Friday, December 31, 2021

Look Back. Look Forward. Breathe.

 I'm not always moved to do a "look at the year" post or a "predictions for the upcoming year" post. A lot of these compilations are meant to be a way to lessen workload at a busy time, but as anyone who has done the work can tell you, it doesn't actually lessen anything.

Plus, the new year is one of those things that we humans made up and then tried to imbue with great weight and importance, as if the next 24 hours are somehow more significant than any other.

They aren't. We draw a line in the sand and then expect the waves to honor it when they come rolling in.

That's more evident than ever this year. Covid will not be marking the new year, just as it failed to mark the last new year. And why should the passing of Betty White on this last day of the year be extra bitter, except that we make it so by drawing the calendar lines where we currently choose to. Almost a century, and all of it well spent.

But I do honor the impulse to stop and look back, look forward, and take a breath at various points in the year. Birthdays. Anniversaries. Why not the New Year, since we've all agreed to more or less do so at the same time?

It has been a rough time for public education. Lots of vultures have decided that the pandemic is their signal to swoop, hoping they can finally hurry along a hoped-for demise and grab a treasured piece of the carcass. Weak, cowardly, and just plain bad administrations have been caught in a troubled time, an occasion that they are unwilling or unable to rise to. Public schools reflect the society of their time, and right now our nation is managing to have the worst response to a public crisis that we've ever had in our history. 

And yet, I feel hopeful about public education. First, much of the general panic is the result of our new media, which creates such a droning buzz that folks now have to scream bloody murder and apocalyptic terror to break through and claim their market share and/or political clout. Turn off the media noise (even if, like me, you're a tiny part of it) and pay attention to the world around you, the people around you, and you can see something of beauty and value in the world. There are things, and people, worth embracing, supporting, cheering. 

That means that going forward, we can find stars to guide us, even if we are surrounded in noise and smoke and an unhelpful swath of human-made fog. And for me, public education will always be part of that. 

It's an amazing thing, an astonishing achievement, and when you consider what we've set out to do as a nation--to provide a decent, elevating, heartening, useful education for every single child in this country--it's no wonder that we've often stumbled. It's a huge undertaking, usually under-supported and under-resourced and yet, still chugging forward. To help every child better understand and grasp their best strengths, to fully become themselves, to learn how to be fully human in the world--that's a bold and beautiful goal, a worthy goal. Nobody--no parent, teacher, child--who pursues that goal should ever be ashamed to rise in that pursuit. 

There are times when the future does not rise clearly to meet us, where the road ahead is obscured and, frankly, a bit scary. But when you've got worthwhile work to do, and when you are focused on lifting up your fellow travelers on this globe spiraling through the infinite dark--that is not a bad thing. There is certainly work as worthwhile as teaching, but nothing I can think of is more so. Never doubt, teachers, that you are doing good work. I know there's a chorus screaming, seemingly daily, that you are some kind of lazy, incompetent slacker who entered the field only because you thought was an easy path to a life of wealth and leisure. Those people are full of it; you are doing important work, work that's worth doing, work that is more valuable than, say, spending your days trying to panic people into giving you power. 

The coming week is looming, unpleasant, uncertain, a school year with no clear finish line in sight and no certain path forward. I don't claim to have any brilliant solutions. But I feel certain of this-- if you can say that you are doing important, valuable work to the very best of your ability, and you are taking care of the people around you with the strength and heart that you have, then you are making good use of the short time you have on the planet, regardless of what numbers show up on your calendar. You and I may not hit a century, may not even get close enough to feel cheated if we come just 18 days short, but if our days are well spent, then that'll be pretty damn okay.

Check the past to see where you've been and what you owe, and look forward to see the stars that guide you. Breathe. Clear your head and listen to your heart. here we go, one day at a time, until they stack up to another year. Spend it doing work worth doing. Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

PA: Bucks County Classroom Chill

I've predicted this kind of thing for states that are leaning hard into book bans and teacher gag laws, but here's a perfectly good example of how this sort of thing works right here in Pennsylvania.

The process is simple. 

Step One: You put some threats in place, from fines against the school district to possible lawsuits to just the fact that you have increased the likelihood that some agitated parent will feel empowered to call and complain. 

Step Two: Watch all your most conflict-averse school administrators implement far more repression and silencing within their district than you ever dreamed of.

If you've taught for at least a decade, you know the kind of administrator I mean. Raise your hand if you've ever had some version of this conversation.

Administrator: You have got to stop doing X in your classroom. Parents are all upset and I'm getting all kinds of phone calls.

Teacher: How many phone calls?

Administrator: Well, one. But she sounded really angry.

Teacher: So, how many parents?

Administrator: Look, just stop doing X. That's our new policy.

Sometimes, there isn't even this much discussion. The administrator supervising the junior high at my old district simply pulled two novels from the curriculum without so much as talking to the department chair. 

In Pennsylvania, Pennridge School District (Bucks County) has sent out a memo from the assistant superintendent for elementary education stating, in part,

The district is requesting that library books with content regarding gender identity be removed from the current elementary student circulation.

The books will be reviewed for, among other things, "sensitive topics involving foul language, intense violence, gender identity, and graphic sexual content." If the book is slapped with a scarlet C, then it goes in a special library gulag from which students can only get the books with parental permission. If you are a young person with questions, you can't be allowed to look for answers on your own (well, unless, of course, you have encountered the internet).

One of the first books to be pulled under this policy is Heather Has Two Mommies, which includes no violence, graphic sex, or foul language.

That parental control runs through several district policies. No using a preferred name or pronoun without parental permission. And if a student doesn't tell her parents that she's pregnant, then the school will (no clear word on whether the male who helped create the pregnancy will be likewise turned in to his folks). 

I have sympathy with parents who want to be in the loop of their children's lives, but coverage of these policies turns up an example of a story that every single teacher could have predicted, involving student James Peuplie:

In 8th grade, Peuplie asked his teacher to use his proper name and pronouns. The school then asked his mother and father to come in to discuss his gender identity. His father had not previously known Peuplie was transgender.

“A couple of nights later my dad ended up kicking me out,” said Peuplie. “So we had a really big falling out with a really big argument.”

Peuplie and his father then had an argument where the police were involved. He ended up being taken to the hospital and diagnosed with situational depression.

Every teacher knows a story like this one about an LGBTQ student whose home turned out to be an unsafe place for them to be. This is exactly the spot where parental rights and student rights collide, and it is a mistake to declare that parental rights must always take precedence. Parental rights folks often say that the child does not belong to the school, which is absolutely true, because the child does not belong to anybody--including their parents.

Pennridge has its own little Liberty group that has been busy pursuing goals of abolishing critical race theory, promoting patriotism, and standing up for parental rights. They made enough noise to get the district to fold up its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative, as well as getting some Black authors pulled from the curriculum. That became a winning campaign brag to fuel a GOP sweep of the last board election (theme "Parents over Politicians")

The district is 30 miles north of Philadelphia, with an 85% white student body. In 2018, 225 high school students participated in the national student walkout in response to the Marjorie Stoneman Douglass High School murders; the students were given detention. The school board vice-president, a Trump supporter, called them "Marxist truant[s]." That same member, Joan Cullen, was in DC on January 6.

Bucks County is also home to Woke Bucks County, now expanded to Woke PA, whose website (complete with eagle head and stars and stripe shield) declares their work "to reclaim our schools from activists promoting harmful agendas. Through network and coalition building, investigative reporting, litigation, and engagement on local, and state policies, we are fighting indoctrination in the classroom--" Their website offers yet another chance to turn in anonymous tips about awful things that somebody is doing. You can turn those anonymous tips in here. Right here. Any tips at all. 

So the district is getting plenty of noisy pressure from one set of parents, and now other parents are also speaking up against the district's anti-LGBTQ message, and the region is politically hot. But that kind of political heat in a community translates into a deep, frosty chill in classrooms where everything remotely approaching an uncomfortable topic is ignored, erased, and silenced--even if that happens to involve the lives of actual students. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Who Do The Leaders Follow (Twitter Edition)

Warning: If you are completely unimpressed and disinterested when it comes to Twitter, this post is probably not for you.

It was an offhand Tweet that I read, but it got me thinking and checking, and sure enough-- the current Secretary of Education does not follow a single working teacher. Or even, really, a person in education. 

Now yes--before we dig into this, I totally get that social media accounts are most likely run by lowly interns. Not only that, but given what we've seen in previous administrations, it's probably just as well that people in office aren't using social media personally because apparently that's a bad way to run things. 

Still, let's look.

@SecCardona only follows 39 accounts (38 technically, because one of the accounts he follows is his old civilian account--@teachcardona). They are virtually all work-related fellow bureaucrats and administration officials--other cabinet secretaries, etc--plus things like the CDC and WHO, and a couple of news-ish shows (GMA and New Day). 

And while he's racked up 1,547 tweets since February, they mostly read like tweet versions of press releases, and he seems to never actually reply to anything posted by someone else. Which, given the folks he follows, is unsurprising.

So if he's got his finger on the pulse of working educators, it's not through Twitter (which, I hasten to add, is not an indefensible stance because Twitter's overall pulse is kind of thready and bitter). Our secretary of education does not follow any actual teachers.

While I was there, I figured why not check some others.

@usedgov (the Department of Education) is also very businesslike, mostly following other departments, government-related organizations, with a few curves thrown in. The 154 follows include @EdWeekTeacher, @WeAreTeachers, @TeachForAmerica, @TeachtoLead and @rweingarten.

@FLOTUS is a pretty quiet account that follows 5 and has 278 tweets. @DrBiden has been on Twitter since January 2017 and only has 960 tweets. She follows 22 in an odd assortment that includes Cher, Taye Diggs and Tara Westover.

@JoeBiden follows 48 accounts, including some archived one. Mostly political except for Lady Gaga and Chrissy Tiegen. 

AFT president @rweingarten follows almost 4,000 people--it's a very eclectic group, and I don't know how anyone manages to follow more than a few hundred people, but clearly some folks manage. Weingarten has usually maintained a pretty lively Twitter presence. NEA president @BeckyPringle is less plugged in with 631 follows and 2,178 tweets since 2009; it's a small but eclectic group. Both presidents follow an assortment of activists, leaders, and regular teachers.

This is a small data point and not particularly deeply significant (here at the Institute it is not our goal to shake the earth every single day). The education corners of Twitter have their own sets of issues, but it is an easy place to find out what actual teachers are actually saying. That only works if you (or your interns) are there. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

PA: State Argues Great Education Only For A Few

There's a big court case currently unfolding in Pennsylvania court; several school districts and some parents are suing over the state's funding formula, arguably one of the worst in the nation. And one lawyer for the defense is saying the quiet parts out loud.

The central issue is the question of just how much responsibility the state has to provide a quality education for every child. Many state constitutions seem to suggest the answer is "a lot," but when dragged into court over the issue. states often make... other arguments. The Philadelphia Inquirer caught a fairly telling exchange

In questioning the superintendent of a rural school district, a lawyer for Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman repeatedly asked why the state’s academic standards mattered for students entering certain professions.

“What use would a carpenter have for biology?” asked John Krill of Matthew Splain, superintendent of the Otto-Eldred School District in McKean County and president of the board of directors of the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools, one of the plaintiffs. Splain had said his district’s scores on state standardized tests in biology and other subjects were not acceptable.:

“What use would someone on the McDonald’s career track have for Algebra 1?” Krill continued.

As lawyers for the plaintiffs objected, asking what the relevance was, Krill said that the trial was about whether Pennsylvania was meeting its constitutional obligation to provide a “thorough and efficient” system of education.

“The question in my mind is, thorough and efficient to what end? To serve the needs of the Commonwealth,” Krill said. “Lest we forget, the Commonwealth has many needs. There’s a need for retail workers, for people who know how to flip a pizza crust.”

So, that's pretty clear. The Senate's lawyer argues that education is meant to provide the state with meat widgets, and that each meat widget should know their place in the scheme of things and settle for however little education the state thinks they need to do that job.

There are layers to this dismissal of the state's constitutional obligation, because thanks to the worst rich-poor gap between districts in the country, the students who are getting shafted, who have the crumbling facilities, the underfunded staff, the inadequate resources--in short the education that Krill is arguing should be Good Enough for future pizza flippers--are the students in poor districts. You know--those poor kids who don't need a real education.

Suits like this have been attempted before. In Michigan, students sued the state for providing inadequate education, and the state used similar arguments--just because the law says the state has to provide education doesn't mean they have to provide a good education. One such case, hinging on "de minimis" (aka "the least you can get away with doing") ended inconclusively (while also providing another demonstration of just how little Betsy DeVos understands about how education works and how vouchers would not serve students in real need). As Rick Hess (AEI) has often noted, you can compel people to do something, but you can't compel them to do it well.

That holds true for states where this legal battle has been won. The court can find that the legislature owes public education more money, but then the legislature can just... not do anything about it. Washington went through this and the court fined the government $100K per day. This year, the court in North Carolina has been wrangling with a legislature that refused to follow a court-mandated spending plan.

So even if you manage to win this kind of case, that doesn't mean things get any better.

At the same time, though, it's really striking to see legislators and their hired guns saying the quiet part out loud--we don't really have a state-level commitment to an excellent education and we don't want to use tax dollars to educate Those Peoples' Children because all we need from them is the ability to serve us pizza and collect our garbage. If they want a great education, they should not have decided to be poor.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

ICYMI: Feast Of Stephen Edition (12/26)

 Yes, that's today. Sing "Good King Wenceslas," the only good Feast of Stephen carol I know of.  The list is a little short this week because so many of us have been busy. 

Death Threats And Doxxing

How all this anti-mask, anti-crt stuff is playing out at actual school districts--in this case, in Texas.

The Decline of Standardized Testing

Quick Axios explainer in the wake of Harvard's dumping of the SAT and ACT scores. 

Theocrats are coming for the school board

If you know folks in the evangelical conservative Christian world, you've been hearing the refrain "We have to take back schools" for ages. Meet some of the groups currently interested in actually making that happen. From Salon.

I Love Teaching, But...

Steven Singer saying what many teachers are thinking (and saying, and acting on).

16 charts about schools in 2021

From the actual j0ournalism side of The 74, an article for all of us chart fans, some curious details from the year in graphic form.

How a Wisconsin tribe helped launch a MAGA charter school

Great piece from Ruth Coniff at the Wisconsin examiner, looking at a tribal college that is stealing a page from the Michigan playbook. Small college with financial issues? Just start authorizing charter schools any old place around the state founded for any old reason, and start pocketing your percentage. Particularly striking in this case, as the charter being authorized features a view of history that is not exactly respectful of the Native American story.

Data Queen Guidera to be Next VA Ed Secretary

The indispensable Mercedes Schneider has the scoop on Virginia's next education chief. Spoiler alert: it's not looking good.

Beware of "evidence-based" preschool curricula

Peter Gray at Psychology Today reminding us to look at the research behind the "evidence" because some of it sucks.

Anti-mask parents not constitutionally allowed to change school rules

The Hill brings us news of a case decided in federal court that went against Nevada parents who wanted to change school mask mandates.

Pirates, Profiteers and Privatizers

Thomas Ultican with a look at all three. Or rather, the one movement that combines them all.

Ayn Rand writes Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer

McSweeney's with yet another deep cut literary lampoon. "They hate you, Rudolph. They hate you for your strength."

Okay, maybe the list isn't so short after all. Also, this week over at Forbes I looked at the PA lawsuit laying bare just how badly funded the state's schools are. 

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Merry Christmas

 Every year I update my youtube playlist of things that are (mostly) off the beaten Yuletide musical path, not to be contrarian, but because 1) I like them and 2) it's as good a time as any to reflect on what a wide a varied species we are, and the many ways we express that.

And if you're more of a Spotify type, here is a playlist from my family. All the aunts and uncles and cousins and etc etc contributed some music, and I attempted to arrange it in a coherent-ish order

So there's some music to add to your day. If Christmas is your thing, have a great day. And if it isn't your thing, have a great day. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to one and all.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

FL: Another Assault On Education

Florida owns the Number One spot on the Public Education Hostility Index, but Governor Ron DeSantis is not willing to rest on his laurels. You may have already heard about this, or you may have passed over the news because it's Florida, but some bad news needs to be repeated, particularly when it comes from the state that launches so many of the bad trends in education.

DeSantis has borrowed from Texas, where a new abortion ban has come up with a clever way to circumvent rules about what a state can and cannot enforce. Now upheld by SCOTUS, the law makes every citizen a bounty hunter, with the right for "anyone to sue anyone" suspected of being in any way involved in an abortion (in a rare display to restraint, Texas exempts the woman getting the abortion from the civil liability). 

The idea of insulating the state is not new to education privatization efforts. Part of the reasoning behind education savings accounts is that it let's the state say, "What? We didn't give taxpayer dollars to a private religious institution. We just gave the money to a scholarship organization (and they gave it to the private religious school). Totally not a First Amendment violation."

So here comes DeSantis with his "Stop WOKE Act" (as in "Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees"-- some staffer was up late working on that one). This is legislation he'll "push for" because of course a governor doesn't propose legislation--he just orders it up from his party in the legislature. 

The proposal comes wrapped in lots of rhetoric about the evils of "critical race theory," which DeSantis defines broadly and bluntly:

Nobody wants this crap, OK? This is an elite-driven phenomenon being driven by bureaucratic elites, elites in universities and elites in corporate America and they’re trying to shove it down the throats of the American people. You’re not doing that in the state of Florida.

Along with vague rhetoric about learning to hate America, DeSantis brought in crt panic shill Christopher Rufo for his pep rally. And of course he trotted out some highly selective Martin Luther King Jr. quotage, because, hey, he's totally not racist.

But the highlight here is creating a "private right of action" for parents, an actual alleged civil rights violation. Anyone who thinks their kid is being taught critical race theory can sue (and this will apply to workplace training as well). Parents who win even get to collect attorney's fees, meaning they can float these damn lawsuits essentially for free-- watch for Florida's version of Edgar Snyder--attorneys advertising "there's no charge unless we get money for you."

Allowing parents to file lawsuits would have the effect of making the operating definition of crt even vaguer--it's whatever Pat and Sam's mom thinks it is. You can say that using a bad definition that loses the lawsuit would limit this vaguery, but that misses the point--the school would still have to defend itself in court, costing money and time.

This is a perfectly designed plan for chilling discussion in Florida schools. The instant this bad idea becomes a law, I promise that a non-zero number of Florida school administrators will, via meeting or memo, tell their staffs "We can't afford to be sued by every crazy racist family in the district, so as of now, no teachers will discuss anything having to do with race at all, ever." This is really beyond just a chill--this law would be a deep freeze. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Class With Dr. Deepfake

The MIT Media Lab gas something to show us.

Yikes. The video shows old pictures being brought "to life." Here's Einstein "talking" with a voice barely escaping cartoon German scientist territory, Van Gogh with a mystery accent, and Mona Lisa not actually saying, "It's a-me, Mario!"

While MIT acknowledges the potential for harm of deepfakery and AI animatronics, I'm not sure they really get it. The "technology can be used for positive purposes--to revive Albert Einstein to teach a physics class, talk through a career change with your older self, or anonymize people while preserving facial communication."

I don't really know how that second one could possibly work, and I'll give them the one about anonymizing people--basically AI-supported catfishing so you can build face-to-face trust while still hiding yourself--could have some limited useful applications (could totally reinvent the confessional).

But that first one? No. Because Albert Einstein is not going to teach a physics class. Some programmer, using an AInimated image of a face is going to teach a class. The level of non-understanding teaching here is pretty severe, the notion that it is just delivering some information through a conduit that doesn't even rise to the level of straight lecture. In this class, you won't get Einstein's actual voice, mannerisms, movement--but you'll be encouraged by the software to imagine that you are getting all those things. Can Fake Einstein respond to questions, comments, inquiries, and can he do it with the same incisive intelligence that Real Einstein would have? 

Of course not--and that reveals some of the hubris here. These guys aren't imagining using AInimated faces to fill in for a mediocre lecturer of simple material in a low-level course--no, they want us to imagine that they can use software to reproduce one of the greatest minds in human history. Really, they're further ahead with Talking Mona Lisa, who's creating a voice and mannerisms out of whole cybercloth. We're talking about plain old Making Shit Up--but with a computer, so that makes it really cool and legit. Talking paintings that explain themselves might be cute, and at least not give the impression that we are seeing a real thing.

The "product" is marked with a traceable, human-readable watermark "to help prevent its malicious use." Won't do anything to help with well-meaning but not-good use. 

I used to joke that I would never retire, but that when I died I'd have my body stuffed and mounted with added animatronics and a library of my old lessons, and I'd just stay in the classroom forever. Now it appears that my vision was too limited--just using my picture, programmers could replace me with AInimation that might not sound, think, or act like me, but would still have my face. There are probably some non-terrible applications of this, but it is still some creepy stuff.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Common Core In The Discount Bin

Every community has some kind of deep discount store, the place that is the final stop for merchandise that people just won't buy until it's marked way, way, way down. In my neck of the woods, it's Ollie's (moto: "Good stuff cheap" which--well, you have admire a store that cuts to the chase). Today the CMO (Chief Marital Officer) and I were out shopping, stopped at Ollie's. and here's what we found tucked away on a deep cuts table:

Yup-- a whole table of Common Core goodies.

This particular product came from Carson-Dellarosa, a company that publishes all sorts of useful stuff for teachers. They have a whole bunch of brands, including Disney Learning and Mark Twain Learning. 

At some point, someone in the company in the company decided to green light this product-- a box that included the various Common Core standards, one to a card, those cards including open-ended "essential questions" as well as "I can" statements for math and reading standards. These could be paired with similar sets of "Learning Target" cards, also with essential questions (presumably much like essential oils). Ollie's does not seem to carry the wall-hanging pocket thingy that would let you display all these cards. These products were apparently aimed at teachers

The grade-specific Learning Targets and Essential Questions kits are designed to make lesson preparation easier and to help teachers save time. Each kit includes sturdy two-sided cards. The essential questions are designed to help keep lessons focused and to provide students with a clear understanding of the intended outcome. The learning targets, or I Can statements, serve as assessment tools for both teachers and students. The I Can statements also allow teachers and students to evaluate progress toward learning goals.

Yes, those happy bygone days when Common Core loving amateurs (and other people who should have known better) believed that if you just kept telling students what the standards were, they would achieve them faster. 

You may have noticed that the links above lead to Amazon. That's because Carson-Dellarosa no longer appears to offer these products at all (though they still have Common Core branded worksheets out the wazoo). Each box appears to have originally retailed for $19.99. Amazon offers them from anywhere in the low to mid teens.

But Ollies will let you pick these up for a mere $2.99 per box. Because Ollie's is the last stope before you end up on the scrap heap of history.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

ICYMI: Homecoming Edition (12/19)

My daughter and her family are on a plane today, returning with considerable trepidation to the area for Christmas stuff. Scary to have them navigate the current pandemic wave, but boy do I want to see my children and grandchildren. Ho ho ho, indeed. Here's some reading from the week.

College, Career, or Whatever Readiness

Jose Luis Vilson talks about the resurgence of college and career readiness, and why it misses the mark.

Pitt launches teacher prep program

This should be interesting. Here in NW PA we've seen multiple college teacher prep programs fold or down-size because of decreased enrollment, but Pitt thinks maybe it can help address the state teacher pipeline problem by opening up a new program. Let's see how this goes.

Ben Simmons and education testing

Akil Bello with a perfect analogy about how putting testing emphasis on the wrong things leads to lousy consequences.

Not getting into it: How critical race theory laws are cutting short classroom conversations

Chalkbeat looks at the chilling effect of these gag laws which encourage teachers to just not address the topics at all.

"You're not going to teach about race. You're going to go ahead and keep your job."

EdWeek takes a look at just how chilling gag laws like Oklahoma's are. Spoiler alert: Very.

Oklahoma bill seeks to alter teaching of slavery

Also in Oklahoma, legislators want to force teachers to talk about slavery in a particular way (everybody was doing it and white people weren't any more slave-holdery than anyone else).

Teachers, parents file lawsuit against New Hampshire divisive concepts law.

US News as the story as folks fight back against the NH version of the race gag law.

Businesses: Idaho education politics are hurting state

Idaho is at #9 on the Public Education Hostility Index, and that hostility to public education is turning out to be bad for business. This is an AP story.

DeSantis unveils plan to let parents sue schools

Florida will not be outdone for hostility to public ed. Now borrowing from the Texas anti-abortion model, DeSantis now wants parents to sue schools for teaching crt. 

As parents protest critical race theory, students fight racist behavior at school

NBC notes that increased attacks over any attempt at addressing equity at school are spilling over into students' lives in school, and it's not a good thing. More attacks on boards embolden more harassment of students of color.

There's a lot for conservatives to embrace in critical race theory

Gary Abernathy in the Washington Post offers that crt has some good parts, and conservatives ought to be embracing them. 

Four Memphis schools to return to local control

A while back, Tennessee decided that they would create a state-run school district to take over "failing" schools, and then magically turn them into Very Successful Schools. It has failed, repeatedly, consistently, to do that. Here it is, failing again. Marta Aldritch in Chalkbeat.

How K-12 funding has slipped

Researchers take a look at funding "effort"-- how much states are spending as a share of their economic output. Fuess what--the effort is shrinking.

Lawmakers concerned about plan to increase frequency of standardized tests

In Illinois, some legislators note that increasing standardized test might be a dumb idea. They are not wrong. 

How the viral Wayfair sex trafficking lie hurts real kids

All that QAnon baloney about pedophile sex trafficking rings is having real negative consequences for real human beings. This Washington Post piece hangs on the story of a runaway who was being reported as a Wayfair "victim" weeks and months after she had returned home.

Six gigantic problems, six wrong solutions in public ed

Nancy Flanagan with some spot on analysis

Ohio department of education concludes investigation of Bishop Sycamore; it's a scam

You may remember the story of the fake high school in Ohio that was caught after they got hammered in an ESPN high school game of the week. The department of ed has now officially announced what everyone had pretty much concluded on their own--the school is a massive scam.

Johnson county teacher's message to parents: You can be angry, but we can also leave

Mostly just watch the three minute video of a veteran teacher's address to one of the many school boards operating in the midst of angry parent firestorms. It's a masterful, emotional speech.

The endless humiliation of teachers

Steven Singer reacts to that viral image of teachers on their knees in a hockey rink, scarmbling for cash in order to entertain the crowd. 

The Great American Teacher Exodus

Noa de la Cour at The Jacobin with a pretty solid overview of the many reasons that teaching positions have been harder and harder to fill.

Also, this week in Things I Wrote Elsewhere, at Forbes I wrote about the current SCOTUS case aimed at destroying the wall between church and state

Thursday, December 16, 2021

PA: Senate Wants To Block Any School COVID Vaccination Mandate

In Pennsylvania, under section 1303 of the school code, we find a requirement to vaccinate school students. Right now, some legislators are preparing to mess with that.

School directors, superintendents, principals, or other persons in charge of any public, private, parochial, or other school including kindergarten, are required to make sure that every child is immunized before being admitted to the school, according to the current list issued by the Secretary of Health. In fact, there are penalties for failing to do so. 

Any person who shall fail, neglect, or refuse to comply with, or who shall violate, any of the provisions or requirements of this section, except as hereinafter provided, shall, for every such offense, upon summary conviction thereof, be sentenced to pay a fine of not less than five dollars ($5) nor more than one hundred dollars ($100), and in default thereof, to undergo an imprisonment in the jail of the proper county for a period not exceeding sixty (60) days. All such fines shall be paid into the treasury of the school district.

All right, not a big fine. But a fine. Exemptions are available for medical or religious reasons. 

The current list of required jabs is diphtheria and tetanus, pertussis, measles-mumps-rubella, and meningococcal conjugate vaccine for high school seniors. 

But now here comes Senate Bill 937, prohibiting the requirement for COVID-19 vaccination for any student. "The bill," my senator tells me in his regular newsletter, "does not contest the efficacy" of the vaccine. But since it only has FDA "emergency use authorization," parents should be able to deny it. The bill is short enough:

Immunization exception-- No child should be required to be immunized for the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 known as COVID-19, as a condition of compliance with 28 Pa. Code 28.83 (relating to immunization requirements).

You'll notice that it doesn't include any language like "as soon as the FDA gives full approval, the vaccination can be required for all students and be added to the list of all those other vaccinations that we already require. 

The bill comes from Senator Michele Brooks (R-50), chair of the Health and Human Services committee. The bill passed the Senate upon party lines. Sen. Doug Mastriano compares COVID in PA to seasonal, avian and swine flu. The Senate's passage of the bill actually attracted little attention, other than some conservative sites noting "Yay, freedom!" The bill will now go on to the House. If you're in Pennsylvania, you may want to give your representative a call.

While Gov. Wolf has already said that he will veto the bill, he's also said he has no intention of mandating vaccination. So for teachers who have family members who cannot be vaccinated against the disease that has so far killed 800,000 citizens and stuck some untold number of others with long term disability, none of this news is great. 

8 Bad Education Models

As we consider (or ignore) the opportunity to rethink and re-imagine education, all of our worst ideas about what education actually is have come bubbling to the surface like hippopotamus farts in a stagnant pond. There are many bad ways to frame education, models that are damaging for students or simply twist education into unproductive shapes. Here are some of the worst.

The Empty Vessels

Students are just empty vessels, just a collection of inert, powerless, agency-free tubs into which teachers pour education like melted butter. It's important that the empty vessels hold still and avoid interfering with the process. Just sit there quietly and let us fill you up with this stuff, like empty manikins--certainly not like actual human beings or active participants in your education. 

Meat Widget Prep

Education is for turning out useful meat widgets who will be able to meet the needs of their future employers. The measure of whether or not something should be included in schooling is a simple question--would someone someday be willing to pay you for having this skill? If the answer is no, then we're just wasting time. Your education is not about you and your life--it's making you useful to corporate bosses.


Students are just little machines, and teaching is just science and engineering. If you do steps A, B and C exactly as the science tells you to, every single student will learn exactly what they're supposed to learn. Variations in success are the result of teachers not following the instructions exactly; this would probably go better if we just programmed a computer to do it. Humans are just big meat machines that can be operated like any other big machine.

The Data Stream

Follow the data. Students generate it, teachers respond to it, and administrators crunch it while never leaving their offices. Do not be distracted by the human beings involved in this activity; they simply generate a bunch of noise that will distract you from the pure, clear data. Just keep tweaking the system until the data generating units (formerly known as "students") have been properly coached by the data procurement units (formerly known as "teachers"). 

Consumer Good

Like a taco or a toaster, education is just a consumer good and students and their families are just customers. The mission of schools is to produce just enough of the product of just enough quality at the lowest possible cost and the highest possible price. Public schools suck because they aren't subjected to the same kind of market forces that brought us the excellence of Big Macs and the Walmart clothing department. Tarting the concept up with terms like "deliverables" does not improve it. 

Osmotic Freedom

Put children in a rich environment and just let them, you know, be, and learn stuff. Teachers are just there to offer advice if anyone asks for it, and to help fix hardware problems should they arise. Otherwise, just let the students naturally soak up the education. Just go with the flow; students will be driven to higher levels of education just because.

Training Savages

Children are uncivilized little beasts and they have to be whipped into shape. Their every impulse must be tightly controlled, their behavior constantly monitored, and compliance regularly enforced. It's great if they learn some content stuff, but they by God better learn how to line up when told and how to keep their lips zipped until permitted to speak. Lean on them until they knuckle under and behave themselves properly--particularly the ones who really need it, the children of Those People.

Know Your Place

Look, people are destined for different stations in life. Not everyone needs to learn how to be a leader or the chef or the boss; we need followers and order-takers and people who do the grunt work they're told to do. Education is part of the process of sorting students into their rightful place, and if Those Peoples' Children could just learn to understand this, they wouldn't cause so much unnecessary commotion. 

These models of education, in large or small part, can inform the models for developing schools themselves--and not in a good way. You may well find someone using multiples of these, though probably not all of them at once. Avoid these models and strike them down whenever they rear their ugly heads.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Education's Transparency Problem

Transparency has been part of the second wave of issues following hard on the heels of critical race theory panic, leading to a variety of ill-conceived ideas for transparency laws, some of which are bad faith attempts to dig up more items to add to the long list of things "hiding" crt in schools, and some of which are simply redundant, giving parents rights they already have.

But despite the fact that much of this current movement for transparency is opportunistic baloney-mongering, education does have a transparency issue--and always has, and always will.

Robert Pondiscio gets at some of this in a piece transparently titled "Yes, American education has a transparency problem." After opening with some of the further-out-there political postures being struck, he points out that "To a degree most people don't fully appreciate, the American public school classroom is a bit of a black box." He's not wrong.

He's also not wrong to point out that all the classroom "creating, customizing, and tinkering is not evidence of teachers subversively undermining officially sanctioned curriculum." Part of the job is to adjust, adapt, differentiate, and just generally respond on the fly to what's happening with your students. That's why "post every piece of instructional material you're going to use this year" laws are a waste of somebody's time--either parents or teachers, depending on how a district responds.

He's also not wrong to point out that teachers are government employees, though I always thought of it as working for the public or the taxpayers. Either way, a teacher is accountable to the people who are paying the bills.

School districts tend to have coms issues. There are reasons for this, some legit and some less so.

The bubble. School is a bubble, mostly because there is so much going on inside the bubble that adults working inside it rarely have time to look outside, and even less to see how it looks from outside. When I retired, I was surprised at how completely invisible the inside of the bubble became, like I had suddenly stepped through a blackout curtain. When you're in there, you think what you're doing is seen and known all over the community; it isn't. (I actually wrote a letter to my board about this, saying in effect that the district needed to do a better job of communicating to the community than an outdated Web 1.0 site--they responded with something along along the lines of "Sure--you wanna come back and do it for us? Har de har har.")

Schools that aren't aggressively actively letting their public know what they're doing are missing the boat. 

That said, there's the matter of confidentiality. Cameras in the classroom is a dumb idea for many reasons, but the biggest reason is the privacy rights of all those minors in that classroom. I guarantee--within 24 hours of a classroom camera going live, there will be a parent phone call saying, "What are you going to do about that no-good kid in my child's English class."

Confidentiality is a challenge for schools. Always be cautious about "the school did this to my kid" stories, because the school cannot tell their side. If a student goes wide with accusations that he was harassed by the principal for being gay, the school cannot share that the kid was actually in trouble for starting fights with guys he thought were hitting on his girlfriend. 

Teachers and schools have sooooooo much personal and private information about students, and part of being professionally responsible is making sure to keep it all confidential. This carries over to instructional matters, e.g. "We're doing an extra day of pronoun practice because Pat and Sam don't get it yet" is not really anybody's business but Pat's and Sam's and their parents.

Communication fatigue. Definitely more of a high school thing. My old friend the band director used to say, "When they're just starting out in fifth grade and sound like screaming cats, every single relative is there to hear it. The auditorium is packed. But by the time they're in high school and the band is making real music, you can't drag the families in with a giant tow truck." My wife the elementary teacher talks to parents all the time. It would be a big year for high school open house if I saw more than three parents in my room. Email helped a little. Google classroom and its ilk ought to help a lot, but old colleagues just told me a tale of parents who still haven't gotten on the platform in December. Sometimes schools and teachers get tired of reaching out to no effect. That's no excuse to stop trying.

Fear. Some teachers are just anxious about being viewed in their classroom. They get super-worried at observation time, get worried when anyone gets into their classroom. I can't say that this ever bothered me (I even invited a well-known reformer to sit in my classroom for part of a day, and it didn't hurt a bit). The best solution I know of is to do more of it. A principal who just pops in regularly for no reason has a better handle on what's going on in the building, and teachers stop equating "principal in my room" with "somebody's in trouble." 

Evaluation fatigue. We've had twenty-some years for teachers to be under attack by one bad evaluation system after another, much of it premised on the notion that schools are riddled with Bad Teachers and we must somehow Root Them Out. When there's witch hunt going on, you really don't take much comfort in knowing that you're not actually a witch. Lots of teachers and schools are reflexively curled up in defensive balls (nor does it help that so many schools have become "hardened targets").

Really bad administrators. Almost nobody likes transparency less than a bad administrator, particularly one who doesn't know what he's doing and is hoping to avoid any situation where that might become obvious. Also, I've had more than my share of leaders who thought that the best way to handle unpopular news was to stonewall until people forgot all about it. Pro tip: they never do, and trying to put off the inevitable only makes things worse as well as eroding the trust you need for all other operation.

And the old Bad News Loop, where schools only contact home to complain about the kids and parents only contact the school to complain about a teacher. This is a hard one to break because the adults in this loop barely have time to do the meat of their work, and sending Happygrams seems like an expendable add-on. But regular communication matters.

There are other obstacles, but these, ime, are the major ones. Plus, I suppose, the Dilbert Effect Problem, where management makes you spend so much time explaining what you're doing on the job that you can't actually get back to doing the job. And the Pandemic Effect, where you have trouble being transparent about your decisions because you just made them five minutes ago. 

As with virtually every major issue in education, this is really a balancing act, a maintenance of tension between several different pulls, and if any one side won, it would be a disaster. Schools can't be secret fortresses and they can't be completely transparent fishbowls. Transparency is necessary, appropriate, important, and absolutely appropriate for a publicly funded organization like a school, but too much of it would be bad for students and the function of the school itself. Once again, no simple answer that we can just lock in forever.

I'm also going to point out that this is one more issue that free market education is poorly equipped to face. The free market hates transparency--proprietary techniques, secret recipes, business secrets--and opacity is a smart and necessary way to navigate the market. We've already seen plenty of this, from charter schools defying state audits to test manufacturers zealously hunting down anybody who spills secrets from an exam. Free market education would guarantee far less transparency than the recent transparency stans are calling. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Who's Afraid Of Testing Backlash

 Education Next can be counted on to stand up for the reformy status quo. Let's look at "Testing Backlash Could Hurt American Global Competitiveness," the latest entry in a long line of chicken littling about dropping high stakes testing as the foundation of U.S. education. I read it so you don't have to.

Tanxi Fang is a student at Harvard College concentrating in government, and he has hit all of the standard notes in this golden oldie. 

His way in is a quote from Joe Biden about expanding education into Pre-K and post-secondary areas. But Fang says Biden is skipping over "talk about testing and accountability." Fang points to the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015 as having lowered the stakes for testing; it's not that simple, since states are still unwinding their new plans. But, warns Fang, since then "the gains in student achievement that had been seen under the more rigid No Child Left Behind" have leveled off since then. Well, yes--they leveled off almost immediately, right after students were trained in the new test-taking skills requirement. Fang notes that ubiquitous "some" see a link between ESSA and that leveling.

Fang is also concerned that colleges are moving away from standardized test-linked admissions. Ditto for screening for selective schools and programs. Fang adds all this up:

Some experts are voicing concern that a pell-mell move away from testing could hurt America’s standing, especially as America’s global competitors are moving in the opposite direction. China and India, the world’s two most populous countries, have placed standardized exams at the core of their respective education systems, with the high-stakes Gaokao and CBSE exams determining admission into the two countries’ elite universities. Testing is so sought after by students in both countries that American testmakers see them as potential growth markets.

China and India have indeed thrown themselves at testing. It's just not clear that it's doing them any good. Read Yong Zhao's Who's Afraid of the Bog Bad Dragon for a thorough explanation of how China's testing regime is failing them as a country. Reformsters used to hit heavily on the global competitiveness idea, but the problem is that nobody has yet to link test scores to actual global dominance; if there were a link, Estonia would be a major world power. Meanwhile, the secret of China and India still seems to be cheap labor and and lax regulations--not superior test scores. Fang quotes Rick Hess, highlighting his membership in the 2012 Council on Foreign Relations Task Force that concluded that "educational failure puts the United States' future economic prosperity, global position, and physical safety at risk." Even if we accept that this is true, it is a galaxy-sized leap from there to "We need more standardized testing."

Fang also talked to Chester Finn, who has also been trying to sound the alarm about "America's achievement problems: and the notion that the world is surpassing us somehow. Finn is afraid that the US is falling behind in competition "with people from all around the world" and that the country's previous economic competitiveness was driven by the fact "that we simply had more education than anyone else, but this is no longer the case." I don't know what his basis for that is; we have hung around the same middling spot on the PISA test since always. Nor am I sure how he's measuring education. And once again, I'm wondering how this whole argument stacks up against the hollowing out of the middle class and the transformation of so many jobs into McJobs which require very little education at all. And--and and and and--what does any of this have to do with the Big Standardized Test? Where is the evidence that taking the BS Test addresses any of these issues?

Next Fang is going to trot out Hanushek, who has been trying to find a link between nations' GDP and test scores, but who has to settle for, "Well, at least the score might motivate specific parents to improve things for their specific child."

Many colleges are ditching the standardized test, Fang says. And he tries to tie in the College Board's decision to ditch the SAT Subject Tests, a failed product that was supposed to compete with the ACT. He notes that the move away from the SAT and ACT is "rooted" in the notion that the tests are unfair, though it might be more on point to say that they're not accurate. He even talks to Robert Schaeffer of FairTest for a quote. And Fang nods to the notion (supported by research) that high school GPAs are better predictors of students' future academic success.

Then Fang runs us through history-- Sputnik, A Nation At Risk, Mark Milley's very close to a Sputnik moment, big trade deficit, India gets most H1-B visas, CIA says Chinese are increasingly adversarial. "Will the U.S. education world adjust to these contemporary developments?

Sigh. We handled the Sputnik moment without standardized testing. Nation at Risk was a position paper, not a research report. And I'm not sure if we can get China to shape up by showing them really good SAT scores. 

The global competitiveness argument remains shot full of holes and unanswered questions. What actually is needed to compete globally, and compete for what, exactly? Military dominance? Economic success--which is measured how? Happiest citizens? Scariest political leaders? And once we've figured all of that out, what is the connection to standardized testing? And that's before we get to the bigger philosophical questions-- if our citizens were happy and healthy and living their best lives, but we were somehow #3 in world rankings (of something--bestness, I guess), would we still have to be sad? Or are concerns about global competitiveness about political leaders keeping us scared so that they can herd us in their preferred direction? 

Luxury Beliefs And Education: An Intro

So here's a new rhetorical framing device that you may have seen cropping up here and there. 

Luxury beliefs.

It's an interesting concept. Its coiner is Rob Henderson, currently a Cambridge scholar, but with a striking backstory ("I suspect I'm the only student at Cambridge University who lived out of garbage bags as a child"). Here's his description of luxury beliefs

Ideas & opinions that confer status in the upper class while inflicting costs on the lower class.

Luxury beliefs are those that act as status symbols for the elite. In the past, the elites showed their wealth and status by having luxury goods. However, since it’s much easier to obtain luxury items today, the elites now have to display their status by having a set of “luxury beliefs.”

Bari Weiss, who says that once you know the term, you start to see it everywhere, gives it a shot.

Perhaps most obvious is the notion of defunding the police, in which overwhelmingly wealthy, educated people who live in safe neighborhoods call for a policy that would leave lower-class people living in high-crime neighborhoods vulnerable. But also, say, the idea that monogamy is an outdated, oppressive institution. Most of the people espousing this view raise children with the economic and social benefits of intact, stable families. And so on.

Henderson has found an audience mostly among conservatives who see this is a means of puncturing liberal elites. I have some issues with it; for instance, I think Henderson leans way too hard on the notion that elites adopt these beliefs as a performative stance rather than because they, you know, actually believe them. Also, some of his examples have an awful lot of corners chopped off in order to make them fit neatly into his model.

Still, part of this idea resonates for me. It's not unusual for folks who have relative wealth and privilege to get all let-them-eat-cakey about ideas that are simple and cheap for them, but not so much for others. And you can notice it lots of places, once you look. And I find that some places are not very liberal at all.

For instance, "Just comply with the authorities and you won't have any trouble," sounds virtuous and very common-sensey--if you are a rich white guy. 

And we are loaded with this stuff in education. For balance, I will note that the left-leaning notion of replacing all disciplinary action with meditation and meetings sounds great if you're in a school that doesn't deal with regular violence, fights, and disruption.

However, there's also the belief that we just need more great charter schools like Success Academy, which sounds great if you are envisioning a charter that, like SA, carefully curates its student body and just lets public schools carry the weight of all the students the charter doesn't want. You can get all virtuous about how capping charters is denying all of these deserving students a choice while ignoring that the charter wouldn't necessarily accept them in the first place.

Or the education-to-prosperity pipeline (which, honestly, I can no longer tell whether this is a right-tilted or left-tilted policy idea). Like the success sequence that Henderson alludes to more than once (marriage, then kids), this confuses cause and effect. While he notes that poor and working class out-of-wedlock births are up and not so for the affluent, he doesn't consider whether we are talking cause or effect, but simply chides affluent folks who pooh-pooh the value of a traditional nuclear family. That cause-effect thing matters; if a high marriage-wedlock rate is a result of affluence and not a cause, then the idea that everyone should just get married if they want a better life is the real luxury belief. 

So ditto for the notion that getting a good education is what will lift people out of poverty. It's a nice belief--if you're someone who's well off. You can pretend it's the result of merit and hard work and not the accident of birth, even as the data shows us that school success is not necessarily the path out of poverty.

But I think the most striking non-liberal luxury belief is the belief in free market education. If we just gave everyone a voucher and turned them loose in a free market of education, everyone would be in great shape--say people who enjoy the benefits of being winners in a free market. In fact, I'd argue that unwavering belief in the power of the free market to deal with all situations is itself a luxury belief, held by people who are market winners. A free market education approach would leave them right where they are--able to acquire whatever education benefits they wish for their children--and would put additional burden on folks who already struggle to manage their children's education. 

This model of luxury beliefs rears its head any time we talk about policy without discussing the people most likely to be negatively affected by it (or don't even try to figure out who those people might be). 

There is one other thing that strikes me about the luxury beliefs concept. We already have a term for people who, knowingly or unknowingly, enjoy an unearned benefit for themselves while failing to see or acknowledge how people who lack that benefit are affected-- white privilege. 

So while I think Henderson's work is an interesting first draft, I think it could be more useful if expanded. First, work on the fact that none of these beliefs are confined to elites. Second, lose the notion that they are some kind of performative virtue signaling with no basis in actual belief. Third, admit a little more loudly that they aren't confined to any single part of the left-right spectrum (I suspect some aren't really related to the political spectrum at all). I'm intrigued, but not convinced. 

Monday, December 13, 2021

Tuesday's Bitter Anniversary

I've seen precious little about it, even though the anniversary is coming up tomorrow. I'd like to think that it's something practical, like it's only a nine year anniversary, or we're distracted by all our other issues. I'm sure we'll see a bunch of pieces tomorrow, and for one day some folks will pretend to care.

I'm writing this on Monday, December 13. Tomorrow is the ninth anniversary of the Sandy Hook murders.

Twenty-six people died, twenty of them children. Tomorrow we'll see various outlets trot out retrospective stories, some with pictures, some with graphic descriptions of the terror and horror of those peoples' final moments. It will be a writing challenge, to try to stir up feelings about the killings, to find a nerve to press down that hasn't already been pressed.

Because tomorrow we really mark two anniversaries. One is the anniversary of one of the nation's most horrific mass murders, a school shooting that literally outstrips the mind's ability to grasp fully. The other is the anniversary of learning something about ourselves as a nation.

Sandy Hook stands out among all our many various mass murders in this country, all our long parade of school shootings, because Sandy Hook was the moment when it finally became clear that we are not going to do anything about this, ever. "If this is not enough to finally do something," we thought, "then nothing ever will be."

And it wasn't.

"No way to prevent this," says only Nation Where This Regularly Happens is the most bitter, repeated headline The Onion has ever published. We're just "helpless."

Look, I don't know that draconian gun control would work, though I know that the few-years ban on assault weapons did (don't message me with your objections to the term "assault weapon"). I can't pretend to have an answer to this persistent and complicated problem. But I'm sure "thoughts and prayers" aren't doing jack or squat. I'm sure that legislators trying to come up with any kind of "solution" that directs attention away from guns isn't it. Whatever. 

We've made it very clear as a country that we aren't going to do anything about it, that we're going to pretend that even though we have gun violence and death on a scale unparalleled by any other nation on earth, it's just not really a problem and there's not really a solution. Meanwhile, "thoughts and prayers" out of one side of the mouth and "the government is coming to take your guns (so you better buy more)" even though after all these years the government still hasn't even tried to come take anybody's guns.

But Sandy Hook made it clear. Each new shooting would be greeted by a little theater, some somber shadow plays, some depressing statistics, make some stupid proposals (let's arm teachers!)and then we'd move on and not do a damned thing. Just put students through god-awful active shooter drills and add "maybe take bullets for children" to teacher job description.

If you ask me to lay out a perfect solution, I can't. But I know that the solution is not to do nothing but shrug and say, "Oh, well. That's how it is"-- something we've never adopted as a solution for anything else, ever, in this country.

Sandy Hook is when we knew, when we finally understood. This is how we. as a nation, want to live.

So tomorrow, feel that bitterness and anger, and also set aside a moment for remembering that to those families, the anniversary is not that of a bitter turning point for us as a nation, but a very painful and wrenching and specific anniversary for a wrenching and specific loss. I'm going to wrap this up with something my sister posted today:

It's 9 years now.
They were in their last 24 hours on this planet. Thoughts and prayers, fundraisers, marches, petitions, celebrities, anger, outrage, apathy; churches declaring it not their problem, gun owners defying common decency, government being cowards,mentalhealthcare availability, safety drills, fancy door locks, security officers....those didn't stop it, neither did the bravery of the staff literally stepping in front of a gunman, teachers pulling students out of hallways, barricading doors with file cabinets, the custodian running room to room to warn....They hid in closets, bathrooms, under desks, in the dark. And 26 of them died there. Don't look away.
Our country turned a dark and dangerous corner when none of this created any change. The children would be learning to drive, going to junior proms. The building was razed when insane people wouldn't stop coming to see it, and the survivors were too frightened to return to it. First responders were in therapy for years, some of the children were literally shot to pieces. Don't look away.
I know it's hard to hear, hard to dwell on, hard to think about how we've failed. But it is the very, very least they deserve. The ones who didn't come home, and the ones that carry on as best they can. The families with a hole the size of a small child. The ones in other schools, wondering if they are next. They deserve our attention tomorrow. Don't look away.
Remembering Sandy Hook.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

ICYMI: Quick Summer Day Edition (12/12)

 It was beautiful but blustery here yesterday, the gentler end of that front that wrought such havoc out west. My county has been on the receiving end of killer tornados, and it's an awful thing, that mixture of destruction and death and the reminder that we are tiny creatures on the surface of a giant globe that we can't actually control. Maybe that's one reason we spend so much time fighting about other stuff.

At any rate, here's some reading for the week, beginning with a bang and ending with Britney.

The Supreme Court's new religious liberty case could destroy public education

Slate looks at the case currently working its way through SCOTUS, and how it will probably mean very bad news for public education

To reduce inequality in our education system, reduce class sizes 

This week Friend of the Institute Leonie Haimson went off on a press conference in NYC. Here's the written out version of her argument form The Nation. It is the one reform that we know works, and yet somehow, it's the one education "leaders" never seem to want to implement.

What should parents be worried about? The books their children don't read.

Anne Lutz Fernandez points out that if you are worried about indoctrination and brainwashing of your children, maybe think about how little they actually read, and the time they spend on their devices.

DeVos family among top DeSantis re-election PAC supporters

Because of course they are.

In Texas, a battle over what books can be taught and what books can be read

Michael Powell at the New York Times with a deep dive into the sides of the Texas-based move to control curriculum and gag teachers.

Bloomberg's charter push: big money and bigger political peril

Matt Barnum at Chalkbeat takes a look at Bloomberg's plan to throw money at charters.

The problem(s) with Bloomberg's $750 million investment in charter schools

At the Washington Post, Carol Burris and Diane Ravitch lay into Bloomberg's big money attempt to take charge of education.

When your job interferes with your work

John Warner at Inside Higher Ed talking about college teaching, but every other teacher who ever said "I love teaching the kids, but the rest of this job is killing me" will recognize exactly what he's talking about.

The GOP has revived its obsession with parents' rights

Jennifer Berkshire at The New Republic with a stroll down memory lane to the 90s, when the GOP thought it had a winning political issue with parents' rights. (Spoiler alert: it looks great until voters see the fine print).

"We are here" Debates over teaching history exclude Native people

From the LA School Report (and yes, in partnership with The 74) a look at some Indigenous parents pointing out that the "how to teach history" debates are leaving someone out.

What's one more deadly school shooting when the real danger to kids is a book?

From the Miami Herald, a pretty blunt assessment from Leonard Pitts, Jr.

Tennessee's kids should be taught the truth about our history

Betsy Phillips in Nashville Scene has some thoughts about the work of the group she calls "Moms for Lying to Kids" 

"A dog whistle and a lie" Black parents on the critical race theory debate

From the parenting column at the Washington Post, a missing perspective in the great crt panic

Empty pedagogy, behaviorism, and the rejection of equity

There's a lot to read here, and a lot to take in (framed by Doug Lemov and his teach like a champion shtick, but it's a great article for pinpointing just what feels so very wrong with technique-focused educationeers like Lemov

Bring back homerooms

Nancy Bailey with a simple solution--use home rooms in school. It's true. We had them on and off for years at my school, used because they made a great "base camp" for students, and repeatedly discontinued because they weren't instructional time. She's got a point here.

New Hampshire is trying to protect itself from subversive doctrine

Charles Pierce at Esquire rips into New Hampshire's descent into suppression of certain Naughty Things

Why we need to address scam culture

Tressie McMillan Cottom is the bomb (if you don't follow her on the twitter, you should fix that). This NYT piece about scam culture is not directly about education, but you'll certainly recognize features.

Texas substitute teacher who brought karaoke machine to class asked to leave

The story we need. A sub who screwed up, but not horrifically. An administration that reacted with restraint (and a bit of wit). And the video is included.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Jeb Bush Has A New Education Master Plan For 2022

I'll give Jeb! this--when education policy failed to carry him to the White House, he didn't just turn tail and pretend that he's never met the whole thing ever before (that was Common Core he disowned). And his policy right-tilted thinky tank is still at it, currently under the name Foundation for Excellence in Education, aka ExcelinEd.

In fact, the group has a whole new education policy playbook for 2022. And it looks very... familiar.

"States are the incubators of innovation," says the tiny head of Jeb. "With a relentless focus on advancing big and bold policies, governors and state leaders can prioritize students and transform education to give our next generation of citizens the very brightest of futures." There is no mention of the bright present of a previous generation of Florida students, who have been well-soaked in Jeb's big bold ideas.

So what are these ideas. There are five big, bold headings.

Close learning gaps.

The bullet points include "ensure every child can read by the end of 3rd grade," which is not a terrible goal, but experience tells us that reformsters don't really understand what it means and tend to seek "remedies" like holding students back who don't pass the state reading test. This does not work, for many reasons, and it ignores that the third grade reading success to later life success link is correlation, not causation.

EIE also wants to "assess learning every year" and "hold schools accountable for student outcomes" which means using punitive measures tied to Big Standardized Test scores, a policy we've been pursuing for at least two decades, with zero success. :et parents and educators know "about student progress" as if nobody has ever done that. 

There are two bizarre items on the list. One is "equitably distribute high performing teachers," which has, again, been part of federal ed policy for a long time, only nobody can figure out how to do it. Assuming that you can identify high-performing teachers (you can't), exactly how do you redistribute them? Grab them on their way home from school, tie them up, and toss them ion a van? It's also emblematic of EIE's deep and profound lack of understanding education that they imagine a teacher who is effective in School A would automatically also be effective in Schools B through Z.

Finally, "distribute funding equitably across all public schools," which is a hoot coming from reformsters based in Florida, a state that perfected the art of segregated school funding. Though if I were a betting man, I'd bet that what they actually mean here is "We think charter schools are public schools, too, and while we used to claim that they could do more with less, we would now like to get a bigger slice of that big educational taxpayer money pie."

It's worth noting that there's no particular reason to think that any of these measures would close the "learning gaps," nor can I say hard enough that these all represent old, moldy policies.

Bridge the digital divide.

There's one good bullet point here-- provide devices and internet connections for "underserved" students. The rest is really another goal entirely.

High quality instruction and curriculum through online platforms. Develop online services for special ed, ELL, and SEL. Establish technology and instructional education accounts for families. So it's all about virtual schooling (a proven failure) ties to education savings accounts, aka super-vouchers.

Empower families with opportunity.

Well, you know where this is headed. Offer choice of any district in the state. Grow more charter schools "that are equitably funded" (told you). Let ed dollars follow the student. "Level the playing field" for special needs and low-income students via ESAs. Unbundle education at the course level. 

So the complete dismantling of public education, while using a voucher system to abandon parents. Yes, I know it says "empower," but what a voucher/esa system actually does is say to parents, "We gave you some money--now you're on your own. Good luck in the education free market."

Strengthen pathways to college and career.

The short form here is "turn education into simple job training" while promising that it will be training for Really Good Jobs. EIE also wants to "blur the lines" between high school and post-secondary ed (because market expansion).

Oh, and they want to collect a ton of data, right in line with what Jeb's other super-group, the Chiefs for Change, has proposed. Collect all their school data, and also all their life-after-school data--just to be sure the program's working, you understand.

Reimagine learning.

Credits for life experience. Personalize learning. Microschools. Learning pods. Old standards, particularly for the Put Your Personal Identity On A Blockchain crowd, most horrifyingly captured by The Ledger

There's also "fund education based on the value of learning" and "rethink traditional hiring practices and allow teachers to bring school to students," neither of which is explained in the fine print of the "report." 

There are more pages delving into these bullet points in greater detail, but none of it provides actual real support for this vision, which is the same vision this branch of reformsterdom has always pushed--not just quite so explicitly:

Replace public education with a free market system. Parents get a voucher/esa and a hearty wish of good luck. They then get to navigate a marketplace of many, many education-flavored products, which are largely unregulated but which are also, through some mysterious market process, high quality (you know--like the market has pushed Wal-mart and McDonald's to be strictly high quality). 

This is what Jeb! and his crew want to push next year. It's what they've been pushing for years, but like many folks, they smell covid-created weakness and think maybe this could be the year they finally kill off public education in this country. Stay alert.