Monday, December 6, 2021

Can You Beat The Virtual Proctor?

Distance learning ushered in huge market opportunities for virtual proctoring businesses. These offered a method of watching students take on-line tests and making sure they don't cheat. It sems like an elegant solution--except that the programs stink. 

Take Proctorio, one of the big names in student test surveillance. They impose requirements that are a burden on poorer students, and their "machine learning and advanced facial detection technologies" work badly enough to cause student uprisings. And they play hardball; after trying to squelch a student twitter beef against them, they sued an instructor for posting videos about the company even though the videos were available on youtube.

Virtual monitoring has been one more example of not-ready-for-primetime AI, creating numerous problems for the students who are often forced to use it, from privacy violations to triggering cheating alerts for minor behavior like looking away from the camera (and heaven help the student who needs to pee while taking the test). Also, as is not unusual with facial recognition software, it dopesn't always do well with Black faces. It has been an unholy mess

If you want to have the experience, YR Media, a "national networ4k of young journalists and artists" has whipped up Surveillance U, a virtual proctor simulator, plus an assortment of demonstrations of how a virtual student can be nailed for cheating. You can give it a try (spoiler alert--you're a cheater) and see some of what students have been complaining about. 

There's no doubt that one of the challenges of distance learning is distance cheating. But it continues to be clear that virtual proctoring is not the answer. 

Sunday, December 5, 2021

ICYMI: Lights Up Edition (12/5)

We are in the unusual position of putting lights up this year. I call it unusual because traditionally I just never take them down at all. Glad to do it and bring something to this miserable week. Maybe some year I'll finally be able to take down the call for reasonable gun control that sits in the right-hand column here. At any rate, here's some reading from the week.

More Sins of Omission

TC Weber provides a breakdown of some of the sweetheart deals and big spending going on in Tennessee--quietly.

The Democratic Dilemma on Dark Money\

This may not be easy to read, but it's important. Rachel Cohen explains why we're not going to get an end to dark money any time soon--because everybody is addicted to it at this point.

Oregon Trail at 50

Truth is, the74 has evolved to the point that it sometimes publishes some good stuff. This piece traces the history of your favorite pioneering game. Who among us has not died of dysentery? Created by teachers.

The New White Flight: banning uncomfortable books

Gretchen Eick offers some commentary about the current rash of book banning around the country, this time going after books that include the embarrassing parts of America's past.

Violence and Threats in School: Who's Responsible

Nancy Flanagan is in Michigan, a state on edge because of a round of social media threats to schools, now given more weight by the murder of four students this week. As always, she has some on point thoughts.

Caught in the Middle

If you're a teacher in Indiana hired a decade or so ago, congratulations--you've landed right in a dead spot in the state's teacher compensation plan. Some teachers are speaking out--here's the explanation.

Program shows promise putting more Black men in classrooms

In Alabama, there's a program that seems to be showing success addressing one of education's ongoing problems-- a shortage of Black male educators.

The Black people who lived in Walden Woods long before Henry David Thoreau

The Washington Post's Sydney Trent has one of those little-known stories of US history. Who got to Walden before HDT?

Current Attack on Democracy and Public Education

Thomas Ultican has followed the thread of Koch dollars through a host of causes and organizations, many of which have public education in their sights.

What gets taught?

“How does this apply to me when I teach in a school with all-white staff and an almost all-white student body?” Jose Luis Vilson has been asked the question--more than once. Here's his answer.



Saturday, December 4, 2021

Amazon, The Algorithm, and the Future of Education

Intriguing piece in the New York Times yesterday, looking at Amazon's bookstore (and business in general) and how it has become an unholy mess. 

It is framed by a lawsuit being brought by an author, John C. Boland, who has found his own work listed at hundreds of dollars with a false, much earlier, publication date. This, it turns out, is just a tip of the proverbial iceberg. The online seller is overrun with third party sellers, and has not shown much interest in policing resulting way-open marketplace. Reporter David Streitfeld rattles off the list of unhappy people:

There are sellers like Mr. Boland, who say they are suffering from the Wild West atmosphere on the site; regulators, who are taking a closer look at Amazon’s power; unhappy warehouse employees, who would like a better deal; and lawmakers, who want Amazon to disclose more about its third-party sellers. There are also the devious sellers themselves, whom Amazon says it is having a hard time eradicating.

Amazon has defended itself from Boland's lawsuit in court, but Streitfeld shows example after example of how the algorithm fails customers, ranking books in categories they don't belong and worse, elevating crap. I don't mean another badly written Dan Brown novel, but things like a knockoff Dave Grohl biography written in Almost English and yet sold "side by side" with the actual Grohl memoir. Meanwhile, the algorithm also removes all sorts of books for reasons known only to the computer. 


Amazon “doesn’t care if this third-party stuff is a chaotic free-for-all,” she added. “In fact, it’s better for Amazon if legitimate businesses don’t stand a chance. In the same way Amazon wants to turn all work into gig jobs, it wants to turn running a business into a gig job. That way it can walk off with all the spoils.”

Or consider this:

“In some ways Amazon doesn’t really want to be a retailer,” said Juozas Kaziukenas of Marketplace Pulse, an e-commerce consultant. “It doesn’t want to do curation or offer human interaction,” two of the essential qualities of retail for centuries.

Offering tens of millions of items to hundreds of millions of customers prevents any human touch — but opens up a lot of space for advertising, and for confusion and duplicity. This might be good for Amazon’s competitors in physical bookstores, which have a much smaller and more tightly controlled stock. But it does not bode well for e-commerce.


Why am I writing about this here? Because the future that some folks envision for education is education as e-commerce. Parents get their voucher, aka Education Savings Awesome Freedom Account debit card, and then go shopping for vendors to provide various bits and pieces of a full education. 

One common feature of the various ESA programs being rolled out or expanded across many states is that, like Amazon, the state provides little or no oversight or is even actually forbidden from exercising oversight of these various edu-vendors. It is the parents' problem to sort through the marketplace, to figure out which vendors are the real deal and which are not. In effect, vouchers turn running a school into a gig job done by parents, who will find themselves bombarded with the educational equivalent of fake biographies in Almost English and robocalls from the nice lady worried about your car warrantee. And for the bazillionth time, no, that algorithm being marketed as AI is not going to do the job for you, nor is it going to successfully personalize your child's education. 

Amazon is a trillion-dollar company that  has been unable to make all this work. There is no reason to believe that a privatized education market place will do any better.

(Incidentally, between bookshop.org and alibris.com, I find pretty much every book I'm looking for)

Friday, December 3, 2021

PA: Board Activism Versus Board Business

Earlier this week the New York Times ran a piece by Campbell Robertson contrasting the light and heat surrounding school boards with the actual problems crying for attention. The piece opens with a fairly stark example from Doylestown, PA:

Early in the November school board meeting, a few of the departing members made farewell remarks, talking of things that they believed still need addressing: more special education programs, mental health initiatives, a program for high school students to take college classes. There was a long list, but over the past two years other things had gotten in the way.

When the meeting opened up to public comments, there was an indication of what those other things might be. Parents and other residents took turns standing before the board, speaking about Zionism, Maoism, slavery, freedom, the Holocaust, critical race theory, the illegality of mask requirements, supposed Jewish ties to organized crime and the viral falsehood that transgender students were raping people in bathrooms.

“I fight here week after week,” one woman said, “to ensure that my children will never be subject to having their freedom taken from them.”

"Well, at least I don't have to wear a mask" 
There's this thing that happens, often, with one-issue school board candidates. They run for their particular issue (often a local concern like "save our elementary football program") but then they get on the board and discover that school board work is largely about very unglamorous nuts and bolts decisions. But now we're seeing districts that are being ground to a halt by people who don't care about the nuts and bolts--they just want their righteous--and sometimes imaginary--cause to be championed, at length.

We'll know better in the next couple of months. Some analysts believe that most of the board candidates who ran on liberty and anti-mask and anti-CRT did not win. 

But I live in Trump Country, and several local districts are feeling the pinch. Keystone School District was one of many that saw a contentious and successful campaign by anti-mask, anti-vax, grumpy parents candidates whose stated objectives include things like "put myself between our government and our kids." That in district's whose board has already spent a lot of angry time in struggles with mask mandates, to the point that they've had trouble filling the superintendent spot.

If you really want to see this sort of trouble in action, let me take you down the road a little past the Keystone District to Redbank Valley Schools, where an incumbent was unseated by a young local. Mitch Blose is a RVHS grad and volunteer coach. The election was not as contentious as some (pro tip-- in PA board candidates can cross-file with both parties, so trying to track party affiliation is not always helpful), and in the end Blose won.

His first act as a new member was to shut down board business.

The member-elect attended the board meeting as a member of the public, and refused to wear a mask. So the board held an executive session (required in PA for any personnel or student issues) and then quit for the night. This isn't remotely the first such occurrence-- back in September the Oil City School District board shut down a meeting because a couple of freedom fighters, including one student, refused to mask up for the meeting. Similar tales can be heard from around the country.

The Redbank Valley incident gets some extra detail because nobody thought to turn the livestream off right away, so Blose's arguments with board members was broadcast live. Nobody wanted to defend masking, but one board member pointed out that it looks bad when you make the kids do it and you don't. But another gets closer to the heart of the issue.

“Mr. Blose, I don’t want to wear this mask,” Reddinger answered. “I don’t want to see anyone else wear the mask, but at the same time, I am obligated to this board, sitting in this chair. I am obligated to the taxpayers, to the lawsuits."

As is infrequently noted, mask mandates are related to liability issues. If the state has mandated masks, and you don't follow the mandate, you are an expensive lawsuit waiting to happen. The first time someone can show they got sick in your facility, it will be costly. Consequently, many school district lawyers have been having quiet Come To Jesus meetings with their boards. 

In Pennsylvania, the state mandate for school masking is set to end in January, at which point local districts will have to relitigate the whole thing on their own. Expect lots and lots of spirited public debate, a reshuffling of enrollment in and out of cyber schools, and in general a whole lot of time spent on things other than the actual regular operation of the school district and dealing with the various challenges of doing the work. Bus drivers. Bus routes. Budgets. Program costs. Special ed. Lunch prices. Whatever specific challenges have cropped up in the district. And there's an unmeasurable secondary effect--how many people who would have been really useful board members said, "Well, I don't want to wade into this mess," and stayed at home instead? I'd like to be more optimistic, but I see some rough days ahead. 


Thursday, December 2, 2021

Chiefs For Change Recruiting Big Brother

What a twisty road it has been for Chiefs for Change.

They were supposed to be part of the big web of education reforminess that would usher Jeb Bush into the White House, and they've been flailing ever since. They've just suggested a cool new way to expand the surveillance state, but before we look at that, let me crib from my own previous work (here and here) to explain how we arrived at our current situation.

CFC was originally spun off of Jeb's Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE), a group that lobbied hard for Common Core, school A-F ratings, test-based evaluation, and mountains of money thrown at charter schools. FEE started up CFC because they thought that the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the group that holds the Common Core copyright and was the figurehead guiding force behind the core's creation-- that group wasn't aggressively reformy enough for the Jebster.


Initially, the group was to be a new nexus of reform, but they were immediately beset by problems. And I'm not counting the naming problem-- did they think that change would never come, or once the change was the status quo, were they going to just disband? I mean, if your brand is that you favor change, does that mean you just keep trying to change the change that you just implemented? Do you ever say, "Well, hell, no-- we don't worked hard to install that policy and we surely don't want to change that!" I'm just saying-- doesn't seem like a very well thought out name.

At any rate, by the time Jeb's 2013 Reformster Convention rolled around (incidentally, the 2016 National Education Summit is scheduled for end of November in DC-- I wonder how that's going to go), the Chiefs were already in rather a mess. Chief Tony Bennett had already had to change jobs because of that whole lying and cheating thing. And Jennifer Berkshire provides a great account of Rahm Emmanuel's speech, a weathervane moment that showed the Winds of Change no longer at CFC's back.

Since those not-so-halcyon days, CFC has decided to implement a little mission creep. In 2015 they dropped their connection to FEE, which was more than financial, but also structural and organizational. They also decided to change their definition of "chief." Previously that had meant a state-level education chief, but they had already developed a problem in that department, in that many of their big names (like Chris Barbic, Kevin Huffman, et al) were no longer actual leaders of state education programs-- six of the seventeen members in 2016 were "formers." And so "chief" was redefined to include superintendents of school systems. 

That expansion continued, and since the group included so many Teach for America products anyway, they cribbed from the TFA playbook to redefine themselves as a group promoting diversity. That has included bringing in chiefs from various charter and privatization advocacy groups. These days CFC includes ten formers (one of whom is listed as "Chief in Residence"), superintendents from Ector County, Wichita and Akron, and the executive director of the Broad Center, the Yale-based version of the old Broad Academy Fake Grad School for Superintendents.

CFC has continued a string of not-very-awesome projects. There was the Student Growth Simulator, which turns out to be a calculator that does subtraction augmented by cool graphics--and the damned thing is still up. Then in 2019 they made a call for an end to "toxic rhetoric" on school choice, which turned out to mean--well...

That is why today we are calling on policymakers across the nation to end the destructive debates over public charter schools. Proposed caps and moratoriums allow policymakers to abdicate their responsibility to thoughtfully regulate new and innovative public school options: like banning cars rather than mandating seatbelts. They are a false solution to a solvable problem.
  
Yeah, not good old fashioned tone policing, but an actual call for people who were saying the wrong thing to just shut up.

So now, CFC has some thoughts about data collection. Specifically, they're in favor of more of it.

They've teamed up with Data Quality Campaign. DQC was set up in 2005 with ten reformster partners:

Achieve, Inc. (www.achieve.org)
Alliance for Excellent Education (www.all4ed.org)
Council of Chief State School Officers (www.ccsso.org)
The Education Trust (www.edtrust.org)
National Center for Educational Accountability (www.nc4ea.org or www.just4kids.org)
National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (www.nchems.org)
National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (www.nga.org/center)
Schools Interoperability Framework Association (www.sifinfo.org)
Standard & Poor's School Evaluation Services (www.schoolmatters.com)
State Higher Education Executive Officers (www.sheeo.org)

DQC has always been all about hard-core data mining of students, agitating for, among other things, more holes in FERPA. They continue to push for testing data to be collected.

The "report" that CFC is pushing sounds an alarm:

State and local K–12 leaders need access to actionable information about the postsecondary and workforce outcomes of former students to make decisions that will prepare current students for success.

"K-12 leaders are hungry," says the report, "for a more complete, longer-term understanding of former students' postsecondary and career journeys."

And they are not entirely wrong. My old school used to send out follow-up surveys to try to keep tabs on graduates. Heck, every time a former student visited I asked them about the good and bad of how I'd prepared them (or not) for their life. There is no doubt that having information about the trajectory of students' lives after graduation would be helpful for schools-- though fresh data from recent grads doesn't necessarily capture the long-term payoff of education, and longer-term data that is decades old might not be all that actionable.

However, it's one thing to ask for this kind of data, and quite another thing to just take it.

The list of data that CFC/DQC wants to have is large: industry data, apprenticeship data, post-secondary enrollment, completion and course data (both in and out of state), financial aid data, veteran/military data, wage data, much of it disaggregated by demographic details and by institutions. CFC says that "leaders want" this data student level, longitudinal, de-identified, in context, timely, easy to use, and "paired with support for analysis and use." 

Currently, they say, "the data is not easy to find or use." So they propose a "cross-agency data governing body"-- a state office of data overlordship. A big statewide data infrastructure. User-friendly data tools, sort of like Big Brother with a convenient dashboard. Oh, and funding for all of it.

This is a huge data grab, reminiscent of the old cradle to career pipeline which also required constant data collection and crunching. Beside being a hugely intrusive extension of the surveillance state, it's also the information age equivalent of a land grab, an attempt to swoop up and take possession of a valuable before anyone catches on ("We'll be happy to take that ugly black goo seeping out of the land off your hands! It'll make things better for you, we promise!")

These attempts to launch vast, intrusive data-mining operations are not new, and they aren't likely to stop any time soon. I don't know how much juice CFC has left to actually accomplish large projects like this these days. But it's worth staying alert for any time that Big Data waves its tentacles again. And no matter how much Chiefs for Change is hard up for members, they should not be recruiting Big Brother.


Wednesday, December 1, 2021

TN: Moms For Liberty Lose--On A Technicality

Tennessee has one of the more punitive gag laws of the recent spate. It comes with the prospect of financial penalties for the school district and punishment for teachers all the way up to firing and loss of license. The state's law lists fourteen forbidden concepts. It was arguably an easy win for education conservatives who need to distract the public from all manner of education shenanigans, from a persistent failure to fund schools (even though the money is just sitting there) to a tendency to give away the store to privatizers and sweetheart deals with chums.

But once the law was passed, Tennessee's edition of the Moms For Liberty jumped in to provide the first court test by filing an 11-page complaint against the Wit and Wisdom book series. 

The complaint centers on four particular anchor texts, including "Martin Luther King Jr and the March on Washington, " "Ruby Bridges Goes To School : My True Story," "The Story of Ruby Bridges," and "Separate is Never Equal." It objects to the use of certain images and argues that certain themes, like "white people are4 bad" are prevalent. 

Lots of folks have picked out specific examples from the list of complaints, like the use of an actual photograph of children being firehosed, or Bridge's description of the white mob screaming at her and the signs they held. And looking at the various examples, I'm struck that mostly they are simply depictions of things that happened. If your desire is to have history taught strictly as facts, then these details they object to are doing just that. White folks held up those signs. That's a thing that happened.

I'm willing to buy an argument that elementary school is not a place for sophisticated explanations of systemic racism and discussions of the same texts that are brought up in college CRT courses. Despite the insistent dichotomization of this issue, there's a full continuum of possible positions from, on one end, requiring little white kids to admitted they are privileged oppressors and, on the other end, insisting that racism ended in 1865 and the only way to deal with the issue is pretend it doesn't exist. The M4L complaint seems to hew closer to the latter end. I don't often cite Eduwonk (Bellwether), but Andy Rotherham has been reading the books. The Bridges text includes this quote:

“Some people did not want a black child to go to the white school”

I guess you could argue that if you’re one of those people this might make you feel bad except it, you know, happened. It’s literally a recitation of the history of what happened to Ruby Bridges (and by extension to other kids in other communities). If you want to argue that you shouldn’t be telling little kids they’re complicit in white supremacy you will get a lot of support across racial lines. If you want to argue that you shouldn’t tell kids that not long ago schools were segregated, here’s why, here’s what changed, then you’re living in the past.

He also notes a quote that M4L doesn't mention. Bridges finishes her account “Now black children and white children can go to the same schools. I like to visit schools. I tell my story to children. I tell children that black people and white people can be friends. And most important I tell children to be kind to each other."

Bridges story and her journey always seem extra powerful to me because she is only a couple of years older than I am, and she always elicits that jolt you get when you look sideways across your own generation and think, "Holy shit, what a gulf there is between our experiences of the same country at the same time." 

Picking out some of the complaint's worst details does skip part of M4L's point, which is that these units are spread out over a great deal of time. If I understand their complaint, it's not just the quality of the materials, but the relentlessness of them. I don't sympathize. I can ask myself the question, "Would it bother me to have my four-year-olds experience this material?" It would not. I would be far more interested in how this or any material is actually used by the actual teacher in the actual classroom.

At any rate, the M4L complaint failed--but not on the merits. Instead, the state found that their complaint didn't land within the right time frame. Expect to see it refiled.


The Coming Pre-K Religion Battle

State-funded pre-schools are a spotty lot, ranging from well-funded to non-existent. The gaps are filled in by a variety of providers. My own small town is a good example; here you have a choice of a state-subsidized program, a small program run by the YMCA, and a program run by a local church. 

That's not at all unusual. People look for someone they can trust with the care of their littles, and for many that means churches. For churches, a pre-school or daycare makes a perfect "outreach" ministry, and they usually have physical facilities readily available, as well as a pool of people willing to work for volunteer-level wages.

When it comes to pre-school, there wall between church and state is more like a shower curtain, and it's about to be tested.

There are many, many things that the government can screw up with an initiative to create universal pre-K, from measuring results badly to simply trying to turn pre-K into the new first grade. And there really isn't anything in the track record of either party to suggest that screwing up will not be done.

But aside from that, the expansion of pre-K is going to unleash another fight over religion in schools. The current giant pile of money for pre-K and child care comes with a nondiscrimination requirement, and if we've learned anything about religious schools, it's that some of them are certain that discriminating against some people is a critical part of their religious mission

So conservative religious groups are already pushing back against the nondiscrimination clauses, because they might have to pass on that federal money if  they prefer to continue "to teach religious content, convene all-boys or all-girls programs, or give preferences in hiring or admissions to people of their religion." Most analysts say that the Build Back Better Act, in which this is buried, would not squelch actual religious instruction.

There are other challenges to small providers in the bill, including a requirement that they have seven years to have lead teachers with at least a bachelor's degree, and a requirement for wage levels. Also, this bill works by having states opt into receiving federal funds, which means that states can also say no. So even if Build Back Better passes the Senate, the fights about pre-K will move to the state level. Expect arguments about religious liberty to be part of that fight.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Charter Scandal Collection Now Available

Years ago there was a charter scandal website that eventually started to gather dust. In more recent years, the Network for Public Education has been collecting those various scandals under the tag #AnotherDayAnotherCharterScandal.

Now those various items are collected on the NPE website in a (partially) searchable collection. You can search by state or by category, as well as searching with terms of your own. 

The searchable portion of the collection goes back through 2019; there are more items collected, but not yet indexed on the database. If you suspect there are problems with your local charter folks, or you just want to browse the size and scope of charter issues, this will be a useful tool for you. 

Check it out right here.

A Reminder About The Uselessness Of Test Scores

 As we move through the latest stage of the pandemic in schools, we still get a lot of noise about how we Really Need to get those Big Standardized Test scores collected and crunched, because only then can we address Learning Loss or Pandemic Stumble or general Falling Behind. 

In doing so, we once again make the same old mistake of trying to use Big Standardized Test scores as a measure of future success (at its most extreme in the "students will suffer with years or lost earnings" think pieces).There is no particular reason to believe this is true. 

Let me remind you of this old graph.











In other words, a rich kid who drops out of high school has as much a chance of success as a poor kid who graduates from college. 

There are plenty of theories about why this is so. A Georgetown study concluded that early tests scores are less predictive of future success than socio-economic status. Those researchers point to an idea that echoes the issue of social capital that Robert Putnam explores in Our Kids-- that wealthier families have connections that both help locate opportunities for children (My kid really likes ponies, and I know a guy who runs a stable) as well as providing a safety net. As the Georgetown report puts it

When students from affluent families stumble, they have a softer landing and assistance getting back on track, while those in adverse environments are more likely to land on rocky ground and never recover.

The lead author of the report told CNBC

People with talent often don’t succeed. What we found in this study is that people with talent that come from disadvantaged households don’t do as well as people with very little talent from advantaged households.

The Georgetown report, like most such studies, is using test scores as a proxy for talent or smartitude. So what we're seeing here repeatedly is that tests are a lousy predictor of future earnings, life outcomes, etc. Which means that if we are concerned about those future outcomes for students, we need to look for better predictors.

There is a lot of legitimate concern right now over the fallout from pandemic. But obsessing over BS Test scores and throwing all our energy into trying to lift those scores is not the answer. The scariest part of that Georgetown report is in the last part of the sentence-- "those in adverse environments are more likely to land on rocky ground and never recover." If it's not too late to keep students from landing on rocky ground, we should try to prevent, and for those who have already landed, we should be helping them get back up. Hammering them to prep for the Test so they can Raise Those Scores is not the way. 


Sunday, November 28, 2021

Another Curmudgumile Marker

I pause to note this so that I can find the moment later, should I ever choose to. Sometime last week, this blog passed ten million views. That's partly because I have just stayed here, flailing away ta my keyboard for seven plus years. It's also because people really care about this public education stuff, and because they appreciate finding someone who says what they think but maybe can't quite express.

I'm not monetized, so that number of hits (which is certainly only an approximation, given the vagaries of Google) doesn't translate into any particular gains for me. But as a writer, it's nice to have an audience, and I think everyone for being that. 

Mile marker noted. Back to work.

ICYMI: Tryptophan Hangover Edition (11/28)

The week may have been hectic, but people were still writing things and putting them into the world, so it's time to take a look.

Working in the Pencil Graveyard

Notes from the Educational Trenches takes a quick look at the current toll on middle school students. Somehow, things have to get better.

Is It about Learning or The Adult Ned To Control Children

Teacher Tom looks at Johnny Cash and the need for control, and how humans, including young humans, respond to that.

Some US Christian schools feel free to fire gay teachers

Not news, exactly, but well explained in this piece in The Guardian

Was education the issue in Virginia. Board elections say maybe not

The Hill breaks down election results and what it tells us about education as an election issue. Maybe CRT isn't a big winner.

In the 1950s, rather than integrate its public schools, Virginia closed them

A little history lesson from the Guardian, and reminder that race and education have been a source of trouble not so long ago.

SEL is the next big target

The Hartford Courant sees the "activist parents" coming for social and emotional learning.

Texas book ban would cost districts millions

The Texas book ban has a lot of things wrong with it, but don't forget that it would also be expensive as hell for districts to follow. Danika Ellis is the writer who ploughed through Matt Krause's whole list of "questionable" books; now she looks further into the issue.

These people are not educators

Turns out lots of Texans are not on board with elected officials coming up with book banning lists. From Reform Austin.

Tennessee spells out its teacher gag rule

Tennessee has one of the more terrible gag laws; now they've explained in detail just how punitive it is. You don't want this in your state.

The Conservative War on Education That Failed

Friend of the Institute Adam Laats is a historian whose deep knowledge of conservative Christianity and education in the US makes him well-positioned for our current state. This piece in the Atlantic looks back at the century-old attempt to make evolution go away.

Audit finds accountability holes in Utah

Turns out that Utah's system for overseeing charter schools is a little buggy. KUTV lays it out. 

Yes, no or "huh?" in talk of critical race theory

How Yorba-Linda school district grapples with the ongoing vaguely defined and ill-understood controversy/

Parents should not be able to dictate what other parents can read

In the Miami Herald, the American Library Association director for the Office of Intellectual Freedom explains why book bans kind of suck.

What War?

In which TC Weber calls the Tennessee Moms for Liberty chief and reminds us that even people we disagree with are human. (Ironically, you may disagree with some portions of this post.)

UC Is Done with the SAT Experiment

Akil Bello at Forbes with some response for people who think it's a shame that California is dumping standardized testing for college admissions.

WV Private Schools Figuring Out How To Get Their Hands on Voucher Money

It took roughly fifteen seconds for religious schools in WV to figure out how toi really cash in on the state's new school voucher set-up.

Take all the books of the shelf

Alexandra Petri is a national treasure. Here she explains why we should just do away with books entirely (Washington Post)


Saturday, November 27, 2021

Romanticizing Anxiety

I'm working my way through Judson Brewer's book Unwinding Anxiety, and at one point he addresses the ways in which we justify and even seek out anxiety.

The sciency basis is a paper from 1908 by Yerkes and Dodson that has become enshrined as the Yerkes-Dodson Curve or even the Yerkes-Dodson Law. Yerkes-Dodson posit a sort of bell curve for stress, where more stress and anxiety and pressure drive better performance, until they don't and instead start to make things worse. This seems like it makes sense. But does it? 

These are not human people

Bewer says no. In fact, he says that decades later when papers supporting the Yerkes-Dodson curve were actually subjected to review and replication (that replication thing continues to be an issue in social science papers--see also the marshmallow test) and found that only 4% of the papers held up. Instead, the data mostly shows a linear negative correlation between stress and performance. The more stressed you are, the worse you do. Period.


Talking to his book editor about this research, Brewer heard a striking observation from her:

People romanticize their anxiety and/or stress. They wear it like a badge of honor, without which they would be a lesser person, or worse, lose a sense of purpose. To many, stress equals success. As she put it, "If you are stressed, you are making a contribution. If you're not stressed, you're a loser."

We can count the many, many ways this plays out in our lives ("If I'm not stressed, I'm not doing as much as I could be doing"), and what is someone who's overly addicted to drama is not a person who's convinced that stress and anxiety are signs that life is going well? But part of what struck me about these observations is how it all plays out in a classroom. 

Because boy can I relate to the ways in which we think our job is to "push" students, to inflict stress and anxiety upon them the better to spur their growth. Pressure is needed to make diamonds, or some such sentiment. And so we'd set out to put students through a pressure cooker.

Well, some of them. The pressure cookers are usually just for the honors students, the high achievers, partly because "they can take it" and also because their high-achieving parents shared the romanticized notion of anxiety. We knew better than to try putting the lower-achieving students through the pressure cooker because we knew (or we found out the hard way) that they'd buckle or just quit. And that should have spurred insights. I wrote years ago that every teacher should be bad at something, because there is no stress like the stress of knowing that you're going to be required to do something that you can't do well. And your brain goes through all sorts of contortions to deal with that. 

I got smarter as I went. Some of it was simple procedural tricks, like teasing coming attractions well ahead of time ("There's a paper about this topic coming up in a week or so") so that things didn't come as a surprise or shock. Some of it involved changing tone and approach, from "This is going to really separate the wheat from the chaff" to "This may look scary, but you are capable people, I'm not going to give you more than you can handle, and I am going to get you through this successfully." 

Some of it I couldn't control. Some of my colleagues used me as the Boogie Man ("You just wait till you get in his class!") and my juniors loved to try to scare sophomores ("Oh, man, this will be the hardest class ever!"), but by halfway through the year, we would inevitably have the "This really isn't so bad" conversation. And high school students have learned from adults how to humblebrag about how much stress they're carrying. 

But teachers don't have to romanticize anxiety, don't have to buy into the notion that their job is to pressurize students, don't have to jump on the "We build grit by putting them through the pressure cooker" train. 

As we know from a hundred different pieces, when it comes to pressure and stress and anxiety, schools are cranked up to 11 right now. So this may be an excellent time to shed any remaining romantic notions about how anxiety is good for you and makes you better at whatever it is you do. 

I'm not arguing that schools would be better if we never asked students to do anything hard, ever, and we reduced their stress levels by requiring them to do nothing, ever (nor am I convinced that doing so would actually reduce stress, but that's another conversation). Pursuing the mission of education--to help students grow and learn and better understand themselves and figure out how to be fully human in the world--that comes with some stress and anxiety built in. But if your classroom approach is based on the notion that you need to crank up the stress and anxiety in order to make your students "better," maybe don't. If you're a policy person and your whole raft of policy ideas is built on the premise that schools are all about applying pressure and creating stress in order to promote learning, the research is not on your side.

I'm pretty sure an anxiety-free school is not possible (just as anxiety-free life is unlikely), but there is no need to deliberately pile on more. Instead, focus on building strength and providing support. I'm a firm believer that the solution to the problem of Hard Things In Life is not to try to avoid all hard things, but to develop strength and confidence in dealing with those things when they come. That's where classroom focus should be.


Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Slamming Teachers

Here's something that just popped up on my Twitter feed. Honestly, I could have picked any of a few dozen others, but I went with this one because it was fresh, and yet widely loved.

I have a hard time envisioning the worldview that these kind of cracks rest upon. The assumptions here. Does she imagine that in this world, schools are entirely staffed with people who simply don't give a shit about teaching but went to school for it and took the job because it's so easy? In this world in which nobody working in education cares about education, how did anyone ever get educated? I know some of these folks like to throw around claims about huge percentages of people graduating from school while being illiterate and innumerate, but  really-- all the people you know who can read and write and figure were just some kind of fluke? They taught themselves, somehow, while their terrible lazy incompetent teachers were taking a nap?

The pandemic hammering of teachers and schools just goes on and on. Some of it is fed by people saying Truly Dumb Things, like Terry McAuliffe (himself no real friend of public education) saying that parents should have no say in their kids' education. Some of it is fed by people not saying the smart things, something along the lines of, "I hear your concern, and while 'critical race theory' isn't really the right name for what you're concerned about, let me talk with you about why we try to address issues of equity and race, how we try to do it, and how we are trying to get better at it." 

I get that parents are ragged after the pandemic-so-far, back when schools had nothing but bad choices so there would always be a vocally enraged minority. And I really get that the batch of last-minute cancellations happening is a PITA. 

But the incessant hammering on teachers teachers teachers. It's teacher's fault that schools were closed (not parents or policy makers or legitimate concerns about health during a frickin' pandemic that has, in fact, killed a really huge number of people). Teachers aren't properly embracing the One True Way to teach reading because they are all lazy and stupid and just suck. Also, if you cross our vaguely drawn line in the curricular sand, we will fire you!

Honestly, there are lots of reasons to believe that many people, even the majority of people, support educators and public schools. But for any teacher who spends any time on social media or taking in traditional media, it's impossible not to feel waves and waves of hatred directed at you.

Yes, everybody's angry these days. But it's worth remembering that the states that have forbidden teachers unions are, in fact, the bottom of the educational heap. That most of the states that have enacted some sort of teacher gag laws so that they'll "just teach reading and math" are not particularly awesome in the education department. That teachers chose to get the training, chose to enter this profession, choose to do the best they can for their students. And they can choose to do something else.

I don't know what the point of crap like the above tweet is supposed to be. Well, no--in some cases I do. Some of these folks are the same old crowd of folks who want to see public education shut down, so that the market can be opened and so that they don't have to pay taxes to educate Those Peoples' Children. Mind you, there are plenty of people out there with a sincere belief in the power of the free market and a sincere belief that education should be part of that marketeering approach. But it is possible to belief that without holding and expressing a raw hatred and contempt for people who are trying to work in and with the public system that serves the vast majority of students in this country. No, the people who keep hammering teachers are on a different level.

Maybe the hatred is the point? Maybe they're blowing off angry steam? Maybe, like many folks who have fallen too far down a Righteous Crusade tunnel, they believe that at some point the public ed teachers will crack and cry out, "Okay, you got us! It's all a giant scam!" Or maybe they just want public school teachers to break down and go away (in which case, they appear to be having some success). 

I truly don't know. But it's all tiring and tiresome. I've written before about facing the public's indifference to public education, but facing this level of hostility, from elected leaders, from education "experts," from people who have enough of a following to shape the conversation in useful ways--it's a tough lift, and a waste of energy that could be put to better use. 

The fact is, teachers and schools took up the cause of teaching reading and writing (and history and science and art and music and a whole other parts of human experience) years and years and years ago, and will continue to take up that cause years after the current mob moves on to its next target. But it would be great if a few other people decided to take up that cause with them, or at least stop throwing stones at those who are actually trying to do the work.

Room To Grow

One of the odd, bad assumptions of much discussion and policy of school staff is the premise that people emerge from teacher or administrator school fully formed, all their virtues and flaws set in cement. Somehow that 22 year old newby will be essentially then same person at age 55.

An item in this morning's newspaper reminded me of one of my earliest bosses. He was hired, as administrators often are, to correct for the failings of his predecessor. In this case, his predecessor was seen as a little--well, a lot--lax. And so he hit the ground with boots on, whip ready to crack. 

He was harsh. He demanded compliance, that everyone fall in line. He was a prick. For the strong teachers, he simply puffed his chest bigger and tried to roll over them. For teachers who were struggling or dealing with issues, he worked on the theory that they needed a good, swift kick in the ass. Or maybe several. He was not loved; one of my colleagues said that if the boss was dead, they wouldn't cross the street to piss on his grave. 

But things happened. He dealt with a physical problem and learned what it was like to be weak. He tried his hand at community theater and learned what it was like to be someone who needed tp take direction from someone with a greater applicable skill set than your own. He found new, better, ways to do his job and work with people. He's the only boss I ever had who involved staff in hiring interviews and actually listened to them. By the time he was a superintendent, he was hosting twenty-some staff members in his home while they served as the search committee for a new principal. 

Does his work in his later years make up for the swath of destruction of his early years? I don't know that it's possible to make that kind of computation. Would it have been better for the universe if he'd been fired two years in and gone down some other path? I don't think we can know that, either. I just know that one of my fundamental beliefs is that growth is good. 

This should not be a radical notion in education, a field that is predicated on the notion of growth and change. The whole point and purpose is to aid small humans in growth and learning. So why would that not be part of the model for staff?

Yet numerous reforms and disruptions and management approaches are built around the idea that teachers are in a permanent state, their virtues and failings locked in amber. Give them a strict curriculum, scope and sequence, with materials that are tight, even scripted, so that their flaws can be kept away from students! But this just substitutes the flaws of the program developers for the flaws of the teachers--and those flaws in the material will never grow. 

We suffered for years under policies aimed to weed out Bad Teachers, a hopeless task. For one thing, it's not a solid metric--there's no doubt that I was a great teacher for some students, and a lousy one for others. Meanwhile, I may have disagreed with the approach of the guy next door, but he was undeniably the right guy at the right time for certain students. For another thing, it changes daily. There were times in my career that I was definitely not great; that's true of every teacher because teachers Go Through Stuff, too. 

We ought to have systems built around helping teachers learn and grow and strengthen as teachers; instead we get dump professional development sessions selected to help meet some state mandate or to satisfy the notions of administrators. The entire evaluation system ought to be built around helping teachers identify areas for growth and finding ways to help that; instead we get punitive cookie-cutter checklists. 

Ans instead of schools organized around a supportive community of educators, we get buildings where you're thrown into your own room, and your personal professional growth hangs on the luck of the draw-- which other teachers happen to have the same planning period or lunch shift that you do? There have been hundreds of proposals of the Let's Do It Like Doctors variety, where part of the job of master teachers becomes the nurturing and assistance of younger teachers. It's how it should be--but it would involve time and that means money, and when it comes to spending money in ways that quickly make schools work better (e.g. increase staff size in order to reduce class size), we just can't manage it somehow. 

Would a focus on growth help everyone? Doubtful. The worst boss I ever had was not only bad at his job, but steadfastly refused to learn and grow at all. The refusal or inability to learn and grow is top of my list of Reasons To Fire someone. 

And to be fair, teachers themselves can be resistant to all of this. It's hard to embrace new stuff, particularly if it means looking back over your shoulder and thinking, "Well, I certainly could have done a better job for those students." It's also hard if you're at your limit, juggling two dozen balls and someone says, "Let me just switch this tennis ball for a cantaloupe." Part of giving teachers room to grow also means giving them room to breathe (see above discussion of $$).

Learning and growing and changing is the most natural, most human process, and yet somehow we organize schools around the premise that teachers and administrators don't do that. Certainly not in any deliberate or mindful way. I've read several pleas that we make post-pandemic schooling more human. Leaving room to grow would be one way to do that. 


Monday, November 22, 2021

Why Are We Still Listening To EdReports

 Feathers were ruffled recently with the news that both Fountas & Pinnell and Lucy Calkins both got "failing marks" for reading programs from EdReports. Some flappery broke out on Twitter, and there was wringing of hands around and about, but any time an EdReports rating comes out, I think we have to answer one important question.

Who cares?

EdReports was launched in early 2014. Politico actually covered the event, dubbing EdReports "Consumer Reports for the Common Core." Which is a good hint at where we're headed. EdReports was launched with a hefty $3 million in funding from the Gates Foundation and the Helmsley Trust. Education First, a thinky tank/consulting firm that had teamed up with the Fordham Institute to promote the core, "incubated" them (Education First's website even has a big thank you from EdReports' executive director). The executive director is Eric Hirsch, previously a big wig at the New Teacher Center (they sell teacher induction) and the Center for Teaching Quality (spoiler alert-- quality comes with the Core). Their board chair is still Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College and one of the ten board members of Microsoft.

EduReports uses a gated review system-- you have to get past Gateway 1 before they'll even look at your Gateway 2 stuff, and so on. To their credit, they use a lot of teachers as reviewers of materials, but less to their credit, they lean heavily on a rubric system, which is the kind of system that negates the expertise of whoever you're using to do the reviewing. But there are scores and numbers and specifics and it's all far more rigorous than some of the "research" we see pitched into the education arena..

However, there's a major problem. Everything keeps coming back to the phrase "alignment to the standards." Which standards? Well, EdReports is pretty coy about that these days, but their history makes it plenty clear that the standards they've always held dear are the Common Core. 

This was supposed to be one of the benefits of nationally adopted standards--the marketplace of textbooks could be organized around those standards and some nice group could rate texts on how well they were aligned so that shopping would be a breeze and the market would favor the Core-aligned materials. The idea behind EdReports was to help boost alignment to the Core, and not to provide more fodder for the reading wars. And asking "Is it aligned to a set of standards that have been widely disavowed by everyone" is not the same as asking "Is it any good?"

Yet here we are. A dozen outlets have run "Fountas and Pinnell publish bad reading books" while nobody has run a "Why are we still checking to see if textbooks are aligned to the Standards That Dare Not Speak Their Name?"

I'm not going to jump into the reading wars today. I'm in no mood to fling my body between the Science of Reading army and the fans of F&P at the moment. But I am going to suggest that that discussion needs to be held on its own merits and not an EdReports Common Core check. 


Write A Note To Your Hero

h/t to @theJLV, who reminded me this morning of something I've long advocated, but haven't brought up around here since 2014. And this year seems like the perfect time.

I write a weekly column in our local newspaper, and since I started, I've made it a tradition, every year as we head into Thanksgiving, to encourage readers to write a note to a hero.

I mean get out a piece of paper and a pen, and write a short note to a person who is a hero to you.

Now that we're swimming in negativity, and teachers and other essential workers are being clobbered by plunging morale, it's a perfect time to inject something positive into the world. If you value certain qualities, certain actions, then reinforce them. If you think the world is a better place because a certain person makes certain choices, write them a note to say so.

Yes, I know people are a complex mess, and that a person you admire for doing A might also be a person who you believe really needs to stop doing Y. We often let that hold us back because we don't want to seem to encourage Y, but that's backwards. If you want more A, praise the A.

And do it for yourself, because you don't have forever. When my long-time teaching partner retired, I almost didn't send a note. "I can just include it with a present at her retirement party in August." But the party never happened, because she did not make it through the summer. I had sent the note; on my phone, I still have my last text message from her, responding to that note I sent. 

Emails and phone calls are nice, but there is nothing like a solid physical note, a piece of paper that your hero can take out and hold, a note that they can happen across by accident and be reminded that they made a positive impression on someone in the world. Which in turn strengthens the good parts of the world. 

We are swimming in toxic negativity, in criticism of everyone and everything, and I am not arguing for trying to counter that with toxic positivity or toxic ignoring-unpleasant-realities, but man-- can't we just make it a point to tell someone something nice about themselves? Can't we just surprise someone with an indication that we noticed them making a positive contribution to the world?

And if it seems like I'm pushing this a bit hard, it's because you can't imagine how many people argue, "Well, I can't do that because---"

So here's the deal. Just write a short note. Start is "Dear [name]; You are my hero because--" then say why. Don't try to qualify it with an "even though" or a "but." A sentence or two is plenty. 

Since we're here talking about education, I'd suggest sending it to a teacher who is a hero of yours, because teachers have gone from heroes to  "evil creatures who singlehandedly screwed up everyone's education" in about six months, and if there's a teacher who mattered to you, I guarantee they'd love to hear about it right now. 

Telling people they Did Good is not something you ever regret--certainly not as often as you end up regretting NOT telling somebody until its too late. Let them know. Lift them up. We don't all get to be Adele, but we can all send someone a note. 


A Tale Of Research And Social Distancing

A recent article in Wired is both fascinating and scary if you are in a school with lousy ventilation and a modicum of social distancing.

The fascinating part may be fascinating only to those of us who find research stuff fascinating. But "The sixty-year-old scientific screwup that helped COVID kill" is about one of those little things that worms its way into acceptance as conventional wisdom in a particular field, but nobody really knows why, exactly. 

In this case, the item in question was "5 microns," the supposed dividing line that marks the difference between an airborne illness (one that can float about for large distances) and droplets, which are supposed to succumb rapidly to gravity. The 6 feet of social distance are in our pandemic repertoire because COVID is supposed to be droplet-spread.

I'll give you the bad news here-- that dividing line doesn't actually hold up upon inspection, and therefor  in a place that's not aggressively ventilated, six feet of social distancing aren't necessarily enough. Of course, if you've got your vaccination and your booster shot, you're in good shape. Go get your shots, if you can.

The story of how a couple of researchers worked out where "5 microns" comes for is a great tale of how research can be a challenge, unpeeling not just layers of research and writing, but shifting attitudes about the scholars who created them. 

Sunday, November 21, 2021

ICYMI: New Pandemic High Edition (11/21)

Well, my county has hit its highest COVID numbers since the whole thing started. Now, for us that's still under 200 with rare mortality, but it's still not encouraging. And still plenty of people with their "well, it's my choice" crap about vaccination. Thanksgiving's looking great. For no particular reason, there's a long list this week, just in case you need more reading to tide you through the holiday. 

The book bans will continue until patriotism improves

Don Moynihan runs a pretty good little substack. This post connects a lot of the current culture war panic dots.

Burning Books is Un-American

Paul Thomas offered this op-ed to newspaper across South Carolina; one more good reminder of how wrong book bans are.

Parents coming for mental health programs next

NBC looks at the emerging trend on the list of educational programs that certain parents would like to see the manager about

The teachers here are not okay

A first-person piece at Chalkbeat looks at the many crises that Louisiana teachers have been hit with.

What rational parents must do to combat education conspiracies

Andre Perry at the Hechinger Report looks at how to push back against the culture war attacks on schools

Why there hasn't been a mass exodus of teachers

Has the Great Resignation extended to teaching? There are plenty of anecdotes and stories, but I've been wondering if we aren't just seeing a version of shark attack summer, where something is going on as it always has, but we're just paying more attention? I'm still not sure, but Rebecca Klein has a good story to address the question.

Want to rethink education? It's time to take back kindergarten!

Nancy Bailey points out that now would be a great time to make kindergarten kindergarten again.

4 Reasons to ditch academic preschools

Janet Lansbury offers four great reasons to avoid this assault on littles

Unmasking Moms for Liberty

Olivia Little at Media Matters has a good look at where, exactly, the Moms are coming from.

Toward a more inclusive Williamson County

The good news is that Moms For Liberty is not the only group organizing in Williamson County, Tennessee. Andy Spears has the story.

Authentic Voices

Dad Gone Wild gets all radical and actually listens to what teachers have to say about the current state of affairs.

Lessons of youth activism, climate change, and climate justice

Jose Luis Vilson has some reflections on all three, from a summit he attended.

The art of twisting good things into monsters

Teacher Totter looks at some current vocabulary-- equity, fidelity, critical race theory, etc--and shows how school districts turn them into disaster. One of those painfully funny kind of posts.

I'm a Teacher, and I can't live like this

Ellen Dahlke has a piece that isn't just one more "I Give Up" post, but a look at the toll on teachers that comes from making them act as ad hoc mental health professionals.

How teaching is like blowing leaves and snow

Blue Cereal Education has a two-fer; how is teaching like blowing leaves, and how is it like blowing snow? 

Presidential Timber

Grumpy Old Teacher offers some observations about Ron "Gonna Run For The White House" DeSantis and some of his great ideas in Florida.

Appreciating the Public Schools we take for granted

Jan Resseger offers a Thanksgiving-ready reflection on the many ways in which we should be appreciative of our public schools.

That Old Time Religion Saves The World

Nancy Flanagan offers some meditation about the natures and uses of religion in troubled times. 

And finally-- I didn't post anything to Forbes.com this week, but I did turn up over at the Progressive, responding to Arne Duncan's ideas about how we can bring everybody together over education.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Introducing the Public Education Hostility Index

Here at the Curmudgucation Institute, we have always realized that we are lacking one thing that every good thinky tank and Institute and Foundation has--reports. So we finally buckled down and created the American Public Education State Hostility Index (APESHI). This report now has its very own website.

The goal was to address the question, "Which states are the most hostile to public education right now?" To answer that question, we picked some factors to consider, like funding and state leadership and gag laws, assigned states numerical ratings, and added all the numbers together. Critics might argue that we have just assigned a bunch of numbers to subjective value judgments, but A) as far as I can tell, that's how the game is often played and B) they're numbers, so, you know, science.

Much of the rankings worked out to be pretty close together, though Florida's unsurprising domination of the field was unchallenged. So there is very little difference between 10th place Idaho and 11th place South Carolina. But it's still a handy tool for discussion. The full spreadsheet is available on the site; feel free to let me know in the comments where I missed something. 

I'll share some results here. The top ten Most Hostile states, in order, with scores, so you can see the ties

Florida (55)

Arizona (48)

Louisiana (43)

North Carolina (43)

Arkansas (39)

Ohio (39)

Oklahoma (39)

Indiana (38)

Georgia (35)

Idaho (35)

And the nine least hostile states, according to the rankings

Wyoming (16)

North Dakota (15)

Maryland (14)

New York (14)

New Jersey (12)

Vermont (10)

Hawaii (9)

Alaska (8)

Massachusetts (7)

If you don't see your state at the top or the bottom, the list of all 50 is right here.

There are some limitations to the Index. For one, I did not try to factor in COVID response, which was just too noisy and local for me to sort out effectively. And while including economic factors, I did not get into the heavy math of contextualizing salary issues, which may account for Hawaii and Alaska scoring relatively well, even though they are ultra-expensive states in which to live.

The Institute expects to make this an annual exercise, and situations on the ground change fairly quickly. Feedback is appreciated. I prefer to think of the Index as the beginning of a conversation rather than the end of it. 

The full PEHI website is located here.


Thursday, November 18, 2021

NH Teacher Bounty: Gov Denounces, Moms for Liberty Double Down

New Hampshire instituted a gag order on teachers that could strip them of their licenses for teaching the wrong thing, and Moms for Liberty jumped in by putting a bounty on the heads of teachers whose broke the law. It has been a good-sized flap, as well it should have been. 

Governor Chris Sununu has come out pretty clearly on the matter.

“The Governor condemns the tweet referencing ‘bounties’ and any sort of financial incentive is wholly inappropriate and has no place,” Sununu's spokesperson, Ben Vihstadt, said in an email.

Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, whose education credentials (if not his wealth) are on par with Betsy DeVos's, wasn't exactly condemning the M4L tweet. Asked for his two cents:

“I would encourage people to be very careful on social media," he said in an interview. “There’s a lot of rhetoric on social media that is not helpful or constructive.”

Which translates roughly to, "Dammit, Karen, don't say the quiet part out loud-- you'll queer the whole pitch."

But neither a philosophical nor realpolitik scolding convinced Rachel Goldsmith, New Hampshire's M4L chief, to back off, other than now referring to the bounty as an "incentive."

Goldsmith said if public schools had been doing the job in the first place, none of this would be necessary.

“We are parents tired of public school systems failing our children. This incentive will encourage teachers, parents, and students to find and replace bad curriculum. We just want the school boards and teachers unions to stop pushing alphabet soup (CRT/DEI/SEL) and start teaching kids to read. Manchester SD is graduating only 20 percent of kids reading at grade level,” Goldsmith said.


Goldsmith is also part of the Free State Project, once serving as executive director. The Free State Project is an initiative to bring a bunch of Libertarians to New Hampshire in hopes of essentially taking over the state and establishing a Libertarian paradise in which the government does pretty much nothing (you can learn more about them here, or in the book A Libertarian Walks Into A Bear). So perhaps Goldsmith's outrage over teachers doing indoctrinatin' is related to her feelings that public schools shouldn't really exist at all. 

At any rate, it's safe to say that M4L NH will not be backing off any time soon, no matter how inappropriate the governor thinks this is.

GOP House Proposed Parents Bill of Rights.

 The GOP is ready to do some serious pandering, as the critical race theory panic continues to metastasize. Here comes Kevin McCarthy with an announcement:

Over the past nearly two years, we have seen a troubling trend take root in the Democrat Party. Their elected officials want to take power away from parents and hand over more control to politicians and teachers unions to dictate what our children should be taught in classrooms.

McCarthy goes on the fold in school closings and the DOJ's "targeting" of parents "at the behest of an interest group." And also, Terry McAullife's ill-considered quote about parents not having a say (which McCarthy attributes to a "prominent official in the Democratic Party").


So McCarthy, Virginia Foxx, Julia Letlow, Burgess Owens, and Jim Banks have a proposed solution-- the Parents Bill of Rights. 

The bullet point version of the bill lists five rights-- the right to know what's being taught, the right to be heard, the right to see school budget and spending, the right to protect their child's privacy, and the right to be updated on any violent activity at school. Most of which seems... kind of redundant, giving parents rights that they already have.

But maybe the actual bill reads a little better. (Spoiler alert: it does not. It is far worse.).

The bill seeks to amend various sections of the Education and Secondary Education Act by adding some requirements. These are perhaps best summarized by the "Notice of Rights" paragraph, which lists the rights that parents must be informed they now have under this act:

A) The right to review the curriculum of their child's school (already exists). But there is also an "all instructional materials" requirement for parents, which is nuts-- but it includes the right to see and inspect all those materials including "any survey, analysis, or evaluation." Which--wait! Does that mean the Big Standardized Test, the SAT, and any other test must be available for inspection? One problem with these transparency laws is that they run smack into copyright laws protecting all sorts of proprietary material belonging to testing and instructional materials companies. "Pearson on Line 1 for you, Representative McCarthy!"

B) The right to know if the State alters the State's challenging academic standards (does this mean State's don't have to notify anyone if they change standards that aren't challenging).

C) The right to meet with each teacher of their child not less than twice during each school year. Okay, are there schools out there somewhere where parents are being denied the chance to meet with a teacher even twice? On the one hand, this represents a huge amount of time. On the other hand, most teachers can tell you a story about ghost parental units who could not be convinced to even answer e-mails. So once again, a solution in search of a problem.

D) The right to review the budget, including all revenues and expenditures. I'm unaware of states that don't already allow this. 

E) The right to a list of the books and other reading materials contained in the library of their child's school. Does your school not have an electronic card catalog, or even an old-school paper one? Or is the requirement to have it on a list form that you carry home? Because I figure doing an electronic search for books with naughty words or titles from that List of Naughty Books you're looking at would be easier in electronic form.

F) The right to address the school board of a local educational agency. Again, I know some boards can be cranky about this, but are there boards that refuse public comment without getting in trouble? Are there states that don't have sunshine laws forbidding private meetings? And will we be acknowledging that this right does not include the right to make threats, follow members to their cars and homes, or just speak up at any moment of the meeting you feel the mood strike you? The details say that expression should be in a "lawful and appropriate manner," so I guess we're covered.

G) The right to information about violent activity in their child's school. The actual language notes that names of minors can't be released when communicating this.  Again, I am unclear exactly what problem this is meant to address.

H) The right to information about any plans to eliminate gifted and talented programs in the child's school. So, even if their child isn't in the program?

There are also some amendments offered to FERPA and PPRA saying that the school can't act as a parent in giving consent under the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), and parents must be given a chance to opt out. Also, no educational agency or "authorized representative" of the agency can sell student information. Sounds swell, but just in case you're worried that this would hamstring all the education-flavored businesses handling this stuff, a later clause allows that data collected for "legitimate educational purpose," so the test manufacturers are still free to do whatever.

Look, there's no question that some local school boards hunker down and deal with difficulty by stonewalling and misbehaving. Lucky for us these folks have to stand for election. But the bill is mostly a combination of redundant requirements and solutions in search of a problem (well, other than the problem of how to keep getting Republicans elected). It's a staggering level of federal intrusion into local business, particularly coming from the Party of Small Government.

There's are also levels of irony here. For one, the voucher programs that the GOP loves so well (e.g. Betsy DeVos's Education Freedom Scholarships) champion schools that don't have to do any of these things--and often strongly resist any pressure to make them do any of these things. The other is that the GOP is still trying to brand itself as the Parent's Party, despite its opposition to paid family leave, medicare for all, and a variety of other measures that would actually help parents (like. say. addressing the US's shameful maternal mortality rate). But why actually do something when you can instead float some doomed symbolic legislation that doesn't actually do anything, let alone something useful.