Monday, January 31, 2022

Brace Yourself: There's A Movie Coming

"Parents’ School Revolt About to Get a Jolt With Groundbreaking Documentary" reads the headline, andf if that's not enough of a signal, here's the lead in the news release:

The COVID-19 pandemic has at least one silver lining—revealing the truth to parents and teachers about America’s public education system.

And this explanation of why this documentary had to be made.

For years, most government-funded schools have been pursuing a political agenda of anti-American history, divisive Critical Race Theory, explicit sex education and gender theory for children as young as kindergarten. These assaults on children’s innocence have often been deliberately kept secret from parents. These radical curricula during online learning triggered a parents’ revolt in California, Colorado, Virginia, and across the nation.

The upcoming documentary is entitled Whose Childre Are They? and it will use "brave teachers, emboldened parents, impacted students and frontline experts" to reveal "how schools are bombarding children with age-inappropriate sex education and indoctrinating them with political and social ideologies without their parents' knowledge or consent."

This coming from Parents United America, another parental rights organization. 

We are the parents and we are united! We will stand together for our rights to raise our children and be the primary authority in their lives. Our children do not belong to the government, the schools or society.

There's more in that vein (plus "non-partisan"). Its website provides little information about who they are, though there are links that let you send them an e-mail, your story, or some money. The founder, however, is Deborah Flora. 

Deborah Flora is currently running for a U. S. Senate seat in Colorado, facing a primary with seven other GOP candidates. She likes phrases like "common ground of common sense" and is targeting the "political indoctrination pervading our schools." She's made a Fox news appearance as a "Colorado mom." In her campaigning, she repeatedly stresses that she is a small business owner and a mom, and that's a nice folksy background, but if you're wondering how a small business woman and mom ends up producing a slick documentary, the answer is that there's more to her story. 

Flora is also a former Miss Colorado and a second runner-up Miss America in 1990 (her talent was playing the flute). She graduated at the top of the Meadow School of Arts at SMU. She completed a BFA in Salzburg (opera, flute, acting), then went to Denver Seminary. She had a show on the Salem Radio Network, and she started a film production company with her husband called Lamplight Entertainment. They've produced a number of films, but the one you're most likely to have heard of is the well-regarded Lt Dan Band: For The Common Good about Gary Sinise and his globe-trotting, troop-entertaining band. 

Her husband and partner is Johnathan Flora, a vet who served with the 82nd Airborne and was Director of Marketing for WWF for a time. His stuff talks about "working with" high powered Disney stuff like the Marvel movies, but that appears to be mostly on the promotion and marketing side--he's done a ton of that.

Not sure why Deborah Flora the candidate is hiding her light under a bushel; maybe she fears that a good Hollywood resume doesn't play in Colorado. But none of this is particularly secret or hidden. At any rate, this accomplished couple is behind Whose Children Are They? It's not going to be an amateur production.

The one big name attached to the project is our friend Rebecca Friedrichs, the plaintiff in an anti-union court case who has parleyed that into a career as a right-wing teacher union basher and rolled right on into anti-masking and critical race theory panic. Her presence here tells us plenty about what to expect from the film. On the film's official website, there's a link to Friedrich's organization, For Kids and Country (and it really is her organization--their 2018 Form 990 shows the only two officers are Friedrichs and her husband), which features many stories of brave teachers who were abused by the Evil Teachers Union. Some of those same folks appear in the movie trailer. 

The film will show in certain theaters only on March 14; tickets go on sale February 4 and are available from Fathom Events, which categorizes the film as "inspirational." 

Update: Somebody has put a ton of money into this, because now that the tickets are on sale I can see that over 700 theaters are booked for this. It is most definitely coming to a theater near you.

So if you hear about the movie, this is what's up. And you can watch the trailer, although from the first words ("Public education has gone off the rails.") you'll be able to gauge what you're in for. Critical Race Theory! It's racist! Teaching sex acts! Students aren't proficient! Radical agenda! Exploited children! And an unironic repetition of that title question, which supposes that children must belong to somebody.  I'll attach the trailer, but you've been warned. This is not the rhetoric of people looking for dialog or redemption; just a little scorched earth.

TX: Governor's Attack On Teachers

Governor Greg Abbott has decided that he needs to step up his attack on teachers, proposing some new rules to undercut teacher authority and autonomy, because he wants to "make clear that parents are the primary decision makers in all matters involving their children." So here comes his Parents Bill of Rights.

What does that mean, exactly?

Well, for one thing, that means jumping on the Krause List Of Naughty Books bandwagon by setting up mechanisms for banning all books with "overtly sexual" content. In fact, he's ready to see any instances of making "pornography available" in public schools referred for "prosecution to the fullest extent of the law." This all comes, of course, on top of the usual directives that students should not be subjected to anything that makes them feel discomfort-- none of that race stuff for Texas students. 

And just in case that doesn't seem hard hitting enough, Abbott wants any teacher who's caught with naughty books to be stripped of their license, lose their pension, and be placed on a do not hire list for public schools (it's not clear if this list would also apply to charter and private schools).

No word yet on whether Abbott intends to shut down the internet for all minors.

Also, in a bizarre new slant on "parental rights," Abbott wants parents to be the final arbiters of whether a child passes or fails. This is kind of nuts. "Yes, my child failed Algebra I, but I want them in Algebra II next year." Most teachers who have been in the classroom for more than ten years have probably seen this happen without the force of law (just the application of parent force on a boneless administrator), and it never ends particularly well. On the one hand, the student lacks the base necessary to succeed at the next level; on the other hand, the student now understands that passing the course is not really necessary to move forward.

And as a slab of icing on the cake, public school districts would be required to do marketing for charter schools and other "alternatives." 

Just to be sure all of these grand ideas really stick, Abbott intends to fly his ideas as a state constitutional amendment

None of this seems likely to help fix Texas's problem finding teachers to fill vacancies. But the target here is not helping Texas education, but in helping Abbott's reelection campaign. If he has to step on public school teachers to get back to the governor's mansion, that's apparently okay with him, 

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Transparency As A Chaos Tool

A remarkable feature of Critical Race Theory panic is that we were told, early on, what was being done, and why. You've seen this quote multiple times, but let me remind you:

Well, here we go again.

In a series of tweets this month, Christopher Rufo, a fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute who has been instrumental in drawing opposition to racial sensitivity training, said shifting from pushing bans on teaching critical race theory to pushing curriculum transparency bills is a “rhetorically-advantageous position” that will “bait the Left into opposing ‘transparency.’”

“The strategy here is to use a non-threatening, liberal value — ‘transparency’ — to force ideological actors to undergo public scrutiny,” Rufo said.

Rufo's Manhattan Institute and the Goldwater Institute, whipped up sample legislation that various states have been following, and we're seeing these bills pop up everywhere. They're mostly identical to this one out in Utah or the one that got vetoed in Pennsylvania.

It's an odd time to be pushing such a thing; thanks to technology, classrooms are more transparent than ever, with learning platforms like Google Classroom putting every piece of daily work in a classroom on display where any parent can see it. And of course transparency is important; I have not met in my lifetime a teacher whose position was, "Nobody can ever know what we do in here." Because teachers do their work with students, and expecting students to keep the workings of a classroom secret is just as foolish. Also, teachers and schools have a responsibility to the taxpayers that pay the bills.

But all of that is only important in a good faith discussion about transparency, and that's not what's happening right now. Reading through dozens of accounts of these bills and the rhetoric pushing them, I find two groups emerging.

Group one consists of the people who are just certain that Evil Teachers and their Commie Union are secretly practicing all sorts of nasty indoctrination on students that they are bent on covering up, and only by forcing transparency will we be able to catch these evil doers and put a stop to them. As Rufo put it, "With curriculum transparency, every parent in the country can become an investigative reporter and expose any school that promotes racialist abuse." Do note the use of the word "abuse," which is also used in plenty of the anti-crt report-your-teacher-to-the-state laws out there (eg Virginia). 

(Rick Egan/Salt Lake Tribune) Doesn't she look happy?
President of Utah Parents United

Group two consists of folks from the old education disruptors crowd. The pandemic has been a great time for some of them; think of all the years they wanted to manufacture an education crisis, all the work that went into boosting high stakes testing in order to manufacture proof that schools were in crisis and collapse, and now COVID comes along and hands them the disaster they always wanted. Everyone is stretched thin and tense an overtuned banjo, so you just come along and pluck on some parents and trot out time-honored classics about how schools are going to steal your children's minds, and boom-- you've got chaos and destruction even more compelling than a hurricane.

I'll add the usual caveat--not all reformsters. I'll remain convinced that there are people in that crowd with a sincere concern about public education. And yes, there are probably some people in there with a sincere concern about school transparency. But right now they are all taking a back seat to folks who believe that, as Ron Johnson observed, it's not society's responsibility to take care of Other People's Children. Education should be an open marketplace where folks are free to make money however they can, and parents fend for themselves without the government backing them up, protecting them, or giving them more than an ever-shrinking token payment to cover expenses. To achieve that dream, first the current version of public education must be swept away, so anything that sows chaos, distrust, and destruction, is a welcome tool.

Is there a worthwhile, even important, conversation to have about transparency in education? Absolutely--important and never-ending. But the conversation that's being forced on education right now is not that conversation. This is just more chaos and confusion, one more tool for dismantling the public education system. This is a conversation that won't even produce any useful transparency beyond what we already have. It'll just give teachers one more reason to feel piled on, distrusted, accused, and burdened with time-wasting baloney, and it won't matter if some get fed up and quit, because for some folks, anything that further busts up public education is a win. 

ICYMI: Book Banning Edition (1/30)

 So that kind of blew up as the issue of the week. What a whacky time to be alive! Here's some stuff to read, because reading is good.

Incidentally, if you are new around here, this is a regular Sunday feature, in which I collect stuff from the previous week that I found worthwhile and interesting. If something here strikes your fancy, I strongly encourage you to amplify it and share it through your usual channels.

What we lose when we mistake the market for the public

Jan Resseger looks at the damage created by treating education as a free market commodity, and how Ohio has demonstrated that very damage.

How picking on teachers became an American tradition

Adam Laats at Slate, providing a useful historical perspective to the new wave of teacher attacks and surveillance. We've been here before.

Idaho's Teacher of the Year calls for changes in standardized testing

And he does it in front of the state house education committee. And he gets it right.

Efforts to ban CRT now restrict teaching for a third of US students

EdWeek takes a look at a new UCLA study that gives some hard data about just how bad the new trend in teacher gag laws has become. Bad.

Gag orders for teachers are becoming our new McCarthyism

Will Bunch in the Philadelphia Inquirer talks to some folks about how bad it is out there. Informative and infuriating.

A Texas GOP candidate's new claim: school cafeteria tables are being lowered for "furries."

Yikes. From Texas Monthly, a look at just how far out these folks have become. Incidentally, the candidate in question alko "works with" the local Moms for Liberty group.

Amazon paid for a high school course. Here's what it teaches.

Vice has this story of big tech co-opting education, and it's just about as bad as you would expect. 

Students slam school board over book review order

Of all the live action responses to banning activity that cropped up this week, this is one of my favorites. This 11th grade honors student has some words.

Massive corporate tax break in PA lacks basic accountability

Like many states, Pennsylvania has a tax credit scholarship program. But there is virtually no oversight. The Philadelphia Inquirer counts the many ways that nobody is paying any attention.

Dark money fuels Michigan school privatization campaign

Maurice Cunningham, the dark money expert from Massachusetts, takes a look at the Michigan version for the Detroit Free Press

New Hampshire teachers push back against lawmakers' efforts to regulate instruction

Seacoast online looks at teacher pushing back against New Hampshire's damn fool loyalty law.

7 ways teachers aren't treated like other professionals

From Stephanie Jankowski at Bored Teachers, a list that will strike teachers as all too familiar.

The shift from CRT panic to demands for transparency

Remember how Chris Rufo explained exactly what he was going to do to use crt as a tool to attack schools (and Democrats)? Well, he's doing it again to explain why transparency will be the next weapon of choice. NBC News has this story.

Success Academy extends its 75% attrition streak

Gary Rubinstein keeps an eye on the big star of NYC charterdom and finds that one secret to its success remains chasing away every student who might make it look unsuccessful.

How to learn nothing from the failure of VAM-based teacher evaluation

Schools Matter offers a short, clear lesson in how to study something, learn that it has failed, ad draw exactly the wrong conclusion anyway.

The 850 books on the Krause list

This is a repeat, but unfortunately, as more and more districts use this list as a reference, it's worth pulling this close analysis of the 850 books out again, because it is a really bad list.

Meanwhile, in What I Wrote For Forbes, this was the week that Ed Voters for Pennsylvania unveiled what they'd learned from 3500 pages of cyber school marketing invoices. Enough money spent on marketing to run a small school district.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Banning Books Is Dumb

Let's set aside, for a moment, the problems with trying stifle thoughts and ideas and the moral and ethical issues involved, or the heavy irony of people who say they hate cancel culture but want to cancel some authors. Banning books is just dumb for some very practical reasons.

Want to make something popular? Ban it.

This has been true forever. Mark Twain took out newspaper ads to thank the people who banned Huck Finn because they helped make copies. When our local scolds got up in arms about a performance of La Cage Aux Folles, it sold out. Today, after news spread of the banning of Maus, it was suddenly on the best-seller list again. No high school teacher with half a brain ever tells students, "Do not do X." Never, for instance, say, "I don't want another peep out of you guys," because you know what the next sound you hear will be. 

This is the 21st Century.

I keep thinking that the current wave of book banners will be really upset when they hear about the internet. Smart phones! Snap chat! Tik tok! There are so many avenues for children to access whatever content they want to find that there could be nothing less productive than pulling a book from the school library. That's before we even get to publicly available stuff like streaming Squid Games (of course, that's only violence, which is somehow less distressing to folks). Trying to control all the media paths to your own child is a major challenge, but trying to control them for other people's children is just folly. You will fail.

And the effects of exposure are...?

For the life of me, I can't find research showing any kind of trauma or damage coming from reading books that some parents disapprove of. Nothing. And we've been at the whole Objecting To Books thing for a while--back in the late 18th to early 19th century, lots of folks were pretty sure that reading novels was Very Bad for women. Fredric Wertham published Seduction of the Innocent in 1954 to make everyone aware that comic books were going to lead to all sorts of juvenile delinquency and homosexuality. And yet after all this time, zero evidence that reading causes trauma or delinquency.

And the thing is, one of the features of a book is that the moment something alarms or even just discomfits you, you can instantly disengage--not like a movie or video. 

This quote

From a student objecting to a book ban in Texas

I'm simply going to say that no government—and public school is an extension of government—has ever banned books and banned information from its public and been remembered in history as the good guys.

Using children as an excuse

The whole "protect the children" thing sure seems at times just to be a dodge, that some folks like to use the children as an excuse to ban things that they want to ban for everyone. Here's a god rule of thumb- if you are worried about protecting the children when it comes to naughty books, but not so much when it comes to the effects of poverty and racism and hunger and illness and gunfire, and if you nod your head when politicians say things like “I’ve never really felt it was society’s responsibility to take care of other people’s children," I am going to suspect that you are using children as an excuse to ban what you want to ban.

This is not a trust-building exercise

Book banning sends a message to your kids, and the message is "You cannot be trusted and are probably just one bad page turn away from turning into a terrible person." Maybe that's an approach t9o parenting that you want to try. I don't, and I wouldn't really recommend it.

Even worse is sending the message to some children that Their Kind is not welcome and Their Kind should just stay quiet and not let anyone know who they really are. Imagine how destructive that message could be. Imagine how destructive that message will be if you have one of Their Kind growing up in your very own home.

You can't control other parents.

Seriously. One of the weird aspects of the current parents' right spasm is the parents saying, "I will decide what is right for my child, and also what is right for other parents' children, because I should have absolute control over my child's life but also that privilege only belongs to right-minded people who agree with me and not those crazy parents over there." 

Yes, there are moral and intellectual and ethical arguments to be made against book banning, but let's face it--this is another argument in which everyone thinks they're on the side of the angels. I feel certain book banners are wrong, but I am equally certain that they are doomed to utter failure, because dumb ideas tend to fail.

And no, this does not mean I'm totally cool with exposing my four year olds or my grandchildren to a steady diet of porn. We have some house rules about what kinds of things they do or don't experience, but those are our rules for our house and I have no interest in imposing those rules on everyone else. And if difficult things emerge, we will sit down and talk about them, because a far more effective technique for dealing with difficult or distressing or unfamiliar stuff is, rather than trying to block it all from your child's life, instead to equip your child to deal with it, and sit with them and talk them through it. Listen to them; a lot of what may freak you out they will simply find boring for years--until they don't any more--so pay attention. This is how you deal with books and music and, for that matter, your neighbor's pro-Trump F-bomb flags. 

Friday, January 28, 2022

FL: Education Buffet of Bad Bills

Nationally, we're seeing a great surge of bad bills being proposed as pseudo-conservative legialtors rush to prove that they are the banniest, teacher-gaggingest legislators out there. And as always, we can find Florida providing an example of how that looks. 

Here are just some of the bills under consideration in America's Swampland.

There is of course all the activity around Ron DeSantis's STOP Woke Act, which has a spectacular level of hostility toward public ed and teachers. But what else does Florida's legislature have up its sweaty sleeve? All icky, and I've saved the worst for last.

SB 148 Individual Freedom

The bill isn't exactly related individual freedom; it's just the Florida version of the critical race theory bans sweeping pseudo-conservative legislators. This forbids the usual list of naughty "discomforts" for both schools and businesses, so if you're a business owner, it's not your individual freedom that the GOP is concerned with. Also, abstinence education is in, but for some reason, the list of health education subjects hereby eliminates "mental and emotional health." and instead adds a requirement for teaching life skills like resiliency and self-awareness that "support mental and emotional health." Yes, the state legislature will now tell you what mental and emotional health entail.

The individual freedom part arrives at the end, where the bill takes the usual list of anti-crt boiler plate (nobody is inherently racist, meritocracy is fundamental to the pursuit of happiness, no individual is responsible for past bad stuff, no discomfort, etc) are now acknowledged and enshrined in education programs as the "principles of individual freedom." This is kind of mind blowing, but a fine codification of the pseudo-conservative belief that if you are less wealthy and less free than other folks, it's your own damned fault for failing to make good choices. 

HR 1055: Video Cameras in Public School Classrooms

This dumb bill wants to install video cameras and body mics for teachers. These may be used to investigate an "incident," defined as "an event, a circumstance, an act, or an omission that results in the abuse or the neglect of a student" by either the teacher or another student. The camera should be mounted in such a way that it can cover the entire room, but not anywhere students change their clothes. If a district installs such a camera, they must inform everyone who could conceivably be affected. 

There are protections in the bill for students, and they are dumb. When showing the video to involved parties, you should blur out the faces of other students, which provides little actual confidentiality ("Pat, who sits next to you in Mrs. Whinglebutter's room?") Presumably the bill is intended to give parents one more tool to catch teachers who are abusing their child with indoctrinatin' stuff, but it looks like an excellent tool for using the school to harass other ("Sam says that Winslow kid is causing trouble every day, so let's pull Winslow junior up on video, shall we?") There are no items in the bill about providing due process for the teachers or students who become the subjects of this increased surveillance. Stay tuned for teacher evaluation form that includes "number of times administration had to watch your tape."

SB 1300: Transparency etc

One of the side debates raging in Florida is what to do with school board pay. Before it gets into its real meat, this bill proposes making school board member salaries equal to the pay given legislators, which is not a hell of a lot (a useful method of keeping the poors out of government). 

Any adoption or review of instructional materials must be public, and the committee must include parents. Library and school materials must be selected by professionals, and all materials must appear on line in a searchable format (otherwise, how can you check to see if your school has That Naughty Book you heard about on OAN). 

All materials must be available to the public (including teacher editions), allowing the public to inspect and copy anything they wish (far use copyright laws apply, somehow). Adoption of materials must be a separate line item so that the public can comment on them. Also, submit a banned book report annually to the state ed chief. And the state must develop a training program so that folks have been taught How Not To Select Naughty Books. 

HB 1467: K-12 Education

Is the sibling of SB 1300--except that it eliminates school board pay entirely. A sponsor thinks that will take the politics out of school board elections, somehow? 

We want to make sure our schools are focused on parental engagement, parental involvement, and by eliminating, quite frankly, the financial incentive for politicians to use this as an opportunity either as a launching pad to a political career, or maybe a landing pad by which to get a salary.

SB 244 is also aimed at school boards, but this one would make elections more partisan by requiring school board candidates to file by party affiliation. Because extreme party politics are definitely making America more greater these days.

SB 1348 is trying to clean up after the mess that Florida made when they combined and expanded their various voucher programs, creating a voucher behemoth that turned out to be a lumbering bureaucratic mess. So this bill is supposed to make it faster and more efficient to give public tax dollars to private education-flavored businesses and religious schools.

HB 1557 Don't Say Gay (SB 1834 is its counterpart)

Okay, it's actually called "an act relating to parental rights in education." This is perhaps one of the scariest bills out there. The headline making part of the bill is this one:

A school district may not encourage classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in the primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students. 

Pat: Teacher, my older brother says he's gay, and I'm confused about what that means.

Teacher: Shut up, Pat. 

But the scarier part for teachers is that on the one hand, the bill absolutely forbids the school to withhold any personal information about the child. 

The procedures must reinforce the fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding the upbringing and control of their children by requiring school district personnel to encourage a student to discuss issues relating to hie or her well-being with his or her parent or to seek permission to discuss or facilitate discussion of the issue with the parent.

And, boy, howdy, we could talk about that word "control," but instead, let's imagine another day in Florida schools.

Teacher: Students, I want you to know that you can share anything you're struggling with me. This classroom is a safe space, and whether we're having a private discussion or you're just sharing in your journal, I want you to know that's okay. Also, I'm required to report everything you tell me to your parents.

The bill tries to have things both ways, acknowledging that teachers still have a responsibility to report suspected abuse, and even acknowledging that teachers might want to hold off on that parental sharing thing if they have reason to believe that the student will be subject to abuse if the parent gets Certain Information. 

So teachers have to somehow straddle that line and --oh yeah. Parents have the right to sue the school district if they think you got it wrong. The court can award damages to parents who think the school didn't tell them everything they were supposed to be told. 

So call this bill Don't Say Gay, or call it Teachers Must Narc or No Safe Space. Florida Rep. Joe Harding, who introduced the bill says that it's about defending the "awesome responsibility" or being a parent. "That job can only be given to you by above." But Chase Buttigieg was more on point when he said "This will kill kids." Struggling LGBTQ kids in Florida will have no safe place to turn, and teachers will have their hands tied in a dozen new ways. 

On the plus side, I'm not sure this bill wouldn't open the door for parents to sue schools over not letting their children discuss LGBTQ issues in class. That would be fun, and well deserved, but unfortunately would simply further the goal of sowing chaos and destruction for public education.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Ron Johnson Says It Out Loud: Other People's Children Aren't My Problem

 Senator Ron Johnson started out the old-fashioned way--working at company created and funded by his father-in-law, as an accountant. In 2010, as a previous political virgin, he rode the Tea Party Wave into a Senate seat for Wisconsin (he defeated Russ Feingold). When he ran again in 2016, he was backed by the Club for Growth and won with 50.2% of the vote.

He doesn't believe in climate change (calling it "buillshit"). He has agitated to cut taxes and stop raising the debt ceiling, and he's a sup0porter of tax cuts for the wealthy (trickle down, you know). When John McCain kept Obamacare alive with his vote, Johnson speculated that it was late and McCain had a brain tumor "So some of that might have factored in." As chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, he has held hearings to platform some fringe ideas about COVID, and he has fed a number of baseless rumors, including the vaccinations being fatal; YouTube suspended his account. He supported the end of DACA, and he has been a big Trump supporter, including arguing for the idea that there was a conspiracy against Trump at high levels in the FBI. He was all wrapped up in the Ukraine-Trump scandal as well, and backed several of Trump's fraud claims about the 2020 election. January 6 was, in his estimate, just a bunch of patriotic folks and not as scary as if they had been Black Lives Matter.

There's plenty more, but you get the idea. He's that guy. Not as fringe as you might hope he was (also, he turns out to be about my age, which surprised me--I somehow imagined that he was a much older guy), but definitely over on the Trump-Koch corner of the political spectrum. 

So when Johnson offered this quote--well, it fits with what a certain slice of the political world appears to think. It's the quiet part out loud.

During a tour of a business headquarters in La Crosse, Wisconsin, Johnson offered some thoughts, including blaming the Biden administration for inflation. Then this:

“People decide to have families and become parents, that’s something they need to consider when they make that choice,” Johnson said. “I’ve never really felt it was society’s responsibility to take care of other people’s children.”

Johnson says instead, it’s society’s responsibility to provide the opportunity for people to get good jobs to support their entire families.

Emphasis mine. This was in reference the government helping parents find child care (he doesn't support it) and reducing unemployment benefits to force them back to work (he's all for that), but the principle also applies to education.

When it seems as if certain corners of the conservative world are intent on breaking down and busting up public education, this is the principle--it is not society's responsibility to take care of other people's children. This is behind resisting putting money and support into public ed, and it's also behind voucher systems, because the point of voucher systems is not to finance or "empower" parents, but to cut them loose from government support by making them personally responsible for getting their own kid's education. The voucher is just a small way to make it look pretty. 

But it's that guiding principle that Johnson articulates so clearly-- it's not my responsibility to take care of other people's children, and if they decided to have children without knowing for certain that they would never need help, well, that's their bad choice and not my problem. 

There are layers of irony and sociopathy here, starting with Johnson's personal fortune existing because his father-in-law decided to help support somebody else's child. And we're not even going to get into the "choose to be a parent" piece of this from someone who staunchly opposes any abortion (and who will disinherit his children if they have a child out of wedlock--really). And yes, Johnson opposed the Obamacare birth control mandate. Safe to say that Johnson does not believe it takes a village to raise a child.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

VA: Youngkin Invites Everyone To Turn In Teachers

 Figuring that pitting parents against schools had won him an election, Governor Glenn Youngkin has made good on his pledge to attack public education and the teachers who work there.

He started right in with an edict that schools should not teach anything "inherently divisive," one more anti-CRT law so fuzzy, subjective, and poorly-conceived that it will chill teaching of any subjects that anybody might object to. The text is spectacularly vague, and though it contains a list of some "divisive concepts" that are specifically naughty, its reliance on that "divisive concept" language guarantees that schools across the state will have no clear idea what exactly is forbidden, and so administrations not in the mood for a fight will simply instruct teachers not to talk about race, gender, or pretty much anything that might upset anybody. Is evolution divisive? History of the Civil War (particularly in Virginia)? My students were pretty divided on whether Lady MacBeth is a redeemable character or not. In fact, we used to stage debates, but I suppose those are inherently divisive, too.

To insure that the decree carries maximum power to intimidate and silence teachers, the governor has followed the lead of states like Texas and Florida and instituted a means for parents and community members to turn in any teachers for being naughty. As he explained in one interview:

For parents to send us any instances where they feel that their fundamental rights are being violated, where their children are not being respected, where there are inherently divisive practices in their schools. We’re asking for input right from parents to make sure we can go right to the source as we continue to work to make sure that Virginia’s education system is on the path to reestablish excellence.

Brown shirts and cultural revolution posters are optional.

James Fedderman, the head of the Virginia Education Association called the tip line "poorly conceived" and "designed to intimidate educators simply trying to do their jobs," which sounds about right.

But of course you know what else happened next. The tip line has apparently been hit with a variety of reports, like a complaint that Albus Dumbledor "was teaching that full blooded wizards discriminated against mudbloods." Some of this has been goaded on Twitter by folks like human rights lawyer Qasim Rasgid. And John Legend correctly pointed out that under the guidelines of the decree, Black parents could legitimately complain about Black history being silenced (because, as sometimes escapes the notice of anti-CRT warriors, some parents are Black). Ditto for LGBTQ parents.

Also, this has been floating about the interwebz.

Anyone can send their reports to the tip line email:

So if you have some thoughts about all of this that you would like to share with the governor, just send them to

Which is of course only for serious, meaningful, and real complaints about divisive concepts, and not fake racism tips or other things. I certainly wouldn't consult this twitter thread for any ideas, but I would send to

only the kind of serious comments that such a state-sponsored attempt to intimidate and silence teachers deserves. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Going To Battle Over 38 Cents

 Parents Defending Education is one of the several totally-not-astroturf groups that has turned up to fight against left-wing indoctrinatin' in schools. They are just regular folks and not at all representative of a conservative attempt to turn school controversy into political power.

PDE's vice president for strategy and investigations Asra Nomani dropped what I think was supposed to be a bombshell (like most PDE leaders, Nomani is a seasoned political operator--she voted for Trump and helped back his Muslim ban). It's those darned Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs.

"The amount of money put into social justice consulting since the tragedy of the George Floyd killing has just exploded," Asra Nomani, the vice president for strategy and investigations at Parents Defending Education, told Newsweek.

The total amount spent on programs "under the DEI umbrella" is $21,812,007 (an impressively exact number). That, I take it, is supposed to be a lot. That was not my reaction, nor the reaction of some others.

I'm not sure that's fair-- with around 54 million K-12 students, that works out to about thirty-eight cents per student, so it's way less than the cost of breakfast. 

Meanwhile, today we also learned that the about ten cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania spent around $35 million over two years--just for marketing.

There are several pieces missing here. For instance, it's an odd choice to start counting "since the George Floyd killing," as if these kinds of programs were just invented after that murder was committed, and yet I could swear these programs, and the concerns the6y address, have been around for a while.

And the huge missing piece here is the explanation of why, exactly, DEI programs are evil and terrible. The theory, per PDE website and many CRT panic folks, is that DEI is obviously just a front for CRT, which imbues DEI with some vaguely second-hand badness. 

Newsweek, which ought to be ashamed of itself for running with this silly story, at least includes some words from one of these evil DEI consultants so we can see just what they're up to:

One of those agencies is Akoben LLC, which says it offers consulting, coaching services, speaking engagements and a variety of workshops meant to "stretch thinking, provoke reflection and stimulate action." Subjects taught include "restorative practices, trauma-informed care, cultural relevancy and agency and assets."

"No significant learning happens outside of a significant relationship—it requires a relationship between teachers and students, and the deeper that is, the more learning and more challenges we can confront," Malik Muhammad, CEO of Akoben, told Newsweek. The vast majority of Akoben's work, 95 percent, is with public schools.

Goodness. And then there's this:

"In all of domains, whether it's a white student chasing sexual identity issues or a poor student who comes from Somalia trying to understand what's going on—oftentimes if we don't find time to talk about the differences we often default to the majority," said Muhammad said. "When we find the opportunity to be more inclusive, those are the environments where [students] want to learn."

Personally, I'd like to see more than 38 cents per student spent on that.

Of course, this is just PDE's estimate. Some other conservative groups are throwing around $25 billion based on this NYT piece, which doesn't really have much to do with education.

Look, I have no doubt that there are some crappy vendors out there cashing on a demand for DEI programming, but the notion that we should tell kids to keep their heads down and focus on reading, writing, and 'rithmetic and just keep quiet about all that race stuff is a bad, unproductive notion.

And if PDE wants to convince anyone that they are not simply political operatives trying to stir up racist anger and discontent to animate their base and score politics, they probably shouldn't try to stir up pretend outrage over what is literally nickel and dime baloney. 

Monday, January 24, 2022

NC: More Bad Ideas (That Will Not Recruit Teachers)

 North Carolina's public education system has been a mess for at least a decade, and some bright lights have another clever idea that will not help. 

North Carolina is tied for #3 on the Public Education Hostility Index.Just to recap where we are, here's a partial listing of all the lousy ideas North Carolina has implemented so far.

NC implemented one of those flunk third graders if they don't as the Big Standardized Reading Test laws. They froze their already-lousy pay schedule for teachers (in NC, the state sets the pay levels) even as that pay was shown to be Very Not Good.. When a report showed charter schools not doing so great, the Lt. Governor ordered it rewritten to look less negative; then a few years later they did the same thing again. Maybe it's because they are a great haven for charter profiteers. They decided to shovel even more public money into the voucher pipeline, while cutting millions from public ed funding (for Democratic areas). They tried to follow the failed Tennessee model of a state-run achievement school district (but it failed). When the legislature tried and failed to end teacher tenure, they told teachers they could have a raise if they gave up their job protections. NC legislature is one of the ones that decided to fight on the hill of denying transgender bathrooms. And last year the Lt. Governor decided to oirganize a task force to catch any schools or teachers doing any naughty indoctrinatin' stuff--a state sponsored with hunt. This in a state where county commissioners can take school districts hostage if they don't like what the schools are teaching.

Periodically, leaders in North Carolina stop to scratch their heads and wonder why their public school system has trouble filling teaching positions.

Last week, the Governor's Teacher Advisory Committee listened to a presentation by the Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission about how to attract and retain teachers in North Carolina, and you probably can't guess what the solution is.

Licensure. The "most effective way to get and keep teachers [is] to change North Carolina's licensure process."

Hey--you know this is going to be a good idea because it grew out of discussions at the North Carolina Education Human Capital Roundtable, a group of "state education leaders and practitioners working together to find innovative ways to address the state's teacher shortage issue." 

I'm guessing that "innovative" is the key word here, because ideas like "pay them more" and "treat them and the public education system with respect and support" are pretty inside-the-box old hat. As would be treating them like people and not "human capital."

The Human Capital Roundtable has been kicking this idea around for a while (they presented it to the state board about a year ago and they report that "there is nothing promised from the legislature at this particular point, but they are very interested in our work." 

The proposal has a collection of old familiar reform parts.

Make the pool deeper. Right now, they note, people who want to be teachers go to four year teacher prep programs. So they propose to "widen the entrance" by letting any associate or bachelor degree qualify someone for licensure. I am not sure how this helps--is there a widespread problem with people who get a degree in some other area and are surprised and disappointed to discover that degree doesn't lead to teaching? People who want to be teachers, but who want to go to school for something else--well, I guess Teach for America has sort of introduced this idea? But okay--wider entryway.

Off ramps. The proposal calls for "clear exit points for ineffective teachers," aka the old "it should be easier to fire people from teaching." One reason would be a lack of content or pedagogical skills or competencies; if only they could have gone to college to get that kind of background. 

Then there should be steps, so that there's a professional ladder for teachers to climb, because that will help. somehow. One of the presenters noted that teachers get good around years 5-7 and then plateau, and it's not clear if he thinks there are untapped levels of excellence that could be goosed or what. 

So in this plan there are four "entry-level" certificates. Learning Permit, and Levels 1, 2 and 3. Learner Permits earn a co-teacher salary, while the others get a tad more. All these entry level teachers are paired with an Advanced Teacher mentor.  Then there are three Professional-Level certificates that you can work up to.

The "working up to" part brings back some other old favorites, including getting competency-based micro-certificates. But the real kicker is called out in this quote:

The overarching goal is to create an outcomes-based licensure system.

The grand idea includes references to effective teaching and positive impact on students, which gets us right back to a system in which professional advancement depends on student test scores on the Big Standardized Test, which of course means that teacher's professional future is based on which students you are assigned to or the results of some criminally-inaccurate magic formula. (Oh look--brand new evidence that the popular measures for "effectiveness" are lousy.) If North Carolina officials are interested in outcomes, I'd suggest that the outcome of this idea will not be a bunch more teachers being recruited and retained by the state. 

In their pitch last year, the human capital folks claimed, among other things, that this will restore "the respect the professions deserves," and maybe that's just a passive-aggressive slam about how it doesn't deserve much, because this plan sure doesn't offer any. They also claim to be the first in the nation to innovate this way," but there isn't a single new idea here. 

These folks are also trying to sell this as a money-maker for teachers, saying teachers could "top out" around $70K instead of the current $50K, and that teachers could earn "almost $200,000 over a 30-year career than they do now" which is not impressive (that's $6,666 more per year). Increases would depend on getting through all the hoops, since this system would completely do away with annual steps. Not that North Carolina teachers haven't been left stuck on one step of the pay scale before. Nowhere is there an indication of what the bottom of this new scale looks like, which is an important item to look at, since plans to let teachers climb a ladder to success invariably start by digging a hole and dropping the bottom of the ladder a few feet lower than it currently stands (because part of the goal is always to pull off this triuck without actually spending more money on teachers).

GTAC also heard from BEST NC, which is a business coalition of education meddler/kibbitzers that's also been working on a plan called NC STRIDE that is supposed to help recruit teachers to NC. They've collected data and written recommendations and almost all of it is vague bureaucratic hoop and tape shuffling. They came up with 8 recommendations, 20 strategies, 150 actions, and 5 gateways. 

The five gateways they examined are: interest, licensure, employment, exposure, and preparation. “Somewhere along these five gateways, they hit a wall,” Berg said of potential teacher candidates.

In other words, they don't have a clue what the problem is. 

I can't figure out if all these folks are supremely clueless or are simply trying to paper over North Carolina's decade of unrelenting disrespect and erosion of support for public schools and the people who work in them. Do they really think they're holding a debutante's cotillion, or are they slapping lipstick on this human capital pig and hoping she'll pass? Either way, there will be oinking on the dance floor.

Money and respect, which includes professional autonomy and decent, well-resourced workplaces. It's not that big a mystery, except, apparently, in North Carolina. 

Sunday, January 23, 2022

ICYMI: So Now It's Winter Edition (1/23)

 Well, that was kind of sudden. Just last week we were all cozy and now it's all cold and that thing where the sun comes out and the world calls "Come on out--it's beautiful" and then you succumb to temptation and lose a couple of toes. So here's this week's reading list instead.

I Always Be Sneaky

Your uplift for the week. An eight year old in Boise wrote a book and then snuck it onto the library shelf, because you got to reach your audience whatever it takes. \

Legislator's Guide To Making Useful Education Policy

Ten absolutely useful guidelines from Nancy Flanagan. If only more policy makers followed these.

Judge Issues Stinging Free Speech Ruling Against University of Florida

This is good news. The University wanted to bar professors from serving as expert witnesses against the state. Turns out they can't do that kind of barring. New York Times has the story. "Stop acting like your contemporaries in Hong Kong," the judge told university administrators.

"Our Biggest Nightmare Is Here"

Yes, it's in Education Next, but this story from a school district IT director is an excellent look at the issue of schools suffering cyberattacks.

Why requiring lesson plan submissions from teachers right now is absurd

Angela Barton writes at Bored Teachers, explaining why submitting your detailed lesson plans should be the least of a teacher's problems right now.

One Jeans Day Won't Cut It (and what school leaders can do instead)

From the blog Organized Chaos, a great luck at the Do's and Don't's of raising staff morale right now.

Is "Learning Loss" real, or a function of America's need for speed?

From blogger and teacher Barth Keck, another look at the real issues connected to Learning Loss.

Public School Parents sue to stop West Virgina vouchers

From Public Funds Public Schools, the important information about an important lawsuit to stop vouchers before they get started in WV.

What to know about the charter school debate

Virginia is turning out to be another front in the charter attack on public ed. This explainer from NPR does a good job of laying out the issues in this particular iteration of the oft-repeated conflict.

A short history of Seth Andrews and Seth Andrews pleads guilty to wire fraud

Former Arne Duncan sidekick and charter school founder Seth Andrews is in some trouble with a whole embezzlement thing. Leonie Haimson at NYC Public School Parents and the indispensable Mercedes Schneider both offer useful insights and history on this guy and his current problems.

Kindergarten online data? Teacher observation is safer and better!

Computerized testing for early childhood? Nancy Bailey looks at one more dumb idea being aimed at the littles, and offers a superior alternative.

A Health Screening Questionnaire for Teachers

McSweeney's continues to demonstrate that dark times for regular humans are peak times for satirists.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Koch Education Wing Continues Rebranding

Remember when Charles Koch wrote that he had done an oopsie by being so partisan and dividing the country? That was back in late 2020, and it was followed by the rise of a new Koch Brand--Stand Together--which in turn spawned a new substack about fixing education called "Learning Everywhere." It turns out that the Koch metamorphosis was not done yet.

"Learning Everywhere" was co-hosted by Lisa Snell, director of K-12 education policy for Stand Together, aka the Charles Koch Institute. Previously she spent 23 years as Director of Education at the Reason Foundation. Her co-host is Adam Peshek, who is part of the same Kochtopus, having arrived Jeb Bush's ExcelinEd (formerly FEE). Peshek also works at Yes, Every Kid, a rebranding of some standard reform ideas.

The substack started out playing the reformy hits (did you know schools are built on the factory model? well, they weren't, but did you think so anyway? Snell and Peshek would like you to think so).

So, Charles Koch Institute is now Stand Together Trust, an organization that now has a hip young vibe. Check out the website-- "We help you tackle the roots of America's biggest problems" in bold print over dynamic videos. Hugging! Clapping! Black people! "Everyone is tired of all the fighting over problems with very little focus on real solutions."

Among the issues they want to address is education, and their dynamic new solutions are...well, the same old ones. They insist that education is currently one-size-fits-all (news to teachers in public schools), and they have the same old right-tilted complaints-- we spent more money but test scores didn't go up! Families give education a C (but we're not going to point out that they give far higher grades to the local schools they know). Individualized education is where it's at. 
There's a video in which Sal Khan, promoter of an educational program that involves students sitting and passively watching a video, complains that education involves students sitting passively while listening to a teacher. Other "leaders" they bring up are Diane Tavenner, head of Summit Schools (a school-in-a-box not-great tech product). There are lots of pictures of exciting active learning, all of which could have come from a public school. Aaron Frumin, founder of unCommon Construction, who talks about how frustrated he became "as a teacher" which he was for the two whole years he spent with Teach for America. His program uses students as laborers to build houses, an innovative program pretty much like the one the vocational technical school in my county has had for sixty years. Here's Todd Rose "By any measure, the system doesn't work." Rose was a professor at Harvard's Graduate School of Education and founder of the Center for Individual Opportunity and he runs the think tank Populace. And he has a Story, in which he dropped out of high school ("The system failed me.") There's some more talk about believing in students (which, again, is not unheard of in public schools). "Success doesn't have to mean one thing. We need our education system to have a much broader view of success."

That's the pitch. Well, actually, the pitch is use your money to invest in these people doing this stuff. But also, we got 11 major education bills passed in 8 states in 2021, and somehow we don't talk about what those bills did, like pushing privatization of education or gagging of teachers. There are case studies of success, like Cadence Learning, one more cyber-school venture, this one launched by Chris Cerf, Ian Rowe and Steven Wilson--all god privatization champions.

Meanwhile, the known recipients of ST grants are not so much education revolutionaries as the same old Koch style conservative crews. Americans for Prosperity, Bill of Rights Institute, Bellwether Education, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Texas Public Policy Foundation, Vela Education Fund. 

The substack has now transformed into a new title-- Permissionless Education. That term has cropped up several places lately, and it really captures the Libertarian mindset of not wanting to have to ask for anyone's permission to do anything ever, a mindset I can recognize immediately because I live with a pair of four-year-old toddlers. 

The announcement of all these name changes on the substack comes with a listing of the priorities, which they assure us remain the same.

Individualized education, one not aimed toward students who "parrot back what they have been told or read" (because one weird recurring theme in reformsters is a desire to reform the schools of the 1960s).

Normalizing unconventional models. Specifically, privately owned and operated ones that involve no government oversight, tax dollars, or responsibility for people who can't pay their own way.

Ending residential assignment. You might think this means "find ways to get kids from poor neighborhoods into the schools that rich kids go to," but that does not seem to be the case.

Modernizing education funding. Vouchers. Just say the word, team. Vouchers. Because vouchers' most important characteristic is that in exchange for cutting parents a small check, the state washes their hands of any responsibility to provide people with an education, which in turn gets rich people out of having to pay taxes to educate Those Peoples' Children. 

There's been a lot of rebranding going on and plenty of tweaking of the message, but at root, this all feels very familiar. Privatize. Shrink government. Let people sink or swim in a free market, just as God intended. But the logo is pretty, and the graphics are great. 

The Search For Computerized Essay Grading Continues

It is the dream that will not die. For some reason, there are still people who think the world would be a better place if student essays could be evaluated by software, because reasons. The problem has remained the same--for decades companies have searched for a software algorithm that can do the job, but other than deciding to call the algorithms "AI," progress has been slim to none.

And yet, the dream will not die. So now we get a competition, mounted by Georgia State University has teamed up with The Learning Agency Lab (a "sister organization" with The Learning Agency).

The Feedback Prize is a coding competition being run through Kaggle, in which competitors are asked to root through a database of just under 26K student argumentative essays that have been previously scored by "experts" as part of state standardized assessments between 2010 and 2020 (which raises a whole other set of issues, but let's skip that for now). The goal is to have your algorithm come close to the human scoring results. Why? Well, they open their case with a sentence that deserves its own award for understatement.

There are currently numerous automated writing feedback tools, but they all have limitations. 

Well, yes. Primarily they are limited because they don't work very well. The contest says the current automated feedback programs is that "many often fail to identify writing structures" like thesis statements of support for claims. Well, yes, because--and I cannot say this hard enough--computer algorithms do not understand anything in the sense that we mean the word. Computer language processing is just weather forecasting--looking at some bank of previous language examples and checking to see if the sample they're examining has superficial characteristics that match what the bank of samples would lead one to expect. But no computer algorithm can, for instance, understand whether or not your supporting evidence provides good, er even accurate, support.

The competition also notes that most current software is proprietary so that A) you don't even know what it's trying to do, or how and B) you can't afford it for your school, particularly if your school is resource-strapped, meaning that poor kids have to depend on regular old humans to grade their writing.

For extra juice, they note that according to NAEP, only a third of students are proficient (without noting that "proficient" on NAEP is a high bar). They do not cite any data showing that automated essay grading helps students write better, because they can't. 

But if you enter this competition, you get access to a large dataset of student writing "in order to test your skills in natural language processing, a fast-growing area of data science."

If successful, you'll make it easier for students to receive feedback on their writing and increase opportunities to improve writing outcomes. Virtual writing tutors and automated writing systems can leverage these algorithms while teachers may use them to reduce grading time. The open-sourced algorithms you come up with will allow any educational organization to better help young writers develop.

902 teams have already entered; you can actually check their current status on a public leader board. There are lots of fun team names like Feedforward, Pomegranate, Zoltan and Fork is all you need. Plus many that are not in English. Poking through the site, you can see how much the writing samples are referred to ad discussed as data rather than writing; many of these folks are conceptualizing the whole process as analyzing data rather than assessing writing, and in fact there don't seem to be any actual writing or teaching experts in sight, which is pretty symptomatic of the whole field of automated essay evaluation. 

Who is in sight?

Well, you'll be unsurprised to find that the competition thanks The Gates Foundation, Schmidt Futures, and the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative for their support. Schmidt Futures, the name you might not recognize here, was founded by Eric Schmidt, former Google CEO, to technologize the future.

And if we look at the Learning Agency and the Learning Agency Lab, it's more of the same. The Agency is "part consultancy, part service provider," so a consulting outfit that works to "improve education delivery systems." They tout a team of "former academics, technologists, journalists and teachers." Sure. We'll see.

The outfit was founded by Ulrich Boser in 2017, and they partner with the Gates Foundation, Schmidt Futures, Georgia State University, and the Center for American Progress, where Boser is a senior fellow. He has also been an advisor to the Gates Foundation, Hillary Clinton's Presidential Campaign, and the Charles Butt Foundation--so a fine list of reform-minded left-leaning outfits. Their team involves former government wonks, non-profit managers, comms people and one woman who used toi teach English at a private K-12 school. The Lab is more of the same; there are more "data scientists" in this outfit than actual teachers.

I'm going out on a limb to predict that this competition, due to wrap up in a couple of months, is not going to revolutionize writing assessment in any way. But the dream won't die, particularly as long as some folks believe that data crunching machines can uplift young humans.