Sunday, May 31, 2020

ICYMI: Hellacious Week Edition (5/31)

Well, this has been a bunch of big ugly crap, on top of the One Damn Thing After Another sundae that is 2020. Let's read.

All About the Mask

Nancy Flanagan looks at the politics and symbolism of the ongoing mask wars.

Chalkbeat Discovers Teachers on Front Lines

Chalkbeat lets a brand new charter leader lay out some obvious obviousness about teachers and pandemic response. NYC Educator breaks it down and provides a good response.

Distance Learning? Even my students will tell you that's not the future

The LA Times, via Yahoo, offers bad news for those banking on distance learning.

Vouchers hurt poor kids

The 10th Period blog responds to a pro-reform editorial about the Ohio EdChoice lawsuit. Some good response here to the classic "but vouchers help the poor kids" argument.

Good News and Bad News from Harrisburg

Steven Singer reports on financial impacts on PA schools-- and bonuses for the private edubiz guys.

All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace

Audrey Watters speaks to the impulse to deal with the fall's crisis with more automation and surveillance.

Betsy DeVos Ignores Congress

Jan Resseger takes a big, deep look at DeVos's plan to use relief money to help fuel her own pet causes.

Giving private schools federal emergency funds slated for low-income students will shortchange at-risk kids

Derek Black is at the Conversation, laying out how the DeVos plan will cut funding true at-need students in US schools.

Lawsuit Over AP Botch No Publicity Stunt  

The indispensable Mercedes Schneider takes a look at the Fairtest lawsuit over the complete clusterf#@! that was the College Board's online AP test

Annie Tan: My First Year Disaster With TFA  

Schneider again, interviewing Annie Tan about her less-than-awesome experience with Teach for America.

I Just Don't Think Remote Learning Works

Susan Sciara, a special ed teacher, writes for Hechinger Report about the failure of the remote learning adventure.

Private Interests Are Wrongly Shaping Education Policy in Ohio  

An op-ed at looks at Ohio's messed-up history with privatization, bad policy, and business people in the driver's seat.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Teaching And The Social Contract (TL;DR)

I didn't write anything yesterday, which is an unusual day for me, but I've just been trying to take it all in. I have family in Seattle, friends in Pittsburgh. There's a lot of mess out there tonight.

It's nothing new for our country, but it's never been laid out so starkly. The woman in Central Park deliberately weaponizing her status as a white woman to, at best, put a Black man in his place and, at worst, to try to harm him for daring to challenge her right to break the rules. The armed white guys threatening duly elected lawmakers with harm and worse, because masks make them sad; met by well-disciplined law enforcement who do everything to avoid escalating the situation (reminiscent of the Bundy family's armed attack on a US facility to protect their right to steal US resources-- nobody lost their cool there, either). A peaceful protest of the gazillionth unjust death of a Black man escalated.

One of the most useful lenses I've found in the past few days is this one, from Trevor Noah

In it, he talks about the social contract, the various sorts of deals we make as a society that keeps the society working. We pretend sometimes that it's people exercising authority, like police officers or school teachers, who keep the place working, but in the absence of some kind of contract, even if it's unspoken and unexplained, there aren't enough authority figures on the planet to keep things from falling apart--it's the contract that makes the center hold.

On some level, we understand this. I'm not the only teacher who spent his first year (or two) grappling with the knowledge that if every student in my classroom stood up, threw their books down, and said, "Screw this, I'm walking out," I would be helpless to do a thing. But both the school and I enter a sort of contract. In the later half of my career, I got in the habit of making my side more explicit. "I promise, " I would tell them, "that I will never knowingly waste your time. I promise that I will demand that everybody in this room be treated with respect and like a functioning adult." And also, "Let me start by admitting that we have been lying to you for years. Teachers tell you that you have to do this or you have to do that, and you and I both know that you don't have to do anything just because I ask you to do it."

When Jefferson wrote about government needing "the consent of the governed," he was getting at the same point. Governments-- really, anything wielding authority-- offer some kind of deal. Sometimes the deal that they offer is pretty brutal-- "Do as we ask, and we'll let you live." The American deal is supposed to be more aspirational-- "Work hard, be responsible, pay your dues, and you will become successful and have a comfortable life." But that deal has never been offered to everyone in this country. And we're in bigger trouble now because the government's side was supposed to be "We will maintain a level playing field and not exercise the power we've been entrusted either to enforce our personal biases or further our personal fortunes." That part of the deal is perhaps the more history-making part of the US experiment, and it's in obvious trouble at the moment. That and the part of the contract that says, "The law will be exercised equally for all citizens regardless of status or bias."

This contract is part of the purpose of public education.

You don't learn about the social contract from your parents, not right away. Your deal with your parents, in all but the most toxic of families, is that they love you no matter what. It's at school where we start learning about the contract; we usually talk about learning socialization or social skills, but we're talking about the conditions of many social contracts. Children learn about the different contracts they can make with peers (some great, some terrible), and they most especially learn about the deal that society, as represented by the teachers and administrators, will make with them.

They learn that it's complicated, that the institution will make a contract, and each different individual teacher will also make a contract, and they will all be different.

And this is where teachers and schools can blow it.

Individual teachers may offer a wide range of contracts, and it sucks. "Sorry," we say to some of our students, "but I'm not going to make that deal with you, that deal with all the good stuff, because you are not smart enough or white enough. I don't believe you will show the kind of behavior I require for that contract, so you can't have that one." Pat gets a contract that says Pat can get all the rewards and praise and support; Chris gets the contract that says Chris can get the chance not to be hassled and made miserable on any given day.

One of the best deals a teacher can offer is that you will actually hear and see the student. This is valuable to the student, and critical for the teacher as well, because people absolutely desire to be heard, and if they do not feel heard when they speak, they will keep raising the volume until they can be heard. The answer to pearl-clutching concerns about rioting and "That certainly isn't going to help their cause" is (at least in part) two-fold. First, what would help? Because if you're at the rioting part, that means the bus already drove past a bunch of quieter, calmer options, and you chose to dismiss them. Second, why isn't this also your cause? And here in 2020, you also have to ask-- just who is doing the looting and burning and vandalizing, because many bad actors have become quite sophisticated about using peaceful protest as cover for attempts to sow chaos and delegitimize the real protestors and even, apparently, usher in a new civil war. So racism making even demonstrations against racism worse.

But still--unheard voices will just get louder, even in your classroom. The power differential between teachers and students may lead you to imagine that you can just squelch the loud voices, shout them down, shut them up. That does not work. If you want proof of how poorly it works, go back to looking at the streets that are filled with protestors in America right now.

Because-- and this goes back to what you knew when you first started in the classroom-- you do not have power, not really. What you have is a contract, a deal, and if the folks on the other side come to understand that you do not plan to honor it, that there is no benefit to them in honoring the deal, then they will stop, and all your illusions of power and control are in trouble.

If you, as a teacher, are watching what's going on right now and thinking that the explanation for the riots in Minneapolis and elsewhere is something along the lines of, "Well, that's how Those People are," then you are a problem, not just as a citizen, but as a professional. There's no way that doesn't lead to your belief that some of Those Peoples' children can't really be expected to make the bigger, better deal, and so, instead, you make a deal based on managing their supposed deficits instead of fostering their strengths and potentials.

All of this--- all of this-- is why teaching about racism, about systemic bias and injustice, has to happen all the time and not just in response to the latest outrage. The classroom should not only be where we unpack what just happened, but where we get the tools to see it before and as it unfolds.

I'm grateful to the commentators who offered this framing. It's hard to talk about Big Things like Justice, but a contract is pretty simple. I'm reminded of one of the do-overs of the famous marshmallow experiments in which the adults made a deal, a contract with the children-- show some self-discipline, and you'll get more marshmallows. Then the experimenters showed, through some other actions, that they could not be trusted to honor the contract, and so the children ignored the deal as well.

So look at the deals you're offering in your classroom. What are you offering, and what are you asking for in return, and does that strike you as a reasonable deal? Do all students have a chance to make the same deal? Have you tried to change the deal unilaterally? Have you decided you can ignore it at will and just use raw power to paper over the lapse? And as a teacher, what are you teaching your students about the social contracts they'll deal with as adults?

Who knows what the days ahead hold? Most likely a confusing push of details and debate. But the basic issues-- the racism, the failure of those in power to make a hold up a decent social contract-- will still be hanging in the fall air (right next to the other stupid virus) and teachers should be finding a way to deal.

Having said all that, there's one last important thing that doesn't easily fit in the contract frame. That's the obligation we owe to fellow humans. I suppose we can call it a debt that we owe for the privilege of being alive plus all the other privileges we enjoy, but we have an obligation to be decent and supportive and kind and human to fellow humans, particular those who because of age or race or birth or resources have been denied what we have been given. "I've got mine, Jack," is not a legitimate social contract. We can do better. We have to do better. If people raise their voices in protest, and that fails, either because of the resistance of authorities or the subversion of bad actors, what do you suppose comes next?

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Betsy DeVos, the Catholic Church, and Public Tax Dollars

The Trump administration and the Catholic Church have seemed extra tight lately. And an awful lot of it has to do with public education.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan (New York) took the lead in a fun conference call last month in which Trump, along with Betsy DeVos, swapped personal admiration and what is either some quid pro quo or just a shared love for the notion of shredding public education and replacing it with private religious schools.

Soon after, the cardinal hosted DeVos on his SiriusXM show, where this exchange was reported by Matt Barnum for Chalkbeat:

In a conversation with DeVos on SiriusXM radio, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Catholic archbishop of New York, suggested that the secretary was trying to “utilize this particular crisis to ensure that justice is finally done to our kids and the parents who choose to send them to faith-based schools,” including through a new program that encourages states to offer voucher-like grants for parents.

“Am I correct in understanding what your agenda is?” Dolan asks.

“Yes, absolutely,” DeVos responded. “For more than three decades that has been something that I’ve been passionate about. This whole pandemic has brought into clear focus that everyone has been impacted, and we shouldn’t be thinking about students that are in public schools versus private schools.”

None of this is new for the Catholic Church. Google your state's "Catholic Conference school choice" and in most cases you'll be taken to an entire page of school choice advocacy. In Pennsylvania, school choice is on the "hot issues" list, and there are lots of instructions on how to get involved in our state's version of education tax credit scholarships. In Michigan, it turns out that the anti-public ed Mackinac Center and Michigan's Catholic Conference are partners in pushing a state constitutional amendment to promote private school choice. And the US Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote an amicus brief for Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the case that gives SCOTUS a chance to make it totally legally okee dokee to appropriate public tax dollars for private religious schools.

It should come as no surprise that many of the voices speaking up in favor of the latest DeVosian attempt to send public dollars to private schools are related to Catholic schools. After all--where vouchers exist, their beneficiaries are almost entirely Catholic private schools. That's where most of the voucher money goes. So it can't be a surprise that the Catholic Church has been willing to be quite politically active in support of school choice, particularly in the form of vouchers, even to the point of allying themselves with one of the most spectacularly non-Christian Presidents to ever sit in the White House.

The recent reverse Robin Hood stance of DeVos, who is insisting that relief funds should be going to private schools no matter how wealthy their students are, is irksome because it's not like Catholic private schools are Mom and Pop operations with no possible source of income. They're a wing of a very large, very wealthy organization. In this respect, the Catholic Church mirrors the US as a whole-- if fully supporting and financing schools were really all that important to them, they could go ahead and do it. But instead the church would like US taxpayers to help pick up the tab (including all the taxpayers who wouldn't actually be welcome in a Catholic church).

I suppose we'll see how this shakes out. It's one more reminder that when you mix religion and politics, you get politics.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Why shouldn't high stakes testing be abandoned next year?

Testing in the fall? Let's talk about that idea.

Thomas Toch is one of those reformsters who has managed to bounce from job to reformy job. Currently, he's head honcho at FutureEd, an ed reform advocacy group that bills itself as a thinky tank, and there isn't an educational disruption that they haven't tried to make a case for. This spring they have been vocal in trying to protect the future of the Big Standardized Test, which brings us to Toch's appearance yesterday in The Hill.

"Don't abandon standardized testing in schools next year — rethink it," pleads Toch, offering a plate of weak sauce to make his case.

His opening salvo is that students are currently falling behind, and that's not particularly arguable-- crisis schooling has been anywhere from "challenging" to "a freakin' mess." We could (and probably should at some point) have a whole conversation about the use of phrases like "catch up" that imply there is some heaven-set path and some objectively correct speed for students to move along it, and they dasn't fall behind or else... well, something bad will happen, apparently. It's a problematic model for education, but for the moment, yeah, we all get that the usual progress of education is not really happening.

Which brings us to Toch's first thesis--

To catch students up, schools will need to get a handle on exactly how far students have fallen behind, and that means testing.

Nope. That's not what it means, particularly.

Now, at this point, Toch gets one thing absolutely right-- the idea of delivering the 2020 Big Standardized Tests in the fall is a super-awful double-bad idea. "Weeks-long batteries of standardized tests used primarily to rate schools aren't the way to welcome students--and teachers--back from difficult quarantine experiences."

Instead, Toch recommends a battery of "diagnostic measures of reading and math proficiency" so that teachers can figure out where to pick up. Not too many at once, and connected to local curriculum.

This is not an outrageous idea, but it makes me wonder-- what does Toch think teachers do at the beginning of an ordinary school year?

In my experience, what they do is use an array of formal and informal assessments to figure out what, exactly they are working with, to pinpoint what the strengths and weaknesses of those students might be. Seriously-- I did this every fall forever, as did every single teacher I know. Does he imagine that the BS Tests are somehow critical to how teachers deal with their new classes in the fall? Because no-- they're too late to be useful and far too limited in the tiny speck of data they provide. So I guess the response here to Toch is "Thanks for your concern, but the professional educators have this covered."

But his concerns go beyond the fall. In the spring, he wants to get the BS Tests up and running again-- just don't count the results for evaluating schools or teachers. That's not because he's worried about fairness or accuracy, but because he's watching the political angles:

There’s a big political risk in restarting school accountability too quickly. Opponents of standardized testing — led by accountability-averse teachers’ unions and their progressive allies on the left, and conservatives opposed to what they consider an inappropriate federal role in testing on the right — have been waging a half-decade-long campaign to roll back state testing systems.

On my list of reformster tropes I'm bone-tired of reading, you will find the notion that teachers and their unions are opposed to high stakes testing because they are "averse" to accountability. It's wrong, and it's doubly-insulting as it implies that teachers largely suck at their jobs and are weaselly about it. I have never met a teacher "averse" to accountability, but I have met many, many teachers who are "averse" to accountability tools that do a lousy, inaccurate, unfair and just plain bad job of evaluating teachers. But this is the endless refrain of the cult of testing-- folks oppose testing for selfish, craven reasons, and not because the whole high-stakes testing is toxic to real education while failing to do anything that it promises to do.

Toch is rightly concerned that critics see the pandemic pause as a chance to push back high stakes testing even further. This pause has provided a chance for many of us to learn there are certain things we really can do without, and high stakes BS Testing belongs on the list.

But Toch won't rest his case until he offers an old bad analogy for the BS Test that has been given new life by the coronavirus:

Just as widespread coronavirus testing will guide our return to normal life, state testing systems have a valuable role to play in helping leaders map education strategy, track progress and back the nation’s neediest students.

Nope. Not even close. For one thing, coronavirus testing (should it ever get off the ground) is a binary test-- you have the virus or you don't. There's is no educational test that looks for a binary answer (you are either educated, or you aren't). For another, any coronavirus test will have been evaluated to determine that it is a true proxy for what's really being considered-- viral infection. After decades, there is no evidence that the BS Tests are good proxies for any of the things they claim to measure-- student achievement, teacher quality, school quality, student life outcomes.

Toch's final sentence underlines where he really is-- calculating political leverage rather than considering the actual effects of the tests.

But attaching stakes to test results too quickly would play into the hands of accountability opponents at a time when we need smart testing more than ever.

It would also waste precious instructional time, waste resources, and provide meaningless bad data. Look-- if testing really worked, if it really told us all the things that guys like Toch want to claim it does, don't you think teachers would be clamoring for it? If it were an actual valuable tool, don't you think that teachers, struggling with spotty resources against unprecedented challenges, would be hollering, "If I'm going to try to do this, at least find a way to get me those invaluable Big Standardized Test!"

But no-- in the midst of this hard shot to the foundations of public education, a lot of professional educators are taking a hard look at what is really essential, what they really need to get the job done. The Big Standardized Test didn't make the cut. We don't need the "smart testing," especially since it isn't very smart anyway. We just need smart teachers with the resources they need to do the work.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Boutique Virtual Pre-School (I Am Not Making This Up)

Here's another entry in the swanky virtual pre-school field. It's Bumo Virtual School, and it is the brainchild of an influencer and an entrepreneur. They originally wanted to start a café where parents could hang out while their littles played and learned stuff. It was going to be "a chic little spot in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Century City." But then the coronavirus happened, so they shifted gears and launched a virtual school start-up instead, because it's practically the same thing.

Let's meet these two start-uppists.

First, we have Chiselle Lim, whose occupation is usually listed as "influencer" or "fashion stylist," and you may raise an eyebrow, but the woman has a Wikipedia page. Her fashion-beauty-lifetyyle blog, The Chiselle Factor, is slick as hell; on her other social media accounts (including the Instagram account with 1.4 million followers, she is billed as "your rich mom." This article paints her as the main push behind this operation, but it's her friend who is providing the educational leadership.

Not a great idea
That would be Joan Nguyen, "Award-Winning Entrepreneur & Educator." Nguyen started MeriEducation at age 20, which is now virtual and boasts "if you can shop online, you can learn online." MeriEducation is mostly a tutoring and test prep service, and Nguyen has won all sorts of entrepreneurial awards for it.  Her own work as "Elite-Level Academic and College Coach" involves getting high school students well-positioned to get into the school of their choice, as well as helping with that application process. Her personal coaching programs are by invite only. She has grown MeriEducation into four centers (including Newport Beach, Pasadena, and Redlands), and because one of her passions is design, she has designed all the centers herself.

The two women have, between them, four children ranging from age 18 months to 5 years. They told the interviewer from South China Morning Post that this was something they wished they'd had:

Lim remembers having to entrust the care of her child to someone else so she could continue her work, and being overwhelmed with parental guilt.

“I felt like our options were slim to none,” she says.

I don't know. My gut sense is that a lack of options in life is not a problem that these women face.

If this all seems a little shaky, a little diletantes-messing-with-school, a closer look at the Bumo site won't help. The site claims that this is backed by "350 years of educator experience all across the globe," a look at the staff suggests that's not the 350 years we're referring to. Of the eight teachers and teacher's assistants profiled on the site, only one has an education degree and only two have spent any time in a classroom (three years tops). One has a business degree and worked for a year as an AmeriCorp Teaching Fellow; another profile lists college orientation leader as part of her qualifying background. One teaching asssistant "worked in public education"-- that turns out to have been in tutoring.

The website comes with testimonial quotes, which is pretty impressive since the school opened--I am not making this up-- last week on May 18.

The program is not cheap and varies depending on which track you choose and where you are in the world; the program is international, but because the student gets a monthly box of supplies, shipping costs figure in. If you're in the US, the Jumpstart track costs $199 a month. If you want the Success track, which includes some live teacher-led classes and "access to a group of 'cohorts' so the kids can foster friendships"--we are talking about 3-6 year olds here-- that version  with the extra human touch comes at a steep $599 per month. The company is committing to some scholarships as well. The plan is for a rolling intake process throughout the year.

Oh, and Lim says that the idea behind all of this is "to democratize quality early education." And “Generally, where you live determines what type of education you have. But through a virtual school like this, we can break that cycle."

I do not mean to in any way disparage these women, who are clearly hard-working, smart, and hugely successful in their fields of endeavor. Nor do I want to pick on their staff. These all look like very nice people with the best of intentions.

But I can't help it-- my eyes are rolling soooo hard. For the zillionth time-- is there any other field that gets this kind of thing. Do people who are wealthy and successful say, "You know, I think I'll run a hospital. Hire some people with a heart for medicine, and just let 'er rip." Why is it always amateur hour on the education stage? These are smart women-- how do they manage to miss the fact that there is not a shred of evidence that trying to teach littles via screen is a good idea? Has Nguyen remained confident throughout, or has she had a single moment in which she thought, "You know, test prep for highly motivated high school students is probably different than teaching a three year old"?

Early childhood education is hard; people spend their whole lives studying how to do it and do it well, and there seems little indication that these folks have done any of the work. The whole "we're going to democratize good early education" thing is, first, silly given $600/month price tag and second, silly given that these women are not at all experts in what good early childhood education looks like. Virtual school for littles is a terrible idea to begin with; having it implemented by edu-amateurs does not improve it a bit.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Separating Home And School For Teachers

Watching my wife deal with the challenges of doing crisis pandemic distance learning, I've been having flashbacks to my first job.

I taught in Lorain High School (not the current LHS but the one that stood where there is now a vacant lot), and I rented an apartment right across the street from the school. When I found the place, I was delighted-- the ultimate in convenience. I wouldn't even have to start my car, let alone navigate a strange city. Heck, it was even across the street from the same side of the building in which I worked.

My old neighborhood
At the end of the day, I'd stay at my desk in my room and keep working till I hit a stopping point. Then I'd throw a pile of papers in my briefcase, walk down the hall, out the door, across the street, up the stairs, and into my apartment, where I would grab something to eat, then open the briefcase and spread the papers out on my coffee table, sit on the couch with my grading and my supper, and go back to work. Maybe I'd turn on the TV (a portable twelve-inch black and white) or maybe I'd just play music. At some point I'd get up, walk six feet to my bedroom and go to bed. Fridays were extra luxurious because I could just leave everything out on the table so that it would be all ready to go on Saturday morning.

At some point it occurred to me that work had eaten my home, that I in fact didn't really have a home so much as a more comfortable supplemental work location. And partway into the year, I felt like a hamster on a wheel.

Without any separation between work and home, everything was work. Worse, because I would still try to, say, watch a show I was interested in while grading papers, sometimes it wasn't even particularly effective work. But I was fresh-out-the-wrapper teacher, and I had not yet learned that there are literally not enough hours in the day to do everything that I knew in my heart needed to be done. Nor was I experienced enough to move through stacks of paper very quickly.

Eventually, I concluded that this was unsustainable, that I would have to separate work and home. That it was okay to make weekends to see old friends without carrying the briefcase along. That it was not only okay, but actually desirable, to take an hour or two out of my day in which I focused entirely on my own entertainment and didn't even pretend that I was still trying to do work. That it was a good idea to, as Lincoln allegedly advised, to sharpen the ax.

It was good to have figured it out by the time where I was living in a town where I knew people, had activities to be involved in, had a family with kids to fill out my life.

You can't work all the time-- not and be an effective teacher. You have to bring something into the classroom, some sort of life in the world, because how else can you teach about or model living a fully human life in the world? Part of what you bring to the table as a teacher is your lived experience, which means you have to have some lived experience other than doing the work 24/7.

And you also have to remember this about teaching-- it will not hesitate to take all you've will give it, even if that's more than you have to give. You have to be the one to regulate it, because no school board or administrator or even students will say, "You know what? You look like you're really heavily extended now, so we're going to put your needs ahead of our own and not ask any more of you."

Usually, of course, the physical difference between work and home helps maintain the distinction, but that's not happening now, is it. So I hope teachers have been figuring this out (or will further figure out just in case we're doing this all over again in the fall). I hope you've found a way to keep home and work separate even while they're all happening under the same roof. And I hope that today you are taking at least part of an actual holiday.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

ICYMI: A Year Older Edition (5/24)

I had a birthday this week, but I feel pretty much the same. I might have taken a couple of half-days off, so let's see if the reading list looks any shorter.

After online learning flopped...

The continuing saga of failed online learning in Fairfax, VA, continues with a flood of Google-based student-on-student harassment.

Students think College Board is running a reddit scam

One fun side note to the great AP failure-- students believe there's a plant in reddit trying to sucker students in to incriminating themselves as cheaters. It's not going well.

The sheer number of districts is tilting the playing field

The New York Tims takes a look at how the   proliferation of mini-districts is creating equity issues in education.

Cuomo not inclusive in rebuilding education

Wendy Lecker is here to remind you that no matter how much you like his press coneferences, Andrew Cuomo is no friend of education.

Standards-Based Grading Must Die

Adam Sutton is at the Educator's Room with a scary picture of standards-based learning.

The reinvention schools need

In the New York Daily News, four teachers of the year push back on Cuomo's ideas about schools.

The future of K-12 schools isn't on line; it's in New Mexico

Jeff Bryant with an encouraging story of how community schools are envisioning the future.

Betsy DeVos and her hubby's political contributions

DeVos said her husband would stop his political funding once she was in office. That's not what happened.

Parents Behaving Badly: Censorship

The Citizen Teacher blog wit the tale of a parental attempt to remove a novel from the class. Instructive, and told with some wit.

Alexander questions DeVos guidance

The pandemic has unleashed Betsy DeVos as someone ready to bend the system to fir her personal agenda. Now she's actually getting push back from some GOP legislators, like Lamar Alexander.

Praxis at home? How about no Praxis at all?

I'm no fan of TNTP, but this time they have a point about scrapping the stupid Praxis test. Yes, I kn ow this is probably about their desire to de-professionalize teaching, but they aren't wrong here.

University of California drops SAT and ACT

The New York Times has the story of a sad day for the big test manufacturers.

Gates Foundation's Tactics to Remake Public Education During Pandemic Are Undemocratic

The Chronicle of Philanthropy takes a look at how Gates short-circuits democracy to do his thing.

The Role of Giant Philanthropy and Technocracy

Jan Resseger takes a deep dive into the issues represented by that whole dumb Cuomo-Gates thing.

Ignore the Vultures; Start Saving Schools

Accountabaloney takes a look at the current state of Florida education legislation. Not great.

College, Career and Cremation Benchmarks 

Akil Bello takes a look at the lunacy that is college and career readiness and the alleged benchmarking thereof by test companies.

In Search of the Great White Whale  

Dad Gone Wild with a slow thoughtful read about literature, Governor Bill Lee, vouchers, and a few other tidbits.

PA Wants You To Give A Standardized Test at Home

Steven Singer with a story of testing run amuck in the keystone state.

States of Shock: The Coming Budget Calamity

The Have You Heard podcast, complete with distinguished guests, breaks down the coming edu-finance mess and what could be done. (Transcript available for non podders)

Thinking Way Outside the Box

Nancy Flanagan with encouragement to face changes and new ideas for what's next.

A Note From Your University About Plans for Next Fall

McSweeney's does it again. Brief and hilarious and painful all at once.

Finally, I know we've seen a scadzillion of these things, but this happens to be two friends and former colleagues and their students from my former school and my adopted other former school, so I'm particularly delighted. Enjoy.

Friday, May 22, 2020

How Hard Are CDC Guidelines To Follow

So now everyone is freaked out about the CDC "guidelines" as reported on that blue meme that was going around. This, of course, was the point-- to sell the idea that public schools will be like prisons, so everyone should pull their kids out. Because in the spirit of never letting a crisis go to waste, there are folks from your neighbor with the tin hat all the way up to the US Secretary of Education who see the pandemic as one more chance to dismantle public schools.  So the blue list was framed, worded, and occasionally misrepresented in order to create maximum outrage. Mission accomplished.

Let's look instead at the actual CDC guidelines. I won't lie-- as I pointed out when they were just a few suggestions, they are not particularly awesome. But let's take a look-- Just how big a challenge do schools face when it comes to re-opening in the fall?

You can see two versions of the same info, either here on the CDC website, which is more recent, or here on the leaked document starting on page 47. I'm going to use the leaked document and try to pick up some details that are on the website, which is a little more listlike. It's worth noting that the recommendations are, in fact, phrased as recommendations It's important to note that the "considerations" are not even phrased as "recommendations" let alone mandates, and that the phrase "if feasible" turns up a lot. The CDC is presenting things to consider, not rules that schools must follow. The whole re-opening America document is organized around the idea of three phases. One-- school is closed. Two-- Open with enhanced social distancing. Three-- Open with distancing measures.

This is going to be long, but I want to be thorough.


Establish and continue communication with local and state authorities.

So that the school is in tune with the surroundings. Do-able.

Protect staff and students who are higher risk by offering things like "telework" and "virtual learning." Ditto for those traveling to or from high transmission areas, like, I presume, a teacher who works in a low transmission area but lives in a hot spot.

So, everyone would have to run a cyber school on the side.

Make sure that outside groups that use the school also follow the guidelines.

Easy peasy. Just don't let any outside groups use the facility.


Promote washing hands and covering coughs and sneezes.

As with many school behaviors, the challenge here will be to deal with whatever the students learn at home.

Train and reinforce proper use of cloth face masks, which will be important when distancing is not possible. No cloth masks on kids younger that two or people who are having trouble breathing.

Good luck with masks on six year old. My three year olds last about fifteen seconds, and their masks look really cool. Masking is going to be a big issue, not just because it has become the hot new symbol for tyranny, but because it covers the face and makes it hard to read. How many times a day does a teacher read facial expressions to see how things are going, and how many times a day does a teacher use a smile or a frown to communicate quickly and silently with students.

Have adequate supplies to promote healthy hygiene behaviors.

That should be easy. I mean, what are the odds that the supply of hand sanitizer could completely disappear?

Post signs. And make announcements. Show videos.

Yes, student behavior is heavily influenced by signage. Not terribly effective, but it does give the school a kind of totalitarian decorating look. Remember, Big Brother wants you to wear your mask!

Clean the heck out of everything, often. But keep the cleaning stuff locked up so the kids don't get into it. And (just in case you need something else to worry about) check all your water fixtures that have been unused for six months so that you aren't spreading Legionairres' Disease.

This will be a challenge, and probably involve hiring extra staff with the money you won't have in the fall. Good luck on this.


Keep grouping static as possible: same kids together with same staff, all day for young students, and "as much as possible" for olders.

Well, "as much as possible" is "not at all." This involves small tweaks on elementary level, and is largely impossible for secondary.

Restrict mixing between groups.

See above.

Cancel all field trips, assemblies, extracurriculars.

Obvious. However, while I don't know how things are in your neck of the woods, around here as soon as you start canceling football games, it gets really real.

Limit gatherings and events that don't support social distancing. 

The guidelines keep falling over the same issue-- students are mostly very social beings, and anything that involves telling students some version of "I know your BFF is right over there, but you cannot go talk to them" is going to create endless stress and trouble.

Restrict non-essential visitors and volunteers.

So much for room mothers.

Space desks at least six feet apart, facing the same direction. 

The guidelines are everywhere stuffed with implications for class sizes. That class of thirty kids can't be social distanced unless you meet out on the football field. Most schools would have to radically reduce class size, which means more classes, which means more rooms and more teachers. My bet is that a whole bunch of administrators are right now pricing office cubicle dividers.

Also, I don't see anything about teachers in this scenario. Are you up in front of the room, declaiming at a distance, or are you allowed to circulate through the room. When Pat says, "I don't understand that third problem, can you help me," do you offer assistance at a distance, or are you allowed to get close enough to see what Pat is actually doing. Maybe you ask Pat to send you a pic of the work so far.

Physical barriers and guides could include sneeze guards, and tape directions on the floor.

See-- office cubicles would be great. Again, the "one way routes" is offered as an example, not the actual recommendation, which is good, since many schools have halls that would become inescapable dead ends. I will point out some math that I mentioned elsewhere-- a class of fifteen students lined up with six feet between them makes a line 84 feet long-- how exactly does an elementary teacher monitor that, and how many such lines can be out in the halls before nobody can observe the guidelines?

Close communal spaces like cafeteria and gym. Either stagger use and disinfect in between, or do things like serving lunch in classrooms. 

This is kind of a nightmare. I taught in a building that staggered lunch shifts of 300ish students, and what that meant was that the first lunch of the day was served at 10:30 AM. For my old building to stagger lunches so that they could involve proper social distancing-- that would take more time than is available in the school day. Lunch in classrooms means that lunch just became part of the teacher workday, which creates its own issues.

Create social distance "between children on school buses where possible."

The bit about one per seat and only every other seat is an example offered for trying to maintain distance on buses, not the official recommendation. Still, this is still a nightmare. Again, in my district some students ride the bus for 30-50 minutes, which means turning one route into two or three runs would either involve buying a whole second fleet of buses or staggered flights that would arrive at the school over the space of two hours. And getting more buses would probably not be as hard as getting more bus drivers.


Just adds "consider" to all of the above guidelines. Phase 3 suddenly seems far less exciting.


Keep each child's belongings separate from others'.

Again, one suspects that maybe nobody at the CDC has recently met a human child.

Ensure adequate supplies to minimize "sharing of high touch materials."

One also wonders if anybody at the CDC has met a school district business administrator. Also, "High Touch Materials" would be a good band name.

Avoid sharing food, utensils, electronic devices, toys, books, and other games or learning aids.

Seriously. And it's not just that human children want to share cool stuff with their friends. It's the questions of what levers classroom teachers are supposed to use to enforce this sort of thing. Do they give Pat a detention for passing a pencil to someone, or suspend them for a day because they shared earbuds with someone in order to play them a cool new song? It's not just that social distancing is antithetical to how young humans live their lives-- it's the strange contortions that schools will have to employ to enforce such measures.


Train staff in all of the above. Teach them also about how to screen students while also respecting all privacy regulations. 

Nobody has figured out this one yet. The working answer so far seems to be that in the face of pandemic, privacy must yield. Many citizens are pretty unhappy about that.

Stay home when you're sick.

Which totally makes sense, except if you're at home, what is happening with your class? Can your school find a substitute teacher who is able to manage all this-- and wants to? If they can't find a sub, then what. Can't just combine classes into one room, or have a parade of teachers pop in during their prep time, without violating the guidelines. And speaking of sick...


Have an isolation room for anyone who comes down with Covid-like symptoms. Be prepared to close off areas, wait twenty-four hours, then clean and disinfect, notify all the authorities, parents, students, etc.

I'm suddenly thinking of Code 2319 from Monsters, Inc. One kid with a dry cough could wreak such huge havoc on a school.

So can this be done?

You can see that the guidelines aren't quite as humanly impossible as they're made to seem in the blue meme-- just mostly impossible. It would certainly not be out of character for a school to say, "Well, this is the gold standard, and we view it as aspirational and will come close in several areas, kind of." This will depend a great deal on states, since the federal government is apparently happy to basically sit this whole thing out and didn't want to release these recommendations at all. The guidelines also make it quite clear that it will be up to local authorities to decide what is "feasible, practical, acceptable, and tailored to the needs" of the community.

Much of what the CDC recommends will be impossible because of either A) human nature or B) expense. Many of these recommendations would be expensive, and schools are already expecting to be financially strapped in the fall. So critical questions will be what will the states actually require, and what will schools actually implement. The most important question will be what balance of practices will parents accept. Parents will want schools to feel safe-- but that also includes not feeling like a gulag. And, of course, some parents will not have much choice but to send their kids back, and they are rightfully going to have some feelings about that, too.

And of course we can talk about this all day, but September is still three months away, and three months is, right now, a long time. Remember three months ago? February? Boy, those were great times.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Betsy DeVos Has, In Fact, Become Arne Duncan 2.0

When this originally ran at, there was still some qujestion about the premise. Since then I've updated it with new info from DeVos herself.
For many conservatives, one of the greatest sins perpetrated by Obama’s secretary of education was using the powers of his office to bypass the legislature. Arne Duncan oversaw Race to the Top, which was instrumental in pushing Common Core and other preferred policies into schools across the country. Now Betsy DeVos is using nearly identical tactics to push for her own favorite educational ideas.

Race to the Top was a $4.5 billion program that was part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, a stimulus package meant to help reverse some of the effects of the Great Recession. States would have the opportunity to get education grants, but they would have to compete for the money by showing how closely they could adhere to the administration’s goals of college- and career-ready standards, high stakes testing, teacher evaluation, and data collection. The administration had tried and failed to get these goals passed into law through Congress. The financial pressure of the Great Recession and the looming penalties for the unachievable goals of No Child Left Behind (100% of students scoring above average on the Big Standardized Test) gave Duncan leverage to bypass Congress entirely. And rather than providing funding for all schools in all states, the program picked winners and losers.

Many conservative critics argued that RTTT and the waivers that followed were illegal. The backlash against Duncan was so strong that the successor of NCLB, the Every Student Succeeds Act, explicitly stripped the office of power to behave as the nation’s school superintendent.

Betsy DeVos has existed for most of her tenure between a rock and a hard place—on the one hand, believing firmly that the federal government should let all power over education rest with the state, and on the other hand, believing that traditional public education is a “dead end” and should be replaced by other mechanisms. She has tried to get Congress to back some of her ideas, such as the “Education Freedom Scholarships” plan, but with little success. Some observers have watched carefully to see if she would finally grab the levers of power in the same way her predecessor had.

She has finally reached for the levers.

Congress has passed a massive stimulus bill meant to reverse some of the effects of the pandemic shutdown. A good-sized chunk is aimed at education, and Secretary DeVos has announced that states will have a chance to win grants, but they will compete for money by showing how well they will implement some of the administration’s favored policies.

States may compete in “one of three categories.”

First, microgrants for families. This is an idea that DeVos has floated previously. “Microgrants” is a new name for vouchers, specifically education savings accounts, in which families are given tax dollars to spend on a wide variety of educational items or activities.

Second, cyber-schooling on a state scale, a la the Florida Virtual School, a program that has experienced troubles, but is seen as a model by cyber-schooling advocates like DeVos. 

The third option is, well, something. “New, field-initiated models for providing remote education not yet imagined...”

As with Duncan’s preferred policies, there is no body of evidence to suggest that these ideas are good investment of public tax dollars. Cyber-schooling on a large scale is repeatedly shown to be ineffective. ESA, besides involving the same old issue of public tax dollars going to private religious institutions, have also presented problems with oversight and accountability; if every family is spending tax dollars, how does the state monitor that? In one case, Arizona parents were found to have spent $700,000 of ESA money on things like cosmetics and clothes

The grant amounts are not huge, but the hope is that current financial pressures will push states to fight for the dollars by demonstrating their compliance with DeVos’s preferred programs. 

So once again, a secretary of education, frustrated that Congress will not give their policy preferences the force of law, uses the leverage of stimulus funds during national economic troubles to push states to adopt their policies, picking winners and losers for the funding. Arne Duncan may not agree with Betsy DeVos’s policies, but he certainly can’t criticize her methods.

Nor, for that matter, can she any longer criticize his. Since this piece originally ran, DeVos has done an interview with Cardinal Timothy Dolan (New York) who has been a leader in the Catholic Church's decision to shill for the current administration in exchange for money for their school system, a goal which DeVos fully embraces.
In an conversation with DeVos on SiriusXM radio, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Catholic archbishop of New York, suggested that the secretary was trying to “utilize this particular crisis to ensure that justice is finally done to our kids and the parents who choose to send them to faith-based schools,” including through a new program that encourages states to offer voucher-like grants for parents.
“Am I correct in understanding what your agenda is?” Dolan asks.

“Yes, absolutely,” DeVos responded.

She's pursued the goal of funneling public tax dollars to private schools (particularly religious ones) and now she is using Duncan's technique of using competitive grants and the levers of power that come with her office to push that policy. And she's no longer feeling shy about it. Mind you, as Barnum notes, she tried to blunt the criticism in an interview with Rick Hess (AEI):

“I don’t see any parallels, to be honest. Race to the Top was wholly designed by the Obama administration to advance their policy priorities,” she told Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. “Our discretionary grant competition is completely the opposite. … Yes, it is focused on reforms, but they are reforms that any intellectually honest person would have a hard time arguing aren’t needed.”

"Completely the opposite?" That doesn't even make sense. Is her argument is that Duncan was doing it for bad reasons, but she is doing it for good ones? That Obama administration policies were for their own selfish reasons, but she's on a mission from a higher power? At root, it's the oldest politician argument in the world, the personal intellectual defense against charges of hypocrisy. Because it's only hypocrisy if you think the same rules apply to everyone, but if you believe that there are different rules for people who are right and people who are wronmg, well, then-- no hypocrisy at all.

Short form: DeVos has become Duncan. Heaven help public education if she stickms around for four more years.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

19 Rules for Life (2020 Edition)

I first posted this list when I turned 60, and have made it an annual tradition to get it out on my birthday and re-examine it, edit it, and remind myself why I thought such things in the first place. I will keep my original observation-- that this list does not represent any particular signs of wisdom on my part, because I discovered these rules much in the same way that a dim cow discovers an electric fence.

1. Don't be a dick.

There is no excuse for being mean on purpose. Life will provide ample occasions on which you will hurt other people, either through ignorance or just because sometimes life puts us on collision courses with others and people get hurt. There is enough hurt and trouble and disappointment and rejection  naturally occurring in the world; there is no reason to deliberately go out of your way to add more. This is doubly in a time like the present, when everyone is already feeling the stress. 

There's a lesson here, somewhere.
2. Do better.

You are not necessarily going to be great. But you can always be better. You can always do a better job today than you did yesterday. Make better choices. Do better. You can always do better.

3. Tell the truth.

Words matter. Do not use them as tools with which to attack the world or attempt to pry prizes out of your fellow humans (see Rule #1). Say what you understand to be true. Life is too short to put your name to a lie. This does not mean that every word out of your mouth is some sort of Pronouncement from God. Nor does it mean you must be unkind. But you simply can't speak words that you know to be untrue. I'll extend this to social media as well: if it's not the truth, don't post it.

4. Seek to understand.

Do not seek comfort or confirmation. Do not simply look for ways to prove what you already believe. Seek to understand, and always be open to the possibility that what you knew to be true yesterday must be rewritten today in the light of new, better understanding. Ignoring evidence you don't like because you want to protect your cherished beliefs is not helpful.

5. Listen and pay attention.

Shut up, listen, watch, and pay attention. How else will you seek understanding? Watch carefully. Really see. Really hear. People in particular, even the ones who lie, will tell you who they are if you just pay attention. Your life is happening right now, and the idea of Special Moments just tricks us into ignoring a million other moments that are just as important. Also, love is not a thing you do at people-- to say that you care about someone even as you don't actually hear or see them is a lie.

6. Be grateful.

You are the recipient of all sorts of bounty that you didn't earn. Call it the grace of God or good fortune, but be grateful for the gifts you have been given. You did not make yourself. Nobody owes you anything, but you owe God/the Universe/fate everything. I have been hugely fortunate/blessed/privileged; I would have to be some sort of huge dope to grab all that life has given me and say, "This is mine. I made this. It's all because I'm so richly deserving." I've been given gifts, and the only rational response I can think of is to be grateful.

7. Mind the 5%

95% of life is silly foolishness that humans just made up and then pretended had some Great Significance. Only about 5% really matters, has real value. Don't spend energy, worry, fret, concern, time, stress on the other 95%.  The trick is that every person has a different idea of what constitutes the 5%, and sometimes the path to honoring and loving that other person is to indulge their 5%.

8. Take care of the people around you.

"What difference can one person make" is a dumb question. It is impossible for any individual human to avoid making a difference. Every day you make a difference either for good or bad. People cross your path. You either makes their lives a little better or you don't. Choose to make them better. The opportunity to make the world a better place is right in front of your face every day; it just happens to look like other people (including the annoying ones).

9. Commit.

If you're going to do it, do it. Commitment lives on in the days when love and passion are too tired to get off the couch. Also, commitment is like food. You don't eat on Monday and then say, "Well, that takes care of that. I don't need to think about eating for another week or so. " Commitment must be renewed regularly.

10. Shut up and do the work

While I recognize there are successful people who ignore this rule, this is my list, so these are my rules. And my rule is: Stop talking about how hard you're working or what a great job you're doing or what tremendous obstacles you're overcoming. In short, stop delivering variations on, "Hey, look at me do this work! Look at me!" Note, however, there is a difference between "Hey, lookit me do this work" and "Hey, look at this important work that needs to be done." Ask the ego check question-- if you could do the work under the condition that nobody would ever know that you did it, would you still sign up? If the answer isn't "yes," as yourself why not.

11.  Assume good intent.

Do not assume that everyone who disagrees with you is either evil or stupid. They may well be either, or both-- but make them prove it. People mostly see themselves as following a set of rules that makes sense to them. If you can understand their set of rules, you can understand why they do what they do. Doesn't mean you'll like it any better, but you may have a basis for trying to talk to them about it. And as a bare minimum, you will see yourself operating in a world where people are trying to do the right thing, rather than a hostile universe filled with senseless evil idiots. It's a happier, more hopeful way to see the world. But yeah-- there are still evil dopes in the world.

12. Don't waste time on people who are not serious.

Some people are just not serious people. They don't use words seriously. They don't have a serious understanding of other people or their actions or the consequences of those actions. They can be silly or careless or mean, but whatever batch of words they are tossing together, they are not serious about them. They are not guided by principle or empathy or anything substantial. Note: do not mistake grimness for seriousness and do not mistake joy and fun for the absence of seriousness. Also, yes, sometimes these not serious people can hold a position of power, even high political office. This is where the "waste" part becomes important; do spend time on them and particularly on dealing with the bad effects that come from not serious people with power, and make sure that time is well-invested. One of the great tricks of not serious people in power is to get you to waste time on them, to spend thinking, fretting, arguing acting about shiny foolishness, leaving them free for larger abuses that go unchecked.

13. Don't forget the point.

Whatever it is you're doing, don't lose sight of the point. Don't lose sight of the objective. It's basic Drivers Ed 101. If you look a foot in front of the car, you'll wander all over the road. If you stare right at the tree you want to miss, you will drive right into it. Where you look is where you go. Keep your eye on the goal. Remember your purpose. And don't try to shorthand it; don't imagine that you know the path that guarantees the outcome you want. Focus on the point (even if it's a goal that you may never reach) because otherwise you will miss Really Good Stuff because you  had too many fixed ideas about what the path to your destination is supposed to look like.

14. People are complicated (mostly)

People grow up. People learn things. People have a day on which their peculiar batch of quirks is just what the day needs. Awful people can have good moments, and good people can have awful moments-- it's a mistake to assume that someone is all one thing or another. Nobody can be safely written off and ignored completely. Corollary: nobody can be unquestioningly trusted and uncritically accepted all the time. People are a mixed mess of stuff. Trying to sort folks into good guys and bad guys is a fool's game.

15. Say "yes."

Doors will appear on your path. Open them even if they are not exactly what you were expecting or looking for. Don't simply fight or flee everything that surprises or challenges you (but don't be a dope about it, either). Most of what I've screwed up in life came from reacting in fear-- not sensible evaluation of potential problems, but just visceral fear. Most of what is good about my life has come from saying "yes." And most of that is not at all what I would have expected or planned for.

16. Make something.

Music, art, refurbished furniture, machinery. Something. 

17. Show up.

The first rule of all relationships is that you have to show up. And you have to fully show up. People cannot have a relationship with someone who isn't there, and that includes someone who looks kind of like they're there but who isn't really there. You have to show up. In the combination of retirement and parenting again, I'm reminded that this also means nor just being fully present, but remembering to show up at all. You put your head down, do the work, and then a week or two later you're suddenly remembering that it's been a while since you checked in with someone. Rule #2 applies.

18. Refine your core.

Know who you are. Strip the definition of yourself of references to situation and circumstance; don't make the definition about your car, your hair, your job, your house. The more compact your definition of self, the less it will be buffeted and beaten by changes in circumstance. Note: this is good work to do long before you, say, retire from a lifelong career.

19. How you treat people is about you, not about them.

It's useful to understand this because it frees you from the need to be a great agent of justice in the world, meting out rewards and punishments based on what you think about what people have done or said. It also gives you power back that you give up when your stance is that you have to wait to see what someone says or does before you react to it. Treat people well because that's how you should treat people, not because you have decided they deserve it. But don't be a dope; if someone shows you that they will always bite you in the hand, it's prudent to stop offering them your hand.