Monday, December 11, 2017

The Failure of Test Prep Nation

Bill Gates said it would take us ten years to see if  "this stuff" (aka Common Core and its attendant testing baloney) would work  It's increasingly clear that we won't have to wait that long.

Right up front, I want to be clear-- I could not care less about the results of the PISA or the PIRLS or any other Big Standardized Test that pretends to measure the educational achievement and effectiveness of students, teachers, schools, or nations.

But this is the game reformsters wanted to play, the game at which they promised us a win, so by all means-- let's see if they delivered.

And the answer continues to be, "Nope."

New international testing results show a precipitous drop for US fourth graders in reading scores.



And yet, these are the students who have had a lifetime of test prep. They have been soaked in Common Core since Day One, and to an even greater extent, soaked in the discipline of using Common Core as directed test prep for each state's Big Standardized Test.

This was necessary, we were told over and over again, to keep the US competitive internationally. We were getting beaten by Estonia! Do you want to get beaten by Estonia? At one point, reformsters even tried to make our test-taking readiness, our best-of-show bubbling, a matter of national security! We needed Common Core and the attached battery of BS Tests to get the next generation ready to whip Estonia, to get the US back on top! We would become Test Prep Nation.

And so they arranged to hijack that next generation. Educational experts be damned-- kindergarten had better become the new First Grade (or maybe Second Grade) so that we could start cramming academics and test-taking skills into the brains of those little slackers. Third graders wouldn't even be allowed into Fourth Grade until they could prove they were willing and able to pass a standardized reading test (never mind their actual reading skills-- we need them to score well on that damn test).  Education experts and professionals and parents of all shapes and sizes said, "This is a bad idea. A really bad idea. Do you even have a shred of evidence that national standards and a test-based accountability system do any good, ever?"

"Hush up,' said (some) reformsters. "Just follow our plan and watch those scores rise."

And it hasn't happened. It hasn't even happened a little.

Not that we should brace ourselves for the apologies and walkbacks and reconsideration of these bold ideas. Ed Secretary Betsy DeVos offered this reaction:

Our students can’t move ahead – in school or in life – if they’re falling behind in reading. We must do better for students, parents & educators. We must #RethinkSchool

Sigh. Not entirely untrue on the necessity of reading skills, but there is a difference-- a deep, profound, significant difference-- between being able to read well and being able to score well on a standardized reading test (particularly a crappy one). And being able to read is a good first step, but it helps is the economy for poor folks isn't being trashed and the social safety net isn't in tatters and employers are paying a true living wage for work.

And teachers everywhere are bracing themselves for the inevitable "Well, the Core and the BS Tests are awesome. This should be working. Those damned public school teachers are screwing everything up. What we need are more vouchers and charters!"

Meanwhile, we have to watch our international standing. As (some) reformsters warned, low test scores are arriving at the same time that US international stature and leadership are decaying. Could it be that PISA and PIRLS scores really are the problem? Or could there be some other explanation that doesn't involve fourth graders?

Standardized Tests Are a Poor Substitute for Justice

John Kuhn is a Texas superintendent who has been watch the reform biz unfold for a while now. Here, in a quick two minute video, he connects the inequity of school funding to the injustice of offering poor schools not funding, not help, not resources, not support-- but standardized tests. The same politicians who keep some schools poor also demand that those schools hit the same marks that wealthy districts do.

It's the one thing that has never happened with standardized tests. No lawmakers or policy mavens declare, "This school has low scores-- we had better get them some more funding and resources and help right away." Instead, low test scores put a target on a school's back-- this one is ripe for privatizing, closing, replacing, chopping into easily-sold pieces.

Watch this, and pass it on.


2 School Districts, 1 Ugly Truth from S4E Media on Vimeo.

Remember this line: "Educational malpractice doesn't happen in the classroom. The greatest educational malpractice happens in the statehouse, not the schoolhouse."

Sunday, December 10, 2017

ICYMI: First Snow Edition

Okay, you may want to curl up with some hot chocolate and a blanket, because this week turned up an awful lot of reading material. Remember, only you can amplify the voices you think need to be heard!



Our School Systems Deserve Better Than This

Charles Pierce at Esquire takes a hard look at charter schools and segregation. You will not have to guess what he thinks.

Green Dots Suspension Rates Continue To Be Remarkably High

As the debates about school discipline heat up, School Data Nerd looks at hard data from one charter group, and finds that they are booting kids out at a high rate.

Douglas County School Board Ends Controversial Voucher Program

A few years ago, reformsters captured the Douglas County (Colorado) school board and proceeded to launch the nation's first district-level voucher system. Turns out that mostly what they did was wake up local voters. Here's how a reformy tide can be turned back,

Turkish Gulen Schools in America

The Gulen chain is perhaps the most notorious charter chain in the US, serving as a fundraising project for a Turkish government-in-exile. Mercedes Schneider looks at some of the most current tools for tracking these guys.

Success Academy's Radical Experiment

Everybody wanted to write about Eva this week for some reason. Here's the New Yorker's take on the queen of Success Academy

Tolerating failing schools in New Orleans-- as long as they're for black kids

Andre Perry takes a look at the latest bad news for fans of the NOLA chartering experiment

What Is Motivation Porn and Why Does Higher Education Seems Addicted To It

A great look a thing I didn't even realize was a thing, but as soon as I read this, I could see it everywhere. Grit, anyone?

Update on Summit Schools

Leonie Haimson took a trip to one of the schools running the Summit school-in-a-box program. In some ways, it seems even more unimpressive than I thought it would be.

Influencers and the Hillary Campaign

While technically water under the bridge, a reminder that Democrats are no BFFs of public education either. And some of this water is still flowing around making trouble.

A Portfolio of Schools

Matt Barnum at Chalkbeat kicks off a series of stories about the portfolio approach to reform, and it will probably not make you happy.

Voucher Schools Can Teach Whatever They Want

HuffPost did some heavy-duty research into what is actually taught at the mostly-religious schools that benefit from vouchers in this country. You may have expected the emphasis on anti-evolution and anti-science, but there's a also a healthy dose of political conservatism (and get them women back in the kitchen). How Betsy DeVos wants your tax dollars to work.

Kindergarten to Work Second Shift

In Florida, a parent offers a great response to the school district that wants her kindergarten student to go home and log onto the computer to do more school work.

She Breaks Rules While Expecting Students To Follow Them

Lisa Miller reviews the Moskowitz memoir and identifies some of Eva's central problems, like how she is proud of being a rebel, and demands that all of her students never rebel at all. It gets better.

How America Is Breaking Public Education

Always interesting when the mostly-conservative Forbes goes against type. The thesis here is a good one-- "we've disobeyed the cardinal rule of success in any industry: treating your workers like professionals."

Teach Kids To Start Unions

Rachel Cohen interviews Malcolm Harris, who has many intersting things to say about Kids These Days




IN: Diminishing Education

Indiana's State Board of Education has voted to diminish the value and purpose of education in the state.

The BOE has adopted a new set of graduation requirements that will begin taking effect with the freshman class of 2019. With these standards, the board aligns themselves with the "college and career ready" crowd and leaves behind notions that education has any purpose other than to train students for future employment.



You can check out some of the specifics here, but this is one of those times when the devil is not really in the details, but is in the broad goals and purposes of the program. Graduates in the class of 2023 will need to meet the following requirements:

* Rack up enough course credits.
* Complete "post-secondary competencies" by doing one of the following: earning an honors diploma, finishing apprenticeship or career-technical courses or meeting college-ready standards for ACT, SAT, ASVAB tests.
* Learn and demonstrate employability skills.

The first is same old, same old. The second is, sadly, not new at this point. Just the status quo obeisance to the Cult of Testing, with the door open, at least, for something other than the usual testing gods.

But that third one.

Please note-- I do think it's a great idea for graduates to be able to find work. Getting a job is not a bad thing.

But to say that you cannot graduate until you prove that you can be a useful meat widget for a future employer-- that idea represents a hollowing out of educational goals. Be a good citizen? Become a fine parent? Lifelong learning? Developing a deeper, better more well-rounded picture of who you can become as a person, while better understanding what it means to be human in the world? Screw that stuff, kid. Your future employer has the only question that matters-- "What can you do for me, kid?"

The suppose Awesome Features of the new requirements don't make it sound any better. It opens the door to personalized learning, which-- well, problems with modern PL aside, saying you will now make everyone go to the same destination, but they can pick how they get there is the silliest version of personalization since Henry Ford offered cars in any color you want, as long as it's black.

But hey-- the new requirements will be locally flexible and workforce-aligned, so that your local business operators can stop by and say, "Whip us up forty good applicants for these jobs we might want to fill." Sure. I offer this deal-- I'll have my school take over vocational training for your plant the same day that you guarantee a job for every single graduate that we train for you. The requirements also make much of how the personalization comes because the students will be selecting their life career path, which leads me to believe that the Board has not actually met any fourteen-year-olds.

The new standards throw in rigor and currency, while tossing skills gap and other concepts that only make sense if you believe that the purpose of the education system is to serve business and corporate interests. If you think public education should serve the interests of students, parents and the community as well, then Indiana's great new idea is a great step backward.

Presumably local districts are free to add to this sorry list and bring their educational goals back in line with something a little more like education, but that can't erase the job training for meat widgets heart of these new requirements. The Board adopted them by a vote of 7-4, from which we can deduce that seven members of the Indiana Board of Education don't really understand their job.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Tolerating the Minimum

From the moment at her confirmation hearing when she fumbled the question about IDEA, Betsy DeVos has faced a huge disconnect between two impulses.

One is the impulse to make sure that students with special needs get the services they need. I've read enough to believe that DeVos is essentially sincere on this point. But it runs smack into her other impulse, which is that the government shouldn't tell anybody how to do anything.

This surfaced in her recent speech at Jeb Bush's Charterpalooza. Now here it is again at EdWeek, in a special commentary about students with special needs.


DeVos is spinning off the Supreme Court decision about Endrew F., a student whose parents wanted more than the "de minimis" offered by their home school district. They went to court to have the district pay for a more appropriate school setting for their son, and won, mostly. As an extra prize, they won the chance to become propes in DeVos's pro-choice arguments, a position that they have forcefully declined. But DeVos has kept it up anyway.

"When it comes to educating students with disabilities, failure isn't acceptable. De minimis isn't either," writes DeVos.

That's a noble position, and in many ways superior to the Duncan position that all effects of special needs could be erased by the power of high expectations (though she kind of believes that, too). It just doesn't fit very well with the rest of her plans for education. It's nice to say that failure is unacceptable, but unacceptable to whom? And who is going to make the school do something about it, if the government's position is that they shouldn't be strong-arming anyone?

First, if the government is going to dump a bunch of regulations and barely enforce the rest, exactly who is going to insure that students with special needs aren't failed? From her confirmation hearing onward, DeVos has consistently refused to envision a scenario in which her department would step in and tell a school, "You can't do that." So wishing for equity and extra effort and appropriate programs for students is, without the weight if any enforcement behind it, just wishing.

Second, DeVos thinks this is an argument for choice. It isn't.

Every family should have the ability to choose the learning environment that is right for their child. They shouldn’t have to sue their way to the U.S. Supreme Court to get it. 

She repeats this line from her Charterpalooza speech, and it's a line that's thick with irony. Because, of course, if Endrew's parents were unhappy with the program offered him at a charter or voucher school, they couldn't sue anyone at all. The charter operators could simply smile and say, "Well, if we aren't satisfying your requirements here, you are certainly free to vote with your feet." And then they could point at the door.

Students like Endrew are expensive to educate. That was kind of the point of everything that led his parents to the Supreme Court. Charters are businesses, and as such, they have to make prudent fiscal decisions, and every business that ever existed learns that some potential customers just aren't worth it. Every business makes a distinction between customers they'll try to collect, and customers they will deliberately try to NOT collect. There is no business model based on providing goods or services to every single potential customer-- not for individual businesses or for whole industry sectors.  For charter schools, high needs, high cost students like Endrew are not desirable-- and right now no court in the land can force those schools to properly serve a student like Endrew.

Endrew was fortunate that his parents found a school that could help him. But not all students with special needs will be so lucky. So what happens to a student that nobody wants to serve. If the public school is so strapped for resources, hollowed out by the costs of charters, and no charters are willing to accept that student, then what should the parents do? And exactly who is responsible for that student?

Students with special needs represent a special challenge. They are in danger of being more marginalized as more folks push the idea that schools are job prep centers, aimed at making every student a valuable asset to a future employer. But some non-zero number of students will never meet that standard. If we are evaluating humans strictly on cost-benefits basis, some students will cost far more to educate than they will ever put back into society. But those students are still someone's child, and they are still capable of love and kindness and everything that makes being a human more than just being a useful meat widget. 

In any choice system, certain students-- some special needs, behavioral problems, low function, etc-- will be the hot potatoes. Nobody in the marketplace is going to want them. Betsy DeVos thinks a choice system is a perfect way to serve those students, but she's simply wrong. That's because in a choice system, the choice belongs to the school, not the parents. Providing choice without oversight, without attaching either funding or mandates to certain students, will create a system in which some students are well served and some students are out in the cold. If the public school system is the only school being told "You must educate these children" even as they are being stripped of the resources needed to do the job, those students will be abandoned in a mess that even the Supreme Court can't fix.

We shouldn't tolerate minimum efforts by schools to educate all students. We shouldn't tolerate charter and choice schools doing less than the minimum to educate all students. And it might help if the USED didn't tolerate a minimum effort from itself to getting a fully-funded equitable education for every student.

Snapchat Chief Joins Pearson Board

Michael Lynton is joining the board of Pearson, everyone's favorite educational behemoth. (h/t Caitlin McCarthy).

Who is he? An educational expert? A big name in the study of pedagogy? A guy with expertise in leading a school system? A person who's created a lot of valuable and successful educational material?


Nope. He's the chairman of Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, that social media app that your students love and you can't figure out how to work. Lynton is also the former chairman-CEO of Sony Entertainment. And he's not completely new to Pearson-- he worked for the publishing giant back in the late 90s as head of their Penguin Group.He has some other entertainment and publishing world credits as well.

Why Lynton? A plausible explanation is that Pearson has long banked its health on being able to conquer the digitizing and datafication of education, and Lynton fits that vision. 

“The Pearson board and leadership already has strong digital talent and expertise, and Michael’s appointment augments that perfectly,” Pearson chairman Sidney Taurel said in a statement. “His experience and perspective will further strengthen Pearson and drive our transformation to be a more focused, simpler digital learning company.”

A fresh set of eyes may be called for, as Pearson's attempt to conquer US education via Common Core hasn't exactly gone as planned. Just last spring there was speculation they might be getting out of that market.  But Lynton is a believer:

Education is the next frontier in the digital revolution and Pearson is uniquely well placed to lead the way. I’m impressed by the major investment in the products of the future and the creation of a single, global learning platform.

A single global learning platform. There is no reason, of course, to believe that such a platform would be good for education. But, wow-- would it ever be profitable as hell, particularly with its ability to gather, mine, and crunch data, a long-favorite vision of Pearson honcho Michael Barber.

Snapchat made a name for itself as a platform for sending messages and pictures that would immediately disappear, but I'm not sure I see how useful that approach would be for education. But if my students are any measure, Snapchat has been hugely successful at reaching the teen market, and I'm sure Pearson would find that helpful.

If nothing else, Pearson's acquisition of Lynton is a reminder that in the world of corporate ed reform, education credentials are not only unnecessary, but not particularly desirable. It's a business, run with business values and business goals.

School Violence: The New Normal

There was a shooting yesterday in New Mexico. Two students were killed; the shooter is dead as well.

Hadn't heard about it? Or the shooting the day before in Colorado? That's understandable-- I just completed a cursory search of various news sites online, and only a couple included the story at all, and none included it as a major story. It's true that many sites use some form of click-based ranking-- the more people who click on the story, the more prominently it's featured on the page. I'm not sure whether that makes me feel better, or worse. Probably worse.



We have a new standard for coverage of school shootings in this country-- it's only news if it sets a new record of some sort. Usually that means highest body count. That's grim news indeed-- if your goal is to become famous as a school shooter, and you're paying attention, then you have to know that you'll only get there with a super-high body count. This may qualify as the most perverse incentive ever.

It was not always like this.

There was a time when any death in a school was news. It was shocking. It was alarming. Schools would shut down over the slightest hint that they might be targeted by some shooter.

We seem to have turned a corner. As many folks have noted, about the time we decided that the deaths of twenty children at Sandy Hook were sad, but not a reason to actually do anything. When we decided that the price of freedom is to occasionally have small children killed, their bodies violated by bullets-- well, after that point, there hardly seems any reason to make a fuss about it any more. Just another day. Dog bites man. Shooter kills students. Thoughts and prayers.

What seems most incredible these days are the conspiracy theorists who cry "False flag" for these shootings. Their concern is that the government will use the shooting as a reason to implement gun control. Which is truly ridiculous. The national debate about gun control is over, and the gun fans and the NRA won-- we're going to continue to do nothing, and we'll just write off the shooting deaths as the price of freedom.

Meanwhile, those of us who work in schools drill for active shooters as regularly as we drill for tornadoes or severe weather. Taxpayers will pay for door lock systems and camera surveiilance around the building. Occasionally we'll be subject to really alarming active shooter drills. And if we discuss solutions at all, it will be ridiculous ones, like arming teachers in the building.

I don't have any quick and easy answers to any of this, but I can't help noticing that this is one more sad commentary on how little we as a society actually value children. And if we can't even get serious about keeping them safe from harm, how can we get serious about giving them a decent education.

No, we've decided that a certain small percentage of our children are expendable, less valuable than my right to carry a gun around, to keep a firearm in my home or car or holster because, you know, if a man's not free to blow a hole in something or someone with a gun, then a man's just not free at all. And if the cost of that freedom is a few children killed every week, well, so be it. And in the meantime, we might as well adjust to this new normal by ceasing to make a fuss about it. IF it ain't a new record, it ain't news. Dog bites man. Shooter kills students. Thoughts and prayers.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

All Hail Queen Eva?

The Jan/Feb issue of the Atlantic offers a profile of Eva Moskowitz that is both thorough and disturbing, all the more so because it is written by Elizabeth Green, an education writer who co-founded Chalkbeat back in the day. The portrait is loving and glowing and troubling, particularly in the Age of Trump, suggesting that Moskowitz is the monster that education needs.

Green opens by taking us back to her days as a "young and enthusiastic" reporter, a whole decade ago. She had come to New York "to cover the biggest education revolution ever attempted." Back then, she thought the major players were Michael Bloomberg and Joel Klein, but looking back, she takes note of "a 5-foot-2-inch redhead from Harlem."

I had visited impressive schools before, but none quite like this.

From the beginning, it's clear that Green thinks Success Academies are impressive. That's an impression that she never really questions, and she seems to credit that impressiveness to just one factor-- Eva Moskowitz. Moskowitz, she says, "stalked the school corridors more like a rear admiral than a pedagogue," talking about the obstacles she faced. Green calls her "either paranoid or plagued, probably some of both." When Moscowitz feels "under siege, she could neither attack nor defend. She picked the Napoleon option."

Nice train. I hope it's on time.

Moskowitz had plans, Green notes. Ambitious plans,  "not a proof point but a blueprint, not a Gap but a kind of educational superstore. A whole new school system, run by her instead of the government." Young Green found the plan to grow Success stunning, audacious.  But Moskowitz made it all happen-- and more. Now "she has become one of the country's most influential crusaders at a turning point for charter schooling." It's a curious claim-- Moskowitz is one of the great charter survivors, but it's not clear that Eva has ever "crusaded" for anyone other than Eva.

But Green is not done providing uncritical praise:

Empire has not killed quality.

By now, you may have noticed the military leader references piling up. Moskowitz runs an "empire," and "marches" forward. And Green continues to uncritically list Moskowitz's victories in which Eva "trounces" her peers. Green reports on Success scores, but never asks how they are achieved. Nor does she mention that though Success students ace the state test, they have had trouble with NYC district tests for getting into top high schools. 

Green acknowledges that even supporters keep Moskowitz at "what can generously be called a careful distance."  But Green attributes this simply to Moskowitz's personal style. "Her acid tirades are legendary and can get scathingly personal more quickly than I might have believed had she not once dressed me down after I wrote a story she didn’t like."

Green says that Moskowitz's book is "plainly positioned to soften and humanize," and yet Moskowitz cannot restrain her prickly side, swiping at enemies, complaining about the media, and showing "no patience for critics who question Success's high-stress test prep." And here we arrive at Green's main thrust:

Personally, I draw the line at evil, but Moskowitz is undeniably scary. Cross her, and you’ve also crossed her students, her schools, and justice itself. Entrusting a person who has such an exceptional capacity for venom with the care of children can seem unwise. Which is just one reason I am more than a little terrified by the conclusion I’ve reached: Moskowitz has created the most impressive education system I’ve ever seen. And as she announces in her memoir, 46 schools is just the beginning. “We need to reach more students,” she writes.

"Most impressive education system I've ever seen" is a  personal, subjective measure. But Green avoids examining it. She mentions the brutal child discipline tapes covered by the New York Times (which also lead to the discovery of the Got-to-go lists), but she doesn't consider the reality of what those stories reveal. She notes the criticism of test prep at Success, but doesn't question what that says about the schools. She avoids other criticism, like the issue of high student attrition (and no backfill) at the Success Academies. They remain, in her eyes, impressive.

The next section of the piece looks at Moskowitz's evolution and career. Her growing frustration with a system that wouldn't let her do what she wanted to do. Her political aspirations thwarted by the unions.

Green sets that against her own evolution as a reporter. She recalls the growth of other reformers who seemed to "enflame" parents and whose "district-hating came with a thuggish brand of teacher-bashing." She saw vilifying teachers and unions as counter-productive because "it alienated the same overloaded foot soldiers." Note where teachers rank in Green's military model of the education world. Green knows that people like Democracy and all, but, well, she also began to see the appeal of "blowing up school districts."  She was disillusioned with public school districts and their general mess.

The reason isn’t terrible union contracts or awful management decisions. The fault, I came to see, lies in the (often competing) edicts issued by municipal, state, and federal authorities, which add up to chaos for the teachers who actually have to implement them. It’s not uncommon for a teacher to start the year focused on one goal—say, improving students’ writing—only to be told mid-year that writing is no longer a priority, as happened just the other day at a Boston school I know of. We could hardly have designed a worse system for supporting good teaching had we tried.

I'm with her on the terrible state and federal authority edicts (see most of the previous 2700 posts on this blog), but I'm not ready to let awful management off the hook. It is, in fact, administrators of districts who decide how much havoc those government edicts are going to create. But I think Green needs to let management off the hook, because she's working up an argument in favor of the superstar CEO model of school management.

Certainly, she declares herself a charter fan.

Of all the reforms that have set out to free schools from this trap, to date I’ve seen only one that works: the implementation of charter-school networks. 

And she means large networks, ones that can supply teachers and be insulated from politics. And if you think this is an implied attack on Democracy, well, there's nothing implied about it--

They have strengthened public education by extracting it from democracy as we know it—and we shouldn’t be surprised, because democracy as we know it is the problem.

 Next Green wants to argue that charter networks are "gaining traction" and spreading  and she is going to trot out David Osborne, who's current tour in support of his book about Reinventing America;s School is remarkably selective in his use of facts.

She notes that opponents exist and that they call this whole trend "privatization," and while she reports that Moskowitz considers that an "inaccurate smear," she does not ask if the critics have a point. She brushes past it with a "whatever you label it," and now goes to bat for the idea of choice and lotteries.

She notes that district schools must take responsibility for all students in their sphere, whether they expel them or not, while charters can be more limited in their admissions. Green ignores the issue of backfilling vacated seats again here, and ignores the issue of lotteries that cream out only those families able to navigate that bureaucratic process. Green will, however, repeat the charter claim that they are a force for social justice.  And she once again repeats, unexamined, the classic charter claim: "Charter schools, by contrast, hand the power of choice to parents who can’t afford to exercise it through real estate."

She reports uncritically the Moskowitz claim that charter schools are "the best shot at delivering the public school system we wish we had," as if Success Academy did not have a long record of serving only the students it wants to serve (which is not the public education system I wish for). She passes along Moskowitz's claim that charters are the solution to integration, as if the AP had not just released a report showing the exact opposite.

Finally, far down the page, Green admits that at Success " for all Moskowitz's eloquence about the importance of rigorous academics and extracurricular activities, test prep comes first." Finally we get to backfilling. And Green sadly notes that  parents often choose schools for convenience and location, rather than excellence.

In her conclusion, Green wrestles with some issues without naming them. She earlier dismissed "privatization" as a concern, but in the final stretch she notices that Moskowitz and other charter operators are mostly a collection of rich people who are used to owning and running businesses. She claims that the unscrupulous operators gravitate toward the for-profit charters, but fails to notice the many ways that non-profits can be quite profitable (in fact, she need look no further than Moskowitz, who draws a higher salary than the chancellor of the entire New York City school system). By this point in the article, my frustration with Green is running pretty high-- she can walk right up to issues without actually naming them:

But I do think that bequeathing power over the education of America’s children to a tiny group of ever more influential plutocrats means that the rest of us will have much less say in the direction of public schools than we do today.

Well, yes.  That's privatization. And anti-Democratic. And she goes on to note that overseeing charters is necessary, but difficult, because charters really resistant to being examined (again, she need look no further than Moskowitz, who has taken the state of New York to court to avoid being accountable for how she spends tax dollars).

What, Green worries, if the plutocrats who run these schools get legislators to weaken oversight and empower wealthy board members? And at this point I wonder if she has been covering Eva "Go To Albany and Demand That the Rules Be Changed To Suit Me" Moskowitz with only one eye half open. And is that eye plagued with some sort of shmutz that keeps her from examining the nasty little details of this "impressive" system?

In the end, Green seems ready to dump Democracy, scrap public schools, and elevate an autocratic Beloved Leader CEO charter system. In a way, it's fitting that in an era in which some people are willing to turn to a one-person authoritarian form of the Presidency under Beloved Leader Trump, some folks will also yearn for the same system for schools, arguing that she may be a dictator, she may be autocratic, she may require the suspension of Democracy, but I think she means well, and she makes the trains run on time. Just don't look too closely at where the train is running or exactly who gets to ride on board.



Can Continuing Ed Ed Suck Less?

Ed Week is addressing the question of teacher recertification in a big slab of articles this week (produced with "support from" the Joyce Foundation), each of which addresses a piece of the bigger picture. If you're intrigued, here's the thumbnail sketch of each, with an eyeball rating between one and four. Four eyeballs means you should check this one out, and one eyeball means never mind. Let's go:

Is Teacher Recertification Broken?

Setphen Sawchuk leads off with the second-to-biggest question. The biggest question is "Was teacher recertification ever not broken?" Sawchuck starts off with one incisively exact statement:

Every five years, teachers across the United States engage in a ritual of sorts, submitting paperwork to prove they’ve sat through a specified number of hours of coursework and paying a fee to renew their licenses. 

Then he follows it with a less incisive statement:

It’s hard to think of something that has more influence over teachers:

Well.... I get his point. Recertification provides a great deal of leverage. But the fact that the content of the recertification process doesn't really influence teachers at all is part and parcel of the whole "broken" thing. And he goes on to lay that out as an intro to the series-- nobody really knows what is going on in the world of recertification, but everyone's pretty sure that whatever it is, it's not helping much at all.

Four eyeballs.

Teacher Professional Development: Many Choices, Few Quality Checks

Sawchuk takes a look at the mini-industry that has popped up to help teachers get their hours in. In the process, he drops a factoid that helps explain why recertification remains so mysterious-- the most recent USED data is from 2011-2012.

He gets that choices are usually made based on convenience and time constraints. Which means lots of teachers get as many hours as possible from their own district's professional development (in states like PA, most PD must by law be applicable to recert purposes). But there are also a variety of  vendors out there, and nobody is really checking to see whether they're any good or not. And many of those vendors offer courses based on what they want to offer, not what teachers want to take.

All of which seems about right. We make a decision on a matrix of time, convenience, and "most likely to not be a total waste of my time."

Three eyeballs.

Even National Board Teachers Don't Get a Pass on License Renewal

Madeline Will lays out what most of us know-- getting national board certified is a hell of a lot more work than sitting through the average PD or recert course, and yet somehow, it doesn't count toward the recert process. This is dumb. Will just puts some specifics behind it that help underline how dumb it is.

Three eyeballs.

Wisconsin Killed License Renewal. So Why Are Teachers Upset.

Wisconsin's recert process was clunky and dumb, so they killed it. And teachers were upset, because they were afraid the lack of such a process makes teaching look less professional.  That's it. unless you want names and specifics, you don't have to read the article now.

Two eyeballs.

It's Not How Long You Spend in PD, It's How Much You Grow

Liana Loewus takes us to Georgia, where a new approach to recert is ditching "sit'n'git"  PD with a different system based on setting a goal for personal growth and meeting it.

In Georgia, this involves Professional Learning Communities, the DuFour pioneered model that all the cool kids are using these days. It's an interesting approach, particularly notable because the state appears to be taking a "hands-off approach" and trusting principals to tend to their own house. "We can’t ask educators within your school to trust each other if we’re not also going to trust you,” said David Hill, head of special projects for the state standards board.

What an extraordinary approach! Teachers work together to help each other get better, and the state takes their principal's word for it that Good Things are happening. While the system would seem to depend upon having a principal who's not a jackass, and it gets into all the problems of peer reviews, it's still an intriguing approach.

Four eyeballs.

Inching Toward Relicensure, One "Microcredential" at a Time

Sawchuk interviews Paul Fleming from Tennessee, who explains how their micro-credential system works. I'll admit-- when I saw "micro-credential" I envisioned a bunch of teachers strapped to computers taking stupid tests at the end of slide-show presentations about the kind of "competencies" that can be crammed into power-point slides. Yuck.

Tennessee seems to be up to something different, with elements of peer review and using actual evidence from the classroom instead of clicking a mouse at a screen. The system is new and there seem to be some questions yet to be answered, and the interview is brief.

Three eyeballs.

Making a Case for "Timely, Purposeful, Progressive" PD

Brian Curtin wants us to think about how much the world has changed since we started teaching, so that the tide of change will help us feel that it's "imperative" that PD be newer and better. And he's going to tell us that teacher quality is the single biggest factor in student achievement (and he's not going to bother to include the qualifier that this is the biggest "in school" factor). Also, Google tools. And timeliness. And so much corporate style jargon that it's hard to believe that this guy is an actual English teacher (but he is). But continuous education should be continuous, and happen when we can immediately apply what we learn, because we forget things that happen in the summer. And student outcomes.

One eyeball. Maybe even half an eyeball, but that would be gross.

Cutting a New Path on License Renewal for Teachers

Kim Walters-Parker, like Curtin, seems to have many, many things to say, and in trying to say all of them, ends up not saying much. It should be harder to become a teacher. Maintaining a law license is very hard; maintaining a teacher's certificate is not. Change should be approached with a long view. And when she gets to the "what should recert look like question," she answers "Frankly, I don't know."

One eyeball.

 How Licensing Rules Kept One Teacher of the Year Out of Public Schools

Megan Allen is that teacher, and her Florida certificate did not transfer easily to Massachusetts.

It's a real problem, though I'm not sure the problem is so much reciprocity as it is that some states would give a teaching certificate to an upright badger with a piece of chalk strapped to its paw. And as states move to issue teaching certificates to anyone with any degree, or allow charters to "certify" their own "teachers," reciprocity becomes a bigger challenge. How do you maintain high standards in your own state when North Pennsyltucky has lowered standards to the basement?

Improving reciprocity would, as Allen hints, be a natural solution to recruiting issues. Allen herself ended up pushed out of the classroom by her intra-state move, and that is no small matter. But at the same time, as I consider the state of education in Massachusetts and Florida, I have to conclude that Massachusetts understands some things about teachers and public schools that Florida does not, which in turn would lead me to doubt whether a Florida certificate was good enough to gain automatic entrance to classrooms in other states.

Four eyeballs.

That's the package. An interesting collection about an under-discussed topic for which there are few simple answers. Teachers who are any good in the classroom grow constantly; it would be better, perhaps, for states to ask how they could find out about that growth rather than demanding that teachers be locked into some easy-to-report-by-paperwork method of making the state happy.













Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Selling the School

If you live outside a certain part of the US, the brand BBVA Compass may be unfamiliar to you, and if you are from an area served by BBVA Compass, you may think of them as just one more large, grim banking institution. 

Thanks to KIPP, that may be changing.


KIPP has sold the naming rights to its Houston campus for $1.8 million dollars to the Atlanta-based financial goliath.

The school itself will still be called KIPP Nexus, but the campus will be the BBVA Compass Opportunity Campus. This is a new school in the KIPP Houston chain opened this year with 90 kindergartners and 110 fifth graders. It joins the 28 Houston-area campuses and the 209 schools in the KIPP national chain.

The $1.8 million breaks down into a million and a half for capital projects and another $300K for operating expenses. This is reportedly BBVA Compass's largest adventure in education financing, with their "director of corporate responsibility and reputation" (yes, that's a thing) praising KIPP's "bar-none" and "spectacular" record of success.

This is not the first such venture in the Houston area. The Kinder Foundation (founded by former Enron executive Richard Kinder) sunk $7.5 million in the Houston ISD High School for the Performing and Visual Arts with the expectation that Kinder's name would be added to the title of the magnet school, but after a pushback from board and public members, the foundation released Houston ISD from the naming obligation.


Schools and school districts have sold out entered mutually beneficial partnerships with private interests before. There are plenty of school sports stadiums with sponsor names attached, and I suspect it would be impossible to count up the number of schools that use scoreboards which were "contributed" for "free"-- but with the company logo prominently displayed.


Charter schools have always depended upon the kindness of well-heeled strangers, though not often at the cost of naming rights. Is sponsorship of education a bad thing? We know that when the Koch brothers endow a college teaching position, they expect that school to teach the "correct" economic world view.

But what about K-12? Do we want our kids' school day to feature "Wal-Mart Presents the Spudville Junior High School"? If my child attends Exxon Senior High School, will she be allowed to learn about global warming? If my child's school is sponsored by Hobby Lobby, will she be required to learn that all non-heterosexuals are wrong and evil? IF we're a Disney school, am I forbidden to roll my eyes as I open class with the newest Disney trailer? Sponsorship is a tricky thing-- sponsors might not have to say a word if cash-strapped administrations decide on their own that nobody will be allowed to do anything that might spook the sponsors.

And how do these sponsorships do anything except widen the gap between haves and have-nots? In poor rural or urban communities where there are no deep-pocketed sponsors waiting to purchase show their support for schools, will the schools just fall further and further behind?

What if we break it down to the classroom level? Does Future Me end up starting the period by saying, "This Tuesday's lesson about participial phrases is brought to you by the folks at Tyson chicken-- nutritional swellness for your every meal." Or will I just play an ad? Must my students all write assignments with a Bic pen (the official pen of Franklin High School)? Do I get to wear a special teacher suit that's covered with logos, all NASCAR style? Do I get to negotiate my endorsement deals as a free agent, so that popular teachers get the best extra income by selling out like a soulless bandit entering productive partnerships with private business, or will the district negotiate all such deals so that I can look forward to a principal shoving a Pepsi logo hat in my face and saying, "You will wear this, or I'll put a letter in your file."

Mike Fe9niberg, co-founder of the KIPP conglomerate, says that the alternative id for corporate America to ignore K-12. I disagree. The alternative is for corporate America, along with the citizens of America, to pay a fair share of taxes to properly finance public education. Crazy talk, I know, but at least you can believe I mean it, because I have no sponsors paying me to say it.


Better Teacher Preparation

There are folks who believe that the problems with the teacher pipeline begin with college and university programs for preparing teachers in the first place. Are there ways that we could improve that part of the pipeline?

First of all, I'm not someone inclined to fight unconditionally for the traditional system, in part because I am not a product of it. My college experience was different in several key specifics:

1) My BA is in English, the subject I teach, on the theory that I should be as knowledgeable as can be about the subject I'm teaching. Because I was headed for teaching, there were a couple of English courses I was required to take. Beyond that, I emerged from college just as well-educated as any other English major.

2) I took only a couple of methods courses before student teaching-- however...

3) I took several methods courses while student teaching. Though my school was a small ruralish college, student teaching was in an urban setting (in my case, Cleveland Heights). We lived in a hotel in downtown Cleveland (corner of E9 and Superior) and took evening classes at a field office maintained by the school in that same hotel. My methods courses were taught by working classroom teachers, except for the one taught by the same professor who observed me while I was student teaching. This made the courses enormously practical ("So, this happened today. How could I have handled it. And this is what I'm planning in two days-- is this a good way to approach it?")

My home away from home back in the day
 4) I was observed at least once a week, sometimes for several class periods. Seriously. My professor knew some of my students by name.

5) My first year of teaching. I was a regular first year teacher to my district, but an intern to my college's graduate program. I still took classes at that same field office, and the same guy who watched me through student teaching checked in on me in my new classroom (just not so often).

That's the system that produced me, and every time I'm host to a student teacher, I'm again aware of how different many other teacher programs are. That said, there are many things that the current system does well, many things that are necessary for preparing the teachers of tomorrow, like the study of pedagogical methods, child development, and classroom management. I would still trust a person with a teaching degree and traditional certificate before I turned to someone who has nothing to offer except a pulse and a college degree in whatever.

So what would I change in order to make college programs more effective and useful?

1) Put working teachers in the driver's seat.

Education is the only professional field in which working, experienced professionals have no say in how people are trained for or admitted to the profession. Too many (not all, but too many) education courses are taught by people with no actual classroom experience. I don't care if you're a super-duper education researcher-- a whole lot of education research on "effective" methods and "proven" approaches is bunk, and the people who know the difference between the bunk and the non-bunk are working in classrooms.

I've known of education professors who worked as substitute teachers in their local districts. That's awesome. And as I, and people like me, approach the end of a teaching career, local college education programs ought to be calling us up and trying to recruit us for their program.

And no college education department anywhere should settle on a list of course requirements until a bunch of experienced working teachers have signed off on it.

2) Provide actual supervision and support for student teachers.

For a program to visit a student a mere three times for a brief drive-by is criminal-- particularly when the person doing the "observation" has never met the student teacher before that first visit. Visits should be extensive and often. Student teachers should be in some sort of setting (classroom, meetings, whatever) that allows them to seek and receive guidance as the student teaching is going on.

3) Address the underlying philosophies

Here's a major irony of the standards movement-- while we are supposedly shifting students to Really Understanding The Concepts behind what they're doing and not just performing tricks, we have shifted teacher education toward producing technicians, mechanics who just unpack a standard here, align a lesson there, and tighten some bolts on the meat widgets in the classroom.

Why are you teaching? What are your goals? What are your underlying assumptions about education, knowledge, human nature, human growth, and the values behind all of this? If you don't know the answer, you're just a worksheet deliver service utilized by a content delivery system.

4) Broadening the Pool

This is probably the hardest part, but it's important because so many states are trending in the wrong direction.  Too many places are responding to the teacher "shortage" by opening the door to any warm body that's willing to take the job. This will not work. They will continue to recruit people who have neither the training nor the ability for teaching, and the warm bodies will either leave quickly or stay and do a lousy job.

Meanwhile, by opening the door to any warm body, they devalue the profession and make it less appealing. The creation of fast food anybody-can-do-them jobs did not spark interest in culinary schools.

The "shortage" is simply a failure of states to make teaching attractive. Instead, they've transformed it into a job that offers little autonomy, little job security, lousy pay, general disrespect, and the chance, not to improve children's lives, but to read a script and prep the kids for a bad standardized test. This is not how you attract and retain the best and the brightest, or even people who would otherwise be drawn to teaching.

There's a big conversation to be had about teacher training programs, and we aren't having it, though I keep waiting. In the meantime, colleges looking to recruit for their teacher program staff know where to find me.


Monday, December 4, 2017

FL: DeVos-Financed Board Member Wants FBOE Seat

If you live outside of Florida, you may not know about Shawn Frost. But like much going on in the educational swamplands of Florida, this is a story worth paying attention to, because some version of it may be coming to an election near you.

So who is Shawn Frost, and how did he get to be a big name in Florida education?

Well, Shawn Frost is this guy:
















This particular Facebook post has since been removed, but it seems to capture Frost's special je ne sais quoi.

Frost is currently a member of the Indian River County School Board. He wanted this seat, badly enough to leave his wife and children back in their home at Vero Beach, FL (still listed as his "where I live" on Facebook), and move into a room above his parents' garage to meet the residency requirements (all of this was hashed out in court, ultimately in Frost's favor).

The seat that Frost ran for in 2014 was the seat held by the president of the Florida School Boards Association, a group that Frost and like-minded folks consider a bit too chummy with the public education system. Frost has been (according to Facebook) a marine, a science teacher, and a senior project manager at EFront, a software learning management system. And according to a Frost-boosting profile of Frost, he works with business start-ups.

That glowing profile was posted at the website of ExcelinEd, the newest incarnation of Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education which has long been the heavy hand reshaping the Florida education biz into something more appealing for profiteers and less useful for actual students. And the occasion of the profile was another of Frost's achievements.

Remember, Frost and friends didn't much care for FSBA. But booting the FSBA president out of her seat was not enough-- Frost decided to round up some like-minded reformy board members and create a new group-- the Florida Coalition of School Board Members (FCSBM).  In particular, FCSBM is unhappy that FSBA is trying to stand in the way of the Florida legislature's various reformster-feuled proposals, going so far as to drag the state into court. Because when local school districts are attacked, they should welcome their dismemberment and defunding graciously, I guess.  Oh, and the FCSBM address for incorporation was Frost's Vero Beach home.

So how did a carpetbagger manage to unseat the head of the state School Board association?

With some pricey help. We'll get into how some of this was spent in a second, but here's a char that breaks down the financial backing for Frost's campaign.

from The Indian River Guardian

























That's the American Federation of Children, the group that, in 2014, was still being run by Betsy DeVos, was tied closely to ALEC, and was funding reformy candidates left and right. Well, actually, only right. Here's how the Indian River Guardian reported on the race:

Frost, a newcomer to local politics with some questionable residency qualifications, (See: Frost says he is living in garage apartment at his father’s house in District 1), defeated Brombach 54 percent to 46 percent. In addition to being helped by local, though nationally funded, attacks on Brombach, Frost was helped by a flood of additional attack mailers, all paid for by the Florida Federation for Children. More outside help came from individual contributors to Frost’s campaign. Some two thirds of the direct contributions to Frost’s campaign were from out-of-state donors.  In the reporting period ending August 18, Frost raised $6,340, $5,500 from out of state contributors, including several described as “venture capitalists.”

Frost has actually announced that he will not seek another term on the school board-- because he has bigger targets in mind:

I have to choose between reform on a small scale — Indian River County — and reform on a larger scale…I’ve chosen to focus on the state level.  I will be joining, hopefully, the state board of education, and working on those constitution amendments over the next year, and that won’t leave time for running for office.

And there it is. The reformster pattern is to get your foot in the door-- any door-- and just keep failing upward into positions of greater and greater power. And now Florida is looking at one more anti-public-ed person in a position of power in their state.

I'm in Pennsylvania-- I really don't set out to spend so much time and attention of Florida, but they just keep providing examples of the worst of what can happen when the public school is under attack, and while I believe there are reformsters out there who are actually motivated by concern for students and education, none of them ever seem to turn up in the Sunshine State, so the attempts to carve up public education are just so... naked. In the other 49, we just need to keep paying attention. And if you're in Florida, God bless you, good luck, and make some noise (there's even a facebook page). 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

ICYMI: Hello, December Edition (12/3)

Is this your first time here? Here's a collection of worthwhile reads from last week-- not all of the, but some of them. Give them a read and remember-- writers get read when you pass them on!

The FLCRC Seems Hell Bent on Privatizing Public Education

Florida does this weird thing with their constitution every several years. It's about time for it to happen again, and it doesn't look good for public education.

I Am the Teacher South Carolina Wants To Retain, and I Am Barely Hanging On

One more state having trouble holding on to teachers; one of them wrote a newspaper editorial to explain why

What Really Happened at the School Where Every Senior Got into College

Yet one more example of how miracle schools don't exist, and if sounds too good to be true, it is.

No We Didn't Sign Up for This

If this is a hair whiny for your tastes, I feel you. But it's a good listing of many ways the profession has changed in a short time.

How To Avoid Writing Like an Academic

For those of us who teach writing, a cool little set of instructions.

We Don't Need No Education

The editorial board at Metro Times takes Michigan's anti-public-ed GOP to task.

Bias in VAMS

There's another VAM lawsuit going on (this one in New Mexico) and Audrey Amrein Beardsley is there. In addition to an update, she offers some expert opinion from Michael T Kane.

A Punishing Decade for School Funding

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities looks at how school funding has been doing since the crash of 2008. Come for the chart, stay for the analysis.

Are Schools Responsible for Teaching Boys To Respect Girls?

It's the issue of the month, and Nancy Flanagan has something thoughtful to say about it. If you don't save your EdWeek reads to follow her, you should.

Top Ed Tech Trends Fake News

Finally, your long read of the week, but well worth it, putting fake news in the context of our country as a whole and ed tech baloney in particular. From Audrey Watters.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Are Two Tiers the Right Choice?

I have long argued against a two-tiered education system. I may be wrong.


I was thinking about the two tiers last night as I was busy hollering at my elected representatives on twitter and facebook and the phone (I would have dispatched pigeons if I had them). It has long been a political go-to line to talk about the Two America's, usually as part of a promise to bring them together. I don't recall ever seeing such a brazen attempt to take the Two America's and build a bigger wall between them.


We could talk about the specifics of the Republic Tax Bill, but of course nobody really knows all the provisions (except maybe the corporate lobbyists who wrote them) because the bill was rammed through quickly without debate, discussion, or even being read first. But we know the broad outlines-- give more money to the rich. Give some pennies to everyone else, but only for a year or two-- and those pennies will be eaten up by all the other costs that the non-wealthy will bear. We will have a country where for some people $500 is lunch money chump change and for some people $500 is the difference between survival and financial ruin.

We could talk about the proven failure of trickle down economics, the approach that hasn't worked, ever. Nor does it make sense that it would. I don't spend more on my business just because I've got more money-- I expand my business because I think there's enough demand to support it. And demand does not grow because ten rich guys each have a few billion more. Demand grows because a billion poor and middle class people have more money to spend-- and the security to believe they don't have to hold onto it as a safeguard against unexpected disaster. Taking on a trillion or two in debt so that rich people can be richer doesn't help.

But wait-- you say-- aren't the Republicans eternally concerned about our Huge Deficit. How can they add a trillion to that already-huge gap? That, of course, will be Act II of this play. Some day in the not-too-distant future, the GOP will look around and go, "Holy smokes! Look at that huge deficit! We'd better start cutting things like Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security." Orrin Hatch has already stated that "we don't have money" to re-instate CHIP, the health insurance program for children.

Has the GOP horribly miscalculated, opening itself up to a blue wave in 2018? Maybe, but I'm not feeling very optimistic this morning, so I'm going to say that 1) the donor class will provide huge campaign financing, 2) the Democrats will nominate dopes and 3) the low-information voters who do get some sort of tax benefit in the first year will fail to notice that it disappears completely after the election.

So maybe we do need a two-tiered system of schools in this country. One tier for the wealthy, some nice private schools (complete with vouchers that give yet another kickback of tax dollars to the rich) that prepare them to be future leaders and well-off masters of the universe. And then another tier for those who had the misfortune to be poor and must be prepared to live on the bottom rungs of the ladder, because there is no hope in hell that they will ever get out. Oh, sure, a handful now and then will be found worthy, just to keep the fiction alive that we still have the prospect of upward mobility in this country (and always making sure to include a person or two of color so that it's clear, you know, that we aren't that racist). But mostly they will need the skills and training to survive in America's basement, because if they're born there, they will probably stay there, always living one health problem or bad accident away from financial ruin, never able to afford any education after high school, and condemned to a high school that is either an underfunded public school or a selective and possibly fraudulent charter school, established specifically to help them be more comfortable in their proper place (perhaps delivered through some half-assed software program that maintains their permanent personnel file for the convenience of their corporate overlords). Certainly this is what some people already envision; it's what Betsy DeVos means when she suggests that students should be "allowed" to go to school in a place that's the "best fit," like a snotty rich girl in an 80s comedy looking down her nose at lower class children and saying, "Dear, wouldn't you be happier somewhere with your own kind?"

Maybe asking one public school system to serve both Americas is too much.

Sorry to be so grim. I'm sure I'll rally. But this morning it feels as if the ed reform debates are simply the tail on a larger dog that is busily devouring some of the basic ideals that have previously driven this country. It feels as if somehow we've just lost the whole American plot, and the drive to bust up public education and sell off the pieces is just one more symptom.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Keeping Up Appearances

Sometimes in this country we are far less concerned with actually doing a thing than we are with looking as if we're doing a thing.

Airport security is a prominent example. Year after year, security experts remind us that airport security sucks, that it is just an elaborate piece of theater. It doesn't actually make us safer, but it puts on a show. It certainly looks like we're making the skies safer-- unless, of course, you understand what you're looking at.

The Keeping Up Appearances approach is handy when really getting serious about a problem would be difficult and expensive. KUA is all about going through some motions that will reassure folks without actually having to expend the work and money it would take to really deal with an issue.
 

Ed Reform has been a great example of the Keeping Up Appearances approach. At every critical juncture, when we could be asking "How can we best deal with this issue," policy leaders, bureaucrats, and politicians have instead asked "How can we look as if we're dealing with this issue?"

Coming up with national education standards would be a huge and difficult undertaking, requiring a lot of eyes and ears and tons of brainpower, as well as collecting and sifting through a mountain of research that exists and creating another mountain of research that doesn't exist. And that's before we even get to creating a structure by which a robust, resilient and constantly-revising set of standards can be kept up-to-date while responding to ongoing  feedback.

But, hey-- that would be hard, and expensive. So let's just have a few self-appointed, high-self-esteem guys throw something together on the fly. We'll call in some political favors, get some rich backers, and push the Common Core out there. They aren't real national educational standards, but they make it look like we've got them. Close enough.

It's also really hard to tell exactly how well students are doing, or how effective schools and teachers are. It would require several more mountains of research into what real success looks like both in the short and long run, and that in turn would lead us to new, complex and creative measures of those most important factors that we have identified. It would take a whole organization just to collect, analyze, and interpret the data. It would be super-hard and hella expensive.

So instead, let's just make every kid take a standardized test. It won't really measure anything worth measuring, but it sure looks as if we're gathering honest-to-goodness data about student achievement and teacher effectiveness. Close enough.

Even school choice. I mean, we could set up a full, robust network of schools in a community, with each school offering different strengths and programs. We'd have to allow for extensive training and research into effective approaches, and the real expense would be staggering, with multiple facilities instead of one, and a surplus of seats. With students spread over several different entities, the oversight requirements just to keep students from falling through the cracks, let alone making sure that the various choice schools are delivering on their promises-- well, that would be a fairly huge extra department as well. The entire system could be impressive and exciting, but it would involve the costs of running several schools where we used to only fund one-- the taxpayer bill would be enormous, but if people were really serious about choice and variety and a superior education for every single child in America, political leaders would be able to lead a call for much higher taxes to make this dream real.

Or, we could just let anybody open any old kind of charter school, provide zero oversight, and let everyone fight over funding that is a fraction of what's needed. And just scrap that whole "make sure every child gets an outstanding education (and not just an opportunity)" business. Close enough.

High quality full education? Eh, just get some reading and math in there. In fact, just stick to the stuff that employers ask for. Attacking the problems of poverty? Just make some noises about how education will fix everything, somehow. Systemic racism? Just, you know, act real concerned occasionally. Trying to fix the teacher "shortage"? Have a committee issue some findings.

We could list dozens of ways in which policy leaders, politicians, and bureaucrats try to half-ass their way to looking as if they are addressing an issue in education. If you have been in the classroom for more than five years, you already have a list of all the times our "leaders" announced their latest plan to "fix" something about schools by way of some not-really-serious program whose real objective is to keep up appearances, to look as if we are actually working on the issues. The people really working on solutions-- those are the ones standing by the "leaders'" elbows saying, "Well, you know, that part where I get to make a bunch of money pretending to address this issue-- I like that part. Keep that part."

Meanwhile, teachers are in actual classrooms addressing actual issues with actual students, where authentic solutions are required. I can't help a student by trying to look as if I care about him. I can't teach a unit by trying to look as if we're studying it while I try to look as if I know what I'm talking about. I won't come up with evaluations for the students by looking as if I went over their work.

This lack of seriousness has always been a feature of public education. If it seems worse right now, that is perhaps because the White House is occupied by a guy who's mostly trying to look as if he's a President, surrounding himself with people who look as if they would be good for their jobs. Education has always been plagued by half-assed smoke and mirrors; now it's just a national problem for all sectors as well.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Killing Higher Ed

I will say this for the current GOP regime-- where there have been few features that can distinguish their ed policies of their Democratic predecessors, they are managing to find and underline one. Obama-Duncan-et. al paid lip service to the goal of a college education and made the college entry rate one of the centerpieces of their programs.

But the GOP is making itself equally clear that college sucks, that it is an institution that they neither respect nor love. Some data suggests this attitude is a recent development, though as with many ugly attitudes abroad these days, it could be that the anti-college feelings have always been there, but now feel a new-found freedom to tromp around in the light of day.

But the anti-college crowd is not just tromping around-- they have begun tromping on the institution itself, with policies designed to kill higher education as we know it.

Today's Wall Street Journal covers the House GOP's higher education package (I know-- paywall-- but if we use WSJ coverage, we can be assured that no liberal bias is tainting the report).

The proposal ordinarily would face a long year of hearings and revisions, but these days, God only knows. But we need to pay attention, because the bill is ugly. Ugly.

This, it should be noted, is over and above the assault on college that is folded into the tax "plan."  That collection of baloney takes away interest deductions for student loans, obliterates a tax credit, and counts graduate school tuition waivers as income (which will mean that people with actual incomes of around $15K will end up paying taxes on "incomes" of around $50K). All of these will make college more expensive.

The proposed bill is called The Promoting Real Opportunity, Success and Prosperity Through Education Reform Act (PROSPER), and it will also put higher education out of the reach of many students. However it does more than that-- it also changes the fundamental nature of higher education into something that really isn't higher education at all.


Student loans would be capped, so that students and their families would be limited in the amount of money they can borrow. So for many students, that would be enough for a "game over." The bill also rolls back loan forgiveness for those who spend a decade in the public sector, and loan repayments would no longer be adjusted to fit income levels. Working at a minimum wage job while trying to make your $600/month loan payments? Sucks to be you, college grad.

These changes favor people who are trying to use college as a profit center and students as their cash cows, so it fits that the bill also is a big fat wet kiss to for-profit colleges. The Obama administration had started to crack down on these predators (though they were none too quick about it). While Betsy DeVos's USED has been rolling back those rules, this bill goes a step further and prohibits USEDs of the future from implementing "gainful employment" rules. Those were the rules that said if you were advertising your predatory college by promising jobs and nobody who graduated from your predatory college was actually getting jobs, the feds were going to stop handing you money. Various other rules will also be scrapped, like rules against giving student recruiters incentive pay for every sucker they managed to con into attending these predatory schools.  The reasoning seems to be that a bunch of rules unfairly affect for-profit schools, when the for-profits ought to get the same breaks as everyone else, because how are those folks supposed to rake in the money if they have to follow rules and stuff.

The help for the for-profits underlines the change in the very purpose of higher education under the bill. Here's education opponent Virginia Foxx:

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R., N.C.), chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce which drafted the proposal, lamented that so much of higher education was considered “irrelevant” by employers. She hopes to better harness technology by pushing accreditors to lean on schools to accept more creative alternatives to higher education.

Or as the WSJ itself puts it:

The act focuses on ensuring students don’t just enroll in school, but actually graduate with skills that the labor market is seeking.

That's it. The purpose of colleges and universities is to provide companies with the trained meat widgets they require to make money. Anything else you thought was an important part of higher education-- inquiry, study, growth, expanding the horizon of human understanding-- that stuff is all crap. The only measure of "education" that matters is "does somebody want to pay you money to do that."

And since "higher education" is to be redefined as "place to fulfill more advanced employer desires," well, we don't really need those four-year ivy covered hotbeds of liberal quackery at all, do we? Here's Betsy DeVos just two days ago:

Students should be able to pursue their education where, when and how it works for them and their schedules. Financial aid should not be withheld simply because they pursue a nontraditional path. Politicians and bureaucrats should not dictate to students when and how they can learn.

In other words, when it comes to getting a piece of that sweet federal student aid money, why should actual colleges and universities have all the fun. Apprenticeships, for example, ought to count.

There's more. Community colleges will get money to form corporate partnerships (send your child to Exxon Training College) and minority-serving colleges will get tighter accountability rules (because, you know, Those People). And everyone has to prove that they support the freedom of right-wing speakers to appear on campus (because snowflakes).

And because we love the Law of Unintended Consequences, one last point from Foxx:

Under the committee’s proposal, if an institution’s program or repayment system doesn’t set up a student for success, then it cannot be eligible for student aid.

This has one clear consequence-- if colleges want to get paid, they must make sure not to accept any students with less than great prospects. It's just like charters! If you take a potential failure into your school, she'll cost you money-- so screen carefully.

While much of this is a continuation of Obama-Duncan (let the private sector in! judge education based on employability!) the GOP is bringing a heightened level of enthusiasm to this tromping of education.

You begin to see why this is the PROSPER act-- it is designed to help vendors of training services (including for profit predatory colleges) and future employers prosper. Of course, rich families will continue to send their children for an actual higher education, but for the rest of the Lessers-- well, what they really need is training that will help them become useful tools for their future corporate masters.