Monday, October 30, 2023

A Little Monday Shakespeare

This clip popped up today, and it's just a masterful bit of Shakespeare delivered impromptu by Dane Judi Dench on the Graham Norton show. 


I recommend closed captioning, but also, here's the text of the sonnet

Sonnet 29: When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes 

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Maybe I'm just feeling particularly close to that one today, but Dench got to me a little bit.

And as a bonus, here's the Schwarzenegger clip referenced in the above clip. I taught Hamlet every year, and for many years showed the Olivier version, then followed it up with this clip, because part of the advantage of being educated and well read is that you get more jokes.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

ICYMI: NPE in DC Edition (10/29)

I'm in the Washington DC this weekend for the Network for Public Education conference. I've done a bunch of these, and they are always a great opportunity to hear from some of the important voices advocating for public education and meet some cool folks face to face. And I got to get supper from a food truck. Here at the Institute, we do love a good food truck.

Talking About Public Education: The Good, the Deceptive, and the Destructive

Nancy Flanagan on the confusion around public good that has been cultivated for decades. And you should definitely click through the article she references as well.

Paul Thomas takes a look at the persistent notion that whatever is happening in education, it's probably a teacher's fault.

West Bonner School Board accepts Branden Durst’s resignation, appoints 90-day interim superintendent

This saga, which we've been following here, might have finally come to an end, and the district might finally get a superintendent who is at least marginally qualified.

Moms For Liberty Has Council Rock School District In Its Crosshairs

From the Bucks County Beacon, this is what it looks like on the ground when M4L aims to commandeer a school board.

Rural schools near Austin say they feel left behind as governor pushes for vouchers

In Texas, the governor is still pushing vouchers, and rural schools are still fighting the threat. From Becky Fogel in the Austin Monitor.

The AI-Generated Child Abuse Nightmare Is Here

From Wired, some even worse news about AI.

Local Moms for Liberty chapter accused of manufacturing a ‘crisis’ before election

Hard to believe, isn't it. But M4L ion Warwick PA whipped up some outrage for a hearing, and just in time for PA elections. The Keystone has the story.

Pennridge ordered to produce library records, pay legal fees for dad challenging book removals

From Philadelphia Inquirer. I didn't set out to have a PA-heavy week, but these days the culture warriors are giving lessons in how they operate. Like Pennridge schools, where it turns out that the local MAGAs have figured out another way to ban naughty books.

On negative effects of vouchers

At Brookings. Let's go over this again--educationally, vouchers don't work.

F.A.S.T. Has Absolutely Increased State Testing Time

Sue Kingery Woltanski at Accountabaloney has the results of the DeSantis experiment in decreasing testing time by increasing testing. 

At Forbes, this week I took a look into the current legal mess involving Stride (K12) and the Senate attempt to make charter schools a bit more profitable.

And as always, I invite you to join me on substack. It's free!

Friday, October 27, 2023

Zuck's Tech Revolution That Never Happened

One of education journalist Matt Barnum's lasty pieces of work at Chalkbeat before departing for the Wall Street Journal was a retrospective about Mark Zuckerberg's attempt to bring tech revolution to education. It's a great read, and I'm here to encourage you to go read it even as I underline a couple of Barnum's points.

The jumping off point is a blog post from the education head at the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, Sandra Liu Huang, that says--well, it says a lot. It takes the tone of a long-view retrospective, a fond look back at the long journey she's taken. A journey of five whole years. Because tech folks (Huang is a former project manager) think five years is a long time, I guess, while in education after five years a teacher is still just getting started. Anyway, after this long road of five whole years, she talks about the "next chapter."

Since the start, CZI’s efforts in education have been defined by collaboration.

Sure. But one of her takeaways is this:

We’ve collectively developed resources that are cutting-edge, high-quality and research-based — but some of these resources are underutilized.

Here, in one sentence, is one of the core incompetencies of ed tech. Let me rewrite that for her:

We’ve collectively developed resources that are cutting-edge, high-quality and research-based — but some of these resources turned out not to be very useful.

It is the Way of the Education Techbro to always and forever assume that if a tech tool isn't being embraced and employed, the problem must rest with the end user. Never, ever conclude things like "this tool doesn't work very well" or "this tool is not helpful for the work that teachers actually do." So instead of trying to find out why their stuff hasn't been useful, why Zuck's repeated big bets on ed tech have failed to pay off time and again, CZI has some other ideas.

Use products like Along, yet another learning-communication-digitization platform, "with coherence." And so you don't think I'm exaggerating, here's how Huang explains it:

This is what we mean by coherence: By working in lockstep, not piecemeal, we not only develop better products, we make it easier for educators to adopt research-based practices to the benefit of their students.

Sure. Ed tech isn't revolutionizing education because teachers aren't being properly lockstepped into place.

As Barnum points out, Zuck's big bet for the last decade has been "personalized learning" (though it's never been clear that he really understands what that would mean), particularly on two companies.

The flashier one was AltSchool, a boutique wired-up private school model launched by Googler Max Ventilla. It was a hugely expensive model that involved super-surveillance and data crunching of students. Students and teachers would just sort of amble through the forest of education. Teachers would capture moments of demonstrated learning on video, students would do work on modules on computer, and it would all be crunched in a back room full of IT whizzes who would churn out personalized learning stuff for the students. The lab schools turned out to be market research labs for ed tech spinoff products; the schools were sold off, the products spun off, and Ventilla headed off to his next venture. 

The bigger bet was on Summit, which started out in pre-tech days as a personalized education operation, then teched up and spun its schools off into a software and school-via-computer operation. As Barnum notes, nobody knows for sure how well Summit in its current software form works. We have anecdotes from happy parents and news items like the school where students walked out in protest of being clamped to screens all day. Summit itself has turned out to be super-resistant to having its operation studied, and when people like the National Education Policy Center do take a look, they find far more sizzle than steak. Chalkbeat found that 1 in 4 schools dropped the program by the 2018-19 school year.

But CZI hadn't bet on Summit to have mixed results; they were supposed to spared across the country and change the face of education. That did not happen.

The blog post asserts that CZI will continue to support Gradient Learning (a non-profit spun off from Summit that seems fully emmeshed in CZI) and Summit itself, though "We plan to help foster a careful and responsible transition of core features of Summit Learning to a third-party platform over the next year" sounds an awful lot like "we're going to break this down for parts."

Algorithm-based, screen-delivered, sort-of-personalized education remains a dream among some folks, including lots of folks who don't seem to understand how education or young humans work, and the pandemic and rise of generative language software have given them more hope, despite all these years of aspirational marketing copy, undelivered promises, and general failure. 

Barnum closes his piece with a quote that is hilariously on the nose. 

John Bailey, a fellow at CZI and the American Enterprise Institute, recently wrote an optimistic essay about the potential of AI, with a headline that marked the end of one era and the dawn of a new one: “The Promise of Personalized Learning Never Delivered. Today’s AI Is Different.”

That is edtech, education's bad boyfriend, in one sentence. "Yes, we've lied to you every other time and never delivered what we promised, but, by God, this time it's going to be completely different." Sure. 

Are Moms for Liberty More About Elections Than Education

Never forget this quote from October of 2021.

I have been trying for a dozen years to get 20- and 30-year-old females involved with the Republican Party, and it was a heavy lift to get that demographic. But now Moms for Liberty has done it for me.

That's Christian Ziegler, a political operative with a PR firm. He pulled in $300K from a Trump-related PAC. He was once a Heritage Foundation Fellow. He’s buddies with Corey Lewandowski. He appears to be behind the Protect Wyoming Values PAC (a Trump anti-Liz Cheney proxy). He was at Trump’s January 6 rally. And in February, after had been “effectively… campaigning for the job for years,” Christian Ziegler was elected Florida’s GOP party chair.

And, of course, the husband of Bridget Ziegler, one of the co-founders of Moms for Liberty.

Ziegler (as detailed here) had several years of anti-public education political work under her belt by the time she formed Moms for Liberty. That's not unusual--some days it seems as if behind every Florida Man who holds a political office, there's a Florida Woman working in political advocacy.

But it can be useful to look at M4L not only through the lens of aiming to dismantle public education but also through the lens of a GOP electioneering project. 

Four researchers put up a fascinating study for Brookings, looking at some of the details of the M4: deployment. It breaks down the deployment of M4L, looking at it by state and by the electoral leanings of the county. And most importantly, the researchers do it two ways--simply by the number of counties, and also by population. 

That distinction matters. Of the counties that have a chapter, 45% are in red counties, 25% in purple, and 30% in blue. But if we weight by population, blue populations account for 54% of M4L chapters and purple is 30%. Some of the findings are unsurprising-- M4L are most prevalent in the suburbs--by unweighted count, 31% of chapters are in rural/town settings, but weighted for population, rural/town makes up only 7% of M4L. They are more prevalent in counties where the white population is decreasing. 

The researchers also looked at M4L endorsements (and found a discrepancy--they found that M4L endorsed 340 candidates, not the 500 that M4L has boasted and which M4L declined to explain). The majority of those endorsements were in blue or purple counties. They were most successful in purple and red counties, and better in suburbs than elsewhere.

It is hard to know more specifics about the county chapters. When I looked at Pennsylvania, I found multiple county chapter pages listed in the M4L directory, but many of those had no actual chapter chief listed. In many cases, the Facebook page for the chapter was "run" by Pat Blackburn, the national organization's chapter coordinator. So there is some question about how organic and grass rootsy the organization is.

Looking at the Brookings map, one notices that chapters and members are clustered in states like Pennsylvania, New York, Florida, the Carolinas, but not, as the researchers note, in the red strongholds of the South and the Plains. 

Take the whole picture in, and it's believable that M4L is meant to function as a way to activate red voters in places where the GOP needs a win. Pennsylvania in particular is a swing-ish state that has been targeted by the christianist right, and here we sit with the second-highest number of chapters bumping up against the third-highest populations. We've got off-year elections coming up in about two weeks; we'll see if the M4L stir gets people to the polls to vote to boost the whole GOP ticket. 

M4L is not just about reactionary school policies; it's about realizing Chris Ziegler's long-ago dream-- activating suburban white ladies in 20s and 30s to help lift the GOP (or at least the MAGAfied version of it). Of course, it's not just Ziegler's dream-- it's the dream of other seats of power and money on the right who have been there helping get M4L launched since Day One. 

It's a natural fit. Like the GOP itself, M4L pushes policies that are not actually popular with the majority of voters, and so it needs creative ways to circumvent democracy to achieve its goals and to acquire power. P. J. O'Rourke's definition of politics-- the business of getting power and privilege without possessing merit--applies here.

Yes, oppose Moms for Liberty for what they want to do to public education in this country. But stay aware that they are also warming up the deep fryer for larger fish. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Vouchers Are Not Rescuing Poor Students From Failing Public Schools

Voucher program after voucher program is launched with the same promise--this program will rescue disadvantaged students from public schools that can't get the job done. But now that they've been around for a few years, we can see pretty clearly what they actually do. 

They expand.

They subsidize private school costs for families that were already in private schools.

Arizona's program is growing into a state budget buster. New Hampshire's state subsidy for private school tuition is mushrooming in just three years, and roughly 90% of the students using vouchers are still students who were already in private school. Iowa's program cost looks to be tremendous, with 19,000 students approved for vouchers.

Arkansas is joining the crowd, and provides a fine example of how these programs grow and who they actually benefit.

Arkansas's voucher program was set up to start with disabled and low-income students. One immediate effect has been a boom in the Fake Your Way To Disability industry in Arkansas, where options to "prove" your eligibility include "a note from your doctor." And the Arkansas Times has learned that many students qualifying for vouchers didn't not even clear that low bar. It's a bit of a Catch-22, as students often have difficulty getting admitted to a private school if they have an IEP, 504 plan, or disability. Still, almost half of Arkansas's voucher students were approved based on some sort of claim of disability. 

That may contribute to Arkansas's numbers-- of its voucher users, 95% did not attend a public school last year.

And the program is only slated to expand as the bars for qualifying are lowered even further.

Proponents of vouchers, like Governor Reynolds of Iowa, point at the expansion and huge cost runs as signs that families were "hungry for educational freedom." Well, no. What it shows is that families like free money from the state to help pay for the expenses they have already freely chosen for their children. 

This is why you'll notice that voucher fans like calling vouchers "educational freedom" instead of "educational choice." The main beneficiaries of these programs are not looking for school choice--they have already exercised the readily available choice in their state, and now they are only too happy to let the state's taxpayers help foot the bill. I don't blame them for that; who wouldn't appreciate a little government largesse. I blame the policy makers and the private schools.

It's not a rescue for the poor; it's an entitlement for the well-to-do. The freedom it's offering is the freedom from paying your own bills. 

Teen Suicide, Common Core, and the Price of Fear

We've known for a bit now that before the pandemic sent things all kablooey, suicide among teens was already reaching terrifying proportions. There are all sorts of ways to filet the data, all of them alarming (the suicide rate for 13-14 year olds between 2008 and 2018 doubled)

If we hadn't been distracted by Covid or been spending all our energy on super-critical issues like CRT and naughty books, we probably would have been spending more time on teen suicide (though it doesn't lend itself as easily to scoring political points).

Peter Gray, the psychologist who often covers child and education issues for Psychology Today, has been running a multi-part series on the problem; in the latest installment, he tries offering some explanations

The broad outlines are striking enough. We're talking 15-19 year olds, from 1950 to almost the present. Things to notice right away-- most of the increase in suicides comes from teen boys. Not all, but most. For boys, there was a steady climb to 1990, and then a steep drop until 2008, when the rate climbed precipitously. The rate for girls stayed both lower and steady-ish until 2008, when it also climbed-- not as steeply as the boys, but to a height that it had never reached before.

So, why?

Gray has some ideas about what caused this most recent spike.

First, contrary to much popular wisdom, Gray believes that the decline from 1990 to 2005-ish was caused by modern technology. Seriously. He posits that the declined resulted, "at least in part, from the availability of computer technology and video games that brought a renewed sense of freedom, excitement, mastery, and social connectedness to the lives of children and teens, thereby improving their mental health."

But the most recent spike? Here's the short form of his theory.

My theory, in brief, is that during this period schooling became far more stressful and damaging to mental health than it had been before, and this resulted in increased rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide among students. The damaging changes in schooling resulted from the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, which became U.S. law in 2002, and the Common Core Standards Initiative, introduced by the federal government in 2010 as follow-up to NCLB.

Or, in even shorter terms

No Child Left Behind and Common Core Reduced the Enjoyable Aspects of School and Augmented the Stressful Aspects.

Gray cites, among other things, what people who have talked to actual students find--that students in this time period experienced a great deal more stress and anxiety associated with school.

This all comes with a huge caveat-- Gray is a proponent of unschooling, so "discovering" that schools are at the root of everything is an insight he's predisposed to have. But I'm not prepared to dismiss all of this, because it all feels kind of familiar.

None of this will comes as a shock to teachers working during that time period. NCLB did indeed start the process of sucking the joy out of education, and Common Core with its one-size-fits-all drudgery did not help. Race to the Top simply doubled down on all of it, especially the high stakes testing that became the central focus of school districts across the country. 

And all of it was soaked in a particular ethic, the old "schools should be run like a business" model, in which teachers and students were all meat widgets whose job was to crank out satisfactory test scores and why would they be wasting time on any kind of frippery or foolishness? Even now, it seems like a radical notion to suggest that schools should include fun or joy, even if we take pains to note that we aren't saying schools should be only fun and joy. 

But as much as I agree with the notion that a couple of decades of school reformsterism has made schools objectively worse for teachers and students, I can't blame it all on those programs.

I think, for instance, of a piece I wrote back in 2015 in response to a Hanna Rosin piece in the Atlantic about the high rate of student suicides in Silicon Valley. What Rosin found was extraordinary levels of pressure to perform and succeed, evident not just in suicide rates, but in drug and alcohol use. The degree to which competition is soaked into all of it is scary:

As one soccer parent told Friedman during her research on parenting in such a competitive culture, “I think it’s important for [my son] to understand that [being competitive] is not going to just apply here, it’s going to apply for the rest of his life. It’s going to apply when he keeps growing up and he’s playing sports, when he’s competing for school admissions, for a job, for the next whatever.” Friedman concludes, “Such an attitude prepares children for winner-take-all settings like the school system and lucrative labor markets.”

Parents are wound up by a host of deadlines and scary outcomes. If your child isn't reading well enough by third grade, they'll be a failure in life. If they aren't the Very Best, they might not get into the Right School which means they won't get the Right Job. 

The competition is super-charged because of the vast gap between the top tier and everything else. The gap between middle class and the wealthy elite is now a chasm, and by the time a child is eighteen, the feeling goes, his trajectory is already set. And while the wealthy elite cannot pass on, say, their legal practice, they are the only people with the resources to get their children every inch of extra help available. The private lessons, the personal coaching, the top equipment, the best technology-- only the wealthy can provide those necessary tools to land on the right side of Prosperity Gulch.

This echoes the work of Robert Putnam in Our Kids, in which he discusses how soft ties and social capital give wealthier children an extra edge. Wealthy parents can always pick up the phone and make a call. Wealthy parents can always apply some money to the problem. That ties us back to studies like the one from John Hopkins that shows how family and neighborhood cast a long shadow over a student's future.

What Rosin and Rosen underlined is just how scared and worried the wealthy are-- just one wrong move and Little Pat will end up with a life that's Less, a life that's Not Good Enough. Little Pat will be a failure.

But if that's what the wealthy of Silicon Valley are thinking, what about the rest of us? Remember Richard Corey? The poem has two characters-- Corey and the ordinary people who narrate-- and its power doesn't just come from saying, "The rich have troubles you know nothing about." It also says, "If the most successful guy we can think of is that miserable, what hope do we have?"

That fear of failure, and the massive depth of what failure will mean, slowly leaches down into the whole system. It works its destructiveness in different ways. The children of silicon valley end up super-pressured, hammered into the shape their parents demand. But on lower levels of the economy, levels where parental units don't have access to every possible advantage, there is fear mixed with hopelessness. And twenty-some years of reformsterism has accepted the premises behind that fear, from David Coleman's "nobody gives a shit what you think" to the Obama/Duncan administration's assertion that a good college education is the only way to escape poverty (which of course means that many of you aren't going to escape it at all).

And so, in different ways, children grow up on a razor's edge, imagining a world that will destroy them the moment they make One Wrong Move, raised by families that believe it, too. I'm also reminded of the work of Jessica Lahey, the teacher-writer whose book The Gift of Failure, has touched such a nerve with so many people. It has become a radical, revolutionary idea that children need to fail, that failure is a necessary part of growth, that you do not build muscles by having your parents lift weight for you.

But-- but-- let them fail??!! If they fail, that might be the One Wrong Move! It might be the moment that defines their downward spiral into failure and squalor and the child will end up living in a van by the river eating canned cat food warmed on a hot plate, alone and miserable and poor forever. They can't afford to fail. They can't handle failure.

My last generation of students fell chronologically right into Gray's upward spike, and if you ask me what defined them, my answer was, and is, fear. They were afraid, afraid that one wrong move would wreck them, that every new challenge in school was a potential disaster, a blaring klaxon that would announce to the world that This Child Is Not Enough!

Modern ed reform is steeped in that same brand of fear. NCLB was premised on the idea that students who were "left behind" were doomed to miserable lives and also premised on the idea that whether or not they would be left behind was beyond their control, just something that might happen to them, and which they probably wouldn't be able to handle if it did. The element of competition plugged into school was all about weeding out the losers. 

NCLB/CCSS/RttT didn't inject any of these elements into the culture, but they were napalm on the flames that were already there. 

And the scary part is that we're still doing it. Learning Loss is being used as an excuse to repeat a distilled version of all those reformy ideas. The editors of Rethinking Education absolutely nail this as they look at how Learning Loss panic is being used:

Shifting blame away from the for-profit healthcare system and the government’s response to the coronavirus is part of what makes the learning loss narrative so valuable to politicians who have no interest in challenging existing patterns of wealth and power. It is a narrative meant to distract the public and discipline teachers. Here’s the recipe: 1. Establish that closing schools hurt students using a narrow measure like test scores; 2. Blame closure of schools on teacher unions rather than a deadly pandemic; 3. Demand schools and teachers help students “regain academic ground lost during the pandemic” — and fast; 4. Use post-return-to-normal test scores to argue that teachers and schools are “failing”; 5. Implement “teacher-proof” (top-down, standardized, even scripted) curriculum or, more insidiously, argue for policies that will mean an end to public schools altogether.

The path ahead looks eerily like what Naomi Klein has called the “shock doctrine,” where powerful actors, like politicians, corporate tycoons, and pundits, use people’s disorientation following a collective shock — whether a devastating earthquake or a deadly pandemic — to push pro-business, neoliberal policies.

Those five steps are NCLB/CCSS/RttT all over again, with the pandemic and Learning Loss standing in for the general assertion that schools are failing. 

It is the shock doctrine again, and once again too many players and policy makers are forgetting that what gets shocked and punished are students. And those who say, "Well, these kids are too weak. Getting kicked around should toughen them up," know nothing about what makes a person strong, and if they are parents, we can expect to find them later among the crowd crying, "Somehow my child is estranged from me, and I want to punish someone for that, too."

I am not advocating for a warm fuzzy world where students just get warm hugs and happy talk all day, nor do I want to minimize the reality that we live in a country where the safety net for the poor and victims of bad luck--well, it's pretty raggedy these days. But pressuring and scaring the hell out of children, starting in what used to be kindergarten is not useful. It's not helpful, and it's no way to treat human beings, especially young, vulnerable ones. 

It is possible to teach hard stuff, to go at it with both hands and push its importance without tying it to a message of "Get an A on this test or else your life will who us the wretched mess we all suspect you might be." I know. I've done it, for years. You can teach hard and send the message, "You really need to get this stuff" while simultaneously delivering the message "You are strong and capable and you can do this and you can handle whatever outcome results." You can emphasize preparing students for the future and still honor that their lives are going on right now, not later, and those lives deserve to include fun and joy and hope. 

School can be a garden, not a pressure cooker. School can provide a nurturing warmth instead of some hellfire that refines a few and obliterates the rest. And since this is Gray, I'll point out that homeschools and unschools and all the rest as just ass susceptible to adults who are leaning on the panic buttons and stressing students out as any public school can.  

Read Gray's articles. They ought to be a sort of wake-up call, but my fear is that the only people paying attention are the one's already awake.

Monday, October 23, 2023

Let's Have Education Choice: Part II (How To)

Could we have educational choice? Could we create a system in which students and families could find a best fit? And could we do it based on principles that, unlike modern school choicer ideals, honored the principles of a public school system for all? 

In Part I I took a look at the premises that we could follow (and which differ in important ways from the premises of modern school reform). Now let's consider how we could do it.

Schools within schools 

The easiest way to do education choice is under one roof. Choice under one roof in particular lowers student switching costs to pretty much nothing. It's hugely disruptive for students to switch schools entirely, with big costs socially and emotionally. New routines, new friends, new sets of rules. But in even the most traditional of schools, students can switch from a college-bound class to a vocational track class with just some paperwork and a schedule change.

Schools within schools have been done. New York City did teacher-led schools within schools in the 1970s (read about it in Andrea Gabor's After the Education Wars), and that was accomplished in a time when nobody knew anything about how a charter school or a school within another school could work.

Besides making education choice easier for students, it helps manage costs by allowing the sharing of resources, from cafeterias to special area teachers. And it allows the schools to have different emphasis and cultures. Like many serious education programs, it requires leadership with vision and a willingness to trust the separate school within the school. I expect that many administrators, like the folks who sunk the program in NYC, would have a hard time resisting the urge to control the school within the school more tightly.

Schools within districts

Oh, heck. An education choice system could have charter schools in it, but--. District owned and operated. Led by actual educators. In their own space. Accountable to the elected representatives of the taxpayers. Not run for profit, either directly or indirectly. 

The classic refrain was that operation of schools had to be taken away from the districts because they were failing so terribly. But after twenty years, and every conceivable configuration tried, we know that charter schools don't generally do any better than traditional public schools, and in many cases quite worse. When they do get better results, it's not because of any special miracle sauce, but because they can select families, add extra requirements, or focus on test scores. Turns out that visionary businesspersons and wealthy edu-preneurs don't know any special secrets about education that are denied to educators.

This model would also allow for specialty schools similar to the magnet schools used in some districts. "But those schools don't take all students," choicers say. "How is that not just what you complain about with current charter and voucher schools." The difference is the district level. When a charter or voucher school washes their hands of a student, it's the same effect as a district tossing that student. It says, "Get out. Finding a school that will educate you is now your responsibility." But if Pat is rejected by the East Egg district's Basket Weaving Academy, the district's position is "We don't think the basket weaving academy is the right fit for you, but we recognize that we still have an obligation to provide you with a decent education somewhere somehow."

Somehow, the original vision for charter schools--teacher led, district accountable, innovative--was immediately replaced with the notion that charter schools should be privately owned and operated, and we've rarely stopped to question it since. But we could have charter schools within districts, with none of the fraud, scammage, instability and shenanigans that have marked charters over the past few decades.

Co-operative schools

Here is my smallish, ruralish county, we have offered a school choice for those who want to pursue a vocation. Nowadays we call these programs CTE, but 60-some years ago the school was set up as a Vocational-Technical School. It's a school where students can learn welding, automotive trades, building trades, food prep, home health care, and some other options. The choice is available to students at any of the several districts that run the school.

Structurally, the CTE school has its own board, which is composed of representatives of the elected school boards of the sending districts. It is an extension of those public districts while still being operationally autonomous. Students attend for a half day and spend the other half day at their "home" school for core subjects. Some seniors spend all or part of the half day in work study programs, a sort of internship. 

Programs are sometimes shifted in response to regional employment shift, and many of the instructors are experienced professionals in the fields in which they teach. 

It's a choice that's available to all students, and it doesn't require some sort of private ownership and operation to function. The existing traditional public schools have run this education choice program for over sixty years. Given demand, interest and commitment, there's no reason the model couldn't be used for schools with other sorts of emphasis. Simply have districts work across district lines.

The problem of district boundaries

School segregation creates a host of problems, not the least of which is that the segregation of students is usually accompanied by the segregation of resources. Public education has a history of not dealing with this well, but the modern choice movement hasn't done any better. Since the days of post-Brown segregation academies, some folks have seen school choice as a useful tool for segregation. And segregation academies demonstrated a one-two punch-- first get all the white kids out of public school, and then defund the public schools. 

Today, we also have gerrymandered districts, created by a variety of mechanisms (including district secession). Education, like every other societal program in our history, butts up against folks who just don't want to spend their own money to take care of Those People. Attempts to blur those district lines are routinely met with concerns about "lowering standards" and "student safety" and a dozen other ways to say "we don't want Those Peoples' Children" mixed in with our own. 

This is, and has always been, one of the major obstacles to education choice. Because there is always an element of "My choice for my child's education is to make sure that your child does not have the choice of being educated with my child." That's a hard thing to structure your way past; doubly hard because there is no structural version of education we can create that the wealthy can't use money to escape.

This is perhaps the single biggest obstacle to education choice, and I don't know how to absolutely conquer it. When choicers complain about how tying school funding to real estate locks in an economic and class element, they are not wrong.

So what could we do?

We completely eradicate the connections between local real estate and funding by using a different funding stream or by doing funding 100% on the state level. But there's no funding stream that eliminates a connection to wealth, and giving all the purse strings to the state seems like a recipe for all sorts of disaster. 

We could fatten the revenue stream, by using sales tax or some other revenue generation tool to fund schools on top of local real estate, thereby making up the shortfall that poor districts face. In other words, we could address the segregation of resources directly. This will push all the buttons for the folks who say "Don't take my money to go spend on Those People." But a part of the solution has got to be creating schools that people don't want or need to "escape." 

We can render district boundaries porous and easily crossed instead of jealously guarded. That doesn't mean we require a school to accept infinite incoming transfers, but it does mean that no schools in this larger education choice ecosystem get to put unrelated restrictions on transfers. And we can stop allowing small privileged neighborhoods to "secede" from their district. We could even redraw district maps on the state level to un-gerrymander them. And then, with a collection of shared co-op specialty schools, schools within schools, schools within districts, and an ability to cross district lines--all managed by the public school districts instead of some patchwork mess of public and private operators and concerns--we could do better. 

Accept there will be limitations

Not every desire for education choice can be met. You can't have a school that caters to the one family that wants a basket-weaving-centered school that is built for left-handed students and runs onlyu by consensus with a strong devotion to classical values. Not every school can be brought up to the level of resources enjoyed by the schools of the wealthy, because they will always have money to spend over and above whatever the system provides. And local control and ownership in the form of an elected school board will always have limitations because school boards are nuts. 

I'm a huge fan of local control, but local control comes with some real risks. Thing is-- I don't believe a giant mountain of rule-making on the state or federal level works. There needs to be oversight, especially of areas such as civil rights. But creating laws that try to govern, say, reading curriculum on the state is a bad idea. I don't care what instructional approach you're talking about--mandating it is a mistake.

So I'm not pretending that my rough model points the way to a perfect future that solves all the education choice issues. But neither free market-driven school choice nor burn-it-down and capture the ashes for God culture warfare move us one step closer to a better direction, and they do a lot of damage in the bargain. 

The Three Stumbling Blocks

There are three fundamental issues that stand in the way of choice.

One, people don't want to pay for it. The cheapest, most efficient version of education is not one with multiple schools. 

Two, some people are committed to a model of "I get my choice, and Those People do not." 

Three, some people are highly opposed to paying for an education for Those Peoples' Children.

Those will always stand in the way of real education choice. 

But it is possible to have real education choice in a public education system (in fact, in large and small ways, some places already have it). But we have to start from a better set of premises, and be deliberate about facing the stumbling blocks. It's not as sexy or shiny or profitable as market-based choice, but I'd bet it would do a better job of delivering education to all children in the country. 

Sunday, October 22, 2023

ICYMI: Outdoor Overture Edition (10/22)

Today I appear in concert with the local orchestra, subbing in for the trombonist who is also the piano player who is also the piano player for the orchestra. My high school band director always told us that playing leads to more playing, so don't trap yourself in a little box, and that has been good advice forever. But that's just the tip of the time-eating iceberg this week, so the list is not as hefty as some. But still some worthwhile reads from the week. Remember to share them on whatever social medium you're using these days.

M4L Continues to Post Misleading Information

Add the Moms to the list of people who misuse NAEP results. Bookmark this post from Sue Kingery Woltanski, who provides the links to some of the now-standard debunking of the now-usual baloney about NAEP proficiency (no, it's not the same as on grade level)

Having chaplains in schools is bad for students. Leave mental health care to professionals.

From USA Today, some mor folks who want to point out that the Texas plan to put chaplains in school (and amateur, untrained ones at that) is a dumb plan.

Plumbers are training as substitute teachers so full time teachers can protest a bill

Meanwhile in Texas, help from an unexpected source for teachers pushing back against Abbott's voucher plan. From All Things Considered on NPR

HB 1422 Cyber Charter Reform – A Bipartisan Call to Get it Done

A Democrat and Republican agree-- cyber charter is long overdue in PA.

Scholastic's "bigot button"

Judd Legum at Popular Information looks at Scholastic's gift to bigots--with just one touch, they can get rid of book fair books about non-white non-straight persons.

As Texas lawmakers consider school vouchers, does spending public dollars on private education work?

Spoiler alert: No. Edward McKinley of the Houston Chronicle breaks it down.

Band Director Quits and Other Evidence of Pandemic Aftermath

Nancy Flanagan with a sweet-yet-scary story from West Virginia

Where’s Evidence from The Reading League’s Corporate Sponsors?

Look at all these sponsors for Science of Reading stuff! Do any of them have evidence that their stuff works? Nancy Bailey takes a look.

The Number of School Apps To Keep Track of Will Be the Death of Me

At Parents, Melissa Willets has so many feelings about the barrage of techno-assistance that schools throw at parents (and teachers).

On Philly trip, U.S. education secretary assails vouchers like those backed by Shapiro

Miguel Cardona says some harsh words about the vouchers that some folks are still trying to pass in Pennsylvania. Good for him. In Chalkbeat.

One More Time Around the Mulberry Bush

TC Weber once again with lessons from Tennessee in how the players can change, but the games (and the players behind the players) remain the same.

It’s Time to Watch for the Next Step in Ohio State Board of Education Lawsuit

Jan Resseger has been following this Ohio business, which seems very wonky, but is all about the anti-public ed folks trying to consolidate power.

Reproductive rights advocates: You can’t trust Carolyn Carluccio

This is mainly for folks in PA, where a supreme court election involves a candidate who is trying to hide her very anti-abortion agenda. It's an object lesson for everyone, but a ringing alarm bell for Pennsylvanians in the next election.

Meanwhile, at Forbes I break down the latest chapter in the continuing GOP-on-GOP battle over the nation's first religious charter school. At the Bucks County Beacon, a deep dive on the plans of the Hillsdale-trained amateur who's rewriting their curriculum. 

Also, substack me!

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Let's Have Education Choice: Part I (Premises)

Here's the thing that you might not expect from me-- I like the idea of choice in education. A big part of my opposition to Common Core grew out of my belief that one size never fits all in education. I also completely get the idea that parents will sometimes wish that they had another choice for their children. 

I even agree that there's a certain inevitability to school choice. Since the first walkman was manufactured, since cable tv first exploded, we have been splintering into a culture where fewer experiences are shared and more are selected. I think this shift creates some real problems, but that toothpaste is not going back in the tube, and it seems unsurprising that people who have become used to personally curating most aspects of their life experience would want to extend that power to other aspects, including education.

So why am I constant critic of the modern school choice movement? 

Because, I think virtually everything about the actual modern school choice movement is not aimed at actual choice in education. Some of it is simply the counterproductive result of bad premises, and the rest is just a smokescreen for the goal of dismantling public education entirely.

So if we truly wanted to have choice in education (which is really what we want--"school choice" is itself a loaded misnomer), how could we do that?

The foundation of modern school choice is a set of faulty premises. Can we build something on a better foundation?

I'm going to tackle this in two parts. First, let's consider the premises on which we could build a program that serves students, families, and society as a whole. It's at the premise level that choicers and I part ways, so we need to sort that out first.

No Free Market

I think the free market is swell. I'm a fan. But the free market is incompatible with public education.

The free market is a perfect mechanism for sorting; it selects winners and losers both among sellers and buyers, and sometimes it takes years to do it. 

The goals of public education is not sorting students and schools into winners and losers; it is to equip every student to--well, I'm not even sure what "win" means in an education context, but the idea is to help each student become his or her best self, to grasp what it means to be fully human in the world, to give them the tools for a satisfying and productive life. 

Making schools and students compete for resources simply ensures (and excuses) that some will not have the resources they need. That is incompatible with public education.

Likewise, making education a marketplace commodity does not serve students. As we see with healthcare and with some of the for profit edu-businesses out there, commodifying education means that the interests of the business owners are directly in conflict with the interests of the people the business is supposed to be serving. 

The modern school choice movement has pulled off a neat slight-of-hand trick by treating the marriage of school choice and free marketeering is a done deal, not even up for discussion. If we are serious about education choice and quality for all students, the free market does not belong in the picture.

Public ownership and operation

This goes hand in hand with the previous point, but it needs to be said. Public schools should be publicly owned and operated. The school, both the building and the bulk of its contents, should belong to the taxpayers, and that school should be overseen by and accountable to elected representatives of the taxpayers. 

Is that system perfect? Not at all. It's in many ways the worst possible system, except for all the others. 

No religious education

Public tax dollars should not be used to support religious indoctrination. Period.

For one thing, the wall between church and state protects both sides. Once taxpayers are footing the bill for education, it's a short step to government deciding which religion deserves which pile of taxpayer money.

The absence of religion in a school setting is not equivalent to pushing some sort of atheist agenda. The fact that your folks are not trying to fix you up with a date does not mean they are pushing you not to date anyone at all. 

Total cost

Another false premise of modern school choice is the notion that it can all be done for the same cost as the current public school system. This is a silly idea.

Multiple schools increase costs. No school district (or business) facing a budget crunch ever said, "Our best strategy here is to open more schools." Multiple schools mean duplication of services, administration, etc. You cannot run several parallel districts for the same money that you used for one (doubly true in all districts where the one district is already underfunded). 

A choice system needs excess capacity. Otherwise, every student would be locked in place until a number of students with complementary shifts could all be organized to shift at once. The excess capacity need not be infinite (and therefor infinitely expensive). But there has to be enough slack in the system that students can move. 

Those capacity questions will be hard to navigate. If a district is committed to providing a particular choice, how much are they willing to spend to keep the choice available even if a low number of students are selecting it? That's never going to be an easy call.

Serving all students

The system must serve all students, with certain rare exceptions for extreme situations. That doesn't mean that all education options must be open to all students. But no school district should be able to say, as charter and voucher schools do now, that a particular student is not welcome and not their problem. 

Vouchers don't just privatize the work of providing education, but the privatize the responsibility for providing it. There have always been a hefty number of folks in this country who really dislike the idea of paying for Those Peoples' Children's education (or housing or health care or food). Vouchers are the wealthy's way of saying to Those People, "Here's a couple of grand--now go get your own education and don't bug me about it again." 

Modern school choice at its most severe calls for a shift in the basic philosophy of public education, turning it from a public good and shared societal responsibility into a private good and personal responsibility. It becomes a commodity that some people can afford and some people can't. Perhaps a voucher combined with pop-up schools or computer-fed microschools allows folks to get a bare minimum, or maybe they just wrack up the same kind of debt we now associate with college. 

Our current promise of a good education for every child in this country has been imperfectly realized, but at least it exists. Many modern school choicers would erase it entirely. I don't accept that premise.

So, if we accept all those premises, can we have education choice? That's what I'll try to answer in Part II. 

Sunday, October 15, 2023

OK: State Issued Prayer And True Threats To The Church

Oklahoma continues it unsubtle slide into theocracy, with this memo from State Superintendent Ryan Walters issues this week:

It recommends a moment for students this week, and offers a "sample prayer" for them to pray during that moment. Some educators are pretty cranked up about this, as well they might be. There are many reasons to be bothered by this memo. I'm going to focus on just one.

Walters also issues a warning to districts this week that he'd damned well better not hear about any school that folds to pressure (in this case, from some unnamed "secular organization" in Wisconsin. The group, he charges, is opposed to the Constitution and is pushing "state-sponsored atheism." also, Walter says, "I feel pity for these woke, elitist lawyers who have decided that there is no greater calling in life than to make sure teachers aren't practicing their Faith." 

I have to observe, once again, that this guy once taught history. You'd think he would know better. 

I would also think that he's smart enough to know that "this school will not promote a single religious view" is not remotely the same as "this school suggests you become an atheist."

The implication here (and many other Walters pronouncements) is that instead of state-sponsored atheism, we should have state-sponsored Christianity. 

Which is a terrible idea.

For Christianity.

Seriously. At least the voters of Oklahoma elected Walters as chief education honcho. But nobody at all elected him a religious authority. Nobody gave him the authority to craft prayers for all the children in Oklahoma. 

The folks who crafted a wall between church and state did so not just to protect the state from the church, but to protect the church from the state, at least back to Henry VIII declaring, "I'm now the head of the church and I'll be telling you what God wants you to do." When you mix religion and politics, you get politics. When you make politicians the voice of the church, you get political pronouncements cloaked in religious garments.

We get led back to this time and again by Worshippers of the Tiny God. Their conception of God is of something small and weak. If God is not being explicitly promoted by humans in particular settings, their reasoning goes, then human beings will become atheists or humanists or maybe even something worse. If institutions leave an empty space where religion can go, so that folks may fill that space in according to their own faith, Worshippers of the Tiny God see atheism, because their conception of God is so small and weak it can not overcome silence. 

It is a special kind of theocratic hubris-- "God is great and powerful, but God cannot work in this world without Me to do the heavy lifting. God needs my protection, because otherwise these other humans would somehow chain God into silence and ineffectualness. Good thing I'm here to make this part of the world safe for God."

Walters, and other like him, who claim to be preserving some sort of American tradition, are doing the opposite. 

Imagine it's Sunday morning. You're in church, and during the service a local politician, an official with political authority, gets up and announces, "I have written the prayer for you to use today, and every Sunday." 

Imagine it's a Wednesday morning, and your child is called into a school assembly, where an elected official announces, "I have brought an official prayer for all of you students to recite today."

Does that feel like religious liberty? Does that feel like citizens being allowed the freedom to worship as they choose? 

You cannot put the weight of the state behind religious worship without also giving the state some say over what form that religious worship will take. People who want to put prayer into public school are advocating a choice that is not just bad for schools, but bad for the church as well. They should be among the loudest voices telling Ryan Walters to knock it off. God does not need nor benefit from Walters self-aggrandizing "help."

ICYMI: Bad Week For The World Edition (10/15)

As social media continues to demonstrate its brokenness, I encourage you to be hugely cautious about what you repost, amplify, or just plain believe. It's a bad time for fraud and fakery. Currently I'm testing the waters at Bluesky and Threads (I gave up on spoutible) and I'll be happy to see you there. It's just hard to spread the word these days, and there is so much word to be spread. Here's some reading from the past week.

Moms for Liberty: Where are they, and are they winning?

A bunch of people at Brokings did a truckload of data crunching to generate a picture of where M4L is busy, and how they're doing. Very worthwhile read.

Moms for Liberty attempt to remove books from Charlotte high school fails

Justin Parmenter reports on one attempt to ban some books, and how it was handled by the district.

Tennessee charter school commission takes marching orders from Lee in privatizing schools

In Tennessee, one more tool the governor uses to push charter schools over local objections.

Charter CEOs Collecting High Salaries, Benefits and Bonuses

Great piece that includes a breakdown of charter CEO salaries in Philly area (including how many students they are actually working with). So much for the whole "choice will save money because public schools spend too much money on administrators" argument.

Texas Took Over Its Largest School District, but Has Let Underperforming Charter Networks Expand

In Texas, public schools that underperform must be taken over, but charters are free to stink as much as they want to. From ProPublica

Charles Koch's audacious new $5 billion political scheme

Judd Legum and Tesnim Zekeria at Popular Information. When you're really rich, you can order up your own tax loopholes, and then use them. Makes it easier to keep pushing the privatization of public ed.

Nonprofit near Kansas City seeks to become ‘epicenter of the school-choice movement’

Annelise Hanshaw at the Missouri Independent writes about Stanley Herzog, one more rich guy who wants to retool the US, including expanding "Christ-centered K-12 education."

Mark Zuckerberg tried to revolutionize American education with technology. It didn’t go as planned.

Matt Barnum has moved on from Chalkbeat; he's taking a job as an ed reporter at the Wall Street Journal. I'll miss him, and I'll hope that he brings a little more quality to that operation. In the meantime, here's one of his last pieces, looking at the tale of Zuck's attempt to fix education, and how it didn't work.

A transgender student, her crusading mom — and an English teacher caught in the middle

"A teacher turned my child trans" says a parent. Not the story at all, says the child, the child's father, and the teacher. This is a gut punch of a story from a pair of reporters for NBC News, thoroughly reported.

Amanda Marcotte at Salon does a great job of pulling together the full story of the attempt by MAGA Moms to commandeer Pennridge Schools, and how that has energized an opposing group.

The Mystery of Ryan Walters: How a Beloved History Teacher Became Oklahoma’s Culture-Warrior-in-Chief

Linda Jacobson at The 74 digs into the mystery of how Ryan Walters transformed from a respected history teacher into Oklahoma's performative MAGA dudebro of education. 

Substitute teachers are in short supply, but many schools still don't pay them a living wage

Somebody at CBS noticed that there's a sub shortage, and they put Aubrey Gelpieryn on the story. 

Sylvia Allegretto Documents Large and Persistent Teacher Pay Penalty

Jan Resseger looks at the annual report on the teacher pay penalty, the amount of money teachers could have earned if they had used their college education in other fields.

Why what looked like good news for charter schools actually wasn’t

Last summer CREDO cranked out a report that "proved" that charter schools get better results than public schools. Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post has put together all the pieces that show how those conclusions were not really accurate.

Speaking of unwarranted conclusions, Paul Thomas writes about the latest round of chicken littling over ACT scores.

Larry Cuban takes a look at the world of dress codes, including some lowlights from, a GAO study.

A Shameful History, Part 3

Jess Piper's series on teaching the hard history looks at the lynching of Raymond Gunn. 

Of Clear Eyes and Pure Hearts

Tennessee is going to revamp its school evaluation system. TC Weber is skeptical.

Has F.A.S.T. Testing Lived Up to Its Promises

You may recall that Florida was going to fix the problems of time-consuming high stakes testing by using a new system, with more testing. How has this been working out? Sue Kingery Woltanski has the unsurprising results.

Everything I Need to Know, I Learned in My School Orchestra

John Bohlinger in Premier Guitar. He could just as easily have said band, but the idea is sound.

At Forbes, I wrote about the successful attempt in Nebraska to make the government put vouchers to a vote. 

Join me on substack. It's free!

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Dear Voters: Please Pay Attention

It's an off year, with mostly just boring things like school board seats and judgeships up for election. Maybe some local municipal stuff. All really dull. 

I am begging you. Please pay attention.

Over the past couple of years, I have ploughed through story after story about local school boards that had acquired a new ultra-conservative majority that proceeded to do everything from firing superintendents and central office staff to creating new policy to rooting out imaginary CRT and various Naughty Books to going after the budget with a meataxe. 

These actions are often followed by community outcry, sometimes productive but often to no avail. And  they all tell a similar story about how things got to this point. 

People weren't paying attention. People just kind of slept through the board election. People didn't bother to vote because they assumed the usual reasonable people would win in a walk. 

People tend to imagine that who actually sits on the school board doesn't matter that much. Unless there's some pressing local issue like bus stops, sports uniforms, or a teacher contract under negotiation, folks assume that board members fungible, that they can be swapped out without much effect on anything. Heck, in regions like mine, it's not unusual to have too few people running to fill all the seats, which really helps reinforce a habit of ignoring board elections.

If there's anything to be learned in the last decade, it's that elections have consequences. 

When it comes to school boards (and courts), there are a whole bunch of folks who are involved in a concerted, and often well-funded effort to commandeer these positions (whatever "well-funded" means in your neck of the woods). There are christianists who want to insert their religion into the public sphere. There are MAGA members who want to gut the curriculam and replace it with their own. There are culture warriors who want to tear up the rules by which your district operates and create their own. There are dominionists who want to take back schools. There are people who want to root out "indoctrination" (aka "making students aware of anything these folks disagree with") and replace it with "proper thinking" (aka "making sure students are led to believe what these right-thinking folks believe"). 

What's more, at this point many of these folks understand that saying out loud that they are, say, Moms For Liberty endorsed or running specifically to get their personal faith made school policy--that might not be a winning campaign, and it might be best to keep the quiet part quiet. At least until after you've won. And when it comes to judgeships--well, in Pennsylvania we have Carolun Carluccio running for State Supreme Court, heavily financed by Jeff Yass and carefully scrubbing her materials of reference to her strong anti-abortion stance.

If you assume that how (or if) you vote on a school board election (or judge) election doesn't really matter, I am here to tell you that you are deeply and truly wrong. It may take some legwork and study to figure out who's who (and if you have done that work, please share it), but it is far easier to do this kind of work before elections than it is to try to protect your school district from duly-elected vandals. 

If far out there candidates are elected because a community knows what they stand for and elects them, that's one thing. But when radicals are elected because the community is napping, that's a big mastake with serious consequences.

Please pay attention. 

Friday, October 13, 2023

TX: How Bad Is The Newest Voucher Proposal

Texas Governor Greg Abbott is finding democracy a huge pain in the butt these days. Democratically elected legislators will not let him have his way, so he has called the legislature back once again to consider his dream of education savings account vouchers, or else. He has threatened to primary rural GOP House members who (once again) thwart him. He is holding teacher pay hostage unless he gets his way. He is not, it should be noted, taking his voucher proposal to the voting public (because the voting public has never approved a voucher program).

In short, he is pulling every lever of power he has at his command in order to circumvent any sort of democratic process.

That's an appropriate tactic for installing vouchers, which themselves short-circuit democratic processes. Vouchers disenfranchise taxpayers with no school age children; in voucher world they get no say in how their education tax dollars are spent. Vouchers cut local elected school boards out of the funding (or defunding process). 

And despite all the talk about education freedom for families, vouchers create a system in which schools--not families--get to choose who has access to the best education. 

When we look into SB 1, the latest voucher proposal that has already sailed past the state senate to the rocky waters of the house, where Texas voucher bills go to die, we find most of the usual stuff. A little more auditing of parents than some bills, but no real oversight or accountability for "education service providers," who require no serious vetting to get on the pre-approved vendors' list.

Modern voucher bills routinely include a hands off clause, a promise that they will be allowed to conduct business as they wish, with no interference by the state. Don't want the state bringing up pesky issues of discrimination or teaching that dinosaurs and humans strolled the earth together about 4,000 years ago.

SB 1 includes hands off language, and very specific language at that. Starting out with the usual language about how accepting voucher money does not make the recipients state actors (a phrase that has caused some legal choice trouble in the past). Then, under Sec. 29.368, we get very clear:

A rule adopted or other governmental action taken related to the program may not impose requirements that are contrary to or limit the religious or institutional values or practices of an education service provider, vendor of educational products, or program participant, including by limiting the ability of the provider, vendor, or participant, as applicable, to:

(1) determine the methods of instruction or curriculum used to educate students;

(2) determine admissions and enrollment practices, policies, and standards;

(3) modify or refuse to modify the provider’s, vendor’s, or participant’s religious or institutional values or practices, including operations, conduct, policies, standards, assessments, or employment practices that are based on the provider’s, vendor’s, or participant’s religious or institutional values or practices; or

(4) exercise the provider’s, vendor’s, or participant’s religious or institutional practices as determined by the provider, vendor, or participant

Note in particular item 2-- nobody can tell the private school how to decide which students to take, or not. Religion, behavior, grades, hair style, family background, basically any damn thing that the school wants to offer as a reason not to accept a particular student is untouchable by the state. And I'm pretty sure that they could get around any pesky federal rules about race. 

For the moment, let's look past the issue here of quality, of a law that would require taxpayers to support a school that does a lousy job, that discriminates in ways that most Americans would find odious, that is a transparently crappy school that taxpayers have no say in funding. Oh, and that requires students with special needs jettison their rights at the schoolhouse door.

Let's look past all that at the central pitch of the fans of SB 1. 

From Mandy Drogin the head of the Texas branch of Betsy DeVos's American Federation for Children lobbying group, lobbyist, and previous Heritage Foundation event planner:

With today’s announcement, Governor Abbott has made clear that Texas will prioritize student-centered educational policies that ensure that money will follow the student to any school their parents choose – this includes high-quality public schools, public charter schools, private schools, and more.

Except, no, it won't. It will prioritize private-school-centered policies which will allow private schools to pick and choose, as they wish, from among the applicants (who may or may not be able to afford the gap between their voucher amount and private school tuition). It will prioritize private-school-centered policies that allow taxpayer subsidies for students who were already in private schools.

If these people were serious about school choice, they would address the real barriers to getting students into their choice school--cost and discrimination. But they won't. 

By allowing taxpayer subsidies to go to students who were already in private schools (aka could already afford it), SB 1 funnels dollars collected from low-wealth taxpayers to subsidize wealthy families, even as it empowers private schools to refuse to admit any of Those Peoples' Children. 

It's bad policy. Here's hoping the state house once again holds the line, no matter how hard Abbott tries to twist their arms.