Thursday, July 20, 2017

Back the Hell Up

And there it was, the question cutting through the various nuanced and complicated discussions of the various threads of ed policy, privatization, and the Newest Big Thing for making a buck in education changing the face of education.

What do you want?

If you don't like X or Y or Z, what is it you want?















Here it is. My short, simple answer for what I want to see in a perfect world.

I want bureaucrats and politicians and business people and profiteers and other interested amateurs to just back the hell up and let the professionals work.

When the call goes out for an expert in education, I want the call to go a real live experienced classroom teacher. This morning Jose Luis Vilson has a great piece about the need for teachers to view-- and treat-- ourselves as experts. I want that.

There's more I'd like. I'd like the US to really commit to great education for every student, instead of quietly being okay if Those Kids don't get it because that would be expensive. We're unwilling to admit that we're okay with lousy schools for Some People's Children as long as it's not too expensive, and so instead of making a spare-no-expense commitment to education for every child, we get politicians and bureaucrats and profiteers trying to figure out a way to support public education on the cheap and at a profit, while wrapping it in a bunch of rhetorical bullshit so that it can pretend to be more than it is (personalized-ish learning, common core, even charters, et al). We are having way too many conversations in education where one's side position is, "I don't really have any expertise in this field, but I believe X would be a great way to look like we're doing better without too much money or effort or allowing teachers too much autonomy, plus somebody could make money selling this." This is all bullshit. I'd like a real conversation about how to really get great education, really, to every single child. Because the conversations we're having are too often (not always, thank God) fundamentally dishonest, and dishonesty is just tiring.

Just give us the tools we need. Hell, treat us like the military and give us tools we only sort of think we might maybe need. Let us get the training we need (and let us decide what that is).

And then back the hell up and let us work.

Accountability? Hell, yeah. Come sit in my classroom. Come ask me what I'm doing and why. Ask my students about the class. If you don't like what you see or hear, come talk to me about it. But don't try to micromanage me and give me a million items to tick off on a list and write my lessons and curriculum for me because you're sure that if you could just remote control me, I'd do a better job.

Back the hell up and let me do my job.

Let me study up and become an expert in my subject area, and let me practice up to become an expert in the actual work of teaching. Let me figure out how best to meet each student where she is and help her move further on the road to her own best self. And yes-- trust me to exercise my professional judgment.

Yes, I know I'm fantasizing here, that there are a plethora of obstacles to implementing my vision and stakeholders to read in and just general reality. But you asked what I want, and bottom line, this is what I want--

Back the hell up and let me work.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The "Real" Reformsters

The Center for Education Reform is a pro-privatization group that has, at least, the virtue of not pretending that it has any interest in building bridges or honoring any single part of public education. Where other reformsters may be thoughtful or interested in dialogue or evolving over time or staking out a rhetorical middle ground, CER is the Yosemite Sam of the reformster universe, leaping in with guns blazing and mouth flapping. Give them this much-- you don't have to wonder what they're really
thinking.



Take this classic piece from 2014-- "How To Spot a Real Education Reformer"-- in which some unnamed CER functionary combines a codification of privatizer creed with a straw man assault on the rest of us. It's an instructive piece because it does list the hard-core reformster talking points.

These days, everyone is “for” education reform. But when everyone claims to favor “reform,” how can you tell the real reformers (“the doers” who are focused on real results for students) from the rest (“the talkers” who are more concerned about maintaining the status quo)? 

Got that? Nobody actually opposes any reformster ideas-- those folks with reasoned arguments against this stuff just don't exist. But Nameless Functionary will now walk us through the tenets of reformsterdon, topic by topic.

Education in General

Real reformsters don't admit poverty as any sort of excuse. RR believe that the only accountability is accountability based on test scores. Parents should have control of who gets the money attached to their child. And innovation should happen because the US education sky is falling.

 Big fakes talk accountability without explaining it, "banter on" about how poverty actually affects students, and try to claim pre-school as a growth for old, faily public ed instead of letting privatizers stake out that market unchallenged.

You'll note that the tune for the accountability polka has changed a bit since 2014-- choice fans are less attached to the idea of test-based accountability now that it hasn't worked out so well for choicey programs. In fact, CER just cranked out a whole book on the theme of "Maybe we shouldn't get so picky about accountability and test scores." Weaponizing test results was only attractive when the weapons didn't bite reformsters in the butt.

Teachers Unions

Real reformsters know that unions suck and stand in the path of every good and true reformy idea. Contracts and job security somehow make people not want to be teachers. RR understand that the public school system is just a scam for the unions to suck up tax dollars for their political purposes

Faux reformers-- well, I'm just going to cut and paste this, because if I paraphrase the hatred here you'll think I'm just exaggerating for effect:
  • Issues gobs of praise for the teaching profession, for teachers in general, and begins to make excuses that the job is really much harder than most realize and never fully addresses what stands in their way.
  • Discusses, proposes, or advocates having an honest conversation with the union leadership, who (s)he sincerely believes wants what’s best for children.
These fake reformsters might even brag about having developed a policy by collaborating with teachers. Such people are traitors to the reformy agenda and must be purged. Teachers suck and have no interest in educating children, nor do they care about children or communities or anything.

School Choice

Real reformsters support parent choice, and the focus on creating an "environment" where lots of education flavored businesses can thrive. Because really, it's all about using education tax dollars to provide private businesses with entrepreneurial opportunities.

Fake reformsters bring up "misleading claims" that vouchers don't actually work. Oh, Jeanne Allen of 2014-- if only you could have known then how great 2017 would be for people who want to deny research and science and facts.

FR also make comments about how choiice schools cream and don't have to take all students as public schools do. Nameless Functionary doesn't even try to offer a theory of how those folks are wrong, though NF does allude to the old market-competition-improvemenyt baloney.

Charter Schools

Real reformsters want to see charters authorized by independent groups (aka unelected folks who don't have to answer to the taxpayers whose money they spend on charters). RR also-- and this is kind of astonishing-- believe there is no magic formula for judging what a “good” charter school looks like during the application phase. So those independent authorizers should exercise no oversight at all. Anyone who wants to start a charter should get the tax dollars to do it.

FR make excuses about why their market might not be good for charters. They speak against for-profit charters which, Functionary tells us, do not actually exist! Oh, and watch out for those who "support" charters by advocating to lift caps. There should be no caps. Charters should get all of everything they want, always.

Performance Pay

Real reformsters understand that we "honor" teachers by making them compete for piddling pay, because nobody really wants consistent, reliable pay.

The fakers only want some of teacher pay to be based on performance, or to let local district define excellence in various different ways. This is bad, apparently-- just pay teachers based on students scores.

Federal Education Policy

Oh, 2014. What fun times those were. Real reformsters wanted to tweak NCLB, but believed that the feds should only gather data and conduct nonpartisan research to support policymaking. Fake reformsters thought RTTT actually accomplished something, and thought the waivers were swell.

Of course, now that we have Trump-DeVos in DC, let's just forget about that part where the USED only does research and collects data. Let's go ahead and grab the reins and just slam vouchers into place from coast to coast, with federal money. Turns out that powerful activist federal departments are just fine when they favor your policies.

Digital Learning

Which always makes me think of counting on my fingers, but never mind that. Real reformsters love online learning because-- and again, I'll cut and paste-- reformsters recognize

the role businesses, which have transformed the nation’s infrastructure, can play in the creation and delivery of online learning.

The fakers think online learning should be developed and managed by school districts (who are they to hog all that money). Also, beware of people who think you've innovated if you just stick a computer in each kids' hands. Okay, they're right on that one.

Curriculum and Standards

Another ghost from 2014. Real reformsters know that standards aren't enough by themselves, and that the Common Core must be backed up with other stuff. Beware people who hate the Core or who think it's anti-American. And especially beware people who say "doozies" like this one that could be "uttered by phony" reformsters.

“We believe learning should be child-centered.”

Where have we heard that? Oh yeah-- it's a central pillar of DeVosian education philosophy. She says it a lot, even more often than she has nodded to her many supporters who believe that Common Core is un-American and must be scrapped. So I'm betting that CER has shifted its policy position on this particular point.

Jeanne Allen (CER's head honcho, face and voice) has lobbied hard for DeVos, and why not. DeVos shares her hatred of union, her disrespect for teachers, and her desire to get those sweet, sweet tax public tax dollars into private corporate pockets. If she has to sacrifice one or two of her previously-held sort-of beliefs to get a seat at that banquet table, well, never let it be said that CER is above realpolitik.

In the meantime, bookmark this so that the next time you're wishing that a reformster would just come right out and say what she's after, you can read a piece from one who did, untroubled by nuance, reflection, or scruples. This is not the whole reformster movement, and CER is not the arbiter of what "real" reformers believe, but it is the reformster movement's most bald, bare, avaricious, backwood-looking corner, and while other reformers have moved on to more nuanced, reflective stances, it's important to remember-- and keep an eye on-- the folks who haven't.



Did SAT Unmask Grade Inflation?

The story was carried by USA Today and rapidly picked up by much of the Kids These Days press-- the good people at the College Board have discovered rampant grade inflation as illuminated by the SAT, as witnessed by variations on this lede:

Recent findings show that the proportion of high school seniors graduating with an A average — that includes an A-minus or A-plus — has grown sharply over the past generation, even as average SAT scores have fallen.


Like many education stories, this puts some thins together that have nothing to do with each other. Let's pull apart the pieces, shall we?







SAT Score Dip

The span discussed is 1998 to 2016. During that span, the average SAT score (on the 1600 scale and without the worthless writing portion) dropped from 1,026 down to 1,002. So, just a few questions we need to answer to know how exciting this is.

First, is a 24 point dip significant? That's hard to track down. This source from the College Board suggest it would mean about 3 percentile points. But folks at Fairtest (who don't work for the College Board) peg the margin of error at 60-- so the "drop" would fall well within the margin of error.

Second, are the populations who took the test comparable? That's a no. Since 1998 the folks pushed to take the test have grown, especially in states like Illinois where every student must now take the test. So over the span we've added way more students who would not have taken the test in 1998, which would tend to lower the average.

Third, did both populations take the same test? Again, no. The College Board under new boss, Common Core creator David Coleman, has worked hard to revamp its signature product over the past decade, so we are comparing scores on two entirely different tests.

Conclusion? This reported "fall" of SAT scores is a big fat nothing burger with a side of self-serving PR sauce.

Reminder about The College Board

Despite its high-sounding name, the College Board is a business, and one of the products it sells is the SAT test. Sales of that test depend on students buying the chance to take it and college buying into the notion they need it to help make a decision.

With that in mind, note this quote from Michael Hurwitz of the College Board, the lead researcher on this little project:

He said one of the goals of the research is to "make sure that college admissions professionals are equipped to make the best decisions possible.”

Hurwitz also calls the grade inflation piece of the findings "really stunning." We'll get there in a moment, but here's what you need to remember. The number one rival of the SAT is not the ACT-- it's student GPAs. Studies show that high school GPAs are a far better predictor of college success than SAT scores, so who even needs SAT scores at all?

It is absolutely in the College Board's financial interest to try to erode trust in high school GPAs, just a surely as it makes sense for Ford to suggest that Chevy's aren't reliable. Hurwitz is not an impartial observer without a stake in the outcome of this research. This is the tobacco institute doing research on healthy lifetsyles (You know, jogging can be very harmful for you).

Grade Inflation

Recent findings show that the proportion of high school seniors graduating with an A average — that includes an A-minus or A-plus — has grown sharply over the past generation, even as average SAT scores have fallen.

In 1998, it was 38.9%. By last year, it had grown to 47%.

That's USA Today again, and boy would I like to see the specific research behind both of those numbers, because I sure don't personally know any school where half the graduating class has an A average. So I have some huge questions about where those numbers come from.

Am I going to swear up and down that grade inflation doesn't happen? No, I'm not. But it's hard to believe there could be that much (I am sure someone will correct me in the comments). But do parents push for better grades? Do students put themselves in lower-than-challenging levels (particularly in senior year)? Do some special ed supervisors declare that students with special needs must get a passing grade? Yes (but not usually an A!)

It also occurs to me that in the age of differentiation, we make much more effort to match the course requirements to the student's ability, which might lead to better grades all around. 

But I'm not going to defend grade inflation-- it's not a good thing where it happens. I'm just highly doubtful that it happens this much. And when it's being reported by someone who has a stake in discrediting grades (see above), I'm extra doubtful. I guess I'll have to wait for the book.

And as the story rips around the conservative media world, that's just how it's playing. Participation trophies for all the little snowflakes-- that's why we need leadership that will kick ass and take names and give really low grades (just not to my kid). It's the damn teachers union.

So I wish USA Today had reported this story a little more thoughtfully. Reporter Greg Toppo does report that Hurwitz is with the College Board, but doesn't really examine what that means in this research. That's a disappointment. Just remember to fill in those blanks for all the people who are about to confront you with this story and say, "So, what are all you lazy cheaters up to, anyway?"

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

FL: Third Grade Readers Lose

And another sad chapter in the Floridian assault on education comes to a sad close.


We've been following this story for a while. Florida has a third grade reading test requirement-- Florida's third graders must show they can score high enough on the state Big Standardized Test, no matter what else they've done. Florida's "Just Read, Florida" (because the way to get students to read is to just insist they do it) is like many versions of this bad idea, and last May, a handful of families put it to the test (with the stubborn assistance of their county school systems-- not all Florida counties chose to be part of this exercise in idiocy).

Some children opted out of the Big Standardized Test, so their school district declared that despite the fact that some of those children had exemplary report cards, they would be denied advancement to fourth grade. By the end of the summer, the whole sorry mess as in court. That case was gobsmacking in its wrongheadedness, including the moment in which the state argued that teacher-issued grades were meaningless.

But by the end of the summer, sense and decency had prevailed and the state's rule was not only set aside, but subject to some scolding. The parent goals were commendable:

The goal is to have the statute, which allows third grade retention, found unconstitutional and unenforceable. The implications of a positive outcome from this case are significant and far-reaching.

It didn't matter. In September some of the school districts chose to ignore the court ruling, and took it all to the court of appeals.

The court of appeals ruled in favor of stupid, in fact opening the door to some novel legal; actions by declaring

The purpose of the state test is to “assess whether the student has a reading deficiency and needs additional reading instruction before [and after] being promoted to fourth grade".

The test can only achieve that laudable purpose if the student meaningfully takes part in the test by attempting to answer all of its questions to the best of the student’s ability. Anything less is a disservice to the student — and the public.

So, I guess, eight year olds in Florida can be arrested for not trying hard enough on the BS Test. Also, good to know that the court of appeals has such expertise in reading education that they know the difference between a laudable policy and a stupid one.

The group of parents fighting this case decided to take their last shot by appealing to the state supreme court. That attempt is now done, and the results are not good. The state supreme court has chosen not to hear the case. The ruling seems to be based on the notion that the suit was filed in the wrong court. So that sucks.

What sucks more is that the final outcome maintains Florida's power to flunk any third grader who refuses to take the test, regardless of any other academic indicators. In fact, the whole mess of a ruling would seem to suggest that Florida intends to ignore the part of ESSA that explicitly recognizes parental rights to opt out.

The parents stuck their necks out for this-- the process of appealing has cost about $80K in legal fees and their gofundme is short of halfway there. If you'd like to thank them for making the effort, you can still go chip in to cover some of these costs. There's not a lot to take comfort from here-- the state of Florida grows bad education policy like it grows oranges, and this one has survived the legal challenge. The best thing we can say about the whole business is that the state had to explicitly declare that it doesn't believe in the grades on report cards and that it values test-taking compliance above all else AND that it fully intends to ignore the opt-out portion of ESSA. So the face of education policy continues to be ugly, but at least they were required to show it without any mask or make-up.




Monday, July 17, 2017

What Is Test Prep?

Yesterday I fell into a discussion of test prep on Twitter where a participant tossed forward the notion that test prep actually decreases test results. Others asserted that test prep doesn't really help. I'm pretty sure that both of those assertions are dead wrong, but I also suspect part of the problem is that "test prep" is an Extremely Fuzzy Term that means a variety of things.


The research itself is not exactly stunning. A study that turns up from time to time is a study from Chicago from 2008 that looks at test prep and ACT results (in Illinois, everyone takes the ACT, so congrats to whatever salesperson/lobbyist from ACT's parent company that landed that contract-- ka-ching! We'll skip over all the reasons that's a bad idea for now). A quick look at the summary shows that this study didn't exactly prove that test prep is a bust:

CPS students are highly motivated to do well on the ACT, and they are spending extraordinary amounts of time preparing for it. However, the predominant ways in which students are preparing for the ACT are unlikely to help them do well on the test or to be ready for college-level work. Students are training for the ACT in a last-minute sprint focused on test practice, when the ACT requires years of hard work developing college-level skills.

That's a nice piece of sleight of hand there. Test prep wasn't failing-- just one particular type was. There are, of course, many other test prep alternatives, but the study ignores those, shrugs, and says, "I guess our only alternative is to believe the ACT PR about how the test measures 'years of hard work' on college level skills."

Meanwhile, the College Board has been touting how their special brand of test prep totally works on the SAT. I'm going to summarize the test prep research by saying that there isn't much, what exists is kind of sketchy, and clear patterns fail to emerge. So let me get back to my main question.

First of all-- which test? For our purposes, when we talk about test prep, we're talking about the Big Standardized Test that the Common Core reform wave inflicted on every state. On the subject of test prep, those are the tests that matter most because that brand of test-centered high-stakes data-generation is the thing that has twisted our schools into test prep factories.

Lots of folks have tried to define test prep very narrowly as simply drilling or rote-working the specific information that is going to be on the test. That definition serves members of the testing cult because by that definition, not much test prep goes on. But I suspect virtually no actual classroom teachers would define test prep that way.

How would I define it?

Test prep is anything that is given time in my classroom for the sole purpose of having a positive impact on test scores.

Right up front, I'll note there is some grey area. There are some test prep things that I can turn into useful learning experiences, and there are some actual education things that may have a positive impact on test scores.

But if I'm only doing it because it will help with test scores, I say it's test prep, and I say to hell with it.

This covers a broad range of activities. It is necessary, particularly in the younger grades, to teach them how to deal with a multiple choice test, doubly necessary if the test is going to be taken on computer.

But once we've introduced that, we never let it go. Fifteen years ago, the amount of time I would have spent in my English class on activities in which students read a short passage and then answered a few multiple choice questions-- that time would have been pretty close to zero. Short excerpts and context-free passages are a crappy way to build reading skills or interest in reading, and multiple choice questions are just about the worst way to assess anything, ever. But now, like English departments across the country,  we have bought stacks of workbooks chock full of short passages coupled with sets of multiple choice questions. We don't buy them because we think they represent a great pedagogical approach; we buy them because they are good practice for the sort of thing the students will deal with on the BS Test. They are test prep, pure and simple, and if I were deciding strictly on educational merit, I wouldn't include them in my class at all. Not only are they a lousy way to teach reading, but they reinforce the mistaken notion that for every piece of reading, there's only one correct way to read it and that the whole purpose of reading is to be able to answer questions that somebody else asks you with the answers that somebody else wants.

Writing is even easier to do test prep for, and my department is the proof. We teach students some quick and simple writing strategies:
   1) Rewrite the prompt as your first sentence.
   2) Write neatly.
   3) Fill up as much paper as you can. Do not worry about redundancy or wandering.
   4) Use big words. It doesn't matter if you use them correctly (I always teach my students "plethora")
   5) Indent paragraphs clearly. If that's a challenge, skip a line between paragraphs.

With those simple techniques, we were able to ride consistent mid-ninety-percent of our students writing proficiently.

In addition, because the state wants the BS Test to drive curriculum, they make sure to let us know about the anchor standards (the standards that will actually be on the test) so we can be sure to include them, which to be effective, has to be done by using the state's understanding of the standards. Our professional judgment is not only irrelevant, but potentially gets in the way. This can cover everything from broader standards to specific terms likely to appear.

And, of course, we need to familiarize the students with the state's style of questioning. For instance, PA likes to test context clue use by giving students a familiarish word used an uncommon meaning for the word to make sure that the students decipher the word using only the sentence context and not actually knowledge already in their brains.

None of this is rote memorization of details for the test. All of it is test prep, and all of it is effective up to a point. Particularly students who are neither good nor enthusiastic test-takers, this can make the difference between terrible and mediocre results. And every year it leaves an ugly bad taste in my mouth, and every year all of us struggle with maintaining a balance between that educational malpractice and doing the teaching jobs that we signed up for when we started our careers.

Test prep does, in a sense, carry beyond the classroom. The article that kicked off yesterday's conversation was a piece by Matt Barnum about the shuffling of weaker teachers to younger grades. That is absolutely a thing-- I suspect every single teacher in the country can tell a story about administration moving teachers to where they won't "hurt us on the test results." Teachers who can do good test prep are moved to the testing windows; those who can't are moved out of the BS Test Blast Zone. There are far better ways to assign staff, but many administrations, eyes on their test scores, are afraid not to make test scores Job One.

In fact, there are districts where the structure of the schools is changed in response to testing. Eighth graders do notoriously badly on BS Tests, so it's smart to put sixth graders in your middle school with the eighth graders to mitigate the testing hit.

And there is the test prep that goes beyond instruction, because teachers understand the biggest obstacle to student performance on the BS Test-- the students have to care enough to bother to try. In a state like PA, where my students take a test that will effect my rating and my school's rating, but which has absolutely no stakes for them, that's an issue. The BS Tests are long and boring and, in some cases, hard. Youtube is filled with peppy videos and songs and cheers from the pep rallies and other endless attempts to make students actually care enough to try. This kind of test prep is not so much toxic to actual instruction as it attacks the foundation of trust in the school itself. Elementary teachers may feel it's helping, but by high school the students have figured out that it was all, as one student told me, "a big line of bullshit. You just want us to make you look good."

The most authentic assessment is the assessment that asks students to do what they've practiced doing. The reverse is also true-- the most effective preparation for an assessment task is to repeatedly do versions of that exact task. And so all across the country, students slog through various versions of practice tests. If you want students to get good at writing essays, you have them write essays. If you want them to get good at reading short stories, you read short stories. And if you want them to get good at taking bad multiple choice standardized tests, you take a steady diet of bad multiple choice standardized tests.

That's test prep, and it's effective. It won't make every student score above average for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that the tests are meant to create a bell curve and not everybody can be above average.

But if you think the solution to getting ready for the BS Tests is to just teach students really, really well and the scores will just appear, like magic, then I would like to sell you a bridge in Florida that crosss the candy cane swamp to end in a land of unicorns that poop rainbows.

Building a Better Charter Authorizer

There has been a bit of a kerfluffle going on in reformsterland over charter accountability. Kicked off by the Center for Education Reform's book about how there should be less accountability, followed by Chester Finn  (Fordham Emeritus) calling their ideas names. That conversation eventually led to this piece by Rick Hess, considering the different levels of regulation by charter authorizers, which itself leads to this question:

I think the more relevant question for charter authorizing is how authorizers can deliver meaningful oversight without descending into kludgeocracy.

Okay-- so what would a better charter authorizer look like. Acknowledging that I am, in fact, a modern charter skeptic at best, let me go ahead and see if I can describe what we'd need in order to build a better charter authorizer.

The Beer Goggles Problem

Pat's had too much to drink and it's last call, so Pat takes home a person who, in  the cold morning light, turns out to be ugly and unpleasant. The problem is not the alcohol or the late hour. The problem is not even that the pickup was ugly and unpleasant. The real problem is that Pat felt it necessary to take someone whom, no matter what.

The charter industry has a beer goggles problem. Particularly in states like Florida and Ohio, folks are so committed to getting lots and lots of charters up and running, they aren't very careful about what gets authorized. "We're going to get something authorized," they declare, with the determination of someone who's damned if they'll go home alone tonight.

So step one in charter authorization? Place the burden of proof on the charter proposer. Assume that the charter is unnecessary until proven otherwise. This may not seem helpful to charter fans, but it actually helps focus the authorization process on the real reasons the charter should exist instead of a bunch of bogus paper games to justify a choice you've already made.

Geographic proximity

The authorizer should be in the same community as the charter being authorized. I would have thought this obvious, but consider Bay Mills Community College, located in the uppermost wilderness of Michigan, and yet authorizing charters all the way down in Detroit, hundreds of miles away. There's no conceivable way that an authorizer far, far away can possibly exercise meaningful oversight of the charters they authorize.

Also, authorizers far, far away lack the stakes of taxpayers in the community who will bear the burden of paying for the charter. That's a basic accountability fail.

Democratically responsive

Charter authorizers are responsible for deciding which organizations will get a cut of public tax dollars, therefor they need to be set up to be responsive to the taxpayers. I'm partial to the idea of an elected board, but I'm open to other forms. I know that many charter fans don't care for this, but I'd argue that having actual elected individuals to exercise judgment would end the need for hundreds of pages of paperwork and regulations.

No financial stakes

Authorizers must have absolutely no stake in the charters under consideration. Anything else is an obvious and (even in Trumpian times) an unacceptable invitation to self-serving conflict of interest, fraud and misuse of public funds. Charter entrepreneurs may not be charter authorizers. Charter authorizers may collect no fees or regular payments from the charters they approve.

Require educational and financial competence

New York authorized a charter for a 22-year-old education amateur with no background in any of the skills required to run a school. Florida gave a charter to a former male model with no educational o financial qualifications.  Whatever screening process authorizers use, they have got to take off their charter beer goggles and consider whether there's the slightest chance that the charter entrepreneur has a clue about what they're doing.

The only industry that comes close to such slackness restaurantery, where people routinely decide they can run a restaurant because they ate at one once. Massage therapists have to b certified. People who want to be doctors cannot just call the state and say, "Hey, could you clear me to go ahead and perform surgery? I'm really really interested in and concerned about surgery, so maybe I should be cleared to open a hospital."

Any proposal to run a charter school must clear a requirement to posses the business and educational expertise required.

Eyeballs beat paperwork

Here's a point on which reformsters and I agree-- the belief that paperwork magically represents and controls reality is more naïve than believing in Santa. The ability to create a really good stack of paperwork doesn't show anything except the ability to fill out paperwork. Authorizers must visit and inspect the charters they authorize on a regular basis. Personally.

Accountability via paperwork is the weakest kind of accountability of all, subject to inaccuracy, mistakes, confusion, and just plain lies. And it almost always measures the wrong thing.

Academic sufficiency

I'm not expecting authorizers to hold charters to some super-duper level of academic awesomeness. But authorizers should be making sure that students are taking core courses and not majoring in basket weaving.

Require representative school population

It's not that hard to figure out or track-- charter population must mirror the demographic breakdown of the community being served. No segregation academies. No charters that somehow avoid any students with special needs. If y9ou want to set up a special focus charter that's fine-- but if your Super Science Academy is 80% white males in a community with 50% black students, there's a problem. It's up the authorizer to enforce this requirement.

Transparency

Perhaps implied by the rest, but I want to be clear-- authorizers should be making sure that the charter's operation and finances are an open book, easily visible to the taxpayers who foot the bill.

Hands on the Plug

Authorizers must have the power to pull the plug, and to do it right now. Many states have stacked the deck so that it's harder to close a charter than to fire a big city teacher. If authorizers can't shut down a badly failing charter school, what's the point?

Cyber charters

Nobody should be authorizing any more of these. While cybers have some value for a narrow slice of the student population, they have largely failed and we should not be talking about opening more-- we should be closing down the ones we have.

Odds and Ends

There are other issues that are probably better addressed as matters of state regulation. For instance, every classroom should be staffed with an actual trained professional teacher. But that kind of "any warm body will do" foolishness needs to be stopped in state legislatures, not at the authorizer level.

Real Accountability Is the Solution

The overall solution to charter's mountain of paperwork is more direct and regular oversight by authorizers. Despite lots of talk about the charter deal being a trade of autonomy for accountability, in practice charter operators have worked hard to have as little accountability as they can get away with, which has led to settling for the illusion of accountability, and nothing creates the illusion of accountability like miles and miles of forms and paperwork and reports and official bureaucratic baloney.

Here's what I've told my students many times: What I would like to do is assign this reading and then have some great discussions about it in class, and that will not only fun and interesting, but it will give me a good idea of how well you read. But if I toss out questions and you just stare at me, it will be a whole bunch of pop quizzes and in-class essays and other assignments I have to come up with to tell what you did or didn't do. We can do this the easy way (which is also the better way), or we can do it the hard way.

This is the same issue. The best way for charters to cut out the mountains of faux accountability paperwork is to open themselves up to authentic accountability measures (no, carefully crafted PR initiatives don't count). And yes-- I recognize there are implications in what I'm saying for public schools as well. Charters can be liberated from paperwork mountain if they are willing to come live out in the open. If they really want to escape the grip of odious authorizers, they can do it by embracing actual accountability.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

ICYMI: Half a Summer Gone

So what have we found to read this week?

David Brooks and the Language of Privilege

Robert Pondiscio on how language reinforces privilege. Lots to think about here.

Massachusetts Parents United-- New Wine in Old Bottles

One thing about astro-turf, it never actually dies. And no fields grow astro-turf as lush and green as the lawns of Massachusetts. Here's the newest batch.

Betsy DeVos, Queen of Obfuscation, Talks Nonsense

Jennifer Berkshire is over at AlterNet, with a good clear look at Betsy DeVos's latest non-interview.

Field Guide To Jobs That Don't Exist Yet

That annoying stat about how 65% of the jobs our students will have do not exist yet-- it turns out to be pretty much made up. Here is a beautifully researched explanation of where that little slice of baloney came from.

Four Things Betsy DeVos Doesn't Want You To Know About EDucation Tax Credits

Dora Taylor with some important information about how those ETC really, truly work.

An Educational Scam from the 1980s Returns

We've connected the dots between personalized learning and its many antecedents, but Steven Singer reminds of it connection to that old classic, the correspondence course.

The Real Reason Your Child Is Being Psychologically Profiled at School

Emily Talmage points out one more type of data mining that may be going on at your school.

You Don't Know What You've Got

Jan Ressenger takes a look at the march of austerity and privatization.

School Reform's Hot Air Balloon

Journalist John Merrow takes a look at the unending PR push to keep DC schools looking like a success.

Digital Classrooms as Data Factories

Wrench in the Gears offers part of a series looking at the connection between social impact investing, future ready classrooms, and good old data mining.