Monday, December 5, 2022

OK: Lowering the Bar Even Further For Teaching

Oklahoma has had trouble holding onto teachers for quite some time. A 2018 report found that over the previous six years, 30,000 Oklahoma teachers had left the classroom. Keep in mind that the state only employs about 52,000 teachers. Oklahoma has real trouble recruiting and retaining.

What could it be? What could it be? The lowest per pupil spending in the region? The low pay? The constant disrespect directed at them from public figures? The fact that their right-tilted leaders have spent years and years in a schoolhouse version of this conversation:

RTL: (Set fire to buildings)

Occupants: Hey! This building is on fire! We could use some help here!

RTL: We are shocked and outraged at your failure to keep your building safe! 

Occupants: A little help here?

RTL: Nonsense. We are going to set up charter and voucher buildings where folks can escape from the fire that some irresponsible parties are unwilling to fight. 

And then, every so often the Oklahoma GOP sees some corner of the building not yet engulfed in flames and takes a can of gasoline and a blowtorch to that.

That includes, especially, the teaching profession itself. That includes a whole set of rules that allow all manner of alternative paths to the classroom, including the popular "as long as you have a college degree in something, we might as let you teach" rule. 

But it turns out that wasn't loose enough. Oklahoma had a category called "adjunct teacher," a designation awarded to someone who had nothing but a high school diploma. But an adjunct teacher had limitations, allowing only 270 clock hours of classroom teaching per semester. 

Last January, Senator Jessica Garvin  (former nursing home administrator) decided to fix that by proposing that the limitation be axed, and school districts allowed to stick adjuncts in a classroom for as long as they liked. 

"Increasing pay and other recent changes haven’t helped end the teacher shortage problem, so we need to look at what assets we already have available, like adjunct and substitute teachers, and how we can better utilize them,” Garvin said.

Yes, say Oklahoma's leaders, we tried one thing, one time about four years ago, so clearly there's nothing left to do but lower our definition of what a "teacher" is. The bill, of course, passed.

Adjuncts are supposed to have "distinguished qualifications," but local districts get to decide what they think that means. 

This is the kind of dumb law that makes me wonder whether these folks are cynical or just, you know, dumb. Now that the law has been in place for this year's start, the Norman Transcript gathered some reactions, and oh boy. 

Contemplating the 370-or-so adjuncts hired this year, Bryan Duke, interim dean at the University of Central Oklahoma's college of education had some thoughts:

He said lawmakers promised the changes would draw highly-trained professionals, but based on conversations with district leaders, he said “that is not what we’re seeing.”

“We’ll just say that I’m not aware of those qualifications,” Duke said. “And, I certainly doubt that most folks would have those qualifications.”

Seriously, lawmakers? Exactly which highly-trained professionals did you imagine were going to jump at the chance to make less than $50K for doing teaching, which is--and I can't say this often enough--a really, really hard job to do when you're an amateur. 

That may have included Rep. Kyle Hilbert ("A new generation of conservative leadership"):

“I would push back on anyone that says that just because someone doesn’t have some letters next to their name that they’re less intelligent than someone else,” Hilbert said. “Some of the smartest people I know, their highest level of education is high school. and if they’ve got a career of experience and excellence in their field, perhaps they do have some expertise that they can bring.”

This is dumb stuff to say. Dumb. It shows a complete lack of understanding of what teaching actually involves. But its State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister who really offered some useful observations to the Transcript:

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, though, appeared stunned when she learned during an interview that lawmakers had stripped the college degree requirement for permanent teachers. She whispered “Oh my God!” under her breath.

She called the change “worrisome,” and said Oklahoma parents expect and deserve a college-educated teacher for their child.

Educating is a science, and students benefit from college-trained graduates who have the practice and expertise in helping students lift outcomes, particularly in reading, she said.

Hofmeister said when someone enters school having previously owned a Hallmark store, they don’t have the experience and training to step into a second-grade class.

“There are some who really seem to think that what is happening in school is a lot of babysitting,” Hofmeister said, “and it’s not. Kids don’t get back these days. They need to be spent with those who have the expertise to deliver an excellent education, and we have to do more.”

Hofmeister just launched state Science of Reading academies in order to train teachers in the One True Way to teach students to read. That's $13 million wasted. If you thought it was a terrible, awful, no good, really bad thing that schools of education weren't teaching teachers the One True Way to teach reading, then how must you feel knowing that classes can now be run by people who have never learned anything about teaching reading at all?

Of course, it may be that the legislators are not so much dumb as they are focused on what has long been a set of Oklahoma education goals--to privatize it, to crush that troublesome teacher union, and to spend as little on it as possible. This is McDonaldization in action--the larger your pool of potential employees, the less you have to pay them and the more easily you can replace them. And the more you degrade teaching in public schools, the more you can push charters and other private schools. It's the Florida model--to make your charters and vouchers look better, make public schools look worse. 

Alternate pathways to the class are not automatically a bad thing, and being able to tap professional expertise can be a big benefit for schools. But this measure goes far beyond that.

And if Oklahoma legislators think that there's a vast untapped supply of people who would have made really great teachers, but skipped it because of some red tape--well, they might want to look at a 2017 survey of Oklahomans who hold teaching certificates but weren't using them. One third said more pay might tempt them, but two thirds said it would take more, like respect, autonomy, professional treatment. Do legislators imagine that people who didn't train to be teachers will be happier about mediocre pay and general disrespect? 

Oklahoma (and other parts of the country) didn't dig this hole overnight, and they won't fill it overnight, either. But solutions like "just let anyone fill the job" is just digging the hole deeper and deeper. It sends a terrible message to people who bothered to actually invest time and money in preparing to teach, and an equally terrible message to people considering entry into the profession. This is a lousy solution to a real problem.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

ICYMI: A Quick Calm Moment Edition (12/4)

Christmas is still far enough away that the Board of Directors are not yet losing their mind, but at age 5 they clearly understand Christmas in ways they previously did not. Just hang on.

I'm going to remind you that this weekly post is all about amplification. They way people get heard on the interwebz is to be shared, far and wide, again and again. Every single person who can click can help out with that. So if you read something here that speaks to you, share it. Post it (from the original source) on your Facebook or Tweetster or whatever platform you hang out upon (which is important, because as folks spread out across various platforms, it takes a little more work to get the word to them all). 

Sharing really is caring, and the bigger your personal audience, the more amplification you can provide. Okay, here we go.

The story of Erie is encouraging. A school district that at one point seriously considered closing all its high schools has put together a remarkable coalition to lift it up out of the ditch. Yeah, I don't think much of test scores as a measure, but several measures, something is going right up there.

Nancy Flanagan with a heck of a post asking some of the important questions that most NAEP panic coverage is missing. 

Conservative states are blocking trans medical care. Families are fleeing.

Politico offers some reportage on how things are working out for some families in Texas and Florida.


A post about the political machinations of the anti-LGBTQ crowd in South Carolina.

The Science of Reading and the Media: Is Reporting Biased?

From Maren Aukerman at the Literacy Research Association, an excellent rundown of what's going on in the current iteration of the Reading Wars.

After a bruising Michigan election, what’s next for Betsy DeVos and her education agenda?

Chalkbeat Detroit considers the DeVos fortunes after their shellacking-by-proxy in Michigan's elections. 

Teacher activist Nicole Wolff in Arizona reflects on an election that was exhausting and not entirely encouraging in its results.

TC Weber with some things to think about considering relationships and canned SEL programs

Former area teachers say they left profession feeling exhausted, unsupported

From Fargo, a look at teachers who have been worn down by problems with student behavior and a lack of support in dealing with them. 

Cynical MAGA censors are damaging public education

Always interesting to see how these things look to people outside the education bubble. Here's nominally-conservative Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post offering her take on the reading restrictions movement.

NC Baptist: On book bans, Moms for Liberty sure has a narrow view of liberty

And here's a take on book banning from a card-carrying Baptist in the South. 

And then there are the pensions!

Jeff Waid continues his series with a look at the arguments being made to reduce pensions for teachers.

Pursue School Improvement Through Persuasion, Not Vilification

Yes, this is a decade or two late, and yes, Rick Hess has been pretty close to the problem he's critiquing. But he's not wrong. At Ed Week.

Elsewhere, a piece I wrote is in the official magazine of the official superintendents' association. It's about the connections between small towns and their schools.

Over at Forbes, I looked at some standards movement fans spinning their wheels and still not understanding where they went wrong, and then I picked up on Oklahoma's stated intent to require taxpayers to fund religious charters. 

And here's your weekly reminder that you can get all of this stuff via substack--free and delivered straight to your inbox. 

Saturday, December 3, 2022

PA: The Shapiro Transition Team (Education Division)

Now that Pennsylvania has rejected the crazy guy running for the governor's seat, we can turn our attention to the guy who won and who did, in fact, say some scary things along the way, including expressing his love for school vouchers

Shapiro's people just dropped their transition team listings which are plenty expansive, with seven separate Transition Advisory Committees. So we're just going to look at education.

The Education/Workforce Committee is headed up by Patrick Gallagher, Chancellor at the University of Pitsburgh. And its header is a not-particularly-reassuring vat of verbiage:

The Advisory Committee for Education and Workforce will be chaired by Pat Gallagher, Chancellor at the University of Pittsburgh, and will be comprised of teachers, former school administrators, and education policy experts. Josh Shapiro believes that every child in Pennsylvania – regardless of race, class, or zip code – deserves access to a quality education and the opportunity to shape their own future, and this committee will advise the transition on how to carry out Governor-Elect Shapiro’s vision to ensure every student has access to the “thorough and efficient” education. The committee will work to develop recommendations to prioritize mental health, invest in vocational, technical, and computer training throughout our education system, ensure our teachers have the resources they need, and give parents a real voice in their children’s education.

Emphasis mine. The "regardless..." line has long been a staple of choicers, as has the "access to..." The access to formulation is particularly annoying. The Titanic didn't have enough lifeboats, yet everyone on board the ship had "access to" lifeboat seats. There are two ways to make sure that children in every zip code can get a good education-- you can move some of those children to where the good education is, or you can make sure that every zip code includes a well-supported fully-funded good school. Only one of those approaches provides every student with a good education. Do not promise "access to" a good education; promise that every child will have a good school.

And "give parents a real voice"? What do they have now-- a fake voice? And should taxpayers and employers and the people in communities who don't currently have school-age children-- should those folks also have a say?

There's a lot of choicey school privatization language here. Yuck.

So who's on the committee? The early takes keep mentioning that wealthy donors, lobbyists, Republicans are in the mix. This is not a new thing. Not a great thing, but not a new thing (well, except for the GOP part; I support trying to cast a wide net for an administration).

So let's see who's on the Pre-K-12 subcommittee. 

Lisa Nutter, Founder and Managing Partner, Community Impact Investments. Philadelphian Nutter is in the "impact investing" biz; not clear if she's into the troubling world of pay for success, but her business's website includes lots of argle bargle like "the mechanisms and actionable information needed to harvest, share and bring community-based solutions to scale." Fun fact: she's also a competitive track cyclist with the USA Masters Track Cycling and holds a world record for her age group. Another fun fact: wife of a former Philly mayor.

Jim Vaughan, Executive Director, Pennsylvania State Education Association. He's been in that job since 2015; previous jobs include lobbying for the association.

Laura Boyce, Executive Director, Teach Plus Pennsylvania. Teach Plus is part of the Bill Gates reformy octopus that was, at one point, charging money to give people access to lawmakers; they focus on creating teacher-lobbyists. Boyce has plenty of reformy credentials, including stints in charter schools in Philly and Camden. She graduated from Princeton ()2007) with a BA in Public and International Affairs before going to work in a turnaround charter in Philly. Her LinkedIn profile says "Visionary educational leader with experience achieving impact at the classroom, school, and policy levels."

Joel Greenberg, Founder, Susquehanna International Group. Greenberg is a co-founder of SIG, along with Jeff Yass (one of PA's richest men and a huge proponent of school privatization). SIG is a "trading and technology" firm, founded by a bunch of college poker buddies. There is no reason to believe that Greenberg knows Thing One about education, but he knows plenty about money and giving it to politicians. All based in Bala Cynwyd, an address that will turn up again.

Kathy Christiano, Board Chair, Stoneleigh Foundation. Stoneleigh is a "positive social change" foundation in Philly with education one of their focuses. Christiano's background includes a degree and work in early childhood education, as well as youth hockey.

Sean Reily, President & CEO, Roscommon International. Reily is a bit of a mystery. Neither he nor his company, Roscommon International, have much of an internet footprint. They might be a consulting firm, or a lobbying group, but one withoput many clients, though one client was, in 2017, Wadsworth Academy, a private Philly school that closed down after a special needs student died. School, corporation and Reily all appear to be based in Bala Cynwyd.

Daniel Weidemer, Director of Government Relations, Pennsylvania State Education Association. 11 years in the job, after a background in political jobs in Harrisburg.

Art Steinberg,
President, American Federation of Teachers Pennsylvania. Steinberg started his career as a special ed teacher in Philly. He's currently vice-president of the national AFT.

Amy Sichel, Former Superintendent of Abington School District. What a story. Sichel worked in the Abington district for 42 years, starting out as a guidance counselor, and eventually spent 18 years as superintendent. She became the president of the Superintendent's association. Along the way she apparently acquired some swanky friends, like Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of the Blackstone Group, who goes to places like Davos and proclaims that we should stop throwing money at education. He's also a buddy of Donald Trump, so when Sichel attended Schwarzman's Palm Beach 70th birthday party she may have met some important folks. At any rate, she asked Schwarzman to throw some money at Abington schools, which he did, with the understanding that the high school would be renamed after him, plus a few other considerations--none of which were shared with the public. All hell broke loose, people complained, the terms were changed, and soon thereafter Sichel retired. Not sure what she's been doing since, but she certainly brings a unique perspective. Abington, I will note, is just a hair NE of Philly. 

Turea Hutson, PhD candidate in the Drexel University School of Education. Former school board member (Norristown Area--just a bit NW of Philly) and "multifaceted independent consultant" and PR person. Did graduate from BA in Elementary Ed and Teaching from Arcadia University , though she doesn't seem to have ever used it. 

Rich Askey, President, Pennsylvania State Education Association. Retired music teacher, God bless him. Member of PA's Commission on LGBTQ Affairs.

Sharif El-Mekki, CEO, The Center for Black Educator Development. El-Mekki has a history with the privatized sector, having served as a principal of charter schools. For the last three years, he's been doing some impressive work with the Center for Black Educator Development.

Christopher Goins, President, Girard College. Goins is only just barely the president of Girard, a unique Philadelphia institution--a boarding school for poor, orphaned or fatherless boys. Before that, he's been working in Chicago, first in the Noble Network of Charter Schools, then in Thrive Chicago, which in turn worked with the Obama Foundation's My Brothers Keeper.

Tracey Hart, Educator, Franklin School District. Yes, that's my home district, and Tracey is a veteran working elementary public school teacher, an active voice for the union and public schools, a former colleague, and a friend of the Institute. So that's pretty cool.

Nathan Mains, CEO, Pennsylvania School Boards Association. Mains has been in that job for almost a decade. Lots of background in government and business.

Robert Mitchell, Educator, Pittsburgh Public School District. It appears that he teaches at Westinghouse Academy, a 6-12 school in Homewood. Maybe for almost 30 years, teaching foreign languages.

That's sixteen members, plus chair. Two working teachers, one rural and one urban. Four union officials. 

Of the sixteen, nine are from the greater Philly area. That's unfortunate, because Philly's issues are not generally representative of any other portion of the state. But Philly's school problems are a common go-to excuse for school privatization across the state (e.g. "We must have charters because those poor Philly kids and their terrible failing public school system"). And while Shapiro may be working hard to embrace diversity of some important types, in this case he's largely ignoring geographic diversity, an issue that is often on the minds of Pennsylvanians who don't live in Philly, Harrisburg or Pittsburgh. 

There are some people from outside of the classroom who do some important work for children and education. But the committee includes several people who come from the school choice world (far out of proportion to the number of Pennsylvanians who actually use school choice). There are several members of the committee whose connection to education is tenuous at best, and at least two who have no business being within 100 yards of discussions of education policy. 

So my position on the upcoming Shapiro administration remains somewhere around cautious dread. Maybe the unions will be able to steer him away from his espoused education policies, which are for the most part exactly what we'd expect from right-leaning GOP legislators and anti-public ed privatizers. Maybe he'll pick a secretary of education who's not going to try to expand charters and vouchers and support the already-GOP-proposed super-voucher Education Savings Accounts. Or maybe public education in Pennsylvania is about to get hammered. 

We'll just have to wait and see what comes next. I'm going to cross my fingers, but I'm not going to hold my breath while I do it.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Hillsdale Goes To War On Education

It's a lot, but we're going to learn about how babies are made and get a warning about the violence to come.

I am not a fan of war-and-violence rhetoric. The word "war" has been thrown around a lot as a political tool, and its use in so many causes minimizes actual warfare, in which people try to kill each other and plenty of death and maiming ensues. And when people insist on using that kind of rhetoric, they tell more about themselves than about the conflict they're attempting to describe. 
So when Imprimis, the Hillsdale College inhouse publication, runs a version of a speech by its chief Larry Arnn under the title, "Education as a Battleground," I'm certain that mostly what's about to happen is we're going to get a view inside Arnn's head, which as an influential christianist right wing player in the education debates, is a view worth considering. I've read this so you don't have to. Let's see what's going on in Arnn's dark little view. This may take a while.

We've got trouble right here

He opens with the stats showing that administration in education has grown far greater and faster than the growth in number of students or teachers. That's really worth looking at (especially since the charter sector that Arnn loves is generally even more top-heavy than public schools). It's actually a statistic worth mulling, but he's going to use it as an Ominous Sign of other changes in our whole nation-- "a change in how we govern ourselves and how we live."

He then plays with the words fundamental and foundation in order to build a long rickety bridge over to the notion that it is education that "has changed everything else."

The next paragraph is something special.

One way of describing the change in education today is that it provides a different answer than we have ever known to the question: who owns American children? Of course, no one actually owns the children. They are human beings, and insofar as they are owned, they own themselves. But by nature, they require a long time to grow up—much longer than most creatures—and someone must act on their behalf until they mature. Who is to do that?

In other words--this raises a really important question, except it doesn't because we all know that isn't a valid question, so let's talk about this other question instead. On the page this is a crazy self-contradiction, but remember this was originally a speech, in which one can ring a bell, announce that the bell shouldn't be rung--but the bell cannot be unrung.

But he's not done. Because he goes on to explain that the "who must act on their behalf" question isn't one anyone asks, either, but, he argues, that question is implicit "in the question: who gets to decide what children learn? It is contained more catastrophically in the question: who decides what we tell children about sex?" So he's laid out a chain here, whereby making decisions about whether students should be taught about the Spanish-American War, prepositions, and pregnancy is pretty much the same thing as claiming you own the child.

Are these decisions the province of professional educators, who claim to be experts? Or are they the province of parents, who rely on common sense and love to guide them? In other words, is the title to govern children established by expertise or by nature as exhibited in parenthood? The first is available to a professionally educated few. The second is available to any human being who will take the trouble.

Look, I'm a parent four times over, and have been through more than a few experiences in which I have felt the need to make sure my judgment overrules the judgment of the school or the people in it. But the notion that anybody who makes a baby is naturally imbued with common sense and love for that child--well, it is not aligned with reality. 

Where babies come from

Arnn is going to lean into the "natural" part of his point. 

Prior to recent scientific “advances,” every child has been the result of a natural process to which people have a natural attraction. “Natural” here does not mean what every single person wants or does—it means the way things work unless we humans intervene.

Stay with me here. Because people like sex and sex makes babies--well, actually, he admits that "not every human is attracted to the natural process of human reproduction but nearly all are" and "nearly all" is doing a lot of heavy lifting here. Anyway, this process works, he says, because we are better than other creatures especially because we can talk. (You gorillas and dolphins in the back just hush up). And because we can talk and reason, "we are moral beings" who can distinguish right from wrong. And since we are social beings, we can explain stuff to each other that other creatures don't which "draws us closer together than even herd or swarm animals." Sure.

So. We are unique in having those capabilities, which is what the framers meant by "all men are created equal." Arnn argues that "this equality has nothing to do with the color of anyone" and I'm sure the spirits of the people that the framers kept enslaved or gave on a fraction of a full vote (though Arnn reports on his old prog who replied to animal rights activists by saying that "one must not be cruel to any creature, but ...only those who can talk are entitled to vote").

Okay--second reason that human reproduction is unique is "our especially long period of maturation," which I'm thinking is not that unique at all. But he's trying to get somewhere. Newborns would die without attention (which is not a segue into a call for national paid parental leave) and they must take years to develop the skills and knowledge needed. 

Modern educators often mistake the work of helping them to learn for actually doing the learning for them.

I have no idea what that is supposed to mean. I have never met a human, let alone a professional educator, who made that mistake.

The skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic are direct exercises of the rational faculty. They are in principle the same thing as talking, and in principle every child will learn much of them unassisted.

Hey, look! Arnn supports Balanced Literacy and thinks phonics are bunk! Also, Arnn doesn't grasp that learning to speak and learning to read and write are two completely different things, one largely natural and one largely not. But here comes this word salad to wrap up section one of this tome.

Raising a child has always been difficult and expensive. With rare exceptions, it has always been true that the parents who conceive the child raise him the best. And throughout American history, it has been thought that the family is the cradle of good citizenship and therefore of free and just politics. Public education is as old as our nation—but only lately has it adopted the purpose of supplanting the family and controlling parents.

"Rare exceptions" is working hard here, but it's just a stop on the way to wrapping up the first section of the speech with the charge leveled against public education.

The commie nazis are coming

Arnn cites DeSantis and Youngkin as governors who won "on this battleground of education." Also, "supplanting the family" gets us the stuff that the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany and Communist China, and don't forget Orwell's 1984. We're not there yet, he warns,
But we do have children being turned against their country by being indoctrinated to look on its past—of which all parents, of course, are in some way a part—as a shameful time of irredeemable injustice. We also increasingly have children being encouraged to speak of their sexual proclivities at an age when they can hardly think of them.

The premise, as always, is that nobody would become a socialist or LGBTQ on their own, but they have to be seduced to these unnatural views by evil grownups. And even though we disposed of this question, here we go

Who “owns” the child, then? The choice is between the parents, who have taken the trouble to have and raise the child—and who, in almost all cases, will give their lives to support the child for as long as it takes and longer—or the educational bureaucracy, which is more likely than a parent to look upon the child as an asset in a social engineering project to rearrange government and society.

There are all manner of absurdities here. There's the not-insignificant number of parents who have not and will not give their lives for their children. And this massive social engineering project? There are certainly people with such aspirations out there, like the folks who think we can engineer a cradle-to-career pipeline to churn out and track employers' dream meat widgets or the folks who believe that if they keep their children in a bubble, they can make them grow up to be dutiful religious followers. What distinguishes these groups is their remarkably low level of success. And meanwhile, teachers are just trying to "social engineer" students to bring a pencil to class and keep their hands to themselves.

Arnn goes on to echo a speech by Chris Rufo at Hillsdale last April. The thesis is that there is an administrative state (a really deep one, one might say) composed of elites who are well paid and permanently employed, who have in turn taken over colleges and universities and turned them into indoctrination camps. These faceless bureaucrats are supposedly dispassionate and nonpartisan, but Arnn doesn't buy it (and I'm not sure I blame him on this one). Arnn argues that this administrative state can and should be reined in by the law (as interpreted by conservative judges). 

The deep state and the school system

The administrative system, with roots in DC and "tendrils" in "every town and hamlet that has a public school." The result has been to move money and authority away from the schools and toward the bureaucracy. It's an interesting observation that puts Arnn directly at odds with the standards movement, and ought to prompt a serious conversation about the choice movement, which pretends to put power in the hands of parents but actually moves it to private vendors and leaves an awful lot of it with the government.

But Arnn is not interested because "the political battle over this issue is fraught with dishonesty." He's chuffed because he thinks any attack on the system is styled as an attack on teachers, but dammit those teacher unions are at least half devoted to growing the administrative state. 

Ge decries the seductivity of bureaucracy, because we like knowing that there are processes in place that give legitimacy. A history curriculum is adopted not because "it gives a true account of unchangeable things that have already happened, but because it has survived a process."  This is a solid religious right view--there is a Truth, it is set in stone, and only adherence to that Truth should be a measure of legitimacy. This is the root of why the religious right is actually anti-democracy; the legitimacy of a government does not come from any democratic process, but from its adherence to the Truth As I Understand It. 

Arnn criticizes the involvement of "stakeholders" in education, brushing away the notion that parents are not the only people who have a reason to care about the kind of education children are getting.

Bring on the violence

Arnn believes that the key political contest of our time is between two clear sides. On one side, parents and "people who make an independent living" (by which I assume he means people who don't get paid by the government). On the other side, the administrative state "and all its mighty forces" (because it's important that we understand that Arnn's side is the underdogs, the true victims here). 

Then we get this.

As long as our representative institutions work in response to the public will, there is thankfully no need for violence.

Yikes. As long as you do what we want, nobody has to get hurt. 

Arnn wraps up with some de-contextualized quotes from the Declaration of Independence and ends with his own declaration:

And so it is our duty to defend our American way of life.

Still here? Good for you. Let's take it home.

This speech serves as yet another window into the religious right's education manifesto. The deep state has taken over the government, all the way down to your local schools, which it is using as a tool of indoctrination to create more socially engineered tools for the deep state itself. So, to fight back against the deep state, they must take over the education system (either by commandeering the public system or replacing it with their own system) as a means of destroying the deep state from the roots up. 

They're pretty clear and straightforward and consistent about this message, and the use of battlefield language shows how seriously they take the struggle. 

This is one of those times when it's wise not to lump education reformers together. The Hillsdale crowd is really at odds with some reformsters, like every federal approach from NCLB onward. It's also important to note that, unlike some folks in the reformy camp, these folks are not interested in a better conversation nor anything else remotely resembling negotiations. They know what they want, they are assured in the certainty of their own rightness, and they are not prepared to alter their view of The Truth. 

We should take them at their word. Government is to be driven out of education and it is to take its place in a marketplace dominated by right-thinking christianists. Until that day comes, they will not put down their swords or leave the field of battle.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

How Much Does Knowledge Matter For Teaching

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran an editorial that was picked up and run in my region, raising a question about the "most important component of teaching."

The actual issue was the substitute shortage (which I can report, via the experiences of the Board of Directors is severe--they have never had a sub when their kindergarten teacher is absent, but are just shunted into the other K teachers). Ohio has shifted to their own version of a warm body substitute law; in Ohio, if you have a college degree, you can apply for a subject-specific substitute license. IOW, if you have a BA in English, you can be an English class substitute in Ohio. 

Pennsylvania has loosened up the rules as well, including letting near-graduated teacher program students sub and allowing retirees to sub without having to give up pension payments (though no retiree I know, including me, has gotten a call from a district to step in). This measure would loosen things up more. But what raised the question is part of the Post-Gazette's rationale:

Knowledge of the subject matter is the most important component of teaching.

Is it? And if not, what is?

I am a huge believer in the importance of subject matter knowledge. When you are standing in a classroom, there is no substitute for knowing what the hell you're talking about. It helps enormously with classroom management and earning the respect of your students (yes, you have to earn that). It helps you stay fast on your feet and adapt to whatever kind of teachable moment presents itself. 

I'm not saying you have to be the world's foremost expert, nor is your job to strut your stuff as the smartest person in the room. But a teacher who plans to get by by just following the textbook makes me cringe. It's the difference between being a guide who knows the paved path to the destination, but is stumped if anyone takes one step off the asphalt, and a guide who knows every part of the territory, on the path and off, and can guide you to any spot from any other spot. I want a classroom with the latter.

But teaching also involves being able to convey that knowledge you have. Everyone knows (and some have experienced) the cliche of the person who's really smart but can't actually explain what they know to anyone else. You can't be a good guide if you arrived at the destination with no idea how you got there and the only advice you can offer others is to keep hollering, "Well, just go to the place!" You have to be able to break the trip into comprehensible pieces.

And that means you have to understand your audience and read the room. You have to be able to communicate with the young humans that you are supposed to be teaching. For the younger students in particular this means some exceptional communication and empathic skills are required of teachers. If you can't read the room, every teachable moment will fly right past you and every opportunity will be lost. 

And you have to be in charge, but not a tyrant. You have to maintain the safe learning space, which means all those people skills have to be harnessed in service of balancing all the needs in front of you.

Yes, there are plenty of pieces of conventional wisdom that dance around this issue.

"I want them to love learning." And that's absolutely the important goal, and you can only achieve it if you know something to teach them and are able to do so. 

"We teach students, not subjects." Sure. What do you teach them. I get the point of this one, that we should not get so caught up in our material that we get things backward and think that the students are there to serve the content instead of vice versa. But we still have to teach the students something.

"Be the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage." Honestly, I don't know a teacher who still sticks closely to the sage model and just stands up there bloviating away the days, but it would be a lousy model to follow. But it's a serious mistake to over-correct into the 

"We're all just here to learn together and I'm just one more learner and they teach me as much as I teach them." If you don't know more about what you're teaching than your students do, just go home. You are the grown up adult specialist. That is the gig. If you don't know more than the students, if you are not the expert guide on the learning journey, then what exactly are the taxpayers paying you for? Your heart can be as big as all outdoors, but your brain needs to be full, too. 

(Also, if you're going to tell me that nobody needs to know anything because Google exists, just go far away.)

None of this means you have to be an all-knowing teacherbot who is the supreme authority on all matters, just standing in the classroom spewing forth your infallible wisdom. 

All of this is a lot of work, and constant work because teaching is about balancing a whole bunch of things and the eight is always shifting so you can never ever get into a stance and think, "Well, I can just lock this down exactly here." 

Which means on top of all the rest, you have to want to do the job. You have to want to succeed, to do everything that's called for. You have to want to teach, not just grab a paycheck or add a line on your resume. You have to give a shit. You have to care.

So I'm torn, because in my mind, almost everything on the list rests on knowing your content. Except the desire to do the job. But of the two, content knowledge is the element that can be learned. I don't know how to teach you to give a shit about teaching, but I know lots of ways for you to learn the content so that you can do the job. 

So I think I have to put knowledge of subject matter at #2, right behind "Want to do the job." Which is why I suspect the Ohio idea won't help much, just like most of these bar-lowering warm-body-recruiting ideas aren't helping all that much. It's easy to find people with college degrees and warm bodies, but the people who want to teach and really care about the work are already there. If you are a policy maker (or newspaper publisher) who imagines that there are millions of folks just dying to teach and the only thing holding them back is some paperwork, then you have some subject matter knowledge problems of your own. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

The Heritage Wish List for the 118th Congress

The right wing Heritage Foundation has an education wish list for the next session of Congress.

And who can blame them? Their last wish list was a list of right wing judges they hoped to have installed, and Trump was their big ole Santa Claus.

But this is a list we should pay attention to, because it's what the next Congress is going to get lobbied hard for. So let's see what these folks want to find under their tree next year.

Early childhood education and care

I actually don't entirely disagree with their very first item, which is a safe harbor for household employee child care. Currently, if you are spending more than $2,400 for a sitter/nanny in your home, you are required to do all those employer things like withholding taxes and submitting quarterly payments to the IRS and I know rich folks who have inhouse nannies could just suck it up, but I know a few not-rich people for whom this stuff is a real issue. Of course, there's also the supreme hassle of being a gig worker with a stack of 1099s at tax time. There has to be a better way, but it needs to be one that protects the rights and livelihood of the workers on this low end of the scale.

Next, Heritage wants to burn down Head Start, and "although the federal government should not be involved in the provision of early childhood education and care in the first place," Heritage would settle for folding Head Start money into the Child Care Development Fund, which is a childcare voucher program for the littles that hands over some money and lets parents pick the provider.

Remember the 529 savings programs that let parents "invest" money for college funds. Back in 2017, Congress expanded the program so that it can now be used to pay for K-12 expenses like private school tuition. Heritage would like to keep right on expanding and letting folks use the 529s for preschool and child care. Folks on the right like 529 plans because they set up all the structure needed for a voucher program.  

Elementary and Secondary Education

Two goals focus on the DC school system. Heritage would like Congress to expand eligibility for the DC voucher program. They would also like DC schools to become a "model for the rest of the nation" by instituting a gag law, "rejecting the application of 'critical race theory' and 'queer theory' to school lessons and activities." They're using the argument that things like requiring an appropriate pronoun would constitute "compelled speech." That argument also extends to having educators "acting in a way that violates objective biological facts and, potentially, their personal beliefs and values." So, compelled speech is bad, but compelled silence is appropriate.

Heritage would like a national "Parent's Bill of Rights," though not one that expands the federal government's "footprint in state and local education policy." Just something nice a vague that "concisely confirms that a parent is a child’s primary caregiver." Well, that and "provisions about parents’ right to direct the upbringing, education, and religious and moral instruction for their children."

And in the continuing attempt to get voucher feet in the door, Heritage would like Congress to make IDEA and Title I funds "portable," as vouchers for things like micro-education savings accounts. While we're at it, says Heritage, lets also institute federal vouchers (education savings account style) for military families and students on tribal lands. 

Higher Education

Put a stop to all that student loan forgiveness stuff, including the Public Service Loan Forgiveness, which is a bad program because it "prioritizes government work over private-sector employment." 

Also, Congress should get busy phasing out federal student loan programs entirely "to make space for a restoration of the private lending market."

Also, let's put a stop to the current accreditation system for higher ed and replace it with accreditation by whoever the state feels like offering sponsorship to. There's already a bill for this--the 2019 Higher Education Reform and Opportunity Act , sponsored by Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and Heritage quotes him:

Imagine having access to credit and student aid and for a program in computer science accredited by Apple or in music accredited by the New York Philharmonic; college-level history classes on-site at Mount Vernon or Gettysburg; medical-technician training developed by the Mayo Clinic; taking massive, open, online courses offered by the best teachers in the world from your living room or the public library.

Yes, that would be paradise for privateers. For ordinary students, not so much.

Heritage has a beef with research funding, arguing "that taxpayers end up cross-subsidizing the research agendas of woke billionaire philanthropists, but universities use this indirect cost windfall to fund growth in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) staff, country club–like campuses, and administrative systems of questionable value." That's an odd argument, as at least one university I'm familiar with does that kind of over-expansion because some corporation or regular unwoke millionaire wants their name on a new building. 

And Heritage would like higher ed to have "skin in the game" by carrying some of the cost of unpaid student loans. 

So there you have it.

When Congress gets back to work, look for these choice ideas to crop up, as Heritage continues its tradition at whittling away at any kind of taxpayer-funded services for other people in hopes that someday there will be nothing left but a sliver that rich folks can use to pick at their own teeth. Here's hoping Santa decides they've been very naughty.

It's The Poverty, Stupid

As the discussion of Learning Loss drags on, with a big side of Blame It On The School Buildings Closures (itself with a big side of And It's All The Teachers' Fault), guess what we're not discussing.

Poverty and its relationship to student achievement.

If you're a regular, you know that I think most of what is being said about Learning Loss is bunk, an attempt to focus entirely too much attention on Big Standardized Test scores.

But if you're really concerned about this stuff, by any measure (and there's no question that the usual level of education didn't happen in the depths of the pandemess), then you have to pay attention to one particular factor. 

The New York Times threw its hat into the Let's Explain This ring, and while they buy that remote learning may take some of the blame, it's not the major factor. 

So remote learning does not explain the whole story. What else does? In a sophisticated analysis of thousands of public school districts in 29 states, researchers at Harvard and Stanford Universities found that poverty played an even bigger role in academic declines during the pandemic.

“The poverty rate is very predictive of how much you lost,” Sean Reardon, an education professor at Stanford who helped lead the analysis, told me.

This comes as a surprise to absolutely nobody who has been paying attention, because poverty level has always been predictive of scores on the BS Test (and to be clear, when we talk about "how much you lost," we're just talking about how much your BS Test score dropped). Always. 

And after decades, we still don't know a sure-fire way to get poor kids scores up other than subject them to intense test prep at the expense of the rest of the full education that rich kids get--a deeply misguided and unfortunate effect of making the BS Test scores the be-all and end-all of schooling. And under political leaders of all persuasion, we have repeatedly doubled down on that on the theory that raising test scores would lift people out of poverty, even bring an end to poverty itself, an idea that belongs on the shelf somewhere between trickle-down economics and unicorn farming.

We actually know a good means of reducing child poverty in the US. We just reduced child poverty to record low levels in 2021 by way of expanding the child tax credit plus some other poverty mitigation measures during COVID, but we had to knock that stuff off, because our urge to make the lives of children better invariably takes a back seat to our other societal urges, like the one that says the poors should have to suffer the results of whatever bad choices or moral failings made them deserve to be poor in the first place. 

So we're going to freak out loudly over the Learning Loss stuff, because there is money to be made in combatting the dreaded BS Test score drop. But to address the major underlying issue of poverty, we'll probably do nothing much. I can predict this based on the fact that poverty levels have been an issue in education for forever, and yet we get these kinds of solutions.

No Child Left Behind: You lazy teachers are just using child poverty as an excuse for not doing your jobs.

Charter school choice: We will "save" a tiny percentage of the poors, but only the ones we want, and maybe it will turn out that we don't actually know how to save them.

Testocrats: If they get high scores on the Big Standardized Test, they will stop being poor.

Teach for America: The poors just need some super-smart future ivy league grads to come teach them for a couple of years.

Race to the Top: See "No Child Left Behind"

Vouchers: This system in which they get a few thousand to spend as they wish won't make them less poor, and they still won't be able to get into great private schools, but at least their struggles will be their own problem instead of society's.

Never mind discussing solutions such as a living minimum wage so that working poor can be less poor. Universal health care. Or directing more necessary resources to schools serving poor families. And definitely not going to talk about ending the US standing as the only major nation in the world with no parental leave at all, because families are important and babies need nurturing, but not at any cost to employers. 

Yes, as we sift through the pandemic data and focus all our attention on the debate about keeping buildings open or not, it will become increasingly clear that A) poverty creates a major hurdle for educational attainment and B) policy makers and thought leaders would much rather talk about something else. 

Sunday, November 27, 2022

ICYMI: Venison On The Hoof Edition (11/27)

Where you are, this is probably just more of Thanksgiving Weekend aka Get Out There And Spend Money time, but here in NW PA it is time to go shoot some deer. (which is why schools are closed tomorrow). And while I am usually Switzerland on the whole deer vs. hunters issue, this fall I have seen so many deer try to throw themselves into the path of my car that I am rooting heavily for the hunters. You may think of deer as beautiful slices of nature, but if you lived cheek by fluffy jowl with them, you would understand that they are just large, dumb, graceful rats.

Here's some reading for while you're at home resting up. 

Florida’s 2023 Legislative Session: What’s Scheduled and What to Expect

Accountabaloney has a rundown of schedule and proud announcements about intentions. It isn't going to be pretty.

Star-Spangled Bans: No place for Pride in some schools after anti-LGBTQ laws spread

From K-12 Dive, a pretty thorough summation, including some historical perspective. A good reader on the mess that has been created.

SC: Moms for Liberty School Board Fires Superintendent, Opens Itself to Litigation

The indispensable Mercedes Schneider is wondering if that South Carolina school board that came out guns a'blazin' hasn't set itself up for some legal problems.

The War On Teachers Part One: It's the money, Stupid - Salary Edition

Jeff Waid takes a look at the ways in which teachers are being hammered via their pay.

Human Capital Roundtable member privately blasted NC teacher merit pay plan as “undercooked goulash”

Justin Parmenter continues to follow the ins and outs of an attempt to degrade the pay and profession of teachers in North Carolina.

The Southern Strategy (Part II)

On his substack, Steve Nuzum continues to draw parallels between the CRT panic and the Southern Strategy of the Nixon era as ways to harvest white resentment. Plus he gets in a fight with a legislator on Twitter.

School segregation persists in the new New Orleans, study says

A new study finds one more thing that charterization didn't fix in New Orleans. From

Nobody connects the personal, the professional, and the politics like Nancy Flanagan. She reflects here on visits to Germany and Clint Smith's great piece about remembering ugly pasts.

At Gregory Sampson's school, someone dared to ask why they were giving so many redundant tests. The an administrator went and told the truth.

Trying to Convince Your Legislators Not to Expand Vouchers? Here Are Some Facts You Need

Jan Resseger collects some of the information on voucher programs and why your state shouldn't hop on that kind of bandwagon. Great for sharing.

What Do the Midterms Mean for Education?

Rick Hess at Ed Week in conversation with Andy Rotherham. Two guys you probably disagree with a lot, but an interesting and thoughtful conversation just the same.

The network behind the books pulled from Beaufort Co. schools, and the one fighting back

A close up look at one on the ground battle over books and the groups lined up on either side. From The Island Packet.

Texas Monthly takes a look at Texas's emergence as the #1 book banning state in the country.

Rick Doehring takes a satirical swipe at book banning by taking aim at Goodnight, Moon.

And you can still find me over at Substack--same content, but different digital pathway.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Do Education and Urgency Mix?

Is urgency a critical element of education?

Rachel Skerrit, writing for Education Next about the experience of leading Boston Latin School, thinks so. She puts "culture of urgency" top of the list of critical elements. What does she mean?

What I mean by “culture of urgency” is to unite all constituents around a mission and to be clear about where we currently fall short. Urgency does not mean to place so much pressure on teachers and staff that their longevity in the profession is unlikely.

She argues that urgency in urban education "is created from an incident." Something happens, and leaders respond to an urgent need the incident revealed. 

Her piece sparked a response from Martin West (Harvard Graduate School of Education), and as I would expect, the guy who suggests that students should get "caught up" by spending more time in school, he agrees that urgency is key. There's a whole side argument about whether or not urgency is racist, as some report they have been told, and I'm inclined to agree that it's not, with the usual caveat that as an old white guy, I may be missing something.

Urgency has also been brought up in various discussions of "catching up" after the pandemic pause, and in all this discussion, there are some shades of meaning that matter. 

Some folks seem to be using urgency to mean "treat this like it is an important thing," which is just another way to set things as priorities, and that's fine. Where I start casting side eye is when urgency is used to mean "You have to do something RIGHT NOW!"

This is salesman urgency, the whole pitch of "you'd better lay your money down right now for this fabulous deal because if you hesitate it will be gone." This is the urgency that's applied to make sure we skip any kind of meaningful thought, discussion, or reflection.

Martin quotes writer Tema Okun: When a sense of urgency “makes it difficult to take time to be inclusive [and] encourage democratic and/or thoughtful decision-making,” it can be oppressive. When a sense of urgency produces “unrealistic expectations about how much can get done in any period of time,” it can become self-defeating.

You may remember back to the days when Common Core was being rammed down everyone's throats, and the argument to many objections was that we can't possibly roll this out slowly or carefully because the schools are burning and we have to fix it all RIGHT NOW! Likewise, school choice advocates have argued that their policies must be implemented RIGHT NOW because students can't wait another minute. While some folks making the urgency argument may have been sincere, there were certainly many who were simply trying to force the sale and get things moving before anyone could think much about it. 

It is a match with the Silicon Valey ethic of move fast and break things. And unfortunately it can trickle down to the classroom as well.

The Big Standardized Test (and many other tests as well) harness RIGHT NOW urgency, insisting that students not take time to reflect or consider answers, but crank them out RIGHT NOW before the buzzer sounds. It's a particularly odious approach to writing on tests; I wonder how many scholars who created their masterworks over a period of years would flunk a test requiring them to crank out insights in essay form in the next thirty minutes.

And it's easy to let urgency work an unhealthy path into the classroom. Lord, but I know this one. I always felt that 180-day limit breathing down my neck as I contemplated everything I wanted to get done. It was a regular part of my professional self-care to stop, take a deep breath, and just take my foot off the gas pedal before I drove my class right into a wall. RIGHT NOW urgency is the enemy of careful, thoughtful reflection, and I had to regularly remind myself that that kind of meaningful depth was more important that getting to everything on my list. 

RIGHT NOW urgency is the enemy of quality. Let me tell a professional development story. The session leader had us divide ourselves into groups based on decision-making style--whether we had to think it through first, or move quickly and ask questions later, or some other combinations. One relatively small group that resulted was the move fast and break things group; when asked what the advantage of their approach was, one participant said proudly, "We get shit done." In my group, the approach deliberately crowd, someone muttered in response, "Exactly. Shit. You get shit done." 

Currently folks want to apply RIGHT NOW urgency to Learning Loss. Specifically, they want to apply it to the matter of getting BS Test scores back up there, and in fact that is where West is going with his article--parents don't understand just how behind their kids are and we've got to convince them so they can panic properly and help us implement and pay for all these programs that will get student achievement test scores back up! Beware papers like this one, trying to make an academic case that we need to accelerate learning (somehow) and increase hours and push push push students to hammer every little iota of education out of every precious second, as if those seconds could not be used for other precious pursuits.

It may be a shortcoming that I am not a Get Shit Done kind of guy, but when the salesman starts trying to make me feel an urgent need to give him my money RIGHT NOW, what I actually feel is a certainty that it is time to walk away. Urgency is to often the enemy of sober thought about choosing the best path forward; in fact, it's often an attempt to short-circuit any meaningful discussion about what the path forward should be. 

Set priorities? Excellent idea. Treat important things as if they are important? A critical idea. Letting somebody stampede you by hollering RIGHT NOW before you've finished deciding right now what? A terrible idea. 

Friday, November 25, 2022

Wilson: Segregation and Religion and Race

Erika Wilson, scholar, law professor (and dabbler in that scary CRT stuff), has a new piece in the Yale Law Review. I've read Racialized Religious School Segregation so that you don't have to, but you ought to. Granted, it reads like the sort of thing you'd expect to find in the Yale Law Review, but that's what you get when you get a plate instead of a bowl of twinkies. There's a lot to chew on here, and I want to pull out some of the highlights.

Wilson is looking at school choice in the wake of Carson v. Makin, the case in which SCOTUS cemented the notion that states must include religious schools in any sort of voucher-ish program, even if those schools are discriminating in ways that no public school would never accept. Here's her main point.

The central claim of this Essay is that racial integration of public schools—though much maligned—is indispensable to moving America’s democracy away from its exclusionary origins and into a well-functioning, racially inclusive democracy. Choice in the private market exacerbates inherent and unresolvable tensions between school choice and racial integration. School choice generally operates against a backdrop of racial pluralism, racial subordination, and racial power imbalance that puts choice in tension with principles of equality, tolerance, and universal citizenship. Expanding school-choice options to include private religious schools is likely to exacerbate these tensions in ways that threaten the possibility of moving into a functioning multiracial democracy.

It occurs to me that in this context, the agitation against critical race theory makes another kind of sense (beyond eroding trust in public education) as a pre-emption against any arguments about choice-driven segregation ("That's just more of that CRT stuff").

The first section of the essay looks at the history of school segregation and the importance to democracy of integration efforts. It's the section that's going to make some people tetchy.

School integration undoubtedly requires Black and brown students to bear heavy costs. But given the realities of white supremacy, the costs of not pursuing integrated schools are even greater. Pursuing integration sets a path toward disrupting the racial subordination that is inherent to segregation in America. Because of America’s history of white supremacy, segregation in America makes material and social equality impossible.

Section II looks at how school choice has not helped, and digs down into the ways that school choice works counter to democracy itself. The market does not bend that way.

School choice is supposed to reform public education by creating a marketplace of schools and allowing families to shop for a school. But in doing so, it situates students as consumers rather than as citizens. It shifts the purpose of public education away from cultivating citizens for American democracy toward furnishing a marketplace through which individual consumers can gain economic, social, and political advantage. To the extent the school-choice model engages with democracy, it defines democracy through the lens of freedom, reasoning that democracy should afford citizens the freedom to choose schools free from state regulation. School choice furthers values like liberty, autonomy, privacy, and competition. In contrast, school integration furthers values like equality, tolerance, and citizenship training.

Emphasis mine. Wilson looks at three ways that the tension between these models causes issues. Let me pull those three points out.

First, under the school-choice model, parents are not required to consider how their choices impact the broader community. Parents instead select schools that fit their preferences, even if that preference is for a school that teaches discrimination, intolerance, or myopic American history.

Second, parents of different racial and socioeconomic groups use school choice differently. Parents select schools that reflect either their ability to exercise social privilege and power or the limits of the institutional context in which their choices are being made.

Finally, racialized power dynamics place true choice out of reach for marginalized Black and brown students.

Put another way, the fewer resources parents have, the fewer choices a school choice system offers them, and the more they make choices based on circumventing the barriers built into the system. 

Section III looks at the intersection between choice, religion and segregation. This, again, gets rather academic in language, but the idea is solid enough--that in the US, many religions "are not organized solely around a collection of spiritual beliefs; many are also organized around social and political viewpoints." 

We've seen a ton of this over the past decade. Obama isn't really an American, isn't really a Christian. Trump, somehow despite all evidence to the contrary, is an instrument of God/Jesus. What are the odds that this effect spills over into schools that select only "real Christians" for their student body?

Wilson discusses the old objections--public schools have a terrible track record on segregation, so what's wrong a choice school that also segregates Brown and Black students if it gives them a good education (answer: it probably doesn't).

Section IV (yes, this essay is not short) considers the struggle between racialized religious segregation and American democracy.

American democracy is under attack. Though the attacks are multifaceted, one of the largest threats is the rise of racial and religious balkanization. The Court’s decision in Carson may significantly exacerbate the balkanization. As Justice Breyer noted, allowing religion into the public-school system increases the risk of social strife and division. Proliferation of school choice that creates racialized religious segregation will result in students being siloed, unexposed to the diverse array of persons that inhabit America. The net result will be a decrease in social solidarity and cohesion, elevating risks of internal upheaval and violence. Violence resulting from the insurrection at the Capitol, attempts to prohibit teaching about the history of race and discrimination in America, and the protests over extrajudicial killings of Black people by the police epitomize the dangers of existing balkanization. The insurrection at the Capitol wherein the participants made explicit calls to Christian nationalism presages how adding religion to the layers of balkanization could endanger America’s democracy.

The opposite of the CATO Institue argument, which is that public school is a hotbed and argument and the only way to bring peace to the country is to let everyone retreat to their own educational silos where they don't have to get in fights with people who are different. Something that, as Wilson points out, we've been trying on an ad hoc basis and which is not working out particularly well.

Choice, she warns, also creates the growth of tiers of education,

Allowing school choice to be contoured by religion and race opens up the possibility for the dominant racialized religion to be used as a sorting metric that enhances the relative value of some students’ education while devaluing the education of others. Put another way, certain kinds of religious education could become sought-after status markers that are unavailable to those who are not part of the dominant race or religion.

There's a lot more to this piece, and you may not buy all of it, but it's still a thought-provoking work, worth a read. You can find the whole piece here. 

Thursday, November 24, 2022


 Every year on this day, in my regular column in our local newspaper, I take a whack at the complicated feelings around Thanksgiving. This is from last year, and it's about as close as I've come to saying what I want to say. Happy Thanksgiving.

I have steadfastly avoided arguments about the historical basis of today’s holiday. No version of the first Thanksgiving is made better by the human impulse to flatten complicated human beings into two dimensional good guys and bad guys.

The Pilgrims appear to have been absolutely sincere in their faith, but with that comes an absolute certainty that they were right and everyone else was wrong. “Let’s establish a colony where everyone is free to worship as they wish,” said no Puritan ever. And the native tribes and bands that they encountered may have seemed more primitive than the European immigrants, but they had their own web of complicated and occasionally nasty political wranglings in which the Pilgrims represented a whole new factor.

Our colonial history is a complicated, messy tangle, worthy of careful inspection and thought. Kind of like all the rest of our history. But history is an endless conversation, not a single story set in stone, which means that history-based holidays are always going to be problematic.

But Thanksgiving isn’t just about history. It’s about gratitude, which absolutely deserves at least one holiday, because gratitude is everything.

We Americans aren’t very good at being grateful. We’re like the idea of being self-made, of pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps, of doing the work to be deserving of rewards. This often leads us into a strange sort of pseudo-gratitude—“Thank you, God, for giving me the things that I have earned and so richly deserved.”

That’s not really thankfulness. The Puritans themselves had a counter-argument—in their view of God and humanity, the only thing that human beings actually deserve is to burn in Hell forever, so anything else was a gift from God, something that you did not deserve but which God gave as a gift. In the Puritan view of the world, you could never, ever stand before God and say any version of “I earned this. I deserve this. So you must give it to me.”

We play the cards we are dealt in life, and we alone are responsible for what we do with them, how we play them, how we make the best use of them. But we don’t pick them ourselves. We do not make ourselves. And we don’t do anything alone.

It can be discouraging to take a hard look at our favorite self-made success stories, because they are all fables. Our favorite billionaires got started with family money or government money or important connections that gave them a leg up. I can’t think of a single success story, big or small, that doesn’t depend on the assistance of others. At the very very minimum, modern success stories depend on a basis in a stable nation with stable currency and a functioning infrastructure.

There’s nothing wrong with getting assistance from people, circumstances, luck, grace. We are still responsible for what we do with all of that. Nobody is a success based on only their own personal effort and work, but nobody is a success without putting effort and work into it.

But to deny the importance of the assistance we get, the crises we didn’t have to navigate, the breaks that were handed to us—well, that’s when we forget to be thankful. And gratitude is everything.

Without gratitude, we become hardened and unkind. From believing that we did it all ourselves, it’s an easy step to thinking that anyone who doesn’t have what we have—well, that person must be lazier or dumber or just generally less deserving than we are. Thankfulness naturally leads to a desire to pay it forward; the lack of gratitude leads to saying, “Not my problem. They need to take care of themselves.”

When we think all our success is self-created, we start to take it as proof that we are better than those who don’t have what we have. Thankfulness leads to empathy, to the ability to say (and mean) “There but for the grace of God go I.” Lack of gratitude leads to thinking, “I would never, ever be in that position. I’m just too smart and good. Those people must deserve their misfortune because they are lazy or bad.” Ingratitude concludes that you have been paid what the world owes you. Gratitude realizes what you owe the world.

So the challenge today is to think about what you’re truly thankful for. What do you have that is a gift of other people, God, fate, the universe? What in your life is more than you deserve? What do you have to be truly thankful for?

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Keeping Teachers Safe

I had two moments in my first year of teaching.

One was the moment when two students stood up and squared off to fight, and before the smarter part of my brain could intervene, I stepped between them. They were both a head taller and fifty pounds heavier than I, and they were damn sight more used to using fists to hammer out conflict.

The other was the moment when a student from another class period entered my room and stood chest to chest with me, describing in considerable detail how he was going to beat the shit out of me. Then he left, and I made it through the rest of the period before sitting down, shaking, at my desk. It ended okay; at the end of the day, he came back and sat down and talked to me at length about what was bothering him. But I kept the door to my classroom closed and locked for decades, and, weirdly, I have never, ever forgotten the date.

That was the 1979-80 school year. Things have not improved for teachers. 

Every teacher has some stories about dealing with violence in school. Sometimes it's student-to-student. Sometimes it's an act directed toward a teacher, even as simple as throwing an object. Sometimes it's just the threat, a student who spits out some language accompanied by a look that tells you that given the wrong circumstances, that student would be coming at you.

There's a nightmare that I suspect pretty much all teachers have, where somehow you have lost control in the classroom and things are spinning out of control as you desperately, fruitlessly try to get a handle on it. There's the knowledge that you have to work past when starting out, the realization that if your classroom of students decided to ignore you and collectively shut down the class, there's nothing you could do to stop it. You learn to wield authority, but you're aware that it's a construct, an illusion that exists as long as you and the students find it mutually agreeable to maintain it. 

And more than that. I say all of the above as a 6'1" male. I can't quite imagine how a classroom feels for a diminutive female. A teacher in a classroom is uniquely vulnerable, and yet you cannot let fear grab ahold of you because it renders you useless, even dangerous, as a teacher. It's one of those things that they don't teach you in teacher school (but you with any luck learn from your student teaching co-op)-- how to be calm and confident and large and in charge all at the same time.

These days, you can't be a teacher without being aware of the threat of violence. On top of the same old personal experiences, you hear (with shock) how young the attacker was, you see the news stories where the violence escalates and is rebroadcast on the net, you see the worst of the stories that escalate to actual murder. 

So it's not just the mass shootings. Those events get all the talk and generate the most shot, but teachers understand that these shootings are not disconnected balloons floating far above the earth, but the peaks of mountains of escalating violence.

Back in 2014, an American Psychology Association Violence Directed Against Teachers Task Force survey found that 44% of teachers reported an incident directed against them personally. A more recent iteration of that survey found numbers almost as high--and that was during the pandemic. Websites that usually focus on the wacky, fun side of teaching have published hard-edged articles about the issue. 
"Too Many Teachers Are Getting Hit, Kicked, and Punched by Students," writes the WeAreTeachers staff. "Student Violence Against Teachers Has Become the Norm and That’s NOT Okay" hollers the post at Bored Teachers. 

The issue exists at the intersection of many others, making it hard to implement. Like every single major issue in education, it requires balance between the many points of tension.

Fordham Institute, working from its own study, declares that "Lax discipline is bad for teachers," and they are not wrong. Teachers cannot do their best work in the midst of chaos. It is deeply demoralizing to work in a school setting where both you and your students know that no matter what they do, there will be no consequences. When folks argue that some level of discipline is needed to keep a school functional, they are not wrong. 

And it's not just to make teachers' lives easier; what is most annoying about that disruptive student is not the personal affront to teacher dignity, but the effect it has one the learning environment of every other child in that classroom.

But at the same time, these are students, children, and "school discipline" should not be some sort of pedagogical police state. "Break this child's will and bend it to my own," is not a viable strategy, not just because it's morally and ethically wrong, but also because a too-large part of the time, it simply won't work. 

People want to be heard. If they don't think you're hearing them, they will keep raising their voice till you hear them. When someone is yelling at you, that's a message for you. Every piece of student misbehavior is information about that student. 

However, it's also true that many schools have botched the rollout of programs like restorative justice. In the wrong hands, these are programs that reinforce an old bad lesson for students--just say the words the adults want you to say and you can go on about your business unhampered. 

And really, if there are SEL lessons to be learned at school, one of them has to be that struggling with your own load is not a free license to piss all over everyone else, and being in the classroom of someone who is not doing a great job is not a good reason to physically attack them. 

The issue is difficult because so many things can be true at once. A child can be a trauma victim who needs appropriate services. A teacher can be lousy at managing a classroom. A student can cause problems because he knows there will be no consequences for his bad behavior. A school can have a bad learning environment because students run roughshod over teachers, and a school can have a bad learning environment because the adults impose a tyrannical culture of compliance. 

And all of this happens against the background of a culture in which it's okay to denigrate and disrespect teachers, to accuse them of being groomers, teaching "filth," hating children and their country. And that is happening in a country in which it's increasingly acceptable to deal with people you disagree with by trying to obliterate them, either figuratively or literally, violently. Schools exist downhill from society and the culture at large; everything happening in society eventually ends up in schools. 

What can help? The biggest line of defense preventing violence against teachers is administration. Take teacher concerns seriously (and if you have a teacher who is demanding your happen too often, take that seriously). Be clear, proportionate, and consistent with student consequences, and keep those separate from labeling and pigeonholing children as "bad." Watch your teachers' backs. Prioritize making your school a safe space for everyone. Embrace solutions that work, not just those that feel good (throwing the book and just having a talk can both feel good). If you are over thirty, recognize these are not the times you grew up in. 

Parents can help, and some do, and some won't. Teachers can help, often, but not always. 

And policy makers can help mostly by not reducing the issue to simple solutions, which starts by admitting that the issue exists and that it needs to be worked on and not simply exploited as another way to kick the public education football around.