Sunday, April 18, 2021

ICYMI: Taxes Are Done Edition (4/18)

Yes, we all got extensions, but I'd rather have them done and gone, and this was a pretty easy year. Now we can move on to other swell things. In the meantime, let me remind you that you, too, can amplify voices in cyberspace. If your thought is "Hey, people should read this," well, then, you know people. Send them some this to read.


My Learning Loss Formula: Read, Write, Share

Russ Walsh doesn't blog enough these days, but when he does, it's choice. This is some nice, simple advice for dealing with the dreaded Learning Loss, rooted in the actual world that real human beings live in.

Former lobbyist details how privatizers are trying to end public education

Over at Valerie Strauss's education column for the Washington Post, Carol Burris is interviewing Charles Siler, former lobbyist and PR flack for the Goldwater Institute, and he has some observations about what, for some on the right, education reform is really all about.


I'm not always a fan of Hooked On Innovation, but this particular post is a nice example of how to view the dreaded LL a little differently. 


The indispensable Mercedes Schneider has been looking at the latest edition of the education department's covid handbook, and she found that  "stabilizing" the educator workforce is one of their goals. How, she wonders, does that fit with their devotion to the Big Standardized Test?


Trick question because, as authors Derek Black and Rebecca Holcombe note, it's already happening in Florida. But with plenty of choice bills across the country, is it about to get much worse?


Just in case you needed it, Matt Barnum is at Chalkbeat with some research to underline the obvious--crappy school buildings stand in the way of student learning.


At NC Policy Watch, Rev. Suzanne Parker argues that the plan to expand the voucher program is a bad idea and a flawed plan.


Well, in PA, where private Catholic schools are consistently sports powerhouses, we could have told you. One side effect of a school choice system is going to be schools that recruit, build the school around the sports program, and destroy the public school sports system. In North Carolina, some legislators are starting to catch on.


The charter group keeps spending way more than the state allows for administrative costs, and not always doing a great job of reporting, either.  Example #423,177 of How Charter Operators Get Rich.


This is, of course, always the plan. Kick off your voucher program by selling how it will help the poor and the specially needy, then once it's set up, just start cranking the limits. So here comes Indiana with a shot at giving six figured families little rebate on their education expenses


Nick Morrison at Forbes.com shows that the surveillance state hasn't done much to stop old big problems, but it turns out to be a great tool for busting students for every damn piddly thing that can be caught on camera.


Jan Resseger offers a good compendium of all the ways the secretary's stances on the Big Standardized Tests have not exactly calmed the waters.


At Ed Week, Rick Hess interviews Sam Wineburg, a Stanford professor who's doing some great work in teaching folks how to evaluate websites. Cool stuff, and while you, as a reader of this blog, are undoubtedly wise enough to stay unfooled, this could be useful for your friends and students.


The headline here in the Philadelphia Inquirer is that Philly schools lose more money to tax breaks than any other district in the country. That points us to a study that shows school districts lost $2.37 billion in 2019 to tax subsidies.


Friday, April 16, 2021

New Anglo-Saxon Caucus Has Some Education Thoughts. They Are As Bad As The Rest Of This Damn Fool Platform.

So, led by a team-up of House of Representative winners from Georgia and Arizona, there is now a White Racist Nativist America First Caucus that swears to "follow in President Trump's footsteps and potentially step on toes and sacrifice sacred cows for the good of the American nation" as well as calling for "common respect for the uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions."

It's as awful as it is dumb. There are seven full pages of a "platform" which could be considered a racist nativist dog whistle if you are thinking of a dog so deaf that he has to be called by yelling his name through a bullhorn. 

I am not going to get into the various details of this embarrassing mess, other than to note that they express a love for Roman-based stuff, a stance that doesn't really mesh well with a love of Anglo-Saxonisity, as the Anglo-Saxons got their own nation by kicking Roman and Roman-trained ass up and down Britain. Whatever reverence the Angles and Saxons have for Roman culture and language more likely is at least partially the result of the Norman Conquest, when the French (themselves the linguistic descendants of the Romans) came across the channel and kicked a whole lot of Anglo-Saxon ass, and then subjugated it for a really long time (which is why, boys and girls, it's "scientific" to say that you must defecate, but rude and gross if you say you need to shit). But I digress. Point being, as with most white supremacist nativist European-loving bullshit, there's a lot of ahistorical dumb going on here.

However, in amidst the rest of this, there's a whole paragraph devoted to the White Folx Platform for education, and since that's my wheelhouse, let's take a look:

The 20th Century saw the decline in many vital American institutions. None has been more damaging to the United States than our education system. The increased consolidation of educational spending came with it the ability for powerful left-wing special interest groups to redirect the focus away from preparing future generations of national talent to progessive [sic--yes, they apparently misspelled "progressive"] indoctrination and enrichment of an out-of-control elite oligarchy. Even worse, our education has worked to actively undermine pride in America’s great history and is actively hostile to the civic and cultural assimilation necessary for a strong nation. The future of America’s position in the world depends on addressing the crisis in education, at both the primary and secondary level.

So, the highlights.

"None has been more damaging." Yes, that should be "have." But hey-- public education is America Damager Number One! That is an impressive achievement. As always, when confronted with the theory that public education and teachers rule the nation, I have to ask--why am I not rich? How did teachers and their unions and the public ed system not manage to enrich themselves more effectively? Also, what exactly is the damage done?

"Increased consolidation of education spending." What? 

"Powerful left-wing special interest groups." Who? Is that the unions- you know the ones whose members voted for Trump in fairly large numbers? Are there other lefties running education?

Redirecting focus. The answer to my previous question is, I guess, that teachers are so intent on indoctrinating the young 'uns that they cared nothing for making money. We were all busy preparing future generations. Now, the Pale American Caucus needs to flesh out a time line here, because it's not clear how long this has been going on. If we're only worried about future generations, then this must be a recent development. After all, the high school students first indoctrinated by Common Core are already adults. NCLB veterans are way into adulthood. 

"Out-of-control elite oligarchy." How are the Kochs and the Waltons the fault of public education?

The "actively undermine pride in America's great history" part we've heard before from Beloved Leader, and if you think there are a lot of Americans who see less-than-admirable qualities in our history only because of public education, you have not been paying attention. But hey--let's talk about that "civic and cultural assimilation" thing, because beyond the moral and ethical questions of telling people they can join us as full partners as long as they dump their identities and try to be like the rest of us Anglo-Saxons (see also: Ellis Island stripping immigrants of their original names)--even if we skip those issues, there is another issue, which is that is not how any of this works in history pretty much ever. English speakers should be particularly sensitive to this, because our language is a living, breathing testament to the way in which none of the people who conquered or were conquered by or who just lived cheek by jowl with--none of those people has ever, ever given up their language in its entirety. And our language is richer and better for it. 

"The future of America's position in the world..." Again, I am really confused by the timeline. Granted, Rep. Gosar was born during Reconstruction, but Rep. Greene was born in 1974, so she was educated during the time of crisis announced by A Nation at Risk, but it didn't seem to make her all libby. But still--is this a crisis that is just about to happen, or has been going on for years? Has education already done more damage than anything else ever, or is it about to do it?  And what exactly is the nature of the threat to future American standing in the world? 

This is, indeed, all very Trumpian. US education used to be awesome, but it also has been terrible for many years, and is just about to become terrible. 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy Friday tweeted that "the Republican Party is the party of Lincoln and the party of more opportunity for all Americans--not nativist dog whistles." We'll see. We'll see who decides to join the Anglo-Saxon Caucus. Word is, Matt Gaetz is going to join up. 

Update: Well, that was quick. The day after the news of the caucus broke, Rep. Greene backpedaled away faster than a student denouncing a spitball. "I was just exploratoring, and I never even saw that document, and when  my spokesperson confirmed I was launching this thing, they were--hell, I don't know. Media! False narratives! Identity politics!" she declared. This will be disappointing to Matt Gaetz, who announced that he's definitely joining

What Happens To Students That Charters Don't Want? (The Chester Upland Saga Continues)

In Chester Upland School District, the process of selling off the district schools to charter operators has continued (for a deeper dive into CUSD's troubled history, read here). Three charter operators have made their bids, and we'll take a closer look at that another day. It's all pretty sad and ugly.

But there's another troubling aspect to the dismantling of Chester Upland schools. The three charter companies have placed their bids to take over CUSD elementary schools. As has been hinted at all along, nobody wants to take over either of the two high schools.

The debates about charters and choice have often centered on the question of the students left behind in a school. when other students leave for a charter. How do the financial resources balance out? How does a district financially support ten schools when it was having trouble supporting two? 

But this is a whole other scenario. The charter operators are taking over elementary operations, but leaving the high school untouched, meaning that the high school can find itself drained of resources with absolutely no reduction in cost at all. Theoretically it would not be a problem because the charters would be inheriting the same student body and therefor the same funding. Except that in Pennsylvania's screwy funding system, a special; education student is funded at a far higher level for charters than in a public school. In public schools, special ed students are arranged in tiers are according to how expensive it is to meet their needs; in charter schools, they are all funded as if they belong to the top funding tier. Governor Wolf is pushing to fix this, but in the meantime, it means that every elementary student with mild special needs will suddenly draw more district funds the moment her school becomes a charter. Those extra funds will have to come from the high school budget.

The price tag in CUSD is high-- the going rate is $42K, as opposed to $11K for other non-special need students. One charter operator has agreed to settle for $30K, but that's still a chunk of the CUSD budget.

Additionally, depending on who district leaders decide to sell out to, we are potentially talking about three different charter companies operating in the district, so there will be the financial wrestling between those.

But that high school. So far I don't see anything in the plans that looks like a cap, a limit that keeps the charter elementary schools draining the high school dry. CUSD high school operations are difficult and troubled and consequently expensive--that's why none of the charter operators want to bid on them.

So what happens? What does CUSD do if its high school is chartered into oblivion? What happens to students that charter schools don't want? 

Absorption into neighboring districts is unlikely in this case; much of the district boundaries are where they are precisely because wealthier neighbors didn't want Those People's Children in their school. So who steps in?

School choice fans have never offered an answer to this problem. "Give parents a choice, and they can choose what's best for their child!" Which only works if what they want to choose is available, and will accept the child as a student. What happens to the students that charters don't want? 

CUSD has throughout its history provided demonstrations of just about every problem a school district can face. It looks like they're on track to provide some new examples.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Success Academy Lost $2.4 Million Judgment

You might have caught this story, but I don't want you to miss it. 

Success Academy has long been one of the stars of the charter school world. But in 2015, Kate Taylor at the New York Times reported on a secret "got to go" list that targeted students that SA administrators wanted to push out, part of a general pattern of deliberately making life difficult for students that the schools simply didn't want. It was not a good look for Eva Moskowitz and her charter crew. Moskowitz pushed back and defended the principal who was caught (but then shortly thereafter reassigned Candido Brown to an elementary classroom teaching job). And as the smoke cleared, Moskowitz went back to business as usual.

But five families sued. Their children were on that list, and they had all been pushed out of SA.

They sued Success Academy for targeting families--particularly families of students with special needs-- to try to get them to withdraw. Said one of the lawyers handling the case, “Success Academy’s harsh, inflexible, one-size-fits-all approach to discipline is at odds with its obligation to reasonably accommodate students’ disabilities. These children and their families were forced to withdraw from the Success Academy network not only because their educational needs were not being met, but also because they were explicitly not welcome there."

She's not kidding. It was ugly.

The litigation centered on five children, then a mere 4 to 5 years old, with diagnosed or perceived disabilities. Success Academy did not provide appropriate accommodations, and frequently dismissed the students prior to the end of the school day – often for behaviors like fidgeting and pouting. Success Academy also threatened to call child welfare authorities to investigate the children’s families, and even sent one child to a hospital psychiatric unit. Each family eventually removed their child from the Success Academy network.

Last month, in a decision that didn't get nearly as much press as the original allegations, the five families won their suit.

“Success Academy forced these families to withdraw their children by bullying and daily harassment, instead of providing a quality education free from discrimination,” said Laura D. Barbieri, Special Counsel to Advocates for Justice. “New York’s parents and children deserve better, and we are pleased these families achieved justice.”

Will a $2.4 million price tag motivate Moskowitz to behave better and stop pushing out families that don't fit her vision for the schools? I doubt it, though one can hope. But it's reminder that charter schools are not public schools, and too often do not feel a need to act like public schools. 

This comes as a follow-up for last year's loss in court. In that case, Moskowitz was found guilty of violating student privacy. A student's family had talked to John Merrow for the PBS News Hour about suspension of 5 and 6 year old students; Moskowitz retaliated by releasing the student's records. SA attorney's argued that the privacy law didn't apply to them, that it was too late to sue, and, perhaps most bizarrely, that Moskowitz had a First Amendment right to "speak out" about the child's behavior.

Taken together, the two cases are a reminder of two things about modern charter operators. First, they are mostly education amateurs who are ignorant of some of the basics of running a school. Second, the Visionary CEO model of charter management, based on the notion that you get a good school by putting a visionary in charge and freeing them or restraints like government rules and union contracts--that model gets you people think they don't have to answer to anybody, ever.

A postscript to the tale. Candid Brown, who lists himself on LinkedIn as a "Leader | Instructional Expert | Manager | Teacher Developer | Consultant | Speaker | EdTech Pioneer | Human," stayed with SA until 2019, and is now the founder of two companies-- BetterEd Solutions and AchieveMore Academic Services. So he's okay, as are the many other folks at SA for whom he took the fall. 

SC: Lawsuit Looks For Public Dollar Pay Day For Catholic Schools

In South Carolina, a lawsuit filed this week seeks to obliterate the wall between church and state.

Like most such lawsuits, the federal lawsuit has been a advocacy group that specializes in such things-- you may remember the Liberty Justice Center as the folks who won the Janus case, which either was an attack on unions wrapped in the First Amendment. 

As with most such cases, the advocacy group needed to find themselves some plaintiffs to attach the case to. What's striking this time is that the plaintiffs are not some group of regular citizens-- the lawsuit-- Bishop of Charleston v. Adams  has been filed on behalf of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston, plus a group of independent colleges.

The federal suit follows the South Carolina Supreme Court's rejection of Governor Henry McMaster's attempt to use CARES pandemic relief funds for private schools.

That court found the desire to hand public funds to private schools unconstitutional. So the solution is obvious--sue to have the state's constitution rewritten.

The case has a target perfect for PR purposes--the Blaine Amendment. In 1875, President Grant proposed, and Congressman James G. Blaine officially launched, a move to add a constitutional amendment that public tax dollars could not be used to fund private, sectarian schools. It failed on the national level, but many states passed their own state-level version. 

The Blaine Amendment is a hard thing to defend--most historians see it as anti-Catholic, so that many fans of getting public funding into private school hands, from Betsy DeVos to supporters of this new lawsuit, skip past any discussion of the wall between church and state and go straight to decrying this Blaine-related funding wall as bigotry that must be swept aside.

Guglielmone said at a Wednesday press conference that the legal challenge is not only about expunging "the anti-Catholic sentiment" that still haunts the state, but to create a "more inclusive, uplifting future" for parents and children who seek out private education.

Attorney Daniel Suhr announced the lawsuit in a private Catholic school, making sure to point out that the supporter of the Blaine Amendment was a bigot. "I ask," he said in the school gym." for the children in this gym and those they represent, are they any less deserving of our help than any other child in South Carolina." 

It's a compelling question. It would be more compelling if Catholic private schools were not themselves in the business of deciding which students are deserving of their help. No matter how much money they take from from the taxpayers, they will still reserve the right to reject students for whatever reasons they choose, and enforce whatever requirements for religious observance they choose. "Well, Catholic schools are not for everyone," you may say, which is the point, particularly if we are going to require everyone to pay for them.

It's also worth noting that unlike, say, a private business-operated school, Catholic schools do not close because of some natural process, but because the Catholic diocese chooses to close them, usually because the diocese does not want to spend too much on keeping a low-enrollment school open (though the church is not exactly hurting for money). These are not freestanding independent schools; when taxpayers send their dollars to support a Catholic school, those dollars are also not-very-indirectly supporting the Catholic church, a religious "business" that took in a small ton of PPP money.

At any rate, there are zero surprises in this lawsuit. The Catholic church indicated quickly that it intended to capitalize on the Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, a case for which the US Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote an amicus brief. They threw weight behind the Trump administration and received a promise of help on the whole voucher thing, but with Espinoza in place, they may not need that help. 

I would not bet against the Catholic church on this one. The erosion of the church-state wall is well under way, the conservative judges are in place all over the country, and it's game on for religious schools looking to score a pile of public taxpayer money. 

Meanwhile, in what I suppose qualifies as irony, the newest pile of relief money, Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan, includes a whopping $2.75 billion earmarked for private schools. So Biden has come through for these folks in ways that Trump and DeVos only promised. 

In the meantime, keep an eye on South Carolina to see how the wall between church and state will be further pulverized. 




Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Don't Forget--No Nation's Report Card NAEP Test This Year

You may have forgotten, or just not noticed at the time, but I want to remind you that last November, the National Center for Education Statistics pulled the plug on the 2021 NAEP, the Big Standardized Test that is supposed to measure the nation's progress in math and reading. Betsy DeVos asked for cancellation. The National Assessment Governing Board, chaired by Haley Barbour agreed with it. The CCSSO exec director said she believed it was the right decision.

The NAGB felt that it was best to put off the test until 2022 "when it should be feasible to collect and report valid and reliable data." (In other words, that's not possible this year.)

James Woodworth, head of NCES, said in part

Due to the impact of the COVID pandemic on school operations, it will not be possible for NCES to conduct the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessments in accordance with the statutory requirements defined by the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA) which requires NAEP to be conducted in a valid and reliable manner every 2 years (20 U.S.C. 9622(b)(2)(B)).

Also

The change in operations and lack of access to students to be assessed means that NAEP will not be able to produce estimates of what students know and can do that would be comparable to either past or future national or state estimates.

With students presenting a mix of in-person, hybrid, and distance schooling, the NAGP had determined that adjusting the NAEP to that reality would cost something like $50 million

Not suited for conditions on the ground. Too expensive to fix. Too unlikely to yield any useful or valid data.  Granted, this was last November, and the test would have been in January, but is there any reason to believe that conditions have changed so radically since then that the state level Big Standardized Test now makes sense? Particularly with a whole host of new variables from size of the test to date of administration thrown in. 

Cancellation was a good call for the NAEP; it would also be the right call for the 2021 federally mandated state level Big Standardized Test.


Monday, April 12, 2021

When Bill Gates Shows You Who He Is...

This recent article from the New Republic is a bit of a slog if you have not become a student of the various attempts to create covid vaccines, treatments, etc. But it hinges on two factors that matter a great deal in education-- intellectual property and Bill Gates.

It comes, coincidentally, right around the 68th anniversary of Jonas Salk's creation of the polio vaccine, a hugely valuable piece of intellectual property that Salk famously gave away. "There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?" Salk said. It seems like an obvious approach, both because Salk's work depended on tons of money contributed by folks and because a public health problem would seem to call for a public solution. 

As Alexander Zaitchik reports it (and I'll now summarize), that was how the covid response story started, almost. Early in 2020, there was talk of open science, pooled resources, no-profit approaches. The world needed a solution, and quickly, and the barriers of intellectual property ownership shouldn't stand in the way. 

That lasted till about April. Gates became involved, touting a public-private "charity" with IP rights and monopoly medicine respected and Gates in charge. Some folks warned that there could be a dual crisis of supply and access. But--

Gates not only dismissed these warnings but actively sought to undermine all challenges to his authority and the Accelerator’s intellectual property–based charity agenda.

“Early on, there was space for Gates to have a major impact in favor of open models,” says Manuel Martin, a policy adviser to the Médecins Sans Frontières Access Campaign. “But senior people in the Gates organization very clearly sent out the message: Pooling was unnecessary and counterproductive. They dampened early enthusiasm by saying that I.P. is not an access barrier in vaccines. That’s just demonstratively false.”

But the Gates set-up hasn't performed well, and Gates himself appears to have shown his usual inability to acknowledge any errors in his own thinking.

In interview after interview, Gates has dismissed his critics on the issue—who represent the poor majority of the global population—as spoiled children demanding ice cream before dinner. “It’s the classic situation in global health, where the advocates all of a sudden want [the vaccine] for zero dollars and right away,” he told Reuters in late January. Gates has larded the insults with comments that equate state-protected and publicly funded monopolies with the “free market.” “North Korea doesn’t have that many vaccines, as far as we can tell,” he told The New York Times in November. (It is curious that he chose North Korea as an example and not Cuba, a socialist country with an innovative and world-class vaccine development program with multiple Covid-19 vaccine candidates in various stages of testing.)

Oh, that quote. They want the vaccine for "zero dollars and right away," as if it is absurd to question the foundational belief that whatever it is that people need, somebody should own the solution (and be making money from it), and those ownership rights outweigh other concerns.

In retrospect, one can see this devotion to IP in the Gates backing of Common Core-- a set of standard that for some reason had to be owned by someone (copyrighted by NGA and CCSSO) as well as inviolate (remember that nobody is "allowed" to modify or change the standards). And of course the underlying idea that Common Core could save US education, but that a whole lot of folks (textbook companies, test manufacturers, tech companies, etc) would rake in a mountain of money doing it. You throw in some charitable giving to provide ground cover by throwing a few bones to some of the people who are too poor to play in the carefully gated market you've created.

I could argue that Common Core failed not just because it was inflicted top down, but because it was presented in such a calcified form, neither suited nor intended for input from anyone else at all, that it could not adapt to actual classroom conditions. Of course, teachers adapted it anyway, creating a bizarre world in which Common Core is both everywhere and nowhere, it's concrete-laden standards still in books and on wall posters, even as teachers have rewritten it into something else.

This is where I tell you, again, to read Anand Giridharadas's Winners Take All, which ably dissects the mindset of Gates and his ilk. When we start with the premise that everything has to be part of a market world approach, that there are no public goods--only goods that the market makes available to the public--then it's inevitable that we will fail to improve education in any meaningful way. For many, many reasons, not the least of which is that the poor who are most in need of improved public goods are least able to bid for them in the marketplace, and the largesse of oligarchs will always be both misplaced and insufficient. 

Gates doesn't know education, doesn't understand it, and year after year has shown that he's not learning anything. That could be because his map of the world is simply faulty, because his foundation is that every idea should have an owner, and that owner should retain control over their intellectual property.

It's a particularly weird idea to port into public education, where so much of what teachers known and do is essentially open source. I once had a colleague who guarded her class worksheets jealously and wouldn't share with other teachers,, and in thirty-nine years of teaching, she was the only teacher I ever knew who did that (and raised quite a few eyebrows doing it). You share what works, much of which you know because someone shared it with you, because no decent teacher would say, "I know something that would help your students understand, but I'm not going to share it because it's my own intellectual property." It is hard to conceive of someone whose devotion to IP is so great that he would say, "Well, maybe those poor people don't want to die, but we've got intellectual property rights to think about here." If Bill Gates ever wants to be a force for good in US education, he'll need to come back from whatever planet he's on and at least visit us for a few weeks on this one.



Sunday, April 11, 2021

ICYMI: Spring Might Be Here Edition (4/11)

It's not really spring in Northwest PA until it snows one more time. But it certainly is pleasant right now. So that's something. Let's see what we have to read this week

Acceleration Nation

Nancy Flanagan has noticed that acceleration is having a moment, and she has some thoughts about those shenanigans.

Taking the SAT with the Breakout Expert from Operation Varsity Blues

John Warner took the SAT and then talked to Akil Bello about it, and the result is your must-read of the week, filled with insights and revelations about the test. 


Matt Barnum, the Chalkbeat reporter I trust best, offers a look at what the data are saying about teacher resignation, and there does not appear to be a covid-fueled rush to the exits just yet.

Betsy DeVos’ hand-picked candidate for Wisconsin state school superintendent loses

At Salon, Sarah Burris has the story of Betsy DeVos's first big after-office defeat. Good news for Wisconsin.


Meanwhile, the Kansas City Star reports that there's a lot of high roller interest in the school board. Ruh-roh.


Andy Smarick (Bellwether) offers what turns out to be a pretty balanced look at what the data really reveal about who's for what. (Spoiler alert: the closed school buildings may not simply be the result of an evil teachers union plot).


Okay, this is probably of most interest to language study nerds, but it's pretty cool. Carol Zall has the story at Public Radio.

The Fed’s education constitutional amendment would turn schools over to economists and lawyers

In the Minnesota Reformer, Will Stancil explains how a constitutional amendment that promises good things for education is actually very bad news.


Have You Heard's podcast talks to MIT's Justin Reich, who talks about how ed tech's golden opportunity to deliver the goods vanished right up the goose's butt. 


Friday, April 9, 2021

NH: Another Lesson In Charter School Failure

Stephanie Alicea has been around education for a while. She was the Community Service Coordinator at Merrimack Valley High School in Penacook, NH from 2003 to 2007. In 2010 she went back finished a BA in Psychology and went right into a MEd program at New England College. She taught health and phys ed at various high schools. 

In 2016, her son Samuel, a Black football player at Merimack HS, took a knee at a football game. Alicea's teammates were supportive, but the larger community kicked back hard--years later, Alicea talked about a BB gun shooting at his grandmother's car. So Stephanie Alicea pulled her son from the public school and enrolled him in private Tilton. She said she borrowed money from her mother and took five jobs to help pay for the move. And in 2017, when the New Hampshire senate made an attempt to push education savings accounts, Alicea was one of the spokepeople there to support the voucher proposal.

That was early in 2017. By the fall of that year, she was proposing a charter school of her own. Capital City Charter School would be a service learning charter, she told the State Board of education when looking for authorization. The Board expressed concerns--the application looked a little thin on things like variety of board members and some board members were concerned that the financials were not strong enough. "It just feels like it needs more infrastructure," said board member Bill Duncan. It seems obvious that very little in Alicea's background suggested she was ready to start and operate an entire school. The head of the NH Alliance for Public [sic] Charter Schools said he thought the board was just looking at an outdated application. 

In the fall of 2018, Capital City was launched in Concord in the Steeplegate Mall in the old Bon-Ton (a department store chain that went belly up in 2018). Frank Edelblut, New Hampshire's hugely unqualified education commissioner, took a tour and said, "I love the location, the facility and how it's laid out, the open concept, the fluidity."

Problems emerged almost immediately. The board's acting chair is Caroletta Alicea, a three-term Democratic NH state representative and Stephanie Alicea's mother. State and federal financial audits were not submitted. The school's charter allowed for up to 330 students, but only about four dozen enrolled

And the school's financial records were loaded with problems. Caroletta Alicea received a $14,550 repayment of a loan, though the school could not say what the money was spent on. The school later sent out a note saying that rumors of financial troubles were not true. 

In February, the school surrendered its charter just ahead of a state hearing about the school's finances. In the wake of that decision, the state canceled its hearing but the NH Attorney General has launched an investigation. And just this week, the school filed for bankruptcy

Capital City owes money to everybody. They owe rent to Steeplegate ($84K), the Small Business Administration (($81K), the IRS ($9K), the security company ($26K), Unitil utility company ($8K), Easter Heat Pump Mechanical ($8K), a couple of dispute resolution companies, a CPA, the city water and fire departments, and Comcast. 

Capital City took $223,000 from the first round of federal grants, but auditors found that only $66,000 of that was spent on "allowable activity." 

Stephanie Alicea was supposed to be paid a total of $47,500. Instead, the school paid her over $89,000. Money was spent on all manner of expenses--food, Ubers, plane tickets, fitness memberships, iTunes downloads, Best Buy purchases, many payments that were not properly documented, contracted amounts that didn't match the final payments, cash withdrawals with no paper trail. 

In the end, the school had burned through about three quarters of a million dollars of state and federal taxpayer dollars. New Hampshire's Department of Education says it can't even figure out how or where the $535,000 from the state was spent. It appears that money is simply gone, used up by a school that only lasted two years and served fewer than fifty students.

There has been fallout for the Aliceas. The NH GOP has called on Carolea Alicea to resign, while news organizations have been digging out Stephanie Alicea's court records (domestic violence, stalking, defaulting on a car loan). 

New Hampshire's legislators twice turned down a $46 million charter school grant from the feds, but when the GOP took control of legislature, they accepted that money to expand and replicate charter schools in the Granite State. While the debate about accepting those funds was raging, Edelblut said 
“New Hampshire charter schools have not only provided excellent educations for Granite State students, but provided a model for innovation and education improvement for the nation." 

Governor Chris Sununu backed that charter grant as well, but when asked in March if maybe someone should pay closer attention to how that federal taxpayer money was being spent, he said that background checks were no big deal and the state board or the legislature would need to address the issue.

Stephanie Alicea doesn't seem like a grifter so much as a woman who got in way, way over her head in a system that provided little oversight and virtually no assistance at all other than handing over stacks of money. But it is yet another example (among the many many many logged in reports on the waste of federal charter grant money) of how charters can waste taxpayer money and provide virtually nothing in return. If New Hampshire intends to spend $46 million of US taxpayer money on charter schools, it needs to pay better attention than it did this time. 

Democracy Is A Pain

Kevin Williamson took to the National Review website earlier this week to argue against democracy. 

The proximate cause of Williamson's question--Why not fewer voters?-- is much of the debate about voter suppression in Georgia which, he says, "begs the question and simply asserts that having more people vote is, ceteris paribus, a good thing." (Yeah, I had to look up ceteris paribus, which means "with other conditions remaining the same")

Why shouldn’t we believe the opposite? That the republic would be better served by having fewer — but better — voters?

Williamson goes on to make an attempt to argue his proposal, bringing up the idea of "qualifications." But he can't help bringing in the real heart of his argument:

One argument for encouraging bigger turnout is that if more eligible voters go to the polls then the outcome will more closely reflect what the average American voter wants. That sounds like a wonderful thing . . . if you haven’t met the average American voter.

And there it is. There are Certain People who just shouldn't get a say.

As Heather Cox Richardson pointed out the next day, Williamson's argument is not a new one, having previously been embraced by pro-slavery folks before the civil war and Barry Goldwater's ghostwriter. Only the "better" voters should get to vote. 

And we have been hearing this argument in education for a while. Modern charters are often set to follow the visionary CEO model, where one guy should have unfettered say, not hemmed in by government rules of teacher unions or even teacher contracts. Being rich is supposed to bring freedom, so if I'm so rich, why should I have to listen to these not-rich people who try to exert their will by electing people who try to tell me what to do?? One of the key moments in this story is Reed Hastings, rich guy and charter school investor, back in 2014 telling the California Charter Schools Association that they need to get rid of school boards--

And so the fundamental problem with school districts is not their fault, the fundamental problem is that they don’t get to control their boards and the importance of the charter school movement is to evolve America from a system where governance is constantly changing and you can’t do long term planning to a system of large non-profits…

Alleged lefties are not free from this. Union leaders often succumb to the impulse to "steer" members toward the "right" decision (eg the national union support for Common Core and the early endorsement of Hillary Clinton). 

And schools themselves are all-too-often distinctly undemocratic institutions, where administrators impose autocratic rule and everyone from staff through students is supposed to fall in line.

Because democracy is a pain. 

It's messy and annoying, in large part because it codifies our connections to other people. It sets down in rules the fact that we cannot simply divorce ourselves from all the people in the world who we think are unworthy.

Yesterday, Andy Smarick put up a piece at The Dispatch about the narrative of reopening school buildings, and while it provides a good solid dig through some surveys and polls, the bottom line is that despite various attempts to shape a narrative, when it comes to reopening buildings, people are mostly getting what they want. As the comments section makes clear, that's a real pain if you live in a community that mostly doesn't want what you want, or if your heart is set on All Of This being the work of your preferred group of Bad Guys. 

I suspect that everybody at one point or another dreams of being set free from the ties that bind them to other people (like, every four years in November). It's mostly the rich and powerful who can try to make that dream come true, and we periodically suffer through their attempts to do so. And I expect they feel kind of heroic doing it, fighting back against the mob or making the world a better place for all the Little People. But their gaze too often falls upon democratic institutions--like public education. 

Democracy is a pain. Teachers, working for boards filled with elected amateurs, certainly get that. But attempting to break down all collective action, to disperse public education, atomize parents into uncollected singletons, remove the collective obligation to provide an education--these are not good things. Trying to dissolve every collective so that nobody can get together to thwart your wealthy, privileged will--that kind of free-lance autocracy is not good for society (it's not even healthy for the wealthy, privileged people who pursue it).

In any society that values freedom, there will always be tension between my freedoms and yours, tensions between the will of the many and of the few. The solution is neither thunderdome or the hunger games. Democracy is a pain, but "every man for himself" and "I've got mine, Jack" and "Only my kind of people should get a say" are morally and ethically indefensible. 



 

Three G's Would Be Great, Thanks

I get pitches (mostly because I write for Forbes.com), and an enormous number of them are ed tech related. Those folks are really, really sure that their moment has come. I'm just not sure they understand the situation on the ground.

Lately there's been an up-tick in 5G related offerings. VR with 5G! Woo hoo! Sometimes I read these e-mails while sitting in the parking lot of my local major grocery store, where I might have three bars of LTE.

The school where I taught up until retirement was a one-to-one school in a district where one-to-one was being steadily pushed downward through the grades. That was a challenge for one of the elementary schools, which was only able to connect to the district network via complicated arrangement involving a satellite dish. In my old high school, students and staff learned to keep their phones hooked to power (or turned of) because the attempt to connect to a decent signal would empty batteries before the school day was over. I watched many students try to perfect their phone wave or get the phone in just the right position to get just one more bar. 

Thirty years ago my colleagues would step out to the parking lot during breaks so they could grab a quick smoke. Now they pop out to the parking lot to get a decent phone signal.

During the pandemic shut down, lots of ed tech outfits bragged about how they'd licked the digital divide so students could work from home. In my county, teachers were still hand delivering hard copies of assignments to families who did not have access to a reliable internet connection. 

If tech companies really want to do something helpful for the education world, they can stop pushing the newest Shiny Thing and get the old, not-so-shiny stuff to work. For everybody. And lawmakers can start treating internet access as a public utility, just like electricity and sewage. In some parts of the country, we don't need 5G as badly as we need five bars of 3G. 



Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Charters vs. Vouchers

While charter schools and vouchers are both members of the school choice family, they are cousins who only occasionally get along. And as a public school fan, I have a definite preferred cousin.

It may seem like a thousand years ago, but when Betsy DeVos first turned up as an education secretary candidate, some charter fans actually expressed concerns. DeVos felt the need to reach out to charter fans and offer an olive branch. That's because DeVos, like many fans of a pay-your-own-way voucher system, was content to back charters as a way to crack apart the public education system and get the school choice foot in the door. But now that the time seems ripe (conservative judges, GOP legislatures, Espinoza, etc), many erstwhile charter fans are dumping the poor old girl for their true love. 

There are many reasons that charters and vouchers are natural competitors. 

The obvious area is simple competition for market share. Both private voucher schools and charter schools are after the disaffected don't-want-to-go-to-public-school crowd. Voucher-accepting schools have an advantage in competing for the religious school market because they can be more direct and explicit about their religious content. And the super-voucher education savings account systems are aiming to bust things up even more--you don't even have to a "school," but can just pick various education odds and ends from various marketplace vendors. In the marketplace, charters (with their constant insistence that they are public schools) may appeal to less adventurous folks who want to make some changes without leaving the system, but for folks who are all about the choiciness, a fully-realized pay-your-own-way unbundled voucher system like the ones being pushed now--well, for some folks, they make charters look like Choice Lite. 

Voucherfied systems, particularly those that incorporate tax credit scholarship instruments, bring a different approach to the funding stream that does not serve charters well. Let's say that the funding is an actual stream that leads to an actual pond. Traditionally, that pond was used strictly for thirsty public school systems. The charter approach has been to insist that they be allowed to drink from that pond, too. The voucher approach is to interrupt the stream itself, redirecting it away from the pond and off to a hundred other little locations. 

This is in keeping with fundamental differences about how the two policies view public education. The charter concept is at least meant to supplement or expand the public school system; the voucher concept intends to blow it all up. 

I can imagine a world in which charter schools worked. You could do charter schools with local control, appropriate oversight and accountability, and the necessary funding (in fact, some people do). You could set up charter schools without prioritizing on real estate deals and profit-making management organizations. In fact, one of the mysterious tricks of the modern charter movement is the way proponents have managed to make free market profiteering seem like a necessary integral part of charter policy, when there's no real reason for any such connection. Free market profiteering isn't even necessary to deliver "choice," but it seems that for too many proponents, the free market profiteering part is really more important than the choice part. Some free marketeerrs may sincerely believe that only market money dynamics can deliver choice; I see no reason to believe they're correct, but I believe that's what they believe. The fact is, charter schools as originally conceived and as successfully practiced in some places do not have to have anything to do with privatization and the free market. 

But vouchers are another story. I have tried (I love a good thought experiment), but I cannot imagine a world with a voucher system that is not really a pay-your-own-way, two or three tier system (with the vestiges of public education occupying the lowest tier). Charters have adopted and tacked on free market ideology as a tool and a desired outcome, but vouchers cannot be separated from it, because the whole concept of vouchers is about replacing shared societal responsibility for maintaining a common good with opportunities for folks to make a buck. At the same time, the wealthy will still get the education they want for their children, while being freed of any requirement to help foot the bill for educating Those Peoples' Children. And I am unable to imagine--nor have I seen anyone propose--a voucher system that works otherwise.

Legislators have consistently rejected any kind of oversight for vendors in a voucher system, often including specific language that says the state will not tell vendors what to do; New Hampshire's bill has a whole section entitled "independence of education service providers" including the point that nothing in the law can be used to reduce vendors' "independence or autonomy." There are virtually no quality controls in any of these, nor, as we've seen in Florida, any guardrails for the students themselves. Private schools retain the right to accept or reject students at will, nor will meager voucher amounts allow poor students to afford top-dollar schools. The most striking feature of a voucher system remains the dissolution of a state's responsibility to make sure every child gets a decent education. 

Could vouchers be cleaned up? We'd have to create regulation and oversight for all providers, which would simply drive most providers out of the market. The number one beneficiaries of vouchers are private religious schools, and if they can't operate with their fully religious character, they aren't going to play. Tell them they can't discriminate against LGBTQ students, and they will simply take the next train out of voucherville. Regulating a voucher system would cause it to collapse; not regulating it robs students of the free, quality education they are owed.

Bottom line: voucher and charter systems are not the same, and the shift of so many school choicers to the voucher camp is bad news for US education. 

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Can You Fool An AI Emotion Reader

As we have seen numerous times, there are software packages out there that claim the ability to read our emotions. Folks are lined up around the block to use this stuff, but of course one of the applications is supposed to be reading student emotions and therefor better at "personalizing" a lesson. 

Does this sound as if the ed tech world is overpromising stuff that it can't actually deliver? Well, now you have a chance to find out. Some scientists have created a website where you can practice having your own face read by software.

The team involved says the point is to raise awareness. People are still stuck on all the huge problems with facial recognition, but meanwhile, we're being surrounded by software that doesn't just recognize your face (maybe) but also reads it (kind of). Here's the project lead, Dr. Alexa Haggerty, from the awesomely-named University of Cambridge Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence and the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk:

But Hagerty said many people were not aware how common emotion recognition systems were, noting they were employed in situations ranging from job hiring, to customer insight work, airport security, and even education to see if students are engaged or doing their homework.

Such technology, she said, was in use all over the world, from Europe to the US and China. Taigusys, a company that specialises in emotion recognition systems and whose main office is in Shenzhen, says it has used them in settings ranging from care homes to prisons, while according to reports earlier this year, the Indian city of Lucknow is planning to use the technology to spot distress in women as a result of harassment – a move that has met with criticism, including from digital rights organisations.

The Emotion Recognition Sandbox let's you play with the software through your own computer camera. The site assures us that no personal data is collected and all the images stay on your own device. The site lets you play two games. One is only sort of a game, a sort of quiz that drives home the point that one of the things that software can't do is use context to decipher whether the human just winked or blinked.

But in the other (the Fake Smile Game, you pull up your own camera, and try to "register" all six basic emotions-- happiness, sadness, fear, surprise, disgust, and anger. 

I found it surprisingly difficult; I only got four out of six, missing fear and disgust. I later got disgust by accident when I was doing something better described as "trying to look at my keyboard when my bifocals were askew." 

I can't overstate how really bad the software was. It had no filter for sarcasm or obviously (to a human anyway) fake expression. I cannot swear that they didn't purposefully use bad software to make their point, and there's always the possibility that I'm just not British enough for it to work well, but watching that computer try and try, slowly, to decipher my face and not doing it very well, I had to wonder how in the world such a thing could, as some have promised, keep up with an entire classroom and provide a teacher with nuanced useful real-time readings of the emotions of students in the room. 

Go take a look and try your hand. Perhaps your face will work better than mine. At any rate, it's astonishing, and not in a good way.

Monday, April 5, 2021

The Book Love Foundation

 Penny Kittle teaches freshman composition at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire and has logged a few decades in public school as a reading teacher and literacy coach. She's picked up some NCTE awards, written some books, and generally done pretty well professionally. But for my money, one of the coolest things she has done starts with this story:

I stood in a most perfect bookstore in the Memphis airport one evening smelling the strong scent of Bar-B-Q that permeates the place as I waited for my flight.

Under maple bookshelves lit softly by spotlights, I came upon a collection of animal books, not just The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein and A Dog’s Purpose by Bruce Cameron, but Cassius: The True Story of a Courageous Police Dog by Gordon Thorburn, which explores the scenting capabilities of police dogs that help solve crimes.

There were books about training birds, the history of zoos, and endangered species. I could imagine current students who would enjoy each title. This was an intriguing collection placed directly across from classics recommended by those who work in the store. There was a shelf of new fiction, one of psychology and self-discovery, and a section for business books. The store went on and on. You know: a book for anyone who might wander through this place. It’s hard not to pick lovely books up, hard not to stuff my suitcase even fuller. (I did, in fact.)

But I also twirled around the room for a moment and imagined clearing out the center shelves in the store and putting in tables, writing notebooks, and students. My classroom should be such a celebration of reading. We need a book for every reader, recommended by readers, shelved by interests and inviting browsing.

When I speak to teachers about leading readers they want this place, and I want it for them. Many have contacted me after bargaining with their principals and colleagues to set up classroom libraries and support independent reading.

But the truth is, as budgets have shrunk, books and libraries and school librarians have been cut in far too many schools. Books can have an incredible effect on children’s lives, yet there’s only one book for every 300 kids living in underserved communities in the U.S. Students need books - the right books that they can connect with.

It has been almost a decade since she started to do something about it, that "something" being the Book Love Foundation. Since launching, the Foundation has awarded over $600,000 in grants used to fund classroom libraries in K-12 schools all across the US and Canada--and the list of grantees gets bigger every year. The success stories are pretty cool. If you're a classroom teacher, you know the power of being able to turn to a student and, in the moment, hand them a book while saying, "I think this is something you would enjoy." 

The organization is busy (they have podcasts and everything), yet charmingly unslick (parts of their website are still unfinished). But what great work to do. What excellent goals-- to get exciting books, books that students want to read, into classrooms with teachers who can ignite a passion for reading. 

Nobody's getting rich here; the website says 100% of donations fund classroom libraries, and the 990 forms that I looked up confirm that. Nobody is selling their personally branded proprietary reading scheme here. Just getting books into classrooms and pushing a love for reading, as well as building a supportive community for teachers doing the work (plus plenty of resources and research).

I've only recently discovered the group--wish I'd known about them when I was still in the classroom. But I can still chip in to help out. This is work worth doing. 



Sunday, April 4, 2021

ICYMI: Easter Edition (4/4)

This is a hard day for the folks at my house. Easter is a big deal, with music and family breakfast and a bunch of things that we will not have yet again this year. But at least this year there's a possible light at the maybe end of a probably tunnel. At any rate, if you need to while away some time today, here's some reading from the week.

How a couple worked charter school regulations to make millions.

Yes, here's another one of these stories. It's almost as if the charter industry is so unregulated and unaccountable that it invites folks to exploit it. This time it's California, the Fresh Start Charter School, and Clark and Jeanette Parker.

Free education is a public good

New Hampshire is ground zero for an attempt at the biggest pay-as-you-go voucher system in the nation. In an op-ed for the Concord Monitor, state representative Linda Tanner lays out why this is bad news.

President Biden's infrastructure plan should include teachers! Here's why.

On her blog, Nancy Bailey writes about why teachers should be a piece of the massive infrastructure bill.

Teaching Black children well is the purest form of activism

Maureen Downey at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, reports on a panel about attracting and retaining Black teachers, one of the critical issues of our era.

State leaders hijacking stimulus funds meant for Texas public schools

Oh, that wacky Texas legislature. Something like $18 billion dollars in stimulus money is supposed to be for schools, but they're thinking they'd like to balance the budget instead. From the San Antonio  Report.

Alabama upholds ban on yoga in public schools

Also, you can't say "namaste." The ban goes back to 1993, and the legislature just refused to reverse it, because Jesus.

DC urban parents forum reinforces segregation

I'm going to complain that the Washington Post in its headline shortened the DC Urban Moms and Dads forum to "a DC moms forum." The story looks at some research by Brookings about the forum, and once again, we lift up a rock and find racism crawling out from underneath it.

School District Spending and Equal Educational Opportunity

Shanker Institute teamed up with Mark Weber and Bruce Baker to produce a massive data set showing how much districts are above or below their ideal financial state. Follow the links to the full report, and enjoy clicking on the color-coded map.

Dennis Baxley gets real about Bright Futures funding

The battle about the Bright Futures college scholarship program continues to rage in Florida, where Accountabaloney has the newest on this newest onslaught by America's Worst Legislature

A bold idea for testing: Opt-in

Simple and bold-- let parents opt in to the Big Standardized Test instead of making them opt out. The original story of a district trying this is behind a paywall, but Diane Ravitch has the highlights.

Big increase in Montana's tax credit program

Montana birthed the Espinoza case, back when the state's tax credit scholarship program was about a lousy $150. Now the GOP would like to increase the cap to $200,000.

Black and Hispanic students in Philly 'burbs are disciplined more harshly, put in AP classes more rarely, than white peers.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports on a new study that shows how education inequity is endemic in the collar counties of Philadelphia.

The villains of education

Nancy Flanagan once again offers the voice of a reasonable grown up, and reminds us that demonizing and ad homineming are not particularly useful in any debate.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Parents Defending Education: Astroturf Goes Hard Right

Parents Defending Education has just popped onto the education policy landscape, and they have staked out their spot in the new battle to inculcate children with the Proper American Values.

They would like to sell themselves as a grassroots organization; there is no particular reason to believe that's true, and I'm going to refer you to this post from the indispensable Mercedes Schneider to see exactly how this group is the product of professional astro-turfers. So take a moment and go read her post before you finish this one. Go ahead--I'll wait.












So Dr. Schneider has laid out who these people are. I want to follow that up with a look at what they're up to. 

The PDE website (which, oddly enough, doesn't include the "parent" part in the URL) prominently lists as a motto "Empower. Expose. Engage." And this explanation:

Parents Defending Education is a national grassroots organization working to reclaim our schools from activists promoting harmful agendas. Through network and coalition building, investigative reporting, litigation, and engagement on local, state, and national policies, we are fighting indoctrination in the classroom -- and for the restoration of a healthy, non-political education for our kids.

There's an "IndoctriNation" map, and links to articles with titles like "Illinois school district pays speaker $175 a minute to criticize white people." And at the bottom of the page, an invitation "submit an incident report." This takes you a form for turning in a school or teacher :

If something is happening in a classroom, take accurate notes of what was said, who said it, and the date(s) and time(s). If evidence of the problem appears on a website, in emails, homework assignments, or class handouts, document everything with screenshots or by taking pictures with your cell phone. The more hard evidence you gather, the stronger your case will be — whether the next step is asking the school for a meeting, speaking to a reporter, or speaking to a lawyer.

They also offer a form for filing FOIA requests, to get those schools to fess up to their misbehavior. And just in case you thought "engage" meant to sit down and engage in conversation with the school--nope. The engage page talks about how to fight back against those "woke" activists by writing letters to the editor, writing op-eds, or engage with the media. And the resources are for fighting back against wokeness at public, charter or private schools.

There's also a list of things they've been up to, including filing all sorts of Office of Civil Rights complaints and FOIA requests, including a request in Bainbridge, WA for "all documents related to internal and external staff communications and documentation involving a teacher’s email to parents, canceling the Father’s Day gift activity after viewing it through 'an equity lens.' " Or one in Buffalo for documentation related to use of "The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet." In all, eight actions across the country all filed on March 30.

If there's any doubt yet about what these folks are up to, their press coverage is clear, like this article in the hyper-conservative Washington Times, " 'It's Everywhere': Parents groupd fights left-wing indoctrination in schools" In addition to Nicole Neily, the president with lots of right-wing activist background; Asra Romani, former journalist and violent extremism expert; and Erika Sanzi, education reformster, the group reportedly consults with Chris Rufo, noted anti-critical race theory activist.

PDE is part of a current wave. Rhode Island is considering a bill to outlaw anything remotely CRT-ish. South Carolina is considering mandating schools to use the terrible 1776 commission material. And Charlie Kirk's Turning Point USA is launching its own program to train thousands of educators on how to properly boost the USA and free enterprise.

Call it a culture war, or just call it plain old racist baloney, this appears to be the next front in the education debates. It's gaslighting on the same order as the abusive partner who says, "If you report me to the police, you'll be tearing this family apart." It will be argued on two fronts-- one trying to inculcate the belief that America is #1 and the most awesomest, and the other working to silence everyone who says differently. PDE is particularly odious because of its whole "turn in any teacher or school that offends you" approach to chilling conversation and teaching. This is not just astroturf, but astroturf with its brown shirt on. 

Vouchers Are About Abandoning Public Education, Not Freeing Parents

 As the GOP mounts a multi-state initiative to implement vouchers or super-voucher education savings accounts in many states across the country, it's becoming increasingly clear that we've been looking at the voucher movement through the wrong lens (which is to day, the lens that voucheristas have promoted). 

Vouchers are not about freeing or empowering parents. They are about empowering private interests to chomp away at the giant mountain of education money in this country. They are about dismantling any sort of oversight and accountability; it's striking how many of these voucher bills/laws very specifically forbid the state to interfere with the vendors in any way, shape or form. 

Think of voucher programs this way.

The state announces, "We are dismantling the public education system. You are on your own. You will have to shop for your child's education, piece by piece, in a marketplace bound by very little oversight and very few guardrails. In this new education ecosystem, you will have to pay your own way. To take some of the sting out of this, we'll give you a small pocketful of money to help defray expenses. Good luck."

It's not a voucher system. It's a pay your own way system. It's a you're on your own system. The voucher is not the point of the system; it's simply a small payment to keep you from noticing that you've just been cut loose.

Freedom and empowerment will come, as always, in direct proportion to the amount of money you have to spend. 

The voucher amount will dwindle. That amount is based on what the public school system spends to educate a child, and taxpayers will shrink that amount going forward as the schools themselves shrink to holding facilities for students who can't find a private vendor to accept them, or whose parents can't afford what the voucher won't cover. And remember, we've seen this movie before-- after Brown v. Board of Education, white families in some states moved their children into private segregation academies, and then they cut public school taxes (because why keep paying taxes on the system that your child no longer used). 

Vouchers are the tail, not the dog. They are the public-facing image of privatization-- and not just privatization of the "delivery" of education. Voucherization is also about privatizing the responsibility for educating children, about telling parents that education is their problem, not the community's. 

We need another term for discussing this family of policies; "voucher" doesn't begin to capture what's truly at stake. I can imagine a world in which charter schools are a viable, even useful part of a robust pubic education system; it's not at all the world we currently live in, but I can imagine it. But the system that voucher proponents want is absolutely incompatible with a functioning public education system. And it has nothing to do with freedom.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Charters Circumventing Democracy

In some states, charter schools have faced a particularly intractable obstacle--local elected school boards.

That's because in some states, a charter cannot open without the authorization of the local elected school board. This means the local board is deciding if they would like to have the taxpayers foot the bill for opening a new school in the district, which is generally a tough sell. 

Charter advocates have found a few ways around this. One is to throw weight and money behind candidates in local school board elections with the idea that once elected, these individuals will say, "Never mind the taxpayers or the public schools--I want to see more charters open here." The downside for this approach is that there's always another election coming.

More popular, or at least more effective for charter proponents, is to get the law changed. Right now, Florida, Iowa, and Texas are all looking at ways to get that whole pesky democracy thing out f the way of charter school entrepreneurism.

In Florida, the legislature would like to expand the power of universities, so that they can authorize charter schools on their own, with or without the agreement of the local school district. Texas has taken another route by making the State Commissioner of Education the super-powered uber-authorizer of charter schools; only a super-majority of the State Board of Education could overrule him. In Iowa, where the GOP is working hard to make more of that sweet sweet education money available to charter profiteers, the authority to okay charters may end up with the State Board of Education.

If you're wondering what the theories behind these bills might be, what principles lead one state to empower the State Board while another state aims to cut them out of the equation, I believe the principle involved here is "Let's empower whoever is most likely to let charter operators do as they wish."

The modern school choice movement continues to have a problem with local control and democratic processes. I'm not going to argue that such things are infallible; unimpeded local control has given us no end of ugly treatment of the non-white and non-wealthy citizens.

But circumventing democratic processes in order to ease the launching of private businesses fed with public tax dollars is deeply undemocratic. It is literally taxation without representation, presenting local taxpayers with the bill for a school over which they have no direct or indirect control, no say, no list of people they can call to complain. 

Choice has had to circumvent democracy to survive. Vouchers virtually never pass as ballot measures, so now legislatures will ty to install them anyway. Charters continue to get their businesses launched by coming up with ways to circumvent democracy. Beyond the immediate problems of that anti-democratic approach, one also has to wonder--if charter culture is built on the idea that local, democratic voices are to be ignored and overcome, rather than respected and partnered with, what does that tell us about how they will deal with staff and students? If the North Star of the movement continues to be the heroic visionary CEO who isn't held back by any dumb rues and who doesn't have to listen to anyone, what message does that send to the taxpayers, teachers, and students who are among the people who don't have to be listened to? 

Watch for these laws in your own state (they may already be there) and ask-- why should charters be given access to taxpayer dollars when they won't actually deal with the actual taxpayers?