Sunday, April 21, 2024

FL: Book Bans, Classical Schools, Charter Turnaround, And More

The "update" of Florida's book ban has arrived--and brought a whole lot more with it.

By the time he had slunk back from the Presidential campaign trail, Ron DeSantis had figured out that book bans had a branding problem. 

What was the problem? Overzealous banners making the policy look ridiculous and excessive. Opponents treating the law as if it actually meant what it said, and not something else entirely.

In a press conference back in February, DeSantis announced his intention to fix this law (yes, governors can't technically legislate, but if you've got a majority of compliant and cooperative legislators, you can order up laws). Yes, he said that non-parents challenging 100 books was not "appropriate." But he also made it clear that the idea of banning naughty books from school is a sound one, but not when you ban the Wrong Ones. 

For instance, people who "banned" perfectly good classics and other things that "are not in any way a violation of any type of Florida law." Like that Roberto Clemente book that got pulled? Totally not a violation, says DeSantis. The Bible. Dictionaries! The teacher who covered up all her books.! Crazy stuff, says Ron.
DeSantis's concern was people "hijacking this process," not that the process was in some way inherently flawed. Not that it was excessively vague, or that it somehow distinguished between books with sex stuff that DeSantis objects to and books with sex stuff that he does not object to. The fact that, under that law, folks could object to the Bible is an indictment of those people, and not a sign that it was poorly-written bad idea of a law.

“You have some people who are taking the curriculum transparency, and they are trying to weaponize that for political purposes,” he said at an event in Jacksonville, Florida. “That involves objecting to normal books, like some of the books that I saw in the teacher’s lounge, these classic books.”
As if the entire set of policies were not created to be weapons for political purposes.

Now the rewrite has arrived, so we can ask what legislators actually fixed. For book bans? Not a lot. But there are other goodies tucked away in this bill.

Here's the book ban fix. Now a resident of the county who is not a parent or guardian may object to one item per month. 

That's it. All other shenanigans may continue unabated. 

But what other goodies are included in this bill?

The state Board of Education will issue a "classical education teaching certificate," which will valid only at a classical school. 

New wrinkles for school takeover. One of the penalties for a repeatedly low-scoring school was to be closed and re-opened as a charter. Now when the school is re-opened as a charter, the school district will continue to operate the school, while implementing a turnaround contract (in October) with the charter school which will give the charter school an opportunity to evaluate how well the public school is doing. Sop, "We'll take a look and decide how and if we want to take you over." The charter must give priority to students already in the school, and must keep the existing grade levels (though it may add more). The district may not charge leasing or rental fees. 

Also, while the school could get out of turnaround in the past by raising their grade to a C, that no longer works if they've already executed a turnaround contract.

The executive director for the Education Practices Commission will no longer be elected by the commission itself, but will be appointed by the Commissioner of Education. 

Folks who own charter school property no longer have to apply every year for tax exemption. 

The Office of Ocean Economy will hereby become a thing. Within the university system and housed at Florida Atlantic University, it will exist to "connect the state's ocean and coastal resources to economic development strategies that grow, enhance, or contribute to the ocean economy."

Preferred enrollment status student will include students who want to transfer from a private classical school to a charter classical school. Also, students whose parents work in a development that sets up a charter school. Or any students whose parents are "employed with a reasonable distance of the charter school."

A private school can be set up in facilities owned or leased by a library, community service organization, museum, theater, or church without any rezoning needed. Ditto for any land or facilities owned by Florida College system or university.

Postsecondary schools may not block students from being employed. Unless they are being employed by some organization "associated with a foreign country of concern."

International Baccalaureate teachers get a $50 bonus for every one of their students who scores C or higher on the IB Theory of Knowledge subject exam. 

Plus other little things. But it's the book ban change that will get the attention, even though it changes almost nothing. It's still vague, still punitive, and people can still challenge absurd numbers of books for absurd reasons, as long as they have a child in school. And people can still take it at its poorly-written word and challenge works that Harvard-educated Ron DeSantis thinks should be off-limits. 

Like his elimination of Common Core and his call to reduce testing, this is one more example of DeSantis pitching Floridians a mountain and delivering a tiny swamp-soaked mole. 

ICYMI: Tech Sunday Edition (4/21)

Today I'll be breaking in the orchestra for our local community theater production of Jesus Christ, Superstar. I'm music directing, which includes flapping my arms at the pit orchestra. The CMO is in this production, and has sustained some leg injuries in the line of duty, so this production has been a little more consuming than some. But I do love me some community theater, and this is a particularly rewarding production, so if you're in the neighborhood, stop by one of the next two weekends and check it out.

In the meantime, here's some reading from the week. 

Denying Education to Immigrant Children is Morally Wrong — and Practically Dumb

The 74 was founded by Campbell Brown to be an election voice for privatization, but it still has its moments of decent journalism and opinion, and this is one of them. Conor Williams and Alejandra Vazquez Baur take on the Heritage Foundation's idea to deny education to immigrant children.

GOP nominee to run North Carolina public schools called for violence against Democrats

North Carolina has been given the chance to elect a truly terrible candidate for their public schools chief, so let's just keep making sure to push the word about how awful she is.

Generative AI in Education: Another Mindless Mistake?

From Education Next, of all places, a really smart take on why AI is not poised to replace teachers. Benjamin Riley has written an essay that will help clarify why you have a gut sense that AI can't do the job.

A charter school in Las Vegas faces closure if more than $800K in taxpayer funds are not repaid

Yeah, letting amateurs run schools like a business is a great idea.

Utah school board member who questioned a student’s gender loses party nomination for reelection

From Utah, an AP article reminds us that sometimes the voters do the right thing.

Louisiana lawmakers vote to remove lunch breaks for child workers, cut unemployment benefits

In Louisiana, some legislators aren't done rolling back rights for children and workers. James Finn reports for nola.com


Thomas Ultican introduces us to a website that contains many resources for public school defenders.

The 18th of April…

Nancy Flanagan, poetry, history, and the test.

Book Bans in the Real World (Part II)

Steve Nuzum continues to dig deep into book challenges in South Carolina school districts. Here's some on the ground information and at least one mystery.

Where’s the “Evidence” in State-Mandated Science of Reading Programs?

Nancy Bailey goes looking for the beef in SOR programs and coming up empty.

What is White Christian Nationalism and How Is It Affecting Public Education Today?

Jan Resseger takes a look at a book about white Christian nationalism, and considers its implications for public education.

Charter school goes shopping

Steve Hinnefeld looks at Indiana charter authorizer shopping. Did your charter school lose its authorization? Just go looking for some other authorizer that will give you the okay.

Two books I'm looking forward to reading later this year are available to pre-order now.

The Education Wars: A Citizen's Guide and Defense Manual is the next book from Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider, popular education podcasters and authors of Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door. Coming in July.

 Mr. Lancaster's System: The Failed Reform That Created America's Public Schools is the nest book from Adam Laats, who is a scholar with expertise in the intersection of public education, religion, and school reform. Coming in September.

I'm prepared to recommend both of these simply on the strength of the authors. Go ahead and pre-order them now. 

Elsewhere this week, I wrote a piece for the Bucks County Beacon looking at the newest attempt to launch a special conservative school board association in Pennsylvania. 

In Forbes, a look at a documentary that just debuted on your favorite streaming service about a trailblazing teacher twenty years ago in Florida.

That's it for this week. I'll ask that you consider subscribing on substack-- having more subscribers boosts my profile and gets the education news out in front of more folks. It's free, now and always.


Saturday, April 20, 2024

Moms For Liberty 3.0

First, there was Moms For Liberty Beta, called the Florida Coalition of School Board Members. Then came the actual Moms For Liberty launch, a group of ladies who were upset about masking and school building closures. That gave way pretty quickly to M4L 2.0, the group that was all about banning naughty books and clamping down on LGBTA ideology (whatever that is).

M4L 2.0 cruised along pretty well for a while. But as more people came to understand what they were up to, their thin skins, their desire to tell other moms what children should be allowed to read. their intolerance-- well, opposition started to swell. And their last election round wasn't very impressive (we'll never know exactly how unimpressive because, perhaps already sensing that their brand was tarnished, they backed away from endorsing so many candidates). And their beloved Ron DeSantis had to slink home in humiliation and defeat. And they went on 60 Minutes and couldn't really explain the terrible alleged indoctrination they were crusading against.

Make way for version 3.0.

The moms have been rolling this out for a while, like the time M4L honcho Tina Descovich appeared at the DeSantis presser about how his book ban was being abused.  She led with the statistic that the literacy rate in Florida is 40%, which is about 40% off (it's 80%). I think she means to say that the proficiency rate on the NAEP is 40%, and at this point anyone who says NAEP proficiency is "at grade level" is just not trying to get it right (NAEP proficiency is A or B level). But her point is that there is a public education crisis in America.

Then she wagged her fingers at the "media in the back of the room" and says "All you can do is be obsessed with book bans that are not happening." She hammered home that "we the parents" have had enough, and when is the media going to start covering the literacy crisis.

They're currently rolling out 3.0 in a series of town halls, like this one in North Carolina hosted by co-Mom Tiffany Justice as reported by Emily Walkenhorst.
Speakers focused on problems in public schools — chiefly, worsening student behavior and test scores that remain below pre-pandemic levels — and suggested more discipline and having schools cut ties with federal programs and outside nonprofits as solutions.

You can watch the whole thing here (all two hours and eleven minutes of it). Some of the standards are here. Open with a Jesus prayer. Stand up for parents' God-ordained right to control their children's everything. Indoctrination! But then we swing on to other topics. 

Moms For Liberty 3.0 is deeply concerned about student achievement (have you seen those dreadful NAEP scores-- let us misrepresent the amount of proficiency) and school discipline (here's an anecdote about something awful that happened to a kid in school). Also, special needs students are not getting their proper services.

The complaints about indoctrination, gender ideology, CRT--all the classics--are still part of their shtick. And these days, the happy warriors who once handed DeSantis a shiny sword are now decrying the political persecution of Donald Trump. Witch hunt! Also, M4L 3.0 will no longer do political endorsements, but you know, that's just because they're designated candidates were harassed. 

Does 3.0 represent a serious shift for the organization? Not really. The fundamental message of M4L has always been the same-- public schools are scary and terrible and good God-fearing people should either take them over or abandon them. Parental rights (but not student rights)! As Chris Rufo, hot young culture panic agitator, told a Hillsdale College audience, "To get universal school choice, you really need to operate from a place of universal school distrust." 

M4L have aligned themselves with far right group like the Heritage Foundation and the Leadership Institute. Their leaders are experienced and well-connected comms professionals. None of that has changed. 

Like anyone else whose mission is to manage comms and break things, they are going to periodically adjust their approach and set aside old dull tools for new, more effective ones. Learning loss panic has been hot for a while, and school discipline problems are a legitimate issue. "Beware outside groups" is a new skin for their old government-imposed LGBTQ/SEL panic wine. 

New tools. New approached. New talking points for the brand. We'll see if the new tools help them achieve their usual goals. 

Friday, April 19, 2024

PA: Far Right Law Group Comes To Meadville

Crawford Central School District has joined the ranks of school districts in Pennsylvania considering anti-LGBTQ policies.

And while their name didn't come up, the conservative christianist Independence Law Center fingerprints were all over the work.

The Independence Law Center

The ILC is the law arm of the Pennsylvania Family Institute. PFI was founded in 1989 as a “key strategic voice for the family, and for the Judeo-Christian principles needed for a free and prosperous society.” Their stated mission is to “strengthen families by restoring to public life the traditional, foundational principles and values essential for the well-being of society.” As with many christianist political groups, they’ve learned to couch their goals in more secular language, but their true nature often peeks through.

Our goal is for Pennsylvania to be a place where God is honored, religious freedom flourishes, families thrive, and life is cherished.

Of course, they only have one particular God in mind.

The founder, president, and CEO of PFI is Michael Geer. Geer started out as a journalist, including almost a decade as senior news producer at WPXI in Pittsburgh. Geer is a regular voice in conservative meetings, church gatherings, and media coverage. He’s opposed to legalization of marijuana, women’s health care options, non-traditional marriage, and freedom to read for students.
 
PFI has a variety of related organizations in addition to ILC. The Pennsylvania Family Council, which lobbies for the “pro-family goals.” City on the Hill, an annual conference for high school students to “teach worldview principles and develop leadership skills” including topics such as The Case for Life, Christians in the Public Square and Why Religious Freedom Matters. The Church Ambassador Network, aimed at connecting pastors with their local legislators. They even run the Family Choice Scholarships, one of the many organizations that manages and brokers Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) voucher monies.

PFI handles around $3 million a year, with only a handful of paid employees. Those include Jeremy Samek and Randall Wenger, the lawyers heading up ILC. 

In 2006, PFI set up the Independence law Center to do pro bono work “that litigates and advocates on behalf of the sanctity of life, marriage and family and religious liberty.” Wenger has been the chief counsel since the center’s inception. He’s a ninth-generation Lancaster County Mennonite who decided early on that he wanted to be a religious liberty lawyer.

Samek, who joined in 2015, is senior counsel. Samek has been a school board member (Franklin Regional), spent eight years as an attorney with Eckert Seamans in Pittsburgh, and before that was a staff sergeant in the USAF reserve. His law degree is from Pitt; his undergraduate work was done at Liberty University.

ILC has been involved in some high profile religion cases. They’ve been in court arguing against abortion, including cases in which they argued both for and against parental consent for a minor’s abortion. Wenger took a case to the Supreme Court ( Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp v. Burwell) that was folded in with the more famous Hobby Lobby case that determined that employers could refuse to provide any health care coverage options they disagreed with (in this case, birth control).

In the last decade or so, ILC has extended its crusade to public schools. In particular, they have developed a booming business in helping school boards craft right wing culture panic policies--pro bono.

The Central Bucks school board drew national attention, launching a batch of anti-LGBTQ, anti-reading policies. Conservative board members refused to tell non-right-wing members of the board exactly who was “helping” write those policies, it turned out that Samek had a hand in it

Multiple districts in the southeast corner of the state used ILC to help them craft similar policies, and when some board members at Penncrest School District (right next door to Crawford Central) decided they wanted to create some anti-LGBTQ policies, they reached out to Samek and the ILC

None of this was done in the open. We know as much as we know only because various news organizations have filed Right To Know requests to uncover the communication between conservative board members and ILC attorneys.

In fact, a RTK request by the York Dispatch (whose Meredith Willse has been all over this story) found that ILC not only created policy for the Red Lion Area School District, but actually wrote not just talking points, but a word for word speech for a board member to read.

So what does this have to do with Meadville?

Crawford Central board members considered a basic cut-and-paste of policies adopted by South Side Area School District (a district near Pittsburgh). The policies require students to participate in sports corresponding to their birth gender, restricts use of locker rooms and restrooms, and prohibits using anything other than the student's legal name without parental permission, while not requiring staff to honor that parental request. 

South Side Area School District passed these policies in February. They hired ILC and Jeremy Samek back in 2022. 

The policies are ILC policies. I've reached out to Mike Crowley, the reporter who covered the meeting for the Meadville Tribune, to ask how exactly those policies arrived before the board. He responded that the superintendent said some members had expressed an interest, but did not specify which ones. But if I were a CCSD taxpayer, I'd be asking if some of my board members have been talking to the ILC. 

Crowley quoted the district's actual legal counsel:
“I just want to urge some caution because I’ve reviewed these policies and I know that they say that they are Title IX compliant and they make some statements about Title IX and about protecting students,” said Rachael Downey Glasoe, referring to the federal statute prohibiting sex-based discrimination in federally funded educational programs, “but I have serious, serious concerns.”

But as with Penncrest, where one board member said, "I don't care what the law says," some CCSD board members have their focus elsewhere. Board member Ron Irwin argued that science says you just go by chromosomes and science "and not this, you know--Oh I identify as, at any given time, to change that." And Crowley captured this jaw-dropper:

“When we release these kids into the real world — they graduate — you can no longer pick and choose what you want to be and stuff like that,” Irwin said. “Reality is going to hit. So I think XX and XY chromosomes is the way to go moving forward.”
Fellow board member Ryan Pickering, a psychology professor at Allegheny College, politely pointed out that the science wasn't nearly as clear as Irwin suggested "and I don't know if we're ready to have that conversation scientifically."

Next week, the board will have some sort of conversation and we'll if they want to join ILC's stable of school district's. Glasoe seems to have a hint of at least part of what's going on:
“My read on this is South Side (Area) School District is looking for a fight in court and that is what will happen down there,” Glasoe said. “If we look to these as a model, I would say this school district is going to also get a fight — is going to get a big legal fight.”
Except I don't think it's the South Side district that's looking for the fight in court. ILC, on the other hand, specializes in finding fights that they can take to court in an attempt to push a conservative christianist agenda, to make their particular view of the Bible the law of the land. Let's hope that the board listens to Glasoe and not any other lawyers that they might be listening to through quiet back pro bono channels. 




Monday, April 15, 2024

DEI, Charlamagne, and Racist Confusion

Charlamagne The God did a stint on The Daily Show, and got a whole lot of positive right wing attention--positive attention--for one segment.

That segment was six and a half minutes about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs, and it was sharp and smart.  He talked about its corporate roots from way back in 2020, then noted the more recent right-wing attempts to blame everything bad in the world on it, like the clever folks who say that DEI stands for "Didn't Earn It." And then...

These right wingers are crazy, right? But here's the part where y'all stop applauding everything I say. The truth about DEI is that although it's well-intentioned, it's mostly garbage, okay? It's kind of like the Black Little Mermaid." Just because racists hate it doesn't mean it's good.

He went on to compare it to DARE programs, which actually made things worse, saying that DEI programs can create racist backlash in organizations. And he pointed at bad reasons for corporations to adopt such programs, noting that having a DEI program on the books can help provide a company with protection from civil rights lawsuits, even if the program is ineffective. "It's the 'I have a Black friend' of the legal system."

Conservatives hopped on the bit, with pieces like this one from Peter Laffin at the Washington Examiner. Laffin's contention is that conservatives have long made Charlamagne's point that corporate DEI programs are ineffective and fuel disharmony. Conservatives should go ahead and say "I told you so."

So, I guess, DEI programs are both ineffective and change nothing AND are super powerful and put unqualified non-White folks into positions of power. I suppose this is line with other simultaneously-held beliefs like the idea that Joe Biden is both a doddering senile fool AND a clever mastermind darkly and deliberately destroying America. 

Conservative commentators did not mention a couple of other points that Charlamagne made in his piece, such as the observation that one thing DEI programs have been good at is "giving racist white people cover to be openly racist." Laffin says that the "colorblind" approach is clearly best, but how colorblind is Charlie Kirk being when he says that seeing a Black pilot will make him question if that pilot is qualified.

DEI done right is not anti-merit. It's not about jettisoning merit in order to make a minority hire. It's broadening your search for merit so that you look in places that you haven't always thought to look in the past. For instance, the US Catholic Church, for whom Laffin often writes, has around 35,000 priests in the US (and a priest shortage). Of those, about 250 are Black. A DEI program might lead to asking why that is, and asking whether God's just not calling Black guys in the US, or if the Catholic Church is doing a lousy job catching those Black men of faith who get the call. 

I get Charlamagne's point about corporate DEI, which I have on occasion called "one more brand of corporate bullshit" and "part of that grand tradition of programs designed to get corporate leadership to pretend to act like decent human beings even if they aren't so inclined." And education, which is where failed corporate programs go to die, doesn't need that kind of baloney. But actual diversity, equity and inclusion? Yes, please. You can watch the full clip below.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

ICYMI: River's Rising Edition (4/14)

Every so often we get enough rain to make the river at the bottom of our back yard to get really rambunctious. It would take an extraordinary catastrophe to actually threaten the Institute, but it's pretty cool to see what the river can do when it really fills up and unwinds, and that's where we are at the moment. It's one of those majestic splendor of nature things. Never gets old.

Meanwhile, I've got some readings for you from the week. Remember, sharing is caring.

AI Vocabulary For Teachers

From Tom Mullaney, a former teacher, who blogged this exceptionally useful glossary of AI terms (starting by correctly identifying "AI" as a marketing term). 

Pittsburgh-area school district will keep 14 library books challenged by community members

CBS covers this story from my end of the commonwealth. It's a good example of how a superintendent should handle this kind of thing.

She couldn’t wait to work for Ryan Walters’ administration. Now she’s worried public schools won’t survive the rest of his term

Spencer Humphrey for KFOR talks to a woman who thought working for Ryan Walters would be a chance to stand up for her conservative values in Oklahoma's department of education. Instead, she quit. One more picture of just how bad he is at the job he campaigned for.

‘Are We Being Used as a Test Case?’: Oklahoma Justices Question Catholic Charter

Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Supreme Court is hearing the challenge to the attempt to establish the first religious charter school. In many ways, it's a nothingburger because the school's supporters would love to take this all the way to the US Supreme Court. But this is the opening round of an important fight. Linda Jacobson is covering for The 74.

Governor Polis Sides with Far-Right Groups in Opposing Charter School Accountability

Mike DeGuire reports on the push against charter school accountability in Colorado. 

Two-Sigma Tutoring: Separating Science Fiction from Science Fact

You've probably heard about research showing that tutoring is super-duper effective. Paul T. von Hippel, at Education Next, of all places, revisits that research and points out there's way less than meets the eye.

House Republican calls for Tennessee Education Commissioner Lizzette Reynolds to resign

Tennessee's newest ed chief is just having a rough time. NewsChannel5 reports on calls for her ouster.

Blaming Low Wages on Bad Schooling Is a Neoliberal Myth

A long-standing assertion of the neo-liberal wing of reformsterdom has been that if everyone got a college degree, everyone would make more money. Nora de la Cour demonstrates the problems with this fairy tale.


Amplify is all ready to jump on the Science of Reading train, complete with bogus marketing claims. Thomas Ultican breaks it down.

Are Science of Reading Laws Based on Science?

Speaking of which, the National Education Policy Center newsletter notes that SoR laws are not exactly science-packed themselves.

Chicago Begins the Hard Work of Dismantling Neoliberal School Reform

Jan Resseger on Chicago's attempt to undo its reformy mess.

At Forbes.com this week, I looked at the new ed honcho in Vermont, and why some folks are concerned about what she might have in mind.

Join me over on substack. It's free!


Friday, April 12, 2024

NE: Protecting Vouchers From Democracy

If you want to see how little advocates really believe in the popularity of school vouchers, just cast your eyes out to Nebraska.

In May of 2023, Nebraska’s Governor Jim Pillen signed into law LB 753, creating tax credit vouchers for subsidizing private schools.

The concept has been floated in Nebraska before, notably turning up more than once in 2022’s session. In 2023, it finally progressed through the legislature. But NSEA political action director Brian Nikkelson told the Nebraska Examiner that the public did not support the vouchers, and if the bill was passed, there would be a petition drive to force the bill to go on the ballot for voters to decide.

And so there was. It was a heck of a battle, with the pro-voucher forces have attracting a mountain of money, some of it from outside the state. Paul Hammel at the Nebraska Examiner reported that big money contributors include C.L. Werner, an Omaha-based trucking company executive ($100,000), Tom Peed and his son Shawn of a Lincoln publishing company ($75,000 each), and former Nebraska governor U.S. Senator Pete Ricketts ($25,000). Governor Pillen himself has contributed $100,000 to the campaign to save vouchers from a vote.

At the same time, Hammel reports, the American Federation for Children, the school choice advocacy group founded by Betsy DeVos, has contributed $103,000 in in-kind services and $583,000 in cash to the campaign.

It didn't matter. Support Our Schools needed 60,000 signatures to force a referendum. They ended up with about twice that number (that's roughly 10% of all eligible voters in the state). So this November, the voters of Nebraska were supposed to have their say. So you'd expect that voucher fans, who keep telling us how much everyone loves vouchers, would just sit back, secure in the knowledge that their program would win the referendum handily.

Well, no.

Instead, legislators cooked up LB 1402. This bill proposes to repeal the Opportunity Scholarships that were created under LB 753, and then to replace them with a new version of Opportunity Scholarships. This version would be an education savings account (ESA) style super-voucher that hands over taxpayer money to send a student to a private or parochial school. It's more sketchy than last year's bill because it appropriates state funds (rather than tax-credited contributions) to pay for the vouchers.

But mostly what it does it render the petition drive moot, because it repeals the version of vouchers that the public was going to vote on. 

The new bill comes courtesy of State Senator Ann Linehan. Back in January, Linehan tried to get the Secretary of State to throw the referendum off the ballot. At that time, reported Aaron Sanderford at the Nebraska Examiner (which has been all over this story), Linehan said choicers were "prepared to explore their legal options" is the Secretary of State said the referendum would stay. Apparently this was one of the options they came up with.

In the fine tradition of vouchers, this bill was proposed out of a deep and abiding concern for the poor children trapped in failing schools. This is the origin story of every voucher program, but at this point we know how this movie ends-- with voucher programs expanded into budget busting entitlements that include wealthy families who were already in private school. If you believe that the voucher bill is all about rescuing poor kids and that will be the end of it, I have a bridge over some swampland to sell you.

The new bill has advanced and will be up for a final vote on April 18, the last day of the session, so if you are in Nebraska and you would like to see the legislators stop trying to rescue the vouchers from democracy, place some phone calls between now and then. Should the bill pass, the governor will sign it.

That means the options would be A) challenge the bill's legality on that whole "taxpayer money used for private schools" thing and/or B) circulate another petition and put the new bill on November's ballot. Of course, that will be a little confusing since Nebraska low-information voters may think, "Didn't we just do this?" Especially since the new voucher program has the same name as the old voucher program, which I'm sure just reflects a commitment to "opportunity" and not one more tactic to try to thwart those pesky democratic processes. 

Nebraska's choicers, and their backers from across the nation, will keep plugging. Vouchers, after all, must be protected from democracy at all costs. 

Curriculum As The Next Reformy Frontier

Just stay with me for a minute.

The right-tilted Hoover Institute has a publication out for the fortieth anniversary of A Nation At Risk, the Reagan-era hit job on public education, a collection of essays by various members of the reformster world. Some of these are not very enticing (Eric Hanushek on Fixing Schools Through Finance, or Cami Anderson on Lessons from Newark), but there's at least one that's worth a look. 


Robert Pondiscio's contribution is The Case For Curriculum (reprinted in slightly more readable form here), and it's a thoughtful look at his perennial point . And if it seems like I just wrote about this stuff, it's because I did, but it's a discussion worth continuing. 

Pondiscio opens with a sort of recap of ed reform so far, admitting that "the structural reform theory of change has underperformed" and that while they've logged some successes, "if the classic ed reform playbook of higher academic standards, high-stakes testing, and muscular accountability was going to bear fruit, drive watershed improvement in student outcomes, or appreciably narrow racial achievement gaps, we’d have clear evidence of it by now." 
Worse, as the education reform movement evolved from the do-gooder earnestness of its early days to a punitive technocratic regime, it overspent its moral capital and contributed to unmistakable reform fatigue. This led a significant number of public education stakeholders — parents, teachers, and taxpayers—to regard its policies and practices with skepticism, even cynicism, particularly as education spending continued to rise while student achievement stagnated and even declined.

The lingering effects of COVID-related disruptions have shifted much of the attention in US education away from long-running debates over testing and accountability to more urgent discussions about learning loss, student mental health issues, and declining school attendance. It seems unlikely that the bipartisan ed reform coalition whose agenda dominated America’s K–12 agenda in the first decades of the twenty-first century will be returning to prominence anytime soon, if ever. The appetite for reform has waned considerably. The movement is what advertising and marketing professionals call a tainted brand. Indeed, ed reform “is now considered to be a loaded term that is no longer spoken in polite company,” former Massachusetts secretary of education James Peyser recently observed, “without risking a heated argument or losing the friendship of former allies.”

Then he's on to the point he's made before. Given the number of human beings needed to fill teaching positions, the likelihood is that not all of them, maybe not even most of them, are going to be teaching superstars. And that, he argues, requires a different approach to ed reform.

If teacher capacity is unlikely to change, then what must change is the teacher’s job. If the education reform movement is to regain its momentum and moral authority, becoming not merely a disruptive force but an effective one, it must reinvent itself as a practice-based movement that is clear-eyed and candid about human capital and system capacity, committed not to transforming the teacher workforce but to making teaching doable by the existing workforce and those likely to enter the profession in the future.

Pondiscio knows this is a tall order, and he takes a few paragraphs to point out what teachers already know: Teach a few years, and you will live through several Hot New Ideas that will Fix Everything, and teach many years and you live through having old ideas covered with a fresh coat of paint and presented as the Hot New Idea. And as a bonus, these will be pitched to you, a working professional, by people who, as one teacher put it, "have never darkened the doors of our classroom."

Curriculum, he argues, is the lever to grab. He suggests that at least part of the long-puzzled mystery of why some teachers are more effective than other is curriculum. And he acknowledges the point that many teachers would make--

In theory, curating, customizing, or creating lessons from scratch allows teachers to tailor their instruction to meet the specific needs, interests, and abilities of their students. By designing their own curriculum, either in whole or in part, teachers can ostensibly adapt and differentiate class content, instructional methods, and assessments, resulting in a more personalized and engaging learning experience for students.

The next part of his argument is that this approach hasn't borne much evidential fruit, and he uses some research like the plate of baloney that is TNTP's Opportunity Myth to make the point that many teachers aren't self-building curriculum very well. We may disagree on the extent and quality of this issue, but it doesn't really matter, because it doesn't change the underlying idea. Regardless of the teacher, having good curriculum and instruction materials is better.

In my 39 years, there were times when we had a great textbook series with excellent materials, and times when we had terrible textbooks with lousy materials. The bad stuff threw more of the work onto me, which meant more of my time and effort was spent on building my own stuff. Likewise, later in my career, being faced with a particular teaching challenge would lead to "I have just the thing for this over in my filing cabinet" instead of "Okay, I can carve out a few hours tonight to find something for this." And I don't even want to talk about mentoring a new teacher who thought that googling a state standard and a topic was lesson planning.

So let's go ahead and stipulate that good, high-quality curriculum and instruction materials are better than bad ones, or none. 

Identifying high quality instructional materials is, of course, a huge huge huge challenge. EdReports, launched as "Consumer Reports for the Common Core," is often mentioned, but their process is still about whether or not the material is aligned with The Standards, which is meaningless because A) their no research base to tell us that the Standards are high quality and B) just because materials are aligned to the standards, that doesn't mean they're good teaching materials. One can absolutely teach the right materials badly and ineffectively. 

Pondiscio quotes Marcy Stein, an education professor, saying that of course, even if teachers had the training to do instructional design, "they would likely not have the time to prepare instructional materials, field test those materials to determine if they are effective, and modify the materials before using them to teach students." Well, first, I've seen a lot of instructional materials in my life that you will never, ever convince me were ever field tested anywhere. But even if they were, I have no reason to assume they were field tested on a batch of students like the one I face. Teachers do their field testing and implementation in the field; this is a piece of instructional design that isn't always discussed, the instructional redesign you do based on instant in-the-moment reaction to what is happening in your room. 

But again, it doesn't matter whether we agree about this or not, because better instructional materials are a good thing.

Pondiscio makes sure to dispel one concern that these conversations always raise-- he is not advocating for a scripted teacher-proof program in a box:

Readers might be tempted to see in between the lines of the preceding quotation an argument for the elimination of teacher autonomy or even a case for “McSchool,” a basic education deliverable by teachers of minimal competence and cognition who must be spoon-fed a scripted curriculum. Having anticipated this argument, let me put it to rest. An idea that is common to teacher training and professional development is that there should be a “why” behind everything a teacher does in the classroom, from classroom management to instructional decisions. The same principle applies here: the point is not for school districts to adopt a curriculum and for teachers to deliver it robotically. Well-prepared teachers should acquire through their training and professional development a sophisticated understanding of their subject matter and pedagogy and have it operationalized for them in the form of a curriculum or program.

Pondiscio calls for efforts to improve school performance to focus on instructional reform. He offers four key insights to keep in mind while making the attempt. First, rather than trying to turn the teacher pool into a land of superhumans, teaching must be "doable by women and men of ordinary talents and sentience." Second, it's easier and cheaper to change curricula than change teachers. Third

The soul of effective teaching is studying student work, giving effective feedback, and developing relationships with students. Teacher time spent on curating and customizing lessons, however valuable, takes time away from these more impactful uses of teacher time.

Fourth, because education is a public thing, policymakers can work for accountability, but "improvements at scale will not be wrested from rewards and punishments, nor from other 'structural' reforms."

Okay, what can I add?

First, let's acknowledge that this is a useful shift from the old classic reformster idea that education will be saved by rooting out all the Bad Teachers (located by checking Big Standardized Test scores) and replacing them (how and from where was always a weakness in this theory).

Second, I'll acknowledge once again that all policies focused on high quality instructional materials and a solid batch of content will always and forever involve spirited debate about what that should include. And that debate will never end, because the world keeps changing and because it's a subject that requires debate. And that's okay and doesn't have to a be problem as long as we accept that intelligent people of good intent will differ and debate will happen and a single correct answer will never be found--and that's okay. Not even just okay, but a feature of how people interact with knowledge and the world.

Finally, I think Pondiscio's essay has a huge gap, because while high quality instructional materials may be a policy issue, they are first and foremost a marketplace issue. Maybe even several marketplace issues, major and minor.

For instance, Pondiscio touches on the challenge of professional development related to curricular and instructional materials. It's not enough to get that Great New Stuff-- the staff has to learn how to use it. But who frequently does the PD? Someone from the publisher's sales staff. Someone who has not been in a classroom for ages (if at all) and left for a sales job because they didn't even like the teaching all that much. "This is how to use this material with your students," means nothing coming from someone who has never actually used the materials with students of their own. 

The best people to do PD are teachers who are good at using the materials, which creates its own problem because they're busy doing the work. 

But that's a relatively minor problem. A major problem, maybe even the major problem, is that the curriculum and instructional material is flooded with crap. Flooded. There's terrible ed tech, completely with various bells and whistles. There are companies that are designed around making a pitch to administrators, not to teachers. Pondiscio is heartened by the rise of Science of Reading, but here's NEPC finding that the market is already awash in materials that have simply had "science of reading" slapped on them as a marketing move (just as publishers did with "aligned with Common Core").

It's not simply a matter of elevating high-quality instructional materials; the marketplace is drowning in junk. The good stuff has a thirteenth clown problem (If there are twelve clowns in the ring throwing pies and seltzer around, you can jump down there and start reciting Shakespeare, but to the audience you'll just be the thirteenth clown). 

Any attempt to get more good stuff into teachers' hands has to include some sort of filtration system, and I'm not sure where that comes from. The government? God no-- I don't want legislators trying to make curricular decisions. Teachers don't have the time. Wading through it all is a full time job, not something for someone to squeeze in on the side. Which means that it costs money, which always goes over well. Maybe that's where policy makers can help. 

In the meantime, I welcome any version of ed reform that decides that rather than fixing or replacing teachers, thinks it might want to try to help them do the work. We'll see if that version catches on.



Thursday, April 11, 2024

Heritage Foundation Versus Immigrant Children

The Heritage Foundation is the outfit behind all manner of far-right baloney. These days they're most notable for dropping big bucks to create Project 2025, the right wing Cliff's Notes for the nest Trump Presidency (including dismantling education). 

In February, Heritage released a brief (with fewer dollars and a smaller audience, we'd just call it a blog post) arguing that undocumented immigrant children should be charged tuition to attend US public schools. 

It comes, of course, with a large helping of Joe Biden Let All The Illegals In, a disingenuous baloney argument. Immigration has been a problem for a few decades now, and no administration has addressed it with anything resembling success. So every four years or so we get sudden squawking from folks on the right, from the xenophobic racist rants of Trump to the old "Well, if they would just come in legally" argument. New rule: you can only use that If Only argument if you can describe what that actually involves. Also, you can only add "like my ancestors" if you know what your ancestors did to enter "legally" (spoiler alert: it was probably "show up"). 

Plyler v. Doe was the SCOTUS decision that in 1982 declared that children could not be denied an education because of their immigration status. The Heritage Foundation speculates that their tuition plan would prompt a legal challenge which would in turn give them a chance to bring Plyler before the current Supreme Court, who might overturn it because of course they would. Chalkbeat talked to Patricia Gandara at UCLA's graduate school of education, who says this more likely just to be an election year stunt, like the infamous immigrant caravan that often threatens the US just before election time, and then never quite appears. 

Undocumented immigrants in schools fits in with the scarcity mentality, arguing that Those People are draining our American resources. That argument fails to note that plenty of undocumented migrant workers pay taxes, but because of their status rarely extract services. But it certainly strikes a chord with folks who don't want to pay for the education of any children but their own.

We could get into the question of whether immigrants (documented or not) are a net plus for the country (spoiler alert: they are), but let's focus on the real issue here, which is education for children. 

Education. For. Children.

This is the ultimate expression of some of certain worst people, the idea that "I should not have to pay for an education for Other People's Children." It is the narrow, confused idea that an education is a narrow benefit only for the children involved, as if living in a country with an educated population is not a benefit for everyone.

Michael Petrelli, head honcho of the right-tilted Fordham Institute (and with whom I disagree on so many things), actually had an absolute on-point tweet about this Heritage idea today. Spinning off Cardinal Hickey's old line about why Catholic schools serve certain populations, Petrelli tweeted

Likewise, we don't educate migrant children because they are American, but because we are American.

Damn straight. This is informed by a larger truth--that how we treat other people says far more about us than about them. The Heritage Foundation ought to be embarrassed to be saying this about themselves. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

More Common Core Fallout

I thought we had cataloged and complained about all of the results from the nation's implementation of the Common Core, but lately I've begun to suspect that there's one more.

The Common Core moved the Overton Window on the subject of state-imposed curriculum and instruction. 

It was one of the big objections to the Core itself-- how dare the federal and state governments dictate what and how will be taught in local schools. The local control of school districts was an inviolable feature, a given part of How Schools Work. Sure, there were state departments of education providing some oversight and accountability, and they often had programs they wanted to push. But if you are a Teacher Of A Certain Age, you remember state-run professional development as an attempt to sell the idea, an attempt that implicitly accepted that it was up to the district and the teachers to buy the idea, or not.

Under Common Core, that changed. I distinctly remember sitting in state sessions that had a whole new vibe, a whole new "We're not asking you. We're telling you" message.

Fast forward to today. 

Here's a whole Washington Post piece tracking how different states have passed laws to impose certain curricular and instructional requirements on what should be taught (or not). Or we could talk about the moves in various states to push Science of Reading laws, mandating a particular type of instruction for reading.

In both cases, missing from the discussion is the question of just how problematic it is to have curriculum and instruction decisions made by legislators. We no longer wonder if that might be a good idea, or not. 

It's not a good idea for a variety of reasons. Legislatures favor people who are good at politics, not people who are good at teaching. Legislatures are far too removed from classrooms to know what the hell they're talking about. And the whole exercise is one more way to reduce teacher autonomy and cut their professional judgement out of the equation.

I would not want to see my most favorite, most trusted instructional technique imposed by legislators. I find the whole idea bizarre and fundamentally wrong.

But unfortunately, lots of folks no longer do. The Core quietly ushered us into a new era in which it seems perfectly okay for legislators to dictate how teaching is supposed to happen. It is not going to end well. 


Monday, April 8, 2024

Too Much For Mere Mortals

When I was ploughing through the Pew Center survey of teachers, I thought of Robert Pondiscio.

Specifically, it was the part about the work itself. 84% of teachers report that there's not enough time in the day to get their work done, and among those, 81% said that a major reason was they just have too much work (another 17% said this was a minor reason, meaning that virtually no overstretched teachers thought it wasn't part of the problem at all). The other reasons, like non-teaching duties, didn't even come close.

Meanwhile, in another part of the world this weekend, Pondiscio was presenting on something that has been a consistent theme in his work-- Teaching is too hard for mere mortals, and we need a system that allows teachers to focus on teaching. 

Pondiscio has long argued that some aspects of teaching need to be taken off teachers' plates so that they can put more of their energy into actual classroom instruction. I've always pushed back, but maybe I need to re-examine the issue a bit. 

Plugging 47 Extension Cords Into One Power Strip

Certainly every teacher learns that there's never enough. One of my earliest viral hits was this piece about how nobody warns teachers that they will have to compromise and cut corners somewhere. It touched many, many nerves. We all have stories. My first year of teaching I worked from 7 AM to 11 PM pretty much every day. I had a gifted colleague who couldn't bring herself to compromise on workload, so once every nine weeks grading period, she took a personal day just to sit at home and grade and enter papers. And let's be honest--being the teacher who walks out the door as the bell rings, and who carries nothing out the door with them--that does not win you the admiration of your colleagues.

Being overworked is part of the gig, and some of us wear our ability to manage that workload as a badge of honor, like folks who are proud of surviving an initiation hazing and insist that the new recruits should suck it up and run the same gauntlet. On reflection, I must admit this may not be entirely healthy, especially considering the number of young teachers who blame themselves because they can't simply gut their way past having overloaded circuits. 

There's also resistance because the "let's give teachers a break" argument is used by 1) vendors with "teacher-assisting" junk to sell and 2) folks who want to deprofessionalize teaching. That second group likes the notion of "teacher-proof" programs, curriculum in a box that can be delivered by any dope ("any dope" constitutes a large and therefor inexpensive labor pool).

We could lighten the teacher load, the argument goes, by reducing their agency and autonomy. Not in those exact words, of course. That would make it obvious why that approach isn't popular.

Lightening the Load

So what are the ways that the burden of teaching could be reduced to a size suitable for actual mortals. 

Some of the helps are obvious. Reduce the number of non-teaching duties that get laid on teachers. Study halls. Cafeteria duty. Minute-by-minute surveillance and supervision of students. 

Some of the helps are obvious to teachers, yet difficult to implement. Most schools has a variety of policies and procedures surrounding clerical tasks that are set up to make life easier for people in the front office, not teachers in the classroom (e.g. collecting students excuses for absence, managing lunch money, etc). Then there's the tendency to see new programs adopted at the state or district level with a cavalier, "We'll just have teachers do that" as if there are infinite minutes in the teacher day and adding one more thing won't be a big deal. Imagine a world in which preserving teacher time was a major sacred priority. 

Some of the helps would be hard to sell because they would cost real money. Quickest way to reduce teacher workload? Smaller classes. Or more non-teaching hours in the day for teachers to use for prep and paperwork (hard sell because so many boards believe that a teacher is only working when she's in front of students). These are both tough because they require hiring more staff which 1) costs a bunch of money and 2) requires finding more of the qualified teachers that we already don't have enough of.

So what are we left with?

Hiring aids to do strictly clerical stuff like scoring objective tests and putting grades into the gradebook. There are also plenty of folks trying to sell the idea of suing AI to grade the non-objective stuff like essays; this is a terrible idea for many reasons. I will admit that I was always resistant to the idea of even letting someone record grades for me, because recording grades was part of how I got a sense of how students were doing. Essentially it was a way to go over every single piece of graded work. But that would be a way to reclaim some time.

But after all that, we've come down the biggie, and the thing that Pondiscio has always argued is a huge lift for mere mortals--

Curriculum and instructional planning.

The Main Event

As a classroom teacher, the mere suggestion of being required to use canned curriculum made my hackles climb right up on my high dudgeon pony. For me, designing the lessons was part of any important loop. Teach the material. Take the temperature of the students and measure success. Develop the next lesson based on that feedback. That's for daily instruction. A larger, longer, slower loop tied into larger scale feedback plus a constant check on what we'd like to include in the program. 

I like to think that I was pretty good at instructional design. But I must also admit that not everyone is, and that teachers who aren't can create a host of issues. I will also fly my old fart flag to say that the last twenty years have produced way too many neo-teachers who were taught that if you design your instruction about the Big Standardized Test (maybe using select pieces of the state standards as a guide) you're doing the job. I don't want to wander down this rabbit, but I disagree, strenuously. 

So is there a place for some sort of high-quality instructional design and curriculum support for mere mortal teachers. Yes. Well, yes, but.

While I think a school should have a consistent culture and set of values, I think a building full of teachers who work in a wide variety of styles and approaches and techniques is by far the best way to go. Students will grow up to encounter a wide variety of styles and approaches in the world; why should they not find that in school (and with that variety, a better chance of finding a teacher with whom they click)?

The point of hiring trained and eventually experienced professionals for the work is so that they can exercise professional judgment as they deal directly with students. A system that requires each teacher to teach the same lesson in the same way using the same language on the day at the same time is a system that erases most teacher autonomy and agency and eliminates their ability to exercise professional judgment. Sorry kids-- You're having trouble with this concept, and I know some ways to further get it across, but the script says we have to move on. Show me a school that says it's using this kind of curriculum with success, and I'll show you a school that is selecting students for whom it works and getting rid of the ones for which it does not (belief in a perfect system is terrible for students, because the unavoidable reasoning is that if my program is perfect, that failing student must be defective somehow). 

That said, the other extreme, in which individuals live in the land of Do As You Please is not a workable choice either. Autonomy and agency cannot be a license for educational malpractice. Lesson planning by googling the topic is a lousy way to do the job (and getting an AI lesson plan is just asking someone to google the topic and then summarize some of what they find). 

No Child Left Behind and the Common Core introduced the notion that good curriculum and instruction could be mandated by legislators, and unfortunately the idea has stuck with us (witness the states trying to mandate the Science of Reading). This is a terrible idea, and I would still say so even if the government were mandating my favorite instructional ideas. There are so many reasons why, but I'll just note Rick Hess's observation that you can require people to do X, but you can't make them do it well.

Right. Sure. Have We Ruled Out Everything?

Districts need scope and sequence that is coordinated, but not set in lockstep-required stone. Districts need a curriculum that is coherent, but not a straightjacket. Teachers need a library of instructional materials that provides a wealth of solid choices and flexibility. Most teachers develop such a library of their own over the course of their career, but few schools have any sort of mechanism for sharing those libraries (worth noting: having teachers compete for performance pay would actively discourage such sharing). 

Nor are there any real sources for high-quality materials. The government's attempt to create such a resource (the What Works Clearinghouse) is not particularly useful for a variety of reasons, and in general, the pipeline from the world of education research is--well, I wouldn't call it broken because it has never really existed. Researchers don't really understand what teachers do, and teachers don't really understand what researchers do, and neither has the time to figure it out, and nobody has ever emerged to effectively bridge the gap. Meanwhile, the water is muddied by every education publishing outfit which is intent on marketing its materials, and manufactures pseudo-research to do so. On top of that, toss in not-really-research-at-all stuff like TNTP's unserious Opportunity Myth.

The most effective pipeline for teaching materials remains teacher-to-teacher contact, the teacher who pops next door to ask, "Hey, have you got any good materials for teaching quadratic equations?" Some of the best program development is done in house in districts willing to spend the money and time to get their people to do the work. But both of these mechanisms, like the mentoring of fledgling teachers, depends on the luck of the draw. 

Evaluating, screening, collecting, promoting and uplifting effective high-quality materials is, unfortunately, not a job that actually exists. Thinky tanks and publishers employ people to pitch their particular stuff, and state and federal bureaucracies are too close to politics and too far from classrooms to be help. 

So, What To Do?

The task most sensibly falls to school districts themselves, or perhaps in the case of smaller districts, consortiums. A couple of thoughts about how to make that work.

The curriculum and instruction honcho should spend a full half of their time in the classroom. Maybe their own, maybe everyone else's. The notion that a program's effectiveness can be measured by checking the scores from the Big Standardized Test is bunk. Teachers evaluate instruction based on how it works in the classroom, which is a big complicated metric that is best measured with eyeballs. 

The curriculum and instruction honcho needs to be able to have difficult conversations with teachers on the subject of "That Doesn't Seem To Be Working. Why Are You Sticking With It?"

The curriculum and instruction honcho needs the time and resources to look regularly at What's Out There and do the kind of sifting through materials that allows libraries to be built. They need some research and stats background. They need to sift, and they need to field test, either themselves or via a trusted colleague. 

It's not a very sexy solution, and it doesn't scale up all that well, requiring district by district implementation. But it could work. Districts could also move to a teaching hospital model, where more experienced teachers manage their younger colleagues, a model frequently mentioned but rarely implemented. 

But somehow, someone has to manage the bottleneck that now exists between a huge ocean of instructional materials, research, and educational stuff (an ocean that is only going to get huger as the field is further flooded with AI crap) classroom teachers. Sorting through all that for the usable viable bits is, in fact, more than can be done by mere mortals who already have a day job teaching classes. 

Hang on. I'm Almost Done.

Yes, teaching as it has been conceived, with one person serving as clerk, instructional designer, curriculum developer, assessment manager, and classroom teacher (plus, in many cases, social worker and mental health worker), is to much for a mere mortal. It is a job for a couple of people. 

However, the two people have to be very closely coordinated, because all of the pieces of the job are closely tied together, and if they don't fit perfectly, the process of reconciling the bad fit just creates more work. And unfortunately, most of the people showing interest in the other half of the work are not so much interested in being part of a team as they are in pushing particular wares or agenda.

Part of the solution requires a shift in public opinion about what a teacher's job is. Everyone has seen teachers doing the classroom piece of the job; few have seen all the rest, and so as a culture we have a tendency to think of all the rest--the paperwork, the planning, the designing--as just something that gets thrown in for free. 

Teachers need support, the backing of a team, a system that provides them with access to high quality materials that suit the students they have in front of them. They definitely need more support than administrations (and old farts like me) telling them, "Just get in there and do all that stuff." They don't need lawmakers fearmongering with mis-interpreted NAEP scores in order to legislate curriculum and instruction. You get mere mortals to carry gigantic loads by connecting them to other mere mortals, by giving them real tools that empower them without binding them hand and feet, and by recognizing their humanity when considering plugging in one more cord.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

ICYMI: Big Fat Eclipse Edition (4/7)

The Curmudgucation Institute is located just about 10ish miles from the path of totality, which is close enough for me. Many local schools are dismissing early tomorrow so that children can enjoy the whole shebang from home. Should be a good time. We've got our glasses and everything. 

In the meantime, read up on some stuff.

My Letter to the Boston Globe re K-12 Political Coverage

Dark money expert Maurice Cunningham continues to try explaining to the Boston Globe how their education coverage seems to neglect mentioning some of the big money players behind the push for reform in Massachusetts. Also, this piece about the activities of the Barr Foundation

Oklahoma voters recall white supremacist, reject supporters of Ryan Walters

Some good news from Oklahoma for a change. Turns out plenty of voters still have some sense.

Kanye West admitted to ‘blowing Donda school funds’ on $2m Paris trip as Yeezy staffers ‘weren’t paid,’ lawsuit claims

Kanye's attempt to get into the education biz has not turned out so well. Who woulda thought it.

Students across Alaska walk out in protest of governor’s education veto

Alaska's governor has been trying to go the "bribe teachers to go along" route, but the legislature wouldn't go along, so he vetoed funding and now everyone is upset about something, including students. 

Civil Disobedience and Uncivilized Diatribes

Jess Piper reminds us that there are great and not-so-great ways to express your disagreement.


John Spencer shares some thoughts about what information literacy really means these days. 

NC teacher turnover hits highest mark in decades.

WRAL takes a look at North Carolina's continuing inability to hold onto teachers. No surprises here.

Naught for Teacher

Jennifer Berkshire at The Baffler with the story of how Democrats lost the plot and joined the opposition to public education and the search for Bad Teachers. Thorough and informative historical look that's well worth your attention.

A Tale of Two (or Three) Pensions

You may be retired, but are you "Have To Prove To The State You're Not Dead" retired? The indispensable Mercedes Schneider has a couple of tales to tell. Plus a follow-up piece here.

DIS-Information in Schools

Nancy Flanagan writes about battling dis-information (as distinct from misinformation). Also, because we have a bunch of twofers this week, catch her post Trust (Pandemic, Day #1475)

Fan of Standards-Based Grading?

Thomas Ultican breaks down standards-based grading, and why he is not a fan.


Jose Luis Vilson writes about the many tools used to target teachers of color and programs that respond to a diverse nation. Come for this line: "It’s about time for us to learn how to fight the bull. Or at least call out its excrements."

Billionaire Jeff Yass Avoids Taxes and Buys School Voucher Policies

Pennsylvania's big rich guy loves vouchers, and he's not shy about spending money to promote them, and he's not sticking to his home state. Steve Nuzum lays out some history.

Oklahoma Supreme Court Justices Appear to Question Constitutionality of Religious Charter School

This was the week that the Oklahoma supreme court started to hear arguments about the state's proposed and nation's first religious charter school. Jan Resseger has a good wrap up of the arguments being made and the importance of the case.

Why Does Florida Continue To Administer State-Mandated Writing Assessments?

Florida still makes students take a state writing assessment. Nobody really knows why, but Sue Kingery Woltanski can explain why they shouldn't.

The US is experiencing a boom in microschools. What are they?

Alejandra O'Connor writes an explainer for The Hill about microschools, and while she misses their importance in the drive for privatized voucherized schools, it's still a pretty good summation of how things stand currently.

Humans are not perfectly vigilant

Cory Doctorow remains one of the most on-target critics of AI. In this piece, he addresses the use of humans "in the loop" and why that sucks.

Majority Of Americans Never Use Physical Education After High School

This real oldie from The Onion surfaced this week, but it's still an evergreen classic. For every teacher who ever had to listen to "I'll never use this again..." (aka all teachers).


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