Sunday, March 31, 2024

ICYMI: Easter Knee Birthday Band Edition (3/31)

Happy Easter to those of you who observe the occasion. We're fans here at the Institute, though this year it caps off a busy time.

Today is the birthday of the Institute's West Coast Executive Vice President, and tomorrow kicks off the season for the town band to which the CMO and I belong (it celebrates its 168th anniversary this year). 

And earlier this week I had some arthroscopic surgery performed on a knee. I had pretty much the same meniscus-trimming exercise performed forty-some years ago. Back then the post-op protocol was to immobilize the leg in a hip-to-ankle cast. I had to trade cars with my brother (switching a 1979 Opel hatchback with standard shift for a 1954 Buick with an automatic). The after six weeks the cast came off to reveal a pale imitation of a functional leg. Nowadays, the Best Practices are to get up and humping around on the leg ASAP, which I'm doing with limited grace. But at least I won't need three months to fully recover from the whole business. Makes me wonder what would have happened if the state legislature had, forty-some years ago, passed a law mandating the protocol as the only legal treatment. Do you think they could have shifted as nimbly as the actual medical professionals. 

At any rate, here's some reading from the week to go along with your tasty chocolate treats.

The false promise — and hidden costs — of school vouchers

Voucher expert Josh Cowen explains what's really happening and why Pennsylvania in particular should not get on the voucher train. It's at the Philadelphia Inquirer, so my apologies if you can't get to it, but if you can, you should.

School voucher proponents spend big to overcome rural resistance

The Arkansas Advocate reports on the big push in Texas and elsewhere by deep pocketed fans of dismantling public education, including DeVos's AFC Victory Fund.

Success Academy eyes Florida expansion as Schools of Hope operator

Eva Moskowitz can small Florida dollars all the way from New York City. You'll have to hold your nose a bit for this news, which reports without examination the charters claims of high test scores and full college placement (but not its hard work in getting rid of students who might mess up its numbers). 

Research from pro-charter school group makes case for halting the approval of new charters

Kris Nordstrom explains how the Fordham Institute inadvertently made the case against more charter schools in North Carolina.

Colleges Are Facing an Enrollment Nightmare

MSN pulls up a Rose Horowitz article from the Atlantic that explains why the FAFSA is throwing a giant monkey-wrench into college application this year.

What My Professors Never Told Me About Teaching

Jherine Wilkerson at EdWeek with a listicle of items that teachers will recognize.

A Grim Anniversary, A Useless State Report Card, and New District Chiefs – Its Easter Time In Tennessee

More on the ground reporting from TC Weber

Will Untenable Voucher Expansion Threaten Public School Funding in Ohio?

Ohio has joined the ranks of states writing a choice check that its taxpayers can't cash. Who's going to end up paying? Jan Resseger looks into it.

Ohio school board may raise teacher license fees as budget shortfall looms

Of course, if they're really strapped for cash, they could always try to squeeze some more out of teachers.

Another Crusade Against "Diversity" in Education

Steve Nuzum tells the story of a bill that seeks to ban diversity, equity and inclusion without explaining what they mean.

West Virginia governor signs vague law allowing teachers to answer questions about origin of life

West Virginia tries one more way to get creationism into the classroom.

Secret recording shows pressure on Republican lawmakers to vote for school vouchers

In Tennessee, yet more recordings showing that lobbyist tactics on the school voucher issue are pretty direct and threatening.

Those same folks are in Louisianna trying to ram through yet another privatization bill. 

Many Houston charter schools are violating state transparency laws.

Texas is home to one of the biggest charter school scams in the nation. Yet, as this report by Miranda Dunlap for Houston Landing shows, there's still an awful lot of non-compliance when it comes to transparency.

Why I Am Not Going To Use a Chatbot to Do My Writing For Me

David Lee Finkle is the creator of Mr. Fitz, an outstanding comic strip about teaching. He also blogs occasionally, and this latest piece has lots worth reading to say about AI as a classroom tool. 

Paul Thomas with some excellent thoughts about how to teach writing. 

LGBTQ activist group 'Free Mom Hugs' delivers cease and desist to Moms for Liberty

Moms for Liberty called them groomers, then doubled down. So now they can deal with some lawyers. 

What the hell, Oklahoma?!

Oklahoma gets a whole section of ICYMI this week. Start with the Politico profile of education dudebro Ryan Walters, collecting all his sad and infuriating story in one place. Also, maybe his department is misusing federal money to plug a substitute teacher problem they helped create. Meanwhile, as lot so folks line up to grab the limited public comment spots in a OK Department of Education board meeting, the department locked itself in by tying doors shut with extension cords. And while his department now has a shiny new School Choice Department, it apparently no longer has any lawyers. Quite the operation out there.

Kids as young as 14 were found working at a Tennessee factory that makes lawn mower parts

More frontiers in child labor. Well, child immigrant labor. 

Also, at, I wrote about why the push to legislate Science of Reading would be a bad idea even if Science of Reading was a legit good idea. 

Join me at substack. I'd love to have more readers, and it's free and easy for you. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

The Trouble With Classical Education

Classical education, despite the fact that most people who use the term appear to know exactly what they mean, is a wide, messy category. A recent Emma Green piece in the New Yorker captures much of that, from the original concept of Dorothy Sayers to the controversial stances of Doug Wilson, granddaddy of the Association of Classical Christian Schools to Jeremy Tate's relentless pitching of the Classic Learning Test, the supposed alternative to the SAT and ACT. 

Classical schools have been commandeered by a variety of folks, from far right conservatives to the christianist nationalists of places like Hillsdale to others who, well, are not in tune with those ideologies. But they all give me a hinky feeling. I would never put my child in a classical academy of any sort. The reason boils down to this quote from the Green piece:
Classical education is premised on the idea that there is objective truth, and that the purpose of school is to set kids on a path toward understanding it. This principle is often framed in philosophical shorthand—classical educators love talking about “truth, beauty, and goodness,” which can sound like a woo-woo catchphrase to the uninitiated—and it’s paired with an emphasis on morality and ethics.

Sure, there is truth, beauty and goodness--but only one version.

That's an attractive approach for anyone whose belief system is centered on One Truth, whether that's a secular truth or a religious one, so we shouldn't be surprised by the sorts of folks who are attracted to the classical school approach.

Any why not, some folks are going to argue. 2 + 2 = 4. If you jump off the top of a building, you will fall to the ground. There are absolute and objectively true things in the world, so why not make our foundation solid by resting upon them?

Here's my problem. That statement of premise (as Green acknowledges elsewhere in her piece) is only half complete.

The real premise in classical schooling (and fundamentalist religion and hard line culture politics and other One Objective Truth world views) is this:

There is an objective truth-- and I know exactly what it is.

It's the "I know exactly what it is part" that is the major hitch. It's that part, that "Trust me because I am right about everything 100% of the time" part, that I simply don't believe.

If you're going with, "Well, if you don't believe in an objective Truth, then you must just believe in some sort of relativistic, higgledy-piggledy, situational ethics, spinning moral compass view of the world," well, that's not it either. I believe that the universe is a solid, real thing, that history happened, that words mean things, but I also believe that the universe is a big, complicated, possibly-infinite, quantum-fueled creation beyond human comprehension. We humans have as much chance of Understanding It All as the chipmunks in my back yard have of grasping differential calculus. 

We are limited creatures, and our ability to perceive is seriously limited and influenced by what we can see from where and when we stand. On top of that, we humans like to make all sorts of stuff up, sometimes in an attempt to reduce Vast Confusing Reality to a manageable symbolic representation, and sometimes in attempt to create an illusion of power and safety for ourselves.

The One Truth view can be a refuge for frightened folks, folks who want desperately to believe that the One Truth is graspable and, when grasped, will yield a set of rules that will keep us safe if we just follow them. It also appeals to people whose insular, self-important view of the world is threatened, in hopes that they can nurse their special little flower safely, waiting to get back to their imaginary position of deserved domination. That despite a rich human history that shows no such thing is true. 

We wrestle with all of this regularly. Ralph Waldo Emerson became a dean of US letters and philosophy with his essay "Self-reliance," which helped set the argument that we weren't going to find the One Truth by studying classical dead white guys, and that what truth we could find would have to be rediscovered anew in each new day (including, it should be noted, truths about ourselves). 

These are scary times (maybe not objectively scary, maybe not as scary as the world-falling-apart 1930s or the nuclear Armageddon any day now 1970s, but with fear as a major political currency, we regular convince ourselves the times are scary) and in scary times, folks like something solid and reassuring, like a belief system that says the One Objective Truth can not only be known, but has already been pretty much mapped out by a bunch of ancient guys, so if we just study that, we'll be safe.

Plus in an education system, the One Objective Truth makes organizing education is so much easier. "Critical thinking" just means "thinking that leads you to the One Correct Answer." All tests are objective tests (easy to score). And you can foster the belief that those who know the One Right Answer are better than those Others. Congratulations, young meritocrat.

Are there classical schools that avoid the One Objective Truth trap. Probably. Certainly there have been people who used their classical education training as a tool to bust out of their classical education training (Emerson and many of his buddies would be examples). 

Any education system based on the notion that there is only One True Answer for any of life's complex and complicated and eternally shifting vantage points is not a system that I'm interested in. Too much of life is looking for One Better Answer or One Answer That Works Reasonably Well or One Answer I Can Cobble Together With The Tools At Hand, not to mention One New Revised Answer Now That I've Had A Chance To Think Abou What I Said Yesterday. It's not all higgledy-piggledy land of do as you please; most of the time some answers are definitely better than others.

But to attempt to build a fortress out of One True Answer is folly. It's a small, brittle fortress that confines more than it protects, and doesn't even protect particularly well. 

Let me try one more explanation. You could, for example, enter into a marriage saying, "Here's a list of rules. This is what you're supposed to, and here's what I'm supposed to do, and here are the rules for how we'll interact, and we'll just follow those rules for the rest of our lives, so we don't really ever have to talk about this again." But that's not much of a marriage, not really a relationship between two living, breathing humans.

Some folks want to try that same sort of thing with their God or their understanding of the universe. "Just give me a list of rules, and I'll follow them carefully every day, mostly, and we don't ever have to talk again." But that's not a living, breathing relationship. 

I don't know how you have a static relationship with your spouse, your friends, your God, your universe, your understanding of yourself. But that's what One Truth promises-- a static relationship where, once you Know the Truth, nothing ever changes. This is not my idea of a functional relationship with the world, and it strikes me as particularly ineffective to try enforcing this relationship on children and youths, for whom change is constant and unavoidable. When you're young, your perspective on yourself and how to be fully human in the world is constantly changing.

Maybe that's meant to be the appeal of classical schooling-- in a world that seems to be constantly changing, here are some eternal Truths to latch on to. But only I know them, and you will have to trust that my One Truth is the correct one ignore all the other truths floating around, and I promise, if you just stay in this tiny little bubble, everything will be okay. Good luck with that. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

What Ever Happened To Coursmos (Or, How Those MOOCs Doing These Days)

Once upon a time, internet-delivered courses were the Next Big Thing. Outfits like Udacity were promising to deliver a college education, digitized and personalized. In a Wired article on "The Stanford Education Experiment [that] Could Change Higher Education Forever," Sebastian Thrun predicted there would only be ten universities left in the world and that his online education company Udacity would be one of them. That was in 2012. Ten years are up.

Read Audrey Watters piece, "I Told You So" in which she takes a deserved victory lap in the wake of Udacity's sale to a consulting company. 

Back ten or so years ago, plenty of outfits wanted to get in on the biz. Let's look at another one and see if its story has a happier ending than the story of Udacity (spoiler alert: it does not).

In 2013, Coursmos launched, promising to fill a "soundbite-sized gap in the e-learning delivery space," a sort of mini-MOOC for your phone, "e-learning for the Twitter generation." Coursmos was a Russian start-up, co-founded by Roman Kostochka, Kateryna Seledets,  Pavel Dmitriev, Alex Sinichkin, and Pavel Konan. The team included Kostochka (CEO), Dmitriev (CMO), Vyacheslav Grachev (CTO), Seledets, Konan (Lead developer), Igor Pahomov, Todd Gibons (Growth Hacker), Paul Shuteyev, Pedro Sanchez de Lozada, Igor Shoifot, Brian Sathianathan, Igor Ryabenkiy, Jon Nordmark, Dmitry Ufaev-- a team assembled from USA, EU, Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.  

The company opened up shop in San Carlos, CA. Kostochka had previously founded EdKarma in Silicon Valley. Seledets had had worked at the Happy Farms Business Incubator, the American-Ukranian business accelerator that helped launch Coursmos. Sinichkin doesn't list Coursmos on his list of startups.

The model was basically a learning brokerage. Instructors could sign on, and students would find them, and Coursmos would take a cut for being the educational matchmaker. Their own pitch found them a bit behind others in the field (Udacity, Coursera, Udemy, etc) both in funding and courses, which they cleverly spun as Coursmos offering the best dollar-per-course ration. 

The idea was to set up a phone app, so they hit the Apple Store first, then later added Google play. "Mobile first" was supposed to be their "disruptive" element. Their exit strategy was to be acquired in 2-3 years, possibly by Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Benesse, the Washington Post Company, or Apollo Group. (Spoiler alert: that did not happen).

Coursmos did its seed rounds of investing in 2014 and 2015, then in 2015 went after venture capital. It was a half-million here, a half-million there some of it from the Russian Imperius Group. By 2015 it was claiming a half million registered users and pushing itself at corporate users, saying its strongest markets were in U.S., Russia, the U.K., India, Brazil and Indonesia. 

The website pitch was "Education for generation distracted." At first. By 2016, the pitch was "Build your online education business" and aimed clearly at folks providing the course materials. It bragged 1.7 million students, 36,032 courses, and $2.5 million in sales. They even had a wikipedia page.

But by 2016, the buzz had died down for the micro-learning platform. Kostochka's LinkedIn profile says he co-founded and CEOed a new business in January of 2017-- in Hong Kong. The Coursmos Twitter account went dormant in October of 2016 (except for one random post in May, 2018). The barely-active Coursmos Courses account likewise stopped in September, 2016. And a Coursmos R&D account opened up in August of 2013 with "Today we are launching it in the AppStore-- in Russian--then posted a total of 19 times. 

In 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, the website was pitching a "leading-edge training solution that enables your company to efficiently train employees and build a modern corporate learning system" with a "new generation SaaS LMS platform" boasting 5000 "off-the-shelf business courses." Then the wayback machine archive shows Coursmos going silent-- with nothing but 404 messages or a message, in Russian, that the domain registration has expired.

But the Coursmos story isn't over yet!

In December of 2023, a promise that "our website is coming soon." 

And sure enough, on January 1, 2024, Coursmos was back. Same logo, same web address, but a slightly different mission. "We turn your stress into straight A's" the bold print promises.
We're your writing wizards. Custom essays, research papers, and dissertations on any topic. We cover everything from online class help to exams to homework and assignments. Our academic superheroes take your strain. So you can stress less and score more.

 Yeah, one of those sites. The current Coursmos offers services ranging from "essay writing help" and "dissertation help" to "do my assignment," "do my homework," "take my online exam," and "take my online class." There are links to industry recognition articles, all written about the old Coursmos. 

There are glowing student testimonials that all follow the same basic outline, making sure to mention the course involved in the first part of the first sentence (Couldn't make it to my psychology class, My literature essay was a breeze, Tackling environmental science was tough, I was kinda lost on my biology thesis, History can be tricky sometimes, For my business dissertation, etc). 

A broad business like this would seem to require a whole lot of inhouse experts to help the customers cheat study. Unless you had a whole library of previously created educational content that you could just tap.

There's also a friendly chat that immediately offers help, as soon as you give it your email and phone number. That was "powered by Brevo," a firm that automates customer relationships, but my chatter said she works for Coursmos.

I asked the chat (Samantha) who the CEO is, but didn't get much in the way of an answer, though she did indicate that the business has been taken over. The whole ownership and operation of the biz is mysterious. They have a blog, which weirdly today put up some posts about some gamer codes, in German, and I'm just not going down that rabbit hole today. The rest are more closely related to the actual cheating business of the site, with none from before January 1, 2024.

Three names turn up in the blog. Tom Baldwin, Garfield Conner, and Dave Franklin. Of the three, I could only find Franklin, who just happened to set up a profile on M5Srack Community two weeks ago. From this we learn that Coursmos HQ is now in a Los Angeles "coworking and office space" location. On this page, Franklin describes Coursmos as a platform that offers "bite-sized courses on a wide range of topics," but on other profiles the "academic writer" is clearer that "we offer cheap online class help in USA." 

We could chase leads all day. There's Andrew Stevens, a guy from New York whose LinkedIn profile names him the CEO of Coursmos from 2014 till the present. Of course, almost everyone who's linked to Coursmos doesn't note an end date.

But mostly what we have here is the lifecycle of a piece of education-flavored entrepreneurialism. Coursmos was never started to make an important advance in teaching people-- it was created to be just good enough to attract a deep-pocketed buyer so everyone could cash out. When that didn't happen (because MOOCs are not a great idea and miniMOOCs are even less great), there was a brief attempt to tap a different market, and then Coursmos went into a coma until someone bought up all the "content" aka all those courses that folks created for them, and sold it to someone who decided the content library could be used to help students cheat. 

Is there a lesson here? I guess. Every ed tech has a story, and very often it's not a story about education. Pay attention. 

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Tim Alberta And The Mystery of What Happened To The Church

Are you a Christian who has spent the last decade or so wondering what the heck happened to your church? Have you been wondering if there are any serious Christians left who have not been swept up in some version of MAGA madness? Good news. They exist, Tim Alberta is one of them, and he's got a book.

The Kingdom, The Power and The Glory: American Evangelism in an Age of Extremism is a hard look into the heart of what has happened to the conservative Christian church. Alberta does not, like some authors, push back against the rise of Christian Nationalism by attacking the Christian part, and this book may be a tough slog for folks who do not embrace the faith.

But because Alberta is an evangelical Christian himself, he develops a clear view of where they lost the plot. As Chris Winans, the pastor who followed Alberta's pastor father, and who opens and closes the book, observes, the problem with American evangelicals is that "too many of them worship America." And power over it.

The book is a series of chapters organized around locations and the people Alberta has traveled there to interview. Some carry more weight than others--Lynchburg gets two chapters, as Jerry Fallwel's Liberty University serves as a particularly pointed example of how the pursuit of money and power completely overwhelms real attention to the Gospel. 

Alberta notes the particulars of how MAGAfied evangelicals have lost the plot. Of Trump pastor Robert Jeffers, he writes that he "no longer cared about fighting evil with good. He just wanted to fight evil--period." At a Ralph Reed event he notes:
Character didn't matter. Truth didn't matter. Honor and integrity didn't matter. Those were means, and all that mattered was the ends: winning elections.

Quoting from another pastor he interviews.

The great fault in the evangelical movement today is that we're disobedient to the commands of the one we claim to follow. What were those commands? Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Care for widows and orphans. Visit those in prison. Seek first the kingdom of God.

Alberta talks to some religious leaders who seem honestly confused and lost, and others who are wrestling with the understanding that if they don't get political in the pulpit, they will lose those parishioners-- the ones who think the sermon on the mount is too woke.

He has particular concern over the folks like Charlie Kirk, who, he notes, don't even pretend to that the goal is to glorify God, but simply to "take back America." He is disappointed in figures like Ron DeSantis who pretend to care about the faith, but barely nod toward it, and never in a meaningful way. 

Politicians, he notes

 saw the pointlessness in talking about servanthood, about humility, about unity and peace and love for thy neighbor. The market for such a message had long since disappeared. The demand was for domination, and Republicans like Trump and DeSantis were happy to supply it. Their appeal to evangelicals had everything to do with acting like champions and nothing to do with acting like Christ.

Of the culture wars being waged these days, Alberta is direct: "This effort to assert dominance over the culture is but a precondition for dominating the country itself."

Champions of Christian nationalism would have you believe that these efforts to rule the country are inherently theological; that they are in service of a broader effort to reclaim America for God. This is a lie. 

For Alberta, it's small potatoes. The God of All Creation has far larger concerns than the political victories of one political party in one country on one planet in one year. For Alberta, that is just another brand of idolatry.

In Alberta's travels and interviews, I see plenty of what I call the People of the Tiny God-- a god so small and powerless that electing the wrong politician for even the most trivial of offices will somehow threaten that god's existence. 

If you want a book that will explain why the chriustianists are wrong and bad because they oppose humanistic, progressive ideals, this may not be your book.

But if, like me, you've been looking around the past many years listening to alleged Christians valorize decidedly unChristian behavior, to insist that they cannot exercise their religion without being free to strike out at those of whom they disapprove, to express an ideology that seems laden with hate, to disdain any principles except the pursuit of power-- if you've been looking at all that and thinking that it does not resemble the faith that you grew up in, then this is your book.

It is discouraging to read just how far and deep and ugly some of the rot is. But it is encouraging to read that there are some folks who have not lost the plot and who embrace a faith that would even allow those of who disagree (and I am sure there are points on which Alberta and I would disagree) to coexist in ways that would still honor and energize and be energized by that faith. 

It's a big book, thorough, bolstered by interviews that run wide and deep (when you're a noted reporter for The Atlantic, people answer your calls). I've bought copies for some of the people I love, and I recommend you get your hands on a copy as well. 


ICYMI: Wavin' Those Palms Edition (3/24)

Every year I wonder just how many palm frond suppliers out there. It can't be that lucrative a business, yet once a year demand must spike enough to provide children across the nation with the opportunity to poke a tickle their friends and siblings in church. 

For those of you new to the blog, this is the every-Sunday collection of links to things that I think are worth reading (but did not already mention or link to in anything I wrote last week). You are encouraged to share from the original link and give the writers a little love and attention. Tips and suggestions always appreciated.

Here's the list for the week.

City Council Races Could Complete Andrew Wommack’s “Takeover” of Woodland Park

Logan Davis re4ports for the Colorado Times Recorder about how one religious right group is working to take over the schools and the town in Woodland Park.

5 Things I Would Never Do With My Own Kids After Working As A Teacher

A perfectly fine HuffPost listicle, including an appearance by Jose Luis Vilson.

No, Teachers Are Not in a Panic About ChatGPT

Anne Lutz Fernandez puts ChatGPT panic in the proper context of student authentic work and the larger history of student writing assignment integrity (looking at you, Cliff's Notes).

My curriculum not the reason kids can’t read

It probably won't me a thing to the Hanford fanfolks, but Lucy Calkins has finally written a response to all the criticism of her work (or at least the portrayal of her work that gets criticized).

The Great Textbook War

An NPR Throughline audio episode, featuring Charles Dorn and Adam Laats, reminding us that we've seen this movie before, and it always ends the same way for the book banners.

Banned in Boston: Coverage of Walton Family Spending on K-12 Interest Groups

Dark money expert Maurice Cunningham takes a look at just how much money the Walton's have been spending to push privatization. Then he looks at how little it has been reported by certain newspapers.

Jose Luis Vilson takes a look at school choice, how it has led to some rot, and how it ignores the larger purpose of schools.

Classical Charter Schools of America Pays ACLU $1.456 Million in Gendered Uniform Lawsuit

The lawsuit involving that North Carolina charter that wanted its fragile girlfolk to wear skirts has finally reached a settlement. 

Dark money group goes after GOP House member for opposition to Tennessee school voucher plan

The DeVos family's American Federation for Children is going after voucher opponents in Tennessee (just like they did in Texas). This is how out of state billionaires work to get their preferred policies passed.

I wrote a review about Gayle Greene's book a while back. Short version: buy it and read it. Here's Bob Shepherd with another good argument for picking up this excellent argument for human education.

Where are all the teachers? Breaking down America's teacher shortage crisis in 5 charts.

USA Today of all places ran this set of charts drawn from some of the research out there. Florida, Arizona, and Nort Carolina have the highest demand. Hmmm, go figure.

'Free Mom Hugs' volunteer labeled 'groomer' by hate group. Here's how she responded.

A nice account of one group's response to more M4L baloney. Not updated to include the post in which M4L doubled down on the groomer accusation, but they did, because of course they did.

Competency-based education failure raises concerns with new standards

CBE continues to be a great system except when you try to actually implement it. New Hampshire reports on its troubles trying to make it work.

Thomas Ultican looks at the latest in voucher fraud activity, and why we can expect plenty more. 

My Kid's Textbook Doesn't Know We Elected a Black President

Jess Piper looks at some of the direct effects of refusing to fully fund schools. Like history textbooks that are old enough to vote.

Will Reforms by Texas and an Audit by Federal Charter Schools Program Be Enough to End Shady Practices at IDEA Charter Schools?

The IDEA charter chain has been a source of shady shenanigans for quite some time. Jan Resseger asks if there's any reason to believe that things will get better.

Who Carried You?

TC Weber offers a parental perspective on laws that mandate schools outing LGBTQ students. 

Open season on scholars of race

Wondering what Chris Rufo's been up to lately? Don Moynihan reports on the building of "plagiarism" as a tool for going after scholars of color.

Automakers Are Sharing Consumers’ Driving Behavior With Insurance Companies

The New York Times reports on another frontier in the surveillance state. That computer in your car is not your friend.

This week at, I wrote about the sequel lawsuit to Carson in Maine (about making religious schools follow antidiscrimination rules if they want to collect voucher bucks) and looked at the great book about grading by Jack Schneider and Ethan Hutt.

Also, at the Bucks County Beacon, a look at how Pennsylvania stacked up (a middling C) in the NPE report on how well states support public education

You are always invited to join me on substack, where you can get all of my various output right in your email inbox. It doesn't cost a cent.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Kirk Cameron and M4L Have a Book for You

Kirk Cameron has a book to plug. It's being published by Brave, a publishing house founded by Texas ophthalmologist Trent Talbot to fight the woke agenda and be "pro-God, pro-America." They've got some fun kid titles like "Elephants are not birds" and other non-Cameron authors like Kevin Sorbo and Lara Trump.
Cameron's book is one of many set on Freedom Island. The back cover copy shows that the saga includes other stories about topics like "dangers of socialism" and "perseverance." Actually, the whole back cover is heavy on right wing nationalism, and God makes no appearance at all, though the description gets into "fruits of the spirit" and "Biblical truths." The whole enterprise seems very much from the sector of folks who worship power and America more than they worship God.

Cameron has been touring and doing book readings to plug his book, which is what authors do. But his scheduled stop in a Houston suburb gives us some very awesome coverage from the right tilted Washington Examiner. 

Cameron had a scheduled stop at a local furniture store known for its owner's appearance in commercials as "Mattress Mack." That stop was apparently at least co-sponsored by the local Moms for Liberty chapter. 
Moms for Liberty’s Harris County Chapter Chairwoman Denise Bell said she is excited to provide an event for families that highlights “wholesome literature, educational material, and entertainment.”

 But it was Cameron who came up with this great quote for the Examiner. 

“I can’t wait to read to families in the Houston area and bring them a message of hope and revival in our public spaces,” Cameron told the Washington Examiner. “Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ Whether you come to find physical rest on Mack's mattresses or spiritual rest for your soul, this story hour is sure to give you both.”

Hustlers gotta hustle. I'm still not buying a copy of the book. 

How About AI Lesson Plans?

Some Brooklyn schools are piloting an AI assistant that will create lesson plans for them. 

Superintendent Janice Ross explains it this way. “Teachers spend hours creating lesson plans. They should not be doing that anymore.”

The product is YourWai (get it?) courtesy of The Learning Innovation Catalyst (LINC), a company that specializes in "learning for educators that works/inspires/motivates/empowers." They're the kind of company that says things like "shift to impactful professional learning focused on targeted outcomes" unironically. Their LinkedIn profile says "Shaping the Future of Learning: LINC supports the development of equitable, student-centered learning by helping educators successfully shift to blended, project-based, and other innovative learning models." You get the idea.

LINC was co-founded by Tiffany Wycoff, who logged a couple of decades in the private school world before writing a book, launching a speaking career, and co-founding LINC in 2017. Co-founder Jaime Pales used to work for Redbird Advanced Learning as executive director for Puerto Rico and Latin America and before that "developed next-generation learning programs" at some company. 

LINC has offices in Florida and Colombia. 

YourWai promises to do lots of things so that teachers can get "90% of your work done in 10% of the time." Sure. Ross told her audience that teachers just enter students' needs and the standards they want to hit and the app will spit out a lesson plan. It's a "game changer" that will give teachers more time to "think creatively." 

These stories are going to crop up over and over again, and every story ought to include this quote from Cory Doctorow:
We’re nowhere near the point where an AI can do your job, but we’re well past the point where your boss can be suckered into firing you and replacing you with a bot that fails at doing your job.

Look, if you ask AI to write a lesson plan for instructing students about major themes in Hamlet, the AI is not going to read Hamlet, analyze the themes, consider how best to guide students through those themes, and design an assessment that will faithfully measure those outcomes. What it's going to do is look at a bunch of Hamlet lesson plans that it found on line (some of which may have been written by humans, some of which may have been cranked out by some amateur writing for online corner-cutting site, and some of which will have been created by other AI) and mush them all together. Oh, and throw in shit that it just made up. 

There are undoubtedly lessons for which AI can be useful--cut and dried stuff like times tables and preposition use. But do not imagine that the AI has any idea at all of what it is doing, nor that it has any particular ability to discern junk from quality in the stuff it sweeps up on line. Certainly the AI has zero knowledge of pedagogy or instructional techniques.

But this "solution" will appeal because it's way cheaper than, say, hiring enough teachers so that individual courseloads are not so heavy that paperwork and planning take a gazillion hours. 

This will certainly enable teachers who are either overwhelmed or lazy. It certainly shortens the process for teachers who regularly consult with Dr. Google for their lesson planning. But I would certainly wonder about an administrator who not only allowed it, but encouraged it. 

There's no question that lesson planning can be a time-consuming burden, but there are far better ways to deal with that issue than an AI lesson planning assistant. This is not how we get high quality teaching materials into the classroom. 


Courtesy of the New York Post

I missed the third co-founder of LINC, Jason Green, who turns out to be an old buddy of NYC school chancellor David Banks. Also, the Yourwai website appears to feature a bunch of fake testimonials. "Well, we just used fake names to anonymize the testifiers," says the company. Sure. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Teacher Morale: Is Everything Fine?

If you aren't a regular Education Week reader, you may have missed the debut earlier this month of their Teacher Morale Index, and it's actually, well, pretty good. 

The beauty of this index is its elegant simplicity. It's based on three questions from their State Of Teaching survey, each with three simple choices.

1) Compared to one year ago, my morale at work right now is worse, the same, or better.

2) Right now, my morale at work is mostly bad, equally good and bad, or mostly good.

3) One year from now, I expect my morale at work will be worse, the same, or better.

Each answer has a value (-100, 0, or +100). Answers collected, and the crunching begins. Some takeaways from the morale index.

Overall teacher morale is low. (-13).

But that total hides some vast differences depending on subject area. Foreign language and CTE teachers are actually on the positive side. Meanwhile, the very lowest morale score is reported for social studies/history, science, and elementary teachers. Fine arts are not much better.

Morale also varies by where you teach. Urban teachers report the lowest morale, rural teachers the highest (though still negative).

Black teachers actually report positive morale; every other group is negative. Hispanic and multi-race are next, with White teachers reporting lowest morale.

Finally, years of service also factor in the findings. Teachers with fewer than three years report positive morale--but it's not a steady slide. Teachers with 3 to 9 years of experience show much lower morale than their more seasoned brethren. You know--the teachers who have never known anything except the doubled-down high stakes standardized test accountability of ESSA, and who came of career maturity under the Trump/DeVos administration. 

Administrators believe that the morale situation is far better than it actually is. The survey also shows that administrators favor structured consistency over teacher autonomy-- and value teacher autonomy far less than teachers do. 

And in other unsurprising findings, way more administrators (84%) think professional development is relevant than teachers do. Not only do over half of all teachers find PD irrelevant, but about half also think there's too much of it (only 15% of admins agree). 

Black and Hispanic teachers report more hours of work (65 and 64) than White teachers. And teachers mostly don't want their own children to become teachers. 

There's more detail to dig through, so if you tend to save your free peeks at EdWeek carefully, this is one worth considering. 

These aren't big surprises. Morale is down, and an awful lot of administrators are out of touch with their own staffs. That's bad news-- an administrators Number One Job is to create the conditions that help classroom teachers do the best work they can. If administrators are disconnected, that's a problem for everyone in the system (and given the state of morale, the problems reported with safety and management in buildings, and the pandemic destabilization issues, it's evident that many administrators are, in fact, on some different planet from their staff). Note to principals everywhere: everything is not fine.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

BS Test Blows A Billion

It's hard to track each and every sad side effect of the unexamined, unsupported assumption that the Big Standardized Test, our annual adventure of administering a mediocre math and reading test and then pretending that we have somehow measured how well the whole Education Thing is going. But here's one more bad example.

The feds had a whole grant program called Investing In Innovation (i3). It ran from 2010 to 2016 and doled out $1.4 billion to universities, school districts, and private outfits in a total of 172 grants to either develop, validate or scale up shiny reformy ideas. That innovation is "important to help improve student learning and close equity gaps nationwide" and the goal of this program (courtesy of the US Department of Education) was "to build high-quality evidence about effective educational strategies and to expand implementation of these strategies." 

And all of that pretty language about "improve student learning" and better "effective educational strategies" just means "raise scores on the BS Test." 

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) is the arm of the feds that is like a test lab for education stuff, and they've done a study of just how well i3 grantees worked out by sifting through the research done about those various programs. So how did well did the programs work?

The short answer is, "Not great.

The long answer is, "Nobody is even asking the right questions."

Of the 172 grants, only 148 had completed research that could be viewed. Of those, only 26% showed a program that actually had a positive effect. A small number had a negative effect, and about 76% showed no affect at all. 

Grants are grouped by different sort of effects. One small group of grants was aimed at student attendance and completion, an effect that can actually be measured in a reasonably accurate manner. 

The rest were aimed at "student performance" in academic areas, plus a small group aimed at social emotional learning; the biggest number of programs wanted to improve classroom instruction, which in the largest number of cases meant either more teacher PD or developing and instituting curriculum and materials. For all of these student performance areas, the most important question to ask is "How do you think you measured that?"

Improving teaching and materials in the classroom is a worthy goal. But this review is a reminder that using the BS Test to see how we're doing is a self-defeating. It's looking for your lost car keys under a streetlamp 100 yards from where you dropped them because the light is better there. 

It is amazing to me that after all these years, so many folks are still talking about BS Test scores as if they are not just a true and accurate measure of educational effectiveness, but THE true and accurate measure. 

They aren't. They never have been. They remain an effort to gauge height, weight and health of an elephant by examining its toenail clippings. Their effect on education is the most prolonged, debilitating example of Campbell's and Goodhart's Laws in action, a situation in which some have so mistaken the measure for the Thing Itself that they are wasting time and so very much money. 

What the IES report tells us is that in a billion-dollar game of darts, a whole lot of people missed the wrong target. I don't know what that information is worth, but it sure isn't worth $1.4 billion. 

Sunday, March 17, 2024

OK: Walters Wants To Take Local Mess National

Oklahoma's Education Dudebro In Chief Ryan Walters has produced a steady stream of ugliness. That hasn't stopped; in fact, it's apparently seeking a national audience.

Walters drew headlines for moves like explaining that Tulsa Race Massacre was not about race. He called the teachers union a "terrorist organization." He also proposed a host of rules for restricting reading, mandatory outing of students, searching out the dread CRT, and backing it all up with threats to take away a district's accreditation if they dared to defy him. And he followed the Chris Rufo playbook and announced his intent to ban DEI from all schools. Walters wants to see the state "champion religious freedom," like the Catholic "public" charter school that the state is trying to launch (and their Republican attorney general is trying to stop). Somehow, "religious freedom" means to Walters that the Ten Commandments should be posted in every single classroom in the state.

In keeping with the screw-ups he orchestrated before taking office, Walters managed to fumble away a bunch of grant money and piss off staff--staff who were sympathetic to his agenda--to the point that they walked out.  And he's still cleaning up after fines from his campaign for office. 

He went out of his way to stop a sixteen year old trans student from changing some paperwork. His reaction to the death of Nex Benedict was such a mean-spirited reactionary mess (one part "we want students to feel supported" and two parts "LGBTQ students must be hold the hard truth that their existence is an ugly terrible lie") that 350 groups signed a letter demanding he get the hell out of office, as he has fostered "a culture of violence and hate." Walters is a prime example of the kind of faux christianist MAGA strain running through too much of our country these days, drawing targets on marginalized people, calling them all manner of ugly names, signaling that the power of the state will be used to silence and erase those people, and then denying that any of this creates a culture of hate and violence. It's spectacularly unChristian behavior offered in the name of Christ. 

And yet, Walters apparently senses that he's destined for bigger things on a broader stage. 

Jennifer Palmer of Oklahoma Watch reports that Oklahoma taxpayers have helped Walters hire a PR firm that, among other things, is sending out pitches like this:
An open letter called for Ryan’ (sic) immediate removal from office for, the letter claims, “fostering a culture of violence and hate against the 2SLGBTQI+ community in Oklahoma schools.

Ryan responded to the letter saying: ‘[this is a] standard tactic of the radical left, and they will stop at nothing to destroy the country and our state.’

Want Ryan on to discuss?

Palmer was ahead of this story, reporting back in November that the Oklahoma Education Department was looking to hire a PR firm to provide print and digital op-eds to national outlets, provide national bookings, coordinate national events and appearances for executive staff, write speeches and handle some communications. That included a minimum of three op-eds, two speeches and 10 media bookings per month. This in addition to the in-house comms department. It sure looked like Walters wanted to be bigger.

So Oklahoma has hired a PR firm from Virginia to craft pitches like the one above and presumably to deliver all that national exposure Walters is looking for. 

The firm is 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."

In short, she seems like just the person to be running PR for whatever it is that Walters is trying to do with his profile.

Meanwhile, in Oklahoma, where he was elected to serve an actual function, Walters draws cranky comments from legislators about his lack of transparency, and reports that he's mostly out of the office. Asked about the expense of $30,000 of taxpayer money to hire Walters some PR services, his regular patron, Governor Kevin Stitt said a whole lot of nothing

It continues to look as if the taxpayers of Oklahoma are not getting anything like their money's worth out of Walters. Hard to say what job he is auditioning for at this point, but it seems easier to say how much Oklahoma taxpayers should have to pay to fund his clip reel-- $0.00. 

ICYMI: My Least Favorite Holiday Edition (3/17)

I have nothing against the Irish, who arguably helped save western civilization as we know it, and who suffered a lot abuse and mistreatment. But this holiday? I will spare you the rant.

Oh, and this nonsense about a leprechaun sneaking into the house and making a mess? Whoever came up with this idea is getting their own special corner of hell, and while I love elementary teachers a lot, I am pleading with them to please stop spreading this big fat PITA faux tradition to their students. 

Plenty to read, though, so let's start into the list. I put this list together kind of on the fly every week, and if I have missed something worthwhile, that's on me. There is so much to read and so many writers who deserve attention, and if I missed something or someone this week, that's a measure of my inefficiency, not their worthiness. 

I Told You So

Audrey Watters comes back to the world of ed tech for a quick recap of why she was just proven right when she dismissed Udacity as junk.

Americans Have Yet to Accept COVID’s Tragedy — And Are Taking It Out On Schools

Conor P. Williams and The 74 have been on the wrong side of plenty of education issues, but this piece about how schools have taken endless blame for a nation's flubbed pandemic response is absolutely worth the read.
Yet here on the other side of that disaster, we’re determined to assign blame for dips in U.S. students’ academic achievement, as if learning loss could have — should have — been avoided in a moment of widespread viral transmission and mass death. Say it plain: There was no educational and public health playbook that could have wholly averted the pandemic’s impacts on kids.
Kentucky Governor Ready to Campaign Against School Choice Measure if It Reaches Fall Ballot

Kentucky continues to stand up for public education. Report from the AP.

Idaho House committee kills private school tax credit

From Boise State Public Radio, some good news from Idaho, of all places.

Dissecting Republican Messaging, 101

Nancy Flanagan looks into some of the GOP machinery driving some messaging in Michigan (where Betsy DeVos still lives and does her thing).

Paul Thomas explains who we need to be doubtful when someone starts waving around the science banner in education.

Central Bucks to pay suspended teacher, attorneys $425k, remove references to report

In Central Bucks, PA, the new school board continues to deal with the messes made by the former MAGA majority, including finally getting some justice for a teacher who was punished for standing up for an LGBTQ student. Jo Ciavaglia reports.

Misleading “No Kid Hungry” Ad: School Meals Already Free

Seem those "No Kid Hungry" ads? The indispensable Mercedes Schneider has, and she did some digging. Why are they soliciting by talking about schools that already have free and reduced lunch programs? Who is behind this organization, and where does your contribution actually go? The answers are far less heartwarming than the commercials.

Culture Warriors—on Both Sides—Are Wrong About America’s History Classrooms

At Time, some researchers from the American Historical Association offer a new perspective on what's actually happening in history classrooms.

Library organizations react to Prattville library firings: ‘A travesty’

A library board in Alabama decided to hide a bunch of naughty books, and when the librarian filled a legitimate journalist open records request about the matter, they fired the librarian. 

Jose Luis Vilson has looked at many many hours of teacher PD, and he has some ideas about how to make the whole operation a little more useful.

Hackers are targeting a surprising group of people: young public school students

Reporting from Kavitha Cardoza at NPR about the hot new frontier in data hack-and-grab. How good is the cybersecurity at your school?

When Classical Learning Meets Public Education, the Dialogue Isn't Always Socratic

A bit over-sympathetic, but still an interesting look into the various threads in the Classical Learning world, courtesy of Vince Bielski at RealClear.

Rep. April Cromer and her allies dox librarians

And that's not all. Steve Nuzum reports from South Carolina on this Moms for Liberty MAGA menace.

There's some good news for public education in the newly proposed budget. Jan Resseger has some details.

Can Early Academic Pressure Cause Learning Disabilities?

Nancy Bailey looks at what the experts have to say about the effects of making kindergarten the new first grade.

It Could Have Been Worse: An Update On Florida’s 2024 Session

Sue Kingery Woltanski sums up the latest legislative session in DeSantisland. 

But of course the big news in Florida is the settlement around one of the state's attacks on the First Amendment. NPR has a fine summary, but you might also like the one from Judd Legum

AP reports on a decision that makes it harder for Catholic Charities to claim exemptions. Basically, if they're doing secular stuff, they can't claim religious exemption. Does this have anything to do with education? I'm wondering, so I'm putting a pin in it here.

How Viktor Orbán Conquered the Heritage Foundation

These are the same folks who are pushing so hard to dismantle public education and establish voucherfied privatized education in its place. This piece by Casey Michel in The New Republic will not sooth your heart.

Also from the New Republic, and not related to education, but holy cow! Several layers of creepy scary going on here.

Join me on substack. The more subscribers I have, the more this stuff gets pushed out into the world. It's easy, and it's free.

Friday, March 15, 2024

Conflict, Silos, and Choice

One of the less common arguments in favor of school choice is that public schools are just a mess of conflict because people of different beliefs are forced to educate side by side. Wouldn't it be better if everyone could just go off into their own little silo and educate just with like-minded people?

Well, no. It wouldn't.

A couple of decades back, I went to Divorce School. The tuition is very high, and other people have to help pay the cost of your education, so I don't recommend it. But you can learn a lot there.

One thing I learned is that if conflict exists, you cannot disappear it somehow. What may feel like putting it off or tamping it down is really just putting it into an escrow account where it compounds interest and eventually emerges even huger than when you stuffed it in there. If the conflict exists, you are going to deal with it, one way or another, sooner or later. 

A common method for trying to disappear conflict is to try to make the people on the other side of the conflict just go away. Sometimes that takes the form of trying obliterate them in some sort of total victory, sometimes just erasing them somehow, and sometimes simply making them go away. 

The thing is, none of these work. All have been attempted on various scales, and none of them work.

A history of modern warfare, the first time in human history when leaders imagined that the technology existed to truly erase the enemy, shows that from the Third Reich to the middle east, policy based on the notion that the other side can be completely obliterated is failed policy that simply increases suffering and waste of human lives.

In the world of culture panic, we are seeing an attempt to erase certain folks. "Maybe," the theory goes, "if we just made everyone pretend that LGBTQ persons don't exist, we could end all the noise and conflict over that stuff." It's not working. It isn't going to work. 

The current rising love of authoritarianism is cut from the same cloth. If we just had a Really Strong Leader (like Viktor Orban or Putin) he would just make all those dissenting voices shut up forever. This comes with an attempt to Other the opposition, casting them as stupid and/or evil instead of other actual human beings that we need to talk to.

As Americans, we ought to know better. "Wouldn't everyone just be happier in their own place," is the language of segregationists. Segregated silos are bad news, particularly in a diverse pluralistic society.

The more obvious bad part of segregation is not just that diverse people are kept apart. Segregation of people facilitates segregation of resources. If your position is that you don't really want to pay to educate Black kids, then putting all the Black kids, and only Black kids, in the same schools makes it much easier to create policy that directs fewer resources to Black kids. Segregation also works for resource hoarding-- if we put all the rich kids in the same schools, then we can insure that only they benefit from certain privileges. 

But there are other problems with choicing our way to segregated silos. 

One is that every silo is a bubble, and within that bubble, stupid prejudices are free to grow. They're reinforced; say "All mugwumps like pineapple on their pizza" and a hundred heads will nod in agreement, and you'll be that more certain that those pineapple-eating mugwumps really are awful. 

Well, the argument goes, mugwumps will have a school of their own to eat all the pineapple pizza they like, so it's fair. I understand the reasoning. It just doesn't reflect what actually happens. What actually happens is that when marginalized students and families create a siloed option of their own, they turn themselves into easily-identified targets. Anti-LGBTQ folks don't have to say, "Well, those awful people are out there somewhere" and wave their hands vaguely about. They can--and repeatedly do--point at an LGBTQ-friendly charter or private school and declare "How can we allow that!!" Those echo chamber bubbles allow the worst ideas to fester and grow and, ultimately, explode.

Certain conflicts exist in our country right now. LGBTQ persons exist, and some folks wish they would not. Some folks want to keep working on our issues surrounding race and other folks would like to be done with all that. How do we manage religion? Where do we go with democratic norms in a pluralistic society? And why do some people put pineapple on their damn pizza?

The conflicts exist. Nobody wants them. Nobody likes them (though some folks find them useful). But they are here, and one way or another we will be forced to deal with them.

To pretend that we can create samethink silos for schools--or any other part of society--and thereby make our country a better place is a silly idea. We are a diverse, pluralistic country. If you just wish we weren't, well, I wish all my hair grew back, but we can't live the lives we wish we had, only the ones we actually have. 

A diverse pluralistic society based on democratic norms is going to have conflict, and we can either deal with it or let it curdle and mess with us. We're currently operating at a disadvantage, with a shortage of leaders willing to engage in difficult conversations, and we are certainly not going to create such leaders by raising generations in samethink silos. Yes, conflict is hard. Sometimes it's unavoidable. Suck it up and do the work, because there is no way out but through.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Practicing On Cyber Students (Sort Of)

The Relay Graduate School of Education, a pretend graduate school started by pretend teachers, has come up with a great new training idea--practice with pretend students. But not just any pretend students-- AI pretend students. Because if it has AI in it, it must be extra cool and shiny. Except that once again, the actual product promises so much more than it actually delivers.

It appears that Madeline Will, a reporter for Education Week, caught the RGSE pitch at SWSX, and grabbed this unironic quote:
“In order for a teacher to become great, they need high-quality practice,” said Lequite Manning, the department chair of clinical practice and residency for Relay

The high-quality practice is to involve skills teachers need such as "getting to know their students." This happens through some text-based interactions. The teacher candidate plugs in some personal info, then watches a video of a talk between the head of Relay, Mayme Hostetter, and Layce Robinson, CEO of UnboundEducation, a teacher PD outfit. 

Then the AI finally shows up in the form of a letter from a "teacher mentor" who gives the candidate student demographic info. The candidate can ask the AI for advice on dealing with students. Let me say that again--the human prospective teacher can ask the computer for advice about how to deal with the imaginary human children.

Then the teacher begins "interacting" with the imaginary students. Note--the students are NOT AI, but are personas based on "real kids" that Hostetter and Robinson taught. Robinson have had some actual classroom experience (though only a couple of years are listed in her LinkedIn profile); Hostertter spent two years in a private boarding school, and three years in a KIPP charter. The candidate imagines sitting down at the student lunch table (an interesting choice, that) and "strikes up a conversation." Will says that the candidate has several choices about how to start the conversation, suggesting maybe that what we're actually talking about is a multiple choice Talking To Students quiz. Then the candidate shares with the AI mentor, and then is finally rewarded with one of two videos by Hostetter and Robinson--either an attaboy or a try-it-again video.

So, not very impressive, but one more entry in the drive for classroom simulators for teacher prep. I get the appeal-- an actual classroom is often unforgiving, and when you screw up, you may have to live with the fallout of your bad choice for weeks. But the dream of a classroom simulator that's like a, a Hostetter suggests, a flight simulator, is a silly dream. Simulating a physical object interacting with the laws of physics is a hell of a lot easier than simulating human interactions.

Not that folks don't keep trying. Back in 2016 there was a bunch of noise about TeachLivE, a classroom simulation with CGI students direct from Uncanny Valley School District. This looked creepy, but like this newest wrinkle, it turned out to be far less than it pretended. The teacher trainee is interacting with a CGI rendering of students, but those students were actually animated by "an interactor" who "controls the student avatars in the classroom, speaking through a microphone and using head-mounted and handheld controllers programmed to respond to certain movements." It's a blend of "program control and puppetry." 

What classroom simulators seem to have in common is the attempt to look as if they are harnessing cool new technology, when they really aren't.

In the late seventies, I had an education course taught by Robert Schall, who had years and years of actual public school teaching experience. We would develop and teach practice lessons, with our classmates as students. Also in the classroom was "Bobby," a compendium of every annoying student behavior ever. Dr. Schall didn't filter himself through a special algorithm or computer program or even put on some kind of costume. He just sat in the back of the room and gave us the experience of dealing with challenging students. After years in real classrooms, I can confirm that Bobby was an excellent simulation of the real thing. 

The best way for new teachers to learn about the classroom is direct experience, and the second best way is from experiences teachers who have spent years in the classroom. Trying to interpose shiny tech is both hugely difficult and also never likely to yield the quality of results from the first two sources.