Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Why Charter Schools Must Waste Money

Back in March, the Network for Public Education, a public education advocacy group, released a study showing that the Department of Education has spent over a billion dollars on charter school waste and fraud. Education Next, a publication that advocates for charter schools, offered a reply to that report. The rebuttal to the rebuttal just appeared in the Washington Post, but there is one portion of the Education Next piece that deserves a closer look.

Charter schools should be held accountable for performance, which requires closing them when they don’t meet standards. Even with the best plans and under the ideal circumstances, opening a charter school is difficult. Charter Schools Program funding is intended to serve as seed capital to encourage innovation, and some experiments will fail. That is expected.

This is part of the premise of corporate education reform--that schools should open and close and rise and fall just like a car dealership or a food truck. For these fans of choice, having schools closed down is a sign that the system is working, not a sign of failure.

There are several problems with this feature.
One is the disruption for students. Being booted out of your school (especially if it happens suddenly, unexpectedly, and in the middle of the school year) is not like discovering that your favorite taco truck isn't at the corner today. Families have to find a new school. Students are wrenched out of familiar surroundings with familiar teachers and school friends. Being the new kid in school is socially isolating. Learning to live by a whole new set of rules is troubling. For a child, having a school close is not some sort of bloodless market adjustment; it's a disruptive and disorienting experience.
Another problem is the sheer waste of taxpayer dollars. In most states, a charter/choice system already rests on a financial fiction--that we can somehow run multiple school systems for the same money that was previously set aside to run just one system. What business has ever said, "Because we need to tighten our belts here at WidgetCorps, our next move will be to open more facilities." Choice depends on the Daylight Savings Time theory of financial resources--if we just shuffle them, maybe somehow there will be more of them.

But as the Education Next piece states, it's worse than that. The premise is not just that we can run multiple systems with the taxpayer money used to run one; additionally, we assume that we are going to take some of the money and just throw it away. The NPE report found that not only do some charter schools close soon after opening but that some charter schools never even open in the first place.

Imagine if a public school district proposed a tax increase and when the taxpayers asked what the money would be used for, the district said, "We plan to lose all of it. That's just part of our process."

One of the critical differences between charter schools and public schools is that charters can walk away, at any time. Education Next focuses on charters that fail and are shut down by their authorizers. They don't say anything about the many charters that shut down for business reasons. A public school must honor the community's commitment to provide a decent education for every student. Do public schools always meet that commitment well? No, but they don't get the option of saying, "Well, it's too hard, and we can't make any money doing it, so we're just going to quit. See ya!"

Public schools and charter schools both experience failure. But a critical difference is that for public schools, failure is a bug, a problem to be fixed. As Education Next argues, for charter schools, failure is a feature, and wasting taxpayer money is just part of the plan.
Originally posted at Forbes

Monday, July 29, 2019

Mayor Pete Doesn't Get It (And If He Does, That's Even Worse)

In 2016, Hillary Clinton staked out what was supposed to be the safe territory on the charter school issue-- to be against for-profit charters, but in favor of non-profits. That qualified as enough of a break with the corporate Democrat orthodoxy that DFER felt the need to reassure wealthy donors that the Clinton's could be counted on to betray unions.

But a position that depends on distinguishing non-profits from for-profits at best shows some cynical poli-gamesmanship, and at worst reveals a lack of understanding of the issues. In 2016, a candidate might be excused for ignorance, but there's been plenty of education on the subject since, and no excuses left for candidates.

That's why it's a bit discouraging to find high-profile candidates like Mayor Pete Buttigieg resorting to this dodge.

The signs up until this point have not been good. Buttigieg has some time with McKinsey on his resume, and that consulting giant … well...McKinsey is one of the biggest management consulting firms in the world, and long intertwined with the education reform movement; Sir Michael Barber was a partner there before he went to run Pearson, and David Coleman worked as a consultant at McKinsey before he spearheaded the Common Core. McKinsey has also plucked some employees from the world of Eli Broad-- a McKinsey manager was in the first class of the Broad Academy. McKinsey actually pre-dated Broad in the practice of embedding their own people in the Los Angeles school district. They're fans of data-driven analytics baloney, and they are generally a good example of what Anand Giridharadas is talking about in Winner Take All-- the ways rich folks try to fix problems without actually inconveniencing themselves while still managing to profit from the "solution."

Reed "Elected School Boards Should Be Abolished" Hastings held a great fund raiser for Mayor Pete. And as she reported this morning (take a second to read this-- I'll wait), when Diane Ravitch reached sat down with the campaign to try to share a more balanced view of ed reform, she found herself facing a bunch of folks who came up through the corporate reform movement and who think that charter schools are just fine, thank you very much.

Buttigieg is one of the Democratic hopefuls who does not identify education as an issue on his website, nor does it crop up under other issues such as his Douglass Plan for investment and empowerment of Black America.

Buttigieg has said he opposes vouchers. He might also mentioned the use of public tax dollars for private schools that discriminate in ways that would be unlawful in a public school (Rebecca Klein at HuffPost correctly notes that the Indiana Catholic high school that Buttigieg graduated would not hire him today because he's gay). But he focused on economic reasons:

Unfortunately, these voucher programs tend to come at the expense of quality public education. They take dollars out of our public schools at the time when we know the schools don’t have enough resources going into them to begin with.

But the big disconnect here is that this exact reason applies to charter schools, whether they are for-profit or non-profit.

After all, at this point for-profit charter schools are legal almost nowhere in the country (that "only for-profits are bad" talking point has been useful at many levels of politics). But what is still legal in most states is having your non-profit charter school operated by a for-profit charter management organization. If you imagine that by only supporting non-profit charters you are somehow preventing the spectacle of corporate owners trying to make more money by short-changing students, you have a fertile imagination. The shell and shadow companies are where the real money is made, including the profits from renting the real estate and providing services like cleaning and cafeteria.

That non-profit charter, feeding all its incoming public tax dollars to private for-profit companies, is still governed by a simple principle-- every additional dollar spent on the students is one dollar less to go into a company bank account.

And even if the non-profit is good and pure and truly non-profit at every level, you have not changed the fact that it is draining resources from the public school where the majority of students study. You are still working from the same flawed premise-- that you can somehow run multiple school systems for the same money that, by Buttigieg's own admission, wasn't enough in the first place.

The Buttigieg campaign seems unlikely to improve in this area. They told Ravitch that they plan to reach out to John King, Jim Shelton and Randi Weingarten, and, well... King, you will recall succeeded Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education. He founded the no-excuses Roxbury Prep, which the Buttigieg campaign thinks is an awesome school. In New York he was Commissioner of Education and pushed the crap out of Common Core and testing, and got so much push back at public meetings that he stopped attending until his bosses made him. Shelton had a leadership role at the Gates Foundation, worked for Arne Duncan in charge of innovation grants for Race to the Top, then ran the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

In other words, Buttigieg would likely be a repeat of the Bush-Obama education program. He's said some salty things about Betsy DeVos, but beyond his dislike of vouchers, it's not clear just how different his education policy would be from hers.

It would be interesting to see what, exactly, his campaign believes is the critical difference between a school accepting a voucher and a non-profit charter school. Because depending on the state you're in, there's not a large enough space between the two to drive a bicycle, let alone a campaign van.

As I've said before, I don't expect to like the Democratic candidate for 2020, and I doubt that my distaste will affect my vote in the general election. But I still have to point out corporate reform baloney when I see it sliced, and it appears that the Buttigieg campaign is slicing it up nice and thick. There are several reasons to like Mayor Pete, but it doesn't look like education policy will be one of them.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

ICYMI: Post Jet Lag Edition (7/28)

All righty. We are slowly getting back into the swing of things (two year olds do not seem to respond to jet lag well). So my reach might not be quite as far as usual, but I've still got some things for you to look at this week.

This supreme court case made school district lines a tool for desegregation.

A critical piece of history about how school district lines were set up to be a tool for-- or against--desegregation.

Learning To Read  

A reminder from Nancy Flanagan that reading teachers are not the only people who teach reading.

I'm a black teacher who works for a black principal. It's a game changer.

Well, here's a perspective that we see much too rarely. An interesting and worthwhile perspective piece.

Reforming California's dysfunctional charter school law.

Thomas Ultican looks at the continuing struggle to fix California's charter school mess.

State Takeovers vs. Organic Local Turnarounds  

State takeover of school districts are a hot business again, and Jan Resseger has a look at the good, the bad, and the alternative that actually works a lot better for everyone-- except for corporate profiteers.  

What Is Really Happening in Camden  

Nobody does a better job of explaining complicated research in plain human language than Jersey Jazzman, and his series on the attempted reform of Camden schools is invaluable as a look at what really happens in such places, and how Reformsters spin it.

Teachers are miserable because they're being held at gunpoint for meaningless data.

Just in case you think this is just a US problem, here's a piece from back in April from the UK. Much of this will seem sadly familiar.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

FL: Next Surveillance State Deadline Approaching

In the wake of the murders at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, the great state of Florida decided to make a giant leap forward in establishing a surveillance state, proposing a data base that would collect giant massive tanker cars full of data from every public sources imaginable as well as social media. It will provide a one-stop shop for singling out every troubled child in the state. What could possibly go wrong?

We should soon find out. Governor DeSantis set a ready-to-go date of August 1, 2019.

Well, we're supposed to find out. An EdWeek investigation back in May revealed that the system is hitting some speed bumps-- which is probably just as well. From the EdWeek piece:

Don't mind me. I'm just here to help.
“It was never a good idea to try to implement a database this big, in this time frame,” said Amelia Vance, the director of education privacy at the Future of Privacy Forum, a Washington think tank that has been closely tracking Florida’s response to the Parkland shooting. "The lack of forethought and consideration for what this will mean for individual children is really troubling."

And what this will mean is, in fact, very troubling. EdWeek also obtained a list of some of the data bases that are supposed to be part of this well-bronzed cyber-big-brother, this Big Tan Eye. Some of the data that various departments have available to share:

* Law Enforcement has a criminal information sharing platform that includes reports, tips, and "other information that needs to be verified before law enforcement agencies can rely upon it."

* The state child welfare department has records for 9 million people, including foster care and protective services reports.

* The department of children and families has 5.6 million records covering substance abuse and mental health issues, plus demographics and service data.

* Juvenile Justice has, of course, lots to share.

* The state department of education has basically every individual student record from class schedules to disciplinary records.

* And yes, social media posts.

Critics charge that the state is only paying attention to what is legal rather than what is useful or ethical. In other words, only asking what they can do and not what they should do.

Supporters offer not-very-reassuring notions like "We're just putting together data that is already out there, not collecting new stuff, so this doesn't violate privacy" and of course selling the notion that this will make it possible to find and stop the next shooter before tragedy strikes. It makes me wonder-- if Florida's Big Tan Eye convicts someone of Future Crime, will it finally be okay at that point to make sure that person can't get his hands on a gun? Or will the Second Amendment remains sacrosanct even in this Brave New World.

A coalition of thirty-two education, disability, privacy and civil rights groups sent a letter to the governor earlier this month laying out some of their objections. They note that this is part of an "alarming trend" that includes swell stuff like requiring districts to collect mental health records for all students as a requirement of registration.

There are a host of unintended consequences that can already be predicted. For instance, the Big Tan Eye wants to know who's been bullied, because it thinks that being a victim of bullying makes you more of a potential threat. What do you suppose will happen to reports of bullying once students and their parents understand that the new rule is "Report a bully and it goes on YOUR permanent record, labeling you a potential school shooter'? What other help will students actively avoid because it will become part of their digital record?

There is, of course, the security question. The state is making promises about who will and will not see it, but once it exists, what future legislators will see a good reason to open the data base to even more viewers. And what are the chances of hackery getting at the treasure trove of data?

But the letter also makes another important point-- there isn't a shred of evidence that any of this works. Studies suggest that social media monitoring doesn't help. And the algorithms that will be needed to sort through all the noise cannot be trusted.

Again, from EdWeek coverage:

“It sounds like a fishing expedition for information about Floridians,” said Rachel Levinson-Waldman, a lawyer with the liberty and national security program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University law school.

And so it does. One of the biggest data fishing expeditions ever, with no guarantee that it will not be used for troubling purposes and no promise of checks for accuracy (which is no small thing-- one of the big problems with Big Brother is that he gets many things just plain wrong).

The Big Tan Eye will (should it ever get off the ground) be inaccurate, creepy, overreachy, intrusive, not useful for its alleged purpose, problematic for those students when they eventually become adults (what-- do you think they're going to purge these records once a student turns eighteen), and dangerous. And on top of all that, because of the huge value of large troves of integrated data, it will be lying there essentially like a giant pile of unattended money, just begging to be grabbed one way or another.

While Florida's legislature never met a bad idea they didn't like, this is still a higher level of Bad Idea. Here's hoping that next week, they throw the switch and nothing happens, or they can't find the switch, or the whole thing isn't even ready, because the only hope that Floridians have right now is that their legislatures incompetence will thwart its bad judgment. Otherwise, every child in Florida had better not lie, pout, cry, ask for help, or breathe funny, because the Big Tan Eye will be watching.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Eight Weeks of Summer: Where Are We Now? Deprogramming.

This post is week 7 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators.

I've been doing the challenge because why not? Mostly I've been answering as my pre-retirement self, but we may mix it up a bit this week. Here's the prompt:

Check-in on where you are in your summer learning journey and your overall professional journey.

When I was still teaching, I was always... somewhere. Every summer I read and I did various projects (because you can't help students learn how to Do Stuff if you have no first hand experience Doing Stuff) and I also operated on the theory that teachers owed their community a certain something in the summer in return for the taxpayer support on which we live. YMMV.

But this week I'm sending you a bulletin from the other side of retirement, because in unlearning some Teacher Things, I've come to better appreciate them. Here are some things I have had to learn.

* Measure out time in increments larger than 30 seconds. It is not necessary to squeeze achievements into every second of the day, particularly when you could be using the time to interact with the other carbon based life forms in your home.

* Eat a meal in more than five minutes.

* Read a book without repeatedly thinking, "I could use this in class for my unit about X."

* Read a book that you couldn't possibly use for class ever.

* Visit an interesting location without grabbing pamphlets for your classroom.

* Moving through your day without a gnawing sense of urgency that there's something you should be grading, reading, planning or reviewing.

* Figuring out what to do with the uncontrollable urge that hits every time you learn something new, which is the urge to pass it on to somebody else.

* Understanding that you might never not be a teacher, and you're going to have to figure out what to do with that.

* Exercise. Because you're not walking ten miles a day any more.

* Face you're unreasonable addiction to office supplies.

* Talk yourself out of running for school board.

* Seriously. You can take fifteen or twenty minutes to eat lunch. Take a breath between bites. Chew your food. Talk to somebody.

* Take your eyes off the clock.

The Busing Conversation We Should Be Having

Originally posted at Forbes (June 29)

So apparently, thanks to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, we're all going to talk about busing some more. That's a conversation many Americans have been having, sort of, for a long time.
When Joe Biden was a freshman congressman, I was a high school junior. In my rural small town and mostly white high school, we were aware of racial and racist strife as something that happened somewhere else. Probably someplace Southern, we assumed. But when my senior year started in the fall of 1974, we were amazed to see a huge blow-up over forced busing--in Boston. Because that was in the news, one of my classes was assigned an essay about busing, or as it was more commonly called at the time, "forced busing." I can remember the broad strokes of what I wrote--something about how if black and white students sat in classes and grew up together then racial strife, like the riots that we remembered from our childhood days, would be a thing of the past. I was, like many white kids of my generation, a poster child for extreme ignorance about the history of segregation and racism in this country. Heck, in my own small town it would be decades before I learned about a petition circulated in the sixties to keep black home buyers out of certain neighborhoods. At the time, I thought that if children of all races just grew up together, we'd all treat each other with respect and kindness and the world would be a better place. It seemed so simple; but then, most things seem simple if one is ignorant of the weight of history.
I was a college freshman when Joe Biden was denouncing forced busing as racist. It was in college that I first heard a black classmate say that he didn't want desegregation--he just wanted the same resources and opportunities the white kids had without giving up his own culture. I was starting to understand that busing and segregation were way more complicated than my high school self had ever suspected.
Almost nobody has ever liked busing. Mostly what people want is a good school in their own neighborhood. And for every complicated position on busing, there are good reasons and bad. White families have repeatedly shown that they will take measures to keep their kids away from black students. But why should black families have their children shuttled all around just so that white families can check off  "diversity" on their school experience list? The argument has been made that diverse school populations make white elites better at being elites, which is a terrible argument for integration; at the same time, research suggests that black students achieve more in diverse school settings that in segregated ones. And it matters that for some white folks, "I'm opposed to mandatory busing" was just a way to get away with saying, "I'm opposed to integration."
The experience of a diverse student body is important because it best mirrors the country that students will grow up to live in. But the most damning part of segregation is not the social and cultural apartheid--the most damning part is that the segregation of students is too often followed by the segregation of resources.
In a 2015 interview, Warren Buffett offered this observation: "If the only choice we had was public schools, we'd have better public schools." In other words, if everybody, including the wealthy and elites, had to send their kids to the same public schools, and they all had skin in the game, we'd have better schools. Desegregation through busing offered that kind of leverage, a calling of white folks' bluff. If all schools are separate but truly equal, then let's send your kid over there to the "black" school and see if you are perfectly happy, or if you will suddenly start working hard to guarantee that school the same level of support and resources that your child currently enjoys. Unfortunately, that bluff calling failed to anticipate another possible response--sending the student to a segregation academy or moving out to the suburbs or enrolling in a select private school.
The segregation of students and resources still goes on today. Consider the stunning case of five Pinellas County schools in Florida. As revealed in a 2015 investigative report by the Tampa Bay Times, the county school system first moved its black and LatinX students into five segregated elementary schools and then proceeded to starve those schools of necessary resources and funding. The resulting "failure factories" were a disgrace to the system and destructive to the students. There are other cities where student segregation simply follows from housing segregation, and school funding based on real estate taxes means that resource segregation is baked in--and none of that "just happened."
Do those schools need more forced busing, or more resources and support?
School choice advocates cite all these issues as reasons for charters and vouchers and other mechanisms for parental choice, but none of those policies address the central issue--the lack of resources. School choice is the Daylight Savings Time of education reform; it is based on the notion that by shuffling the same old resources around, somehow there will be more of them.
So by all means, let's have some more thoughtful and nuanced conversations about busing and racism and opportunity. Let's talk about Kamala Harris's own busing story, and how it is a powerful reminder of what good busing has accomplished. Let's discuss Joe Biden's history with busing and what he's learned since then. But let's not stop there. Let's discuss why we still have schools that students need to be bused away from in the first place, and what a President can do about it. We can talk about how having school populations as diverse as our nation can be a good thing, but let's also talk about how segregation is not only apartheid for social purposes, but a tool that makes it easier to deny certain parts of the population their rights as U.S. citizens. Let's talk about how to equitably share scarce education resources (and why those resources are scarce in the first place). Let's talk about the effect of regularly pairing "forced" or "mandatory" with "busing," but rarely with "segregation." And let's talk about how white Americans are the ones who have most often thwarted the aims of desegregation. Many of us have learned at least a little bit since the 1970s; now would be a good time to put it to use in a larger conversation than simply whether busing is good or bad.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

FL: Trees and the Taj Mahal

Florida Education Commissioner is angry with Duval Schools Superintendent Diana Greene. Grr mad. Really really mad.

Corcoran was previously the speaker of the house, where he pushed a variety of privatization moves. In particular, he pushed the "Schools of Hope," a cool plan in which public schools that were having trouble would be targeted for direct charter competition, with lots of incentives for big out-of-state operators to come and rake in some Florida taxpayer bucks. In other words, when the state finds a public school that needs some extra help and support, they instead call in private operators. Like finding a traveler beaten and hurt beside the road, and instead of calling a doctor, you call some vultures.

Yes, if you haven't been following events in Florida, they really are the worst. But then, they have installed a group of strongly anti-public education folks in all the education oversight positions, as well as powerful advocacy groups with lots of clout,  so none of this comes out of left field. If any state is well-positioned to completely eliminate public education, it is Florida (even if they do attempt to hide the attempt by redefining "public").

Anyway, Duval school system includes several schools that are struggling, and they have a brand new superintendent, Dr. Diana Greene (with a background in actual education).

Corcoran gave her three choices. One of the choices was hand over some schools to IDEA, a Texas corporate charter chain founded by a pair of Teach for America products devoted to the No Excuses model.

That was the choice Greene was supposed to pick, but instead she went with working with the local community to salvage the schools they were committed to. Corcoran was not happy. In fact, he stewed aloud that perhaps it was time for the state to take over the schools that he wanted to hand off to IDEA. IDEA is on Corcoran's favorites list-- they have been given the green light to start moving into Florida and start opening those Schools of Hope.

Actually, I'm not sure this would make a very good school.
Meanwhile, this summer has seen Corcoran throwing more snits in Greene's direction. The school district has been working on a proposal to use a half-cent sales tax to fund a major capital improvement program for the district. Corcoran is not a fan, and in explaining his non-fanness, he also shared some of his educational philosophy:

“You can put every single one of those kids in a ‘Taj Mahal’ and he’s not going to suddenly go from a poor student to a great student,” Corcoran said. “I’ve been very vocal in my opposition to two billion dollars to build new ‘Taj Mahals.’ That’s not a solution.”

“I’ve been on record: You can teach Plato under a tree,” Corcoran said. “That’s what I say all the time.”

Now, I don't entirely disagree. A good teacher can accomplish an awful lot regardless of where you put her. But the anti-Taj Mahal pro-tree comment is a curious one, coming from the man who, as House Speaker, helped secretly hammer out and push through laws that steer a ton of public money toward charter school. The infamous HB 7069 not only set up the Schools of Hope, but created a rule saying that public schools must share taxpayer funding earmarked for construction. Oddly enough, Corcoran did not suggest that anyone wishing to start a charter school should just go find a nice tree to stand under.

It seems unlikely that he gave his wife charter tree advice when she started Classical Preparatory School in 2015 (now expanded to a chain) or when she decided to sit on the board of Tallahassee Classical School. The proposed building for one of the Classical Prep schools certainly doesn't look as if the plan is to just meet under a tree, nor does the virtual tour of campus suggest that school plans to focus on tree-based learning. Though you can see some trees. You will not, however, find an audio clip of Corcoran saying to his wife, "Anne, why all these buildings? Why don't you just teach the students under a nice tree. Maybe a maple. Or a larch."

Greene responded to Corcoran's Taj Mahal charges by pointing out that Duval has the oldest facilities in the state, some of which date back a full century. Some repairs are certainly called for.

There's no question that Duval has some challenges to face, including a crushing level of poverty. But asking that students attend school in safe, functional facilities is not demanding the Taj Mahal. Privatization should not be the solution that comes up before, say, adequately funding public schools. Nor should a state's education chief be arguing that only certain students deserve to have nice facilities. Corcoran has long established that he is a fervent opponent of public education in Florida. Before he continues directing his tantrums at Dr. Greene, perhaps he should just go take a seat under a tree somewhere and take a deep breath.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

CA: Any Warm Body

California is in the midst of a legislative battle over charters, with the charter business suffering the prospect of a crackdown after years of happy life in the Land of Do As You Please.

There are many issues and voices flying about, but the Pasadena Star-News just chose to speak up for one of the odder old arguments of charter fans-- that charter schools shouldn't have to hire qualified teachers.

The public face of this argument is usually something about flexibility to hire teachers with professional expertise, like bringing in an experienced actor to teach drama class. I understand the appeal of the argument, but the fact that someone has professional accomplishments does not mean that person is in any way capable of teaching others.

Well, this looks harder than I thought it would be
The less public face of this argument is that many charter fans want charters to operated like businesses with visionary CEOs who can hire and fire as they see fit, without being forced to abide by any rules. Teachers-who-aren't-actually-teachers are also great about being paid less than real professionals and are seen as less likely to start making noises about unions and having a voice in running the school and other annoying behaviors that cramp management's style.

The PNS manages to be capture all the ways to be wrong on this issue.

One charter-school official noted to the Union-Tribune that former Gov. Jerry Brown would not be allowed to teach government under current credentialing rules. Likewise, an experienced newspaper editor can’t teach English and a skilled physicist can’t teach science unless they go through a Byzantine process. That’s wrong.

No, that's right. Just because those people have experience in their field does not mean that they can manage a classroom or impart their accumulated wisdom to students.

PNS editors also embrace the myth of market forces driving educational excellence, a fairy tale for which there is no support even after years of trying it out. And the editors also blame the state's teacher shortage on credentialing:

The state has a teacher shortage largely because the credentialing process is so time-consuming and costly.

Many excellent potential teachers – especially those in math and science – would like to teach, but don’t want to spend years going through that mind-numbing process.

Perhaps. But it seems far more likely that excellent potential teachers-- especially those in math and science-- would like a job that doesn't have to be supplemented with a second job. We should probably also factor in that after a proto-teacher goes through the whole process, they are met by the attitude that any mook off the street can be a teacher.

Because the other thing the PNS editors capture is the heavy strain of disrespect that runs through this argument. It is insult added to injury. The PNS editors, I'm guessing, do not decide to go to unlicensed health care providers because any smart person can doctor. The lawyers they keep on call are probably not guys with no law degree who just talk real good, but qualified certified professionals. But somehow, in state after state, all across the country, we find the idea floating around that any warm body will do, that you can just prop up anyone in a classroom and they'll be fine. Teach For America founded an entire movement on the notion that it doesn't take any special training for a smart person to be a teacher (and it doesn't take any depth of experience for that smart person to become an education expert).

Of course, the other factor feeding the "any warm body" movement is telegraphed in the editorial's lead:

California’s teachers’ unions are seeing how far they can go to quash the state’s burgeoning charter-school movement now that Democrats have stronger legislative supermajorities and after a pro-charter-school governor has been replaced by one whose support for such schools is more wobbly. 

Those damned unions. Later, the editorial will even float the notion that background checks are not for student benefit, but to protect teachers.

If we break the hold of professional educators on the classroom, this reasoning goes, we can break the power of the teachers union. If we just kill this myth that teaching requires any sort of training, but is just some sort of calling founded on some sort of inborn power to inspire and do teachy things, then anyone can be a teacher, including lots of folks who are just kind of doing it as a side hustle or a new thing to try for a few years.

It's a bizarrely backwards, foolish argument. Do we not want students to have the very best teachers we can find to put in front of them? Do we not want students to be taught by something more than just any warm body? There have been a variety of arguments made over the years about how to increase the quality of the teacher corps, and while some of those arguments have been dumb, at least they had the admirable goal of getting more teaching quality in classrooms. Any Warm Body proposals cannot even pretend that they are about trying to insure that every student has a great teacher; they are about increasing charter management control, improving profitability, and putting those damned teachers in their place.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

How School Choice Undermines Democratic Processes

Opponents of school choice in its many forms often talk about processes and institutions and policies, but one way to grasp choice-created problems is simple, old fashioned, and non wonky. Just look at who is holding the purse strings.
In the public school system, the money is controlled by some combination of taxpayer-elected local school board members and taxpayer-elected state legislators (the nature of the combination varies by state). Every person who pays into the system gets a vote on how the system uses their money.
We'll probably want a bigger purse
In a voucher or charter system, the money is controlled by the families of students. If you are a taxpayer without any children in the system, you have no say in how and where the money is spent. If, for instance, you are a taxpayer in Indiana, you may watch in horror as Catholic schools bow to Archdiocese demands to fire gay teachers, and you may be further alarmed to know that your own tax dollars help fund those schools. But if you have no children, you get no vote. You will be taxed to support education in your state, but you will have no avenue for expressing your ideas about what form that spending should take.
In fact, in some cases, you may not even be able to find out how the money is spent. In a voucher or charter system, your tax dollars are passed on to the school at the family's direction. With an education savings account, those dollars are passed on to the family, which can then spend them for whatever educational purposes the state has allowed. But some ESA programs have very little oversight, which is how Arizona taxpayers took a while to discover that $700K of their educational tax dollars had been spent on make-up and Blu-rays.
In these types of voucher arrangements, families decide what schools are funded and which are not. But Tax Credit Scholarships disempower taxpayers even further by putting the purse strings in the hands of wealthy individuals and corporations.
A TCS system essentially lets those folks give their dollars to schools instead of using the money to pay their taxes. In effect, the donors fund schools directly, rather than through tax dollars paid to the state (meanwhile, the state's tax revenue drops a commensurate amount).
The implications of that policy choice just showed up in Florida. Rosen Resorts have been million-dollar funders of the state TCS system, but they recently discovered that some of the schools they (and Florida taxpayers) are funding discriminate against gay students. Rosen has decided to stop supporting the system until the state stops the discrimination, and other big donors are reconsidering their contributions as well.
It's an admirable stance by Rosen, but it underlines just how far Florida has strayed from the democratic process in its school system. If a policy change comes, it will come not because of taxpayers or student families, but because of pressure from a private donor. What if no donor had been bothered by the discrimination? What if some huge donor wanted more discrimination? When an institution depends on private donors to survive, those private donors are in charge.
Each version of school choice is about cutting some number of taxpayers out of the loop, giving them no say in how their dollars, collected for the express purpose of educating students, will be spent. More choice too often means less democracy.
Originally posted at Forbes

Monday, July 22, 2019

What Killed Lesson Planning?

Are lesson plans a big fat waste of time? Well, yes, and no. But is something currently killing them? Sadly, yes.

Why Lesson Planning Is Invaluable

I read this piece arguing against them and kind of dismissed it and forgot about it until Nancy Flanagan brought the subject up again (Do you follow Nancy Flanagan regularly? You should). As usual, I agree with most everything she said in defense of lesson planning-- but I think there's another factor that can make lesson plans a waste of blood, sweat and tears. 

The original piece is, well, bunk. In its six reasons, it starts with the obvious (lesson plans are often works of fiction) and escalates quickly (lesson plans ruin teacher morale and chase people out of the profession). Somewhere in the middle it makes the real argument (they take a bunch of time and I don't wanna). 

Flanagan talks about how writing lesson plans helped her refine her practice, and that was my experience as well-- it helped me find focus with what I actually wanted to do. 

And I have a confession to make-- I often assigned lesson planning for my student teachers, and while writing a lesson plan is proof of good teaching, being unable (or, in one case, unwilling) to write a coherent lesson plan at all has always been a giant billowing red flag. 

Part of the value in lesson planning is the requirement to focus on specifics. Neo-teachers were sometimes much too obsessed with the big picture, leading to this conversation:

Me: So what are you planning to do tomorrow?

Ms. McNewbie: We're going to read the poem and then discuss it and in so doing, make the world a better place. 

Me: But what are you actually going to do?

Ms. McNewbie: [Stares back at me blankly]. 

Writing out a plan was always useful. Not just for keeping my place in the flow of several different preps a day, but it getting me to focus on what, exactly, I was trying to do. In English class, it's just too easy to fall into thinking that "Study the literature" or "Write some stuff" is a plan. 

This is one of the great areas of disconnect for people who went to school and now think they know how to do school. Because your best teachers, the ones you really admired and wanted to imitate, had reached the point where the backstage magic never showed. You had an exciting discussion or worked on a memorable project or you had an educational adventure that stays with you to this day, but you have absolutely no knowledge of all the things that your teacher did to make it all occur. You remember how inspirational and knowledgeable and wise Mrs. O'Teachalot was, but you never noticed her superior grasp of the strategy and tactics of teaching, because like everyone else at the top of their craft, she made it look effortless. She made the technique involved seemingly disappear. All of her teacher choices-- how to hand out the papers, questioning strategies, pacing choices, decisions about assessment, focuses for discussion, and a hundred other tiny decisions-- were deliberate on her part, and invisible to you, the student. 

So planning, particularly in the early years of a career, matters. You finish your career with a great pedagogical filing cabinet in your head, with files and folders and great collections of lesson ideas and materials that you can dip into at will, all of written out in your own hand, with edits and additions and notes scribbled in the margins, and you can dip into those files at will. You start your career with a couple of loose pieces of paper in a small, non-organized stack. Planning lessons is how you fill that filing cabinet. 

It should go without saying that nobody can do this for you. You can use printed materials or stuff that you found on Pinterest as a jumping off point, but the adapting and editing must be do-it-yourself. Even the dreaded TSWBAT can be useful-- but only as a prompt to your own thinking. The teacher-proof program in a box is a myth; without processing it through your own brain, editing for your own strengths and weaknesses, adapting for your own class, it's just a waste of time. Model plans (favored by folks like the UbD crowd) are bunk as well. And if you think scripting is a good idea, get out of teaching now. The processing, reflecting, running it through your own brain is most of the point. Context, students, material, what happened last week-- it's all very personal, and if your process isn't personal, it's a waste of time.

And yet, having said all that, I have another confession to make-- during the last few years of my career, I didn't submit lesson plans. Because lesson plans, as most districts currently do them, are a massive waste of time.

What Happened? How can you tell if your lesson plans are a waste of time?


The appropriate audience for a set of lesson plans is an audience of one-- the teacher. 

Requiring lesson plans top be submitted To The Office is a common exercise is futility. Will anyone up there actually read them? Only if they're looking for a reason to get you in trouble. Other wise your lesson plans could suddenly I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of Bulgaria and it won't matter. Maybe you work in a building where the administrator stops by your room and says, "Hey, I was looking into your lesson plans and I had some thoughts about helping you develop a broader variety of questioning strategies." Also, maybe your administrator is a shaved Yeti who rides to school on a unicorn. 

As soon start factoring in an extra audience for your lesson plans, they become less useful for you. At that point, lesson plans start losing ground on the most important metric of all, the metric by which every single piece of education policy on the large national level and the local district level should be judged-- does this help teachers do the work? 

Oh, and the old baloney about "We need everyone's lesson plans on file in case there's a sub"? Nowadays, it's a rare day when the sub even has the proper certification. But the sub isn't you, doesn't know your students, doesn't know what you've been doing. Unless you've set it up--with your plan--the sub can't execute your lesson plan anyway. That's why you have separate sub plans for days you have to miss.

I Don't Want To Do It Either, But We Have To Talk About Those Damned Common Core Standards Again

We probably don't talk enough about how the national standards movement had hugely empowered bad administrators.

In olden times, bad administrators might use any number of bad management techniques, or just flail away quietly in the office and leave everyone alone. But the standards movement, most exemplified by the Core, but in many states pre-dating that ugly beast, created a whole new tool and a magical invocation that allowed bad administrators a tool that would give them a measurable method for masking their incompetence. The invocation, the magical phrase?

Aligned to standards.

So now, after writing out formal plans, teachers now get to "align" every element of their plan to the standards. This is a Kafkaesque process that rewards (or at least punishes least) those who treat the process with the least respect. Keep a chart of the standards handy. Write out your lesson plans. Then go through the plan just sort of filling in standards numbers wherever they seem to remotely fit. Principal collects plans, checks the list of standards that are being addressed, and says, "Yay! I'm a fabulous administrator-- look at how well aligned our instruction is!"

Worse, this is what new teachers are being taught in teacher school (see some depressing tales in Daniel Koretz's The Testing Charade). They are now coming out of college thinking that managing to line up standards is like planning a lesson.

The standards movement has been driven by a profound distrust of actual teachers, and that distrust pushes down into lesson planning and the notion that, really, teachers can't actually be trusted to do this stuff so we need to buy teacher-proof materials and micromanage every aspect of their job, but since we don't actually understand their job, we're just going to hogtie them to these standards and declare that we have fixed them. 

And it gets worse. Because up till a few years ago, this drive to micromanage and standardize the crap into everything was limited by an administrator's available hours in the day. 

But now-- technology!!

The past few years have seen an explosion in lesson planning curriculum managing standards boosting software. Maybe you've been introduced to On Hand Schools. My former district went with eDoctrina. All make the same basic promise. Plug in your curriculum units and your grade levels and then you can just add instructional units and even, in some cases, tests and etc etc etc. Your state standards are already pre-loaded. So administrators will be able to pull up reports and see where there are "gaps" in your alignment and see who's covering which standards when and while you're feeding all this in the software will just poop out a fully-formed curriculum. There's also the promise, not always articulated, that once Mrs. McTeachalot has fed all of her work on her course, any warm body will be able to pull up the course on the computer and teach it just like Mrs. McTeachalot (because teachers are essentially interchangeable meat widgets with no personal expertise). 

This is all really insulting and betrays a pretty fundamental lack of understanding about how the whole teaching thing works, but mostly it is a giant useless time suck.

First, whatever software you're using requires you to learn all its weird little ins and outs. You will learn to serve the software. 

Second, you will have to learn to think in whatever data blocks the software throws at you. You will learn to serve the software.

Third, you will have to do lesson planning when and where the tech allows. No handwritten lesson plans on a legal pad while sitting in a hammock drinking coffee. Also, while your legal pad can sit on your desk or lectern or wherever is most helpful, the digital lesson plan is confined to your screen. And fiddling with all of this takes a bunch of extra time. 

But most of all-- this is not for the teacher. This does not help the teacher do the work. This does not provide any opportunity for reflection or revision or development. I have been That Guy and asked in a meeting, "Who is this for? Who is this supposed to help? Is this supposed to help me teach? Because I don't see how it will." I did not get answers for those questions, and I don't think anyone ever will, because the real answer is for administrators to say, "This will make extra work for you, but it will make my job easier." 

And this is when you know lesson planning at your school is dead.

Tech-abetted or not, the key quality of bad lesson plan requirements is that they are not there to help teachers do the work, but to make administrators' lives easier. I want to be able to find out what you're doing, but I don't want to have to actually walk to your room to do it. I want to be able to prove to my bosses that I'm supervising the hell out of you, and showing them this stack of lesson plans will do that. Developing curriculum is hard, and if we have meetings, you teachers will insist on speaking up like you're experts or something. All your standards are belong to us.

You'll do what so many of us have done. You will do a set of personal lesson plans for yourself, and you will generate some second set of formal-ish lesson plans to submit to the office. Neither you nor anyone else will ever really look at them again; they are the very definition of wasted time and steep opportunity cost. 

Lesson planning can be valuable, even necessary. Even formal lesson planning can be useful. But we've been slowly moving away from that toward a sort of pointless cyber-fueled paperwork dance. We can talk at great length about the features and details and nuts and bolts of useful lesson planning, but these nuts and bolts vary from school to school and teacher to teacher. All that we really need to do is ask the question-- does this help teachers do the work? Ask the question of your staff--and then accept the answer. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Eight Weeks Of Summer: Getting It Done

This post is week 6 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for educators.

I've been doing this challenge because why not. I answer the prompts as my pre-tirement self. Here's this week's question:

How are you planning to implement change next school year?

This often depended on the change. For lots of changes, I just did it. Changing how I approached vocabulary? Just did it. Changing the reading list for Honors English? Just did it. Experimenting with my room lay out (like the year I got rid of desks)-- get help from the custodial staff, and then just did it.

My school was generally supportive of teacher autonomy in many areas (whether this was a matter of trust or indifference was always a topic of discussion), and so I was free to do a lot of implementing on my own. However, there was one element that was supremely important--


I worked with a wide variety of principals over my career, and I can't say that any of them were that concerned with the nuts and bolts of English classroom instruction. Nevertheless, I still told them what was going on. In particular, my rule at all times with administrators is that anything that might result in a phone call had to be communicated to them first.

Everybody wants a supportive boss, but you make being supportive hard when you set your boss up to be blindsided. If she's getting a call asking, "What the hell does Mr. Greene think he's doing with that new unit," it's not helpful to leave her stammering, "Well, now, actually, I have no idea what you're talking about."

So I would visit the office. "Just wanted to let you know. This is what I'm doing, and this is why I'm doing it, and here's why you might get a phone call about it, so here's my explanation of why this is professionally sound." This gives your admin the information they need to support you, and let's them respond to phone calls (if they come) with, "Yes, I'm already on top of that," instead of "Homina homina homina."

I also communicated with my department members, particularly those directly upstream and downstream of me. "You know how I've always done this thing? Well, I've decided to stop doing it, so next year the students I send you won't have done it." Of course, much of the time before I actually decided to change something. I had already discussed it with colleagues. But it's still useful to tell them that the change is actually happening.

The better your discussion, research, study, and general thinking-through for a change, the easier it is to implement. You just do it. The above mentioned deskless room lasted just one year, because I really hadn't thought it all the way through, and so I rolled it out before I was really ready to work it through. The deskless problems were secondary to the I-didn't-seem-like-I-knew-exactly-what-the-heck-I-was-doing problem. It's not necessary to have a micro-detailed plan for the change, because that can make you too rigid, and you'll miss some amazing opportunities that happen organically. But you can't just build the plane in mid-air, either.