Monday, August 30, 2021

PA: Candidate Threatens School Boards. Who Is Steve Lynch?

So this delightful little clip has been shooting around the interwebz this morning

First of all,  we should note that this guy is not a gubernatorial candidate. He's running for Northampton County executive. He's a Trumper through and through. He's a QAnon-quoting, insurrection-joining part of the January 6 crowd (though in one of his later interviews he claimed he didn't go into the building, which is on par with "I didn't inhale"). He's been working his way into politics, and his facebook page says a lot more about the Patriot Party than the GOP

At his campaign website, you can learn that he's a strict constitutionalist and a business owner. The business is Keystone Alternative Medicine and Weight Loss, including testosterone and hormone replacement therapy for anti-aging and sexual health. Before that launched in March 2020, Lynch created Creation Fitness, as well as Steve Lynch Fitness. He's worked mostly in the personal training biz, with occasional forays into financial services. His college work was in Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement Administration; one wonders why he didn't end up in those fields. He's also the chaplain for Allentown Rescue Mission, where it's his work to "prepare and deliver Biblical messages monthly" to the men at the mission. 

Some of his supporters are just what you'd expect ("Kikes and shitlibs are having a meltdown" over his speech). Lynch expects a conservative uprising in PA soon. On his Facebook page (top photo-- "audit everything") you can see him hanging out with Ian Smith (the gym owner who offered free memberships to those who refuse vaccination) and expressing support for Nche Zama, the heart surgeon running for the GOP gubernatorial spot.

So, fringy, but not nearly as fringy as you might have hoped. This is what we've got running for office now-- guys who believe in law and order and punching people that don't do what you want them to. One more reason it's getting harder to get people to run for school board.

PA: The CRT Flap Continues To Metastasize

It's worth remembering that they told us what they intended to do. From back in March...

Just up the road from me, you can see this in action.

Clarion County, despite containing a state university, is a mighty conservative place. Back in March, the County Commissioners, for no particular reason, declared themselves a "Second Amendment County." Now, one of the county's school districts has let itself get played by the "critical race theory" flap.

Parents showed up to complain about the possibility of that race stuff sneaking into schools, supporting the board's newly-minted policy. The policy follows the usual template, borrowing language that is being used in these policies all across the country, such as 

The teaching concepts which impute fault, blame, a tendency to oppress others, or the need to feel guilt or anguish for persons solely because of their skin color, race, sex, or religion are prohibited in the district as such concepts violate the principles of individual rights, equal opportunity, and individual merit underpinning our constitutional republic and therefore have no place in training for administrators, teachers, or other employees of the district.

That same language was adopted by the Mars School District, located just a bit north of Pittsburgh (and in California, and Alabama, and so on...). While the basic policy seems to be getting copied and pasted all across the US, folks feel free to add some details as well. In Mars, there was an addition of patriotic patriotism ("We will teach our children to honor America..."

Because these policies also come with a built-in "This is totally not saying that teachers can't teach controversial stuff, but only, you know, factual stuff and only all sides presented," there's also a list of Stuff That Can't Be Taught. 

Further, this policy shall ensure that Social Justice and unsubstantiated theories of any kind, including but not limited to Holocaust Denial Theory, 9/11 Theory, The 1610 Project, and Critical Race Theory, are not advocated or presented to students as part of any curriculum unless approved in advance by the board.

Holocaust Denial and 9/11 Theory (which is...what? They presumably mean Trutherism) give the list some illusion of balance, but we're balancing a couple of loony conspiracy theories with the work of actual scholars. The list can be augmented with anything that current board members don't like--one board member in Clarion wants to add "gender theory" to the list. 

Even in the rural areas of a state that has, so far, avoided this nonsense on the state level, the usual talking points have penetrated. CRT is really racist. It's indoctrination. This doesn't take any freedom away from teachers. 

Well, of course it does. It creates a chilling atmosphere, where virtually anything could turn out to be somebody's idea of indoctrination and teachers, who are already busy navigating a pandemic in which folks think being asked to wear a damn mask is both indoctrination and oppression, must either brace themselves for the possibility of an attack at any time, or avoid anything at all that might offend someone (good luck, history teachers). 

And as backdrop to all of this, we have an actual anti-mask political candidate declaring, in public, on purpose, that people should take "twenty strong men" into board meetings and give the board the choice of leaving or being thrown out. 

(More about this guy here.) This is dangerous stuff. The real conversation that spreads this looks something like this.

Small Number of Parents: We don't want any Yetis in our school.

School: Great. We don't have 'em. Never have.

SNOP: Well, they have fuzzy hair, and we see that some of your teachers have pictures of fuzzy animals in their room. What about that?

School: Um...

SNOP:  Also, I never liked the way schools play dodgeball with a really big soccer ball.

School: What?

SNOP: Indoctrination! Get 'em!!

This is going to get worse--and scarier-- before it gets better.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

ICYMI: Pre Pre School Edition (8/29)

The board of directors is off to pre-school tomorrow, but mostly they're excited about using their new lunch boxes. Meanwhile, local schools open up to students on Tuesday. So we'll just see what hits the fan around here. In the meantime, a lot of things are happening in a lot of places. Here's some reading.

Covid mask issues in school sparking violence

Anne Lutz Fernandez looks at some troubling trends in the pushback against masking rules in school.

New Mexico's discriminatory charter schools

Jessica Pollard in the Santa Fe New Mexican reports on a study discovering that some charters aren't even being subtle about keeping out students with special needs.

Bill would require school board representation at charters

Well, this proposed Pennsylvania bill will go nowhere, but it's a cool idea. 

Is school voucher system in Los Angeles a done deal?

While we've been worrying about covid, the LAUSD board has been going full voucher. Carl J. Petersen has the story.

Bill Gates funding happy news at NYT

Public ed advocate Leonie Haimson lays out how Gates funds his own news pipeline.

What we know about masks, students, and covid spread.

Matt Barnum at Chalkbeat is one of the journalists I trust to do a good job of covering the facts with fairness and accuracy. Here's his piece looking at what we really know about masking.

Battles on the school board front

NPR/All Things Considered uses a board member in Indiana as a focus for a piece about how school boards are under siege right now.

What if...thoughts on education

Akil Bello, testing expert, offers a post about some dreams for education.

Pennridge schools pause diversity initiatives

In Pennsylvania, a state that doesn't even have a "CRT" gag law yet, a school board demonstrates its lack of guts.

Teaching is a woman

This has been all over the place, but icymi, here's Ari Christine's entry that elevates the genre of "why I quit" teacher essays.

The Real Reason Kids Don't Like School

Arthur C Brooks in The Atlantic, arguing that hard work is not nearly as daunting as loneliness.

A school board will pay $1.3 million over trans student bathroom ban

Via the Associated Press, a Virginia district pays big for its trans student policy.

The War in Afghanistan is what happens when McKinsey types run everything

On his substack, Matt Stoller writes about something other than education, except, of course, McKinsey types also want to run education.

To protect democracy, defend public education

A Jacobin interview with Derek Black, author of Schoolhouse Burning

The effect of HBCU-trained teachers on students

A great episode of Have You Heard looks at the secret sauce of HBCU teacher training

Local control of schools--good or bad?

Nancy Flanagan contemplates a question that has new relevance right now.

Friday, August 27, 2021

NC: Public School Teacher Witch Hunt Report Released

Searching for something to add momentum for their proposed teacher gag law, North Carolina Republicans rallied behind Lt. Governor Mark Robinson last March when he announced the Fairness and Accountability in the Classroom for Teachers and Students (FACTS--get it?) task force, with the stated purposes of 

* assist holding local and county-level education officials accountable for what occurs in their schools

* provide a safe and secure method for right wing teachers to tattle on their co-workers (I'm paraphrasing a bit)

* provide a state-wider pipeline for any parents who also want to report subversive activity in schools

* provide "underrepresented parents and students"--by which they appear to mean put-upon conservatives--a chance to turn in subversives

* assist parents in navigating bureaucracy of school system

There was a form to submit any damn thing that burnt your toast. And at least 580 people did. I know that because the task force released a report earlier this week, and it includes all of the reported items. Let me tell you about it.

The short answer is that it is just as awful as you think. For one thing, the 580 items have the reporter identity and contact information redacted. Names of teachers in the items? Those are still there. We'll get into it ion greater detail in a second.

The Task Force

So who was on this witch hunting panel, this unironic tribute to McCarthyism?

We've got a couple of public school board members. Melissa Oakley (philanthropist, independent child advocate, Onslow County BOE). Melissa Merrell (Union County BOE chair, with history of harassing teachers). Plus a county commissioner- Rick Watkins (also an assistant professor and educational consultant). We've got a couple of teachers. Jennifer Rosa (Wake County, and not much of an online footprint) and Jennifer Adcock (Brunswick County schools, 16 years teacher, also not very on line).

We've got Judy Henlon, president of Classroom Teachers Association of North Carolina, one of those "alternative" professional groups. There's Olivia Oxendine, who's listed as an Associate Professor at UNC Pembroke and a member of the state Board of Education; the FACTS report doesn't mention that she's also with North Carolina's very conservative John Locke Foundation and failed political candidate

Two politicians. Senator Kevin Corbin, who sits on the Education Committee, and whose sponsored bills from this year include one to make sure that students and their parents could enjoy live high school sports and the state's Punish Third Graders For Failing the Reading Test law. Also, Representative David Willis, who has sponsored a bill to use COVID relief funds for vouchers, and who owns a Kiddie Academy franchise.

If you think you've guessed which way the wind is blowing here, meet our last three members.

We've got Terry Stoops, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Center where, among other things, he has argued that North Carolina should not pay teachers for having masters degrees because it doesn't raise test scores. Yes, that makes two reps of the Lockers, who are part of SPN, tied to ALEC and all the usual suspects.

There's Lindalyn Kakadelis, executive director of the North Carolina Coalition for Charter Schools North Carolina Coalition for Charter Schools and also tied to the John Locke Foundation. She believes that competition and the free market will fix education.

And finally, Baker Mitchell. Mitchell has been a leader in charter school profiteering with his conservative "classical education" charters.

So if I were a betting man, I'd suspect that this GOP-laden commission is maybe partly about weeding out evil indoctrinators and maybe part about finding one more way to kneecap public schools in North Carolina. But let's look at the report itself.

The Tattle Items

The report says that they've attached all the submitted reports, and I'm inclined to believe them (Submission #578: "Gehehsidhdbdud"). It's an interesting cross-section of grievance, despite its unfortunate resemblance to the comments on any heavily-trolled online article. Here are just a few highlights.

The one time I got on the phone with the Vice principal she made me feel like she thought she knew better for my son and when I asked her if she personally has look at the CDC website to see they published this so called virus is no more then the common cold she told me the info has not been passed to them. How hard is it to look for yourself? These kids need schools open an no mask. Wearing a mask when not necessary will do more harm to your body then this virus will. 

My grandson has to watch CNN NEWS every morning in his class. (There are multiple complaints about watching CNN.)

There are several teachers at east chapel hill high school who lecture daily a curriculum that pushes a very “progressive” liberal agenda.

At Ligon Middle School, my 6th grader (last year) was asked to complete an assignment where she was supposed to "Create Your Own Religion."

Teacher wearing BLM shirt on her bitmoji the entire year in her virtual classroom. Also talking about her wife at home etc. (And then the teacher is named.)

My 8th grade son is in the AIG program at his school. The AIG teacher chose the book "Stamped" by Jason Reynolds and Ibram Kendi. If you are familiar with the authors, they are strong supporters of CRT and the anti-racism movement. The book is very one sided and is rooted in neo Marxist ideology. I opted my son out of reading it because it is divisive, one sided, and honestly, I think it will have a negative impact on relationships with out fellow Americans and to the foundation of our country.

Teaching children gender identity, lgbt (shoving it in those kids faces that don't believe in it and KNOW that it's sinful), and teaching Black Lives Matter movement (it is like telling all other ethnic groups that they DON'T matter). Blm group is also a terrorist, satanic group...

Some responders pushed back.

NC schools are required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance each day at school. This fits the criteria of "Examples of students being subjected to indoctrination according to a political agenda or ideology, whether through assigned work, teacher comments, or a hostile classroom environment" since it has "God" in it and it also forced patriotism. Not all students are from the Christian faith and should not be forced to learn, recite, or even hear the Pledge of Allegiance. There are also students who are from other countries. They should not be forced into patriotism.

The school calendar only revolves around Christian holidays.

Some pushed back really hard. I'll skip those because the language will upset my mom.

And some just don't sound real. I know, I know-- never underestimate the weird out there, but still...

My son wanted to give a speech about all the good things Germany did early in the 20th century, but his teacher wouldn't let him and just kept talking about Jews, I mean what's a Jew? Sounds like the liberal media.

My nephew came home yesterday from school and informed me that his teacher laughed in his face when he said George Washington was the best president. The teacher laughed and embarrassed him and then  told the class that the only right answer was Obama.

So how did they get a report out of this?

The task force--doesn't that sound cool? like they were wearing sharp uniforms and scaling walls and cool shit--not like, say, a central committee or the loyalty oversight commission or the unAmerican activities committee sitting in a room deciding which people are not pure enough of heart-- anyway, the task force sorted through the tattles and decided which ones "needed to be examined further" and then if the report was "deemed relevant to the efforts of the Task Force" and then contacted the tattler. Then the twelve "education professionals" listed above decided if the reported naughtiness was "appropriate" or perhaps "attempted indoctrination, coercive teaching methods, or inappropriate lesson content"-- and then declare whether or not the North Carolina education system has a problem.

And that resulted in a 254 page report. Hey. Witch hunting is hard work.

There are some data-ish breakdowns, like breakdown by county (Orange and Wake Counties had the biggest share of reports) which show that "reports of indoctrination in every region" of the state. 

The Lt. Governor's office "found" six major themes/problems in the state.
    1. Fear of retaliation
    2. The Sexualization of Kids
    3. Critical Race Theory
    4. White Shaming
    5. Biased News Media and/or Lesson Plans
    6. Shaming of Certain Political Beliefs

You'll note that "People Accusing Us of Witch Hunts and Conservative Indoctrination" as well as "People Yanking Our Chain" did not make the cut.

Each of these is supported by ten or a dozen examples from the indoctrination reports. They dug hard to find all the teachers who reported fear of backlash for reporting their colleagues indoctrination. This point matters because this explains why you might not be hearing more--there's so much more indoctrination going on, but people are afraid to speak up. For "sexualization," by which they mean exposing students to info about LGBTQ stuff, there are five complaints, including one about a teaching tolerance magazine.

CRT is broadly defined so that "social justice lessons" and PD about microaggressions and equity qualify. One complaint says that the child was being taught CRT "buzz words" such as bias, discrimination, equity and racist, and that he had to use these words to pain white folks as bad. White shaming involves anything that makes white students feel bad.

Bias examples bring up the Dr. Seuss flap, and, again, the classrooms where students watch CNN. One argues that teachers shouldn't be openly vocal about personal beliefs because "Students are instructed that their teachers are the authority and speakers of truth." Don't worry, Ma'm-- folks are working on changing that. There are tons of bias examples. Shaming of certain beliefs was just leftovers that didn't fit elsewhere.

Side note. While some tattlers did turn in charter schools, I did not see any of those submissions make it into the final report. Go figure.

There's a glossary of terms (not bad, actually) and a statement about Robinson's plan of action, which is vague. Pressure needs to be put on certain districts, and that includes forcing them to cough up all the details. Then a couple hundred pages of odds and ends the task force dug up. District policies, board agendas, employee codes of conduct, materials cribbed from in-services, a whole lot of stuff from Durham County which is apparently a hotbed of naughtiness. Some selected submissions along with the follow-up information, like worksheets. A special case study of the Governor's School, a five and a half week summer school that was a treasure trove of naughty papers for the task force. 

Then. For crying out loud. A collection of tweets and facebook posts culled from various teachers and other educators, catching them being all biased and indoctrinatey (nobody asks the question-- can you indoctrinate students on social media that they don't use? Should indoctrinators be on snapchat and the gram?) This includes incriminating evidence like NC Public Schools Twitter account tweeting a promo for the joint CNN/Sesame Street town hall on "Coming Together: Standing Up to Racism." Also, they are offended by materials that draw parallels between "CRT" opponents and 1960s white integration protestors as well as KKK members. 

Basically, the task force and its deputies have been creeping on schools and school districts all over the state.

Good Lord In Heaven

This would be a hilarious piece of irony-laden baloney if it weren't such a serious attempt to crush teachers, schools, and any attempt to deal with serious issues. Joe McCarthy and the Chinese Cultural Revolution look like bad satire from a distance, I suppose, but up close, they ruined peoples' lives and damaged the fabric of society. Every member of this task force should be deeply ashamed of themselves, and that goes double for Mark Robinson. This is indefensible witch hunting, cynically unAmerican, and just plain evil. What a shame that North Carolina's teachers, who have suffered so much crap at the hands of their states' leaders, have to add this to the pile.

Everyone else? Keep an eye on your own state government.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Teaching Machines: Read This Book

 Over at today I've posted a responsible grown-up look at the new Audrey Watters book Teaching Machines. But here at the blog, I can just go ahead and go full fanboy on this work, a book I was so looking forward too that I pre-ordered it twice.

Watters opens with Sal Khan selling the same old chestnut-- factory-model school was invented a hundred years ago and it hasn't changed a hair on its head since, until I rolled out my awesome ed tech innovation. And then, in a compact, readable 263 pages, she sets the record straight.

If you follow the education debates, ed tech division, virtually everything in this book will sound familiar, because it turns out that for the last 100 years, ed tech's pitch has stayed pretty much the same. They have promised game-changing innovation, aimed for behavioral engineering, and delivered almost none of what they've promised. It still matters though, as she points out:

Their ongoing influence can be found in the push for both personalized technologies and behavioral engineering. But teaching machines’ most significant legacy may be, quite broadly, in the technocratic culture that they helped engender in education.

Watters gives ample attention to B. F. Skinner and the focus on behavioral engineering. "If behavior was controlled and controllable by the environment, then what better way to make adjustments to individuals--and, as Skinner imagined, to all of society--than by machine."

She's located so many great quotes, some of which are truly astonishing.

"The only thing that matters is the future," one entrepreneur commented. "I don't even know why we study history. It's entertaining I guess--the dinosaurs and the Neanderthals and the Industrial Revolution, and stuff like that. But what already happened doesn't really matter. You don't need to know that history to build on what they made. In technology, all that matters is tomorrow."

But we ignore history at our peril. And the history that Watters lays out shows that we're living in the echoes of earlier days. 

Testing had quickly become a thriving industry, and vendors were "circling the world with psychological supplies."

That's from 1927.

But he insisted that the machine would actually free the teacher "from the mechanical tasks of her profession--the burden of paperwork and routine drill--so that she may be a real teacher, not largely a clerical worker."

That's from 1925.

Or the Ohio State students pointing out that the teaching machine would in no way alleviate the dullness and drudgery of test taking. In the 1920s.

This is the story of how teaching machines began and grew and failed and failed and failed, but still managed to promote a view of education as an engineering project. It's about a long-standing belief in programmed learning, in way to standardize teaching. And it is, ironically, a story about how ed tech has stayed just as stuck for 100 years as the education system that it accuses of being unchanged. 

This is a great book, as easily readable as Watters; hugely popular blog Hack Education. Watters is smart, funny, and hugely knowledgeable in a way that makes it possible for her to connect many dots and see both the forest and the trees. Her blog was one of the first I read regularly when I first fell down the edubloggosphere rabbit hole, and one of the biggest treats of my ed commentary career was a few years back when I appeared on a panel with her at a Network for Public Education conference. She's the real deal, a scholar anchored in the real world, as well as a sharp, insightful writer. There have been so many great education books to come out in the past two years; this belongs on your shelf beside them. 

Monday, August 23, 2021

Jeb Bush Gets It Wrong

 Earlier this month, Jeb Bush released an op-ed to argue against "cuts" (more on that in a moment) to federal spending on charter schools. It's loaded with specious arguments. Let's tick off the items

First, Bush argues that our current education is designed as

a one-size-fits-all factory model of education, created in the 1890s to build a workforce for a factory-model economy.

The "factory model" rhetoric has been debunked many times, but Bush's variation is particularly silly. At the dawn on the 20th century, the enrollment rate for 5 through 19 year olds was around 30% for Blacks and 60% for Whites. Nobody was in school to "build a workforce," because the workforce was composed primarily of people who had not finished school; child labor was everywhere, and it took several decades in the 20th century to pass federal child labor laws. In short, factories were not depending on or even much looking for high school graduates.

public charter school

Bush still wants to push the industry's continued insistence that charter schools are public schools. They aren't. They aren't even interested in saying so when it doesn't suit their purposes. And the courts often agree. A public school operates transparently and is run by elected taxpayers. It has to account for every dollar it spends. And the public owns the building and the materials in it. Also, it doesn't operate as a shell for a massive for-profit business. A school that does meet all those requirements is not a truly public school. A school that doesn't meet any of those requirements is absolutely not a public school.

Unfortunately, there are special interests — and those wedded to the past — who cling to an outdated system. Rather than creating a modern education system that adapts to students and gives them the freedom and flexibility to find their right school and learning environment, they wrongly force each to conform to a standardized and obsolete approach.

The irony of this complaint, coming from Mr. Let's Make Everyone Use The One Size Fits All Common Core, is thick. Back when Bush was pushing that failed monstrosity, millions of teachers complained that the Core would restrict them and keep them from doing their job--which capable teachers understand is to meet each student where she is and get her what she needs to grow and learn. I would point out that schools are different from when Jeb was attending in the late sixties/early seventies, but of course he went to Ivy Preptastic Philips Andover.

But in the Jeb world, teachers are a naughty special interest that, for some reason. Maybe teachers are for some reason opposed to finding newer and better ways to do the work they've devoted their lives to/ Or maybe Bush is just full of it on this point.

But he needs a villain somewhere, because naughty forces are Up To Something.

This outdated mentality has led the U.S. House to pass a federal budget that cuts education funding to millions of public school students who choose to attend public charter schools.

This is wrong on several important points.

First, the "cuts." He's talking about the Charter Schools Fund, a federal stack of money set up to fund the launch and expansion of charter schools. First established in 1994, the CSF has doled out roughly $4 billion dollars, and according to the Network for Public Education, at least $1 billion of that has gone to waste and fraud, including charters that didn't even open. The CSF was supposed to get a $40 million bump this year; instead the House decided to leave the CSF standing at $40. So talking about cuts is the same old dodge used by many advocates of one cause or another-- nothing was actually cut, but they didn't get the raise they were looking.

Next, note that Bush is claiming that this will take funding from millions of students, as if they're going to be tossed out of their current charter because the feds cut off the money tap. But CSF monies are used to launch or expand charters, not sustain them. 

However, there is a problem for charters in the part of the budget that Bush quotes. It's this:

SEC. 314. None of the funds made available by this Act or any other Act may be awarded to a charter school that contracts with a for-profit entity to operate, oversee or manage the activities of the school.

Charters have long slid by on the distinction-without-a-difference between for profit charters and nonprofit charters owned and/or operated by for profit businesses. This would slam that door shut on some profiteers.

This all makes Bush sad, because, you know, it's all For The Children (though at no point does he suggest that the charter operators simply forego their profits so that they can keep taking care of the kids, because For The Children has limits). This is the most disingenuous part of the charter argument--why, exactly, does a system of robust charters have to rest on companies making a load of profit at public expense. The answer, of course, is that it doesn't (and there are plenty of charters that stand as proof of this). 

In short, anyone arguing that the "no for-profit" clause is bad for children is slinging baloney, because the real explanation they need toi provide is one that shows why charter schools can only exist if someone is profiting from them. 

Bush tries to float some tired, vague and unsubstantiated claims that according to one test (NAEP) some charters sometimes get better results (i.e. test scores) for some students. "Education choice helps all students succeed," Bush says, except that after a couple of decades of choiciness, there's still no compelling body of evidence to suggest that it's true. 

Also, now that there's pandemic stuff going on, choice is even more popular. Especially in Bush's old state of Florida, where the governor's declaration says that public schools may not mandate masks--but charters and private can do as they wish. It is the most blatant version of the policy that Bush spearheaded back in his gubernatorial days--just keep undercutting the public schools and make the charters and privates look better and better by comparison.

He's sure that all this is politics, which makes sense, because federal support for charters was born of politics, and Bush has used politicking to further the charter industry and to push Common Core, and also hoped that his education politics would give him a signature issue to help propel him further in politics. And of course, where there's politics, there are evil unions:

Teachers’ unions and their allies in Congress see students who choose public charter schools as a threat to the education model that they control. And unions fear that choice will lead to fewer students attending schools that fund their private coffers.

The subtext is that same old narrative. Teachers unions control the school system (although, when they were on his side for pushing the Core, that didn't do any good), and the school system itself is just a giant scheme to collect money for the union. Is every teacher in on it (even the ones who vote GOP), or are they all just dupes? And is Bush aware that charter schools can be unionized as well, and that the unions actually tread lightly around charters because they have charter teaching members?

Bush throws in a few more whoppers. Cutting charter funding will hurt students, "especially special- needs students" except that charters are notorious for squeezing out IEP students or just exercising the clause that says a charter school is an exercise of parental choice and therefor voids any rights to an IEP. 

But "students over systems," declares Bush as he demands that Congress put back money that funds a charter system and not students. Plenty of charter fans will keep beating these same drums, but in the end, this House budget proposal slows growth on a fund that is rife with fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars, and closes the door for profiteers to hoover up taxpayer dollars for their own private profit.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

ICYMI: Stone Skipping Edition (8/22)

 This is the weekend on which, every year, I judge a stone skipping competition in my small town. It's a fun time.

Ethics Complaint Filed in North Carolina  

Lately it's been one damn thing after another in NC. Now it turns out one of the heads of the legislature's education committee forgot to mention that his wife is connected to a chartter school.

Has school ventilation improved as schools open?

Nancy Bailey looks at one of the most basic protections against Covid spread in schools. 

What would it rake to do what's right for kids

Nancy Flanagan speaks to the importance of leadership during these chaotic times.

South Florida bus drivers quit.

Along with everything else, bus drivers are an issue. In Pittsburgh, school's opening was pushed back because of a bus driver shortage. And in Florida, they're quitting.

Critical Race Theory and the New Massive Resistance

Mark Keierleber at the 74 has a great piece connecting the current CRT flap to Virginia's fight against desegregation.

Classrooms taken over by rats

From the 'so you think you've got troubles" file. In California, a school has a big rat problem.

LAUSD teachers share why they quit

You already know this story, but here it is in black and white.

Louisiana BESE abruptly adjourns due to unruly public response to masking

The indispensable Mercedes Schneider has the story of a state board shut down by more of the anti-maskers.


Friday, August 20, 2021

PA: Charter Operators Find Another Way To Take Over A District

 Chester Upland School District is located in the southeastern corner of Pennsylvania. It has been through the wringer. More specifically, it has been through just about every wringer a school district can go through, from segregation through financial crises through an attack by charter interests. The full background can be found here, with following chapters here, here, and here.

Short version. The district's financial woes put it in receivership with the state. The local charter operator (a huge money-maker for a businessman named Vahan Gureghian) pushed the courts to open the district up to charter school takeover. 

For a brief moment this summer, it looked like the district had won a reprieve. The newest court-appointed receiver (and previous CUSD superintendent) Juan Baughn considered three proposals to take over CUSD elementary schools (throughout all of this, no charters have expressed interest in taking over the high school, which creates its own set of issues) and then rejected all of them, citing, in part, the strong voices of public opposition to the takeover.

And then Baughn resigned.

Chester Community Charter School (Gureghian's business) sent a letter to the court announcing that it intended to appeal the decision. Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Department of Education petitioned the court (Judge Barry Dozor) to appoint Dr. Michael Pladus to the post. Pladus has thirty years of experience as an educator as well as working as Chief Recovery Officer of CUSD. He had the support of the state and the district. However, as laid out in a press release from the Education Law Center, the night before the hearing in which Pladus was to be considered, the Friends of CCCS filed a motion proposing an alternative-- Nafis Nichols. Nichols had put his hat in the ring via private letter the week before.

Nafis Nichols is currently the Chief Financial Officer of the City of Chester. He's done some drug free counseling and community outreach work. He attended college but never graduated. The court heard testimony in his support from Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland and Senator John I. Kane, which is not super-unusual. But Judge Dozor also listened to the Friends of Chester Community Charter, Chester Charter School for the Arts, and Chester Community Charter Schools. That's nuts--to give the charter schools a major say in the selection of the person who will fashion the fate of the public, and make a decision the next time a charter takeover proposal appears, is a mind-boggling conflict of interest, like letting McDonalds have a major say to a zoning board hearing about whether a Burger King can open up.

The court order (dated August 13) notes that Nichols is a graduate of Chester High, that he meets the statutory requirements, that his "public and private sector experiences identifies [sic] strengths in management, book keeping, human resources, public relations, grant applications, contract negotiations, collective bargaining agreements..." Even the court is unable to pretend that Nichols knows anything at all about education and schools. But, of course, as you've already realized, the court passed over the state-approved education veteran in favor of the charter-supported receiver for the public school system.

The court also notes that the community is "very much engaged" and that community support is "crucial." Well, that's a problem.

CUSD is a district where trust has been trampled. Teachers have been asked to work without pay. Money just kind of disappears. City leaders honor the charter leaders, and school board members show up to celebrate charter school openings. Vahan Gureghian was the top contributor to Thaddeus Kirkland's election campaign (Kirkland, who used to be a state representative, has worked with Gureghian before). Judge Dozor reportedly said during the August 5 hearing that charter's are an integral part of the district "and it's going to remain that way." If CUSD has a champion anywhere in the local power structure, it's hard to see where.

The story of the charter attempted takeover has been a story of hidden back-room deals and a distinct lack of transparency, eventually revealing that the agendas being served are not the agenda of Chester's student or the Chester Upland public school system. The reprieve is over and it appears that charter operators have figured out more than one way to grab the profitable pieces of a dismantled, beleagured school district. 

NH: Prenda Just Hit The Jackpot. Who Are They?

 New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu just gave Prenda a whopping $6 million cut of the granite state's pandemic school relief. It's a relatively small slice (the full pile of money is $156 million), but it's notably a larger per-pupil amount than the state gives in normal "adequate aid." So who is Prenda, and what is the money for, exactly?

Prenda is a company riding the new microschools wave. Microschools are the next evolutionary strep in homeschooling. Says the Micro Schools Network website, "Imagine the old one-room schoolhouse. Now bring it into the modern era." Or imagine you're homeschooling, and a couple of neighbors ask if you'd take on their children as well. Or to look at it another way, imagine back to the beginning of a public system, only this time, your system would only include the students and families you wanted to include.

Microschools like to emphasize their modern awesomeness. From the Micro Schools Network site: While no two micro schools are identical, most share several common traits: a small student population, an innovative curriculum, place-based and experiential learning, the use of cutting-edge technology, and an emphasis on mastering or understanding material. The education that micro schools provide is highly personalized."

The microschools movement seems marked by a lot of educational amateur columbussing--the breathless announcement of "discoveries" plenty of people already knew. Again, from the network's website:

Teachers typically guide students’ curiosity rather than lecture at them. Instead of utilizing a fixed curriculum, they integrate subjects that students are passionate about into daily lesson plans and account for each student’s unique strengths, learning style, and existing knowledge.

Because nobody who works professionally in education ever thought of any of those things. Or you can check out a video from Prenda founder/CEO Kelly Smith in which he may tell you ecitedly about how cool it was running his own microschool and seeing students become lively and excited about something they had learned. The microschool movement seems to be very much excited about its discovery of the wheel.

Microschools have plenty of fans. Tom Vander Ark, a techo-reform cheerleader who's been making a living at it for quite a while--he thinks microschools are a Next Big Thing. Betsy DeVos has been sending microschools some love. And Prenda itself got a healthy shot of investment money from a newish Koch-Walton initiative called VELA Education Fund. Headed up by Meredith Olson (a VP at Koch's Stand Together) and Beth Seling (with background in the charter school biz), the board of VELA is rounded out by reps from Stand Together and the Walton Foundation. VELA "invests in family-focused education innovations."

Prenda provides "inspiring adults the tools and structure needed to support the young learners in their lives." A Prenda pod does not include a teacher, but instead uses a "guide." And Prenda reassures you that "caring about people and being passionate about learning are more important than transcripts, certificates and pedagogy." You don't need any of that fancy professional educator stuff. Just a guide with her heart in the right place.

This comes through in all of Kelly Smith's appearances--he comes across as a warm fuzzy kind of guy. What he's not is an education guy. BYU degree in Physics, then MIT for Plasmas and Fusion. He's worked for energy companies doing grid platform management and building analytics. In 2013 he founded Code Clubs of Arizona. He started Prenda in 2016, then in 2018 launched a the first pod "with seven neighborhood kids." He discovered that teaching children is cool. Boom. New business.

I could pull miles of miles of quotes from the Prenda website that are indistinguishable from any actual school (students should see themselves as learners, build confidence and skills, nurture love of learning and creativity, etc). Every human is a natural born learner. They do blended learning (aka, time in front of screens). They do collaborative learning! Personalization! Also, did you know it's hard to teach people who don't want to learn?

Prenda enrolls students in "partner schools," but Prenda and the guide in the pod do the actual educating; it's setup a little reminiscent of the homeschooling charter schools of California, which turned out to be a huge scam. Prior to landing the huge New Hampshire gig, Prenda's reach was not all that amazing. Some charter and online schools--one per state in Louisiana, Utah, Colorado and Kansas. Three "partners" in Arizona, their home base. In Arizona, they attracted the attention of the attorney general with a very lucrative deal with EdKey, operators of the Sequoia online school--Sequoia enrolled the students, Prenda "taught" them (with the aid of guides), and then the two companies split the $8,000 per pupil revenue. 

Prenda has said it wants to be the Uber of education, but that really only makes sense if Uber were a service where the state paid the company and then you drove (or "guided") yourself to your destination. Prenda does exist in a grey area that allows it to escape virtually all oversight. In Arizona, they don't need a charter, don't have to get their curriculum approved, and are not subject to any kind of oversight or audits.

There's no explanation out there of why Sununu decided to spend $6 million on Prenda of all things. Their administration claimed that the microschools "are particularly helpful to students who have experienced learning loss and will thrive with more individualized attention," but when the individual attention comes from a guide with no educational training (but lots of caring) and a computer program, it's unclear how helpful it will be. Last fall they had 400 pods of roughly ten each in action; there's virtually no information about how well these things actually work.

And yet, New Hampshire is handing over a sweet $6 mill in federal dollars. Said Rep Mel Myler (D), member of the House Committee on Education:

Chris Sununu's decision to use federal funds to advance his anti-public school agenda and help a shady for-profit organization, rather than providing public schools the resources they need to prepare for the next phase of the pandemic, could have serious consequences for our teachers and students.

Good luck to the children of New Hampshire.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

NH: New Voucher Boondoggle Under Examination

 New Hampshire has weathered a variety of voucher proposals over the years, always turning them back, and the latest seemed like no exception. Having turned the legislature Republican, the voucher fans were hankering to finally get their way, but when over 3000 people showed up at hearings to explain how much they didn't like the idea, the GOP graciously yielded to the will of the electorate. Ha ha--just kidding. They tucked the voucher bill into the budget

It's a smart maneuver if you're more concerned with getting your way than with listening to the voters, but the voucher program is not out of the pine-filled woods yet.

Tomorrow (Thursday, August 19), the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (JLCAR) is set to vote on interim rules for the "Education Freedom Accounts" (another version of the education savings account, beloved by hard-right folks because it both finances private school vouchers and gets rich people out of paying taxes).

JLCAR is not tasked with determining whether the voucher law is a good law or a bad one (spoiler alert: it is one of the worst). But their legal team does look for places where it might conflict with existing laws, and they have spotted some issues:

Minimal oversight and "impermissible delegation of authority." ESA's are notable for their lack of oversight; the family gets a voucher (often in the form of a loaded debit card) and they can spend it on whatever educationy thing they like. There's a middle-person, a "scholarship organization" that distributes the money. In New Hampshire's version, nobody screens the the scholarship organization or vendors on the EFA eligible list (just ask, and you're on), and a long list of ways that the state is not allowed to dictate or limit the vendors (including, of course, religion). Nor are there any limits on which families can apply for a voucher, which really broadens the way that the vouchers will be spent (if you're already sending your kid to Philips Exeter, you don't need help with education basics, but a voucher might be nice for a computer upgrade or "educational" vacation).

No requirements for criminal background checks. Along with the many ways that vendors are not subject to oversight is this one--none of the vendors or service providers are required to do a criminal background check, even if the service is, say, private tutoring.

No protections for student private data. There's no requirement for vendors or scholarship organizations to follow any existing privacy laws when it comes to student personal, health or education records. There's no sign anywhere that scholarship or service providers have to follow federal basics like FERPA or HIPPA, and there are no protections at all for data privacy.

Remember-- JLCAR won't decide whether these features make the rules "bad," but whether or not they are within the agency's authority, whether or not they conflict with other existing laws, whether or not the financial impact statement has fully outlined the costs, and whether or not the rules are clear and universally applied.

If JLCAR says these rules won't fly, the legislature backs up and does some rewriting (which has apparently already been going on). The best hope here is that New Hampshire ends up with a terrible voucher program that is marginally less terrible. The only other hope here is that continued noise about this underhanded giveaway to privatizers awakens more state residents who remember it all up through the next election. These folks have made a swift, sneaky, sloppy attempt to shovel education money away from public schools and toward private operators; here's hoping that someone other than students gets to pay a price.

Monday, August 16, 2021

PA: A Different Tax Credit Approach

 One of the great voucher-promotion dodges is the Tax Credit Scholarship. In this, I give a bunch of money to a "scholarship organization," and they use the money to foot some student bills at the private school of their choice (in some states, "their" means both the parents and the donor). It's a great way to dodge any of those annoying (yet rapidly vanishing) separation of church and state rules.

But what if the tax credit money was used differently. What if it was used to help improve a public school?

In Pennsylvania, Representative Stephen Kinsey (D) from the Philly area, has proposed HB 1778, a bill that would create Educational Improvement Initiative Tax Credits. The basic idea is this:

The program shall provide tax credits to entities that provide contributions to educational improvement organizations. Contributions to the educational improvement organization shall be used to provide grants to school districts with low-achieving schools to improve students' academic performance.

The business can contribute up to $750,000 per year and get 90% of that credited against their taxes. They would contribute to operators on the state-approved list, and those would provide one of several state-approved types of school-fixing techniques:

* Targeted tutoring during the normal day intended to increase the student's test scores on the Big Standardized Test.

* Targeted interventions, including after school and/or summer school programs that could include tutoring, mentoring, and family servicing.

* Community partnerships and wraparound programs for students and families. Could include behavioral support or trauma-informed education.

* Other stuff that the local district might propose and the state board approve.

There's plenty not to love here. "Low-achieving school" is defined strictly by test scores, and one of the listed interventions is just test prep--and test prep during the day, so it will pull the student out of some other class. Noir is it clear what kind of organizations will step up to fill these duties, or why those services couldn't be provided in house by the district.

That said, the bill does get two things right. First, if you're going to let companies get out of paying taxes to the state, why not have them make their contributions to help the state's public services instead of, as with tax credit scholarships, taking the money out of the public coffers and using it to benefit private businesses. Second, using data and "low-achieving" designations to target a school for assistance and not targeting it for destruction, privatization, and charter/private school attack. 

So, the bill is not great, but it at least moves in a better direction than much of what we've seen this year. It was referred to the Education Committee last week, so we'll wait and see what, if anything, becomes of it.


 Today's the 8th birthday for this blog. Post #4114. It took a while to figure things out (please do NOT go back and read the posts from my first few weeks), but it has served as a handy way to scratch my writing itch. 

The best kinds of responses from readers have fallen into several categories.

"Thanks for putting this into words, because I knew this but couldn't really find a great way to say it."

"Thanks for writing this. I was afraid I was the only person who had noticed this."

"I had no idea this was going on other places, too."

"Can I share this?"

Also, the occasional "Would you like to write something for us for money" is okay, too.

Some things have certainly changed in the world of education policy since 2013. Various genius ideas for Fixing Everything have come and gone. Some privatizers have pretty much shed their camouflage. Some folks have switched sides depending on prevailing winds and the true source of their stance. 

My sense is that the blogosphere is not quite as lively as it once was, for both readers and writers. That's okay. Media--especially social media--shift and change regularly. Substack is the hot new blogging, even as it rests on the positively antique medium of e-mail. I'm not trying to make money here--just trying to say what I have to say, both here and at and The Progressive.

I believe in public education in this country as the best of all possible systems, even as it struggles eternally with its various weaknesses and issues. Public education exists at the intersection of every major issue in our society as a whole; consequently it is destined to be noisy, messy, and always trying to negotiate hard pulls from many directions. That comes layered on top of the universal belief that "since I went to school, I know all about what should be done to it." 

So there will always be a large mob of disparate voices holding forth on Education and How To Do It. I don't believe that all of those voices deserve equal consideration (teachers generally know more about education than economists and hedge fund managers), and some voices certainly deserve to be called out for peddling nonsense, but a loud number of voices will always be the norm. That's okay.

I owe thanks to a too-long-to-include list of people who have helped me, inspired me, amplified me, and introduced me to others. It has reinforced my belief that one of our most basic purposes in life is to lift each other up, and I am grateful to everyone who has, in large ways and small, lifted me. 

I'm grateful to have the chance and the resources to do this, grateful for an outlet for my writing itch, grateful for the audience and the platform. Thank you for reading. Now I'll get back to it.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Club For Growth Launches School Choice Push. What That Tells Us.

Betsy DeVos is back, and we can learn a lot from the company she's keeping. 

Over the past many years, we've seen lots of groups direct their attention to school choice aka privatization. There have been groups like Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) that have built an argument around a social need--that choice was needed to get a better education for non-wealthy non-white students. There have been groups like those the American Enterprise Institute that have made their case based on the notion that people should have freedom of choice.

But Club for Growth is a different animal. And while it has not been a major player in the education debates, it's launching a big push at the end of this month, and it's worth looking at that push, because it tells us a lot about what the push for school choice is really about for many fans.

The Club is launching the National Campaign for Parental School Choice on August 31 in Concord, New Hampshire

It's an instructive choice. New Hampshire has become a bit of a libertarian stronghold, and was one of the places where the transformation of the GOP into Something Else first bloomed. It's a personal story for me, because what the new version of the party replaced was literally my grandmother's Republican Party. My grandmother was a well-respected GOP member of the state legislature for many many years, but when John Sununu became governor in 1983, she was not impressed. But while the Democratic Party has not gone away, the Granite State GOP has become increasingly, belligerently right wing.

She's back!

At any rate, the Club wants to start there to deliver their message that American folks all really want that school choice, particularly in voucher form, and they want to offer New Hampshire's new voucher program as Exhibit A, which is an interesting choice, because vouchers have been failing regularly for years. This newest proposal was floated this year and over 3000 people came to Concord to tell the legislature that they didn't want it. So, lacking public support for the bill, the GOP just went ahead and tucked it into the budget. This is consistent with the history of school vouchers, a policy that never gets put in place by the voters because the voters always vote it down. So when Club president David McIntosh claims that most Americans actually want school choice, actual history would suggest that he's full of it.

Helping the Club launch this national privatization tour will be former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. DeVos will be chirping the familiar refrains about how the "union-driven school lockdowns" have revealed the awesomeness of choice." Pompeo's message is expected to be more along the lines of "School choice blah blah do I look Presidential to you?"

It looks to be much of the same old song and dance, but here's why the Club for Growth participation is a tell for what's really going on here.

Club for Growth is a very conservative organization founded in 1999. Their history has been about opposing not-right-enough Republicans, opposing the Affordable Care Act, opposing raising any taxes ever (and so also opposing raising the debt ceiling), opposing any climate changey responses. In 2016, they considered Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul the "gold standard" candidates. School choice, education quality, social justice--these have not been regularly on their radar. 

When they list their own policy goals, it includes reducing taxes (including getting a flat tax), eliminating Obamacare, reducing size and scope of federal government, cutting government spending-- do you see a pattern emerging here?

Club for Growth has learned to pick up some of the language-- public schools are failing, families want "exceptional education," and parents should be able to "access the best available schools" (yes, "available" is doing an awful lot of work in that one). They are not going to even pretend that this is about social justice of improving economic futures, and they are barely pretending that choice is about educational quality.

Club for Growth doesn't want to pay taxes to provide services for other people. Not health care. Not social safety nets. And now that public education is on the ropes after going a few rounds with the pandemic and the critical race theory panic crowd, the Club smells a chance to do away with paying taxes for public education as well.

Now's a good time to remember that vouchers are a trade. Parents get a check, and government washes its hands of any responsibility for education young citizens. "I handed you some money," says the government. "Now you and your kids are on your own."

Club for Growth is a one-issue organization, a group devoted to shrinking government, cutting government services, and reducing taxes that folks pay. Their interest in school choice tells us plenty about what they and DeVos and Pompeo and whatever conservative actors sing on to this tour really want, and the smart money says that what they want is a country where rich folks don't have to pay taxes to fund a system that educates Those Peoples' Children.

ICYMI: Not Out Of The Woods Yet Edition (8/15)

 Take a deep breath and push on. In the meantime, here's some reading from the week.

Deep Divisions in Americans’ Views of Nation’s Racial History

Yeah, you'd already figured this out on your own, but the Pew Research people have some survey results to show just how different we are on how to view, deal with, and teach about our racial history. 

‘How Can I Follow a Law I Believe Endangers My Students?’

In states where the governor (one of those anti-big government overreach and local control guys) have imposed anti-anti-mask mandates, some school leaders are standing up anyway. In Ed Week, a defiant superintendent in Texas explains why.

From the Washington Post, info about a survey showing that mask mandates are preferred by the silent majority.

However, the really loud minority continues to be really loud.

And more than just loud...

Is the crt panic another Koch-funded enterprise? Jasmine Banks at The Nation.

Regular readers have heard about Ohio's school takeover law and the havoc it has wrought on Lorain, among others. Now there's a light at the end of that tunnel. Jan Resseger has done the reading.

Nancy Bailey peels back the layers of chaos and distrust in the pandemic crisis.

At the Progressive, Jeff Bryant argues that modern ed reform is dead, and some other bad things are moving to takes its place.

It has been a big year for pushing vouchers. Also in The Progressive's back-to-school issue, Jessica Levin runs through the various incursions of voucher policy in 2021.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Did We Get Anything Out Of NCLB Accountability?

We're in the midst of the 20th anniversary of No Child Left Behind, a legislative offspring of bipartisan consensus that has itself been left behind by virtually everybody. The bill was proposed in March of 2001, spent the rest of the year wending its way through the process, to be signed into law at the very beginning of 2002. So pretty much any time this year is fair game for a 20 year retrospective on this truly crappy law. 

Cue Deven Carlson offering a quick six-page take on the law for the right-tilted, free-market-loving American Enterprise Institute- "Holding Accountability Accountable: Taking Stock of the Past 20 Years."

Carlson leads with some good nostalgia about how wrong NCLB proponents were about the influence the law would have. He doesn't talk about the usual swing of the accountability pendulum, and he probably doesn't give A Nation At Risk enough credit for helping lay the groundwork for the unholy marriage of accountability and "reform" of public ed. But he offers a decent analysis of a handful of "successes" and "failures" for NCLB, and it's worth a look just to see what reform types believe about the NCLB fiasco.

First, the "successes."

Shifting focus from inputs to outputs. In principle, I agree that it's bad practice to simply throw money and schools without looking at what's happening. But too many reformsters moved from "let's not just measure money spent" to "the amount of money spent doesn't matter." And the Cult of Outputs immediately ran into a huge problem--we don't have any good way to measure most of the really important outputs of education. In fact, the whole input-output model (Input a piece of sheet metal and the assembly line will output a toaster) doesn't really fit the process of becoming a more educated human being. 

Like many reformsters, Carlson argues that the standards movement pushed outputs, but I disagree. Standards (what stuff will we be teaching) are about inputs. But you get into real trouble if, as NCLB did, you decide to tie the standards to bad tests, declaring in effect that you will only have standards set to things your bad standardized test can measure. NCLB "pushed student outcomes to the forefront of policy debates," except that in this case, "student outcomes" just means scores on a single narrow math and reading multiple choice test. This also led to the upside down school, where students were not there to have their needs met, but to generate the scores the school wanted and the government demanded.

Carlson writes:

And although the focus on student outcomes hasn't been without drawbacks, on balance it has been a positive development.

The first part of that sentence is a huge understatement; the second part is just wrong.

Shining a light on different student subgroups. Carlson argues that before NCLB, we didn't have information about disparities of race, ethnicity, disability, economic status, etc. I'm not convinced that's true; I don't know of anybody who looked at disparate results of the Big Standardized Test disaggregated results and said, "Woah, I had no idea." Of course, some of that awareness can be traced to awareness of disparate inputs (like, the differences between $$ spent on wealthy schools vs. poor schools) and inputs were now verboten. The more particular argument about the new NCLB-fueled "awareness" is that while we may have known about disparities in US education, we needed some kind of shiny data that could be used to convince policymakers; Carlson seems to be hinting at that here.

However. Here's the language that Carlson uses to describe what NCLB did. It "illuminated the outcomes of different groups. It allowed "for a better grasp." It "led to a clear-eyed understanding" and "such illuminations hit particularly hard." Carlson's description hits hard on the idea of being able to better see the disparities in US education, but he has absolutely nothing to say about what actions grew out of all this illumination. Under NCLB, it wasn't allowed to talk about the possible contributing factors for the disparity, and policymaker's new clear-eyed understanding consistently failed to lead to any actual action. 

What good does it do to shine a light on an issue if policymakers then say, "Yup, there it is. Somebody ought to do something about that. Probably those teachers." That was one of the central problems of NCLB. Problems were illuminated and policymakers did nothing. The great wave of accountability was for teachers--and not for anybody else.

Developing data systems. Carlson thinks that now that we have all these data (because numbers are magic) we have all sorts of insight. But the data is by and large results from the lousy Big Standardized Tests. Garbage in, garbage out. And ed reform's increase of the grasp of Big Data is nothing to brag about. 

So where does Carlson think they went wrong?

Setting unrealistic goals and expectations. Well, yes. Politicians set an impossible goal of 100% student proficiency by 2014, with the ever-increasing goals set to become unattainable shortly after many politicians left office. But hey--it was all okay, because the education law was due to be rewritten and reauthorized before then, allowing politicians to stop the train before it hit the wall. Instead, Congress dithered and the Obama/Duncan administration got to use the looming deadline disaster as leverage to get states to sign on for the new set of reforms. Oopsies.

Carlson correctly notes that baking the unattainable goals into the law guaranteed that it would ruin public support. It certainly guaranteed from the very first moment that teachers would know it was not a serious attempt to improve education, but simply political grandstanding. Ten years later, those unachievable goals became demoralizing as well; by the early 2010s, there were only two types of schools in this country--those that were failing and those that were lying. Carlson correctly notes that parents saw a disconnect between how they viewed their school and how the government viewed it, and decided mostly that it was the government that was wrong. 

What Carlson doesn't address is the why. Why would policymakers choose such an option that was so clearly a dumb? There was more at play than, as I said above, the belief that they could stop the machinery before it started to chew schools up.

For one, the 100% NCLB goal gave proponents a nuclear option in debate. In those days, if you tried to bring up some of the challenges or obstacles to 100% proficiency, NCLB supporters simply asked, "And which children do you want to leave behind?" The program came with a rhetorical tool for painting all opponents as child-haters.

For others, the inevitable failure rate of public schools was a feature, not a bug. Nothing provides more support for the modern school choice privatization movement than a tool for painting public schools as failing, and NCLB guaranteed that all public schools would, eventually, be labeled as failures. For charter and voucher fans, it was a marketing dream. For opponents of teachers unions, it was a golden opportunity to gather ammunition. Teachers said, "It's not fair to judge us by a system that is a bad measure and is designed for ultimate failure." Opponents shot back (and still do) that teachers and their unions were just afraid of accountability because they didn't want to have their sloth and incompetence revealed.

Narrowly focusing on reading and math test results. Carlson gets this exactly right. The test-centric system signaled what NCLB truly valued, and schools twisted themselves into ugly nots trying to give NCLB what it asked for--scores on a bad multiple choice math and reading test. Curricula were narrowed, students lost breadth in their education, and test prep reigned supreme. The emphasis on high stakes testing is the signature policy of the last twenty years. It has provided little real accountability, and has twisted education out of shape in the process. But hey-- it generates lots of numbers and spreadsheets and data.

Federal control without flexibility. NCLB was in large part about federal politicians and bureaucrats looking at the 1990s and saying, "Well, you wouldn't let us nudge you into doing what we wanted, so now we're just taking control." And it contained a bunch of (usually) unstated assumptions about why, which Carlson unpacks very neatly:

The NCLB accountability system's inflexibility highlights its motivating assumption; Educators weren't trying hard enough, and threatening to punish their schools would make them work harder. It's a mistake to make policy based on assumptions that question educators' motives and efforts.

NCLB assumed that teachers were the problem, and built its system based on that insulting and ill-informed notion. Race to the Top and RttT Lite (waivers) doubled down on that notion. Twenty years later, it's getting harder to find people who want to fill teaching jobs. 

Carlson's grasp of what went wrong is pretty good, but he doesn't really admit that those failure far overshadow any possible gains from the policy. He's worried that this will taint the notion of accountability; I feel certain that the accountability pendulum will continue to swing back and forth as it always has. 

He hopes that accountability fans will learn from this. I feel confident that, mostly, they won't, in part because a universal system for universal accountability is an impossible target. Any accountability system has to be able to explain-- accountability to whom, for what, measured in what way, in order to accomplish what. Not having a good answer for all of those questions guarantees a flawed system that eventually collapses on its own fractured base.

Teachers and schools should be accountable. So should policymakers, politicians, and educrats. And anybody who claims they have an easy way to do it is selling something.