Monday, October 31, 2022

MI: Tudor Dixon is a bad choice

Let's get one thing straight--no matter what she says to the contrary, Tudor Dixon is not in favor of school choice. 

Dixon is the gubernatorial candidate heavily backed by the DeVos family, and they aren't really in favor of school choice, either.

School choice implies a world in which students can select from a wide variety of educational options. But that is not where privatizers of the DeVos strip have been steering us. As I've argued before, the public school system isn't even the major obstacle for a true choice system.

But like our Puritan forefathers, these far-right folks are not interested in a nation in which everyone is free to learn as they wish. They would like to see an end to public education because they see it as not aligned with their values (and it takes their money to educate Those Peoples' Children). What they want is a system in which their own values are ascendant. 

Consider this one example-- Tudor Dixon complaining that her child was accidentally exposed to a book about divorced people. 

Dixon complained that her daughter had checked out a book "about having two different homes" and how the very idea of divorce "caused an unnecessary anxiety."

"Why was this something she was just able to pick up off the shelf?" Dixon inquired.

Dixon is unclear about who, exactly, experienced the anxiety. It's almost as if her own adult concerns are being placed ahead of her daughter's right to read a book.

This is the tell. Over and over again, we see that some choicers actually believe that certain choices should not be available to anyone, including other peoples' children. In New Hampshire, Libertarians attacked a robust school choice program because they just didn't want to spend that much money insuring that other peoples' children had all those choices (let 'em get microschooled on the computer). In Alabama, a school choice politician ran a campaign attacking a charter school set up to serve LGBTQ students. And every single attaempt to ban books is about trying to limit the choices of other peoples' children. 

So Dixon is right in line with that crowd when she calls for parental choice--but not for the parents who want to choose things that Dixon doesn't approve of. 

Meanwhile, incumbent Gretchen Whitmer asked the right question in their final debate last week:

Do you really think books are more dangerous than guns?

I should get to carry a gun. You should not read books about nasty divorced people.

Dixon's education proposals are cut and pasted from privatizers across the nation. She supports a Don't Say Gay law that limits students' and families' right to hear about the varied forms human life takes (and which fails to understand what it actually says). Anti-trans athlete laws, a solution in search of a problem that, of course, removes choices from Those Parents. A nationalistic and inaccurate history program that makes sure students only learn the "right" history. And vouchers, so that parents can give up the right to a free, quality education in exchange for a small voucher, the better to create a system in which people are free and entitled to get as much education as they can afford--and no more. 

Dixon is a bad choice for folks who care about education in Michigan. If you're in Michigan, get out and vote for Gretchen Whitmer for governor (and for state board of education candidates like Mitch Robinson) who will help maintain actual public education for students and families in the state. 

Sunday, October 30, 2022

ICYMI: Spooky Spooky Edition (10/30)

We're back, and with election season ramping up, there's plenty to read about. Education is opn the ballot in many states--get out there are vote for it. In the meantime, here's some reading.

Anti-LGBTQ Groups Are Helping Enforce a ‘Book Ban’ Law in Florida

To help schools deal with gag laws and book bans, the governor has appointed a panel of people in favor of book bans. This should work just great.

Exclusive: Moms for Liberty Pays $21,000 to Company Owned by Founding Member’s Husband

You may remember that M4L quietly mothballed one of their three founding members, perhaps because of her close marital ties to the GOP establishment media machine. But as financial detail emerge, we learn that ties to that media machine were maintained with $$$. From The 74, which remains, despite the rightward tilt of its opinion side, a decent source for actual news.

Teachers say the future of education is on the ballot in Oklahoma midterms

Education is on the line in Oklahoma, as Ryan Walters, an unqualified privatizer runs to be head of the state's education department. Here's what PBS had to say.

Sec. Ryan Walters plans to 'eliminate' an educational accountability commission he leads

Walters, as the current secretary of ed (which in OK is different from the head of the ed department) chairs a committee that is concerned with many of the things he says he's concerned about. But he's never been to a meeting, and his goal appears to be to eliminate the committee. From Payton May at OKCFox.

Walters wants to destroy public ed in Okla. All he needs is your vote

At OKC Free Press, George Lang lays out the stakes. Walters is a bad news dudebro.

Can we tell a different story about campus speech?

You may have heard about a dustup at Penn State over a Proud Boys co-founders "speech." Don Moynihan has a much clearer picture of what was happening--and what it tells us about far right tactics.

What does Argo’s closing mean for Pittsburgh’s robotics future?

A reminder once again that the capabilities and future of AI have been hugely overhyped, as the soon-to-be-awesome world of self-driving cars continues to evaporate. Kris Mamula at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The Covid-19 “Leave No Crisis Wasted” School Plan that Failed…for Now

Nancy Bailey looks at back at the moment that computerized ed fans thought they were about to have their Katrina moment. What happened, and what do we watch for next?

Nancy Flanagan writes about the separation of church and state and why it's a good thing. 

There Are Just 90 LGBTQ School Board Members. Half Were Threatened, Harassed

The 74 again, passing on a report about how things have been going for the mere 90 LGBTQ school board members in the country.

Jay Wamsted at EdWeek with one of the best takes on the NAEP flap from this week. 

PROOF POINTS: Several surprises in gloomy NAEP report

Jill Barshay at Hechinger with a dig into some of the details of the NAEP data. 

Despite what you hear, parents aren't in charge of schools. That's a good thing.

Brian Dickerson at USA Today with a somewhat contentious take on the whole parental rights thing. 

Public Schools Aren’t Godless. Ask the Christians Who Feel Called to Stay.

From Ericka Andersen, writing for Christianity Today, another angle on the culture wars. Maybe all Christians don't actually hate public education. 

Meanwhile, over at Forbes I wrote about how to claw back some time for schools to make up any lost ground. 

Also, I'm now on substack. You can go to my page there to sign up. It's free and just one more way of staying up to date with whatever I'm yammering about.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Do Charters Damage The Teacher Pipeline

Well, this is an odd little piece of research.

The National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice (REACH), aka Doug Harris, the guy who brought us all that research saying that all-charter New Orleans was hunky dory, has produced a new report looking at how charter schools affect the supply of teachers from university-based education programs. 

Short version: in cities, when you get more charter schools, you get fewer teachers coming out of college and university teacher prep programs. Harris finds that elementary, math, and special ed suffer the most. .

This would be an excellent time to remember that correlation is not causation (here's the awesome spurious correlations website to remind us that, among other things, cheese consumption rises with the number of people killed by being tangled in bedsheets, and swimming pool drownings rise and fall with Nicolas Cage film appearances). 

So charter schools and the teacher pipeline might very well have absolutely nothing to do with each other. We need to be clear on that right up front.

But if they are connected, what could explain that?

Harris and his co-author Mary Penn don't have an explanation for the connection, which they first noticed while doing their New Orleans research. 

The National Alliance for Public [sic] Charter Schools offered a rebuttal. Part of it was just a silly tautism-- there are fewer teachers coming out of traditional programs because there are fewer persons entering programs. And then this:

Although charter schools are a convenient scapegoat for the report author, they are simply not the cause of the nation’s teacher shortage. Given the dire labor shortage, we as a nation need to be open to alternative certification and preparatory programs that attract talent from untraditional sources and provide teachers for the classrooms that desperately need them. Charter schools seem to understand that point.

Especially cranky words from a group that actually sits on the REACH advisory board. 

So what could the connection be? NAP[S]CS hints at it as they profess their love for teachers from "alternative" routes. Charter businesses like teachers without traditional training, and they like temps with a high turnover (like Teach for America). Alternative path teachers tend to leave sooner, which suits charter businesses just fine. And that can have consequences.

No profession recruits its own members quite like teaching. Prospective teachers get to watch the profession for thirteen years. They have all that time to watch and think, "Wow, that looks awesome" or "May God forbid I ever wind up in that job." 

So what might the effect be of watching a steady parade of mediocre beginners who never stick around to become mature professionals? Particularly in a charter where the teacher's job is to simply implement the program they're handed. Just how fun does reading a canned curriculum look? 

I also wonder--charter heavy urban areas tend to be cities where the public system has been beaten down to help sell the charter system, so that teachers in public schools are also laboring harder, in an atmosphere larded with too much disrespect and non-support. None of which makes the profession look particularly attractive. 

As I warned, those two trends (charters up, teachers down) could be the result of some other factor entirely, like Nicolas Cage movies, but it's not that hard to imagine what a plausible link might be. Charters are the point of the spear in a general move to devalue the teaching profession, and a lack of interest in that profession would certainly be a predictable result. 

Friday, October 28, 2022

Economists Should Not Be In Charge

It's long past normal for economists to pretend that they have the answers for issues in education (and to be wrong pretty much every time). But a post/twitter thread from Cory Doctorow today puts that in the context of larger problems with economism. What is economism?

Most of us believe that we do stuff because we want to be good people, and that other people act the same. But the dominant political philosophy for the last half-century, "economism," views us as slaves to "incentives" and nothing more.

Economism is the philosophy of the neoclassical economists, whose ideology has consumed both the Democrats and Republicans. They dismiss all "non-market" solutions (that is, projects of democratically accountable governments) as failed before they're begun, due to the "incentives" of the individuals in the government.

Doctorow in particular cites an article by Timothy Noah ("May God save us from economists") in tracing the growing influence of economists. In particular they note the growth of things like cost-benefits analyses that involve putting a price on human life. Which is, I learned today, mandatory for all major regulations. IOW, an economist has to sign off on everything in DC.

There's this lovely snippet from the airline biz:

For example, economists convinced Carter to deregulate the airlines and turn legroom into a commodity that you pay extra for. That was the brainchild of then-chair of the Civil Aeronautics Board Alfred E Kahn, an economist, who cheerfully declared "I don't know one plane from another – to me, they are all marginal costs with wings."

Economists find monopolies "efficient." 

Doctorow turns to a 1944 work by Kartl Polyani that has given birth to a view of five areas in which economists mess up. See how many of these you recognize from the education reform ideas of the past couple of decades.

I. Excessive reliance on models, which is a big problem because economists' models largely don't work.

Noah rejects the comparison of economic forecasting to weather forecasting: since 1984, economic forecasting has incorporated 20,000 times more variables with few improvements, over the same period, the time horizon for weather forecasts has grown from a few days to a few weeks ("Hurricanes no longer surprise us. Financial crises still do").

II. Underreliance on data. For all the yammering about data and numbers and models, economists largely ignore actual data. Doctorow cites the classic Ely Devons quote--

"If economists wished to study the horse, they wouldn’t go and look at horses. They’d sit in their studies and say to themselves, ‘What would I do if I were a horse?’"

In education, we've been subjected to talk about the cold hard outputs of deliverables, based on a testing system whose validity is based on unicorn wishes and fairy dust. And, of course, the actual expertise of teachers who swim in education data daily has been dismissed and ignored.

III. A rejection of society.  

At the core of economism is a rejection of the very idea of society ("There is no such thing as society" – M. Thatcher). The only way to understand our lives is to model us as individuals, making individual choices and expressing individual preferences. Economism gives short shrift to how individuals affect one another.

This is, for some, inextricably bound up in the concept of market-based school choice, merit pay, and a few other choice ideas. Schools--both students and faculty--must be understood as atomized individuals, and the fact that unleashing market forces for some would weaken the system that is meant to support all is simply irrelevant. Economism is the principle of "I've got mine, Jack" as a guiding light.

IV. A failure to understand "irrationality."

For economists, anything that is not done in self-interest is irrational. Every problem is addressed from an angle of "what would this person do to get the maximum personal benefit," and anyone who doesn't appear to be acting on that question is irrational. Even if a vast number, even a majority of people, don't follow that guide, they are still considered irrational by the economists, who do not stop to think that maybe observing how people actually behave might be useful.

This "irrationality" could also often be called "ethics" – for example, the decision in various "ultimatum games" to punish selfish people, even if it means getting less for yourself. You can view this as "irrationality" if your sole conception of human motivation is "how do I get more for myself?" But you can equally say, "I don't like people who betray the social contract and I am prepared to go with less if it means punishing them."

But by insisting that ethics are irrational, economism can actually do away with them. Michael Sandel's 2012 book "What Money Can’t Buy," offers examples of things that you shouldn't be subject to market forces, like concierge medical services. A decade later, these have gone from examples of the unthinkable to actual products.

Yeah, we can name a few of those. Like education, where economism insists that if we create "competition," education will get better because people will all pursue their own self-interest. Teachers must be coerced--bribed with merit pay or, more often, threatened with punishment--in order to get them to produce the "product" of education. 

This is the great economism blind spot--there couldn't be any possible reason for teachers to pursue a particular path other than self-interest. In the worst cases, this comes with a darker side--since teachers became teachers despite the fact that teaching is a lousy way to pursue economic self-interest (aka get rich) it must be because their limited abilities put more lucrative paths out of their reach. 

And since ethics aren't really a thing, there should be no issue in setting up incentives for educators to follow unethical paths. But high stakes testing, a very economist approach to running education, incentivizes all manner of unethical behavior, from cutting meaningful education in favor of test prep all the way up to just plain cheating. And the notion that competing for merit pay would make schools function more poorly by stifling cooperation--that's just an unfathomable mystery to economics man.

V. The prejudices of economism.

Well, at least they aren't hypocritical. Doctorow cites findings that economist live like "economic man" by "pursuing self-interest at the expense of cooperation." They give less to charity and are the least racially and gender-diverse of all disciplines. Says Doctorow

It's one thing for a profession to be so different from the majority – but when that profession has elevated itself to the final arbiter of all regulation and government, its narrow composition and ideological blinkers start to tell.

For instance, it is ill-suited to redesign a system that is fully diversified as our population.

Economism has permeated too much of ed reform in the past few decades, not just in assuming that the only rational approach is to pull the levers of self-interest, but in measuring everything based merely on its monetary measure. The notion of "value-added" measurements, as if schools are comparable to assembly lines cranking out toasters. The idea that education's goal is to give students skills whose worth is measured by a future employer's willingness to pay for them. The data-centric notion that students should accumulate competency based badges so that employers can simply pull up a database and search for employees that meet their exact specs. The very idea of "efficiency." The idea that Milton Friedman, the ultimate example of an economist who knows nothing about education but whose vision of education is treated like it was inscribed by a finger of fire on a stone tablet. 

None of these ideas enhance education--at least not if we believe that education is about helping young human beings become their best selves as they learn what it means to be fully human in the world. 

Economism is a sad, cramped, meager view not just of education, but of life itself, and yet in many ways we have let it take over the country. Read Doctorow's piece and the links in it. You may not agree with all of it, but it's definitely worth a think. 

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Voucher Damage in One Graphic

The voucher argument is that if the money just follows the students, everything comes out even. Public schools lose money, but they also lose students, so no biggie.

There are some obvious problems with this--can you run four schools for the same money that ran one school? Remember that time that your school district was cash-strapped, so they addressed the problem by opening more school buildings? That's right. It never happened.

But there's another reason that this is bunk, because in many states, vouchers are not being used by students exiting the public system, but students who are already gone. We've discussed this before, but here's a handy graphic to make it even clearer.

In other words, the vast majority of vouchers are going to students who were never in the public system in the first place, so the public system has its operating funds cut by a big chunk, and its operating costs cut by $0.00. 

The graphic comes from the National Coalition for Public Education, a group that goes all the way back to 1978 and collects lots of other organizations. They have some excellent materials citing real research about vouchers (as opposed to the "research" created as marketing tools by voucher advocates. They've even got some handy downloadable materials just in case you need something to hand to your local elected officials. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Moms for Liberty Meet Dr. Phil

Well, I suppose that was inevitable. Dr. Phil last month ran an episode about the parental rights debate. And there among the featured guests are Tina Descovich and Tiffany Justice, and while there was some appearance of balance, it tells you something about the episode that M4L's PR firm is sending out links to it with an invitation to interview the two leaders about it. 

The episode opens with Phil recapping the narrative favored by M4L--that covid came along and kids went on remote school and parents found out the terrible, awful things that schools were doing, and so a movement was born. That seems simple enough, but it's a markedly different narrative from the narrative that three experienced hard-right women with a communications background, one of whom is married to a GOP operative, decided to stir up some base voters (after two of them were ousted from school board seats by local voters) and tried on a couple of different issues before settling on naughty books, from which they hope to whip up some GOP electoral success.

Descovich and Justice get the first explaining spot, and then Phil turns to Nadine Smith, a community organizer and executive director of Equality for Florida, who, God bless her, does a lot of heavy lifting here. 

Much of the conversation is well-worn territory, but Descovich and Justice drop a couple of new ones into the mix that are worth noting, so I've watched this episode so that you don't have to. 

Seeing them in action is always a reminder that these are pros--they know their message, and like many on the far right, they are good at delivering a moderated version of it for mainstream consumption. You may want to be pissed off at them, but in front of a mainstream crowd they are not going to present like the cranky church ladies you imagine them to be. Here they absolutely agree that teachers worked so hard and did heroic duty during the pandemic and that teachers don't get fame and glory (though that nasty union...).  They'll get testier as we go (Descovich likes to wag her finger), but they mostly keep themselves under control. You would never guess that people who supported the Florida gag laws were called groomers and pedophiles by the governor's office.

Descovich and Justice insist they are not hostile toward LGBTQ folks, and I'm not sure that anyone in the studio believes them. Phil points out that there certainly does seem to be a thread running through the books they object to that would suggest they are anti-LGBTQ, and that's when we get one of their new talking points--and it's a peach:

Descovich :It's unfortunate that many LGBTQ books have so much sexual violence in them. That's an unfortunate thing that is happening. We're sorry that it is happening.

Smith smiles and notes "That is a new one" and Hannah Edwards, a school teacher and parent of a trans child pipes up to say that among the many books in her classroom that could get her in trouble, there is nothing with sexual violence. Which is super-obvious. But Descovich just pivots to the sex ed standards and argues that the national standards include a K-3 standard saying students should be aware that a person can be boy or a girl or neither or both. We're talking now about Florida's gag laws.  And here's where we get another new one

Phil: That wasn't being taught in the schools before fifth grade in Florida anyway, correct?

Descovich: But it is being taught now in New Jersey and all around the country in other states and so it was coming to Florida just like everywhere else and so this bill stopped that from--

Phil: This was a pre-emptive bill

Descovich: Correct

So it turns out that much of that talk about awful things that were happening in Florida and needed to be stopped was not actually true. 

Smith gets in a good talk about what the Don't Say Gay bill really does in terms of stifling speech and Justic jumps in to says that schools should not tell her child to be afraid to tell her something, and Smith's face speaks for all of us who are momentarily non-plussed by this angry rejoinder to something completely unrelated to what Smith was saying. And then we get some over-talking and an attempt to make nice with the parents of the trans child, who are not having it.

And then that gets squelched so that a law professor (Jody Armour, USC) with a truly epic fro can get us to look at what the law actually says. He correctly notes that the language is vague and that the law gives any parent the right to sue, which simply leads to administrators saying, "Just don't talk about any of that stuff ever."

Phil expresses his frustration about how schools don't teach students how to navigate life, stress, etc--he's talking about SEL, so I wonder if M4L will explain to him why that's bad. Not now anyway. Armour reiterates his explanation of chilling effect. Phil says "Didn't SCOTUS say parents are in charge years ago?" And everyone wants to get in here, but Armour gets to talk. 

Phil is now in Smith's face. What makes you think you know better? You can't give a kid a tylenol without calling parents. You can't make a presumption that the child isn't safe taking this home. She doesn't get an answer, because Dave Edwards steps in with the idea that children are who they are and adults won't change that, and we need to provide education that keeps them safe. Phil brings up suicide risk for trans kids and more talking erupts but--commercial!

Afterwards, there's a brief flurry in which Smith points out that M4L wants to take books from everyone and then Phil gets back to his question--why do you assume you know better--and Smith answers, "I don't." Here's a moment we can stop and note how Phil is framing the two sides; M4L are concerned moms, but Smith wants to tell keep parents uninformed because she thinks she knows best. 

Dave Edwards (the chyron now notes he's also a school admin) delivers a really nice talk about wanting students to be congruent, to be the same person everywhere, and how sharing information with parents is a critical part of that. Hannah points out that the missing piece is the child, that they could not get an education for their trans child at the original school because of adults and their concerns. She offers a clear description of how other parents rights were used to strip her of her own parental rights, which really is a critical point in this debate.

Candice Jackson is here; you may remember her as the DeVos Education Department's civil rights chief who famously observed that 90% of campus assaults claims are because both parties were drunk. She will now try to explain where the line should be drawn. On one side, it's okay to be anti-bullying and keep the child safe and educated, but on the other side is where the "belief system" of the child and their parents must be "validated and affirmatively proclaimed to be believed in" and it's a valuable point because I think these folks really think that's a distinction except that in practice time and time again it seems that anything other than staying quietly stuffed in the closet is seen as a demand to be validated and affirmed. She sees trans stuff as different because tolerance isn't enough--which, yes, and I don't know that she gets the implications here, but while you can just pretend that a gay or lesbian person is straight if they will cooperate by shutting up about it, you can't shove a transition in the closet and just keep treating them as their former gender.

Dave Edwards comes back with another good point-- home and school are different in that you can believe lots of terrible things at home, but you can't act them out in a public school where everyone is welcome (which may be one more reason that Justice has talked about overturning the whole system). 

The M4L crew says that school should focus just on facts, not on believes, which is quite the eight-year-old approach. 

Now Phil will move the goal posts and ask if schools are getting too political. Should the government just stay out of all this. 

After break, Rep. Joe Harding, a government person who has gotten involved in all this, will explain why government should get involved. He heard some shocking examples of schools holding closed door meetings without parents (not that he'll mention any of them), but parents totally wanted the state to step in. Also, calling it Don't Say Gay is just more fearmongering.

Smith gets to ask him a question, highlighting the chilling effects on her son's school (remove those rainbow stickers, removing books with LGBTQ families, warning stickers on books about race). Pretending that the bill doesn't mention gay so it's a neutral bill is disingenuous. He counters by saying that Smith's allies said parents should get out of schools, and opposed a bill to protect parents.

Smith: That bill did not protect me

Justice: That bill protected you-- your child from not having a conversation happening behind closed doors without your consent or knowledge. 

Which is a lovely thought, but of course has nothing to do with the actual language of the bill.

The they talk over each other for a bit, and then Harding floats his own straw man by being indignant that because he wants to be involved in every decision in his child's life, that somehow makes him anti-gay. I am impressed that at this late date, some of these folks still want to pretend that the bill is not about stifling LGBTQ folks. Smith observes, "I don't think you're anti-gay. I see this as a political move."

DeSantis's office sent a statement. Bet it doesn't include the part about opponents being a bunch of groomers. Oh--I sort of lose. He's going to say that leftists support sexualizing children, etc. 

Phil tosses a last softball to Harding "Do you want LGBTQ children to be safe in the state of Florida." And he hands back a fluffy obvious answer sandwich in which he somehow manages to get "all children matter" and "parents know best."

Oh, but snap-- Dave Hoffman calls him on his vaguerie and says it's interesting that he won't just say ":LGBTQ students should be safe in school" and challenges him to say it AND HE WON'T. Instead he accuses them of trying to spread fear etc etc. It's dangerous that they're trying to break kids down into groups and say certain kids matter more "It's dangerous." Jackson tries to stand up for him by saying that there is no such group as LGBTQ kids and Hannah talks back and Phil dismisses Harding in the midst of much talking.

With 8 minutes left we're switching to talking about race in school.

Phil says we've been talking about "the feud between parents and school boards and government"

He goes to Armour with the "why now" question, and Armour says sure we had the pandemic but we also had the George Floyd protests, with people pushing for more diversity, equity, and inclusion and now we have this backlash, demonizing it as critical race theory etc. and anything that will make me or my child uncomfortable is bad. Good summary, Professor Armour. If we're going to live in a pluralistic society, he continues, schools are going to have to teach this stuff. "in a sense, racism has been at the very foundation of this nation." Acknowledging that shouldn't make someone white feel bad. 

Armour keeps going, subtly noting that teaching reverence for the flag and patriotism is, in fact, teaching values (the director cuts to Jackson for a reaction shot). Armour gets to talk a lot (in talk show terms) and it's all good. I like "Good pedagogy says we are all in this together. We've made mistakes but we can move forward together."

Wrapup time. Phil waxes rhapsodic about teaching negotiation. Two principles-- focus on shared values and set differences, so that we can view it as a problem to be solved rather than a battle to be won, and two, how can I get the other side as much of what they want as I possibly can. I agree with that, but he seems stumped on how it can be applied here. "There has to be some motivation to put the children first," he says, and I'm thinking the word "the" is doing a lot of work in that sentence. Lots of talk about loving children. He adds that he gets really nervous when we start talking about censorship (but we still pay attention to what our children are exposed to). He wishes we would be less combative and more cooperative and, well, Dr, Phil, welcome to the last thirty years of education policy. He likes Professor Armour's energy and spirit. 

I don't disagree with any of that, but for negotiations to work, you have to have two sides operating in good faith, and as M4L falls further and further down a political rabbit hole, and gets more and more aggressive in language when it's in friendly territory, it's harder and harder to see them as anything other than political operatives. 

Nothing left but thank you's and wrap-ups

I'll embed the episode here. If you do decide to watch it, for God's sake don't look at the comments.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

That Fascism Essay and the End of Conservatives

Maybe you weren't online for the twenty-four hours that this essay was hot, but it's worth a look, if for no other reason than it confirms what many of us have been thinking--that what passes for "conservative" these days does not in any way resemble the conservative as we remember it.

The essay--"We need to stop calling ourselves conservatives"-- is by John Daniel Davidson, and it would be easy to dismiss as fringe silliness but Davidson is the senior editor at The Federalist which is a right-wing publication that is not nearly as far out on the fringes as one might wish it were. 

"The conservative project has failed," Davidson says, because there is nothing left worth conserving or protecting. You can't set out to protect Western civilization because "Western civilization is dying." 

Family values are dust. Religious freedom is not an issue in an irreligious nation. Conservatives worried too much about left wing politics when the real problem was "technological change so swift and powerful it fundamentally reordered society, swept tradition aside, and unleashed a moral relativism that rendered the conservative project obsolete." 

That's a diagnosis that cries out for some explanation, but lets move on to Davidson's prescription. 

So what kind of politics should conservatives today, as inheritors of a failed movement, adopt? For starters, they should stop thinking of themselves as conservatives (much less as Republicans) and start thinking of themselves as radicals, restorationists, and counterrevolutionaries. Indeed, that is what they are, whether they embrace those labels or not.

There's another label that fits what Davidson is going to describe, but he's not going to touch the F word. Instead, let's look elsewhere for inspiration.

They might, looking to American history for inspiration, conjure up the image of the Pilgrims — those iron-willed and audacious Christians who refused to accept the terms set by the mainstream of their time and set out to build something entirely new, to hew it out of the wilderness of the New World, even at great personal cost.

That's a reading of Puritan history that is somewhere between generous and delusional. Not clear who the mainstream would be in his telling, nor the terms they objected to, but I don't think something "entirely new" is what they meant to establish. 

Or they might claim the mantle of revolutionaries, invoking the Founding Fathers’ view (or, at least, Thomas Jefferson’s) that periodic revolution to preserve liberty and civil society has always been and always will be necessary.

So, cherry picking a founding father quote. And Davidson wants to note what will not/has not/cannot work for his new breed.

The fusionism of past decades, in which conservatives made common cause with market-obsessed libertarians and foreign policy neocons, is finished. So too is Conservatism Inc. and the establishment GOP it enabled, whose first priority was always tax cuts for big business at the expense of everything else. The election of Donald Trump in 2016 heralded a populist wave and the end of Republican politics as we knew it, and now we are in uncharted waters.

I'm less inclined to view Trump as something new--we've seen his ilk before--and GOP politics had been crumbling for a while. But fair enough.

Indeed, a willingness to embrace government power has been a topic of fruitful debate on the “New Right” in recent years, as it should be. However uncomfortable traditional “small-government” conservatives might be with Ahmari’s argument, it is more or less true.

Put bluntly, if conservatives want to save the country they are going to have to rebuild and in a sense re-found it, and that means getting used to the idea of wielding power, not despising it. Why? Because accommodation or compromise with the left is impossible. One need only consider the speed with which the discourse shifted on gay marriage, from assuring conservatives ahead of the 2015 Obergefell decision that gay Americans were only asking for toleration, to the never-ending persecution of Jack Phillips.

The left will only stop when conservatives stop them, which means conservatives will have to discard outdated and irrelevant notions about “small government.” The government will have to become, in the hands of conservatives, an instrument of renewal in American life — and in some cases, a blunt instrument indeed.

And so subtext becomes text, and what has been implicit in much "conservative" politics is made explicit here. Never mind small government. Never mind live and let live. Never mind reluctance to grab the reins of power and wish, like Betsy DeVos, that those reins simply disappeared. 

Nope. The new MAGA right needs to simply grab all the power and force the nation into a shape that they find more pleasing.

To stop Big Tech, for example, will require using antitrust powers to break up the largest Silicon Valley firms. To stop universities from spreading poisonous ideologies will require state legislatures to starve them of public funds. To stop the disintegration of the family might require reversing the travesty of no-fault divorce, combined with generous subsidies for families with small children. Conservatives need not shy away from making these arguments because they betray some cherished libertarian fantasy about free markets and small government. It is time to clear our minds of cant.

Davidson also argues that wielding that power will mean "a dramatic expansion of the criminal code." Criminalize everything you dislike (starting with abortion) and throw the bums in jail. Drag Queen Story Hour should be outlawed and "parents who take their kids to drag shows should be arrested and charged with child abuse." I've lost track of how many movies that would outlaw, though I do wonder if such a law would affect the Muppets--is Miss Piggy in fact a drag character?  And of course, throw doctors in prison for performing "gender-affirming" treatment. 

And "teachers who expose their students to sexually explicit material should not just be fired but be criminally prosecuted." Does this include the infamous sexy seahorses? Will he be using the definition that says anything that even mentions LGBTQ characters is sexually explicit? 

If this seems over the top, Davidson doesn't care:

If all that sounds radical, fine.

He notes that it's legitimate to worry about how power corrupts those who seize it, but his team can worry about that once they have seized power, or as he puts it, "after we have won the war."

It's a shame, because I have a soft spot for actual conservatives, and I have really missed them in the past many years. But if you have been thinking that folks like Ron DeSantis and the Moms for Liberty don't really sound like conservatives, well, Davidson agrees with you, and he's okay with that. They aren't Republicans and they aren't conservatives--they're some other thing and he is trying hard to come up with a name for a political party that exerts will to power and uses that power to forcibly inflict their values on their fellow citizens who are, in large part, of inferior moral stock, and I am super-reluctant to throw the F word around, so I'm sure we';ll come up with something to call this team soon. 

What Stands In The Way Of School Choice?

To hear some modern reformsters talk, you would think that the major obstacles to a world of school choice and "education freedom" are the public school system and its supporters. But there are significant obstacles standing in the way of a happy world in which families can send students to the school of their choice, and those obstacles have nothing to do with the public school system at all.

1) Cost.

In Connecticut, the average private K-12 school tuition is $23,980; $33,610 for high school. And that's an average. Top private schools cost big bucks just for tuition, and that's before you get to all the other extra expenses. There are schools that have generous aid programs (Phillips Exeter Academy will give you a full ride if your family income is under $75K). 

But the cost of many private schools is prohibitive. You can argue that, well, a top quality education costs a lot of money to provide, but please don't do that if you're also a person arguing that public schools already get way too much money. 

The notion that a voucher with a few thousand dollars will somehow offset this issue is silly. It turns out that some small corners of the world have implemented real choice voucher programs, and they are expensive as hell. This is not a mystery; the amount of money that is barely (if that) adequate to fund one school system cannot be expected to fund multiple parallel systems. 

2) Restrictive admissions.

We've seen it over and over and over. If you are atheist same-gender parents of a child with special needs, good luck finding a school of choice for your child. 

This issue has only gotten worse as First Amendment separation of church and state has been eroded in favor of "I can't exercise my religion unless I'm able to discriminate freely against those with whom I disagree." Education savings account (super-vouchers) bills now routinely include a non-interference clause, promising that just because you accept voucher funds, that doesn't mean you have to abide by any of the rules that government must follow. Carson v. Makin on top of Espinoza make it clear that a religious school can discriminate against some families freely and with tax dollar backing. It is school's choice.

Discrimination on religious and ideological grounds is only the most obvious portion of this. Even in the charter sector, school operators put a variety of hurdles in the paths of families to help weed out the less desirable. An absence of support programs for students with special needs as well as push out programs keep away the students who are more expensive to educate. Cutting costs by not providing transportation or lunch also block access for some students.

Private and charter schools put hundreds of barriers at their doors, restricting just who can gets to have a choice. 

3) Irrational marriage with free marketeering

One of the great unquestioned assumptions of the modern school choice movement is that school choice must somehow be welded to a free market approach. But there's no reason that choice has to employ free market mechanisms, which are themselves in conflict with the idea of choice.

The free market is about picking winners and losers. Every business plan covers the question of "which customers will we serve, and which will we pass on by." Free marketeers argue that the market produces a wide range of options so that everyone has a choice, but reality does not reflect that idea. Take cable television; after a brief initial flurry of wide variety and available options, the various channels have all converged on large sectors of the profitable middle. 

The free market is not interested in outliers and customers who require special attention (unless they have special buckets of money). If the goal is to get a quality education to every child in the country, the free market is notably ill-equipped to do that. 

Worshippers of the free market tend to put the desires and freedoms of operators ahead of the needs and rights of students themselves; this continues to make charters and private schools less appealing to a large portion of their potential customer base.

4) People don't want choice.

People don't want choices; they want what they want. I don't look across the room at my wife and think, "This is the most extraordinary, wonderful woman in the world, and I can't think of a better possible life partner, but I still wish I had choices." When a restaurant offers my favorite food, I'm not disappointed that the rest of the menu isn't appealing.

People call for choices only as a means to the end of getting what they want. Choice has no value to them in and of itself.

The market is never going to push for more choice; it's going to push for That Thing I Want. We can see that in the current culture war landscape. Choicers of the Moms for Liberty type are not calling for more choices in school libraries; they're calling for certain choices not to be available for anybody. Culture war choicers are very clear in advocating for certain choices in education to be available to nobody, and are also clear that certain choices (e.g. Christian prayer) should be the only choice some folks have. Parents opposed to trans students should have a choice; parents of a trans student should not have any choice. Despite the frequent use of words like choice and freedom, it's clear that choice is not really the objective at all.

These four factors represent some of the greatest obstacles to School Choice Utopia, and yet.

We do not hear choicers calling on private to lower costs and offer more scholarships. We do not hear choicers calling on private and charter schools to stop discrimination and adopt more inclusive policies. We do not hear choicers talking about how some of the goals of a choice system could be accomplished inside the public system. We do not hear choicers declaring that a true school choice system can only exist if choices are available for every single student. Nor do we ever hear choicers saying that to achieve this goal, the country must be prepared to increase its spending on education. 

Instead we get a lot of rhetoric about how the public system and teachers and "entrenched special interests" are the big obstacle to school choice. It's as if some school choice advocates are more interested in what they can dismantle than in what they can build. 

Monday, October 24, 2022

How About Merit Pricing?

Merit pay for teachers is the bad idea that won't go away, no matter how many times it fails to produce any kind of positive results at all. 

It can't possibly work. For one thing, merit pay requires profit--the source of a widget manufacturer's bonus is the extra money that the company made selling widgets last year, and public schools never generate extra profits. For another thing, the premise of merit pay is that teachers have a filing cabinet full of sure-fire educating ideas that they are sitting on until the day they are motivated by extra money. Merit pay shares with many reformster ideas the notion that teachers could teach plenty harder if they were just properly motivated and/or threatened.

But merit pay appears to also offer a means to lower personnel costs, and that's always an appealing idea. 

And there's a bit of appeal in the idea, because everyone remembers at least one teacher that they hated. Why should that sucky teacher get the same pay as a great one?

The root problem remains--how do we separate the teacher wheat from the educational chaff? Somebody, somehow, has to make that judgment.

When we say, "Let's pay each teacher what she's worth," that really means "Let's pay each teacher what I think she's worth," and that really means "Let's pay each teacher what I want to pay her."

"I mean," the real reasoning goes, "I'll come up with some way to justify it, maybe even use some numbers or something. But I want to pay this teacher what I want to pay her, and no more."

Sure, I can see the appeal. In fact, it's so appealing, I have a suggestion. Instead of calling it merit pay, let's call it merit pricing, in which those who are paying the bills get to decide how much the bill should be. Let's go ahead and adopt this idea of merit pricing for everything. 

I have a Netflix subscription, but it's just not that great any more, and I happen to think some of the content is lacking merit, so I'm going to set the merit pricing for my subscription at around a buck a month.

My groceries have been a bit more expensive lately, and it's just plain old blah food, so when I check out next time, I'll go ahead and decide how much money to pay--based, of course, on the merit of the groceries I've selected.

Next time I buy a car, I think I'll decide how meritorious the vehicle is, and set a price accordingly. And my next medical procedure--definitely waiting to see how that turns out so I can pay accordingly. Oh--and I am super-unconvinced that there is any merit at all in the parking spaces in town, so I'll be dropping those prices big time. 

Extending merit pricing to all aspects of life, not just how we pay teachers, would be liberating. Well, liberating except for everyone being paid. But they would up their game because there's no doubt that if a product was stuffed full of extra merit, people would spontaneously decide to pay more for it, just because they wanted to, without even being asked! 

It's a mystery to me why there should be such a big overlap between free market believers and advocates for merit pricing, which seems to be all about thwarting the invisible hand and keeping it from setting a price for anything. But then some folks have always been awfully reluctant to let the invisible hand set prices for labor. 

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Your All-Purpose NAEP News Release

It's time once again to greet the release of another set of data from the NAEP testing machine, which means everyone is warming up their Hot Take generator. But if, like me, you're getting tired of writing a response to the latest NAEPery, here's a handy news release that will let you mad lib your way to NAEPy wisdom.

The new scores from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), known as The Nation's Report Card, have been released, providing important data about [insert your preferred education policy area]. The recent crisis in [select your favorite policy-adjacent crisis] has clearly created a burgeoning issue of [select whatever Bad Thing you feel will most scare your audience in the direction of your preferred policy]. 

Says [head of your organization], "The new scores provide important evidence that now is the time for [insert whatever policy action your group always supports]. Clearly the [rise/drop/stagnation] in scores among [whichever subgroup cherry picking best suits your point] proves exactly what we have been arguing for [however long you've been at this.]"

[Insert paragraph of data carefully selected and crunched for your purposes. Add a graph if you like. People really dig graphs.]

"This is a clear indication," says [your favorite go-to education expert], "that it is long past time to [do that thing your organization has been trying to get people to do for years]. Clearly [our preferred solution] is needed." [Insert further sales pitch here as needed.]

You can expand on this if you wish, but make sure that you definitely do not--

* provide context for the data that you include

* ever explain that "proficient" on NAEP represents well above grade level; just go with the assumption that it means "adequate" or "on grade level"

* offer perspective from NAEP's many critics

* absolutely never ever reference the fact that the NAEP folks are extraordinarily clear that folks should not try to suggest a causal relationship between scores and anything else.

As always, the main lesson of NAEP is that contrary to the expectations of so many policy wonks, cold hard data does not actually solve a thing.

The NAEP remains a data-rich Rorschach test that tells us far more about the people interpreting the data than it does about the people from whom the data was collected. Button up your overcoat, prepare for greater-than-usual pearl-clutching and solution-pitching from all the folks who still think the pandemic shutdown is a great opportunity to do [whatever it is they have already been trying to do]. 

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Doug Mastriano's Fake Parental Rights Bill

Last week Doug Mastriano held a campaign event masquerading as a hearing for a parental rights bill so empty and vague that its only possible use could be as a campaign prop.

Mastriano signaled a whole year ago that he was going to wade into the whole "parental rights" thing with his own version of a "legislate the gay away" bill. Soon thereafter, he proposed SB 996, which was turned over to the State Government committee on January 4, 2022. 

And yet, the time to hold a hearing on the bill is just before time to vote for Mastriano or his opponent for Pennsylvania's governor's seat.

The bill itself is a brief nothingburger. The Parental Rights Protection Act is 41 lines long. 6 lines give its name. 16 lines define the terms "commonwealth agency" and "non-commonwealth agency." Section 3 in its entirety says:

(a) General rule.--The liberty of a parent to direct the upbringing, education, care and welfare of the parent's child is a fundamental right.

(b) Infringement.--Neither a Commonwealth agency nor a non-Commonwealth agency may infringe upon the right under subsection (a) without demonstrating that the law or ordinance is narrowly tailored to meet a compelling governmental interest by the least restrictive means.

In 8 lines, we get the applicability of the law, and two lines to tell us that the law would take effect in 60 days.

The Mastriano campaign has maintained its unwillingness to speak to the press, and so has offered no clarification of the bill's intent or function. But the parade of witnesses at the hearing brought the usual list of grievances--mask mandates, trans student using rest rooms, "pornographic" books in the school library, and "pronoun games."  The bill, absent any specifics, allows all of these folks to imagine that it would provide them some relief, without including any language that opponents could point to as objectionable. 

To the charge that the hearing only invited supporters to testify, it was pointed out that former state health secretary Rachel Levine was invited, but declined. Levine is one of the few openly transgender government officials in the U.S.

More specific parental rights legislation has been proposed in Pennsylvania, such as HB 2813, which follows more closely the national template of other Don't Say Gay bills forbidding discussion of "gender orientation and sexual identity." 

What would the bill actually do? Nobody really knows. Does this mean I can get satisfaction when my kid's teacher shows a Disney movie when I don't allow them in my home? Or when my kid has to use  Chromebook and we are an Apple household? Will I be able to do something if the teacher mentions Jesus or God and we don't do religion at our house? What would qualify as an infringement, and what could a parent who felt the law had been broken do? Call the police? File a lawsuit? Should they report the agency to the proper part of the state government--and if so, which department would that be? What penalty would be imposed? 

Mastriano says the bill would "restore common sense" in public schools. The bill does not offer any explanation of exactly what "common sense" means. 

This is a proposal for a law so broad and vague as to be nearly meaningless, with no enforcement mechanisms included. But it did allow Mastriano's flagging campaign to stage an event in Harrisburg close to election time. 

Friday, October 21, 2022

Federal Don't Say Gay? What are we really not talking about?

Driving LGBTQ folks back under cover or into the closet seems to be the current wave of the storm that started with CRT panic. And the stakes just keep getting higher. Which is why we need to remember what these Don't Say gay laws actually say. 

Florida's department of education has indicated that teachers who "intentionally provide instruction" about gender identity and sexuality will lose their teaching license. Which is nuts enough, but now we've got a proposal for a national law

The bill was introduced by Rep Mike Johnson of Louisianna. His previous legislative high points include a bill to allow discrimination against LGBTQ persons. He was on Trump's impeachment defense team, and was one of the 126 House Republicans who signed on the lawsuit to contest the 2020 election results. The bill has been co-sponsored by thirty other GOP House members*

The bill is all about forbidding the use of federal tax dollars on any kind of sexually-oriented program for children under 10 The bill does spell out that nude adults, stripping and "lewd or lascivious dancing" are not okay. The preamble of the bill mentions that drag queen story hour at a library is a bad thing, but what if the drag queen reads a non-sexual story in a non-sexual way? Do the bill's sponsors suggest that when a man puts on women's clothes, that automatically broadcasts sexuality? The bill's official definition lumps many things together:

The term ‘‘sexually-oriented material’’ means any depiction, description, or simulation of sexual activity, any lewd or lascivious depiction or description of human genitals, or any topic involving gender identity, gender dysphoria, transgenderism, sexual orientation, or related subjects

(The bill also includes a definition of stripping, just in case you were fuzzy on that one.)

As is the current trend, the federal bill proposes private right of action, meaning that any person who gets to feeling aggrieved by something vaguely related to the bill can drag someone into court. I guess we'll be living with the Texas Workaround for a while, as conservatives have found it useful to dodge government responsibility for enforcing crappy deputizing litigious citizens.

One huge problem--for the umpty-zillionth time--is the lumping in of the terms "gender identity" and "sexual orientation."

The Washington Post's Kate Cohen absolutely nailed it in her column about Florida's OG version of this gag law. Speaking of some of the politicians who backed it:

The truth is they don’t bother to use the words correctly because they don’t believe the words apply to them. They seem to think that only gay people have a sexual orientation and only trans people have a gender identity. Which is sort of like thinking that only foreign people have an accent. Or that “ethnic” means any food you didn’t grow up eating.

Opponents of these bills understand their true intent not because we are equally narrow-minded but because the culture we live in still sees “straight” as “normal” and gender as “boy,” “girl” or “made up.” We’re trying to change that culture, but we know it well. We know whom these laws mean to silence or shame. We get it.

A local school in my area is hosting a "Donuts with Dad" event, in which fathers are encouraged to take some time out from work (because, you know, they're dads) and come hang out with their children at school. This not-at-all-unusual event is so loaded with statements about gender identity and sexual orientation (Dads are males, and every child has neither more nor less than one of them, for starters) that, in many other school districts, it has simply collapsed under its own weight. But under the proposed federal bill, I could just go ahead and sue the district over this. 

You can find examples of this kind of thing, easily, every single day. But purveyors of these Don't Say Gay bills are sure that straight, traditional roles for men and women are not gender roles or sexual identities, but just "the way things are" and need no explanation, examination or justification, while everything else is a deviance from what Just Is and therefor must be explained and justified. As Cohen wrote, for some people, only LGBTQ persona have a gender identity or sexual orientation.

Furthermore, if the words mean what the folks who write and support such bills think they mean, then this bill outlaws any mention of transgender folks, as well as any LGBTQ folks. Under this definition of "sexually-oriented material," Peppa Pig episodes with the lesbian polar bear couple would qualify as sexually-oriented material. Anything that a child brought from a home, if home includes a pair of same gender parents, would be sexually-oriented material. By the law's definition, the mere mention of LGBTQ people makes a work sexually oriented and thereby verboten.

Let's roll the calendar back, they say, to the days when nobody had a gender identity or sexual orientation because everyone knew to settle into the default and Cole Porter wrote lovely songs and the Village People made that great song even your uncle can dance to and that Paul Lynde is always hilarious and maybe we could even enjoy some jazz from Billie Tipton with our spinster great aunt and her long time best friend and not ever have to think about that LGBTQ stuff instead pretending that it just doesn't exist, because of course there's only one real way to be in the world, and we all participate in that one way, right? No need to talk about gender identity or sexual orientation ever. Easier to have gags for you than blindfolds for me. 

I'm just sitting here waiting for the first big court case when some parents take a school district to court for using Berenstain Bears to indoctrinate children into certain gender identities and sexual orientations. 

*Representatives Bob Good (VA), Brian Babin (TX), Jeff Duncan (SC), Vicky Hartzler (MO), Doug Lamborn (CO), Markwayne Mullin (OK), Lauren Boebert (CO), Gregory Steube (FL), Debbie Lesko (AZ), Daniel Webster (FL), Ralph Norman (SC), Randy Weber (TX), Van Taylor (TX), Mary Miller (IL), Lance Gooden (TX), Louie Gohmert (TX), Glenn Grothman (WI), William Timmons (SC), Clay Higgins (LA), Steve Womack (AR), Tracey Mann (KS), John Joyce (PA), Scott Franklin (FL), Burgess Owens (UT), Matt Rosendale (MT), Russ Fulcher (ID), Tom Tiffany (WI), Nicole Malliotakis (NY), Doug LaMalfa (CA), Andrew Clyde (GA), Michael Guest (MS), and Dan Bishop (NC) joined Representative Johnson in cosponsoring the legislation.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

ICYMI: Leaving On A Jet Plane Edition (10/16)

Today I'm hopping (well, more likely, given the state of air travel these days, trudging miserably) onto a plane to travel to Seattle to meet the newest member of the Institute. She's already a month old and I haven't met her yet. Consequently, things are probably going to be quiet around here this week. Here's some reading to tide you over.

Blue Cereal Education with a piece that takes an honest look at how it feels when your teaching wagon seems a bit stuck.

Okay, if you're a regular reader here, you probably don't need to be told. But Jan Resseger has assembled a list of DeSantis highlights, to be remembered when he makes his play for national office.

The father of a trans child in Florida reports that the new law is just as damaging as you expected it to be. In the Washington Post.

Jose Luis Vilson with a great piece of appreciation for Abbott Elementary and a reminder of why it's the show teachers need right now. 

Lawsuits put school choice on Vermont Legislature’s agenda 

Vermont has had a quiet little version of school choice for a while now, but, as this piece from Valley News explains, the Vermont legislature may have to have a bit of a talk about what happens next.

Not about education, but this piece by Cory Doctorow is certainly about some of the folks who think they ought to be running education, and what the true secret of success might be (spoiler: it's not their superior wisdom about everything).

Some unsurprising research results suggest that maybe tens need to get out and do stuff to lead fuller, healthier lives.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes for the New Yorker about the flap over school closings, learning loss, etc etc, and if you can bear to wade through all of this again, there are some good insights contained.

Meanwhile, at Chalkbeat, Patrick Wall points to research that shows that no, school closings and openings were not all about politics after all. 

Inside the Struggle to Rebuild America’s Black Teaching Workforce

At EdWeek, Benjamin Herold takes a look at ab ambitious program to get more Black faces in front of classrooms. 

At Education Next. Yes, I know, but as with his book about Success Academy, Robert Pondiscio has written something worth reading regardless of your stance. 

Meanwhile, I was busy this week at Forbes with three new pieces:

--A look at how the pendulum swings on reading policy, and a new paper by P. L. Thomas that helps clarify the current state of the reading wars

--A look at a cool new data tool that shows what kind of educational opportunity your state offers, and also shows that Pennsylvania has the worst opportunity gap in the country.

Friday, October 14, 2022

"It's about the passion, not about the paper"

That exceptionally silly quote is from Robert Abel, the Dallas schools Chief of Human Capital Management (a silly job title). It comes from an AP article about the growing move to "ease job requirements" for teachers in many states. You will be unsurprised to learn that Abel has never taught in a classroom; he graduated with a BA in molecular biology and was, somehow, a Vice Principal in DeSoto, TX, three years later. 

But let's not pick on Abel, who simply articulated an idea that is not uncommon. Teaching is all about passion and being called and just, you know, caring real hard. Lots of folks are spouting this line these days, including, unfortunately, people who think they are supporting teachers. But if all it takes is passion, well, then, anybody can be a teacher. Anybody at all.

Doesn't that make sense?

I've been dragged into court. Don't get me one of those lawyers who has gone to school and studied and practice law for years--just get me someone who's passionate about courtrooms and lawsuits and stuff. 

My beloved partner needs a major operation on their spleen. Don't get me one of those surgeons who just has a bunch of papers from some med school--just get me someone who's passionate about spleens and cutting things. 

I mean, we have shortages to deal with. There's a nursing shortage--let's just start hiring people who are passionate about being around sick people. There's a truck driver shortage, but hey--let's just issue big rig licenses to anyone who has ever driven any vehicle and is passionate about traveling. There's a rural doctor shortage--let's just let anyone who's really passionate about working with sick people be a doctor. And there's actually a plumber shortage--let's just hire someone who's passionate about water to do the job.

What could possibly go wrong?

This is the same kind of baloney that some people spew about art, that one just has to feel real hard and art pops out, as if there is not a world of technique and skill and study and practice required to enable that artful popping. 

This is not about "easing job requirements." It's about redefining the job and thereby expanding the candidate pool. Ray Kroc did this for McDonalds by redefining "cook" as "somebody who flips a switch, drops a fry basket, and assembles a product according to instructions." Redefining the job gets you a larger candidate pool, which in turn lowers the cost of hiring or replacing people--you know, that pesky human capital. 

"Passion not paper" doesn't even make sense in this context, because people who are passionate about a pursuit generally direct that passion into action and study and growth. Imagine someone who says, "I am really passionate about playing the trombone, but I don't ever actually do it." 

Teach for America was founded on the premise of "passion not paper," except that only a small percentage of its temp workforce was actually passionate about teaching (as opposed to, say, being passionate about building their resume), and you can spot those people because they actually stayed and did the work to become real teachers. 

So I'm not sure exactly what slice of human capital Abel is talking about, which persons are out there saying, "I am really passionate about teaching, but I have not taken any steps in my life to pursue that passion." If someone tells you, "I feel very passionate about you, but not enough to call or see you or listen to you or spend time with you," are you thinking that person is relationship material?

Look, I'm not about to defend the current teacher prep pipeline as a flawless source of training. Some college teacher prep programs are crap. I also recognize that some schools (like the one in the story that hasn't had a qualified math teacher for a year) face dire situations that demand some kind of solution right now. I believe that programs that create a path for people who have worked in schools as support personnel and have come to love and respect the work can be a plus. And I have known second-career teachers who were good.

Does passion matter? Sure. It's passion that fuels the engine that gives you the strength to power through the hard work, the long practice, the deep study, the acquisition of skill, the will to navigate the crappy days--all the things that get you the paper. Passion, by itself, is not enough.

But I also know that (as the article acknowledges) the new bunch of unqualified pseudo-teachers are not going to end up in schools filled with students from wealthy white families. Redefining the teaching profession so that any warm body can be placed in a classroom is going to have negative effects (exacerbated because these unqualified warm bodies tend to have a high rate of turnover), and those negative effects are going to be felt by students on the bottom end of the socio-economic scale, the students who already get the short end of the stick. They don't need passion and heart and gooey excuses--they need people who know what the hell they're doing and can do it well.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

How Does Educational Opportunity Look In Your State?

I want to direct your attention to a great new tool from Research for Action, a non-partisan nonprofit educational research outfit. They're based in Philly, and I've talked about their work before; they do good stuff. 

This new tool is the Educational Opportunity Dashboard, and it breaks down and crunches data from fifty states that comes from the 2017-2018 federal Civil Rights Data Collection, so it's all pre-COVID, but still interesting, and the dashboard is very easy to use.

The EOI looks at fourteen factors, grouped around educators, school climate and curriculum. It's not the exact list I would pick (in particular, I don't care about how many AP courses a school offers), but it's still instructive. 

You can see how states stack up against each other from various angles, like the gap for opportunities between different groups of students. For example, it turns out that Pennsylvania has a respectable level of average opportunity index, but when you look at the gap between white students and students of color, we're 50th in the nation

Beyond rankings, you can see state's individual scores. You can also break down each state's numbers for each of the fourteen categories and see how they compare to nation. For instance, in Pennsylvania we do better than the national numbers for certified teachers and experienced teachers, but are far worse when it comes to student-counselor ratios. 

Reformsters have insisted for decades now that we focus on "outcomes" ("deliverables") and ignore inputs, which suits them fine because they'd rather not have to deal with how underserved so many schools are. But it has led us to a situation where, as has been said many times, we're trying to make the pig gain weight by measuring it. But if you want the pig to gain weight--especially if you want to understand why Wilbur is gaining weight and Peppa is not, it only makes sense to check to see if they're both being given a full-sized meal. This dashboard is a step in that direction. 

It's a worthwhile tool to check out, easy to use, easy to read, and fully explained. RFA has done an excellent job on this; folks who are interested in the state of educational opportunity in the nation and their own home state will find it useful and interesting.