Friday, September 30, 2022
Ana Meyers had risen swiftly through the world of charter school biz, and even when her career trajectory took a turn for the worse, the charter industry has her back.Meyers was the executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public [sic] Charter Schools. She has previously worked as "Director of Legislative Affairs" for LeadingAge PA (an advocacy group for aging services providers) as well as PA Field Director for Libertarian advocacy group, FreedomWorks. Before that she co-chaired the Kitchen Table Patriots, a Tea Party group in southeastern PA, and before that sales and marketing for the likes of Nickelodeon and American Airlines. Her degrees are in business. In short, she has virtually no background or expertise in education, but does have a long-standing experience in arguing that government services should be privatized. This is not new for PCPCS-- their previous chief's experience was as PR head for Westinghouse.
“I am shocked that you and your staff are unaware that none of Pennsylvanian’s charter schools [brick-and-mortar or cyber] are private or for-profit institutions,” states the letter signed by Ana Meyers, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, the state’s largest organization representing charter schools.
“I would have thought that a governor who has championed public education like you have over the past four-plus years would know better. I believe that you would have a much better understanding of how charter schools operate in Pennsylvania if you took the time to visit a few of them.”
Well, that's baloney, but it's the baloney that Meyers was paid to sell. And sell it she did--right up until she shot herself in the foot.
Meyers was an active voice in opposition to Governor Wolf ever since he put charters on notice that there would be more regulation and less gravy train. Can't limit family choices, can't trap students in failing zip codes, etc, Meyers said. She tried hard to sell the idea that PA charters are non-profits (they are, but the management companies that run some of them surely aren't). And she just helped the coalition launch 143K Rising, a PR push to resist attempts to cut charter budgets (something Wolf hasn't actually tried to do, but you have to keep your people scared). And she wasn't very shy about it, calling Wolf "an idiot on so many levels."
The world of charter supporters has long been an alliance between those who see charters as a tool for equity and social justice, and those who want to unleash free market forces in place of "government schools." Meyers' tea party past offers a hint about which group she comes from. But Saturday, May 31, 2020, less than a week after the murder of George Floyd, she put her foot in it.
Avi Wolfman-Arent caught the story and reported it for PBS station WHYY. Saturday, Meyers posted a response to an emergency alert about "violent protestors" in Philadelphia. "None of this is okay," she said, noting that her husband is a retired state policeman, argued that all sectors have some bad apples "including the church." After offering support for the police, she closed with "These protestors disgust me. All lives matter."
When the station called to ask her about the post, it disappeared and an apology was posted. Meyers asserted her support for Black Lives Matters, explained she had not meant the protestors, but the looters. "I did not mean to insinuate that I don’t support Black Lives Matter,” she said. But it's pretty hard to read "All lives matter," any other way.
Criticism from the charter sector was swift. Sharif El-Mekki is a charter principal and heads up a group working on solving the problem of too few Black teachers in the classroom rejected her apology. At least one charter chain "condemned" her remarks. And as of yesterday, she was out of a job. Said the coalition board, "We have determined that new leadership is in the best interests of our member schools and the families they serve across the state." They thanked Meyers for her work, and buh-bye.
Wednesday, September 28, 2022
Neal McCluskey, the point man for education at the libertarian CATO Institute, took a quick look at Banned Books Week, suggesting that PEN America is missing the root problem of Book "Bans" (his quotation marks).
McCluskey opens by noting the PEN America report of book bans in the US, and he has this to sayTo what does PEN attribute the rise? Organized right‐wingers, including such groups as Parents Defending Education and No Left Turn in Education. PEN is largely correct about the immediate cause, with people on the right increasingly sounding alarms over “critical race theory” and “gender ideology” in public schools.
But as is often the case, the PEN report misses the root cause: public schooling itself, which forces diverse people to pay for, and de facto use, a single system of government schools.
Ironically, PEN calls efforts to get school boards or state legislatures – popularly elected bodies – to remove books “undemocratic.” But that is almost the textbook definition of “democratic,” and for many public schooling defenders democratic control is a crucial aspect of public schooling. The people collectively decide what ideas the newest generation is exposed to.
Tuesday, September 27, 2022
One training document, titled “Don’t accept the first No,” led staff through a series of questions to ask patients. The first was “How would you like to pay that today?” If that did not work, employees were told to ask for half the balance. Failing that, staff could offer to set up a payment plan. Only as a last resort, the documents explained, should workers tell patients that they may be eligible for financial assistance.
Another training document explained what to do if patients expressed surprise that a charitable hospital was pressuring them to pay. The suggested response: “We are a nonprofit. However, we want to inform our patients of their balances as soon as possible and help the hospital invest in patient care by reducing billing costs.”
Staff members were then instructed to shift the conversation to “how would you like to take care of this today?”
Writing for The Hill, Andrew Koppelman outlines a time bomb set by Justice Samuel Alito in one of his opinions, and while Koppelman doesn't connect it to education, I can read this particular writing on the education wall.
Koppelman is a law professor at Northwestern University and the writer of Burning Down the House: How Libertarian Philosophy Was Corrupted by Delusion and Greed, so you can see where he's coming from.
The time bomb was set back in the 2014 Hobby Lobby decision, in which SCOTUS found that Hobby Lobby did not have to provide contraceptive coverage for their employees, arguing that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act meant that "religious objectors" were exempt from federal law unless the burden on them "is necessary to a compelling government interest. Koppelman explains the bomb:There was already an accommodation for religious nonprofits, which used an alternative mechanism to guarantee workers the disputed coverage. If that program were extended to Hobby Lobby Stores, Justice Alito wrote for the court, the impact on its employees would be “precisely zero.”
But Alito did not stop there. His opinion mused that the “most straightforward way” of providing coverage “would be for the Government to assume the cost of providing the four contraceptives at issue to any women who are unable to obtain them under their health-insurance policies due to their employers’ religious objections.” He rejected the Obama administration’s claim that “RFRA cannot be used to require creation of entirely new programs.”
Sunday, September 25, 2022
I've started trying to avoid using the phrase "book bans" or "banning books." Here's why.
I understand that the phrases carry power and punch. They're short and sharp and they have associations; nobody ever thinks that someone who's proposing a book ban is the good guy. For that matter, nobody who wants to ban a book ever says, "We want to ban that book."
But I'd like to suggest a refocus on the language. I don't have a punchy substitute, but I'm tending toward "reading restrictions," and here's why.
But the real damage done is not that a book has been shackled. The actual damage is that some human being has been restricted from reading about certain ideas or certain strings of words.
This is particularly true these days in which many of the folks who are trying to restrict student reading rights aren't targeting particular books so much as they are targeting particular ideas or types of people. The specific books being banned are incidental. In many cases, we're seeing something like Texas State Representative Matt Krause's big list of naughty books, which was clearly assembled not because of objections to particular books, but by doing a blunt instrument search for books that contained particular words or phrases and therefor, he presumed, certain forbidden ideas.
These gag laws and moves to restrict aren't about limiting the movement and activity of books; they're about restricting the reading (or more accurately, the thinking) of students.
While locking up a few books may offend the sensibilities of some, I suspect a larger group of people would be alarmed if we started fitting all school age children with blindfolds and ear plugs.
That's what these reading restrictions and gag laws are all about-- forbidding students from seeing or hearing anything about certain parts of human experience, about the reality of the world as it is today.
It's not about banning books; it's about restricting the freedoms of children. Yes, as a parent you absolutely set the guardrails of experience around your kids as you see fit. But as soon as you want to limit the freedom of everybody else's children, you're just one more kind of tyrant, one more person trying to exercise authority over others.
It's not about parental rights when it's about one set of parents infringing on the rights of other parents to decide on the range of experience for their own children (note: the existence of a book does not infringe on your parental right to limit the experience of your own child).
The term "book ban" is doing a lot of heavy lifting right now, collecting a wide range of actions an initiatives. But what unites them all is their real purpose--to restrict students' experience and limit their freedom to read and learn.
We're big fans of Fall here at the Institute, and it arrived in Western PA in a very Fall-like fashion, so we are switching to hot chocolate and flannel sheet mode. Nothing better. In the meantime, here are some items for your reading edification from the week.
Denver students created a podcast that the district decided was so great that they'd just go ahead and appropriate the brand, but the students are not okay with that. From Chalkbeat.To Build a Pipeline of Black Teachers, This Program Starts Recruiting in High School
Saturday, September 24, 2022
"Can robots fill the teacher shortage?" This is what some corners of the industry are thinking. It's dumb, but it's out there.
That dumb question headline ran in Digital Future Daily, a "newsletter" under the Politico banner that is "resented by" CITA-The Wireless Association, an industry group that "represents the U.S. wireless communications industry and the companies throughout the mobile ecosystem." The piece is written by Ryan Heath, who is a Politico staffer, so we are somewhere in the grey mystery area of newsvertisement (which we're in far more often than we realize, but that's a topic for another day).who recently became dean for digital learning at MIT, where she's been with the media lab since getting her PhD there about twenty years ago. Breazeal has a long-time interest in personal aid robots.
She's also an entrepreneur and co-founder of jibo. Jibo started out as an Indiegogo project in 2014. The first home social robot was supposed to release in 2015, then 2016. It was finally released in 2017 by MIT. Even though Time profiled it as one of the best inventions of the year, things did not go well. Less powerful and more expensive than Alexa or Google Home. Software kit for developers never released. Jibo was released in November, and in December layoffs began at the company. Wired wrote a thorough eulogy for the little robot in March of 2019.
In 2019 the disruption division of NTT (Nippon Telephone and Telegraph) bought up the scraps of the failed company and product and has been "working on preparing jibo for an enterprise scenario mainly focusing on healthcare and education" but only as a business to business product, including applications for education,. They proclaim that Jibo provides the "perfect combination of intelligence, character, and soul." Sure.
None of this comes up in the Politico piece, which presents Breazeal as an academic and "evangelist" for AI who has come to the UN to pitch educational robots. In particular, the piece notes the international needs of students dealing with covid, students with special needs and "displaced children" (aka refugees). This is the second time in a week I've come across someone plugging an ed tech solution for these children, and I get the interest in what is, unfortunately, an emerging market--when you have students who have been ripped away from their home country, how do you give them some continuity of education while they live in a place where their usual educational system does not reach?
The UN expects a global teacher shortage of 70 million by the end of the decade. But folks have concerns about AI and "socially assistive robots." Given AI's previously demonstrated ability to turn racist on top of the fact that these constructs are not actual humans, those concerns seem appropriate.
“We want to be super clear on what the role is of the robot versus the community, of which this robot is a part of. That's part of the ethical design thinking,” Breazeal continued, “we don't want to have the robot overstep its responsibilities. All of our data that we collect is protected and encrypted.”
How do parents and teachers react to the role of a robot in their children’s lives? “It's not about replacing people at all, but augmenting human networks,” Breazeal said, “This is not about a robot tutor, where teachers feel like competing against the robot,” she said.
Wednesday, September 21, 2022
House Bill 2813 is like a cut and paste version of every "sexual orientation and gender identity" gag law we've seen over the past couple of years. Its one useful feature is that it is a stripped-down, bare bones version of its many predecessors, which throws its many problems into stark relief. There's no poking around and digging to see what's wrong with this bill.
So here are the highlights of this "Parental Rights In Student Health Care Act" This will be quick; the bill is just three pages and change.
The bill does cover public school districts, vo-tech schools, intermediate units, cyber charters, and charter schools.
Section 4 states in its entirety, "A school entity may not offer instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity to a student in kindergarten through fifth grade."
That's broad and vague as these bills are, leaving schools to wonder what, exactly, violates this language. Every single children's book that depicts a male Daddy and a female Mommy, every book that depicts a Mommy who stays home and cooks and a Daddy who goes to work--every single one of these depicts a particular lesson about sexual orientation and gender identity. Of course, what the sponsors almost certainly mean is that they don't want any of that gay and trans stuff--but that's not what the law says.
What does this language mean to a teacher or aide who has in a same sex marriage? Should that teacher hide all pictures from home and refuse to answer the questions that students inevitably ask about a teacher's personal life? What about a child who comes from a household with two moms or two dads? Should that child be silenced if she tries to share a story about her same-gendered parents? Must the school refuse to sponsor any LGBTQ-related groups? Must teachers take down any rainbow flags?
You may think that all this hinges on the word "instruction." If none of these things rise exactly to the level of instruction, then the school's in the clear, you may argue. You are wrong, and we'll get to that in a second.
Section 5 says that the school must notify parents of health services provided to the child, with the parents having an option to refuse, and "A process for notifying a student's parent or legal guardian of a change in the student's health care services or monitoring related to a student's mental, emotional or physical health."
All of this speaks to the conservative fear that schools are secretly turning their kids gay or trans. This particular bill is worse than the usual. Many of the Parental Rights bills acknowledge that a student may find himself in a home where revealing an LGBTQ identity will put that child at risk or abuse or abandonment. Those bills give the school the right to keep the child's secret if they believe that it's in the best interest of keeping the child safe.
This bill does not do that.
Under this bill, if a student comes to a school staff member and asks for counseling to help deal with an LGBTQ situation, the school must out the child to the parents. Which means, practically speaking, that if a child is afraid they'll thrown out or beaten for being gay, they dare not seek help at school. This kind of policy puts LGBTQ children at risk of suicide, among other potential issues.
Section 6 puts restrictions on school well-being questionnaires and health screenings. This is a relatively minor feature, though it does provide one more level of cover for abusive parents.
Section 7 makes it illegal for a school staff member to encourage students to withhold information from parents, to keep parents from accessing student education or health records, or retaliate against a student who reports a school's violation of any portion of this law. That's all fine. I can see some problems with some inexact language when it comes to divorced parents who do not share custody, but that's easily clarified.
Section 8 is the kicker. This section creates a right of private action. In other words, any parent or guardian who thinks the school has violated any part of this law may sue the school district.
This is why the words "any instruction" up in section 4 don't really matter. The school district does not have to ask itself if it has violated the actual law; it has to ask itself if any of its parents might decide they've violated the law.
You can argue that the school will win the lawsuit if the parent is full of it and the school didn't really violate the law, and you might be right--maybe--but in the meantime, the school district has to spend time and money dealing with the suit, and gets to have its name smeared in the paper and across social media as well (which given the kinds of attacks being spurred by made-up social media baloney these days, is no small thing).
The right of private action is what gives this kind of law its extra special kick, its ability to scare schools into silence. School administrators who are risk averse, especially those who are already dealing with a vocal minority of right wing grievances, will sit their staffs down and declare, "We don't want any trouble, so I don't want you bringing up anything ever that is even remotely close to the line on this."
Who pays the price? Students. LGBTQ students who find themselves erased from conversation and required to stay silent about their own identities. Straight students who receive a redacted experience, in which they find that some things just can't be discussed at school; in some cases, those forbidden subjects may include friends and family members. Teachers who have to wonder about how, if at all, they can continue with their careers. Who benefits? I suppose, eventually, some lawyers.
Where did this particular bill come from? It was introduced by a whole batch of legislators, starting with:
Stephanie Borowicz: Grad of Altamonte Christian School who famously started a state house session by invoking Jesus thirteen times, praised Trump, and declared "at the name of Jesus, every knee will bend"-- right before the House swore in its first Muslim member.
Rob Kauffman: One of the PA House Republicans who called for withdrawal of the certification of Presidential electors.
Also, Francis Ryan, Bud Cook, MiLou Mackenzie, David Millard, Joe Hamm, Lesli Rossi, Ryan Mackenzie, Aaron Bernstine, Rich Irvin, Daryl D. Metcalfe, Seth M. Grove, David H. Zimmerman, Barbara Gleim, Dawn W. Keefer, Jim Cox, Kathy L. Rapp, David H. Rowe, Keith J. Greiner, Craig T. Statts, and Clint Owlett.
I'd like to believe that some of these folks just kind of signed on without really thinking things through, and if you're in Pennsylvania and one of these is your person, please give them a call.
And if you're in one of the states that doesn't have one of these Parental Rights bills yet, keep your eyes open.
Tuesday, September 20, 2022
Efforts to censor teachers, omit history, or ban important conversations about race in our schools go way too far. Our children deserve an education honest about who we are, demonstrating integrity in how we treat others, and creating a sense of belonging so every child has the freedom to learn, grow, and pursue their dreams.
Monday, September 19, 2022
Well, shit. There are no pro-public education candidates for governor in Pennsylvania.
Josh Shapiro is for vouchers.
In an interview with the Patriot News, Shapiro said, "And I’m for making sure we add scholarships like lifeline scholarships to make sure that that’s additive to their education. That it gives them other opportunities...to be able to help them achieve success”
Nor is his support an interview bobble. From his campaign website:Josh favors adding choices for parents and educational opportunity for students and funding lifeline scholarships like those approved in other states and introduced in Pennsylvania.
The Lifeline Scholarship bill is a GOP education savings account bill--a super-voucher bill-- currently sitting in the appropriations committee in the House; the Senate has passed their version. Not just charters. Not just traditional vouchers. But nice shiny, super vouchers. Take a bunch of money from public schools (based on state average cost-per-pupil, not local numbers, so that many districts will lose more money than they would have spent on the students). Handed as a pile of money/debit card which can be spent on any number of education-adjacent expenses. (Excellent explainer at greater lengths here.)
The state will audit the families at least once every two years. The bill contains the usual non-interference clause, meaning that the money can be spent at a private discriminatory school, and no one will be checking to see if the school is actually educating the student. The bill is only old-school in that it uses the old foot-in-the-door technique of saying that this is just to rescue students from "failing" public schools (but includes no provisions to determine if the child has been moved to a failing private school).
Choicers are ecstatic.
The Center for Education Reform, the ardently pro-school choice anti-teacher advocacy group, has gleefully sent out the news. Choice advocate David Hardy from the right-tilted Commonwealth Foundations says, "I am happy that Mr. Shapiro has indicated his willingness to consider for poor families what has obviously worked for his family. The families most satisfied with their children's educational experience are those who were able to choose it."
Sunday, September 18, 2022
Saturday, September 17, 2022
The answer, as laid out in detail in a dissent by Justice Sotomayor, is that Kennedy's "observance" was not brief, quiet, or personal. As Sotomayor writes
Official-led prayer strikes at the core of our constitutional protections for the religious liberty of students and their parents, as embodied in both the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.
The Court now charts a different path, yet again paying almost exclusive attention to the Free Exercise Clause’s protection for individual religious exercise while giving short shrift to the Establishment Clause’s prohibition on state establishment of religion.
To the degree the Court portrays petitioner Joseph Kennedy’s prayers as private and quiet, it misconstrues the facts.
Also, after noting that the majority just threw out the Lemon test, she writes
In addition, while the Court reaffirms that the Establishment Clause prohibits the government from coercing participation in religious exercise, it applies a nearly toothless version of the coercion analysis, failing to acknowledge the unique pressures faced by students when participating in school-sponsored activities. This decision does a disservice to schools and the young citizens they serve, as well as to our Nation’s longstanding commitment to the separation of church and state. I respectfully dissent.
The dissent uses pages to lay out the many details of how Kennedy was not quiet or brief, including his invitations to opposing teams to join in, and that very special time where he went out and led a student prayer right in front of the administrator who has just asked him not to. Why the District didn't just fire him for insubordination I do not know.
The weekend of the second game, which the Knights also won, Kennedy appeared with former President Donald Trump at the Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey. He saw Trump get a religious award from a group called the American Cornerstone Institute.
Coming up this month, Kennedy’s scheduled to give a talk as part of a lectureship series at a Christian university in Arkansas.
“Place a PR/Publicity Request,” invites his personal website, where he’s known as Coach Joe.
It’s an increasingly surreal situation for the Bremerton schools. They were ordered to “reinstate Coach Kennedy to a football coaching position,” according to court documents. But the now-famous coach is out on the conservative celebrity circuit, continuing to tell a story about “the prayer that got me fired” — even though Bremerton never actually fired him.