Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Quiet Quitting Versus Quiet Firing

The "quiet quitting" thing is not news to teachers. In teacherland, it's called "working to the contract" and it is an alternative to striking that can still bring a school district to a grinding halt.

My old district, like most, depended on teacher volunteer hours. Heck, for years, the school schedule depended on the assumption that teachers would stop by the office to pick up mail and memos before their actual report time arrived (at which time we were expected to be in our room with students). 

I call "quiet quitting" a bad euphemism for "no longer donating free work to an ungrateful boss." 

The problem for teachers, of course, is that when they stop donating hours, the person who most immediately suffers is that teacher. "I am NOT going to do any preparation of paperwork and handouts outside of school, and then tomorrow I can just.... not have the materials I need to run class." Or maybe "I'll just never grade any papers outside of school hours and  so students can just get their assignments back ten weeks later when the feedback will not serve any educational purpose, and I can just assign two essays this year, accomplishing next to nothing." Yeah, that'll show them.

The job is built wrong, based on the assumption that if the teacher isn't standing up in front of students, the taxpayers aren't getting their money's worth. So they only way to do a decent job and maintain your professional self-respect is to donate the extra time needed to get the work done.

If that weren't enough, this post popped up today, courtesy of Bonnie Dilber on LinkedIN. Here's the opening section:

The "Quiet Quitting" thing is funny to me. I think the real conversation should be around "Quiet Firing" as it's rampant.

You don't receive feedback or praise.

You get raises of 3% or less while others are getting much more.

Your 1:1s are frequently cancelled or shuffled around.

You don't get invited to work on cool projects or stretch opportunities.

You're not kept up-to-date on information that is relevant or critical to your work.

Your manager never talks to you about your career trajectory.

My first thought was that yes, that would suck. My second thought was that this, for teachers, is pretty much every ordinary day.

Feedback or praise? No, just one badly designed teacher evaluation thingy, often rushed through in May with an administrator who is swamped but is required to get these done.

Raises of 3% or less? In a good year, maybe.

Face to face meetings? Does eating lunch with a couple of colleagues in fifteen minutes or less count?

Cool projects? Stretch opportunities? Maybe you get a chance to set up something yourself. Teachers do get lots of squeeze opportunities (Here's a new unit we would like you to squeeze into your 180 days of instruction.)

Up-to-date information? Get your own. And maybe we'll let you know about new district policies before you read about them in the newspaper. Or maybe not.

Career trajectory? Granted, teaching is a career where you start in the middle and then slowly rise to the middle, but still--imagine a teaching job where your boss talked to you about your development as a professional on a regular basis. "Imagine" being the key word.

I read this post and thought, "Holy smokes-- so teachers are regularly treated in a way that the private sector would consider a form of firing??!!" 

You may have a teaching job in which some of these don't apply. I had a good boss or two who actually avoided some of this quiet firing stuff. But I'm afraid too many of us totally recognize this pattern, or maybe just get it on some gut level.\

There are probably other quit things that apply to teaching (for instance, Quietly Treating Grown-up Professionals As If They're Untrustworthy Children), but for right now, these two seem like plenty.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Mastriano Is Flailing On Education

Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano has a plan for education. Or at least, he had one. But the campaign appears to be trying to some damage control on the fly.

It was not a good plan. It was not even a complete plan. What we know about the plan so far is this-- cut real estate taxes to zero, replace that revenue source with nothing, give everyone a voucher (for far less than their district currently spends on each student). 

PSEA took a look at his original proposal-- to cut per pupil spending from $19,000 to $9,000 or $10,000. They made the generous assumption that he would leave alone local non-real estate tax and federal revenue, and figured what that would mean in cuts. Roughly $12.5 billion, or about a third of what is currently spent on education in the state. PSEA has an interactive map on which you can look up how big a cut your local district would get. In the case of my old district, for example, it would be a cut of almost $12 million--about 35% of the local budget. And that's without any projections of students leaving for the many--well, actually, just two-- private (religious) schools in our area. 

Mastriano has been responding, sort of, to the PSEA report. 

First, he walked back the initial figure from a March interview (Mastriano, like the rest of the MAGA crowd, does not talk to traditional press). Now he has a video saying the new funding level will be an "average" of $15,000 per student. He still hasn't offered an explanation of where that money would come from since the state gives districts far less than 50% or 75%.

Then the Friends of Doug Mastriano, a PAC pushing his candidacy, and Mastriano himself started to push back directly against the PSEA report. Like this:

This is the epitome of the non-response response. PSEA is telling lies? What are they, exactly? If that $12.5 billion figure is not correct, then what is the actual correct one? 

The Mastriano campaign has several times pushed back by saying, "I just voted for a big increase in education funding" which is rather beside the point, like arguing, "How can you say I'm kicking this puppy?! Didn't I just buy it a chewy last week?" It's not exactly a secret that Mastriano thinks that too much money is being spent on education, so it's not clear why he would want to pretend it isn't true (unless maybe someone in the campaign remembers how Tom Corbett lost his shot at a second term over cutting education by a single billion dollars).

Supporters also point at this poster:

Several Mastriano memes feature this photo of him shaking the hand of this giant child, but it's the list of policy ideas that is supposed to be the sell here. It leads with "maintain current education funding levels" and "levels" is doing a lot of work here, because Mastriano has been abundantly clear that he does not want public schools to get the same amount of money they currently get. But perhaps he's decided that the whole chop funding plan isn't playing well, so maybe rewrite.

Mastriano's campaign does seem to be scrambling. When I wrote this piece three days ago, the campaign website promised a "Property Tax Elimination Task Force." The current version of his plan page (which has had its address tweaked, breaking all previous links to the page) has moved that portion of the plan from "education" over to "revive the economy." But it's still there.

Mastriano continues to tout responses to the full menu of far right grievances, victim complaints, and demands for a safe space. He'll ban CRT (though he has yet to provide a single example of CRT being taught in Pennsylvania). He'll keep schools open. He'll keep "biological males" out of female sports. He'll have a parental rights law.

But in place of the kind of plans he's been touting for months, Mastriano's website now promises

Shift funding to students instead of systems by establishing Education Opportunity Accounts for parents

"Shift" is the key word here, replacing his longtime insistence that he can just cut spending across the board with the standard voucher promise that we'll just turn school funding into education savings accounts, a kind of neo-voucher that hands some taxpayer money to parents and wishes them luck (and provides no accountability to the taxpayers who footed the bill. Mastriano also promises to pump up Pennsylvania's already-existing tax credit scholarship program (a program that lets corporations fund private schools rather than pay taxes). And yet he is still promising to cut real estate taxes to zero, thereby removing the primary source of school funding in Pennsylvania. 

The giant holes in his plan remain. Local real estate taxes account for more than 50% of local school funding (far far more in some cases), so even the reduced funding levels that Mastriano has talked about will require some other source of funding. 

Nor does he discuss the issue of different funding levels for students. Will students with special needs get bigger vouchers? How much bigger-- will they be funded according to the public school system, which recognizes different levels of need, or will they be funded according to the charter system, which funds all students with special needs at the highest level no matter what? Because if it's the latter, a bunch of families with simple reading or speech issues would get a huge windfall--and Mastriano's program would need even more funding from somewhere.

No local sources of funding means the end of local control. Education savings accounts without any transparency or accountability are an invitation to waste taxpayer dollars. Oh, and you may have noticed that he wants to create a "Heroes to Teachers Program," presumably mimicking his buddy Ron DeSantis's plan to put veterans and their wives in classrooms with or without any qualifications. 

It's almost as if Mastriano really doesn't know what he's talking about.

That would fit. Mastriano is running a campaign built to appeal to a butthurt base. One website motto is "You've been shut down, locked out, and unheard," a message that is clearly aimed at only certain portions of the electorate (the ones who used to have "F@#! your feelings" signs in their yards, but whose own feelings are apparently much more tender). So it makes sense that his whole "cut regulations, stop crt, fix elections" shtick would include an emphasis on Rufo-style "You can't trust public schools, so we need to both clamp down on them and defund them. 

But somebody at the campaign must have remembered that everyone gets to vote in the general election, so Mastriano is now doing this strange dance where on one hand he continues to promise and end to taxes and funding for public education and on the other hand he insists that funding for education will be just fine and vouchers will be awesome. 

Doug Mastriano deserves to lose hard, but his Christian nationalism anti-abortion MAGA appeal is going to play well in some parts of the state. Even, sadly, among many of the teachers whose jobs will be lost under his education plan. This is going to be a scary couple of months. 

Monday, August 29, 2022

A Taxonomy of Book Restrictions

For the last year or two the term "book banning" has done a great deal of heavy lifting. There are a variety of policies and tactics being used to regulate books, and they are not created equal. If the debate comes to your town, it's useful to know exactly which debate you're involved in.

I want control over what my kid reads

This usually involves a call for some mechanism to monitor what the student takes out; not that hard in a digitized era to allow parents to see what their child has checked out of the library. Also not that hard to flag certain books so that if the child tries to take it out. 

Note: this is not great parenting, and it is only going to actually work if your child has no friends. Mostly it will draw a big "Look At Me" arrow on your disfavored books, while encouraging your child to become adept at keeping secrets from you. But you do you.

There should be a review process for adding books.

There probably is. Your school's library doesn't have infinite space and your school's teachers don't have infinite hours, so choices must be made. Much of the protests around this issue are really protesting the "how" of the review, or the fact that "review" doesn't mean "block all books that have Naughty Things in them." 

There's no reason to fight against a review process (in fact, it's way better than administrators just quietly yanking any book they think will lead to cranky phone calls to their office). The real issue here is what the process will look like and whether it will involve the judgment of education professionals and the concerns of parents, or whether it will involve a checklist of Scary Things that some folks object to. So pay attention to what folks want the review process to look like.

You can't teach that to my kid.

I taught 11th graders, and in the AP class we taught some works that were definitely beyond PG, and I always gave students the option of opting out and taking an alternative assignment. It's not a big deal. Not for the student who doesn't want to encounter Certain Words. Not for the student who lost a family member recently in a manner too much like an event depicted in the book. 

You can't teach that.

Some debates have been over what may or may not be included in the curriculum. For one thing, after so many schools have pushed to drop teaching whole books so that more time can be devoted to test-prep excerpts, it's kind of refreshing to be talking about actual books. For another thing, on the surface this is not that big a deal; with very few exceptions, if you tell me I can't teach X any more, I could come up with a suitable substitute (probably from my list of "Things I Would Teach If I Had More Time"). 

However, once again, process matters a great deal. This kind of curricular horseplay can reveal a great deal about the weaknesses of building administration. When an administrator walks into your room and announces, "You're not going to teach that book any more," it delivers several messages. It disrespects and disregards your professional judgment. It demonstrates that you are not seen as part of a team, but just as a flunky to be ordered around. And, if your administrator turns out to be doing this because of one or two phone calls--or worse yet, zero phone calls but he doesn't want to risk it--then it also demonstrates that administration does not possess enough spine to have your back. And if, God forbid, he's doing it because the book offends him personally, then he's totally lost the plot and you are in professional danger.

You can't teach that to any student.

Now we're into problematic territory, because the people yelling at your board or your principal or you (and it does always seem to yelling, doesn't it) are trying to make decisions for other peoples' children.

If you have known a religious conservative in your life, you may understand that there's a sliver of reasoning behind this, which is the notion that a nation is blessed or falls because of how all its citizens behave. It's an Old Testament kind of view, a notion that a nation has to keep all its people in line or else God is going to punish everyone for allowing That Sort Of Thing Go On. So there is, potentially, more going on here than simply a desire to control everyone else.

But also, there's a powerful desire to control everyone else. This is when it's useful to remember that plenty of folks on the far right do not actually believe in democracy, but instead believe that legitimacy in government comes from alignment with the proper rules. That's why advocates for this level include plenty of people who don't even have actual children in the school.

Additionally, only a monster would oppose Scholastic book fairs

You can't let any students even see that stuff. 

This is the "pull from the library" level, where the rationale is that no child should even lay eyes on the book or be exposed to the ideas because that will, somehow, warp their young minds. Also, That Stuff (variously described over the years as evolution, immoral mixing of the races, critical race theory, LGBTQ stuff and evil indoctrinatin') needs to be stamped out of society entirely, starting by raising kids to not know that such things are in the world, a technique that has not actually worked ever in the history of the world. 

Consider the words of Adrenne Quinn Martin at the Granbury, Texas board meeting:

Being a taxpayer does not grant special privileges over students, staff, and parents. I do not want random people with no education background or experience determining what books my child can read, what curriculum they learn, and what clubs they can join. Just because you can get up at every meeting and rant and rave does not give you authority over my child’s education.

Your personal religious beliefs, people in this room and on this board, should not have an effect on my child’s education either. Our school are not to be used for personal political agendas and our children are here for education, not religious indoctrination.

I implore the board to put an end to attempts to appease these extremists. Focus on retaining staff, providing excellent public education and a safe and welcoming learning space for all students. The speakers speaking about what great Christians they are? Great. Go tell your pastor. Our schools are not your church.

You can't let anyone see it. Nobody.

This special level is the one where they go after public libraries in the community. There is zero justifiable reasoning behind this. It makes roughly as much sense as demanding that the internet be outlawed. It is dumb, as dumb as insisting that since you don't think people should eat grapefruit, everyone should be forced to pretend that grapefruit doesn't exist. Insisting that there is just one acceptable view of life is one level of dumb, but trying to enforce that view by getting rid of books is an even greater level. 

By all means, be a responsible steward of your child's experience. Work to be the best judge of what they are and aren't ready for, even as you remain open the possibility that they will surprise you from time to time. But when you try to forcibly curate a particular reality for everyone else, you are over the line. You cannot force people to see the world a certain way, and the very attempt is just plain wrong. 

Sunday, August 28, 2022

KS: Strategic Plans Versus The Gag


Gag laws seeking to restrict what schools can say about gender roles and LGBTQ+ humans and critical race theory (aka "anything at all about race stuff") are having the desired effect in many states. 

I don't imagine for a second that any of the supporters of these measures wanted to see a bunch of lawsuits and arrests. No, the point of vague and threatening rules like these is to scare teachers and chill discourse and especially spook conflict-averse school leaders into backing away from all such content, as well as continue reinforcing the choicer talking point that public schools cannot be trusted. 

And also to empower those board members who want to put the kibbosh on all that stuff.

So it was inevitable that a gag law would impact that most useless of school district practices, the strategic plan.

In my 39 years of teaching, I stepped up to become involved in every single strategic planning cycle, and I can say with absolute confidence that not once did the results of a strategic plan have any actual effect on how the school district operated and certainly not on how teachers did their jobs. Goals ranged from aspirational documents ("All students will become fluent in 21st century skills while showing skills required to be fully functional citizens while self-actualizing their way to accomplishment of personal success...") to catalogs of administrative fears ("The district will make sure to be a space safe enough to avoid any actual lawsuits") to implementation steps that accurately reflected the concerns of whichever group of parents showed up {"The school will continue to develop a strong middle school tiddly winks program"). And then they go to some shelf to gather dust (or, in modern times, into some software file that nobody will have the software to open within a decade).

The process is far more fascinating that the eventual product, because it generally involves an assortment of stakeholders saying out loud what they actually think about education and schools. 

And what the board of the Derby School District in Derby, Kansas is worried about is diversity. Specifically, noticing that it exists. Consequently, the right-leaning majority on the board axed the recent strategic plan proposal. Reactions from the board included 

“I don’t think focusing on diversity is going to (help) ... our kids, academically,” board president Michael Blankenship said. “Rather than trying to point out our differences … we should try to find things that make us unite. We should find similarities.”

He proposed replacing "diversity" with "unity." 

This board has previous experience with this stuff. They've dabbled with book-banning. They complained that a book publisher supposedly supported anti-racism efforts. they made a principal apologize for showing staff a four-minute video that talked about racial discrimination and white privilege

Board members also objected to the part of the proposal that called for an advisory committee to report on trends in staff and student diversity. The board vice-president said she objects to any audit of district discipline patterns or hiring practices as they relate to race. And there were also complaints about the plans mentions of mental health and social/emotional well-being.

Derby is a large suburb of Wichita, with a population of about 25K with a median household income of $76,684. In 2022, the racial composition of Derby was 87.9% white, 6% two or more races, and 1.3% Black. The school district takes in 37K people, with a median income of $66K. The school district's racial breakdown is 75% white, 4% Black, 4% Asian, and 10% Hispanic. The child poverty rate in the district is 8%. The district serves around 7,000 students, of whom roughly 3,000 qualify for free and reduced lunch, and 596 are ELL. The school board itself looks uniformly white.

Board President Blankenship added, “If we keep going down the road of focusing on everything that makes us different, how are we ever going to unite?” He did not actually go on to add, "Why can't I just assume that everyone is like me and leave it at that." 

Two board members did speak up in favor of the diversity aspects of the plan.

Board member Pam Doyle, who voted in favor of the plan, said diversity efforts are common in the business world and should be part of the district’s mission.

“Diversity is something to be celebrated,” Doyle said. “The more diverse (the) administration, teachers, and staff that we have, the more we’re going to learn from each other.”

Board member Tina Prunier, who voted in favor of the plan, said she didn’t understand why concepts like diversity and equity are controversial.

“These words have been around long before political gain,” she said. “I don’t understand why it’s becoming such a divisive thing.”

The solution to all this will look familiar to veterans of school district projects--Derby has hired a consulting firm to help out. 

In the meantime, pay attention to your local school board elections.

ICYMI: Here We Go Again Edition (8/28)

We've been to orientation and now, in a couple of days, the board of directors begin kindergarten and the CMO* starts her new year. Soon I'll have extra time on my hands, Yikes. In the meantime, here's some reading form the week.

One more entry in the continuing attempt to quantify and give a name to whatever it is that's going on in US education. This time it's Derek Thompson at The Atlantic trying to take a look at actual numbers and not finding much data to crunch...

From the Wait What File, a story from Utah about a charter school that has been started up by a family from a polygamous sect, and even the state of Utah decided that some of these shenanigans need to stop. 

Speaking of charter shenanigans, Chalkbeat Indiana has the story of a charter that ran into all sorts of failure, and so just gave itself a new name and got right back to it.

PEN America looks at Oklahoma, where the state board of education has set out to punish a couple of school districts for violating the state's gag order. 

Speaking of gag rules in OK, here's the tale of the teacher who got in trouble for sharing information about the Brooklyn Library plan to share books with any students in the US. 

Thomas Ultican offers a positive review of Lily Geismer's boo Left Behind: The Democrats Failed Attempt To Solve Inequalkity, which appears to be a heavily researched look at the Dems descent into neo-liberalism. So of course it addresses school choice, too. 

Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire are at The Hill laying out the long, sad history of treating teachers like the problem in public ed--including the part of that history that belongs to the Democrats. 

This article is at Education Next, and it's written by Paulk Peterson and M. Danish Shakeel, and despite all the reformster weight backinmg it, it includes this sentence:

Contrary to what you may have heard, average student achievement has been increasing for half a century.

There's a lot of argle bargle here, but when reformsters start explaining that public school students haven't been descending into awfulness for the past several decades, it's worth a look.

Zurie Pope in the Ohio Capital Journal has the info on just who has been helping to push voucherization in Ohio. You may already have known that the Center for Christian Virtue's role in pushing the bill, but Pope is looking at the emails surrounding the creation and promotion of the bill, and CCV's fingerprints are everywhere. 

Steven Singer has a bone or two to pick with the MAP test.

If you've been looking for a Christian pastor to push back against some of the christianist nationalist baloney out there, let me intriduce you to a Baptist minister from my neighborhood, who took a look at that video from Flashpoint Live that's been circulting, and offers a point-by-point Christian rebuttal (and no, you don't have to watch the original video to follow this). 

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Another Look At Evolving Ed Reform

Mike Petrilli at the reformster-minded Thomas Fordham Institute has been taking a look at the current state of ed reform  (apparently many of us are in that mood right now?)  and it's worth taking a look at what the guy in every education reporter's rolodex thinks the state of ed reform is right now. And I promise what I think is an interesting observation at the end.

In "The Evolving Education Reform Agenda," Petrilli starts with his previous argument that while the "Washington Consensus" is dead, ed reform itself is not. This hints at one of the challenges of the ed reform brand these days, which is that nobody really knows what the term actually means any more. He tries to address that in this piece.

Petrilli argues that the agenda has shifted (a more positive phrase than "we keep moving the goal posts") from a focus on data and getting students to score proficient on state tests (circa NCLB) and then moved to trying to hold individual teachers responsible, a movement that Petrilli assess pretty frankly:

By the early 2010s, much of the conversation was about holding individual teachers accountable via test-informed teacher evaluations. Ham-handed implementation and poisonous politics led us to leave that misguided reform behind.

If only they had taken the policy with it, but its hammy hands are still felt by many teachers in many states. But one of ed reforms annoying features is that it never picks up after itself; it never puts as much energy into undoing its mistakes as it does into making them in the first place. Just imagine a world in which these thinky tank guys picked up the phone to call their contacts and say, "Look, that thing we convinced you to try? You've got to make people stop doing that." Imagine if Bill Gates put the same kind of money into cleaning up his policy messes as he puts into pushing them. 

Sigh. Anyway, Petrilli lists some other new-ish policy foci, like high quality instructional materials. He aptly notes that a new support for better school funding coincides with A) recognition by reformsters that funding does improve student outcomes and B) a desire to get charter and voucher schools more money (the old "choice gets it done more cheaply" talk is toast). 

Parental choice? There's still debate about using tax dollars to fund private and religious schools, particularly those that discriminate, says Petrilli, though I've missed the folks in the reformster camp arguing the anti-discrimination side. Unbundling is still a thing.

Testing and transparency? Reformsters still believe in the value of the Big Standardized Test, a point on which they remain resolutely and absolutely wrong, though they are now, he says, also interested in alternative assessments--but that's still hung up on the obsession with test scores. Writes Petrilli, "How would assessments be different? If schools do well on “alternative measures” but not on test-score growth, then what? Should we ever consider such schools “good”?" I can help, Mike--the answer is "Yes."

Petrilli mentions in passing that reform has left high schools "largely untouched" (I have some thoughts about why, starting with "high school is hard" passing through "teens are resistant to bullshit" and leading to "nobody has figured out how to make money at it"). He throws weight behind the career and technical education bandwagon (I renew my invite to anyone interested in the "new" CTE to come to my neck of the woods, where we've been doing it for over 60 years), and tosses in "mastery based learning" for some reason.

Finally, he arrives at an interesting observation-- "The reform agenda is mostly about policy, not practice." Though he goes on to note that policy has often been aimed at trying to find levers to move practice because, as he correctly notes, "the classroom is where consensus goes to die." In other words, policy can be passed all day, but teachers will still do what they do.

Various policy tools have been tried by reformsters to address this, most notably tying teacher evaluation to student test scores. But, he notes correctly, many things like personalized learning and the culture wars and school discipline resist consensus and demand trade-offs and so "strain the bipartisan reform coalition." Such as it is these days.

But Petrilli is wrestling with the tension between policy and practice. Policy makes for good politics, he says, but...

But the endpoint of these reforms is to improve what actually happens in the classroom, and thus boost educational outcomes—and, one would hope, life outcomes for students as well. Stopping at the schoolhouse door, then, is far from satisfactory.

I suggest looking at it this way. It's not a choice, but a continuum. On one end you have groups trying to tell other groups what to do, and that's policy. On the other end, you have individuals influencing other individuals, via professional training or administrative managing or collegial mentoring and collaboration, which is how practice is affected. What Petrilli is wishing for is a way for groups to make individuals behave in a certain way, which not only rubs a lot of people the wrong way, but is hard to pull off (I am thinking of Rick Hess's great insight that you can make people do something, but you can't make them do it well). 

This is further complicated by the fact that the individual-to-individual practice end of the scale only happens if the individual has some credibility, and reformsters have always been hampered by their amateur status in education practice (I can think of exactly one who can legitimately claim classroom experience--and no, Temp For America doesn't count), and that has been further hampered by their insistence that their amateur status actually made them wiser than the teachers who has actually spent their professional career in the classroom. 

Petrilli says that reformsters have to enter the world of practice:

So we reformers face a choice: Stay in the relative comfort zone of public policy—or engage in the messy world of classroom practice, too. If we want to make a real difference for kids, and our country, I vote for the latter. But we are going to have to be thoughtful to find ways of doing so while keeping our coalition together.

His concern here is that practice is fraught with so many controversial choices that it will strain the already-splintered reformster coalition. That's a reasonable emphasis for his piece, which is after all aimed at the reform audience. But beyond that, if this crew wants to "engage in the messy world of classroom practice," they cannot do it from comfy offices in well-funded thinky tanks. They cannot do it by relying on the expertise of people whose educational "background" is strictly in policy and government, and that includes people who just breezed through a TFA classroom as a resume builder. 

Hire some actual classroom teachers to consult, and then listen to them. Spend at least one day a week as a substitute teacher in a public school. Socialize with actual working teachers, including those who don't pay much attention to all the policy and politics. And consider the possibility that some of your best loved policy ideas actually become toxic when they filter down to the classroom level (looking at you, high stakes testing). 

There is no way to engage with classroom practice without engaging with actual classrooms, and it's really hard, if not nearly impossible, to do it at scale. I'd love to see outfits like Fordham engage with the actual practice implications of policy ideas, but I suspect that they can't do it without changing their operational strategy.

St. Louis City Museum

One of our cross country stops was in St.Louis, where we visited The City Museum. If you have children and live anywhere within reach, we recommend this Very Highly.

The museum is located in a 600,000 square foot former warehouse of the International Shoe Company, and "museum" is a little bit of a misnomer. There are some displays of historical stuff, but mostly it is a multi-story interactive art installation, a huge complex of immersive art. Your kids will just think it's the best playground in the world.

There is no map or guide to what is where, and it seems that something is always under construction, so visitors have no choice but to just start exploring. The Board of Directors leapt into the first tube the saw snaking around a pillar, and quickly disappeared into the ceiling. And so much of the museum is built from recycled stuff, particularly recycled industrial stuff.

There's a complex of caves, a whole bunch of hamster-tube type climbing runs, a three-story slide, a bunch of fish, tunnels that go from one floor to another. A few floors up there are a couple of installations for younger children--well, really, they're for parents of younger children who want to be able to see whatever the child is up to.

All of that is indoors. Outdoors is a whole other installation several stories high and loaded with more crawlspaces and I will tell you that it was when the boys were about to head into the very top I called them back down because my own acrophobia was fully kicked in. Apparently they did not inherit my irrational fear of heights.

But that points at what I find interesting and inspiring about the City Museum. I've logged many hours in many children's museums, and what most have in common is that you have to monitor your child and make sure they adapt to whatever rules the place requires. 

But the City Museum is centered on children, in the sense that it is built for them to use, not for them to be taught how to use it "properly." There's no "Honey, you can't put the plastic pork chop from the pretend store over in the fake fish pond" in this place. There's certainly a place for activities that require children to bend (we've spent many hours at various versions of water tables), but it's a whole other sensation to be in a space where kids can just be. The City Museum is not organized around what adults think kids should be made to do, or should want to do, but just around how kids are. All while being truly beautiful. 

One wonders, obviously, how a school could incorporate such a philosophy, to organize around students and what they want to, love to, do. 

At any rate, this is a fabulous spot. St. Louis is about a day away for us, but I think we may revisit it next summer just to stop here. You can follow City Museum on Twitter and of course visit the website. And at the end I'll throw in a drone trip through a tiny fraction of the whole thing. 

Lumping, Hyperbole, and Education Disruption

I get the occasional note pointing out that I use what appears to be wishy washy language with "some reformsters this" and "a few right wingers that." and while I generally try to avoid fuzziness, this particular fuzziness is deliberate and, I think, necessary.

It's incorrect to lump all education disruptors together, because there's a wide array of folks who want a piece of the education disruption action. But they don't all want the same thing, and not only is it unfair to lump them all together, it's just not accurate.

There are people who believe in choice, in the idea that there should be a broad selection of options for students. I'm actually one of these people; I just happen to believe that providing those options under one roof is the best, easiest, most efficient way to provide those choices. 

There are people who believe in the power of the free(ish) market. They believe in competition and lifting all boats and all that fun stuff. Most sincere free marketeers have no real beef with public education; mostly they would just like to see it as one of many options. I think their model is flawed and would ultimately do more damage than good.

There are people who are concerned about something going on in their own local schools, from bullying to some educational choices they disagree with. More than once I have been one of these people, too (I think pretty much every single teacher has been). These people, I want to note, are different from the people who have heard something on Fox News or a Twitter thread about some terribly awful thing happening in some school somewhere else and here are 143 signs that the same thing is about to happen in your local school (though 142 of the signs are unrelated to the actual awful thing).

There's a whole other broad spectrum of people who don't know what they're talking about, but who are sure they know just what education needs, and they range in levels of effectiveness in bollixing things up from the powerful (Bill Gates and Common Core) to the merely annoying (that lady who comes to every board meeting to demand that cursive, Latin, and sentence diagramming be required in grades K-12). 

There are privatizers who, by and large, want to skim off the profitable bits 

There are grifters. They don't have any particular ideological beliefs; they just smell a chance to make some money. T. C. Weber has convincing argued on his blog for ages that Tennessee's education leaders are not interested in any particular aspect of education reform as they are in just running whatever grift looks most promising this week.

So far we're talking about people pursuing policies that have a variety of negative consequences, from wasting resources on ideas that simply won't work, to making the work of teaching and operating a school that much harder, to removing accountability and democratic processes from school, to crippling a public school's ability to function. 

It's hyperbole to say these folks are "destroying" public education; they are making it suck more and weakening it in ways that make it easier to destroy. The hyperbole comes from many quarters, from public ed teachers who are very alarmed to public ed supporters who want to raise an alarm (these days, if you aren't yelling about a Major Crisis, how do you even get anyone's attention) and reformsters who have at time used the language of destruction, assuming, as many do, that you can't really destroy public education because it's just indestructible.

And while many of these folks have not intended to destroy public education as we know it, they have provided cover for lots of folks who do. 

You can find them at places like FlashPoint 2022, swearing their fealty to God and the Constitution and their intention to take back the United States. You'll hear these folks talk about reconquering the Seven Mountains-- business, government, family, religion, media, education, and entertainment. They've been talking about this for a long time, courtesy of such shadowy groups as the Center for National Policy. Read Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door

These are the folks who envision a completely different education world. Education as a private good that you buy yourself with the aid of a government voucher (and if you can't afford more than that, well, your lack of wealth is your own fault and other people shouldn't have to pay to make up for it). Education used to sort people out into their proper level in life. Education under the control of religion. 

Disruptors come in a variety of flavors, from those who think they're in the early stages of a game of Jenga and they can yank out planks here and there without really compromising the basic structure, to those who just want to take a sledgehammer to the whole tower. The education disruption field includes the same range, and it's not useful to lump them all together.

It's a tricky balance (which should probably be the official motto of this blog). On the one hand, it's useful to know which kind of disruption you are--or are not--facing. On the other hand, many disruptions don't intend to trash education entirely, but they provide cover and plough the field for those who do. And many of these disruptors and privatizers have been trying to change the whole purpose and premise of public education in this country without any sort of public conversation about that change, and it's hard to predict how significantly altering the foundation of public education will affect the structures resting on that foundation. Easy answers are almost always wrong (maybe that should be the official motto of this blog). 

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

School Vouchers and Resource Hoarding

I was revisiting a piece from just a couple of months ago in which I subjected myself to the Daily Wire's Betsy DeVos interview, and I noticed again the exchange that starts with this extraordinary quote from Michael Knowles, the interviewer.

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.

This was available to people who had privilege and means, he muses. Why can't we give that to everyone?

DeVos replies that we can, with vouchers. 

I talk a lot about how a voucherized education world would leave parents (and the general taxpaying public) unprotected in an unregulated market loaded with grifters and amateurs, but we also need to be aware of the other part of this dynamic.

DeVos et al like to talk about vouchers as if they create a level playing field for all parents and students, but of course they don't. DeVos and the other Betters of the world will take their kid's backpack full of cash and toss it onto the back of a dump truck full of more cash. There is no voucher in the world big enough to keep the DeVos family from hoarding all the Aristotles for themselves. 

Well, goes the DeVos theory, the poors can just pool their voucher money and try to hire their own Aristotle, or maybe set up some kind of microschool where some kids meet in someone's living room and all log on to together (except it will be something else because that website is taken by an "industry leading political data, consulting and software" corporation. 

This whole "band together and hire some teachers" idea is not bad-- the group could band together, and then, I don't know, elect representatives who sat on a board to collect the tax money and make decisions about the "school" that they own together. Except that they wouldn't have the power to levy taxes or legally do all sorts of other stuff. Yes, DeVos is proposing a neutered school board--one that doesn't have the power to make a nuisance of itself or counter-balance the power and privilege of the Betters.

And those various solutions, from microschools to software to classes from maybe-qualified teachers in makeshift facilities are all solutions that the Betters would never accept for their own children.

See, there are lots of ways to view the call of DeVos et al for "education freedom," but one way is definitely to view it as a way for the Betters to disempower the competition, so that it's easier for them to grab all the best educational resources. Especially to be able to do so without the galling requirement to finance via taxes their own competition for those resources. 

Vouchers would enable resource hoarding. Does the current public system enable it in some places. It surely does, but vouchers do not offer anything like a solution. 

Sunday, August 21, 2022

How To Harass Female High School Athletes

In the interest of Fairness, many states have pursued the idea of anti-trans athlete legislation, largely centered around the notion of athletes who were born male transitioning to female and thereby gaining an unfair advantage over those athletes born female. 

I'm not going to wade into the debate about this issue, other than to note that I've known plenty of highly driven teen athletes and their highly driven parents and I still doubt that any of them would have ever decided that a gender transition would be a great way to get an edge in sports competition.

Instead, I want to look at the real world consequences of these kinds of laws.

Here's a story from Utah about one of the results of the state's girls track and field competition:

After one competitor “outclassed” the rest of the field in a girls’ state-level competition last year, the parents of the competitors who placed second and third lodged a complaint with the Utah High School Activities Association calling into question the winner’s gender.

Congratulations unnamed female athlete! For your dominance in your sport, you win the chance for the state and your school district to dig through your records to prove that you have always been a girl. 

The girls showed excellence in her sport, so disappointed competitors can go ahead and make the accusation and she then has the burden of proof to show that she is and has always been a female. 

Might have been worse if she were in Ohio, where the House advanced the Ohio version of a Save Women's Sports Act that allowed losers to burden winners not just with the burden to prove their adequate femaleness, but to do it by way of testosterone levels, dna testing or "participant’s internal and external reproductive anatomy." Congratulations on your win, Bethany. Now, the state needs you to submit to a little physical exam.

The welfare of those young people needs to be absolutely most important to this issue, whether that young person is transgender or not.

He vetoed the bill.

Other states have shown less restraint. Oklahoma, for instance, did get a Save Women's Sports Act passed into law. That one gives any female athlete who thinks she's been boxed out or beaten and deprived of benefits to sue the school, and she's got up to two years to sue. Oklahoma's law doesn't offer any guidance about how the school is supposed to defend itself in court and what demands for "proof" they can place on their athletes. 

South Carolina has one of these laws, too., basically identical to Oklahoma's. And even the feds were trying to get in on the act at one point. 

These laws are a perfect example of how focus on ideology ends up creating a huge mess for real human beings. Every one of these laws becomes a tool by which successful female athletes can be harassed, a whole new way to take revenge on Suzi because she beat your beloved child on the field. And the more excellent and dominant the female athlete is, the more she makes herself a target for this sort of thing. Not a great way to "save" women's sports.

ICYMI: Back Home Edition (8/21)

 We're back home at the Institute, where the living is easy and the wifi mostly works. Lots to catch up on.

We don't need more police in schools

An op-ed by a 17 year old New Jersey student, providing a perspective on the issue.

Gov. Youngkin faces second suit over tip line

In Virginia, Governor Youngkin is getting sued over his super-secret snitch-on-a-teacher operation. Here's hoping some light is shed. Reported by Hannah Natanson at the Washington Post.

TN charters deny connections to Hillsdale

It has become advantageous in Tennessee to distance your Hillsdale charter operation from Hillsdale, but Channel 5 dug up the connections anyway. 

Is there a national teacher shortage?

Matt Barnum at Chalkbeat looks at what we do and don't know about the great teacher shortage that may or may not be going on right now. Barnum has, for my money, one of the evenest hands in the ed journalism biz.

There are lots of bad ideas for solving the teacher shortage

Anne Lutz Fernandez writing at Hechinger about everyone's favorite topic. Some great insights here. 

How to make more teachers

Nancy Flanagan takes a look at the shortage and some of the bad ideas for fixing it. 

Can local dialog keep trust strong?

At 4 Public Education, some thoughts about how to keep local ties strengthened.

What parents should say to teachers

The Washington Post actually asked actual teachers this question, and the results are useful.

Yep. Class Size Matters.

The indispensable Mercedes Schneider supports what every teacher already knows. 

How many teachers have been assaulted by students or parents?

EdWeek writes about a survey about just how physically safe teachers are these days. It's not encouraging. 

The truth about the history education wars in 2022

Johnathan Zimmerman in the Washington Post bringing some perspective to the battles over how to teach US history in schools. 

What's actually being taught in history class

Pretty cool multi-media piece from New York Times that talks to actual history teachers. It's an encouraging piece, a reminder that what is actually happening is far more complex and rich than the shouty debates going on elsewhere.

Florida's war on public education looks a lot like Russia's

Johnathan Friedman and Polina Sadovskaya from PEN America write about just how bad the Florida assault on civics looks. 

North Dakota aims to recruit Florida teachers

Fargo, specifically. Newsweek looks at the prospects of luring teachers away from the land of Don't Say Gay.

Fordham wants school choice explosion

Stephen Dyer reports on Fordham's new push for more choice in Ohio, which he calls "too much."

Just do this and ten thousand other things

McSweeney's for the win with this "teacher's back-to-school lament" by Tom Lester

Meanwhile, in other places, I published a print piece at The Progressive about Teachers Feeling The Heat.  And at Forbes, why teacher merit pay is a fool's dream. 

Saturday, August 20, 2022

The Evolving School Choice Argument

A quick summary of the history, so far, of pro-choice arguments. Because if it seems like they keep shifting, well, there's a reason. 

If you're old enough, you may remember a time when the argument in favor of school choice was that students needed to be able to escape their failing public school.

There was a period way back when in which the argument was for vouchers, but vouchers tested poorly with the electorate, so choicers threw their weight behind charter schools, with a continued and frequent emphasis on the notion that charter schools were just another type of public school, because generally speaking, people liked and trusted public schools. Charters will just add to a robust public educational ecosystem, they said.

The "public schools are failing" trope (first given some heft in A Nation at Risk, a report commissioned to make exactly that point) needed some back-up, and at just that opportune moment, we got the rise of the Big Standardized Test, a high stakes system that would provide solid data proving that public schools were Failing Our Children. 

Then school choice was adopted by folks on the Left and the Right (and by people from the Right pretending to be on the Left) so we had a tag team argument. Students should not have their educational quality determined by their zip codes. The pro-choice argument was two-pronged:

1) Public schools are failing academically (look at these test scores) but unleashing the power of the free market will competitionize them into excellence.

2) Public schools are failing poor and minority students, and in the pursuit of equity, those students should be given a school choicey path out. 

This two prong period lasted roughly most of the Obama administration, because the movement benefited from the neo-liberal Democrat support of choice. But it was at times a tense partnership. Free marketeers chafed at the social justice wing's ideas about regulating choice schools to suck less, and the social justice wing tried hard not to notice that free marketeers didn't really care that much about how choice affected their children.

And then Obama was out and Hillary tanked and the free marketeers didn't need the social justice wing any more, and detente was over.

The choice argument was also suffering from another problem. Charter schools weren't any better than public schools, and voucher systems were maybe even a little worse. Some new arguments were tried out, like "choice gives strivers a chance to get away from those other kids." Some free marketeers and libertarians started saying more loudly that it didn't really matter if choice improved outcomes or not--it was a virtue in its own right. 

Trump knew nothing about education policy except that backing choice got him support from the Catholic Church. And Betsy DeVos was patiently waiting for the rest of the movement to catch up to where she has been for years. 

Her moment was almost coming, but first we had a few years of just replaying the hits-- escape failing schools, improve outcomes, let's push vouchers under some other name, etc.

Then the pandemic hit, leaving local schools to wrestle with the question "How do we navigate this unprecedented crisis" while on the national level, everyone was more focused on "How do we leverage this unprecedented crisis for maximum political benefit."

To their credit, many choicers initially resisted the call to blame public schools for schools being closed, but that moment passed, someone decided it would be good strategy to blame school closures on the unions, and then people lost their damned minds over masking. When Christopher Rufo decided to elevate critical race theory to the level of a McCarthy-style Red Scare, a whole network of anti-maskers was already in place to spread the word (Moms For Liberty is a fine example of a group that started out anti-mask and quickly pivoted). 

The many waves of complaints and controversies may seem large and complex, but they really aren't. They all connect through one simple idea, the new choicer pitch, summed up in this quote from Rufo speaking at Hillsdale College:

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

The current choice pitch is that parents need the power of choice because public schools can't be trusted. Jay Greene, who I always thought of as intellectually honest, has moved to the heritage foundation and now publishes pieces like "Who will raise children? Their parents or the bureaucratic experts?" He signaled this new approach explicitly with February's "Time for the school choice movement to embrace the culture war" aka "We can use this current noise to further our cause." My state of Pennsylvania is facing a viable candidate for governor whose idea is to end property taxes, replace them with nothing, and give every parent a voucher good for half of the current per-pupil spending amount in the state. 

Do not be distracted by the arguments about LGBTQ students and trans athletes and teacher gag laws; these all matter, and certainly many hard right folks will be happy if they win these fights, but for the pro choice crowd, the point is that public schools can't be trusted and we need to scrap the whole system and replace it with vouchers (or, as DeVos called it, "educational freedom"). If the right drags victory out of any of these many erupting pockets of chaos, that's gravy, but for many choicers, the chaos is the whole point, because it adds to the claims of a failing public system. 

The end game, for those on the far right DeVos-style wing is as it has always been--get the government out of education. Take back the schools for religious education. Slash the tax-based funding because that's just the government stealing our hard-earned dollars to pay for more services for Those Peoples' Children. And while all that's happening, if we could break the back of the teachers unions, which just prop up the democratic Party, and, hey--also let some entrepreneurs make a buck selling education flavored products. 

At every stage of the choicer evolution, you will find people who sincerely believe their talking point du jour. But at this point, it's hard not to notice that some choicers will adopt whatever argument will get them closer to the dismantling and privatization of public education. 

Like many other movements, the school choice movement has room for both true believers and grifters, but in both cases, the school choice debates are marked by a refusal to talk about what we're really talking about--changing education from a universally provided public good into a privately owned and operated commodity delivered however and to whomever the market deems worthy. 

The irony of the newest talking point (Public schools can't be trusted and we must burn the system down and replace it with vouchers for parents) is that it's the closest we've come to having that honest conversation. Granted, it's dishonest in its indictment of public ed, and it's dishonest in that it fails to admit that we're talking about stripping all guarantees and protections for parents and students and the nation that depends on an educated public, but hey--at least we're finally openly discussing the destruction of public education as we know it. Stick around to see what comes next. 

Friday, August 19, 2022

Banning Pride Flags

It has become to common to even track effectively. Here's an example from Milwaukee. From Missouri, we get one of several stories about a teacher resigning after being told to take down a pride flag. And for what it's worth, there's plenty of fighting over rainbow flags outside of schools as well. 

The argument against Pride flags in classrooms generally boils down to a schoolwide ban on political statements, and the fact that this is considered a reasonable argument is one more sign that we have allowed almost everything to become politicized

Politicizing everything means treating issues, concerns, problems, etc as props in a wrestling match for power. Politicizing everything results in the moment when someone discovers a fire in the building and thinks, "How can I use this to score an advantage for my team," as well as the moment when someone runs into the office hollering that the building is on fire, and the reaction is, "I wonder what they're trying to get out of making this claim." Everybody is thinking about angles, and nobody is grabbing a fire extinguisher. 

In a country that is increasingly performative, this is increasingly a problem. 

A rainbow flag conveys a simple enough message, particularly in a classroom-- LGBTQ+ students can expect that classroom to be a place where they will be accepted and supported, just like every student in the school. Some are going to respond to that with the All Lives Matter response-- if all students are supposed to be accepted and supported, why should LGBTQ+ students get to see a special flag? The short answer is that while all students should expect to be treated with dignity and respect, some students have learned (by personal experience or by watching the news) that they cannot automatically expect that treatment. 

But for those insisting on a political lens, the rainbow flag is a ploy, a tactic for Certain People to get special treatment. And even if school administration doesn't use that political lens, many live in fear of parents who do. There have always been and will always be school administrators whose real rule is, "Nobody is allowed to do anything that might get me an angry phone call from a parent." 

Treating other human beings with basic kindness and dignity is now, somehow, a political act, and so schools can't have it. And in an attempt to be politically "neutral" we end up with crazy pants policies that equate statements of "All students are welcome here" with "Gay kids go home." It equates the Pride flag with the Confederate flag. The argument is that they are all political, and not, say, stances that can be distinguished on the basis of which ones involve decency and kindness and which do not. 

Politics involve calculations of power and control and privilege for our team at the expense of any considerations of humanity. Insisting that certain issues are political and not human is yet another way of driving humanity and respect out of schools, and that's not good for anybody. 

Thursday, August 18, 2022

The Free Market and Half a Bar

We've just spent several weeks trekking across the country by car, in a trip that eventually covered everything between Portland, Oregon and Portland, Maine.

We did it with a pair of five year olds and a lose schedule. We did seat-of-the-pants booking of overnight accommodations. In car entertainment was books, spotify playlists of favorite stuff, select cds (yay, Rabbit Ears) and assorted toys. We stuck to hotels with pools and breakfast, and we did it without screens except for a couple of Octonauts episodes at the end of the day. 

All of which kept us extremely conscious of our level of connectivity. We were always paying attention to phone bars and wifi and hotspotting, and after spending a month sampling connections across the country, I can report this-- it's not good.

It has been twenty years since 3G was introduced in Japan. Home routers--wifi as we know it--has been around since the 90s. 

And yet here we are. On major highways in population centers trying to get more than a single bar of LTE. On a lake in Maine that is not that far from the beaten path--families live there years round--having to step outside when the wind is just right to get more than half a bar to check messages from family. (And that 5G you heard was going to be everywhere? As near as I can tell, it's not anywhere).

All of this experience raises two thoughts.

(Well, three. Because I noticed this trip that even when nothing else could squeak through a half bar of hamster-wheel phone connection, Facebook could, making me think that either Zuck has a super-great system for shoving it out there, or my carrier has quietly agreed to put Facebook in the Special Digital Lane.)

One thought is about ed tech, and all the many ideas pitched on the premise that internet connectivity is as ubiquitous as air and Dollar General. It isn't. Not even close. We should have learned that when we ran up against the technological wall trying to do distance learning during the pandemess, but damned if people aren't still pitching cyber classes and on-line learning as if reliable internet is as easy to find as an unqualified amateur trying to reimagine education. 

The other thought is that this internet inadequacy is one more demonstration that the free market does not magically provide all things to all people. The notion that market forces will get the goods to everyone so efficiently and effectively is an idea that is as deeply held as it is devoid of evidence. "Let free market forces take effect in education," they say, "and a million educated flowers will bloom all across the nation." The free market does not work that way it serves the customers it chooses, and it chooses based on where profit can be made. It doesn't matter how much you want highspeed fiber optic internet in your town-- if someone can't make bank providing it, you're not getting it. 

Turning the free market loose in education just gets some choices for some people in some places. It's not the solution to any problem except maybe, "How can I get my hands on some of those sweet sweet tax dollars." 

PA: Doug Mastriano Wants To Cut This Much From Your School's Budget

Gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano has some thoughts on many topics, but some of his most alarming thoughts are about education

Many have wrestled with the issue of funding public education through real estate taxes. Mastriano has a solution:

Cut all real estate taxes and replace them with--nothing.

There are some issues not making it into the fine print. Mastriano has said that he wants to cut per-pupil funding in half. Since real estate taxes represent more than half the funding for most PA districts, it's not clear how we would get there. Presumably increased state revenue from... somewhere. Mastriano would also like that funding to take the form of vouchers, rather than actual funding for districts, so it's hard to predict exactly how hard local districts would be hit. 

But PSEA has given it a shot. 

Follow this link for a map that will show exactly how much of a hit each local district would take under Mastriano's plan. For instance, my own district would lose about $11 million, roughly 35% of total funding. That puts us in the middle, somewhere between a low of 9% and a high of 67%.

PSEA, being PSEA, projects this into staffing cuts, but presumably districts could also display the "creativity" that Mastriano claims this gutting will unleash by slashing all athletic programs, closing buildings, or axing other facilities. Nor is it a stretch to suppose that some districts will either partially ("Sorry, after 6th grade you're on your own") or completely shut down. 

Mastriano's education plan all by itself should serve as a deal breaker. But I'm afraid that some folks will say, "He's my guy for banning abortion" and vote for a future in which children must be born into a state with no real education system to carry them forward. I'm also afraid that a non-zero number of teachers will vote for him for the same reason, later shaking their heads in astonishment when their jobs are cut. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

PA: The High Markup For Cyberschooling

Cyber charters are expensive as hell in Pennsylvania because we are stubbornly stuck with a system that pays the charter based on the cost-per-pupil of the sending school--not what it actually costs the cyber charter to serve that student. 

This has left Pennsylvania cybers swimming in money like Scrooge McDuck on a big golden bender. For instance, in just two years, the fourteen cyber charters of Pennsylvania spent $35 million dollars of taxpayer money just on marketing. Governor Wolf has been trying to reform the system, but there's a great deal of resistance (backed by a bunch of lobbying money, because cyber charters can afford that). 

During the pandemic, many schools set up their own version of cyber school, and that has created an opportunity to see just how huge the markup is for cyber chartering. Check out this excerpt from an op-ed written by the Kenneth Berlin, superintendent of Wattsburg Area School District:

When the pandemic started, our district contracted an online learning system from K12 Learning Solutions (Stride) to offer our students an online schooling option facilitated by our teachers. Because we use our teachers and equipment, the average cost per student to the district is about $3,000. I want to note that the K12 Learning Solutions platform we purchased is the exact same platform used by Insight PA Cyber Charter School. I also want to point out that if a regular education student enrolls in Insight PA Cyber Charter School, our taxpayers are billed a mandated $13,118 per student. For special education students, the cost rises to $23,587 per student. Given that we can provide the exact same cyber learning experience as the Insight PA Cyber Charter School for just $3,000 per student, I believe that the current cyber school funding scheme is an unjustified waste of taxpayers’ hard-earned money.

Cyber charters in Pennsylvania are insanely overpriced, and it's worth remembering that taxpayers take a double hit; not only do they foot the highly inflated bill for cyber school tuition, but they also get hit by tax increases as their local public school district tries to blunt the impact of cyber tuition.

And it should be noted that taxpayers don't get much bang for their bucks, with cyber charters being found--even by folks in the charter biz--to do a lousy job of educating students. 

Cyber charters do a lousy job at inflated prices, so very inflated that it's almost hard to believe that such a scam could be perpetuated for so long. May it be brought to an end some day soon. One more reason not to vote for Doug Mastriano for governor.