Wednesday, March 31, 2021

AZ: What Teacher Layoffs Look Like In An Anti-Teacher State

Carie Caruso conferenced with her supervisor and was told she was a highly effective teacher. The next day, in an online meeting, she was told that she was out of a job. 47 other teachers were part of that meeting.

Angela Philpot had 23 years of experience, but this week she was one of the 150 teachers laid off by Gilbert Public Schools in a surprise meeting with a principal who read a scripted statement from the district. No comments or questions were allowed. Philpot is an Arizona Education Association officer.

Arizona public schools have seen a big drop in enrollment this year. The Arizona School Boards Association says that 40,000 children became "ghost students"-- they just didn't show up,. and nobody knows where they were. About half of the drop in enrollment are kindergarten and first grade students. Charter schools have seen a slight growth (about 18,000), but not enough to account for all the public school losses.

And so, in an attempt to "right-size" budgets, school districts are chopping staff.

A decade or so ago, Arizona's legislature decreed that these sorts of layoffs could not consider seniority or tenure. So how are these decisions made? With evaluation rubrics like this one:

Some of the items here make a bit of sense, like unprofessional or inappropriate communications, though there's no rubric offered on how one determines if a communication falls into those categories. Some are an Arizona-specific dirty trick; because Arizona is such a teacher desert, they hire huge numbers of teachers who are not really certified for what they're teaching, so rating them low because they don't have the right certificate is a low blow. And there's the usual noble teacher baloney-- note that a highly effective teacher donates time before and after school. At least they stop short of "effective teacher avoids having children of her own so she has more time and attention for her students."

And then there's "promoting the campus culture," where a teacher can be low-rated for posting on social media about bad things done by district leadership, or simply "discusses district school decisions/concerns publicly." 

Gilbert district principals and the Office of Talent Management (seriously, who proposes these titles with a straight face) both claim that they had no idea that when they rated teachers that they would actually be ending teacher employment by the district. 

Was any of this even necessary? The ghost students are likely to reappear, particular those little who are most likely at home because Covid. And many folks have pointed out that the state actually has a billion dollar rainy day fund (and if the pandemic isn't a rainy day, what the heck is) as well as a big stack of federal stimulus money.

But Arizona's legislature and governor have been busy telling Arizona public school teachers to just go away, so assistance from those quarters seems unlikely. In the meantime, teachers who want to keep their jobs can check their local district's layoff rubric and make sure to say only happy things about their bosses, because in a state without seniority or tenure, teachers who want to keep their jobs must give up their other rights. 

Monday, March 29, 2021

GA: To Get A Voucher, Give Up Rights

Georgia is on the voucher expansion bus that so many GOP-run states are vacationing on this year, but their vouchers (like those in some other states) have a special wrinkle--a requirement for students with special needs to give up their rights if they want a voucher.

Senate Bill 47 has a variety of the usual features, including a huge expansion of voucher eligibility (because, as many states are poised to re-demonstrate, the voucher playbook is to get a foot in the door by starting the program for the neediest students, and then expand expand expand). But it includes this fun paragraph: 

With respect to local school systems, the acceptance Acceptance of a scholarship shall have the same effect as a parental refusal to consent to services pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C.A. Section 1400, et seq., and a parental waiver of rights to educational accommodations under Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C.A. Section 701, et seq.

There's a bit of a one-two punch here, because SB47 also adds some language about funding-- whereas the old language said that the student should be followed by "an amount equivalent to the costs of the educational program that would have been provided for the student in the resident school system," the added language specifies that if the child had an Individualized Education Program (IEP), then the amount that follows them should factor in the cost of following that IEP. 

So, if I'm reading this correctly, the private school doesn't have to provide the IEP services, but it gets paid as if it were doing so. I should note that the voucher program being amended is Georgia's Special Needs Scholarship, a program already aimed at students with special needs.

There are plenty of explanations out there for why Georgia is asking parents to give up rights if they want to send their child to a private school, not the least of which is the fact that IDEA remains a huge federal unfunded mandate that requires schools to provide services, but has never come close to fulfilling the original federal promise to actually fund that mandate. And Georgia, like many states, is having a hard time attracting and retaining actual special education teachers, filling many, many, many special ed spots with teachers who lack the specialized training. And Georgia has a history using its network of special ed schools to warehouse students who are poor and Black. The Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support (GNETS) has drawn national attention over the years for its many failures.

When you can't meet a demand, figure out how to reduce the demand, I guess? There is certainly a weird irony in a program that says both "you are eligible if you have a 504 plan" and "you must give up your 504 plan if you want to use this program." It's a true Catch-22 to say that you can get your child a voucher specially set up for students to have their special needs met by agreeing not to require the school to meet your child's special needs.

Can a parent waive the rights of their child? Can the right to a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment even be waived at all? 

The answer in Georgia is yes. And it has been for a while. While SB47 cements the concept and insures that private schools don't have to meet IEP requirements, even when taxpayers are paying for the private education, the notion that choosing a private school means waiving IEP rights has long been clear in Georgia

Parents have always had that personal choice. As with many choice laws, the idea is not to provide choice, but for taxpayers to foot the bill for choices that already exist. What makes this extra special is the legislature deciding that the taxpayers--and the students--should get less for their money.

In the meantime, Georgia is also a state that brings up another question--why is it that in so many states, attempts to stifle voting rights are coming out of legislatures at the same time as attempts to defund and privatize education? 

Sunday, March 28, 2021

ICYMI: Palm Sunday Edition (3/28)

Yeah, that snuck up fast. Let me remind you that you can get a daily dose of education commentary on the Network for Public Education Blog of Blogs. Meanwhile, let's see what we've got on taphere.

Ayanna Presley wants girls of color to stop being punished disproportionately

Rep. Presley is trying again with legislation to disrupt the over-punishment and detention of Black girls. Let's see how far it gets this time.

Let Me Teach Like a Normal @$$ Human

At Affective Living, from active shooter training to pandemesses, Chase Mielke would like to be less superhuman in the classroom.

More than $1 billion for 56 black charter graduates?

Julian Vasquez Heilig with a piece of information that is pretty stark and clear-- Texas spent $1.21 billion over two years on nine charter chains, and those chains graduated 56 Black students. 

What They've Lost

Have You Heard talks to students from Boston, and it turns out they aren't so concerned about that Learning Loss that education thought leaders are all worked up about right now.

Setting Ourselves, and Others, Free

Teacher Tom, the littles, and shame.

Our Kids Are Not Broken

Not sure how I missed this Atlantic piece last week, but it's worth a look. Not sure I agree with all of it, but I appreciate a positive look at the students right now

What we learned about Clearview AI and its secret "Co-founder."

Not directly related, but this New York Times piece digs a bit more into the surveillance giant watching us all.

Why Common Core failed

You will learn nothing new from this Tom Loveless piece for Brookings, but you will have the satisfaction of nodding and saying "I told them so," at your computer screed. However, I do have to issue a trigger warning because Emily Hanford pops up here.

Grit backlash (again)

As a bunch of academics get ready to kick grit around, Hechinger Report talks to Angela Duckworth and gives her a chance to reflect and respond.

Biden is Reigniting the Movement to Oppose Standardized Testing

At The Progressive, Jake Jacobs looks at how the administration's hard line on testing is riling up the troops again.

Who's Zooming Who?

Who's running ed policy in Tennessee? Not the people who are actually supposed to be, TC Weber discovers. Lots of dots to connect here.

Why I'm Opting My Son Out of Standardized Tests (And You Can, Too)

Jose Vilson on why his son will not be taking New York's BS Test this year. "Our students deserve more for their resilience than this country has offered them..."

Federal government pandemic schooling data--three key takeaways

Yeah, the feds finally tried to collect some information. Matt Barnum at Chalkbeat breaks it down.

It's tempting to replace teachers with tech, but it would be a mistake

Victoria Cain and Adam Laats are at the Washington Post to deliver a lesson from history.

What did Florida get for the $1 billion/year it sends to private schools

A blistering column from Patricia Drago in the Daytona Beach News-Journal. "Let’s stop the pretense and the hypocrisy. Either accountability matters, or it doesn’t. Either curriculum matters or it does not. Either teacher certification and school safety matter or they do not. A billion dollars a year says these things don’t matter in Florida."

Stickin' to the Union

Union bashing has been popular of late. Here's Nancy Flanagan with a reply to all that bashery.

The Country Moves Forward, Education Falls Back

Gayle Greene (no relation) is at Counterpunch calling out standardized testing and the folks who are keeping us at it.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Is Your Charter School A Public School?

It seems to be one of the eternal questions (well, sort of a question) of the education debates-- aren't charter schools public schools? So for those folks who are still a little fuzzy on this, let me offer a handy set of questions to help you decide. Here are the signs of a public school.

Is the school and its resources owned by the public?

Who owns the building? If the school closed tomorrow, who would take possession of the building, the desks, the chairs, the books, the music stands, etc etc etc. If the physical resources of the building are owned by the public, it's probably a public school.

Does the school accept all students?

Usually when discussing this point, we get all caught up in the ways that charter schools market, cream, council out, don't offer specialized programs, and set up enrollment hoops that allow them to decide which students they will and will not take. But let's simplify this issue. Does the school accept all students? All. If they have a lottery to award seats to a select few, the answer is no, they are not a public school. No public school district gets to say, ever, "I'm sorry, we only have enough seats for fifty of you, so we'll have a lottery, and the people who don't get a seat in the lottery, well, you'll be on your own. Not our problem." 

Is the school run by local elected officials?

When we get to the very top level of management, do we find a board of local people elected by local taxpayers? If so, it's probably a public school. We're in a fuzzy grey area in districts under mayoral control, but not at all fuzzy when discussing upper management that is not elected by anybody at all.

Did those local officials open the school?

Who decided this school should exist, and that local taxpayers should pay for it? If that decision was made by a board of local citizens elected by local taxpayers, it's probably a public school.

Are those local official required by law to meet only ever in public?

Can the board of local citizens elected by the local taxpayers meet in secret? Or must their meetings be announced and in public, with exceptions only for times when the group must adjourn for privacy regarding, say, personnel or student issues? Public school boards don't get to meet unannounced, privately.

Are all financial records available upon request, and subject to state audit?

If you've gone to court to block the state from auditing your school financial records, you are not a public school. It's simple, really-- you're spending taxpayer money, and the taxpayers are entitled to an accounting of it. Any taxpayer should be able to access your financials. The state should audit you regularly. 

Does the school operate under the same rules laid out by the state in its public school code?

This varies tremendously from state to state, but the principle remains. Do your students, your staff, your families all enjoy the same rights and protections provided to folks in public schools? Does your school operate by the same rules that have always been on the books, or does it enjoy a bunch of special exceptions?

Finally, here is a question that has absolutely no bearing on whether or not your charter is a public school-- is the school funded with public taxpayer dollars

The answer to this question tells us nothing. In voucher states like Indiana and Florida, public tax dollars are used to fund religious schools, and yet none of them would claim to be a "public school." Public tax dollars delivered by way of food stamps and rent support do not turn supermarkets and apartment complexes into public facilities. The mere presence of a public tax dollar does not turn a private business into a public institution. 

If your school answers "no," to the above questions, it is not a public school. That does not automatically mean that it is evil, destructive and a pox on your community. But it is not a public school. It is absolutely true that, under certain circumstances, charter schools could be public schools. But modern charters, as currently operated, aren't public schools. The word "public" has been used as a fig leaf, a bit of window dressing by some folks who want to mask privatization while giving certain charters an association with qualities they do not actually possess. But it does not matter how many times I call my pig a cow; when the butchering is all done, I'm going to be eating pork. 

Friday, March 26, 2021

Cardona's Failed Non-Defense Defense of 2021 Testing

USED Secretary Miguel Cardona appeared on All In With Chris Hayes, and while much of the interview centered on the issue of re-opening schools, it also included this exchange:

HAYES: There`s been some controversy around or some debate around standardized testing this year for understandable reasons. Arguments go in both directions, right? One is, you want to have a guidepost to measure precisely the effects we`re talking about, the other is it seems insane to subject schools to standardized -- children to standardized testing given the least standardized year in American history.

500 researchers and scholars wrote a letter to you basically saying, don`t force schools to give standardized tests this pandemic year, that it made no sense. It would exacerbate inequality and produce flawed data. There will be standardized testing this year. Why do you think that`s a good idea?

CARDONA: You know, this is analogous to the decisions, the difficult decisions that leaders had to make last July when we talked about reopening schools. And we know that there`s no one-size-fits-all. You know, when we were thinking about reopening schools, we have very small schools and we have very large schools, and states that had high numbers and states that have very low numbers of COVID. So, there`s no one size fits all.

So the flexibilities that were announced by the department last month, allowed for some of that variance. But let me tell you very clearly, that when we`re pushing out $130 billion state-level data, not necessarily the classroom data, because teachers know where their kids are, but that state- level data is going to ensure that we`re providing the funds to those students who are impacted the most by the pandemic.

We have to be very focused on addressing achievement disparities, opportunity gaps that were exacerbated by this. And those data do help make sure that we`re moving the money and the policies for those students that were affected the most, students of color, students with disabilities who whose impact by this pandemic were greater than many others.

I include Hayes' full question because 1) it's nice to see the letter from 500 scholars being cited and 2) God bless him for calling the testing insane. Because it is. On Twitter, Philly school parents are just catching on that their children will be welcomed back to face-to-face schooling with five days of the Big Standardized Test

But Cardona's defense of his decision is spectacularly uncompelling. Can we break it down?

1) There's no one size fits all about this decision, because there are lots of very different schools. Okay. But this assumes the sale--we only have to care that one size doesn't fit all if we've already decided to make everyone take the test. "There's no one size fits all" could just as easily (maybe more easily) be used to argue that there's no point in giving the test this year.

2) And so we have "flexibilities." Cardona wants to sell this as the department's concession to the whole "one size doesn't fit all" thing, but again--it's an argument made about how to require the Big Standardized Test, not why to require it. And it underlines and exacerbates just how non-standard this year's results will be. Tests taken at wildly different times, in wildly different ways, with the test in some cases truncated, somehow, and given to some less that full collection of students. How will this data be comparable to anything?

3) This is not about classroom data, "because teachers know where their kids are." Well, that's one thing that he has actually gotten right. And yet, there is no plan to try tapping into this vast pool of on-the-ground data. Unlike many test-pushers, Cardona acknowledges that teachers know--but he's still not going to ask them. "Hey, I really like that cute person over there, and I could just ask them if they liked me, too, but instead I'm going to ask their next-door-neighbor's cousin's friend what they think."

4) State-level data are going to "ensure that we're providing the funds to those students who are impacted the most by the pandemic." This is where it really comes off the rails. Is the plan to use BS Test data to determine which state is most impacted? Because the impactification in my part of PA is way different from how the pandemic has impactified Philly. Does he mean that state level data will be used to identify district by district impacts? Does he mean he's after building level data? Because if we're down to building-level data, we're pretty much back to the classroom data he said we didn't need. How does one target students without looking at classrooms? There's just some level of explanation missing here.

5) Very focused on "addressing achievement disparities"! Gah. So test scores. We need to have test scores, so we can focus on test scores. "Opportunity gaps that were exacerbated by this." We need test scores so we can try to raise test scores. Because if  we wanted to address actual opportunity gaps, then we could do that without test scores. We could, for instance, do an infrastructure survey to see which students had the opportunity to learn in a building that is well-maintained with facilities less than a century old. 

6) We need the data to target the "students that were affected the most, students of color, students with disabilities whose impact by this pandemic were greater than many others." And as I've said before, if you're making the argument that Certain Students need to be targeted by the test results but you can already list who those students are, then why do you need the tests? He did the same thing in another setting, arguing "we have to make sure we are laser-focused on addressing inequities that have existed for years"-- but if they have existed for years and we have known about them for years, what will tests given under current circumstances tell us? And by the way--is this data for figuring out pandemic impact or long-standing inequity or what, exactly?

Plus--and this is a huge plus--the BS Tests, even if they do what they claim to do, only assess reading and math. The pandemic has had such a broad impact on students, from the subjects that couldn't be conducted in distance learning (band, welding, etc) to the social and emotional costs. To say that you need the tests so that you can rush out aid to the needed areas is like going into an earthquake-ravaged city and declaring, :"We'll figure out who needs aid by tallying up damage to sidewalks in neighborhoods." It's like triaging the many victims of a major bus accident by saying, "We'll assess need by checking for broken fingernails." 

This is a fail on many levels, but it fails most of all in that it simply does not make a case for subjecting students to the Big Standardized Test in 2021. If the goal was to defend that decision, Cardona simply didn't do it.

Look, I don't expect miracles. The BS Test is enshrined in ESSA, and it will take more than a Presidential magic wand to make it go away for good. But inflicting the test on students this year is a dumb, bad decision that will provide zero benefits for anyone other than the various corporations involved in the billion-dollar testing industry. Well, and the folks waiting to announce that the test results show that US public education is failing and it's time to disrupt it again some more.

What is perhaps most discouraging about Cardona's non-defense defense of the test is that it mostly just echoes the neoliberal Obama-Duncan era of ed reform. We've heard all of these arguments and some of this language before. It was bunk then, and it's bunk now. I was unexcited about Candidate Biden for education because he came with all that Obama baggage, and he didn't seem to have a plan beyond "Betsy DeVos bad." So far nothing has happened to make me change my mind. 

Do Rising Charter Tides Lift All Boats?

So lately we've been getting the charter-pushing return of the notion that the rising tide lifts all boats. Here's Fordham Institute's head honcho Mike Petrilli at The Hill, throwing in a side of "follow the science" because Petrilli is great (and I say this with all sincerity) at working the angles. 

The "science" that he's referring to is a 2019 study-ish thing that Fordham put out (with Walton financing), authored by David Griffith, entitled Rising Tide: Charter School Market Share and Student Achievement. The idea he sets out to prove is that when charters open up, the resulting competition causes all students in all schools--both public and charter--to do better. The rising tide lifts all boats.

Griffith's background is a BA in Politics and Philosophy; later on he went back to school for a Master's in Public Policy. He worked as a political aid for a couple of years, worked briefly as a "research assistant" at two different outfits, did some TA work after grad school, taught for one whole year at a DC charter prep school, then landed a job at Fordham as a Research and Policy Associate. Make of that what you will.

The "study" depends, as always, upon Big Standardized Test data. Its finding included a claim that "high charter market share is associated with" big gains for Black and Hispanic students, but no real gains for white or rural students.

I could pick apart this piece of charter marketing for you, but as it turns out, that job was already done at the time, by the folks at the National Education Policy Center. The NEPC review was conducted by Yongmei Ni; she's an actual professor, the department chair of education leadership and policy at the University of Utah, who has produced a whole bunch of actual peer-reviewed studies. 

Her review of Griffith's "study" can be found here. Here's the short form of her findings:

One should interpret the findings and conclusions with extreme caution because of major issues surrounding the data and methods, including the measure of charter market share, the sample selection criteria, and the overreliance on results based on a small number of districts, especially the ones with over 95th percentile of charter market share. Overall, the findings have little use to policymakers because of these issues with data and methods and because the report does not probe beneath the surface.

The problems with Griffith's work are many. 

The rationale for the conclusions are the result of treating correlation as causation. The positive results (all student achievement rising across the district) only appears in certain samples, and there is no evidence offered that the effect is caused by charter school presence. 

The research literature cited in the report is carefully cherry picked. The market share measurement is inaccurate. The data is inaccurate. And the selection of samples is arbitrary and "very puzzling." And there's some stuff about cubic spline regression that can be a little confusing for laypeople, but I can fully understand the point that ultimately, Griffith bases his findings on data from about six or seven districts.

So a tiny, hand-picked set of samples gets him the results he wants, if you squint and don't examine the data too thoroughly, and if you don't want to talk about how such a thing could happen.

Yongmei Ni finds that the study is not useful for guidance of policy and practice, but apparently we're going to do just that by trotting it out again to claim that the rising charter tide lifts all education boats. It may not matter, as GOP choice fans seem to have deserted charters in favor of voucher programs, but here's your reminder that following the science will not lead you to any boat-lifting charter school revelations.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

ND: Kneecapping Public Education

North Dakota's governor just signed SB 2196 into law, allowing the state to quietly slip forward in 2021's race to dismantle public education. While other state legislatures have focused on vouchers, North Dakota took its leap forward by focusing on unbundling and competency basxed education.

SB 2196 is short and the changes it enacts even shorter. It amends the rules about instructional time requirements with this sentence:

Establish and certify a North Dakota competency framework to allow students who have demonstrated content mastery of units required under sections 15.1-21-01 and 15.1-21-02 to waive unit instructional time requirements under section 15.1-21-03.

In headline-ready English, that means the bill will "expand learning outside classroom." Or as state K-12 Superintendent Kirsten Baesler puts it, "A student’s ability to learn is not completely dependent upon how much time he or she spends sitting in a classroom." Baesler was a school librarian, a principal, and a school board member. In office since 2013, she was a proponent of Common Core (she also has two arrests--one for domestic violence and another for DUI).

The bill now allows students to accumulate school credit for "community volunteer projects, internships, and other educational options." Baesler has thrown some other language at it, touting "personalization" and "methods of learning." She asserts that it will do these things "while maintaining academic strength and accountability," although nothing in the bill calls for an oversight or accountability. Will Pat be able to earn math credits by working as a cashier at the Piggly Wiggly, or get phys ed credits for helping on Uncle Bob's farm? 

The bill is also promoted as giving districts "flexibility," which I suppose is true in the sense that they will have the flexibility to cut classes and fire the teachers who taught them. 

The unbundling of education usually comes attached to vouchers. That legislation is kicking around the North Dakota (HB 1369 would create education savings acounts--vouchers), supported by the usual suspects (including the Catholic church, because ka-ching), but North Dakota has been pretty resistant to school choice in the past, and this bill is not doing well, either.

The lack of voucher support for this new bill means that student "flexibility" will be tied to family resources. Can't afford to play private league soccer or go to summer camp? Well, then, you'll just have to take phys ed in public school. Can't afford a special private math tutor? Public school math for you. Of course, since there may not be anybody checking to see just how legit the "flexible" credit earning is, this may be less of a problem than I'm imagining. 

The bill passed with large support, and while North Dakota is largely run by the GOP, the news could still find a Democrat to say something uninformed about it:

"It creates great opportunity to continue to move further away from the industrialized 'I lecture, you learn' model of education," Sen. Erin Oban, D-Bismarck, said in support of the bill.

Industrial model. Hasn't changed in years. Yeah, that's definitely not public education, but it's important never to let facts stand in the way of dismantling public education.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Covid, Learning Loss, and Katrina 2.0

Well, here we go.

Here's Morgan Polikoff in the Los Angles Times, explaining that we are in a terrible mess, that educational attainment, or at least test scores (as measured by another testing manufacturer) are dropping, that the mental health of children in the nation is a mess. And hurray for the Biden relief plan, which throws a pile of money at all these education. But. But but but. Our educational structures can't handle this, Polikoff argues. Too many districts with boards and parent groups and teacher unions and famnilies and students and they just aren't up to "identifying what works and then providing it equitably to students and families." 

What does he think has to happen?

This is where state and national leaders simply must step in. They need to provide clear and specific guidance on the best ways to spend American Rescue Plan dollars to address the negative impacts of the pandemic on children and families. They must not leave decisions to local actors — burdening them with the task of figuring out what works and implementing it.

Local control is a bad thing, and it needs to be swept aside, as witnessed by the data we have so far.

Polikoff asserts that three things are needed going forward in this state-controlled education universe. And number one is measurement--academic tests, social and emotional well-being tests. And they should go on for years "so we can follow our progress well beyond the end of the pandemic." Oh, and the "measurement plans should be carefully constructed to ensure the results are directly useful for informing instructional and other decisions" which is a cool idea except that there are no such standardized tests currently in existence, especially if you also want them to simultaneously serve the entirely other purpose of providing government reports on how the system is going as a whole. Teachers can do this kind of assessment, and, in fact, do so every day, but not in a way that scales up for state-level progress reporting. 

Polikoff also wants high-quality interventions that are "supported or directly provided" by the state; his list includes the current reform darling, tutoring. And third, he wants to target those who need the interventions most, which he seems to already know means low-income communities and communities of color. And all of this state-run takeover "should be designed in collaboration with community leaders, not merely imposed." Sure. You know one reason this sort of thing is always targeted for low-income communities and communities of color? Because rich white folks in wealthy communities will tell the state to get stuffed and take a hike.

All of this leads us back to the old refrain:

Simply put, we can’t undo the negative effects of this national crisis on our children with 13,000 districts working independently. We must not allow our dysfunctional educational systems to block the serious response that our children need.

So here we are. The pandemic is, as Patty Levesque of Jebucation's Excel In Ed called it, an opportunity. It's ed reform's Katrina 2.0, another opportunity to cash in on a natural-born, human-exacerbated disaster. It "proves" that public education is in a shambles (though some reformsters believe it has always been a shambles) and that the old system of local control and locally-elected boards needs to be removed. 

It's not a simple situation to navigate. Katrina was a real hurricane that caused real devastation, and the pandemic has taken a real bite out of education in the US. The problems, the disaster--that's real. But when  folks shift away from "what are the actual problems, who's dealing with them, and how can we help" and start in with "this is awful and here's how the same policies that we've always pursued would be a good fit," that's the time to take a hard look at what's really going on.

Take the fabled Learning Loss. I have no doubt that learning loss, the missed opportunities to push a child's education further forward this year--that's a thing. But Learning Loss as in "these test scores prove that the pub lic education system is hopelessly broken and we must make the best of the opportunity to implement our favorite corporate ed reform"--that's some bullshit right there.

That's one other reason to fear the 2021 Big Standardized Test. I have no doubt there are some test-loving folks out there who sincerely believe that we need to take students' academic temperature to diagnose what medicine is needed. They're wrong, but they're sincere. But other folks are waiting to run the playbook that Polikoff reads from here. Look at these test scores! It's a disaster! Public education has failed! We must put the state in charge, and they must put these various private education-flavored businesses to work, and local control can't be allowed to flourish, though of course we'll work closely with community leaders, you betcha. 

We're already seeing the pandemic-fueled attack on public ed from the right--parents need vouchers so they can deal with all this. The neoliberals wave is coming--only entrepreneurial thought leaders can rescue the broken system. 

2021 is not going to be a fun year for public education. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Jebucation Has New Five Year Plan

Long long ago, when Jeb! Bush still had White House dreams, he cooked up a Floridian reform group, which then scaled up to national status as the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which has now become ExcelInEd. Headed up by Patty Levesque, the organization  remains a clearinghouse for education disruption ideas pushed by well-heeled, well-connected education amateurs. It is hard to pretend any more that these are serious people who have goals other than breaking up public education so that the private market can profit from the pieces. 

Their website is still chock full of carefully twisted stats (Florida is first in AP test participation!) and same old baloney talking points (US students rank 38th internationally in math on the PISA scores--which is of course right where they've always ranked). The message remains as always that public schools are failing and we must open education to the privateers who want access to all those sweet, sweet tax dollars. (It also includes some celebrity bad quotes).

The group is busy-- they push policy ideas out into the states and have been busy filing briefs in support of ESAs (the newest flavor of education voucher) and just generally supporting the privatization agenda whenever they can. And they put on an annual gathering of privatizers and profiteers called, seriously, EdPalooza.

Recently Levesque was interviewed by Rick Hess. As with his recent exit interview with Betsy DeVos, this is Hess being uncharacteristically soft and fuzzy, allowing his subject to spin her tale without ever questioning or challenging her story. The end result is illuminating only because it gives us an unvarnished picture of the alternate reality that Levesque wants to promote.

Levesque's account of what EIE has done is standard reformy fare-- they're "developed policy solutions" that are "based on research, proven success, creative problem solving and learning from other states." Well, the "creative" part is right, anyway. And the usual claim that they want systems "centered around children and their needs" which sounds so much better than "we want to crack open an educational marketplace where entrepreneurs can make a bunch of money with education-flavored products."

Levesque is ostensibly talking to Hess in conjunction with a new EIE five year plan (though I can't find any such plan on their website), and as the plans are teased out, they turn out to be the same old baloney.

There's the usual empty language about equity-- "We believe that too many children—especially low-income students, students of color, and rural students—do not have access to a high-quality education, but we aren't proposing that we get them that education by fully funding schools in their communities." Instead, Levesque is one more edu-disruptor who thinks Covid smells like another Katrina, a "massive disruption" from which they should "seize the opportunities." So she'll use some of the newest marketing bullshit-- the McKinsey report on the Days of Learning that students have "lost." Here's an explainer of why that's bunk, but the short answer is that McKinsey's days of lost learning are really hypothetical lost points on the Big Standardized Test, computed using numbers that are all made up. But one of the rules of education reformstering is that you have to sell the big scary problem and thereby avoid providing evidence that what you propose is actually a solution.

And don 't miss this sentence at the end of that graph: "We have a responsibility to turn that around and to act quickly." Who is the "we" in this sentence? Is it EIE, because that's a group of educational amateurs who appointed themselves overseers of US education. There isn't a person in a leadership role with a shred of actual education background (okay--there's one who was actually in a classroom). This remains, for me, one of the astonishing features of the ed reform movement. If I walked into my local hospital and announced, "I have a responsibility to show you how to improve the way you perform brain surgery" or walked into a court and declared, "I have a responsibility to show you how to improve the conducting of trials," I'd be shown the door, not treated as if I were an expert that everyone needed to listen to. 


Levesque's next problem to fix is pandemic-lowered college admissions, so EIE has a goal to "strengthen college and career pathways." Fun phrase. Takes me right back to the days that Jeb! embraced Common Core as a pathway to the White House and the whole thing turned around and bit him in the ass. But she moves right on to a desire to "empower families with the opportunity to find the best fit for their child's educational needs" aka "we are all in on backing education vouchers," which further adds to my sense that the ed disruption crowd is leaving charter schools behind in pursuit of vouchery dreams. She has no argument that vouchers work well, but instead falls back on "because pandemic." Seize the opportunities. Ka-ching.

Other key goals? She's going to rattle some off.

"To close learning gaps" which actually means test score gaps, which nobody has successfully honestly done in the whole modern ed reform era. 

Third grade reading, an idea that highlights some folks inability to distinguish between correlation and causation, not to mention an inability to recognize bad policy when they see it.

High quality teachers in every classroom, which is an odd one to toss out there if you're backing current voucher theory, which requires no teachers or classrooms at all. At any rate, another idea that reformsters have been pushing for decades b ut have no idea how to execute (perhaps because they think "high-quality" means "whose students get high test scores").

Digital divide. Yeah, that is an actual problem, and most folks see it, but it's an infrastructure problem, like building an interstate highway system, and so nobody wants to talk about seriously because we all know that the one actual solution is a buttload of money.

"Reimagine learning." Curious phrase, since I seriously doubt that the nature of actual learning has changed, ever. What she really seems to mean is how we deliver credits, and so her examples are "flexible paths to mastery, credit for work experience, opportunities for teachers to change their role in education, and allowing students to learn anywhere." So, vouchers, unbundling, and putting teachers out of work. She will double down on this "learn anywhere" thing in the next paragraph. Another way to understand this vision of unbundled free-market anywhere education is this way-- the state hands each parent a stack of money and says, "Your kid's education is now your problem, not ours. Good luck. Enjoy your freedom." What could possibly go wrong? 

Asked about success stories, Levesque cites Mississippi, which is not where I would have gone in her shoes. But she brags that Mississippi got its Fourth Grade NAEP scores up. There is no trick to that- you hold back all the third graders who are going to do poorly on the test. It's like raising the average height of fourth graders by flunking all the short third graders. It is also a meaningless achievement--who cares that your fourth graders do better is all the gains have disappeared by graduation? But Levesque wants EIE to get some credit for all that. 

Levesque also owns Florida's Schools of Hope, a policy that allows charters to open up right across the street from struggling public schools, so that the attacks on the most vulnerable public schools can be more efficiently accelerated. Levesuqe says this policy is "working," which doesn't seem to mean that students are being educated so much as charter profiteers are getting to expand their market. EIE, she says, worked hard to get charter operators a "fast pass" to open, so that public education can be dismantled that much more quickly.

There's some quick stroking of Jeb! Bush, and then on to underlining what we are seeing to be true--that the emphasis on pushing education disruption has now shifted to the state level. Levesque notes that they work with partners across the political spectrum, so, everyone from Republicans who support privatizing to Democrats supporting privatization? Don't get me wrong--I think it is possible to have useful dialogue with some ed reformsters, even find areas of agreement about improving education in the US. But when I think of those kinds of conversations, I don't think of Levesque, Bush, or Excel In Ed. Their goals are pretty clear, and their vision of the future is one in which, if it exists at all, public education is a low-cost warehouse for Those Peoples' children. 

Monday, March 22, 2021

Why We Don't Need The Big Standardized Test In One Quote

This is taken from the reformy Jebucation ExcelInEd website:

If we don't have a strong accountability system, then students from low-income families and students of color will not receive the instruction and resources needed to be successful.

That's Pam Stewart, former education chief of Florida, the testocrat who famously demanded that a dying child take the Big Standardized Test

It's an illuminating quote. By "strong accountability system," she of course means high-stakes attached to the Big Standardized Test. Let me make a couple of observations.

1) If you already know that low-income families and students of color are the ones who need instruction and resources, what the heck do you need test results for? Seriously. Stewart is not saying, "Our legislators are poised with a big pile of resources, but they just have no idea where they're needed until we get those test results back!"

2) Florida's history tells us that BS Test results are not used to get instruction and resources to students who need them. BS Test scores are used to target public schools for takeover or to have a charter school open across the street or for resources to be drained so that privatizers can make a buck with an education-flavored product. Florida's history is filled with examples of fairly blatant segregation tolerated by powers that be (and which did not require test scores in order to be visible).

3) And, of course, "strong accountability system" in Florida has never meant accountability for legislators who failed to fully, equitably fund public education. 

2021 is an excellent year to opt out, in Florida and across the country.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

ICYMI: Spring Is Here, Apparently Edition (3/21)

 It's nice enough, but I've lived in NW PA too long to be fooled. We'll just see where this leads us. In the meantime, here's your reading for the week. Also, your reminder that you can get a daily dose of edubloggery by checking out (or subscribing to) NPE's Blog of Blogs

Why Black Parents Aren't Joining the Push To Reopen Schools

The short answer is "trust," but you should go ahead and read the long answer from Melinda Anderson at Mother Jones.

Cyberattacks on Schools Soared During the Pandemic

From EdWeek, a report on one of the big pandemic side effects we haven't been talking about

Let me teach like a normal @$$ human

Active shooter drills, pandemics, and teaching like a superhero, from the blog Affective Lving

Top Chicago Charter School Admits Racist Past

Noble charters join  the ranks of "no excuses" charters that are finally admitting that maybe that whole thing was a bad, racist idea.

Questions about the AFT and NEA's "Learning after Covid"

Nancy Bailey has looked at what the unions are touting for post-pandemic programs, and she has some concerns.

Note to MATH advocate Andrew Yang-- 2+2=4

At NYC Educator, a look at Andrew Yang's recent pronouncements on education and teaching in NY which are, well, not good.

Education Reinventers

Gary Rubinstein looks at the history of reformy rebranding as ell as debunking the latest miracle school.

How the stimulus will affect schools, explained

Matt Barnum at Chalkbeat offers a clear explainer of where all that money is going to go (or not)

Outdated research and ideas about teacher quality render report useless

NPEC takes a look at the National Council on Teacher Quality's 2020 teacher prep review, and it is once again a document not to be taken seriously.

One of the fairest school funding models in the nation might be about to fail

We don't usually hear about Wyoming because their schools have been exceptionally well and fairly funded for decades. Now that may be about to end. From the Hechinger Report.

An encouraging consensus on character education

Conservative Andy Smarick at reformy Education Next has some interesting thoughts about c haracter education.

There has to be an accounting

Turns out that maybe AT&T has been bilking the E-rate progam that provides affordable internet for schools. Oopsies.

How children read differently from books vs. screens

From the New York Times, more research about how children really interact with screens.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Rules for Rural Philanthropy

Juliet Squire is a partner at Bellwether Education Partners, a reliably reformy part of the Fordham-AEI axis. She has traveled the Phillips Exeter-Yale-AEI career trajectory with a stop in the New Jersey Department of Education before landing at Bellwether, where she makes observations about education  that I pretty much always disagree with. 

But she also just released an article for AEI about philanthropy in rural communities, and speaking as someone who has lived his life in a rural community that periodically is afflicted by someone trying to do philanthropy to it, she's made some good observations here.

One of her three "key points" is really on the mark:

Place-based philanthropy is hard to do right. It requires philanthropies to shift their mindset from that of a benefactor to that of a partner committed to learning and working alongside local leaders.

This is fundamental. Do-gooders who sail into town with attitude of, "I'm here to bestow my wisdom and largesse on this bundle of hicks," are doomed to well-deserved failure. Squire goes on to offer five somewhat jargon-choked lessons on how to get it right, and they're worth discussing.

Place-based philanthropy requires local capacity and sometimes building that capacity from the ground up. 

Philanthropists like to "partner" with locals already doing good works (or at least they should), but rural communities don't necessarily have a lot of Good Deed Doers working regularly. Squire's picture is unnecessarily bleak ("In some rural places, significant declines in the population or the economy have hollowed out civil society"), and she suggests that philanthropists may have to "build capacity" from scratch, which requires the philanthropy to more directly engage (or at least it should). Squire suggests starting with concrete actions like building playground equipment, so that the locals can see you're for real.

Place-based philanthropy requires local leadership and philanthropies willing to embrace humility.

This point is dead on. Local leaders know the territory, the challenges, the history, the hopes, the dreams. Philanthropists coming from outside have to earn local leader trust and they have to actually trust local leaders to make the right choices. Trust local leaders and get out of the way. Modern fauxlanthropy too often resembles a business venture that hires people to help the Big Rich Guy implement his preferred programs (looking at you, Bill Gates).

There is something about rural communities that makes this worse. Perhaps the notion in some big city types that they need to step in and show the rubes how to get it done. In recent decades, this has been exacerbated by the rise of Tech Bros who have a tendency to believe they smartest people in the room, even on subjects about which they don't know jack. "I'm a young gazillionaire, so I must be an omni-expert." 

These deep-pocketed Dunning-Kruger exemplars inevitably screw it up. Let me tell you  story from my own town. A guy bought the hotel (yes, there's just one) and declared he would turn it into a local culture center, starting with a big high school arts festival. He approached all four of the local high school choirs about appearing, selling it by telling each director that the other three had already signed up. Only someone who didn't know how small towns worked would have used such a dumb lie with four people who knew each other personally and saw each other regularly.  The unfortunate thing is that when these wealthy dopes crash and burn, they can walk away easily, and the locals have to clean up the mess (again, looking at you, Mr. Gates). 

If you don't trust local expertise, you are going to screw it up. Period.

Place-based philanthropy requires acknowledging the interconnectedness of community challenges and a readiness to invest across multiple domains

Everything is tied to everything else. I would argue that this is not true only in rural communities, but that the size of urban "Gordian knots" allows folks to pretend that issues can be handled separately. Squire notes that in rural communities, you can't disentangle school quality from economic development, and I want to ask if there's any place that's not true. But her observation that rural communities can be more "nimble" essentially because it's easy to get all the major players at the table makes sense. 

Place-based philanthropy requires patience, a willingness to play the long game, and early planning for how to sustain initiatives as philanthropic dollars phase out

Drive-by do-gooding is not super-helpful anywhere. The idea is that the money guys swoop in, set something up, and that gives itv the momentum to keep going. The lazy way to do this is what my brother (who served on the school board for a while) calls "grant crack." That's when the Widget Foundation gives you a two year grant to set up a widgetry program, in the hopes that at the end of two years, you'll find widgetry so delightful that you'll start funding the program yourself. Except that in two years you'll be just as broke as you are now. 

If you want your widgetry program to take route, you (and your investment) are going to have to stick around for a while to make sure that the program really works and is being led by people who are invested, capable, and knowledgable about widgetry. It's not just that it's needed to help the program find its feet; it's that when you dump-and-run, we take that as a sign you weren't really interested in us and you can't really be trusted.

Place-based philanthropy requires setting aside preconceived notions of what it looks like to achieve impact and scale

Or, more simply, you can't insist on your own definition of success. In particular, don't show up with your own set of pre-developed metrics for how to measure what is accomplished, because you don't know the people or the community and your pre-created metrics are bunk. See the above point about trusting local leaders. 

Squire nods to another problem--the creation of turnkey programs. I've always been mystified about this-- people who play in the big leagues of policy and philanthropy would rarely claim, "Well, this is how it worked in New York City, so it should work exactly the same way in LA and Chicago." That would be dumb, because each city has its own history, values, pace, style and ways of getting things done. Yet somehow, many folks assume that small towns and rural communities are interchangeable, popped out of some cookie cutter community design. One size does not fit all.

My extra two cents

These are five not-too-bad points, and I can't let them pass without noting that A) mostly they are true for any community  and B) so many education reform programs have violated these lessons. Common Core, the charterization of NOLA, test-centered schools, etc etc etc--they have violated these lessons over and over again. 

I don't really know what the audience for Squire's piece will be; I can think of some people who should read and reflect on it, but I'm not holding my breath. 

As a side note, one other story. A tech bro has just bought several major buildings in the neighboring town in my county. He has had some meetings with the locals, where the themes of his rambling presentations have included things like he doesn't much like collaboration, that he hopes to make money out of this, and that he hopes to revitalize the city--but, the implication is, on his terms. We'll just see how this plays out.

Friday, March 19, 2021

An Evaluation That Teachers Can Use

A post from Jay Wamsted at Education Post (yes, that Education Post--I've said it before and I'll say it again--it's important to read from all over the edu-web) got me thinking about the sources of feedback that teachers can tap. He tells a story about a missed moment in which someone offered him feedback on his teaching that he didn't want to hear, and how he regrets that missed opportunity.

Which I get. I suspect most teachers who have been doing the work more than five years get it. Because the system so rarely gives us feedback we can use, teachers hunker down into a cycle of reflection and self-evaluation, and that is a great and beautiful thing, but it has its drawbacks. Teachers can fall into a despair spiral ("I should have handled that differently today and I also didn't get that student what they needed and I'm a week behind on papers and oh my god did I just choose the wrong profession??")

Teachers can also get into a place where outside feedback hits like a bucket of cold water and our back goes up and our claws come out. That's what happened to Wamsted. It happened to me, a bit differently. It was very early in my career. I was teaching ninth graders, and at the beginning of a unit doing a preliminary check what knowledge they had to bring to the table. And at some point, students said, "Mr. Greene, we don't know any of that stuff. They never taught us that in middle school."

Except, here's the thing--I had just switched teaching positions that year. I had been one of their middle school teachers. I knew damn well what I had taught them, and it had included the stuff they claimed to have never heard of before. My first impulse was to blame those damned kids. Heck, my second impulse was to blame those damned kids. But eventually I had to wrestle with the fact that I had apparently completely biffed that part of their middle school education.

I came up with a tool, which is why Wamsted caught my attention, because he's thinking about the same idea. I started doing annual anonymous student end-of-course evaluations.

It was one page. Some portions were just simple circle-the-number rating responses. Some were open-ended. I asked questions about the course content--too hard, too easy, useful, not useful? What should there be more or less of? I asked questions about my own classroom presence- do you think the teacher knows what he's talking about? Cares? Wastes your time? Is fair? I asked them to rate both the difficulty and usefulness of specific units from the year. I invited them to write anything they wanted to on the back.

I learned from these, every year. It was not always easy to read, but it helped me to tweak and modify both the course content and my own performance in the classroom. I didn't always come across the way I thought I did. I didn't always make the point of the content clear.And I could argue that what I did should have been good enough to get The Point across, but if it didn't, well, then, it wasn't, really. One effect I didn't think about until I was poring through the responses--the evaluations absolutely hammered home to me, as a writing teacher, that numbers and rubrics are great, but nothing sticks with people like written out sentence-form responses. Also, the process of creating the form was useful (though as one more form of reflection and self-evaluation).

The students were never jerks about this process. In all those years, no student ever just hammered me just to strike back; at most a few just didn't fill it out. But they took it seriously. I know the expectation/fear is that students who did poorly or hated the class or hated you will make a mockery of the process, but that didn't happen. I suspect that this has to do with the type of relationship and trust you've built with your class, and if they do abuse the process, that is in itself feedback.

And I still kept my head about some feedback--I reserved the right to decide the student was wrong ("You should sing more often," suggested on student. That student was wrong.) As with any other feedback in life, what others see and say has to be weighed about what you know yourself.

But I realized, looking back, that those sheafs of papers that sat in my desk drawer where  could pull them out and look from year to year to year--those were the most useful evaluations I ever had. I had the standard formal battery of observations along with the assorted paperwork and folderol that went with them, and they were never unpleasant, but they were never much help, either. I even had administrators in some years who would do the smart unofficial style--roam the hall, pop a head in to watch (I know that bugs the heck out of some people but I never minded a principal just popping in), keep an ear to the ground. It's was supportive and bolstering and made me feel that I was doing okay, and that's not nothing. But it wasn't feedback that helped me grow.

So I encourage Mr. Wamsted and others to take the student course evaluation plunge. It won 't tell you everything, and it won't always be exactly what you need to hear, but I don't think you'll ever regret it.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

School Choice Dinner Party

Pairagraph is a website set up around the idea of conversations, or debates, around a particular question. The website organizers invite a pair of people to address the question in turn for a total of four posts of no more than 500 words each. It's a fun little concept that has, so far, been applied to a broad range of topics.

I was recently invited to join in one of these pairings around the question "Is school choice essential to educational justice." My counterpart was Terry Stoops of the John Locke Foundation (North Carolina’s Most Trusted and Influential Source of Common Sense). I had the second and fourth positions in the debate. 

Here's what I posted for my first response.

Imagine that you have a dining room with three tables set up. At one is a great feast, with the finest meats and vegetables, beautifully cooked. At another is a good, solid, if not spectacular, spread of hearty, wholesome food. At the third is bread and water. 

Folks are assigned to one of the three tables to eat, but the assignment seems unfair, so one of the people enters the dining room and sets up a fourth table. This person takes a few chairs and some food from each of the other tables for their Table #4, and announces, "We will now have choice."

But there is the same number of chairs, the same amount of food, and the same range of quality. The same number of diners will eat bread and water. 

Mr. Stoops has made an excellent case against the current methods used to distribute and finance education in this country. What he hasn't done is explained why school choice would improve the full picture for all students.

School choice is a broad category that includes many different policy ideas, but what they all have in common is that they shuffle the plates and the diners without actually improving the overall system. In fact, many choice methods are detrimental because they are based on the premise that the same number of dollars that can barely finance one school system can somehow adequately finance several parallel systems. 

Nor does choice address the underlying cause of much educational inequity, which, as Mr. Stoops suggests, is that many folks do not want to pay for a top quality education for Those People's children. In fact, school choice is too often easily adapted to suit the aims of racism and inequity; after Brown v. Board of Education made desegregation the law of the land, private schools (segregation academies) were formed in many states so that white parents could still make sure their children avoided Black students in the public schools (and taxpayers could cut spending for those same public schools).

Advocates for school choice often focus on the depth of the problem facing us instead of the efficacy of their proposed solutions. But the question is not if public schools could be more equitable--they absolutely could. The question, however, is if school choice could help better deliver the promise of a free, quality education for every student. After decades of trying choice in various forms, there is little evidence that it can.

Freedom is not the lifeblood of school choice--at least not freedom for students. Voucher programs maintain a private school's right to choose which students it will accept, and charters have developed many ways to cream or push out students. Based on market dynamics, modern school choice does what markets do--pick winners and losers both among providers and customers. This does not make school choice evil, but it does mean that choice is not well positioned to make good on that promise of a good education for every student.

You can read the entire exchange at the site. Fun trivia fact: Stoops attended a university that's right in my neck of the woods; he undoubtedly went to college with former students of mine. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The Trouble With Data

Yesterday the Atlantic published an exceptionally helpful piece in the Science section by Robinson Meyer and Alexis C. Madrigal that offers some excellent explanation of why the nation has dropped the data ball for this pandemic. It's a good read from that perspective. But for education folks, there's more.

In the body of the article, Meyer and Madrigal share some observations about data, and the problems with data-driven anything; these points are important, and should be emblazoned on the office door of every data-driven follow-the-science policy maker and administrator in the country.

1. All data are created; data never simply exist.

Before March 2020, the country had no shortage of pandemic-preparation plans. Many stressed the importance of data-driven decision making. Yet these plans largely assumed that detailed and reliable data would simply … exist. They were less concerned with how those data would actually be made.

Here come the data
Data have to come from somewhere. They have to be created, and then they have to be interpreted. Anyone who assumes that the data are good simply because they exist--well, that's a terrible assumption. Every step pf the data-creation chain, from the testing instrument, to scoring, to score conversion, to interpretation of the score--all of that should be questioned and examined and then questioned again.

But in our high stakes testing era, that has not happened (nor is it happening now). When the state says, "22% of your students are below basic in reading non-fiction," that's not a figure that descended from heaven in a burning memo. It's a number that was created, and everyone ought to be asking how it was created. Starting with a faulty instrument, converted from raw score to reported score somehow, then divided by cut scores that are determined after the test has been scored--just a few of the ways this goes wrong.

And right now, when folks are hollering that students have lost 57 days of learning during the pandemic, everyone should be asking how that data was created (spoiler alert: it was totally made up).

2. Data are a photograph, not a window.

This one most people in education get, sort of. The Big Standardized Test "is a snapshot of one particular moment" is a well-worn cliche, even among people who will then go on to argue that for some reason, that snapshot should be weighed as if it were a moment with far more weight than all the other moments that didn't make it into the photo.

3. Data are just another type of information.

There is some great, poster-ready, put-it-on-a-t-shirt stuff in this section.

Data seem to have a preeminent claim on truth. Policy makers boast about data-driven decision making, and vow to “follow the science.” But we’ve spent a year elbow-deep in data. Trust us: Data are really nothing special.

Meyer and Madrigal offer my new favorite definition of data:

Data are just a bunch of qualitative conclusions arranged in a countable way.

And add to that this important note:

Data-driven thinking isn’t necessarily more accurate than other forms of reasoning, and if you do not understand how data are made, their seams and scars, they might even be more likely to mislead you.

Meyer and Madrigal lay out some pandemic examples of when the data contradicted what scientists "knew" through other reasoning, based on their own expertise. In those times of contradiction, it was the data that were wrong. Teachers, of course, are regularly told in so many ways that their own assessments of students mean nothing when set beside the test-based data reports. 

Would you like a nice analogy to wrap all this up?

Data are alluring. Looking at a chart or a spreadsheet, you might feel omniscient, like a sorcerer peering into a crystal ball. But the truth is that you’re much closer to a sanitation worker watching city sewers empty into a wastewater-treatment plant. Sure, you might learn over time which sewers are particularly smelly and which ones reach the plant before the others—but you shouldn’t delude yourself about what’s in the water.
Education has been overrun by the Cult of Data, and it's not unusual to feel intimidated by it. But I'll reiterate that I pulled these ideas about data from an article nominally about systemic failures in the federal response to a massive pandemic. Data is not magic, and educators should not bow at the data altar. 

Monday, March 15, 2021

Donors Chose Monday: Books and Understanding

 Donors Choose lets you set up filters, so that you can focus on what you choose. The most obvious is a geographic one that allows you to find classrooms in your area looking for help. But you can also set for the types of classrooms and the types of resources, as well as setting (as I usually do) for rural schools.

So one of the classrooms chosen for this week is Ms. McCord's at Allegheny-Clarion Valley Elementary School in Foxburg PA (a cool little town to visit if you're ever in the neighborhood). She's teaching third graders, and she'd like to expand the library for both reading and developing some human-being skills

With your support, I can help my students build character and spread kindness that will reach beyond the walls of my classroom. With purposeful teaching of social-emotional lessons with associated literacy, I am hoping that my students will grow both academically and emotionally.

Mrs. Fanning in Cordova, South Carolina, is looking for similar help. She's another teacher of rural poor students who is looking for some social and emotional learning to go with the literacy

There are many wonderful books available today that can help our students understand and state their feelings and I want them to be able to relate to characters in books that might be feeling like they are.

These books will be read aloud to students who are face to face for learning as well as students who remain virtual. While reading these books, we will be able to discuss our feelings as well as learn ways to be kind to others.

As always, I invite you to contribute to these classrooms, or search for others on Donors Choose, or donate to a local classroom. Stimulus money may trickle down to classrooms, but it's not going to get there this week. If you can share, that's a great thing.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

A Learning Loss Debunkery Reader

Apparently we are going to be hearing about learning loss all the flipping time now, so I've tried to collect in one place some of the better responses to the crisis du jour. Feel free to bookmark this and to share the articles listed ever time someone pops up to holler that because of Learning Loss we must have testing or school choice or no summer vacation or increased school staff or bonuses for teachers--ha, just kidding. Nobody is proposing those last two.

At Forbes, we get this little gem, whch spends some time talking about opening schools, but also addresses LL clearly:

Of course, the term "learning loss" comes from the language of test enthusiasts. For them, learning is a substance that's poured into students over time. One measures the accumulated substance by the number of correct answers on a test (standardized, usually multiple-choice). By administering two comparable tests at different moments in time, one measures success or failure for learning. An increase in correct responses is gain; a decrease is loss.

Kohn offers a good broad look at the issues involved, back in September of 2020 when the angst was jkust building. But Kohn knows the field and the studies.

In fact, some studies have shown that the capacity for thinking not only isn’t lost over the summer but may show greater gains then than during the school year. As Peter Gray at Boston College, who reviewed some of that research, puckishly proposed, “Maybe instead of expanding the school year to reduce a summer slide in calculation, we should expand summer vacation to reduce the school-year-slide in reasoning.”

Pica is always a champion of the littles, and she offers some helpful common sense here.

I’m sorry, but how devastating could it be? What learning, specifically, is being lost? The ability to meet unrealistic standards imposed on them by people who don’t understand child development, including the ridiculous expectation that they read and write by the end of kindergarten? The capacity to fill in worksheets or stare at a computer screen, or to take useless tests? The ability to handle pressure they should never have been exposed to in the first place?

Guesting at Valerie Strauss's Washington Post blog, Gabriel. The unlearning expert has perhaps the most radical take on this, but worth the read. What is happening now?

It is loss of a previously imagined trajectory leading to a previously imagined future. Learning is never lost, though it may not always be “found” on pre-written tests of pre-specified knowledge or preexisting measures of pre-coronavirus notions of achievement.

The legacy of the standards movement of the 1990s, and the high-stakes testing it inspired in the early 2000s, is a version of education that is assumed not to exist or matter unless or until it is predicted and measured. The pandemic has illustrated with searing definition how wrong that assumption is. 

Yes, this was me at Forbes, comparing Learning Loss to Listerine's marketing genius as a solution in search of a problem.

It’s not that they made up bad breath. But they gave it a scientific-sounding name which provided a perfect hook for selling their product. Fake science, it turns out, is great for marketing.

A lot of corporate reformers are desperately trying to find a way to cash in right now, and learning loss is the new favorite tool. Something has certainly happened to schooling this year, but it's far more useful to talk about what really has gone on and not simply try to make up a panic for marketing purposes.