Monday, April 29, 2024

TX: Greg Abbott Wants Teachers To Dress Regular

Correspondent Steve Monacelli of the Texas Observer turned up a clip of Texas Governor Greg Abbott at the Young Conservatives of Texas convention in Dallas, splaining how folks ought to dress. 
In Lewisville, Texas… just a month ago, they had a high school teacher, who is a man, who would go to school dressed as a woman in a dress, high heels and makeup. Now, what do you think is going through their minds of the students that are in that classroom? Are they focusing on the subject that that person's trying to teach? I don't know. What I do know are these two things. One is this person--a man, dressing as a woman--in a public high school in the state of Texas--he's trying to normalize the concept. "This type of behavior is okay." This type of behavior is NOT okay! And this is the type of behavior that we want to make sure we end in the state of Texas.

Now, as with many moments of culture panic, this one has some factual issues. As Wayne Carter reported for Channel 5, what actually happened was that students encouraged a popular chemistry teacher to dress up for a spirit day. Students laughed, life went on. But then someone put a picture of the teacher on line, and all culture panic hell broke loose. The school district did a policy review and determined that no dress-up day rules had been broken, but so many folks decided to release a barrage of hateful and threatening comments that the teacher resigned. 

Carter spoke to students ("He's never brought his sexuality or any of his political ideas into his teaching. He's always teaching chemistry. It's always chemistry") and parents of the school (We're conservative, but this is silly and hurting students). 

So you can file this specific incident in the file right next to the periodic panic over supposed school litter boxes for student furries aka "Things That Upset Certain People But Did Not Actually Happen."

Also, at least some of Abbott's motivation here is pretty clear, as he pivoted directly from "This Terrible Thing Happened" right over to "Parents ought to have school vouchers so that they can get their kids away from this sort of Terrible Thing That Didn't Actually Happen."

But. All that aside, we've still got a governor arguing that behavior that doesn't conform to his particular idea of gendered behavior should be outlawed and stomped on. Kind of takes me back to all those years when women weren't supposed to wear pants, or smoke cigarettes. Author Kate Chopin walking around in pants a century ago scandalizing Louisiana bluebloods. Boys wearing earrings!!Dogs and cats living together! 

There are, in fact, Christian discussion groups out there still debating the lady pants thing, and often coming to the entirely reasonable conclusion that different cultures at different times have different ideas about what male and female clothing should look like. Meanwhile, we've had a whole court case over whether or not a charter school can forbid girls to wear pants (it can't, and the Supremes aren't willing to chime in).

I can't even imagine how Abbott would draw up the Texas Code of Heteronormative Behavior for Teachers. And would the penalties be a kind of sliding scale, or would a shiny earing or bit of rouge receive the same punishment as a flowing sequined ball gown? Are skinny jeans allowed? Would Texas Rangers drag the offending teacher out in cuffs so that any non-conforming students can fully get the message that Their Kind are NOT okay or welcome in Greg Abbott's Texas? Will Texas be outlawing any and all behavior that looks kind of LGBTQ-ish, or will this just be for teachers? Is Abbott's dismay go beyond regular LGBTQ stuff and extend to all non-conforming behavior, like funny hats or ugly sweaters? 

I'm leery of the word "normal," which always has lots of heavy lifting to do. But I do like the word "ordinary," as in, LGBTQ people are an ordinary part of the human experience, as are people who fall outside of whatever standards of behavior are considered Properly Conforming. Should teachers refrain from choices that might cause distraction in the classroom? Sure. But that's a far cry from tagging all non-conforming teachers for harassment and firing and whatever else Abbott meant by saying he wanted to end that type of behavior. 

Sunday, April 28, 2024

ICYMI: Opening Weekend Edition (4/28)

We've opened our community theater production of Jesus Christ, Superstar, and it is going wonderfully, with some excellent audiences and great performances, while my shoulders are holding out through the prolonged arm flapping every evening. It just feels great to help create a performance and put it out into the world, live and in person. Hope you have something equally delightful in your corner of the world. 

Let's see what there is to read this week.

Teachers Aren’t ‘Silicon Valley’s Lackeys’

This Jack Bouchard piece is well worth using up one of your free EdWeek views. He makes some point that go beyond just the question of what place AI has in education. 
When a child, frustrated at the opacity of a Toni Morrison novel, wants to know when she will ever use this, I reply, “You might never! And that’s OK, because you’re a human being and you have more important things to be than just useful.”
Ex-athletic director accused of framing principal with AI arrested at airport with gun

Speaking of special uses of AI, here's a bizarre story from Baltimore.

Florida Republicans eye control of more county school boards in November election

More of the same old same old anticipated in Florida this year.

University of Memphis plans to launch new K-12 district this fall

Laura Testino reports for Chalkbeat on a new sort of school district about to hit Tennessee.

Recommendations for Books You Should Not Read Because You Do Not Care

Maurice Cunningham has some reading suggestions for those interested in the world of dark money and its influence.

No Matter What You Call Them, Private School Vouchers Are Bad for New Jersey

School finance expert and music teacher Marl Weber lays out the explanation of why the new proposal for New Jersey school vouchers would be a bad idea.

DeSantis said public schools were religious when US began. Is he right?

Short answer: no. But the Tampa Bay Times reporter Jeffrey Solochek talked to a lot of smart people about DeSantis's version of US education history to get a longer answer.

A Brief History of Automatons That Were Actually People

Brian Contreras at Scientific American looks at fauxtomation, the process by which companies use actual humans to fake AI.

The Return of the Tradteacher

You're on line, so you've probably heard about tradwives. Nancy Flanagan talks about the affection for tradteachers.

A trans teacher asked students about pronouns. Then the education commissioner found out.

Sarah Gibson at New Hampshire Public Radio has the story of that time the state education commissioner decided to go after one trans teacher.

How Book Bans, Threats to Honest Teaching of History, and “Don’t Say Gay” Bills Harm Our Children and Undermine Education for Citizenship

Jan Resseger looks at some of the damage done by culture panic in this country.

Plans to put libraries in most Michigan schools get support from educators and parents

What a whacky idea! Hannah Dellinger reports for Chalkbeat.

Louisiana: Lunch Breaks in Question for Teen Workers

News about this bill was in last week's list, but this week the indispensable Mercedes Schneider has more information about who's pushing the bill. Prepare to be unsurprised.

Over at I wrote about the practice of pep rallies for the Big Standardized Test. 

As always, you are invited to sign up for my substack. It's free, and it puts all my stuff in your email inbox, where you can do with it as you will. 

Saturday, April 27, 2024

ACT Will Be For Profit (And Join The Ghost of Pearson)

ACT, the runner-up in the college prep testing races, will be acquired by private equity firm Nexus Capital Management

This "partnership" will transform the company into a for-profit entity. The press release heralding this change is larded with all sorts of argle bargle heralding--well, see for yourself:
“Our partnership with Nexus Capital Management uniquely positions ACT to meet a watershed moment in our nation, as the demand for talent is growing and becoming more diverse. The need to prepare learners for success after high school for both college and work has never been higher, nor has the need to ensure that every learner has access to equitable college and career planning resources, guidance, and insights,” ACT CEO Janet Godwin said. “Partnering in this way will complement and amplify ACT’s proven platform of education and work readiness solutions to support the needs of students, educators, and employers alike. We will accelerate our plans to meet the needs of our stakeholders as they navigate an evolving and complex system to develop the essential skills critical for success in a rapidly changing world of work.”

“This partnership will create more pathways to degrees, credentials, and skills acquisition for people at any stage of their lives,” said Daniel A. Domenech, chairman of ACT’s board of directors and former executive director of AASA, the School Superintendents Association. “The time is right to move into the next phase of ACT’s long-term growth strategy alongside a partner with significant industry expertise, giving ACT the scale and capital necessary to deliver on its promise of education and workplace success.”

This is a fine example of the kind of writing that ChatGPT could take over-- lots of word things that don't say much of anything.

As for the "significant industry experience" that Nexus brings to the table--well, let's take a look at some of ACT's new portfolio-mates. The Los Angeles firm also owns chucks of FTD, Dollar Shave Club, Lamps Plus, Sugarbear, TOMS, MediaLab, a chemical company, and some others. 

Including Savvas Learning Company, formerly known as Pearson U.S. K12 Education. 

Yes, back in 2019, after a year of shopping for a buyer, Pearson sold off its U.S. curriculum and instructional materials business to Nexus Capital for $250 million. It was a hell of a deal for {Pearson, which got 20% of the take from the business going forward, and will get 20% of net sales price should Nexus ever sell the business. "We can't make this business work, but if you do, you have to give us 20% of your success," is a heck of a deal, and may explain why it took a year to find someone to take it.

Nexus changed the company's name and its CEO Bethlam Forsa declared a new tradition of innovation that would include “new digital technologies, diverse classrooms, broad social trends, and new research-based teaching and learning practices that are transforming education as we know it.” Savvas now provides "next-generation learning solutions for students" along with "adaptive technology that delivers personalized instruction," "high-quality instructional materials," and, of course, "The Science of Reading." If nothing else, Savvas is in touch with current buzzwords.

So that's the other edu-business in the Nexus family-- the ghost of Pearson's U.S. aspiration. Will Nexus force some kind of partnership for vertical integration? Who knows. Personally, I'd rather see a partnership like getting a nice spray of flowers and some comfortable shoes when you sign up to take the test. But I expect they'll first have to solve the problem of how ACT can keep doing what it's doing and somehow end up with extra "profit" money. 

ACT says the costs of taking the test won't go up. Sure. ACT will be "unified" with its own subsidiary Encoura, so maybe initial profits will be generated by unifying some people right out of a job. 

Meanwhile, I can't wait to see the first SAT ads declaring "We're still a non-profit company. We're not trying to make money. Just trying to fund our leaders exorbitant salaries." 


Thursday, April 25, 2024

PA: Let's Digitize The Big Standardized Test

Pennsylvania has lagged behind many other states when it comes to moving the Big Standardized Tests on line. I suspect this is related to a small disaster in our state's testing history.

If you are a teacher of a certain age, you probably recall years ago when the state decided to try the practice test in an online form. I'm not in a position to say exactly what happened, but it certainly seemed like the kind of thing that would happen if a hundred thousand students tried to log on to a system set up to handle about ten. Schools across the state wasted the better part of a day trying to get their students to connect with and complete the online version of the test. 

But Governor Josh Shapiro has announced that we are going to try again

Shapiro announced the plan at a middle school in Allegheny County, reported by Kim Lyons at Pennsylvania Capital-Star.

The plan is supposed to take two years, which seems ambitious. Shapiro suggests that the on line version will take 30 minutes less time to take, which I'm guessing doesn't include the time trying to get all the students logged in to their school network and then logged in to the test. 

Pennsylvania has the PSSA test for elementary and the Keystone exams for the high schools. The Keystones are the result of an ambitious plan to create end-of-course exams for everything, a plan that never quite came to fruition, thank God. The tests cost something in the neighborhood of $50 million, but that's not counting hours lost or money spent on test prep workbooks and materials that nobody would ever buy if the BS Test wasn't looming over them.

PA Secretary of Education Khalid Mumin offered this bit of bureaucratic bloviation:
While Pennsylvania is among a group of states that take a relatively minimalist approach to statewide standardized testing and administers only the minimum number of assessments required by federal law, we have listened to feedback from the field and the public and have responded with a plan that will benefit schools, educators, and Pennsylvania’s 1.7 million learners.

I'm pretty sure feedback from the field and the public would get us to Shapiro's conclusion, which is that he'd just as soon scrap the tests entirely. This is absolutely the correct choice, but Shapiro notes that it would lose the state $600 million in federal bribery funding. 

So instead Pennsylvania will do the opposite-- Mumin announced that the state would be introducing a new benchmark test to take in addition to BS Tests themselves. Yay.

The online version should cut scoring and turnaround time, though the process of sending scores back to schools still involves the step in which politicians and bureaucrats look at the results and decide what the cut scores will be this year. Since PSSA/Keystone season is right now, PA teachers can still expect to receive "data" about their current students long after they can do anything with it. 

About a third of PA schools already do the on line thing. It's not clear how Shapiro will help bring the rest up to speed, particularly in the case of schools that have connectivity or hardware issues; if everyone's going to take the test online, everyone needs a computer with a working internet connection to do it, not just a single floating class set of laptops with a 20% failure rate on any given day.

Shapiro also says that the plan is to format the questions in "ways students are already familiar with" which assumes a lot about student tech familiarity. Actually, what it means is that schools will be replacing their hard copy test prep notebooks with licenses for on line test prep software that makes sure that students become familiar with the formats.

Yes, the only good answer is still "Get rid of the whole thing." Maybe someday we'll elect people at the federal level who stop demanding it. 

Post #5000

I try not to get all meta around here, but this is post #5000 here at the mother ship of the Curmudgucation Institute, so I'm going to take moment to savor the sheer bulk that we've added to the interwebs.

First post went up on August 16 or 2013. I recommend that you do not go back and look at the early posts from what is best described as the "What exactly the hell do I do with this thing" period of my blogging. It took my a while to hit my stride. 

While this has been the main outlet for my education writing over the years, I've appeared other places as well, including a year at EdWeek, writing for The Progressive,, the Bucks County Beacon, some HuffPost years. I've also been writing a weekly column for the local newspaper about pretty much anything for 26 years. I have occasionally started other related projects, but those have been interrupted by life.

My big debt is to the people who put me out in front of an audience. I have some writerly instincts, but absolutely lack the self-promotion gene. Diane Ravich, Anthony Cody, Nancv Flanagan, Valerie Strauss, Jeff Bryant, a couple of guys who wouldn't necessarily want to be associated directly with me, and a host of other people who shared my stuff and passed it along have amplified the work. And that's before we even get to all the folks who have provided various forms of support all along the way, all the way back to the folks who gently suggested I rethink my original idea that the blog would look cool if it were white text on a black background. 

The single most common question I get is about how I do so much writing. The answer comes in a few parts.

1) There are plenty of people who write as much as I do. Diane Ravich passed the 5000 post mark roughly an hour and a half after she started blogging. Other folks spend lots of time polishing and crafting and that amounts to a huge quantity of writing, even if the end result just one published piece.

2) Low standards. When I started the newspaper column, I learned really quickly that I could not create a shining masterpiece every seven days, and I could either meet deadlines or settle for workable pieces that got the job done even if they weren't necessarily destined for immortality. 

3) Read a lot. An awful lot of what I have written is a means of processing or reacting to what someone else has put out in the world. It is always extra rewarding when someone continues that conversation. 

4) I gotta. As with many lines of work (including teaching), there is an itch that only doing the work scratches. I read about stuff, then think about stuff, and the next natural step for me is to write about stuff.

Google's counter, which is hugely suspect, says that there have been 12.5 million or so reads on this blog, plus however many read the substack version, plus whatever reads come to the other outlets. So some hunk of what I've written has touched a nerve or been useful to folks, and that's as much as I could have hoped for. 

I am fortunate and blessed to have done this as long as I have, and I write this sort of post not too often because this work is not about me, but about the work of public education. It's some of the most human and valuable work we do, helping young humans to become their best selves and to understand what it means to be fully human in the world. It is not easy work, and it exists at the intersection of a thousand thousand concerns and interests and tensions between so many different poles. It is one of our greatest experiments as a country, and it will never be complete, never arrive at a moment when we can collectively say, "Okay, that's it. Just lock everything down right here and don't touch a thing." Which means we will always need to keep talking about it, keep arguing for our vision of it, keep pulling and adjusting and balancing and correcting. And as long as that conversation is going on, I'll be adding my two cents. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

OK: Walters Continues (Unsuccessful) Harassment Of Teacher

Oklahoma's Education Dude-Bro-In-Chief can't seem to smack down former Oklahoma teacher Summer Boismier, but it's not for lack of trying.

If you've forgotten about Summer Boismier, let me refresh your memory before bringing the story up to date.

Back in September of 2022, after Oklahoma had unveiled its own version of a Florida-style reading restriction law, Norma High School English teacher Boismier drew flak for covering some books in her classroom with the message "Books the state doesn't want you to read." Apparently even worse, she posted the QR code for the Brooklyn Public Libraries new eCard for teens program, which allows teens from all over the country to check out books, no matter how repressive or restrictive state or local rules they may live under.

She was suspended by the district, which said that this was about her "personal political statements" and a "political display" in the classroom. Boismier told The Gothamist
I saw this as an opportunity for my kids who were seeing their stories hidden to skirt that directive. Nowhere in my directives did it say we can't put a QR code on a wall.

The suspension was brief, but Boismier decided this was not the kind of atmosphere in which she wanted to work, so she resigned, citing a culture of fear, confusion and uncertainty in schools, fomented by Oklahoma Republicans.   

That wasn't enough to satisfy Walters, at the time campaigning for office. The whole business had been a high-profile brouhaha, so Candidate Walters popped up to put his two cents in via a letter that he posted on Twitter.

Saying that "providing access to banned and pornographic material is unacceptable" and "There is no place for a teacher with a liberal political agenda in the classroom," Walters called for Boismier's license to be revoked. And he called her out by name.

That, of course, led in true MAGA fashion to a flood of vulgarity and death threats directed at Boismier as reported by KFOR:
“These teachers need to be taken out and shot,” “teachers like this should not only be fired but also should be swinging from a tree,” “If Summer tried this in Afghanistan, they’d cut out her tongue for starters,” are just a minuscule fraction of the threats pouring into Summer Boismier’s inbox.

Boismier was unwilling to put up with all of this. When Walters continued to try to strip her teaching license (even though in December of 2022 she took a job at the Brooklyn Library), Boismier used a quirk of Oklahoma law to demand a trial-like hearing to dispute the department of education decision. At that hearing in June of 2023, Assistant Attorney General Liz Stephens recommended against taking Boismier's license, saying the state failed to prove that Boismier had broken the law. 

Boismier wasn't done. In August of 2023, she filed a defamation lawsuit against Walters. Walters filed a motion to dismiss in January of this year, and U.S. District Court Judge Bernard Jones (Oklahoma's first Black magistrate and elevated to the district court by Donald Trump) denied the motion to dismiss. Walters had alleged that Boismier was a sort of public figure, and that malice on his part couldn't be shown. The judge disagreed, saying her case looks solid enough to proceed. So that lawsuit will continue winding through the court.

Meanwhile, the state board and Walters have continued to move forward to take Boismier's license. As reported by Murray Evans at The Oklahoman, they decided hold yet another hearing to "finalize the revocation" in March. Only there's a problem with that plan. In March, all of the department's attorneys quit, so they have no lawyers with which to hold a legal-type proceeding. They've postponed action until May. Once again, Walters has shot himself in the foot by just being lousy at his job. 

Of course, at any moment Walters could just say, "Look, trying to punish a former Oklahoma teacher who now lives in New York and works in a library for breaking laws two years ago that the assistant attorney general says she didn't actually break--well, that's a ridiculous and petty waste of department resources, so we're going to drop the whole thing." But somehow I don't think that's what's going to happen. 


Tuesday, April 23, 2024

FL: Ron DeSantis vs. Words (Also, Satan)

Earlier this year, Florida became yet another state to pass a law allowing volunteer school chaplains. It's a bad idea for a variety of reasons (outlined when actual professional chaplains spoke out against a similar bill in Texas last year).

Both the House bill and the identical Senate bill are thin on requirements. A district that wants to use volunteer school chaplains must describe what they'll do, inform parents of the availability, and get written parental consent before a student can participate in any program with the chaplain attached. The volunteer school chaplain must pass a standard district employee background screening.

There are no requirements at all for the chaplain to have actual chaplain training, even though actual professional chaplains get a great deal of religious, professional, and ethical training (but not, they note, any sort of school counseling training). And as far as the religious part goes, well, the district has to publish a list of volunteer school chaplains, "including any religious affiliation" on the district website. And when it comes to selecting a chaplain they approve for their child--
Parents must be permitted to select a volunteer school chaplain from the list provided by the school district, which must include the chaplain’s religious affiliation, if any.

Emphasis mine. 

The bills were pretty clear. And you would think somebody who graduated cum laude from Harvard Freaking Law School could understand the plain language therein. 

But DeSantis, like too many folks, has this habit of insisting that the words means what he says they mean. 

Write a law that clearly says a book is Naughty and Bannable if it mentions and sex or upsetting stuff, but then insist that there are certain books that don't fall under the law (like Certain Classics and the Bible). Write a really dumb law that says gender identity and sexual orientation can't be taught or discussed in school, ignoring that such a law means that gender-segregated bathrooms and anything mentioning traditional gender roles--all of that is illegal. Debates keep circling back around to the assertion, "Well, that may be what the law says, but that's not what it means."

While it's conservatives that often fall into this error, plenty of conservatives are smarter. In Oklahoma, religious conservatives somehow believe that when they open the door to taxpayer funded religious charter schools, only proper Christian religion will walk through that open door, it's Oklahoma conservatives who understand that once the door is opened, any religion will walk through it. 

And who always shows up to walk through that door, committed to making a point? The Satanic Temple, of course, regularly ruffling religious feathers. And they have already announced that if this bill became law, they would be sending Satanic chaplains into Florida schools.

Is there anything in that bill that says there can't be a Satanic volunteer school chaplain? Nope, not a thing. Unless you're Governor DeSantis. As reported by Douglas Soule for USA Today:
"Some have said that if you do a school chaplain program, that somehow you're going to have Satanists running around in all our schools," he said at a press conference at a high school in Kissimmee..."We're not playing those games in Florida," DeSantis continued. "That is not a religion. That is not qualifying to be able to participate in this."

The IRS has long since granted the Satanic Temple (which, too be clear, does not recognize Satan as real, let alone worship him) status as a tax-exempt church. 

The bill's sponsor is smart enough to see the problem here (and it's not Satan). Senator Erin Grall told Soule:

I think that as soon as we get in the middle of defining what is religion and what is not, and whether or not someone can be available and be on a list, we start to run (into) constitutional problems.

Exactly. Christian conservatives will rue the day they passed these sorts of laws because either A) all sorts of non-Christian faiths are going to come through that open door and B) the only way to mitigate it will be to enact some sort of govern Department of Religion to folks like DeSantis certify what qualifies as a "real" religion. And the official government Department of Religion is the last thing anybody should want. 

It's a bad bill. Amateur volunteer untrained chaplains are not, as some folks insist, a solution to the need for more mental health supports and more school counselors. That argument is an insult to actual counseling and mental health professionals, and a dismissal of the concerns it claims to address by suggesting that literally any person off the street can come in and provide meaningful mental health help. 

And for those who like the idea because they see it as a way to get Christianity into schools? What they get, and what they asked for, and what they wrote a law to allow, is the Satanic Temple, no matter how grumpy it makes DeSantis. Maybe one of his Harvard Law School professors can explain it to him.

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

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 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.