Monday, January 23, 2017

Dem-ish Reformsters Play Both Sides

You know how it is. New school year starts, lunch time rolls around, and everyone has to decide who they want to sit with for the next year. 

Modern education reform has been fueled in part by folks pretending to be left-tilted Democrats while embracing right-tilted free market corporate-based policies. The sweet smoothie of neo-liberal conservatism has worked for years--it helped sell No Child Left Behind (Look! Bipartisan support For The Children!)  and it worked under the Obama neo-lib administration as well. Really, who cares about political labels and parties and tribes as long as corporate ed reform is still chugging along.

What, really, is the difference between a Democrat-flavored, left-tilted, self-identified progressive education reformster and the crew that just took over the big table in the DC cafeteria?

Remember what Democrats for Education Reform honcho Whitney Tilson had to say about putting the D in DFER:

The main obstacle to education reform was moving the Democratic party, and it had to be Democrats who did it, it had to be an inside job. So that was the thesis behind the organization. And the name – and the name was critical – we get a lot of flack for the name. You know, “Why are you Democrats for education reform? That’s very exclusionary. I mean, certainly there are Republicans in favor of education reform.” And we said, “We agree.” In fact, our natural allies, in many cases, are Republicans on this crusade, but the problem is not Republicans. We don’t need to convert the Republican party to our point of view…

Then Donald Trump won the election, and a new President means a new year in the cafeteria.

This has presented reformsters with a dilemma. They can have pretty much everything they want, but they have to throw political support to Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump to get it.

Some folks are cool with that. Jeanne Allen and the Center for Education Reform had about five seconds of misgivings last May, and they are now ready to plant a big wet kiss on any part of Trumpian flesh they can get their lips near.

But other reformsters are trying to sail between Scylla and Charybdis, maintaining their reformy credentials while keeping distance between themselves and the least-loved President ever elected along with his Secretary of Education, a woman who has no more time for Democrats than she has for public schools.

So here's Justin Cohen at Chalkbeat, with the super-descriptive headline "I'm an education reformer, and Betsy DeVos is going to kill our coalition. Here’s a game plan." Cohen is a Broadie and member of the board for Students for Education Reform (DFER's little sibling), and his distinction between the wings of reformsterism matches what several others have posited:

The glue of the reform coalition has been an orientation toward results and accountability. DeVos has shown that her real commitment is to an ideological position, dominated by a faith in markets and the economic theories of conservative economists like Milton Friedman...The nomination of DeVos signals that our country’s Republican leadership will abandon the technocratic agenda in favor of an ideological one. 

This reads like a dispatch from an alternate universe. The reform coalition has been steadfast in its determination to ignore results that don't match its determination to charterize, voucherize and privatize education. Reformsters, for instance, still pursue the idea of an Achievement School District even though the pioneer ASD in Tennessee has failed to produce results. And in states like Florida, Ohio, New York and, yes, Michigan reformsters have held the line against accountability at every step.

And if this divide is so strong and clear, where have these progressive results-oriented accountability hawks been as DeVos has torn through the Michigan education system?

Others mark the divide elsewhere. Here's reformy press agent Richard Whitmire at the74 trying to explain the new confusion and identifying it mostly as a charters-vs-vouchers division, with a side order of pendulum fear:

One not-so-private fear is the all-too-real chance of a major pendulum swing. When the Trump era ends, chances are good that politics will swing to the progressive side. At that point, charters will be tainted by Trump, mashed up with vouchers, and will undoubtedly lose their crucial bipartisan support. Especially from any Democracts in the white middle class.

That's a reasonable fear for reformsters. By cross-branding their policy drive, they've been able to swing from Clinton to Bush to Obama without ever having to lose political juice or partisan supporters from either camp. But Trump and DeVos are likely to ruin the brand simply by stamping their names on the policies that reformsters have been pushing all along.

Whitney Tilson himself has figured out another way to split the difference. DFER said they thought no Democrats should work with DeVos, but they have not exactly been blistering in their criticism of her. Now in his latest every-so-often-ly newsletter, Tilson manages to have it both ways.

He's been quiet, he says, while weighing DeVos's testimony and perusing the record, and now he has concluded that he can't support her. However-- he will present an entire essay from "an experienced, smart and trusted friend" who says that they're a Democrat who has worked with DeVos since 2000, and lays out why she would be awesome (visionary, super-duper tough on accountability, works For The Children). Tilson doesn't endorse this argument, mind you-- he just wants everyone to hear it.

Tilson has concluded "somewhat reluctantly" that he can't endorse her: 

I say “somewhat reluctantly” because I think she is a smart, capable person who genuinely cares about every child in this country receiving a high-quality education, and also because I agree with her on many things, including the importance of parental choice, especially via good charter schools, and on the need to courageously do battle with the forces of the status quo (including playing political hardball, as this NYT article notes), which are so poorly serving so many millions of children.

That is one heck of a non-endorsement. With enemies like these, who needs friends?

Tilson wants his fans to know that he is absolutely not "toeing the unions' line, perish the thought" and manages to lump the unions and Tea Party together. "The unions obviously oppose choice and, like conservative Tea Party Republicans, they oppose strong federal accountability, as they'd like to be left to their own devices locally."

This is perhaps the dividing line that matters most but which is discussed least-- some reformsters would prefer to deal with a federal bureaucracy while others prefer to work with state governments. Is it easier to get tax dollars from the feds, or do you have a better shot at chipping your paydirt off big "block grants" handed to the states? I suppose this depends upon whether your network and contacts are operating in DC or a state capital.

Tilson works his way back around to Cohen's piece, from which he pulls some salient quotes--

Her answers also validated what left-leaning education reformers have suspected for months: DeVos embraces school choice as an education panacea, while grasping little else about federal education policy.  

In other words, because she is such a charter-choice true believer, she doesn't really know anything about anything.

It remains to be seen how reformsters will sort themselves out, and that will undoubtedly depend on what sorts of policy and administrative screw-ups DeVos perpetrates. In the meantime, it's a fascinating dance to watch, like watching middle school students sort themselves into cafeteria tables at the beginning of a new school year.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Foggy College Readiness

Chester "Checker" Finn is concerned. The former head of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and current Maryland State Board of Education VP thinks that our students and families are enveloped in a giant bank of foggy lies, lies about their college readiness and their future prospects and the quality of their K-12 education.

National Affairs includes Finn in their Winter 2017 issue with "The Fog of 'College Readiness'." It's a piece that wants to set off some alarms, but actually has some serious fog problems of its own.

Finn opens by saying that maybe more than half of graduating high school students are not ready for college-- according to "some estimates." This is a problem because the "vast majority" of high school students plan to attend college. This is a very foggy place to start; I teach a Pretty Large Number (to use Finn's style of metrics here) of students who are the future welders, auto mechanics, body repair experts, home health care aids, and heavy equipment operators of America. None of them intend to go to college, and none of them need to (and in my English class, my goal is not to prepare them for college). So to summarize our starting point-- some number of students aren't ready to go to college, and some number of those students actually want to go to college.

So how does Finn think we arrived at this foggily-delineated problem?

The source of this gap between belief and reality is the K-12 education system. Our schools create a fog when it comes to academic preparation for college success. Concerned more with inclusiveness, validation, and graduation than with college preparedness, administrators encourage teachers to, for instance, consider pupil effort in their grading, and push students to take advanced courses for which they have the ambition but not the readiness. 

He devotes a paragraph to Hillary Clinton's free college ideas (leading me to believe that this piece was wrapped up before, say, mid-November) and then notes that while ambition and optimism are swell things, there just comes a point--

But at a certain point, encouragement becomes damaging. 

K-12 schools and colleges and universities should stop lying. It's an interesting position because it points in a direction that Finn never suggests or even hints at-- the conclusion that some students just aren't going to get that special level of success and they should start figuring out how to face the truth that there lives are not going to be all that great or successful. It's the subtext of so much reformsterism-- that some people are just destined for Better Things than other people, and we should stop trying to raise false hope and doomed aspirations for those other people, and we should most especially stop dumping money in a system that raises those false hopes and doomed aspirations. Instead of building Great Hope Academy, we should be offering Know Your Place and Be Happy High School.

But as I said, Finn isn't going to go there, or even admit that such a there is implicit in his argument (of all the reformsters, only Finn's successor at Fordham, Mike Petrilli, is willing to just say that some students are of a better type and therefor need a better type of school, away from the non-strivers).

So where does he go?

It's no secret that possessing a college degree vastly improves one's chances of attaining the "good life." It helps greatly in the quest for a decent job, a living wage, upward mobility (if one's parents had no such degrees), and full participation in American society. Indeed, a society full of college graduates is apt to be not just wealthier but healthier and more stable than one populated by dropouts and people with only K-12 schooling.

Well, no. Finn tried to muster some evidence for this by citing Coming Apart and Our Kids. But I'd argue what Robert Putnam shows in Our Kids is what is supported by other research-- the best predictor of the Good Life is being raised by parents who have the Good Life themselves. A college degree is just one of those things that people on the Good Life track get; it's an effect, not a cause. When Finn envisions a society full of these Better People, he's not envisioning a society full of college grads so much as he's imagining a world where more people are Better People from privileged backgrounds. Although he's also imagining a society in which a lot of people might be cranky about being fast food managers and garbage collectors with college degrees and college debt out the wazoo. College degrees do not make college degree-requiring jobs appear, and they do not make laboring jobs disappear.

Finn rings the bell about disappearing lower-skills work, and that's a fair point. We seem to be slowly figuring out that automation is a much a threat to our workforce as outsourcing. That means we need more college-educated folks, and Finn also wants to ring the bell of college remediation-- which means that those students must not have been prepared to attend. To his credit, Finn lays some blame for this on the college's choice to accept the student in the first place. I would love it if the right-tilted Finn recognized this as an effect of the free market on education-- that if the market shrinks, the business must get fast and loose about whom it accepts as customers, and in this way, competition and free market pressures can actually lead to a worse product, rather than the high quality that free market acolytes believe must be the result of competition.

Anyway, Finn would be okay with the over-acceptance of deficient college freshmen if colleges were any good at remediation, but they aren't. For this moment, at least, Finn and I are in agreement. Finn also notes that remediation is now part of the business model, which matches what I hear from former students.

So where is this terrible honesty gap sneaking in?

Finn names several culprits. Grade inflation, leading to lost of students getting Bs and As. Students getting scores that have incorporated things like hard work. Kids These Days, with their droopy pants and participation trophies.

But Finn is also unhappy with standardized tests, and he argues against norming because that ends up defining "fifth grade level" for readings as "about average for all fifth graders." Finn wants standards-- hard, tough, immovable standards that will give lots of students the failing scores they deserve. It is not clear what Finn thinks the standards should be based on-- who exactly will decide what a fifth grader "should" be able to do. Nor does he mention that the modern emphasis on normed testing and rating and ranking is built into the dna of the reformster movement, which has repeatedly insisted that we need standards in order to compare students, teachers and schools, to sort out the winners and losers.

Oh, and look-- coming out of the fog is this large piece of baloney. Finn believes despite the "furor" raised over the Common Core, "a welcome outcome of the recent round of improvements in state standards is that young people who actually master them will be prepared for college-level academics." So wrong, in so many ways. Do the CCSS math and English standards guarantee that someone is ready to be a biology major or history major or music major? Is there a single solitary piece of evidence that the standards prepare someone to be a math or English major? And we've had the standards for years now-- do we see a corresponding spike in college success? No, to all of that?

Well, Finn can explain the last part. Wimpy states have balked at setting honesty cut scores for tests because they don't want to face the truth that huge swaths of students should be labeled deficient. And the primary and middle school grades sent home form the tests are "cagey" about whether or not students are on track for college. Because surely you can tell whether a ten year old is on track for college or not, and you shouldn't be "cagey" about it.

Finn says that high schools add to the fog with things like lots of AP courses. As with many of his other complaints, Finn skips the part where he and his reformy friends have added to the problem. AP courses (which are a product sold by the College Board, the company that is now headed by David Coleman, architect of the Common Core) are widely added because in some states like mine, offering AP courses helps improve your school performance score.

Finn does note that pressure from all (feds, reformsters, etc) over has pushed schools to increase grad rates some way, any way, and he sees ties to the Go To College rate here. That creates pressure to finagle, which creates students and families who are lied to by "adults in the K-12 system," none of whom will suffer any adverse effects for their duplicity. But teachers who give those As and Bs are like doctors who prescribe opiates.

There are all sorts of pieces lost in the fog of Finn's portrayal. One piece is the students and families themselves. In thirty-some years, I have lost track of the students and parents who have chosen less rigorous coursework so that they could get higher grades or have less stressful lives. Give me control of those students' educational choices and they would have been much more prepared for college-- but that's not how the system works. Every year I have at least one or two students in my non-college prep class who want to go to college, but don't want to take college track courses, despite my explaining in no uncertain terms the mistake they're making.

One proposed Finnian solution? Well, colleges could be honest and tell high schools "you can give a diploma to anyone you want, but they can't come to college without evidence that they're ready to do the work here." Finn envisions a two-tier graduation system, with one track for Plain Old Vanilla Diplomas and one for Ready For College certificates. Colleges would be completely upfront about who could and could not gain admittance and which students would be denied the opportunity to pay tuition to the college and again I ask, has Finn ever met the Free Market?

I do think he's on the verge of another realization here, which is that colleges and universities, as engines and markers of the regular old systems of privilege, often make admissions decisions that have nothing to do with academic promise. Can you imagine Yale telling George H. W. Bush, "Sorry, but your son George, with his lackluster high school performance and poor test scores simply isn't Yale material, and he'll have to go somewhere else because, you know, we have standards here. Also, can we count on your generous donation to the alumni fund again this year?"

This is also as good a place as any to note another giant gaping fogbank in Finn's reasoning which has been typical at every step of the College Ready reformster movement. College Ready is not a single, measurable thing. Not even a little. "Ready to major in art history at Harvard" does not look remotely like "ready to major in biology at Penn State" which does not look remotely like "ready to major in Spanish at Outer Dipwillow Community College" which does not look like "ready to major in underwater basket weaving at Bob's For-Profit Online University." When Finn says that colleges should be frank with high schools about what students need to be admitted there, I am imagining a 300-page document from every single college in the country.

If Finn or anyone else wants me to take this College Ready baloney seriously (because I'm sure he's losing sleep worrying about my approval), they should show me a specific list of exact skill and knowledge areas that they believe defines College Ready for all schools for all courses of study. It cannot be done. College Ready is not a thing.

Finn imagines the ripples that would spread if colleges implemented his policy of hard honesty:

If colleges stopped admitting sorely unprepared students — or Washington curbed their access to financial aid — there would be an initial uproar, with cries of discrimination, narrowed opportunity, and fresh barriers to social mobility. A number of colleges would lose enrollment and some — especially community colleges, but also some private colleges, including a number of "historically black" campuses — would shrink. At least a handful would likely close.

Yes, Checker Finn just said that if we tightened college standards, black students would be hit hardest.

Finn imagines that high schools would get a whole lot of pushback from parents who discovered that Junior was not doing well enough to get into college.

But those schools, too, need to be part of the solution, not just by preparing their pupils more effectively but also by advising parents — in those annual test-score reports, of course, but also in teacher conferences, quarterly report cards, and other bulletins — as to the kinds of colleges that their kids are or are not on track for.

Yeah, we could add new staff-- we could call them Know Your Place counselors.

Somewhere in all of this classist mess is the notion that college is not for everyone, which is dead on, because there are plenty of rewarding, well-paid, and absolutely essential jobs that are necessary, as Mike Rowe sayd, "to make civilized life possible for the rest of us." In fact, if folks like Finn want to help with this issue, one thing they could do is stand up for unions and advocate for solid union protection and good union wages, thereby helping folks realize that blue collar jobs are not the jobs people "settle" for because they're not "smart" enough to go to college. That would be a huge help!

But in the meantime, we will float in the fog where the proposed solution to a problem that may not even exist is to assess a quality we don't know how to measure to foster outcomes that we don't know how to create, all in the name of separating out the winners from the losers, the Betters from the Lessers, even though we're so lost in a fog with our non-existent measuring tools that we can't tell our elbows from our ears. Should be a piece of cake.


ICYMI: Let's Not Talk About Trump Edition (1/22)

The problem with living through big moments in history is that everybody has to talk about them constantly while they're happening. Remember when the interwebs were all about cute cat pictures? Boy, those were the days.

Meanwhile, remember to post and pass on things that speak to you.

Reading Is Knowledge

Horatio Speaks offers some words about the importance of content in reading (as opposed to the reformy idea that reading is just some free-floating skills).

How Did the Department of Defense End up in My Child's Classroom

Another good big-picture look at the continuing push to digitize student information and machine-ify education.

The Fight- Falling in Love

This week I realized that Amy Tan was not on my blogroll (that list of blogs to the right that you should be checking out) and I'm happy to correct that oversight with this great piece about how to pick up and regain focus.

Don't Raise Teacher Pay (To Be Nice)

A great rebuttal to one of my favorite bad arguments in favor of teacher pay increases.

How the Pioneers of the MOOC Got It Wrong

I did write about this piece this week, but if you missed that, read this article about how the launchers of MOOCery screwed up some pretty basic fundamentals

Little Nesting Doll

A new-to-me blog by an American mother raising four kids in Great Britain. Interesting and different perspective.

Building Bridges Beats Building Walls

Russ Walsh with some important reminders about what sort of structures best serve us all.

Democrats Reject Her But They Helped Pave the Road to Betsy DeVos

Valerie Strauss offers some perspective on why leading Democrats don't get to pretend that Betsy DeVos is a shocking departure from the proper educational path

Educational Justice in the Next Four Years

The Annenberg Institute offers a whole big series of interviews about how to approach the next four years of education with an eye on justice and equity. I found this because one of the interviewees is Jose Vilson, but there are a great thought-provoking bunch of pieces here.

The Most Troubling Lie

Sure, we know that Trump has a tendency to tell whoppers, stretch the facts, and just make shit up. But his insistence yesterday that his inauguration crowd was not smaller than Obama's 2009 inauguration crowd-- well, this one I find extra troubling. Here's why.

It's so transparent. It's not like you can look at the photos, squint, and say, yeah, I can see how if you're really a fan of Trump, you would interpret his crowd as larger. This lie is literally "Who are you going to believe. Me, or your own eyes?" The "they were slowed down by the security" lasted five minutes until the Secret Service said, "No, we weren't doing that."

It's unnecessary. Trump's crew could have spun this any number of ways. They could have said that of course, 2009 was a large crowd, because it was an historic occasion with the installation of the first black President ever. They could have plead weather-- on Friday, it sucked. They could have used any number of spins to explain away the difference in crowd sizes-- but, no. They could have just pulled out a picture from Obama's second inauguration, or either Bush. But no-- they had to just deny reality.

It's pointless. Sure, our leaders often lie to us, but generally it's in the service of some policy goal, because politicians often succumb to "the end justifies the means" logic. So they do things like tell us lies to get us to go to war. It sucks, it's reprehensible, and it's indefensible-- but it's at least comprehensible from the standpoint of politicians trying to achieve their policy goals. This lie accomplishes absolutely nothing. It doesn't sell us a policy idea. It doesn't achieve a larger goal. It just preserves the delicate ego of our new president. Well, a takes a blunt swing at press credibility.

It enlisted the powers of the federal government. It wasn't enough for Trump to just, say, tweet his claim at 3 am. The White House Press Secretary, in his official capacity at an official press conference, was sent out to tell this lie to the press. The National Parks Service had their twitter accounts taken away for contradicting the lie.

[Update: It's an assault on reality. As stories have trickled out and responses have trickled in this morning, it becomes clear there is another troubling aspect here. We should not trust the photos or the news accounts or, well, anything-- we should simply trust the words of our Beloved Leader and forsake all other methods of perceiving reality. Everything is, at a minimum, open to debate and discussion and there is no objective reality except that presented to us by the Beloved Leader.]

As a teacher, I am left wondering exactly how I handle this with students. In a journalism class, how do we interpret the new role of journalists, who must now be attacked and criticized by the President of the United States for daring to print facts. Do we have to re-write the old rules of research, which generally told students that a .gov domain name was trustworthy and fair game for a research source.

What are we to make of a President who tells pointless bald-faced lies and uses the federal government to spread them, and then to attack and further damage the conduit of free press through which we are supposed to get our information? How do we navigate a world like this, and how do we teach our students to do so?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Meanwhile In Switzerland...

While we've been staring into the dark, distorted mirror that is our new American administration, the uber-rich and super-powerful have been gathering for the annual summit in Davos, Switzzerland. And they think the see a world a-comin' that looks very different from the one we're in.

The event's official name is the World Economic Forum, and it's a reliable source for pieces about how the uber-rich have mostly lost contact with reality as the rest of us experience it (oh, look! I wrote one of those myself). It's also a place where the Global Agenda to Monetize Education pokes its head out.

This year, however, arguably the largest education story out of Davos was Shakira speaking to advocate for more early childhood education. Really.

Instead, Davos participants were busy noticing that there are a lot of cranky not-wealthy people in the world, and that this crankiness has led to some sub-optimal election outcomes. That strikes them as a problem, though they aren't sure what to do. Or, as New York Times coverage frames the problem:

Finding a way to make the people who are driving populist movements feel like they are part of the global economic pie that Davos participants have created and largely own.

Reporter Alexandra Stevenson talked to a lot of attendees. None came up with the thought that actually letting people have a piece of the pie. In other words, an alternative way to frame the problem is "How do we hold all these non-wealthy people down, keep them non-wealthy, and get them to be happy about it?"

But the America and post-Brexit Europe's full-on retreat from globalization and free trade is not bad news for everyone, and this is the other part of the picture in Davos this year. Because this year's summit featured a full-on appearance by the Chinese.

Chinese President Xi Jinping appeared and delivered a speech with a clear and simple message-- if Trump's America doesn't want to be the world's leading economic power, China will be more than happy to step into the gap.

We've been seeing this in many smallish ways, from the increasing visibility of Chinese settings and actors in Hollywood film to outright Chinese investment in our entertainment industry (just this week we read of a billion-dollar investment of Chinese money in Paramount). But at the very moment we are telling the neighbors that we are going to stick to our own home and our own yard, the Chinese are getting ready to throw a block party. It should be noted that China has not yet proven that it can shift gears on its highly managed, highly protectionist economy. But something has clearly changed.

I mention all of this, in part, to note that it has nothing to do with education. China is not moving to the center of the world stage because of something to do with their students and standardized tests. America is not retreating from the world stage because of anything having to do with our schools. Other than, perhaps, an American electorate that doesn't know enough about economics, the world, and how to tell the truth from lies.

The implications for education, however, will take time to really absorb. Do we teach students any differently if we're preparing them to take their place in a world in which America is not the leader? Do we start teaching Chinese history so that we can better understand the dominant world power? Do we, at a minimum, teach them about how major decisions that affect the fate of us all are made by people we never see for reasons we never hear about in places we don't go?

Friday, January 20, 2017

Confessions of a Trumpistan Teacher

Look, give me just a few minutes. I need to tell someone.

Well, I screwed up.

Understand, I was on edge. Maria didn't get our cups of espresso out on the veranda until a full minute after she had served the toast, and the toast was already cold. Do you know how hard it is to spread the butter when the toast isn't quite warm enough to melt it? Do you? I mean, seriously, do you, because I don't. I have people for that. But it certainly looked like Maria was having a hard time buttering my toast, and she cut some little divots out when she tried. The toast was edible, but it was bothersome and firing Maria made us a full five minutes behind schedule.

Then, to top it off, Lawrence pulled the Lexus around when I had told him clearly that I wanted the BMW for this morning. I think it's a little more somber, more appropriate for the mood of the day.

Of course, they swore Trump in today as President, and that means the gravy train is over for all of us at East Egg Elementary School and all the other public schools around the country. It's frustrating, and upsetting. Even Wallace gave me a look when he was holding open the door to the teachers' lounge. He almost looked me straight in the eye. Can you imagine? But I guess even a public school teachers' doorman can tell that the winds of change are shifting against us.

You would think Trump would respect us, one wealthy individual to another, but for some reason my vast wealth doesn't get me the respect of the truly elite in this country. I suppose it's that we didn't inherit our vast wealth the way they did. No, we have depend on a vast national conspiracy.

Sure, the NEA and AFT have done a good job of creating this fictional chain of schools, where we pretend to teach children as a cover for receiving stacks of money that our bought-and-paid-for public officials extort from the taxpayers. You would think we'd win respect for the creativity of this scheme, which has involved conning generation after generation of Americans into thinking that education is a real thing and that our country has some sort of obligation to educate all of our children. I tell you, the whole scheme is genius story-telling. And now it looks doomed.

We'd talked about that very subject just last week when all the Democratic elected officials came to their weekly meeting with us. As usual, we were dictating their positions and actions for the coming week, making it clear that they weren't to make a move without consulting us and our union bosses-- but they looked worried. What if Trump came up with some sort of jamming device so that they couldn't get the union signal in their earpieces? How would they know to vote? We tried to reassure them, but it was a scary moment for all of us.

Even Principal Benson looked upset today. At lunchtime, the caviar was not even neatly arranged on the silver lunch platters, and my filet mignon was distinctly a shade too pink. But I didn't have the heart to send it back; I'm sure out in the kitchen they sense that we'll have to let some of the sous chefs go.

I just want you to understand that all of this was weighing on me when I walked into my afternoon fifth grade science class. Some of the students, perhaps sensing weakness on this day of all days, started to ask questions. Migratory patterns of barn swallows. Wingspans of bats. And one little girl-- I think her name is Susie somethingorother-- asked what happens to caterpillars after they spend time in their cocoons, and before I could stop myself, I was explaining to her that the caterpillars emerge from the cocoons as brand new butterflies. And then I saw the look of excitement on her face, and I realized my terrible mistake.

I had allowed a student to acquire some knowledge. And not just any student, but one of the beautiful ones.

It's the most fundamental oath we take when we join the vast union-run government school conspiracy-- whatever you do, make sure that you deprive students of all knowledge (especially the young and beautiful ones-- it's generally allowed to slip a few bits of knowledge to the older and ugly ones).

But I had done it. I had failed to deprive Susie of all knowledge, and now my union bosses will probably call me in for severe criticism, maybe even docking some of my conspirator's pay. Of course it's distressing-- we just put a down payment on another home in the Hamptons (this one has a nicer view). I suppose we can sell off some of the jewelry.

Am I upset? Of course-- I violated my most sacred teacher oath and accidentally taught someone, and we teachers take our oaths to interfere with education just as seriously as doctors take their oath to deny health care.

But now that we live in Trumpistan, under a leader who fully understands what we're up to--well, we fought off the people who tried to prove we are denying students all knowledge by catching us with their tricky and insightful tests. But how will we deal with someone who has such keen insight into how the whole government school scam works as just a front for funneling tax dollars to make union teachers a special rich wing of the Democratic party? Now that Trump and DeVos have found us out and want a piece of the action, can even extra sacrifices to the Dark Lord help?

Collapse? No, no, I'm okay. I look shaky? Maybe I should sit down, but I'm not sick-- I'm just flush with cash.

How Not To Improve Schools

The report is in from the US Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences-- "School Improvement Grants: Implementation and Effectiveness." It is our last lesson in school reform from the Obama-Duncan-King education department, and although that version of the department is being bulldozed under even as I type, there are still important lessons to be learned here.

The full report is over 400 pages long, and if you want to read the whole thing, be my guest. But I don't think there are any devils lurking in these details. Because the fourth-of-five findings pretty much tells the story:

Overall, across all grades, we found that implementing any SIG -funded model had no significant impacts on math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment. 

The Obama administration spent $3 billion dollars on school improvement grants (actually $7 billion by the time you factor it all in), and it did not produce any measurable improvements, at all.

Some folks are going to jump straight from there to their favorite conclusion-- throwing more money at schools doesn't do any good. But that's the wrong conclusion, for two reasons.

First, this results of the study are inconclusive because they checked only for Big Standardized Test scores, graduation rate, and college enrollment. For the sixty gazzilionth time, let me point out that these are narrow, twisted, not-very-good measures of education. I would argue, for instance, that if the three billion had been used to add music and art teachers to every single school in America, education would have been vastly improved-- but that improvement would not show up in a study like this. Likewise more guidance counselors, more welding instructors or field trips would improve education, but not in ways that would show up in these metrics.

Second-- and this is probably the more important lesson-- is the question of how SIG money was spent. Because the feds did not at any point say, "You know, you are the experts there on the ground who best know what your school needs to be better, so we are going to trust your judgment." No, as the report aptly sums up, the money was not just tied to strings, but wrapped up in strings, bound in strings, woven into a menacing macrame of strings:

SIG allowed grantees to implement one of four school intervention models (transformation, turnaround, restart, or closure). These models promoted the use of many improvement practices in four main areas: (1) adopting comprehensive instructional reform strategies, (2) developing and increasing teacher and principal effectiveness, (3) increasing learning time and creating community-oriented schools, and (4) having operational flexibility and receiving support.

SIG was like food stamps that could only be spent on baby formula, ostrich eggs, and venison, and it didn't matter if the families receiving the stamps lived on a farm with fresh milk and chicken eggs, or if they were vegetarians, or if they lived where no store sells ostrich eggs, or if there are no babies in the family.  USED used SIG to dictate strategy and buy compliance with their micro-managing notions about how schools had to be fixed.

The moral of the story is not that money doesn't make a difference. The moral of the story is that when bureaucrats in DC dictate exactly how money must be spent-- and they are wrong about their theory of action and wrong about the strategies that should be used by each school and wrong about how to measure the effectiveness of those strategies-- then the money is probably wasted. We'll see soon enough if anyone left at the Department of Education can identify that lesson.