Friday, May 31, 2019

Jeb Bush: Frying Reform Baloney for Michigan

The Detroit News just ran a Jeb Bush fluff piece chock full of reformy baloney (reformaloney?) and an embarrassing lack of those fact thingies.

It's helpful to know that the writer is Ingrid Jacques, deputy editorial page editor, and a graduate of Hillsdale College, the noted far-right Libertarian college with close ties to the DeVos family and the Trump administration (you may remember them as the school that Senator Pat Toomey tried to give a big fat tax exemption gift).

There he is, going big with the passion.
The piece was written on the occasion of Bush coming to Michigan to talk at the Detroit Chamber's Mackinac Policy Conference, one more group of business whizzes who fancy themselves rightful managers of public education while hanging out with politicians who are really interested in their deep pockets ideas, and the piece opens by evoking the dynamic Jeb we all know and love for whom nobody voted in the last Presidential cycle. What does it take to improve schools?

“The attitude should be big and bold or go home and let someone else try,” says the former Florida governor. “If it ruffles a few feathers or gets people uncomfortable, so be it. There should be a little more passion behind more provocative change. You can argue about how bad things are or you can say things have to get better.  That's where convergence could really be."

Big and bold or go home. Passion. Because that's the Jeb we all met during the GOP primaries. But beyond the disconnect of Jeb! being big, bold and passionate, this is reformaloney. It's not nearly as important to be big and bold as it is to be right, and when it comes to education, Bush has rarely been either. There is nothing big and bold about draining public education funds to feed private business operations, nor is there anything passionate about letting those private edu-businesses suck up taxpayer dollars with little oversight. Big and bold would have been, for instance, saying to Florida voters, "I want to run several parallel school systems, and since that will obviously take more money to do right, I'm going to raise your taxes to fund it."

I don't know what he wants to see converge, but Jacques thinks his message is one the business and politics guys need to hear, because Michigan's education situation is critical. Bush is going to discuss change, which is an odd topic really, because Michigan has been pummeled by educational change thanks to influencers like the DeVos family, and the results have been terrible. But the policies that Bush loves--charters, choice and cutting public schools (and the teachers who work there) off at the knees--have been tried, and they failed.

Jacques presents Bush as an expert on education reform because Florida and FEE (now known as ExcelinEd). But FEE is simply one more astroturf advocacy group financed by the usual reformsters. They have been wrong so often, and they have tried a variety of shadow groups and initiatives, like the time they set up four teachers to tweet happy things about the Common Core. Chiefs for Change, Learn More Go Further. Bush has ties to so many groups that never quite produced the excitement and passion he was looking for. Meanwhile, he made a wretched mess out of Florida, with a charter sector that produces more waste and fraud than education , and more bad policies than I can list here.

Never mind all that. Jacques unpacks her English degree to offer this example of passive voice:

And now Florida is seen as an example of reforms done right, from accountability to school choice.

Is it? By whom is it seen that way? What data would lead us to that conclusion? Never mind. Jacques says that Florida has top performers in reading "and other subjects." That's a big bold claim, without context (top of what? compared  to whom? measuring performance how?) and not entirely reflected in at least some test results.

Bush offered some typical reformaloney-- "You need an attitude that every child can learn" which to be clear is not wrong, but is also not news to anyone who works in education. Bush is like a guy who bursts in to an operating room in a hospital and yells out--"Stop everything! Do you realie you need to use the pointy end of the scalpel?!!"  But Bush did lay out some specifics in his interview with Jacques.

Early literacy efforts.

Bush always stays current on  reformy talking points, so he leads with "teachers aren't taught how to teach reading properly." Then he moves to the wonders of third grade do-or-die retention testing, making the amazing claim that it works. No, it doesn't. And this is not news. It is particularly damaging as practiced in Florida, where it has led to the retention of students who passed other reading assessments, but didn't take the honored test. (Florida is also the state that hounded a dying child to take the test.) Third grader retention is effective in just one way; it helps raise fourth grade scores by keeping struggling low-testing students out of fourth grade.

Accountability and School choice.

Well, they've got one of those, anyway. It's possible that Jeb's a little fuzzy on accountability:

“Align the system to the results you want, and by and large you’ll get better results,” Bush says. “It’s not easy to craft a system where you can measure learning adequately but it’s well worth the effort.”

Align a system around test results and you get a system focused on test results. Perhaps Jeb! is familiar with Goodhart's Law or Campbell's Law and how they explain that measures like a standardized test tend to distort and pervert the processes they are intended to measure. As for the second half of his statement, he's correct that it's not easy to craft an adequate measuring system for learning; that's probably why nobody has accomplished it yet.

Jeb! thinks the A-F school grading system actually accomplishes something other than rewarding wealthy schools and punishing poor ones, and he completely ignores other accountability issues, like keeping charter schools from scamming taxpayers or from hiring unqualified staff or from closing in the middle of the year and just wasting taxpayer money.


Bush remembers fondly when he stripped Florida voters of the power to elect the state board of education, and suggests that Michigan also go to a governor-appointed board that will properly wield a rubber stamp. I've met Michigan's elected board of education, and Michigan is damned lucky to have them. As always when contemplating GOP-branded reformaloney, I wonder when Republicans decided they were against democracy and local control.

Jacques tells the business community to take note. I would suggest that it's long past time to stop paying attention to what this private citizen with no actual education background has to say about education. Florida is a mess for everyone except privatizers and profiteers and people in school districts that are still fighting off the state, but mostly it's scammage and thievery and driving teachers out and educational malpractice, and Bush takes a huge chunk of blame.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

OH: Takeover Battle Comes To Senate

Our story so far: The Ohio House has passed a bill scrapping Ohio's disastrous takeover bill, HB 70. The new language was incorporated into the budget (HB 166) and, having cleared the House, must go to the Senate, where education committee chair Peggy Lehner is not particularly sympathetic to public education. So Lehner and a committee of various "interested parties" put together their own proposal for offering "relief" from HB 70. It's another version of a state takeover, packed with $20 million in pork for "consultants."

Wednesday, May 29, was the Senate's day to hold a hearing about the issue, and all the players came out of the woodwork, some offering audacious and amazing words for or against the bill, with particular emphasis on Lorain, Ohio, a city and school system that has caused all sorts of problems by refusing to roll over and play dead.

Mark Ballard, hearing MVP
But we have lots of testimony to look at, all of which paints a picture of a direct head-to-head clash between pub lic education and those who would like to privatize it.  In fact, before we wade into this, let's start with some of the testimony from Lorain School Board President Mark Ballard, because this may win the Quote of the Day award:

A new law is being crafted, in secret, AGAIN - because you admit the last two laws were ineffective - all while Lorain is dealing with the negative consequences of those bills.

Now, if this new bill is approved, we will be required to collaborate with our CEO, even though he doesn’t believe in collaboration and refuses to meet with us.

And our end goal is to create a plan that is exactly...the... what we already had in place before you gave us a CEO?

Please remember this: If the state of Ohio thinks it can continue to experiment with it’s poor children because our communities are somehow too disengaged to fight for them, you are very mistaken.

We are the International City. And fighting for the right to have the same opportunities as middle class white people is something we have been doing all of our lives.

Chad Aldis (formerly with the Waltons and before that a staffer in the Florida legislature) showed up for the Fordham Institute, a right-tilted thinky tank advocacy group that has gone to bat for most reformy ideas. They also run a charter authorizing business in Ohio.

There are several reasons why this body should reject the House’s changes. First, although jettisoning the ADC model rather than improving it would be politically popular, it would come at the expense of students. The districts currently under ADC control have consistently weak academic growth, low college completion rates, and few students reaching proficiency in basic subjects. Some of the districts have been performing poorly for ten years or more. Their schools are producing graduates who aren’t prepared for college or the workplace—and families, communities, and local businesses are paying the price.

This is a standard reformy tactic-- emphasize the severity of the problem rather than provide evidence that your preferred solution is actually a solution .

Dayton, Ohio, is one of the larger communities that will soon fall under HB 70 if the law isn't changed. This, as much as the failures of the model in Lorain, Youngstown, and East Cleveland, is driving the opposition to HB 70-- the very real possibility that more "important" Ohio cities with actual clout will soon be hit by state takeover. The superintendent was at the hearing to get out and front, calling results of HB 70 so far very debatable and arguing that Dayton is already solving problems themselves and meddling from the state will not help, thank you very much.

Becky Higgins, president of the Ohio Education Association  was there to argue the solution isn't solving anything:

As my colleagues and our fellow OEA members in Youngstown and Lorain have experienced, the current state takeover law provides no citizen oversight through elected school boards, no voice for classroom teachers and has been bad for our kids. Our experience in Youngstown and Lorain has demonstrated that the Academic Distress Commission/CEO model does not work. We believe that no more districts should be taken over, and that the districts that have been taken over should be relieved of that burden. That is why the first part of House Bill 154 is so important - repeal.

It is also important to note that state takeovers are based on misleading state report cards that severely penalize students and districts in poverty. After the failed state takeover law is repealed and local control is restored, OEA stands ready to work with state lawmakers to fix Ohio’s broken and misleading report card system.

Jennifer Kluchar, a teacher from Youngstown, pointed out that the advent of urban chartersskims away students in a way that affects the culture of the public schools:

This is the context I need you to imagine: schools where the culture is “we come here to learn” versus schools where the culture is “we come here to be fed and loved, and because there’s no one at home to take care of us”,

Beth Workman of the League of Women Voters showed up to call for better fundng of flagging schools and to challenge the test-based definition of quality:

Quality is a very complex phenomenon, and it deserves a robust definition. Test results, which are most often a reflection of the economic status of the test takers, are a very limited way of gauging quality. And connecting consequences to them, is a very harmful way to force improvement. It doesn’t really work. It encourages a focus on improving test results, which both undermines high quality instruction and negates the validity of the test itself as a fair measure of learning.

ADC member teacher Steve Cawthon enumerated some of the problems instituted by the CEO and also observed that some of the progress signs that the CEO pointed to where the result of reforms that the distriuct had begun before the CEO took over.

Several folks testified to the atmosphere of fear that now perm eates Lorain schools, but perhaps most striking was testimony from Alexis Hayden, the union grievance chair, who noted that from a previous average of seven grievances, this year had racked up fifty-two grievances. In one year. And that's not counting the teachers who called, but ultimately decided not to file a grievance because they feared the fallout of doing so.

Kejuana Jefferson, one of the CEO's turnaround principals, showed up to compare herself to Sojourner Truth, heroically standing up against the powerful political forces of Lorain. Jefferson would be the principal hired for the middle school who had neither principal certification nor teaching certification beyond K-3. She's taken to slamming hers staff on social media. But she's sure the takeover in Lorain is working because the TNTP alignment process is going well and  there's some good data.

Henry Patterson, past VP of the ADC in Lorain laid out the five considerations for a turnaround to work: it will take time, be hard, and cost money. Also, it will require a collaborative CEO who works with local folks and an engaged ADC. HB 70 is broken and needs to be replaced with something that considers all five.

David Hardy, Teach for America product and current Lorain CEO, offered, if nothing else, some comments that further suggest that he was a terrible choice for a terrible job. He, however, is certain that HB 70 was right. But he does see progress in Lorain stymied:

The level of opposition to progress is relentless and the willingness by those who see local control as a means to oppress communities dominated by black and brown children is real. The viability of corruption is at a height that resembles the challenges seen in some of the most troubling situations our world has to endure. Thinly veiled threats, whispers of oppression, and attention seeking adults who are emotionally high jacked to testify against the very necessary change they refuse to see is present today and will be present tomorrow. At the same time our voiceless children and marginalized adults rely on others to speak their truth all while being exploited daily by lies and deceit-filled empty promises.

Hardy is not just speaking against the folks in Lorain, but the idea of local control in general:

In communities like Lorain, local control means control that is unaccounted for and the maintenance of more of the same; maintaining financial benefit on the backs of children of color, staining the very democracy that has put them in place with the stench of systemic racial inequities that continue to perpetuate the separation of the haves and have nots.

And Hardy offers an explanation for why he won't attend a school board meeting:

The answer is simple; I refuse to be a part of corruption.

Hardy has some big sweeping ideas, or at least the language to express them, and he certainly delivers a mean speech about the disenfranchisement of the people. Maybe he is a big thinker, but if so, he would not be the first visionary leader who couldn't turn his vision into the daily nuts and bolts needed to run a school district. You can try to whip people up into a state of frenzied excitement, but at some point they are going to turn to you and ask, "Okay, what exactly are we going to do today?"

Moreover, his view that Lorain is a corrupt cesspool of power held by a small cabal of corrupt leaders seems like an obstacle to collaborative success. His impulses seem to run to sudden authoritarian dictates (e.g. his announcement that everyone in some schools would have to reapply for their jobs), a dislike for explaining himself, and subsequent collisions with reality (e.g. his announcement that all those teachers wouldn't have to reapply after all). And while he talks a good game about having monthly town halls to go straight to the people--well, he doesn't live in Lorain.

Yes, being a school leader involves dealing with some people who are obstacles and problematic. It's a political job, and school super-powered CEO is a very political job created by political means. It requires someone who is both uber-knowledgable about all aspects of running schools and somebody who is a gifted politician; Hardy is just an example of what happens when you try to fill the job with someone has neither skill set. Even if he's right, and that he's the good guy stuck in a pit of corruption beset on all sides by villains, this is not how to deal with that successfully. Lorain is just the worst case scenario display of how bad HB 70 is, and Hardy just keeps demonstrating that.

Hardy has his supporters, including the local NAACP, and they showed up to advocate for staying the course. And no Ohio hearing about education would be complete without Lisa Gray of Ohio Excels, another one of those groups formed by business interests who want to shape education policy. Gray has worked with the Gates Foundation, Achieve, Teach for America-- the usual suspects. Gray has been a reformstery advocate for years (here she is in 2013 explaining how awesome the Common Core will be).

Ohio Excels proposal for replacing HB 70 is even more reformy. They would like to see a plan that targets schools that are trending downward, snapping them up before they even fail. Businesses and philanthropic groups (like, say, the Gates Foundation) should get to be partners (aka "help drive the bus"), and more mayoral involvement in leadership (aka "mayoral control"). And there should be "final consequences" for schools that don't improve, like state takeover-- though they should be allowed to escape that  y trying things like "partnering" with third-party providers or charter schools.

Gray's testimony helps establish the other extreme in the discussion-- rather than local control, let's just get the process of privatizing schools under way. It would be interesting to hear if Hardy believes that corporate privatization would yield better treatment of Black and Brown students.

Lehner was, by most accounts, not particularly sympathetic to the pro-HB 166 crowd-- apparently at one point, when a Lorain teacher tried to recognize the many students who had made the long trip, she scolded the teacher to turn around and face the senators (and then there's the classy Senator who called the student appearance a "nice show.") It remains to be seen what the Senate will decide to do with the education language now written into the budget the House passed, but if I were an Ohio voter concerned about public education, I'd be calling my Senator daily.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Can Personalized Learning Deliver

A new report published by the National Education Policy Center looks at the current state of K-12 personalized learning and finds that there are many reasons for school districts to think twice about embracing this hot new trend. “Personalized Learning and the Digital Privatization of Curriculum and Teaching” was written by Faith Boninger, Alex Molnar and Christopher M. Saldana of the University of Colorado Boulder, and it lays out several areas of concern. As the model spreads—and concerns spread with it—this report provides a clear view of the objections to modern personalized learning.
A History Lesson 
Imagine a technology “which gives tests and scores—and teaches.”  Or a call for a revolution in which science and technology would “combine to modernize the grossly inefficient and clumsy procedures of conventional education” as well as saving teachers time by freeing them from administering and scoring tests. All of that comes from Sidney L. Pressey, the inventor of the first real teaching machine, patented in 1928. Neither personalized learning nor the problems that come with it are new. In fact, the idea of personalizing learning through some sort of mass customization is almost 100 years old; ironically, one of the common pitches for current techno-privatized education is as an antidote to classrooms that supposedly have not changed in 100 years. 
 B. F. Skinner emerged in the 1950s with an alternative approach to Pressey’s, but as the authors note, the two both claimed that their approach would provide students immediate feedback, allow them to work at their own pace, and provide them more personal attention from teachers. Both Pressey and Skinner also assumed that a student’s ability to provide the required response to a question demonstrated competency/mastery—and therefore learning.’”
Modern personalized learning has not left any of this behind. 
The Modern Version 
You would assume that personalized learning meant something like “a humane school and classroom environment and open, flexible teaching strategies,” or “increasing students’ agency over their own learning” or “addressing needs of the whole child,” but a different sort of model has been spreading.
Much of the push for this wave, as with several previous education waves, comes from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which in 2014 funded a group of organizations to develop a “working definition” of personalized learning. The hard and fast definition still eludes experts and marketers, but the Gates definition (which arguably also informed the definition of Chan-Zuckerberg, now emerging as major players in the field) “offers a tech-friendly vision of an individualized, data-heavy, mastery-based education system.” It is based not on research about teaching and learning, but presents itself as “common sense,’ which, the authors points out, obscures several problematic assumptions. 
It assumes that children are, and should be, focused primarily on their own goals, their own objectives—themselves--and not on community connections or goals. It’s about a series of tasks, and not relationships. It assumes that learning involves moving along a linear track ( first learn A, then B, etc) and that complex learning can be broken down and measured as small bits and pieces. First pass a punctuation unit, then a sentence completion unit, then a simple reading unit, and be declared able to write an explicative paper for a work of literature., because computer software can assess the first three, but not the last. 
The modern Gatesian model implies constant assessment, feedback and record-keeping. But that means the “learning” must be doled out in small bites and bits that lend themselves to the kind of assessment and record-keeping that a software can handle.
The Problems 
The authors argue that personalized learning has been essentially taken over by a privatized corporate approach, because personalized learning smells like money. Lots of money. But because these programs value data most of all, “they reflect a restricted, hyper-rational approach to curriculum and pedagogy that limits students’ agency, narrows what they can learn in school, and limits schools’ ability to respond effectively to a diverse student body.” 
While personalized learning talks a big game about student agency, in fact most models are top-down instruction; the student may choose a speed or even a topic for an exercise, but it’s the software writers who set the major goals, determine the sequence of units, and decides what will prove mastery. Needs and gaps are determined by someone other than the student, who becomes an object to be acted upon by software that is trying to elicit the desired response and behavior from her. Students may be able to move through their list of modules faster, but there’s no support for the notion that learning has anything to do with learning better. 
In fact, personalized learning has a limited idea of what an education actually is. Modern personalized learning envisions a series of discrete skills and scraps of knowledge, acquired in a particular sequence. This ignores everything we know about integrating learning into prior knowledge and the world at large. It stifles creativity and critical thinking; rather than forge paths and develop a personal relationship with a body of knowledge, personalized learning calls on students to just move down a path that has already been laid out with pavement, guardrails, and penalties for daring to wander. 
Nor is that concrete path supported by research. The research base for modern personalized learning is weak, with little clear support for the idea that this approach can work any better than traditional methods. Too often the pitch is simply magical thinking tied to computers (It’s on a computer, so it will be awesome).  
Computer technology often comes with an presumption of unbiased objectivity. But software is written by humans, and it reflects their biases and assumptions, the culture that they breathe, and the culture of the tech world is overwhelmingly white and male. Nor do the venture capitalists who are doing much of the funding of these programs free from cultural biases of their own. 
The Threats 
The authors note one of the central ironies of modern personalized learning; though it claims to be about tailoring instruction for the individual student, it actually requires all students to get their education from a single one-size-fits-all delivery system. That system is not centered on a human teacher; they are reduced to the role of “coach” or “mentor,” with little control over the education process. Where more control is given, the teacher spends more time on the computer, modifying, writing, adding, and otherwise maintaining the program. 
The digitized approach to personalized learning involves collecting vast amounts of data. Even if the company honestly has no intention of ever putting that data to other uses, the fact that such a data bank exists means that it can be stolen. And since most of these programs come from businesses with investors and owners to keep happy, the pressure for monetizing must be huge. One need only look at Summit Learning, one of the most prominent personalized learning platforms: its software was developed with assistance from Facebook engineers, and the Summit Learning Program has been split off into a separate company with a four-person board of directors that includes Priscilla Chan and the CFO of the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative. Summit is free to schools that want to use it, but Mark Zuckerberg, the head of Facebook, knows a thing or two about how to get money out of a digital platform people use for free. He is not, however, known for his careful handling of user privacy. If data is the new oil, then digitized learning would bring in a data gusher of epic proportions. Summit wants us to know that it has privacy policies in place, has signed the Student Privacy Pledge, and maintains a Privacy Center on their website that details all the ways they are protecting student privacy.
Personalized learning as currently pitched is not really new, and there are reasons to believe that it cannot deliver on most of its promises. This report lays out in considerable detail why school district leaders should think long and hard before making their students part of this new digitized version of an old revolution that has, for 100 years, failed to launch.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Amazon Wants To Read Your Heart

One of the frontiers in creepy computer intelligence is the pursuit of software that can read the details of your face, your breathing, your eyeballs, and out of those details, construct a computer-generated window into your very heart and soul.

Some of the attempts are laughable, like the NWEA feature that presumes to know how engaged and focused your students are based on wait time for answering questions on a computerized standardized test. Some are ambitious, like the project that claims the ability to "read" a whole batch of different emotions as displayed on human faces.

But this is one of those areas where it pays to look outside the education arena, because there are so many different applications for this sort of Big Brothery technocreeping. And when a major player like Amazon decides to join the biz, attention should be paid. Last week, Bloomberg served notice: Inc. is developing a voice-activated wearable device that can recognize human emotions.

Bloomberg says it has seen internal memos, and that the wrist-worn gadget is a collaboration between various creepy divisions of Amazon that already work on the Fire phone, the Echo speaker, nd Alexa. The idea is that the device will be able to "discern the wearer's emotional state from the sound of his or her voice." In case, what-- in case you don't know how you feel. I don't mean to belittle that idea; lots of folks have trouble with the fundamental level of Emotional Intelligence, which is being able to identify your own feelings. Still, the picture of someone getting news and saying, "Alexa, how do I feel about that" is a little silly.

But of course the implications are much larger, because once the software has detected your emotion, that becomes storable, shareable information. Did this product make the wearer happy? Let's throw ads at her that sell similar items. And how would political candidates be able to buy information about exactly what pushes certain buttons for certain voters.

And since companies are already trying to sell products that measure students' reactions to classroom material, as well as promising to make such mind-reading skills part of the AI that directs personalized [sic] learning, it seems only a matter of time before the attempt is made to fold this is.

Of course, Alexa was supposed to take over the world, but that didn't happen. And voice recognition software remains an area where tech giants still can't quite deliver a reliable version of the product they've promised. And that's before a group of high sophomores set out to see if they can beat the system. Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

ICYMI: Memorial Day Weekend Edition (5/26)

In my town, we do the whole parade and program in the park business tomorrow. But for today, here are some pieces to read and share.

Did You See The Numbers? Yes, I Have.  

Is there a battle going on inside the NAACP over charters? Nope. Cloaking Inequality has the story.

We're Already Losing the Next Generation of Florida Teachers

The Orlando Sentinel has noticed that Florida is an education disaster area.

L.A. Charters Suspend Blacks and Disabled Students at Higher Rate

Robin Urevich at Capital and Main looks at some disturbing data about Los Angeles charter schools.

Deck Is Stacked Against Black Teachers in Michigan  

A new study shows that Black teachers in Michigan can expect a worse evaluation than their White peers.

The New Secession  

In Baton Rouge, we get a look at the newest version of white flight-- just split off into your own separate White city.

Coddling Charter Schools  

Greensboro's newspaper calls out the North Carolina legislature for trying to tilt the playing field in favor of charters-- even the bad ones.

Twenty Years Later, the Bush A+ Plan Fails Florida's Students

Sue Legg takes a look at the failing mess that is the legacy of Jeb Bush's plan to crush public education. Spoiler alert: there was no Florida miracle.

Cory Booker Was a Foot Soldier for Betsy DeVos 

Jennifer Berkshire takes us back to the days when Cory Booker was an ambitious young politician working hard to promote the reformy agenda.

Silent Strike   

I don't mean to pick on Florida, but they are an example of everything wrong with the reformy agenda. Here's a closer look at how they are losing teachers at a fast (but not unpredictable) rate.

Charter Schools Are Quietly Gobbling Up My District 

This excellent piece from Steven Singer gives an up close look at how charters can destroy a public school system.

Schools of Opportunity

Hey look! It's some schools that are getting it right!

Shortage Denial Syndrome   

Tim Slekar is trying to convince policy makers that there is a teacher exodus, not a shortage. It's not going well.          

Louisiana's VAM: Quantitative Bungling on Display    

Mercedes Schneider takes a look at just a few of the problems with the Value Added measure.

Stuff Journalists Should Know About Charter Schools

Bernie Sanders put charters back in the news, prompting the news to cover the issue, only the news sometimes doesn't know what it's talking about. Here's a quick but useful primer from Jersey Jazzman.

States' Performance After Implementing A-F Programs

Audrey Amrein-Beardsley is back, with a look at research about the effects of those stupid grading schools with A through F programs. Spoiler alert: it does not magically improve education.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

PA: Free To Teach? Who Are These Guys?

Once again, it's time for teachers in Pennsylvania to get a nice mass mailed postcard from our friends at Free To Teach, a group dedicated to reminding teachers that they don't have to belong to that stinky union. 

I took a look at these guys back in 2015, but as I look at the two postcards they sent to my home, I think it's time to revisit them. If you're a PA teacher wondering who these guys are, I can answer at least part of that question.

Free To Teach's front man used to be Matt Eason, a phys ed teacher down in the Philly area at Avon Grove schools (he also runs a first aid and CPR training company). His pitch was to call for "paycheck protection" and the death of fair share because he objected to being forced to join a union. He also pushed the usual misleading talking point that dues go to political purposes that he didn't support, an argument that depends on two notions; one, that dues pay for things like political support of candidates (they don't-- that's already illegal) and two, that everything a union does is political. 

I'm just going to liberate a couple of these guys before lunch
This time, the name on the postcard is Keith Williams. Like Eason, Williams was a real life teacher (English, Conewango Valley School District) for twenty-one years before he left in 2018 to become the director of Free To Teach. He's a graduate of Geneva College, and he also ran his own business consulting firm. And like Eason, he was upset that the union wanted them to give them his hard earned money. He even made the trip to Harrisburg in 2014 to argue against fair share and for paycheck protection . The argument here is that it costs the taxpayers big bucks to process deductions of union dues from teacher paychecks. This is a silly argument. Williams' involvement with Free To Teach pre-dates his new job; in 2016 he collaborated with Eason and Jodie Kratz on an op-ed cheering on the Friedrich's union-busting case. 

Free To Teach used to be a project of the Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives, a far-right advocacy group in Pennsylvania that is part of the State Policy Network and is also tied to ALEC and Koch Brothers money. 

But things have changed since 2015. Specifically, the Janus decision changed things (a case bankrolled largely by members of the State Policy Network), and in 2018, after that decision came down, Williams left teaching for his new job, and Free To Teach became the project of an organization called Americans for Fair Treatment. In 2018, Williams tried to portray the group as a grass roots movement with Williams himself as the only paid staffer (Williams is listed as staff for both AFFT and Free To Teach), setting out to just let teachers know their rights. Yes, they have the same initials as the American Federation of Teachers-- what a remarkable coincidence.

AFFT is out to convince all public workers to exit their respective unions. They've been at it since 2014, when they were a national group based in Oklahoma. In 2016, they filed a lawsuit against the Philadelphia school district and teachers union over the practice of release time for union leaders to do union work. That suit was handled by the Fairness Center, a Harrisburg law group that will take the case of anybody "hurt by public sector union officials"-- so, literally a union busting law firm and another SPN memberThe suit was thrown out because the court found that AFFT, as an Oklahoma group, had no standing. That may well have helped give them the push to create or change into what is now technically AFFT-Pennsylvania and the PA-based Free To Teach. In 2018 they were successful in a similar suit against the Reading Education Association.

AFFT is now up to two staffers, including Williams and Rebecca Whalen (logistics and membership coordinator), a 2018 graduate of Lebanon Valley College whose only previous job is for the Commonwealth Foundation. 

In fact, AFFT is a pretty transparent shell for the Commonwealth Foundation. The AFFT board consists of:

Michael J. Reitz: Vice-President of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, one of the biggest right-wing thinky tank advocacy groups in the country, pushing right to work and funded generously by the Kochs, the Bradley Foundation, and, yes, the DeVos family.

Charles Mitchell: currently CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation, previously an associate at the Charles Koch Institute

Tim Hoefer: Executive director of Empire Center for Public Policy, a project of the Manhattan Institute, member of SPN and ALEC, and funded by the Bradley Foundation among others

George Coates: Chairman of the Board at the Commonwealth Foundation. 

Your Free To Teach postcard is, in short, the product of the same old network of anti-union far-right folks who have been constantly looking for ways to slap teachers down and put them in their place. A full frontal attack on unions has not been as successful in Pennsylvania as it has been in states like Wisconsin. 

The website is loaded with plenty of reasons you just don't need the union. Liability insurance is "redundant" because the employer's coverage should take care of it (because when it's time for lawyers, you can count on the district to look out for teacher interests). Besides, you'll only need liability insurance if you commit a crime. And the union has to give you a lawyer for free anyway. If these folks can convince enough Pennsylvania teachers to be free riders, unions will weaken, losing both ability to negotiate for better local contracts and less ability to advocate for teachers and public education in Harrisburg (not to mention being hampered in providing that "free" legal representation free riders depend on). That's the goal here.

The good news, so far, is that the post-Janus apocalypse that many unions braced for has not actually happened, and actions by teachers in states like West Virginia have shown that even if you could disempower the union, teachers will find a way to push back if you push them too far. 

When you get the card, you'll see that Williams has provided a handy email address. Feel free to ask him about the time that he angrily gave back the raise that the union negotiated form him, or if, now that he's retired, he's planning on doing without that pension that the union won him (actually, he may be well enough paid that he doesn't need it). But at a minimum, you can safely throw your invitation to union in the trash. 

Because, look-- you will never find me serving as an unconditional cheerleader for PSEA, and local leadership can be a crapshoot. But if a teacher's plan is to depend on their own negotiating prowess to get a personal awesome contract, or they're just going to trust folks like the Kochs and the DeVos family to look out for their best interests--well, that's a bad plan. 

Friday, May 24, 2019

Betsy DeVos Lets Down Her Hair

You probably saw the quote from Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos equating US public education with Soviet East Germany. That was a good headline (and great clickbait), but it's worth it to go and take a look at the full context of that quote. This will be long, but I can't help it-- I find strolling through the inside of Betsy DeVos's head kind of fascinating. I'd love to have her come join me at the local coffee shop for an afternoon.

The occasion of the speech was a presentation to Young America's Foundation at the Reagan Ranch Center. Young America's Foundation was founded in 1969, and it is as conservative as can be-- it is one of the co-founders and forces behind the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). The organization bought the Reagan ranch "Rancho Del Cielo" in 1998 with the help of $10 million from Richard and Helen DeVos (Betsy's parent-in-laws).

So on this occasion DeVos was very much among her people, and we've seen in the past that these are the occasions on which she tends to let down her hair, stop playing to a wider audience, and let's her plutocrat flag fly.

She opens with a paean to YAF and Reagan, but she actually calls back to the group Young Americans for Freedom, founded 1959ish with a series of conversations in William F. Buckley's living room about what it means to be a conservative, resulting in the Sharon Statement (Young Americans for Freedom were eventually absorbed by Young America's Foundation) . That's a complicated topic on its own, as it represented a bit of a break with conservative thought at the time (which was struggling a bit with the not-terribly-popular Richard Nixon in the White House). The ideas of the Sharon Statement were carried into the 80s when all those college radicals grew up-- political freedom is inseparable from economic freedom, government should be limited and the Constitution revered, free market is best of all, communism must be defeated, and, my favorite, individual freedom and the right to govern come from God. If it has always seemed to you that folks like DeVos believe in a divine right of rule by rich free marketeers-- well, that didn't come from nowhere.

DeVos offers her own paraphrase, including that the free market produces the most prosperity and lifts the most people out of poverty. Curiously, "communism must be defeated" becomes "America must always win."

Reagan, she asserts, embodied these principles more than anybody, and she admires and tries to emulate his "sunny demeanor and eternal optimism." She locates Reagan in history much as I would expect someone of my generation (DeVos and I are about the same age). When we were teens, the US was still drafting young men to go to Vietnam for a war that looked more and more like a losing clusterflap. Nixon went to China and then blew up his Presidency in a scandal that seems quaint by modern standards. We headed off to college under Gerald Ford, who seemed like a nice guy who would just keep things quiet, and he was followed by Jimmy Carter who, God bless him, is a far better former President than he was a President. Carter was an engineer and a DC outsider, and couldn't get a damn thing done. The era of cheap gas ended, and government didn't fix it-- they just tried to manage it with rationing plans. And other countries around the world made us look like powerless chumps, from oil rich nations to the Iranians who held our people hostage. What we should have been learning was that the world was more complicated than we'd thought, but mostly the country just fell into an emotional slump.

DeVos says, "The malaise was real, but it didn't develop overnight," and I wonder if her young audience was puzzled by that, but my generation recognizes the reference to Jimmy Carter's speech about at US "crisis of confidence." That was the background against which Reagan, who had failed miserably in previous attempts, ran a successful Presidential campaign- oozing confidence and can-do and absolutely mastering the art of convincing the new brand of Sharon Statement conservatives that he was giving them what they wanted, when in fact if Reagan appeared today he would be driven out of the GOP for his flabby RINO policies. But that's a conversation for another day. Here's the part that DeVos still responds to-- and which shows one of the few connecting lines between Reagan and Trump:

The difference between East and West Germany—between tyranny and freedom—was stark. Communists, however, had conned too many in the West into thinking that there was no difference. That a nation without God was just as valid as one Nation under God. That we’d best learn to “coexist.” That they would never be defeated.

But Reagan said, no. “We win, they lose.”

She points to the rubble of the Berlin Wall as a sign of Reaganesque triumph, and that sets uip her pivot. There's another wall that needs to be torn down, old and "devastating" to those who live on the wrong side of it. It's a wall in education that keeps too many students from learning.

It separates wealthy, powerful, or well-connected students from those who aren’t wealthy, powerful, or well-connected. They have about as much education freedom in America today as East Germans had freedom to do anything back then.

Too many students are up against another “empire”—governments, unions, associations of this, and organizations of that. It’s an education cabal that protects the status quo at the expense of just about everyone else.

This is half of a good analogy. She is correct about the separation between the wealthy well-connected and those who are not. But her preferred solution-- vouchers and choice-- does not destroy the wall. It does not send resources to the people living on the non-wealthy side of the wall. Vouchers give a select few permission to travel over the wall. Charter choice systems allow people from the wealthy side of the wall to go set up schools on the poor side-- again, for a select few. Voucher and choice are a bad solution precisely because they don't break the wall down or bring equity to life on the two sides of the wall.

The status quo problem here is not the evil empire. It's the wall, erected by the wealthy to make sure that everyone else on the other side stays in their proper place. And vouchers and choice are lousy solutions precisely because they are "solutions" crafted so as not to disturb the status quo of that wall of wealth.

But DeVos instead is going to paint pretty much everyone as part of an evil cabal.

She invokes A Nation at Risk, the report that the Reagan administration ginned up to create a sense of crisis about education. And next she moves on to the price tag.

We've spent a trillion dollars at the federal level on education. What did we get for it? An unnamed Stanford and Harvard study, she says, shows that for fifty years "all the additional spending did nothing to improve the gulf in student achievement between those with freedom and those without." Even without specifics, this is meaningless-- the measure is unclear but probably a standardized test, and a thousand variables are also in play, particularly if you understand that "freedom" here mostly means "money."

But DeVos wants to renew the call-- "we are a nation at greater risk." More government is not the solution, "Yet like a broken record, sycophants of 'the system' insist otherwise." (Sycophants of the System sounds positively Agnewesque, but it would make a great band name.) But now DeVos (or her speechwriter) are fully wound up and ready for battle.

Well, our strategy is this: students win, they lose.

What an odd notion-- that teachers and unions and the vast system of people who work in public education with not a great deal of pay are all an evil force that must be defeated, that in order for students to be educated, all these other folks must lose. And really-- lose what? But DeVos is on a roll.

Students are going to win with freedom.

Freedom from government, because DC has a "stranglehold" on America's students, "starting with all the social engineering from the previous administration." This goes straight to the heart of the DeVosian style worldview-- society should have order with people in their proper place, and attempts to mess with that natural order are "social engineering," an attempt to mess with how things are supposed to be. So all those things like an office of civil rights are a bad thing. All those protections that DeVos has rolled back for various groups of non-straight non-white students are, in her mind, an attempt to mess with the natural order of things.

How exactly that is a "stranglehold" on America's students doesn't make much sense unless you mean wealthy white males who are being forced to put up with all these other people who are not in their proper place, or perhaps those no-white non-straight non-male students who are being robbed of their right to prove that they deserve to be with the Betters (or not). For them, I guess, DeVos is going to keep pulling back on "staggering regulatory overreaches" including Title IX. And she's not going to make any new rules ever, because "family is the first school" and the system is supposed to serve them. As always, DeVos will not even pretend to see the issues that might arise when the system, or some portion of it, does not serve a family well. Did a private school refuse to serve the needs of your family because you're black? Don't expect DeVos to start socially engineering things on your behalf.

And then there's this newly minted talking point that reformsters keep pushing:

So, let’s stop and rethink the definition of public education. Today, it’s often defined as one-type of school, funded by taxpayers, controlled by government. But if every student is part of “the public,” then every way and every place a student learns is ultimately of benefit to “the public.” That should be the new definition of public education.

Yes, DeVos isn't going to be making new regulations or "meddling in matters properly left to communities and to families," but she is going to redefine words. By this reasoning, McDonalds is a public restaurant. Public education is facilities that are owned and operated by the public, which serves all the public, and which are accountable to the public.

She's also going to push her Education Freedom Scholarship voucher program. She says it won't create a new federal program or grow the federal government, which I guess comes close to being true if her intention is for the program to operate without any oversight whatsoever. It will of course blow a $5 billion dollar hole in the federal budget, but if we squint and pretend it didn't happen, maybe we can just stick the states with the tab for this.

All students should be free. Multiple pathways. Lifelong learning and freedom are inseparable. And students have many opportunities thanks to an "on-fire economy."

Are you still here? Good-- because DeVos is now going to explain what's wrong with society today. Also, after breezing past the cognitive dissonance that must come from holding images of Reagan and her present boss ("sunny demeanor and eternal optimism" indeed), DeVos will now peg the cognitive dissonance meter:

Learning is the pursuit of truth, but students are often told there is no such thing as truth. Acknowledging it means certain feelings or certain ideas could be wrong. It is much more comfortable to say: “there is no truth. There’s nothing that could challenge what we want to believe.”

But learning isn’t about feeling comfortable. It’s about thinking. And it’s a willingness to engage with any and all ideas—even ones with which you disagree or ones that aren’t your own.

Truth can be pursued, and it can be known. All students need the freedom to learn it.

And people say she's dumb. So there is an absolute Truth and it can be known, but you have to be willing to engage with ideas that you disagree with, but if you know the Truth, why would you? Has DeVos ever shown an inclination to engage with ideas that she disagrees with, or does she prefer to label people with those ideas as a "cabal" and "sycophants of the system"?

And then there's this:

Ultimately, our education freedom agenda is about acknowledging that each of us is ennobled with a unique purpose and unique talents to fulfill it. We all need the freedom to discover and develop our abilities and aspirations—and then, to do something constructive with them… for ourselves, our families, our communities, and for our country.

This doesn't sound bad, but it's important to understand that it's completely consistent with a Bettercrat view of the world-- that each of has a purpose and while my purpose might be to inherit billions of dollars, your purpose might be to polish the hubcaps on my car quietly and without making eye contact with me, and if we all just find our place and know our place and settle comfortably into our place and not try to social engineer our way out of our place, then the world will work smoothly as God wants it to

DeVos wraps it up by evoking Reagan's "city on a hill" which is of course John Winthrop's "city on a hill" which is a primary text for American exceptionalism, the notion that we really are better-- well, at least some of us are. And DeVos has disavowed racism, and that's typical Berttercrat as well-- any person of any race or religion (or at least a couple of them) could turn out to have the Better qualities that let them rise above their place, but they have to have the chance to prove themselves and that means none of that social engineering so that they can prove that they can win playing by our rules (which are, of course, God's rules and the only True correct rules).

And it does come back to winning. Because if you have the Truth, then the people who see things differently must be either stupid or selfishly evil and deliberately pursuing Wrong. So there's no need to talk to them or engage with them or especially try to understand why they see things differently from a different point of view-- you just have to defeat them. And if you are Betsy DeVos, it must seem as if there are oh so many of them, everywhere, all the time, and it must be a great relief to sit in a room with folks who understand the Truth.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

OH: Union Reps Fired By Turnaround CEO

Lorain City Schools is one of the three Ohio districts that has been subjected to HB 70, a takeover law that replaces both the school board and the superintendent with a single all-powerful CEO. You can get the background of Lorain's troubles here, and see what has been happening in the fight against HB 70 here.

The short form for Lorain is this: HB 70 is a terrible piece of law, calling for a CEO who is knowledgeable and competent in every single aspect of school management, from teacher assignment to bus schedules, and this super-competent person has to be able to run every aspect of the district while building relationships with all the local folks who are still smarting from having the state strip all of their local power.

Location of my first teaching job
So let's start by accepting that nobody is going to be able to do this job well. But Lorain won some sort of reverse lottery, and got CEO David Hardy, Jr., who is especially not good at this job. Hardy's background is Teach for America and charter schools. I've reached out to someone who worked with him previously, and they suggest that he doesn't take criticism well, nor does he much care for teachers. That's just one person-- but nothing about his history in Lorain suggests otherwise. He has refused to move his family to Lorain, has refused to meet with the elected school board, and has not established positive working relationships with any of Lorain's civic authorities. At one point he told teachers (and the media) that all teachers at some schools would have to re-apply for their jobs. Then a few days later, he had changed his mind.

Hardy has brought in "turnaround principals" and other administrators whose background is also primarily Teach for America. Several turned out to not even have the proper certification for working as building administrators, and in some cases raise serious questions about their qualifications for the job-- the principal hired for the middle school apparently had only a certification to teach preschool through third grade. One parent who was involved in the interview process called the entire hiring procedure "a façade."

Current administrative offices
I've talked to teachers from the district who describe an atmosphere of threats, harassment and intimidation. If you talk about me, I'll sue you. Use Study Island or else. Nobody's going to look at your evaluation-- you have to get on board.

That last one turns out to be true.

This morning's Chronicle-Telegram (a newspaper that has worked overtime to follow the ongoing mess) reports that several members of Lorain's teachers union have been given the ax.

All the teacher affected were non-tenured, and HB 70 gives the CEO the power to hire and fire at will. But there was no hint that this was coming:

First-grade teacher Ashley Krausher is one of the teachers whose contracts were not renewed Wednesday. She said she has taught at Admiral King seven years — two as a student teacher and the past five as a full-time, licensed teacher.

She received an overall rating of “skilled” for this year on May 1 — the second-highest ranking a teacher can receive. Of the two first-grade classrooms at the building, her class was the only one that passed the opinion writing student learning objective, which is meant to measure the effectiveness of a teacher based on student achievement. She said she also passed the state’s Resident Educator Summative Assessment “with flying colors.”

Krausher had actually been recommended for tenure by her principal. This had been her first year as a union building rep.

Union president Jay Pickering told the Chronicle that none of the affected teachers (nobody seems to know exactly how many there are at this point) had received a low rating in their evaluation.

The union has been busy this year-- when you have problems like administrators trashing teachers on social media, random and inconsistent enforcement and rewriting of policy, and all the other problems with having amateur hour in the front office, building reps have a lot of unhappy members to represent. Hardy and his team have been described as having a sense of entitlement, of feeling invincible, of believing that they don't have to answer to anyone-- and that last part is not wrong. The mostly-state-appointed oversight committee (academic distress commission) is supposed to evaluate the CEO regularly, and now, a couple of years in, Hardy still has not been evaluated. Outside of that review, HB 70 says that the all-powerful CEO really doesn't answer to anyone-- another reason the law should go.

At any rate, are folks like that going to take kindly to handling issues raised by the union?

I spoke to another of the teachers who has been non-renewed. Two weeks ago she was given her evaluation (late) and it was fine. A week later she was given her teaching assignment for next year. Last Saturday she filed a grievance regarding the general mess that had been made of her evaluation. On Tuesday, the last day for students, in the final minutes of the day, she was called to the office where she was handed a letter, signed by Hardy, informing her that she would not be renewed.

Amateur hour. Bad Administration 101 teaches that when you want to fire a teacher for some dumb, petty reason, you create some sort of semi-plausible cover story. Nothing has been offered here, other than sending harassing emails about (I swear I am not making this up, and I have no reason to believe the teacher is, either) failing to complete the Bloodborne Pathogens online training and not signing out properly at the end of the year.

The odds that the CEO and his staff will be facing an unfair labor practices charge seem high. Meanwhile, the Ohio Senate needs to decide if they will accept the House's budget language, which includes a complete repeal of HB 70-- including for the cities where it's going on.

Could things get worse in Lorain (where the board declared a state of emergency back in February). They could indeed, because the teachers union contract runs out on July 31 of this year, and David Hardy doesn't strike me as a man with a gift for negotiation. And HB 70 gives him one other power-- the power to declare the district hopeless and then hand it over to charter operators.

Here's some of what Hardy had to say when he went to the capitol to defend HB 70:

I rarely, if ever, directly respond to criticism from angry individuals who have suffered the feeling of accountability and the lack of power to wield their continued oppression on young people and the people care deeply about educating them.

If you want to catch more of his condescension and his sense that he has to come to this frickin' place because these frickin' people are some combination of evil and stupid, there's this TFA profile. But here's the thing. Even if Lorain's former board was the most dysfunctional in the world. Even if Lorain City Schools were a terrible mess, requiring substantive change and redirection. Even if the staff was filled with incompetents who were in education for an easy buck and couldn't care less about the students. Even if all those things were true, this would not be the way to fix it. Hardy and his team are like folks who pull up to a smoking dumpster and decide to fix the dumpster by throwing kerosene on it and then driving over it with a loaded cement mixer. Maybe it had some real problems before. Maybe it didn't. But it sure has problems now.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

OH: Do Charters Need The Freedom To Hire Great Teachers?

If there's one thing that charter school advocates never run out of, it's arguments about why charter schools should get to ignore some of the rules of education.

Fordham Institute's blog, Ohio Division, recently ran a piece in this genre, written by Jessica Poiner-- "Give charter schools the freedom to hire great teachers."

Poiner graduated from Baldwin-Wallace University with a BA in English (perfectly nice school--my niece graduated from BW) in  2011, then put in her two Teach for America years in Shelby County, including seven months as a teacher leadership coach (we talk a lot about how five weeks of training don't prepare you for the classroom, but we should talk more about TFA's notion that a year or so in a classroom qualifies you as an educational leader). She put a year in Tennessee's ill-fated Achievement School District. That positioned her to join Fordham as an Education Policy Analyst in 2014, where she's been working since.

Poiner has several parts of her plea for relief of the helpless charter industry.

More Warm Bodies, Please

The foundation of this discussion involves some arcane bits of Ohio teacher certification. One of the less-noted features of ESSA (the newest batch of federal education law) was that it scrapped the "highly qualified" requirement of No Child Left Behind and replaced it with basically whatever the state wanted to define as properly certified. If you go through a traditional teacher prep program, you get a regular certificate and all is hunky dory. But if you came to the classroom through alternative means, you get a long-term substitute license to hold you over until you complete your proper education education (this, in fact, is how I entered the profession forty years ago).

Under NCLB, that long-term sub license was considered, somehow, enough to count a teacher as highly qualified. But under SB 216, the Ohio Department of Ed says your long-term license doesn't count. If you are on your way to a proper certificate, that really shouldn't be a problem. But if you are, say, a Teach for America person who has no intention of actually pursuing a teaching career, it could be an issue. And if you are a charter that depends heavily on TFA and other temps to staff your school, it could be a real issue. According to Poiner, the Ohio budget is poised to fix this by saying basically that charter teachers don't have to be certified.

So Poiner opens her post about how charters need the freedom to hire great teachers by expressing her hope that the state will give charters the freedom to hire people who aren't teachers at all. Poiner cites some bad research (I just don't have time to travel down that rabbit hole right now) to back up the assertion that certification doesn't necessarily matter, and then, referring to the proposed elimination of credential requirements, writes what I have to assume is a Freudian typo-- "there are few reasons why that's a good idea." And I agree-- I can think of no reasons that letting any warm body play teacher would be a good idea, but since she starts to list reasons, I'm guessing she meant "there are A few reasons." Mind you, I am not here to critique her typing-- she'll be a very old typing person by the time she catches up with me in the maladaptive typography department-- I'm just trying to be clear about where she's going.

Autonomy in exchange for accountability

This has always been a great slogan, but I'm not sure how charter advocates in Ohio deliver it with a straight face. Again, not going on a big side trip, but let's pick a single example-- ECOT, the Ohio online charter that went on for years defrauding Ohio taxpayers and using all manner of shenanigans to avoid being held accountable. Or the Horizon chain, which is linked to the Concept chain, allegedly part of the Gulen network of charters.

Yes, Ohio does hold charters to some standards that all states ought to, like state report cards. Ohio does have an automatic closure law that forces charters with too many bad report cards to close-- except that by 2013 it was already obvious that the law was rendered ineffective by its loopholes. Poiner assures us that "persistently low-performing schools don't stick around indefinitely," so, therefor, they should be allowed more hiring "flexibility." After all, she points out, charters can fire teachers quickly, without any of that "due process" baloney, a point that as worth noting as we move on to her next argument...

Competing for talent

A Fordham survey of charter school leaders showed that many struggle to find good teaching candidates, and they blame that on the pay. That's because the state doesn't give them enough money to allow them to offer competitive salaries.

There are a couple of problems with this argument. First, if charters are having trouble finding the money to pay teachers, they might try looking at their administrative budgets. Here, for instance, is the EdVantages non-profit that pays its management team over $400K-- far more than comparable public school superintendents with comparable student loads. This is consistent with study after study after study that shows charters spending more money on administration than a typical public school system-- waaaay more money if you figure it on a cost-per-pupil basis. And then there's all the taxpayer money that charters spend on advertising.

So when Poiner writes "Low teacher pay is a direct result of the state's inequitable charter school funding," she is being disingenuous. Most charters have plenty more money-- they just aren't spending it on teachers.

I'm so old that I can remember when charter school advocates pitched their privatization plans by touting their ability to do more with less. "Charters will save the state and the taxpayers money," they declared. Oh, those were the days. Nowadays, charteristas sing a different tune-- "We should get more money. We deserve more money. We need more money. Give us more money." (I'm paraphrasing.)

But competing for talent isn't all about money. That total lack of job security thing? Not an attractive quality. "We reserve the right to fire you at any time for any reason" is not a competitive recruiting tool in the education world (which may be why over the years there's been so much reform emphasis on trying to force public schools to take the same stance).

Charters are supposed to be a field dominated by hardnosed business people who understand how the free market works, but as with bosses in the private sector, somehow their understanding of free market mechanics stops when it comes to labor costs. If charters want more high quality teachers, they need to make their jobs more appealing-- not just monetarily, but in terms of security and professional respect and autonomy. Charters are notorious in the teacher world for giving staff little or no say in how the school works, or even in how their own classroom will work. "You will do things our way, every day, and follow the script we give you exactly," is, again, not an appealing pitch.

Who is it appealing to? Charter operators, because under- or un-qualified worker bees are cheap. They settle for low pay, lousy benefits, and aren't even thinking about a pension. One big reason that charters would like to be freed from any requirement to hire qualified personnel is the same reason that McBurger joints want the minimum wage to stay low and would absolute fight any requirement that their cooks be actual trained chefs.

Charters have been around long enough to develop a well-earned reputation for being, on the whole, lousy places to work. If charters want to attract better teachers, they will need to address that issue. But Poiner's argument here is that since charters can't attract the really good teachers, they should be given more flexibility in hiring whatever warm bodies they can get their hands on.

Attracting better charter networks

Poiner says gosh, we have some fine charter networks in Ohio, but we need to attract more out-of-state network's too, and that means making Ohio into a "more attractive market." See, now we're not even pretending to talk about education-- we need to get some more of these businesses in here by fixing the rules so that they can make more money.

Two things I notice here. Poiner calls strictly for charter networks. We're past the point of talking mom-and-pop charter schools, and we're past the point of talking about teacher-led charters (no, former TFA temps don't count). It's strictly big business now, and that means the notion that it would be a good idea to have Ohio children educated in a school run by a board that meets in some other state. There is not even an attempt here to paper over the features of charters that opponents object to. Corporate privatization of public education. Loss of local control. It's all good.

The second thing I'll note is that we've made it to the end of this piece, and somehow it has never come up once that Fordham Institute has a financial stake in all of this business. But Fordham is an Ohio charter school authorizer with a whole portfolio of buckeye charter schools. So this whole piece is not unlike an article entitled "More people should receive grants to buy cars" written by a rep from the Ford Motor Company.

Searching for warm bodies

Poiner wraps up with this plea:

To be clear, exempting charters from certification or licensure requirements wouldn’t result in a free for all. Teachers would still need college degrees, be subject to background checks, and, importantly, have to answer for the performance of their students on state tests and report cards. It merely maintains charters’ freedom to hire nontraditional teachers and assign them to a wider range of grade levels and subject areas. 

In other words, please let charters keep hiring TFA temps. As long as the test scores are good, what else matters? What else do the taxpayers of Ohio want from their schools other than good test scores?

Do Ohio charters need the freedom to hire great teachers? Who exactly has taken  that freedom from them? They have made some choices about how to use the taxpayer money they're given, and they've made some choices about the working conditions for professionals in their school, and now they are facing the consequences of those choices-- choices that they freely made. The headline to this piece is an exercise in whiplash irony. What Poiner is arguing for is not the freedom to hire great teachers, but the freedom to hire any kind of warm body they can get their hands on and stick in a classroom, arguing that the charter oversight and accountability that have failed Ohio so far will somehow keep the teacher quality high.

My advice to Ohio charters is the same as it has been to everyone in education whining about a teacher "shortage"-- if you want to hire good teachers, offer a good job with good pay under good conditions in a good atmosphere. Ohio charters already have all the freedom they need to do that. What they'd really like is the freedom to make a charter more like a McDonalds, staffed by easily replaced meat widgets. It isn't great for students, but it's awesome for that bottom line.