Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Why It's Important To Say There Is No Teacher Shortage

I've been saying it. Tim Slekar has been saying it. Other people who aren't even directly tied to teaching have been saying it.

There is no teacher shortage.

There's a slow-motion walkout, a one-by-one exodus, a piecemeal rejection of the terms of employment for educators in 2019.

Why is it important to keep saying this? Why keep harping on this point?

Because if you don't correctly identify the problem, you will not correctly identify a solution (see also every episode of House).

It's not lupus.
"We've got a teacher shortage," leads us in the wrong direction. It assumes that, for some reason, there just aren't enough teachers out there in the world, like arguing there aren't enough blue-eyed people or enough people with six toes. It assumes that "teacher" is some sort of solid genetic state that either exists or does not, and if there aren't enough of them, well, shrug, whatcha gonna do?

"We've got a teacher shortage," argues that we've had the meat widget equivalent of a crop failure. The drought and the dust storms were just so bad this year that we didn't get a full harvest of teachers. And when the harvest is slow, what can we do except look for substitutes?

That's where teacher shortage talk takes us-- to a search for teacher substitutes. Maybe we can just lower the bar. Only require a college degree in anything at all. Louisiana is just the most recent state to decide to lower the bar-- maybe we can just let anyone who had lousy college grades but still got a job doing something, well, maybe we can make that person a teacher.

Or maybe we can substitute computers for teachers. A few hundred students with a "mentor" and a computer would be just as good as one of those teachers that we're short of, anyway, right?

We need to stop talking about a "teacher shortage" because that kind of talk takes our eyes off the real problem.

Teaching has become such unattractive work that few people want to do it.

This is actually good news, because it means that we can actually do something about it. The resistance to doing so is certainly very human-- if we convince ourselves that a problem in our lives is something that just happened to us, then it's not our fault. Unfortunately, that also means we have no power. Stan Lee told us that with great power comes great responsibility, but the converse is also true-- with great responsibility comes great power, so when we accept the responsibility, we get some power that comes with it.

Anyway. The most obvious answer folks land on is "Offer them more money," and that is certainly an Economics 101 answer. If you have a job that people don't want to do, offer more money to do it. If teaching paid $500,000 a year, there wouldn't be an unfilled job in the country. But as the #RedForEd walkouts remind us, money isn't the whole issue.

Respect. Support. The tools necessary to do a great job. Autonomy. Treating people like actual functioning adults. These are all things that would make teaching jobs far more appealing. I've often wondered how much job satisfaction you could add by giving teachers actual personal offices, some space of their own. These are all things that any school district could add, on their own, almost immediately (well, maybe not the offices).

There are other factors that make the job less attractive. The incessant focus on testing. The constant stream of new policies crafted by people who couldn't do a teacher's job for fifteen minutes. The huge workload, including a constant mountainous river of stupid paperwork (is there any wonder why special ed positions are among the hardest to fill). The moves to deprofessionalize the work. The national scale drumbeat of criticism and complaint and repetitively insisting that schools suck, teachers suck, it all sucks.

The continued pretense that there is some sort of deep mystery about why teaching jobs are hard to fill, as if it's just an a mystery wrapped in an enigma covered with puzzle sauce. Shrugging and saying, "Well, there's just a teacher shortage," is a way for everyone responsible, from the building administrators who do a lousy job of taking care of their people all the way up through legislators who continue to beat down public education, to pretend innocence, to say innocently, "Well, it's not like there's anything I can do about it."

And, we should note, this all piles on top of more specific problems, like the dire need to get Brown and Black teachers in the classroom. Again, folks just shrug and say, "Well, you know, there just aren't that many teachers of color" as if that's because of some act of God.

We know exactly why so many teaching jobs are hard to fill. But the folks with power would rather not bother exerting the effort to actually fix the problem. After all, it would be hard, and expensive, and anyway, why go to so much trouble over a bunch of whiny women. Even after being dragged to some level of understanding by teachers, many legislators have turned away and gone back to denial.

"We have a teacher shortage," is a fig leaf with which we are trying to cover the Grand Canyon, but many folks are only too happy to play along rather than rock the boat. Because "disruption" is only good for some folks.

So don't say "We have a teacher shortage." Say "we can't convince qualified people to take this job": or "we won't try to make these jobs attractive enough to draw in qualified people." Stop pretending this is some act of God; even the dust bowl turned out to be the result of bad human choices and not nature's crankiness. If we start talking about what-- and who-- is really responsible, perhaps we can fix the problem-- but only if we start with the correct diagnosis..

Monday, April 29, 2019

OH: The Ongoing Fight To End School Takeovers

I have been watching events unfold in Lorain, Ohio, site of both my first job and an absolute clusterfrick of epic proportions It's time for an update.

You can find the complete story so far starting here, but the short form is that Ohio has a bone stupid law known as HB 70, passed using underhanded legislative shenanigans in order to get it run through quickly and without public discussion. The law takes over school districts that score low on state evaluations too many years and installs a mostly-state-appointed board which in turn hires a school tsar. HB 70 strips the powers from both the elected school board and the district superintendent and hands them to the tsar. So far, Lorain, East Cleveland, and Youngstown have been put under the HB thumb. Knowing how the Big Standardized Test effects class and economics, you will be unsurprised that these are three of the poorest districts in the state.

State superintendent DeMaria: Everything's great, right?
In Lorain, it has not gone well. The tsar, David Hardy Jr, is a TFA product with little actual experience, who has brought in other TFAers, also with little real experience, to help run things. Hardy writes pretty speeches about collaboration and relationships, but he doesn't live in Lorain, won't meet with local elected officials, and has adopted a management style that improbably combines Chainsaw Al and the Three Stooges.

There have been lessons to learn from Hardy's reign. For instance, Lorain appears to answer the question "What would happen if you tried out some charter school management techniques not on newby teachers who didn't know any better, but on seasoned veterans who can tell that it's a bunch of baloney?" (Answer: morale plummets and your staff revolts.) Hardy is also a great study in how educational amateurs with a data fixation do not help (in East Cleveland, they're in the process of selecting a tsar, and one candidate already has a 90-day plan; in Lorain, Hardy is still collecting data).

In Hardy's defense, it has to be said that HB 70 is a terrible law that sets the tsar up for failure. Because the state-powered tsar is an all-powerful autocrat who is supposed to fix a district with serious problems, he has to be expert in all areas of school district management, from bus schedules to scope and sequence of all subject areas. He must also be the kind of diplomat who can sell, "Hi! The state sent me to strip all your local control and change everything about your local schools, and if that doesn't work, dismantle it and give it to charter operators. Who would like to cooperate with me?" And yes-- you'll note that the district's failure represents success for the fans of charter expansion. Does this takeover come with extra resources, financial and otherwise, from the state to help turn the district around? Ha! What a cute question. Of course not.

The only good to come out of Lorain's experience is that it has drawn attention to the myriad flaws of HB 70. Affected districts have sued. Ohio's current governor-- the one who wasn't instrumental in ramming HB 70 through-- has expressed sympathy with the need to change things up.

Better not to hope for help coming from the Ohio department of education; the current state superintendent is Paolo DeMaria, a fan of school choice and Common Core whose background is finance and budget-- he has never worked in a school district, but he is part of Jeb Bush's reformy Chiefs for Change (as is Hardy). He has proposed a revamp to the laws, but much of that involves giving more power to his office; he also proposes removing the last power remaining to an elected school board-- the power to levy taxes. A recent exchange of emails between DeMaria and school board president Mark Ballard suggests that DeMaria really doesn't have much of a clue. In fact, he suggested that Ballard is pushing conspiracy theories.

Meanwhile, DeMaria's hand picked replacement for the departed head of the Academic Distress Commission (ADC) is Randall Sampson. Sampson ran into some issues immediately, such as the fact that after over two years, Hardy still hasn't had an evaluation. He has gotten cranky with folks like the actual elected mayor of Lorain, a problem that he has solved by blocking people on social media. Sampson's day job is running Liberty Leadership Development LLC, a company that does school turnarounds; he touts years of experience as a teacher and administrator, but his LinkedIn profile shows just one year in a classroom.

So there's not much hope of help there, either. There's just one ray of sunshine on the state level-- actually, three rays.

There are three bills currently kicking around the state legislature.

HB 127 would put a stop to further state takeovers. It would not help the three districts currently under the gun, but it would keep the cancer from spreading.

HB 154 is considerably more aggressive; it would dissolve the current ADCs, repeal HB 70, and create a whole new process for handling struggling school districts.

SB 110 is a Lorain-specific fix, addressing the issues the citizens of Lorain are facing.

These bills are not slated for a special late-night speedy approval, so there will be actual discussion and opportunity for input. That means they're better than HB 70 already.

Lorain city schools have sacrificed local control, morale, and stability to become a disproof of concept city for state takeovers. They are more evidence of the major flaws the central premise of state school takeovers-- that somebody in the state capitol knows a special secret to running schools that people who actually work in schools do not. They are also evidence that amateurs from outside the community are generally not the people to turn to for answers.

We'll keep watching to see if the legislature brings relief. In the meantime, if you live in Ohio, it's time to make some phone calls.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Have We Stolen a Generation's Independent Thought?

"Kids these days," the complaint begins. "They cannot think for themselves." The complaint has come across my desk three times this week, voiced by someone in the higher education world complaining about the quality of student arriving in their ivy-covered halls.

It's worth noting that the observation itself has no particular objective, evidence-based support. There's no college student independent thought index we can consult to check for a dip. Just the subjective judgment of some people who work at the college level. So the whole business could simply be the time-honored dismay of an older generation contemplating the younger one.

If we do accept the observation as valid, there are a variety of possible explanations. A study showing that people just stick with their team and don't think about the ideas involved. A political climate in which truth-telling and truth-searching are not currently highly valued. The power of YouTube conspiracy videos. Helicopter parents armed with bazooka-mounted lawnmowers.

But there's another factor to consider, a firmly school-embedded factor that has promoted anti-thought for a generation.

Since the advent of No Child Left Behind, the U.S. has used high stakes standardized tests as accountability measures for schools, districts and teachers. This has led to a twisting of public education, as schools have reassigned their resources to focus on preparing students to do well on standardized math and reading tests. Music, arts, history--even recess--have been placed on the back burner because they are not on the test.

Much has been written about the effects of high stakes testing on education, but we should also pay attention to the nature of the tests themselves. They are, for the most part, standardized multiple-choice tests, and as such, they promote a particular view of the world.

Consider the difference between the two following questioning strategies:

Read this poem. What do you think the author's main idea is? Provide some evidence of how particular words and images are an important part of how the author makes their point. You'll be scored on how well you express and support your idea.

Read this poem. Here are four possible statements that could be the author's main idea, but only one is correct. Pick that one. Here are four quotes from the poem that might be the most important evidence of the author's main idea, but only one choice is correct. Pick that one.

The first strategy encourages the student to explore, to think, and to support her own ideas. Her task is to think and to express her thinking. The second strategy tells the student that the questions have already been settled and that somebody already knows the one correct answer. Her task is to figure out what that somebody believes the answer to be. The second is anti-thought. Even though a question like "what's the most important detail" is what many students would consider an opinion question, successfully answering means setting aside their own opinions, their own thoughts, and trying to predict the opinions and thoughts of the test writers.

The second is, of course, a standardized multiple-choice testing strategy. By focusing on that type of questioning for students' entire academic careers, we hammer home that, rather than a world open for exploration and discovery, the world of math and reading is a world where every question already has a known answer and no exploration or thought is needed. Just learn the kind of compliance that keeps you on the path that has been laid down for you.

Test manufacturers can keep making noises about new generation tests, but as long as we stick to the fundamental formula--we will tell you which answers to choose from, and only one is "correct"--we are still deep in the land of anti-thought, the kind of place where the writer of poems can't even answer standardized test questions about her own works. Every test, every question, pushes on students some fundamentally troubling notions about the nature of knowledge and understanding in the world. They also teach students that independent, open-ended, exploratory thought is neither necessary nor desired to navigate the world.

We are teaching students, literally, not to think, but instead to clear their own thoughts and concentrate on following the path followed by the people who wrote the test questions. We are teaching them that every question has just one right answer, that somebody out there already knows it, and that you go to school to learn to say what those people want you to say.  This is not a new issue in education, but we have ramped it up, systematically injected it into every level of K-12 education, and incentivized it like never before. If it has stifled a generation's desire for independent thought, that is no surprise.

Originally posted at Forbes

ICYMI: Post-Easter Chill Edition (4/28)

In my neck of the woods, we figure that spring can't arrive until there has been a post-Easter snow. We appear to be working on tht today. So while we sip our hot chocolate of shivery bitterness, here are some current readings to absorb and-- please-- share!

Choice As A Substitute For Adequacy 

Did states deal with the Great Recession by expanding choice to cover their cuts to public education? School Finance 101 takes a look.

The X-odus Files

Tim Slekar has long believed (as do I) that there is no teacher shortage, but rather a nationwide slow-motion one-at-a-time walkout. And he's started collecting the stories as evidence.

School Districts Are Going Into Debt To Keep Up With Technology  

Cash-strapped districts are financing their tech programs with debt (which just makes the tech even more expensive). The Hechinger Report digs in  .

Tony Soprano Visits Tennessee Legislators

A look at the GOP assault on education and voting rights and oh, boy, is Tennessee a fun place right now.

For all the Talk About School Competition in Camden, Families Really Haven’t Had a Choice 

When choice turns out to be not choice at all.

Success Academy Podcast IV- Got To Go

Gary Rubinstein is listening his way through a podcast about Success Academy. It's not exactly hard hitting, but he finds some content worth talking about.

A Flippity-Do-Da Day In Tennessee

Momma Bears look at how Governor Lee slimed his way to passage of his assorted bills. This is not how it was described by Schoolhouse Rock.

How Is School Choice "Freedom" When Students Lose School Libraries and Librarians 

Nancy Bailey looks at one of the casualties of the school choice movement.

The Problem With Education Research Fixated on "What Works"  

 Rick Hess makes his contribution to the research wars, and it' a good one. Really.

An Ambitious Plan To Combat Segregation Just Made Things Worse

Dana Goldstein in the NYT looks at the San Francisco plan to desegregate and how it only made matters worse.

Who Should Pay For Public Education  

Nancy Flanagan answers the question, "So if philanthropists want to spend their money on education, what's the problem?"

Let Us March On 'Til Victory Is Won

Jose Luis Vilson is a poet of connections. Here we find Beyonce, testing season, and school spaces.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Charter Lessons From Democracy Prep

I was as unimpressed as anyone when education privatization fan Campbell Brown launched the 74 site as a platform for the same old "Charters schools rule, public schools drool" song and dance. But since that launch, and particularly since Brown stepped away from the site, the straight journalism side of the operation has done some commendable work (though the propaganda side is still frying up its same old baloney).

You can ignore the site, but then you're going to miss pieces of reporting like this piece about Democracy Prep. It is detailed, thorough, and pretty unflinching about some of the chartery problems that DP has created for itself.

DP, launched in NYC, is now spread across the country, and the story by Kevin Mahnken highlights how portions of that expansion have not gone so well. When DP took over "flagging" Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy in Las Vegas, the transition was shocking to the students and parents, who had to weather a shift to an entirely new school culture.

The problem with DP culture clashing with community culture is a particularly striking in a school that centers its brand on civic involvement. DP requires its seniors to do a Change the World project in which they study and come up with a plan to address a real community issue. But the issues in Las Vegas all stem from DP simply coming in with a plan to run a school implemented and overseen by people far, far away, and with little apparent regard for what the school's previous culture had been like. Here's DPAC Executive Director (because principals are passe, I guess) Adam Johnson analyzing what went wrong:

Johnson said he was prepared to see faculty members leave; atop the annoyance of having to reapply, teachers were being asked to work a longer day and answer to a new, unfamiliar boss. But he said he “never expected” the flight of families from his newborn school in the middle of its first year.

The shift in culture, particularly around school discipline — Democracy Prep operates on a demerit system in which students can routinely be dinged for infractions like tardiness and uniform violations — likely alienated students, he said.

“One school year ago they were in the same building, in the same seats, maybe looking at the same teacher. And now that teacher’s enforcing a whole different set of rules. If you could imagine getting your mind wrapped around [that] as a child, you’d say, ‘You’re telling me I can’t do this? We literally just did this four months ago in your second-period class. Why can’t we do it now?’”

The "new" school also threw new requirements at students like a requirement to learn Korean. The swift turnover of staff left many students without familiar faces and mentors, and threw extra load on the teachers who remained.

Unsurprisingly, it was upperclasspersons who were most rattled by the change-- only seven of the thirty-one seniors who began the year actually graduated. Reading the account, I'm wondering if there really was nobody who thought this through. Almost anyone who's worked in education is familiar with the practice of phasing a new program, growing it up from the lower grades rather than traying to wrench the upper grades into all new practices with little time to adjust and little time to fix problems that might arise. But not only does nobody seem to have thought of any sort of transition plan, but the article observes that "setbacks like those seen at DPAC" are "not uncommon in the charter sector." Well, they should be. It's an amateur hour mistake, and one more example of a time when charters have nothing to teach public schools, but plenty to learn from them.

And DP are supposedly experienced takeover/turnaround operators. But then, it appears that most of their experience was in New York City. They scored some sweet federal grant money, and started to expand. It's that expansion that seems to have created trouble. Then CEO Katie Duffy warned the staff of "serious deficits across our network of schools" which seem to have been partly related to financial management, communication and not managing to fill-- and keep filled-- enough seats. It turns out that DP was not such a hot ticket outside NYC. Duffy is on an extended medical leave.

Mahnken notes that weaknesses revealed by expansion had already been there inside the big apple as well. DP is another "no excuses" charter, and those typically have high attrition. DP Harlem students left because of "higher-than-usual" academic standards, and it becomes hard to backfill seats close to graduation. Harlem's DP had 79 students in its first cohort of freshmen; four years later, only 46 seniors graduated.

In the expansion settings, there have been challenges-- different funding levels, different transportation systems, and the problems of austerity measures implemented.

But DP's most spectacular failure is in DC, where their Anacostia campus will close at the end of June. DP Congress Heights was another turnaround of a failing charter, but the turnaround is failing, and was looking for yet another charter operator to come in and take over-- but nobody wants that job. There's another lesson repeated from the charter sector-- for all the talk about doing it For The Kids, nobody is offering to take over this charter because the kids of this community need their school. Instead, they are looking after their own business interests. The school leaders who "inherited" the mess from DP petitioned the DC charter board for a renewed charter, and they were denied. Again, a lesson from the world of privatized education-- resources are not invested because the public has an interest in having a decent school in that community, but instead the expectation is that some private company must bring the resources to the table, and if no company is willing to do that, the community is SOL.

 The DC school was in trouble from the start. The Executive Director was Sean Reidy who graduated from Loyola with a BS in business administration, did two years with TFA, taught another two years at Harlem DP, went on to get his MBA from Georgetown, and then took over the DC school. (DP, like many charters, likes its TFA recruits, but Mahnken doesn't really address that, though I'd argue that the culture of edu-amateurs is part of the root of DP's problems.)

The leadership culture under Reidy was not good. The staff was not on board, and the rigid "no excuses" program was not a good fit. One teacher notes that holding a hard line on all-black shoes "betrayed both an ignorance of the deep poverty in Southeast Washington and an arbitrary observance of the rules." The current CEO of DP responded to the 74 by noting that the uniform code is "clearly communicated," as if that allows families to say, "Oh, well, we'd better plan to not be poor by the time the school year starts."

The head of DC's charter school board was unimpressed by what he saw on a site visit:

Certainly, if you’re taking on a takeover — stepping in and having to reinvent the school, and to do so with literally hundreds of students in the school — it requires strong leadership and excellent execution. And those things were missing. In particular, what I notice on my visits is the culture: Are teachers and staff feeling well taken care of, building strong relationships with students? That was not happening, and that’s what led, I imagine, to the results that we saw.

Reidy was fired and three executive directors passed through the main office in four years.

But on top of the instability, the problem once again came down to culture-- in this case, not getting the difference between NYC and DC. The spectacularly bad example cite by Mahnken was Black History Month. That month is a big deal in DC; at DP, the focus was on "Funbruary," a month of school spirit activities. Teachers had to insist on more content centered on the people and events African-American culture. You can hear the exasperation in teacher Ethiopia Berta's voice when she's quoted: "Frederick Douglass’s house is literally down the street from our school, and we’re celebrating Funbruary."

Has anyone at Democracy Prep learned anything? Well, the current CEO might have:

Trivers said that the lesson she takes from Democracy Prep’s failure in Washington is to adopt a more deliberative approach in opening new schools. She noted that the network was working to open regional offices to better serve its outlying campuses, but she added that it might be necessary to build in a year of observation, consensus building and leadership development before taking the leap.

But DP has scored $21.8 million in Department of Education grant money specifically to expand, so slowing growth could cost them money. The 2016 application promised a goal of four new schools over five years with an expansion of 11,000 students. So the charter chain faces a choice-- do what's best for the students, or do what's best for the business?

There's a lot more to the piece, and I recommend reading it. It hits Democracy Prep hard on the issue of culture clash, but it doesn't necessarily examine why that problem seems baked into the charter chain.

I can think of several lessons here.

Educational amateurism combined with Big Apple hubris leads to people who don't think they have to learn anything about the culture where they want to set up shop. This is not unique to DP, or even charters, or even education-- it's just extra-ironic because DP is supposed to be all about being informed effective citizens. Of course, public schools that are owned and operated by the people in the community (and not run from an office thousands of miles away), aren't so prone to this problem.

No excuses schools are a lousy idea. I know there are students here and there who thrive in them, but they're still a lousy idea. No wealthy white parents would put their kids in a No Excuses school.

One size does not fit all. Charter folks insist that charters are the solution to OSFA, but their insistence on having everything under one roof reflect be a tightly united philosophical whole has the opposite effect. Public schools have room for many cultures and many philosophies under one roof, which means that students can find a corner of the school that "fits" without having to start over at a whole new school. There's no reason that charters can't operate the same way.

Solve problems; don't walk away from them. This article just gives a peek at the world where charter after charter after charter is taken over, turned around, handed off to some other business. DP moves in, tries their one thing, waits, makes some tiny tweaks, and if it fails, they walk away. Public schools may not always live up to the promise of their commitment, but they don't just walk out the door saying, "Good luck, kid. Hope somebody happens by to help you out."

Education concerns and business concerns don't fit together. Again-- business concerns are not evil or wrong, but they don't match the considerations of education. Good business decisions are not good education decisions.

One of the selling points of charters has always been that they will figure out great new things that the rest of the education world can then pick up and run with. But most of what Democracy Prep needed to know they could have learned from a public school teacher.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Another Free Market Lesson

Even as Florida continues its race to become the first state to completely do away with public education and replace it with a free market free for all, lessons abound in why that's a lousy idea.

This frickin ' guy.
At Tarbell, Simon Davis-Cohen takes us on a trip to Iowa where an ALEC governor privatized Medicaid. Former governor Terry Branstad was a founding member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a special group that brings corporate movers and shakers together with legislators to share the really cool legislative ideas the corporations have come up with. Branstad's bright idea to privatize Medicaid was sold as a cost-cutter and became reality in 2016.

It has gone badly, and how it has gone badly is instructive for folks contemplating privatization of other necessary public institutions.

“In private insurance, denial is the rule, not the exception,” says Glenn Hurst, a doctor who runs a rural health clinic in Western Iowa. Hurst is referring to the tendency of private health insurers to challenge most bills they receive. Tarbell found reports from across Iowa indicate legitimate Medicaid claims are being regularly denied by private insurance companies — wreaking havoc since Medicaid was handed to private managed care organizations (MCOs) in 2016. A few years into privatization, delayed and denied reimbursements to Medicaid providers are hurting Iowans, doctors say.

The privatization has costs millions of dollars just in person-hours spent pursuing payment. The move has also been followed by waves of reduced benefit and coverage. The delay and denial of payment puts extra financial pressure on patients, hospitals and doctors.

There are no surprises here. If your business is paid on a scale set by the government, there's only one way to increase your profit margin-- cut services and push out the "customers" who are too expensive to serve.

Davis-Cohen notes other ripple effects. A public county-owned hospital cannot sustain itself with half a million dollars worth of revenue refused and/or held up, and so Black Hawk county sells out and the hospital is snapped up by a Pritok, private company. Davis-Cohen notes, in a paragraph that will sound familiar to students of ed reform:

The impacts of such privatizations are multifold. There is a loss of democratic control, a profit motive is created, and the previous public employees lose their government jobs. The contract between Pritok and Black Hawk reportedly does not require the private company to keep the existing county staff or “meet minimum wage or benefit levels for workers.”

It's not complicated. When you convert a public institution to a private business, that operation, whether hospital or school, retains all the original costs plus the additional cost of putting money in the owners and operators pockets. Something has to be cut, and it's not gong to be the boss's payday, so the money has to come out of staff costs, services, and customers served.

I'll say this a million times if I must-- the free market does not serve all possible customers. The most basic act of any free market business is triage-- figuring which customers it makes business sense to serve and which services it makes business sense to provide. To shift education or health care to a free market model means a fundamental change in the entire purpose of the institutions. The mission of public education is to provide an education to all students. That will never, ever be the mission of a privatized charter and voucher education system. Students will be turned away, and programs will be cut. That's not a bug; it's a feature. It's not evil, and it makes perfect sense in some parts of the free market world. But for education and health care a shift to a free market approach requires a fundamental rewrite of the basic mission, and that's a conversation that free market fans like the vultures in the Florida legislature want to avoid having.

Oh, and the promise that privatized Medicaid would save the state money? It didn't work, and it pushed many costs down to local communities. As for Branstad, he left the state after one year to take a new job as U.S. Ambassador to China.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Is AI A Game-Changer For Education (International Edition)?

Sometimes it's informative to see how some of this stuff is playing out in other settings. A post on Entrepreneur India makes the claim that "Artificial Intelligence Can be a Game-Changer for Education, Here are 5 Reasons Why" and its five arguments are, well, intriguing.

The post is from Vishal Meena from the start-up MadGuy Labs, an Indian on-line test prep company that promises to prep you for the tests for all sorts of government jobs. Meena has a degree in chemical engineering, but he likes doing the start-up thing, and has previously launched companies involved with bikes and with tourism. So he comes directly from the modern tradition of "You don't need any education background to be an education entrepreneur."

Meena also seems to lack a certain level of fluency in English. I bring this up not to make fun or to get all ugly American with people who aren't from around here, but because Artificial Intelligence applications for education have to be fluent in the language. They have to be. If you're going to sell me the eleventy billionth hunk of software that can supposedly assess writing, then it had better be plenty fluent in the language and capable of telling the difference between effective writing and tortured gobbledeegook. If you are an AI entrepreneur who wants to sell to English speaking people, then your AI had better be fluent-- and if you can't even use it to check your own work, then I'm not interested.

So-- the five reasons that AI is going to change the education game. Let's see how many of these seem familiar

1) AI to help in personalized learning.

In a classroom comprising a high number of students, attending every doubt of each student remains no longer feasible. Artificial Intelligence can help in developing personalized learning which can mitigate individual doubts and thus enhance their performances.

This was worth the price of admission for me, because here's a connection that totally makes sense, but which Personalized [sic] Learning fans hardly ever admit. Adding algorithm driven mass customization software to a traditional classroom doesn't make a ton of sense, because your software really can't do a much better job of personalization than the human teacher. But if you're talking about a classroom chock filled to the rafters with students-- well, now the human teacher has no hope of making a personal connection with individual students, and suddenly the algorithmic software looks like a relative improvement.

Also, I love that throughout this list, Meena will talk about handling student "doubts" in the classroom, which is not the way we say it in the US, but it's kind of right, isn't it? Teachers are in the business of removing students' doubts about the material and their own understanding of it. I really like the idea of students who raise their hands not to say "I'm confused" or "I can't understand this," but instead, "I have doubts."

2) Adaptive test prep

The software gets you ready for the big test by ramping up the challenge. It's refreshing to encounter someone who doesn't shy away from admitting that what he's working on is computerized test prep.

3) Addressing vernacular need

For students in vernacular learning, real-time translation ensures that the medium is democratized thereby also incorporating maximum students to enjoy the fruits of such technological advancement. It will also significantly reduce the cost of content production.

That's the whole explanation. Vernacular? I don't think so.

4) Automatic doubt solving

Clearing of doubts is fundamental to the process of learning. Artificial Intelligence engine can successfully read the problem statement and suggest a possible solution to the learners.

Again with the doubts. I'm curious how far the solution suggesting would go with an AI. In US AI plugging, we don't hear a lot about the computer providing hints or help.

5) Interactive gamification

Artificial Intelligence is instrumental in devising different tools and techniques which are immensely effective in teaching highly complex concepts in a simple and lucid way. This includes incorporation of sophisticated and useful illustrations, virtual reality and artificial reality tools, which can streamline intelligent concepts into accessible cognitive models.

Is AI good at coming up with different tools and techniques for teaching? Because I would have assumed that it can only use the tools and techniques that were programmed into it, and the programmers can only program the tools and techniques that they know about. This is one of the problems with AI-fueled personalized [sic] learning-- you're putting computer technicians in charge of educational decisions.

6) Automation of grading activities

No, I didn't mess up-- this article about the five ways AI is an education game changer actually lists six ways.

Grading work is tedious (particularly if your classroom is gill-stuffed right up to the rafters), but technology can check the answers for you, at least on items like multiple choice and fill in the blank. Meena assures us that before long, AI will start grading long answers, which is of course the same prediction that technologists have been making for decades now. Still hasn't happened, but any day now.

Bottom line? This Indian version runs right at what US advocates dance around-- the main benefit of algorithm-controlled mass customized computer-delivered education is that it will make it possible to put one teacher in a room with a few hundred students.

Meanwhile, MadGuy Labs has apparently only raised about $150K, so if you still want to get in on this ground floor, I think the opportunity is there.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Using Cultural Competency To Sell Personalized [sic] Learning

Over at EdTechTimes, a site that for a consulting group that clearly is interested in pushing personalized [sic] learning, I found a podcast by Mariel Cariker entitled "Cultural Competency: Finding Ways To Bring Equity Through Personalized Learning." (It is accompanied by a transcript.) The podcast is sponsored by TeachPlus.

Like many of the arguments being used to push PL, it's an odd little mishmash.

A real killer app.

The piece opens by chatting with Nick Donahue, CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. She describes Nellie Mae as "focused on community leadership and engagement," but in the context of this podcast, it might be more appropriate to note that Nellie Mae is hugely invested in pushing personalized [sic} learning via mass standardized algorithm-managed computer delivery systems. Donahue is not a disinterested expert in the field; he's a guy with a product to sell that just happens to be the product that this podcast is "examining."

Donahue offers plenty of the usual rhetoric, including the old suggestion that education hasn't changed in 100 years. He does manage to avoid the word "disrupt," but he still advises "challenging some of the traditional structures and approaches and mindsets that have ruled education for 100 years." He suggests that school leaders approach this as a means of providing freedom for teachers, specifically the freedom and flexibility to "teach" a large group. And then he drops this line:

Flipped learning is headed in the right direction, that would mean when the kids are together with you, let’s do the things that really access the killer app that great teachers are.

How do you know you're dealing with a computer-based technocrat? When they start referring to real live human beings as "apps." I'm sure he figures this is really a compliment because he didn't just call teachers aps, but "killer apps." But, no. No, teachers are actual live humans in no way interchangeable with computer programs.

Next up is O'Sha Williams, and probably the important thing to know about Williams is that she is currently a TeachPlus Policy Fellow (that explains why she, out of a few million teachers, was selected for this podcast), which is coming straight out of her two years as a Teach for America temp in Providence, RI, schools. (And if you want one more example of TFA's hubris, after her two years in the classroom, she served as mentor teacher, showing new teachers the ropes). The TFA stint came right after she graduated from Brown with a BA in Education Studies in 2016.

Williams makes a compelling argument for why it's important "for students to have teachers that look like them and share their experiences." I'm not sure how anyone can argue against this, though sadly, I know there are those that try and those that simply ignore the whole thing. But she reflects on her own experience, talks about the issue of a predominantly white teaching staff for a predominantly Black student body, the importance of a student's life outside the building. Then she gets to personalizing:

Students have a variety of experiences and needs that can’t all be met in one fell swoop. So by having students work on task list that are catered to their experience, their linguistic ability, and their interests. Giving them choice and giving them flexibility in meeting those academic standards allows for students to be more interested in what they’re doing. Like an important historical figure that is in line with their own academic goals or pursuits, or whether they are studying a part of their own culture to present to others.

All of this is fairly obvious. None of it requires a computer. Some of it-- assigning work based on their reading level-- has been strictly verboten for the past few decades. But Williams is careful to not say that an algorithm is handling all of this for her.

Then it's back to Donahue, who offers insights like "Nick says not considering individual students’ needs can cause them harm in the long term." Well, yeah. The rest of his argument is against one-size-fits-all schooling in favor of a more targeted approach, and I'm reminded of how the current wave of Reformsters has been able to use backlash against the previous wave of reform (Common Core et al) to fuel their own movement. The idea of targeting individual students is not particularly new. But where is he going with this:

We’re well into an era of personalization and customization as a society. And so that’s the good news. I think though that in education, we have not quite really faced the distinctions that define racial inequities.

Finally, we go to the MET, a Providence, RI, school founded in 1996 that specializes in a sort of CTE personalized unschooling life-credits hybrid education. It's an intriguing program, and I'm now wondering why PL fans haven't referenced it as often as, say, Chugach, Alaska. I suspect there's a lot to that story, but now is not the time.

Then we're on the home stretch. Donahue says, yes, there's a fear that PL is going to squeeze teachers out of the classroom, and he does remember a time when it was about "teacher-proofing" a program, but now they get that an awesome live human is a necessary part. Whether they get that get that, or just get that it's a necessary piece of marketing PL remains to be seen.  

Equity is making sure that students have the same ability to take for granted their academic environment being for them, and structured for them, and in their favor. And thoughtful, intentional, and curated for their success. And not feeling as though they are in a system that has been structured for them to fail

The whole business is an interesting stance. On the one hand, it flies in the face of the standards movement which says that nothing about a student's background should be allowed to reduce expectations for them. Standardization wants to see everyone fit in that one size. On the other hand, the idea of structuring an academic environment to be supportive of students seems so fundamental that I'm not sure how any edu-movement can claim it. Yes, too many schools fail miserably in this fundamental-- I'm just not sure why the restructuring of a school around the PL model is necessary to correct the issue.

Equity issues have been used to sell everything from charter schools to TFA, but the attempt to link them to personalized [sic] learning seems to still be in the rough draft stage. That's unfortunate, because real personalized learning (the type that involves persons and not computerized algorithms) has some real use for addressing equity issues in this country, provided it's not used to narrow the focus so that we ignore the larger institutional systemic issues. My hope is that the attempt to use equity as a marketing tool for personalized [sic] learning doesn't simply set back real efforts to really fix a real problem. This article/advertisement does not get my hopes up.

By the way-- once a teacher retires, are they still a killer app? A retired app? Any kind of app at all, or just a few loose lines of code? Asking for a friend.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Guest Post: The True Cost of College

I've known Beth Pfohl for years. She was a top student in my Honors English class, and years before that I cast her as Annie in our community theater production. When she was a senior, I installed her as editor of the yearbook. She's an exceptional human being. Beth is currently finishing up her college education at Miami of Ohio, and it is from that vantage point that she wrote the following post for her own blog, which I am reprinting here with her permission.

I am heartbroken, and I am furious.

So you know what, I’m going to discuss the forbidden topic: money, and more specifically the absurd amount American students must pay for quality university educations.

You might ask, “Why today?”

Because today my heart broke, not for myself, but for someone I love. Today, she had to say goodbye to her dream school, not because she wasn’t accepted. Not because the reality when visiting the school was a disappointment. Not because it was too far away from home. Not because she is lacking support from her family. Not because she hasn’t saved up enough money.

Because college is too damn expensive.

This open letter isn’t meant to be about me, but I think it would not leave as great an impact if I did not speak in specifics.

I am a senior, graduating in May from Miami University (Ohio). I absolutely love this school and wouldn’t trade my time here for anything. However, I live in Pennsylvania, so I pay out-of-state tuition. Yes, I chose Miami because I loved the school, but also because it was one of the more financially reasonable options available to me.

Cornell would have been $60,000 a year with limited financial aid available as I am not an athlete nor a genius.

Penn State would have been $30,000 a year with an honors scholarship.

Christopher Newport would have been $27,000 a year with a performance scholarship, albeit one that they were forcing me to decide upon prior to the May 1st decision deadline and prior to hearing back about offers from some other schools.

And so on, and so on.

Miami costs my family and me (baseline) around $22,000 a year after the scholarships I was lucky enough to receive. Without these scholarships, I would have paid $44,000 yearly, and for new incoming students, the sticker price is closer to $50,000.

I graduated valedictorian of my high school. I currently hold a 3.96 GPA with a double major and a minor at Miami. I have had the honor of receiving two significant awards for service to my university. I also come from a middle-class family. I have worked through my time at school and over breaks. I took an average of 20 credit hours per semester so that I could take a semester off for a full-time internship in order to earn money to help reduce the costs associated with studying abroad.

Yet even with the all of the hard work (from both my family and myself) and all my scholarships, as of yesterday, I owe $19,762.49 to Granite State Management and Resources, and I consider myself much luckier than most. The average amount to owe after attending a four-year college is nearly $29,000.

The average. That means approximately 50 percent of people owe more than this amount.

Clearly this is not a Miami problem; it’s a systemic problem that stems from the out-of-state/in-state methodology. For the purpose of this open letter, let’s call in-state costs for state schools much more reasonable (This is despite my actual belief that this cost is also way too expensive. For example, Miami University costs $30,000 a year for in-state students.).

The philosophy behind the state system for higher education stems from taxes. Basically, you pay taxes in your home state which go toward funding public higher-education schools in that state, so when you decide to attend a university outside of your state, the cost goes up since you have not paid taxes to support the education system in that state.

Sure, an easy solution would be to say, “Only go to public schools in your home state,” but think of the talented individuals you are crippling with that idea.

Sometimes the best school that is the best fit for you just isn’t located where you happen to live.

That was the case with me.

Penn State would have been fine, but it was too impersonal for me and didn’t encourage study abroad to the same level I wanted.

Edinboro, Clarion and Slippery Rock would also have been fine, but I was hoping to go further away from home to broaden my horizons.

The other schools I looked at were either all private or out-of-state and therefore came with the associated hefty price tags.
So I chose a school that I loved, but also a school that wouldn’t see me paying off my loans well into my 50s.

Everyone deserves to be able to attend their dream school if they put in the work to get accepted, and even though this is not a Miami-only problem, I am calling Miami out. Let’s work together to come up with a better way.

Let’s work together to ensure that students who truly and completely embody the principles of love and honor don’t have to settle for the least-expensive option.

That $2,000 that will be left in my meal plan when I graduate that won’t be refunded: put it toward a scholarship. The $135 I pay every year to use the busses which I haven’t actually used since sophomore year: put it toward a scholarship. How about the stolen goods fee that every student pays regardless of whether or not they actually steal things? What about the $200 I pay for career development when I have utilized Career Center resources twice during my time at Miami? How about the scholarship money that Miami quits paying for the students who fail to meet academic standards?

This is no solution to the overwhelming problem facing this generation of college students, but at least it’s a start.

And just a reminder to all the nay-sayers out there; according to Forbes, from 1985 to 2011, average tuition costs increased 498 percent compared to the national inflation rate of 114 percent over the same time.

“Working your way through college” isn’t possible anymore. Trust me because I tried, and even then, I couldn’t get much beyond book costs.

To put it simply, there is no way to pay for my college education in its entirety, even if I were to hold a full-time, salaried job.

Just as a reminder, college graduates on average only earn about $50,000 a year at their first jobs. Remember that this is an average meaning that while some people make more, some people make much less.

I am calling on the school that I love to make a change. Show the world what love and honor means and lead the push for finding a solution.

As a school, we boast alumni like a President of the United States of America, a Vice-President of the United States, CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, a Speaker of the House, a Super-Bowl-winning quarterback, and on and on.

But I ask, how many leaders never made it here? How many did we turn away simply because they couldn’t pay?

That’s not what love and honor means to me.

Your move, Miami.

P.S. And should anyone out there want to give a more-than-deserving, kindest-person-ever a chance to attend Miami of Ohio, I know just the person.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

ICYMI: Easter Edition (4/21)

One of my favorite holidays is today, but whether you celebrate or not, here's some reading from the past week to feed your brain.

Against Metrics: How measuring performance by numbers backfires.

Not directly tied to education (though the subject comes up), this piece takes a look at the problems of people who think numbers are magical.

If we don't work on pedagogy, nothing else matters.

One of those "I'm not sure I'm 100% on board with this, but it's some food for thought" pieces.

Private Equity Pillage

The retail apocalypse is not about Amazon outselling bricks-and-mortar stores; it's about private equity funds draining the lifeblood out of the economy. This is not about education-- except that these are the same guys who want to get rich from privatizing education.

Why, yes, spending more money on schools does yield better results.

Every year in Pennsylvania, right tilted thinky tanks opine about how more money for schools won't yield results. Here's why they're full of it (and it probably applies to your state, too).

We're having the wrong conversation about the future of schools. 

A look at the broad picture of reform, and how it has done more harm than good.

Inside Maine's disastrous rollout of proficiency-based learning.

Maine tried to go all in on PBL and it was a freaking mess. Kelly Field writes the story for Hechinger.

Still Teaching  

The day of the Columbine shooting was his first day in the building. Now he's one of the thirteen teachers still there. A story of what it's like to work at That School, and safe spaces.

Florida Republicans choose guns over teachers.  

Florida. Again.

What Preschool Isn't  

Nancy Bailey looks at one of the stupidest ideas to refuse to die-- on-line preschool.

Austerity Comes to Canada

The Have You Heard podcast takes a look at some alarming ed reform trends (make all students take some courses on line?!) up Canada way.  

Saturday, April 20, 2019

When Local Control Turns Toxic

I am a fan of local control for school districts, but I'm not going to pretend that under the wrong circumstances it won't produce some terrible results.

EdBuild has just issued a report on a troubling phenomenon-- the secession of wealthy communities from larger school districts. This issue has been reported on before, but this is a report that collects instances of attempts across the nation.

EdBuild is not an organization that I'd ordinarily be promoting. Their reform credentials are deep, from Founder/CEO Rebecca Sibilia who used to be the COO of StudentsFirst to a board headed by Derrell Bradford of NYCAN (among other groups). They do have some actual teachers like Nate Bowling on their board of advisors, but mostly this is another group that runs deep with people without actual experience in education, and most of their policy positions are heavily school choicey.

But neither education experience or complex methodology is needed to collect this kind of data, and the results are not great. Since 2000, 128 communities have tried to secede from their school districts, and 74 have been successful.

A large chunk of those are not hard to explain. The map shows a huge group of seceding districts in Maine. For about a decade, Maine put big pressure on its districts to consolidate, with a plan to turn almost 300 school districts into 26. There were severe financial penalties for keeping your own district, until Governor LaPage eliminated the penalties; at that point, many districts headed for the door. The many secession fights in Maine represent an attempt by districts to maintain their original shape, not surprising in a state that is largely rural and it can take 90 minutes to travel a distance that is 30 miles as the crow flies. The state of Maine accounts for a full half of the 74 seceding districts and so allows EdBuild to inflate their total numbers.

Front of the big beautiful HS Collierville built its students,
once it got them out of Shelby County Schools
Still, the uninflated numbers and the stories that go with them are still pretty troubling. In Louisiana, Tennessee and Alabama, what we see are severe examples of school district gerrymandering, and the story, over and over, is of rich white folks trying to get themselves a district that doesn't include so many of those poor Black folks. The Shelby County school districts are a fine example of white flight, district secession, and the hoarding of resources so that wealthy folks don't have to spend tax dollars on Those People's Children.

I presume that this phenomenon can be used to argue that choice has to be implemented to rescue the students left behind, or as another example of the kind of choices that rich families have and poor families don't, though EdBuild does not go there in the report. To me, the phenomenon of secession and resource hoarding is a prime example of the worst of both worlds, showing in one ugly move how both school choice and local control can be used in toxic ways.

Sibilia says the school secession movement illustrates the problems with the way U.S. schools are funded. “Even when there is not explicit racial intent, there is this hyperlocalism approach to education that is driving these secessions,” she said. “Either way it’s emblematic of everything that is wrong with school funding and school borders in this country.”

Maybe, though some states have managed to put breaks on these kinds of shenanigans. But more to the point, choice and charter and voucher systems simply provide an alternative method for achieving exactly the same results. Whether I secede by creating a separate public school district or by a private school alternative to the public system, the effect is the same-- I don't have to send my money to educate Those People's Children.

Call it a side effect of the narrowed view of education that has been sold during the modern reform era-- public education is not an institution or public good that serves all of society by preparing all students to take their place as citizens, but is instead a commodity purchased by a family to benefit their children. Once you start thinking of education as a toaster or new car that you buy for your kids, it's a logical step to ask why you should be buying toasters for other peoples' kids, or why you shouldn't get to shop around till you find the very best toaster that your own money can buy for you. We'll offer a couple of toaster scholarships to deserving families to show we're not heartless, but otherwise I've got mine, Jack-- why should I be shelling out toaster money for Those People. It's the same ethos as the sports parent who insists his child is not there to serve the needs of the team, but the team is there to get his kid a scholarship or a contract.

Once you separate education from its value to the country as a whole and just keep talking about how schools are supposed to serve the families and the children and the money belongs to the child and the rest of the arguments that define education as an individual consumer good, then you can expect this kind of foolishness and resource hoarding-- a foolishness that is facilitated equally well by either school choice or local control of public schools.

It doesn't have to be this way. Consider this story from NYC, where parents have taken it upon themselves to push for de-segregating schools in their communities. District 3 and District 15 will take on more social and economic diversity this fall because of measures crafted and proposed by parents:

“Part of why we did this is we felt very strongly that you couldn’t improve just one school,” said Kristen Berger, who helped create the plan for Manhattan’s District 3, which includes the Upper West Side and Harlem. “That’s not very useful. It’s really a system. We really wanted to see movement at high- and low-demand schools.”

We can do better.

Friday, April 19, 2019

KY: DeVos, Bevin, Loving Vouchers, Hating Teachers

Betsy DeVos took her Education Freedom Voucher Tour to Kentucky, and things went just about as well as you could expect.

Secretary of Education DeVos has been crisscrossing the country in an attempt to sell her $5 billion voucher plan. Her latest stop was Kentucky, a state that has achieved a sort of choice limbo; there's a charter law on the books, but the legislature has so far refused to fund it, and so there are no charter schools.

But school choice has a friend in Governor Matt Bevin, a former investment manager and Tea Party fave who has oodles of ideas about privatizing education in Kentucky (including that stupid "retaining third graders who score low on a standardized reading test" idea). What doesn't Matt Bevin like? Well, see if you can pick up the subtle dig here.

Matt Bevin has had it with you. All of you. 
After the big education summit with Bevin, DeVos, and some other folks (more about this in a bit), Bevin was asked why the meeting did not include a single solitary human being who actually works in public education-- not a teacher, a principal, a public school leader. His response?

The people here care about the kids. Every single person who sat around this table cares about the children. Not about funding. Not about territory. Not about power. Not about politics. They care about parents and they care about students.

Okay, so it wasn't subtle at all (and if you watch him say it, there's no softening via context, either.)  All those people who actually have dedicated their adult lives to working in public education do not care about students. They're just in it for the money and the power.

So other than this rather dickish slam at public education folks, what came out of the day?

Well, that meeting gathered state officials including Wayne Lewis (Education Commissioner), Hal Heiner (Board of Education Chair), Derrick Ramsey (Education and Workforce Development), and Aaron Thompson (Postsecondary Education). Then throw in  representatives from EdChoice Kentucky, Catholic Conference of Kentucky, Kentucky Public [sic] Charter Schools Association, and Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions.

Does it seem that the deck is stacked? Well, here's more. You might think that the Kentucky Public [sic] Charter Schools Association might be an odd organization to exist when Kentucky has no actual charter schools. But it exists, and though its website gives little clue about who it is exactly, its 990 forms indicate that it has existed with a paltry budget of a few thousand dollars. Only three years of forms show up (2014, 2015, 2016). In 2014 and 2015, the chairman of the group was Wayne Lewis, now the education commissioner, and a hard-core charter promoter. In 2016, no chair is listed; the top name is Milton Seymore, retired Ford exec, Baptist pastor, and for a time, Kentucky Board of Education chair appointed by Bevin. Gary Houchens is also a KPCSA member and Bevin Board of Education appointee.

DeVos was there to encourage the folks at the table to "keep at it and keep fighting" even though they had suffered some "frustrations" (aka "defeats").

DeVos also took some actual questions afterwards.

She and Bevin framed the "opportunity" for workforce development (train those meat widgets) and pointed out that Democrat reps should be pushing this because education is totally not political (said the governor who has pulled all the political levers he can get his hands on to push his education policies, which are, in fact, business policies. Pro tip-- privatizing public education is a political act.

Asked to address the issue of how vouchers drain resources from public schools, DeVos skipped her usual answer ("It totally wouldn't") for a different non-answer. First, it meets the needs of kids who don't fit in public schools. Unless, of course, their needs are expensive adaptations or ELL needs or behavioral needs, etc. Second, "in every state" where charters have been installed, results in public schools "get better right along with" the chartered students. Except that, of course, not all charter students do better, and research certainly doesn't indicate that public schools near charters get better in every state. So, not actually an answer, and not actually true.

Another reporter asks about full funding for IEA to benefit students with special education needs, and DeVos starts with a non-answer then pivots to a spectacular tale about Florida and how their choice programs have allowed families to "customize" the education of those students. You can watch the clip at the bottom of this post, complete with Bevin's two-pointy-finger angry non-answer regarding the exclusion of public education folks. Also, is it just me, or does Bevin always look like he wants to punch someone? Judge for yourself in the clip.

Some public ed folks did have some thoughts about the summit:

"Today’s meeting was nothing more than a photo-op for a failed governor and a failed education secretary who refuse to listen to those who may disagree with their proposals," the Kentucky Education Association said in a statement. "In November, Kentucky voters can decide if they want two individuals like Bevin and DeVos who never attended public school to make policy for their children’s futures, or do they want local educators, school board members, superintendents and parents looking out for what’s best for their neighborhood school"

That seems like a fair assessment. Stay tuned for the next stop on DeVos's Doomed Voucher Proposal Tour.

Creating More Defective Children

This has always been a dangerous side effect of educational certainty. If I'm absolutely certain that my program is awesome, my pedagogy is flawless, my materials are on point, and classroom is just generally perfect-- and yet some students are not learning-- well, there's only one possible explanation. The student must be defective.

The defect effect appears to be cropping up in a new place. As reported in EdWeek, a new report published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that children who turn five the month before kindergarten starts are, as a group, being over-diagnosed with ADHD.

"Our findings suggest the possibility that large numbers of kids are being over-diagnosed and overtreated for ADHD because they happen to be relatively immature compared to their older classmates in the early years of elementary school," said study author Timothy Layton, and assistant professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School.

Relative immaturity is one factor to consider here. But why would this start cropping up in recent years; why wouldn't the relative immaturity of August babies be so well-known and widely recognized from the last century of schooling that schools would simply set an earlier cut-off date? In Pennsylvania, 78% of school districts make the cut-off September 1. There is some anecdotal reporting of increased redshirting but the study above suggests that perhaps there should be more.

Are we looking at a correction to bad education policy being made at the grassroots level.

In other words, if kindergarten is the new first grade, are more parents concluding that 6 is the new 5. As we crank up kindergarten to be more academic, more sitting, less playing, less child-friendly, it's not surprising to find that more students are being diagnosed (probably incorrectly) with ADHD and more parents deciding their child isn't ready for the rigors of kindergarten just yet.

Is there harm in such an adjustment? Hard to say-- there can be issues with not getting out of high school until you're eighteen. But any problems caused by this new shift could be addressed by any district-- let first grade be the new first grade and let five year olds be five year olds. Developmentally inappropriate schooling will always generate problems, but this is a situation where the solutions are easy and readily available.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Why DeVos Doesn't Care About Charter Closings

During the recent House hearings, Betsy DeVos was confronted with some of the results of the Network for Public Education study of federal dollars going to charters, a huge number of which have closed or never even opened. She was unmoved:

Let me first comment on the study you’re referring to. I’m not sure you can even call it a study. We’re looking more closely at it of course, and anything that is truly waste, fraud, or abuse we will certainly address. But the reality is that the study was really funded by and promoted by those who have a political agenda against charter schools. And the other reality is that there are currently over one million students on wait lists for charter schools in the country. So, we want to see more charter schools, not fewer. More students that can access options that are right for them, not fewer.

This week Diane Ravitch and Carol Burris of the NPE wrote an open letter to DeVos further detailing some of the fraud and waste. Here's a collection of 109 charters in Michigan that took federal grant money and closed, or never opened at all. They amount to over $20 million in federal money that is simply gone with nothing to show for it (remember, this is only looking at the charter grants issued by the Department of Education-- if we start looking at all charters funded through various state and philanthropic money, the list gets much longer). Ohio, California and Louisiana are other bad examples. Ohio flushed away over $35 million-- 40% of the federally funded charters failed.

None of this is likely to matter to DeVos. Like many free market true believers in the reformster world, she is going to view the closing and churning of charters as a feature, not a bug. This is how the market they envision is supposed to work-- schools are opened, some thrive, some fail, the failed ones close to be replaced by some other enterprising entrepreneur. It is, I think, one of the great ironies of hard right conservative Christians like DeVos-- on the one hand, they reject the notion of biological evolution, but on the other hand, they absolutely believe in survival of the fittest. Propping up a failing business goes against the law of nature.

That's why the hearings also included an exchange with Senator Jack Reed about infrastructure. He points out that there are school buildings that need to be rescued and updated and mentions his plan to invest 100 billion in infrastructure, to which DeVos replies:

Well I think it’s an interesting proposal. A very costly one at that. I think what I would actually advocate for is giving more students and more parents more freedom and choices to find the right fit for their child’s education. I think we are going to make more progress and have more gains in student achievement if students are able to find schools and education environments that work specifically for them. 

Don't bail out the struggling public schools. Let them fail. Betsy "Public education is a dead end" DevVos has certainly tipped her hand before, and Valerie Strauss picks out what might be the critical quote of the hearing:

“We need traditional public schools to be held to the same accountability standards" as charter schools.

Which pairs up with this another response to the NPE report:

When you have experimentation you are always going to have schools that don’t make it and that is exactly as what should happen. They should close. And let’s also look at how many traditional public schools have closed because they are not doing well for their students.

I don't think DeVos is attempting a "Nanny nanny boo boo-- public schools close a bunch, too." Because very few public schools close compared to charters, and I think she knows that. I think her point is, "Very few public schools close and that's further proof that they're bad and wrong." When she says public schools should be held to the same accountability standard, she means that public schools should be subject to Death By Foot-based Voting. All parents should be able to walk away from a public school and take their money with them. That's her premise and her message; the unstated assumption is that right-thinking Godly parents will beat feet out of public school faster than an Amway rep racing a Mormon missionary to your front door.

It's also worth noting that this all fits with the idea of a portfolio approach, that latest growing-in-reformster-popularity governance model being pushed by the City Group. Under a portfolio model, charters and public schools are lumped together in a group that operates charter-style, with features like a universal application that lets the system sort out the students. The portfolio is supposed to churn, just as you would regular add and remove investments from your financial portfolio depending on their performance. Schools, both charter and public, would be shut down, opened up, transferred to new management, and otherwise churned. That churn could be based on "performance" indicators like test scores, but it could also be based on market share-- how many feet vote for or against.

This is one of the area where choicers have a fundamental disagreement with public education advocates. For public schools, stability is a basic foundational value. The school is a community institution, and like all institutions, part of its values comes from its continuity, its connections to tradition, the past. It means something to people to see their children and neighbors all passing through the same halls, having the same teachers, being part of a community collective that stretches across the years. For free market Reformsters, anything that gets in the way of their idea of free market mechanics is bad; there should be winners and losers and the market should judge their worth, ruthlessly culling the weak and undeserving.

Reformsters know they have a hard sell. That's why they don't try to use this as a selling point ("Don't forget-- the school your child chooses could close at any time due to market consitions! Isn't that awesome!") That's why they are adamant about calling charters "public" schools-- because it lulls the customers into believing that charters share some of the fundamental characteristics of public schools, like stability and longevity. They (e.g. Governor DeSantis of Florida) also want to hold onto "public" because the change to privately owned and operated market based schools is the end of public education as we know it; it truly is privatization, and almost nobody pushing these policies has the guts to publicly say, "I propose that we end public education and replace it with privately owned and operated businesses, some of which will reserve the right to refuse service to some of you, and all of which may not last long enough to see your child from K through 12."

The person who almost has the guts to almost say this is, ironically, Betsy DeVos-- the person charged with taking care of the public system that she would like to kill. What a wacky world we live in. So don't expect her to be moved by all the waste of tax dollars paying for failed or fraudulent charter schools; every time a charter school closes, a free market reformster gets their wings, and Betsy is a-fixin' to fly.