Sunday, June 30, 2019

ICYMI: Now Where Was I Edition (6/30)

Last week I was on an actual vacation, so I'm still getting back up to speed. Here's what I've got for you to read on  this muggy Sunday.

Michigan's School Choice Mess

Jennifer Berkshire took a road trip to Michigan for the Have You Heard podcast, to see what she could learn about the choice system, the local love for DeVos, and the implication for the nation as a whole. This episode focuses on the inter-district choice system they have out there.

Why Many School Districts Are Being Set Up For Fiscal Failure  

Jeff Bryant takes a look at how some systems have been financially gutted. Good reporting here.

What If Teachers Didn't Focus On Individual Achievement

Some really interesting thoughts about how to use a classroom to lift up a community.

Are Today's Children Developmentally Different  

This is a classic from Nancy Bailey that was making the rounds again this week. Still an important read.

AltSchool Finally Bites Dust  

The high tech personalized learning boutique charter chain has finally devolved into the software company it was always destined to be.

What Actually Helps Poor Students

Another article from a few years back. A meta-study about what actually helps students achieve and-- surprise-- it's not computer software.

Things Education Reformers Still Don't Understand About Tests

Jersey Jazzman lays out in plain English some of the fallacies worked into reformer "news" about test results.

Chalkbeat and TFA Propaganda

Chalkbeat Tennessee published a horrendous piece of TFA-as-savior baloney, and Gary Rubenstein is here to pick it apart.

New Koch and Walton Backed Initiatives  

EdWeek reports on some new players in the reformster advocacy game. Forewarned is forearmed.

About That Marshmallow Test

Another study debunks the famous delayed gratification experiment.

Pay for Success Preys On The Poor

A direct and clear explanation of how some see the pay for success movement turning the poor into financial fodder in the surveillance state.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

DeVos Backs Corporate Profits Again

If there is one signature feature of a DeVos doctrine, it's that the government should never, ever stand between a business and its revenue stream.

That part of the doctrine was on display yesterday as DeVos officially announced her intention to let for-profit colleges do whatever the hell they want. Okay, that may be an overstatement. What she actually did was roll back the Obama-era requirement that such schools either show that their graduates actually land jobs, or the school would lose access to all that sweet sweet federal money. That was a powerful piece of leverage, because the for-profit colleges focus on veterans and poor folks with the result that a great deal of the for profit college revenue stream comes from the feds, who loan to the students and pay off the schools, guaranteeing that the for-profits get paid and that the students are in hock to the feds.

Rolling back Obama-era protections is problematic because the Obama administration itself did a super-lousy job of riding herd on these predatory schools. At one point, having announced that they were now by golly going to clamp down those outfits, they turned around and bailed out one of the worst. Then, when that outfit collapsed anyway, the feds let them be sold off to a debt-collection agency.

It was after all that foolishness that the administration finally implemented a gainful employment rule. This was also followed by  students scammed by the for-profit agitating to be released from their debts. The Department of Justice requested that the Department of Education simply release the portion of that debt that they held; they refused.

All of that happened before Trump ever descended the escalator to unleash havoc on US politics; it's only fair to note that this is, in many ways, a mess that DeVos inherited and which the Obama administration never exactly showed signs of fixing.

Last week, DeVos was sued--again--by a boatload of students stranded in massive debt. The student position is that they were defrauded and their loans should be forgiven.

DeVos's position about loan forgiveness has been to simply pretend to lose all the paperwork and never process any of the requests to have loans erased. Having ignored the rules for two years, DeVos last year tried to get rid of them, and this week she finally did it.

The USED position is that a combination of transparency (defined as "a  government website that students will have to find and decipher on their own") and caveat emptor is the solution to all of this (though presumably the almost-200,000 debt-loaded students asking for forgiveness will also need a time machine to get any use out of the transparency).

The repeal of the rule will take effect in 2020, and it will remove any sort of useful consequence for for-profit misbehavior. It's perfectly in line with the DeVos doc trine, which says that the government should not interfere in any meaningful way with a business trying to fleece its customers make a profit by marketing baloney offering a service. Since the moment she sat in front of te Senate confirmation hearing, DeVos has been consistent in expressing that she has no intention of putting the protection of students and "customers" ahead of the interests of businesses. This is just more of the same. Ka-ching.

Eight Weeks of Summer: Leaders and Followers

This post is week 3 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators.

This post will catch me up on this little project. It's an interesting piece of teacher sharing and is also turning out to be a nice antidote to political overload. As always, I'm answering the prompt on behalf of the younger, pre-retirement version of me.

How are you both a leader and a follower in your career?

Of course, every teacher is a leader in her own classroom. But stick around the same building long enough and you can become a leader in other ways. Not that there are tons of leadership opportunities formally given to teachers. Sure, you can be appointed by administration to "The Committee To Implement Any Solution It Likes As Long As It's The Solution Administration Wants" or "The Committee To Create Cool Documents That Nobody Will Ever Read." But somehow, those aren't very exciting.

It's more common, I think, for teachers to grow into unofficial roles, so that you become The Person to see about particular problems and solutions. You can become the person whose judgment other teachers trust on certain edu-matters. In my case, I stuck around that I became The Only Person Who Remembers How And Why We've Always Done That.

But the big problem with teacher leadership roles is that there's hardly any role you can take, any piece of power you can have, that administration can't strip instantly. E.G. I was on a committee that was tasked with leading implementation of PLCs in our school-- until administration decided they wanted different things and suddenly we were not leading a thing.

You might argue that this blogging thing has become a sort of leadership role, but I'm not sure that's accurate. I feel more like a resource than a leader.

Followers matter. There's a whole field of study around the idea of first followers-- that an outside the box innovator is just one crazy guy in left field until a first follower shows up to start a crowd. I've been a first follower a few times, saying, "Hey, look at this. Let's all listen up."

But in the  formal institutional sense, I've worked for very few leaders-- mostly I've just had bosses, and I'm a lousy follower of bosses. I can mimic compliance with the best of them, though I got pretty lousy at  it in the final few years-- but that's not following. Teaching is not a very followy profession-- we're usually just out there breaking trail on our own. So I'll be interested to see what types of following turned up  on this third of eight weeks. (Remember, you can use the hashtag #8WeeksOfSummer to track down all the posts people are writing for this challenge).

Eight Weeks Of Summer: Influences

This post is week 2 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators.

Well, actually, I'm a week late because I was on vacation where the mosquitoes are stronger than the wifi. But I'm going to stick with the exercise anyway, because I find it interesting.

Here's the Week #2 prompt. As always, I'll answer for my previous pre-retirement self.

What has contributed to the educator you are today?

I'm going to skip over some of the obvious factors, like former teachers who had a profound impact on me, and writers about education who directly affected my thinking about classroom and content. Those are all hugely important, but I think we too often think of the growth of a teacher as a linear progression, that proto-teachers learn from teachers and read about teacher things and take teacher classes and that all leads directly to who they are as a teacher. 

That's fine, but I think there's way more to it than that. Teaching is highly personal work, and it's simply impossible to teach effectively without bringing who you are as a person into the classroom. That doesn't mean teachers should be unprofessional ("My boyfriend dumped me last night, so we're not going to have class today"), but it does mean that all the other things we are matter when we hit the room.

So here are what some of those factors are for me.

Student teaching. Yes, I know what I just said. But for me it wasn't just the pedagogical and content aspects of student teaching; it's that I came from a mostly white small town background and student taught in Cleveland Heights with rooms of almost entirely non-white students. It was a clear signal that there were many things that I didn't have a clue about that I needed to have clues about.

Performing. Mind you, I am not an extrovert, not a stage guy. But I've been playing music my whole life up in front of audiences, and that turned out to be hugely integral to my classroom work. In particular, learning to read the room and sense whether you're doing great or bombing.

And while I have done a lot of different types of performing (three hours of oompah-band for a slightly sloppy Oktoberfest crowd, anyone), my heart has always been in traditional jazz. And here's the thing about jazz-- you need a plan, a beat, a progression of chords, a sense of where you and the people you're playing with are going, but if you have a precise note-for-note plan, you're just sucking the life out of it. If you aren't free and flexible enough to respond to the moment, then you're missing the very best parts, the whole point. That is teaching.

Likewise, I've spent a lot of time directing theater, both music and stage, and that idea-- that you need a direction and a sense of the bigger thing that you're  part of, but you also have to be open to respond and collaborate-- it's there, too. And when you're in charge, you cannot try to micro-manage every second of your cast's performance.

Phone bank. I've written before about my time as a catalog phone order taker. I was lousy at the job, and it underlined for me a lot about the cost of having to show up and do poorly at something day after day. It affected how I treated my lower-performing students.

Marriage, divorce, singlehood, marriage. My own relationship struggles were useful in connecting to the issues of my students and their families. Likewise, parenting made a difference. Not that I'm advocating doing any of these things to build your teaching tool box.  Nor do I suggest that you share the play by play with your students. Just that even these very personal experiences can do a great deal toward building your classroom toolbox.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Dear Teachers: Don't Make Your Lesson Relevant

When I was getting my teacher training way back in the 1970s, we used to hear a great deal about making our teaching relevant. It took me several years of teaching to figure out why that was terrible advice. And it hasn't ever gone away.
It seems to make sense. Connect your lesson on parts of speech to a current popular song. Assign persuasive essays about something the kids are into today. Could we do an essay about the rap? I hear that teens very much like the rap these days.
Looks tall to me.
But the problem is not teachers who are clueless about what a relevant connection might be. That's correctable (I still want back the hours of my life I spent watching The Hills so that I could follow student discussions). The problem is less obvious than the natural consequences of living on the other side of the generational divide.
Nobody says, "Let's think of a way to make mountains tall." And if your spouse says, "I'm looking for ways to make you interesting and appealing," that is not a good sign.
Once you look at a lesson and ask, "How am I going to make this material relevant," you have admitted that the material is not actually relevant. If that's true--if the lesson is inherently irrelevant--then you need to ask a bigger question. Why are you teaching it at all? Because it's on the test? Because your boss said you have to? These are lousy reasons to teach anything. More importantly, no amount of stapling on pictures of movie stars will convince your students that you aren't wasting their time, and wasting students' time is one of the unforgivable sins in the teaching biz.
Know why you are teaching what you're teaching. Know why the material has value for your students. This is not always obvious, but this is where your expertise in the subject matter is supposed to come in. You're the teacher--you're supposed to know what the connection is between your content material and the business of being fully human in the world. If you don't see a connection, you need to go study and look to find it, or you need to reconsider whether you should be teaching it at all.Those connections don't need to be profound. For instance, I maintain that one of the benefits of being a well-educated person is that you get more jokes. Education makes the world funnier. Some disciplines are about building mental muscles. When I inevitably heard the "when are we ever going to use this" question, my reply was a sports analogy. Our football players always spent the offseason lifting weights, even though no football game in history ever stopped for a bench press competition. The players are never going to use their bench pressing skills, so why bother? Because they would use the muscles that weight lifting built.
Literature connects us to the human attempt to make sense of how the world works (a daily activity for students). The questions of history (What happened, how did it happen, why did it happen, and what will happen because of it) are the same questions that students ask about last Saturday's dance. Math and science help us understand how to build and evaluate facts. We all bathe in the arts every single day. And there is plenty more to unpack about what teachers teach in school. And while students may seem caught up in small, petty things, they are deeply busy figuring out how the world works and how to be in it. There's your connection.
It is easy to get caught up in the details, to miss the forest as we stare at the bugs on the leaves on the branches on the trees. It is easy to get caught up in figuring out how to get another question on a worksheet and forget to ask why you're assigning the worksheet in the first place. This is why part of the summer work of teaching should be not just stepping back and reconnecting with the material, but reconnecting with life out in the world where students live so that we can better see the connections between the two.
"Why are we learning this?" is the question that no teacher should ever be afraid or unable to answer because the answer to that question is the foundation of everything else that happens in the classroom. That's why the answer should always be real and well-considered, not just something we make up.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Five Reasons School Takeovers Fail

At the May 22 meeting of the Florida State Board of Education meeting, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and some board members expressed frustration with the state of Duval County Schools. "At what point do you say, ‘Maybe we should put them in receivership. Maybe we should have legislation that allows us to go over there and take over,’ ” he said.
Meanwhile, Ohio is trying to come to grips with a spectacularly failing takeover policy, but progress in the legislature has hit a snag. The House passed a bill that would do away with Ohio's current takeover structure and create a new way for districts to respond to problems-- they've even incorporated the language into the budget. But the Ohio Senate has its own ideas about replacing the school state takeover bill with--another school state takeover bill, featuring a special state "transformation" board.
Since policy writers and thinky tanks first started pushing the idea of identifying "failing" schools, the search has been on for a way to fix those schools. A popular choice has been the school takeover model, where the state strips the local school district of authority and then waves some sort of magic wand to make things better.
The Obama administration used School Improvement Grants as a tool, offering federal funds to schools that were "failing," but those funds came with very strict rules about how they could be used. This is a good example of the Takeover By Puppetry model, in which the local officials are left in place, but they are only allowed to make certain government-approved moves or must only implement consultant-approved steps. The SIG program spent in the neighborhood of $7 billion. USED's own report found that it "had no significant impacts on math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment."
The more direct takeover approach has also been tried. Tennessee formed the Achievement School District; in this model, the state takes control of "failing schools" and lumps them into a state-run district. The initial promise was that schools from the bottom 5% would be catapulted into the top 25%. After a few years, they were not even close to achieving their, so they rewrote the goal. The head of the ASD moved on to another job. Versions of the ASD have been tried in several states and in cities (e.g. Philadelphia) and in almost all cases, they've been rolled back or shut down because they cost a lot of money and achieve few worthwhile results.
At this point, school takeover is one of those ed reform techniques that has been tested enough times that there's no longer any mystery about whether or not it works. Mostly it doesn't. Here are the most common reasons that takeovers don't turn a problem school into an oasis of success.
1) The Wrong Measure of Failure
How are we going to decide which schools are in need of taking over? The most common answer is by standardized test scores--which is a lousy answer. This bad definition is important because it biases the process in favor of bad solutions. A school may have a hundred problems, but if all we're focused on is the test scores, too may real problems will be unaddressed. Worse, many important elements of children's education will be swept aside to make room for more test prep--the exact opposite of what students in struggling schools need. This is like calling AAA because you're stranded beside the road with three flat tires, a busted radiator, an empty gas tank, and failing brakes--and AAA sends someone to wax the car.
2) The Wrong Diagnosis
Takeover programs focus on school governance. The thesis of a takeover is that the school board, the administration, and probably the teachers, are the root of all the problems at the school. If we just take them out of the way and replace them with shinier people, then everything will just fall into place. Somehow, all these people who work in the district either don't know how to raise test scores, or they just don't care. Resources for the district, issues in the community, systemic lack of support for the school, poverty--none of that is on the table. The belief is that when the old bureaucracy (including unions) is swept away and replaced, preferably by a visionary CEO type who will whip the troops into shape, then everything will run so much better. Often the unspoken premise is, "If we could just run these schools like charter schools..." Here's what Chris Barbic, who was supposed to be the visionary CEO of the Tennessee ASD, said as he was leaving the job:
Let’s just be real: achieving results in neighborhood schools is harder than in a choice environment.  I have seen this firsthand at YES Prep and now as the superintendent of the ASD.  As a charter school founder, I did my fair share of chest pounding over great results. I’ve learned that getting these same results in a zoned neighborhood school environment is much harder.
3) The Wrong Pool of Expertise
Another premise of state takeovers is that somebody in the state capital knows more about how to educate the students in that district than the people who live in that district, that some career politician knows more about running a school than a career educator. The level of arrogance here is Grand Canyon caliber; the takeover model almost never includes a step in which the takeover expert sits down with local folks and says, "You guys know the community, the students, the history here, so I need to listen to you to understand where we are." On occasion he goes through those motions, much like the corporate boss who holds meetings about a decision he's already made because he heard somewhere that's how you get "buy in."
Lorain, Ohio, is a too-typical example. CEO David Hardy is a Teach for America alumnus with a grand total of two years spent in a classroom. Since then he's worked in a variety of education related jobs, but never stayed in one job longer than three years. To even imagine that takeovers have a hope of succeeding, one must imagine takeover bosses who are education experts, who know more than anyone already in the district could possibly know. Who are these education management superstars, and where have they been hiding all these years if not in perfectly good jobs that they have no reason to leave? Too often, takeovers elevate educational amateurs to power they don't know how to use. The newly proposed Senate model sets up a $20 million gravy train for state-approved outside consultants; is there any reason at all to assume these consultants have the necessary expertise?
As for charters, if they did in fact know the secret sauce for school achievement, we'd all have heard about it by now (and some charter operators would be getting rich packaging it). But charters don't know anything that public education folks don't; the secret sauce is more time, more money, and fewer students who don't fit the school's mold.
4) The Wrong Motivation
Too often, school takeover is about turning a public school over to a private charter operator. Former House Speaker Corcoran (whose wife works in the charter sector) reportedly seems miffed that the Duval County Superintendent is unwilling to bring in consultants and/or charters to fix up her schools. The proposed Ohio Senate bill, which switches the state from hard takeovers to puppet-style takeovers, was crafted by a committee that includes representatives of the business sector, a think tank that does charter authorizing business in Ohio, and some other ed reform advocates.
Some systems are stacked in favor of keeping the takeover pipeline flowing. Tennessee used a popular definition of "worst schools" which is "those who score in the bottom 5%." This guarantees a perpetual source of takeover schools, because no matter how your state is doing, someone is always in the bottom 5%. School takeovers can be about a sincere desire to intervene in a troubled district, but they can also be about exploiting a manufactured crisis that cracks open an attractive market for those who want to make money from privatization.
5) The Wrong Timetable
Even if a takeover has settled on the narrow, meager goal of simply raising test scores, takeovers often feature a wildly unrealistic timetable. Changing a school's entire culture, while the slow march of years slowly feeds your students through the system, is a long process. It takes four years to swap out the complete student body of a high school. Takeovers might transform a system in five or ten years. Takeover proposals often call for far less; the Ohio proposal wants it done in two or else the school can be re-taken over by a different model.
The idea that someone can parachute into a district and suddenly reverse years of problems (including problems they ignore) quickly and easily is either naivete or a cynical mask for a hostile takeover. It puts the state in the odd position of saying, "We have known all along how to fix a school district--we've just been keeping it to ourselves while we watch you," when in fact they don't really have a clue. Struggling schools can be turned around, but this is not the way.
Originally posted at Forbes

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

We Told You So, Dammit

Over the past two years or so, there has been a steady drip drip drip of apostastic epiphanies among some Reformsters, some of whom have stepped forward to write some version of, "Oops. I think we were probably wring about X." For X, substitute emphasis high stakes testing, treating teachers like the enemy, attempts to impose national standards, education policy dictated by wealthy self-appointed amateurs, and insisting that education could erase poverty and so no attempt to address systemic issues creating poverty were necessary. Etc.

It looked like we might have reached a peak last week when Nick Hanauer, one of the major self-appointed amateurs of the reformster movement, took to the Atlantic to admit, well...

...I embraced education as both a philanthropic cause and a civic mission. I co-founded the League of Education Voters, a nonprofit dedicated to improving public education. I joined Bill Gates, Alice Walton, and Paul Allen in giving more than $1 million each to an effort to pass a ballot measure that established Washington State’s first charter schools. All told, I have devoted countless hours and millions of dollars to the simple idea that if we improved our schools—if we modernized our curricula and our teaching methods, substantially increased school funding, rooted out bad teachers, and opened enough charter schools—American children, especially those in low-income and working-class communities, would start learning again. Graduation rates and wages would increase, poverty and inequality would decrease, and public commitment to democracy would be restored.

But after decades of organizing and giving, I have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that I was wrong.

He even admitted knowing what the answer might have been all along.

To be clear: We should do everything we can to improve our public schools. But our education system can’t compensate for the ways our economic system is failing Americans. Even the most thoughtful and well-intentioned school-reform program can’t improve educational outcomes if it ignores the single greatest driver of student achievement: household income.

For all the genuine flaws of the American education system, the nation still has many high-achieving public-school districts. Nearly all of them are united by a thriving community of economically secure middle-class families with sufficient political power to demand great schools, the time and resources to participate in those schools, and the tax money to amply fund them. In short, great public schools are the product of a thriving middle class, not the other way around. Pay people enough to afford dignified middle-class lives, and high-quality public schools will follow. But allow economic inequality to grow, and educational inequality will inevitably grow with it.

But that was not the peak of reformster backpedaling. The peak-- the absolute unstoppable peak-- came from this tweet linking to Hanauer's article:

Well, then. Could've used that insight a decade ago.

Every single realization about the failure of ed reform, both in concept and execution, has been accompanied by a reaction among folks actually working in education.

We told you so.

That's this time, too. We told these folks, over and over and over and over and over. "Don't use poverty as an excuse," they said. "Just have higher expectations," they said. "Better scores on standardized tests will end poverty," they said. Also,"Better scores will save your job and your school."

Hanauer's piece is refreshing because he actually uses the words "I was wrong." Many of these folks just decry the bad effects of certain reform policies without ever acknowledging their role in the mistakes ("It's a shame that standardized tests somehow became so time consuming," Arne Duncan has said on more than one occasion). The acknowledgement of screwing up is welcome.

Every time an article like Hanauer's or a tweet like President Obama's appear, there is always a call for apologies, which we are undoubtedly owed and unlikely to get. "Day late and a dollar short" also gets thrown around, but getting it right is getting it right, whether you're early or late. As long as they've learned something.

All too often it appears that the writer has not learned any useful lessons. There are lots of lessons to learn (such as the argument that we need to bust unions and liberate free market forces is a specious one). But really, there's one huge lesson to be learned.

There is nothing that reformsters have figured out about reformy ideas, no flaw in their plan that has suddenly revealed itself, that teachers did not see and call out years ago. The single most important lesson here is:

Before you launch your next bright idea to reform education, talk to actual professional educators first. You don't have to talk just to teachers. But talk to teachers (and not just ones that have been carefully vetted to be sure they're aligned with your values).

Every dollar and hour wasted, every fruitless crappy reform idea of the last twenty-some years could have been avoided if people had listened to actual teachers. There's the lesson that everyone, even exceptionally smart and respectable former Presidents, needs to learn.

Monday, June 17, 2019

WV: Did Trump Just Kick Betsy DeVos (plus, Hidden Donor Shenanigans)

Is it hyperbole to suggest, as Huffington Post does, that West Virginia's Senate has gone to war with teachers (again). I'm always reluctant to use combat metaphors, but at a bare minimum, the West Virginia Senate is showing teachers a big fat middle finger.

It's not just the Senate is making its third attempt to implement the same policies that prompted two previous teacher strikes. On top of trying to jump start charters and vouchers, the bill also aims to beat teachers into submission by closing the loophole used previously and threatening their jobs. The loophole was simple-- strikes are already illegal in the state, but in anticipation (and in some cases in sympathy with) the previous walkouts, superintendents canceled school. If school isn't in session, it's not a strike. The bill forbids superintendents to pull any such shenanigans in the future. And if teachers still walk out, they can be fired. This is not policy; it's punitive.

Where does the Senate get the giant brass cojones for this?

You stand up to Betsy. Or for her. Whose side am I on, again?
Well, Betsy DeVos piped up to throw her weight behind the reform bill, saying that the legislature should get it done. And today, Trump decided he would enter the fray by tweeting his support for the governor, typing in part, "Keep up the great work, @WVGovernor Big Jim Justice - I am with you!"

That's a curious choice for cheerleading, because Big Jim Justice has been a little testy with both DeVos and his fellow GOP legislators. He in effect told DeVos to back off and characterized her call to "get it done" as her getting "way, way, way over her skis." At a town hall last week he expressed a great deal of frustration with the Senate. Recall that the last time this bill triggered a teacher strike and ultimately failed, at which point the Senate agreed to a special session just to deal with education, which is where we are now-- except that nothing has changed:

The governor said he would have never agreed to a special session on education had Senate President Mitch Carmichael not told him everyone would be on board, and everything would be quickly resolved. 

"We went through three months, and came back to almost exactly what we came out with in the beginning," Justice said. 

He was critical of Republican leadership's failure to uphold the agreed upon no-strings-attached 5 percent pay raise for state employees. He was also critical of the 138-page omnibus bill that ultimately failed during the regular legislative session. 

What did Justice want to see?

Specifically, he called for more counselors, psychologists and nurses in schools; an increase in funding for counties with fewer than 1,500 students; providing incentives for math instructors; increasing the number of Mountaineer Challenge Academies; putting more emphasis on innovation zones; and providing tax credits for teacher supplies.

"Then let’s stop," Justice said. "Just stop right there."

So is Trump actually supporting Justice and saying, "Yeah, buddy-- you tell Betsy where to get off, and you get that legislature to dump all that reform baloney." Or-- and I'm just spitballing here-- is it possible that Trump hasn't entirely done his homework here and is assuming some things about Justice that aren't actually so?

Meanwhile, the rest of the support for the charter and choice push is coming from the usual places. Specifically the place of "We can't tell you who our backers are because if their names got out people might be mean to them and make them sad." There are slick tv ads and no doubt some attempts to fortify the appropriate lawmakers. The players are the usual. There's Americans for Prosperity, which is a well-funded Koch brothers front. There's also the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy; some homework by the Charleston Gazette Mail shows that EdChoice (formerly the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice), which is located in Indianapolis, kicked in big bucks, a member of the Goldwater Institute, DonorsTrust, Vanguard Charitable, and the State Policy Network, a network of right-wing thinky tanks and advocacy groups pretending to be thinky tanks.

In short, this is one more example of the reformsters stepping in to seed a state with money in an attempt to grow their favorite programs for dismantling and privatizing public education. There are a whole bunch of very wealthy (but apparently shy) people doing their best to use the attempt to make things right with teachers as cover for slapping teachers in the face once again. Here's hoping that public education in West Virginia can ride out this storm.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

ICYMI: BBQ And Blues Edition (6/15)

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

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

Better Schools Won't Fix America

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

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

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

Churn and Burn 

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

Are Charters Hurting School Distracts

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

Cyber Accountability

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

Betsy DeVos, meet Ralph from Comcast.

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

Charter Schools and Buying Double 

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

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

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

One State Sets Out To Rethink Charter Oversight 

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

What About ALICE?

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

Comics Resources   

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

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Winners Take All, Education Edition

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

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

Here's my very simple take.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The fingerprints of this mindset are all over education reform.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winners Take All-- Read This Book (Excerpts)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eight Weeks of Summer: Professional Growth Plans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 14, 2019

Magical Money And School Choice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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