Friday, April 30, 2021

Dammit, Joe

So up on my screen pops the headline "Biden says K-12 education isn't working--calls for fgre pre-K to 'grade 14'"

The good news is that the headlines is, as headlines will be, a bit inaccurate. The bad news is everything else. Starting with this lede:

President Joe Biden on Wednesday praised the nation's K-12 education system for fueling America's economic growth for almost a century. But, he stressed, that system may no longer be sufficient as the foundation for future prosperity.

We've been here before, starting with this fundamental misunderstanding of the problem:

Mr. Biden's American Families Plan is taking aim at an issue that has bedeviled economists as well as millions of families struggling to stay afloat financially: A high school diploma is no longer enough to secure a middle-class life.

If the situation has changed, if all the good stuff has been moved to a shelf that is too high for regular folks to reach, is the problem that regular folks are too short, or that somebody moved the good stuff to a too-high shelf? The democratic/neo-lib theory is based on the too-short-humans theory, in part because the MarketWorld thinking of neo-libs is that the economic shenanigans that moved the good stuff to a higher shelf are inviolate, unquestionable, and not to be messed with (yes, go read Winners Take All). So instead we end up with the theory that if people are more educated, bad jobs that don't support a middle class lifestyle will turn into good jobs that do. Wal-Mart and McDonalds will say, "Well, now that our workers have better educations, we will spontaneously decide to pay them more." Companies will decide not to automate jobs or send them overseas because US workers have a better education. 

Yes, I know. The theory is that a better-educated population will entrepreneur the hell out of things, growing mountains of great jobs. But the bad jobs will still exist, and people will still be needed to fill them. And it will not help if government is saying, "Well, we spent some money to have education fix it all, so we've done all we can, and those teachers better by God get to work on it."

"We know a good job with simply a high school diploma is almost impossible," said Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education under Barack Obama, during a Wednesday call with reporters to discuss Mr. Biden's plan.

Yes, having Arne back in the discussion is a great sign. Do we know that a good job with a high school diploma is impossible? If that's true (and I know a bunch of well-paid blue collar workers who would like to talk about that)--but if that's true, can we please talk about why? Is it because all the jobs require so super-much, or because we've stood back and let corporations break down jobs into "low-skill" tasks and pay bottom dollar to people who fill them, while the people at the top hoover up all the value and profit that the workers create? Jeff Bezos is a gazillionaire and his workers get peanuts--how exactly is this because those workers didn't get a good enough education in high school?

But--said some folks on Twitter when I was sputtering on about all this--isn't publicly funded pre-K a win? Isn't some publicly-funded college a win? 

Well, yes. Yes, it is, for a number of reasons. Pre-K is hugely useful, though I wonder how necessary it would be if we hadn't spent two decades turning kindergarten into the new 2nd grade. Which is definitely on the table; David Brooks made some phone calls and was told that the administration wants children (we're talking 3 and 4 year olds here) "in the classroom." The Board of Directors here at the institute are just shy of four. My grandchildren are in a similar age range. My primary concern for exactly none of them is for them to get into a classroom.

That's the problem of course. Not that publicly-funded pre-K isn't potentially a great, game-changing thing, but that it be done well, that it be done in a way that is healthy and nurturing for tiny humans. We can say as one person did that we don't give a fart (I'm sure that's what the F stood for) about the underlying philosophies or rationale behind the pre-K because in the end, we get pre-K.

But the underlying rationale is going to determine what kind of pre-k we get, what is measured as success. The rationale will decide if "success" is happy healthy tiny humans or if success is higher Big Standardized Test scores or if, heaven help us, it's increased lifetime earnings according to some bad study or if it is an ample supply of meat widgets for corporations to consume. 

Maybe this will be fine. Maybe it will be a straight up win. Maybe it will arrive in a functional form that has not been beaten up by the process, which will most likely be about politics, not policy or educational expertise. Maybe this will be fine. Maybe that big sharp knife the administration is carrying will be used for good. But I remember the last time we saw that knife, and that time, things ended badly.

Would a badly conceived and executed publicly funded pre-K be better than what we have? Probably. Hard to say. It may give some parents just enough assistance that they can use to get their heads a bit further above water. It might give some tiny humans a better shot. It might position the tiny humans to better cope with a kindergarten system that will make developmentally unsustainable demands on them. It might give them one more soft place to land besides home. If it does any of those things, it's a plus.

So I don't want to shout the idea down. I do want to hound policy makers mercilessly about not not NOT using a pre-K program to expand and extend all the bad policy ideas that Clinton/Bush/Obama administrations injected into K-12 education. And as it becomes increasingly clear that this administration loves many of those same bad ideas, I want to keep an eye out for their appearance elsewhere. 

None of this is a surprise, but dammit, Joe--it is a disappointment. 


Guest Post: Dispatch from Beleaguered PA District

 I've been following the story of Chester Upland School District in Pennsylvania. It's a long history featuring every imaginable problem that could afflict a school district. Currently the district is facing a charter takeover and a mysterious stack of vanished money.

The following post was sent to me from inside the district and written by a teacher who prefers to remain anonymous. It provides a picture of some of the issues within the district.










Promises made, broken and never even acknowledged…

This letter is penned from the desk of a frustrated and exhausted teacher within the Chester Upland School district. For months, if not years now, the district has made headlines in many news outlets for a variety of positive and challenging stories. The district has found itself under watch and scrutiny over the years, but this year seems to be holding nothing back. Surprisingly I have to write this to shed even more light on the conditions and lack of care by the district for its students and staff.

Let’s start with the Chester County Intermediate Unit. In the fall of 2020, the CCIU was awarded a 3 million dollar, 3 year contract to help oversee departmental operations of CUSD to aid in “righting the ship” (pun intended with regard to CHS Mascot). CCIU recently announced they are redacting from the district and severing all professional working relationships under that contract effective June 30. No formal acknowledgement has been made as to why but the writing is surely on the walls. They were not afforded full compliance to work within the district’s endless void, also called the budget. This budget has been the hotbed of issues for years. With poor management, lack of funds, and endless debt, it seemed to run like a teenager at a mall with a limitless credit card. The accountability and compliance were back-burnered in lieu of hiring people who obviously were not right or experienced in the position, unless this abyss of funds was created by more deceptive practices. With CCIU came some outside eyes on this issue and hope of getting this growing “red” to level out and work into the green. Either way, no one has issued a formal statement stating this separation but the separation was verbally shared by staff at the CCIU with CUSD staff.

On to the next topic, the lack of cleaning by CUSD and removal of their auxiliary cleaning contractor. Up until March 30, the district was contracting Service Master for cleaning services to ensure the district was in compliance of CDC/ChesCo Health Department regulations for opening the buildings. They did provide a service and were seen present in the buildings assisting in disinfecting all areas of transition and operation. After March 30, the contract with Service Master was nulled. Why? We still don’t know as again, no formal statement was shared with anyone (staff or stakeholder), though the district received 16 million in CARES Act Funds to provide this service and assurance. Now, the buildings are left a mess, staff and students are testing positive at an alarming rate and the protocols that CCIU assured the staff and stakeholders in January seem to be gone, something quite typical of this district. Each day student’s enter as do staff to facilities that are inadequately cleaned. The custodial department at CUSD has a void of 14 staffing positions and they currently rotate the small group they have throughout the 5 buildings operating in the district. Staff have pleaded to the district to reconsider keeping the buildings open as one building already lost a staff member to COVID in the fall. (He was not exposed at the district). When confronted, the “go to” seems to be, make those still cleaning just do more; problem being the buildings didn’t get any smaller and the need for a more thorough cleaning has not diminished. Though, like cows at a meat processor, we begrudgingly enter each day wondering, will today be the day we catch this illness.

Lastly, the grant funded programs…oh this issue has a year plus of conflict with it. Staff who are

working overtime in programs have not been compensated for their roles in these positions. To date many educators have been asking, repeatedly when they will see the funds dispersal for these active and very needed roles. Requests for explanation fall on deaf ears, emails are ignored, or the cycle of “you’ll have to email this person” happens. Problem is like many things, the email blame goes round and round and never finds resolve. Each role is supported by grant money, money that each month should be on an expense report showing allocation and consumption. Those are not disclosed in the fiscal reports each month. The receiver has been very good at keeping the numbers close to chest and even when in court, requests for more time to provide a more accurate audit or summation. For what the district is spending in audit reporting, maybe one day the number they pay out will graciously provide this “final” analysis of where all the money goes. Until then we as staff and stakeholders are left questioning all of it.

Similar issues plague the district for the staff to receive their Act 48 hours in order to maintain certification. Many, many hours are not logged timely. All school districts offer Professional Development with accredited hours. The hours (at minimum) should be uploaded to the PA Department of Education’s PERMS site to prevent teacher’s licenses from becoming inactive. If the district was not to offer these, the staff could schedule and take workshops and classes that offer similar hours without issue. Now, once again, the staff is left with voids of hours never uploaded or placed into the system accurately. When questioned, the short circle of people play the same unclear blame game, never solving a single thing. Clarity is almost never achieved; solutions are pretty much folklore in the district yet confusion and blame we have a decades plus surplus of and it keeps growing.

This district is rife with strain and stress. Staff is rotating in and out annually and those who are dedicated and foster a sense of hope are holding onto believing that some miracle may come and save these kids from the egregious decision making the leaders seem to be prone to. Even at the Receiver or CUSD board meetings, held via zoom, the district administration control the chat/question box and will purposely pass over questions or disregard their mere presence. Others times they will shut the chat box down, essentially muting the people who are vested in ensuring the children receive what they deserve - a fair and appropriate education, something they’ve yet to receive due to issues in the state legislature and poor administrative leadership in the district.

We have a school board that is powerless in a Receivership status but, curiously, there is money for high paid consultants and teams of lawyers. Begs the question. Why? Perhaps to ensure they can get that power back. The school board has attempted to circumvent their lack of power by creating an RFP “task force” composed of 60% of the (inactive) school board. This is a shame and a mockery of what would be considered anything relatively fair and equitable for the stakeholders. Our board president is accused of (in court) harassment and running the district like some old mafia newsstand in the 30’s. In what professional world would someone accused of years of malicious and deviant behavior be allowed to even step foot into the very business/company or grounds they work for? Why is it that more money and resources are placed into “parting out” the district then ever has been to save it? We may never know and in the end. We all have failed the very people we are here to help - the students…the kids who live

and thrive in Chester. One day they will see what was done, and by some higher power’s grace forgive the adults responsible for this calamity.

Signed,

A devout and hopeful CUSD Teacher.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Falling Behind In An Actual Classroom

The chicken littling about Learning Loss is just never going to stop. Today I came across yet another article (that I won't link to) warning that the Learning Losses from the pandemic pause will haunt students for the rest of their lives.

The worst of the Learning Loss panickers are revealing too much about what they don't understand, but what they especially don't understand is what goes on in an actual classroom, because the whole concept of "falling behind" is a layperson's oversimplification of what actual education looks like.

I think I was a pretty run-of-the-mill example of the teaching profession in my thirty-nine years, so let me explain what my year generally looked like. 

At the beginning of the year, I'd launch the dual processes of Trying To Teach Stuff and Figuring Out What This Batch of Students Knows and Can Do. At no point in my career were the Big Standardized Test results a useful part of this process because A) the results were nothing but a score and we weren't even allowed to see the questions, so had no way of knowing what exactly students got right or got wrong and B) the results don't come until the school year was already well under way. 

In my career, I mostly taught grades 9 through 12, all tracks, so September always brought students with a very wide range of tools. One of things you get better at with experience is assessing what the students bring to the table, both academically and otherwise. And then you go from there.

This initial assessment does not tell you anything about pace. Not once in my career did I ever start the year thinking, "Oh, lordy, these guys are behind, so I will switch into my special secret accelerated mode so that I can teach them more, faster." For a couple of reasons. First, not once in four decades did I stumble upon a fast mode that let me teach more, faster, which I then shelved for some reason. Because one thing you know after just a couple of years is that there is never enough time, and so part of your practice is to squeeze the very most out of the time you have. 

Second, if there are students who are not quite as far along as you wish they were, acceleration is backwards. "Since you don't quite understand this yet, I'm going to spend less time on it," said no teacher ever. 

One other thing about that initial assessment-- you are looking at many, many items. It's not like measuring how far a runner has progressed down a single track. It's more like a pincushion, with a hundred pins sticking out in all directions, some far out and some barely progressed. A pretty good writer who doesn't read well. Students who don't write super-well, but who each write poorly for a different reason. 

And then we move into the meat of the year., with students progressing at different speeds in different directions. This, it should be noted, is never, ever expressed in terms such as ,"Pat, you are behind Sam in reading," because what possible good can come of that? Because I taught mostly 11th and 12th graders, a lot of our developing emphases in class have to do with what they are doing next. My future auto mechanics have different concerns than my future college freshpersons. 

Sometimes there are just particular issues that come with the chemistry of the class. I've had classes where if I managed to teach anything in that period, it was-- well, not a good day, but a better day than the days when nothing got done. 

Sometimes the class provides special opportunities. The year I had a class of around a dozen students, eight of whom were either pregnant or moms; what a great class, and there was some great learning that went on in there, but it didn't look like any other class I ever taught, because they had very specific interests, concerns, priorities. The classes that focused on themes and ideas in the literature that were really exciting and interesting. The class that wanted to talk about how to deal with bad communicators in a workplace.

Those developments in turn shape the year and the culminating, end of year assessments. My end of year assessments usually included take home essays to write that involved some synthesis and connection creation, but the year I had a class that just loved "deep" themes and ideas, one of their end of year essays was "What is the meaning of life?" If you laid out my various finals side by side, would you be able to say that one class was ahead or behind another? Is a student who passed welding certification ahead or behind one who completed a local history paper based on primary sources? Is a student who wrote a rap about Hamlet's fear of death ahead or behind a student who created a web-based presentation about dance? 

As I have said repeatedly--there is no question that this year, students did not get the same amount of educational stuff that they would have gotten in a non-pandemic year. There is no question that for most, remote education did not serve them as well as live and in person probably would have. 

But to reduce education to a single straight line, and then to rank students by how they are located on that line, is reductive to the point of being stupid. It's attractive and helpful for people who don't understand education, or people who think they understand education but don't want to think too hard about it, or people who want to reduce education to the process of engineering humans, or policy makers who want a simple formula for policy, or people who want to be able to make a simple, sexy sales pitch. 

But it's not real, or particularly useful, to actual teachers in actual classrooms. People grow and change and learn and mature in their own time and in their own way. Whatever quality you want to focus on, there is always someone who is more so. But what does that tell you, really. We are not all in a race, we are not all headed to the same destination, and we are not even going to follow the path we think we are. Double ditto for our students.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Heutagogy (Because We Need New Education Jargon)

There are, apparently, three siblings in the Gogy family-- pedagogy, andragogy, and heutagogy.

Pedagogy you already know, at least in some vague way. Andragogy is the method and practice of teaching adults. Heutagogy--well, heutagogy is a made-up word. Miriam-Webster hasn't heard of it. The word was coined in 2000 by Stewart Hase and Chris Kenyon "to describe self-learning independent of formal teaching." Those two scholars were, at the time, at Southern Cross University in Australia.

That short, simple definition suggests why the term has been gathering steam over the past several years (a Google Ngram search shows an almost uninterrupted explosion of the term's use). If someone in your immediate vicinity starts using it, should you be alarmed? Well.....

On the one hand, learning-directed learning is pretty much what most grown-ups do. If I want to learn about something (like heutagogy), I start digging and reading and asking and cogitating. It was one of the things my liberal arts education explicitly aimed to do--to set me up to be able to teach myself whatever I wanted or needed to know for the rest of my life. 

But that's as an educated adult, and some heuta-fans are clearly intending that a heutagogical future should be in the cards for learners of all ages. And some of their materials are not entirely encouraging.

For instance, there seems to be a tendency to stack the three Gogy siblings and simplify their explanations in ways that feel like: peda is the sage on the stage, andra is the guide on the side, and heuta is fly free and follow your educational bliss. Here's instructional coach Lauren Davis:

Meanwhile, the heutagogical approach encourages students to find their own problems and questions to answer. Instead of simply completing the tasks teachers assign, these students seek out areas of uncertainty and complexity in the subjects they study. Teachers help by providing context to students' learning and creating opportunities for them to explore subjects fully.

This is where my traditionalist flag flies. I think there's always a place for the sage on the stage (if she knows what the hell she's talking about) and the guide on the side is also a useful classroom role (if, again, one knows their way around the territory). But in my career, I would have been embarrassed to say that I learned as much from the kids as they did from me. Nor would I have claimed not to have any real knowledge of the material, or have suggested that I could aid education by giving neither lecture, guidance or nudging. As a teacher, if I'm not the subject matter expert in that classroom, what the heck am I doing there? That doesn't mean I'm the God of my subject matter or that I can never gain anything from actually listening to my students, but if I'm not the most knowledgeable person in the room and my roll is to sit in the corner while the students wander unguided and unaided, why are the taxpayers paying me? 

Some of the folks in the heutagogy game are not encouraging. One name that pops up is Jacki Gerstein, who writes blog posts about "user-generated education" with titles like "I do not teach for a living--I live teaching as my doing...and technology has amplified my passion for doing so." Terry Heick ("education expert interested in modern knowledge demands") has written a piece about the gogy siblings in which he posts a set of presentation slides based on Gerstein's work that includes things like a slide that asserts (with a nod toward the discredited learning styles approach) that we learn 100% from participating in activities, but, below "viewing pictures" or "teaching the activity" we find reading coming in at 10%.

Heutagogy is popping up all around the globe. Here's an article from just last week from India (and heavily lifted from this Schoology article from 2018)  touting heutagogy as "the new lifelong-learning shift" and defining it as "a student-centered instructional strategy to teach lifelong learning and aims to produce a learning ecosystem that is well-prepared for the complexities of today's workplace."  There's a heutagogy community of practice on line, though like many of these sources, it has been pretty sleepy for the past few years.
 
There are plenty of definitions offered for heutagogy, but certain ideas keep turning up.  Self-determination. Autonomy. And technology. 

Reading about heutagogy reminds me of the open school movement of the sixties. My aunt opened a school in Connecticut; the idea was that the children would be immersed in a rich environment where they would simply follow where their curiosity led them. It did not last long. Turns out that small humans don't exactly thrive in unguided adult-free situations. 

Heutagogy, like many 21st century education ideas, appears to think that computers can magically change the equation, much like presenters I heard two decades ago breathlessly announcing that students would soon all be carrying mini-computers in their pockets. Which has turned out to be true--but students consider them as remarkable and inspiring as pencils and pens and books. One of my own crusades for my last very many years in the classroom was to try to convince students that they could use those mini-computers to find answers to questions and not just to play with this week's hot app. It's the great paradox of computers and education--they change everything, except that they don't change anything. 

And some heutagogical types seem to get this. There's talk about "competencies and capabilities" and the idea that students need tools if they're going to self-direct their learning. But there's also talk like this: "the heutagogical approach encourages students to find their own problems and questions to answer. Instead of simply completing the tasks teachers assign, these students seek out areas of uncertainty and complexity in the subjects they study. Teachers help by providing context to students' learning and creating opportunities for them to explore subjects fully."

You can see why the approach is going to be popular in some quarters. The "prepared for the complexities of the workplace" part fits those who think corporations shouldn't have to pay to train their workers. And the self-directed technology use is right out of the personalized [sic] learning playbook-- give the kid a computer and let her figure out her education on her own. No need to pay for a teacher--just a "coach" or "mentor", and not even that much need for highly-developed educational software. 

Is there room, even necessity, for some self-direction in education? Sure, and even more need for a teacher who can identify and respond to the directions that would be most useful for students. But abdicating all adult responsibility to say, "You students just go ahead and educate yourselves" is a lousy idea, even if you slap a cool made-up Greek name on it. 





Monday, April 26, 2021

FL: Private School Says No Vaccine For Staff

Centner Academy (Miami's premiere private school for the leaders of tomorrow) has informed parents by letter that the staff and teachers are not to get vaccinated for Covid-19. 

The letter indicates that "we ask any employee who has not yet taken the experimental COVID-19 injection, to wait until the end of the school year." That sounds almost mild, until a few sentences later we arrive at "It is our policy, to the extent possible, not to employ anyone who has taken the experimental COVID-19 injection until further information is known."

You will have recognized the anti-covid-vax talking point that the vaccines are experimental. The school throws in some additional debunked talking points about the vaccine.

For example, tens of thousands of women all over the world have been reporting adverse reproductive issues from being in close proximity with those who have received one of COVID-19 injections e.g., irregular menses, bleeding, miscarriages, post menopausal hemorrhaging, and amenorrhea.

Well, no. That is not a thing that's been happening. But staff that are vaccinated will have to stay away from the students. Staff were required to fill out a "confidential form." 

Centner actually has a whole page on its website about vaccine policy, and it is equally fact-challenged:

There is a popular sentiment in the United States that the excessive mandatory vaccines are potentially damaging to children’s health. In the past 20 years, U.S. statistics demonstrate that children are experiencing doubled rates of Attention Deficit Disorder and learning disabilities, doubled rates of asthma, tripled rates of diabetes, and a rise in autism in every U.S. state at the rate of 600 percent.

But, they go on to say, they totally support students doing whatever they think is best. 

Scientists are not impressed. Actually, the word "aghast" turned up from one infectious disease specialist.

The New York Times reports that back in February the school hosted prominent anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. The co-founders of the school are Leila Center, formerly CFO of the Highway Toll Administration, and her husband David, "a successful inventor, serial entrepreneur, tech visionary and philanthropist, with pioneering ventures in Web development, online marketplaces and electronic toll collection."

And of course this is Florida, so one must assume that tax dollars could be used to send students to this $30K/year school. The letter appears below.











Sunday, April 25, 2021

ID: Lt. Governor Forms Indoctrination Task Force

I am not making this up.

Idaho Lt. Governor Janice McGeachin has announced the formation of a Task Force to Examine Indoctrination in Idaho Education. 

You can go to an honest to God state website page where you can turn in an educator who is doing Naughty Indoctrination Things. 

“One of our primary goals with this task force is to give concerned citizens a voice regarding education in Idaho,” said Lt. Gov. McGeachin. “If you, your child, or someone close to you has information regarding problematic teachings on social justice, critical race theory, socialism, communism, or Marxism, please provide us with as much information as you are comfortable sharing.”

So if a teacher you know, or know of, or have heard about through the grapevine, or on a Facebook group, has been involved in "problematic teachings on social justice, critical race theory, socialism, communism, or Marxism," you can turn that teacher in to the state. And while the form calls for your name, McGeachin is quick to reassure the public that they can turn teachers in anonymously.

Again, I feel it necessary to point out once again that I am not making this up or exaggerating for effect (as I occasionally am wont to do). This is the official headline of the official press release from the official Lt. Governor's official office.

Idaho Lt. Governor Assembling Task Force to Examine Indoctrination in Idaho Education Based on Critical Race Theory, Socialism, Communism, and Marxism


In that release, the Lt. Governor notes “As I have traveled around the state and spoken with constituents and parents, it has become clear to me that this is one of the most significant threats facing our society today. We must find where these insidious theories and philosophies are lurking and excise them from our education system." The press release also recognizes that Idaho has company in this crackdown, with states like Florida, Arkansas, and North Carolina are also cracking down on that evil indoctrination stuff. 

No word yet on whether or not people who turn in indoctrinating teachers will be given cool brown t-shirts to wear as a reward. 

Note that it is still okay to teach about fascism. Hopefully teachers will be allowed to cover just enough communism so that they can talk about how this sort of widespread "cultural revolution" worked out for the Chinese. I'm also hoping that teachers will be free to discuss the relative merits of indoctrination versus an oppressive process of state-sanctioned surveillance and repression. 

None of the materials indicate exactly how the lurkers will be excised--will offending teachers be sent to re-education camps, scolded severely, subjected to mean posts on Facebook, de-certified, fired, or summarily executed? One teacher in Boise has even more questions, and she seems a little angry. Sadly, there also seems plenty of support for rooting out "leftist brainwashing."

McGeachin is so far right that she clashes with the state's conservative governor (who she may try to unseat) and hangs out with three percenters as well. She, of course, also signed on to some post-election court cases in support of the Big Lie.

The ability to do the turning in of teachers anonymously seems particularly troubling. Did Mrs. McTeachalot give us bad grades on that last paper? Let's turn her in to the state. Of course, that feature also means that people could clog the system by turning in Mickey Mouse, Indiana Jones, or Lt. Governor McGeachin. Repeatedly. At this Google form right here.

ICYMI: Car Shopping Edition (4/25)

 Only slightly more fun than a root canal. But I needed a new project. In the meantime, here are some good reads from the week.

State of Siege: What the Free State Project Means for New Hampshire’s Public Schools

Have You Heard welcomes Matthew Honglitz-Hetling, author of A Libertarian Walks Into A Bear, a book I just finished, so I was pretty pumped to have the HYH crew interview him. Oh, New Hampshire, my birth state, home of my families of origin--what the hell has happened to you.


Jeff Bryant takes a look at some of the painful, gritty details behind the fraud and waste that cost taxpayers a billion dollars via the federal charter program.


In Ohio, there's a battle between two fundamental ideas about what a school is--a social contract, or a consumer good. Jan Resseger breaks it all down.


Indiana is one of the states rushing headlong toward bigger, broader school vouchers and a dismantling of public education. The blog Live Long and Prosper has the details.


Paul Thomas has been one of the persistent and well-researched opponents of the SOR wave, and here he presents more explanation of why the new edu-fad is misguided and misguiding.


Thomas Ultican provides a guide to just some of the damage done to public education by America's wealthiest oligarchs.


Stephen Merrill at Edutopia explains that yes, learning loss is a thing and no, we shouldn't be making it the centerpiece of education policy.


John Warner in his substack takes a look why education isn't a race, and if it is, it's not a sprint, and maybe some folks should stop freaking out about the great pandemic pause.


Yong Zhao offers some insights into the pitfalls to avoid and the opportunities to embrace when dealing with policies addressing the dreaded learning loss


Look, I'm not generally interested in what big standardized tests have to say about how students are doing, but that's the way some folks like to play, and by the rules of their game, learning loss is not living up to its billing as a world-wrecker. Sarah Schwartz covers a new study for EdWeek.


Shariff El-Mekki offers some thoughts about how teacher preparation could better prepare teachers for today's diverse classrooms.


Maureen Downey at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution looks at a flap in Fulton, where parents are demonstrating against the district's decision to give teachers release time for vaccination. 

How White Americans’ refusal to accept busing has kept schools segregated

Brown v. Board didn't change everything. At the Washington Post, Matthew D. Lassiter looks at the slow steady undoing of desegregation in the US.


Tom Bartlett at the Atlantic looks at the actual data and discovers that maybe the news about a wave of pandemic school shutdown induced suicides may not have been entirely accurate.


Just in case there weren't enough reasons to conclude that this year's Big Standardized Test was a waste of time, now it turns out that New York decided to just go ahead and re-use questions from previous tests. And students noticed. Christina Veiga at Chalkbeat has the story.


Stephen Sawchuck writes for EdWeek, with special appearance by Jose Vilson. 


Well, that turned out to be a long list this week. Here's a nice palate cleanser from McSweeney's









Saturday, April 24, 2021

VA: Is This The Path To Math Equity

Virginia is working on a new "math path," and conservative news outlets have gone off.

The initiative itself is loaded with the usual bureaucratic argle bargle, like

Through collaboration with other stakeholders across the Commonwealth, the VMPI state task force will make suggestions for institutional changes that will strengthen the alignment between K-12 and higher education mathematics while ensuring that students are better prepared for college and career success.

The goals include math jargonny ones like "Empower students to be active participants in a quantitative world" and ed-speak ones like "Encourage students to see themselves as knowers and doers of math" and also worthwhile ones like "Improve equity in mathematics learning opportunities." 

Fox and Breitbart and the Washington Examiner and a host of other stars in the right wing constellation are upset because, in its current form, the plan eliminates advanced math coursework in the early grades. 

The handwringing is calculated to stir the usual audience members. Out of the five goals and outcomes that the program lists, conservative commentators have focused exclusively on equity, which is guaranteed to agitate a certain sector of their audience. The coverage also soft-peddles the fact that the task force is looking at a timeline that still has to go through "response from stakeholders" and a "revise as needed" steps. So the current version is not necessarily the final word on this program; it's a little early for advanced hand wringing.

That said, the outcome of the current version of Virginia's math path is easy enough to see--wealthy families will send little Pat to Match Camp so that Pat can still get that all-important calculus class in 9th grade. 

There is one other thing here. Tom Loveless, in his new book about the Common Core, makes this observation about math and the Core (p. 152):

Another example of a CCSS dog whistle is organizing a high school math curriculum integrated math courses (typically named Math I, Math II and Math III) instead of the traditional Algebra, Geometry, Algebra II sequence. Integrated math courses have long been a dream of reformers.

Equity is never enhanced by removing programs from public schools, because the wealthy will find a way to buy those programs, and only those who can't afford to fork over the money will actually do without the program. You don't get fairness on ice cream eating by banning ice cream from the cafeteria menu, because the rich will always find a way to get ice cream on their own. You get equity my making the special programs available to everyone, and making sure that everyone is prepared to take advantage of them. 

Thursday, April 22, 2021

A Powerful Call To Teach

Sharif El-Mekki is the founder of the Center for Black Educator Development, a group that's doing important work. He blogs at Philly's 7th Ward, and recent post is worth attention. 

I suspect that El-Mekki and I disagree on some education issues, but his view of the teaching profession is inspiring and powerful. Here's a bit from the post "Why We Need Black Men (And Women) To Answer The Call And Teach." El-Mekki is addressing the need for Black men in the classroom, which sits on my list of public education issues in urgent need of being addressed. But in the process, he also tells us about the power of the profession itself.

If more men realized the power of leading a classroom—how it is the most important lever in this fight for social justice and equity, and both challenges and offers uniquely amazing rewards—more highly qualified and gifted Black male educators would sign up to do this nation building. Many who could be Freedom Fighters are searching for how to make an impact, and most are encouraged not to lead in classrooms and schools. This must change.

It is up to all of us to pose the questions: If you want to have the largest, most sustained impact on society, why not teach? Do you believe in lifting as you climb? You view yourself as a follower of the Black radical tradition? Pro-Black? Revolutionary? Anti-Racist? Pro-community? Do you love Black children, community, and a content area?

What a question-- If you want to have the largest, most sustained impact on society, why not teach?

El-Mekki is not a dewy-eyed newbie; he started teaching in 1993 (here's how he got there). He's had more than enough time to settle down into the common head-bowed stance of someone who calls themselves "just a teacher." That clearly has not happened. 

I'm no fan of the myth of the hero teacher or the martyr teacher, but I never would have entered the profession if I hadn't believed in a teacher's power to change a small chunk of the world. It is good to remember that even in the midst of pandemics, bad policy, top-down foolishness, and just general disrespect, a classroom still boils down to a teacher and some students and the fire she can bring to that chunk of time. 

TX: Governor Still Holding On To Education Relief Funds

Texas Democrats have been reduced to tattling to the US Department of Education, as Governor Abbott continues to sit on $17.9 billion-with-a-b in aid that is supposed to be going to public schools.

That huge pile of money that has been allocated by Congress through various packages. Texas school districts are trying to get budgets written for next year. But the money is just sitting there.

Why? Abbott really hasn't explained himself much, but local coverage suggests a couple of issues.

One is a requirement that the state invest a billion dollars in higher education. That would also be the equivalent of the one billion from the first relief package that Texas spent on fixing budget "shortfalls" instead of using it to add to public education funding. Not clear whether state officials object to spending money on higher education, or if they just don't want to spend one billion to get $17.9 billion, which doesn't seem like a really tough math problem.

Abbott's only real comment on this is that the state needs "more guidance" on how the money is supposed to be spent. Which seems--well, 48 other governors have figured it out. Or is the Governor of Texas saying that he can't move without federal direction, which seems kind of un-Texasy.

There is also, apparently, a turf war in Texas about who should final say and control over where all of this money flows-- should it be legislators, or should they just hand the money over to local districts and let them use it as they see best. This seems like a no-brainer (does a legislator in the state capital really know how a local district can best use the funds), but legislators gotta legislate, I guess. 

Meanwhile, even the CEO of a grocery chain has told the governor to fork over the damn money. We'll see if Abbott will budge, or if Texas schools will once again suffer at the hands of their elected leaders.



Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Chris Evans (And Partners) Create A Useful Civics Tool

So this is how you do it.

Chris Evans has entered the world of celebrity education support, and he's done it up right. There's a companion post to this one over at Forbes that explains in a little more detail what the site does; in this post, I want to explain why I think Evans and his partners are setting an example for how the rich and famous can have a positive impact on education.

First of all, he hasn't done it alone. He has partnered up with actor/producer Mark Kassen, one of those guys who has a long, solid, steady career in the biz without becoming a household name, and Joe Kiani, who--well, Kiani is an Iranian-American tech entrepreneur who started one of those companies that does a medical thing you don't understand, but who also has been hugely active in trying to reform the world of health care. These three started up a civic engagement site called A Starting Point, and then teamed that up with Close Up, a DC-based civics education group, to create ASP Homeroom, a site where you can find short, simple videos in which elected officials (mostly Congresspersons) lay out their position on major issues.

ASP Homeroom is a civic engagement tool that is well-suited to use by classroom teachers. It works for several reasons, not the least of which Evans and Kassen don't imagine themselves as having all the secrets of teaching civics to high schoolers. I spoke to Kassen, who said "We could not be so arrogant as to tell teachers how to do this."  This same quality comes across in Evans' various interviews. Evans seems to know exactly who he is- not a teacher or professional educator, but a guy who can get his phone calls answered and whose name in a press release will draw some attention. They have a platform, and appear to have figured out the trick of using that platform for good without imagining that celebrity has given them special magical powers. For working with education, a field stuffed to the gills with amateurs posing as experts, this is awesome.

Evans and his partners are also not part of that other celebrity education trend--the one where somebody's business manager has explained that they can get a tax break by investing in a charter school or good press by bankrolling an after-school program. Nor does this project attempt justify itself by attaching itself to any silliness like claiming that it will raise test scores. Every indication is that these guys want to promote civic engagement while demystifying the whole sausage-making business.

Nor is anybody making money from this. The resource is free. Kassen told me that they developed their own software. There are not even sponsors trying to piggyback on this to build brand awareness. In early 2019, just as Avengers: Endgame was marking the end of Evans' ten-movie run as Captain America, Evans and Kassen were spending time in DC trying to line up legislators for this as-yet-unlaunched website, which is probably not the best way for a highly-bankable movie star to try to cash in. In other words, not only is the site not profitable, but given the man-hours invested over the past three years, it probably displays negative profitability.

The site is, as I say over at Forbes, devoid of lesson plans, instructional guides, or anything else to try to tell teachers how it is to be used. I call that a plus that goes hand in hand with its other positive feature--it's devoid of any political agenda. Instead, it provides an unfiltered look at what "the people who write policy believe." It offers voices from all sides and links to further resources. And elected officials get to say their piece in short one or two minute bursts, separated from each other. And no comments section or voting videos up or down. The emphasis is on light, not on heat. 

That all makes the resource flexible, useful in a hundred different ways. Invite a slate of elected officials in for current events day. Turn your students into trained fact checkers. Or simply provide students with a basic background about some of the issues of the day. 

There is a charming hopeful optimism to the whole thing; you can see in the video above Evans taking the first halting steps to try to interest politicians back in 2017, pushing that ethic of "if we could just get people to talk a little more and know a little more, maybe things would work a little better..." But I don't think that hopefulness is a bad thing. Nor is breaking down the barriers between elected officials and citizens (Kassen says that hundreds of thousands of people have contacted officials via the site). 

This is a promising resource. If I were still in the classroom, I'd use it as a basis for writing assignments and discussion. Lots of teachers could think of something like this--a website with hundreds of explainer videos from elected officials--but it takes celebrity to open doors, and a smart celebrity to open the door and then step back to let others walk through it.

Check out the site. Share it with a teacher friend. 


Monday, April 19, 2021

To Choice Advocates: Some Questions

I have concerns about school choice programs, and I usually express them as complaints, criticism, general snark. This time, I'd like to come at it a little differently. Let me frame these concerns as questions, because maybe there are answers that I'm just not aware of. As is obvious from a multitude of posts, I am skeptical; these questions show exactly what I'm skeptical of. 

And before I start, I'll agree that some of these concerns are not always well-addressed by public schools. So I'm not looking for answers in the old mode of "Yeah, but public schools do X!" I'm still wondering how a charter or voucher system would do a better job of managing the issues. If you want to take a shot an answering these, the comments are open.

1) A choice system is built on the idea of making parents the primary stewards of their child's education. Contrary to the usual criticism, I believe that the majority of parents are smart and capable and caring. But a non-zero number are not. I've told the stories: the student whose mother tried to run her over with a car; the student who was always tired because dad spent the utility money on beer; the student whose father threw him out of the house for trying to take some of dad's drugs; the student who was thrown out for coming out as gay; etc.  In those sorts of cases, who or what is protecting the educational rights of these students?

2) Education savings accounts (ESA) are a kind of super-voucher that gives families a chunk of money to spend on a variety of educational services. In the event that a family mismanages the money and the money runs out before the student has received a "full" education, what safeguards are in place to insure that the student gets that full education?

3) Should some education service vendors or schools turn out to be incompetent or deliberately fraudulent (or go out of business before the year is over), who or what protects the rights of the student to an education? What mechanism is in place to allow the family to seek redress? 

4) As recent history has vividly demonstrated, society has a collective need to have well-educated citizens. What guardrails should a choice system have in place so that we do not produce a bunch of high school graduates who believe that captive Blacks enjoyed being slaves, that vaccines cause autism, and that Donald Trump won the 2020 election? Are there any educational standards that should be enforced? 

5) What protections are there for marginalized students? We've already seen voucher schools in Florida openly discriminating against LGBTQ students (and teachers), and the standard in voucher laws now seems to be a clause explicitly marking that the state will not interfere in any way with how the voucher recipients do business. But discrimination against students robs them of the very choice that the system is supposed to give them. What protections for those students should be in place?

6) Likewise, there are students who are just too expensive and/or troublesome to be attractive "customers." Do they have any protections under a choice system? Do they get a choice? And what happens if an entire community is considered an undesirable market--what safeguards are there against education deserts?

These are serious questions, not gotcha openings--these are real concerns that a choice system would need to address.

"The market will handle it" is not an answer, though you're welcome to try to explain how the market would do that. I'm unconvinced that the invisible hand can put together an education system that would even attempt to serve all students or the country as a whole. Every free-ish market has to deal with the tension between freedom for customers and freedom for vendors, and that is a tension that is never fully resolved. 

I have other concerns about a choice system, but this is a good list to start with. 


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.