Tuesday, October 31, 2017

PA: Teacher Tenure, Seniority on Chopping Block

Here we go again.

Reformsters and their PA GOP friends have been trying to do away with teacher job protections in Pennsylvania for years now, but this year, they took a new approach-- burying the attacks on teacher seniority and tenure in a big bill strapped onto PA's ever-disastrous budget shenanigans.

The budget appears to be just about settled, albeit quietly, so as not to draw attention to how long it had been unsettled (long story short-- this year, for variety's sake, instead of failing to pass a budget, the legislature passed a budget and then a group of House GOP representatives blocked any attempts to fund it). The omnibus education bill has been detached from the budget, but it is still sitting on Governor Wolf's desk, a Frankensteinian heap, a clinking clanking clattering collection of caliginous junk.

I thought that sounded familiar

House Bill 178 featuress a whole bunch o'stuff, including but not limited to:

* A bunch of procedural rules for how ESSA plan review shall be handled, mostly aimed at making sure that the legislature has ample opportunity to get their grubby amateur hands on the plan. So that'll be a big help.

* A requirement for all new school board members to get a training from the Ed department

* Training programs for charter school trustees, too

* Districts under financial watch will have a state overseer to serve as their czar

* Districts may now claim "economic reasons" as a cause for cutting staff (this is added to a list of causes that includes cutting programs, reduced enrollment, or school consolidation). Such cuts may NOT be based on how much a particular teacher is paid, and if a superintendent gets caught violating that rule, he'll get a letter in his permanent file. So, you know, really heavy consequences for that one.

* Districts must suspend an equal percentage of administrators. This seems... tricky. If a district has 100 teachers and 5 administrators and they cut 5 teachers, does that mean they must chop off one principal's arms? Fortunately, the Secretary of Education can waive this requirement if the district's operations are "already sufficiently streamlined" aka "any time he feels like it."

* Some noise about reporting the economic factors and also making sure that staff cuts won't hurt academics, mostly providing the legislature plausible deniability ("We told them not to cut important stuff! Just, you know, teachers.")

* Staff cut for financial reasons MUST BE cut in descending order of recent evaluations. So anyone with two consecutive "unsatisfactory" ratings goes first. This will not help much, as the number of unsatisfactory teachers in PA tends to hover around 200. After that, the district works its way up the evaluation scale. For the time being, teachers are clumped by rating and not precisely ranked by their actual rating. I presume that will come later.

* Presuming they won't get jobs elsewhere, they will be called back in reverse of the order they were laid off.

* No contract can negotiate anything that contradicts these rules.

* I'm not positive, but I think section 1216 would now say that a teacher candidate can't be denied a diploma if they flunk the PRAXIS or similar test.

* No lunch shaming.

* Opioid abuse instruction.

* A bunch of measures to beef up agricultural education.

* The ability for charter schools to manage themselves as chains rather than a series of independent schools owned and operated by the same company.

* And once again kicks the can down the road on using the Keystone exam as a graduation requirement. This keeps happening (the requirement was supposed to kick in last year) because legislators keep being alarmed by how many students would be denied diplomas they have otherwise earned because of this Big Standardized Test. They don't seem to understand that this will never change; somebody needs to go to Harrisburg and explain norm-based assessment to them.

Somebody also needs to read the legislature in on the recent Houston court decision about EVAAS, the OG of VAM systems and the identical twin to the VAM system used in PA (PVAAS). In that decision, the court ruled that using the VAM system as a means of terminating teachers was nuts and indefensible. The system for suspending teachers in this bill are not quite as severe as Houston's, but if this bill becomes law, I expect we'll be in court soon enough.

If you are in Pennsylvania, please join me in tweeting, emailing and calling the governor to encourage him not to sign this thick slice of baloney. This is not what education in Pennsylvania needs. It remains to be seen exactly which internal organs the legislature lacks.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Competence vs. Content

From No Child Left Behind to Common Core to Race to the Top (both Original and Waiver-lite, ed reform has had a terrible problem with content.

By defining reading as nothing more than a set of decoding skills that exist in some content-free vacuum, these reforms have devalued the content and knowledge aspects of reading and writing. This has led to absurdities like suggesting that Of Mice and Men is a novel for elementary students and David Coleman's terrible teaching instructions. But knowledge of content-- and the role that content knowledge plays in reading-- have been banished from the English classroom.

Some defenders have tried hard to argue that rich content is written into the Core et al, but I think they are like folks looking at a car with no wheels saying, "Well, clearly we are meant to add wheels, because otherwise this obviously won't work." But while they think they see content at the heart of the standards, I think they just see a content-shaped hole.

What I know is this-- if I were willing to sacrifice students' education, I could prepare them for the Big Standardized Test by using no text except the daily newspaper and single pages ripped out of random books.

Now that competency-based pseudo-personalized algorithm-driven computer-based education is tomorrow's flavor du jour, we need to recognize that its content problems are even worse.

In PLCBE, everything needs to be reduced to "skills" that can be :measured" by "assessments" on the computer. You have probably encountered some rudimentary CBE in your workplace-- the HR department sends out an e-mail with a link to a "training" that involves letting some training slideshow play on your computer screen, followed by some multiple choice questions that you would have to be seriously cognitively impaired to screw up ("When a co-worker is injured and bleeding you should A) run away screaming, B) taste the blood to see if it tastes diseased, C) post pictures on Instagram or D) put on rubber gloves and call the company nurse"). Miss too many questions, and you're redirected to re-watch sections of the slides before you re-take the test. Get at least nine out of ten and congratulations-- you're a certified bloodborne pathogens expert.

PLCBE requires us to reduce everything to standardized test questions, preferably multiple choice. That means only the most superficial of items can be assessed. Imagine trying to assess a student's grasp of Hamlet with nothing but multiple choice questions, including questions that reduce complex long-debated issues. "Just how mad is Hamlet, really?" is reduced from a complicated and detail-rich debate strung out across hundreds of years and hundreds of actor interpretations is reduced to a true-false question-- with only one "correct" answer.

Reading a text is a complex activity that exists at the intersection of the text, the author's history, the author's intent, the reader's interest, the reader's background knowledge, and the reader's own questions about how to be fully human in the world. PLCBE, like the last twenty years of reading "advances", reduces all of that to one issue-- how skilled is the reader at decoding words, as if that were the sum total of reading.

This completely omits any considerations of creative or critical thinking and expression, and it is the very opposite of "personal." PLCBE fans will claim that computer software exists that can evaluate open-ended essay answers-- they are either kidding themselves or lying. No such software exists. Just as Grammarly will not help you write better-- it will just help you proofread for spelling, punctuation and typing mistakes-- essay-grading software still has no idea whether you are spouting gibberish or not, only if you are spouting gibberish that fits the pattern of written standard English. (For more definitive demonstrations, track down the work of my hero Les Perelman.)

No computerized algorithm-driven competency-based program is going to assign full texts. You won't actually read Hamlet at all-- just a single screen's worth, so maybe you will make sense out of the "too, too solid flesh" soliloquy without any idea of what came before or after. Don't worry-- just decode the words.

The rise of Big Standardized Testing was an attempt to replace the teacher's final exams with one created by the standards-and-skills champions. PLCBE is an attempt to replace the teacher as well. We've been having some spirited debates in English classrooms about the Canon and what belongs in it and how students should understand it and interpret it, but the new computer-driven teacher doesn't care about the canon at all because it has no tools for measuring things like "knowledge" or 'insight" or "understanding" or "ability to wrestle with literature's many paths to understanding society, culture and the human condition."

This is not a liberal vs. conservative thing. I'm not even sure it's a reformer vs. traditional public school thing, because I know plenty of reformers who do not subscribe to the reduce-education-to-a-technical-software-problem school of thought. This is about the dangerously reductive notion that all education can be processed through tiny, limiting, and ultimately inadequate tools, like trying to squeeze a Thanksgiving turkey out of a toothpaste tube.

PLCBE is a bad idea for many reasons-- I just don't want us to forget that one reason is that PLCBE is inadequate to either present or assess the higher order skills involved in reading and writing, and that by its very nature, it is the enemy of rich content in education, and that being the enemy of rich content in education is like being the enemy of protein, vitamins and nutrients in food.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

What's the Fuss about Data Mining

If you have trouble getting folks to grasp what Big Data is all about, start them off with this clip:

Yes, every time you take a survey on Facebook, you open up access to your data. The range of reaction emojis help facebook more accurately track your mood and emotional reactions, making their data more detailed. Use gmail? Google reads your emails to better target you.

Now, imagine this same stuff applied to school. Imagine that school is redesigned so that every skill is developed and measured via computer, and so every data point is stored and added to a massive digital dossier on each child. Imagine that the school expands its curriculum to include social and emotional education, also managed by computer, so that the dossier stores information about what sort of person the student is.

The implications go beyond advertising. What would corporations pay to be able to say, "We need to hire ten left-handed white men who are good with simple computations, good reading comprehension skills, and who are very emotionally stable without any tendencies to challenge authority. Oh, and if they could be without any markers for possible major illness, that would be great. Send us a list." And, of course, the government could find ways to use this stuff as well. More efficient education ("Pat, your data so far indicates that you will be entering Sixth Grade for Plumbers next year") and advanced safety for communities ("Station a cop by Pat's apartment every day-- his data shows he's likely to blow up soon").

Over the past decade, we have adjusted to a new normal when it comes to privacy. The trade is not without appeal-- for a little less privacy, we get better service. Facebook doesn't show me ads for feminine hygiene products or recommend news stories from the Far Right. We give up some privacy to get more ready access to things we want. And we give it up in ways that are not obvious, so that we can remain pleasantly unaware of just how much privacy we are sacrificing. Big Brother, it turns out, is pretty warm and fuzzy and comforting.

But there are still places where we expect privacy to remain unbroken. If we logged on to Facebook and found our child's reading and behavior problems being discussed by our child's teacher, or if we found our doctor publicly laying out our health issues, we would be outraged-- and rightly so. I have my students write one-draft essays about personal topics-- not, as I tell them, because I want to know about their personal lives, but because it's a topic on which they are already experts. But because the topics are personal, I promise them that I will never show them to anyone.

But if I were requiring them to write those personal essays as, say, a Google doc, I don't think I could make or keep that promise.

Aren't there rules and laws that protect student privacy? Well, there used to be. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act was passed in 1974, but in 2008 and 2011, it was re-written by the USED to broaden the lists of people with whom school data could be shared. And they aren't done-- right now, the Data Quality Campaign and a laundry list of reformy researchers is calling for a further expansion of the holes in the FERPA privacy shield. The call, as is often the case, is in the name of research-- which is hugely broad term. "Can I use this data to figure out which students will make the best targets for advertising with a bandwagon approach?" is a research question. This list of four specific areas includes using data across the education and workforce pipeline, a concerning approach indeed. A call for looking at better capacity and security makes a certain amount of sense, now that school districts are recognized by hackers as soft targets. But it takes only a little bit of cynicism and paranoia to see it as a call for more foxes to perform tests on henhouse security.

These are not issues with simple solutions. Well, "nobody ever use any computers for anything ever again" or "take down the internet" are simple solutions-- just not plausible ones. We live in an age of technological miracles, and there is no going back. Nor would I necessarily want to. But I'm not ready to jump heedlessly into the Surveillance Society, either.

We need to make thoughtful choices. I teach at a 1-to-1 school; all of my students have school-issued computers, and I would never go back-- but I also don't make those computers the center of my classroom or instruction. And you're reading my blog that is housed on a Google-owned platform and which I promote over Facebook and Twitter. I'm guessing my digital dossier knows a thing or two about me.

I use technology, and I pay a price for it, and as with any ongoing shopping spree, I work to pay attention to how large the bill is getting. I use tech tools myself, and I use them with my students, and I make sure that they don't use us. (The correct approach is "Here's what I want to teach. Are there any tech tools that would help accomplish that" and never, ever, "Here's a cool tech tool-- how can I build a whole lesson around it.")

But there are levels beyond my control, and when I see things like another FERPA-weakening attack, I am beyond concerned. And if my school district were to jump onto the computer-centered competency-based personalized-learning bandwagon, I would take a vocal stand against it.

This is yet another area of education where you have to pay attention, do your homework, and pay attention some more. The new FERPA push is coming because Congress will be re-introducing the Student Privacy Protection Act, an oxymoronic title for an act that is about reducing privacy protections under FERPA. This peacekeeper missile of privacy is aimed at our children, but it's just arcane and obscure enough that most Americans will sleep right through this whole business. Now would be a good time to renew the effort to wake them up and explain the fuss.

ICYMI: Almost Halloween Edition (10/29)

It's almost that time again. In the meantime, here's some reading to do.

Betsy DeVos Just Gave 12.6 Million Grant to Rocketship Charters 

Why this goes on the list of bad DeVosian ideas

Professsion For America 

A hilarious, and slickly professional-looking website.

How Betsy DeVos Becaeme the Most Hated Cabinet Secretary

Amanda Terkel takes a look at how badly things have gone so far

We Libertarians Really Were Wrong about School Vouchers

Well, here's a perspective that's different in many ways

More Delusional-- White People or  Charter Advocates

Paul Thomas with an interesting take on race and charters

Deep in the Heart of Whiteness

Daniel Katz takes on a similar subject.

How School Closings Undermine Democracy

When Chicago closed 50 schools, it had side-effects for the election process. Another can't-miss podcast from Have You Heard

Saturday, October 28, 2017

NH: Public Education under Voucher Attack

Public education is under attack in New Hampshire.

As is the case in many states (almost as if, some larger group or network is coordinating these legislative attacks in multiple states), New Hampshire is looking at the possibility of a new sort of voucher law-- the education savings account (in New Hampshire, they're now called "education freedom savings accounts") This battle is not exactly new for the Granite State, where educational tax credits, a back-door voucher approach, cropped up at the beginning of the decade without becoming a rousing success.

The bill is SB-193, and it has already passed the NH Senate and the House education committee will be considering it shortly. If you are a New Hampshire resident, here are some reasons you should care.

Scaling the Wall

Why ESAs? Because a straight up voucher system tends to violate the separation of church and state.
Your tax dollars go to support Super Conservative Evangelical Christian School or the local Catholic School (lots of church folks will say that sounds fine, but I'm waiting for the day their tax dollars are routed toward Sharia Law High School).

But the ESAs will handled by a "scholarship organization," a third party that will hold the child's voucher (and get a 5% fee, so here's a whole new lucrative business to launch). It's a pretty transparent dodger-- I can't give Pat money, so I'll just give it to Chris and Chris can give it to Pat-- but if you're only worried about looking legal and not actually being legal, it may be good enough.

But the record on vouchers is pretty clear-- look at Indiana or Wisconsin or DC and you'll see that vouchers mostly steer public tax dollars to private religious schools.

Unaccountable Tax Dollars

ESAs may be spent on private school tuition. Or educational equipment like computers. Or books. Or tutors. Or online education programs. Or pay for your SAT and AP exams.

Granted, whatever they do, they won't do much. The bill's sponsor said back in April that the voucher would be for about $4,400, and more recently published reports put it around $3,500-- neither an amount which is not going to get you into Phillips Exeter Academy (annual tuition about $47K). But whatever they do, the taxpayers aren't going to know much about it. The bill includes requirements that the number fo students be reported, and that parents be surveyed to find out how happy they are with the program, but there's no requirement that anybody make sure that taxpayer dollars aren't being spent on tutors from the Flat Earth Society or otherwise wasted.

This remains one of my puzzlements about voucher programs. Since when were conservatives the ones who wanted zero accountability for how their tax dollars were spent. And yet, that's what SB-193 calls for. Once you tax dollars disappear into an ESA, you'll never know how they were spent. You could call it magic, or money laundering.

At last April's hearing, bill sponsor Sen. John Regan's response to this point was that they have no idea how public schools are spending money now. Regan is the head of the Senate education committee, and this astonishingly ignorant comment was greeted with the sound of school chiefs' jaws hitting the floor (really? the Senate education committee has no access to detailed reports on school spending?).

Unusable Vouchers

Once again, parents will dream of being able to enroll their child in whatever school they choose. And once again, parents will be surprised to discover that they don't actually have a choice. Have a child with special disability? Want to send your child to a particular private school even though your child might not be the right race or religion? Tough. It's a private school. They don't have to accept your child if they don't want to. Thus highlighting one of the worst features of a voucher system-- taxpayers get to send their tax dollars to support a school that would refuse to educate their own child.

These vouchers will provide a nice bonus for families that can already afford private school. It will provide little or no help to the poorest and most vulnerable students in New Hampshire.

Not-very-hidden Costs

Every voucher represents money stripped from a public school system. While money may travel with the students, huge costs stay in the school district of origin, leaving that district with one of two choices-- cut programs or raise taxes.

The bill itself says it has no idea what the financial impact of the bill will be. In fact, it hilarious extends this not knowing in a chart that covers the next four years.

More Red Flags

The bill is supported by New Hampshire's Commissioner of the Department of Education, Frank Edelblut, a homeschooler businessman-turned-politician. He challenged Chris Sununu for the GOP gubernatorial nomination last year, and then threw his support behind Sununu. In return, when Sununu became governor, he handed Edelblut the education job. Edelblut has no particular background or qualifications in education, and he has been hard to pin down on issues like "should schools teach creationism?" Edelblut has been honored by one of the Koch Brothers astroturf groups, and has expressed his desire to emulate Florida, a state that ranks near the bottom the barel in educating children, but is front of the pack when it comes to letting all manner of entrepreneurs, shysters and scam artists make money in the education biz.

Edelblut thinks SB 193 is super.

On a personal note

My grandmother graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 1927 and began teaching, before she married my grandfather. She intended to settle down quietly with my grandfather, but she ended up running for local school board, and then slowly worked her way up politically until she joined the NH House of Representatives in 1961 and served for over thirty years. While she spent most of her career chairing the House Environment and Agriculture committee, she also headed up the Education Committee for a time.

She was a staunch Republican of the old school. When Chris Sununu's father John was Governor, my grandmother didn't have many nice things to say about him. Later in her career, she began to feel that the GOP was deserting her. I don't think SB 193 would have appealed to her much at all.

For many people, New Hampshire is that tiny little state you hear about every four years, but it's where I was born. I lived there until I was nine, and returned regularly because that's where all of my family's family lived. It has always been a practical, solid place to me, and it hurts to see it collapse into this sort of anti-public school privatization frenzy.

The next House Education Committee meeting is November 8th. If I were still a New Hampshire resident, I would be on the phone to my representative, particularly if he's on the education committee (and this site also gives you email links). The continued gutting of public education should be resisted vigorously>

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Full Range of Reformsters Unite for Video Contest

Education Post, you may recall, is a site nominally on the progressive-flavored wing of the reformster movement and headed up by Peter Cunningham. Cunningham is an old Chicago hand who worked assistant secretary for communications and outreach in the U.S. Department of Education in the Arne Duncan Department of Education. EdPost is backed by some big money, like Eli Broad and Laurene Jobs' Emerson Collective (which has given Duncan a job). Because for a while, a bunch of billionaires were really concerned that they were overmatched in the media by a bunch of bloggers writing for free on their lunch hours. I guess the world looks different when you're a billionaire.

Given that pedigree, it is not surprising when EdPost promotes charters and choice. What's a teensy bit surprising is whom they've teamed up with this time to do it. This contest runs the full gamut of reformsters from A to B.

So maybe we actually are kind of similar
Yesterday they happily announced a sort of contest to crowd-source some school choice PR, because, you know, "better conversations." (Yes, I linked to EdPost-- it's no fair to talk about someone without letting readers see for themselves if they're so inclined.)

The Choices in Education contest has its very own website, and the premise looks similar to Jeanne Allen's "Let's Show John Oliver He's  big Doodyhead" contest from last year. Just make a video with your phone about how choice changed or your life (or why you desperately need it in your state) all in order to "elevate the story" of people's choices. Three top winners get $15K, three more get $5K, and there's a pair of people's choice awards for $5K each-- so a cool $70K. The contest encourages you to shoot the video with your phone, perhaps because they want that "real people support us" look and in part because a slick looking ad would just draw attention to the fact that reformsters have tons of money to throw around on PR stunts. I can't even imagine a world in which public schools could wave a giant wad of money around and holler, "This stack of cash goes to the people who do the best job of saying nice things about u."

But a closer look makes this contest even more interesting. First of all, instead of focusing only on charter schools, this contest is to promote a broader agenda:

There is no “one size fits all” school or educational model that works for everyone. That is why it is important for students and families to have the freedom to choose the pathway that best meets their needs, whether that is a different public school, charter, magnet, private school, virtual/blended, or homeschool.

That  moves us away from the strictly-charter advocacy and into something more closely aligned with, well, the agenda of Betsy DeVos. Plenty of charter advocates have cast a leery eye on voucher systems-- but this contest loves it all. And EdPost is promoting it.

Whose contest is this, exactly?

Well, the main address on the site is that of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, the Florida-based group that, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, was going to provide a platform to help launch Jeb Bush to the White House. FEE has actually changed its name, at least in some places, to ExcelInEd, a group that includes all the same players and still calls itself the Foundation for Excellence in Education in the fine print on its site. I bring ExcelInEd up only because they are nominally the launchers of this contest. Mostly I am just dying for them to open an Ohio branch so that we can call them EiEiO. FEE/EiE is one of the older, more well-entrenched reformy groups with a Who's Who of deep-pocketed donaters including Gates, Walton, Broad, Kellogg, Bloomberg, Schwab, News Corporation and Dick and Besy DeVos. 

Also sponsoring the contest? American Federation for Children, Betsy DeVos's advocacy group. AFC is a dark money group that has been working hard to push privatization of education in this country (for the children).  

Also? EdChoice, the advocacy group previously known as the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the group launched by Milton Friedman. 

National School Choice Week, the Foundation for Blended and Online Learning, Agudath Israel of America, and Classical Conversations (that last group provides content materials for homeschooling parents focusing on the three C's-- classical, Christian, and community). 

So while this contest does represent more of the same old, same old, it has certainly drawn together an assortment of bedfellows. And as was the case with Jeanne Allen who used to think Trump and his administration was awful, but then she got over it, more and more reformsters, even the supposedly progressive ones, are more and more willing to align themselves with the DeVosian agenda after all. While folks in the reform movement may try to put some distance between themselves and other elements, it seems they can still bridge the tiny gaps tat sort of separate them.

In the meantime, your entry should only include you and your family members, and it has to be under two minutes. Grab your smart phone and record what you think about school choice today! Maybe you'll win $15,00o. In the meantime it's heartwarming to know that voucher vs. charter, free market vs. social justice, GOP vs. Democrats, reformsters don't have all that much trouble putting their differences aside in order to pursue the privatization of American education.

David Coleman's He-Man Woman-Haters Test

Turns out the bold new SAT test has some bold new problems, specifically when it comes to getting results for female students. David Coleman's SAT rebuild may still have a few bugs in it.

Mercedes Schneider wrote about this yesterday, but it's a story that deserves to be amplified and spread far and wide, because the implications for young women trying to get into college are troubling.

This new report comes from Art Sawyer, a test prep guru who founded and operates Compass Education Group, the leader in one-on-one test prep.

You can look at this post which is basically a research summary, light on the commentary and heavy on the wonkery. Or you can start with this post which spends less time shuffling data and more time drawing conclusions in order to ask big questions.

Sifting through the data reveals that two changes have affected the male-female ratio of high scorers. The change back to the classic 1600 scale (in place of the decade's 2400), as well as the change in how writing is scored in the test have both reduced the percentage of female top scorers. Menahiwle, fiddling with the math has actually increased female top-scoring-- but not enough to offset the other effects.

Bottom line: female students have a harder time hitting the highest band of scores on the new SAT. High performing females are now, suddenly, at an SAT disadvantage.

There are many implications for that result, not the least of which is that colleges and universities that use a hard (or hard-ish) SAT cut score may be unintentionally tilting their new freshman classes toward the testosterone side. And if they base any grant decisions on SAT scores, then women will be getting the short end of the aid stick as well.

What exactly accounts for this shift in score results. Sawyer theorizes that the handling of the writing portion (females used to outpace males on the old written section) may account for it, but he also theorizes that the SAT folks were sloppy in their test redesign, and he has some significant scolds for them, a list of actions that the College Board folks ought to take:

College Board should state the policy it took on subgroup score differences in designing the new SAT.

Sawyer says the SAT folks used to have a policy that no redesign could be allowed to make any subgroup scoring gaps widen. They either ignored or violated that policy here.

College Board should share the data it had both before, during, and after the creation of the new SAT.

College Board should explain why it stopped publishing key information.

You haven't heard about any of this because the College Board has been deliberately not talking about it. Sawyer says they should end their silence.

The further disadvantaging of female students was a foreseeable consequence of the new SAT’s change in structure and scoring.

The College Board can't pretend that they didn't know this was happening, or that such shifts weren't going to happen. Unless, and this is my thought and not Sawyer's, they were so very sloppy that they did not adequately pre-test the test, and so they didn't know.

The difference in observed results for male and female testers must not be accepted as an inevitable result of standardized testing. It is not.

Sawyer repeatedly underlines the point that this score gap is a result of test design issues, and not something that, you know, just happens when you give boys and girls a standardized test.

The SAT and PSAT are increasingly government funded, and decisions regarding them are a matter of public policy.

Ooooh! Interesting point. As SAT fees are increasingly paid for by states (because the College Board has successfully mis-marketed the SAT as a high school exit exam), this is increasingly a government-funded business, which means that they get to enjoy some government-initiated meddling. Well, maybe not under this administration, but still-- this is a matter of policy and not just private business matters.

The mission creep of the SAT and PSAT has extended the import of score result differences into new terrain.

For example, the PSAT is now used as a marketing tool for AP courses (Your PSAT scores come with a "Here's the AP course you should enroll in" blurb.) The PSAT tells if a student "has potential" for AP coursework. Do women now have less potential for AP success?

And finally, Sawyer unleashes this scorcher--

Compass’ own research on this topic should be unnecessary, because it is properly the College Board’s responsibility.

In other words, do your damn job, College Board.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Disagreeing about Education's Purpose

One way of understanding the differences between the many voices of reformsterism and public education support is to dig down to the fundamental differences of vision, the fundamental disagreements about what a school is for.

There are some obvious differences. For instance, some folks think that the purpose of an education is to create a well-rounded, self-actualizing individual who has a deeper understanding of the world and how to make one's way through it as a human being.

We also have folks who think that the purpose of education is to prepare students to get a job and please their future employers. These, unsurprisingly, are folks like the Chamber of Commerce and other representatives of the business community, who are hoping for a fuller pipeline of drones for their jobs. Should workers have a life beyond the workplace? Not their problem. This is not new-- it's been an issue since Andrew Carnegie told his factory workers that A) for the good of the company they must work twelve hours a day, seven days a week and B) they should enrich their lives with rewarding leisure activities and self-education through a local library.

And we have members of the Cult of Testing who believe that the purpose of school is to prepare students to take a Big Standardized Test. They make themselves comfortable with this narrow and cramped definition by telling themselves that the test score is a valid proxy for "student achievement" or other educational goals. They are kidding themselves.

Let's dig past that.

As charters, choice, and vouchers gain more ground in the educational world, some observers note with alarm that all of this takes us closer to a two tier system, where the folks on top get a full, rich education and the folks on the bottom get a narrow, meager, underfunded training to suit their future (possible) employers. But for some, a two-tiered system is exactly the point.

What we have here is a failure to share the same fundamental goal for education.

For some folks, the goal of education is to lift all boats, to bring all students forward, to bring every single one to a better life, to be more successful, and more fully themselves. And that is supposed to happen for every single student. Everyone should rise.

For other folks, education is about sorting the worthy from the unworthy.. It's about making sure that everyone gets what they deserve, and it sets that goal on top of a foundation stone that says not all people are equally deserving. 

The risers and the sorters will both talk about better schools for the non-wealthy and the non-white. But risers believe schools should be made to lift everyone in poor, underserved communities. Sorters believe that the system should allow those who deserve to get ahead to do so, but they assume that not everybody (probably not even the majority) will prove themselves worthy.

Vouchers and charters won't "rescue" everyone-- but that's okay, because not everyone should be rescued. Just as with welfare and health insurance for all, some folks think that the best education should be provided for everyone, and some people believe that the government has no business taking my hard-earned money to provide Nice Things for people who haven't earned it.

Sorters are drawn to a business model because the market also sorts. Do you want a Lexus? You'll have to earn it.

So at the root of the education debates, we find people who have a fundamental disagreement about what government and public education are supposed to do. For some, the role of government is to establish a system that doesn't stop the virtuous and hard-working and clever and, well, just better from getting ahead (of everyone else). Pointing out to them that vouchers and choice create a two-tiered system is like telling someone that their new haircut makes them look really attractive-- you can't be surprised when they react by being pleased.

PA: Vouchers Stopped for Now

Senate Bill 2, the bill that was intended to put Education Savings Accounts (aka vouchers) in Pennsylvania, did not make it out of committee after all.

That's the good news.  By a 6-6 vote, momentarily made suspenseful by some rules shenanigans, the bill has stalled in the Senate Education committee.

PennLive coverage also offers some clarification on one bill point. While the language of the original left the door wide open for any student who had ever spent one semester in pubic school to get a voucher-- er, Education Savings Account (in other words, if your child spent one semester in public school first grade and has been in private school for ten years since, you get a voucher today and the public school loses state money without actually losing a student)-- anyway, the main sponsor of the bill, John DiSanto (R) told PennLive that students currently enrolled in private schools would be ineligible for the vouchers. That clarification would make a tremendous difference in the financial hit to public school districts. It would also, I'd imagine, piss off the parents of current private and home-schooled students and give them a real reason to put their children back in public schools for just one semester.

But there's bad news.

The bill did not stall because opposition to vouchers rose up and smote it. The final tying vote came from Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, who likes school choice just fine-- but who didn't get a chance to read the bill carefully and figure out exactly what effect it would have on his constituents.

In other words, the support for a bill like SB2 is there in the education committee-- it just failed to completely organize itself this time. So stay vigilant, because this will be back again.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Core and Bad Supervision

Here's another problem we don't discuss often enough.

Education is one of the few fields where supervisors and administrators don't understand what the vast majority of their supervisees do.

Building principals and superintendents usually come up through the teaching ranks. But they come up through a particular discipline.

You could make me a school superintendent tomorrow. You could even train me for the job for a few years. But at the end, I would have only a tangential understanding of what the elementary teachers or the math teachers or the industrial arts teachers in my district do. I mean, teaching is teaching, and I can certainly supervise the process and tell whether they're on the mark or not. But are they teaching the right content? Are they teaching it well? If the science department comes and tells me they want to try this new book series, I won't be in any position to evaluate the quality of those books. And if I've got to oversee the development of a new social studies curriculum-- well, I don't really know enough about what social studies teachers do to be able to tell whether that's on track or not.

The last almost-two-decades of ed reform have put math and reading in the spotlight. The pressure has been on to lift the quality of these programs in schools. And yet all across the country, there are math and English teachers being supervised by administrators who literally have no idea what those teachers do in their classrooms.

Enter the Common Core (or [Your Name Here]) Standards.

Administrator: I don't really know what exactly does, or should, go on in a math or English class.

Standards: Here's a handy checklist of what should be happening.

Administrator: Hey, look! Now I know exactly what math and English teachers can and should do!

The cruel irony here is that the standards were developed by people who also did not understand what math and English teachers actually do. So what we get is a tone-deaf person's ideas about how to lead a symphony orchestra.

Certainly it doesn't have to be that way. I have never worked for a principal or superintendent who was previously an English teacher, and yet plenty of them have educated themselves and consulted experts in the field (aka the people who work right here in the building) in order to build an understanding of what teaching English is about.

But I've heard and read the tales of teachers out there in the world who work for supervisors who are lazy or overwhelmed or just not very good who just grab the standards, wave them in the teacher's face, and say, "This. You're supposed to be doing this." Then they call it a day.

This is one more bad side effect of the standards-- the enabling of bad administrators who practice unthinking Management By Checklist.

Addressing Bias

It may be one of the biggest unaddressed issues in education.

Here comes yet another study that makes another variation on a point we're seeing over and over again-- white teachers have lower expectations of black students, and that has consequences for those students. Add that to the stack with studies like the ones showing that white teachers are less likely to identify black students as gifted.

This particular study appears in Education Next, the Fordham publication, so there's a natural inclination to view it with jaundiced eye, to look for the angle that benefits reformsters. But it's always important for public education advocates to remember that while many reform solutions are fake, many of the problems they address are real. Those include a widespread systemic problem with racism. I don't doubt the accuracy of the findings here.

If you are a teacher of my generation, you know about expectations. It was drilled into us that expectations were super-important, that what our students would do would depend a great deal on what we believed they could do. That belief in expectations has swung into some silly territory (the Duncan administration's belief that the power of expectations would basically erase learning disabilities), but the fundamental principle remains sound-- what we expect has a lot to do with what we get.

Tie the power of expectations to the power of implicit bias, and you have a problem-- particularly in a system in which the ratio of white teachers to non-white students is so completely out of whack.

So we could try to pick apart this study, look at correlation vs. causation, talk about just how big (or not big) an effect is presented here. But I'm not going to. First, I know I have the standard white reflex to being called racist-- my impulse for denial is up and running before my impulse to self-examine can even put its shoes on. Second, regardless of what the research does or doesn't say, I know there's an issue. Hell, most everybody knows there's an issue. So can we talk about what to do?

There have been numerous attempts to address the super-whiteness of the teacher work force, including attempts to open up alternative paths. Teach for America, in one of its rebranding redefining of its mission, decided it would work at getting non-white teachers in the classroom. But much of the research suggests that the problem is not so much recruiting as retention. And that brings us back to the uncomfortable notion that teachers of color do not end up feeling that the school is not a place that welcomes or supports or fits them. So maybe we need to shift the conversation from recruiting teachers of color to supporting and welcoming them.

And since the super-white nature of the teacher pool is not going to dramatically reverse any time in the immediate future, maybe we need to put an addendum on the discussion of teacher expectations, so that it's not just "Your expectations affect your student's achievement" but also "You probably have some implicit biases that have an effect on your expectations for your students-- particularly students of color."

This should be part of every teacher's training. Every. Teacher.

At a minimum, we need to build mindfulness into the system. One of my greatest privileges as a white guy is that I don't have to think about race unless I choose to (or unless something like a protest pushes it into my face). But I should. It should be on my mind every time I'm in front of students. It's not that difficult-- as a teacher, I'm on alert for several different classroom factors all the time, while I'm doing my job. I should also be alert to my own biases, especially the ones that I'm not always conscious of. And every one of my new colleagues should be getting that kind of training, just as they get classroom management training and test-scoring training and, God help us, aligning instruction to the damn standards training.

We can do better. And we should.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Lazy Reporting

The above came in response to criticism of the use of ipads in a pre-K classroom. It did not come from a teacher or administrator-- it came from the reporter who covered the story. 

The story itself is a puff piece about the injection of ipads into some pre-K classrooms in (where else) Florida, Orange County.

It runs under the heading "Getting Results in Our Schools," a spot sponsored by Crayola Experience, a "family attraction" with four locations around the country. Crayola took plenty of flack years ago for becoming Common Core partners.

The spot devotes less than two whole minutes to looking at the idea of putting ipads in the hands of four year olds, and not a second of that is remotely critical.

Rationale? Well, you know how Kids These Days are already so tech savvy (there's an idea that needs examination) and you know they'll all be using computers some day, so let's get some computers in front of the littlest littles.

These are recycled ipads. Everything on them, reports Ellison, is "curriculum based." The story emphasizes that this is reinforcement, and "not a replacement" for pen and paper or chalk and chalkboard. What the story doesn't do is question why we are trying to stuff four-year-olds full of academic instruction.

"The curriculum doesn't change, we want our 4-year-olds learning their alphabet, to be learning sounds, learning sight words, quite frankly, we want them to start reading as early as possible," Superintendent Barbara Jenkins said.

Quite frankly, what the hell for? There are so many layers of unquestioned bad educational practice here. Academic instruction for pre-K? Not a good idea. Try play instead. Screen time for small children? The research is admittedly mixed, but some authorities recommend as little as 30 minutes per week.

Ellison simply reports that the school thinks that students will get instruction in ways that will be more "fun" because of the computers, which is such a digital non-native thing to say.

Is it the most terrible story ever run? No, but it thoughtlessly amplifies a whole assortment of dangerous assumptions. It's glorified PR work, the kind of thing that can be done by just running a news release from the people you're covering, with no attempt to locate or give voice to other views. And when presented with those views, Ellison fluffed off all responsibility. Have another view or conflicting information? Not her problem. Call your administration or withdraw your child, but don't suggest that she do an actual reporters job.

I kind of get it. Ellison's is certainly not the only reporter guilty of this lazy reportage. School stories were, once upon a time, easy lay-ups, like covering an apple pie factory or pictures of smiling babies. That is no longer the case, and responsible reporters can't just fluff their way through any more. Education is a tough field, filled with lots of bad, unproven, and damaging ideas. Especially in Florida.

PA: Urgent! Vouchers Are Back

Tomorrow morning, the Senate Education Committee will be once again considering a bill to promote vouchers across the state of Pennsylvania, and to pay for them by stripping money from public schools. If you're in Pennsylvania, drop what you're doing and call your Senator today.

SB 2, Education Savings Accounts for Students in Underperforming Schools, sets up vouchers with  no oversight and an extremely broad criterion for how the vouchers can be spent. According to the official summary, voucher money may be spent on

1) Tuition and fees at a participating private school; 
2) Payment for a licensed or accredited tutor; 
3) Fees for nationally norm-referenced tests and similar exams; 
4) Industry certifications; 
5) Curriculum and textbooks; and 
6) Services to special education students such as occupational, speech, and behavioral therapies.

So anything from private school tuition to buying books for home schooling to sending a child to massage therapist school.

Money can be carried over from one year to the next, and if there's still some left at graduation time, the money may be used for higher education costs.

The amount placed in each child's Education Savings Account will be the per-pupil amount of state money spent in the district, with corresponding funds subtracted from the district's state subsidy payment (this is all, of course, assuming that the state legislature can get its act together and actually make those payments).  This amount varies wildly by district, but in no district is way up there as Pennsylvania has one of the nation's lowest rates of state support for public schools. That means local districts make up the difference, which means the poorest districts can least afford to lose state money to a voucher bill.  In the meantime, a few thousand dollars will not get your child into a top private school-- but it will let you buy some nice books for homeschooling.

This bill is also a potential windfall for parochial schools. As we've seen in other voucher states like Indiana and Wisconsin, the vast majority of voucher money ends up in private religious schools, supporting students who were never in public school to begin with.

But hey-- it only applies to schools on the Pennsylvania naughty list, right? Have you seen the Pennsylvania naughty list? It is just under 800 schools long. Take a look. In my county, two school districts are on it, including the district where my wife works. If this bill became law today, tomorrow a whole bunch of money would move from those districts' state support to the local Catholic school, the local private Christian school, and local homeschoolers-- even though not a single student changed enrollment.

The Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials already has an action alert up, if you want a quick and easy way to send word to Harrisburg. They also note some other features of the bill. For instance, once a child is enrolled, even if the school district of origin improves, or the child moves away entirely, the child keeps the voucher/savings account. And as an extra bonus kick in the teeth, the public school district must provide the student with transportation within  a 10 mile radius.

This bill is bad news, and would have an immediate and damaging effect on school finances across the state. It is an attack on public education. And conservatives really shouldn't be fans, either-- this bill provides zero accountability, and our tax dollars disappear down a black hole where we have no say and no knowledge of how they are spent. A family could decide that it would be educational for Junior to go to Disney World, and your tax dollars would pay for it.

You can check here to see if your senator is on the Senate Education Committee, which will be considering this bill tomorrow. Since the bill is sponsored by committee members, its chances look good and the press will be on for the full senate. The bill's main sponsor is John DiSanto (R), who unseated a Democratic incumbent last fall and who has been announcing his intent to bring vouchers to Pennsylvania.

This is not the first time someone has tried to push a voucher bill, and it won't be the last. But it is time, once again, for defenders of public education to hit the phones. Even if your senator is not among those who will act on the bill tomorrow, chances are good that he'll be looking at it a bit later. Let him know that stripping funds from public schools in order to fund unregulated oversight-free vouchers is not okay.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

About That Zip Code

Your education shouldn't be determined by your zip code.

If we've heard that once, we've heard it a zillion times, but almost never does it lead to a discussion of the bigger question behind that statement:

What determines your zip code?

I cannot recommend hard enough that you go listen to (or, if you must, read the available transcript) for a previous episode of the podcast Have You Heard, in which Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider talk to Richard Rothstein, author of The Color of Law: The Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America.

Rothstein's point is simple but profound. We tend to assume that people just sorted themselves out into all these neighborhoods and zip codes, that the sorting is the result of "millions of accidental, private decisions" and therefor really hard to fix. But Rothstein argues that segregation was in fact the result of specific government policy (like the federal rules that said Levittown couldn't sell units to black families), and that these policies created a systemic poverty that stretches over generations. In fact, according to Rothstein, government policy created segregation in cities where it had never existed.

I probably need to read Rothstein's book now (because I need one more tome on that stack) because I have questions. In particular, I wonder about the degree to which government policy expressed a hard-to-repress will of the people, like the folks in North Carolina re-segregating themselves by flying to white charter schools. Rothstein says we have to educate everyone about how this happened; I'm not sure how optimistic I am about the results of such a project, just as I'm not sure how we'd approach his idea that good schools must be rooted in neighborhoods that are integrated by class.

Still, it's an intriguing vision-- integrate the communities, and the schools will follow. We hear a lot about how students are trapped in their school because of their zip code, but it might be more useful to talk about what keeps people trapped in that zip code in the first place, or how government can prevent the hollowing out of a neighborhood through gentrification.

Interesting stuff. Go give a listen.

Another Faux Teacher Memoir

It takes two reviewers at the Atlantic-- and

ICYMI: After A Week Off Edition (10/22)

So a week ago I was in a  Phoenix hospital. This week I'm at home. Home is better. Here's some reading for you. Remember to amplify the stuff that speaks to you. You are how the word is spread.

The end of VAM for teacher termination in Houston

Audrey Amrein-Beardsley on the final outcome of the Houston anti-VAAS suit, and the news is great.

Eclectablog Needs Your Help

Eclectablog provides in valuable news coverage for Michigan progressives, but Chris Savage can't keep footing the bill alone.

School Improvement Tips for Civic and Community Leaders

Among reformsters. Rick Hess is one of the best for honest self-evaluation. This list of five mistakes reformsters take is great. Quibble about whether Hess and his friends take the advice or not-- the advice itself is on point.

Why Rule by the People Is Better Than Rule by Experts

Nicholas Tampio in praise of democracy.

Florida School Voucher Investigation

How bad is voucher fraud and corruption in Florida? The Orlando Sentinel gives us a three part series that answers the question (and it's not pretty)

In Pursuit of Woozles

Some Winnie-the-Pooh

Newark Schools Chief Tells Union to Stuff It

This bit of reporting from Bob Braun is short, but if you don't read it, you won't believe it. The teachers union offered to help start a new day in Newark. The response they got was... well, not very welcoming.

The Great Tennessee Achievement School District Experiment Finally Comes to an End

Gary Rubinstein revisits the Tennessee ASD, the ASD that launched a bunch of other ASDs, now that it has reached its sell-by date, to ask how it did. (Spoiler alert- not so well)

12 Tech Takeover Concerns

Nancy Bailey with a handy list of issues to be concerned about when facing an ed tech juggernaut.

Michigan Steals Public School Money for Charters

If you read here, you probably read Ravitch, but this one's too important to miss in the sheer volume of her blog.

Secret Group Wants To Take Over Your School

Set the Wayback machine to May of 2015, when Sarah Lahm warned about a threat to public schools. Let's see if she was onto something.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Kansas Takes the Lead

Kansas has found a way to leap to the head of the pack in the race to dismantle public education.

Mind you, Kansas has been working on the problem for a while. You may recall that Governor Brownback and a GOP legislature tried to turn Kansas into a free market laboratory, with "business friendly" tax cuts that have put the state's finances in free fall. The attempt to implement a full-on super-GOP model left the state broke. Tax cuts for the wealthy didn't trickle down, and the state is now in a mess (while Brownback runs the standard playbook of throwing attention to social issues, as if gay marriage is somehow responsible for Kansas poverty). It is no wonder that education is underfunded in the state using a formula that the state supreme court says is unconstitutional.

And that's not all. Kansas has voted to allow unlicensed persons to teach in the classroom. They voted to strip teachers of all job protections in a bizarre fracas that featured the Koch Brothers coming to Topeka to extort votes out of moderate GOP members (Nice re-election prospects you have there. Shame if anything happened to them). They have suggested that teacher evaluation could be handled by the school janitor. And they have been watching a steady exodus of teachers from the state. All that on top of the purposeful and deliberate underfunding of education, which is where the state supreme court shows up to tell them they are violating the state's own constitution. And they responded to that issue by trying to rewrite the rules for getting rid of obnoxious judges. Most recently, the state handled its ESSA plan comment period so very quietly that only about 20 citizens commented on the plan (Ed chief Randy Watson says that's because the citizens are "attuned to where the board is heading" and not because they were kept in the dark).

So here comes the Kansas Can School Redesign project. Seven school districts have been selected (each given, for because this is their "moonshot", the name of one of the seven original Mercury astronauts-- the folks in Kansas do know that we actually made it to the moon already, right?)

The redesign is supposed to highlight several principles--  developing individual study plans, measuring social and economic growth, improving graduation rates and post-secondary completion and addressing kindergarten readiness, and the original press was pretty vague about how that would happen, exactly. The buzz has included many of the usual reformy vocabulary (this will be all about "hard data" and being ready for "real life").

But last Wednesday, Kansas State Board of Education members were given a more specific briefing about what is in the wind. And it's... ambitious.

Brad Neuenswander, the deputy commissioner who seems to be taking point on this, suggested that the entire delivery system for education is going to change:

"I would speculate that if you walked into one of those districts, you’re not going to see a traditional setting," he told the state board Wednesday. "I think you’re going to walk in there and maybe see a group of kids not based on age, but based on experience and where they’re at. You may see 30 kids in a room with three adults supporting that. The whole structure of it, it’s hard to define."  

Meanwhile, the state has changed the rules on how accreditation works (now it's districts, not schools, that are certified).

Students need no longer be organized by grades, nor do school years have to be defined by hours in the classroom. The primary concern is "individualized education, focusing on the unique needs of each student." All of which suggests that Kansas just convinced seven school districts to go all in on competency-based education. Certifying a district instead of schools makes a lot of sense if you aren't really going to have schools any more-- just students who can plug in to the computerized "personalized" learning system from wherever. And you'll notice that Neuenswander expects to see three "adults," not necessarily teachers (though that point is moot, since Kansas has already scrubbed most professional requirements to be a teacher).

Another red flag? Kansas has apparently devoted around $0.00 to back this change. Which would be insane-- unless you think businesses will step in to do the heavy lifting. This supremely vague plan is supposed to be ready to launch in the fall of 2018. How any district would completely redesign itself in less than a year is a mystery-- unless, of course, they just hire somebody to plug in a pre-made CBE program. Just call Summit.

Meanwhile, there is one huge red flag for the program's survival. Many discussions of it stress the idea of non-academics, the need to teach "character development, citizenship and work ethics." Back in the nineties, when CBE was called Outcome-Based Education, this is exactly what killed it dead. As soon as it became clear that the idea was for schools to teach students to have the Right Values and live the Right Way, conservatives rose up and stomped the whole initiative (I remember it well because Pennsylvania was Ground Zero for much of the stomping).

So it will be interesting to see how Kansans react to discovering that not only will the school be teaching their child values and proper attitudes, but that software will be evaluating those qualities-- and recording the data to go in the child's permanent, corporate-owned record. I have to believe that at least a few folks will sqawk.

It's true that a pre-requirement to become a Mercury school was to get the cheerful cooperation of staff and community. But one wonders just how clear and specific the early information released to build buy-in was.

Twenty-two more districts are scheduled to launch in 2019-2020. Kansas looks on track to land on a planet where they barely have to provide public education at all. Congratulations?

Friday, October 20, 2017

8 Rules for Writing

Every October 20, the National Council of Teachers of English celebrates the National Day on Writing. I'll admit I have misgivings-- it reminds me too much of the teachers who teach a "writing unit" for two weeks in April and ignore writing the rest of the year-- but this year I thought I'd recognize the day with a list.

Here are the things that I believe are true, that form the foundation of my writing and my writing instruction:

1) There are no writing prodigies.

Mozart started playing piano at age three and composed his first piece at age eight. Pascal wrote a mathematical paper at age nine. Piaget published a paper at age eleven.

But there are no writing prodigies. There are no classic poems or timeless novels or important essays written by six-year-olds. And what that tells me is that all writers started out in exactly the same place-- downtown Suckville. Some people are better equipped to climb to the top of Mount Awesome faster than others, but when I encounter a student who is not very good at writing, I have to assume that they aren't very good yet. Students get where they're going in their own way in their own time. My job is to help them in their journey, but if they aren't very far along yet, that doesn't mean they can't still make great progress.

2) Writing is craft.

Too many people rule themselves out as writers because they don't experience blinding flashes of transportive inspiration. But when you call a carpenter, they don't say, "Well, I'd like to fix your cabinets, but I just don't feel inspired today." Writing is hammering and framing and laying planks and re-building and altering and fiddling endlessly to get it right. Hammer away and bang it out.

3) Ideas are the basic building blocks

There are still folks out there claiming that the building blocks of writing are sentences. Don't believe it. The basic building blocks of writing are ideas. All good writing begins with a person who has something they want to say, an idea or concept or feeling or image they want to convey. Everything else is the business of getting that Something through the pipeline. The mechanics and the grammatical nuts and bolts and the usage rules are all about making sure that the pipeline doesn't get clogged, that technical issues don't interfere with the audiemce's ability to get what the writer is putting out there. 

4) Form follows function

Do what you need to do to best convey your Something. There are no right and wrong choices-- there are only choices that work and choices that don't, and your measure is always "Does this serve the material? Does this support my Something?"

5) Avoiding mistakes is a mistake

A musician can play every note exactly as written, and be absolutely mediocre. A sports team can make zero mistakes and still get thoroughly beaten. In writing, concentrating on avoiding mistakes is a fool's game. It's not good enough to not do anything wrong-- you have to do something right. Be bold. Don't focus on what you're not going to do-- focus on what you are going to do.

6) You do you

Idea webs. Classical outlines. Free-writing to generate ideas. Discussion. Thinking in isolation. Pulling it out of your butt at the last minute. These pre-writing techniques all work for somebody (and not for some others). Pen or typewriter or computer screen. You have to know what works for you. There is no "correct" or "incorrect" way to write-- there are only the ways that work for you and the ways that don't work for you.

Here's the catch-- you have to be brutally honest with yourself about what does and doesn't work. You may want to be the "pull it out your butt at the last minute" person, but you have to take a hard, honest look at your product and ask yourself if it really represents your best work.

7) Testing is not writing

Never, ever mistake the kind of word tofu product required by standardized tests for actual writing. We live in a golden age of bad writing instruction, almost all of it aimed at standardized test writing-flavored behavioral products. That is not actual writing; it's mindless idea-free hoop-jumping. Never mistake it for anything else.

8) Write

Yes, read about writing. Talk about writing. Read, read, read, read, read, read-- and do it like a writer. But at the end of the day, there is only one way to perfect your craft, and that is to write. Write every day. Write about whatever is passing through your head. When Something scratches and bangs and hollers against the inside of your head and demands to be released, release it. Write. Write during your lunch hour. Stay up an extra hour. Get up an hour early. But write.

Today is the National Day on Writing. Let's go ahead and proclaim 363 more Days on Writing to follow it up.