Monday, May 31, 2021

Tulsa and Teaching History

The Tulsa Race Massacre happened 100 years ago today. It's a horrifying chapter in US history, its anniversary arriving ion the midst of a new national argument about how history should be taught. 

Nowadays you can find plenty of resources about the destruction of Greenwood and the murder of--well, the number 300 is used, but the fact is we don't really know exactly how many Black folks were murdered. That lack of information is par for the course; the massacre was effectively covered up, buried by civic leaders who wanted to build a reputation for Tulsa as a cosmopolitan oil center. Tulsa's chief of police sent his officers out to physically collect all the pictures taken of the carnage--they stayed hidden away for decades.

When the massacre was discussed, it was called a riot. The full, true nature has only worked its way into public view in this century, and even right now, the massacre is characterized as a white mob running out of control, which portrays the events as still one step less horrific than they actually were. Read this thread by writer Michael Harriot; the white population of Tulsa did not "erupt" in violence. They organized, drilled, prepared and attacked. 

It was a large scale lynching, as well as a real estate grab (most of the thirty-four blocks burned down by white Tulsans ended up being owned by White Tulsans). And lynching, as Harriot points out, was a regular US thing in those days. There had actually been an attempt to make lynching a federal crime in 1918. The NAACP did the research and showed, among other things, that only one sixth of the 2500 lynchings of Blacks between 1899 and 1918 had involved accusations of rape. The bill failed. It was tried again in 1922. It failed again, defeated by Southern Congressmen's use of the filibuster. The Southern legislator argument was that "blacks were responsible for more crime, more babies born out of wedlock, more welfare and other forms of social assistance, and that strong measures were needed to keep them under control." Between 1882 and 1968, around 200 anti-lynching bills were floated in Congress; three passed the House, and none were approved by the Senate. The Senate did pass a bill making lynching a federal hate crime in 2018, and it died because the House did not pick it up and vote on it. The House did pass a similar bill last year, and it's currently in bill limbo.

But I digress. The Tulsa massacre is just one example of a chunk of history that the country has trouble coming to grips with, even as so many states are floating laws to make the conversation even harder, or even forbidden, to have. 

Oklahoma's anti-critical race theory law is less expansive than some, but at the top of the usual list of "concepts" that it forbids, it says that no school "shall require or make part of a course," which means they can't even be discussed. Governor Stitt, in supporting the bill, offers that he believes "not one cent of taxpayer money should be used to define and divide young Oklahomans." He argues that Bad Things, like the massacre can still be taught. It's also worth noting that while the law applies to public, charter and cyber schools, it does not apply to any of the private schools served by the state's voucher program. An expansion to that program was just signed into law by Stitt.

Fallout has been immediate. Melissa Smith has been teaching classes in high school and community college about race and ethnicities for years, but she has just been told by her summer college race and ethnicities class, fully enrolled, has been canceled. Smith teaches about things like "disparities between the races in terms of education, housing and income," but apparently that's trouble enough.

Smith's story is a good example of how these laws work--not by arresting teachers who teach naughty things, but by scaring the hell out of less-steely administrators who immediately shut down anything that they think has a remote chance of stirring up bad trouble. The folks behind these laws know that--that's why we see folks from astro-turfy Parents Defending Education to Dan Crenshaw to the Lt. Governor of Idaho encouraging folks to anonymously turn in anyone that is teaching any of that scary race stuff or wokeness or  indoctrinatin' our children.

Will anyone be turning in Mikael Vaughn at the Urban Coders Guild? He and his students partnered with Tulsa Community College to set up historicblackwallstreet.com, a website that attempts to capture the legacy of what was destroyed. Will the state take action against the Oklahoma City Public School Board for saying the law is just to protect white fragility?

Look. Teaching history is hard, and teenagers, many of whom are certain that the world sprang into being the day they were born, are a tough audience. For 39 years, my students were near-unanimous in saying that history was the most pointless class they took. Of course, part of that was probably a reaction to the attempt we make to reduce history to facts and dates. When Stitt says that schools can still teach things like the Tulsa Massacre, he means they can keep teaching that X happened on date Y. But that's not history. Not really.

We are hardwired to do history, I would tell my students. We do it every day. Pat and Sam have a fight and break up at a party Saturday night, and by Sunday everyone is talking about it, sharing the different versions of events (Pat's, Sam's, Pat's friends', Sam's friends', etc) and trying to parse out what led up to it, what caused it, what it means for the past, how it will affect the future, and all of that for the ultimate goals of A) building a consensus reality and B) figuring out how to feel about it. And on top of all that, none of these questions will ever reach a final answer. At the fiftieth class reunion, someone will bring it up and relitigate it. That's history. We just mostly do it with dead people who can no longer speak for themselves, which means that the conversation can always be disrupted by new information and that we never can be completely certain we know what we're talking about.

The challenge of teaching history is to convey all that while, at the same time, not telling students how to feel about any of it. Part of my usual fall spiel: "We can't talk about American literature and history without talking about issues of race and gender and class. It is not my job to tell you what to think, but it is my job to convey as clearly as I can what other people think and thought about the issues at hand." And then we buckled up for a year of discussion, and I periodically bit my tongue off, because you cannot change hearts and minds by demanding that they do so or forcing them to declare ideas they neither grasp nor believe (even if you're pretty sure those things are true). 

The White civic leaders of Tulsa tried to control the narrative of their crimes by controlling what people could see and know and say. It only worked for a while. Right now, GOP legislatures are trying to do the same thing by driving discussion of America's racist sins out of classrooms. The conversation has to continue, and it will only serve us well if it's based on reality. 

Okay, this is running long, but I realize now I have one more point to make. Here's a thing I learned during the meltdown of my first marriage--lying is exhausting. It seems easy at first, but the thing about lying is that it requires mental maintenance of at least two narratives. On the one hand, you have the things that are actually happening, and on the other, the things that would be happening if what you said last week was actually true. Little lies may not be a big deal--after a few days, the divergent narratives come back together and life goes on. But big lies-- the longer you go, the further they diverge and pretty soon you're like a person with each foot on a different car, and the cars are racing forward down roads that diverged at that Y back where you lied and it takes everything you have not to fall.

You can try to just forcefully shut up and shut out everything that provides evidence of the truth. Gaslighting, shouting down, sheer exercise of power--those are the popular tools. For a single person, this is tiring and toxic; for a nation, it is, well, tiring and toxic. White folks have spent a lot of energy trying to maintain a narrative about Black folks, and also spent a lot of energy trying to maintain a narrative about that narrative (we used to have a racism problem but that all stopped some fifty, sixty years ago). But here we are again, passing these laws to try to keep people from raising the topics in the hopes they'll all go away.

The story of Tulsa--and not just the story, but the story of the story--is a reminder that the conversation needs to continue, that, in fact, some parts of the conversation have barely begun. We can do better.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

ICYMI: Memorial Day Weekend Edition (5/30)

It has been a time, with a double funeral yesterday and some other little series of life adventures this week. Makes you want to shake some folks and ask, "Is this really what you want to do with your limited time on earth?" Be better. Anyway, I have a few things for you to read this week. Here's the list.

What Education Researchers Can Learn From Teachers

Larry Ferlazzo at EdWeek lets us hear from four teachers with some good thoughts about what researchers need to do to shape up their act.

Here's the truth behind the right-wing attacks on critical race theory

Jeff Bryant at Alternet with a look at some of the forces behind the big crt push, and some comments from people actually in the field.

School choice and charter proponents target public education in key states

A good overview of the rising tide of teacher gag laws, and the rising tide of opposition to them. From Rachel Cohen at Capital & Main.

Bricolage Academy educators vote in favor of unionization

Such a vote isn't always a big deal--but this time we're talking about the staff of a New Orleans charter school. This could be the start of something good.

Turnaround is a relic

Chicago's board of education decides to retire its largest turnaround program.

EdTech in schools -- a threat to data privacy?

This piece from Velislava Hillman looks at just what edtech companies want (spoiler alert: educating students is not Job One).

Why A Billionaire Telecom Executive Gave $1,000 In Cash To Quincy College Grads

From Forbes, the story of a billionaire exec who decided to do something useful (and non-prescriptive) with his money.


From the "you think you've got troubles" file. Also from the "this is maybe closer to happening here than I'd like to imagine" files.


Milton Hershey was doing educational philanthropy back in the old days, and his death in 1945 left a huge estate that became a massive fund for the Milton Hershey School, a school set up to help poor orphans. The school is still in operation, and it has giant piles of money, which critics say should say should be being spent on the school's educational mission.


Yeah, this HuffPost piece is not going to make you feel better. It will, however, remind you that some people in the classroom are bringing along a whole set of toxic beliefs.


From the School of Thought blog, a call for a kinder, gentler, not so focused on being perfect approach to the classroom.


Mark Weber, writing for New Jersey Policy Perspective, shows how Camden is losing sooooo many Black teachers.


Nancy Flanagan with a reminder that wrong is wrong is wrong, even and especially when it comes to education and children.

Eliminating Federal Charter Schools Program Would Curb Academic and Financial Abuses by Charter Operators

The federal program for financing charter schools is still there, still wasting billions of taxpayer dollars. Jan Resseger explains why it should be ended.

A Productive Meeting Between the District and Teachers about the Next School Year

Let's wrap things up with the latest from McSweeney's. Short, bittersweet, and funny.




Saturday, May 29, 2021

The Problem of Parent Centered Education

Teacher gag laws spreading across the country are generally billed as anti-CRT, but of course their reach is much broader than that, forbidding discussion of "controversy" and outlawing any teaching that might make students "uncomfortable" or be "divisive." 

The debate--well, actually not a lot of real debate because GOP legislators are using their majorities to just ram these bills through--even highlights apparent splits in the reformy astroturf community. This week the National Parents Union was in Tulsa to march in commemoration of the Tulsa Race Massacre (a topic that now probably can't be taught in Oklahoma) while the Parents Defending Education continue to work hard to ferret out anyone teaching controversial race issues (by which they appear to mean any race related issues at all). It's an odd apparent split between people who have worked in the edu-astro-turf world for a while. 

But these groups, and the larger push for these restrictive teacher laws, actually feed one basic tenet of the privatizing push--the idea that education is a consumer good, and the real consumers are parents. Further, as the primary consumer, the argument goes, parents should get to decide how the school works, what the teachers teach, the whole operation.

There are a couple of problems with this idea of parent-centered education.

One is that the promise is a lie. To parents who dream of being able to choose a school that delivers the exact product they want for their child, I invite you to look around and show me any consumer good that works that way. The next time you walk into Walmart, find a manager and tell him exactly the product and features you want to see on his shelves and insist that he get it for you right away. Go to McDonalds, and if you can still find a human working there, explain to them exactly how you want your burger and your fries prepared, and see how that works. "You will be able to have it your way," is a lie told to open the market. Once the market is open, all bets are off.

The other is more fundamental. When folks demand that students not be taught any of that controversial stuff, what they're saying is "I don't want my child's education to go any further than my own. My child should only learn the things I know."

New knowledge, new understandings--that stuff is always controversial, all the way back to Galileo. It would be great if adults regularly said, "Oh, that's cool. I'll just toss out my old understanding of this and modify it with this new stuff," more regularly, but they don't.

These gag laws are the cry of "I don't want my kid to believe things I don't believe and know things that I don't know." There may be hundreds and hundreds of learning and exploration and growth and building that led up to me, right now--but I want all this growing and building to stop with me. Or, in the case many of these folks, I want it to have stopped with my grandparents, so we're going to need to roll some things back. Things like the 1776 project are anti-growth, a complaint of "Why can't everyone just understand history the way my grandad learned it in 1952."

Simply absorbing the received fossilized wisdom of previous generations is not education. It certainly isn't the key to the critical thinking skills that everyone claims to value. There has always been a tension in US education between "You are going to get all the education that I never had" and "Your grandpa and I never needed any of that book learnin' so I don't see why you need it," but right now, the latter is ascendant. For education and learning and collective wisdom and depth to grow, children will have to learn things their parents didn't know. That may seem like a statement of the obvious, but clearly to some folks right now it's not obvious at all. 


Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Should Some School Districts Be Broken Up?

New York City's school system is not really an example of anything except itself, despite the many times it's written about and pointed at. This should not be a surprise. We are lousy at history in this country, and so we miss obvious things, like the change in scale. Thomas Jefferson was the President of a country with roughly six million people in it; New York City contains a bit over eight million. 

Our biggest school districts are huge. NYC schools contain almost a million students; the tenth largest school district (Palm Springs) just under 200K. 

So when Howard Husock writing for the reliably right-tilted Fordham Institute thinky tank says that large urban districts should be broken up, he's raising a topic worth talking about. 

Unfortunately, he mostly likes the idea of breaking up large districts because it would break up large unions, which is certainly in keeping with the current narrative that the Biden administration was Very Naughty for talking to teachers unions about re-opening schools. Why is it that when business folks form community groups in order to insert themselves into education policy, that's commendable and swell, but when unions that represent the people who actually work on the ground in education try to speak up, that's considered bad and selfish?

But it's still worth talking about.

The bigger the district, the harder to represent the interests and needs of communities within the larger whole. It's harder for voters to have a voice in the district, harder for teachers to have a voice in the union (I long ago gave up trying to keep track of all the sub-groups in the NYC teachers union). And contrary to anti-union sentiment, a union can be a big aid in helping a district run smoothly--if they know their people.

A small district provides huge benefits. I live and worked in a district of 14K or so citizens, teaching in a school of roughly700-900 students (things changed over the thirty-some years). There was never a year in which I did not know some of my parents outside of school. You want to talk about accountability? In small town teaching, you meet the people whose tax dollars pay you and whose children you teach every day, everywhere. In the grocery store. In church. At the hair dresser. When you walk down the street. In the bar--so watch yourself. All of that goes double for administrators and school board members. If you have been in the district for more than five years, people in the community know about how you do your job, what you teach. There may even be a unit or content that you are "famous" for. 

Not everybody can take it, and some never move into the district where they teach. People think less of them for it. "I don't even know what s/he looks like," is one of the biggest insults that can be leveled at an administrator.

Nor is that the end of it, because a large percentage of your students stay right here, and if you are an awful human being to them in the classroom, you will pay for it forever. My car is fixed, my food is made and served, my innards probed, my streets patrolled, most things I buy sold to me, the volunteer groups I serve in populated, and my own children taught by people that I taught in school. 

Another story. When I was a local union president and contract negotiations turned first contentious and then into a strike, the board president and I met once a week for breakfast. We did no negotiation or discussion of issues; mostly we were doing it to remember that the Other Side was human. 

And we haven't even gotten to all the accountability effects that come because I'm also a parent whose children went through the system. And the ability of teachers to coordinate because they have regular contact with each other. And the strong sense of community. And the positive effects on communication. Let's just summarize by saying that there are many good effects from a small district.

There's a lower limit to size effectiveness, the part where you can't offer certain courses because only two students sign up (and one is going to drop out once she sees what it is really like). or when you can't offer sports or band or other extracurriculars because too few students.

But there is a huge problem with breaking up large districts. We've seen districts do it, and it almost always turns out to be a sneaky form of segregation. School district secession all too often is about "We'd like to take our children into a district away from Those People's Children." An awful lot of de facto segregation has been accomplished by drawing district lines. At the same time, New York City schools, divided into a giant maze of sub-districts, are the most segregated in the nation.

There's also the problem of breaking a large district into smaller districts separated by wealth (or the lack thereof). Once again, Chester Upland School District of Pennsylvania provides an example--Delaware County contains some of the richest and poorest districts in the entire state, carefully separated by well-drawn boundaries. The prospect of using the same kind of computerized tools that have facilitated political gerrymandering--that's not a good prospect.

Any attempt to break up a large district would require some serious oversight to avoid the risk of simply replicating the same inequities already present elsewhere. (And choice policies also replicate those problems, while stripping parents of rights and communities of representation.) An answer probably looks more like a community school, but that's a conversation for another day. For today, breaking up school districts might well be worth it, if done carefully and with a care for all students involved, and not just because you're excited about sticking it to teachers unions.

Eroding Trust In Chester Upland

Chester Upland School District in Pennsylvania has the distinction of having been put through every gauntlet that a modern school district ca be forced to run. Currently, that means that CUSD is facing a partial takeover of the district by charter operators

Parents, taxpayers and teachers within the district have not developed much trust in the various processes put in place to "help" the district. That may be related to the parade of shady shenanigans along the way.

In particular, there's the cozy relationship that so many folks seem to enjoy with Chester Community Charter School. CCCS is, itself, a shady operation that started up in conjunction with CSMI, a charter management organization founded by Vahan Gureghian, a guy who runs a billboard company and CSMI and is now, after 23 years in the charter biz, really really wealthy. There are three charter companies operating in Chester (so far) but CCCS is by far the dominant one. How big a pile of taxpayer dollars does CSMI rake in? You aren't allowed to know--they're a private business. 

CUSD is under state receivership, but it's often unclear whose interests are being guarded. In Pennsylvania, charters are only supposed to be renewed for five year spans, but receiver Peter Barsz went ahead and gave CCCS a nine year contract. The argument was that this would "save the district" by getting a deal that the charter would not try to extend its reach to high school students. Except that word on the street was that the charter had no interest in high school students. That's been confirmed; while charter operators are currently making their bids to take over schools in the district, nobody has made a pitch for taking over the high school. So Barsz gave CCCS a big fat gift in exchange for a guarantee that CUSD would not be attacked by yetis riding on unicorns.

It was a great deal for David Clark, the CCCS CEO. Dr. Clark is the community face of CCCS, well-regarded enough that the city leaders decided to give him a whole honorific ceremony. And when folks got heated up over the CCCS petition to charterize the district back in 2019, Clark took to the paper to say, "They did not petition to take over the school." Technically true--they petitioned to have bids opened for charter schools, however as Chestrer's only charter heavy hitter, they were (and remain) the obvious big winners in such a move. Clark also claimed that Gureghian didn't found CCCS, which is a distinction without a difference. In fact, the actual founding of CCCS is a bit opaque, but it's clear that launching the school also launched the charter management organization that runs it and which was founded and owned by Gureghian. Clark adds "nor was he even involved with the school when it was established." That puts us in gaslighting territory; certainly it does not establish Clark as a straight shooter.

But Chester has attracted an endless stream of not-straight shooters. The district has trust issues with its own board, which has been spectacularly reluctant to conduct any of this charterization business out in the open (even though the court told it to). They've hired administrators seen as favorable to charterizing. Fred Green ran an unconventional campaign for the board and won, immediately offering pro-district words in support of a "Local Control Is Our Goal" rally:

We encourage residents and community supporters to come out and help us fight to take back our school district and get it back into local control.

But when CCCS recently opened a new campus in Aston to help it expand into the Philadelphia market, this was part of the scene:

















There are two pairs of scissors there for the ribbon cutting. The pair on the right is being held by Dr. David Clark. The pair on the left is being held by Fred Green.

Chester Upland School District is plagued by broken promises about things large and small, repeated problems with mysterious disappearing money, and a lack of allies in any powerful places. When their woes are tallied up, we have to include an erosion of trust. What a rough place to be.




Tuesday, May 25, 2021

What Privatization Actually Means

When we talk about the privatization of education, the conversation is almost always about the privatization of the vendors. Publicly owned and operated schools replaced by privately owned and operated charter and private schools, plus a dizzying web of real estate developers, charter management organizations, other support businesses. Even the extreme form, where education is unbundled and can be provided piece by piece--a nice prospect for those who balk at operating an entire school, but can imagine making a buck selling math tutoring.

This vision also includes a privatization of oversight. Let the parents vote with their feet. Let free market forces handle the issue of "quality." Make it easier for vendors to have access to the market and make a buck; let the market sort out winners and losers.

How far do some of these folks want to go? Here's Jeremy Kaufman, voice of the Libertarian Free State outfit, being blunt on Twitter.






All of this privatized profiteering can well be a feature of reformster policies (they never, ever, call it privatization), but to stop here is to miss a critical part of the picture.

The education privatization movement is also about privatizing "consumption" of  education.

In a public system, education is "consumed" by the public. All of the public, together, collectively. Hence the system of everyone paying for it and everyone voting for the board members who manage in the name of the collective owners. That's because everyone, collectively, is a stakeholder. We, the public, receive the results of the education system. 

Privatization doesn't just privatize the "vendor," but it privatizes the "customer." The premise of the privatized system is that there is no collective ownership of the results, but rather that each individual student's result belong to each individual parental unit. Put another way, all the business of oversight, accountability, all of the market research and interpretation required--all of that weight rests on the individual parental units. Quality of education is no longer a shared community responsibility, but the private, personal challenge of each parent. 

"Well, yes," some privatizers are going to say. "That's all the freedom." But without launching into another post's worth of argument, let me just offer--

1) How much freedom you have in the marketplace is in direct proportion to how much money and power you have at your disposal. 

2) We're talking about making fundamental change to the entire US system of education. We're talking about ending the promise of a free, good public education for every child. Well, actually, we're not talking about these things at all, which is my point. If we're going to implement such a major change to a foundational institution, we ought to be talking about it, rather than selling America a Porsche and delivering a worn out bicycle. Let's not promote a beautiful new dawn and then leave parents to wake up tomorrow to discover that they the country has washed its hands of them and they are on their own. 

Monday, May 24, 2021

Should Schools Offer Virtual School Options In The Fall?

 I'll admit that this blooming controversy snuck up on me. In Pennsylvania, school districts have offered virtual options for years in the Time Before Covid. It would never have occurred to me that a district shouldn't. But apparently we're going to have fussing about that. kickstarted today by the NYC mayoral announcement that public schools will be all in person this fall.

That's a dumb idea. 

I understand where some of it comes from, given the insistence that we must get students back in school Right The Hell Now. Political leaders trying to court a certain constituency are going to go this route, plus it will also be a way to signal that you aren't going to be pushed around by the teachers unions for all those folks buying the bullshit narrative about how the evil teachers are solely responsible for the closing of school buildings. 

It's still a bad idea.

Mostly it's a bad idea to demand only-in-person districts because the alternative sucks. And it's not going away. There are many, many states already offering "free" online "public" [sic] school, and that's before we even get to cyber-schools that hide behind the mask of homeschooling. 

Cyberschooling isn't going away any time soon for three reasons. First, it does actually work for a small percentage of students with very specific special needs. Second, particularly in states with PA with dumb rules governing cyber-tuition, it is a very attractive way to make a lot of money. Third, the charter worlds not only finances a good assortment of astroturf groups, but it also funds plenty of regular lobbyists, too. Legislatures could shut cyber charters down, but it's a lucrative business that has rented lots of friends in high places.

Pennsylvania is the case study in how impervious this business has become. You can look at the national studies that show cyber charters failing big, or you can look at the PA-specific schools that have all--every one of them-- failed to make the grade. Granted, the measurement of success for PA schools sucks, but that's the reformy game reformsters wanted to play--and they're losing at their own game. Meanwhile, districts around the state report the devastating economic effects of charters, with cybers draining money from "markets" where brick and mortar charters don't bother to go. There is literally no defense of cyber charters in PA, and yet year after year, efforts to rein them in fail. Right now, legislators are fighting against the governor's radical ideas like A) pay cybers what it actually costs them to educate students and B) audit them like we audit public schools. 

Consequently, most districts have developed their own in-house cyber school program. This has a couple of virtues.

One is that students have a better chance of getting an actual education that includes actual learning and is also aligned to the district that they may return to some day. I cannot overstate the value of this benefit. I long ago lost count of how many students returned from cyber school who would have been better off taking a year to play video games. The saddest cases have been those who know it, who returned to say, "Yeah, I don't like getting up and coming here, but I wasn't learning anything and what the heck is going to happen to me?" No, that's the second saddest--saddest cases were those who went to cyber school and proceeded from there to just dropping out. With our in house virtual school, I could have input in what was taught, and students were monitored closely enough to be held accountable and helped forward.

I would be lying not to say that the other benefit was that a whole lot of money stayed with the district instead of buying some K-12 charter executive a new summer home. But by far the big win was the number of students that weren't lost to an education. 

One of the best ideas for a bill in recent years was one that proposed that if you wanted to send your child to cyber school, and your home district offered a cyber school, you'd have to pay tuition at the corporate cyber charter out of your own pocket. Cyber charter businesses hollered and squealed that they'd never survive, which is probably true--their whole pitch is based on the word "free." Free school and you get a free computer and a free printer! It would have been fair and healthy and better for the students, but of course it was shot down. 

Most of the country is now painfully aware that virtual schooling is difficult and draining. While it serves some students and families well, the vast majority of folks probably would not list it as their #1 choice for How To Do School. Also in the mix are all those folks who were pre-covid huge fans of virtual school and then decided that anything other than a live classroom is terrible horrible no-good very bad education (looking at you, Mrs. DeVos). 

It's limited, difficult, and few people's choice over live humans in a classroom. But I think it's safe to say that virtual education is not going away entirely, ever. So the only real question is this-- should the field be dominated by a bunch of amateurs who are just trying to cash in on a computerized education-flavored product, or should actual public school educators get in the game? And why should a district in 2021 run what is essentially a marketing campaign for the cyber-charter business world by insisting on live classroom only?


Sunday, May 23, 2021

ICYMI: And Now I'm Older Edition (5/23)

 What a week here at the Institute. But now it's time to get back to reading, and we've got a fine selection of pieces this week. I'll remind you that you can also keep up on the current writing about public e3d by following the Network for Public Education's Blog of Blogs. Hop on over, put your email in the little box, and get a daily dose of quality education writing. Now on to this week's list.

How Biden's cash paid for Florida GOP's pet education projects.

Well, taxpayer money, actually. But no matter what you call it, the Florida GOP are enjoying using it to paper over one of their secrets--their anti-public education policies are running a huge deficit.

Texas GOP gags teachers

It's the most draconian of the anti-anti-racism laws. Way to go, Texas.

The K-12 Culture Wars

Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire go on a little tour to hot spots around the country for some chilling reminders about how all this current conservative culture onslaught of schools is experienced in an up close and personal way by actual teachers.

Judge: Betsy DeVos cannot quash deposition

The indispensable Mercedes Schneider has the results of the DeVosian attempt to avoid having to do one of her least favorite things-- explain herself to the little people. The fallout from her refusal to provide relief to defrauded students continues.

Dartmouth blindsides med students with shaky cheating "evidence"

A Mercedes Schneider two-fer this week, as we get a look once again at how poorly those anti-cheating surveillance systems actually work.

A scholarly masterpiece: William Franz Public School

Thomas Ultican provides a review of an important book about how one school was hit by the New Orleans reformster movement.

Idaho teacher who stopped 6th-grad school shooter says she hugged girl after disarming her

Only a teacher can really grasp the many threads running through this People magazine tale of the Idaho teacher who stopped a school shooter (without using a gun). 

Southeast PA superintendents call for charter funding reform

Dale Mezzacappa is at Chalkbeat with a story of PA districts coming out in support of Gov. Wolf's proposal to pay charter schools an amount that actually makes sense.

Taking the math SAT when you've forgotten math

A few weeks ago, John Warner tried taking the verbal portion of the SAT. Now he's gone back to take a whack at the math. Interesting insights into everybody's favorite exam.

Education without controversy? What's the point?

As states try to clamp down on teacher freedom and universities look at axing the classics, Andrea Gabor is at Bloomberg explaining why art and literature (and arguing) are important in education.

65 years after "Brown v. Board," where are all the black educators?

At EdWeek, Madeline Wil looks at one of the important questions of education--where are the Black teachers, and how did we get to this place?

Play-based learning isn't free play and may be connected to online learning

Nancy Bailey, ever vigilant about language, points out that "play-based" isn't quite the same as actual play.

The Value of Preschool

Oh, Florida. Accountabaloney lays out how the dependably dim Florida legislature is screwing up preschool. (Spoiler alert: more testing).








Friday, May 21, 2021

GOP Election Preview: Our Children Were Robbed

I live in Northwester Pennsylvania, and this is Trump country. We've got a GOP controlled legislature and a Democratic governor, and a great deal of contentiousness stemming from that situation. And in the recent primary election, voters passed a constitutional amendment that de-powered the governor in the case of, say, a massive pandemic and gave emergency powers to the legislature instead.

Though we don't have many votes to offer up here, we make a good place for conservative candidates for state office to try out their road show, because lots of folks are gunning for the governor's seat.

As with most states, there are peculiarities that apply only to this state (e.g. the ongoing feud between Philadelphia and the entire rest of the state). But it's still a good place to spot some of the upcoming arguments that the GOP will use in their next election bid. 

Lou Barletta just announced his run and swung through my neighborhood. Barletta was mayor of Hazleton, PA, where, teamed up with the infamous Kris Kobach, he spearheaded anti-immigrant rules that were declared unconstitutional. He then was a Us Representative for almost a decade, before having his ass handed to him by Bob Casey, Jr., in 2018. He went into private consulting, including helping boost Brexit, and he has maintained his Trumpist credentials--he was one of the "electors" who met up in 2020 to vote for Trump, just to, you know, keep options open.

Barletta stopped just up the road from me this week, and the local paper covered the visit (paywall--sorry). Some of his talking points were the usual boilerplate. Election security--more ids, no mail-in votes. Don't defund the police. CRT and Project 1619, bad. No abortion ever. Second Amendment, good. 

But there's a new talking point in his shtick. Barletta told the crowd that the state's schoolchildren had one year of education "stolen from them" by the governor's pandemic shutdowns, and nobody knows what the long term effects will be. 

Fore folks who have been paying attention, this will not come as a surprise. The Great New Culture War is aimed squarely at schools, and bundles anti-masking, anti-vaxxing, anti-anti-racism, anti-unions, and anti-closing-of-school-buildings. The most extreme form of the narrative is that after Democrats cooked up a fake pandemic scare, unions forced schools to close and stay closed (for reasons that I still haven't seen clearly articulated anywhere--unions, I guess, are just evil and teachers went into teaching to not not teach), leading to Learning Loss, in which knowledge drained out of student brains even as they were being indoctrinated in the critical race theory. 

So "our children were robbed" fits the program. It contributes to a certain thematic unity--the underlying theme of much conservative politicking right now is grievance over having things stolen. "They stole the election, stole our jobs and our resources, stole our freedom, and stole our rightful place in society," goes the complaint. Why not "they stole our children's education" as well. 

We'll see if Barletta gets any traction and how the Battle for the Crown of Most Trumpy goes; after al, this is also the home state for Doug Mastriano, who says that Trump asked him to run. 

Side note--Barletta was pretty lukewarm on charter schools. While the "we can't leave our children in failing schools" line plays okay in urban areas (aka Philadelphia and Pittsburgh), here in rural areas, charter schools are known mostly as a financial drain on local school districts and taxpayers. "We need to look at how we can change our education system and improve our public schools, especially in urban settings," he told the crowd. 

But the early signs are that the GOP is poised to use students as props in the next election go-round, and teachers and their big, evil unions as part of the giant probably-Marxist conspiracy to steal America. Hope the pandemic hasn't tired you out too much, because there's no rest in sight. 

Thursday, May 20, 2021

19 Rules for Life (2021 Edition)



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

1. Don't be a dick.

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

2. Do better.

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



3. Tell the truth.

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

4. Seek to understand.

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

5. Listen and pay attention.

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

6. Be grateful.

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

7. Mind the 5%

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

8. Take care of the people around you.


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

9. Commit.

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

10. Shut up and do the work


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

11. Assume good intent.

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

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

Some people forget to be serious. They don't use words seriously. They don't have a serious understanding of other people or their actions or the consequences of those actions. They can be silly or careless or mean, but whatever batch of words they are tossing together, they are not serious about them. They are not guided by principle or empathy or anything substantial. Note: do not mistake grimness for seriousness and do not mistake joy and fun for the absence of seriousness. Beware: One of the great tricks of not-being-serious people is to get you to waste time on them, to spend time and energy thinking, fretting, arguing acting about shiny foolishness, leaving them free for larger abuses that go unchecked.

13. Don't forget the point.

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

14. People are complicated (mostly)

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

15. Don't be misled by your expectations.

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

16. Make something.

Music, art, refurbished furniture, machinery. Something.

17. Show up.

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

18. Refine your core.

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

MO: Longtime Charter Sponsor Leaves the Biz (And Parents)

 The University of Central Missouri has been sponsoring charter schools since 1999, serving as the major sponsor of charters in Kansas City (in Missouri, the rule used to be that only St. Louis and Kansas City could house charter schools).

St. Louis schools have been a mess, with both public and charter schools having their share of legislatively-inflicted woes. And some legislators have continued to try hard to expand charter reach in the state, right up through this year.

But one notable feature of Missouri charter school law is that it allows institutions of higher education to circumvent taxpayers and sponsor charter schools. That's the biz that UCM got into.

From UCM's point of view, that makes some sense. UCM was founded as a Normal School, aka 19th century teacher training college, and they continue to educate teachers. UCM has used its charter schools as part of the teacher training program, placing their student teachers in charter classrooms. 

But in Missouri, as in the rest of the country, the teacher pipeline is drying up, as fewer and fewer young folks find the conditions and compensation with which they would work particularly attractive. The state is trying to fix that, with clever ideas like PSAs, because when you don't want to address a problem for real, you can always treat it as a PR problem. 

Last week, the news broke that UCM is getting out of the charter sponsor business. It has done wo without a whole lot of actual explanation; the decision is described as "mission-driven," which doesn't really mean a damned thing, and as coming from the UCM Board of Governors, which puts it behind a nice, opaque screen. If you like the longer version of the non-explanation, there's this

Action by the university’s governing board allows UCM to more closely align its resources to pursue its mission, which is focused on providing a quality post-secondary education to students in Missouri and beyond.

There's more--we've had a great time, these charters are swell, history, mission, blah. blah, confident the transition will go well. 

It's bad news for seven Kansas City charter schools which now need to find a new sponsor by the end of next school year. The charters are putting on their brave faces, but there are only three other sponsors operating in Kansas City-- University of Missouri in Columbia, Kansas City Public Schools, and the state's Public [sic] Charter School Commission.

Meanwhile, parents of charter students have some thoughts:

We would love to if they offer any opportunity for parents and families to have a voice in sharing what matters with them. We would love to play a role in that.

Spoiler alert: they will not play a role in that. The University's board does not answer to the taxpayers. The charter company does not answer to the taxpayers. Parents are just "customers," and they have as much say as you have when you angrily email Mark Zuckerberg over a Facebook format change, or when you angrily email McDonalds about changing the fry oil formula.

Charter advocates often argue that market forces are sufficient for charter oversight, because parents can vote with their feet. But the bipedal plebiscite is not really a thing when the whole structure is collapsing and the various parties with power are scrambling to save a chunk. As we have seen over and over and over and over again, when a charter school starts to go south, parents learn very quickly that they have no power, no say, and often not even anyone to call. 

It would be super-interesting to learn why, exactly, UCM bailed, but of course they don't have to explain any of their decision to anybody. In the school choice and charter world, that level of non-transparency is considered a feature, not a bug, but sometimes even the charter folks themselves get stung.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

PA: One District (Mostly) For Sale

Chester Upland is a district that has struggled with issues and money and racism for decades; they are the history of every problem facing public education in the last century, right up to and including the gutting of a public education system by privatizing charter operators. Poorer and Blacker than all surrounding districts, they have suffered through one damn thing after another.

Chester Upland School District has been under the state's thumb via a declaration of financial collapse for about a decade. The court has been in charge of the district, and has okayed the idea of letting the charters that have drained the districts of resources go ahead and buy up the last of the bits.

It's hard to track everything that has happened because so little of it has happened in public view, but three charter organizations have now submitted plans for partial charter takeover of the district's schools.

The three proposals were pitched at a meeting that was presented in person and on line, and critics of the plan were not impressed. 

Harris indicated Thursday’s presentation was designed to communicate Friendship’s philosophy rather than what could be read about the plan elsewhere, while GLA CEO and Principal of GLA Southwest Tamika Evans said this was essentially a first meeting with the community.

But Public Interest Law Center attorney Claudia De Palma, who represents four district parents and an advocacy organization, noted this was the only scheduled meeting where community members could probe the proposals being made.

“I think most people expected it to be a bit of a sales pitch, but I expected it to be a more specific sales pitch and it wasn’t even that,” she said. “If the good faith intention is to at least inform the community … then you need information, which is really the bare minimum. It just feels like it keeps getting kicked down the road.”

Charter operators are still pretending this is not a takeover (the CEO of the leading charter group (Chester Community Charter School--the outfit that made Vahan Gureghian rich) says students are free to attend public or charter schools, so it's not a takeover.

Perhaps it feels like a takeover because the public has been kept carefully boxed out of the process every step of the way. Judge Barry Dozer and district receiver  (and former superintendent) Juan Baughn have made a lot of noise about transparency, but that has rarely translated into action.

"The way that the order was ordered was that the proposals weren’t going to be coming out until after the recommendation was made, which was obviously after the presentation,” said [Public Interest Law Center lawyer Claudia] De Palma. “If the point was actually to allow the community to ask questions about the proposals, then that goal obviously was foreclosed by not providing the proposals beforehand, and if the goal was for the community to learn in the first place what the proposals contained, that was also not a goal that was met (in the meeting). Each step of the way just feels more and more like a keep-away game and not an actual effort to involve the actual community.”

Or, as one observer reportedly put it: "I sense that the orchestrators of this process may have ulterior motives for pushing charter schools that don’t include the students."

CUSD has had problems both internal and external. As a poor community, they've suffered under Pennsylvania's state funding inadequacies. Meanwhile, they have suffered internal mismanagement (right up to recently misplacing a bunch of money under as-yet-unexplained circumstances).  And CUSD is a poster child for Pennsylvania's damaging method of paying charters for handling special ed students, which not only pay charters more than the school of origin actually spends on the students, but actually compounds the difference annually.

Public school advocates in Chester Upland have long suspected that the takeover is a foregone conclusion. "Well," you may say. "That's all unfortunate, but perhaps this will finally solve CUSD'd financial problems."

That seems unlikely for two reasons.

First, the plan seems aimed toward delivering the elementary schools to three different charter operators, creating a three-way competition for market and funding. CCCS is the 800-pound gorilla in town, meaning the competition will be lopsided from Day One.

Second, the discussion of a takeover of the district really is, in an important sense, inaccurate. Because nobody wants to take over the high school. That means the charter-run elementary schools will be draining resources from the district and the district will, in turn, have to run high school education with whatever is left. That also presents some logistical and curricular issues--imagine a high school that gets all of its students from a different district entirely. Maintaining any sort of consistent, coherent K-12 program will be impossible.

It's a wretched mess, and it doesn't appear that anyone in a position of power is interested or stopping or even slowing the privatization train. And CUSD gets to demonstrate yet one more way that a pu blic school district can be run through the wringer.

Monday, May 17, 2021

PA: The Special Ed Funding Triple Whammy

Are you ready for the best explainer yet for the screwed-up state of Pennsylvania's charter funding when it comes to special ed students?  

Here at the Institute, we're fans of the work of Research for Action. The Philly based research group is meticulously independent and well-conceived and executed. We're previously looked at their work on test-based (poverty-punishing) assessment, the failure of cyber-charters, and the astonishing PA gap between students and teachers of color.

Now they've produced a video outlining the troubles with Pennsylvania's formula for funding special ed in charter schools. 

This matters because right now Governor Tom Wolf is trying to fix this, and charter school advocates are screaming that the governor is trying to cut their funding. That's technically a true, but in spirit, it's a lie. PA's charter schools continue to be overpaid--in some cases, hugely overpaid--for providing special ed services. If your folks give you a hundred dollar bill each day with which to buy lunch at Burger King, and they suddenly decide that maybe they should just give you the actual cost of a meal, you have no honest basis for complaining that they are trying to starve you by slashing your lunch allowance.

I've written before about how PA's charter special ed funding is out of whack, but even I had missed one aspect pointed out here--it's not just that charters can get more, maybe even way more, to educate a student than the sending school spent, but because of the quirks in the system, that overpayment actually compounds and gets worse year after year. If you've wondered how charter schools in Chester Upland could be getting more than $40K per special ed student, well, this explains it. Take a look.


Sunday, May 16, 2021

Covid and the Good Guys

You can set this Twitter comment next to a quote from Rep. Virginia Foxx, who said that Weingarten "is attempting to rewrite history by framing her union as part of the 'solution.'"

Both are a fine example of how far off the rails the re-opening school debate has gone (if we can characterize a bunch of people hollering at each other a debate). Notice that the outpouring about Weingarten's call to re-open school buildings in the fall is not talking about whether that's a good idea or not. No, what we're now arguing about is who should get to call themselves a good guy. 

One of the narratives pushed and pushed hard for the last fifteen months has been the Narrative of the Evil Unions, who have somehow been behind the whole school closing thing even though many many parents have balked at sending students back and many private schools have stayed closed and it's not even particularly clear exactly how and where this union pressure has been exerted. Nor have I ever, ever understood what the villains' motivation was supposed to be in this story--if teachers are intent on shutting down schools, why is that, exactly? But anyway-- the Narrative of the Evil Unions has never flagged, and people who are invested in it will be damned if they're going to see the unions wiggle their way out of wearing their Evil Villain hats at the last minute. 

This is not a useful conversation to have now, and it never was. The last fourteen months have been hellaciously difficult and confusing. Schools kicked off this pandemic with absolutely no leadership from DC or, in some cases, the state, and with a lot of the science being worked out in real time, before our eyes, which, it turns out, is really hard for some folks to deal with--scientists are supposed to step out from the lab in carefully pressed lab coats and declare "These are the facts, immutable and set in cement under a blazing banner that says It's Science!!" And when that didn't happen, many folks simply blew a gasket.

It didn't help that Trump performed his usual feat of turning even the most non-political issue into a referendum on loyalty to Dear Leader. It didn't help that science and politics repeatedly got in each others' ways. It hasn't helped that we live in an era of bone-headed conspiracy theories. It has not helped that every loose seam and corroded weakness in our political and journalistic systems have blown apart under the stress.

And all of that ugly dumb mess is thrown on top of the actual problems of actual humans trying to lead their actual lives. Pandemic shutdowns have put families under huge stress-- financial, personal, and "oh my God what if this messes up my kid's whole life" type. Businesses have been sweating the uncertainty and strain and possible hollowing out of uncertain times. And teachers and administrators, have been trying to figure out how they can do their job without doing serious, even lethal, damage. 

These are all real, serious issues, and they have happened in the context of communities in which people who are near-paralyzed with fear over the disease live side by side with people who think it's all stupid and masks are a threat to liberty. 

And as this has dragged on, other issues have bubbled to the surface. Once the treadmill stopped, I think, a lot of folks looked around and thought, "Why, I'll be damned. All this stuff in my life and my job are actually bullshit!" Just now we seem to be having a mini-reckoning about an economic system that requires a large supply of desperately poor people to keep business churning along ("If they don't like the wages and benefits, they can always just quit" wasn't supposed to be advice that anyone actually took). Under pressure, some folks have said the quiet part out loud-- like teachers are servants and should start acting like it. 

We have no single trusted source of information, not in government or journalism or even scientific outfits like the CDC, which seems to have to walk back and/or clarify every damn thing it says. 

People are scared, angry, tired, and they have a legitimate right to all of the feelings. Unfortunately, some people are living by the rule that one should never let a crisis go unexploited, whether for political power ("Let's get those evil unions to pay for their behavior during the pandemic") or for economic gain ("Buy our hot new program for fixing learning loss"). 

But looking for simple answers is a fool's game. This is a mess, and it's complicated, and it does not lend itself to a simple narrative of good guys and bad guys. 

This part of it is easy enough to understand. Teachers and administrators have been trying to do the right thing, the thing that will allow them to educate their students and keep them safe, while also looking out for the lives of themselves and their family members. What that right thing might be has not been simply clear, and in fact an not-inconsiderable number of union locals include members who cover the same range of beliefs and fear and skepticism as the general public. 

The right thing has also been hugely local, depending on what resources and conditions prevail. This has been one of the dumber criticisms leveled against schools-- "East Egg High School is open and doing fine, so our school should open right now." But if East Egg High has a spacious building with great ventilation in a low-spread community and smart, engaged leaders, and your school is a crumbling cramped sealed box run by dismissive tools in a high-spread community, East Egg's experience means nothing. I can drive 75 mph down I-80; that doesn't mean that everyone should drive 75 mph down all roads at all times. 

I am tired to death of the attempts to turn this into a political horse race, as if this very real problem only matters insofar as it can be exploited for leverage. I am tired to death of people who want to suggest that the best explanation for what happened in schools is that teachers are involved in a vast, dark conspiracy to bring to a grinding halt the system that they devoted their professional lives to because the Truth is that they all entered teaching in hopes that it would give them a chance to hurt children. That's your explanation for what has happened? How about, instead, the idea that teachers and administrators have been struggling like everyone else to find a path through difficult times while still working to achieve the mission they dedicated themselves to before COVID ever showed its ugly head. 

Some people reach their convoluted explanation by starting with the premise that the solution is simple and obvious and not a shred of evidence contradicts or complicates. It's hard to tell if they hold onto that because of willful ignorance or because it's just a tool to achieve their goals, but I am quite certain that it displays a stunning lack of empathy and understanding for their fellow humans.

It's that last part that's going to haunt me long after the pandemic fades--that when things got hard and complicated, some folks revealed just how little heart and care they have for their fellow travelers on this earth. Rather than arguing over who gets to be the "good guy," maybe recognize mostly what we've got is a bunch of people trying to do what seems best to them, where they are, in a difficult leadership-thirty time. 

ICYMI: Grandchild Edition (5/16)

No, I don't have a new one. But my newest grandchild is in town, so I get to see him for the first time in a year. A photo of his extreme cuteness to follow, but you'll have to scroll past this list of reading material from the week.

How College Became a Ruthless Competition Divorced From Learning

In the Atlantic, Daniel Markowits has written a piece that will repeatedly having you yell "Yeah!" and trying hard to decide which quote to pull. Marriage, Jane Austen, educational hierarchies, elite schools, meritocracy, rankings and ratings. This is your "if you only read one selection" selection for the week.

4 Ideas about AI that even Experts Get Wrong

Yes, I know I share lots of AI articles, but you have to remember that this is the stuff that certain people want to take teachers' jobs, and we should be paying attention.

Is Critical Race Theory Dividing the Country?

Nancy Flanagan as usual provides a thoughtful look at the hot topic of the day.

The GOP's 'Critical Race Theory' Obsession

While we're at the Atlantic, look at this Adam Harris piece explaining how a fifty year old academic theory has become central to the GOP's latest round of fearmongering.

We found the textbooks of senators who oppose the 1619 project and suddenly everything makes sense

Michael Harriot at The Root did exactly this, and it's a pretty stark, clear reminder of how much the 1619 project diverges from traditional school history texts.

Restructuring Plan "Disastrous" for PA Universities

The state of PA is looking to downsize its (very expensive) system of higher education. Economists predict that results will not be pretty.

This is a map of America's broadband problem

Not actually an education article, except that it is, because broadband problems are education problems.

I spent a year and a half at a no excuses charter school. Here is what I saw.

Joanne Golan writing at the Conversation. Blunt and to the point. 

After a high point in the Obama administration, philanthropies no longer drive education policy

Matt Barnum at Chalkbeat offers a view of how the philanthropic landscape has changed in educationland. Interesting viewpoint.

What Black Men Need From Schools to Stay in the Teaching Profession

A useful and insightful interview with three Black teachers over at EdWeek


Rann Miller talks about the extra weight that Black teachers are asked to carry, and how that is tied to keeping them in the classroom. At the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Now, as promised. Yes, he's adorable.







Saturday, May 15, 2021

NV: Should Charter Schools Hire Licensed Teachers?

Nevada is one of the country's leading states for privatizers; in 2015, they went all in on education savings accounts aka super-vouchers. Well, not so super--they were not large enough to benefit the poor families that were the excuse for passing the bill. But they've got tax credit scholarships so that donors can get out of paying school taxes and support private schools at the same time. And, of course, they have charter schools.

Charter schools in Nevada enjoy a couple of advantages. One is that charters are authorized by a state board (the Nevada State Public [sic] Charter School Authority), meaning they can bypass any local boards that are elected by local taxpayers who might not want to foot the bill for additional schools in their area. 

Nevada charter schools are also excused from having to hire licensed teachers. Up to 30% of teaching staff can be unlicensed, as long as they aren't teaching certain subjects (eg English, math, special ed). The rest of the staff must be either licensed or "demonstrate subject matter expertise," whatever the heck that means.

Reportedly the state does not actually know how broadly that waiver is being used. Charter School Authority Executive Director Rebecca Feiden reportedly told lawmakers that only 36 out of 2,287 charter teachers lack "an active license," but she also acknowledged that a substitute teaching license counts as an active license. And they have no idea how many of those are involved. In Nevada, you can score a substitute license with 60 college credits. (Hat tip to April Corbin Girnus at Nevada Current for providing some concise thorough coverage of this issue).

Nevada's Senate Education Committee decided to level the playing field and put forward a bill--AB109-- requiring charter schools to have a fully licensed teaching staff. Makes sense. Nevada charters like to call themselves public schools, so why not operate under the same rules as actual public schools? Given the numbers Feiden shared, it doesn't seem like a huge ask, and in fact, since the bill quietly appeared in February, there's been no public squawking to speak of. 

There must have been some squawking somewhere, though, because the Assembly Education Committee amended the bill so that charters are only required to have 80% licensed staff. It's worth noting that both houses of the Nevada legislature are controlled by Democrats, and the Assembly Education Committee has a hefty 8-5 democrat majority. 

Not that there aren't some unhappy Dems in this. Girnus offers this quote:

“I want this on the record: that we have licenses for a reason,” said state Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop. “We don’t hire firemen who aren’t certified. We don’t hire electricians and plumbers without a license. I think it’s important to keep that in mind.”

Pushing from the other side is GOP State Senator Carrie Buck, a charter school leader who says that Nevada charters (who get the same per-pupil funding as public schools) are poor because of facility costs. Also, national teacher shortage, which, well--no. Offer better jobs.

And, while we're here--why doesn't anyone know who is teaching in charter schools? Why shouldn't charter schools have full transparency about the qualifications of their staff? Isn't that basic information to which parents should have easy access?

So once again, charter schools are public schools, except when being a public school includes inconvenient rules, and folks who expect Democrats to support education are often disappointed. We'll see what happens next.