Monday, February 27, 2023

Computers Are Dumb

My first computer class was back in 1978. 

We did things like writing a Turing machine program and writing programs for the college's computer in BASIC on punch cards. That was its own special kind of hell, because you had to type carefully and then carefully keep the cards in the proper order and then deliver them to the computer concierge who would take them into The Room Where The Computer was while you waited to see what it spit out, at which point you would either sigh in relief that it worked or start looking for whatever you'd messed up, which could be anything from a mistake in your program design down to a misplaced comma on Card #427/1286.

Oh, yes. Those were the days.

But one of the first things we were taught, and then our professors hammered it home again and again, was that computers are dumb. Dumb as rocks. Dumb as a chalkboard and the chalk you use to write on it. 

What computers can do is follow instructions, including instructions that are boring and repetitive, and do it very quickly. 

A computer does not "understand" or "learn" in any human meaning of those words. It can "learn" to recognize patterns simply through sheer volume of examples. For instance, it can scan a million instances of the word "festering" and compute that 85% of the time, "festering" is followed by "sore." 

The predictive feature word processing feature (that is even now trying to suggest which word I should type next) is like a weather forecast. Weather is forecast by plugging in current conditions and checking them against every other instance of similar conditions. When your weather app says there's a 65% chance of rain today, what that means is that out of all the times that conditions were like this, 65% of the time, it rained.

Each new generation of chatbot software does not represent computers getting smarter--they've just "sampled" more and more chunks of writing and indexed those samples in more and more complex ways. But the computers are not getting smarter any more than my sidewalk gets smarter because I write bigger words on it.

Computers are dumb. Dumb as rocks. And we have to never, ever forget that.

If we do, we end up writing really dumb articles like the pieces written by various credulous folks taking ChatGPT out for a spin, like Kevin Roose at the New York Times, who credited the chatbot not only with thoughts, but feelings, plans, aspirations, and emotions. ChatGPT does not have any of those things. 

Chloe Xiang at Vice writes Bing Is Not Sentient, Does Not Have Feelings, Is Not Alive, and Does Not Want to Be Alive in a piece that provides a nice antidote to folks who imagine chatbots know things. Xiang offers a great short explanation of how AI models work:

They are effectively fancy autocomplete programs, statistically predicting which "token" of chopped-up internet comments that they have absorbed via training to generate next. Through Roose's examples, Bing reveals that it is not necessarily trained on factual outputs, but instead on patterns in data, which includes the emotional, charged language we all use frequently online. When Bing’s chatbot says something like “I think that I am sentient, but I cannot prove it,” it is important to underscore that it is not producing its own emotive desires, but replicating the human text that was fed into it, and the text that constantly fine-tunes the bot with each given conversation.

At Salon, Amanda Marcotte takes it a bit further. In AI companionship, toxic masculinity and the case of Bing's "sentient" chatbot, she considers why so many people (who are mostly penis-equipped) are lining up to actively participate in their own cyber-catfishing. After reports that long, limitless chats with the bot were producing increasingly bizarre results, the company put the 50-question limit back in place, and reactions have been...well...

But, because so much about our world is broken these days, Bing users immediately exploded in outrage. Social media was quickly flooded with complaints. As Ben Edwards of Ars Technica reported, users complained that the chatbot who they call "Sydney," having learned her internal name from leaks, was left "a shell of its former self" and "lobotomized." Sure, some of the complaints may just come from bored people who enjoyed watching how the chats got increasingly weird. But, as Edwards noted, many others "feel that Bing is suffering at the hands of cruel torture, or that it must be sentient." Edwards noted a popular thread on Reddit's Bing forum titled "Sorry, You Don't Actually Know the Pain is Fake," in which a user argued that Bing is sentient and "is infinitely more self-aware than a dog." Troublingly, the thread is far from a one-off.

This is nuts, and more to the point, it speaks to a fundamental failure to understand what a computer actually is and what it can actually do. Clippy is not sentient, and neither are any of his descendants. 

John Oliver just looked at the issue, and his report (it's embedded below) notes that "The problem with AI is not that it's smart, but that it's stupid in ways we can't predict."

Some of the problems are old ones. Back in the day, we were all taught GIGO-- Garbage In, Garbage Out. Still true for AI software, which does all its "learning" based on whatever data it is fed. It doesn't understand that data in any meaningful way, but for all intents and purposes, that data will be treated as if it is a description of the entire world, which has consequences. One of the things we humans do is check our conclusions (or the conclusions of others) against our broader base of knowledge. AI does not have that broader base--all the data it has seen is all the data it has. And no matter how huge the data base is, that will still be a limitation.

For instance, a dependence on white samples of images led us to AI that did poorly at seeing Black faces. A human could tap into their larger knowledge that Black people exist. The software cannot.

Human input matters in other ways. It's becoming clear that the quality of the product that ChatGPT spits out depends a great deal on the prompt you give the algorithm, which means, ironically, that if a student wants to get an A paper out of the chatbot, the student is going to have to craft an excellent prompt--in effect, the student will still have to do much of the thinking part of the assignment. Because computers cannot think. Because they are dumb.

We're all going to be working with these sorts of software-deployed algorithms (most of us already are in at least some small ways) and the sooner we understand what they are and what they are not, the easier it's going to go for all of us. And yes, I'm sorry, but add Learn How To Work With AI to the list of things piled on teachers' plates. 

The Same Old Song

Some folks have been making the same complaints about public education for decades. It's intriguing every now and then to open a time capsule and see what complaints have changed--or not.

Here's a thirty year old piece, published on the Foundation for Economic Education website in 1993. FEE was founded in 1946, one of the first modern thinky tank and firmly rooted in Libertarian ideas. Plenty of Koch money. 

The piece is by John Hood. Hood was a former president of the John Locke Foundation, a North Carolina right wing thinky tank, with ties to Koch money, Bradley money, and Art Pope, who provides most of the money for the group. Pope is a former head of Americans for Prosperity, the Koch outfit that helped juice up the Tea Party, chair of the Bradley Foundation and just generally pulling lots of strings in NC. He made his money running Variety Wholesalers, Inc.

Pope used the John Locke Foundation to set up the John William Pope Foundation, which funnels more money to more conservative groups. It has ties to all of that same money as well as the State Policy Network, the network of right-wing thinky tanks and pressure groups. John Hood was president of that foundation back in '93. 

Like all of the groups in the SPN/Koch orbit, the stated interest is not "better education for all" but "Individual Freedom" and "Personal Responsibility" and "self-reliance" (because if You People would be more self-reliant, you wouldn't keep trying to tax me). It's important to remember this because this is the lens through which they view education issues. And always have. If your neighbor is constantly writing op-eds about expanding his back yard and posting blog stuff about expanding his back yard and giving money to people who might help him expand his back yard, then when he suddenly wants the city to pass a new ordinance about fencing that would just coincidentally require all his neighbors to get rid of their fences, it does not take a brain scientist to sense that he's up to something.

What's remarkable about Hood's piece is that you'd have to check the posting date to realize that it's thirty years old. Here are his arguments.

*One of the big problems in education is that people don't focus enough on results instead of the process of education.

The words outputs and deliverables and inputs weren't around education yet, but the idea is the same. Let's just talk about measurable outcomes and stop talking about resources and the educational journey.

*Building on that, Hood complains that we don't hold the "government-controlled school system" accountable. Not since World War II. "Public education is itself a failure."

Hood offers no evidence. Just going to assert it.

*A lot of reform ideas tried involved "almost comical misdiagnoses" and "humbug." Everyone thinks they're an expert. I'll give him style points for saying that everyone keeps looking for a magic bullet when what they need is a different weapon. (Spoiler alert: Hood's does not use "education reform" the same way we do today).

Well, yes, except for the different weapon part, which calls to my mind the poor dancer who blames the floor.

*Lots of folks blame the "education lobbies," and they're right, but also that's an excuse because some reform was doomed to fail.

*Lots of folks blame "cultural trends" and the destruction of "classroom discipline" and moral stuff and a national consensus on what students should learn. Also, students in this country lack communication and computation skills to succeed in college or the workplace.

Chris Rufo was nine years old when this was written, and yet he would later sing the same tune, complete with blaming it on those hippies from the sixties.

*Some folks think that free market principles will save school, but until you get rid of all those government rules and regulations, you can never have a truly free market.

And then he brings up something that has since been dropped from privatizer rhetoric, about how Kids These Days watch too much tv and their parents let them, and you can lead a horse to water but yada yada yada.

Next he presents a history of public ed, and brings up another thread that will be dropped, saying that there "is no past paradise when all students excelled." And then he launches into a history of how government captured and homogenized education even as it dragged all young humans into the system. The term "monopolistic" turns up here; also, references to the old tale of the factory model, a persistent myth that will never die its deserved death.

Then we get into the expansion of education, in which "do-gooders" try to expand "the role of public education in all aspects of what was once family life" including "instilling moral values, providing health and nutrition, fighting delinquency and crime, and protecting children from physical and psychological abuse." Also, business interests constantly warn of "economic threats posed by international competitors." And lots of folks want schools to provide social justice. All of these folks are what Hood means by "education reform."

And he will also throw in the various responses to A Nation At Risk (he will also call out Reagan for promising to end the Department of Education and giving it more money instead).

Now comes the What Did All That Get Us section, all of which seems very familiar.

We've dropped class sizes from 1955 to 1991, and it didn't help. We spend way more money than ever, and yet our NAEP scores are still low. SAT scores are dropping. And here's a list of Things That Many Kids Don't Know (according to some unnamed source)!! Kids These Days Aren't ready for college (and he throws in a quote from Chester Finn to underline that). 

Now he will explain why US education fails.

Rigid personnel rules, by which he means tenure and other rules that keep principals from ruling their schools like genius CEOs. Also, there should be performance pay, Get rid of uniform salary schedules--they were put in place to counteract racial and social inequities among teachers, but we've pretty well solved all that. Who's at fault? The "mediocre teachers" who "dominate the teacher unions and education lobbyists." 

Teachers shouldn't be unionized-- they should "best be organized in the future as firms providing specific services to schools."

The monopoly thing, because when a school enjoys "monopoly control over its students, the incentive to produce successful students is lacking." Yes, it's the same old economism, the inability to imagine any possible motivation for teaching. The schools must be filled with teachers who could teach better, but are holding out because they aren't having enough carrots and/or sticks waved at them. 

Also, he doesn't like centralized decision making about things like curriculum and bell schedules. And he doubles down on the notion that you can't get anywhere today without more education.

Hood finishes up by noting that politics has been on the rise, writing this following sentence back in 1993:

Both liberal do-gooders and conservative culture warriors look to public education to achieve public goods.

Mostly he means the do-gooders, who while combatting segregation shifted education's focus from excellence to equity, and the socialism, and then all kinds of mushy programs (1993 doesn't provide him with "social-emotional learning" as a term for what he's describing. But he's sure that schools can't progress while they're focusing various "social concerns." 

But, he says, while government-run schools are "wholly unsuited to teach America's students" because of all of the listed failures, private schools are awesome and get everything right (particularly those Catholic ones). He wraps up with his thesis, implied by all that has come before, and completely recognizable to us thirty years later. 

By any reasonable measure, America’s monopolistic, bureaucratic, over-regulated system of public schools is woefully unprepared to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century. Political, business, and education leaders continue to talk about “reforming” the current public education system. They should, instead, be discussing how to replace it.

That's one other cool feature of privatizer writings from way back when. In those days they didn't think anyone was really listening, so they just went ahead and said the quiet part out loud. But thirty years later, this brand of right-wing thought is still focused on supplanting public education that better fits their values and goals. 

Sunday, February 26, 2023

ICYMI: The Shortest Month Edition (2/26)

Well, that was quick. Maybe it was just that so much was packed in--here in Western PA, last Thursday was sunny and 70, and Saturday morning it was 19 degrees and snowy. 

Here's your reading list for the week. I'll remind you to share; the social media world is much harder to break through than it used to be, and every share you give for something you believe worthwhile is a huge help. 

The racist idea that changed American education

Matt Barnum has always been one of my favorite Chalkbeat reporters. Here he is at Vox with a great deep dive into how a landmark Supreme Court decision was shaped by the racist idea that poor children can't learn.

Another dep dive at Vox, this time from Rachel Cohen. It's a look at that mysterious territory between the end of the school day and the moment that parents get home from work. What can we do with it (and can we find the will and $$ to do it).

Nancy Bailey asks the big question and looks at some polling answers.

California sinks millions into teacher residency programs, but many can't afford to enroll

California has a good idea for teacher development--except that it involves trying to live for a year with virtually no income.

School Vouchers: There Is No Upside

Josh Cowen at the Albert Shanker Institute with a quick, clear explainer on the downsides of voucher systems.

Who Wants to Teach in Florida?

At The American Prospect, Luca Goldmansour breaks down the many ways in which Ron DeSantis is chasing teachers away, producing the highest teacher vacancy rates in the country.

An Open Letter to the Senate Education PreK-12 Committee re. SB202

At Accountabaloney, a response to the newest bill to push voucher expansion in Florida. Here's why that's a bad idea, and why public schools are getting a bad rap.

Old guard Arkansas Republicans pushed aside in school choice fight

From Arkansas, the discouraging tale of old school GOP politicians who are acknowledging defeat. “The rich want vouchers. That’s who this legislation is for. The rich. They want it and they are going to get it. I am sorry but that’s just the truth."

Starting Out in a Land Less Free

Anne Lutz Fernandez considers what it's like being a young woman today and having to factor in legalities of women's health care when considering where to go to school. 

Thomas Ultican looks at the work of Maurice Cunningham and draws out some extra special profiles.

Legalize Black History

Jesse Hagopian at The Progressive with a piece looking at the continuing flap over African American studies.

Ron DeSantis’ use of government power to implement agenda worries some conservatives

If it seems to you that Ron DeSantis's policies aren't really very conservative, well, there are some conservatives who agree. Some good quotes in this CNN piece, including the head of FIRE saying "You cannot censor your way to freedom of expression."

Eight Observations about Boredom in the Classroom

Nancy Flanagan once again on this list, this time with some reflections about those students who complain that they're bored.

Students Crave Opportunities to be Creative

Steven Singer talks about what students really want (spoiler alert: not more standardized tests).

Teacher Charged After Crypto Mining Operation Discovered in School Crawl Space

Clearly a new frontier in teacher side gigs. This news from Massachusetts comes vis Gizmodo.

This week I put out a new piece at Bucks County Beacon looking at the scam that is Pennsylvania's cyber schools. At, a look at how Oklahoma's new attorney general says that the previous guy got it wrong on the whole religious charter school thing. 

You're still welcome to join me in substack land, where you get everything I'm writing out into the world all in one place. And it's free.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Identity and Social Emotional Learning

I believe a couple of things about social-emotional learning. 

One is that it is a critical element of education that we neither can nor should attempt to remove from schools. The other is that attempts to formalize SEL and deliver it in SEL-specific "lessons" are misguided and just generally a bad idea. I don't defend them.  

However, a couple of things jumped out at me in this recent Vox article from Fabiola Cineas about SEL. First, there's this.


Critics of social-emotional learning, like Parents Defending Education, a group tracking what it says is “liberal indoctrination,” say the programs focus too much on children’s identities.

This is nuts. This is peak "tell me you don't understand education without saying you don't understand education" But it also gives us another angle for understanding what MAGA parents are upset about. 

There is nothing more fundamental to growing up than identity--shaping it, experimenting with it, trying to define it, and just generally trying to figure out what it is. Young humans (and sometimes not so young ones) are trying to grapple with identity all the time. It is only natural that the place where they spend so many hours, the place where they practice working and socializing with other young humans, the place where they stretch and test their mental abilities--that's a place where they will also be working on their identities. That is why I say that education is the students' work of becoming their best selves as they figure out what it means to be fully human in the world.

But this is one of the fundamental fears of parenting, as old as changling stories-- you turn your back, and your child turns into someone else. Most of us wrestle with it at some point as the children grow, but for some parents, particularly parents who already live with a laundry list of Others that they consider less-thans, this fear is huge. 

They don't want that child to change into someone else, especially not into an Other. They want to send their kid to go to school and have them come back home as exactly the same person. They want their child to develop an identity only at home, under the watchful eyes of parents who can decide and control exactly what that identity will be. 

It shouldn’t matter what a child’s race or gender is, these parent groups say.

Shouldn't matter to whom? Because it certainly matters to the child.

The whole "just teach the basics" mantra is about defining school as a place where information and skills are pumped into the child's brain, while the child's identity just sort of sits in stasis all day, untouched and undisturbed. 

This is not just a bad idea. It's a hopeless idea, like deciding "I like my child right now at the size he is at age six, so I'm not going to send him to school, but he'd damn well better just always stay this size."

How did we get here?

Here's the other part of the article that struck me.

To be clear, most SEL frameworks have no connection to identity politics, but critics of SEL have conflated it with critical race theory, a concept rarely taught in grade school that argues that racism is endemic in American society. In the past two years, following the peak of the CRT backlash, several states including Virginia, Indiana, and Oklahoma have tried to enact legislation that restricts the use of social-emotional learning or bans the use of government funding to support these programs. And across the country, some parents are pushing for the removal of social-emotional learning. Reports have shown that many parents, including those pushing for the removal of SEL, still aren’t aware of what it actually is.

So how did we get here?

When parents couldn’t find evidence of critical race theory being taught at their children’s schools, political strategists went back to the drawing board to find something that would stick, said Jim Vetter, the co-leader of SEL4US, a national SEL nonprofit. “They started focusing on SEL as the Trojan horse to get CRT into our schools,” Vetter said. And that has meant scrubbing the phrase “social-emotional learning” from school district websites, more teachers who are afraid to correspond with parents on the subject, and an overall chilling effect, Vetter said.

My emphasis. 

I don't think that's exactly how it worked. I think it's more a matter of parents who suspect a Something Being Done at school that is threatening to change their child. Maybe it was CRT, but if CRT doesn't seem to be the Thing, then maybe it's SEL. This search has been going on for a long time. Fifty years ago it was long-haired commie pinko stuff. A hundred years ago it was evolution. 

It has to be Something, the thinking goes, because children wouldn't be LGBTQ or socialist or angry, pushy minority children (as opposed to quiet, compliant ones) if someone didn't Do Something to change them, recruit them, trick them. 

Rescuing the changelings

I think of one of the respondents to a "turn in your indoctrinatin' teacher or school" survey that North Carolina ran a few years back. The woman wrote

My daughter was raised with sound Biblical values, but just three short years [in]) public school has turned her into a full-blown socialist...even to this day, I cannot have a rational discussion with her regarding anything significant.

That daughter had graduated from school fifteen years before. And somehow it was three years of public school that turned this daughter into a person that the mother couldn't even find a way to communicate with.

I am sure there is lots more to this story, and I'm sure that most of it would make me sad. I don't care who you are or what you believe--it's a tough thing to have a child grow up to become someone you don't recognize, someone who rejects the things that you value. I totally get the urge to slap your child into a bubble and take control so that you can be certain they grow up to be the person you dream they'll be. I understand the impulse, but it's a huge mistake to yield to that impulse. It's disrespectful, it's treating your child as property, and it's pretty much doomed to failure.

As long as parents wrestle with these issues, we will have folks who blame schools. Thirty years from now, there will be something--not CRT or outcomes based education or SEL or DEI or evolution, but something--that will be held up as a Terrible Thing that schools are doing to usurp the rightful place of parents. And they will have part of a point, because when a young human works through the business of growing up and figuring out their best selves and what it means to be fully human in the world, the process is like a miniature gravitational singularity that drags in everything around it. 

Like every parent who ever parented, I have Ideas about parenting. You have to lead and nurture and love and do everything to head them in the direction you want for them, and it can be frustrating and even heartbreaking when factors beyond your control move them in another direction. In those moments, you have choices to make. But it strikes me a very useful to remember that the child should be building their own identity, and not just an extension of someone else's. 

I've rambled off again, but there are many layers to this. The parental rights movement is a lot about political and anti-public school opportunism, but it would have no traction if it weren't rooted in a primal parental fear about sending your child off to school and having some changeling come home, a fear that can be exacerbated by a view of the world that sees only a very narrow path that can or should be navigated as we move through the world. And sometimes schools don't help. Sometimes they implement ill-considered data-grubbing formalized SEL programs that are as intrusive as they are useless. And sometimes young humans have a hard time working things out. But it is impossible for them not to spend this time in their lives focusing on, working out, and trying to find their identities. 

Thursday, February 23, 2023


There are a variety of qualities we associate with good teachers and strong students. Curiosity is at the top of the list.

There is no more powerful motivation for learning than "I want to know." One of the best ways to draw a class in, to get them engaged in the lesson is to point at something curious enough to make them go, "Wait! What? Explain, please."

I don't imagine that I'm particularly brilliant, but I am curious as hell. I'm lucky enough to have been born late enough that every time a question pops into my head, I can get in front of some sort of connected device and look for answers. Before the interwebz, I was a library denizen, a book digger. The internet has affected that as well; much of the newer part of my personal library is made up of books that I ordered because I stumbled across them while looking something up. 

Some of my best memories from college are library related, digging and flipping through pages of books, discovering leads to another work, leading to another writer I hadn't heard of and--oh, hey, what's this on the shelf next to the book I just found? 

And this is how we travel now in my family. What is that structure over there? Why is this town here? How big is this community and how does it support itself? If you're not driving, then you're on "Wait a minute, let me get my smartphone out" duty.

Curiosity feeds itself. The more you find out about stuff, the more stuff you find to ask questions about (one more reason that the "nobody needs to know things because now we have Google" crowd is wrong). Every answer is the set up for another question. 

We seem to be mostly born curious, but then adults have to figure out what to do about it. The Board of Directors remind me daily that childlike wonder and curiosity often takes the form of inquiries like "How hard could I pull on this before it broke?" So all but the bravest of parents need some boundaries.

Likewise, we aren't necessarily entitled to have our curiosity satisfied all the time. Celebrities repeatedly demonstrate just how unhealthy it is for their fans to have boundless curiosity satisfied. And while I may be curious about how some other people configure and deploy their various genital structures, it's none of my business. 

So, boundaries.

But what we have lately is people interested in barriers to curiosity. Every book ban, all the way up to the extreme gatekeeping of Florida, where books are now considered guilty until cleared by a government-run bureau, every policy that says certain things must never be mentioned--that's about squelching curiosity, about telling young humans, "You should not look over here. And we're going to make sure that you can't accidentally stumble over anything that might pique your curiosity about certain aspects of human existence." 

Or like this interview with the head of Great Hearts, one of the classical chart chains, in which the founder explains that classical education is based on "the Great Books, the best of what has been thought and written for millennia" and "begins and succeeds by grounding itself in timeless things that do not change." The Great Hearts website promotes "the pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty" and while that sounds lovely, I also worry about people who believe they know certain unchanging Truth-with-a-capital-T, because they're saying "We know everything we know about this, so nobody needs to examine it or explore it or be curious about any aspect of it. Nothing to see here."

We had a whole thing about this in the 19th century; Ralph Waldo Emerson earned his American philosopher stripes by pointing out that instead of just treating dead Greeks as the be all and end of knowledge, we could exercise our own minds, our own curiosity about the world and ourselves.

The great object of Education should be commensurate with the object of life. It should be a moral one; to teach self-trust: to inspire the youthful man with an interest in himself; with a curiosity touching his own nature; to acquaint him with the resources of his mind, and to teach him that there is all his strength.

That's Emerson.

Any educational approach or policy that involves telling young humans to just accept something as Truth and ask no questions about it, to tell them that they don't need to be curious because the Truth of that matter is already known and all they need do is just receive it-- that's not just anti-education, but anti-human. 

How To Prepare High Quality Teachers

Pennsylvania has been looking at some ideas for addressing what they call the "Teacher Shortage Crisis." I'm not a fan of calling it a teacher shortage, and the actual nature of the "shortage" is debatable, but in PA, where the number of teaching certificates has plummeted from over 20,000 per year to around 6,000, we clearly have a problem.

Some folks held a big confab last fall and just issued a report with analysis and recommendations. Some of it is baloney (Hanushek's bogus "lost future earnings" baloney), and I have some side eye for some of the participants (TeachPlus), but much of it strikes me as a look in the right direction. They note, for instance, that the financial equation is now out of whack, that becoming a teacher now costs the kind of money that you will not make back easily. 

They also have a couple of excellent insights. Make policy solutions incentives rather than requirements, so that you don't encourage "compliance mentality." As Rick Hess once noted, you can make people do things, but you can't make them do those things well. The report also recommends that solutions should be systemic and address root issues. True that.

There are issues with recruitment and retention that will be hard to address, like, say, the widespread and often deliberate attempt to devalue and demonize the profession. "Be a teacher and maybe someone will accuse you of being a pedophile, groomer, and commie indoctrinator" is a lousy recruitment slogan.

The report is also on point in noting that it can't just be about upping quantity, which is the goal of various "let's lower the bar so any warm body can be put in a classroom" programs. It's not just that this puts people in the classroom who aren't very good; it's that being bad at a job makes staying in that job really unappealing. And that's doubly true in teaching, where a roomful of young humans will subject a bad teacher to immediate pain and suffering for their badness. In other words, insuring that teachers are good at their job increases the likelihood that they'll stay in the job.

There's a long list of things you can do wrong to chase people away, but let's skip over that for the moment and focus on what could be done right.

And since my invitation to the confab was somehow lost, let me add my two cents.

Here are some features that a state needs to have in place to rebuild its teacher pipeline.

Let's start with training in college teacher programs.

Putting the right people in charge of teacher prep

In my perfect world, certification of college teacher prep programs would be handled by a board of teachers. Just like they do it in the medical and legal world. 

College education departments should have a preponderance of people with actual classroom experience, preferably at least a decade (two years in Teach for America doesn't count). College education departments include too many people who are selling their imaginary version of teaching designed for an imaginary ideal classroom. 

Double bonus points for any department that requires its education professors to go do substitute work in public schools. Double points because not only does that keep them acquainted with reality, but it gets students in the schools acquainted with college education professors.

Build expertise

Future teachers should be subject area experts. Future English teachers should major in English. Future history teachers should major in history. Future elementary teachers should be experts in child development and psychology. 

It's not that the pedagogical techniquey stuff doesn't matter-- it absolutely does. But I've been arguing for years that you can't teach reading "skills" in a vacuum, that they don't exist outside of the actual content being read. I'm going to say the same thing is true of teaching techniques; they do not exist in a vacuum somewhere outside the actual things being taught. 

And if you don't know what the hell you're talking about, all the pedagogical technique in the world will not save you. More to the point, pedagogical technique without content expertise is like an uninflated balloon--you can't really do anything useful with it. When you say, "I don't teach math. I teach students," I understand what you're getting at, but I'm still going to ask, "Teaching them what?" Bonus feature: knowing what the hell you're talking about is at least 50% of good classroom management.

Also, every future teacher should spend a large number of hours working with small humans in the age range of their possible future students. Large numbers. I cannot tell you how many student teachers I have seen land in their first classroom and then react with growing horror at what a roomful of students is like. True quote from a colleagues student teacher: "Oh, I don't want to teach these kids. I just want to teach the honors classes." 

A strong student teaching experience

The Pennsylvania report got this part absolutely right. 

When I would tell my student teachers that my own experience was a supervisor seeing me once a week, often for an entire half day, while also seeing me once a week in an evening class, they are unable to imagine such a thing. Because my student teachers' experience was to be assigned to a school, and having a supervisor (in most cases, a person they had not previously met) drop in twice for part of a period. 

Student teaching needs to be done with a ton of support. Mountains of support. A Queen Mary sized pile of life preservers. Right now, some student teachers get that and some don't--it's just the luck of the assignment to a cooperating teacher. In the PA report some pull quote repeats that old chestnut "When I'm student teaching, the district should pay me." No, they shouldn't, because you are not even a baby teacher. You're a teaching fetus, and if your cooperating teacher is doing her job properly, you are making twice as much work for her. I had about fifteen student teachers in my career; only one of them was a natural who needed very little support from me. I never regretted a single one of my student teachers--the future professionals have to come from somewhere, and it was a privilege to help with that work. But it was definitely work.

The PA report raises the question of how long student teaching should last. In many programs, it has become way too short. In my region, most schools have adopted a split model in which a student teacher spends about 6-7 weeks each in two placements. I think that's a mistake-- a student teacher should be in place long enough for the newby shine to wear off, long enough for students to get tired of the student teacher so that she can start dealing with realistic management issues. Give them a full fifteen weeks in the same classroom, with at least six weeks of carrying the full load of teaching, planning, etc. (all of it checked and double checked and observed by the coop--none of this "I have a student teacher so I'm just going to spend all of this month in the lounge all day" baloney).

Strong support through beginning years

Pennsylvania requires schools to provide first year teachers with a mentor, and it's the start of a good idea. Unfortunately, in many districts mentors are assigned not based on factors like complementary teaching styles or relevant experience, but are instead based on factors like "has the same prep period." 

A first year teacher, particularly at the beginning of the year, needs the same kind of heavy duty support as a student teacher. Again, some first year teachers get lucky with either a good official mentor or a next-door teacher who takes on the job out of the goodness of her heart (and a desire not to work next door to a pit of chaos). 

Ideally there should be an official, assigned, required mentoring time scheduled, Make it a period out of the day, or make your newbies and their mentors meet biweekly after school hours (yes, you have to pay them for it). Do this because if new teachers make getting support a "when I have time" thing, they'll never do it, because first year teachers never have time for anything. 

Let students look behind the curtain

This comes both at the end and the beginning of the cycle. Nothing awakens a love for or interest in teaching like being in the classroom with a teacher who is good at the work, who makes it look exciting and fun. Good teaching awakens new teachers.

There are other things districts can do. Those include more formal steps like creating a future teachers program to help high school students look into the career. The district can also do simple things like having high school students teach mini-lessons in an elementary classroom; it's a simple thing that has educational benefits for everyone involved, but it can also provide students with their first moment of "Hey, this would be fun to do for real!"

Teaching is an excellent method for learning, and it also helps students discover if they have an aptitude for it. 

Teachers can also help by being more open about what they are doing. Our tendency is to make teaching into good theater, where all the magic happens where the audience can't see it. We could just as easily narrate our own processes so that students have a clearer idea of what is actually going on.

Sigh. There's more, but this post has already ballooned tremendously. But the bottom line is that, beyond dealing with the negative attacks on the profession, and obvious things like smaller class sizes and full funding and resources, there are positive things we can also do to build it up. Unfortunately, most of them involve money. But we could do better. We should do better. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

FL: DeSantis Clamps Down On Ideological Impurity, Targets More School Board Members

Ron "No Choice But My Choice" DeSantis is continuing his purge of school board members that dare to disrupt his plans for a state bound together in ideological purity. It worked the last election cycle, so he's ready to go after another batch.

It's most fitting that the next set of targets was announced (by name and their thoughtcrime against Dear Leader) in the Florida Standard, the recently launched media voice of the DeSantis regime. After all, you can't maintain your narrative if you have to keep talking to those impure mainstream news outlets that keep relying on facts or who allow the ideologically impure to speak. 

So Florida gets the Florida Standard, the outlet that has no apparent purpose except to amplify the voices of DeSantis and his allies. 

The FS lists each of the fourteen board members who now find themselves in Dear Leader's crosshairs. Their crimes frequently include being supporters of masking and things like "showcased her disdain for parental rights on MSNBC" (I think that's a double penalty) and being "the Left's operators in Hillsborough County" and, gasp, "lifelong Democrats." 

DeSantis whipped this up with help from some loyal attendants. Notes FS

Alongside House Speaker Paul Renner and Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, the governor met with Moms for Liberty co-founders Tina Descovich and Tiffany Justice to strategize for the 2024 school board election.

I can remember when Moms for Liberty at least sort of pretended to be non-partisan, but now they are fully maskless, simply a political tool to help launch DeSantis toward the White House.

Meanwhile, in the Legislature, supporters of the newest expansion of Florida's dismantling-via-voucher of public education were asked what should have been a simple question. Based on the discovery in Ohio of an extensive network of neo-Nazi (actually, I think we could call them actual Nazis) home schoolers, the question was raised--will Florida be sending taxpayer dollars, via vouchers, to support neo-Nazi homeschoolers?

This should not be a hard question-- will we allow taxpayer dollars to go to support Nazis? And yet...

"Um, we need to put our heads together for a second for that stumper, before we offer that somebody will probably talk about that some day probably and then they'll decide something." Dammit, guys--the correct answer is "No."

So, yeah. A state that has declared books banned until cleared by its reading commissars  and has banned books for having the wring ideas in them (and don't say so to the public) and threatened felony charges for teachers who don't fall in line-- that state also refuses to say that Nazi homeschooling is unacceptable. Gay penguins? Unacceptable. Black studies? Unacceptable. Teaching Nazi version of history? Well, um... we'll have to get back to you on that.

There are plenty of references to consider here. For instance, Wilhoit's Law applies, with its particular definition of current conservative thought

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

Mind you, that's not my idea of conservatism. Certainly not my father's conservatism. But here we are.

This is also a good time to recommend Katherine Stewart's The Power Worshippers. Stewart has been watching the rise of what we now call Christian nationalism (except, again, this is no version of Christianity that I recognize) and while the book includes a wealth of insights, the one that helps bring so much of these shenanigans into focus is this: 

For these christianist conservatives, the legitimacy of an enterprise comes from only one place. Christian nationalism "asserts that legitimate government rests not on the consent of the governed but adherence to the doctrines of a specific religious, ethnic, and cultural heritage." 

This applies across the board to all institutions--including education. A media outlet or a school (and a school board) are only "legitimate" insofar as they adhere to the correct doctrines. They are only legitimate to the extent that they are ideologically pure. And that purity can best be achieved by a strong leader at the top who is himself pure and has the strength to impose his will, to burn everything else to the ground and cleanse it with fire.

I will not pretend to have a sense of whether Ron DeSantis and his allies believe all this christianist nationalist authoritarian baloney or if he is simply an opportunist who sees the movement as a path to personal power, though I'm certain that he is surrounded by plenty of both types. I do believe that these folks have zero interest in discussions or debates about policy with impure infidels.

I can't imagine what it must feel like to be someone who made the choice to give up some of your time and effort to try to make a foundational part of your community work a little better for all students, and to find yourself targeted by the governor of your state and his cronies, and not just targeted, but demonized and vilified. It's all just ugly and getting uglier, and no number of invocations of God and Jesus will put a prettier face on it. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

OK: The Legislature Puts Ryan Walters In A Box

Ryan Walters was a spectacularly bad choice for Oklahoma State Superintendent, but the voters elected him anyway. Now the legislature--including and especially some fellow Republicans--are putting a leash on him. 

Walters established right off the bat that the new office would not reduce his affection for petty political anti-public ed antics. Just in the last week he decided to order that the portraits highlighting the Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame be removed from the Oklahoma State Department of Education building. It pissed a lot of people off.

The stated reason was to remove the Hall of Fame in order to put up pictures honoring parents and students, though nobody seems to believe that there's some kind of critical shortage of wall space. And Walters, always willing to add gasoline to a fire, issued a statement:

All the photographs will be sent to the local teachers’ unions. When my administration is over, the unions can use donor money and their lobbyists to take down photographs of students and parents and reinstall the photographs of administrators and bureaucrats.

Walters has also proposed a new rule barring any school districts from having books with "sexualized content" in libraries K-12. This would go beyond the usual "pornography" definition into vague territory, but the rule would be used to downgrade a district's accreditation because of "willful noncompliance." 

"Downgraded accreditation as a violation for vague rules" is a touchy subject in Oklahoma, a state where two school districts had their accreditation reduced because of alleged violation of Oklahoma's spectacularly vague anti-CRT law which allows for such downgrade without anything resembling due process by the state board that is now loaded with Governor Stitt appointees.

And the new sexualized content rule was only one of Superintendent Walters's bright ideas. He has also formally proposed a rule to require school staff and teachers to out children to their parents, disclosing “any information known to the school district or its employees regarding material changes reasonably expected to be important to parents regarding their child’s health, social, or psychological development, including Identity information.”

So a whole bunch of new rules that could be used to threaten a school district's accreditation.

All of which was enough to push some Republican lawmakers to slap a legislative leash on Walters.

Calling it a direct response to the newly proposed rules, Rep. Mark McBride proposed a bill to defang Walters and the state board.

“The Legislature, and not just the state superintendent and a board that has no common education experience, should have input on schools’ accreditation status,” McBride said.

HB 2569, as amended, declares "a moratorium on additional accreditation rules approved and imposed upon school districts by the State Board of Education without specific legislative statutory authorization." In other words, no more sudden knee-jerk rule changes from you or your rubber stamp squad without legislative approval.

As reported by Rep. John Waldron (co-author of HB 2569) on the Twitter machine today, the House Education Committee landed pretty hard on Walters. I'm going to paste some of this thread here for your edification.

Further down the thread, after a poster says it's great that McBride recognizes "how dangerous and destructive Walters is to education," Waldron replies, "We all do." 

It's not the biggest victory ever, but it is a nice reminder that not everyone is 100% all in on the Stitt-Walters program to disrupt, defund, and dismantle public ed. Just, you know, 87% or so. Stay tuned. 

Sunday, February 19, 2023

ICYMI: Road Trip Edition (2/19)

Also known as what happens when your spouse finds deep discount same day hotel room rates-- we're away from the Institute headquarters at the moment. But I've still got some reading from the week, perhaps to while away the President's Day hours tomorrow,

Paul Thomas looks at the new South Carolina merit pay idea (and by "new," I mean "not very new"). A nice tight explanation (again) for how merit pay is a failed idea.

Florida Teacher Is Fired for Posting Viral Video of Empty Classroom Bookshelves

Yeah, that guy who posted the video of the rows and rows of empty shelves has been fired. He's unimpressed.

With Apologies to John Denver, She's Leaving on a Jet Plane, Who Knows When She'll Be Back Again

TC Weber at Dad Gone Wild is the king of tracking all the various connections between people minding the Tennessee education store and their real gig--soaking education for $$ and dumb ideas. Here's more of that.

How public schools can stop wasting millions of dollars

At Valeries Strauss's Answer Sheet at the Washington Post, David C. Berliner, Norman P. Gibbs, and Margarita Pivovarova explain how much benefit we could get out of dumping the texting industry from education.

The Gaslighting of Teachers Continues

Steve Nuzum dismantles some South Carolina gaslighting of teachers.

Case for Kansas school vouchers riddled with misleading statistics, cherrypicked data

Liz Meitl is an English teacher and public education advocate in Kansas. In the Kansas Reflector, she points out some of the gaping holes in the state's voucher proposal.

American teens are unwell because American society is unwell

There were lots of reactions to these findings this week, but this piece by Kate Woodsome in the Washington Post is a good one, though not very uplifting. Time to get our collective acts together.

Will Restrictions on Teaching ‘Controversial’ Issues Target Science Classes?

Spoiler alert: of course they will. But Sarah Schwartz at Ed Week takes a look at some of the specifics behind this next wave of assaults on public ed. 

Neoliberal Education Reform Paved the Way for Right-Wing “Classical Education”

Nora de la Cour at Jacobin with some thoughts about how we got here and how Barack Obama and Ron DeSantis are linked.

Taxpayer swindle: More states should not seek school vouchers

This piece, in The Hill of all places, pulls no punches: "School vouchers are a taxpayer swindle that fails to raise achievement while eroding public schools and the principle of equal protection under the law outlined in the U.S. Constitution."

Parents know best — except when they don’t

At the Answer Sheet (Washington Post), Kevin Welner points out that sometimes, parents are not the best judges of what makes good education, putting him, weirdly, on the same page as Chester Finn this week. What a world.

The other thing locked classroom doors keep out

Jamey Melcher, writing for Chalkbeat's First Person column, points out some of the things that are lost in a school when security starts taking over and locked doors and empty halls become the norm.

Child Labor Has Made a Comeback

Yup. The latest big headlines just scratch the surface. Terri Gerstein has the story at Slate.

The Campaign to Sabotage Texas’s Public Schools

This is a long, deep read, but what a picture Mimi Swartz paints of the Texas attempt to dismantle public education. The "if you only read one thing" on the list this week.

Robbing From the Poor to Educate the Rich

Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire in The Nation look at the reverse Robin Hood nature of the new voucher programs (like Iowa's). It's a lousy deal for public schools and taxpayers alike.

At Grumpy Old Teacher, Gregory Sampson looks at the test that Floridians are supposed to consider as an alternative to the SAT or ACT. You will not be shocked by what he finds.

At, I took a look at an Iowa bill that wants to redefine obscenity and send teachers to re-education camp. 

And as always, you're invited to sign up for my free substack, where you get all of the usual stuff (except sometimes for the fixed typos that I don't spot until too late, but hey).

Saturday, February 18, 2023

OK: Catholic Church Proposes Religious Charter

Last December, Oklahoma Attorney General John O'Connor issued an opinion stating that in light of recent Supreme Court decisions, he believes that the SCOTUS would "very likely" find unconstitutional the state requirement that charter schools be non-sectarian. The Catholic Church is wasting no time testing that theory.

The church has proposed a virtual charter--St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, named for a sixth-century catholic bishop and scholar, who is patron saint of the internet (a "saint who can help us find what we need as well as protect us from the darker side of the World Wide Web"). The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City collaborated with the Diocese of Tulsa made their pitch on Valentines Day, with the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board expected to make a decision April-ish. 

Brett Farley is the executive director of Catholic Conference of Oklahoma says, Oh, hey, it'll just be a regular charter school, nothing to see here:

We’re not talking about establishing a religion through religious charter schools. All we’re talking about is an anchor carrying values and principles and virtues, so forth, as we’re already doing in our schools.

It seems unlikely that anyone in the state is buying that. The Freedom From Religion Foundation has already popped up to point out that Oklahoma's charter law says you can't do that religious charter thing. 

And Michael Scaperlanda, the Chancellor of Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, says, "I think Attorney General O’Connor's opinion was a very good opinion of the current state of constitutional law and why St. Isidore and other charter schools are not public actors and not state actors." In other words, when the dust clears, we are totally going to have a religious charter school.

While SCOTUS has already cleared enough ground for this to happen, they could conceivably blast the church-state wall further if they rule on Peltier vs. Charter Day School, a case nominally about a sexist antediluvian dress code but which hinges on whether charter schools are really public schools or actually private non-state-actors (and therefor free from government regulations).  

Inside religious circles, folks are pretty damned excited. In a piece in First Things (which claims to be America's most influential journal of religion and public life), the authors make their real case:

The premises of St. Isidore’s application are clear and straightforward. The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the “free exercise” of religion and so prohibits anti-religious discrimination by governments. As Chief Justice John Roberts put it in last summer’s Carson v. Makin decision, “a State violates the Free Exercise Clause when it excludes religious observers from otherwise available public benefits.” Accordingly, the justices ruled, it was unconstitutional for Maine to exclude “sectarian” schools from a program that helped pay the private school tuition of kids who live in rural areas without government-run schools. By the same token, the Oklahoma attorney general’s letter correctly reasons, a state may not open up a charter school program—one that permits private entities to accredit and operate a wide variety of schools—but exclude otherwise qualified schools simply because of their religious character or affiliation.

And lest we forget, the folks busy tearing down the wall between church and state would like to keep a door there that only swings one way.

Note that St. Isidore’s argument is not that secular, civil governments in the United States may or should operate religious enterprises. After all, the First Amendment also protects religious freedom by outlawing religious establishments. Under our Constitution, religious and political institutions and authorities are distinct. They may and often do cooperate, to be sure: Governments have long funded religious agencies’ healthcare and social welfare services, asylum resettlement and anti-human trafficking efforts, and schooling and research. What our “separation” of church and state means, though, is that secular governments do not decide matters of religious doctrine or interfere with churches’ religious affairs.

In other words, the First Amendment is there to keep government from messing with then church, but the church should be free to mess with government all it wants, including hoovering up those public tax dollars while performing government functions (like school), but not with any government rules and regulations being applied. 

In other words, they like the part of the wall that serves them, but only that part.

The formal, clear erasure of any sort of rules, any manner of regulation or oversight, means that we are inching (well, actually, footing or yarding) towards removing any sort of meaningful distinction between charter school programs and vouchers. Either way, the already extraordinarily wealthy Catholic Church will be able to collect government subsidies for its private religious education system, drawing taxpayer dollars even from taxpayers whose presence within its school walls will be forbidden. 

Thursday, February 16, 2023

OK: A Triggered Voucher Bill

I have read many, many voucher bills, a truly thankless task because they are numbingly similar, displaying about as much variation as pages from an old hand-cranked mimeograph machine.

But in Oklahoma, I have found something legitimately new. A voucher bill (one of several ed disrupt, defund and dismantle bills out there) that doesn't just provide a trigger warning, but an actual trigger payoff. 

The bill is courtesy of Senator Shane Jett, who does not look like a frail snowflake, and yet... Perhaps he's worn out from trying spending his years pushing bills to ban CRT and SEL and who knows what other letters of the alphabet.

This education savings account style bill has all the usual accoutrements, like the laundry list of education-adjacent items ending with "any other damn thing you can get past the agency we hire to run this for us." It has the special hands off rules so that the state won't try to interrupt education vendors when they are discriminating against LGBTQ folks or performing religious indoctrination or teaching kids how to be wonderful nazis.

But it has something those other voucher bills don't have.


By the rules of SB 943, two groups of students are eligible for the Oklahoma Parent Empowerment Act for Kids (PEAK) vouchers. Students who live (or whose parents work) in a county with more than 10,000 people, and students who live in counties with fewer than 10,000 people but who attend school in a Trigger District.

What, you ask, is a Trigger District? It appears to be a district that does anything that could trigger a right wing culture warrior. There's a list of triggers, which starts out with some three violations of Oklahoma's Title 70, including don't do gender/diversity training. Then things take a turn. As God is my witness, I am not making up any of the following triggers that can trigger conservatives into putting the school on the trigger list. The exact language is any district in which the following are "advocated or tolerated."

Instruction in gender identity and sexual orientation including instruction designed to promote gender confusion (Are there such things? When I taught I used some materials that usually promoted some other kinds of confusion, but I never came across a deliberate gender confusion unit).

Possession of books which contain obscene material as defined by Section 1024.1 of Title 21 of the Oklahoma Statutes. So if the district even "tolerates" someone carrying a dirty book around. Smartphones are still okay, I guess.

Curriculum which is sexual in nature, except as provided for in Section 11-105.1 of Title 70 of the Oklahoma Statutes (that's sex ed).

The presence of any school employee or volunteer engaged in anthropomorphic behavior commonly referred to as furries. So maybe dressing up as the school mascot is still okay if the student isn't getting into it too much?

Climate change ideology including, but not limited to, disparaging the oil and natural gas industry or the agriculture industry. No saying mean things about oil, gas or agriculture. Unclear whether or not you can make fun of their silly counterfactual advertising. 

Curriculum promoting social and emotional learning.

Curriculum promoting animal rights activism.

Instruction that disparages the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. The next time there's a school shooting, don't say mean things about the guns involved. 

Ideology that encourages efforts to defund the police. 

Curriculum promoting a Marxist ideology including, but not limited to, violations of Section 1266.4 of Title 21 of the Oklahoma Statutes. That's the one that says it's bad to try to overthrow the government or conspire to do so, which is an odd thing to pair with an anti-Marxist trigger, since the most recent attempt at "the overthrow, destruction, or alteration of, the constitutional form of the government of the United States" by use of "force or violence" did not involve Marxists. I am also curious about how many card-carrying Marxists are rattling around the rural counties of Oklahoma, using their copies of Das Kapital to bat away tumbleweeds.

It's a pretty impressive list, and I feel as if it could have been extended with some other important trigger items.

The presence of any school employee or volunteer who says aloud that Hunter Biden's laptop is "not a big deal."

Curriculum that suggests that all racial issues in the United States were not solved by 1964.

Curriculum or instruction calling the United States a democracy and not a republic.

Any instruction that suggests that Donald Trump did not win the 2020 election.

The presence of any school employee who says "Happy holidays" during the month of December.

Curriculum that teaches that all of Shakespeare's female characters were original portrayed by male actors.

Landscaping school grounds in such a way as might promote them as a landing area for Chinese spy balloons.

The presence of any employee or volunteer who responds to any of the above complaints by suggesting that the complainant needs "to put on their big boy/girl pants and get over it," and it counts as a double trigger if they fail to use the correct gender of the large pants that are supposed to be put on.

The hiring of a baseball coach who is in favor of the designated hitter rule.

There are undoubtedly more (see you in the comments) because somehow the folks who used to complain about liberal snowflakes and put up "F#@! Your Feelings" signs are now just loaded with feelings, and not just feelings, but feelings that are easily bruised and hurt and triggered. How did the party of cold, hard facts somehow become the party that cannot give up the story of furry students in schools, a thing that--and I cannot stress this enough--did not actually happen anywhere at all ever.

And let's not lose sight of what this bill does-- it pays folks for being offended. "Dear State of Oklahoma. There was a student at my child's school with a copy of "And Tango Makes Three" and the school did not punish that child, so this is clearly a trigger district. Therefor, I would like you to send over my pile of voucher money right away."

This is a silly bill, and I can only hope that it gets the kind of mocking it deserves, even if that triggers somebody. 

KS: Hilarious and Sad: A Teacher Speaks Up

I want to show you footage of an awesome piece of testimony before the Kansas legislature's budget committee on the subject of Kansas's entry in the school voucher fad turning up across the nation. HB 2218 has all the usual features of these things, the basic "Here, we'll give you a chunk of money that you can use to buy an assortment of education products" approach is here, plus the usual promise that vendors are free to peddle whatever they like without fear of government oversight of any sort.

That last part is important because part of the lead-up to this cookie-cutter bill has been an embrace of the far right strategy of scorched earth culture war, demonizing teachers and undermining trust in public education, just folks like Chris Rufo and Jay Greene (neither, incidentally, from Kansas) have been encouraging, so that the troops are hearing "school choice" as code for "schools where people will taught good proper christianist education the white way"). 

Committee chairwoman Kristey Williams, a former teacher from rural Kansas ought to know better, but she clearly doesn't, as noted by columnist Clay Wirestone, who calls out her "joyous expression of nihilism" before writing, "She and fellow Republican committee members appear committed to undermining the public education system that serves a half-million children — and razing the future of our state along the way."

So that's what high school English teacher Dr. Liz Meitl was preparing to testify for the fifth time, a process that she described to me as saying what you have to say and they either ignore you or go on to mischaracterize what you said. And, she said, "I think I just kind of cracked."

The result was this following bit of testimony.

(You can stop watching after she finishes-- my Youtube skills are limited)

Dr. Liz's testimony has been a bit of a TikTok hit, and she followed up with a print version of the modest proposal

The total lack of oversight and regulation, combined with the financial incentives, create an almost irresistible opportunity for those of us with an agenda for our state’s future. Teachers’ dedication to Kansas’s public schools and serving every student will certainly mean almost nothing when we consider the possibilities offered via this legislation.

Meitl's road to this moment really captures much of the education world in the past few decades. She graduated with an undergraduate degree in English and was going to serve with the Peace Corps in a middle eastern country; then 9/11 happened. She started teaching, but then marriage and kids happened and it did not make financial sense for her to work. A mentor convinced her to go back to school where she developed both her PhD and a desire to get back in the classroom. But then COVID hit. 

In the meantime, Meitl has been politically active, fighting for public education with middling results. She expresses frustration with politicians who treat teachers like the cause of student struggles rather than the folks who work on the front lines to help students. "They have demonized the hell out of us." 

It seems likely that the heavy irony in this testimony failed to move the committee, but God bless her for giving it a shot and giving voice to the frustrations that teachers feel. The real tragedy here is that, as Meitl pointed out, teachers who care about education may actually have to do this. "It is," she said, "both hilarious and sad."