Friday, January 31, 2020

OH: More Voucher Nonsense

I've frequently kvetched that a central fallacy at the heart of school choice is the notion that several parallel school system can be run for the cost of one. "Why," I ask, "can't politicians have the cojones to just say they think school choice is so important that they are going to raise peoples' taxes to pay for it?"

Well, the legislature of Ohio (motto "We want to be Florida when we grow up") is coming really close.

You will recall that Ohio school districts are facing an explosion in costs as they enter the next phase of the privatization program. Phase One is familiar to most of us--you start out with vouchers and charters just for the poor families who have to "escape failing public schools." Phase Two is the part where you expand the program so that it covers everybody.

Well, Ohio screwed up its Phase Two. Basically, they expanded the parameters of their privatization so quickly that lots of people noticed. The number of eligible school districts skyrocketed, and that brought attention to a crazy little quirk in their system, as noted by this report from a Cleveland tv station:

We analyzed data from the eight Northeast Ohio school districts that paid more than $1 million in EdChoice vouchers to area private schools during the 2019-2020 school year as part of the program.

Those districts include Akron, Canton, Cleveland Heights-University Heights, Euclid, Garfield Heights, Lorain, Maple Heights, and Parma City Schools.

Out of the 6,319 students who received EdChoice vouchers, we found 4,013, or 63.5%, were never enrolled in the district left footing the bill for their vouchers.

Yep. That means that at the moment this kicks in, the district loses a buttload of money, while its costs are reduced by $0.00. This means that either the local school district cuts programs and services, or it raises taxes to replace the lost revenue, effectively calling on the taxpayers to help fund private school tuition for some students. I wonder how many legislators who helped engineer this are also opposed to plans from Democratic candidates to provide free college tuition at taxpayer expense?

The legislature has been running around frantically trying to-- well, not head this off so much as slow it down just enough to reduce the number of angry phone calls their staff has to take. Nobody seems to be saying "This is a mistake" so much as they'e saying "Doing this so fast that people really notice is a mistake." Someone cranked the heat on the frogs too fast. Meanwhile, this weekend was their last chance to get this fixed before next year's voucher enrollment opens, and they have decided to punt because everyone is getting cranky.

Is this at least going to help some poor folks? Well, the proposal is to up the cap to 300% of poverty level. That's $78,600 for a family of four. So there's that.

And Betsy DeVos has joined the fray, apparently invited by some pro-choice legislators to help out. Actually, behind the scenes legislative arm-twisting is the one part of her job she has experience with, so she may help. Meanwhile, reformsters argue that it's no big deal and it's the public school systems own fault for not keeping these voucher-users enticed to public school, though given the number of vouchers being used at Catholic and other religious schools, I'm not sure how, exactly, the public school was supposed to compete.

It's a big fat mess (here's the meat of the mess in four handy charts), but I want to underline again that part of it is that the Ohio legislature now wants taxpayers to help foot the bill for private school education, for some people, including those who were never ever in a public school to begin with.

Time has run out for a neat fix. Stay tuned to see what ugly mess they end up with. Meanwhile, Florida yesterday showed that they still know how to boil those frogs-- yesterday they expanded the reach of their voucher program while reducing state oversight of it.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

FL: Another Voucher Problem (And Not The One You Think)

When the Orlando Sentinel revealed that many Florida private schools-- eighty-some of them!-- were both receiving taxpayer dollars and openly discriminating against LGBTQ students, it was not exactly news. Rebecca Klein had the same story on a national level at Huffington Post back in 2017. Voucher money goes to religious schools, and some religious schools discriminate against LGBTQ students (and teachers).

But sometimes a particular story hits at just the right moment and suddenly draws a huge reaction. That's apparently what happened this time, because the backlash against Florida's tax credit scholarship program has begun (tax credit scholarship programs, you may recall, are the programs that let wealthy donors fund their favorite private school in place of paying their taxes).

Two huge banks-- Wells Fargo and Fifth Third Bank-- have indicated that they would no longer contribute to the Florida program (Step Up for Children) funding the vouchers.

We have reviewed this matter carefully and have decided to no longer support Step Up for Students. All of us at Wells Fargo highly value diversity and inclusion, and we oppose discrimination of any kind.

We have communicated with program officials that we will not be contributing again until more inclusive policies have been adopted by all participating schools to protect the sexual orientation of all our students.

This may seem like great news. I'm not so sure. Here's why.

First, Wells Fargo and Fifth Third are both based out of state-- Wells Fargo in San Francisco and Fifth Third in Cincinnati. So you've got major school funding coming from entities that are not particularly local.

Second, and more importantly, this is uncomfortable news about how exactly is in charge here. It's great that these patrons are flexing their funding muscles in a good cause, but what if they weren't? What if they were tying funding to demands that the schools be less inclusive?

This whole business is a reminder that tax credit scholarship programs put schools at the mercy of their wealthy patrons, and even if the private voucher-accepting school were locally owned and operated, now they face the prospect of having their purse strings held by some corporate mucky-mucks on the other side of the country.

And the business about how voucher programs "empower" parents and students because now they can exert market pressure by "voting with their feet" turns out to be high grade baloney, because the feet that matter most are the ones attached to the people who write the big checks. Folks running private schools who get their school into a program like this will rue the day. I imagine some in Florida are ruing it right now. The purse strings are held by folks who aren't accountable to parents, voters, taxpayers or anything but their own business interests, which may or may not align with education.

And lest we forget, this is the same program that Betsy DeVos wants to operate on a national scale as Education Freedom. It does not empower parents; it empowers rich folks who want to avoid taxes and who want to have a big fat say in how certain schools are run.

MI: Whitmer Stands Up For Reading Sense (GLEP Opposes)

Of all the pieces of bad, dumb, abusive policy that have come out of the ed reformster movement, one of the worst is third grade reading retention. Michigan has it, and their governor wants to get rid of it. Guess who wants to stand up for it.

Lansing in winter; much like April in Paris
How did this damn fool policy get spread across the country? Somebody half-looked at some  research and said, "Hey, there's a correlation between how well a student reads in third grade and their later success, so let's just flunk all third graders who don't pass the Big Standardized Reading Test." This is bad policy for oh so many reasons. Let me count the ways:

* It confuses correlation with causation. It's like saying "We notice that students who have larger than size 5 shoes at age 8 are taller by age 12, so let's hold everyone who has smaller shoe sizes in third grade until they get big enough. That way they'll be taller when they're age 12." No, actually, it's worse than that, because the low reading level and the lack of future success are probably both related to something else entirely and that something else is what schools should be addressing.

* It assumes that for some reason a bunch of eight year olds are slacking off and that what would really motivate them is a big-ass threat to say goodbye to all their friends and repeat third grade.

* Also, nothing really motivates a child like having to be repeatedly labeled a failure.

* Also, children have no real interest in reading, which has no intrinsic appeal, so we'd better come up with some exterior motivator.

* It assumes that for some reason teachers are slacking, so maybe if we threaten their students, they'll Teach Better.

* It leads to the kind of foolishness that we've seen (of course) in Florida, where third graders who are excellent readers, but who didn't comply with the testing regimen, were flunked.

* And finally-- and I cannot type this hard enough-- IT DOES NOT WORK!

* Seriously. The evidence just keeps piling up. And piling up. From state to state. Study after study. It is true, again, that students who struggle with reading in third grade continue to struggle with school, but there is not an iota of evidence that retaining them helps, and plenty that it does not-- even does harm.

Third grade reading retention has one effect that some folks like. If you start holding back third graders who can't pass a reading test (like Mississippi did) then you'll probably find that your fourth graders passing rate for a BS Test like NAEP will improve (like Mississippi's did).

Michigan is in the process of phasing reading retention in after passing a law to punish eight year olds implement the policy in 2016. But Michigan is also in the process of installing a governor who is not a giant tool, and she indicated way back in March of last year that she wanted to see that "destructive" law go away.

“That doesn’t fix the problem,” she said. “A child who can’t read isn’t going to get better because you told him he was bad. Parents aren’t going to get more engaged” in that scenario.

This made the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP) sad. GLEP is an advocacy/lobbying group set up by Betsy DeVos to push for charters, choice, A-F grades, etc-- all the things she loves. So it's not surprising that they oppose the non-reformy Gov. Whitmer, including by misrepresenting her proposal, indicating that she wants to "eliminate reading intervention" despite her call to triple the number of literacy coaches in the state.

Well, that flap was last March. Now it's back. Whitmer was expected to call for an initiative that would provide students and families with ways to circumvent the law as well as get additional assistance. The Bridge offers one insightful sentence about reactions:

Whitmer’s actions will likely be popular among education leaders, who in general oppose the law, but struck a sour note for one Michigan business leader and longtime proponent of K-12 reform.

Two things to note. Apparently The Bridge doesn't have any education leaders that it can call and ask for comment. Second, yes, educators will think this is a good idea, and amateurs who don't know what they're talking about will not. Speaking of which, GLEP has some thoughts, again, via Executive Director Beth DeShone:

Michigan’s 3rd grade reading law provides students with the resources and supports they need to read at grade level before they leave the 3rd grade, and the governor’s aggressive attempts to undermine the law will cost many the chance at a brighter future.

And so on, in a similar combative vein, heavy on rhetoric that stops just short of saying that Whitmer hates children, but which includes zero evidence that the third grade retention policy does any good (Whitmer, for her part, has frequently brought up things like "science" and "evidence.")

I've never fully understood why some reformsters love this policy so much. Because they sincerely don't comprehend why it's a b ad policy? Because of the fourth grade test results bump? Because it lets some folks make a lot of money off of testing and remediation? Because it creates another data point that can be used to argue that schools and teachers are big failing failures? Or because the reformsters are largely conservatives, and what passes for conservatives these days includes a lot of people who seem haunted that Some People are getting Good Stuff they don't deserve while escaping Bad Stuff they should have to suffer through (looking at you, Secretary DeVos), and somehow that idea extends all the way down to eight year olds?

I don't know. There are ed reform policies that I disagree with, but which I recognize can seem reasonable and right from a certain point of view, and while I think they're wrong, I don't think you have to be evil or stupid to support them. Third grade retention is not one of those policies. It's absolutely indefensible. Governor Whitmer is absolutely right to focus on helping children learn to read instead of punishing eight year olds for failing a BS Reading Test. That's what makes sense-- do as much as you can to help, which includes not hammering an eight year old with threats and punishment. Throw all your resources into helping them, and zero into punishing them. That doesn't seem so hard to grasp, GLEP.

Monday, January 27, 2020

McKinsey's New Baloney Sales Pitch For Computerized Classroom

McKinsey is the 800 pound gorilla of consulting, a behemoth with their own set of values about how to drag everything into MarketWorld (I recommend Anand Giridharadas's Winners Take All for a closer look at how that world looks). They have occasionally dipped their toes into the world of education because, hey, there's a lot of money in that pool. One notable adventure was their plan for re-structuring the Boston school system, which was mostly about cutting all manner of expenses, like, you know, food for the students. They also like to make the occasional bad argument for heavy duty data analytics.

Of course, the Hot New market in education is computerizing the classroom. It's got everything-- more opportunities to sell both hardware and software as well as cutting back the money spent on those classroom meat widgets with their expensive teaching degrees. The main thrust of the computerized classroom has been Personalized [sic] Learning (powered by super-duper AI), but Jill Barshay at Hechinger Report captures in one neat, understated paragraph why that is not living up to entrepreneurial expectations:

For much of the previous decade, advocates of education technology imagined a classroom where computer algorithms would differentiate instruction for each student, delivering just the right lessons at the right time, like a personal tutor. The evidence that students learn better this way has not been strong and, instead, we’re reading reports that technology use at school sometimes hurts student achievement.

God bless Barshay for writing "computer algorithm" instead of Artificial Intelligence.

But you see the problem-- it's going to be hard to market this stuff if it doesn't really work. What's a corporate entity to do? Can a multinational consulting firm offer some advice?

Well, the answer's simple. Change the sales pitch.

And so here comes a new McKinsey report, "How artificial intelligence will impact K-12 teachers." Yes, the computerized classroom isn't about using algorithms to throw learning at students any more-- now, it will be about computers saving teachers time and trouble so that they can have more time to teach the young humans.

We'll dig in to this in a moment, but first, keep in mind that these kinds of things always want to masquerade as a prediction of the future when they are actually a sales pitch. Any time some ed tech concern tells you, "this is what we see in the future," just imagine a used car salesman oozily intoning, "Yes, I can see you sailing down the road in this little beauty."

McKinsey has several points to make in this seven-page sales pitch. It's brief, but I've read it so that you don't have to. Let's break it down.

McKinsey Totally Feels Your Teacher Pain

The opening line of the pitch is aimed right at your teacher heart:

The teaching profession is under siege.

This will not be followed by an observation that teachers are besieged by things like multinational corporate advisors searching for better ROI. We will, in fact, spend no time on why, exactly, this siegification of the profession is happening. We just want to characterize its form in ways that might set up the later part of the pitch.

Teacher work hours are increasing, with more student needs and "administrative and paperwork burdens. In fact, McKinsey and Microsoft (folks who have always shown a deep concern for  teachers) did some research and decided that teachers are working 50 hour weeks. If you're not paying attention, you might assume they mean US teachers, but in fact the 50 number is an average for the US, Canada, the UK, and Singapore. So there's that.

Here's A Quick Composition Lesson (A Digression)

This is going to be a bit of a digression, but I think it's worth it to see how this technique works, because this is certainly not the only place you'll find it. There's a trick that writers (and artists and film directors and others) use called juxtaposition. By setting a few unrelated items right next to each other, we can suggest a connection without having to explain it, support it, or prove it. Watch what the writers of this pitch do with three simple sentences:

While most teachers report enjoying their work, they do not report enjoying the late nights marking papers, preparing lesson plans, or filling out endless paperwork. Burnout and high attrition rates are testaments to the very real pressures on teachers. In the neediest schools in the United States, for example, teacher turnover tops 16 percent per annum.

What do these three thoughts have to do with each other? Not nearly as much as the writers want you to think. Look at what happens if we separate them.

While most teachers report enjoying their work, they do not report enjoying the late nights marking papers, preparing lesson plans, or filling out endless paperwork. 

Burnout and high attrition rates are testaments to the very real pressures on teachers. 

In the neediest schools in the United States, for example, teacher turnover tops 16 percent per annum.

Try the prediction test. If you saw just one of those sentences--any one--just by itself, hat would you predict the next sentence might be about? We could be talking about the clerical drudgery of teaching, the many issues related to the loss of teachers, or the turnover problems of schools in high poverty communities. Three different topics. But string the three sentences together and suddenly suggesting that if teachers had fewer papers to grade, high-poverty schools would hold onto more of their staff.  And I know I said I'd digress, but not long enough to rebut that silly notion.

So, back to it.

The Broad Strokes

The intro lays out the basic bones of the pitch. After reassuring us that teachers are not going away any time soon--

...our research suggests that, rather than replacing teachers, existing and emerging technologies will help them do their jobs better and more efficiently.

Our current research suggests that 20 to 40 percent of current teacher hours are spent on activities that could be automated using existing technology. 

There are some rumbly things lurking here, like observing that more advanced tech could push the 20-40% number higher "and result in changes to classroom structure and learning modalities, but are unlikely to displace teachers in the foreseeable future," which is kind of weak reassurance. Also, there's this--

One of the Sure Signs of Edu-Baloney  

They support the value of a good education by citing Raj Chetty and his baloney about a good teacher boosting a student's lifetime earnings. This is always a bad sign.

Now for the Nitty Gritty

Here's a charter breaking down the 50 hours that teachers in four completely different countries average in a week.

Preparation 10.5
Evaluation and feedback 6.5
Professional development 3.0
Administration (and "other") 5.0

Student instruction and engagement  16.5
Student behavioral, SEL development 3.5
Student coaching and advisement  4.5

I broke those into two groups because the authors only count the last three as time in direct interaction with students, and they point out that it adds up to 49%-- less than half. They are pretty sure this is a big deal. I've worked for a few boards and administrators who were pretty sure that if a teacher wasn't in front of students, then the time was being wasted, so this 49% hits a raw nerve for me. It's like pointing out that a baseball player only spends a small percentage of his swing actually hitting the ball, so maybe we could cut out the extra effort. Or a theater group spends weeks running through a show, but only does all that singing and dancing in front of an audience for a small percentage of the total nights, so why not cut that fat when they're prancing around the theater in front of empty seats?

If you don't understand the connection between the first set of tasks and the second, then I'm not sure you have anything to tell me about teaching.

Ed Tech Is Here To Help! Deja Vu Ahead.

After they broke down the 50 hours, the researchers evaluated some existing tech and talked to experts and decided which areas could be handed over to automation.

Half, or almost half, of the time for preparation, evaluation and feedback, and administrivia could be automated. Two of the instructional hours could go, and a half an hour of PD could be handled. Now, in keeping with the pitch, the authors call this "reallocatable time" and not, say, "how much of the job could be handed to a computer."

So how is that even supposed to work? Well, the report doesn't get too specific, but it's specific enough to be recognizable. They start with preparation as an example-- software companies will be happy to offer assessment packages that are tied to assignments to meet the ass--oh, hell, they're just pitching mini-algorithm selected personalized instruction here. Let the HAL 3000 write your lesson plans, save five hours.

They note that computers don't seem like a good choice for the human-on-human parts of teaching, and cite PISA scores (sigh) to show that globally students who use screens in the classroom are doing worse than those that don't. They call this a "disconnect" rather than a "failure of concept," and they have an explanation for it. Brace yourself. Here it comes.

Our hypothesis is that implementing technology in the classroom at scale is hard.

Mind blown. Specifically, it's the "integrating effective software" and "training teachers how to adapt to it" part that is hard. So they don't think that "technology in the classroom is not going to save much direct instructional time." And this is important-- it's not going to save time, but they still plan on doing it. The teacher will need to be in the classroom, "but their role will shift from instructor to facilitator and coach."  So, exactly like every other personalized [sic] learning pitch.

Greetings. I'm your new class facilitator.
Computers, they believe, can totally help with evaluation and assessment. Always been great for multiple choice tests (too bad multiple choice tests aren't great for assessment). The writers also serve up the old baloney about computers can handle long-form essay answers (spoiler alert- they can't). And they even claim that writing software can look at trends across many essays and provide targeted feedback, which is probably true if you think that Grammarly and the squiggly red lines in Word are good guides to good writing (fun fact-- Grammarly's Premium service sells you the use of a human proofreader).

And finally, computers can help with administrivia, which, sure, if the software's any good. The report does not say how the computer is saving teachers a half hour on professional development. I'm betting that does not take into account the hours that will be spent on training teachers to use the software.

What Will We Do With All That Time?  

McKinsey has some ideas. None of them include "get laid off as administrators gleefully conclude they can get more done with fewer staff people." There's "improving education through more personalized learning" plus SEL stuff and other teachery things that teachers in their survey said they didn't have enough time for. They could collaborate with each other, or develop those teacher-student relationships that research says are important but somehow that's not what we're arguing should be the centerpiece of the new education vision.

And if you're playing Buzzword Bingo, the writers there will be more time for social-emotional learning and "the development of the 21st-century skills that will be necessary to thrive in an increasingly automated workplace." \

How Do We Do It?

Well, we can use the tech that exists, so that's a relief. But it is "no small task."  It will require commitment "across a broad range of stakeholders," all the way down to the students who have to decide they want more of their education managed by computers.

The report offers four "imperatives" that have to be in place to properly bring on a happily computerized learning for students time savings for teachers.

Target investment: The schools that have had some success with this "have often been able to access more funding." Or to put it another way, this whole set-up is really expensive. So pump in the money and spend smart.

Start with easy solutions: If you do a good job handling administrivia or "simple evaluative tools for formative testing" then that will whet teachers' appetite for "more holistic solutions." In other words, if the stuff works, people are more inclined to welcome it than when it doesn't work.

Share what is working: This isn't going to happen, not because teachers don't like to share, but because every single one of these "solutions" comes from a company with a marketing department. The report calls for "neutral arbiters," but there is no such animal. Teachers and administrators will be on their own to sort through the swamp of marketing claims, many of which will be designed to appeal to the administrator who buys the software and not the teachers who will use it (or not).

Building the capacity of teachers and school leaders to blah blah blah look, this just means win a bunch of hearts and minds and train a bunch of people not only to be able to use the stuff, but to want to use it. It will involve a lot of noise about using things with fidelity and getting tech fully integrated so that everyone can be on the same page. It involves the same kind of PR we're looking at now, designed to convince teachers that whatever is being pitched is inevitable; it's how the future absolutely will be, so just smile and relax. All will be assimilated. It's easier if you don't fight it.

You will notice that not one of the four imperatives is "talk to actual teachers and find out what the hell they would find useful."

So That's The New Skins For the Old Wine

Absolutely nothing in the substance of this pitch has changed. Nothing. Computerize as much as you can, including selection and delivery of instruction, which will be "personalized" by an algorithm that may or may not be any good. Teachers can stick around to be "coaches." It's the same Personalized [sic] Learning business for the computerized classroom that we've been hearing for a while.

All that's changed here is the packaging. Now instead of claiming that this will educate the young humans super well, it's a advance that will aid teachers by freeing up their time to coach and facilitate and data enter and learn how to use software and, in plenty of cases, look for a new job. It still puts a computer at the center of the classroom, and it still delivers a sub-standard education-flavored product.

SC: A Bill of Rights For Teachers, Sort Of

Like many other states, South Carolina is failing to hold attract and retain teachers. They're doing an especially lousy job holding onto beginning teachers; after the 2017-2018 school year, 34% of the first year teachers did not return to their classroom. Veterans are also bailing, because of "low pay, a burdensome testing system and a sense they aren’t valued."

Wallet Hub ranks South Carolina as the 44th best/worst state to be a teacher, and the state has some fundamental issues with holding onto or attracting teachers. It's a right to work state with a union stripped of the power to negotiate. And when we say "low pay," well, according to one set of figures wage stagnation and inflation added up to a $6,700 pay cut for the average South Carolina teacher. Last spring, 10,000 SC teachers walked out and protested the general state of, well, everything about education in the state.

So, South Carolina's got a long, steady problem holding onto teachers.

But some legislators have come up with a nifty idea to help solve the problem-- a teacher bill of rights.

The meat of the bill has some nifty things. It has been kicking around since 2018 and currently exists in two versions (house and senate).

The Senate version, currently under debate:

All teachers have the right to:

1) have their professional judgment "fully respected."

2) get disruptive students out of their classroom and maintain a safe learning environment

3) work in a safe, secure, hazard-free, learning-enriching environment

4) "unencumbered" daily planning time, equal to at least 1/4 of their assigned instructional time

5) be "free of excessive and burdensome paperwork"

6) extra pay for extra work

7) receive, as newbies, support and qualified mentoring

8) file a "declaratory judgment action" if their school or districts fails in any of this

The House version, passed last year:

All teachers should be able to expect to:

1) have their professional judgment and discretion "included" in decisions

2) teach free from fear of frivolous lawsuits

3) take disciplinary actions "to facilitate a learning environment developed through a culture of respect between teacher and student"

4) work in an environment conducive to learning

5) have unencumbered daily planning time

6) have the state recognize that it should have a goal of a commensurate teacher salary

7) have the state and district take steps to ensure that teachers aren't burdened with unnecessary paperwork

8) extra pay for extra work

9) receive, as newbies, support and qualified mentoring

Each of these has a nifty self-negating clause attached

The Senate version has the ability for teachers to sue in case of violation--but they may get nothing from the suit except the recovery of their lawyer fees. I suppose such a suit would also win a promise from the district that they would behave oh so much better in the future, even as they no doubt harbored a special love, respect and appreciation for the staff member who beat them in court.

The House version says that nothing in their list can be sued over. Seriously. These "rights" are enshrined in law, and if your district is breaking that law, you can, I don't know-- be really grumpy about it. That'll show them.

So after crafting these rights, each wing of the legislature has also made sure to extract all their teeth, leaving them as a sort of set of pleasant suggestions.

And really, the lists are nothing to write home about.

As some commenters have already noted, there are other things not to love here. Some of these are great and fully enforceable. Some of these sound good, but are completely unenforceable. Who exactly decides if a piece of paperwork is "burdensome"? How exactly does one adjudicate whether or not a teacher's judgment has been "respected" or "included" if administration clazims to have done so, but rules against the teacher anyway?

And some of these are, well-- it's easy to judge if a teacher has been paid extra for extra duty, and it's easy to determine whether or not administration has intruded on planning time with meetings or extra assignments. I don't want to minimize these things, but you know how teachers in lots of other states handle these kinds of issues? With contracts negotiated by their union. This kind of stuff is one of the side effects of state-level union-busting and state-level commandeering of districts-- now your state legislature has to make things matters of law that could easily be managed by local districts and local chapters of unions. I mean, seriously-- a state law about planning periods??!! Will teachers also have to get their school parking permits from the state capital? Will the legislature be assigning lunch shifts for each school?


At first glance, these Bill of Teacher Rights seem swell enough, there is a problem.

I'm not talking about a quibble, like noting that the law is written to say that these are "inalienable rights conferred upon all public school teachers." (I guess charter teachers are SOL). If something's an inalienable right, nobody has to confer it upon you. Just saying.

But that is quibbling. Here's the larger problem. The bills are a nice description of how teachers would be treated if the state government and school leaders of South Carolina respected  them. In fact, I'll bet there are districts where teachers looked at this and said, "This is superfluous, because our district treats us with respect and we already get all this."

But you don't get to respect by imitating its forms while ignoring the underlying substance. You don't fix a relationship by saying, "Well, I know that my cheating and emotional abuse are kind of a problem, but I hear that loving couples talk every day, so I'm going to start calling you every day at noon." I suppose that there's something to be said for faking it till you're making it. But if you've made an actual commitment to actually listening to teachers and respecting them as professionals, that goes a lot further than writing out a promise that you'll totally do that.

And there's nothing inherently wrong with anything on this list-- unless legislators pass it and then declare, "Okay, we've totally fixed the teacher respect problem in this state and now we never have to talk about it again." Meanwhile, the Bill of Rights is part of a larger, contentious education bill that covers issues of real substance.

South Carolina's legislature seems to be trying to solve the same bad puzzle as many legislators and, sadly, school administrators around the country-- how can we make it look like we're respecting teachers and listening to teachers and really involving teachers without, you know, having to actually do it? Because if we were really going to do it we might have to consider really crazy things like letting teachers have a powerful union or be involved in making major decisions. Heck, we might even have to let them have a Bill of Rights with actual teeth.

I hope the Bill of Rights passes. I hope some teachers in South Carolina benefit from its existence. But I hope that the legislature doesn't imagine that this kind of gesture isn;'t going to solve the state's teacher problems.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

ICYMI: Is It Still January Edition (1/26)

Every Sunday (well, almost every Sunday) I post a collection of goodies from the week that I think are worth reading. In case, you know, you missed them. I also encourage you to share anything you like (use its "home" location to share so that they get any benefits of traffic). That's what's going on here. You can dig into the ICYMI archives just by using the little search block in the upper left corner of the page (just search for "ICYMI").

Thanks. I haven't explained myself in a while, so I thought I'd do that. Now for this week's list.

The Dark Money of NPE

There have been some hints that maybe the Network for Public Education is backed up by some dark money, so the indispensable Mercedes Schneider dug out the receipts. Here's the facts.

Teachers belong on the State Board of Education

A remarkably not-crazy idea from Florida from a teacher, suggesting that maybe a few non-amateurs might help ou with Floirida's failing flailing ed policy.

Trump Scores Better Than Us on GREs

Education historian Adam Laats specializes in conservative Christian thought, which makes him a good guy to parse Trump's non-solution to a non-problem in which Beloved Leader announces that he has restored prayer to public schools.

No justification or money for private school vouchers in Georgia

Georgia state senator Elena Parent explains at AJC why Georgia doesn't need-- and can't afford-- vouchers.

This teacher had to tell her deaf students that people can hear farts.

Look, teachable moments come in a lot of shapes and sizes. This will satisfy your cute story needs for the week.

If your university's administration ran a polar expedition.

McSweeney's brings the satire. Warning: some readers found this entirely too realistic.

The JLV on TeachLab

Jose Luis Vilson did a podcast. It's a half hour of your time well spent.

Annotated by the author  

The New York Times is trying something new with its mentor texts-- author annotations talking about how and why they did what they did. This is a very cool new tool for writing instructors.

Virtual charter schools need to be reined in

The Muskogee Phoenix editorial board takes a stand and call for more careful monitoring of cyber schools.

Even facial recognition supporters say it won't stop school shootings  

As we slide into more and more student surveillance, it's important to note that even the people who like this stuff don't think it will actual help prevent the worst kind of events. This piece is at c/net.

Jesse Hagopian on bring Black Lives Matter into schools

Another podcast, this one featuring one of the great teacher activists of the Pacific Northwest.

Mike Turzai's PA education legacy

Mike Turzai is leaving the PA Senate to get a job in the private sector, which is bad news for fans of school privatization, because he was the best friend they had in Harrisburg. This is a good look back at some of his "greatest hits."

A Decade of expensive video math lessons for entrepreneurs

EdSurge, believe it or not, is going to point out some of the obvious dopey moves of ed tech video math whizzes over the last decade. Khan Academy isn't mentioned by name, but if the shoe fits...

Teacher Evaluation Recommendations Endorsed by the Educational Psychology Division of the American Psychological Association (APA)

Audrey Amrein-Beardsley at VAMboozled repoorts back on a report about which teacher evaluation methods the APA thinks are actually worthwhile.

You Get Up  

Blue Cereal Education with a very nice piece about crashing and learning. You've had at least one of those moments; apparently he has had a couple, but they make for good stories and some good thoughts about what you learn.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Ed Tech Reporters Should Make These Eight Resolutions For 2020

This ran three weeks ago over at Forbes. Three weeks into 2020 it still applies.

Audrey Watters bills herself as “an education writer, an independent scholar, a serial dropout, a rabble-rouser, and ed-tech's Cassandra.” Her Hack Education blog is required reading for anyone who cares about technology in education. Since founding the blog in 2010, she has provided a meaty, thoroughly researched and well-thought-out end-of-year assessment of ed tech. This year, she looked back over the entire span with “The 100 Worst Ed-Tech Debacles Of The Decade,” and it deserves a spot on every list of education end-of-decade lists.
There are several threads that run through the list of 100 failures, including hubris, wild over-promising, and simple ignorance of what the education field actually needs or wants from tech. But one of the biggest recurring themes is the failure of journalism to adequately cover stories. Time after time, journalists cover a new ed tech story with uncritical breathlessness. In almost none of the 100 examples can you point to early press coverage that said, “Hey, wait a minute. Here are a few reasons to think this might not really be a thing.” In just the last few months, the Washington Postpublished a glowing report of serial edupreneur Chris Whittle’s latest venture, and theNew York Times plugged Bakpax, the newest edtech wunder-product from the man who brought us Knewton, a company that promised to be able to tell students what breakfast they should eat on test day (it did not succeed).
So as we roll into the new year, let me suggest eight resolutions for journalists who cover the ed tech beat.
1) Ask what this person knows.
As you interview the latest hot new entrepreneur, probe his history. Does he have any experience or training in education, or has he spent his whole life in computer tech or investment banking? If he has no actual education in his background, a good follow up question might be, “What makes you think you have any idea what the heck you’re doing?” Note: two years in the classroom does not make someone a teaching expert.
2) Check the history of the idea.
Hardly a quarter goes by without the announcement of software that will make it possible to grade student essays. That promise has been made repeatedly, and even though some states are using versions of such software, there’s still no reason to believe that anyone has actually delivered the real thing. Les Perelman has made an entire side-career out of debunking essay grading software (including fooling computers with other computers). The vast number of ed tech “innovations” are not actually innovative at all. When confronted with the latest “new” idea, journalists should be studying up on the history of that idea and then, at a minimum, asking, “What is different about your iteration of this oft-attempted idea?”
3) Check the entrepreneur’s track record.
Ed policy is a field in which many somehow continue to fail upward. What is this innovator’s previous record? If his last three attempts at Changing The Face Of Education all failed, consider that a significant part of the current story. Also, when looking into the causes of his previous failure, you might want to talk to someone other than the innovator himself. 

4) Cultivate a team of actual teachers.

Every single time a piece of ed tech tanks, every single time the Next Big Thing has to close up shop, in classrooms across the country there are teachers saying, “Well, duh. I could have told you that junk was doomed.” Every ed tech journalist (just plain education journalists, too) should have a group of actual classroom teachers that she trusts. When the Next Big Thing lands on her desk, she should get ahold of her teacher squad and say, “Could you take a look at this and tell me what you think?” Interviewing teachers who have been hand-picked by the ed tech company does not count. 

5) Get an explanation, in plain English, of how the tech works.

A line-by-line look at proprietary programs is not necessary. But the tech company should be able to explain, in plain English, what the tech actually does. “Computer magic” is not a legitimate answer. “Sophisticated machine learning growth algorithms detect biometric cues which, through deep data large authentic engagement learning-centric analysis, provide flexible insights into individualized personal AI-selected metrics of the student’s systemic growth,” is not a legitimate answer. “We measure how long it takes the student to push the button because we think that correlates with how engaged she is,” is a legitimate answer. Follow up questions should include, “Is it even possible to actually do that” and “What reason is there to believe that the thing you’re actually measuring is a good proxy for the thing you want to measure?”

6) Remember that numbers aren’t automatically science, and science isn’t automatically correct.

The fact that the tech reduces something to a numerical value does not mean that it has actually measured anything worth measuring. Also, scientists once scientifically measured brain activity in dead salmon. Some science is bad science.

7) Correlation is not causation.

The marriage rate in Kentucky correlates with the number of people who drown after falling out of a boat, but the number of people who drown in a pool correlates to the number of films that Nicolas Cage appears in. Every time an ed tech pitch includes the claim that A correlates with B, go to this website (or buy the book) and remind yourself that ending Cage’s film career would not reduce drowning deaths in the U.S.

8) Be skeptical.

Talk to people who have knowledge and expertise, but no personal interest in the endeavor you’re writing about. Ask questions. In particular, ask questions such as “Can they really do that? How?” and “How would this benefit actual teachers and students in actual classrooms?” Journalists might even get extra rigorous and ask questions such as, “Should I believe these people?” Most of all remember that an ed tech declaration “This is what the future will be” is more about aggressively hopeful marketing than legitimate insightful prediction. 

Ed tech will continue to be a field full of hustling entrepreneurs and hopeful investors, and that’s fine. But it would be helpful if ed tech journalism was a little less breathless gee whizzery wrapped around the uncritical echoes of PR spin, and a little more carefully analytical skepticism.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Impersonating A Teacher

In a John White valedictory piece, he's called "a former English teacher in New Jersey." I have twice this week come across a reformster who says he "started out as a teacher." Regular students of ed reform have seen similar pattern over and over-- the reformy whiz who has been busy at the ed reform or ed leadership or ed consulting or even ed leadership biz for a while, but who claims to have been a teacher. Sometimes you have to dig hard, and sometimes it's just right there in the LinkedIN profile, but the answer is invariably the same.

Teach for America.

My hackles raise right up, all by themselves. If you clerked for a year before you went to work as a welder, you are not a former lawyer who's now qualified to sit as a federal judge. If you were pre-med in college and spent a summer working as a hospital orderly before you started managing a Piggly Wiggly, you are not a former doctor who's now qualified to serve as head of surgery for a major hospital. And if you spent two years in a classroom after five weeks of training and before you started law school and went into practice doing corporate acquisitions for hedge funders, you are not a former teacher who is now qualified to run an entire school district.

There are lots of complicated policy issues and intricate nuances to analyze about the last few decades of education reform. But one of the biggest problems with the modern ed reform is actually pretty simple-- ed reform has put a whole lot of unqualified amateurs in positions of responsibility that they lacked the knowledge or experience to manage well. John White, Kevin Huffman, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Chris Barbic, David Coleman-- unqualified amateurs all. And that's just the national stage-- it would be a herculean task to track all the regional amateurs, guys like David Hardy, Jr., who have trashed a local district after finding themselves in leadership positions they weren't qualified for. The graduates of the Broad Academy. Most of the Chiefs for Change. The rich guys like Gates and Zuckerberg who decide they should steer national education policy. All amateurs. Almost every boneheaded policy idea that made teachers shake their heads and roll their eyes-- produced by some unqualified amateur.

We can talk about the deep details of the last thirty years, but at heart it's as simple as a whole lot of important decisions made by people in charge who didn't know what the hell they were talking about.

And so many of these amateurs proudly touted "former teacher" on their resume, based on their two years with Teach for America.

Two years is nothing in teacher years. A second year teacher is still a teaching baby. Particularly if they started out behind and having to learn things that other beginning teachers had already learned before they arrived in the classroom. Particularly if, instead of asking questions like "How can I better grasp and develop this technique so it will serve my students better for the rest of my career" they are thinking things like, "Well, this is good enough to get me to the end of the year and then I'll never have to worry about it again."

Five to seven years is what it takes to get most folks up to speed. If you've got at least five years in in a classroom, I'll agree that you are a former teacher. At two years, you're just somebody who tried teaching and bailed. You are not a "former teacher" or someone who "started out as a teacher." I'd buy "tried teaching for a bit," but then, that wouldn't provide the kind of resume-enhancing, virtue-signaling, expertise-claiming punch you're looking for.

Are the Teach for America folks who were really sincere about their interest in teaching, or some who really meant to give it a shot but fund it wasn't for them? Sure. You can spot them because they kept teaching, or they got out and didn't try to pass themselves off as education experts for the rest of their career.

Can people develop expertise in education without having spent five years in the classroom? Sure-- mostly by doing a lot of listening to people who have.

Is this kind of snotty and elitist? Yes, I'll own that. Not everybody can teach, and not everybody who can teach can do it really, really well. I get that it's a club lots of people want to belong to, for a variety of reasons, but not everyone can. If you want a membership, then earn it.

I'll give David Coleman credit-- he at least proudly admitted to being an unqualified amateur. But I do wish that the rest of these folks would stop impersonating teachers. It demeans the profession and enables their claim to expertise that they simply don't possess. The world has always been filled with people who were sure they were education experts because they went to school, but now some of them have found a way to formalize that baloney.

One of the hallmarks of modern ed reform is language that is at best imprecise and at worst deliberately misleading. It's the score on a single two-subject standardized test-- it's "student achievement"! Well, memo to education journalists-- John White is not a former teacher, and neither are any of the rest of these impersonators running around trying to make a brief bout of edutourism look like a previous career choice.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

PA: Another Bill To Take Down, Sort Of, Cyber Charters

Rep. Curt Sonney is a GOP top dog in the Pennsylvania Education Committee, and he's never been known as a close friend of public schools. But he represents Erie, a district that has been absolutely gutted by school choice, so maybe that's why he has spent the last couple of years nipping at the heels of Pennsylvania's thriving cyber charter industry.

Harrisburg just had hearings on his latest proposal, a bill that he first announced last October and which has something for virtually everyone to hate.

Pennsylvania cyber schools are an absolute mess, barely covered by laws that never anticipated such a thing and protected by a massive pile of money thrown both at lobbying and campaign contributions.

The cybers do offer a service that is useful for some students (I personally know of one such case). But they also provide a quick exit for parents who don't want to deal with truancy issues or other disciplinary problems. Their results are generally very poor (none have ever been ranked proficient on the Big Standardized Test), and state oversight is so lousy that many were allowed to continue operating for years without ever having renewed their charters.

But what really has drawn the wrath of even people who don't pay much attention to education policy is that they are expensive as hell. Because the charter laws didn't really anticipate this cyber-development, cyber-charters are paid at the same rate as a brick-and-mortar charter. So an individual student may bring in $10-$20K, but costs the cyber charter the price of one computer, one printer, and 1/250th of an on-line teacher. The profit margin is huge, but so is the cost to local districts, with poorer districts in the state being hit the worst.

A year ago, there was a bill floating around Harrisburg to change the game-- if a local district opened a cyber-school, then any families that wanted to send their kid to an out-of-district cyber would have to foot the bill themselves.

The bill (HB 1897) is a bit involved, and we'll go digging in a moment, but the two headline items are this: all cyber-charters will be shut down, and all school districts will offer cyber education. Now, to look for some of those devilish details.

The timeline is nuts. The bill requires districts to have a full cyber education plan developed and submitted to the state by November of 2020. This pretty well guarantees that the plans will be a rush job for some districts, though many already have some sort of cyber-learning thingy in place. I appreciate the need for speed, but this is the kind of process that guarantees that some districts will be submitting paperwork-satisfying plans that don't necessarily have anything to do with reality. But all of that can be brought up at the public hearing required locally within 60 days of submitting the plan.

In addition to their own cyber-school, districts must also "provide provide students with the option to
participate in at least two alternative full-time cyber education programs." Those two programs must be provided by a third-party vendor. Why? Well, the cynical answer would be that this throws the cyber-charter industry a bone in the hopes that its lobbyists won't descend in numbers that blot out the Harrisburg sun. "Yes, I know we shut down your school, but there are now 500 districts that must hire cyber-providers for 1000 programs, so, you know-- ka-ching, and you're welcome." In fact, buried further down the bill, is explicit permission for the dissolved cybers to go ahead and do that.

There is a student-teacher ration requirement-- 25:1 for elementary and 30:1 for secondary. The state may waive this if the secretary is convinced that a higher ratio "will not adversely impact the academic quality of the program." Okay, question-- does that mean that if the program is lousy, it can have a waiver because a 150:1 ratio won't make it any lousier? Just asking.

All staff have to be properly certified-- an excellent protection for students in the program.

If a district pulls 20% of its students into cyber-education, it shall establish a cyber-school. It has the discretion to do this even if it doesn't meet the 20% mark.

It lays out the items that may be included in those third-party vendor contracts, which sets those vendors up to have at least some level of transparency. And those contracts will be available to the public (as are all such records in a public school system) and not kept secret (as in a charter school).

If a student is habitually truant, that student will be bounced out of the cyber-progam and not allowed to re-enter for two years.

Students can't be required to enroll in the cyber.

The department will offer some guidelines and "best practices" stuff to help districts set this all up. And there will be a state cyber-advisory committee. Those third-party vendors get a rep on this, but not anyone from an actual district.

And then the part about all cyber-charters being dissolved. They would be done at the end of the 2020-2021 school year.

Cyber-schools and cyber-student parents are freaking out about this, deploying op-eds wit varying degrees of accuracy and half-truthiness. But cyber charter operators are being offered a sweet market of captive customers. My numbers earlier were not exaggerations-- Pennsylvania has 500 school districts, so the law would call for 1,000 cyber-education programs to be run by third-party vendors. And seriously-- who but the companies that have been running cyber-charters will be ready to operate as third-party cyber-vendors within a year? Okay-- fun wrinkle, universities and other school districts are allowed to be third-party vendors, too. But cyber-school management companies will still have a leg up.

So what is there for the cyber-charters not to like? They will be forced to work with public school districts instead of around them, and they'll be forced to operate with more transparency than they're used to, and they'll have to hire more staff, and they will probably have to give up some of that tremendous profit margin they enjoy (although the bill is not super-clear about the money side of things). So, okay-- plenty.

For public schools, the biggest head scratcher is the need to offer three cyber-education programs.

Will this be the bill that finally does something about cyber-charters in Pennsylvanmia? Maybe, maybe not. It is one more sign that legislators are understanding more and more that cyber-charters have a huge funding and accountability problem. Let's see what they come up with next.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

A Teacher's Role In The Post-Truth Era

This piece from Sean Illing at Vox-- “Flood the zone with shit”: How misinformation overwhelmed our democracy-- captures the issue as well as anything I've seen in the past few years. Here are a couple of key bits:

We live in a media ecosystem that overwhelms people with information. Some of that information is accurate, some of it is bogus, and much of it is intentionally misleading. The result is a polity that has increasingly given up on finding out the truth.

How is that affecting the times?

We’re in an age of manufactured nihilism.

The issue for many people isn’t exactly a denial of truth as such. It’s more a growing weariness over the process of finding the truth at all. And that weariness leads more and more people to abandon the idea that the truth is knowable.

Illing suggests that this is deliberate, a strategy aided by technology and perfected by folks like Vladamir Putin.

In October, I spoke to Peter Pomerantsev, a Soviet-born reality TV producer turned academic who wrote a book about Putin’s propaganda strategy. The goal, he told me, wasn’t to sell an ideology or a vision of the future; instead, it was to convince people that “the truth is unknowable” and that the only sensible choice is “to follow a strong leader.”

And there it is.

We're used to the idea of propaganda aimed at getting us to believe something in particular, that it is designed for linear goals-- we will get people to believe that a balanced breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so that they'll buy more cereal. By convincing people that X is true, we can get them to do Y. Our idea of good, traditional propaganda is that it is focused and on message. Repeat your main talking point. Chip away. (After a couple of decades of hearing it repeated, everyone will believe that US schools are failing.)

But in the information age, the era of computerized super-communication, we have Propaganda 2.0. We don't need you to believe X; we just want you to believe that you can't believe anything. We don't need to substitute our "truth" for the actual truth; we just have to convince you that the truth is unknowable, possibly non-existent. You have no hope of navigating this world on your own. Just give all your obedience to a strong boss; take all your navigation from Beloved Leader.

Does he contradict himself? Well, it may seem that way, but the truth is complicated and unknowable, so why should the truth he peddles feel any different. Does his truth seem to be contradicted by actual reality? That's only because you can't trust your own perception of reality.

So what does that mean in the classroom?

Most classrooms are well behind this curve. Grappling with the information age has been about shifting the teaching of research; I retired with several great library units gathering dust because the internet changed research from hunting for three sources to sifting through 100. It has been units about "digital citizenship" and "how to spot a fake story," which students still suck at (my experience totally backs up this research).

These are all fine things, but they aren't nearly enough.

First, every teacher should know about epistemology, because teachers have to tackle the question of "how is it possible to know things, and what does that even mean?" This, as numerous pundits have noted, is what Trump and Putin and others like them have managed to smash-- the notion you can know anything at all if you are an ordinary person without a very yuge brain and all the best thoughts.

We have to teach young humans how to know things. We have to teach them that things can be known.

More than ever, the classroom can't operate as an authoritarian space.

"You can just take my word for it because I know things you don't" is, in a post-truth era. This is equally true if the authority of the teacher has been usurped and displaced. If, for instance, you teach in a school that has subordinated teacher judgment to The Standards and/or The Test, and you've been reduced to a conduit for the curricular choices of others, that's also problematic (in the context of this conversation-- it's problematic for many other reasons, too).

Propaganda 2.0 seeks to divide the world into two groups-- those who Know and those that don't. A classroom shouldn't feed that world view. It should make explicit that not only can things be known, but there are pathways to that knowledge. Propaganda 2.0 says that the two groups can't be bridged; if you don't know, you'll never know. Students must be taught that they can know, that they can grow in knowledge and wisdom, most of all that they can learn to learn, learn to teach themselves so that they will always be able to study and understand on their own.

As a teacher, that meant tracing steps to a conclusion. Maybe I had to check an authority, but I always went back to figure out the path myself, because my teaching became more and more explicitly "This is how I figured this out."

The Big Standardized Test serves Propaganda 2.0 far too well, with an implicit statement that for any question there is one correct answer and someone else knows it and you have to figure out what that unseen authority wants you to say.

We all have to become comfortable with uncertainty.

One of the biggest selling points of authoritarianism is that it claims to know exactly what the answer is, and that's comforting, because most of us are never quite sure that we're getting it right.

The solution is not to seek certainty, because that's a hard place to get to. The solution is to be comfortable with uncertainty. To accept that it is part of the human condition to usually be somewhere below 100% on certainty at any given moment. To recognize that that uncertainty is a thing that makes us vulnerable to bad actors and bullshit artists. To embrace that the slice of uncertainty is the impetus to keep us moving and growing, and that it helps make us fully human.

And then, somehow to transmit all of that to our students. I won't say it's not tricky; Step 1 in running a classroom is to be the grown-up, the experts, the person who knows what the hell she is doing. But living with that sliver of uncertainty means that we don't wait to be 100% certain to act or talk. Live in the amount of certainty you have without ever forgetting that you could have to change your mind. Humility helps.

In the classroom this also translates into a place where it's okay to be wrong, because that's just part of moving forward. In an authoritarian, truth-free world there is no journey-- you either know the right answer or you don't, and that's it. There's nowhere to go from there (mirrored in the way that the BS Tests don't allow students or teachers to ever revisit the questions and answers-- you either chose correctly or not, and there's nothing more to do or say).

Process matters.

It's not just where you get; it's how you get there. That has to be an explicit part of the lesson. It has to be party of the curriculum because it is part of the challenge of being in the world right now-- knowing how to evaluate the process by which someone reached their conclusion. That has to be part of how to evaluate a conclusion (not just "does this conclusion support or contradict my pre-existing biases?").

Some of this is practical nuts and bolts-- for the love of God, can we all just learn the difference between correlation and causation? Some of it just means having read enough to have ground on which to stand when you start probing and picking.

Yes, we sort of started down this path a while back. But.

The calls for critical thinking, the call for evidence, the idea that we should drop straight sage on the stage teaching (though a sage can still cover al of the above)-- we've long accepted the idea that classrooms need to do more than just spoon information and facts into student crania. But we are still behind the curve, and it gets harder because the people who breathe Post-Truth America have children and send them to school and before I retired I was already dealing with students who simply insisted that some bullshit was true because some Beloved Authority said so and who did not believe that trying to actually support an idea is even a thing.

NCLB, Common Core, the BS Tests-- they've all made matters worse and pushed us back in the wrong direction. You can say it's because there are forces interested in keeping folks dim and malleable, and that may be true, but I think the Post-Truth Beloved Leader mindset is set in many of them and they are simply trying to enforce their world view. At the top, however-- yes. You find the Putins of the world who are doing the ongoing work of undermining the very idea of things being knowable.

In the Post-Truth world, "education" means a whole other thing and "thinking" is a dirty word. You can try to sell it by noting that if something really is True, then examining it and probing it and questioning it can only make its true-ness more clear and strong. But for the acolytes of Post-Truth, this kind of intellectual inquiry is a trick, a sneaky way to lure students into leading themselves instead of falling in line behind Beloved Leader.

For most of my career, I thought of teaching as a subversive activity. In a Post-Truth world, that is even more a fact of the teaching life. They are flooding the zone with shit, and they are looking to deliberately undermine and remove anyone who is doing too good a job of cleaning up their corner of the world. Journalists and teachers are always at the top of the damned list. (Not that I trust Noble Crusaders-- those folks are too close to cut-rate Beloved Leaders.)

You're flying in a plane.

The instruments are busted or sabotaged or simply untrustworthy, so you have to use your eyes and ears and you can only rely on those up to a point. The only way to complete the trip successfully is to teach all of your passengers how to fly the plane themselves and hope to God that they don't give too much credence to that asshat in the back who insists that he should be put in charge because only he can land the plane, and anyone who questions him should be thrown out of the hatch.

There are times in history, times when I imagine that people, particularly people with responsibility, looked around and thought, "Shit, why couldn't I be alive in less interesting times. I don't want this. I don't want this now." But sometimes the times just call on you, whether you want them to or not, and I suspect these are those kinds of times. They are flooding the zone with shit.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

OH: A Superintendent Who Gets The Problem of EdChoice

Woodridge School District is located a bit north of Akron. The district is highly rated and has escaped the current Ohio school rating system with no low ratings. Which means they didn't have to speak out against the problems being created for districts across the state by the EdChoice program. But on their website, you'll find this message from their superintendent, who offers a clear an explanation of what's going wrong. I'm going to reprint the note in its entirety here:

A Message from Superintendent Davis:
January 15, 2020

When we become parents, we want to do whatever it takes to provide the very best for our children. We want them to have every opportunity to achieve, to realize their dreams, to be healthy and happy. As parents, we make many important decisions as our children grow, decisions that will have long, lasting impacts on them as they mature. Choosing what school(s) our children will attend is one of the most important decisions we will make as parents. In Ohio, we have many options when it comes to schooling. Some are clearly better than others. There are private schools, parochial schools, charter schools but we believe the best option for families is the local public school system in any community.

Historically, some of the school choice options in Ohio have included costs for families. If you chose a private school, a religious school or some other non-public option, you typically paid tuition to enroll. Private and parochial schools have historically been selective, admitting only those students that fit their defined profile. Public schools, supported by property taxes, however, take ALL resident students without tuition, a free public education. In recent years, in an attempt to expand choice and, in the opinion of many, attempt to destroy the traditional public school districts in our state, legislators have created special programs designed to divert local property tax dollars from the public schools to fund charter and non-public, religious and private schools. Such programs are known as “scholarship” or “voucher” programs. 

Looking for a way to determine eligibility for vouchers and scholarships, the legislature decided to use the state’s flawed report card system to justify the siphoning of funds from local school districts. If the state determines your school to be “failing” (as determined by the local report card that the legislators themselves have admitted to be flawed), students residing in your school’s attendance area are eligible to obtain a voucher to attend elsewhere. For high schools, the state will “deduct” $6000 from the eligible district’s funding to pay for a voucher. For elementary schools, they take $4650. These funds, taken from local district budgets is NOT reimbursed. It is taken. 

This year, the Woodridge Local School District has NO schools that are voucher eligible. Our district has no “failing schools”. We do, however, recognize that the state’s flawed accountability system could, in future years, cause us to have eligible schools. This year, however, we will not lose any funds to the EdChoice Voucher program. Regardless, it is important to consider what would be happening if we were eligible. Like some other districts nearby, we receive so little in state funding that a voucher program could result in a dramatic loss of LOCAL funds. This year, we receive roughly $957 per pupil from the state of Ohio. If we were voucher eligible and lost just one high school aged student through the voucher program, the state would take $6000 from our budget for that child and send it to the private school. Since we only get $957 per pupil from Columbus, the state would stop payment on that for this student and then they would have to dip into our LOCAL TAX REVENUES to the tune of $5043 to get the full amount “due” the private school. When voters go to the polls to consider local property tax levies for the school district, I do not believe that any of them do so thinking that ANY of the funds being approved will be taken from the district to support individual students attending private or parochial schools. I cannot envision a way that such a system is constitutional. That state is taking money that voters earmarked for a specific purpose and using it for something far different.

As currently written, the rules would make vouchers available in eligible districts for students who NEVER even attended school in the district. For example, a student who would be coming for kindergarten, never having attended school in the district, would be eligible for a voucher IF the school were eligible. In this case, $4650 would be taken from the district to pay for that child to attend a private school with NO reimbursement from the state or the family for a student that was never enrolled in the district to begin with. Similarly, students that are already enrolled in a private school would suddenly become eligible for a voucher even if they had never attended school in that public district at all.

There is so much that the legislature failed to consider when setting up this system. The private schools receiving voucher funding are NOT subject to the same mandates, rules and requirements as the public schools that are losing this funding. Unlike public school districts, these schools are not subject to public audit, public representation, uniform accounting, teacher licensure, public records rules, student testing requirements, or many other mandates that public schools are forced to follow. And then, many of us ask, should public funds be used to support religious schools at all?

The Ohio EdChoice Voucher Program is seriously flawed. To help the public better understand the issues, the documents that follow contain more specific information about the program AND suggested solutions. Produced by educational experts and leaders from across the state, this information is provided with the hope that local citizens will stand up to be heard. We urge you to contact your elected officials – the very people who put these provisions into law are the ones that can fix this. Below, you will find contact information for the Ohio House and Ohio Senate members who represent our district. Contact them and DEMAND that they act! The future of public education is at stake.

You can be assured that Superintendents, Treasurers and Board Members from all across Ohio are busy advocating for change. Boards are passing resolutions in opposition to The EdChoice Voucher Program. Press Conferences are being held across the state to voice concern and opposition. Meetings are being held with legislators to share concern and to offer ideas for common sense reform. Calls are being made. Together, we can and must ensure that the legislature acts THIS month before the voucher application process is set to begin on February 1, 2020. Join us. Add your voice to the cause. Read below for more information.

Walter Davis, Superintendent