Friday, April 29, 2022

MI: Who's Paying To Force Vouchers?

Betsy DeVos is feeling her oats these days, with a big push in Michigan to finally install education savings accounts--those neo-vouchers beloved by her crowd. Trouble is, her crowd hasn't been able to convince voters to share the love. But because of an odd quirk in Michigan law, the folks at Let MI Kids Learn have a shot at doing an end run around the voters and the governor. Just 8% of the people who voted in the last gubernatorial race can send the petition to the legislature, where it can be voted up or down and the governor doesn't even have a veto option.

So who is backing this play for neo-voucher ESAs in Michigan? Is it a groundswell of grass roots support? Are the common people rising up to back their beloved benefactress and her pet project (last seen as a failed attempt to offer national Education Freedom Scholarships)? 

Nah. Of course not. 

Let's take a look at the Michigan State Department statement for the April quarter and see who's throwing money at this stuff this year (there's more information to be found looking into previous quarters).

Top of the list-- Oberndorf Enterprises of San Francisco (the one in California, not some San Francisco, Michigan, that you've never heard of). Oberndorf Enterprises is a sort of pass-through outfit through which the Oberndorf's donate to some of their favorite things, including school choice. Wiliam Oberndorf is the current chairman of the board for American Federation for Children, the pro-choice advocacy group he founded with Betsy DeVos.

Oberndorf is in for a cool quarter million.

Also in for $250K is John Kennedy, of Autocam Medical, and Michael Jandernoa of 42 North Partners, two names that often turn up with DeVos political giving.

At least they're actual Michigan residents. But big big bucks are coming from DC via the State Government Leadership Foundation, a conservative money-moving operation which just kicked in $250K and $140K, bringing their grand total so far up way over the half mill mark.

Daniel DeVos kicked in $100,000 (that's Betsy's brother-in-law). 

Tony De Nicola also in for $100K. He's with the New York/San Franciso firm of Welsh, Carson, Anderson and Stowe, though he lives in Florida. Richard Haworth (Mackinac Center board) and David Fischer (car salesman), both of Michigan, each contributed $100,000.

The Michigan Guardians of Democracy kicked in $50. GLEP (Great Lakes Education Project) Education Fund, another DeVos organization, contributed work in the form of staff and facilities,. because what good is financing an organization if you can't just redirect them to work for your own project?

Elsa Prince Broekhuizen gave $25,000; that's Betsy DeVos's mother. Mark Murray gave $10K, Alan Hoekstra $5K. Mighty Michigan did some work for the campaign. 

And now we're down to the grass roots. Five guys gave $100. Two people made $50 contributions. Six people chipped in $25, and one person contributed $20.

So, fourteen grass roots supporters this quarter. If this thing becomes law, it will be because a bunch of rich folks backed it, not because of any upswelling from the Regular Folks. Michigan is in danger of providing a graphic example of Oligarchy. Here's hoping it fails.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

FL: Big $tandardized Te$ting Not Going Anywhere

There was a brief flurry of excitement last fall when Governor Ron DeSantis and his education sock puppet Richard Corcoran called for an end to Florida's most recent iteration of the Big Standardized Test, the FSA. 

Some folks were happy to hear the news. Others were looking suspiciously at the fine print. And now that springtime has rolled around, it's clear that the folks who were suspicious were correct. High stakes testing is dead. Long live high stakes testing. Shocking as it may seem, Ron DeSantis was just blowing smoke.

FSA has been replaced with FAST, which effectively replaces one BS Test with three "progress monitoring" tests, the third of which carries exactly the same consequences as the old FSA tests, including third grade reading retention and grading the schools.

As the Florida Education Association said when the new law was signed, "This is not what DeSantis promised, and most importantly, it is not what is best for Florida's students," which strikes me as a statement that could just be reissued pretty much every time DeSantis does anything related to education. 

Florida law caps the amount of time students can spend on testing at 5% of the year. This is a silly law; it's a great idea to keep actual hours wasted on testing to a minimum (particularly since the more hours you have students spend staring at the test, the more prone testing will be to generate meaningless results), but the real drain on classroom time is test prep. Hours and hours and hours and hours and hours spent getting students ready for the test--and why wouldn't schools do that when their rankings depend on the results? And don't even open your mouth to tell me "Well, if teachers just cover the standards well the test results will take care of themselves," because you might as well say, "I am a dope who does not understand how teaching, testing or students function." 

So is this transition about anything other than making a meaningless grand gesture to generate good PR with parents? I think so.

Plenty of attention has been paid to how DeSantis manages to attack and undermine public education, and I think that keeps us from fully appreciating how well he monetizes it. 

As Bob Schaeffer of FairTest points out, this the fifth time in about two decades that Florida has revamped its testing.  The much-ballyhooed rejection of math textbooks has shifted the market in Florida in favor of a publisher with former ties to Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin. Likewise. DeSantis's demand for purge of Common Core from Florida's ed standards instantly created a market for new textbooks. (Meanwhile, Florida's results still kind of suck)

FCAT. Common Core. FSA. BEST. Every time Florida revamps standards and/or tests, school districts have to drop a ton of money, and taxpayers get to shoot some more funding to textbook company, software developer, or test manufacturer. How many millions of dollars have Florida taxpayers poured into these overhauls?

Every time Florida switches tests or standards, they help somebody augment their revenue stream. The new shift in testing is not at all what he promised taxpayers, but I'll bet it makes some other folks mighty happy. 

Actors vs. Show Stealers

This is one of those stories that isn't about education--at least not yet.

In the UK, Equity, the actors trade union, is launching a campaign to "stop AI stealing the show." 

They note a whole host of techy-created problems:

Performers are having their image, voice or likeness reproduced without their consent. Or pay.

Contractors are keeping performers in the dark about what, exactly, their rights are in an AI contract. 

There's a whole world of issues beyond the now ever-present use of deepfake and AI technology to create performances by dead actors in big time movies. 

Equity presents some stories like this one:

In the last six months, my voice has been used in huge marketing campaigns by global companies. I don't receive a penny, even though I believe my contract does not allow for third party advertising.

In 2018, I was hired to do a text-for-speech job for a translation app. But in 2020 these recordings were used for the first ever English test-to-speech voice on TikTok, who was not my client.

I used to joke with my students that after I died, I would have my body stuffed and mounted with animatronics and be installed on a track in a classroom while recordings of my lessons played. That's no longer a joke--it's an absolutely digitally achievable possibility. The equity complaints remind us that while we're used to seeing dead performers revived on film, techs could do the same thing for the living.

Stories like this remind me of all the times that administrators ask teachers to produce curriculum and lesson plans that are exacting enough that anybody--or anything--could implement them. Can a computer reproduce your classroom performance? And if somebody decided to try to do it, would you have any protections against it? 

Sunday, April 24, 2022

I'm Not Going To Defend SEL

Social and Emotional Learning is the new target of the GOP attempt to set multiple education brushfires in hopes of stampeding voters towards a Republican victory (as well as one more way for the authoritarian crowd to hammer home their central point of "Trust nobody except Beloved Leader"). The attacks range from overblown to intellectually dishonest to giant piles of bovine fecal matter to the odious, evil charges that the teaching profession is simply a haven for groomers. 

And there is irony in these attacks from the right, because SEL is just the latest packaging of what we used to call "soft skills," and some of the greatest push for getting these into schools has come from the business community ("Hey schools! Fix my meat widgets so they communicate and cooperate better!!")

All that said, I'm not going to be the one to defend SEL in the classroom.

Perhaps I should say "formal SEL instruction." SEL has always been in the classroom and always will be, because it's impossible for an adult teacher to lead a roomful of young humans through learning and education and all the bumps and interactions that come by putting so many human beings in one room--well, you can't navigate any of that without including SEL. "Don't interrupt" and "keep your hands to yourself" and every group project ever are part SEL. Everything a teacher imparts, directly or indirectly, about how to work with, talk to, and get along with other humans is SEL. 95% of all the "this teacher changed my life" stories are about SEL and not actual subject content. So it is impossible to remove SEL from a classroom.

But formal SEL is another thing.

As soon as we try to formalize SEL instruction, we run into all sorts of problems. Are we doing it to help people get a better job and better grades or to be a better human being? And if it's the latter, as it should be, who the heck is going to define what a better human being looks like? And is there just one definition? And if not (as is true), then exactly what sort of assessment are we going to use to measure the "effectiveness" of the program or the social and emotional learnedness of the students? And can you promise me that you aren't going to record all that data to build some sort of digital social and emotional swellness file on each student? Also, will the program require every teacher to have a trained counselor level of expertise? Every single one of these questions ought to stop the march toward formalized SEL instruction dead in its tracks. But it hasn't-not any of the times SEL, under various monikers has come trundling down the tracks.

We've been through this over and over and over again. If you were teaching in the 90s. you probably remember Outcome Based Education, which joined a desire to reduce all education outcomes to observable behaviors (you can thank OBE for "the student will be able to...") along with an intent to include "non-cognitive objectives" in the program. 

That agitated all manner of social conservatives, from Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh to the original Mom for Liberty, Phyllis Schafly rose up against objectives focused on things like self-esteem and "environmentally sound decisions." They saw overreach and an attempt to instill certain values in students, and they weren't having it. The backlash stomped OBE dead as any kind of widespread, adopted education policy.

Our current educational focus on standardized measurement and data generation makes this the worst possible era in which to attempt formal SEL instruction; there is no such things as a standardized version of a good human. Broad strokes (Treat others with respect, don't be an asshat) are great, but their application looks different on different human beings, and any attempt to measure these human social and emotional qualities with a standardized test is just silly (and probably will result in an assessment easily gamed by everyone who can see what answer they're "supposed" to give). 

At the same time, programs that aim to teach cooperation, tolerance and general getting along are always going to rub some people the wrong way. CASEL, the super-duper clearing house of all things SEL, has plenty of student goals like "fewer conduct problems" and "positive social behavior" which seem superficially unobjectionable, but when taken together seem kind of heavy on compliance. Tolerance seems great, but aren't there some things that shouldn't be tolerated? An awful lot of people would say yes, whether their Intolerable Thing is LGBTQ Stuff or Nazis. 

Formal SEL instruction can't help itself--it wants to codify and clean up the general messiness of human interactions, and some people will always squawk when it's their particular mess that gets ruled out of bounds. And right now, nobody has their squawkbox more warmed up than the CRT panic anti-LGBTQ crowd. 

SEL is a complicated topic for an era that hates nuance and complexity. Most of the current complaints about SEL are bunk, but they were entirely predictable because we've been here before, but that doesn't mean that there aren't reasons to be highly dubious about formal SEL instruction, but that doesn't mean that SEL isn't a crucial and important part of education, but that doesn't mean it can (or should) be easily standardized, codified or measured, but that doesn't mean teachers shouldn't be doing it. How do you do that? It's complicated. I wrote this five years ago:

How do you take SEL "content" and separate it from everything else, when your character is first and foremost the "How" of conducting all the other business in your life? How can you possibly split your life up so that "be ethical" is over here and "conduct daily business" is over there? Trying to develop character separate from conducting all the business is like trying to develop a Southern accent separate from speaking. It's like trying to practice swimming far from any water.

You don't get rid of bullying by running bullying programs one hour a week. You get rid of bullying by running a school that never tolerates-- or models-- bullying ever. If for one hour a week you talk about how bullying is bad, but the rest of the week you run a classroom where it's understood that some people deserve to be punished or hurt or made to feel small, your bullying program is a huge waste of time.

If you spend an hour a week talking about how to be a decent person, and the rest of the week behaving like a lousy person, you're wasting that hour. And if you spend the week being decent people, what do you need that hour of class for?

And, I would add now, you don't model character for young humans by engaging in lying and slander to score political points. If 2022 is, as some activists are promising, the year that SEL takes over for CRT as the object of panic du jour, good luck to us all. But just because you call out the throwing of poo, that doesn't mean you have to support the thing the poo's being thrown at.

ICYMI: An Actual Nice Weekend Edition (4/24)

 Well, looking out my window this weekend does not stink, so that's a plus. Now let's see what there is on the reading list for the week.

If the Florida rejection of math textbooks did nothing else, it prompted plenty of mockery. Here are three of the top mocks of the week.

Andy Borowitz in the New Yorker with "DeSantis Warns That Math Makes Children Gay"

Carlos Greaves at McSweeney's with "Math Concepts the State of Florida Finds Objectionable"

Dana Milbank at the Washington Post with "DeSantis saves Florida kids from being indoctrinated with math."

Meet the 74's all-new student council. I know-- not everybody loves The 74, but they occasionally score with a solid piece of journalism, and I read everybody (because you should). They've put together this group of teens, and I encourage you to read it for no other reason than to be encouraged that these young humans exist in the world.

Don't trust a charter school network whose objective boils down to profits. Gloria Nolan used to work for the charter school industry. In this op-ed for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, she explains why she supports the proposed rules changes for federal charter grants.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro speaks up. Speaking of support for the charter rules reforms, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee had a few spicy words on the subject.

Our Erie students can't learn if they don't feel safe and secure. A powerful op-ed from a teacher who was in the building during a school shooting in Erie, PA.

How the Fight Over Critical Race Theory Became a Religious War. David French in the Dispatch says "This is the wrong time to close Christian hearts and minds to challenging debaters about race and justice in the United States."

What's driving the push to restrict schools on LGBTQ issues? Steve Sawchuk at EdWeek looks at six particular aspects of the current push.

The strange land where we find ourselves now. Nancy Flanagan thoughtfully ties together many threads of our current situation.

It's testing time in our schools. Standardized exams are a terrible way to measure student learning. Gina Caneva publishes an op-ed at the Chicago Sun Times that says everything we already know, but need to just keep saying. 

Resisting efficiency in literacy instruction. Paul Thomas blogs about keeping our eyes on the right ball. Efficiency is not it.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

FL: More Book Purging Includes-- Everywhere Babies??!! Seriously??!!

Oh, Florida, what a crazy place you are. 

Currently in the news is the Walton County School District, which just pulled over 50 books from its library.

The list, as noted in a district press release, was one that came from an unnamed "outside group" and included books that group "deemed inappropriate." It also notes it received the list "along with many other educational systems."

The list was quickly posted to twitter by Daniel Uhlfelder (who says the list came from a group associated with Moms for Liberty)-- here it is.

Most of these are the usual suspects, a bunch of familiar titles that get some folks heavily agitated. What got the school district and their superintendent plastered all over the interwebs is the inclusion of Everywhere Babies, by Susan Meyers and Marla Frazee. 

This is nuts. We have this book at my house; we read it many many many many times to the twins when they were younger and it was a favorite of theirs. Its inclusion on this list tells us a lot about the people who are hunting down these books and demanding that school district Do Something. 

When I saw the book title on the list, I though about a couple of images that might have triggered some activist's gaydar (it would have to be one of Frazee's images because nothing in the text could offend even the thinnest skinned humans). The book is loaded with images of many types of family combinations, from dads holding kids to more elderly relatives. Could some of these be what excited book opponents? Let's look at possible offenders,.

Are those two exhausted women (though the white-haired person could be a long-haired male) both parents of the child in the crib, or a parent and her friend?

The most likely culprit, this street scene shows what appears to be two men walking with arms around each other (a thing that, as we know, only gay men do). 

The two guys on the right look, to me, like two dads hanging out on the edge of the mall play area, but if your gaydar is on high alert, I suppose they could be read as a gay couple.

Pretty sure the sexual orientation and gender identity of this child is not clear. This picture just entertained the Board of Directors a great deal when they were toddlers.

So, what have we learned here?

Well, first, I'm not particularly excited by particular book removals. This Verbotten list will become a bunch of people's shopping list, and Everywhere Babies is going to explode in sales, which is great, because it's an awesome book. It has been true since Boston banned Huckleberry Finn-- a good, public banning is the best marketing that money can't buy. 

It's also worth noting that the book also shows lots of loving hetero couples and parents acting parenty--in other words, providing illustrations of sexual orientation and gender identity, which means that this book, like many others, does in fact technically violate Florida's Don't Talk About Sex Or Gender Law (I know that's not as snappy as "Don't Say Gay," but I think it's more accurate). \

This also illustrates how opponents of this stuff aren't just going after "graphic" depictions of sex and gender stuff, because there is nothing graphic in this book. Heck, you have to really want to see LGBTQ couples in this book (for good or for ill) to see them at all. This is not an objection to overt sexual content--it's an objection to even sort of acknowledging that LGBTQ people exist.

I learned from the Washington Post interview with the creators of the book that this is not the first time the book has been targeted, which perhaps explains its presence on this list.

As with all such events, the other major element is a nervous administrator. Superintendent Russell Hughes told local media--well, something...

What is necessary varies. I don’t know if I define the word ‘necessary’ as necessary to those who are opposing, necessary to those who didn’t want to, it was necessary in this moment for me to make that decision and I did it for just a welfare of all involved, including our constituents, our teachers, and our students. I’ll continue to do those things and perhaps add some.

The district press release makes his reasoning a little clearer.

With reports of movements underway across the state coupled with legal implications and the potential undue stress to my District and staff, I am not willing to place any WCSD personnel in the cross hairs of this kind of perilous circumstance. I want to emphasize that NO “book ban” has occurred in Walton County. Any headlines or news stories as such are misinformation, inaccurate, and false!

The Walton County School District is committed to a culture which we proudly call EPIC. I am steadfast in the vision of excellence, choosing to focus on students and academics in these divisive times. Leaders, teachers, administrators, staff, and families in Walton County are focused on end of the year assessments, achievement, and graduations, which have earned the District the #5 ranking in the State of Florida.

So, roughly, "I decided to get these books out of the way so that we could focus on doing out jobs without having to worry about dealing with controversy and citizens using their newly-created power to sue us over any book they object to." So maybe not very brave, but arguably practical.

In other words, the chilling effect of the Don't Say Things We Don't Like law is working just as designed. 

In the meantime, you can order your copy of Everywhere Babies right here (currently on backorder). 

Friday, April 22, 2022

Amazon Has Some EdTech Trend Ideas

This week, EdSurge featured some "sponsored content" (aka advertising made to look like an article). The article was written by Katie Herritage (or at least one of her interns), currently the AWS Global Leader, Worldwide Customer Innovation and Acceleration Program, and is entitled "7 Edtech Trends to Watch in 2022: A Startup Guide for Entrepreneurs." AWS is the sponsor.

AWS is Amazon Web Services, a division of the Amazon empire that provides hosting for corporations and governments and just a whole lot of people while owning like a third of the cloud market. They are the reason that even if you are trying not to give Amazon any of your money, you probably are anyway.

Prediction articles are a staple in the edtech world, and they all have to be read the same way. "This is what's coming next" really means "this is what we hope to make money on soon." These articles are not works of thoughtful research; they are marketing copy. 

But as such, they are a useful guide to what edtech folks are going to try to sell us next. So let's take a look at AWS's seven "trends."

First, before we even get to the trends, know that AWS has the AWS EdStart program, its "edtech virtual startup accelerator, designed to help entrepreneurs build the next generation of online learning, analytics and campus management solutions on the AWS cloud." Super. Because Amazon's attempt to enter the education market have been so super duper in the past (more on that in a bit).

Trend #1: Data is abundant and the key to today's edtech solutions.

Yes, please, more data mining. That has been super for education so far, as test-driven education has continually harvested plenty of data and accomplished absolutely nothing with it. Herritage writes "as the pandemic and shifts to virtual learning are only giving the flood of data more strength and momentum" and hold on a minute-- did AWS somehow miss the widespread dissatisfaction with virtual learning that has been an ongoing theme of the last two years? Also, as always, the edtech visionaries skip over the question of data quality. Harvesting junk data has become a huge industry in edtech, but junk data is junk and no amount of crunching piles of poo will yield diamonds.

Trend #2: Artificial intelligence and machine learning are powering the latest generation of edtechs.

Mostly there is no such things as artificial intelligence. Just algorithms. Machine learning isn't really learning so much as building an algorithm's ability to recognize patterns. We still have precious little evidence that these provide any useful applications for education. There are some limited applications for doing grunt work; the endorsement here is from a company that makes digital flashcards

Trend #3: Game-based learning is transforming how students learn.

This is one of those trends that has been right around the corner since the days (thirty years ago) when my kids were playing with the Zoombinis. There's no question that a game can be the spoonful of sugar that makes boring repetition go down smoothly, but there continue to be limits. For one thing, students aren't stupid--they know when you're trying to trick them into learning stuff. For another, today's hot new game is next month's boring old Over It.

Trend #4: Edtechs are at the forefront of digital transformation in the classroom.

Or, in plainer language, computer software for classrooms is the leading source of computer software for classrooms. Sad clown is sad. Tautologies are tautological. "As education institutions lean into technology," says Herritage, there's an opportunity to sell them more technology. I'd like to believe that school districts are getting smarter about how they buy this stuff, and I'd really like to believe that edtech companies are getting smarter about providing what teachers want and not what edtech companies want to sell. 

Trend #5: Workforce upskilling is being supplemented by edtech solutions.

I sure hope that the marketing whiz who coined "upskill" got a nice4 bonus, because what word, managing to suggest that when your last job gets "outsourced" and you have to get trained for some new meat widget position, it's a step up and not just a further grinding down of human beings by late stage capitalism. This trend says that when your new employer wants to train you in their brand of meat widgetry, they'll do it with a computer. This may be the most accurate prediction on the list.

Trend #6: Edtechs are being called upon to help with student wellbeing.

Translation: schools are going to be implementing social and emotional learning programs, and some of them will want to implement the programs via software on screens. Furthermore, parents are going to get antsy about the data being collected by these programs (as well they should), so you'd better be able to do a god imitation of security protocols. 

Trend #7: Augmented reality and virtual reality are top of mind.

"Top of mind"?! What the heck does that even mean? Herritage insists that "the here" which I guess means that AWS is prepared to back Zuckerberg's play for the metaverse as the Next Big Thing. I admit, the idea of virtual field trips ("Everyone put on your headsets and we'll tour the Globe Theater") is appealing. But since teachers can't even reliably say "Everyone open up your Chromebooks and we'll work on our Google Docs," I have my doubts about just how close the metaverse actually is. 

It's worth noting that these "trends" are aimed at developers and not educators. In other words, the message is not "here are some things you should plan to incorporate in your classroom" but is instead "you could make some money if you started a business doing one of these things." As such, it's unfortunate that none of the advice and trendiness here suggests that entrepreneurs might want to involve actual educators in their plans. But there are certain things that have remained consistent about the edtech industry--one is that they will consistently and repeatedly write checks that their products can't cash, and the other is that they will create products at teachers rather than with them.

Amazon's own record with educators is not great. Way back in 2016 they tried to launch Amazon Inspire, an attempt to create a marketplace of teacher resources that immediately got in trouble because it had zero safeguards against ideas that were not so much "shared" as "stolen." The GM of the project, Rohit Agarwal ("serial entrepreneur") walked away less than a year after launch (nowadays he's co-founder and CEO of DoctorPlan, a medical data platform). Amazon Inspire supposedly snuck back to life in 2018, but right now, the Amazon Education page instead features something called Amazon Ignite that "connects educational content creators with Amazon customers" and allows you to "sell your original teaching resources." You have to ask to join. It's free to join, but Amazon takes a cut of everything you sell.

Are these real trends? Well, someone at Amazon hopes they are, or at least hopes a sufficient number of entrepreneurs hopes they are. Should actual educators pay attention to articles like this? Only if you want to be forewarned about what education-flavored products tech vendors are going to try to sell you. Heck, maybe they'll really happen. After all, have edtech companies ever lied to us before

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

AZ: An Even Worse Parental Rights Bill

As more and more of these rear their heads across the country, the language gets sloppier and -- well, just bad. Recently approved by the Senate and previously okayed by the House, Arizona's HB 2161 throws a new verb into the mix-- usurp.

As in, no political subdivision of the state or any other government entity or any official etc (because in this phrase, the bill's writer was exactingly detailed and thorough) "shall not interfere with or usurp the fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing, education, health care and mental health of their children." 

And if that seems hugely broad and vague--well, it gets worse. Because the very next sentence says that a parent may bring suit against the "government entity or official" based on any violation of the statutes or action that "interferes with or usurps the fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing, education, health care and mental health of their children."

There are other special parts of the bill, but the "usurp" clause is the worst. Between "interfere," "usurp," and "upbringing," this would appear to forbid teachers (and plenty of other school and government workers) from ever contradicting a child's parents ever. There is a clause that allows the state to violate this if it has "compelling interest" in doing so (say, presumably, keeping a child from having the hell beat out of them at home for coming out as LGBTQ)--but the burden of proof is on the state actor. But mostly the bill gives parents spectacular micro-management powers.

It's not just that teachers can be taken to court for, say, suggesting that a same-gender couple is ordinary. Use a Mickey Mouse sticker on papers and get nailed by a parent who wants to bring their child up without Disney. Say something positive about a salad and be taken to court by a parent who is bring up their child to be anti-vegan. I would like my children's upbringing to be free of all Paw Patrol references; you had better not make an approving comment about the kids in my child's classroom who have Paw Patrol backpacks. 

This proposal is broad and nut and, like all broad, nuts proposals, is destined to be trolled. I am bringing up my child in a religion-free home, so their teacher better not say a single word about Christmas. I am bringing my child up to appreciate all diverse backgrounds, races, faiths, and gender orientations, so if you don't include all those elements in my child's classroom, you are clearly "interfering" with my right to control my child's upbringing.

In fact, I feel confident that this law would absolutely guarantee that every single teacher in every single district would be vulnerable to being dragged to court. Now, this being Arizona, that may well be a feature rather than a bug (just close down the public schools and give every kid a voucher for a school in which their parents are never, ever contradicted). 

There are other bad provisions, like making teachers submit assignments to parents for approval a week ahead of time, but they are just the rancid icing on a poop cake.

Congratulations Arizona legislators--this is absolutely the worst parental rights bill that anyone has concocted so far. I would give you a prize, but I'm afraid some of your parents might have raised you to not believe in those kinds of prizes, and I don't want to end up in court.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

VA: The Attack On Frederick County Schools

Here's a story about another form that attacks on public education can take, and why local elections matter. It's not just state legislatures that can try to micromanage schools. 

When Glenn Youngkin won the race for Virginia governor, he swept along plenty of GOP conservatives into office with him. That included relatively small scale races like the race for Frederick County Board of Supervisors, which saw a raft of GOP candidates carried into office. 

Frederick County is the northernmost county in Virginia (named for Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales). The 2020 census shows a population of a little over 90,000; there has been steady growth for years (the 2000 census counted 59,209 residents, and back in 1960, it was 21,941). As the population has grown, the whiteness of that population has diminished; in 2000, the county was 94.99% white, and in 2020, that percentage was down to 78.47%. Much of that shift seems due to Hispanic/Latino residents.

The county is largely conservative, and the campaign was reportedly largely positive. But the new supervisors joined a group of conservatives already on the board to aim toward a new confrontation with the Frederick County School District board. The first shot fired came on February 9, when the Board of Supervisors voted 6-1 to have the county's attorney work up a plan for funding alternatives to public education. Supervisors noted they had heard from community members who want school choice, and by a remarkable coincidence, many of those parents were at the meeting (including some of the 44 families who, the week before, sued the district for continuing a mask mandate). Said one supervisor, "It is past time that our citizens had the opportunity to direct their students to get an education that best meets the thoughts, ideals and values of that family." Said one member of the public, "I ask that you consider cutting their funding in any way you see fit..."

At their meeting two weeks later, the Board of Supervisors indicated they wanted to teach the school board a lesson, demanding a line-item breakdown for the district's proposed FY2023 budget. "I think they need to deal with the consequences...unless they want to justify their operating fund by showing us the numbers. We need to see what they're spending the money on beforehand," said the board's vice-chair, Doug McCarthy. 

The district has asserted that a complete breakdown of every dollar spent is on the website; the supervisors say that's beside the point--they want to know what the district plans to spend each dollar on.

So first, the supervisors removed four items from the Capital Improvement Plan (including the building of a new high school). And then, earlier this month, they decided to slash the county's contribution to the school district budget by $22 million, from $97.5 million to $75.5 million. Supervisor Shawn Graber argued that the cut was not deep enough. And when the county treasurer pointed out that this would create problems for the district with things like trying to hire new teachers, Graber replied "To your point, Mr. Treasurer, I don't care." 

The superintendent issued a statement that such a cut would require either across the board salary cuts or the firing of 293 teachers. Didn't matter. Some supervisors were still just pissed that there was not enough transparency or detail in the district's budget. And if you're wondering what kind of detail they're worried about--well, prepare to be not surprised.

Graber said he has not received a line-item budget from the school division that shows “where every dollar is going.” He has numerous times expressed concerns about the school division potentially using taxpayer dollars on critical race theory or other similar programs. On Wednesday he reiterated his support for cutting $60 million from the schools.

Despite the "disdain" and "mistrust" that some supervisors have for the school board, at least one member from each group was able to meet and discuss. But there continued to be problems with misinformation, like the supervisor who insisted that the district's pre-K classes cost $6 million-- the correct figure was $613,152 (listed right there in the budget). Meanwhile, surrounding school districts are proposing salary increases for their teachers far greater than what Frederick County has budgeted. Good luck recruiting and retaining teachers.

Not a new issue for Frederick County, where some of these same supervisors just two years ago were complaining that the school system was just too darned expensive and should be cut. And back then Graber was already concerned about things like Deep Equity, a company brought in to help develop culturally responsive teaching practices. On that group, Graber said,

I don’t know if any of my fellow board members are aware of what’s in there, but it is a deeply racist, very Communistic, Marxist-type of program from what has been shared with me by teachers who have been told that they have to participate in the program.

That was in February of 2020, before Christopher Rufo had taught guys like Graber they could call this Communistic evil stuff "critical race theory." 

As news of the cuts spread, so did anger and conflict. A petition to reinstate the budget cut drew support. Letters to the editor were written, and commented upon. " I would hazard a guess that the Grabers and the BOS are what they accuse schools of doing.....indoctrinated." "Sovine and the school board refuse to do their jobs...All that has happened is we have enough BOS members to end this charade." 

The supervisors met on April 13 to consider possible budget scenarios. Around 375 members of the public showed up, well past overflow capacity for the room. Citizen comments took two and a half hours, with calls for full funding and for budget transparency. 

"My daughter is a junior at Sherando, and four of her six teachers are not coming back next year." 

"You will proceed to talk about how much you appreciate teachers and all they do while at the same time presenting ideas that are clearly not supportive of the work teachers are doing. Please do not patronize public educators in this community. They see right through it. I want you to know that your actions hurt people." That from a district middle school principal.

The student who started the online petition said he has "never been so disappointed in an elected group" and blamed the cuts on an "unreasonable political agenda." And this zinger-- "You as a white board want so badly to feel marginalized."

Supervisor Graber did not show up for the meeting. McCarthy and two other supervisors said they had had productive conversations with school board members, but that productivity doesn't speak well for the supervisors:

“And they discussed a proposal that would contain clear language forbidding the teaching of CRT in our school system,” McCarthy said. “And I’ll be clear, they both stated that they don’t believe it’s being taught. So they had no fear of saying they would forbid CRT, and I commend them for at least having that conversation.”

The good news is that nobody at the meeting supported the $22 million cut. Board members split between a proposal giving the school district what it asked for and a proposal giving the district about $2 mill less than it requested. So the bad news is that the budget hit a stalemate. And people--specifically teachers who were thinking of coming to work at the district--have noticed there's a mess. You do not recruit and retain top quality teachers by demonstrating how little you value their work and how willing you are to upend the school system and promote instability to score political points.

Virginia is not the only state that allows this kind of micro-mis-management by county officials who are not even elected to run a school system; North Carolina saw a similar scenario unfold when county officials in Johnston County decided they wanted to weed out any of that indoctrinatin' stuff from the school system and were willing to grab the purse strings and hold the education of local students hostage unless they got their way. But it's a bad idea wherever it crops up, and a reminder that local officials suffering from CRT panic can be just a dangerous as state and federal culture crusaders. Pay attention, and vote. 

Monday, April 18, 2022

PA: What would charter reform save your local taxpayers?

School funding in Pennsylvania has a variety of problems, and the system of funding charter schools in the state exacerbates all of them. But there are some quick, simple reforms, long backed by Governor Tom Wolf (and opposed by a GOP controlled legislature) that would make a serious improvement for local taxpayers across the state. And now there's a handy resource for telling Pennsylvania taxpayers exactly what the difference would be (and who to lean on to get it done).

The two problems being addressed are pretty simple to grasp.

1) Pennsylvania cyber-schools are paid a per-pupil fee based on the cost-per-pupil of the sending school district. So the amount used to educate a student in a building with a full staff of teachers and heat and all the physical resources--that same amount is handed over to a cyber school that gives the students a computer, a printer, and 1/500th of a teacher. It is no wonder that cybers are swimming in so much money they can make their owners rich and still spend millions on marketing. Or, as one of my former superintendents told me on his way out the door, "Quit your job and go start a cyber school--it's like printing money."

2) Charter funding for students with special needs is nuts. PA special ed spending in public schools is organized in tiers, with costs and funding correlated to severity of student needs. Charters, however, are just given the funding for the average cost of special needs students, which means that even if the student has low-cost requirements (e.g. an hour of speech therapy a week), the charter still collects the funding for a student with higher level needs.

The solutions aren't terribly difficult. Set the cyber school tuition costs to a reasonable approximation of what cyber schooling a student actually costs. Set special ed tuition levels to reflect what the student's needs actually cost. 

Would it make a difference in your local fuinding? You can see the results of these two simple reforms right here. Education Voters of Pennsylvania has created a data base linked to a two-page form. Find your school district. Click on it. Download a two page form that show how much your district would recoup of the money it should have kept anyway, plus a quick explanation of what's behind these costs, and a list of which legislators need some attention. Download the two page form, print it off, hand it out to school board members, local officials, fellow taxpayers. It's quick and simple. Here's a sample of what it looks like:

Sunday, April 17, 2022

ICYMI: Easter Edition (4/17)

Finally. We await Easter in my neck of the woods if for no other reason than spring isn't here until we have at least one snow after Easter. In the meantime, here's some reading from the week.

Florida rejects math textbooks over ‘prohibited’ topics

Yes, Florida threw out a bunch of math books because CRT and other Forbidden Things--things so forbidden that apparently the state isn't even going to reveal what they were. This is Valerie Strauss's coverage at the Washington Post, but if the paywall is in your way, I have no doubt this story can be found many other places. Because Florida.

Why retaining middle school teachers is critical to student achievement

Interesting little study covered by the Deseret News, giving yet another reason that maybe school districts should attempt to hold onto teachers.

A College Fights ‘Leftist Academics’ by Expanding Into Charter Schools

The New York Times takes a look at the increasingly-infamous Hillsdale College and their to push schools back to the 1950's with an extra helping of Jesus.

The indispensable Mercedes Schneider has some receipts for the definitely-not-grassroots National Parents Union

The Biden administration has decided to tighten up regulations for its charter school grant program. Jeff Bryant at The Progressive explains why this is long overdue.

David French, not exactly a left-leaning guy, takes to The Atlantic to argue that the MAGAfied right has lost its damned mind when it comes to free speech. When I posted this on Twitter, people from all sides descended to lambaste it. So, a fun read.

The Far-Right Is Doxxing School Officials They Think Are ‘Groomers’

How bad is it getting? On the fringes, pretty bad. Vice news with the story.

An author was set to read his unicorn book to students. The school forbade it.

Sigh. All it takes is one cranky parent and one gutless administrator and you get this one dumb outcome. Story from Ohio in the Washington Post.

Gary Rubinstein is tops at keeping an eye on Teach For America, and he has some questions about their new podcast highlighting super awesome schools.

Nancy Flanagan takes a look at the sad story of J D Vance.

The Costs of Canceling Darwin

In Education Next (yes, that thing) is this intriguing study of how science standards that include (or don't) evolution correlates with outcomes like number of scientists in the state.

Maurice Cunningham is an expert in tracing dark money in ed reform circles, and in this piece, he tracks some money in Idaho tied to defunding public education.

Erin Einhorn at NBC news looks at a study that shows--gasp--that making the SAT and ACT optional leads to a more diverse student body of students who do just as well as those who took the test. Go figure.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Teacher Job Satisfaction Hits Bottom

 That's the headline we're seeing all over, based on the results from an Education Week/Merrimack College teacher survey

The survey was conducted between January 9 and February 23 of this year, with a sample of 1,324 teachers. And the chart that everyone keeps zooming in on is this one--

--which admittedly is pretty ugly, though it needs to be said that the Merrimack survey is in its first year, and all the other chart data comes from the old MetLife Survey of the American Teacher. I'll admit my misgivings--can a 1,324 sample really capture the full range of what's out there in the teaching profession with all the different districts, states, ages, disciplines involved? But these folks do this kind of thing professionally, so I'm going to (cautiously) take their word for it. 

While the satisfaction chart is the one that will be discussed at length, there are others that jump out at me. For instance, look at this chart dealing with teachers' perceptions of their own control and influence:

Not a single area had over 50% strong agreement. Barely 50% showed any agreement that they have control and influence over what they teach. And a teeny tiny 5% strongly agree they have control and influence over policies in their workplace. Which is nuts. This chart describes a profession in which folks largely have little or no control over the most critical aspects of their work, a profession in which their professional judgment counts for diddly squat. 

The survey covers many of the usual suspects (51% strongly disagree that they are fairly paid), but if you want to see the roots of teacher dissatisfaction, look at that control and influence chart.

Respect data is broken down by within school, by students' parents, and by general public. Males generally feel more respected than females, and far fewer feel respected and seen as a professional by the general public than by parents--not a huge surprise.

There are some intriguing breakdowns of data in the survey. One segment looks at topics that deserve more media attention, broken down by political party and urban/suburban/rural jobs. On the item of "inequities in our schools due to issues of race or poverty," suburban and rural teacher are split. Democrats in those areas are seventy-some percent in agreement that more coverage of the topic is needed, but in Republican teachers are around 27% in agreement. However, in urban districts, while Dem numbers stay the same, 60% of GOP teachers agree more coverage is warranted. The topic that most needs more media attention, according to all subgroups-- teachers' working conditions and school climate.

There is also data about how teachers spend their time, and what they wish they could spend more time on. 31% would like to spend less time on general administrative work; 29% would like to spend more time on individual planning and preparation. According to the survey, teachers report spending over fifty hours per week in total; the surprise result here is that teachers at schools with over 75% free/reduced lunch students report 52 work hours, and teachers at schools with under 25% free/reduced lunch students reported 57 hours.

55% said they were "not very" or "not at all" likely to tell their younger self to pursue teaching as a career. 

There's more to chew on here (and if you want to see it yourself, you have to register for a copy) and maybe after Easter I'll sit down to chomp away-- but these are the highlights. Watch for lots of repackaging of these results in the days ahead.

MAGA And Social Isolation

It is easy to think of MAGA in terms of everything it hates, the many things it strikes out against. It's even easy to slip into the habit of making fun of it. Sure, MAGA, go ahead and call for a boycott of Disney, because I'm sure that will totally bring that gazillion-dollar multinational conglomerate to its knees. 

But I'd suggest we view the MAGA anti-ness through a different frame, another way of seeing what's going on and why even a call for boycotting Disney is a bad sign for the country.

The MAGA enemies list is also a Do Not Trust list, a list of people and things that good MAGAs should not talk to, listen to, engage with.

Do not trust Disney.

Do not trust Democrats.

Do not trust public schools or public school teachers.

Do not trust the news media.

Do not trust maskers and vaccination advocates.

Do not trust non-Christians.

Do not trust books. 

Do not trust any non-MAGA entertainment media.

Do not trust any sort of democratic process.

Do not trust anyone who is not a True American.

And if we have any other individuals we need to add to the list, we'll just tag them as "communist" or "pedophile." 

Taken all together, this is not simply the behavior of a movement that wants to reshape society. It also bears a striking resemblance to the behavior of a controlling, abusive partner, whose tactics begin with cutting the target off from all their other family and friends, repeatedly driving home the message, "You must only trust me, only talk to me, only get your directions from me." 

Much of this can be created by amplifying legitimate concerns that people already have. Parents have always been, and will always be, apprehensive at the prospect of handing their beloved children over to someone else's care. Elections always seem like a crapshoot, a foregone conclusion beyond the control of individual voters. And our country has always fostered a strong thread of anti-egghead distrust of folks with too much book learnin' (who in turn do themselves no favors by hiding behind layers of opaque argle bargle). 

But it takes an extra effort to ramp this up, to deliberately attack people's trust in the institutions and relationships that help society function.

The implications of such a concerted effort to bar people from all these parts of society are many. One is that the people raising, amplifying, and even manufacturing the problems (CRT! Commies! Fake news!) are not looking for solutions. Anything that sows more chaos and distrust serves their purpose, but they have zero interest in solving the problems in any kind of positive or healing fashion. Trying to engage in discussion is hopeless, because the discussion isn't really about whatever topic is being discussed, but about the subtext which is "These People can't be trusted!!" 

MAGA is not conservatism. It pretends to be, mostly by holding up an imaginary vision of society from 60 years ago as its ideal, but most principles of conservatism are nowhere to be found. Individual responsibility? No, individual power. Small government? No--huge government, but only in our hands. 

Trump didn't create MAGA--he just named it and harnessed it. But these movements carry their own cancer wired into their dna. In an authoritarian movement, power doesn't come from principle, but from an individual who ascends to a cult of personality, and they only way to advance in such a system is by pulling down whoever stands in the way of your own elevation. Watch the GOP primaries where candidates try to out-MAGA each other, attacking each other far more viciously than any Democrat has the guts to do. When Trump finally dies, the unholy hell that will be unleashed in the scramble to take his place will be incredible to behold.

In the meantime, schools have to somehow function in a world in which many of the students and parents they serve have been taught not to trust them, not to listen to them, and to always assume the worst of them. This is not a fun world to work in. The hope is that trust is best built person to person. People don't personally know their tv anchor, the authors of books in their library--but they know their child's teacher. 

It's tempting to approach MAGAs as dangerous, antagonistic buffoons, but it may be more accurate to approach them as folks who have been kept locked in the basement and told that everyone outside of their household is dangerous (though mixed in with them, the same people who kept them locked in that basement). Maybe "forgive them, for they know not what they do" may be a bridge too far, but it's worth a thought.

MAGA keeps a lot of people scared, convinces a lot of people that there's a big, dangerous crowd that they dare not buck. MAGA's ranks have been swelled by non-believers who aren't ready to stand up yet, and things like the Disney boycott call are in part for their benefit. Listen only to MAGA, and pay no attention to those Other Voices suggesting that this (whatever it is this week) is wrong, scary, bad and even nuts. If you can't make them loyal, at least keep them isolated, because if I keep you locked in the basement, I don't really have to convince you to agree with me. 

Friday, April 15, 2022

Choice vs. Culture Battles

Some school choice fans are pretty steadfast in their belief in free market dynamics and in the need to let all parents choose as they see fit. But as the culture debates heat up, a whole group of choicers are turning out to be less committed to choice than to other things. Note these three stories.

In New Hampshire (in a story that we've looked at before), the Croydon community had actually installed a pretty robust choice system that allowed parents to choose any public or private school in the area. But it was expensive, and the Free State Libertarians who run much of the town's boards decided to cut the funding for the district in half. This means that most of the choice that parents in the district previously enjoyed are now are available only if the parents can afford to chip in a pile of money themselves. This will be a particular challenge as the town does not have its own high school. But it turns out that choice for parents is not as big a deal as cutting taxes and getting government out of the education biz. As I've often argued, school choice--particularly the voucher brand--is too often not about empowering parents, but about saying to them, "We cut you a check. Educating your children is now your problem, not ours. Good luck."

In Alabama, Tim James is a candidate for governor, and part of his platform is that public schools are failing and "school choice must be available for the parent and guardian of every student." Further, he says, "we need options tailored to each child's needs." 

Well, not each child. Turns out that Alabama is home to a unique charter school, the Magic City Acceptance Academy, a school that accepts all students but puts a special emphasis on LGBTQ-affirming atmosphere and programs. James has targeted this school in a campaign ad; the principal of the school says James is "scaring the hell out of our kids." James is using the school as a target, saying that as governor he would "have opposed the formation of this school and would have vetoed any budget that funded it." He charges the school with "exploitation" of children and "not education." 

So school choice is not as important as clamping down on that LGBTQ stuff. Or, as the James campaign calls it, "perversion." Meanwhile, the school has hired some extra security.

In Georgia, two bills tried to make their way through the legislature this year, and they tell us something about the collision of culture warriors and choice.

One was a version of the education savings account bills that have been cropping up across the country. As with most of these bills, it included a non-interference clause saying that just because a school was getting taxpayer dollars via voucher, that didn't mean that the state had any authority telling them what to do.

The other was a version of the standard anti-CRT and Don't Say Gay language with one striking difference--SB 613 sought to extend prohibitions against discussion of gender roles and sexual identity to any "private or non-public" school receiving voucher money. This clearly does not go well with an injunction against state interference in how voucher-accepting schools can be run, but apparently in Georgia the thinking is that the state should leave private schools alone when they want to discriminate against LGBTQ students, but it should interfere if the private school wants to demonstrate acceptance of those students. 

As the culture battles continue, I expect we'll see more of this-- choice is great, but only if it includes the acceptable choices. Parents should have the right to choose--but not those choices that accept LBTQ students are human beings or that teach all that Black Stuff. In the end, for some folks, school choice is really just another mechanism for imposing their preferred culture on everyone else, an Orwellian option in which "choice" actually means "no choice at all."

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Video: CRT Panic: What's Behind It

Here's a ten minute explainer from More Perfect Union, a left-tilted outfit that produces videos with a labor union focus. You may or may not agree with everything here, but it's a good quick job of connecting dots between the Critical Race Theory panic, and particularly benefits from the inclusion of a guy who used to work for the Goldwater Institute setting up this very sort of initiative.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Yes, Lesson Plans. But--

I don't think a week goes by that I don't find someone on the interwebs arguing that writing out lesson plans is a big fat waste of time. I'm not convinced.

I've worked with too many student teachers and even beginning teachers who really needed to write lesson plans. They were stepping in front of a class without really figuring out what exactly they were doing, why they were doing it, or how they would know that they had accomplished it. Their lesson plans were basically "Cover chapter 3" or "Go over punctuation rules." A written lesson plan is a good way to figure out what you're going to do, particularly at the point of your career where you don't have any of the elements of a lesson programed into your brain well enough to use them reflexively.

Also, it's appropriate for teachers to give some account of what they're doing in the classroom.

That said, here are some ways to do written lesson plans that don't do anybody any good.

Detailed explanation of standards alignment. Whether it's Common Core or your state's renamed Common Core or some original state standards, there are administrators who love this alignment baloney. It isn't helpful for the teacher in designing or delivering instruction, but folks in the main office love it for providing a paper trail of "proof" that your school is totally hitting all the standards, or for doing some kind of alignment study to identify "gaps." Either way, it's bureaucratic paper shuffling, not actual lesson preparation.

Mindless adherence to a particular template. If the teacher is asking "What can I use to fill in these blanks" instead of "How do I want to design this lesson," they're wasting their time. This crops up especially if your district uses some digital lesson plan platform, thereby guaranteeing that the lesson plan will not be in a location or form that is at all useful to the teacher (unless she prints the lesson plans out on paper). 

So much detail that a semi-literate chimp could deliver the lesson. Because no amount of detail will make that possible, unless the teacher involved is a Instructional Deliver Meat Widget. This is why your lesson plans get shorter as you gather experience; you no longer need to write out the full details of how you introduce the usage unit. Yes, maybe there will be a substitute in for you, but let's face it--they probably aren't certified in your area, anyway, and you're going to end up creating some foolproofish sub plans separate from what you would do if you were there.

Note: Beware administrators who demand this kind of painful detail; they're spending too much time thinking about how they could eliminate dependence on actual human employees.

Just copying over the instructions from the canned teaching program. First, if the detailed lesson plans are already in the canned teacher-proof program that your district bought and now insists you implement "with fidelity," why should you be copying it over? What is the point? Second, if that's what your district is doing, leave and find a better job. That is not teaching, and shame on your administration.

Playing administrative cat and mouse. This is when the whole "turn in your written lesson plans" thing is just administrators playing gotcha with staff, trying to catch them not planning the right things or violating some valuable paperwork rule. I consider these situations fair game for writing any old thing on the plans, and if you're ever called on it, just explain you had to make some changes on the fly. This is Dilbert territory, where you lose time doing the job so that you can make a report on how the job is going. It wastes the time of every single person involved, so the goal is to waste as little of your own time as possible. 

The dust collectors. These are the lesson plans that teachers are required to write, secretaries are required to check off, and which nobody ever actually looks at ever again. This is some Kafkaesque baloney happening at some schools. 

You may have noticed the underlying theme here-- lesson plans are most useful when they are useful to the teacher. Include what you find useful in the format that you find useful. Everything else is no help in actual classroom teaching, and classroom teaching is supposed to be the point. 

I have long suspected that a school's lesson plan policy is a canary in the administrative coal mine, an indicator of whether administration is focused on helping teachers do the best job they can, or focused on treating teachers like large children who have to be made to jump through hoops to Keep Them Honest, whether the center of the school's work is in the classroom or in the front office. 

SCOTUS Will Take On School Prayer

Later this month, the Supreme Court will take on the case of Kennedy v. Bremerton School District. If you have not been paying attention to this case of the praying coach, you should take a look, because once again the court is contemplating smashing holes in the wall between church and state.

The case comes from Washington State, where high school football coach Joe Kennedy made a practice of taking a knee for a brief prayer at the end of games. He started the practice when he was hired in 2008, along with motivational prayers for the team, and the district let it go while it was small and quiet. But then he started taking his knee in the middle of the football stadium, while players were still on the field and fans were in the stadium. It became quite a Thing, with players (sometimes from both teams) joining him for the prayer and, reportedly on one occasion, so many folks rushing the prayer that they knocked over marching band members. The district told him to knock it off and tried to find a compromise (he was offered another location), but Kennedy decided he would Take A Stand and keep at it anyway. Here's how Vox describes the next stage of this mess:

What followed was a circus. Kennedy went on a media tour presenting himself as a devout coach who “made a commitment with God” to performatively pray after each game. Good Morning America did a segment on him. Conservative media ran with headlines like “High School Coach Bullied Into Dropping Prayer at Football Games.” By the end of the month, 47 members of Congress — all Republicans — wrote to Leavell in support of Kennedy.

The district put him on administrative leave. Kennedy decided to take the case to court. He lost on the lower levels, but he had established a Cause. In the meantime, he did not reapply for the job, though conservative media like to report that he was fired from coaching at the school. 

Kennedy acquired legal representation from First Liberty Institute, a Texas-based legal outfit specializing in cases for the Christian Right. They ran the case up to SCOTUS, but in 2019 the Supremes sent it back to the minors, because more facts needed to be developed, but Justices Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh indicated that they didn't much like the lower court ruling against the former coach.

But he hasn't given up. Fox has had him on numerous times, where he explains that he has to fight for what is right and what is right for America. Besides his high powered legal firm and the above-mentioned 47 Congresspersons, Kennedy has drawn support from folks like Mike Pence and Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita.

The lower court ruled, essentially, that Kennedy was working as a public employee and therefor his private First Amendment rights didn't apply, which ironically is much like the argument conservatives make when they say that teachers can't just teach whatever they choose or read whatever they like in a classroom (I should note that essentially I agree with them). 

Defenders of the former coach argue that the prayer wasn't mandatory, which is a baloney argument. Reminds me of how high school teams have "optional" practices during the pre-season, and every player understands that these practices are only optional if you don't care whether you get to play or not. Coach Kennedy never waved his players onto the field to join him--he didn't have to. As one atheist player complained, he felt the need to participate in the prayer because he wouldn't get to play as much if he didn't. 

The SCOTUS objections to the lower court ruling, written by Alito, is even more bonkers, suggesting that the coach was "plainly not on duty." I don't know how they do things in Washington, but here in my neighborhood if a coach got in his car and went home five seconds after the final whistle, leaving his teenaged athletes to get themselves in and out of the locker room and on their way, that coach would be having a Come To Jesus meeting the very next morning.

To me (and plenty of other folks), Kennedy's behavior is a clear Constitutional violation. But the way things are tending these days in SCOTUSLand, I'm not confident that we aren't going to see a newly invented right of public school employees to exercise their right to evangelize whenever they wish. 

There are so many problems here. Sooooo many. Let's start with the teaming up a right to freely practice your religion as a school employee with the recently-created right to exercise your religion by denying service to people to whom you object--will public school teachers not only be able to start classes with prayers, but also refuse to teach LGBTQ students? 

There's also the Be Careful What You Wish For element. How about a coach who lays out his prayer rug on the fifty yard line so he can kneel toward Mecca? How about a coach who wants to honor the team victory by sacrificing a live chicken on the field? And you can bet that the Satanic Temple will be ready with more of the sorts of challenges they have presented in the past.

And what about students who aren't Christian? If the court decides to open more religious floodgates, there are plenty of administrators and teachers who will sail happily through them. I know-- I used to work for and with them. In 1997, a district just up the road ended up in court because an atheist student sicced the ACLU on them over prayers at graduation. It was ugly--adults in the community accused the student of doing Satan's Work. The student won, further cementing the idea that graduation prayers could happen only if student initiated (wink wink, nudge nudge). And yet, with that clear local legal precedent, I listened to superintendents open sixth grade graduations with a prayer-- and not just a bland generic God prayer, but an explicitly Jesusy prayer. All of which reminds me of my former student who suffered through a year of an elementary teacher who tried to convert her from Judaism. 

If Kennedy wins, things will get ugly in many corners of the country. But there will be much rejoicing among the people who believe that Christians need to "take schools back." 

Meanwhile, I'm sure I'm not the first person to suggest that Joseph Kennedy and his supporters check out the Book of Matthew 6:5-6--

5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

SCOTUS is supposed to be looking at the case later this month. Stay tuned.