Monday, July 31, 2023

About My Father


Every year we make the pilgrimage to the cabin on the lake. The lake itself straddles the New Hampshire-Maine border, relatively quiet and off the beaten path, though not as far off as when my father's father built the place 70ish years ago. 

It's under an hour from Rye, where both my parents grew up, and so was convenient for family get aways. I can remember trips there as a kid. Eating on a bench overlooking the water, the scent of sun-warmed pine needles outside, the slightly musty lake smell inside. It still smells that way, and it takes me back the instant we get out of the car.

The camp is the last of the family roots up there. Both of my grandparents' homes are now gone, taken down so someone could build a fancier house. But the camp has pictures of family, a logbook that goes back decades (you have to journal your visit daily while there--house rules). My father and mother rescued the place, after some years of neglect by my uncle. They restored it, preserved it, added to it. Now six generations have used it this family legacy, though Mom and Dad haven't been able to make the trip for several years. Lot of memories from the past, but not much to do but be with the people who are there with you. We swim, paddle on the lake, or sit on the deck and read, listening to the wind through the trees and the loons on the water.

That's where we were when I got word that the hospice house had started my father on morphine.


My father was born in 1935. His father was a general contractor (the kind who always had work) and his mother would go on to be a longtime New Hampshire state legislator (the kind who is always unopposed for re-election because everyone is perfectly happy with her work). 

He was bit of a rapscallion as a youth. He flooded a school bathroom. His grandfather (The Doctor) found him placed in time out in the hall. His report cards say that he talked too much. His parents sent him to Philips Exeter Academy to be a non-residential student (a townie) not because they wanted him to run elbows with the sons of wealthy families, but because they wanted him to shape up. He wrote a letter to his aunt, pleading for her to intercede on his behalf, because Philips Exeter had no girls among the student body.

All of this comes as a surprise to people have only known him as an adult who seemed entirely straight-laced and by the book. 

But Dad always has always gone his own way. When other fifties teens were getting into Little Richard and Buddy Holly and Elvis, Dad was beginning a life-long interest in Glenn Miller. He watched Monty Python and a host of British comedies, but he was also a big fan of The Love Boat and the Jack Webb stable of procedurals. His love of Miller expanded into interest in all manner of interest in Big Band and jazz (for years, my brother and I hosted a Big Band show on the local radio station--we did it with his collection). But he also loved ABBA. 

He was spectacularly unconcerned about fashion. Preferred clothing: plaid shirt and white socks. Over the years he collected a variety of comfortable and practical hats, all ugly. He never drank nor smoked; he was the guy who shared with me the trick of carrying a glass with some ginger ale in it at parties to keep people from pestering you with alcohol.

You can let people control you by always doing what they say. You can also let people control you by doing the opposite of what they say. Just use your best judgement and do what's right. That's one of the lessons I learned from my father.


While his Philips Exeter classmates headed off for the Ivies, Dad went to the University of New Hampshire and got a mechanical engineering degree (top of his class). He was an engineer by profession his whole life, working for Joy Manufacturing Company (the leading producer of underground coal mining machinery) for 41 years. He was hugely respected there, called a "mentor" and lauded for both his engineering and leadership abilities. I long ago lost track of the number of people who have gone out of their way to tell me and my siblings how much they respected him and loved working for and with him. His policy and procedure directives were called Scotty Grams. Someone at the company once shared that he enjoyed the "dry pithy witticisms" in my father's memos.

Joy eventually became a poster child for all the bad things that can happen when companies are bought and sold by investors who are more important than cashing in than whatever it is the company actually does. There were some tense years when he was a undercover corporate rebel, holding the line in spite of what his bosses wanted him to do. At one point, new owners gave him a commendation for disobeying the previous owners.

He had the engineer's lover of rules, and he was practical and methodical. He taught me how to do body work repairs on a car by using pop rivets, left over sheet metal ductwork, and roofing cement. He wanted to tape audio from the tv, so he rigged wiring and plugs to do that. 

He had us help him on projects (this will just take fifteen minutes, he would say) and sometimes it took longer than promised because if the problem turns out to be bigger than you thought, well, that's what you have to deal with. Reality does not adjust itself to your wishes and hopes and expectations, and life is not always fair. 

He developed his own design for bookshelves (and all of his children ended up with them in their homes). He was a car guy, and we learned about how to work on them and take care of them, too. 

That engineer's mindset led to his second career. After retiring from Joy, he became a volunteer at a local museum of old musical contraptions--band organs and the like. Repairing and restoring the devices was real art and an engineer's dream challenge. He became the (unpaid) executive director of the museum, and the work he and his team did in restorations was in demand outside of the museum itself. In the family, we made the joke that he stopped working forty hours a week for pay so that he could work sixty hours a week for free. 


He loved projects. The camp was a project, for certain, and the museum was perhaps the biggest project ever. But there were others.

He owned a 1914 Federal Fire Truck ("federal" was a make, not a jurisdictional designation). The kind with solid rubber tires that you had to start with a crank. He restored that. When we were little, he would drive it around the neighborhood and the neighborhood kids would all run out and ride on it. My daughter's wedding party took pictures on it. 

He also restored a 1940 four-door Buick convertible, which was used on a few occasions to drive his children and their new spouses around after the ceremonial flinging of the rice. Oh, and an aged roto-tiller.

He was constantly rebuilding, restoring, renovating. His other big decades-long project was the church, where he has certainly poked, prodded and repaired every nook and cranny of that aging structure. He took care of that place like it was his own home. 


He married the love of his life. They met and first dated in high school. Somewhere in one of those first dates he ended up with one of her bobby pins. He stuck it in his wallet. Then when he got a new wallet, he transferred the bobby pin. He carried that bobby pin with him for seventy-some years. 

They got married between his junior and senior year at UNH; she had already graduated from teachers' college. During his senior year, she taught in an elementary school. There's a graduation picture of him, in his cap and gown, with my mother, who is holding me, a lump barely a couple of weeks old. 

When they got married, he already had two potential employers after him, so as soon as he graduated, they moved to Claremont. They lived for a year with the Paradises, who were forever my third set of grandparents (their daughter Elaine is a reader of this blog). Then they moved to their own home, had a couple more kids, moved to the other side of town (Joy said, "Sell your house, you're moving to Pennsylvania" and then after the house was sold "Oh, we meant next year") and then to Pennsylvania. I was an adult before I realized that their story was the story of a pair of twenty-somethings repeatedly being uprooted and dragging three kids all over the countryside.

But they did it together and raised the kids together and took care of the church together, and when the museum gig came along it was perfect because for twenty-some years they went to work together. One of my old friends told me that he thought of them as Howard and Marion Cunningham; in the last few decades they also bore a resemblance to Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn in On Golden Pond. They modeled commitment and love for all of us.

Mind you, we are not a demonstrative clan, and the engineer-from-rock-ribbed-New-England thing may have gone along with a stern, hard exterior, but inside my father was all warm marshmallow, and if that was not entirely obvious to me and my siblings growing up, the grandchildren made it obvious. I grew up with the understanding that in church one was supposed to behave. Imagine my surprise when, as an adult member of the choir, I looked out at the congregation and saw my father making toys dance across the back of a pew to entertain my children. 

He did the genealogy thing, too, tracking down the many branches of the family tree. Some were way in the past (ancestor on the Mayflower, a guy who "dies" multiple times and then turned up again a bit further west). But he also tracked down his niece, the daughter of his brother who we'd last seen when she was a baby. She'd been raised separated from the family; he got her reconnected. 


My father never stopped growing and learning. People making his kind of money can buy toys and fancy houses and cars and vacations in exotic locales (and colored socks), but he invested mostly in books and music and other people and worthwhile causes (even if that occasionally meant supporting groups that opposed each other). If you want to know more about something, go find out. And he would pass all of that on. "Here's a book you should read."  He would offer thoughts about religion to the pastor. He corresponded with all sorts of people; what is the point of learning and discovering if you don't share it with people. His grandchildren have letters from him offering observations about life in general.

Dad managed to be, simultaneously, a person who had very definite ideas about how to navigate the world, but also a person who did not judge you for the decisions you made. During the period when I was blowing up my marriage, it would not have been strange for him to sit me down and demand, "What the hell are you doing, kid?" He did not. I was not made to perform any kind of penance. In another family tale, my sister drove the car, with him in it, through the garage door. "It's just a door," he said as he waved my very alarmed mother off. 

Mom and Dad lived fairly traditional rolls in their marriage, but recently, while contemplating the spate of articles and takes and books about manhood and realized that my father never talked to us about how to be a man, just how to be a person. I have no recollection of ever being given the impression that the rules for Decent Human Being contained special appendices based on your plumbing. 

Treat people well. Be responsible. Help out. Keep learning things. The past is the past, but no matter how bad things have gone, they can do better from this point forward. Family matters. 


Dad kept physically active, but as he aged, obstacles appeared. His heart needed a little extra regulation. His lungs started to let him down. His mind, always sharp, lost some of its edge. A few months ago, the trip to the hospital that led, not home, but to a local hospice facility, a homelike atmosphere in a house that serves just three residents at a time. 

If you've been there, you know the drill. Are we making the right choices? Is he getting better? Holding his own? Losing ground? The more closely you look for an answer, the more the answer changes minute to minute. You stay on high alert while at the same time trying to live your life. My mother made the trip to sit with him every day. He railed at his growing limitations, insisted on physical therapy even if his achievements were as simple as sitting up. No matter how bad things have been, how bad things are, face where you actually are and do your best to move forward. That was never not my father.

The siblings took turns driving and sitting. My sister came from mid-state to help Mom and perk up his days; my brother, now retired from helping run the company our father helped make a success, wrestled with the paperwork. Reading him the cards and letters. Fixing up a music player with Miller tunes. My daughter came and introduced him to his newest granddaughter, named for my mother.

My branch of the family took our planned trip to the lake, tethered to my siblings via Zuckerberg's messenger app every step of the way. We sent pictures; Mom said it pleased him to see the place, his legacy, being used. He had a good day. He had a bad day. 

Then the message: they'd started morphine.

If you've been here, you know that's the sign that the final leg of this journey has begun. We packed up and headed home, running through the careful steps he's written out years ago for closing up camp and leaving it sealed, clean, and ready for the next family to enter it.

He was still in there. He smiled when his grandson and granddaughter-in-law came to announce that they were expecting a baby girl in December. He lost more abilities, but, noted the staff member who had become his BFF, "he can still glare."

A few days ago, his struggles ended.


He had made his final plans years ago, pre-paid and on file at the funeral home. It was my job to write the obit, but that consisted mostly of editing the obit he had written for himself a decade ago. These days between death and departure are, for some families, a flurry of activity, but my father didn't leave us a lot to do, other than stand by our mother and help her manage.

People deal with these things in their own ways. I haven't cried, much, and I expect that what will happen is that I will encounter some random line of writing or hear a snatch of music and turn into a giant weepy puddle. In the meantime, I deal with things by writing through them--the words collect and organize themselves in my head sometime in the early morning hours and they peck at me until I write them out onto the page. And so here we are.

He was a good person, a smart person, a focused and admirable person who made the world around him better. Another old friend described him as "sweet and interesting," and that's pretty on point as well. He had a good long run, and he didn't waste a bit of it, but I wish there were more. His is a great story, and while he will no longer actively participate in it, it's certainly not over. It is trite and cliche to say that he'll live on through his family and the work that he did and the mark he left in his community, but while it is trite and cliche it is also absolutely true. 

Know what matters, and walk steadily toward it without fanfare or complaint. May his memory be a blessing. 

Sunday, July 30, 2023

ICYMI: And Now We Are X Edition (7/30)

No point in saying someone is good and rich, because if you're really rich, you don't have to be good at much of anything. Here are some things to read.

Top 2 leaders of Arizona's school voucher program abruptly resign.

Arizona's taxpayer subsidy for private schools looks to run a $319 deficit. Suddenly, a little accountability is looking good to a few people.

Accountability needed before spending millions in taxpayer money on private-school tuition vouchers in Pennsylvania

Speaking of which, the Lancaster Online editorial board suggests that an unaccountable voucher program wouldn't be a big win for PA taxpayers.

North Carolina Republicans poised to triple funding for nation’s least accountable school voucher program

But fans of taxpayer subsidies for private schools would much rather throw more money at them than talk about where that money lands. Juston Parmenter looks at how that's playing out in North Carolina.

So Good a [Lost] Cause (Part 1)

Steve Nuzum in South Carolina, looking at Orrin Smith, the guy who shouldn't be put in charge of higher education for so many reasons--but probably will be. 

Can school choice support district-led efforts to foster diverse schools?

Spoiler alert: No. Brookings has some actual research to back that up.

Florida’s Black history standards are even worse than reported

Much cyber ink has been spilled on the interwebs over the new Florida Black history standards, but one of the best takes comes from Michael Harriot at The Grio. There's more to it than just the up side of slavery.

DeSantis officials push back on Byron Donalds’ criticism of African American history standards

One amazing side feature of the Florida standards flap-- right wing anti-public ed guy Byron Donalds (husband of one of the leading anti-public ed voices in Florida) actually broke ranks and got called names by fellow anti-public ed politician Manny Diaz. 

Most of Florida work group did not agree with controversial parts of state's new standards for Black history, members say

Meanwhile, NBC reports that maybe not everyone on the super-duper commission that created the standards agreed with the final product.

Who is Terry Stoops and What is the Purpose of the FLDOE’s “Academically Successful and Resilient Districts” Office?

Short answer-- a government official installed to provide support to conservative board members in Florida. But Sue Kingery Woltanski has the longer answer, which co0nnects Stoops to a far-ranging web of the usual players. 

Conservatives are changing K-12 education, and one Christian college is at the center

Also ay NBC, Tyler Kingkaide takes a deep dive into Hillsdale College and their work at promoting Christian nationalism in education.

Surprising Conversations: Talking to Early Childhood Parents About Gender and Education

From the blog Educating Gender, an interesting look at how some gender issues play out in real classrooms, and how real parents connect to them.

Arthur children’s book faces potential Florida ban over claim it ‘damaged souls’

In Florida, any yahoo can challenge a school book (courtesy lawmaker Byron Donalds, mentioned above). And that gets you ridiculous stories like this, covered by Maya Yang for the Guardian, in which a 34 year old book about one of the blandest characters in children's lit draws someone's ire.

Parents take the reins in Florida's book censorship fight

"Reins" might be a bit strong, but Deirdra Funcheon at Axios has the story of some Moms who actually kind of like the idea of books being read. 

Virtual charter school board hires outside legal team

Oh, Oklahoma, where the windy right wingers come sweeping down the plain. The board that approved the (illegal) Catholic virtual charter school has gotten itself some legal representation, like the Alliance Defending Freedom, the christianist nationalist law firm that lives for these sorts of cases.

(Almost) All You Need is Love

Nancy Flanagan with some reflection on need for teachers to actually care about students. 

In world of retirements and job-hopping, Jersey City school unlocks secret to retaining 95% of its teachers

Joshua Rosario at the Jersey Journal (watch out for the paywall) takes a look at how one school has benefited from the community school model.

I don't ordinarily put a tweet (or whatever we're supposed to call them now) on this list, but Adam Laats pulled a quote that you absolutely have to remember every time Chris Rufo's name comes up.

Donovan Tann at McSweeney's. 

As always feel free to subscribe to my substack, which is free and convenient.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

No Zero Grading And The Mystery of Assessment

It's a story that periodically resurfaces. Just last week, there was a recycling of the tale of Diane Tirado, the Florida teacher who was allegedly fired for giving students a zero on homework. 

There are plenty of lessons to be learned from this story. One is the dangers of teaching in a state with few job protections and deliberately weakened unions for teachers. Another is to beware of these sorts of viral stories, because maybe there were other reasons she was let go and maybe the school doesn't actually have a no zeros policy.

But even though the story is five years old, it still has legs because no-zero grading is reliably click-generating and button-pushing. For some folks it just rings the fuzzy-headed liberal bell. Your uncle who bitches about participation trophies also hates no-zero grading. That's not how life works. It's coddling students. And, as this conservative writer puts it,

It’s part of being nice and progressive, considerate of students’ feelings and respectful of their egos.

I know most of the arguments from the years we debated a no-zero policy in my district. We had switched from a letter grade system for nine weeks grades to a 100-point scale, and shortly after, the district created a policy that no student could receive a grade lower than 50% in the first grading periods of a course. 

There was nothing nice or progressive about it. It was practical matter of teacher preservation. 

Under a letter grade system, with averaging math based on a four point scale (A=4, B=3, C=2, D=1 and F=0), an F was not a grading catastrophe. But with a 100 point scale...well, imagine a worst case scenario. With 70% the lowest passing score (as it was for many years), a student needs to hit 280 total for the year. If the student pulls a 0 in the first nine weeks, that student needs to hit the low nineties in the remaining three quarters.

Again, the no-zero policy was not about the student's tender feelings or vulnerable ego. It was about the problem of spending 135 days with a teenager in your classroom who knows he cannot possibly pass your class, that his failure is already written in stone, and so has A) no reason to try and B) nothing to lose. A no-zero policy is not doing the student a favor; it is giving the classroom teacher one more chance to hold onto one more piece of leverage for just a little bit longer.

A discussion about no-zero grading opens the door to a discussion of grading itself, which is a difficult topic mostly because it involves doing the impossible--assigning a clear and specific numeric value to the learning that may or may not have occurred inside a student's head.

While attempting to do that impossible feat, we layer on issues of number crunching. One of the things my district didn't like about the four point letter-to-number scale is that such a scale effectively awards students the lowest possible score for the grade (if 3.0 -3.9 is a B, but a B is worth 3.0, then the student is always just scraping by). Should we weight the difficulty of the course? Should we weight for times of year--isn't learning demonstrated in May more important than learning demonstrated in September? But if we weight, how do we build that into numbers? Do we get into the mathematical business of curving, even though drawing the lines on the curve is an arbitrary task often motivated by non-educational concerns.

And if this grading stuff is hopelessly messy, can we just not? Go back to the idea of portfolios, because maybe now that we have digital capabilities portfolios won't be such a giant unmanageable mess of... nah, they'd probably still be a giant mess. Maybe competency based stuff, with a giant checklist of bare minimum demonstrations of various "skills" except that bare minimums are problematic and not everything students learn is a skill and if you wander too far from a traditional approach, expect a massive wave of parents asking "What the hell does this even mean? Can you just tell me how my kid is doing??"

What are grades supposed to communicate? Is there an absolute amount of stuff that students should have mastered by a certain grade, and who decides, and do you just use data about what the average student has mastered in which case A) you're back to grading on the curve and B) roughly 49% of students will ne below average, always. 

Should a grade tell what a parent how a student compares to other students, or to some objective standard? Should a grade communicate something useful to future employers, or colleges, or to the student's future teachers, or to the state itself? 

Is it possible to come up with a system that does all these things at once, or shall we just use a tool designed for one purpose for other purposes as well? Can we use a hammer to put in screws? And can we keep from polluting the data with other information that weighs factors like compliance and attendance, neither of which are trues measures of what the student has learned.

And all of this because at the heart of assessment, we are trying to know the unknowable--what is going on in another human's head. We can claim that performance tasks fill the bill, but that will always include the extra layer of a student's ability to perform. Some students are great at performing despite not really knowing. Some students who really know can't perform. Some students just don't want to perform. And what about all the stuff that just kind of lies dormant upstairs until a light bulb goes on five, ten, twenty years from now. 

I'm not saying throw up our hands and claim that it's impossible, so don't even try. I am saying that any time someone starts talking about grades or test scores or assessments as if they are solid, absolutely reliable numbers that precisely represent reality, they are shoveling baloney. Maybe it's wishful thinking baloney, or maybe it's self-deluded baloney, or maybe it's let-me-sell-you-some-snake-oil baloney. But it's still baloney. 

All I'm asking is that we talk about grades and assessment for what they are--our best attempt at getting an approximate read on what is going on inside the head of a particular young human being. No assessment or reporting system is so finely, perfectly attuned that to alter a piece of it would be a crime against its shiny perfection. All grading systems contain a not-inconsiderable amount of junk. 

That's okay--as long as we remember that we aren't dealing with perfect systems. But it is very human to make shit up and then pretend that that shit descended from the heavens on a silver platter carried by the hand of God. 

We do the best we can with what we have and what we know, and we accept that we can, and should, always try to do better. That's a fundamental rule for being human in the world, and it covers assessment of our fellow humans as well. 

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Writing Across The Curriculum (Yikes)

Every year, somewhere in the country, some school official gets an idea. "Writing is super important (and also kind of on the Big Standardized Test)" or maybe "I went to a conference and heard about this cool thing," and so BAM it's time for Writing Across The Curriculum!

WAC has so much history as instructional approach that it even has its own Wikipedia page. It's particularly beloved at the collegiate level, which means of course that it has percolated down into K-12, getting a particular juice from Common Core as some fans declared it a "perfect fit" (because if Common Core was good for one thing, it was good for prompting cries of "Hey, this thing that I already want to do turns out to be a Perfect Fit for these new standards! Who'da thunk it?")

But if you are a high school English teacher and an edict that "all teachers will have writing as a part of their class, now" gives you a Mariana Trench-sized pit in the sinky parts of your stomach, your sense of onrushing disaster is well-founded. 

Here are all the ways this is going to go wrong.

The sheer time suck

One of the most discouraging phrases in the teaching world is, "Don't worry. This will just take a few minutes of class time every week." It's an arrow into any teacher's heart because

1) No, it won't. Not if it's going to be done well.

2) Nobody outside of the classroom counts transition time. Even if it only took ten minutes, it would eat more than ten minutes of class time. 

3) "A few minutes" every week adds up to a school year that is days, even weeks shorter.

Number of high and middle school teaching colleagues excited about giving up yet another chunk of time? Zero. Also

4) The discouraging realization that your admins think your job is so easy anyone can do it.

No, not just anybody can teach writing

In your high/middle school, there is a non-zero number (possibly a very high non-zero number) of people whose last writing instruction came in their own high school days. Maybe in college some professor asked them to write a paper, but that professor probably didn't provide any guidance on how to do it.

In other words, WAC involves recruiting a whole lot of people to do a job they're not qualified to do. Any English teacher who has worked for more than fifteen minutes can tell you the stories of unteaching something that has been taught in other classrooms. No, you don't just put a comma anywhere you take a breath. Yes, you can start a sentence with "because." No, a paragraph doesn't have to have exactly three sentences. Or just the incredulous who in God's name ever taught you to do that?

A non-zero number of colleagues know this would put them in over their heads. Holy hell!" They will exclaim. "I don't know anything about teaching writing!" with either fear or anger. Much the same way I would have reacted had my administration told me I was going to start including trigonometry or band saw operation in my weekly lesson plans.

Hey, we can hire a consultant!

Of course, there are plenty of people ready to make money from help you with your WAC distress. We used such a consultant at my old district, and I see that these days they are doing gangbuster business on the backs of such proprietary genius as making students write only on every other line and reducing all writing to five simple categories. It did not last long at our district, nor did it deserve to.

WAC programs generally involve some version of turning to the scared/angry not-English-teachers and saying, "It's okay. We'll just scale this down and make it really simple for you." Preferably something that can be taught in a short professional development session or two. The notion that writing instruction can be reduced to something quick and simple and easy is a bad place to start, but you can ask two questions to determine if your consultant is lost far in the weeds:

1) Would this be a good way to train teachers whose job was primarily to teach writing?

2) Would the teachers who already teach writing have to dumb down their program to comply with your consultant's super-duper WAC program?

About "instruction"

WAC defenders will have already muttered at their screen, "Why are you talking about writing instruction? We're just talking about using writing in all the other classrooms, not teaching it."

Really? You are going to assign your students a task, but you're going to provide no instruction about how you want them to do it? 

What the heck are you even doing?

Oh, what's that you say...?

Where does it all eventually land?

The very worst iteration of WAC is the one where some non-zero number of non-English teachers just pass the buck back to the English department. 

"I don't know. Just go ask your English teacher about that." 

"I'm not sure how to grade these, really--could you just scan through this stack for me?"

"Hey, English department, people are really freaking out over this. Could you just whip up a set of guidelines and stuff for every other department in the school? Just use a couple of your prep periods. And if anyone has any questions, they can just come to you, right?"

WAC programs are a great way to send English teachers into hiding.

So is WAC utterly hopeless?

Not necessarily. It's possible to hire your own teachers to develop a program that will work in house (by "hire" I mean pay them for their time and expertise rather than asking them to throw something together during the five minutes they use to scarf down lunch). It will be better than hiring some consultant or, worse yet, just running off some handouts you got at that last administrator conference where you heard about WAC.

Nor am I suggesting that English teachers should be the gatekeepers of the mystic, esoteric art of writing, preserving it as a special practice accessible only to the elite few. 

It's not only possible but desirable for teachers to use writing in certain focused ways. "Write an explanation of this concept" is a far better assessment than "answer some multiple choice questions sort of about pieces of this concept" -- but only if you are clear about expectations and focus. Don't dock a student point because they explained quantum entanglement well but broke some punctuation rule you half remember from your tenth grade English class. 

Teaching writing is hard; the teachers in your building who already do it do not agree on precisely the best way. Ditto assessment. Assessing writing is hard--and it's also messy and not at all conducive to hard-numbered data. And all assessments have to be created with a deliberate specific purpose, or they're junk. All of these assumptions have to be part of your WAC program. 

Also, please note. There is absolutely, positively no such thing as the Science of Writing. 

A WAC program that starts with an administrator gesturing vaguely Over There while announcing that from now on, students will regularly write in all their class is destined for a non-zero amount of mess and frustration and very little useful, meaningful building of skills. 

Sunday, July 23, 2023

ICYMI: Vacation Edition (7/23)

As you read this, we have decamped to the Curmudgucation Institute Field Office in Maine, where the living is easy and the internet connections are spotty on a good day, so posting will be thin here. But I do have a few pieces of reading for you from the past week. Enjoy.

The Vermilion Education One-Man Show

We've been following the ex-Hillsdale guy running a one-man anti-woke consulting firm, and now the indispensable Mercedes Schneider has assembled many of the choice details of this guy's work and qualifications (or lack thereof).

Hillsdale is determined to extend its reach into Tennessee. Andy Spears reports on their latest new efforts.

Education was once the No. 1 major for college students. Now it's an afterthought.

One more data point in the ongoing saga of the great teacher exodus. Courtesy CBS News.

I've pretty much never seen a school takeover that went well, but the one in Houston has turned out to be particularly ugly. Josephine Lee at Texas Observer has a great story on the ongoing baloney party.

More Memphis charter schools could face closure after state’s failed turnaround effort

Speaking of failed takeovers, Tennessee's Achievement School District, composed of districts the state has taken over, continues to fail, year after year.

Real Parental Rights

Steve Nelson has an idea for something better than the rights the culture warriors are trying to acquire for some parents.

What does the word 'woke' really mean, and where does it come from?

NPR tackles the question that anti-woke crusaders are unable to answer.

Why billionaires like Betsy DeVos push school vouchers in Pa.

The privatization crowd has been pushing hard for more vouchers in Pennsylvania. Erik Anderson has some thoughts about why--and he used to work for the DeVos family. Read this is for nothing else than one jaw-dropping DeVos family quote.

PASS Scholarship Proponents Collected $10 Million off Voucher Programs During the Pandemic

Speaking of PA vouchers, some folks who like vouchers sure do make an awful lot of money from administering them.

Little-Discussed Reasons Why Students Might Not Like to Read

Why don't some students like to read? Nancy Bailey has some thoughts well worth considering.

Can We Unlearn the Test-and-Punish Lexicon No Child Left Behind Taught Us and Demand Reform?

Jan Resseger  considers the question that we ought to be bringing up every single day.

While the blog will be pretty quiet until we get back from up down East, the substack will be publishing an assortment of some old favorites. If you subscribe right now, you'll get all the rest of them. It's free.

Friday, July 21, 2023

Mandatory LGBTQ Outing Helps Nobody

I don't know why they're cheering.

Okay, I know why. But the parents of Chino, California are kidding themselves if they think the new mandatory outing rule will help anyone, least of all them.

The rule says that once a child asks to be identified by anything other than “a name or pronoun other than those listed on the student’s birth certificate”, the school has 72 hours to notify home. The meeting was so contentious that it included throwing out the state superintendent.

This is a stupid policy.

Like many such policies, it is based on the LGBTQ panic notion that what happens is that the school convinces the child that they are trans, and then tells the child not to tell anyone at home. 

I'm not going to say this never, ever happens; there are a lot of schools in this country, and on any given day, somebody in one of them is doing something stupid. So it may well be true that the above scenario is playing out somewhere with vanishingly small frequency. And wherever it happens, to be clear, the school is in the wrong.

But in most cases, if the parents aren't being told, that is 100% the decision of the child. If your child thinks he might be gay, and he's not telling you about it, it is because he doesn't trust you. If your child thinks she might be trans, and she's not talking to you about it, it is because she doesn't trust you. If they're talking to some adult at school about it, that's because they can't think of anywhere else to turn. 

Policies like this are not a directive for schools to talk to parents; they are a directive to students not to trust schools.

The most immediate and clear result of a policy like this is that students will understand that the school staff cannot be trusted, and so they simply won't tell them.

Policies like this will do nothing for parents. The children who would talk about these things will still do so; those who don't trust their parents enough to talk to them, still won't. And parents will not be clued in because the children will not talk to their teachers, either.

Policies like these are no help to teachers (not that they are meant to be). Teachers can now wonder about stupid stuff like if Patricia's request to be called Pat is a violation of the rule that requires a phone call, so they'll get to do less teaching and more nickname and suspicion-of-LGBTQ phone calls, which will in turn be a nuisance to parents who either don't care abut nicknames or who are so panicked over this issue that they jump every time their child does anything that might reveal "tendencies."

Most of all, this will not help children. LGBTQ students will be even more isolated,  not just by the loss of a place to turn, but the notion that being LGBTQ is the kind of thing they call your parents about, like skipping class or cheating on a test. 

Some LGBTQ kids will be fine. Because they have healthy relationships with their parents, they'll come out at home. Then home and school will touch base, coordinate how things are to be handled, and everyone will do what they can to support the child through what can be difficult and momentous and emotional issues.

Others will not. More isolation, more depression. Maybe more homelessness. Possibly, God forbid, more suicide. 

It's bad policy. It doesn't help any of the people it pretends to help, and hurts some of the most vulnerable and helpless young people. It's bad policy.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Does School Choice Harm Or Help US Education? | Breaking Points w/James Li

Here's a quick explainer about school choice, featuring Josh Cowen as a guest. Brief but clear. Warning-- you probably want to stay out of the comments section. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Leaked Audio From Hillsdale-Linked Dewokify Privatizer

Vermilion Education is a new name in the consulting biz. The Sarasota, FL, board considered (and ultimately rejected) a contract with the education consulting firm. Then it turned up in Pennridge 

The address Vermilion lists on the Sarasota contract proposals is a single family home (1640 square feet) in a residential neighborhood of Hillsdale. And their personnel--well, so far, it looks like one guy.

These guys all seem to have a distinctive look
That guy is Jordan Adams, fresh from Hillsdale. There's a lot of story with Hillsdale (here's a short-ish version or get into it more heavily with a whole series of articles), but the current version is a private right-wing christianist college whose head, Larry Arnn ("Teaching is our trade; also, I confess, it's our weapon"), is the same MAGA-fied guy who headed up Trump's 1776 Education thingy (and said teachers are the dumbest). They've provided a platform for a lot of school privatization and taxpayer subsidies for private christian school rhetoric from heavy hitters like Betsy DeVos and Christopher Rufo, all arguing that government shouldn't be running schools--churches should.

Hillsdale has long had a charter school initiative called the Barney Charter Schools, and more recently they've been behind the launch of many "classical" academies around the country.

Jordan Adams is a Hillsdale grad ('13), which means he was a Hillsdale student when they were launching the Barney schools, and eventually became their Associate Director of Instructional Resources, supposedly teaching at charters for a year or two (though I can't find confirmation of that).  I'll let you draw your own conclusion about his fitness for the role:

“I mostly focus on the history and Latin curricula, figuring out how things are taught in a fourth-grade or eleventh-grade classroom,” said Adams. He looks forward to experimenting with more accessible resources for teachers: “When you’re a first-year teacher, you’re just trying to stay one day ahead of what you’re supposed to be teaching. You don’t have time to sit down and read a long text about teaching. But maybe if there’s a short video that is clearly titled and easy to access, you might conceivably watch it while you’re making dinner.”

Note: I had to go to the Wayback Machine internet archive for that article, which has since been scrubbed from the Hillsdale site.

If only there were a place to go where you could study teaching so that you knew what you were doing on more than a day by day basis. Adams's original undergrad plan was to work at a think tank, then he went to grad school for a Masters of Humanities. One more educational amateur rediscovering the wheel. But apparently reinvented it well enough to move up to interim director of curriculum for the Hillsdale College K-12 Education Office, a job he was holding back in October of 2022.

Adams was part of the crew that screened the Florida math textbooks that DeSantis accused of being too indoctrinatey.

Adams is no longer listed in any current capacity as employed by Hillsdale, though there is no peep about his departure. Not sure what we can make of that.

As was the case in Sarasota, Pennridge added the Vermilion contract to the agenda 24 hours before the meeting,

His work there so far is a fiasco (here's some coverage by Jenny Stephens for the Bucks County Beacon) and it's increasingly clear that not only is Adams unqualified for the job, but the job he's really intending to do is not the one being sold to the public. Adams is there to dewokify the district and turn it into a christianist nationalist operation. And while Adams will refer to the districts that have hired him, just two weeks ago he was telling Pennridge that they were the first to hire him.

And if there were any doubt--well, Adams was at the Moms For Liberty soiree a few weeks back, offering a session entitled “The First 100 Days: Getting Flipped School Boards to Take Action.” This is going to be long, but you'll never get a better look at the kind of strategy that the right wing culture war crowd imagines.

Somebody made an audio recording and then handed it off to the Bucks County Beacon, where you can hear the audio and read a transcript. Which you absolutely should. And to entice you, let me share some of the choice parts of this speech full of culture warrior talking points as he walks us through month by month.


Urgency of Right Now? Check: "If we don’t make most of this chance, we’re not going to be at another one. It is very much within education….It’s a do-or-die moment." Sure. It's not like this exact same culture war baloney has been going for a hundred years already. Which reminds me--ahistorical nonsense? Check.

We're the victimized underdog? Check. have board members getting onto the board, but then they’re running into a machine, a machine that, like I said, has been doing this for decades, controls all the levers of power, has a ton of money behind it, has, increasingly, goons that will come out and yell and scream until they get their way. They have all the consultants in the world to choose from to bring this stuff in.

That's why he's in the biz now--the "other side" could bring in consultants to push SEL and curriculum changes because "it's all their friends" and "they're all on the same team." So he formed a K-12 consulting company "for reform-minded school board majorities."

What I realized and what I’ve seen boards do is if they get in there, the dog has caught the car, and they don’t know what the first thing is to do.

Well, that and they discover that running a school district involves a lot of detail work and nuts and bolts and keeping the lights on and you don't always have supreme power to just insist that your own ideology become the rule of the district.

Owning the libs? Check. Once he's hired (he claims multiple districts, though Pennridge is the only contract I know of) "the right people are freaking out because the fox is in the henhouse." Which is an odd thing to say if you're there to help a school district. 

Insisting that your own ignorance is just as valid as someone else's knowledge? Check.

One thing I’ll caution against, though, is don’t call me an expert, please. I’m so sick of the word expert, I could scream. ...I mean if 2020 has proved anything else it is that expertise is dead in the country. There’s no such thing. That is a label to shut down any type of dialogue and pretend that you can’t use your own brain to figure things out.

This presentation will focus on actions that will actually result in concrete, specific, meaningful changes in what students encounter and experience each day in school, especially from an educating perspective. I’m not getting into the finances, legal, budget, Robert’s Rules of Order, none of that stuff. I really want to talk about how schools are about teaching children. How can we make changes that affect what students learn and how they learn it.

Finances, legal, budget, keeping the lights on, keeping the district legal and functioning? Who cares? Just let's get them soaked in our own belief system.

although I’m going to throw a lot at you, unfortunately, since I’m a teacher, I’m making you take notes.

Claiming the mantle of "teacher" on scant experience (while still denmigrating teacher expertise)? Check.

And then he gets into strategy.

For these boards, these majorities, they need to be hitting on multiple fronts, multiple issues, they need to keep moving.

The idea is that the other side, the powers that be, they cannot keep up with all of it. Oftentimes, they’ll be one small thing, one thing at a time and they can rally people around that. They can’t counter everything. Everything should be up for debate. We should be moving on multiple policy areas and it should be happening quickly and efficiently.

You will recognize the old MAGA strategy of flood the zone--a strategy that is only adoptable if you believe that you are the only person whose ideas matter. 

Here are some of his specific ideas. Get a document preservation policy, because when you go snooping around, "things will get deleted." The presumption here is that the district is filled with bad actors who will try to hide their naught deeds from the noble new board members.

Then start demanding all sorts of information.

This includes things such as the percentage of students who are not proficient in a given grade or subject based on available tests, and if they’re going to throw the 2022, 2023 scores at you, or at your board, ask for the 2019 as well because I guarantee you, things were better but not that much better before the lockdowns.

No word on how to respond when the district employees point out that all this info is publicly available and can be looked up in about ten minutes.

They should demand a standard operating procedure for selecting curriculum, including what the curriculum review process is, how it’s planned out and what the status is of each in each of those areas. They should demand the policy and procedure overseeing instructional materials that teachers use to supplement the official district recommendations. It’s not just enough to pay attention to the official curriculum, teachers generally have great autonomy in bringing additional things into their classrooms.

And it should include information, we want information. Did the board approve this? Was it the superintendent who approved it? Whose name is on the signature line? All contracts and invoices for any services provided to the district. It should demand every policy and procedure related to controversial issues. Anything related to student tracking by identity, any past surveys given to students.

You should ask for material purchase orders for programs, texts, or subscriptions from the last five years. Yes, purchase orders for anything that’s bought that’s related to programs, texts, subscription services, you should get. This is publicly available, but they can provide it for you. Every admin and admin staff salary and what their responsibilities are. You should get from the superintendent the names of the positions with whom the buck stops for academic or discipline failures in the district. Whether this is by a school, whether this is by district-wide, also known as an enhanced org chart, where you get into the specifics of how this thing is organized and who’s responsible for what.

So, drown your administrators and staff in paperwork all based on the assumption that they are probably Up To Something and you need to catch them at it. Because it's important that they understand that there is no trust between the board and the staff. But Adams has his eyes on a different message:

What this shows is, one, you mean business. They mean business. There’s a new sheriff in town. There’s new representation, things are going to start being responsive to the community.

Again, the assumption here is that the school staff and leaders will find the idea of being responsive to the community is some sort of shocking new idea. Trust.

Now Adams claims that this will just be playing fair, giving them a chance to "pony up." He also says that they won't and they'll make excuses like they don't have that or they can't get it that quickly. But he has a "very simple" response to those excuses:

Based on your positions and your salaries, this is how any small business in our community would have to be run. Have all the stuff at the ready, accounted for, already organized, and know where it’s at, so that all you have to do, really, all you should have to do is either hit print if you’re old school, or file share to share this with the board. That’s it. If you don’t have that in place, we have some problems and we’re going to start putting that stuff in place right away.

Run schools like a business? Check. And we could have done this sooner, but also, demonstrate that you don't really know a damned thing about how schools actually work? Check.

Then he wants the new board members to demand a copy of the curriculum with day to day detail. How are teachers trained? Who is being let into the schools? Review the strategic plan. 

One of the things I’m very hopeful about all this is that we start with the crazy ideology that is being pushed in schools…but we start looking at all the other issues going on as well.

He recommends--of course--the podcast series on the "Science of Reading," especially Episode 6 which he says "you can apply to any subject at any grade level," somehow. 

Anyway, back to his next step in flooding the zone. Review all administrative positions, mostly as a way of putting them on notice that they "need to cooperate with all this."

Pretending you've discovered the wheel? Check. Item number six is start looking to fill your upcoming staff vacancies early. Reach out to colleges that might have teachers graduating. Wow, what a brainstorm! Adams thinks, however, that there are "a lot of teachers out there that are keeping their heads down," that are just waiting for some district to market itself as devoted to right wing batshittery "great teaching."


In February, start introducing policies-- "policies on CRT, eliminating DEI offices, renewing contracts and initiatives, eliminating student surveys." He takes a moment to say that surveys and other new things from the last ten years weren't around when he was in school, dagnabbit, "and we were doing fine." 

Put a moratorium on new technology. If you have doubts, he suggests--and I swear I am not making this up--that you google it. Also, put a cell phone policy in place. 

Also, make student performance part of teacher review, he says, apparently unaware that this has been so for roughly twenty years. Completely failed to do his homework? Check.

Pause all outside contractors. Introduce a policy that says the school board should approve all new courses to be offered. Because "the board should have oversight over which things are taught." Teachers should document everything they teach, and all those lesson plans should be stored somewhere so that supervisors can know what teachers are doing. Good thinking. I'll bet that never occurred to anyone in the district. Also, document every supplemental thing, so that when you want to complain to the principal, you can add "Can you show me the documentation for this?"

And, of course, check everything in the library.

One more policy. Make sure all materials that will be presented to district staff must be available to the board a week ahead of time so that they can micromanage that, too. And make sure a specific name is attached to every single idea in the district so that you know who's accountable. "Just like in a business," says this thirty-something guy who has never worked in a school or run a business.

You start looking under the hood at this, and you realize it’s a circus. Nobody is doing anything, and they’re raking in the cash from the state, from taxpayers. They’re funneling off to their friends. It is all over the place. It is an absolute disaster. What we’ve encountered so far is the tip of an iceberg. It truly is.

You should hire a consultant to audit everything.


Enact the policies. Does that seem fast? Are people yelling at you? See it through. Fight back by being "over the target." Yeah, his March is a lot of gibberish.


Continue that review of staff positions. Now we’re pushing into April, and you’ve enacted the policies here. By the way, this is like your six-hour meeting, right? Or several six-hour meetings to get this one through because there’s a ton of public comment beforehand, particularly yelling at you. Then you vote on it, and there’s a lot of public comment afterwards to lambast you for voting on it. Just pack a snack or something.

Because you represent the community and the voters and taxpayers, but not the ones that disagree with you. Seriously--in the breath he calls administrators "stewards of what the community wants" which is why they should get with the program. But ignore the people who disagree with you. Those admins will "give you lip service all day long." 


As reports come up, publish them. Maybe a final audit in the summer so "you can write, 'see for yourselves'." because the assumption is that you will catch the district Being Naughty.

Build a paper trail, because then it will prove that you asked Administrator X for Report B on such and such a date. "We asked, we kindly asked as representatives of our constituents who put us into office by this majority, by the way, by this margin of victory last fall." Also, put your margin on your school board meeting name plate. No advice for those whose margin was miniscule.

Don't let anyone off the hook. Keep pushing staff, and if they decide they don't want to work for you, "That's fine." 

Your attorney is not usually an ally, because they want top avoid things like lawsuits, especially big dollar ones. 

Be proactive on your board PR and social media. He's directly contradicting most school board associations there, but that's no surprise. Also, if you worked hard to get one of these people elected. "They are there to be the face of you, to hold the line, to stand in the breach, to face all that." But get to meetings and provide support. 

One of the things about traditional public schools is that what makes them a traditional public is the fact that not because they get taxpayer money, it’s because they represent the people. It’s the way that people and parents control what is happening in schools. They should constantly be referring back to the fact that they are representing the majority of the people and the parents in their community. It’s truly self-government.

Hey there! This guy from the Hillsdale charter school biz does, in fact, understand why charter schools are not public schools!


He has some PR advice, like focus on the phrase "ideology-free," and I can't tell if he knows he's full of shit here or not, because the right wing christianism-infused education that he advocates for is certainly not ideology free, but I can also believe that, in essence, these folks believe that everything that contradicts the christianist right is an ideology but what they believe is just The Common Sense Truth.

But he says just point to quality. 

Like if somebody has like 60% of kids can’t read on grade level or whatever. What other institution of business besides federal government can get away with a 60% failure rate? Anything they do, you’d be fired overnight.

And a real piece of strategic messaging:

It’s very easy to talk about the trajectory that the country is going in and education in general. Bring it back and think about the individual child because that child has one life to live. They have a one-shot education. They’re highly impressionable. One thing that they experience the wrong way when they’re in second grade could, well, can take them in a whole different path for the rest of their lives.

And his message for the people in education:

You had your chance. You’ve been running the education system in the country for decades now. You’ve made all the shots. It’s not only is it just staying, it’s getting worse.

And advice on how to present yourself:

Managing your image through all this. In working with some of the boards, you need to come across as being competent. You can speak slowly and deliberately about things. You just don’t want to give an image that, yes, you’re not confident. That’s the main thing. Maybe it’s not even necessarily positive. Just don’t give an image that you’re not confident in doing something. Portray confidence, and that matters. Also, be relentless about it and be calculated. Like I said, the stakes are way too high to not be very thoughtful and thinking through everything very carefully. Be empathetic.

The empathetic thing--well, he doesn't mean it exactly:

It’s easy to talk about ideas and this principle and that principle, but make it empathetic and use these things as you always fall back to whenever you’re in the face of being hit over the head with something. Use terms like: “I worry that.” “My concern is…” “The most vulnerable students.” “We want to protect teachers from unfair accusations.” “We want to get the most out of every minute of class time.” “It’s unfair that..”

About teachers

"Be careful of teachers," he says, pointing out that watching Tik Tok might give you the impression that they're all nuts. "I think about 60% of teachers are good teachers." They're not "pushing things" or if they are, it's because "that's what they were given to do." But

There are 20%, I think, increasingly younger who are very unhinged, frankly. Then there are 20%, I think, who are great teachers, who are keeping their heads down, who know– Look, if there’s a strong union, you don’t stick your neck out at all within those communities.

Those unhinged young teachers, says the guy who graduated from college in 2013. 

The "be careful" seems to mean, eventually, that local people like their local teachers, so maybe focus on what great teachers dol. The implication is attack local teachers at your peril.

Admins, however? They don't hold people accountable. They "make a lot of money." Maybe in your district, buddy. But his thesis is that admins are where "most of the money goers in education." Technology and admin. 

Specific talking points

Here he gets into things that the district will say to you and how you come back at them. 

"That's not how it's done." We're the people's representatives and they wanted us to do it this way. Which suggests really unusual school board elections.

"It has to align with state standards." You can make anything align to state standards, so that's not an excuse not consider a work. He's not wrong about this.

"We need remediation." Naw, just fix whatever made remediation necessary. Because it must be the program, not anything else.

"We do phonics." He warns against phoney baloney schools that mix phonics in with a bunch of other stuff, like whole language. He says go look at the actual program, because "It should be exclusively phonics, right? The research is clear on this at this point." No, it's not.

"We have x many years of experience" or "we are experts" or "we have credentials." He doesn't care. Just explain the situation because the folks on the board "can make, form their own judgments about this." Only teaching puts up with this kind of crap. Imagine taking this line with your surgeon.

"A curriculum doesn't include x" Then go get something that has x.

"We have seen improvement." Adams sees this as a way to make excuses. That's not good enough for him.

"We collaborate." That's not necessarily a good thing. Also, he wants to know who's responsible. 

"We're proud of teachers and how they work." Sure, but he's "afraid that they've been misguided a little bit from the district.

"Curriculum needs to be relevant to students and they need to relate to it." Just in case you forgot that Adams doesn't know much about actual teaching, he will point out that no data supports this. Then he will say this:

Also, how do you understand kids identifying with or being able to relate to talking animals and other portrayals of fictional creatures and so forth? They do not look like them at all. They are not six-year-old boys. Why is this true of anything else? No, the main thing is that they’re human beings, right? That’s the main thing that is relevant to them, and if it’s true and captivating, then they will be able to relate to that. It’s only we adults are pointing out that they’re different somehow. Okay, by the way, that’s the other thing. They’re not picking up on that themselves.

"Students can't do that." Just point out places where they can, which certainly exist, and then ask why our kids can't. 

"Teachers don't have enough time to make new plans on such short notice." Based on his vast personal experience, Adams is sure that teachers don't do that work over the summer, and he "can almost guarantee you that [if] they're under a union contract," they're certainly not. 

"Every unit needs to have a theme." Theme, shmeme. Just "figure out what content needs to be learned" like "what are really good books for students to read." Should be classics that have met the test of time. 

Saying we’re coming up with this theme about coming of age things, we’re going to find all these edgy conventional books that fit that that have a bunch of other garbage in them and are not well written. That’s not going to produce a quality education.

"We need to start with the standards" He says that good curriculum will keep up with the standards naturally. Lordy. What does he mean by "good curriculum"? I guess he means curriculum that meets the standards. But definitely do not start with the standards.

"We need to have some sort of ethnic book." I am pretty sure no school administrator says this, but he says, fine, go get some minority author, but don't be racist.

"Need to differentiate instruction" I'm not sure exactly what he's at here, but I think he's saying that if you differentiate instructions, then you don't have to differentiate instruction. Or maybe he's saying that he doesn't know what differentiated instruction is.

"We need to teach mastery to students" Again, not a string of words that anyone in education actually uses. But he wants you to know that a third grader is not going to be a master of anything. "It's insane to think that somehow we have to wrap everything up in any given grade level."

"We can't share because of copyright" He has no idea what he's talking about here.

Question and Answer

Are you still here? I'm about out of patience, and much of the transcript is unable to pick up the questions, so let me just hit some select highlights.

There’s no reason why we can’t have 80-90% of students at any given grade level excelling in every subject. There’s no reason for that.

Q: Do the unions teach them how to subvert? A: It’s like in the water, at schools and in the bureaucracy. This is just how it is when you go into other education programs at your district school, just how all that stuff is written.

Money’s not actually an issue in education. It’s just not. It’s all going to admin positions and salaries, and all these outside programs.

Phew. The bottom line at last.

What have we learned here? Well, there are several threads that run through the presentation.

There's a deep level of school district distrust that runs through this, the idea that as a board member you are there to catch people being naughty. But that's coupled with a directive to look neutral and just demand a lot of information all the time. It's the administrative version of Fox's "We're just asking questions here." 

That rests on the solid thread of belief that educator expertise and experience is to be shunned and ignored. Never take the word of "experts," but just depend on your own hatched ideas about what is true.

Which is doubly problematic because it rests on a stunning lack of understanding about schools and teaching, accompanied by huge confidence. This is a guy who has no direct experience in public ed and barely any in private ed, but he's confident that he can tell you how to run your school district.

Also, you as a board member represent the public, but only the parts of the public that agree with you.

This is the ongoing plague of the education world--amateurs with a level of confidence unjustified by their limited understanding of the work angling for power to inflict their particular reality-impaired vision on schools and students. 

Monday, July 17, 2023

No Labels Education Platform: Same Old Same Old

No Labels is supposed to be some sort of centrist break from the raging politics of left and right as a champion of "common sense," and I'm not going to wander down that political rabbit hole (other than to note that saying you're all about common sense while seriously considering Joe Manchin as a Presidential candidate plays about like a vegan eating a hamburger). 

But they've got a platform, and it uses four points to address "America's Youth" and so education, and that's our beat here at the Institute, so let's take a look, shall we?

Idea 11: As a matter of decency, dignity, and morality, no child in America should go to bed or go to school hungry.

The basic idea is solid enough-- it's a bad thing for children to go hungry. Some of the rationale is ...odd? the point? 

Undernourished children "Make smaller gains in math and reading, repeat grades more, and are less likely to graduate from high school, which means they’re more likely to end up in prison." That's an interesting chain of causes and effects. Also, they disrupt classrooms more, interfering with other children's education. 

Despite the heading, there's not a moral argument in sight. And we still have to insert "even though Washington must reduce spending" we wave at some sort of significant expansion of funding or tax credits so children are fed. So nothing systemic about child hunger or poverty, I guess.

Idea 12: Every child in America should have the right to a high-quality education. No child should be forced to go to a failing school.

There is not a molecule of air between these "centrists" and the usual crowd of school privatizers. 

Rich kids get great schools and poor kids get terrible ones, so the solution is NOT to fix  or supplement funding, but to push down the pedal on charters and vouchers. Because, hey-- America spends "more on education per school-aged child than any country in the world, with worse results." Let's also throw in some bogus testing results, and the usual claims about charter school waiting lists.

Because "we like competition too," their common sense solution is to add 10,000 charter schools in the next ten years, to offer a "lifeline" to some students "trapped in failing traditional public schools." I'm not going to take the time to argue any of this (just go looking through the posts on this blog). Let's just note that there's nothing here that Betsy DeVos or Jeb Bush would object to, other than they'd rather see more vouchers. This is standard rightwing fare.

Idea 13: America should make a national commitment that our students will be number one in reading and math globally within a decade.

You know-number one in the international rankings based on Big Standardized Test results, a position and ranking that the United States has never held ever. And yet somehow, leading nations like Estonia have failed to kick our butt. These guys invoke China's test results, when even a rudimentary check would let you know that China doesn't test all of its students. 

If America wants to maintain our lead in the technologies of tomorrow, we’d better spend less time on waging culture wars in our schools and more time focusing on promoting, rewarding, and reaching for excellence.

Remember that, so far, we have maintained that lead without improving our test score ranking.

But if excellence in education is the goal, maybe rethink voucher-based subsidies for schools that mostly are religious and teach creationism and reading only "proper" stuff and just generally waging those same culture wars. Or starting up 10,000 charter schools that don't necessarily do anything better than a public (and who may soon also have the chance to operate in a narrow, myopic, discriminatory religious framework).

Idea 14: Financial literacy is essential for all Americans striving to get ahead

Oh, lordy. Remember all those poor kids in Idea 11? Well, No Labels has an explanation.

Almost six in 10 Americans say they are living paycheck to paycheck. Inflation is arguably the biggest driver of this insecurity, but far too many Americans also lack the knowledge and tools to become financially independent and get ahead.

Inflation and bad accounting. You know what helps people become financially independent? Money.

So let's have financial literacy classes so people can get better credit scores.

Also, in Idea 22, they want civics education so people will be proud of America. Idea 24-- "No American should face discrimination at school or at work because of their political view," and I'm going to send them right back to their support for vouchers and charters that are working hard to be free to do exactly that.

Look, I feel the frustration over education's status as a political orphan, an important sector that neither party stands up for. But if you're looking for someone who understands some of the nuances of education and wants to stand up for the institution of public education, No Labels are not the party, either.

This sounds mostly like right-tilted Chamber of Commerce-style reformsterism  from a decade ago. Even in a world in which both parties have lurched to the right, this is not a centrist approach to education. It's the same privatizing reformster baloney we've been hearing since the Reagan administration drew a target on public education's back. If you're looking for the vegan candidate, this burger is not for you.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

PA: Commonwealth Action And Vouchers

School privatizers want vouchers (well, more vouchers--we already have tax credit scholarship vouchers) in Pennsylvania so very, very, very, very badly. So badly that they redesigned to voucher program they've been pushing for years so that it would be more palatable to Democratic Governor and Voucher Sort-of-supporter Josh Shapiro.

They whipped up a letter from a bunch of right-wing privatization supporters, which was kind of an odd choice, because what Democratic governor in a purple state wouldn't jump at the chance to be seen as a partner of Betsy DeVos?

They even came up with a way to say that they wouldn't take any money from public schools to fund their $100 million voucher plan (spoiler alert: they totally planned to take it from public schools).

They were so sure they had it in the bag. And then Shapiro broke their hearts and/or stabbed them in the back, depending on how sad they felt.

But they haven't given up yet, because in Pennsylvania it's a not-unusual thing to have budget drama drag out months and months and months past the nominal budget deadline (yeah, it's hard on actual citizens in the state, but oh well).

So the push is still on. Witness, for instance the group Commonwealth Action, a group that appears to exist for no reason except to push this voucher scheme. They've got a single-page website whose only content is there 24 second video. They've got a mailing address--which appears to be a Staples. And a Twitter account that has only existed since May of 2023 (they did spring for the blue check) and has tweeted 56 times so far. 

Their Facebook page is even fresher-- it appears to have become Commonwealth Action on June 30, 2023. But before then...

From November of 2014 on, they were Keystone Community Action. That website has gone dark, but the Wayback Machine internet archives tell us that KCA was an equally thinly described group, though the name Mike Herbert is attached. Before that, starting in February of 2013, they were We The Taxpayers, Inc, an organizational name that has turned up in Florida and Georgia, but not PA. So far, I'm not sure who these guys (or this guy) is--though whoever it is has some graphic design skills.

Earlier on, the group was busy pushing Shapiro's budget, but once Shapiro detached himself from vouchers, they became all voucher bill, all the time.

Their video captures the gist of their argument:

Shapiro said he liked vouchers, then didn't back them. "Josh Shapiro is choosing special interests over kids." Low-income and minority students deserve a chance to escape those failing public schools. "Governor Shapiro, don't turn your back on our most vulnerable kids." 

These are the questions to ask this mysterious group and everyone who supports their plea For The Children:

1) What regulations would they like to see requiring private schools to accept any and all voucher students? After all, the voucher doesn't do much good if the school the student chooses won't let the student in.

2) What will they propose to mitigate the effects of private school tuition costs" The proposed voucher will not begin to cover the tuition costs at the pricier private schools in PA.

3) What sort of accountability and oversight do they propose? After all, it would sure suck if some student used their voucher to escape a failing public school and found themselves in a failing private school, or a school that isn't even meeting the state standards that public schools are required to meet. And since vouchers are taxpayer funds, don't the taxpayers deserve a full accounting of how those funds were spent? 

4) Do you support allowing private schools to use the kind of discrimination that is not allowed in public schools? Do you support vouchers going to religious private schools? Why should taxpayers pay for religious training--isn't that a parental right and responsibility?

5) Presumably not every student will be able to escape the failing public school. What do the supporters of this program propose as a way to rescue those students who are still at the school? Does it make sense to deal with a sinking ship by only providing as lifeboat for 10% of the passengers?

6) Who are you? And what are your actual goals in promoting this policy? Are you even someone worth listening to, or are you just one more education amateur no idea what you're talking about?

Of course, to have this conversation, you would have to find the mysterious Mr. Herbert or his associates, or just settle for one of the other many privatization supporters wailing and crying foul over Shapiro's unexpected sudden change of direction. I recommend they have Betsy DeVos publicly pressure him some more. Seems like a super tactic.