Friday, September 30, 2022

Fund Raising and Data Mining

It has started already.

The twins, five weeks into their first year of school, have been given materials for the school fund raiser.

If you are not current in the parenting world, you may hear "fund raiser" and think, "Okay, time to carry that order sheet around and hit up the grandparents to buy a couple of stinky candles." If only.

What the Board of Directors brought home is a sign-up for SchoolStore, a kind of online portal/platform that lets folks buy stuff from a couple of different outlets and a whole bunch of the usual Major Merchants. Each purchase through the program earns the classroom money and the individual student points good for Valuable Prizes. Teachers may also win prizes for their classroom's commercial success.

It's elegant and simple; as the veteran faculty member behind a gazillion fundraising projects, I can immediately see the advantages (no more trying to get the product sorted and out to the customers, no more extorting the public in exchange for cheap junk). 

But there's a catch.

To get started, your child has to sign up at the site, and sign up is not complete until you've given six email addresses to which the company can send marketing emails (that pretend to be from your child--you can even choose from pre-made PS messages like "I love you" and "Thank you for caring." Once you've handed over the emails, you get a code that goes back to school to certify that your child has signed up, at which point they get a cute participation prize (in our case, a little stuffed creature).

Not since political operatives started sending messages that "We need your input on this important survey!" has anyone come up with such a wickedly efficient method for harvesting contact information. That stuff is golden. I worked a couple of summers taking phone orders for a catalog company, and one of the things I learned is that a major source of their income was selling lists of contact information. Of course, companies these days promise they won't "sell" contact lists, just "share" it with their "trusted partners," which is a distinction without a difference. 

And, as you might expect, it's not hard to find folks on line complaining that SchoolStore spams them relentlessly via email addresses that they never personally gave away (also, something seems to be wrong with the site's email opt out feature....hmm...). 

The leverage, of course, is that I start my day with a five year old in tears because his classmates are getting stuffies and he is not. 

I don't fault the school, entirely. The real solution to all this is to fund schools fully and properly so that they don't have to explore other avenues for revenue. On the other hand, I am also wondering if the digital citizenship units have anything to say about being cautious with your own and other peoples' information on line.

So now my wife and I have a choice.

My preferred choice is to skip the whole thing, but that is going to require us to develop some sort of in-house lesson/explanation about all of this, because I'm starting my day with a little boy in tears because every day some of his classmates are getting a participation stuffie and he is not. I suppose we could just wait it out and he'll get over it. In the meantime, the boys have very little experience with computers, so explaining dealing with data harvesting operations is going to be a stretch. Nor am I ready for the "sometimes people in charge are just wrong and you should ignore them," because there's no way that can end badly for five year olds.

I could just make up some email addresses to fill in the six spots, and since, as mentioned, the boys are not particularly sophisticated about computer stuff, we can get away without having to have a talk about the ethics of cheating a cockeyed system in order to get things you want. I'm not ready to introduce "this is unfair, so it's okay to be unfair back" into their ethical schema. Also, since retirement I have enjoyed not being a constant raspberry seed in the wisdom teeth of the system; I thought I'd have longer before we'd get back to that. 

We could just go ahead and fork over the email addresses, but exactly which friends or family members do I think deserve to have one more daily junk e-mail?

I'll share my thoughts, politely, with the school. I get it--this is so much easier and less painful than the old school fund raisers, and funds need to be raised. It would be nice to do it without trying to leverage peer pressure and the littles' love of trinkets, but that has always been an issue with fund raisers. 

It's all a reminder that data is the new oil, and schools are a vast untapped reservoir. We could not make it more appealing to try to breach the boundaries of schools if we had built all the school furniture out of gold. Schools have got to get better at being vigilant, and parents have to pay attention, because the attempts to turn schools into data harvesting operations are never going to stop. 

PA: The Charter Industry Has Ana Meyers' Back

 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.

Meyers only got into the charter biz with PCPCS in 2017, but she hit the ground running with vocal opposition to Governor Tom Wolf's stated intention to rein charters in and perform some common sense overhaul of Pennsylvania's charter laws. When he said it again in 2019, Meyers expressed her sadness.

“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.

If you're thinking it's a shame that a career could be derailed by a single (okay, a couple) thoughtless post, fret not. Meyers was unemployed for a whole month. In August of 2020, she started a new job as the Associate Vice President of Community & Board Relations for Commonwealth Charter Academy. 

Commonwealth Charter Academy started out life as an arm of the Pearson octopus, who bought it from the original investors in 2011. Since then they have branched out into many lucrative fields, like their 
expansive real estate dealings. They also operate the largest cyber school in Pennsylvania. Like all of Pennsylvania's cyber-schools, they do a lousy job of teaching students, but a fabulous job of making money--particularly during the big pandemic boom (in PA, 99.7% of the students who jumped from public school to charter jumped to a cyber charter). They spend a ton of money on marketing, including floats for parades and, believe it or not, the CCA Ice Level Lounge in the home stadium of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Lots of taxpayer dollars getting burned through. Try to imagine what your local taxpayers would say if they discovered your local school district was spending millions of their tax dollars on marketing, parade floats, and swanky stadium lounges.

So those are the folks that hired Ana Meyers. And the people who ousted her? They just gave her an award.

At the 2022 Pennsylvania Coalition of Public [sic] Charter Schools Conference, earlier this month, Meyers received a Legacy Award for being a longtime advocate of charter schools. From the people who "ousted" her two years ago. The presenter touts her for being a force for charter schools for "over a decade" which scans, I guess, since a decade ago her LinkedIN profile says she was working as Pennsylvania State Director for FreedomWorks ("Lower Taxes, Less Government, More Freedom") and lists one of her many accomplishments as being "responsible for helping pass major piece of Education Reform (School Choice) legislation with the 2012 state budget" aka "Opportunity Scholarships" aka tax credit scholarships. I'm not sure what she was doing for charter in subsequent jobs like her two and a half years at LeadingAge PA which is busy "advancing aging services and quality care for seniors."

Her accomplishments as listed by the presenter boil down to building the market, pulling in more customers, landing grants--nothing about actual education. But if you're good at business, everyone's more than happy to put that one little slip-up behind them. 

Meanwhile, PCPCS has moved on to preparing for the next big event, the CEO Summit; one treat for that is the legislative breakfast for which legislative leaders are invited to come break their fast with business and school leaders. It's "an excellent occasion to reach families, educators, and community partners who collaborate with Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools."  And it will be held at the Commonwealth Charter Academy at 1 Innovation Way in Harrisburg. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Teaching Gender Roles and Sexual Identities

I know I've said this before, but this time I have a picture.

Forbidding teachers to bring sexual orientation and gender identity into their classrooms is a hopeless cause. Yes, even and especially when talking about K-3 or K-5.

Children's books are loaded with families, which is not surprising--families are a huge part of a child's world. However, every one of those books says something about how families are built. That's why conservatives had a small cow over a married pair of lesbian polar bears on Peppa Pig--because even though their sexual identities and gender roles are not discussed at any length, the mere fact that they exist in the show means that they might shape a child's idea of what is ordinary.

What's ordinary in traditional books? You've got series like the Little Critter books or Classic Clifford (we have not yet dipped into new, improved, tv-derived Clifford), where Mom stays home (usually in an apron) and Dad goes to work. There are more mysterious books like the Llama Llama books, where dad is not in evidence because Mom is the actual caregiver of the child. As a stay-at-home father, I appreciate the occasional book in which it's ordinary for the dad to be staying home, doing the laundry, making the meals, etc etc etc, but they're rare. For that matter, we get pretty excited when we find a book about twins. And you will never see the kind of excitement that you get when a little sees their own name in a book.

Because it's nice to look in a book and see your own life.

Children's literature tells them what is ordinary in a family all the time. It shows them what is ordinary in sexual orientation and gender identity all the time. 

I've made that argument often, but this week I was reminded that it's more than that. Here's a paper that the Board of Directors brought home from kindergarten.

"Bed" rhymes with "wed," as depicted by this nice couple. To be clear, I have no beef with this assignment at all. Do you think this assignment could get someone in trouble in Florida or other states where teaching sexual orientation and gender identity is illegal? Traditional gender identities and sexual orientations are still gender identities and sexual orientations, and we currently teach them all the time. 

Just keep this in mind for the next time somebody says, "But of course nobody thinks we should teach kindergartners about sexual orientation or gender identity."

CATO Misses The Mark On Reading Restrictions

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 say 

To 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 then he pivots to what has been CATO's refrain on the issue of public education

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.

This has been a recurring refrain--that public schools cause conflict by putting people with different beliefs in the same building. McCluskey is a serious grown up and no dope (something I would not write about everybody in the reformy choicer universe), but I always find this argument troubling because it can so clearly be used to argue in favor of segregation. Nor do I believe you can effectively run a country, state or community by simply separating all the people who disagree with each other into their own distinct silos. It speaks to one of the fundamental flaws of Libertarian thought, which is that government regulation and laws ceased, we would have a level playing field and everyone would have a fair shot at whatever goodies they wanted out of life. But for THAT to have a hope of working, we'd have to be able to wave a magic wand so that everyone started life on the same footing, which they don't, because everyone starts life with advantages and disadvantages, and the playing field is, therefor, never ever level. And while I share the Libertarian distrust of a government's ability to make the playing field more level or just, I do not agree with the notion that we should revert to Might Makes Right. 

But I digress.

McClusky says PEN America almost gets it when they note that the problem comes when choices made by librarians or educators are "overridden by school boards, administrators, teachers or even politicians." 

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.

That said, the PEN report is correct in perceiving a huge problem with elected bodies making decisions about what ideas are off‐​limits to school kids. What if the political majority – or a powerful minority, as PEN asserts about right‐​wing activists – wants to use its power to impose its values on the politically less powerful? That is dangerous. Indeed, a recipe for oppression.

McCluskey gets a lot right here, but by conflating several options, he slides past an important point. Educators and librarians decide what books will or will not be available to students. They do not decide which book students will be forbidden to encounter. Libraries have only so much space, and there are only so many days in the school year, so it is normal and necessary for librarians and educators to say, "We'll get this book and not that book." 

Deciding which ideas the students will be exposed to, deciding which ideas they will have access to, and deciding what ideas will be off-limits are three very different decisions. The first two are a normal part of school; the third is not. And while choice advocates argue that only parents should be able to decide any of these, there is nothing about the first two items that keeps parents from deciding, and no power in the world that can be exercised by school or parents that will make the third possible. 

McCluskey concludes

To protect people without political power government must neither empower experts nor political majorities to decide for everyone what books will or will not be accessible to children.

That's not the power that the anti-book crowd are trying to grab. They are trying to decide what books children will be forbidden to read. No amount of disempowering public schools or actual education experts will change that; these folks have already made it clear that "At least my kid won't have to read that awful book" is not an adequate answer for their concerns. We've already seen places where folks have made it clear that they don't want to see choice schools that cater to Those People.

Deciding what books will be available in a school building does not restrict the rights of students. Deciding that students must be forbidden to read certain books is a direct attack on their rights, and depending on free market forces to defend those rights is a vain hope. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

McKinsey and How To Soak The Customers

It's hard to imagine exactly what an open market for education would really look like, but we can get a scary inkling sometimes by looking at the world of health care.

For instance, the hospital world is loaded with non-profit operations that make a giga-ton of money (that remains untaxed). A recent New York Time piece gives a picture of how hospitals can squeeze blood from stones, with some help from our old friends, the amoral giants of money-grabbing consulting, McKinsey. 

The article focuses on the big challenge of hospitals--patients without money--as it plays out at Providence, one of the nation's largest chains. The Times got ahold of the training materials for a program called Rev-Up, ordered by Providence executives and created by McKinsey.

Training materials instructed administrative staff to tell patients — no matter how poor — that “payment is expected,” according to documents included in Washington’s lawsuit and training materials obtained by The Times. Six current and former hospital employees said in interviews that they had been told not to mention the financial aid that states like Washington required Providence to provide.

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?”

The Times found that this approach was used even on patients who were entitled to free care. Providence collected a ton of COVID relief money and sits on $10 billion in investment money.  The whole story is pretty rage-inducing, particularly when you get to the parts about people who are ruined by their health care debts. Non-profits measure their charity care; the national average is 2% of expenses spent on charity; Providence currently sits at 1%.

It is not encouraging to imagine this model extended to education in a world in which folks have to come up with their own education for their kids, perhaps with a pittance of a voucher that will only allow them to purchase bare bones education care. Meanwhile, private and voucher schools would be coming up with new and better ways to hustle money out of the customer base. Charter and private schools would be consolidated, gathered into chains owned in some cases by hedge funds and private equity firms that would just squeeze and squeeze  They'd have the pile of money needed to hire world-class consulting firms like McKinsey to get every last drop out of the poorer families (unrestrained by any sort of ethical concerns). 

The future reflected in health care is an ugly one, in which an industry is shifted from serving the needs of human beings to enhancing its pile of money and paying its executives exorbitant amounts of money.

What will happen in a future in which families are required to purchase education on their own, and they don't have enough money to do it, or at least not enough to purchase more than a very basic substandard "product." It's a future I'd just as soon avoid. 

Alito's Time Bomb And Education

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.”

That sentence came back to haunt us in this year's case Braidwood Management v. Becerra--that's the one in which employers argued they shouldn't have to provide insurance that covers HIV, contraception, HPV vaccine, counseling for STDs and drug use because that would make them "complicit" in homosexual activity, sex outside of marriage, and drug use. 

The plaintiffs found a friendly Texas judge who invoked the Hobby Lobby decision:

Alito’s dictum was the basis for Judge O’Connor’s decision last week. Quoting “Hobby Lobby,” O’Connor wrote that the Biden administration had not “shown that the government would be unable to assume the cost of providing [HIV preventive] drugs to those who are unable to obtain them due to their employers’ religious objections.”

Boom--no coverage.

In Hobby Lobby, Justice Kennedy had expressed concern that the reasoning could force all sorts of new programs on the government. Justice Ginsberg feared that there would be no "stopping point to the 'let government pay' alternative. Suppose an employer's sincerely held religious belief is offended by health coverage of vaccines, or paying minimum wage, or according women equal pay for substantially similar work?"

Or, I would add, suppose their religious belief is offended by students from the Wrong Background or whose parents aren't properly married, or a whole laundry list of reasons to discriminate against students. Kennedy was worried about decisions forcing the government to create new programs, but when it comes to education, the government program is already in place--public schools.

So Alito's time bomb could be used for any sort of "sincerely held" religious-based discrimination that charters or voucher-collecting schools care to impose. "Well, they can always just go to public school," becomes a free pass for any sort of discrimination, bigotry and repression they care to indulge in, and public schools become a dumping ground, resources stripped for choice programs. Not that this isn't already happening (see here and here), but Koppelman's argument suggests one more legal protection for this twisting of the promise of public education.

People of faith ought to oppose this sort of reasoning. When "sincerely held" religious belief becomes a free pass for all manner of misbehavior, it's only a matter of time before religion becomes overrun with scam artists and grifters who find it convenient to suddenly develop "sincerely held" beliefs. Same as it ever was. 

Sunday, September 25, 2022

It's not the books that suffer

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.

A book ban is about a book. We imagine a book being pulled off a shelf, maybe even thrown on a fire.

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. 

ICYMI: Fall At Last Edition (9/25)

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 sue district over podcast

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

A program in Pittsburgh seeks to address Pennsylvania's egregious shortage of Black teachers. Emily Tate Sullivan at EdSurge. 

Madeline Will at EdWeek talks to some actual educators of color (including The Jose Vilson)

My Former TX District Has Collapsed into Cruelty and Absurdity

In The 74, a first person account of how one Texas district lost ots damn mind over book restriction politics.

The latest report from PAN America on the growing attempts to restrict what people can read.

From the Christian Science Monitor, an explainer about how Arizona became the education mess it is today.

Public School Closures in Oakland: Another Example of Failed School Reform and Charter School Expansion

Jan Resseger takes a deep dive into the history of public school dismantling on Oakland, CA.

At EdWeek, Shane Safir offers some practical alternatives to the Big Standardized Test. If you want to see a concrete example of how this could work, Leonie Haimson at Class Size Matters revisits the Opportunity to Learn Index that was developed in 2017 (but not adopted). 

I've written a ton about the inadequacies of the Big Standardized Test, but David Lee Finkle nails it in just 7 comic strip panels.

At Blue Book Diaries, Jonathan Wilson offers a piece that reminds us that students are having their own conversations about what may or may not be taught.

From Idaho Press, a report on a panel presentation that discusses some of the money and organization behind the reading restriction push.

Essay by Esau McCaulley in New York Times connecting experience to the current teaching debates.

In Pennsylvania, public education supporters were pretty bummed to learn that Johs Shapiro, the gubernatorial candidate who isn't a crazy-pants right-wing christian nationalist authoritarian, supports a school choice voucher that any far right Republican would love. Here, Steven Singer begs Shapiro to reconsider.

‘Swatting’ Hoaxes Disrupt Schools Across the Country. What Educators Need to Know

When I was growing up, disrupting school by calling in a fake bomb threat was a thing. But the new thing is swatting--telling authorities there's an active shooter incident or something else that will cause a swat team to descend on the school. It's a growing trend, and it's ugly. Evie Blad at EdWeek.

Cowards, Censorship, and Collateral Damage: The Other Reading War

Paul Thomas doing what he does best--connecting the dots to important ideas. In this case, about reading.

One of Higher Ed’s Worst-Kept Secrets Is Out. It’s Even Grimmer Than We Knew.

John Warner is in Slate, explaining how the practice of student swapping is one more factor driving college costs (and putting students in debt).

I did not know this was a thing, but apparently so. Some researchers in Rome have a theory, and it has to do with too much screen time. 

McSweeney's is at it again. "Drawing on diverse culinary traditions, including salad-left-over-from-last-night’s-school-board-meeting and the reduced-for-quick-sale aisle at Sam’s Club, the newly reimagined Thurgood Marshall Middle School Lounge is a feast for both the palate and the eyes."

Meanwhile, I had a busy week at Forbes. There's a piece about a joint international ed tech thingy from UNICEF and Micrisoft, a look at the latest GOP attempt to roll back charter regulations, and an attempt to see if closing school buildings is really the culprit for the pandemic test score plunge

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Another Plug For The Robot Teaching Future

"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).

The piece is essentially an interview with Cynthia Breazeal, 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. 

How do you test AI with children? “We actually teach the teacher and the parents enough about AI, that it's not this scary thing,” Breazeal said of plans for a pilot project in pro-refugee Clarkston, Georgia — the “Ellis Island of the south.”

“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.

Breazeal said the children she’s studied are “not confusing these robots with a dog or a person, they see it as its own kind of entity,” almost “like a Disney sidekick that plays games with you, as a peer.

How, exactly, does a robot enhance human networks without replacing humans? If the robot is not an actual teacher or even a tutor, then exactly what role is it filling, and how, exactly, is it filing that.?

Granted that Breazeal is at the mercy of Heath's editing of their conversation, but it's striking how much of her pitch focuses on what the robots won't do, rather than things like, say, what they are actually capable of doing, or how she plans to solve the issue of what teaching materials the robot can manage and where those materials will come from. And before I let Breazeal handle any of this sort of thing, I'd want to hear from her what she learned her in her previous attempt to launch such a business--the attempt that failed, but she has apparently remained pretty quiet about the whole chapter.

Like the vast majority of ed tech stories, this one is aspirational--dreaming as marketing, prognostication as advertising. It sure would be great if more ed tech was about things we can actually do to help educate children and less about fantasies about products we might be able to move, someday, if we can just convince people they're inevitable. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

PA: Yet Another Don't Say Gay Bill

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 legislative intent is to declare "that it is the fundamental right of a parent or legal guardian of a student to make decisions regarding the student's upbringing and well-being." As with many such parental rights bill, this one completely slides past the question of what rights the student might have in regards their own well-being. 

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.

The Problem That Vouchers Won't Solve

U.S. education is an unending struggle against certain hard-to-solve problems, with the frequent eruption of innovations and reforms that are sold based on the notion that these will solve a particular problem.

Some problems are rarely directly addressed by their actual name, either because to name them would be to claim them and then we'd have to sweep away a bunch of foolishness in order to have a real conversation, or because the problems look different from another vantage point. 

Here's a problem that has been with us since before we were even an actual nation:

Too many wealthy people don't want to pay for a quality education for poor people. And too many white people don't want to pay for a quality education for non-white people.

We have a bad system, worsened by school district gerrymandering, that links funding to real estate so that-people in East Egg don't have to pay for schooling in That Neighborhood. To the extent that state and federal taxation tries to mitigate the problem, certain folks fight state and federal government. 

Objections boil down to things like, "That much??! Surely we don't have to spend that much of my money to get Those Peoples' Children an acceptable level of education." and even "This is a big scam! Somebody is soaking me for way too much money--I bet it's that damn union."

Because from another vantage point, the problem is that state and federal government keep trying to take too much of your money to pay for a quality education for Those Peoples' Children. And if that's what you think the problem is, vouchers as currently envisioned are a pretty good solution.

Vouchers let you strip state and federal government out of the equation. There's no accountability and no regulation, so you can reassure the private education vendors that they will be allowed to conduct business as they see fit. If they want to discriminate against certain types of students or families, if they want to teach God created the Earth flat, if they want to use a reading curriculum that their Uncle Bob the podiatrist concocted in his spare time--well, they can do all of that, untroubled by anyone telling them to stop. 

You can sell vouchers by telling folks that with a voucher, they'll be able to choose the education of their dreams. They won't, private education vendors don't have to accept them as students, and their voucher money won't be enough to get into top private schools. But by the time they figure that out, they won't have any other options available. Guys like Josh Shapiro can say that they want vouchers so that others can have the upscale private school option he grew up with, but that school is not going to be accepting just any student who shows up voucher in hand. 

Wealthy folks will still have all the options they want. They just won't have to pay for those kinds of options for Those Peoples' Children. Because a voucher program is set up to avoid adding any more revenue to the education system. In fact, by funding students and not schools, vouchers will make it easy to shrink school funding as well as slamming the door on any kind of capital improvements and upkeep.

Meanwhile, as currently structured, vouchers are like a rescue at sea, where the lifeboat rides up to a floundering ship to rescue the people on board, only there's a limited number of seats on the lifeboats, and only some select people will be allowed on the lifeboats, and some of the lifeboats turn out to be sinking fast, and every time someone gets onto a lifeboat they punch another hole in the hull of the floundering ship. And all the while, a nearby luxury cruise ship's passengers watch and say, "Well, they've got lifeboats. They aren't our problem."

Vouchers do solve a problem, but it's not the problem of inequity. It's the problem of people who are tired of the government trying to make them help pay for Those Peoples' Children to get a quality education. 

Okay--here's my usual caveat. There are voucher supporters who sincerely believe in the power of a voucher system to fix things. They're closely related to the people who really believe in the power of the free market to fix education. I think these people are wrong, but I want to acknowledge that they exist.

I will also acknowledge that state and federal government has not done a great job of fixing the problems of educational inequity, though I'll argue that this ineffectiveness is largely the result of the two truths I led off with above. 

Wealthy parents have always had choice, exercised via the real estate they buy. Some school choice supporters have focused on extending that same kind of choice to non-wealthy parents. But what we've got under modern choice systems doesn't do the job. "You can choose between a microschool or a mediocre computer program or a school that's run by people who don't know what they're doing but they have good marketing or even--oops, sorry, your kind aren't welcome at that choice and also we are simultaneously defunding your public school option" is not the same as "You can choose to live in East Richville or Downtown Buckston." 

A true, functioning choice system that finally served the underserved in this country require a big infusion of money. Those students whose education underfunded and under-supported now will not gain that funding and support just because they are shuffled around, nor will market forces suddenly make the funding and support either appear or become unnecessary. A true choice system would require more money than we spend if for no other reason than a true choice system would require a whole lot of excess capacity--otherwise every student would be locked in place.

And no, I'm not convinced by examples of charter or choice schools that do "more with less," because every one of those models depends either on carefully de-selecting students who would be costly to educate or cutting corners or both.

This is one of the ongoing internal tensions of the choice movement--people who want the same choices for poor kids that rich kids have are allied with people who feel that they don't want or need to spend a bunch of money to educate Those Children. The people who say "This child deserves the same rich opportunities as that child" teamed up with the people who say "This child is not going to make a huge contribution to society, so why waste a bunch of money on his schooling?"

I'll say it again. Too many wealthy people don't want to pay for a quality education for poor people. And too many white people don't want to pay for a quality education for non-white people.

Vouchers don't change that. As currently envisioned, they enable it.

And since this post is already turning out to be long, we might as well move on to the next obvious question.

What should we do?

We could have a full choice-supporting voucher-type system, I suppose, but unless we are going to openly reject as a nation the mission of a quality education for every child, we'd need a few tweaks to what voucher fans push these days. 

Regulation and oversight, so that every education provider is proven and certified to be of high quality. No discrimination. Safeguards for the rights of parents and students. If you are part of the publicly funded system, you live by public school rules. Nor should public tax dollars be funding a private religious operation; it's bad for taxpayers and bad for religion. And adequate funding. When a voucher is issued to a student from an underfunded school, base the amount not on what that school currently spends, but on what it ought to be spends. Nor can funding be simply a money-follows-the-child-model, because that excess capacity has to be funded somehow. Buildings have to be maintained somehow. State and federal investment in education would have to be increased. 

And if you say, "Well, if we are going to spend all that money, wouldn't it be more efficient to have one school instead?" Well, I agree. I also believe that it's entirely possible, even preferable, to provide a variety of choices under one roof. But if you believe that having a choice between different buildings and schools is important in and of itself, then argue for funding it. Don't pretend that the money that wasn't enough to run one school will somehow be enough to run five. 

What else could we do?

Fix the boundaries. No more school districts bult along the same red lines that segregated housing. No more splinter districts seceding to make a tiny district that blocks Those Peoples' Children. Redraw boundaries to be inclusive and diverse. End educational gerrymandering. I know-- finding leaders with the will to do it would be a heavy lift. 

And we could, of course, simply fully fund all schools--even the ones in Those Neighborhoods. But that would run against the "I've got mine, Jack" spirit of our times, and takes us right back to our problem, the difficulty in convincing some folks to help pay for educating Those Peoples' Children. So it becomes a challenge of advocacy and political will.

Funding public ed and confronting this foundational problem isn't very sexy or shiny, but burning down the house and building a new, cramped, limited structure on the exact same foundation doesn't solve the problem. It just buries the old problem under a whole mess of new ones. We need to do better. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

CAP And Feckless Democrats On Education

Public education has been a political orphan for so many years now, going back roughly to the time that the Democratic Party sold itself to neo-liberalism. Here is the whole problem in one infuriating piece.

It's the Center for American Progress (CAP). CAP was once the holding pen for folks awaiting their spot in a Hillary Clinton administration, a sort of left-leaning thinky tank. And now they've decided they want to speak out on the subject of public education.

The piece, leaning heavily on the results of a couple of surveys, is entitled "Book Banning, Curriculum Restrictions, and the Politicization of U.S. Schools,' written by Akilah Alleyne, and it is devoid of any sense of irony or self-awareness. But Alleyne has only been at CAP for a year, and prior to that she was studenting at the University of Delaware (she went in in 2011 and came out in about a decade later with a PhD while doing a bunch of other stuff), so she may not be so aware of where CAP has been on the whole "politicizing education" thing.

There's a lot that's good in this piece. I kind of love the end of this sentence:

At least 17 states have introduced bills containing gag orders or taken other steps that would restrict how teachers can discuss American history and current events, including pulling books off library shelves in an effort to suppress so-called “divisive concepts”—a shorthand affectation nearly always referring to issues about race and identity.

Yeah, "shorthand affectation" is about right. 

She gets a bunch of other things right. 

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.

Check. It is hugely undernoted that all of these gag laws and book restrictions are not about parents' rights or teachers' rights but about restricting the rights of students. So applause for touching on that.

Certain politicians try to use race to turn us against schools and teachers, or point the finger at parents. These politicians want to keep us from coming together to demand every school provide a quality education to every child, not just the children of the wealthy few.

Sure, though I'd go a step further and note that the subtext of all these gag laws and CRT panic and book restrictions is that public schools can't be trusted, and we should burn down the whole system and replace it with vouchers (used, ideally, at private Christian schools). 

But honest--there are some decent ideas in the piece. But there is also this big, bold headline:

Education should not be politicized

Here's the thing. This kind of clueless reversal has become a staple of the reformy crowd. "We really need to improve the quality of discussion about education," reformsters would say, after years of rough unrestrained attacks on teachers. "We must do something about this terrible over-emphasis on high stakes testing," said Arne Duncan, after spending years helping double down on the federal emphasis on high stakes testing.

This is more of that. CAP has been in there swinging for all the reformster standards, including and especially Common Core and high stakes testing connected to it. They leaned on that stuff so hard that I literally ran out of headline ideas for posts about it on this blog. And they pursued all of these reformy goals through political means. 

Democrats have completely lost the knack of supporting public education, leaving them to just sort of make feckless noises in the general direction. They slipped into some kind of neo-lib stupor decades ago leading them to become enthusiastic partners in the right-wing led business of dismantling public education and selling off the parts, all the while listening to politicians and political operatives instead of people actually working in schools. Should not be politicized??!! Don't tell me--get in your time machine and go back and tell the members of your own party.

Do I seem cranky? Probably because of the breaking news that the Democratic candidate for governor of my state, Pennsylvania, is supporting a voucher program that is built on the same model as the vouchers legislation created by the GOP all across the country. Democrats continue to be a feckless, useless, and faithless when it comes to public education. Framed another way, I'm not so sure the issue is politics in education but that the Democratic party so often insists on being on the wrong side of the politics. And CAP has typified that problem every step of the way.

There are some good things in this piece, and I'm sure I'm in a bit of a mood over Shapiro, but damn-- just once I want some Democratic operation (like, say, the entire Biden administration) to say, "We're sorry, but we got a bunch of stuff wrong before, and we'd like to correct that" before they launch into their next round of advice about how to Fix Things. 

Monday, September 19, 2022

PA: Josh Shapiro Joins GOP On School Vouchers

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 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."

Pastor Aaron Anderson, who operates a private religious school of his own and has a degree from Liberty University, thinks this is super. 

Could it be that both Republicans and Democrats finally agree that a child’s zip code, ethnicity, or class should not determine whether they have access to a high-quality education?

You know a great way to make sure that zip code, ethnicity, and class don't determine a child's educational quality? It's not to give some of them voucher money that may or may not get a few students to a better education. 

It's to fully fund and support all the schools in all the zip codes.

Boy, would I love to vote for a governor who supported that for a plan.

But no--we now have a choice of two guys who are barely different on education. Mastriano would gut spending completely while implementing vouchers, while Shapiro would just slice open a public education vein.

In fairness to Shapiro, his site says he's going to fully fund education, too, which would be kind of like putting a hose in one side of your swimming pool while chopping a gaping hole in the base on the other side. It's not a great plan. If he means it, which now, who's to say. 

Shapiro's position is awful. It would align him with just about any GOP candidate in any other state, and the only reason it isn't a disqualifier in this state is because insurrectionist Doug Mastriano is so spectacularly, so uniquely terrible, so ground-breakingly awful. Mastriano is still a terrible, terrible choice.

Voucher fans were sad because they could see their hopes and dreams going down in flames with Mastriano, but now they can rest assured that whoever wins, they will get a governor who supports an education program that any right wing Republican would love. For those of us who support public education, it is brutally disappointing.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

ICYMI: Fall Cleaning Edition (9/18)

You may do spring cleaning at your house, but here we hit a point of "Hell, it's going to be cold soon and we'd better get things straightened out before we're trapped in this house." Having to counteract the Forces of Chaos doesn't help, either.

Here's some reading from the week. If you find something you think is worthwhile, remember to share it from the original source and create some traffic for that piece. In the case of media outlets, it may convince some editor to do more of that kind of coverage.

Yes, it happened again. An actual Christian wrote a piece making a case for the value of critical race theory! From the Citizen Times.

This is the kind of crazy you get when a group takes over your school board. Fire the old super, offer the job to an unqualified crony. 

Disrespect: 5 Ways Teachers Are Driven Out!

Nancy Bailey lists five ways to convey your disrespect to your teaching staff. None are recommended.

Grumpy Old Teacher walks us through the fun of administering a digital test in a one-to-one school. 

You may remember the good old days when satanic worshippers were the favorite hobgoblin of the far right. Well, here we are again... From NBC news

Yeah, that seems like an age ago, doesn't it. Almost as if the scores are good for a brief freakout and then everyone moves on. This is a good quick primer on the scores, from Jill Barshay and the Hechinger Report

A nice in-depth piece from the New York Times, looking at how this baloney plays out on the ground. 

Heritage Foundation and Its Partners Are Methodically Working With State Legislators to Pass Universal School Vouchers

As always, Jan Resseger has done her homework for this depressing story.

At Accountabaloney, Sue Kingery Woltanski has been listening to what Ron DeSantis has to say about his future plans, and it's not pretty.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Praying Coach Is Too Busy For His Old Job

You remember the case of Joseph Kennedy, the Washington state football coach who wanted to hold public prayers on the fifty yard line even though his school district said, "Don't." You remember that the case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, where the court decided in the coach's favor in a decision that required a willful ignoring of the actual facts of the case. 

Justice Gorsuch wrote in his decision:

Respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse Republic—whether those expressions take place in a sanctuary or on a field, and whether they manifest through the spoken word or a bowed head. Here, a government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a brief, quiet, personal religious observance doubly protected by the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment.

It's such a mischaracterization of the facts of the case one has to wonder, if Gorsuch is correct, how such a case could have been decided so incorrectly by lower courts.

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.

In the end, SCOTUS ordered the district to reinstate Kennedy as coach even though they had never fired him in the first place--he'd simply failed to reapply for the job and subsequently played victim; it didn't matter, as Kennedy's lawyer kept saying he was fired, and Justice Alito also said he was fired. But SCOTUS said he had to be re-employed, his lawyer threatened to spank the school district if they didn't, and Kennedy said he'd be back the instant they sent word.

He was sent reinstatement paperwork at the beginning of August. But now the fall football season has come and--twist!-- Kennedy is nowhere near Bremerton. Danny Westneat at The Seattle Times has been tracking his busy fall:

Instead, as the Bremerton Knights were prepping for the season in August, Kennedy was up in Alaska, meeting with former Vice President Mike Pence and evangelist Franklin Graham. On the eve of the first game, which the Knights won, Kennedy was in Milwaukee being presented with an engraved .22-caliber rifle at an American Legion convention.

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.

Read the full Seattle Times piece if you need to raise your blood pressure a bit. 

So given the choice between doing the job he sued over, or making the circuit as a celebrity martyr, Kennedy has chosen the latter. If there was ever the slightest shred that there was a real matter of principle at the heart of this case, it should evaporate. Just one more excuse to batter the wall between church and state.