Tuesday, July 16, 2024

KY: Vouchers Would Be Bad News, Says Study

I'm not sure anyone would have expected Kentucky to emerge as one of the big voucher battlegrounds, but voucher fans have had a real uphill trek.

Kentucky voucherphiles created a bill, passed the bill in 2021, and then watched as the state supreme court ruled that the law was hugely unconstitutional. The problem was that Kentucky's constitution is unusually clear:
No sum shall be raised or collected for education other than in common schools until the question of taxation is submitted to the legal voters, and the majority of the votes cast at said election shall be in favor of such taxation

Voucher thought they had circumvented the problem by using tax credit scholarships, and the attorney general led the defense of the vouchers with the old "the money is never actually in the government's hands" argument. The court was unimpressed. “The money at issue cannot be characterized as simply private funds,” they wrote, “rather it represents the tax liability that the taxpayer would otherwise owe.”

Deputy Chief Justice Lisabeth T. Hughes wrote “Simply stated, it puts the Commonwealth in the business of raising sum(s) . . . for education other than in common schools.”

So the next move for voucher fans was clear-- amend the state constitution so that taxpayer dollars can be handed over to private schools. That's Amendment 2. It's pretty simple:
The General Assembly may provide financial support for the education of students outside the system of common schools.

Pick yes or no.

Now a new report from the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy lays out just how expensive a "yes" would be.

"The Impact of Diverting Public Money to Private School Vouchers in Kentucky" is deep and thorough and with more than enough charts and graphs to warm the wonky heart. But its findings are clear and cause for alarm.

Even a modest program would cost the state $199 million (the equivalent, the study points out, of employing 1.645 public school personnel). This is before the inevitable ballooning of the program. Arizona, on the forefront of universal vouchers is also on the forefront of having their budget slammed by a voucher program. ProPublica has just released a report showing that vouchers are about to force "hundreds of millions in budget cuts to critical state programs and projects."

The report points out that in other voucher states, 65%-90% of the taxpayer-funded vouchers go to families that already have their children in private schools, and that in Kentucky, that group has an average household income 54% higher than public school families. Even if you think the wealthy have a right to be subsidized by the taxpayers (including the less wealthy ones), that group represents an expansion in the number of students using taxpayer dollars, a dramatic expansion of education costs.

The cost of all this will hit rural and poor areas hardest, because they are the ones most dependent on state support, which will be reduced by the voucher program. At the same time, since few rural areas have private schools available, the voucher dollars will represent money leaving the community entirely.

Meanwhile, in populous counties, vouchers will increase the total cost of education in the area. Public schools will retain stranded costs (heating costs don't shrink just because you have fewer students) and parallel school systems will duplicate administrative costs. There's a reason that school districts trying to cut costs close buildings rather than opening new ones. 

The report nails the bottom line pretty effectively.

If Amendment 2 passes, it will upend Kentucky’s longstanding constitutional commitment to public education and result in legislation that diminishes public schools across the commonwealth. The amendment will widen the growing divides that are already weakening Kentucky communities and hinder education’s role in fostering the healthy democracy necessary for every Kentuckian to thrive.

Let's hope the voters of Kentucky heed the warning.  

Sunday, July 14, 2024

ICYMI: Horrific Violence Edition (7/14)

If we should have learned anything else in the past couple of decades, it's that leaping in quickly with comments and reactions before the smoke has cleared is a mistake, so I try to keep my mouth shut, but I will say this-- I have no love or respect for Trump, but this was terribly, deeply wrong.

The shooting hits hard here-- Butler is in my neck of the woods, a quick 40-mile jaunt up the road. We go there for some Red Lobster now and then. It's a small city, very much the kind of place that you would not expect something like this to happen.

Meanwhile, the story I was going to lead with took place in the next county over from Butler. A teenaged trans girl was found horribly murdered; a suspect is in custody. I would not have caught the story except for a message posted by Bishop Sean Rowe (currently newly elected top bishop of Episcopal church, formerly the priest at my own local Episcopal church). It's a terrible, brutal story.

I'm not a fan of critically acclaimed shows about horrible people doing horrible things' The world doesn't really need any more of that; certainly not in real life. I am grateful that in the education biz, we mostly don't have to spend a lot of time arguing about who does or does not deserve to be murdered. Mostly.

It's Sunday and my regular promise is a reading list and not a homily, so here you go. 

Florida Department of Education includes Jane Austen novel in ‘American Pride’ recs

What happens when you just search for key words in your library listing? Maybe this.

A Failure for ‘Divisive Concepts’ Legislation Is a Victory for Education

Jacob Goodwin takes a look at an important victory in New Hampshire. For The Progressive.

A school district in Pa. says students made fake TikTok accounts to target teachers

The new technological frontier in student trolling of teachers, scaled up. If you couldn't get past the NYT paywall when this story broke, here's the NPR coverage.

The Real Targets of Project 2025’s War on Porn

Melissa Gira Grant takes a look at the anti-porn portions of Project 2025 and how it fits with the culture panic of the past couple of years.

The College Board’s FAFSA Takeover

Liam Knox for Inside Higher Ed looks at the latest fallout from the FAFSA fiasco. No way this could end badly.

PROOF POINTS: Asian American students lose more points in an AI essay grading study — but researchers don’t know why

Jill Barshay at Hechinger looks at a study I've written about before--the one where humans and AI both scored the same essays. It's mostly bunk, but this little data point that has shaken out is just so weird...

The blasphemous GOP push for religion in public schools

In the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, paster Kate Murphy has a reaction to recent attempts to shove Christianity into the classroom, including the point that needs to be made much more often:
If the governor of Florida can, by the power not vested in him, unilaterally declare that the church of Satan isn’t a religion, then he can also wake up one morning and decide that Islam isn’t a religion, or Hinduism, or Catholicism or any faith that allows women to preach or doesn’t handle snakes.
Project 2025: Ending Public Education for Students with Disabilities

Nancy Bailey looks at how Project 2025 would affect special ed services, and it's not good. 

The indispensable Mercedes Schneider looks at how PragerU, the fake education video outfit, has managed to get a handful of states to help it out with market share.

Stunning New Report on Who Is Funding the Culture Wars to Undermine Support for Public Schooling

Jan Resseger guides us through a new report that provides new details about who exactly is funding the ongoing attempts to discredit public education.

At Forbes.com this week I took a not very sexy look at a new bill that proposes to clamp down on charter school profiteering.

Friday, July 12, 2024

Cato's Failed Argument Against Public School

Colleen Hroncinch of Cato Institute's Center for Education Freedom tried this week to plug one of the pro-public education arguments that the Libertarian think tank runs up against when pushing choice. 

Do public schools serve everyone, she asks. She does not make a convincing case for her answer.
For starters, it defies logic to think one provider of any service could “serve everyone”—or at least, serve everyone well.

The fallacy here is that public education comes from "one provider." It does not. There are thousands of public school districts in the United States, each different from the others, each owned and operated by a different group of taxpayers. 

Hroncinch's real point is that children have different abilities, skills, preferences and styles, and have parents who also have a variety of values, goals and priorities. 

No wonder that even in the top-ranked district in any state, many parents choose other options for their children. It’s unlikely they would pay twice for education—once in school taxes and again in tuition—if their assigned school was serving their children well.

Two problems here. One is that of course some parents choose private schools even when public school is serving them well for reasons as simple as status and additional features that are beyond the financial reach of public schools. Have you ever seen the library at Philips Exeter? The theater building? There are plenty of colleges that would be happy to have such facilities. 

The other problem is the repetition of a Cato favorite line--the "pay twice for education" line, But nobody in this country, with the possible exception of the very very rich, pays once for public education. The implication here is if you just give me back my tax dollars, I can go spend them on the private education of my choice. But the math doesn't hold up, and of course it doesn't, because if it did we wouldn't have school taxes in the first place. My tax dollars do not pay for my children's public education--no, not even if you count up all the tax dollars I'll pay over my lifetime. My children's public education is paid for by my taxes plus the taxes of my neighbors.

Nobody who is sending their child to a private school is paying for their education twice.

Hroncinch's other point here is that the public system doesn't serve all students well, and a mountain of ink has been spilled examining to what extent this is true and why and what can be done about it. But what the public system has that a voucher does not is a legal obligation to at least try. The challenge for any education system is to educate students who, for a vast panoply of reasons, are hard (and expensive) to teach. As Robert Pondiscio put it in his book about Success Academy, “A significant tension between public schools and charter schools is the question of who bears the cost and responsibility for the hardest-to-teach students.” Public schools do not always solve the issue well, but voucher schools solve the issue by simply washing their hands of those students and sending them on their way to find solutions on their own. Public schools do not have that option; that's what their defenders mean by saying that public schools take everyone.

Hroncinch cites Baltimore's test scores as proof that they are not serving all students well. The irony here is that if they were all private voucher schools, they could bring those numbers up by simply refusing to serve low-scoring students at all. Not sure that would be an improvement.

Hroncinch spends a chunk of her piece citing examples of parents who got in trouble for finding ways to get their kids into a public school outside of the district in which they lived. The aggressive prosecution of this kind of stuff is inexcusable, but it's not proof that the public system does not serve everyone. Every one of those parents had a place reserved for their child in a public school; they just didn't want it. But again-- if they were trying to get away from the school set up to serve their child and they wanted to go to a private school, that school wouldn't have to pursue them through legal means. It could just reject them.

Hroncinch does address this part of the argument, sort of.

What about the argument on the flip side that private schools don’t serve everyone? It’s absolutely true. No individual private school can serve everyone—just as no public school can. But in the private sector, no provider claims to do that.

This is a false comparison. It's true no individual school of any sort can serve all students, because any individual school has finite space. But a public school system does promise to serve all students, and a voucher system makes no such promise. 

Hroncinch lists a whole list of various "private education providers," arguing that surely somewhere in all that families can find what they're looking for, that parents can "customize their children's learning experience." But that doesn't really address the issue.

No school, public or private, can serve everyone—just as no restaurant, grocery store, doctor, or car dealership can.

That's a pretty good analogy. Because these sectors of the economy don't serve everyone. Some people get to eat at upscale restaurants and some get to eat at McDonalds and some don't get to eat out at all. Some people get to shop at a big beautiful grocery store, some shop at a lousy little one, and some live in food deserts. Some people get top of the line health care, some get bare minimum care, and some die because they can't afford health care at all. Some people drive a new Lexus, some drive a used Kia, some ride public transit if they can, and some walk. 

None of these sectors serve everyone. None of these sectors are a model for how the public school system would ideally work.

Now we arrive at Hrincinch's final sentence.

The best way to “serve everyone” is to enable each individual student to have options.

Well, yes. But. A voucher system doesn't really get the job done. The major obstacles to education choice remain discriminatory policies of private schools and the cost. While vouchers pretend to address cost, they're too meager; either taxpayers have to foot the (very high) bill of paying the cost of students attending the school of their choice, or individual families have to do it themselves, which really isn't any better than telling poor families they can exercise choice by buying a more expensive house in a wealthier community.

That's before we even get to the taxpayers' stake in oversight and transparency of a voucher system, in not paying to send students to sub-prime pop-up schools that produce under-educated members of society. 

Voucher policies change the fundamental nature of the education system, turning K-12 into a younger version of our post-secondary system, where some folks go to great schools, some go to mediocre ones, some go to terrible ones, and some don't go at all. Some can afford it, some borrow huge amounts of money, and some don't go at all. 

Most of all, the voucher system eliminates any promise by society that we'll get your child a decent education. Certainly it's fair to argue that we have not always done a good job of fulfilling that promise, but deciding to just stop making the promise, to tell parents "You're on your own now, good luck"- that's a huge shift in how we do education as a nation, a shift that guarantees a tiered education system that reinforces socio-economic class even more than the public system we've got. 

It's the Friedman dream, the dream of a country in which education is a private commodity and not a public good, a personal issue and not a shared responsibility. It has been a persistent dream for some folks for years. I don't think very much of this dream, but the very least we can do as a society is have an honest discussion about it.

Thursday, July 11, 2024

The Free Market Won't Save Public Education

It's been an article of faith since Milton Friedman first started fantasizing about getting government out of education and replacing it with a voucher system.

Competition will spur excellence. Free market schools will save students from failing schools in poor districts. Free markets will stave off inequity. 

Folks keep saying it. And yet there isn't a shred of evidence that it's true.

Name a single free-market sector of the economy that serves all citizens with excellence. Automobiles? Restaurants? Technological tools? 

None of them, because what the free market excels at is picking winners and losers. The free market says these folks over here can have a Lexus and these folks over here can have a used Kia and these folks over here can take the bus (if there is one) and these folks over here can just walk. 

What the free market excels at is sorting people into their particular tier, their particular socio-economic class. If you want to move up a level, then show some hustle and grab those bootstraps to prove that you deserve to move up the ladder. Otherwise, we'll just assume you're right where you belong.

There's no version of our free-ish market that is about lifting every single citizen up to a decent level, no function of the free market that says, "Let's get every single person in this country behind the wheel of a Ford." The free market doesn't like the poor. 

Economist Douglas Harris laid out a solid explanation of why education is a lousy fit for the free market, and there's one more problem-- the free market and the public education system don't want the same thing. The free market wants to sort people out, put them at the top, bottom, middle-- and then provide them with what they deserve. The US public school system, however imperfectly, promises to provide every student with a quality education, without ever asking if one child deserves something different from another. 

For some free market fans, inequity is not a bug but a feature; it's a way to sort people into their proper place. Equity for them means "equal chance to prove that they belong in a particular tier." The social safety net is disruptive and wrong because it "rewards" people with stuff they haven't proven they deserve. 

Some free market fans believe that the free market will provide equity and even things out. Hell, Friedman appears to have believed that the free market would fix segregation and not, say, give rise to segregation academies. But the notion that free market mechanisms will bring greater equity than we now have in education is silly. Your ability to vote with your feet will always be directly related to your wealth.

But more to the point, we know that the free market will not correct the inequities of the education system because it is the free market that cemented them there in the first place. The primary mechanism for creating public school inequity is the policy of linking school funding to the housing--one more free market where winners and losers are sorted out. The free market was instrumental in giving us educational inequity; how can we possibly imagine that the free market would help get rid of it?

Well, that's not really a free market, free market fans will complain; it's a market that has been hampered and hamstrung by various government policies. But that's all markets. To start with, money is just made up stuff, and it takes government policies to maintain the illusion. Nor is there some pristine natural economic playing field that exists naturally; all economic playing fields are created, maintained, and regulated by governments. "That's not a true free market" just means "that playing field is not tilted the way I want it to be." 

There are playing fields more severely tilted than others, markets more free-ish than others. I'm actually a fan of our free-ish market system. And some free-ish markets are excellent at handling some sorts of commodities, companies and customers. But education is not a commodity, and no free-ish market is going to help us create a more equitable system fir universal education of young humans in this country. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

OK: Ryan Walters and Project 2025

Ryan Walters, the education dudebro-in-chief of Oklahoma, has made a national name for himself with a flurry of christianist nationalist policies (most recently requiring every classroom to include the Bible), which has helped distract from, the trouble he has getting along with legislators and doing his actual job. His rise has been swift and well-funded and bad news for Oklahoma education; as a modestly-paid state employee he was actually making the big bucks thanks to Every Kid Counts Oklahoma, yet another of those Koch & Walton privatization groups.

While Walter talks a big game of cultural warfare, he's not actually very good at his job, to the point that even like-minded conservatives have walked away from him. But Walters has the super-power of being super well connected. From his adoption by Governor Kevin Stitt. through his patrons at EKCO to his national profile courtesy folks like Fox News.

It's those connections we want to note. Now that everyone is finally catching on to the anti-liberty mess that is Project 2025, we should note that Walters is very tight with the Project 2025 crowd.

We can start with the PR firm that Walters has hired to boost his national profile. 

The firm is Virginia-based Vought Strategies, They seem like a great fit. Their website includes a testimonial from Jim DeMint calling the firm's founder, Mary Vought, "one of the best conservative communicators and public relations specialists in the nation." Mary Vought has been at it for a decade; previously she did coms work in the US Senate and House of Representatives, working for folks like Ron Johnson and Mike Pence; she's also a senior fellow for the far right Independent Women's Forum, and the executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund, an outfit that endorses the likes of Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and Rick Scott. And she cranks out pieces like this one for the Daily Caller in which she writes "as a parent" (not a conservative PR operative) that she doesn't want her daughter reading naughty books. Or slamming NIH for Fox News. Or noting a Wall Street Journal profile of Walters, saying "we proudly stand beside our clients as they fight to protect our children and parental rights."

Mary Vought is also the vice president for strategic communications at the Heritage Foundation.

The Heritage Foundation was founded in 1973 to push conservative business-friendly policies, and has developed into one of the most influential activist right-wing think tanks in DC. They are politically agile; they developed and promoted a health care proposal, then opposed it when it was adapted by the Obama administration as the Affordable Care Act. Their reaction to a Trump candidacy was to call him a “clown”, then once he was in office, they became a major voice in staffing; CNN said that “no other Washington institution has that kind of footprint in the transition.”

They have worked to push critical race theory bans, praised Florida’s dismantling of public education, and repeatedly argued for education funding to be voucherized. They even once tried to argue that school vouchers would increase the birth rate.

And, of course, they took point on the development of Project 2025.

A partner group for Project 2025 is the Center for Renewing America ("For God. For Country. For Community.") This group was created by Russ Vought, a Project 2025 project leader and Mary's husband. He previously served as Donald Trump's OMB director. He's one of the people accused of interfering with the Biden administration's transition; he is also among those who defied a Congressional subpoena during the Trump-Ukraine scandal. He's considered a likely candidate for Trump's next chief of staff. He has said we are in "post-Constitutional" times and wants to staff federal agencies with true believers who will bring the culture war to DC. He is a self-described Christian Nationalist, and argued way back in 2021 that Christian nationalism was "benign and useful."

Walters is also linked to Kevin Roberts, president of Heritage. He appeared on Kevin Roberts podcast in an episode teased with "The entrenched woke elites within our education system aim to dismantle the innocence of our children, erode parental rights, and undermine community authority over schools. Oklahoma State Superintendent Ryan Walters has boldly confronted them—and he's winning." Walters opened up by listing his struggles against the terrible media and the awful teachers' unions (he does not mention that much of his opposition has come from other GOP politicians) and he offers this:
The Heritage Foundation has been an incredible partner to help us develop what the plans are for the state, for our schools, for our education system

And praises them for sitting down with him and walking through the plan.  

Project 2025 is soaked with christianism and high level of culture panic. If you wonder what it looks like in action, looking at Ryan Walters in Oklahoma gives you just a small peak, because Walters tied toi the project and the ideology behind it. 

And this news just dropped-- Walters has tapped Kevin Roberts to lead the committee rewrite Oklahoma's social studies curriculum. The committee will also include fake historian Dennis Prager.

In a document obtained by the Washington Examiner, Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters announced a “complete overhaul” to the curriculum with the goal to “inspire in students a love of country and a proper understanding of the American founding,” as well as completely eliminate diversity, equity, and inclusion ideology from schools.

“Teacher’s unions have been rewriting history, teaching students to hate America. But not under my watch,” Walters told the Washington Examiner. “Our goal is to give Oklahoma students an education that focuses on history, not indoctrination. The executive committee that we’ve assembled are experts in American exceptionalism, our Founding Fathers, and historical documents like the Bible. These things are essential to understanding our history.”

Sunday, July 7, 2024

Premiumization and Education

Six Flags and Cedar Fairs (the parent company of my beloved Cedar Point Amusement Park) have merged, with the more successful Cedar Fair owning 51% of the resulting amusement park behemoth. Like many park fans, I have followed this news with some trepidation-- Cedar Point is a tight, well-run operation with a park carefully laid out to deal with their geographic limitations (unless they dump a mountain of fill into Lake Erie, they aren't expanding any time soon), and Six Flags parks are like someone dumped some attractions in a sack, shook it up, and dumped it out.

Six Flags is the gazillionth business to suffer from a lack of focus on the main thing. One regular has noticed their strategic misstep:

Six Flags, he noticed, focused on adding thrill rides and overlooked smaller rides for kids and families and other park activities, such as evening entertainment and shows. Staffing at the park and customer service also became inconsistent.

“Six Flags can feel a bit disjointed,” he said. “Finances were more important than the guest experience.”

The coverage notes a technique that Six Flags used to boost its sagging fortunes.

Six Flags hiked ticket prices in 2022, raising the average price of admission to $35.99 from $28.73. The move caused a 26% drop in annual attendance

It was part of Six Flags’ “premiumization” plan to bring in fewer people to parks but get them to spend more. CEO Selim Bassoul complained in 2022 that Six Flags had turned into “cheap day care centers” for teenagers and said the company wanted to “migrate…a little bit from what I call the Kmart, Walmart to maybe the Target customer.”

In other words, here is Example #28,911,237 of how the Free Market is not geared toward making sure every customer is served. The Free Market picks winners and losers, not just among businesses, but among customers. Some customers are just too poor and annoying, say some businesses, and we choose not to serve them.

Premiumization is already a feature of the private school world, where pricing structures help signal that some schools are for the elite. A study now confirms that in one state, vouchers led to private school tuition hikes as schools took the opportunity to "migrate" to a higher tier in the education biz. 

Voucher fans picture a country in which privates schools throw their doors open wide, ready to accept poor young refugees of failing school systems. But the history of free(-ish) markets shows no such behavior. What the free market does is set tiers of service and quality, including the bottommost tier which may get nothing at all, with many businesses working to climb the profitable ladder of premiumization. 

It's no way to run an education system for an entire country. 

Let Teachers Take Back The Classroom

During my 39 years in the classroom, my classroom management methods were pretty simple. 

Only a handful of explicit rules. We're here so I can help each of you become better at reading, writing, listening and speaking; anything that gets in the way of that is not okay. This classroom is meant to be a place where nobody needs to fear disrespect or mistreatment. Treat all students with respect all the time. That pretty well covered it.

I also subscribed to the theory that keeping focus on what we were doing, not what we were supposed to not be doing, is useful, and that keeping the class moving right along (Joe McCormick, my student teaching co-op liked the term "punchy quick") and knowing what the heck you're doing go a long way toward keeping the classroom managed. 

For 39 years, that worked well for about 97.6% of the time, even as the tides of various cohorts shifted over the years. 

But based on surveys and countless pieces of anecdotal data (aka stories teachers tell me), I have to admit that something seems to have fundamentally changed. There is more disorder, disruption, and outright violence in classrooms. There are new frontiers in attacks on teachers being found every day, like the mass defamatory social media accounts set up by Malvern PA middle schoolers. There are a variety of theories about why this is happening.

Pandemic hangover. Thanks to the pandemic disruptions of in-the-building schooling, a whole lot of students just kind of lost the knack, the skill, even the inclination, for Doing School.

Squishy liberal ideas. In the face of charges that discipline was being inequitably doled out against students of color, schools stopped doing any doling at all. Others tried implementing ideas like restorative justice, which just led to all sorts of chaos.

Parents these days. Gentle parenting and other modern parenting trends are creating unmanageable children. 

Bad top-down policies. States impose rules about how certain populations may or may not be treated in school and schools suffer the consequences. 

Cultural ick. A decade or two of arguing that schools are terrible and teachers are evil grooming indoctrinators eventually trickles down to children. A culture in which our very highest officials regularly bully and belittle and break rules with neither shame nor consequence trickles down to students, too.

Young teachers are wimps. I know a lot of young teachers. I don't buy this one.

Something in the water. Cosmic rays. Who the heck knows. Not a popular explanation, but I've heard it more than once.

Further complicating the discussion is that some folks have attached particular explanations to particular politics, and it's not a political problem.

We have, on the one hand, people who sincerely want to address issues of equity and sensitivity and are doing a lousy job of it. Restorative justice and trauma-informed practices and all the versions of positive behavior reinforcement are not terrible ideas, but they take a lot of time and training (and therefor money)--and none of them mandate that students never suffer consequences for bad choices. 

See, several things can be true at the same time. Is misbehavior often the student's way of communicating underlying issues that they need help in addressing? Yes. Should students experience consequences for their misbehavior? Yes. Should students be handled with respect and care for the baggage they bring with them? Should teachers be mindfully aware of equity issues in how they treat their students? Yes, and yes. Should the classroom be an environment where the teacher is safe to teach and students, including the ones that are not causing trouble, are able to learn? Yes. Does every individual child deserve support, empathy, and consideration? Yes. Can a single child who goes off the rails regularly make life miserable for a teacher and all the other students in the room? Yes.

All those things can be true at once, and therefor proposed solutions have to treat all those things as true rather than, as some folks tend to do, declaring that only certain sides of the problem need to be addressed. That means that those who want to blame it all on liberal squishiness are only looking at part of the issue, and those who don't want to talk about any classroom management problem spike because saying it exists might feed the conservative trolls--they have to ease up as well.

Most of the solution for issues of classroom management is located exactly in the administrative offices of your district and building. 

I've seen all manner of problem principal. Send your problem student to the office. In one case, the principal would have the student pull up a seat while the principal talked about how he'd done way worse stuff when he was a teen and ten minutes later send the student to class. In another case, the principal would browbeat and bully the student, pushing them into a corner until they either broke down or blew up and earned a suspension that never should have happened. Or there's the hands off principal--the one who, if she's in the office at all, will ask you if you have made five contacts with the home and sat down with parents three times. In all cases, what teachers learn is that they shouldn't bother asking for help from the office.

Every building has its actual written behavior policy and its operational rules--the rules that the office really follows. Like the school where the dress code is only enforced for certain young women. Or the school where bullying is dealt with directly unless the victim is a LGBTQ kid. Or the school with different rules for white kids and students of color.

Teachers and students both learn what the unwritten policy really is and conduct themselves accordingly. 

Do teachers have responsibility for managing their classrooms? Absolutely. But the tools they have are directly related to the tools that the administration lets them have. The most basic thing you learn as a teacher is whether or not administration has your back, and nothing else will have a larger effect on your classroom management style and effectiveness. 

Are there teachers who use ineffective policies in their classroom? Are there teachers whose lackadaisical or biased or, yes, even racist policies cause them and their students plenty of trouble? Are there teachers who send students out of the room every ten minutes for sneezing disrespectfully?  Absolutely. Whose job is it to straighten those teachers out (or show them the door)? Administration's.

Behavioral issues require a vision of both trees and forest. Often the issue is immediate--right now I cannot help 20 students in this class better understand a simple algebraic formula because Pat won't stop throwing books at the windows. That needs to be dealt with Right Now because every minute that I'm kept from providing instruction is a minute I can't get back. But in the big picture, I need a plan for the long term, something more useful and thoughtful than simply playing daily whack-a-mole with Pat's outbursts. For success, I need to deal with both the forest and the trees, and it helps if I have someone to work with me on that,

A building administrator's job is simple--create the conditions under which each teacher can do her very best work. That includes helping her with the tools to manage her classroom. It is possible to be fair and just and sensible and equitable and still have classrooms where teachers are able to take hold of their classrooms and do the job they entered the profession to do. But that only happens when your school either A) gets really lucky or B) makes a deliberate, thoughtful attempt to create such a culture.

It will not happen if either the Repressive Military Camp or the Land Of Do As You Please Camp dominates. It will not happen if I get caught up in either forests or trees. The push for discipline and for empathetic flexibility will always be in tension, and there is no tension in education that a couple of pundits can't blow up into a full-sized battle. As with most educational tensions, we have to keep adjusting year after year, and if the surveys and anecdotal evidence is accurate, something is out of whack right now. 

This is another of those posts that could rattle on forever, because the issue is not necessarily complicated (see my classroom rules above), but it is complex (see all the other factors I have skipped over). Once again in education, if someone is touting a simple silver bullet to address the issue, they're probably selling something, and it's nothing you want to buy.

The one plus is that this is an issue that offers broad agreement from a wide variety of people. Nobody wants schools that are unfair and unjust, and nobody wants classrooms where there's so much chaos that education can't occur. We may disagree on what exactly that looks like or how we get there, but at least we're looking at the same horizon.

ICYMI: Picnic Leftovers Edition (7/7)

Weather and other stuff stifled the annual Fourth picnic this year. The plus side is that now I don't have to make food for a week. Making lemonade here.

In the meantime, here's the weekly list. Remember-- you can amplify the voices that you believe should be heard. 

What these states get wrong about the Bible and the Ten Commandments

Amanda Tyler's opinion piece for CNN is one of the better takes on the continued efforts to jam the Bible into the classroom.

Red states’ religious mandates for schools ignore basic history

Historian Kevin Kruse has some lessons for the Christianity-in-our-classrooms crowd.

The least surprising development in this ongoing saga.

What You See Is Not What You Get: Science of Reading Reforms As a Guise for Standardization, Centralization, and Privatization

Some scholarly work from Elena Aydarova. You may want to skip past the scholarly part to the findings, which are pretty hefty all by themselves.

Hot Fun in the Summertime

It's test score time in Tennessee, and TC Weber has some thoughts about the "increasingly irrelevant" results.

Child Tax Credit Reform Languishes as Children Remain Invisible in U.S. Politics

Jan Resseger reminds us that at one point we made a real dent in child poverty. Now, we're just never-minding our way past it.

Conservatives Go to War — Against Each Other — Over School Vouchers

Alec MacGillis reports for ProPublica on the phenomenon of conservative supporters of local public schools.

A.I. ‘Friend’ for Public School Students Falls Flat

From New York Times. LA schools thought they could hire someone to replace support staff with a chatbot. Not so much.

Thomas Ultican takes a look back at Karen Fraid's reform-to-English dictionary, and it turns out that after more than a decade, it holds up depressingly well.

The Right-Wing Network Manufacturing the War Against Higher Education

Colleen Scerpella writing for the Center for Media and Democracy looks at some of the folks behind the recent alarms over higher education.

This week at Forbes.com, I reminded you (again) that you ought to pick up a copy of The Education Wars. 

Join me on substack for free and complete updates on what I'm putting out into the world. 

Friday, July 5, 2024

Will Public Funding For Religious Schools Ease Culture Wars?

Mike Petrilli, head honcho at the Fordham Institute, has a theory. Maybe, he suggests, spending public tax dollars on private religious schools might actually ease some of the continuing cultures out there
Indeed, there’s good reason to believe that, as more parents gain access to school choice, including the option of sending their children to religious private schools, we will see today’s education culture wars recede.

I don't think so. Here's why not. 

First, silos don't solve anything. Letting people of differing values retreat to their own separate silo has not ever solved the issue or reduced the conflict. The history of segregation in the US is as good an example as any; it did nothing at all for reducing racial issues and tension in this country. 

We've even tried this out in education before with the post-Brown segregation academies, where some parents were free to pursue their value of "get my kid an education where he doesn't have to be around Black kids." That didn't serve some Americans well, nor did it ease the tension caused by different values regarding race. 

What separate silos do is make it easier to target certain folks. All the Others are over there in that group, so we can easily rail away at them. The second part of the segregation academy movement was for white folks to say, "Now that this school system over here is mostly Those Blach Kids, let's stop funding them." Which they could safely say because their own kids were safely somewhere else in a different silo.

We've already seen that much of the culture panic is animated by folks who are not merely concerned about what values and books and humans persons that their own children are exposed to, but what varieties of human experience everyone's kids are exposed to. Hence the need to make sure that nobody's child can read "And Tango Makes Three." Hense the establishment of a school that centers LGBTQ students immediately becomes a target

Since we're talking about religious private schools, there's another problem. You will have noticed that within the Christian church alone, there are a gabillion sects. Thise exist thanks to centuries of doctrinal differences. In short, many churches are not only bad at welcoming pluralism outside their walls, but inside as well. Once our silo is established, then it's time to make sure that everyone inside is pure and in compliance.

And for some fairly vocal culture warriors, choice is not on the table. They will consider the culture wars over when their side has won and all the other sides have been silenced and/or obliterated. These are the allies the choice movement chose, and at some point it's going to bite choice in the butt.

None of these factors will ease the culture wars. In fact, not only will they not ease them, but they will lead to a side effect that nobody wants.

Battles amongst the various silos will escalate. Those will be exacerbated because despite reformster magical thinking, you can't run 15 parallel school systems for the same money that barely ran one ("Our business is running into financial trouble, so the solution is to open a bunch more branch locations" said no corporate operation ever). The religious schools will argue about which other religious schools should be allowed to exist, and they'll all be pissed off that the Satanic Temple is also setting up schools. Politicians will argue that Certain Schools are not run by Real Religions and therefor shouldn't be allowed to operate at taxpayer expense (spoiler alert: already happened). Others will argue that taxpayers shouldn't fund LGBTQ schools (spoiler alert: already happened). And even Petrilli notes that he's rather have some safeguards against schools that are strikingly low quality, though I don't expect any such school to say cheerily, "Yeah, that's us!"

So ultimately, the state will have to either sort it out or fork over a pile of money or defund education of all sorts. One end result is the State Department of Religious Okee Dokeeness, where state bureaucrats decide which religious schools can be certified 100% fresh and which cannot. 

Benefits to society? None. People don't learn tolerance of LGBTQ persons or conservative wingnut persons or persons of different races or religions if they spend their school years in a bubble where they never actually meet any of those humans. 

It is tempting to think that the culture wars will ease when we try to give people the impression that they have won, but the loudest culture war voices have shown us who they are again and again, and who they are are people who don't just want a quiet corner of their own, but to claim dominion over the whole education mountain. 

I love our Puritan forebears. Hell, I'm related to our Puritan forebears. For all their virtues, it's inaccurate (as I told my students) to say the Puritans came to establish a country where anyone could worship the way they wished; they came here to establish a country where everyone would worship the way the Puritans wanted them to. It was the ultimate attempt to solve a culture war by silo, and while in many ways it was better than their brethren's attempt back home to win a culture by killing the king and taking over the country, it ultimately didn't end the conflict. 

In short (okay, too late), public funding won't ease culture wars. It will likely intensify them, and most probably shift the battlefield to state and federal government, where the question of which values get to have their own schools and how much they get paid to run them will be endlessly relitigated. Maybe forever, or maybe until some wise sage discovers that the best way to preserve pluralism and religious freedom is a public school system that is inclusive about students and neutral about religion.  

Thursday, July 4, 2024

Taxation Without Representation

America's favorite voucher evangelist and some of his friends stopped by my twitter feed yesterday to share some thoughts about my latest piece for The Progressive and he shared this bon mot

It's true. The public school system also uses tax dollars collected from childless taxpayers. But there's a difference-- a critical one.

It's not a point of hypocrisy. Some folks are going to say that the voucher-loving taxation-is-theft crowd are being hypocrites to say that they don't like paying school taxes except when it benefits them, but I'd argue that their point is more "If we're going to do this thing I hate, let's do it in a les objectionable way" or maybe "Watch me hoist these libs by their own petard." And that's as American as apple pie. 

It is certainly more accurate to point out that vouchers don't just give certain taxpayers their money back. And it is certainly problematic that a voucher system uses money not just from childless taxpayers, but from parents whose own children are not allowed to participate in the voucher system (too poor, too not-religious-enough, too LGBTQ, too low achieving etc etc etc).

But the big critical difference is that in the public system, childless taxpayers get to participate.

They get to elect board members who then decide how those tax dollars should be best used. They get a voice. Their voice may not always dominate, and sometimes the voices that do dominate are, well, not so awesome.

But today is a good day to remember that democratic governance (or a republic, either*) is not defined as "system of government in which I always get what I want." All democracy promises us is a voice. And that's one of the things that a voucher system denies. Private schools do not answer to the public, are not owned or operated by taxpayer-elected boards, and are not required to show the public jack squat about what they do with taxpayer dollars. To really hammer the point home, most voucher laws now come with hands off language, expressly forbidding the people's elected representatives from interfering in private school operation in any way.

One of the things that got us riled up as colonies was taxation without representation--taking our money without allowing us a voice. That denial of a voice to childless taxpayers is an undemocratic feature, and a distinct contrast with the public system which, though imperfect, provides avenues for taxpayers to be heard, to get some representation with their taxation

Undemocratic processes have been critical for school vouchers; no voucher proposal has ever survived a public vote, which is one reason that voucher evangelists have to evangelize to legislators and not the general public. 

It has been a long, slow process to give more Americans a voice since we were founded all those years ago. School vouchers seem like a step back for many reasons, but calling for more taxation without representation is definitely a backwards move.

Happy Fourth of July! Enjoy the day!

*Reminder for all those trying to make a distinction out there that democracy and republic are just the terms derived from Roman and Greek for "of the people."

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

PA: Bill Proposes $8000 Payoff To Ditch Public School

A new bill in the Pennsylvania Senate is a sort of super-voucher stripped of any pretense, because it simply pays parents to pull their child out of public school.

SB 1280 is short and sweet. Every parent who has a child not in public gets an $8000 payoff from the state.

The payoff comes in the form of a personal tax credit of $8000 per child. That's not an "up to $8000," either:
The tax credit under this section shall be applied against the taxpayer's tax liability. If the tax credit exceeds the taxpayer's tax liability, the department shall issue a refund under the procedures specified in section 346 of the Tax Reform Code of 1971.

In other words, if you  only owe $2,000 in taxes, you get a $6K check from the state. 

Governor Josh Shapiro has signaled that he does not support the speedwalked  bill, which was introduced last week (June 26) and will be considered by the finance committee this morning (Wed, July 3). 

There's no income requirement for eligibility, and unlike other vouchers, there's no requirement for how the money must be spent. It's just $8000 payoff to pull out of public school. It applies equally to private school or home schooling-- just so long as you get your kid out of public education.

Maddie Hanna and Gillian McGoldrick are all over the story for the Philadelphia Inquirer (and Steven Goldrick sent up the alert on Twitter), where they get this on the nose quote:

“We’ve just gotten a signal of what the end of the road is: the destruction of public schools,” said Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg, senior attorney at the Public Interest Law Center. He called the expedited bill the “Episcopal Academy Assistance Act,” highlighting the Newtown Square private school where high school tuition tops $43,000 as one of the expensive schools that could benefit from such a proposal.

True enough. There is no pretense here of helping students from poor families get to better education. There's not even a pretense that this is taxpayer dollars directed at education. It is the baldest version of vouchers yet-- "We will pay you to abandon public education. We don't care what you do about educating your kid. Just get out of public education."

How expensive would this be? There are roughly 275,000 students in private school. Maybe 126,000 home schooled students. So that would blow a $3.2 billion hole in the state budget in a combination of taxes not collected and cash paid out. And that's just if nobody else jumped on the deal.

It's unlikely that the bill would get past the Democratic controlled House, though one never knows, and it's unlikely to get past Shapiro, who previously scrapped a proposed voucher bill.

This is based on the Oklahoma model (sponsor Senator Judy Ward pointed to Oklahoma as an example in the committee meeting Wednesday morning). 

Oklahoma's version was dressed up in lots of pretty language about families and educational choices. The Pennsylvania version is notable for how direct it is. Vouchers have usually pretended to be about "The state wants you to abandon public schools. We'll wash our hands of responsibility for providing a decent education for your child, and in return we'll cut you a check to help defray the costs, a little." 

This drops that whole game. "We'll cut you a check to just walk away from public education," is next level stuff. I want to call it a voucher, but it doesn't even pretend to be that. Just a payoff and an attempt to gut public education while washing the state's hands of even the most rudimentary attempt to help families provide an education. Here's your check, thanks for getting out, and good luck to you.

Mind you, this is Pennsylvania, where we're already looking at a multibillion dollar fix for a school funding system that has been ruled unconstitutional by the courts. Maybe Ward figures if we can just pay everyone to leave the public system, we won't have to fund it. I'm not sure that's anyone else's idea of a solution. 

Update-- But I just realized something important. The bill says you claim the tax credit by filling out the app0ropriate line on your tax form, but Pennsylvanian's who make under $33K do not have to file income tax with the state. So much for benefiting the poor.

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

AI and Disengaging Reality

I'm fully aware that I'm going to sound like an old fart here, but I think much of what AI is promising to deliver is not just an advance in technology, but a lurch in the wrong direction and fundamentally bad in ways that all other technology up until this point was not.

For virtually all of human history, technology has helped us extend our reach, sometimes in incredibly powerful ways. Reading and writing allowed us to listen to the insights and ideas of people separated by time and space. The printed word increased that miracle by a thousand-fold. 

Centuries of advance in various media have extended our human reach. Just think of the ocean.

When my students would complain about the verbosity of authors from an earlier time, I would point out the limitations of the age. Back then, I'd say, the only way to see the ocean was to physically travel to the ocean and look at it with your own eyeballs. Maybe you could see a painting of it, though you could only see the painting if you were physically standing in front of it. So an author who wanted to evoke the ocean would have to do a lot of work to create that picture in the minds of readers who really didn't have much on which to draw. 

Then there came photographs. Then print, so that you could see copies of photographs and paintings. Then movies. Then photographs and movies in color. Then television. The color television, on which to watch the movies of the ocean, or maybe even live broadcasts from the ocean itself. Then the internet and the capability to share depictions or even live feeds of the ocean on a device you carry in your pocket, any time you wish.

The march of media technology has brought the ocean closer and closer to every human being.

Ditto for areas of human knowledge. Go back far enough and you're in an era in which the only way to learn some piece of information is by talking to a person who already knows it. Then writing made it possible for many people to get that piece of information, even if the person who originally possessed that information is currently deceased. The printing meant an incalculably large number of persons could reach out and grab that information, and digitized technology increased the number exponentially. 

Even the internet, for all the demonization and pearl-clutching about Kids These Days tied to their screens, has made it easier to connect with other human beings. Left-handed basket-weaving afficionados can now find each other and share ideas. My daughter and her family are on the other side of the country, and while they can only travel back here a couple of times a year, my grandchildren are growing up knowing my face and voice. 

The long march of media technology is toward increasing engagement, making it easier and easier to find and grasp and grapple with ideas and people and the world.

Media tech has steadily built bridges between individual human beings and the larger world around them. But AI promises something else.

AI builds a wall around the world, then sits on top of the wall and promises to tell us what it sees, more or less, kind of, with maybe some extra made up stuff thrown in.

This is not always a bad thing. If I want to know how many sheep are in my yard, I could go out and count them myself, or I could ask software to count them then report the number back to me. Useful.

But other wall building work is more troubling. I deeply love that for any question that occurs to me, I can google a variety of sources, look through them, learn about the answers to the question. Or I could skip actually engaging with the sources and just let the terrible AI from Google (or Microsoft or whoever) give me a quick summary of whatever it has scraped off the interwebs, more or less, with right, wrong and fictional all dumped into one big stew together.

Or like the ad that promises I can use AI to write up the notes from the meeting. I don't really need to pay attention. In fact, I don't even need to check in at all. Just let the AI monitor the meeting and then get back to me with the notes it compiles. No need for me to engage on my own. 

Or the many AI applications that boil down to "let AI deal with these persons so you don't have to" (or don't have to pay money to hire a human to do it). Los Angeles public schools paid $6 million to have a chatbot talk to students who needed academic and mental health help, building a wall around those students instead of bridge between them and another helpful human. The company just tanked.

In the classroom, I can skip reaching out to engage with the research and materials about the topic I want to teach. Just have AI look at the stuff and tell you what it found, mostly, kind of. 

Or the ultimate AI disengagement-- an AI writes the assigned essay for a class, and then an AI assesses the essay that the other AI manufactured, and no actual living humans engage with anything at all. 

AI threatens to foster a misunderstanding of what research and critical thinking are for. These mutated descendants of Clippy are predicated on the notion that the point is to look for a single answer which one then pours into one's noggin. Research should involve searching, collecting, evaluating, processing, and fitting together the bits of information, a process by which the researcher both fine tunes the results and sharpens and deepens their own understanding. Students have forever attempted to short-circuit that process ("Can't I just find the right answer and hand it in without all this mucking about?"). AI makes that short-circuiting simpler.

Tech and media have made it progressively easier to engage with the world; AI is a big bold step toward disengaging. AI tells humans, "Don't get up. I'll go look for you, and you just sit there and I'll bring you something." AI is not just a plagiarism engine, but a disengagement engine. A tool that moves its users away from the world instead of toward it, and there is nothing desirable about that.

Yes, maybe I am just a cranky old fart. (Okay, not "maybe") and perhaps there are ways that AI can be used to build bridges instead of walls. But my gut-level aversion to AI (and I have indeed played with it) is about this retrograde drift, this movement away from the world, the promise to build walls instead of bridges, the whole "You just stay on the couch and I will pretend to engage with reality for you" of it. I will yell at my own clouds myself, thank you.

Sunday, June 30, 2024

ICYMI: Family Visit Edition (6/30)

The West Coast Field Office staff of the Institute have been here this week, and the field agents and board of directors have been enjoying themselves a great deal. It's a party. 

In the meantime, this week's reading list has been prepared for your enjoyment and edification. Remember-- you have the power to amplify voices that you find important.

Louisiana’s New Ten Commandments Law Could Not Be Any More Unconstitutional

Slate's legal team of Mark Stern and Dahlia Lithwick provide some of the best context and analysis for Louisiana's newest attempt to get (certain) religion into the classroom.

Ten Commandments Classroom Tips

The indispensable Mercedes Schneider has gathered a few handy tips for teachers who now have to work with the Ten Commandments.

Religious leader wants to display Indian scriptures in Louisiana public classrooms

In a completely unsurprising development, a Hindu religious leader would like to have some ancient Sanskrit manuscripts posted right next to those Ten Commandments. 

Louisiana’s June 2024 Education Legislation

Finally, while the Ten Commandments are getting all the press, Louisiana just passed a whole lot of terrible education law, including a whole lot of culture panic stuff. The indispensable Mercedes Schneider has the rundown. 

Why “Fund Students, Not Systems” Is a Recipe for Disaster

An excerpt from Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider's new book, coming out this week. Read the excerpt. Buy the book.

Thomas Ultican retraces the history of Inspire Charter Schools, a chain that turned out to be a bit of a money-grubbing scam.

I know we've seen many of these stories, but we should never let them numb us. This time it's a librarian in Idaho.

The Bible in Public Schools? Oklahoma Pushes Limits of Long Tradition.

The New York Times goes looking for some perspective on the latest move in Oklahoma, and talks to Adam Laats in the process.

These Researchers Study the Legacy of the Segregation Academies They Grew Up Around

Jennifer Bery Hawes digs into the research covering one of the nation's more shameful school choice chapters.

South Carolina to Launch Biggest Censorship Campaign Yet

Sigh. Edith Olmsted reported for The New Republic, and Yahoo gets it out from behind the paywall. One more state sets itself to crack down on naughty books.

Arizona Shows The Voucher Money Shuffle In Action

Jef Rouner writing for ReformAustin takes a lesson in vouchers from Arizona.

Florida Has The Capacity, But Not The Commitment, To Adequately Fund Its Public Schools

Sue Kingery Woltanski paints a picture familiar in many states. The state has money, but spending it on public education? That's crazy talk!

The Triumph of Counting and Scripting

Allison Pugh at Slate writes about a phenomenon all too familiar to folks in education--micro-management.

People thinking without speaking

Benjamin Riley writes about how people think, and how that's a thing that AI can't do.

Over at Forbes.com this week, I looked at what Oklahoma's Supreme Court had to say about a Catholic Charter School ("Don't").

And hey-- join us at Substack, where all my stuff lands in your email inbox for free!

Friday, June 28, 2024

OK: Bible Or Else

After the Pledge and a prayer, Ryan Walters opened the State Board of Education meeting on June 27 with a stern warning. The Board was set to consider taking a license away from a teacher who is accused of teaching "inappropriate"  materials that the state has outlawed. 

The state won't tolerate "activist teachers" and "indoctrination," says Walters. "All individuals need to be aware that actions have consequences, and if you break law, if you break statute, if you break rules, regulations, there will be consequences for those things."

From there, without a trace of irony, Walters moves on to railing against the Oklahoma Supreme Court, a group that specializes in determining whether or not you have broken laws, statutes, ordinances, rules, or regulations, and declares that their ruling that the proposed Catholic charter school broke laws, statutes, ordinances, and the state constitution--well, there should not be consequences for that particular rule-breaking because Walters is sure they are wrong, and therefor he'll be working with the school, lawyers, and parents to make sure that there are no consequences. 

But Walters had another shoe to drop. Rather than be out-christianed by the state of Louisiana (where they just declared that the Ten Commandments must be in every classroom), Walters announced that he was going to forcibly shove a Bible into every classroom in the state. (Because, as Walters will tell you, the Constitution doesn't mention the separation of church and state.)

His pitch is centered on the idea that the Bible is a "necessary historical document" and the "most foundational document used for the constitution and the birth of our country." Walters used to teach AP History, and should know better. "Every teacher, every classroom in the state will have a Bible in the classroom and will be teaching from the Bible in the classroom," he declares. He announced that the memo will come out that day, and sure enough, it did. 
Effective immediately, all Oklahoma schools are required to incorporate the Bible, which includes the Ten Commandments, as an instructional support into the curriculum across specific grade levels, e.g. grades 5 through 12.

The emphasis on the Ten Commandments is a telling one. After all, the Bible also includes the Golden Rule and the Beatitudes, but gosh, that whole "do unto others" and "blessed are the meek" stuff sounds awfully woke.

I'm also trying to imagine how teachers in the upper grades will manage to work the Bible into every single class. Home ec lessons on unleavened bread? Geometry lessons about cubits? 

And once again, let's note that culture panic support for school choice is skin deep. If a parent wants to send their child to a school without Bible instruction in it, Ryan Walters says, "No, you can't have that choice."

Walters, you may recall, previously called the teachers unions a terrorist organization, and has not exactly extended a great deal of trust to teachers, so it's curious that he would trust each and every one of them to properly use the Bible in their classroom. But it's comply or risk losing your teaching license. How effectively does one evangelize when you're spreading the Bible under duress?

The memo says that the Department of Education "may supply teaching materials for the Bible, as permissible, to ensure uniformity in delivery." Permissible by whom? But once again we arrive at the point where the state is going to tell students how to interpret the Bible. Or maybe teachers will just put their own spin on holy scripture. 

Maybe this will survive the inevitable court challenge, or the legal challenge to include other peoples' historically significant holy scriptures in classrooms. If so, I'm betting religious conservatives will rue the day that the state and its teachers were put in charge of religious instruction of their children. And if you decide, for whatever reason, you don't want the school being your co-parent when it comes to religion, you'd better not try to escape in Oklahoma, because breaking rules and regulations has consequences.

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Have Charters Been Captured By The Wokeness?

Pity the poor charter school advocates. Once upon a time they were the darlings of the "school choice" crowd. But then privatizers and the culture panic crowd saw a chance to pursue their true love-- taxpayer-funded vouchers-- and the charter school fans suddenly found that their prom date was already out the door with someone else.

This is not aided by decisions like the Oklahoma high court ruling that A) charters are so public schools and so B) they have to follow the same rules. Granted, SCOTUS may eventually overturn that, but in the meantime, charters were just a foot in the door, and now that privatizers have wedged the door open, they're just going to stomp on charter toes on their way through.

An excellent example comes from the Heritage Foundation, where scholars Jay Greene, Ian Kingsbury, and Jason Bedrick have issued a Report (aka Blog Post With Professional Grade header) entitled "The Woke Capture of Charter Schools" which uses Woke Panic as a way to discredit charter schools, even as it discards some of the old choicer tropes.

A host of assumptions

To make their argument work, they have to first posit that "woke" is unpopular with parents. Sure, they write, there are some woke-preferring parents out there, but "tend to be a distinct minority." But "past research suggests" that "when parents have more control over the education of their own children, that education tends to be less woke." I would be interesting and looking at that research, but we'll get back to that.

Now we're off and running. The anti-woke parent preference is now a given, as in "Given that parental empowerment is associated with less woke education..." They argue that given that given, charters ought to be less woke than nearby public schools. But what we're going to discover that this is not true--that charter schools are in many cases more wokified than their public school neighbors. 

How could such a thing be? Let's consider the possible explanations:

1) The nearby public schools are not actually very woke at all.

2) The instrument used to measure wokitude is not very accurate.

3) You assumption that a parent-driven education market favors non-wokeness is incorrect.

4) Some outside force is forcing charters to be excessively woke. This would also require us to consider

4a) Market forces that should be forcing the closure of schools built on unpopular values-- for some reason, that market dynamic is not working.

Yes, they're going with explanation four. 
Charter schools, on the other hand, might become less responsive to the preferences of local parents if they have to please state authorizers to be established and remain open and if they are overly dependent on national philanthropies to subsidize their operations. Those charter schools may have to adopt woke values to gain permission to open from the public authorities that grant them their charter and to receive funding, especially for capital expenses, from large donors with progressive values.

So here our assumption is that authorizers and charter-backing philanthropists are themselves in with the woke. The report is going to try address a bunch of the assumptions we have breezed past so far, but first, let's roll out the argument that's really being made here, one more knife in the back of the charter movement. Maybe parents choose charters because they are woke, or maybe because the charter offers safety and quality instruction, so the wokeness is overlooked. 

By contrast, policies that permit private school choice with vouchers or K–12 education savings accounts do not require permission from an authorizer for schools to open their doors and therefore are less likely to require capital funds from donors since they often already have school buildings. That means that private schools are typically more directly accountable to parents than charter schools and so are more likely to reflect the values of the families they serve.

Got it? Taxpayer-funded vouchers provide better, more correct choices. Are we going to do some kind of research to establish that? No.

So let's start looking at the foundation beneath some of our assumptions.

When parents have more control over the education of their own children, that education tends to be less woke

The writers will now cite some surveys. Heritage itself found that 83% of parents nationwide believe their children's school should “engage with character and virtue.” A large survey of using school choice found that religious environment and instruction made the list of top three factors behind their choice. An EdChoice survey found parents want children to learn to discuss contentious topics in a calm and rational matter, and to become patriotic. Same survey found a majority of parents want teachers to keep their politics to themselves, no naughty books, and no discussion of LGBTQ issues. 

They also cite the USC survey "Searching for Common Ground" as proof that parents mostly don't want various topics discussed, without mentioning that the report's delving into wide gaps between different groups of parents (they especially don't mention that respondents overwhelmingly say they would rather their tax dollars go to support public school than to send a child to a private school).

We could dig into the quality of the surveys performed by people with a definite privatized ax to grind, but the bottom, line here is that if this is meant to support the boldfaced assertion, it doesn't. It doesn't show that, for instance, "character and virtue" are somehow incompatible with wokosity. And it certainly doesn't show that when parents have more control over their children's education, that education is less woke.

Regulations beget wokeness

"Given that markets tend to reflect the preferences of consumers and that most parents prioritize the teaching of values and want schools that eschew “woke” values," the charter school sector ought not to be woke. Except those "givens" are both doing huge amounts of heavy lifting. 
Highly regulated and constrained markets are not as effective as freer markers at giving consumers what they want. 

The charter market is highly regulated and constrained. The authors are going to keep saying this without any particular support other than to nod at another Heritage Foundation report by two of the authors of this one that declared that highly regulated states were more woke than less regulated ones. Missing from both that report and this one is any example of a rule or regulation that fosters all the woke. Exactly what rules and regulations lead to all this wokosity? The authors never say.

Heavy regulations make it more difficult to open and operate charter schools, thereby giving more power to charter school authorizers and philanthropies that help charter schools open. If those gatekeeper organizations espouse certain values, then it should be no surprise when charter schools in states with heavier regulations espouse values that are closer to them than to the general population of parents.

Which "certain values," and how are these values translated into specific rules and regulations. Hard to say. Is it just a sort of atmosphere that hangs over the authorizers and philanthropists? We'll get to that.

The woke atmosphere

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers is all up the wokeness, arguing for social justice and equity and vocally in support of DEI.

The Walton Family Foundation is woke! Who knew? But among its priorities in grant making has been DEI. The WFF even sponsored a drag show.

The Gates Foundation? Those guys have been pushing woke math and critical race theory.

NewSchools Venture Fund? All over the DEI. 

Again, we're cutting so many corners. Is DEI woke? Is it an idea co-opted by corporations and implemented as a sort of BS paperwork exercise? Are the corporate hedge fund guys who animate much of the charter industry all that interested in actual DEI, or will the performative type suit them? 

The writers cite KIPP's decision to be less racist as one sign of creeping wokeness, hinting that it was just to mollify authorizers, because the 500-pound gorilla of the charter school sector needs to worry about such things. They also raise the specter of those various LGBTQ charters that "have a focus on indoctrinating students in radical gender ideology." 

Sigh. This is the classic cultural conservative stance. These things that you say are a problem aren't a problem, says I, so therefor your attempts to address the problems must just be made up excuses to try some political trick. Did KIPP have sincere concerns about its treatment of Black students? Are there reasons for LGBTQ students to want a separate educational environment? Heritage is just going to chalk it up to wokeness.

The irony here is that they already know a way to untangle this mess. Let the invisible hand sort it out. Start a hundred LGBTQ charters; if nobody wants that, then 99 of them will go out of business. The report is heavy on explaining why there are an excessive number of wokinated charters, but it doesn't really address why people choose them and the market supports them. "It's not a fully free market" explains why these schools exist, but not why parents choose them. If the argument is that parents choose these schools for academics or safety, well, that's the market saying that it cares more about safety and academics than it does about wokeness. You can argue that the market wants the wrong things, but the invisible hand wants what the invisible hand wants.

Measuring the woke

So how did Heritage reach the conclusion that charters are more wokinated than their corresponding public schools? By going on line and looking at handbooks and scanning for certain woke words that "signal" wokeness in the school.

They "repurposed" the stuff they collected for the previous report, and found 211 handbooks they could pair with local public schools. That left them with 211 charter schools (out of around 7800) to compare with 211 public schools (out of roughly 97,000). The sampling by state is a bit wonky-- Utah is represented by 16 pairs, Colorado by 14, Pennsylvania by 12. Florida gets 4 pairs, California 3, Michigan 5, and Texas and Tennessee just 1. The authors blame this in part on public school handbook availability and say that's probably not a source of bias. I'm wondering if there's a paper in relating wokeness to being forward-thinking enough to put your handbook on line.

So, searching for the keywords-- diversity, equity, inclusion, justice, restorative, social-emotional, gender identity, and culturally relevant/affirming. The presence of those words is "woke" signalling. Here are the results

Note that they indicate that the ties mostly occur when both schools have zero instances. So one could argue that the results might show that mostly, nobody is wokified.

Or one could argue that such a small, oddly-distributed sampling is not very useful for drawing conclusions about the nation as a whole.

Blaming the authorizers

The report includes a whole section on how NACSA uses its power as a "kingmaker" to push wokeness. I have questions. 

One would be what NACSA board members like Rick Hess (American Enterprise Institute) and Kathryn Mullen Upton (Vice President for Sponsorship & Dayton Initiatives, Fordham Foundation) would have to say about the notion that they are out there pushing woke. 

Another would be just how far reaching NACSA's reach might be. For instance, remember that Pennsylvania is 12 of the 211 samples, but in Pennsylvania, charters are authorized by local school districts. In states where elected school boards are the authorizers, do they belong to, listen to, or care about what NACSA has to say? 


Defund NACSA. Cut them off from state and federal funds, and take away their power, such as it may be. Cut the CSP? That sounds excellent; it has blown a ton of money precisely by not being regulated nearly enough to guard against fraud and waste. 

States should have multiple authorizers of charter schools. You know what would make an interesting study? Compare states like Michigan, where authorizers spring up like wildflowers, so much so that charter hopefuls can go authorizer shopping, and Pennsylvania, where elected school boards authorize. 

Charters should get long term charters, and not be subject to closure for things like test scores or what Heritage calls "the preferences of regulators," as if authorizers are out there shutting down charters on a personal whim rather than a failure to perform. How far we have come from the days when charter fans declared that charters were about trading autonomy for accountability. "Set the terms out in the charter, and if they fail to meet them, shut them down," was the old refrain of charter supporters. But then, as this report suggests, Heritage isn't really a charter supporter.

Last recommendation? More vouchers. 

So what have we got here?

It has been over two years since Jay Greene argued that the "school choice" movement should ditch all attempts to appeal to lefty things like equity and social justice and go all in with the culture panic crowd, and he has certainly done that. But that alliance comes with certain challenges, the biggest being that the culture panic crowd has zero interest in actual school choice.

So choicers can try to use this new frame of "school choice should be about having a school available that reflects the families values," but that's not what culture panickers want. They want a system that reflects their values and their values alone. The real consistent market-based, education freedom, school choice stance would be, "Look, choice is providing schools for lefties and conservatives and LGBTQ kids. Isn't that great."

Instead we get rhetoric about "rooting out DEI" and the evils of tax dollars going to LGBTQ charter schools. Culture panickers want one choice--their choice.

This suits privatizers insofar as it undercuts support for public education and makes that easier to dismantle. For that same reason, it suits them to attack charter schools for being too much like public schools. The foot that once propped the door open is now in the way, and just beyond the door is the land of All Voucher Education, with no oversight, no regulation, no accountability to anything except the market (in which they only believe in some of the time). Maybe if they feed the panic over "woke" (which means nothing in particular and everything about a pluralistic society) will help get enough people to rush the door and push us through it. 

There's a whole other missing piece for this research. DEI, SEL , restorative justice, and the other various woken buzzwords they're searching out are so very often signals for which there's no corresponding action. Is a school "woke" if it puts a bunch of wokified language in the brochure, but barely goes through the motions of implementing actual functional programs?

The whole report is a curious exercise in trying to feed that panic by invoking woke and using it to fill the empty parts of the argument. "We should have more vouchers and less public education!" Well, why exactly? "Look! The woke zombies are coming to get your kids! Run away!" But that gets us to a familiar place. In their conclusion, the authors write

School choice should empower parents to obtain an education for their own children that is consistent with their values.

We've done that. It's exactly how we got segregation academies in the post-Brown world.