of ed reform and the relentless drumbeat of teacher criticism and dismissal I would have stayed longer, but I can say that many of the things I miss about teaching I had already missed for a few years before I left.

What the end-of-decade lists are going to miss is how, for teachers in the classroom, the decade was a barrage of attacks from every direction, much of it hidden behind layers of baloney ("Teachers are the most important part of school" turned out not to be an appreciation, but the first half "and therefor everything that goes wrong in a school is the teachers' fault"). Our judgment was repeatedly ignored and overruled by people who didn't know us or our work. We were repeatedly blamed for everything wrong in education, and cynically saddled with tasks designed to "prove" our incompetence. It sucked.

It's by missing all of that that folks could be surprised by the troubles that states are having filling teaching jobs or uprisings like Red4Ed. Classroom teachers took a beating this decade; it is no surprise that the decade ends with them trying to get back on their feet.

I was frequently discouraged, but also discovered that I value the work even more than I thought I did, that I was willing to step further beyond my good boy team player self than I thought I could. Who knew that so many of us could make our voices so loud.

The lesson of the decade, I guess, is that you stand up for what matters. It is also that you study hard and talk to folks, because if your model is that there are two sides and one is wise and pure and the other is evil and stupid, your model is faulty (which is not to say that evil and stupid don't come into play sometimes).

The other lesson? Well, I don't know if it's a lesson so much as a re-affirmation. Inside the classroom, where the rubber meets the road and the teacher mets the students, is still the best work in the world. I had the best job in the world, and all the storm that raged outside those four walls didn't change that. That hasn't changed a bit. What has, sadly, changed, is how much harder it is to stay safely within those walls. Teaching is no longer for the meek, but it is still hugely important and rewarding work and the public education system is still one of the most important institutions we have.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Height Of A Dead Salmon

A while back someone sent me an article with a striking lead:

The methodology is straightforward. You take your subject and slide them into an fMRI machine, a humongous sleek, white ring, like a donut designed by Apple. Then you show the subject images of people engaging in social activities — shopping, talking, eating dinner. You flash 48 different photos in front of your subject's eyes, and ask them to figure out what emotions the people in the photos were probably feeling. All in all, it's a pretty basic neuroscience/psychology experiment. With one catch. The "subject" is a mature Atlantic salmon.

And it is dead.

And yet, the fMRI showed brain activity. The experiment was run in 2009 and drew a fair amount of attention at the time, perhaps because it allowed editors to write headlines like "fMRI Gets Slap In The Face With A Dead Fish" and "Scanning Dead Salmon in fMRI Machine Highlights Risk Of Red Herrings." The paper, which carried the droll title "Neural correlates of interspecies perspective taking in the post-mortem Atlantic Salmon: An argument for multiple comparisons correction" didn't show that dead salmon have thoughts about human social interactions, and it didn't show that fMRI is junk. It showed, as one writer put it, that "bad statistics lead to bad science."

"Guess what I'm thinking right now!"
To understand why the salmon looked alive, there are two things to get. One is that vast amounts of data invariably include bizarre little outliers, and that if you do not correct for the comparison of the huge amounts of data, junk gets into your system. This matters to us because crunching huge amounts of data is how the Artificial Intelligences using "machine learning" to figure out what a student coulda woulda shoulda completed as a competency depend on. When A VAM program decides that a student did better than expected, that expectation is driven by crunching vast amounts of data from supposedly similar students under supposedly similar conditions. This is how outfits like Knewton could claim to being the all-knowing eye in the sky (and then fail at it). The assertion that vast amounts of data insure number-crunching accuracy is not true-- particularly if the data has not been properly massaged. This is how the salmon study authors committed some deliberately bad science.

Second, we have to get what an fMRI does and does not do. Boing-Boing, of all places, caught up with the authors of the study, who pointed out that despite the popular understanding of what the machinery does, it doesn't do that at all:

I'm so tired about hearing about "the brain lighting up". It makes it sound like you see lights in the head or something. That's not how the brain works. It suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of what fMRI results mean. Those beautiful colorful maps ... they're probability maps. They show the likelihood of activity happening in a given area, not proof of activity. According to our analysis, there's a higher likelihood of this region using more blood because we found more deoxygenated blood in this area. It's also correlational. Here's a time frame and the changes we'd expect, so we see which bits of brain correlate with that.

So, without getting too far into neuroscience, the fMRI does not map brain activity, but uses a proxy based on a correlation stretched over a huge number of data points.

This, I'll argue, is much like what we do with high stakes testing. Policy makers figure that Big Standardized Test scores correlate to educational achievement and therefor make a decent proxy. Except that they mostly correlate with family socio-economic background. The supposedly scientific measure of educational achievement in students is faulty. Using test scores as a proxy for teacher effectiveness is even faultier.

Which is why someone can write a paper like the hilarious "Teacher Effects on Student Achievement and Height: A Cautionary Tale." In this instant classic, researchers used the fabled VAM sauce to check for teacher influence on student height, and sure enough-- some teachers can be scientifically shown to have an effect on the physical growth of their students. Just in case you need one more piece of evidence that the value-added measures being used to evaluate teachers are, in fact, bunk.

There are several larger lessons to remember here:

1) A proxy for the thing you want to measure is not the thing you want to measure. If you don't remember that, you are going to make a mess of things (and even if you do remember, Campbell's Law says you probably will still screw it up).

2) Large amounts of data can say many things. Not all of those things are true. Bad statistics, badly managed, lead to really bad science.

3) When "science" tells you that a dead salmon is having thoughts and your common sense tells you that the salmon is frozen, dead, and thought-free, you should go with common sense. Dead fish tell no tales.

Science, data-- wonderful stuff. But not magic-- especially when misused or tossed around by folks who are no more scientists than they are educators.

ICYMI: Almost A New Decade Edition (12/29)

Yep, soon anything from the 1900s will be "a long time ago." But we can meditate on how experience fades into the dim past some other day. Right now we'll just worry about last week. Here's some of the worthwhile reading; it's a short list because holiday time. Remember to amplify the stuff that speaks to you!

How Ibram X. Kendi's Definition of Antiracism Applies to Schools  

If you don't know Kendi's work yet, you should catch up. Here KQED takes a look at how it applies directly to schools. Start thinking about racism before you get back from vacation.

The Stories We Were Told About Education Technology (2019)

Audrey Watters takes a look at the year in ed tech, employing her gift for blowing away the smoke and cutting through the bullshit. This read is a little depressing, but important.

Reasons Children Have Reading Problems That Corporate Reformers Don't Talk About  

Nancy Bailey takes a look at some of the factors that can affect children's reading, even if they aren't part of the reformster playbook.

Massachusetts Nonprofit Receives $57 Million from Arkansas Waltons  

The indispensable Mercedes Schneider looks into one more astro-turfy charter-promoting group and finds a big fat pile of Walton money.

The PISA Problem  

The Have You Heard podcast looks at the regular testing chicken littling. And if, like me, you don't really have a chance to listen to podcasts, there's a transcript for us dinosaurs.

Ten Ideas To Save The World In 2020

Looking for ways to have a more positive impact on the planet? Here's some simple starter ideas from a fine blogger who is also my daughter.


Saturday, December 28, 2019

Dana Goldstein's Common Core Ten Year Tale, Annotated

Dana Goldstein's NYT ten year retrospective of Common Core has been sitting on my desktop since it was published, making me grumpy. It's yet another example of how the stories we are told about modern disruptive education reform are subtly sugared and carefully crafted to avoid discussing some of the larger issues. I don't know-- after all, Goldstein is a published book author and writes for the
Alas, poor standards.
New York Times, and I'm sitting here next to a sleeping baby on the couch, blogging for free, so it's always possible that I don't know what I'm talking about. But there is just so much stuff going on in her piece that I'm just going to quote and respond. For full fairness, you should go read the full piece, but these are all the little moments I experience reading this piece. Some of this is about how Goldstein reports the story, and some of it is just a chance to re-experience the anger of the last decade all over again. Yay, nostalgia.

So let's wade in.

The plan was hatched with high hopes and missionary zeal:

First sentence and already we're passive voicing our way right past a critical CCSS issue--just who decided to push this whole scheme, anyway?

More than 40 states signed on to the plan, known as the Common Core State Standards Initiative, after it was rolled out in 2010 by a bipartisan group of governors, education experts and philanthropists.

Actually, many states signed on ahead of the actual roll-out. And "rolled out" is a nice end run around the question of who actually wrote the standards. "Education experts"? That's a bit of a stretch.

American children would read more nonfiction, write better essays and understand key mathematical concepts, instead of just mechanically solving equations.

There would be no discussion about the educational soundness of these goals.Yes, I know-- Goldstein is reporting, in a fairly economical matter, what the vision was. I just wish the CC story included a discussion of where that vision came from (e.g. David Coleman's personal amateur-educator beliefs about what students ought to read).

“We are being outpaced by other nations,” President Barack Obama said in one 2009 speech, in which he praised states that were moving toward the Common Core. “It’s not that their kids are any smarter than ours — it’s that they are being smarter about how to educate their children.”

We are being outpaced on test scores. Again, did that actually matter? Was there any reason to believe that PISA scores relate to anything? One of the unreported stories of Common Core is the bipartisan success in pushing the idea that US schools are failing--with practically no evidence. But she's not going to examine that premise, nor the premise that the Big Standardized Test tells us anything important about the state of US education. Instead, she'll jump-cut to the present to point that BS Test scores are stagnant and we're still not winning internationally at PISA.

The disappointing results have prompted many in the education world to take stock of the Common Core, one of the most ambitious education reform projects in American history. Some see the effort as a failure, while others say it is too soon to judge the program, whose principles are still being rolled out at the classroom level.

This is an odd piece of reporting. In trying to hang her story on the peg of the decade anniversary, Goldstein seems to be ignoring that people have been "taking stock" of the standards pretty much continuously for the decade. Calling it "one of the most ambitious education reform projects" is fair, but it reminds me that there's an interesting story to be written comparing the Core to other education revamps.

The Common Core got caught up in an old-fashioned culture war, one that pitted activists on both the right and left, who came to detest the Core, against an education policy establishment that was sometimes surprised by the fierce resistance to its actions.

I'm not sure what's "old-fashioned" about a culture war that makes allies out of people all across the political spectrum, but calling the CC debates a "culture war" is dismissive of those opponents, suggesting they just had their ideological knickers in a twist rather than voicing legitimate educational objections. I would be tempted to rewrite this as "The educational amateurs behind the Core botched the writing, the roll-out, and the implementation, and consequently suffered a shit-ton of push back."

But in Goldstein's version, none of the problems of the Common Core were created by the folks pushing it. Her next quotes come from Amy Wilkins, a senior vp of the National Alliance for Public [sic] Charter Schools (which reminds me that the whole issue of how CCSS were a tool to help push privatization and choice will also get short shrift here), who correctly notes that "there is so much space between the people who cook up these policies and the classroom" but doesn't note that they could try to do what they falsely claimed they had done-- involve people who work in the classroom. And then she offers this lousy comment:

We underestimated how difficult it is to change a big, entrenched system.

This construction is not uncommon among reformsters; it's an elegant way to blame the education system for the reformsters' failure. "It's not that our idea was lousy, or that we did a lousy job of putting it out there," it says. "It's that Those People are thicker and slower than we realized." It's not that we built a plane that couldn't fly; it's that the air and gravity refused to cooperate.

Rocky Start

Next, Goldstein rolls back the clock to capture the "rocky start" of the Common Core, placing the roots as a response to No Child Left Behind. "The law was largely seen as a disappointment," she says, once again hiding the Deciders behind passive voice. Then she offers this paragraph, one of the least reality-based in the whole article:

In response, in 2009, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, a coalition of state superintendents, formed a working group of consultants, educators and experts tasked with drafting shared national standards in English and math.

Consultants? Sure. Educators? By whose definition? Experts? In what, exactly? In place of that paragraph, please insert Lyndsey Layton's important story of how David Coleman got Bill Gates to make this all happen. And never forget that David Coleman bragged about how "unqualified" he and his crew were. There were no teachers or education experts given a strong hand in this process, and that was on purpose-- these plucky outsiders were going to show all those "experts" how to fix America's stinky schools.

Goldstein says that after 2010, the standards started hitting "both logistical and political roadblocks." Well, yes. Almost as if in their amateur haste, the architects had not bothered to look at the landscape before they put the car in gear. Goldstein focuses on a young Kentucky teacher who notes that publishers didn't have materials ready in time, so there was a rush to write-it-yourself (difficult because nobody knew exactly how the standards were supposed to work). Then there's this:

In the early years of the rollout, Ms. Wilkerson recalled, there was so much pressure for students to do well on the math and reading tests associated with the standards that science and social studies lessons were sometimes canceled to make more room for the tested subjects.

"In the early years"? Actually, in all the years. But then, high stakes testing had been a feature of education since NCLB, and the "disappointment" that some reformers felt over that was that different were testing different stuff. Part of the whole point of Common Core was to answer the question, "How do we get all these states to test the same stuff?" Somehow Goldstein skips over SBA and PARCC, tests intended to be nation al high stakes Common Core-linked tests. But she does note the opt-out movement as part of the pushback.

She notes that folks on the right were not happy about it, in no small part because it was associated with Obama, who didn't create it, but did push it (Goldstein also skips over the way NCLB's insane requirements became the leverage with which states were pushed into Core compliance).

She moves into a recap of conservative social media pushback, with angry parents posting all the latest terrible Common Core homework (she pictures them "sitting at kitchen tables and squinting at" their kids' homework). And of all the critics of Common Core aligned pedagogy, she goes with Louis C. K. which--okay, that represented a sort of pop culture moment for rejecting the Core.

And in a short quote from Lindsey M. Burke at the Heritage Foundation, she hints at one of the side-effects of the whole mess-- Core backers had used political means to get their educational program in place, and opponents soon realized that it would take political action to get rid of it.

A Retreat

By the mid-2010s, the Common Core had a public relations problem.

Well, yes. I suppose you could say that cholera and fascism have PR problems-- but dismissing something as a PR problem is a simple way to dismiss all objections and critiques as matters of taste and optics, not substantial issues of substance. Core fans have repeated blamed messaging and implementation as a way to avoid any suggestion that the standards themselves have some problems.

But mostly, as Goldstein correctly notes, using Kentucky as an example, states dealt with the issue cosmetically, by rebranding the standards and not really changing anything. Her Kentucky teacher (who, like virtually every single person interviewed for this story, thinks the Core is dandy) says that's a good thing because the Core's priorities are good (more non-fiction is good college prep!) and other things are getting better:

The issue of lost time for history and science has gotten better, she said, as educators become more aware of research showing that rich social studies and science lessons build background knowledge that improves reading comprehension.

Just spitballing here, but there might be reasons to study social studies and science (and art and music) beyond just getting your reading scores to go up. This is part of the legacy of the Core-- the notion that every single thing has to be justified in terms of how it affects reading (and math) scores. And Goldstein makes the point that the Core maintains influence in classrooms.

“It’s a bell that can’t be unrung,” said Sandra Alberti, a senior fellow at Student Achievement Partners, the consulting group founded by three of the lead writers of the Common Core.

Sigh. Yep, that's a headline-- "Representative of Group Promoting a Particular Policy Announces That Said Policy Is Important!"

Still, not everyone agrees that the Common Core was faithfully implemented at the classroom level.

This might be the funniest line in the piece. Of course not everyone agrees, because there's nobody who can authoritatively declare what faithful implementation looks like. And because many teachers are actual professionals who adapt every single thing in their classroom to best fit the students in front of them. "Well, this would work, but it's not properly aligned with the standards, so tough luck, students," said no decent teacher ever. Look, at this point, alignment is a paperwork exercise-- you make your plans based on your best professional judgment, and then you pick out the standards that you can slap onto that lesson.

She tells the story of a Massachusetts charter school teacher who notes that his school met its non-fiction requirements with biographies instead of argument-driven essays and articles. She will once again pass up the opportunity to question what basis exists for that reading requirement.

More Time?

Many of those who developed the Common Core said a key weakness was that the standards were not rolled out with lesson plans, textbooks and widespread teacher-training programs.

That's probably because, at the time, they were all desperately trying to claim that the standards were not a curriculum and weren't trying to micromanage the classrooms of every teacher in this country. It is a measure of how disconnected they remain from actual teaching in actual schools that they now imagine that doing more micromanagement would have made things go better. "What I need is someone to come in and tell me exactly how to do my job," said no teacher ever.

Goldstein actually only follows up with one of the three architects-- Bill McCallum, who is now getting into the curriculum biz after being a bit, well, at sea for a while. The other math guy, Jason Zimba, was, last I knew, working as a consultant for big time districts like New York City. David Coleman is, of course, running the College Board.

“Part of what we’re doing is playing catch-up,” said Allan Golston, president of the United States program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a lead philanthropic backer of the Core. “We did learn about the importance of wider community engagement.”

I wonder what they learned. What a curious lost sort of quote.

Goldstein finally in the last paragraphs talks to someone who is not a Core booster. Jack Schneider, ed profesor and co-host of the education podcast Have You Heard, says

it was “na├»ve” to expect them to make a big impact on student achievement without broader investments in early childhood education, teacher training and school integration. Ultimately, he added, “I would say that poverty alleviation programs are a better investment than standardized tests.”

And so ends Goldstein's curious ret-con of the Core, covered like a political race with attention to the horse race aspects but no thought for the actual qualities of the horse. She has managed to recap without analysis, while trying to leave the impression that the Core is still alive and kicking and not a shambling zombiefied shadow of its former self, most of its golden aspirations now dust. The Core deserves something more like eulogy and less like hagiography.

Friday, December 27, 2019

VA: Ideas About How To Recruit and Retain Teachers

As squawking about the teacher "shortage" many states have developed methods to either take advantage of the situation ("Now we can finally break the teachers union and public education by letting any warm body stand in front of a classroom because, hey, there's a shortage") or try to figure out a way to actually solve the problem.

In Virginia, a coalition appears to be taking a shot at the latter approach. The Virginia Public Education Coalition is a group of a dozen Virginia organizations encompassing public school professional groups, school boards, principals, superintendents and even the ASCD and PTA. Collectively, they've come up with some ideas about how to attract and retain folks in Virginia teaching positions.

Is their plan a good one? It makes a nifty flyer. And can other states learn from it? Welll…..

The plan ignores some of the bigger reasons to avoid taking a job there. For instance, Virginia is a right-to-work state, meaning that a teacher in Virginia may, if she teaches in one of the areas where the union has been fully neutered, find herself with little or no employment protection or voice in her teaching conditions. If Virginia wants to attract more teachers, they have to recognize "We make sure them unions keep quiet" is not a winner. In 2012 a study was jointly produced by the right-tilted Fordham Institute and Education Reform Now, the "action" wing of Democrats for Education Reform, a group of hedge fundie privatizers masquerading as Democrats. The study ranked the relative strength of each state's teachers union; Virginia was 47th. Proposed slogan for Virginia teacher recruitment program: "Welcome to Virginia, teacher-- you're on your own!"

So they missed some parts. Did they do well with the rest? They talk about three areas, for each of three areas.



According to some studies, Virginia has the largest teacher pay gap (gap between teacher pay and pay for other college-educated folks) in the country. Depending on who's counting, Virginia ranks thirty-somethingth in the nation for teacher pay. But the plan calls for more complicated steps than a simple, "Pay teachers more," though it does start with a wordier version of that, a la "establish compensation and benefits" that attract beginners and encourage them to stay. Well, yeah.

Fix the recession-era budget language that caps state funding for support staff, which would both pay support staff more and free up local dollars to spend on teachers.

Reform student loans, including loan forgiveness, and try a few other things to make it less expensive to become a teacher. Fix the busted formula use to calculate "prevailing practice' for teacher salaries. And an interesting idea-- come up with some state-funded supports for student teachers during their semester, like actual pay and housing allotments.

Preparation and Support

Here we run into trouble. "Ensure that the competencies included in the Profile of a Virginia Leader and Profile of a Virginia Educator are reflected in Virginia's educator preparation programs." Those profiles appear to be works in progress, building the structure for a new evaluation system, and it just all looks very jargon-filled and that certainly has its place, but it's no substitute for the kinds of preparation and support that new teachers need, which is more of the "which of these questions should I use top discuss Hamlet and how can I get that discussion to actually happen and what do I do about the kid who is being not quite but close to insubordinate to me face every day?" The challenge of the dailiness of teacher life, particularly new teacher life, is not the challenge of philosophical underpinnings or global standards, but how to deal with the specific classroom actions needed to make some education happen in the next forty minutes. This is why mentoring programs, when done properly, are powerful.

Virginia has a grow-your-own teacher program, which is basically about starting recruitment when students are still in high school and grooming them to return to their old school. It's a process that makes sense because so many teachers end up teaching close to home anyway. The plan says to take a look at the program and see how it's working.

Third and worst, the plan calls to "initiate multiple options for accreditation" of programs. "allowing for options that respond to the teacher shortage and offer opportunities to diversify the teacher pipeline." Yes, Virginia happily welcomes Teach for America temps, and has since 2013. If by "diversify," the proposal means "get more non-white teachers in the classroom," that's on point, but it seems more likely that it means "support more ways to fast-track amateurs into classrooms."

There are plenty of reasons not to like that idea. It's not just that it shuffles a lot of warm, unprepared bodies into classrooms. Those folks, beyond not pulling their own weight, also extract a toll on the system. There's the cost of churn, of being a student in a school in which "teachers" just keep coming and going. If you're saying, "Well, at least we got someone in that classroom for that year," you don't get it-- this is a short-term solution that creates long-term damage to the system at a cost to all the future students who will pass through it. These churning bodies also put extra strain on the rest of the staff who have to pick up after them. And finally, I don't understand why some folks still don't get the fundamental insult of TFA. You're a person who really wanted to be a teacher, went to college for it, went through student teaching, paid your dues, prepped hard and hoped to land a job, and now here comes somebody who just waltzed through five weeks of superficial training and they sit in a classroom just like you, and you ask yourself "Was I just the victim of some huge scam? Why did I bother with any of that?"

Why make it a point to say that you're going to make sure that teacher prep programs reflect all your lovely competencies if you are also going to say that you want to come up with a bunch of ways to circumvent those programs?

Working Conditions

Establish a state "clearinghouse" of available jobs, with a common application. As someone who spent his first summer out of college applying to about seventy different districts, I say, "Bravo!"

They repeat the part about compensation here.

They propose a career ladder that doesn't require teachers to go into administration. This always sounds like a swell idea if 1) it doesn't involve lowering everyone's salary to make room for ladder-climbing "raises" and 2) if you can pry administrations' fingers off of the power needed to make any of these ladder steps actually mean anything.

"Provide an administrative framework" that gets school leaders to support effective teaching rather than just monitoring compliance. Yes, well. First the state has to actually mean it, because the compliance mindset starts there and just trickles down. The someone is going to have to fire a bunch of administrators who have compliance mindset so hardwired into their brain that nothing short of a lobotomy will remove it. Good luck with all of these.



Yeah, still need more.

Preparation and Support

Update teacher prep programs to reflect all those profiles (including the Profile of a Graduate). Not sure how this helps the induction of a new teacher.

Then there's some noise about looking over the guidelines for mentoring and coaching and make sure it's all "grounded in research" and "evidence-based practice" which would mean a lot more if it weren't coming from a state that has welcomed Teach for America, a program which is neither research- nor evidence-based. Also, if your research and evidence is based on standardized test scores, it's junk and useless (especially to every inductee who isn't teaching reading or math).

Working Conditions

Get experienced teachers to be mentors. Duh. Both mentor and mentee should have reduced teaching load so they have time to do the mentoring thing. Which is absolutely correct, but how does that actually work? Will the district hire a 1/2-day teacher to pick up the slack for a year (and if so, who's mentoring that person). Or will the district absorb the slack by enlarging class sizes, turning mentoring into more work for everybody? Or will the district just take the same old route of assigning mentors based on which teachers have the same prep period as the newby? I mean, this reduced schedule is a good idea. It's the right idea. But it's also an expensive, schedule-snarking idea. I expect many dragged feet.

Improve professional development. Yes, please.

"Establish avenues" for new teachers to develop relationships with others in the school. Again, important and easy to say. Too many teacher first years are shaped by whoever the newby happens to eat lunch with. But hard to do, and therefor hard to get districts to do.



Fix that pay scale problem where you hit the middle of the scale and your wages stagnate. And do that magic career ladder thing again. Really, there's nothing mysterious about the compensation piece of all this. Everyone knows exactly what needs to be done; it's just that mostly they don't want to. So we get all these conversations on the theme of, "Can we pay them more without it actually costing the district more money?" The Magic Beans school of improved compensation.

Preparation and Support

Virginia is going to update that evaluation to match the profile things. And the evaluation will suck less, and emphasize growth, and are competency-based--uh-oh. Here comes a multi-item checklist that may or may not have anything to do with actual good teaching.

Make the professional development better, somehow. Use evidence-based stuff. (Is competency-based education or evaluation evidence based? No? Get some more magic beans in here!)

Also, get a teacher and school administrator advisory board to work with the General Assembly, Secretary of Education, and Board of Education. That way the General Assembly, Secretary of Education, and Board of Education can look like they're listening to actual educators without having to budge from their comfy offices and meeting rooms.

Working Conditions  

Reduce emphasis on standardized testing for accountability. Ding ding ding! We have a winner. "Recognize that deep and personalized learning requires that teachers have more autonomy to design their instructional practices." If you could get the legislature to actually understand this, you wouldn't need much of anything else.

Weight admin supervisory time toward newbys. In other words, give the new teachers more help, and leave your veterans alone.

More avenues for professional relationships. This sounds cheesy, but it's not. I taught in a district where for years the philosophy was that any minute a teacher spent anywhere other than in front of students in a classroom was a minute wasted. I barely knew what other people in my department were doing, let alone teachers in other parts of the building. It got in the way of becoming a better teacher, both in my general practice and for those specific students in those years. Teachers need the chance to talk to other teachers.

Let teachers own their own professional development. Help leaders develop cultures based on shared responsibility, vision, values, and culture.

Honestly, there's some real junk in this plan, but this third section of the third section is worth its weight in gold. Now if they can just get someone in positions of power to listen.

For any state interested in approaches other than wishful thinking or warm body snatching or letting their public system collapse, this Virginia plan is a place to start. It gets some things very wrong, but some other things very right.

Just remember, if your state is experiencing something that people are calling a teacher shortage, that is not a failure of teacher prep programs to produce teachers, and it's not a failure of gritless millenials and it's not a failure of education to be sufficiently inspiring-- it's a failure of your state's legislative and educational leaders to make the jobs appealing and rewarding enough to convince people to take them and stay in them. Every useful discussion among such leaders about trouble filing teacher positions has to start with a good long look in the mirror. After that, you can take a look at documents like this one.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Big Brother U & The Surveillance State

If you missed this article at Washington Post about on campus surveillance of students-- well, congratulations on having one less troubling thought in your head over the past week. Because the surveillance is continuing its slow, steady advance. Now technology lets colleges monitor their students 24/7. Yay.

This particular article focuses on a company called SpotterEDU, and they are creepy as hell. The main part of their is a quick, easy technofix for taking attendance. Students are required to download the app (this also means, though the article is so tech forward it doesn't even address these issues, that students are also required to carry an up-to-date cellphone and keep it fully charged at all times) which then "checks in" with Bluetooth beacons in classrooms on campus (or anywhere else the beacons are planted).

Bluetooth beacons were supposed to be the Thing Of The Year in 2016, the tech that was going to put coupons on our phones when we approached a certain product and which would unlock doors as we walked closer. As with virtually every big tech promise of the last twenty years, it hasn't exactly arrived yet. If the function of Bluetooth in my home is any indicator, I'm guessing we have a few bugs to work out yet.

That seems to be the case for some students, who report in the article that they get in fights with the tech about whether or not they were really absent or late to class. yay, computer technology-- usually almost doing of what it's supposed to do, sort of. As the SpotterEDU Terms of Service say, its data is not guaranteed to be “accurate, complete, correct, adequate, useful, timely, reliable or otherwise.”

But a professor in the article notes that this method of techno attendance taking has caused more students to show up to class, which raises an important question. Why did they previously think they didn't have to? Because as a lowly high school teacher, I always assumed that if a student could miss my class a whole without it having any apparent effect on what she was learning, then I'm the one who must be doing something wrong. If I can skip your class 50% of the time and still get a great grade, I'm not the one who's screwing up. But the colleges, and some professors, like this tech because it "nudges" students to be more well-behaved and compliant.

If we were just talking about classroom attendance, this would be bad enough, but the SpotterEDU site touts this as "An automated attendance monitoring and early alerting platform." Because our go-to justification for this kind of oppressive tracking, whether we're talking Florida's police state state or Big Brother University, is that This Is For Your Own Good. This is how we'll catch shooters and thwart suicides. We'll just watch all of you young folks all the time, for your own good. Even though there's still not a shred of evidence that this kind of tracking does any good.

Sadly, Bluetooth-based monitoring isn't remotely this 
obvious. Just a little box on the wall, too boring to make a
good pic for a post.
Who's good is it for, really? Another line from the SpotterEDU site is "decrease friction between those helping students succeed." It's for the People In Charge (who are also, not coincidentally, the ones reserving the right to decide what "succeed" will mean. These are tools for lazy managers, for the boss who keep thinking that his job would be so much easier if the people he's in charge of would behave the way he wants them to and stop exercising so much independent thought.

There are other troubling aspects. Colleges can split the tracked students into sub groups like freshmen or minority students. Where is the data stored, and for how long, and under what sort of security. And always, the usual sort of mission creep-- "We'll collect data to deal with this specific issue" becomes "now that we have this big pile of data, I bet we could sift through it do X" followed by "I see you have a big valuable pile of data sitting there-- can I make you an offer so that I can use it? Strictly for the students's own good, of course..."

At one point, one of the interviewees raises the big question-- who exactly does this serve? What sort of utility do students get from allowing themselves to be tracked, imperfectly, everywhere? How does this help them take their place as educated leaders in an adult world? The answer of course is that it doesn't do any of those things-- it lets a tech company make a sale and some college administrators make their own jobs a bit easier.

Even if you don't have a Washington Post subscription, this is worth using up one of your free reads for. It's alarming and disturbing, not just that this kind of thing exists, but that there are people who think it's a great idea, and that we have an entire generation growing up to think that being tracked 24/7 is perfectly normal and okay.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Merry Christmas

To those of you who celebrate the holiday, best wishes. (For those of you who don't, best wishes). Here's the Curmudgucation Institute's annually curated selection of Christmas music that's not just the same damn thing the radio's been playing for weeks. Enjoy.

I've taken off a couple of days to spend with board of directors and the rest of the institute stakeholders who are in town. I'll be back with the usual education shenanigans shortly.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

WI: Pre-K Cyberschool Shenanigans

A few Wisconsin legislators have a dumb idea for a law. They'd like to spend $1.5 million on cyberschool-- on line computerized instruction-- for pre-schoolers.

This is just layers and layers of dumb.

First, cyberschools in general have proven to be lousy. Spectacularly lousy-- and that's in a study run by an organization sympathetic to charters.. Students would be better off spending a year playing video games lousy. So bad that even other charter school promoters won't defend them lousy. In short, outside very specific sets of special needs, there is no evidence that cyberschooling works.

Second, while there is still considerable debate, the general consensus is that screen time for littles should be somewhere between very small amounts and none at all.

Third, academic studies are a lousy idea for littles, unlikely to yield real benefits even as they may create real harm.

But education committee chair Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt is either unaware or unconcerned-- well, I don't know how he can be either. The man has an elementary education degree (from Martin Luther College) and taught for some time at Winnebago Lutheran Academy. Now, yes-- MLC has as its purpose the cranking out of witnesses to the Lutheran faith (and playing sports). And yes, WLA is a private religious school that exists to "glorify God" (and play sports). But I've known plenty of Lutherans, and there's nothing about being Lutheran that would preclude knowing that cyberschools and academic instruction for littles is a lousy idea.

The program would be used fifteen minutes a day, five days a week, and would be piloted in a combination of rural and urban districts and would be added on top of the state's existing program for four year olds.

Thiesfeldt has some fairly specific ideas about what the program should provide.

The vendor would be required to show past success in similar endeavors; provide instruction in reading, math and science; design a program to improve a child’s transition to kindergarten; require parental engagement including interaction with a learning coach; evaluate a child’s growth; and provide internet and a computer at no cost to families that do not have them.

Also it would help increase reading scores. Because getting standardized test scores up should totally be the focus of pre-school education.

How did he come up with such a clear picture of what he wanted. Well,  he just happened to see a presentation (aka "sales pitch") from Waterford.org, the outfit that is an industry leader in infliucting cyberschool on preschoolers through their widely adopted UPSTART program. So, to recap, he's seen a pitch from one company that works in this field, and he's written a law tailored exactly to that company. I hope the marketing guy for UPSTART is being paid really well.

UPSTART popped up in Utah a few years back, a state that was investing $0.00 in pre=school education. In Utah they also used the business model of making friends with a legislator,State Senator Howard Stephenson, and his explanation was not inspiring:

“We want to reach the greatest number of children with the resources that we have,” Stephenson said. “I don’t think we’re being cheap at all. We’re being smart.”

I'm more inclined to go with this alternative theory.

“It’s wishful thinking by state legislatures,” said Steven Barnett, the director of the National ­Institute for Early Education ­Research at Rutgers University. “We want preschool, we want to get these great results, but we don’t actually want to spend the money.”

Sadly, UPSTART has been spreading like a weed-- a big, cheap weed. Indiana. Mississippi. They benefit from, again, the cheap, plus the shiny computers, plus periodic outburst of uncritical just-run-the-news-release press. The idea of plunking three and four years olds in front of computers to do academic work has become widespread enough that Defending The Early Years actually took the time to write a report pointing out that putting pre-schoolers in front of computers to learn to read is a terrible idea. 

Waterford's website trumpets "Do you know 2.2 million children do not have access to public-funded early education?" which is a compelling statistic, except that it compels me to agitate for public-funded pre-K for all and not a cheap, unproven, bad idea of a software program. But it's really shiny, and it promises a cheap technosolution; the TED-linked Audacious Project handed Waterford $20 million. Waterford calls their program "Award-winning" and boasts that their DIBELS scores (that's the test in which small children decode nonsense syllables, Exhibit A in "When phonics goes too far"). UPSTART also "improves cognitive outcomes," and, no, sorry, but no, you have no idea whether or not it does any such thing.

Their business model, as we've seen, seems to focus on getting paid with tax dollars, which allows them to market their product as "free"! Oh, and they're "non-profit," so you know-- no, you don't know anything other than there are no stockholders making money here. As multiple non-profits have shown, "Non-profit" and "intensely focused on making money" are not mutually exclusive.

Ah, well. It appears that Wisconsin is poised to join the states that would rather get pre-K cheap than right. Bad news for Wisconsin's children, good news for the UPSTART marketing team. Ka-ching.

ICYMI: The Nights Before Christmas Edition (12/22)

Down to the wire (or in some cases, past the wire-- my extended family gathered at my folks yesterday for our holiday celebration). But there's still plenty to read from the last week.

The Science of Writing

"Science is not a hammer." Paul Thomas with some thoughts about the teaching of writing and the science that is (or is not) behind it and science's place in the grander scheme.

Whatever Happened to EdTPA? It's Still Here and Still Messed up

A new study suggests that EdTPA shouldn't be used for, well, much of anything. Fred Klonsky, who's been following EdTPA for a while has some thoughts (and some links) about the study and the program.

How Ending Behavior Rewards Helped One School Focus on Student Motivation and Character  

KQED makes a visit to Jersey to revisit the question of whether or not t's a good idea to reward students for behaving well. Daniel Pink makes an appearance.

Gary Larson Is Back, Sort Of.

Important news from the New York Times-- The Far Side is getting digitized-- and there night even be new panels.

Demand Pennsylvania Reform Its Charter Laws    

Steve Singer reminds Pennsylvanians that there is some legislation just waiting for public comment. A must read for PA residents.

The Lanes That Divide

The Washington Post looks at how the drawing of school district boundaries is still a potent weapon against integration.

American students aren't getting smarter-- and testing is to blame  

Testing expert Daniel Koretz is at NBC, explaining that high stakes testing has been a damaging crock. This should inspire you to buy Koretz's book.

Seven Reasons Teachers Trust Each Other More Than...Well, Anyone.  

You should be reading Nancy Flanagan regularly, but she is particularly on target this week, talking about how teachers value the judgment of other teachers more than, say, self-professed internet ed experts.

Reporters Faced Resistance At Every Level  

Reporters from the Record and NorthJersey.com have done some good work writing about charter schools, but this article shows how one of that reporting came easily. Another reminder that charter transparency and accountability are not really things.

Why Education Reform Is Not Working  

The New York Times runs a few responses to its piece about the Core's tenth birthday. They are not complimentary.

The Myth of Charter School Innovation  

The notion that charters are laboratories of educational innovation just won't die. nancy Bailey explains why it should.

Friday, December 20, 2019

OH: Voucher Crisis Looming

When does a voucher program lose support? When it comes for the wealthy white districts.

Ohio has quietly been working to become the Florida of North when it comes to education, with an assortment of school choice programs that are like a cancerous growth gnawing away at the health of the public school system. But now, due to a collection of lawmaker choices, the privatized schools of Ohio have dramatically advanced their bid to consume public education. And somer lawmakers have noticed.

"Hey! I would like to speak to a manager!"
Ohio has followed the basic template for implementing choice-- get your choicey foot in the door with some modest programs that are strictly to "save" poor, underserved students from "failing" schools. Then slowly expand. Only, somehow, somebody screwed up the "slowly" part.

Next year, the number of "failing" districts in Ohio will jump from 500 to 1,200. The voucher bill for many districts will jump by millions of dollars. (If you like a good graphic, here's a tweet that lays it out.) And the list of schools whose residents are eligible for the EdChoice program include districts that are some of the top-rated districts in the state.

It might not matter that top districts are now voucher-eligible-- after all, parents can just say, "Why go to private school when my public school is great?"-- except for one other wrinkle. Next year ends the requirement that voucher students be former public school students. In other words, next year parents who have never, ever sent their children to public schools will still get a few thousand dollars from the state. Districts will lose a truckload of money without losing a single student.

House Speaker Larry Householder has presided over plenty of choice expansion and school privatization (and been praised by Jeb Bush's right-hand lady of privatization, Patty Levesque, for it), but even he sees some problems with the current trajectory, and has declared that something has to be done, toot de suite. Mind you, his phrase is "soften the blow" and not "stop the funneling of public tax dollars to private schools." He has previously proposed an assortment of softening agents, but he seems to have increased his sense of urgency. “We have failed badly as far as our report card system and our testing system in this state,” Householder told reporters in his Columbus office.

Meanwhile, February 1 kicks off the EdChoice application period for next year.

Householder thinks the problem is the school grading system, and that whole thing needs to be tweaked. By a coincidence, a committee report released Monday suggested that Ohio needs to do away with the business of giving A-F letter grades for schools for a variety of reasons, though personally I think "It's dumb and doesn't tell you anything useful about the school being graded" is more than enough. In the annals of accountability ideas, A-F grades for schools is one of the worst; it provides schools with zero actionable data. The only thing it's good for is a blunt instrument to set policies for closing down public schools or chicken littling your way to pro-privatization policies ("Look at all these public schools with a low grade!!"). A-F grades are not about helping schools improve; they're about punishing them, gutting them, and replacing them. Of the policy groups involved in the committee, only two argued in favor of the A-F grades. One is the Ohio Excels, a group of Ohio business folk who have decided that they should get to set education policy in Ohio, because they want to. The other was Fordham Institute, the right-tilted, reform-pushing, charters-in-Ohio-running thinky tank.

Meanwhile, Sen. Teresa Fedor doesn't believe the Ohio GOP is serious about fixing the coming voucherpocalypse, noting that A) they've known this was coming since the budget, complete with various last-min ute sneaky voucher addendums was passed and B) they've been called back to session about a week before the Feb. 1 opening of voucher season.

So we'll have to wait and see. It could still happen; the Ohio legislature is aces when it comes top speedy stealth legislation, and when they really want to get it done, the last minute is thirty more seconds than they need. On the other hand, the only thing that seems to be wrong here from the reformster perspective is that the voucher expansion came too quickly and may potentially alarm too many people to whom legislators might have to actually listen. Again, nothing about this expansion is out of line with a voucher rollout as a matter of substance or policy; the only problem is the speed with which it's barreling into Certain Neighborhoods. Someone cranked up the heat on that pot of frogs a little too swiftly.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Would Medicare-For-All Come With An Education Bonus?

This is the least-read thing I've ever written for Forbes, but I still wonder about the issue. So let  me put it out there again.

The expansion of Medicare coverage as a path to universal healthcare for the U.S. has unleashed a great deal of debate from think tanks to water coolers. One of the biggest questions remain—how much would it actually cost, and what would the average citizen pay?

The answer to the first question is “a whole lot (but remember--we currently pay a large number of whole lots. The second part-- well, there are many possible plans floating around at the moment. Some argue that the overall cost of healthcare in the U.S. would come down, meaning savings for some folks and fewer profits for others. The government costs would go way up, necessitating increased taxes for everyone. But, argue supporters, the increased tax burden would be offset by the end of deductibles and co-pays; there’s also the hope, under some versions, that employers would save on healthcare costs and some of those savings could be passed on as wage increases. Plus, the extra wrinkle that businesses would no longer be able to use health care as leverage against striking workers.

There is one other wrinkle that seems to draw little or no discussion.

Public school employees, like other citizens, get their healthcare from their employers. But unlike other citizens, public school employees have their healthcare paid for by taxpayers. According to the Kaiser Foundation, the cost of an employer-provided insurance policy has topped $20,000. District-provided insurance has stayed in that neighborhood. That means that in small a school district with just 200 employees, even if the district has been paying $15,000 per employee, Medicare-for-All could potentially provide as much as $3 million savings to local taxpayers. That could be immediately translated into lower real estate taxes, or higher wages or better facilities, or something.

One of the great sticking points for retirement is often how to cover insurance until the retiree is old enough for Medicare; this results in some pricey retirement incentive programs in some districts. Those could go away under Medicare-for-All, providing more savings to school district taxpayers.

There could be additional non-financial benefits as well. Contract negotiations often run aground over benefits, even as increased health insurance costs give teachers “invisible” raises (the school district spends more per teacher, but the teacher never sees it). Taking health insurance off the table could make contract negotiations just a bit easier and clearer.

Heaven only knows what Medicare-for-All (or Mostly-All) could eventually look like, nor what it would look like after it miraculously passed through the House and Senate, But an education bonus could be part of that picture, and with it, maybe even some real estate tax relief. It may not be a major feature of health care policy, but an instant couple of million being freed up is not nothing.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Congress To DeVos: "Nope"

The House has passed a budget, and Betsy DeVos's Education Freedom Tax Dodge is not in it.

This is not a big surprise, though both Kellyanne Conway and Donald Trump stepped up in recent weeks to try to help sell it.

EdWeek reports that the deal struck by federal lawmakers has nary a cent for the Education Freedom Scholarships program. The program was "ignored" and there is neither money for administering that "fund a private school and get out of paying your taxes all at the same time" program, nor does it address the $5 billion budgetary hole that the DeVos plan would create. The program, despite all the DeVosian love lavished upon it, has been ghosted.

EdWeek notes a few other education items.

Trump asked for a 10% cut to the department and the elimination of twenty-nine programs. That didn't happen (though it's worth noting that many Trump appointees like DeVos have figured out that you can cut spending in your department by simply letting positions stand empty).

There is more money for Title I. It's about a 3% increase, while Democratic candidates are calling for increases of 200% to 300%.

The Charter Schools Program-- the fund that has wasted a billion dollars on charter school waste and fraud-- will stay art current levels, with neither the boost the GOP wanted nor the cut that Democrats called for.

And special ed funding will once again not be increased to its full, required level. This makes forever years for Congress to stiff the states on the granddaddy of all unfunded mandates. Thanks a lot, Congress.

Notably, for the first time in twenty years, the budget will fund studies of gun violence by the Center for Disease Control and the National Institute of Health. Apparently the DeVos-led school safety commission recommendation that schools need more guns and surveillance didn't settle the issue for everyone. Go figure.

All in all, an encouraging batch of results, and a reminder that one good thing about Betsy DeVos as ed secretary is that she's incapable of getting much done.