Sunday, July 31, 2022

ICYMI: Truncated Road Edition (7/31)

 Still far away from the home office, but still have a few bits that you should see this week.

How the right wing went too far for Republicans

Molly Olmstead at Slate with an analysis of why Tennessee's governor and Hillsdale College's president managed to make a mess by saying what they've said many times before.

National Parents Union’s Mythical Membership: Letter to Los Angeles Times

Maurice Cunningham writes to the LA Times to correct the record on an astro-turf parents' group.


Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider are at The Hill with good news--the MAGA attempt to commandeer school boards is not going so well.


Virginia comes up with a plan better than just handing out teacher credentials to passing strangers on the street. 

Investment in teachers is central to the health of public education

From Maine, some more sensible talk about recruiting and retaining.

Roundup July 2022: Media, Reading, and Misinformation

Paul Thomas offers a guide to some of the notable misinformation out there about education.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

ICYMI: Road Trip Edition (7/24)

 I've been driving across the country this week, but I still have time to read. Here's some goodies from the week.

Kentucky Teacher of the Year Speaks to Congress and Resigns

This is hard to read, but what a sign of the times. The indispensable Mercedes Schneider is on the story.


At We Are Teachers, a breakdown of the new kind of "activist" parent some schools are facing.

After two decades of studying voucher programs, I’m now firmly opposed to them

At Hechinger Report, a researcher explains how he concluded that vouchers are a bad idea.

Moms for Liberty: "Joyful Warriors" in the fight to demolish public school

Kathryn Joyce at Salon has been covering the christianist nationalist school busters like a boss (you should be following her on Twitter), and she went to the Moms For Liberty convention, God bless her.


From Seacoast Online, another mainstream story about why some teachers are getting out. 


Jennifer Berkshire writing for The Forum both dissects the Rufo-style assaults on pub lic schools and diagnoses why the Democrats are so damn useless on the issue.


Pennsylvania is upping its tax credit scholarship program while continuing to let that program operate in the dark. 


Pennsylvania has a plan for stemming the teacher exodus. Steven Singer has some questions.


As that whole deal turns radioactive, it's a good time to read this Andy Spears piece that explains what the whole deal is about.


Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Blog Bulletin

The staff of the institute will be on the road for the next several weeks, visiting a couple of the field offices. We will, in fact, be driving cross-country with the board of directors. In a car. While other family keep an eye on the homestead, we will rendezvous with Pacific Northwest crew somewhere around Portland, OR. The we will drive home, in a car. The we will catch our breath and head to the Down East field office, not quite near Portland, ME. 

All of which means that I will be away from the office for a while and posting here will be sparse and sporadic. In the interim, I recommend you check out the many fine writers on the list to the right or, if you like, wander through the back catalog here. Or just go outside and catch some fireflies. I have heard that taking a break to breathe deep can be good for you. 

Sunday, July 17, 2022

ICYMI: Packing Edition (7/17)

The staff here at the institute will be traveling soon to visit some of our field offices. That will be an adventure, no doubt, but as we prep for that adventure, here is your reading list for the week. Remember--if there's something here you like, share the post from its original site. You, too, van be an amplifier.

"Critical race theory" is being weaponized. What's the fuss about?

From the Economist, here's one of the better pieces I've read for providing a level-headed summary of what the fuss is, in fact, all about.

The supreme court has ushered in a new era of religious school

Adam Laats, historian of school-related religious culture warfare, has another great explainer up, this time at The Atlantic. Now that the church state wall is in shambles, he says the country is not ready for what comes next.

The supreme court is unraveling the separation of church and state

Shelly Balik is a history professor; at the Washington Posr, she offers up a history of that much-hammered wall.

The book ban movement has a chilling new tactic: harassing teachers on social media

Tanya Basu in the MIT Technology Review. This is scary stuff. 

The world of high dose tutoring has become a land grab

In Edsurge, Daniel Mollenkamp notes that now that there's big money in tutoring, some of the folks getting involved aren't offering anything actually useful or proven. I know--what a shock!

Students need teachers NOT tutors! Who's pushing tutors and why.

Nancy Bailey has more about the rise of tutoring as a "solution" in teaching.

John White now sells Eureka math

John White was once education chief in Louisiana. Now he's one more salesman hawking questionable edu-wares. The indispensable Mercedes Schneider has the full story. 

We don't need no education

Warm body laws make an appearance in Arizona, and Kathryn Joyce is at Salon with the story of the latest move in the nation's most public education-hating state.

Florida's civic education and religion

At The74, Florida Phoenix takes a look at allegations that Ron DeSantis is trying to put the Jesus back in Florida civics education.

College Board no longer disclosing AP test results by ethnicity, state

What to do when your own data shows a bias in your test? Maybe stop publishing the data. K-12 Dive has the story. 

Community Schools: What are they and how do they work

"Community Schools" are defined roughly six trillion different ways. Teen Vogue takes a look at the way they ought to work.

The state took children from their parents--then failed to give them a real education

A heartbreaking failure of the system. These foster kids in Michigan thought they were gaining credits towards graduation. Turns out they were wrong. NBC News. 

The New York Times visits Croydon, NH

The NYT sent Dan Barry to cover the story of the small town where a libertarian tried to get the school budget cut in half. Includes some details not brought up in previous coverage of the story.

School funding lawsuits

Rachel Cohen anchors this look at the long difficult lawsuits filed to get school funding up to par with a look at the lawsuit currently winding up in Pennsylvania. At Vox. 

Nation's overthinkers convene to determine what that's supposed to mean

A little Onion to cleanse the palate. 

This week at Forbes, I took a look at the new grant rules for charter schools and looked at what happened to the Lemon Test for determining if the church-state wall has been breached.



Saturday, July 16, 2022

It's Coming From Inside The House

You know the old scary story. babysitter blah blah blah scary phone calls blah blah blah police blah blah "It's coming from inside the house!" The scary thing is not outside; the threat is in the building with you.

Yesterday, TC Weber at Dad Gone Wild made a trenchant observation in response to my Christopher Rufo piece, which he admitted to not having finished.

So why didn’t I finish this piece?

It’s because I’ve grown weary of our obsession with crafting straw men in order to blame someone besides ourselves for the slow death of public education. Sure Rufo, and his ilk contribute in a significant manner to the ongoing dismantling of the public system, but if we really want to hold culprits accountable we need just look in the mirror.

He went on to write about MNPS system, specifically Oliver Middle School, where he was struck by a particularly non-responsive district meeting in which the district leadership gave a master class in how to do a crappy job of dealing with the public.

As fate would have it, within an hour or two of reading Weber's post, I was reading a post from Mary Holden, friend of the Institute, explaining why she had just resigned from her post in that same district, citing, among other things, that same meeting, and providing one clear example of why the district is losing teachers. 

Teaching should not be like this. Going to work should not be this stressful. There should not be tears shed on a regular basis about your job. But that is what many teachers, myself included, experienced at Oliver these past couple years. There are enough other stressors associated with teaching, like behavior management and the time needed for planning and grading, and what we need most is support, encouragement, and empowerment. But those things are not being given at Oliver. Teachers feel expendable and disrespected. And many have quit as a result.

When it comes to making schools function poorly, local administration trumps state or national policy pretty much every time. Plenty of parents and teachers who know diddly and squat about ongoing national debates about education policy know plenty about how Principal McButtface and Superintendent Dimbulb have made their lives immediately and palpably miserable. 

There is a lot of bad management in the education world. My personal favorite, because I've encountered it so many times, is to deal with oncoming contentious issues through some combination of stonewalling, denial and gaslighting. That trick never works, and yet plenty of administrators never get tired of trying it. "People are going to yell at me over this," they declare, "So I will just try to keep them from finding out it's happening." They are the management equivalent of the teen who grinds the passenger side of the family car against a tree and deals with it by parking with that side of the car real close to that side of the garage, going to bed without telling anyone, and hoping that things will be better in the morning.

The other classic bad administrator is the eternal antagonist, the one who views parents, teachers, students, the board--everyone--as an enemy intent on disturbing his peace and questioning his authority. These guys can never get through a day without getting into a fight with someone. 

Between problematic administrators and the non-zero number of problematic teachers, there are, as Weber suggests, more than enough explanations for dissatisfaction with schools without resorting to guys like Chris Rufo.

But I am going to push back against his point, because I think there are serious ways that the Chris Rufos exacerbate the situation.

For one thing, administrators and teachers need to understand that these guys are out there. Education is now a political issue in ways that it never was in the past. And because politics are particularly brutal these days, we're seeing a classic model affecting schools. In politics, the search is always on for the worst possible example of behavior by your opponent. There are something like 17,000 school districts in this country, and on any given day, somewhere, in one of them, somebody is doing something stupid. That's not new. What is new is that there is a whole political machine waiting to grab every bad example and blow it up and weaponize it against the entire institution of public education. 

Local problems rule, but some local problems are manifestations of problems created by state and national policy. Tennessee is a fine example; go back at least the days when Kevin Huffman was put in charge of the education department, with no more educational expertise than can be gleaned from a couple of years as a Teach for America faux teacher. Tennessee has been a magnet for one bad amateur education idea after another, with leaders clueless about everything except how to use education-flavored businesses to suck up taxpayer dollars. 

Teachers and parents have hate hate hated schools centered on high stakes testing, and while all the pain has been felt locally, the origin was national and state policy. 

George Floyd's murder was the most notable event spurring an attempt by schools to address the shifting demographics of education, but in the absence of any national leadership on the issue, local districts continued to craft (or buy) their own responses, and some of those were clearly awful. Not only awful, but awful at a time when some folks were actively searching for bad examples. As I've said before, I think of Moms For Liberty as not exactly astro-turf; like the Tea Party movement, I think some opportunistic political actors have poured gasoline on some real concerns. And that would have been an excellent time for some districts to pay attention to what kind of fuel they want to put out into the world. 

That's a hard line to walk in the current atmosphere. Here's NBC covering a survey--by the teachers union--finding that Ron DeSantis' messaging is working. The reason it's working is because DeSantis is careful and precise--in fact, using far more precision than reality supports. "All the Don't Say Gay law says is that we shouldn't teach K-3 graders about sexual and gender stuff," he says, which most people agree with, except that that glib shortening doesn't match the reality on the ground, where the law also includes a vague line about age-appropriate materials in other grades. Nobody knows exactly what the bill means. Is it a violation to acknowledge that gay people exist? Nobody knows, and the most critical part of the law is the part that says that anybody at all who thinks the law has been violated can sue the school. Pretty much everyone agrees that kindergartner's shouldn't be getting graphic demonstrations of sexual intercourse, but somewhere out beyond that is a big wide vague area occupied by people on both sides of the debates.

However, nothing about the nature of that debate means that schools should do something that is clearly stupid. I'm aware that "clearly stupid" is also a big vague line, and that it's a bad idea to let controversies chill you into doing avoiding anything at all. But there are still things that are clearly stupid. Refusing to engage in dialogue with the public that you serve is stupid. Bringing something into your classroom that you suspect might be controversial, without first checking with the professional opinion of some of your colleagues--that's stupid. Thinking that you are an educational crusader who doesn't have to answer to anybody--well, that may not be stupid, but it's certainly a serious error in judgment. You answer to everybody--that's the heart of the problem in education, and always has been.

Some of this is likely to get worse. It takes solid professional judgment to navigate tricky educational waters, and many states are deciding that the way to solve their "teacher shortage" is to redefine teacher as "any warm body with a bit of education," which is not going to bring in a lot of people with well-developed professional education judgment. 

And then there's the other problem we don't talk enough about--the trouble finding good administrators. Just as students can see whether or not teaching looks like a great career, teachers can see what it means to be an administrator. For twenty-some years, it has meant having all the responsibility, but none of the power. It means putting out fires. It means dealing with all the political fire being brought to bear on education these days.

We will never know how many teachers who would have great administrators looked at the job and thought, "They don't pay anyone enough money for that job." But tough times reveal character, and the past years in education have revealed that many administrators aren't very good at their jobs. 

Well, this has dragged on longer than I wanted it to. Let me try to abandon my other thoughts and just make for the exit.

Look, I do agree that some of us focus so much on the larger picture of policy and attacks on education that we may neglect the local issues that may have far more direct effect on the health and survival of a particular local district. But I believe that the local and the large policy pictures are linked and connected and intertwined in ways that matter. Likewise, I think those of us who write about local issues and those of us who write about national stuff are both important. It's a big complicated puzzle and it's going to take a lot of people to put it together. 

Friday, July 15, 2022

Goodbye, Dolly (Note: She's Okay, Honest)

Update: I wrote the headline to express a personal point and make a play on "Hello, Dolly," but apparent some readers have been panicking. Sorry. Everyone is fine, honest.)

After five great years, the Board of Directors has aged out of Dolly Parton's Imagination Library.

I have been plugging this program for years (my first post was in 2014, back before the Board of Directors was even a sparkle in our eyes). Parton has engineered putting a book a month into the hands of families all across the country--we're talking (currently) 184 million books in millions of households meeting no requirement other than they have a child between the ages of born and five. It costs the family nothing. 

The quality of the books is great. Over the years we have received classics, newer books, books featuring every sort of family, every sort of kid. They are filled with wonder, kindness, beauty, excitement. This is one of the best examples of thoughtful, useful, not-trying-to-take-over-a-government function philanthropy you'll find.

The program launched in 1995 in Sevier County, and it grew quickly. By 2006, when the Washington Post wrote about it, the program had spread to 471 communities in 41 states. In 2011 it launched in Scotland, and it can now be found in the UK, Australia, and Canada. The site says that 706,468 US kids are currently signed up. It's still fairly simple. Some combination of sponsors (some private, some government, depending on the locale) help with the financing (the cost is roughly $27 per child per year) and the Foundation delivers the books, each in its own poly bag with the child's name on it (consider the power of a child, even a small one, receiving a book that is theirs, addressed to them, by name).

I am not, I'll confess, a huge fan of Parton's music, but she is the very best example of what good a person can do with their giant pile of money you can find. Not trying to shape the world to her own requirements, not trying to buy a good name, not trying to make herself the unelected boss of whatever. And the little PR that Imagination Library does is to get itself out into the hands of students, not to raise Parton's profile. She doesn't pay people to promote it, and it has spread largely through word of mouth or through the local organizations that co-sponsor it and help make the connections to local families.

Once a month, the boys received a book, addressed to them personally. We love books in this house, and the arrival of the monthly "book from Dolly" was an event. We will miss it.

The last book to arrive is Kindergarten, Here I Come, and the first page inside the front cover is a letter from Parton, that I'll quote in part:

My, how time flies. It seems only yesterday when your family and friends read you your first story. You were just a baby. Now you're five years old and about to go to school. How exciting!

This may be your last book from my Imagination Library but you have to promise me you will keep on reading...Every book is a treasure and every time you open one you will meet new friends and take wonderful journeys to magical places.

I hope you have a great time in school. I bet your school will even have a library where you can check out books. You and all your friends are very special. There is no limit to what you can do or how far you can go. 

The board of directors examines a position paper
Her signature, a simple Dolly, is at the end. The first time we read the message together I was apparently having a bad allergy day.

None of the rich amateurs who want to change the face of education are doing anything of this value on this scale--both intensely personal and yet broadly across the globe. I mean, imagine if Bill Gates had said, "I want to give every child a book" instead of "I want to give every child a test."

And if there is a tiny human in your life, and they aren't signed up, go to the program website and see if it's operating in your neighborhood, and if so, then sign up that child.

What a fabulous, generous, powerful program.  God bless Dolly Parton. We are going to miss here at this house. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Christopher Rufo and the End of Public Education

This is going to be a long post, but I think it's an important one. We're seeing an escalation in education policy discussion goals, from reform to privatization to, now, the destruction of public education. 

Nobody captures this current goal more clearly than Christopher Rufo, who has rapidly risen from peripatetic thinky tank hired gun to architect of critical race theory panic as a gateway drug to so many other targets. 

Rufo made an appearance at Hillsdale College in April of this year. Bit s and pieces of that speech have been quoted all over the place, but it's important to look at the whole speech to get the big picture. The whole thing (with Q & A) runs about an hour, and I've watched so that you don't have to. 

Rufo's strength is building a narrative and precisely and deliberately building the language to sell that narrative. He calls himself a journalist and talks about "breaking stories," and while he appears to have no actual background in journalism, he does build a large, cohesive narrative.

The title of his speech is Laying Siege To The Institutions and it outlines how we got here, what's wrong with where we are, and how conservatives are supposed to fight back. This is going to take some space, so I'm going to try not to interrupt too much as I present Rufo's vision; If you can stick it out, I'll get into that at the end.

How we got here

In Rufo's narrative, 1968 is the "turning point," a time of left-wing militant street activists, people who want to set off bombs in DC and "shoot cops in the head." But the working class didn't rise up; probably, he says, because of the rising standard of living and the growing wealth actually made them anti-revolutionary. 

By the mid-70s, the left-wing movement was burned out, down to "a few dozen angry, disillusioned demoralized radicals." 

So, declares Rufo, they hatched a new strategy of a "long march" through institutions. They abandoned the proletariat and decided to establish a revolution of "elites and intelligentsia." Rather than capture the means of production (which, in one of his many digs, he notes the academics couldn't handle anyway because college professors don't have the salt-of-the-earth grittiness to work an assembly line), they would instead capture the production of culture and knowledge. The washed up radicals would turn to formalized academia. 

Where we are

Rufo has looked at all the institutions, by which he means government, universities, Fortune 100 companies, and K-12 schools. "What I found is something I think is shocking to most Americans."

What did he find? Core concepts from 1968 radicals have been "sanitized, adapted, repackaged and repurposed" and injected into US life at bureaucratic level. So "ridiculous ideas" like white privilege. The real purpose is to break down class to get people to join the Marxist revolution. The language of all these things is "a maze of postmodern language." Language around CRT is meant to obfuscate, "impenetrable and un-opposable." Words like "diversity" and "equity" mean the opposite of what you think they mean. Ideology that is "in its essence, indistinguishable  from that we saw in 1968." And it's everywhere.

Every elite institution in the country that has dominance over knowledge, dominance over culture, dominance over even, in many cases, material production, has converged on a unitary ideology.

Rufo says his work is "trying to get to the heart of what these words really mean." (Not, as I might have guessed, trying to redefine these words in ways that further his cause.) There's a key 7-10 concepts, pushing a system of group-based rights, explicitly anti-capitalist. Walmart HR is the same, he says, as a fifth grade education module as diversity training in the Department of the Treasury.

How to fight back (strategy)

Rufo spends a good 7-8 minutes talking about Disney, a corporation that he had recently hammered for daring to oppose Don't Say Gay. So Rufo showed that they were teaching people that the US is "irredeemably racist" (he attributes this language to his opponents several times) and "advocating for all the fashionable causes." 

Rufo called them out ("broke the story") for doing racist things like having racially segregated groups, and they "were caught off guard" which he knows because "you could read between the lines" in their press release, because in the "elite milieu" this stuff is not even questioned.

Then he works around to suggesting that Disney is a haven for child sex abusers and reminds us that one of the things these institutions are trying to do is "use the levers of power to fundamentally reshape the narrative around children and sexuality." He talks about tapes revealing that Disney execs openly talk about pushing gay stuff, somehow.  And he raises for the first time, but not the last, that these are not well-meaning people who made a mistake. 

Rufo advises that the strategy is not "to march back in," in other words, to take the institutions over, but to lay siege to them. From the outside "using our superior public support."

Engage in a narrative and symbolic war, he says. Be aggressive. Define your own terms and set your own frame. At one point he says

You have to be ruthless and brutal in pursuit of something good

And there is a whole lot of world view packed into that sentence. 

Next, mobilize public support. Rufo applauds the school board battles marked by the "amazing emergence organically of irate parents" and "organically" is doing a hell of a lot of work there. He creates a whole picture. "These parents come from work, tired, in their dress clothes, showing up at these school board meetings" and "giving hell" to those school board members. 

He encourages folks to run for school board. Say you're the anti-crt candidate  who wants to return to the basics of reading, writing and rithmetic and "prioritizing excellence over ideology" and you will win (because the phantom ideology that has captured everything is, you see, against excellence).

Third, he says to decentralize control. Centralization is bureaucratic control by a minority of permanently publicly subsidized activists that have turned public institutions into private ideological organizations. If this sounds a lot like what the folks in Rufo's camp actually want to do, you have to remember that for Rufo, "ideology" is a negative term that only ever applies to Those Lefties. On the right, they don't have "ideology"--only "values" and "virtues" and "beliefs." Later, during the Q&A, Rufo will say

The public universities, the DEI departments, the public school bureaucracies are, at the end of the day, patronage systems for left-wing activists.

Here comes the school choice pitch. You should be allowed to rescue your child from this ideological nightmare. And while you may think that an "institution" composed of almost 17,000 separate districts, each with its own locally-selected bosses is the very definition of decentralized, Rufo repeats the old charge that public schools are a monopoly (he's mostly writing his own new symphony, but Rufo is not afraid to play some golden oldies of the movement). 

A family that objects to their public school should be free to take their $15K and take it to any public, private, charter, or "this is controversial--I don't know why--but it could also be a religious school." Well, of course Rufo knows why, but part of his shtick is an aw-shucks incredulousness that certain "common sense" stuff somehow isn't widely accepted.

But without choice, "parents will be forced to run their children through a gauntlet that they can't control."

How to fight back (tactics)

First up-- fight at that symbolic and narrative level. Rufo describes this a ripping the gauzy, vague, even deductive veil from the language being used. "What I am doing is providing the words," he says, and that was the basic technique behind his success smearing CRT. "Providing a renewed moral language to be waging the fight' even as they create a new frame. I'd describe this less as "ripping off a veil" and more "slapping your own preferred straw man onto the other side." There's more in this vein, focused specifically on the political efficacy of the tactic.

Next (and this is the part you've probably heard quoted) attack the credibility of the institutions.

Conservatives, Rufo notes, have been reluctant to do this. But he argues that conservatives like what institutions used to be, or what they imagine them to be, but not what they are (at least, not as Rufo depicts them). 

Trust in institutions "cratering" creates conditions for fundamental change, says Rufo, unintentionally explaining the motive for attacking institutions this way. And then there's this:

To get universal school choice, you really need to operate from a place of universal school distrust.

Remember this. It's a useful lens through which to view much of the last several decades of school policy wrangles. Take CRT panic as most recent example--any policy goals that seem part of the whole mess are secondary to that one big message that you cannot trust your public school.

Rufo notes that for people to get active, they have to feel as if they have something at stake. Again, a good insight into his focus on CRT and all the barnacles that have been attached to it--they gave people stakes that unlike, say, pedagogical issues, they could be made to fear. Common Core pointed the way-- it scared lots of people, but the greatest of the fear was that the core would somehow turn your child into a commie lesbian. 

Rufo says that public schools, "specifically the public school teachers union" have done that themselves, and then lists all the things that neither schools nor unions nor teachers did, but which folks in his camp have pinned on them with some success-- masks, closed buildings, pushed CRT. And Rufo rarely says things that are silly, he throws in the idea that schools are responsible for "the most catastrophic learning loss likely since World War I." 

Final tactic-- create alternatives. We already know that one--creating a parallel system. Well under way.

Wrapping It Up

Rufo encourages his audience not just to think left and right (though definitely do that) but also top and bottom, because remember this is a handful of elites doing all this damage. And he spends lots of time with everyday middle folks and they are great and salt of the earth and to be trusted etc etc etc.

Good can be raised into our institutions, maybe not as they are now, but as they could be. 

In other words, burn it all down and build something more to our liking. Some are built for offense, and some for defense, for building institutions that protect the civilizational values and virtues that should be continued from the past into the future." We can choose between the revolution of 1776 or the revolution of 1968; one ends in the unfolding of those founding principles of freedom and equality and the other one ends up in nihilism and despair4, in a bombed out bunker in Greenwich Village in the 1970s.

Bonus Q & A Section

The video includes some question and answer period, which does not feature fresh-scrubbed Hillsdale students, but folks who look more like their parents or grandparents or just donors to the school. It's illuminating.

Q: Someone concerned about social media censorship wants to ask Rufo, whose success has been largely based on his un-censored social media activity, what to do about evil Big Tech., 

CR: Drags in DeSantis who understands that "corporations should be serving the greater good, the country." Political power is ultimately higher than business power. Break up the ideological cartels. Yes, somebody here sounds very much like a Communist, but as always, you have to remember that it's not evil if the ideology you're imposing and enforcing is your own.

Q: This guy despises the term racism because we're all one race, and this is all one nation. Yes, of course, he's an old white guy.

CR: To his credit, Rufo acknowledges that there's a history of racism in this country, but you have to cover it in the context that the country has always progressed toward realizing its high ideals. Also, ordinary folks oppose lessons about CRT, white privilege, systemic racism and want their kids to transcend differences as they rise toward excellence.

Q: This guy is concerned about the erosion of trust. Also, the FBI isn't any better than the Gestapo.

CR: There's a rupture in trust, Rufo says, because "institutions have been untrustworthy. That's the simple fact." Numbers haven't plummeted because institutions are fabulous and "we're just the ungrateful kinds of plebes below." Has nothing to do with any active strategy and tactics aimed at destroying that trust. And here comes one of his few actual applause lines:

The problems aren't going to be solved by asking nicely and politely for the people in positions of power to pretty please do a better job...Appealing to these people will get you nowhere. 

You can't let liberals tell you what it's okay to talk about, says the guy who consulted with DeSantis on crafting laws to tell teachers what it's okay to talk about.

You won't get there by being polite, he says, before adding, "Be polite at Hillsdale to your teachers and administration, but out there toughen up." 

Q: Blah blah social emotional learning

CR: Academic freedom is a total fraud. Legislatures need to defund these places unless they take orders properly (in Rufo's world, "these professors" make $300K or $400K). 

"There's absolutely no reason that teachers need a masters' degree to teach reading to third graders," he says. He references studies that show masters degrees and certification have "zero relationship with quality teaching in the classroom," by which he almost certainly means "test scores on a single Big Standardized Test." But "the craziest people" are in charge of university ed departments, and also, we're spending more money but not getting better results in education (I told you he can play the hits). 

He says states should end credentialling entirely (they've started working on it). People can still get ed degrees if they want, but "I think nobody would go. Maybe some lunatics." 

 Public policy is the greatest tool that we have. Almost all of our problems are created by public policy. Almost all of the worst ideologues in our society are permanently subsidized by public dollars.

But what the public giveth, the public can taketh away.

So we defund what we don't like, fund what we do like.

So what do we make of all this

Still here? God bless you. 

The short form of all this is that radicals from 1968 gave up the violent overthrow of the US and--somehow--a couple dozen of them managed to take over every single institution in the country as well as transforming from scruffy radicals into elites. Rather than chase them out, we should trash the institutions they poisoned and start over, with freedom-loving ordinary people. 

So, several thoughts.

First, why settle on 1968 for your big year, as if you weren't repeating themes from 1950s McCarthyism or 1930s Red Scares or anarchism freakouts from earlier still. Is your audience conservative Boomers who always hated those long-haired hippy commie weirdos? 

There's a lot of internal inconsistency here. Some serves a narrative purpose; those shadowy elite ideologues who took over the country need to be both super-powerful (because we need to be justified in Getting Them and also, that beautiful victim card) and a tiny group (there's more of us Real Americans than them). 

Other inconsistencies aren't really inconsistencies, but tells. Your side is ideologues; my side has values. When you use the "levers of power" you are oppressive and evil, but when we get our hands on them, we will use them to enforce our will. That is only inconsistent if you think some sort of principle should be involved here, but the only principle involved is "People like me should be empowered to enforce our will on others, because our will is righteous true and serves us." Break corporations and make them support your view. Fund only the institutions that say what you agree with.  The answer to the oft asked question, "Why is that wrong when I do it but right when you do it" will always be "Because we are right and you are wrong." 

Or, as Frank Wilhoit puts it:

Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.

Rufo doesn't represent any sort of conservatism I recognize, but that's the mask they're wearing these days. 

The other thing striking about Rufo is how overtly and deliberately political he is (Politics is "the business of getting power and privilege without possessing merit" --P. J. O'Rourke). All of this is about using words and forming phrases to leverage and accumulate power, taking positions and maneuvering around your opponent. The people on the other side are not actual human beings; they have no good intentions, no legitimate concerns. In fact, none of this has to do with people with actual honest concerns or differences. Rufo doesn't invoke ordinary people with some sense of who they are and what they want and need, but because invoking them gives an argument some extra weight and helps build a winning frame. 

Certainly there's no thought about a institution-free society. Rufo talks as if we just cut all the supports and let everyone be free, as if that wouldn't result in a society in which people were only as free as their bank accounts allowed them to be. Rufo and his crowd would be plenty free.

There's certainly no concern about the larger effects of these tactics. What happens, for instance, in a society where trust has been systematically crushed and undermined? Nothing good, I'm betting, but Rufo's perfectly happy to go there, and increasingly others are willing to go there with him (here's Laura Ingraham calling for an end to public education).

I've sparred and chatted with plenty of folks on the other sides of these issues over the years. Over the last decade they have become even less likely to demonize opponents, more likely to see nuance and issues on all sides, even when they disagree. They have been mostly conservatives, with a conservative's natural tendency to want to preserve things. Maybe I've been naive to think that some of them were never going to go this far, even as I've understood that much of them have been pointing in this direction, and many of the folks financing the movement wanted exactly this. But I wonder what they think privately of this new slash and burn addition to the crew.

Rufo represents an extreme version of ideas that have long been around, like the idea that public education is just a scam so that the teachers union can get teachers jobs thereby resulting in dues that fill the coffers of the unions which are just fronts for the Democratic party. Or the idea that if government went away (and stopped making me pay taxes to support Those People) then we would all live in a happy paradise of freedom. Or that a bunch of stuff (under the umbrella of anything from evolution to segregation to CRT) is being taught to undermine my view of the world and make my kids think stuff I disagree with. 

Like his buddy DeSantis, Rufo is not so much about conservatism as he is about authoritarianism, about christianist-fueled control or replacement of all institutions (and do notice--Rufo does not distinguish between public institutions and private corporations--he wants to run them all). This is aggressive, smart authoritarianism that only really has one question to ask before it either lifts you up or smashed you-- are you on their side? Trumpsim was just some throat-clearing for these folks; soon I'm afraid they'll be in full voice. 








Put An Insta-Bunker In Your Classroom!

I want to be very clear. This is not The Onion.

A company named National Safety Shelters ("Keeping People Safe") is marketing something it calls in-classroom safety shelters. Here's an image from its website.













The ultimate in hardening your classroom--a solid bubble in which to hide your students. There are videos. like this one entitled "National Safety Shelters' Ultimate Solution To School Security" which starts with the Tinkly Piano Of Concern and statistics about school shootings and tornados (tornado protection appears to be a big part of the selling point here). 


      


If you just want a quick tour of one of these, there's a video for that, too (accompanied by the Folksy Guitar Of Calmness). It's a big metal box that can be custom sized for your room. (Also, you can watch this stunt where they put one in a school that was being demolished.)

In this video, we also learn that they're made of 3/16" ballistic steel. Note that this video is from 2018, but it only had 27 views. Back in 2018 the Big Box collapsed against the wall; I'm not seeing any such feature in the newer iteration. 

The company has managed to score at least one school district client, and they are milking it hard. The district is Quitman School District in Quitman, Arkansas, a city of a little over 5,000.

The district has 746 students, PK-12.

The pitch is not just "keep the students safe," but also "increase revenue for your district." 

Dennis Truxler, Superintendent at the Quitman School District, credits the security the safety pods provide ― and the peace of mind that comes with knowing they are there ― as part of the reason for the district's 20% increase in student enrollment. Most of the new students have matriculated in from neighboring districts. Significantly, revenue from the increase in student enrollment has more than covered the cost of purchasing and installing the safety pods.

The shelters, they insist, only take up unused wall space and only 5% of the room area which is, of course, in many schools about 5% more space than a teacher has to spare. Or maybe in some districts the insta-bunkers can be installed to cover up holes in the wall and leaks in the ceiling; I'm sure "We can't afford to fix up your building, but we can buy some big metal boxes to puit in it" will be a winning message. Some of the material points proudly to the unit that Quitman installed in their cafeteria which the principal thinks would probably hold all their elementary students. Did I mention that total enrollment in the district is 746? I'm trying to imagine what my old crowded band room would look like with a box installed big enough to hold 150 students. 

In this video, made the year after Quitman installed their insta-bunkers, you see the shelters in various rooms, and you can see they're already starting to take on their ultimate form-- very sturdy storage. There's room to stash stuff on top, you can decorate the outside. And as nature abhors a vacuum, a classroom abhors empty space that could be used to store that giant stack of textbooks or those bins full of manipulatives. If the insta-bunkers don't fill up with various classroom stuff, I will eat a military grade hat. (And I do not even want to contemplate the creative uses students will come up with.)




It is just about the ultimate expression of the "Do anything about school shootings that doesn't involve actually trying to get a handle on guns in this country" mindset. We can't even try to stem that tide, so just give them a metal box to hide in. Just devote 5% of precious school space (and money that could have been spent on education) to walling students and teachers up in big metal tombs to help harden the target. It's also a window on the kind of world you get when schools are convinced any damn fool thing in order to help their financials by chasing market share. 

This is terrible on so many levels, but National Safety Shelters sent this press release out to everyone and their brothers, so sadly, it's a good bet that somewhere in the US today, somebody is reading about this and thinking, "Hmmmm.... maybe that's what we need." 

Keeping The Classroom Safe

Every teacher has stories. 

In my first year, two students were already sitting front to try and improved their focus, but one day they got on each other's last nerves. They came up out of their desks to square off, and before I even thought about it, I stepped forward so that I was between these two very large seniors. My only though at that moment was, "Oh shit. I've made a huge mistake." I got through the moment only because a third student got up and restrained one of the two combatants and I could safely turn my attention to the other. 

Decades later, I still had classes in which one or two volatile students could singlehandedly threaten the safe function of the class. These were students I could talk to one-on-one and build a decent rapport, but teenagers are not always masters of their own situations or their responses to them.

I taught for decades in a small rural-ish school, and the volatility in the building varied from year to year (we knew, for instance, that we were in for a rough ride the year that teachers had to break up a fist fight at freshman orientation--between two mothers of incoming students).

Violence in school comes from a variety of sources, often coming as the result of other pressures and problems that spill over into the classrooms or halls of the school. It virtually never occurs because of some "bad kids," but that doesn't mean you can best secure the safety of the learning environment for the other students by just shaking your head and saying, "Well, he's not really a bad kid."

After a year or more of anecdotal accounts spreading here and there, the research is starting to come in on school violence over the past year, and it confirms what almost everyone seemed to be saying for months--this was a bad year for student fights and physical attacks in schools.

The headline for the Chalkbeat piece (Pandemic effect: More fights and class disruptions, new data show) suggests that the pandemic is to blame, and certainly there are plenty of teachers who talked this year about students who had forgotten how to do school, how to coexist peacefully with other students. 

There are plenty of other places to point as well. It's hard to imagine that watching parents turn up on line and on the news for screaming at school boards or declaring that teachers are evil, indoctrinating groomers would not trickle down for an erosion of respect among students. 

Some folks will continue to point at "squishy" programs like school versions of restorative justice, some of which are undoubtedly terribly implemented. When students know that there will be no real consequences for their actions, that does not help maintain a safe school environment for everyone else.

School discipline (like school most everything) requires a tricky balance-- and a different tricky balance for each student. An authoritarian regime in which administrators insist on browbeating and crushing students is disastrous. A fuzzy administrative approach that involves nothing more than a friendly chat in the office is ineffective. Students who are "acting out" in dangerous and hurtful ways are still human beings, and their actions are probably indicative of issues that are weighing on them. At the same time, the other students need to know that their classroom, their school, is a safe place to be. Neither crushing spirits into compliance nor refusing to demand certain social behaviors from students works for the school as a whole.

Part of the solution is staffing. When a student needs to be out of your class, he has to go somewhere. Sitting in an office with a secretary isn't terribly effective. I'm not going to argue in favor of hiring a school resource officer to handle every bit of student misbehavior as if it were a police matter, either. 

There's a piece of old teacher wisdom about classroom management that says you should focus on what you want the students to do rather than what you don't want them to do. Don't say "stop that," but say "start this." I'd argue that a similar idea writ large works for a school; don't focus on what kind of behaviors and students you want to stamp out, but focus instead on what culture and behavior you want to promote.

This has to be teamed up with a culture that treats students like human beings. Positive reinforcement is fine, but getting a silly trinket doesn't motivate you in a professional development session, and it won't motivate your students, either. Nobody wants to be a problem; nobody (okay, almost nobody) sets out to be that bad guy. Sometimes folks need some help getting there--but "help getting there" doesn't mean "free pass for stomping all over people on the way."

There may be one other factor that connects the violence uptick with the pandemic. The pandemic robbed many institutions of their inertia and places where compliance had become a habit--well, that habit was lost.

And what that may mean is that, as with other aspects of school, folks have a chance to build a new set of habits from scratch. Schools have a chance to approach discipline more mindfully, with more deliberate thinking about what kind of culture they'd like to build (hint--a culture of forced compliance is not your best choice). I'm not super-hopeful that schools struggling to get righted will take full advantage of that opportunity, but we should at least wave at it as it floats by.

I have another story from my first year.

I was teaching--handing back papers, actually--when a student from an earlier class came into my room and began to threaten me. Like, standing a few inches away and threatening to grab me by the tie and throw me across the room. I kept doing what I was doing because I didn't know anything else to do. The students in the class just sat there (later they said, "Half of us thought you were petrified and half of us thought you are some kind of martial artist and you didn't want to kill him"). 

And then he left. And I got through the rest of the day in which I had no breaks left, no chance to contact the office (1980, so pretty low tech). And then, after the last class dismissed and school was out, he came back, and sat down, and we talked for like an hour. He was angry and frustrated over something. He had a history of ragey stuff (I looked up his record and found it included throwing a desk at the teacher in 4th grade). 

"Why me," I asked one of my colleagues later. "I thought we had a pretty good working relationship." 

"Well, that's it," my colleague replied. "He trusts you." And he took his suspension for the incident without complaint and we finished the year just fine. I often wonder what became of him, even as I wonder about the many ways the whole thing could have gone sideways. If he had not had a place to rage, would he have become violent? Brought in a gun? How did my students in that class process the event? Could I have handled the whole thing better? Could the school system have handled that kid better? I can tell you one thing I did for all of us--I never left my door unlocked again, not for thirty-some years. 

How does a school, or a teacher, handle these things, keep an even keel when the seas are wracked by violence. How do you measure out a response to a "student fight" when it can be anything from a silly goof ("Let's make a fight video!") to an inchoate eruption of existential rage and fear and hurt? What do you even calculate. The following year, the year after I left, a middle school student brought a weapon to school and held her English class hostage. What do you even do with that.

I really only have two principles that ever guided me through the issue:

1) Students are actual human beings and deserve to be treated as such.

2) Students deserve to not have their own educations continually interrupted by other peoples' disruptive behavior, nor should they spend time in school being worried about their own physical or psychological safety.

School violence is one of those education issues that defies any sort of easy answer. Consequently, I don't trust anyone who says "This Thing is the cause" or "This Thing is the answer." I don't trust anyone who has a clear, concise, neat bow with which to wrap up the whole issue. We can't sort it out effectively for adults; why would we expect to do any better for young humans

Sunday, July 10, 2022

ICYMI: Matinee Edition (7/10)

I'm delighted to be once again in a pit orchestra, this time for a local production of Something Rotten. There is a special adventure in playing for a show, where the music is in a variety of impossible keys and things come at you quickly. It's good mental exercise, but I will never get used to Sunday matinees. But that's where I am today. Here's this week's reading list.


The new anti-LGBTQ laws are going into effect and as Patrick Wall reports for Chalkbeat, folks are scared. Florida really is the worst.


Thanks to some local media, the story a school district being overrun by cranky right wingers is growing. Here's an example from the Cincinnati Enquirer.


And here's PBS coverage of a Pennsylvania example. Read these for a better understanding of how this stuff happens.


Shockingly, some of these activists are motivated by reasons other than their deep concern for the children.


Maurice Cunningham in the Tampa Bay Times, just ahead of M4L's big time convention, with some answers. 


Elliot Mincberg writing for The Hill. Another lawyer who smells something funny in recent SCOTUS decisions. 


The indispensable Mercedes Schneider is a woman strong in her own Christian faith who's pretty sure that Christian Nationalism isn't.


From Salon. Not strictly about education, but expect me to spend the next several months reminding Pennsylvanians that Mastriano would be a disastrous choice for governor.


AZCentral makes the unsurprising discovery that the state's voucher program is mostly enriching the already rich. 


As Florida teachers get trained in their new Hillsdale-produced alternate history of the US, word is leaking out. The Miami Herald has some great coverage--behind a paywall. But here's a good look from Schools Matter.


Washington Post has coverage of the latest failure of a guy who is a spectacular serial failer in the education world (and yet people keep bankrolling him). 


Jose Luis Vilson goes back to his old school and it results in this moving post. Good way to finish the week.

Over at Forbes this week I wrote about Idaho's crazy pants Any Warm Body law for charter teachers, and Secretary Cardona's declaration in favor of better paths to teaching (and why that's the wrong thing to emphasize).



Saturday, July 9, 2022

Does Teaching Have A Millennial Problem?

The folks born between 1980-ish and 1996-ish are now in their twenties and thirties, meaning that the young end of the teaching force is occupied by Millennials.

We never talk about that specific issue in education, even as we gnash our teeth over the teacher hiring crisis, and yet the interwebs are jam packed with people in the corporate world writing think pieces about how to hang on to Millennials and manage Millennials and keep Millennials happy so they don't quit, and some of the items brought up in those articles ring a bell.

Many articles challenge the standard wisdom that Millennials are lazy, saying instead that Millennials want to have an actual life outside of work. That's not very compatible with teaching, which comes complete with hours and hours of work outside school hours--and that's before we even start talking about extras like extracurriculars or union involvement. And keep in mind that Millennials are at prime family-starting age, which creates more pressure to get home after work.

Millennials are said to value doing important work (though I'm not entirely convinced that's strictly a Millennial thing). Teaching seems perfectly aligned with that, until you consider the last twenty years of micromanaged test prep. If you showed up in schools in the last decade, you may have walked in the door thinking "And now I am going to change young lives and build a better world" only to be handed a packet of materials you'll be required to use to coach kids toward getting more kids to answer more multipole choice questions with the preferred response.

The big rap on Millennials is that they are disloyal job hoppers. This is brilliantly addressed by this Oatmeal-style cartoon at The Woke Salaryman. Millennials, it explains, expect their loyalty to be earned. Instead employers do things like:

Depressing salaries, finding all sorts of ways to justify paying lower salaries. Ditto benefits.

When employers do talk about salary increase, they talk in terms of what percentage raise the employer wants, instead of talking about what they're worth.

Meaning that Millennials can only get real raises by job hopping. 

Then there's this: "If you can't pay us well, at least treat us well." A caring boss, a decent work culture--these things matter to Millennials in ways beyond what, say, us old "suck it up and do the job" boomers settled for. 

Businesses used to earn loyalty by rewarding people with pay and pensions for sticking around to climb to the top. Now businesses promote from outside (how many principals in your building are former teachers from in your building). And of course pensions are toast. My pension is actually a damn good one; my wife will see nothing like it when she retires.

The piece makes one other solid point--the people who stay under lousy conditions aren't loyal. They're just trapped. Which doesn't make for great employees.

Any of this seem familiar?

Years ago I happened to meet up with a former student in North Carolina. We joined her, her husband and several other couples around the table. Almost all of them were former teachers who had left the profession early because they could see there were better ways to have the quality of life they wanted to have.

I don't know that there's a special Millennial approach to recruiting and retaining teachers. But I do believe that those of us from earlier generations were more willing power through features like, say, being treated like a flunky or a child instead of a full-grown professional.

If Millennials really are different in the workplace than the generations that came before, maybe that needs to be factored into recruiting and retention efforts. Maybe it's possible that some of the features that have made teaching unattractive are particularly off-putting for Millennials. Would it be useful to treat "how do we keep 50 year old vets from leaving" and "how do we recruit and retain twenty-somethings" as two different questions. I don't know if that's an answer, but I do know that surprisingly few people are considering the question. 

Friday, July 8, 2022

OK: Epic Lessons

The story is several weeks old, but you may recall that a few weeks ago the news was dominated by SCOTUS shenanigans, so you can be forgiven if you missed this. And even if you didn't, I can offer you some prime reading resources.

Epic charter school's three founders were riding high for a long time--until June 23rd, when David Chaney, Ben Harris, and Josh Brock were arrested for racketeering, embezzlement, obtaining money by false pretenses, conspiracy to commit a felony, etc etc etc--it all adds up to being huge scam artists. 

The trio founded the charter empire based on--well, once again, we find a charter chain operated by people who have no actual experience or expertise in education. Chaney got his MBA from the famous online University of Phoenix in 2009, the same year he co-founded Epic. Harris ran a consulting business and has a string of jobs (about 13 since 2004) including running something called Advanced Academics and serving as Deputy Secretary of Operations and Technology for the Florida Department of Children and Families in 2003-04 (that would have been under Governor Jeb Bush); so he has at least some education-adjacent experience. Brock never got around to putting anything other than his Chief Financial Officer Epic job on LinkedIn. 

The trio used Epic and the holding company, Epic LLC, as their personal piggy bank, costing the state something like $22 million-- maybe as much as $55 mill. The state auditor and inspector, Cindy Byrd, called it "the largest abuse of taxpayer funds in the history of this state."

The money paid for lobbying, paying a pro-choice thinky tank, vacations, personal purchases. 

I am not going to unroll all the various details and ins and outs of this fairly complicated scam. People inside knew that things were hinky for a while; the actual Epic school separated itself from the multi-level shell game and expressed zero surprise at the arrests. But if you really want to dive into this, let me link you to Oklahoma Watch, an outlet for impact journalism (or as we used to call it, journalism) that has followed this story closely and effectively. You can find all their coverage and archives about Epic right here

It's impressive work, because Epic has been a mess for a while. But let me focus on just a couple of lessons from the whole mess.

Charter accountability and oversight is absolutely necessary. The standard choice argument is that charters and choice should operate with as few rules as possible because parents will provide all the accountability necessary. This has been disproven a zillion times (just look for the tag #anotherdayanothercharterscandal). When you set out piles of money and promise not to watch what anybody does with it, you invite fraudsters and scam artists. 

Every layer of complexity in a choice system is another chance for fraud and waste. Scholarship governing organizations. Charters being run by organizations that do the actual work, while being owned by various layers of holding companies. Every time you set up a system to pass money from one party to another--particularly if you don't have anybody providing oversight or accountability--you are inviting fraud and waste.

I won't argue for a second that public education is free of any fraud or waste or unethical leaders who thieve some taxpayer dollars (I've worked for at least one). But public education is required to function inside a fishbowl, to operate with oversight and accountability and transparency, while charter and choice advocates have fought hard for the right of their schools to operate in the dark. Oklahoma wants to let its charter sector run free and unfetterd and unwatched and this si what they get-- tens of millions of taxpayer dollars stolen. 

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Betsy DeVos: The Daily Wire Interview

I may regret this, but I'm going to watch a recent Betsy DeVos interview so that you don't have to.

Michael Knowles studied acting, got a degree in history and Italian from Yale, and at college reconverted to Catholicism. After graduation he dabbled in acting, and in 2016 was invited to join the Daily Wire, the far right media shop run by fellow frustrated media star Ben Shapiro. Knowles fits right; he won some notoriety for calling climate activist Greta Thunberg a "mentally ill Swedish child." During the first impeachment of Donald Trump, he joined in a project with Ted Cruz to defend Dear Leader. There's lots more, but you get the idea. He has a show, and he put Betsy DeVos on it.

Here's a link, which I include not because I think you should go watch it, but to keep me honest.

Here we go. Title of the video-- "The Progressive Attack on Your Children."

We open with some classy Brandenburg Concerto (No. 2), while Knowles and DeVos take a selfie (cause, you know, the youngs dig that stuff). In the back of the spare set (two chairs, tiny table with a couple of coffee cups, some paper, and a book)some guy holds a clapboard, a really unnecessary item for a modern video, but okay. The pair mime some pre-interview chat. 

MK: At the center of every contentious issue has been education, and for 35 years, at the center of education has been Betsy DeVos--who has a new book (waves book).

BD: That wide smirk that doesn't get to her eyes. 

MK: While showing some pictures of DeVos with children in what we'll assume is some private school, Knowles backgrounds us by saying that education has flown under the radar and not been a top tier issue until about a year ago. Which is news to lots of us, but in the sense that politicians haven't paid much attention, sure. His real point is that politicians can now score points by hammering on education, starting with Patient Zero of this idea, Glen Youngkin. He throws in Florida, too, though Florida's efforts to dismantle public education go back years and years. So I guess we've established that this is a subject on which Knowles' knowledge is neither broad nor deep. Perfect.

MK: Is this the moment?

BD: It is the moment. (So far nobody has said for what). The last two years have "laid bare the failings of a 175 year old system" (says the woman who is devoted to a system of religion that is many centuries old). She wants you to know that she has seen those failings for many years, despite her lifelong lack of direct contact with the public education system. 

The bare laideness has come via extended shutdowns and mandates and mask mandates "and you know in out whatever blended learning distance learning" says the woman who used to pitch computer-delivered learning hard. But it's worth noting that the list of complaints is a vague word salad that we could sum up as "a bunch of stuff we could use to piss people off" almost as if the actual issues matter less than the political opportunity they create. She says parents were really frustrated (she's going to skip right past the polls showing that parents were mostly happy with how their schools handled the pandemic). 

Parents are riled up "and rightfully so" she says over photos from "CRT" protests. But that means it's an "ideal time to push forward with policy that will empower families." In other words, a political opportunity. 

MK: What do you think specifically riled them up, he asks, giving her a chance to firm up that word salad batch of complaints she first mentioned. He also wonders if "transgenderism in the schools" because "boys going into a girls locker room" would be a "red line" for Knowles. Or is it "critical race theory"? Or was it "this bizarre experience of covid" where the schools are shut down and "the teachers unions keep the kids out for two years," a phrase that contains 0% actual facts, 

BD: I think it's all of the above, she says, taking the softball she's offered. She repeats that in many ways, then shifts to the myth of many parents thinking they had a good school and finding out it's not, and the tale of them being told to shut up and sit down and it all makes me wonder--in what setting exactly has DeVos been chatting with public school parents. They'd never caught on or noticed this stuff before, but now with their attention drawn to it (by something, I guess, and not, say, by well-heeled conservative activism groups and media campaigns pushed by guys like Christopher Rufo). 

She's going to bring up the tale of the FBI being sicced on parents to keep them from expressing concerns or asking questions (because yeas, that's totally the behavior that had some folks alarmed and not, say, threats of personal violence). 

MK: Wants to make sure we connect the Biden administration to the FBI and the DOJ called parents, who just wanted to ask some questions and say cut the nonsense, pose a terrorist threat, and I could go look up the facts on this (yes, the FBI said a dumb thing, but not as dumb as the oft-misquoted thing, and no, parents weren't just chatting pleasantly at board meetings), but facts and nuance don't really matter here.

BD: DeVos kind of forgets for a second that she's supposed to keep up the appearance of a conversation here and just says "Yeah" and then gets in gear. It's "jaw-dropping to think that is how we're deploying the highest law enforcement agency" and to send the FBI into schools (which I don't think has happened). As always, I kind of love how bad she is at the general give and take of talking and interviewing and getting those talking points out there in a natural way.

She says this has awakened other parents (though they are presumably not actually woke). Now she'll get back to how the emphasis is on what's right for adults and not on what's right for kids. 

MK: Yes, this is just "the exposure of the teacher unions." "You've known for a very long time--I've known for a very long time--that the teachers unions are positively villainous" His actual words. Delivered with a chuckle. "They have destroyed so much of American education." Also his actual words. 

The average voter "who's not plugged into politics all the time, probably that wasn't abundantly clear." True. For instance, parents who were more focused on their children's education probably failed to notice how their children's villainous teachers were destroying education. Not "until covid."

BD: Exactly. And here's a new talking point from DeVos. She wants to talk about the "school unions" which "represent a whole lot more than teachers." So congrats bus drivers and lunch ladies and administrators, and welcome to the deep conspiracy to destroy education. Also, and it appears as sort of floating phrase, so I'm puzzled, but "teachers are sort of a second thought with the teachers union."

The school union kept schools closed way longer than necessary, and we keep hearing this narrative because they think it works, but it remains largely bullshit. Also in her alternate history, in the spring of 2020 everyone in the world was reopening schools, and "we" encouraged folks to make plans to get schools open in the fall, and maybe she means the USED under her, but mostly that USED spent 2020* saying "it's not our job to help you figure out what the heck to do about this" before it started saying "we've decided it's okay to use our power to coerce you into doing what we want." Neither was helpful.

She talks about how we won't know for a while how much harm was done by the closures and half closures and in and outs, and on this she is correct. It was a complicated time, exacerbated by federal refusal to offer guidance or useful information, and lots of fear all around. She says "they" weren't playing politics, but if you're going to reduce the whole complicated mess to "everyone wanted to open schools but the unions kept them closed" then playing politics is exactly what you're doing.

MK: He underlines the "scary point" that we won't know the effect. And he very artfully shifts to "we won't know the effects of what's going on right now" which shifts us back to "this moment in the schools" where the big threat is "the gender ideology" and there's that good old DeVos smirk. Did I mention I've missed that?

His claim is that in some schools, an 11 year old child could be put on puberty blockers without parental notification, to which I would ask, name one. He really hates transgender stuff. Irreversible changes without notifying parents. "How do schools get away with that?" and again I would ask, name one school that has, in fact, done that. At this point in this particular scare campaign, folks like Knowles ought to have found a poster child for this threat, and yet there doesn't seem to be one. 

BD: To her credit, she answers "Well, I don't think they will." Because people have "awakened" and shining a light will force behavior changes on schools. Or maybe it was never going to happen in the first place.

She shifts to the idea that post-covid, we will no longer assume that schools are teaching students what they need to know etc etc basically "we're hoping people stop trusting public schools now."

"We've known for a long time before covid that the system most kids are in has has not done well and has not helped kids achieve to the levels they need to." Now she'll toss out the old PISA score baloney. "We're not even in the top ten": she says, skipping the "and never have been ever" part. And here comes the old "we spend more and more money and get worse and worse" which is also bullshit (I recommend a stroll through sites like this for some of the basics).

MK: He imagine that she is going to be "highly sought after person looking ahead to 2024" which I think is true, but mostly because she'll still be filthy rich then. But he suggests it's because of her educational expertise. What would her advice to a 2024 candidate be? Which is an interesting question if one imagines the candidate is Trump, from whom she bolted quickly on January 7, 2021.

BD: Can you guess. She will tell the candidate to focus on universal education freedom for every family in America aka that voucher program she tried unsuccessfully to sell for her last few years in DC. Also, "fundamentally changing the system we've lived with for 175 years." Choice would free students who wanted it and could use the help (unless of course they were not Christian or were expensive to educate or LGBTQ or any of the other things that voucher schools reserve the right to discriminate against). 

MK: Could a Republican or "a well-meaning Democrat, if we could find one in office" har enact a federal school choice policy?

BD: DeVos shows how DC affected her by saying the executive branch could enact a tax credit scholarship program, because federal overreach of the executive branch is only bad when the Other Guy uses it to push Common Core and not when Our Guy uses it to create federal school vouchers. It doesn't create another federal program she lies, it just gives the treasury department another revenue stream to manage and require some agency to handle the scholarship granting organization and maybe not much more if you accept the idea that millions of taxpayer dollars should be thrown around without6 any oversight or accountability.

MK: That's a great idea, he says as if he's being surprised at hearing about an idea that she tried desperately to sell and couldn't get off the ground when the GOP was in power. "I absolutely love that idea," he says and now I'm wondering whether he's an incredible suck up or just did zero homework for this interview.

BD: Yes!

MK: Even conservatives who don't want to grow the government should love it because you're just moving money from one place to another, and that, I guess, can be done by magical elves riding unicorns. Oh and one place is a place "where it's probably being wasted" as if blowing a $5 billion hole in the budget is no big deal.

Education is not a side issue, says the guy who thinks education policy only got on the radar two years ago. 

BD: We have not "had the kind of creativity or disruption in the education industry that we've had in every other sector of our society." And I assume she doesn't mean "getting scrambled by a pandemic" disruption but instead refers to "some entrepreneurs get to make money" disruption. She is sure that when we get that, we'll be amazed at the ingenuity and innovation that will ultimately help children and this is a good time to remember that this is woman who knows very little about how public education actually works. Also, children are frustrated and bored to death, says the woman who has barely set foot in any place where actual students might be found.

MK: I've got a 17 month old baby and another on the way, so I'd like to get this fixed right now because I'm having trouble finding a good school around Nashville, where "they say even the good schools have gone pretty woke" so what am I going to do with my kid, says a guy whose personal wealth already gives him the kind of choice that she says she wants everyone to have, suggesting that maybe market forces don't automatically provide all the choices you want just because you want them. Do I "homeschool my kid and miss out on my tax credit," says the guy who's totally focusing on the child's concerns and not the concerns of an adult.

BD: Well, here's a new one. She suggests that if Tennessee adopts statewide education savings accounts (aka super-vouchers) you could take that sum and pool it with others to form a homeschool consortium, and pay a really great teacher to come teach your kids. Which is another version of the DeVos dream--to drop out of society at large into your own well-funded exclusive private bubble. 

This will be great for teachers, because they will be the highly valued part of the privatized system (which the wealthiest members of society will be able to grab the exclusive rights to) and they'll be able to find their own niche and their own place to teach in ways that really work for them (unless that way is in a public school). It's really an exciting prospect for teachers as well, she says. To work as at will employees with no job protections or pensions or chance to advance financially or professionally, she doesn't say. 

MK: Oh my God. I have to quote all of this.

"This sounds like when Western civilization made sense, when our civilization was growing and thriving--this is how education was done. It wasn't big institutionalized one-size-fits-all public schools. Alexander the Great (going all the way back) Alexander the Great didn't go to a public school...he was tutored by Aristotle." 

Sure. And his servants and slaves were tutored by nobody. And nobody else got the education that Alexander did. And there was one Aristotle only. Exactly how does anyone imagine this could be a model for education today, other than the suggestion that we just don't need public education because only Certain People are entitled to a really good education (can you gue$$ how we can identify them). But he's ahead of me.

This was available to people who had privilege and means-- why can't we give that to everybody?

BD: We can. With vouchers.

No, we can't. There is no voucher big enough in the world to keep folks like the DeVos family from hoarding all the Aristotle's for themselves. Most vouchers barely cover the cost of a mediocre private school or a super-crappy microschool (which looks much like the distance learning that she so dislikes). 

She wants to elaborate that by giving the money designated for that child's education, we'll get Big Enough vouchers. I suggest we should also give everyone their cut of government spending for transportation to arrange their own roads. Also, give them their cut of military and law enforcement spending and let them get their own protection and fight their own wars.

Shout out to Jean Allen, as DeVos "metaphorically" attaches the money to that child's backpack (or even, maybe, in the backpack). But that backpack would get us to home school, one room school house, or microschools (okay, here's more about this bad idea)--all the sort of thing that rich folks will never choose for themselves but which they will happily let the poors get stuck with. No accountability or oversight--just "here's a voucher--your kid's education is no longer my problem. Good luck and goodbye!"

She claims that there have been a lot of interesting educational entrepreneurial experiments in this country. Some are in her book, but they need tax dollar support (carried in backpacks by "empowered" families) to take them to scale. Maybe he'll have that chance. Or maybe he'll be wealthy enough not to care. 

MK: There are many legitimate questions to be asked at this point. Knowles goes with "I'm in. I want to sign up." He thinks most Americans will be too, because the parents movement appeals to GOP and Dems, white and Black folks-- a "very very wide appeal"

However--duhn duhn duhnnnnnn-- there are "entrenched interests." The school unions "as you aptly call them," the government bureaucrats, and the leftist activists who have "infiltrated these schools" and "used the schools to advance their ideology" are "not going to like that," so how do you overcome these hurdles to school choice?

BD: You elect people at all levels "who support this notion of education freedom," hold them accountable in office, and defeat the ones who are opposed to it. That's the old DeVos playbook, sort of, only instead of "elect" she used "finance the election of." 

MK: Oh, this is novel. What he likes about her approach--there are many people on the right who have a little too much in free markets or the culture and don't focus on direct political action, and now I'm thinking of P. J. O'Rourke's definition of politics as the business of getting power and privilege without possessing merit. He likes the way she has worked on and in the GOP, which others might describe as putting alignment to her personal goals over allegiance to the party. 

Anyway, for the regular old republican or activist listening, what do they do practically?

BD: Vote for the right people. As she's saying this, photos of Blake Masters, Brian Kemp, and Katie Britt. Quiz them on whether they support education freedom or not, and what they mean by that term that mostly only DeVos uses. Get them on record. Hold them accountable. It feels like maybe these are easier to do if you're really rich. 

MK: Which states are doing this better?

BD: Florida is the most advanced. For more than twenty years starting with policies that Jeb Bush put into place.

MK: Smiling. I seem to recall you had a hand in some of those policies.

BD: Yes. we've been working in Florida for a long time. Legislators and governors have built on that.

Arizona has been very good. Indiana has been great. Wisconsin and Ohio have continued to expand. Tennessee has come along. 26 states have some form of "education freedom."

MK: You have a great deal of humility about what you've accomplished in politics. You've been chipping away at this issue, he says, as we see clips of long-ago Betsy (at least one seems clearly from the 80s if I'm any judge of hair). He says that many perceive her as "the devil incarnate" because they tuned in to CNN during the Trump administration. That from the man who called teachers unions positively villainous.

BD: That's absolutely right. If they'd like a different perspective and hope for what can be accomplished in a short time, read the book. She explains the title (Hostages No More) as a reference to a Horace Mann in a way that leads me to suspect that he is not a hero in the book. "We have got to free our children and families from being hostage to that cause," as in public education. Schools run counter to families values and aspirations for their children.

MK: Hasn't read the book yet (it isn't out and he just got his copy). He wants to point out that while people may think our public education problems go back a few decades, but they go back to the very beginning of public education. So, "Public education--always wrong and bad" is, I guess, the slogan here. 

BD: Yes, indeed. "And when our modern (she puts modern in scare quotes) education system was implemented, it was specifically to educate and form children to become factory workers and uh in you know industrial age just to go do the same kind of job day after day time after time (there are some child labor photos on screen) and again our society has fundamentally changed and yet we're still practicing the same approach to how kids learn."

Two things--please consult an act education historian like Adam Laats or Diane Ravitch because this education origin story is baloney

Second, I don't think I've ever seen before how much more relaxed and natural DeVos is when she's discussing the stuff she knows--politics, state situations on educational politics, political angling--compared to how awkward and even tongue-tied she gets when discussing other things, like anything having to do with actual schooling. 

MK: We just see kids "being turned out as automatons" and I'm thinking "Dude, you graduated from a public high school 14 years ago." We  describe that as a bug but in fact--

BD: --it was a design

MK: So we need a different system. 

BD: Exactly. Though it's worth noting, we have not described what that system would look like, other than it would look like a bunch of entrepreneurs innovating and being paid with taxpayer dollars. But DeVos, who remains fundamentally ignorant of how schools actually work, has never, ever gotten into the actual details of instruction and content that determine exactly what a school in turning out. 

MK: Get her book. Arm yourself.


*Originally in my haste to live-blog this I got my 2020 and 2021 scrambled. All fixed now.