Sunday, June 16, 2019

ICYMI: BBQ And Blues Edition (6/15)

Today in our city park you can listen to jazz and blues all day while sampling a variety of barbecue offerings. Now don't you wish you lived near me?

In the meantime, here is some reading for you. Remember to share.

Better Schools Won't Fix America

Another wealthy reformster figures out that ed reform is on the wrong path.

She Left The Education Department For Groups It Curbed; Now She's Back  

Yet another fox lands a sweet henhouse gig. Hoping Americans we'll be defended from predatory for-profit scam colleges? This lady is not going to help.

Churn and Burn 

Turns out that charters run through staff far more than public schools do.

Are Charters Hurting School Distracts

Matt Barnum at Chalkbeat runs some numbers and finds that (suroprise) charters do damage the districts they come from.

Cyber Accountability

Testimony day in Harrisburg, PA, becomes a little heated when cyber charter boosters come out to defend their businesses from ac tual educators.

Betsy DeVos, meet Ralph from Comcast.

Betsy DeVos, meet Ralph and find out what fuss about predatory privatized college looks like on the ground.

Charter Schools and Buying Double 

Steven Singer looks at duplication of services and the extra costs of charter schools.

White Home Buyers, Black Neighborhoods, and the Future of Urban Schools  

Another invaluable episode of Have You Heard, looking at gentrification in an interview with Yawu Miller.

One State Sets Out To Rethink Charter Oversight 

Jan Resseger takes a look at some important results from California's charter study.

What About ALICE?

One more creepy technocratic program for managing and profiting from the Lessers. Wrench in the Gears has dug up details.

Comics Resources   

Like to use graphic novels, comics, etc in your classroom and you need some backup for the practice? Here's a list of some resources you can use.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Winners Take All, Education Edition

Every so often you come across a book that unpacks and reframes a part of the universe in a way that you can never unsee. Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas has been a book like that for me.

Giridharadas is writing about "the elite charade of changing the world," and while he is taking a broad look at the way the Betters are trying to influence our country and our world, the connections to education reform are unmistakable. I'm about to go ahead and give my grossly oversimplified take on his work and its intersection with public education; as a general guide, assume everything smart came from his book and everything wrong is my fault. There's a lot to pack into a blog post, and I will cut corners like crazy; there are so many pull quotes from this book that I have put up an entire supplemental blog post just of quotes from the work. My best recommendation if you find any of this striking is to buy the book.

Here's my very simple take.

You know that meme about a rich person, a poor person, and a working class person sitting down to some food- we'll say a dozen donuts. The rich person has ten donuts on their plate, and as the other two contemplate the remaining donuts, the rich person says to the working class person, "You'd better watch out-- I think that poor person wants to take your donut."

But nowadays we have all sorts of elites that make noise about making the world a better place. But here's what they do-- they say, "Boy, two donuts aren't many for the two of you. Let's fix that. I'm going to start a foundation  that will teach you how to better stretch a donut." Or "I'll offer grants to buy donut knives to cut the donuts into neater pieces (and my company will make the knives)." Or "I'll cut these up for you, because I have a much better understanding of donuts than you do." Or "I'm going to fund some programs to teach you how to better control your hunger, because if you had that kind of personal strength, you wouldn't have to care so much about the donuts." Or, "I'm going to generously give one of these guys part of a donut. Call the media to catch this heartwarming story."  Or, of course, "If you had a better education, you would have more donuts."

What the Ten Donut Crowd won't say is, "Let's take a look at the system that divided the donuts up this way in the first place." Or "Let's use our democratic traditions and institutions to settle this fairly."

The elite assumption is that the system that put them on top, the game that they are the winners of, is fair and just and unrigged and not in need of being changed in any major ways. They are not part of the problem, and they are hurt that you would even suggest that was true; they are simply the just winners in a meritocratic system.

So the solutions they will propose meet a couple of standards:

1) It will include no challenge to the fundamentals of the current system.
2) The elites will be in charge (because their eliteness is proof of their fitness to run the show).
3) It will harness entrepreneurial energy (i.e. someone's going to make money from it).
4) It will hand most of the blame responsibility to the people on the bottom who are being "rescued."

I have a ton of quotes collected from this book, but I'm just going to put these two right here:

The initiatives mostly aren't democratic, nor do they reflect collective problem-solving or universal solutions. Rather, they favor the use of the private sector and its charitable spoils, the market way of looking at things, and the bypassing of government. They reflect a highly influential view that the winners of an unjust status quo-- and the tools and mentalities and values that helped them, win-- are the secret to redressing the injustices. Those at greatest risk of being resented in an age of inequality are thereby recast as our saviors from an age of inequality.

For when elites assume leadership of social change, they are able to reshape what social change is-- above all, to present it as something that should never threaten winners.

The fingerprints of this mindset are all over education reform.

* The very notion, popular and bipartisan among the Betters, that education is the fix for everything. All the socio-economic inequity in the country can be solved, not by looking at the system that created that inequity-- in fact, we're not even going to admit that the system had any hand in creating inequity. No the system is swell, and the winners are people who are at the top got there by hard work and wisdom and meritocratic excellence. So, no, we don't need to look at that system-- we just need these people on the bottom to get themselves better educations (including things like grit) so that they can win at the game, too.

* Think Bill Gates, deciding that he needs to rewrite and standardize public education, and will have to circumvent, subvert and co-op the actual government to do it. Nobody elected him Grand Poobah of US Education, but he is perfectly comfortable appointing himself to the job.

* Think the deification of business standards in ed reform, and the notion that the free market will fix the system, that we will know which ideas are working best because they will succeed in the market. Think Eli Broad's assertion that schools don't have an education problem, but a business management problem.

* Think the repeated notion that democracy is a problem in education. We need to get rid of elected school boards and we need to give school leaders the kind of freedom that an all-powerful CEO has to create his vision. In ed reform, local control and the democratic process are to be avoided.

* Think the constant rejection of expertise. Reformsters don't need to talk to teachers. What do teachers know? (If they are really such great shakes, why aren't they rich?) I've succeeded at the game, and the same wisdom that made me a winner at that game will apply to fixing education. No other sorts of wisdom are necessary.

Now, you may be thinking, what about charter schools? Don't those totally disrupt the status quo? Don't those challenge the system that created the inequity that has marked public education in this country?

I say no. No, they have exactly not done that.

The US education system suffers from inequity that's systematically embedded in the link to real estate taxes. Buy a rich house, get a wealthy school. We've also got a variety of mechanisms in place that minimize the degree to which taxpayers have to fund schools for Other Peoples' Children.

Charter and choice systems don't propose to change any of that. What they propose is to offer a pathway by which a few families may be able to move their children around a bit, in hopes that they can find an available school a few steps up the inequity ladder (but of course no voucher or charter system will get a poor student into a wealthy school, private or public). Meanwhile, the fundamental structures of inequity remain in place, in some cases actually made worse by the creation of a charter or choice system.

Charters and choice check all the boxes. Nobody who has privilege has to worry about losing any of it or even having it challenged. It circumvents government and democratic processes. It applies what Giridharadas calls MarketWorld principles to education, turning schools into businesses. And it keeps the responsibility for getting a good education (and through it, "escaping" poverty) on the families themselves. And much of the rhetoric surrounding charters keeps us from distracted from what is not actually being challenged at all.

Seriously, read this book. It's sharp and insightful and filled with profiles of the people who operate in this world of elite largesses.

Winners Take All-- Read This Book (Excerpts)

Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas might be the most important book you read this year. It is not directly aimed at education or education reform, and yet it has everything to do with education form. I'll address that in a separate post going up the same time as this one. But here I just want to share some important quotes from the book as a means of encouraging you to buy it and read it, because it offers a framework for understanding much of what's going on, from the neo-liberal wave to the wave that swept Donald Trump into office. Buy this book. 

The initiatives mostly aren't democratic, nor do they reflect collective problem-solving or universal solutions. Rather, they favor the use of the private sector and its charitable spoils, the market way of looking at things, and the bypassing of government. They reflect a highly influential view that the winners of an unjust status quo-- and the tools and mentalities and values that helped them, win-- are the secret to redressing the injustices. Those at greatest risk of being resented in an age of inequality are thereby recast as our saviors from an age of inequality.

For when elites assume leadership of social change, they are able to reshape what social change is-- above all, to present it as something that should never threaten winners.

"If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change." If this view is correct, then much of the charity and social innovation and give-one-get-one marketing around us may not be reform measures so much as forms of conservative self-defense-- measures that protect elites from more menacing change.

What is at stake is whether the reform of our common life is led by governments elected by and accountable to the people, or rather by wealthy elites claiming to know our best interests.

A charitable interpretation of this idea is that the world deserves to benefit from flourishing business. A more sinister interpretation is that business deserves to profit from any attempt to better the condition of the world.

There is no discounting the audacity of this MarketWorld idea. It rejects the notion that there are different social classes with different interests who must fight for their needs and rights. Instead, we get what we deserve through marketplace arrangements-- whether fantasy football to help African orphans or office software to make everyone more productive or the sale of toothpaste to the poor in ways that increase shareholder value. This win-win doctrine took on a great deal more than Adam Smith ever had, in claiming that the winners were specially qualified to look after the losers.

It is fine for winners to see their own success as inextricable from others. But there will always be situations in which people's preferences and needs do not overlap, and in fact conflict. And what happens to the losers then? Who is to protect their interests? What if the elites simply need to part with more of their money in order for every American to have, say, a semi-decent public school?

Here Pishevar was engaging in advocacy that disguised itself as prophecy, which was common among technology barons and one of the ways in which they masked the fact of their power in an age rattled by the growing anxieties of the powerless...In the Valley, prediction has become a popular way of fighting for a particular future while claiming merely to describe what has yet to occur.

A king presides over a multitude of truths. But a rebel, who takes no responsibility for the whole, is free to pursue his singular truth. That is the whole point of being a rebel. It is not in the rebel's job description to worry about others who might have needs that are different from his.

And powerful people who "see themselves as underdogs in a world where instability and inequality are rampant fail to realize they have a moral responsibility."

What connects these various notions is a fantasy of living free of government. These rich and powerful men engage in what the writer Kevin Roose has called "anarchist cheerleading," in keeping with their carefully crafted image as rebels against the authorities. To call for a terrain without rules in the way they do, to dabble in the anarchist cheerleading, may be to sound like you wish for a new world of freedom on the behalf of humankind. But a long line of thinkers has told us that the powerful tend to be the big winners from the creation of a blank-slate, rules-free world.

The self-styled entrepreneur-rebels were actually seeking to overturn a major project of the Enlightenment-- the development of universal rules that applied evenly to all... The world that these elites seemed to envision, in which rules receded and entrepreneurs reigned through the market, augured a return to private manors-- allowing the Earl of Facebook and the Lord of Google to make major decisions about our shared fate outside of democracy. It would be a world that let them deny their power over the serfs around them by appropriating a language of community and love, movements and win-wins. They would keep on speaking of changing the world. But many, down in the world, would feel, not without reason, that what was bleak in the world wasn't changing.

What the thought leaders offer MarketWorld's winners, wittingly or unwittingly, is the semblance of being on the right side of change. The kinds of change favored by the public in an age of inequality, as reflected from time to time in some electoral platforms, are usually unacceptable to elites. Simple rejection of those types of changes can only invite more hostility toward the elites. It is more useful for the elites to be seen as favoring change-- their kind of change, of course. Take, for example, the question of educating poor children in a time of declining social mobility. A true critic might call for an end to funding schools by local property taxes and the creation, as in many advanced countries, of a common national pool that funds the schools more or less equally. What a thought leader might offer MarketWorld and its winners is a kind of intellectual counteroffer-- the idea, say, of using Big Data to better compensate star teachers and weed out bad ones.

MarketWorld elites spun an intellectual cocoon for themselves, and kept repeating the stories that insured against deep change. Meanwhile, Giussani said, millions around the world were "feeling that a big chunk of their reality was being ignored at best, censored, or ridiculed even."

Somewhere on the road to globalization, Porter said, the self-image of business as a pillar of community had yielded to a self-image of "We're global now, and that's no longer our problem."

In the chapter discussing the McKinsey protocols and their emphasis on using problem-solving tools that were unrelated to knowing about the actual industry with the problem...
Hinton described the assumption that he saw guiding the protocol bearers in their new, public-serving assignments: "If we assemble enough brainpower and enough money, we can crack this, we can solve these problems." Then the solutions can "get scaled." This approach, he said, "just fails to recognize that we are attempting to solve these problems with the very tools and the very minds that constructed the problems in the first place."

Walker had broken what in his circles were important taboos: Inspire the rich to do more good, but never, ever tell them to do less harm; inspire them to give back, but never, ever tell them to take less; inspire them to join the solution, but never, ever accuse them of being part of the problem.

The foundations were, in other words, allowing a small handful of wealthy people like Carnegie and Rockefeller to commit monumental sums of money to the public good and thus gain a say in national affairs that rivaled that of many public officials.

Other criticism focused on how the new philanthropy not only laundered cruelly earned money but also converted it into influence over a democratic society.

This is the compromise, the truce, distilled: Leave us alone in the marketplace, and we will tend to you after the winnings are won. The money will be spent more wisely on you than it would be by you. You will have your chance to enjoy our wealth, in the way we think you should enjoy it.

Generosity is not a substitute for justice, but here, as so often in MarketWorld, it was allowed to stand in.

Walker said that the concentration of wealth and power in our time was causing a "hollowing out of the middle class" and "a huge blowback of populism, of nationalism, or xenophobia."

This thought led Walker to the observation that America was becoming privatized now.

Commandeering the role of government through civic action suddenly feels like a very empowering notion.

Donald Trump had harnessed an intuition that those people who believed you could crusade for justice and get super-rich and save lives and be very powerful and give a lot back, that you could have it all and then some, were phonies.

When private actors move into the solution of public problems, it becomes less and less of the public's business.

MarketWorld's winners had, in Ferguson's telling, surrendered any loyalty to place.

The globalists believed that there were "right answers" in public policy--answers that made a place safe for the foreign investors that Macri had been worried about--and having a very flexible labor market, in which it was easy to hire and fire people, is one of the right answers. The right answer, then, was not arrived at democratically.

The panel members saw themselves as above and apart from fearful, conflictual politics. Their politics was technocratic, dedicated to discovering right answers that were knowable and out there, and just needed to be analyzed and spreadsheeted into being.

The government should work as a partner to the private sector, not a counterweight to it.

They weren't interested in making politics work better, but insisting on their own proprietary power to give the world what it needed, not necessarily what it wanted.

MarketWorld's ideas weren't promoted through propaganda and falsehoods so much as through this kind of confinement. Its weapon was not utterance but silence, the people it did not invite, the way it hemmed in a conversation. This approach eliminated the kind of expertise that could cogently and persuasively formulate a less MarketWorld-friendly response.

If the logic of our time had applied to the facts of an earlier age, someone would have put out a report suggesting that ending slavery was great for reducing the trade deficit.

Take, for instance, the view that MarketWorld has a duty, and a right, to address public problems-- and, indeed, to take a lead in developing private solutions to them. This, for Cordelli, was like putting the accused in charge of the court system. The question that elites refuse to ask, she said, is: "Why are there in the world so many people that you need to help in the first place? You should ask yourself: Have your actions contributed at all to that? Have you caused, through your actions, any harm? And, if yes, the fact that now you are helping some people, however effectively, doesn't seem to be enough to compensate."

Businesspersons calling themselves "leaders" and naming themselves solvers of the most intractable social problems represent a worrisome way of erasing their role in causing them.

Eight Weeks of Summer: Professional Growth Plans

This post is week 1 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators.

This is a little blogventure put on by; for eight weeks they invite teachers to respond to a prompt about how they actually spend summer. I am a sucker for A) busting the myth that teacher summers are all unicorns and pina coladas and B) a prompt. I am, of course, a retired teacher, but I'm just going to cheat and write about summers gone by. So I also get to enjoy C) the rosy glow of nostalgia. There's also the promise of D) a chance to win an Amazon gift card, but when it comes to winning things I generally have E) no chance in hell. My assumption is that life has already so richly rewarded me that additional bonuses would be unfair. If you want to join in, follow the link-- but work quickly because the first week ends today.

So this is week one, and the prompt is "What are your professional learning goals this summer?"

My most common goal in the summer was to reread at least a third of the list of works that I taught. Yes, a really responsible teacher would have read everything, but a summer is only so long, and I think my view of some works benefited from breaks between readings. "I read it when I was in college" is a poor approach to the teaching of literature. At a minimum, your own growth and experience will have opened you up to new ways to see the work. Additionally, you should have absorbed enough of your students' point of view to see ways that the literature connects to them (and it won't necessarily be the same way it connected a decade ago).

Because I taught mostly American literature, I also read plenty of American history (actually, I still do that). You can't possibly know everything there is to know about the context of the work you teach, and I found that works about the history often informed or even radically changed how I taught some pieces.

It's important, especially at the secondary level, to be an expert in your content area, and you can't do that relying on the material you picked up in college courses when you were young, material that steadily fades into the past. If you learn best by taking classes, then do that, but hopefully your college taught you how to teach yourself, and you can do that every summer. My college education really is like a foundation-- while a whole massive structure rests on top of it, it's actually a very small part of the whole house.

I often read about Teacher Stuff in the summers, but honestly, not that often. I found it more useful to read that type of material during the year when I was right in the middle of the work. Though once we hit the internet age, I often had a cyber-stack of saved up articles that I meant to get around to reading, and summer let me do that. Summer was also my time to try to hone computer skills and familiarity with softwares. And for twenty years I was a yearbook advisor, and there is no summer vacation from that job.

And I always tried to have a project, whether it was directing a community theater production or redoing a room in the house or something else that let me develop, start and finish something.

Those were the professional growth parts of my summer. I of course had the personal parts, too, and teachers should always count those-- you cannot relate to how your students live in the world if you barely get into the world yourself. I taught in a small town/rural setting, so my outside world was the same as theirs. I can't imagine living apart from where my students live; if for some reason I had had to, I would have tried to get back to their space regularly.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Magical Money And School Choice

Pennsylvania's legislature is currently having Version 2,433,672,127 of the same argument that emerges every five minutes in the places where charter schools and public schools bump up against each other. The PA legislature just passed a suite of charter school bills addressing a variety of issues, but not the single issue that folks on all sides want to have addressed:

Absent from all four bills is any mention of the elephant-in-the-room issue when it comes to charter schools, namely how they are funded.

School districts complain that the bills to educate resident students who choose to attend a charter school are one of the largest expenditures in their budgets. According to the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, 37 cents of every new dollar that districts raised from property taxes in 2017-18 went to charter schools.

Charter schools, meanwhile, complain they are underfunded because the amounts they are paid are less than what a school district spends to educate their own students.

Public schools are getting hammered by the loss of public tax dollars that have been diverted from public school finances into charter and choice school accounts. Charters, having forgotten the era when they bragged that they could do more with less, complain that they are underfunded compared to public schools.

The problem here, as with several other choice-related issues, is in a false premise of modern school choice movement. That false premise is the assertion that we can fund multiple school districts for the same money we used to use to fund one single public system.

This is transparent baloney. When was the last time any school district said, "We are really strapped for funds. We had better open some new schools right away!" Never. Because everyone understands that operating multiple facilities with multiple staffs and multiple administrations and multiple overhead expenses-- all that costs more than putting your operation under one roof.

But the choice pitch has always been some version of, "Your community can have twelve different schools with twelve different flavors of education in twelve different buildings with twelve different staffs-- and it won't cost you a nickel more than what you're paying now!" This is carnival barker talk, the same kind of huckster pitch as "Why buy that used Kia? I'll sell you a brand new Mercedes for the same price!"

Adding charters and choice increases educational costs in a community. Sometimes we've hid that by bringing in money from outside sources, like PTA bake sales to buy a public school office equipment, or pricey benefit dinners for charters, or increasing state and federal subsidies to help charters stay afloat.

But mostly school choice is the daylight savings time of education-- if we just shuffle this money around in new and different ways, somehow there will be more of it.

This trick never works. And we talk all too rarely about why it never will.

The reasons for avoiding the financial elephant in the educational parlor are several. For some choice advocates, it's a feature and not a bug. It is hard to look at, say, Florida's legislature and not conclude that they are fully aware that they are starving public education and they're perfectly happy about that, that the hope is that public education can be shrunk down to nothing. DeVosian dominionists like that idea as well; I've heard more than a few religious conservatives declare that it's time for the church to take schools back from the government. Starve the government, starve the evil teachers' union, shrink the whole public system until it can be drained out of the proverbial bathtub.

There are other choice advocates who are sincere believers in a hybrid system in which charters and public schools coexist, thrive, and help each other. But even among those folks, there's nobody who has the political will to say to the public, "We want to expand our education system into a beautiful spread of shiny options, bringing freedom and choice and other swell things to education, but to do it will take a lot more money, so we're going to have to raise your taxes to get it done."

And so the lie persists, the false notion that we can education 100 students in either one school or in ten different schools, and it will cost exactly the same amount. Maybe if we pass the money through a different set of hands in an tax credit scholarship or some other kind of super-voucher, it will somehow multiply.

Of course, if money were no object for all students in education, we'd already have public schools so great that the subject of choice would never have come up in the first place. But the defining trait of US education has always been that we want a Mercedes at Kia prices, and Those Peoples' Children should just use a bicycle. (and teachers should only have their wages raised when they reach the point that they're actually embarrassing), and we definitely don't need to talk about using money and resources to improve the societal conditions that create the environment in which education occurs.

Despite my reputation as a charter hater, I can actually imagine a world in which charters would be a useful addition to the educational landscape-- but it would be a world without magic. The falsest promise that choice advocates have made is that somehow we can have a super-greater education system without having to actually pay for it. That kind of magical thinking is not going to help anybody except, of course, the hucksters with snake oil to sell.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Trouble With The College Board's New Adversity Score

The College Board has for years been trying to rescue its floundering flagship, the SAT. The newly announced adversity score is just the latest unforced error from the testing giant. 
Just keep telling yourself that
For almost a decade, the company has been fighting for market share. In 2012, it hired David Coleman, fresh from his work as architect of the language portion of the Common Core Standards. The theory was that Coleman could lead a redesign of the test that would bring it in line with the Common Core, so that students steeped in the new standards would be well-prepared for the SAT. The alignment would also be a selling point for states looking for a high school exit exam, and within a few years, the College Board was lining up states to make the SAT their official test, giving the company a captive market. On top of that, Coleman proudly announced that his new, improved test would be a tool for eradicating social injustice; the test would be a great leveler.  
But a critical part of Coleman’s strategy was to get the new test to market quickly. The new test was well under way by the beginning of 2014. It launched in the 2015-2016 school year.  
There were problems. PSAT scores from the fall of 2015 were late. Test prep experts were advising students not to take the new SAT at all. In an attempt to clamp down on cheating, the College Board implemented some last minute measures for the March 2015 test that added to the confusion and chaos. By 2016, a former employee was publishing concerns about the test, including flawed items and an inadequate development process. Reuters reported on how the rush to redesign had brought Coleman into immediate conflict with some of College Board’s test designers. That report followed a five-part Reuters series in March of 2016 that laid out a whole series of problems, focusing particularly on terrible security problems. 
Meanwhile, colleges are increasingly dropping the SAT requirement, and research continues to suggest that high school GPA is a better predictor of college success than SAT scores.  
Coleman’s notion of the SAT as a means of opening college to all wasn’t working out. A stinging report showed that the SAT redesign had made it harder for female students to score in the higher bands. And after being dogged for years by charges of racial and economic bias, the College Board’s own data (most recently reported in the Wall Street Journal) shows that when you break out the scores by racial subgroups, there are obvious gaps. As a group, white students still score higher on the test than black kids.  
The College Board has tried to level the playing field by partnering with Khan Academy to provide high quality free test prep. This is meant to counteract the test prep advantage that students from wealthy families receive. For example, in Pittsburgh, you can purchase a thirty-two-hour test prep package--for $4,800. Success Academy, the charter chain based in New York City, is currently looking to hire a P/SAT Curriculum Developer to create a full PSAT and SAT curriculum. And of course recent news has highlighted how far some parents will go to bring up those SAT scores. 
The free Khan Academy test prep is supposed to counterbalance all that, promising SAT score gains of 200 points. The problem is that the offer all but acknowledges that what the SAT measures is neither scholastic aptitude nor intellectual ability, but how good the student’s test prep was. If the SAT is only a measure of test coaching, what real purpose does it serve? 
Now the College Board has announced its Adversity Score, and it promises to be another unforced error by the testing company. 
The score promises to incorporate a dozen factors, divided into neighborhood environment, family environment, and high school environment; it does not include race. It could as easily be called a privilege score as an adversity score—on the 0 to 100 scale, over 50 is disadvantaged and under 50 is privileged. A scan of reactions over the last two days suggests that the score has few fans. Bob Schaeffer of FairTest says the adversity score is an admission by the College Board that the SAT is not a “common yardstick” but is “really a measure of accumulated advantage.” Some conservative commentators have been quick to note the David Coleman connection between the College Board and the hated Common Core. Heather MacDonald (Manhattan Institute) appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show to “slam” the score and decry how it upends the proper meritocratic system.  
Most of the critics have a point. If the test is supposed to be a level playing field, and it actually isn’t, then why not rewrite the test instead of creating a new measure to travel with it (and in so doing, suggest that the SAT score itself cannot be entirely trusted)? The score is to be kept secret from everyone but college admissions offices. What is the purpose of doing that, and what reasons will admissions offices have to keep the scores secret—and what will happen when they inevitably don’t? Is the College Board using information that they've collected from students, and does the adversity score thereby violate student FERPA privacy? How will certain high schools react to knowing their privilege rating? The score is supposedly “steeped in research.” Can the College Board even give a hint at what research base is being used to set their secret proprietary formula for computing the student score? And if this is a “scientific” measure, why not fold it into SAT score computations; why hand it to colleges and say, “Just kind of use it as you think best"? I reached out to the College Board for answers, but they did not reply. 
Coleman has offered several outlets versions of this comment: 
“Since it is identifying strengths in students, it’s showing this resourcefulness that the test alone cannot measure,” Mr. Coleman, the College Board CEO, said. “These students do well, they succeed in college.” 
That’s pretty clear. The SAT cannot predict if a student will succeed in college.  
You go to the grocery store and buy a box of macaroni and cheese, and as you check out, the clerk says, “You know, that box doesn’t actually have any cheese in it. Let me give you this.” And they hand you a plastic bag with some cheese in it.  
You ask, “What kind of cheese is this? How was it made? Where did it come from? How much do I add? And what do you mean the box of macaroni and cheese doesn’t actually contain macaroni and cheese?” 
The clerk ignores most of your questions. “Just use the amount that seems right. You know—just kind of eyeball it.” 
You would not go back to that store for macaroni and cheese. The SAT is in trouble, and no amount of adversity score is going to help.  
Originally posted at Forbes

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

PA: Voucher Expansion Goes To Governor

The Pennsylvania GOP-controlled legislature is continuing its assault on public education, this time taking a page from the Betsy DeVos Big Book of Voucher Love.

HB 800 worked its way through the House a while back, and it has just cleared the Senate. The bill is a big wet kiss to the business community and to private schools, particularly religious ones. The Catholic Church loves this bill, as does ACSIPA, a network of Christian schools advocating for school choice. Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Council of Churches is opposed.

The bill expands the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC), a version of the same tax credit scholarship that is behind DeVos's $5 billion scheme. Tax credit scholarships exist in order to circumvent the law which says that thou shalt not give public tax dollars to private religious institutions. Here's how it works.

1) Mr. and Mrs. McGotbux gives a pile of money to Pat's Very Legit Scholarship Organization.

2) The state lets the McGotbux family count their contribution, in whole or in part (depending on the law) as payment on their taxes.

3) Pat's Very Legit Scholarship Organization gives some student at So Much Jesus School a scholarship (in some states, the McGotbux get to decide which school gets the money). 

4) Meanwhile, the state now has a tax revenue shortfall equal to the tax credit that the McGotbux received.

Put another way-- let's say I'm the state. If I collect tax money from the McGotbux and hand that money to So Much Jesus School, I'm in trouble with the law. But if I tell the McGotbux, "Look, instead of handing that money to me, hand it to this guy, and this guy can hand it to the So Much Jesus School, and I will consider your debt to me square." It should be noted that "this guy" will take a cut for his middle manning.

This cynical shell game generally comes with some sort of cap; that number is the amount of tax revenue that the state is willing to let be cut. If the state gives a bunch of folks credit for handing over $1 million of taxes when in fact those folks handed over $0 of taxes, the state is now short $1 million.  Previously the PA version (EITC) had a cap of $110; HB 800 increases that cap to $210. More alarming still, HB 800 lets that cap grow automatically by 10% per year. 

Remember, the cap amount is the size of the hole that the program blows in the state budget. Theoretically, the state could make up that shortfall by, say, cutting legislator salaries. But mostly what happens is that the money is cut from education funding. That's a tough push for Pennsylvania, which ranks close to the bottom for state funding of local school districts. That means that local districts pick up most of the tab, which means that how well-funded a district is depends largely on local taxpayers, which is why Pennsylvania has a gaping chasm between rich and poor districts. (You'll see some folks talk about how high PA ranks in per-pupil funding; what you need to remember is that the figure is an average, and that most of that money is coming from local taxpayers, not the state). The point is, anything that further undercuts state spending puts more weight on local funding, which some districts are in no position to significantly improve (not to mention that PA has a cap on how far school taxes can be raised each year). 

Pennsylvania currently offers a tax credit of 90-100% of your contribution (this is actually less generous states that will let you turn a profit on your contribution). 

EITC (and Opportunity Scholarships, yet another albeit smaller voucher program in PA) are sold as lifelines for poor families. The cap for family income is $95,000. The median Pennsylvania household income in 2017 was $59,195. 

The mechanism of an educational tax credit allows the state to pretend that it is not spending tax dollars, but of course it is. If you owe me a hundred dollars, but you give $100 to a bookie because I say it's okay, then I'm out $100 just as surely as if I'd handed it to the bookie myself. The Pennsylvania legislature proposes to spend another $100 million, not on infrastructure or fixing PA's pension mess or trying to equalize PA's screwed-up funding system, but instead to spend that money on private schools that operate without oversight or accountability, and which remain free to reject students for virtually any reason. 

The governor has said that he will veto the bill, but he also has the option of sitting quietly and letting it become law. If you're in Pennsylvania, call or write and encourage him to drop the ax on this money-laundering, law-mocking, theft of pub lic tax dollars. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

FCC To Throttle School Internet

It looks like a bunch of kerfluffling about more of those oddly-named, obscure gummint programs, but the news from the FCC is ominous for schools.

According to edscoop, the FCC has filed a notice of proposed rulemaking intending to cap the FCC's Universal Service Fund. That fund subsidizes broadband infrastructure and access for schools, libraries, and rural communities. It includes the E-Rate program, which helps get wireless internet into schools.

Yeah, that looks speedy.
E-Rate is not without its controversial features. Not everyone likes the funding mechanism, and in the tradition of the finest government programs, it somehow stands accused of coming wrapped in too much red tape AND lacking sufficient oversight and accountability. People smell free federal money, and so we have examples of schools that grab E-Rate money and use it improperly, as well as internet service providers who overcharge the schools they're serving. And that's before we get to the problems that arise with attempting to implement the filtering requirements.

So E-Rate would undoubtedly benefit from an overhaul. But that's not what the FCC is proposing. What they are proposing is a ceiling on USF growth. It wouldn't hit tomorrow-- the suggested cap is $11.42 billion and the 2018 spending for the fund was $8.2 billion. So this is not an immediate assault so much as a ticking delayed choke.

There's another problematic feature of the proposal. There has already been some capping of the individual USF programs (there are four), but this would remove the individual caps and make one single cap for the collective. Meaning that the four programs can go ahead and fight with each other over a limited pie. The other three programs are Lifeline (broadband subsidies for low-income residents), Rural Health Care (supports for rural health care institutions) and Connect America (internet for rural communities).

These are all valuable programs. Lack of internet connection is a serious rural challenge (and I'm talking about areas where there isn't even a smart phone signal to piggyback on). And that goes double for rural health care and the rural poor. You can make jokes about how those folks can just go without Instagram and YouTube, and we certainly need to talk about properly managing the amount of screen time that students get, but for rural teachers, there's a real concern with sending students out into the world who cannot boot up a word processing program or figure out how to do a simple search. I've had the following conversation too many times:

Other Person: Well, the rich folks don't let their kids use screens. And there's no reason for schools to have students in front of a computer screen ever.

Me: But what about students who don't know how to do a search or use basic programs like word processing or presentation programs? What about students how have no sense about or context for privacy and data protection on line?

Other Person: Well, sure, but isn't that stuff that everybody already just kind of knows?

No, it isn't. One of the signs of privilege is that you imagine that some of what you've got just naturally falls like rain on everyone. Computers cost money. Internet access costs money. And in some places, no amount of money will get you a connection, which doubles the pressure on schools that serve students who have no decent internet access at home.

The USF is funded by the various tech companies, who mostly just pass the cost on to customers, and the GOP-led FCC wants to be "fiscally responsible" aka "not taking money away from those hardworking corporations." It also seems to have forgotten its big talk about closing the digital divide in the US. Meanwhile, a not-entirely-trustworthy Microsoft study says that 162 million Americans do not use an internet connection better than 25 mbps download and 3 mbps upload. Yeah, Microsoft has a vested interest in those results, but even if they're fudging a bit, the takeaway is that many, many people are still peddling a tricycle on the information highway. The FCC is signaling they don't want to help.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Can SEL Learn From Common Core

At the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Michael McShane (EdChoice) recently took a look at what the nascent social-emotional learning movement for education could learn from studying the checkered history of the Common Core. It's an interesting paper both for what it says about SEL and for what it gleans from the story of the Common Core, operating as it does from the reliably free-market loving reformy point of view of AEI. Plus it includes one of my new most favorite Arne Duncan quotes.

The paper opens with a history of the Core and then goes on to draw four lessons. Let's take a look.

Common Core History

McShane takes a good, honest look at the downward trajectory of the Core's popularity with everyone, and notes "It's fair to say that the implementation of Common Core did not live up to advocates' expectations." He notes the phenomenon of how Race to the Top "turbocharged" adoption of the standards, in some cases before they were even finished (he does not talk about how Bill Gates helped drive the whole process). He notes also that the standards came hand in hand with the Big Standardized Tests, and reminds us all of some of the grotesque over-promising that Duncan offered up regarding the BS Tests. McShane takes us back to Duncan's speech announcing the grants for the PARCC and SBA tests:

In that same  speech, he set a pretty high bar for these two tests. He said they would "be an absolute game-changer in public education ," "make widespread use of smart technology," and "provide students with realistic, complex performance tasks, immediate feedback, computer adptive testing, and incorporate accommodations for a range of students." He harped on new testing technology that would allow students "to design products or experiments, to manipulate parameters, run tests and record data." He  said tests would be able to "incorporate audio and video" and situate problems "in real world environments, where students perform tasks or include multi-stage scenarios and extended essays."

As McShane dryly notes, "neither the standards nor their assessments lived up to advocates' hopes or promises."

And here comes Duncan to sum up the whole mess with a quote that I don't remember hearing before, but which is just kind of awesome. Speaking to the American Society of News Editors in 2013:

Traditionally, this event has been an opportunity for federal leaders to talk about touchy subjects. For example, you asked President Kennedy to talk about the Bay of Pigs. So, thanks for having me here to talk about the Common Core State Standards.


So what lessons does McShane see in the Bay of Pigs calibre debacle that was (and unfortunately still is) the Common Core, and how solid are those lessons?

First Lesson: Advocates should clearly define what they mean by SEL, and they should focus on getting stakeholders to support it.

Close. I think the unwillingness to fully and precisely define what SEL (and personalized [sic] learning) are in part a reaction to a different lesson of the Core (we'll get there in a bit). It's also a side effect of so many vendors rushing to market with their own products, each built on their own definition of SEL.

I think the second lesson is off the mark. It wasn't just that stakeholders didn't support the Core (as McShane shows in the earlier part of the paper, initial support was actually pretty solid). It's that the whole business was implemented top-down, which meant that it took a while for folks in the field to find out what was really going on. Top-down implementation is always problematic, because it always involves stakeholders after the fact. Everybody goes to that leadership class that says you have to get buy-in from the stakeholders, but nobody pays attention to the part about how you get buy-in by letting the stakeholders actually build the thing. Put another way, you can get buy-in for your program, or you can get a program that looks exactly the way you want it to, but you can't have both.

McShane gets at this by pointing out that advocates can't use a strategy of talking to only a few key people, and this is a useful insight for many education businesses (like the tech company that sells its product to the superintendent, but not the teachers). If you want it to take root, you have to work with a whole lot of people, not just a handful of "key" ones.  For instance, if you are tech billionaire with a new set of educational standards to push, it's a mistake to decide that all you have to do is sell them to the secretary of education and you can just ignore everyone else.

But all of this misses one other crucial point. The best way to get buy-in and support is to have a program that doesn't suck. The Core was horribly and sloppily implemented and just generally mismanaged top to bottom, but if they had been awesome standards, teachers would have found a way around the rest.

This is the worst kind of business logic--  the quality of the product doesn't matter as long as we market it well. People didn't reject the Core because of poor marketing or clumsy implementation; they rejected the  Core standards because they are lousy. They rejected the BS Tests because they stink.

Do you want buy-in for your SEL programs? Step One is to develop programs that don't stink.

Second Lesson: Develop capacity or implementation.

States and districts were not ready to put the standards in classrooms. Publishers were not ready to put the standards in everyone's texts. Hence the widespread phenomenon of slapping "Common Core ready" stickers on covers of texts that had come off the press before the Common Core was even a speck David Coleman's eyeball. Regular readers know I have no love for the Core at all, but the Core was blamed for a lot of crazy classroom baloney that was never the fault of the standards at all.

McShane says that before any states roll out SEL, they need to make sure that there is space for it, which is dead-on. If you are going to give a teacher one more thing to do, you owe it to her to tell her what thing she now will cut from class, because there is no "extra" time in which she can implement your latest new add-on.

Also, have you trained and prepared teachers to do the SEL thing? And do you have resources to use that are actual legit resources. And how will SEL fit with the other policies you're already following. Common Core absolutely failed on every one of these questions.

Third Lesson: Watch out for opportunistic bandwagon jumpers.

I've disagreed with McShane on a variety of ideas over the years, but boy does he get this right:

Common Core was a windfall for cranks, charlatan s and con artists.

As I often complained, the Core had no "infrastructure" or organization minding the store. The creators peaced out to their next big gigs immediately, leaving absolutely nobody in a position to say, "No, that's just a pile of snake oil and not legitimate Common Core stuff at all." Hundreds of scam artists smelled a chance to cash in, and they took it.

Now, where McShane and I may disagree is on this: I'd argue that Common Core was charlatans and con artists all the way down to the creators of the program. It was meant to crack open a stubborn market and provide profitable opportunities for anyone quick enough to cash in by selling a product or getting in on the data mining, and it was the people who sincerely thought it would improve education who were the anomalies, not the opportunistic scammers.

But the lesson remains the same for SEL, in fact, even more so. Common Core opened up a market, and now there's a whole bunch of money grubbers sitting, waiting, and salivating over whatever Next Big Thing is about to appear. SEL advocates had better come up with ways to police their ranks and to help schools distinguish between worthwhile programs and costly baloney.

McShane offers an interesting model for navigating issues of dissent, with a scale that runs from Proponents and Allies to Critical Friends to Skeptics to Wedgers to Con Artists and Nutjobs. To someone who is too defensive or not very discerning, the Con Artists look more like allies than your critical friends, and again, Duncan provides a useful example as someone who rejected (and still rejects) anything critical about the Core. Wedgers would be the people who try to force their own ideas into the movement, which is such a real thing-- "I think that this kind of pedagogy is what everyone should be doing, so therefor it must be part of this new policy." Teachers know this one from  all the times they sit in professional development sessions asking, "But why are we required to do Y in conjunction with policy Z? What do those have to do with each other??"

Fourth Lesson: Watch your branding.

Common Core was so thoroughly branded that when people got to hating it, that brand became a big fat target, to the point that many states and Core advocates stopped using the words, and the Policy That Dared Not Say Its Name became "college and career ready standards." States scribbled out Common Core and wrote in their own state name. And every big policy developed since has avoided coming up with a catchy title. Is it personalized learning or competency based education or one of the other dozen names given to this Next Big Thing? We'll probably never know, because nobody ants to brand it clearly enough to connect it with specific expectations or to risk directing backlash.

So SEL fans-- brand it well enough that people know what you're talking about, but not so well that you take a big hit if it all blows up in your face.

These are not bad lessons, though I might add one more-- when the stakeholders hear what you have to say and they tell you that your great new educational idea is a lousy one and, no, you're not saying it needs to be done better, you're saying it needs to be done not at all, then just give up quietly and move along.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

ICYMI: Time For Summer Edition (6/9)

Summer break has arrived in my neck of the woods, which means the Board of Directors will no longer have me outnumbered!. In the meantime, here's some reading from the week. Remember-- sharing is how you amplify the voices that you think need to be heard. Bloggers and journalists can write all day, but we all depend on readers to help put us in front of our audience.

Robots Are Not Coming For Your Job-- Management Is  

Great piece not directly about education, but a reminder that automation is not some sort of mysterious natural process.

Ohio Needs To Abandoned Failed High Stakes Tests   

The League of Women Voters comes down hard against high stakes testing as a measure of educational quality. Always nice to see people outside the classroom get it.

Schools Should Serve Humans, Not "The Economy"\

Lois Weiner makes her pitch for Bernie Sanders to reject the language of business when discussing schools. Never mind Bernie-- can we get everyone to do this?

Is Charlie Butt the New Eli Broad?

Not that we need one for anything, but her comes another deep-pocketed educational amateur with big ideas.

Millions of Kids Take Standardized Tests Just To Help The Testing Companies  

Oh, the business of field testing, wasting everybody's time.

Tennessee Achievement School District At a Crossroads  

"Crossroads" is generous, but here's the OG ASD still not getting its job done.

Let's Hear It For The Average Child  

From the New York Times.

An Anti-Racist Reading List  

Powerful and handy resources from Ibram X. Kendi.

7 Reasons We're Seeing More Challenging Behavior in Early Childhood Settings  

Rae Pica looks at some of those things that we continue to get wrong when it comes to the littles.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

The Twins Are Two

The Board of Directors celebrated its birthday this week. Okay, they're two, so "celebrate" might be a bit of a stretch, because they didn't really know what exactly was happening other than it involved cake and ice cream and some new toys. 

This is not my first parenting rodeo; I have two older children and a trio of grandchildren who are, in my completely unbiased opinion, geniuses. You know they'll be different-- different roll of the genetic dice, different life experiences. But this is my first go-round with twins. The boys are identical twins, carrying exactly the same genetic code in every cell. The boys have come as close to identical life experience as anyone could. It is absolutely fascinating to me to see what variation is possible within that genetic and experience framework.

Resting up in preparation for birthday shenanigans
They are physically distinct; Baby A is a little leaner, and you can definitely tell the difference when you heft them. It's not super-hard to tell them apart, especially if you can see both of them. Baby B is more tender-hearted; when he cries big and ugly, it's about disappointment and sadness. Baby A is more prone to an ugly cry out of ragey frustration. Baby A is more likely to fling himself off a cliff or up a wall; Baby B is more likely to want to stop and think about whether or not to go down the slide. 

In other words, despite everything being stacked in favor of these two children being two versions of the same person, they are two distinct and separate individuals. To motivate them, to soothe them, to encourage them, to clothe them, to guide them past a physical obstruction-- all these activities require two distinct approaches, two different sorts of sensitivities. 

I think of this every time I see someone touting a teaching approach that supposedly works every time for every child. "This is evidence-based science," they declare. "Therefor you just use this exact method and every single child will produce exactly the same successful result," they imply. Folks who still love their Common Core (whether under the original banner or under one the various assumed names that the Core has adopted as, I don't know, part of some bad policy protection program) have a solid commitment to the notion that if you tailor it just right, one size really will fit all. And there are still classrooms out there where someone is reading a damned script to her students, as if those scripted lessons are some sort of magic incantation that will cause learning to bloom in every single student.

Human beings are distinctly individual. Yes, there are all manner of aspects that we share in some important and fundamental way, but how we express those aspects, how we express ourselves, how we find our way to be fully human in the world-- those many differences result in an infinite variation in how humans can be human. 

Part of the corporate "be more like a business" push in education has been a push to clean education up, make it less messy, to get it all to function like a shiny industrial technocracy, and that impulse to create order out of chaos is itself a deeply human impulse. There have been days in my stay-at-home-dad career when I begged the universe to help the twins just stop acting like agents of chaos and destruction. I am quite sure the boys have hit the million-word advantage point if I'm allowed to count repeating "no" and "stop" 500,000 times as part of the million. So I get it. I do. 

But order and enforced standardization and impeccable one-size-fits-all neatness are not how education works, because that is not how humans, particularly young growing humans, work. Human beings are messy and complex, and all complex systems are inherently chaotic, and while chaos always lives in tension with order, imposing too much order is damaging to the system.

Because small humans are messy, teachers are messy and schools are messy. They still have to be safe, and that means ordered enough that the small humans don't suffer from the weight of anxiety and fear. But if you think you can come up with a tight, orderly, system that is scientifically standardized into a perfect state of uniform one-size-fits-allness-- well, you are kidding yourself, and before long you'll be ejecting teachers and students for being "defective" because they wouldn't fit like proper meat widgets in your system. And if you think the goal of schools should be to manufacture standardized meat widgets for future employers' use, you are way off base. And if you are an employer who thinks that your business should be run on readily available cheap and interchangeable meat widgets, you are part of what's wrong with our country.

I know. You were thinking this would be just a cute blog post about my cute kids. But the tiny humans are the point, and a daily reminder to me that tiny humans do not grow to be fully realized big humans in an inhuman system.  

Humans are different. I am watching two humans grow who have every reason to be exactly the same, and they aren't. They are two entirely different people, and I would hope that every teacher they every have treats them that way. And that goes for all of my grandchildren, and every other small human person who sets foot in a classroom.