Sunday, November 19, 2017

NPE: Charter Effects Are Alarming

We can talk all day about the intentions of charter operators, about the possible ramifications of various charter policy decisions. Heck, on occasion I can talk about the conditions under which I would welcome charter schools (because I don't automatically default to the position that they're a Bad Thing).

There is a pattern in the ed reform movement. Reformsters hold up a bright shiny polished reform idea, people hop up to say, "Wow, that looks great! Let's have some of that!" And then something else entirely is delivered. So when we talk about any reform policy, we need to talk about what is actually happening on the ground. And what is happening on the ground is fairly alarming.

The Network for Public Education has now done that for charter schools. Full disclosures-- first, I'm a member of NPE and second, NPE is not predisposed to be kind to charter schools. Nevertheless, I recommend you read their new report Charters and Consequences and judge for yourself. NPE has taken a look at what is actually happening in the charter world, and it's not good.

The report is a collection of eleven separate pieces of investigation, created over the span of a year.  These are not policy arguments or debates about how public ed should be handled. These are heavily researched, fully sourced accounts of what is actually happening in America. You may disagree with NPE's position, but this is not a position paper. It's a fact-based picture of what is actually going on.

The first four pieces  deal with California, where there are more charter schools and charter school students than in any other state. The very first piece sets the stage for California charter shenanigans:

You can find a charter in a mall, near a Burger King, where students as young as 12 meet their “teacher on demand.” Or, you can make a cyber visit to the “blended learning” Epic Charter School, whose students are required to meet a teacher (at a convenient, to be determined location) only once every 20 days. There is an added bonus upon joining Epic—students receive $1500 for a personal “learning fund,” along with a laptop computer. The enrollment site even advertised that students could boost that fund by referring others to the charter chain. 

A superintendent can expand his tiny rural district of 300 students to 4000 by running "independent study" charters in storefronts in cities miles away, netting millions in revenue for his district, while draining the sometimes unsuspecting host district of students and funds. If he is clever, he might arrange a “bounty” for each one opened, while having a side business selling services to the charters. Charters can even provide lucrative investment opportunities for tennis stars and their friends. And then there is the opportunity "to cash in" on international students at a jaw dropping $31,300 per student.

The report is thick with such details. And why is California such a charter playground? Because there is plenty of big money that has come there to play, with the California Charter School Association pouring $2.3 million into just one school board election. Those pockets are deep.

The report also looks at independent learning centers, the kind of storefront charters that operate independent of any specific classroom setting. many of these turn out to be linked pieces of a chain of resource centers, and their track record is abysmal, with far fewer than half the students actually graduating.

The report threads its way through an example of how for-profits can hide behind a web of non-profits, essentially laundering money before turning it into a nice pile of cash to benefit owners of the operation.

And the report talks to some of the folks in California who have tried to fight back against charter fraud and abuse, from whole school boards to individuals like Mike Matsuda. None of them are arguing to eliminate charters entirely, but all would like to see charters operate fairly and within the rules. And that concludes the four-part trip through California.

In, "Charter High Schools and the Best of High Schools List," NPE looks at some of the high-ranking charters and how they get there. For instance, the BASIS charter in Phoenix earns a super-high "challenge" ranking by combining a high attrition rate with giving the AP test to many underclasspersons.

In "Charter Chains: Risk, High Costs and Consequences" the report looks at the growing dominance of charter chains and the risks that come from putting so many schools under the control of state-spanning corporations. There's a risk for fraud and abuse, as well as directing a ton of money to the top in groups like KIPP, which boasts $6 million in administrative costs. And of course there's the Gulen chain, allegedly a fundraising arm of an out-of-power Turkish government in exile.

"Draining the Coffers: The Fiscal Impact of Charters on Public Schools" looks at how charters suck the financial blood from public schools, and what better place to look than my own Pennsylvania, where cyber-charters in particular are driving schools into financial trouble. But across the state, we see public schools that are forced to slash and gut programs, even close schools, to survive the charter drain. I'll note as always that this doesn't have to be the case-- if legislators had the guts to tell the truth and not pretend that you can run three schools for the same cost as running one. But as long as that lie is the premise of charter policy, education will be a zero sum game in which every charter student represents damage to the public system.

In "Public Funding with Private School Advantages," the report looks at how charters often try to have it both ways-- public when they want access to public tax dollars, but private when it comes to following laws governing education. BASIS again provides an example of a charter that isn't really open to everyone (eg- each family must makes a $1500 donation).

"Ignoring the Community Voice" looks at how Philadelphia lost community voice in management of its schools. It's a pattern repeated across the country-- you can have a charter school if you are willing to give up any voice in how your child's school operates.

"Are Charters Public Schools?" Do they reflect the demographic make-up of their neighborhood? Are they committed to serving all students? Are they responsible to community voices? Here's some data to answer the question (spoiler alert-- no).

Finally, the report asks "Have NAACP concerns been addressed?" In other words, are charters still functioning as engines of segregation? Are they transparent and accountable? Are they damaging the rest of the community in which they exist? Are they still disproportionately punishing and pushing out some students?

The report package ends with a statement from NPE about charter schools, with a call for a specific list of legislative policies and reforms favored by the group. Bottom line: until charters follow the public school rules, they're still private schools that take public funds.

The report is under fifty pages and quite readable. Nothing I do here can really capture the sheer weight of detail and examples provided. it will make a great resource for when one of those charter questions comes up yet again, and it's a good primer for people wondering what the fuss is about. It's a worthwhile read.



ICYMI: Last Quiet Weekend Edition (11/19)

Some important reads this week. As always, I encourage you to share and tweet and email anything you read that you think deserves a wider audience, because you, dear reader, are how those pieces get a wider audience.


Florida Teacher Shortage

Many, many folks have read the piece I wrote in response to this Sun-Sentinel article about the teacher shortage [sic] in Florida, but I encourage you to go read the original reporting, which is really top notch.

After a Political Rout in Massachusetts, New York Astro-Turf Group Mulling Strategy

When a bunch of millionaires poured money into launching new charter rules in Massachusetts, tey had no idea they'd get spanked this badly. What now? A look at one of the big dark money groups driving the charter school movement.

The Every Student Succeeds Act's Hollow Educational Ambition

Rick Hess (AEI) is a reformster, but he's not afraid to point out when ed reform makes some stupid moves. Here's his take on how NCLB dropped the ball, and ESSA is dropping the same ball again.

Closing the Gap for Native American Youth

A new study, the first ever done, looks at what can be done to close the gap for native American children. This will take you to the study; if that seems daunting, I will try to get to it at some point.

How Ed Reform Ate the Democratic Party

Jennifer Berkshire looks at the sad history of how the Democratic Party decided to stop being the party of public education and instead transformed itself into GOP-lite.

How Stranger Things Shows Support for Public Schools

One small feature of the hit Netflix series is how it places the local school in the middle of the community.

Schooling Is Never Neutral

The JLV with a brief but important reminder

The DC School Reform Fiasco: A Complete History

John Merrow and Mary Levy have created a comprehensive look at the DC "reform" shenanigans of She Who Will Not Be Named and others.  An important counterpoint to all the folks who keep insisting that DC is an example of school reform working.

But It Was The Very Best Butter

Almost forgot this one-- a quick explanation of how a good test can still be a bad test





Saturday, November 18, 2017

DeVos: Vouchers Don't Have To Serve Everyone

You may recall the case of Endrew F. vs. Douglas County School District, in which the parents of an autistic child and the Douglas County schools of Colorado got into an argument about "de minimis" aka "how little education can a district get away with providing." Did Endrew's IEP require the district to pay for his tuition to a swanky school that provided fancy stuff like "education"? Somehow this made it all the way to the Supremes, who unanimously ruled sort of down the middle-- school district compliance with IDEA has to be more than a half-baked half effort, but education experts get to be the experts on education, not Mom and Dad.



The whole business now has a sequel, starring Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

Remember that time DeVos was being interviewed for her job and she didn't really seem to understand what IDEA actually was? Specifically, didn't seem clear on whether schools receiving federal funds would be required to follow the federal IDEA law?

Oh-- and remember that time when she called Historically Black Colleges and Universities "pioneers of school choice"? Which was kind of like calling the underground railroad pioneers of Uber?

Well, both of those moments had a sequel this week as reported by Ann Schimke for Chalkbeat. There are two take-aways here. One is not so big, and one kind of is.

First, the F family was none too happy about being used as props for one more DeVos love letter to school choice.

“Every family should have that ability to choose the learning environment that’s right for their child,” she said. “They shouldn’t have to sue their way to the Supreme Court to get it.”

Remember that DeVos quote. The Fs, Joe and Jennifer, were not pleased.

“To hold us out there as a poster child on how a private school is working for our child and how this is how school choice is supposed to work, really bugs me,” Joe said.

“It was a little disappointing,” Jennifer said. “She picked the parts that she liked and used them for what she wanted.”

 Now to the bigger takeaway. Turns out that the Fs had actually met DeVos, privately, at her request.

They were flattered by her interest, but felt she didn’t understand why private school vouchers would never work for them — or many other families who have children with disabilities.

Specifically, how a small voucher amount does not get you into a pricey specialized private school like the one Endrew attends. But according to the Fs, they raised an even larger issue, and DeVos gave them a straight, if not welcome, answer.

Do students with disabilities lose their rights to a fair and appropriate education — a guarantee under the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act — if they use vouchers to attend private schools?

Yes, DeVos said.

“She answered point blank,” Joe said.

So in the DeVosian voucher world, choice schools do get to pick and choose which students they will serve-- or not serve. The USED would not require recipients of federal dollars (which given a Education Savings Account approach to vouchers would be cleansed  of their federal taint) to obey federal law.

The huge irony here? DeVos doesn't think parents should have to sue somebody to have their child's needs met, but in a voucher world, parents like the Fs would not be able to sue anybody. School choice would mean that the school could choose to show Endrew the door. School choice would mean that parents would have to give up their rights in return for their voucher. It's a reminder that school choice and the privatization of education is largely about stripping citizens of the right to a free and appropriate public education. Voucher and choice systems aren't just a different delivery system-- they represent a fundamental change in our educational mission as a country. And that's a lot less than de minimis.


PA: Graduation Test In Trouble (Again)

Pennsylvania's education bureaucrats had high hopes for the Keystone exams.

Back in 2010, the idea was that there would be at least ten of them-- one for each major course-- and students would take them at the end of the year as a final qualifying test for course credit (and therefor graduation). Donna Cooper (now of Public Citizens for Children and Youth) was part of the Rendell administration pushing for the tests, and like all good reformsters of the era, all she wanted was perfect standardization so that every student in every state was learning exactly the same thing.  "It would seem to me that a parent in Norristown and a parent in Johnstown, their kids should know the same things to graduate.” 

And like good reformy bureaucrats, neither the Rendell administration that cooked this up, nor the Corbett administration that cemented it into law, envisioned the state providing any resources at all to help students over this new hurdle. The Keystone exam system was the biggest unfunded mandate the state had ever seen.

The fiddling began immediately. Maybe the Keystones would count for a third of the full year grade. And somehow we'd have to roll the tests out over several years, only they turned out to be hard to just whip up quickly. And they were expensive, too.

Soon enough, the state decided that math, biology and English literature (aka "reading") would be the Keystone exams offered. And students and schools would get a couple of years to get up to speed before the test became a graduation requirement for the Class of 2017. 

But there was a problem. It quickly became clear that if the Keystones were required for graduation, a whole bunch of students weren't going to graduate. In more than 100 districts (and charters) well over half the students would not get a diploma.

Nobody in Harrisburg wanted to attach his name to that, so Keystones-as-grad-requirements were pushed back to 2019, and to insure that the results looked better by then, the state government did-- well, they did nothing. Hopes and dreams, thoughts and prayers, maybe. But still no resources to help in those afflicted districts. And sure enough-- as 2019 approaches (those students are taking the tests this year in many districts) things still look bad.

So buried within Harrisburg's most recent attempt to enact a budget, there's another postponement for the Keystones.   

Fans of local control are pleased-- let local districts set their own graduation requirements. But members of the Cult of Testing and Standardization are unhappy. Like Cooper, they argue that the previous Big Standardized Test, the PSSA, proved that local standards were inadequate.

“58,000 students were graduated and given diplomas who could not pass the state’s 11th grade PSSA,” said Cooper.  “That’s a real indication of the failure of local control to understand the market signals of what is needed for a kid to succeed in today’s economy.”


Cooper and others like her might have a point-- if there were a speck of evidence that the PSSA was a valid measure of what is needed for a kid to succeed in today's economy, or college, or anything. There was no such evidence for the PSSA, nor is there any such evidence for the Keystone. And the PSSA, which is still given in lower grades, is a norm-referenced test with cut scores reset every year -- so somebody has to fail. 

The Keystone exams are theoretically standards-referenced, which should mean that everyone can pass. But it should also mean that we can get test results literally five minutes after the student finishes the test, but we're still waiting months. Why is that? Maybe because of something called scaling, which seems like a fancy way to explain different weights for different questions on different forms of the test. Or maybe it has to do with rangefinding, which seems an awful lot like norm-referencing-- collect answers and see what their distribution looks like. 

Trying to uncover the problems of the Keystone exams can be a daunting task. The technical reports from every year are available (here's 2015), with hundreds of pages each, including illuminating passages like this one 

Reading these technical reports might suggest to a layperson, even a highly educated one, that testocrats have disappeared so far up their own butts that they are now viewing the world through the tiny little lenses of their own belly buttons.

But the answer to the Keystone problem may be much simpler than psychometric gobbledeegook or legislative refusal to fund what they demand. 

It could be that the Keystones are just bad tests.

Mind you, I'm not supposed to know that. The PA DOE Code of Ethics says that I should never set eyes on the test itself, and if I accidentally see anything, I should make myself forget it. We are supposed to remain ignorant of the test except in the most general terms, and the students have to swear not to talk about them either. We are all not only supposed to hit the target, but we're supposed to do it blindfolded. That way the test manufacturers won't have to spend money rebuilding the test every year the integrity of the test will be maintained.

But, scofflaw that I am, I look anyway. And I'm telling you that if someone offered me the test to use for free in my class so that I could have more time with my children and less time test writing, I would turn it down. It's junk. Questions with no objectively supportable single correct answer. Questions that are simple vocabulary tests. Questions that require the students to use psychic powers on the authors of the passages. These tests do not measure anything except the students' ability to navigate a bunch of trick questions and guess what the test manufacturers are thinking. 

You know who else knows that? My students. Like most districts, we have made the tests mandatory for graduation because we want the students to try because our school rating depends largely on those test results. But the students know that they'll do a performance task (the Binder of Doom) if they fail, and many of them are not only tired of taking stupid tests year after year, but they have long since concluded that they might as well roll dice, because success or failure feel pretty much random to them. 

Pennsylvania is having the same damn argument as much of the rest of the education world, with accountability mavens arguing that we must test to have accountability, but skipping over the entire question of whether the test being used is actually measuring anything worth measuring. It's like listening to someone insist, "We have to know whether or not you have cancer, so you must wave your hand over this horny toad under a full moon." It's the same old reformy disconnect-- establishing that something is a real problem is not the same as establishing that you are proposing a real solution (and for those of us who don't agree that local control and variation is a real problem, you are even further off base).

Without a decent, fair, valid test, and without resources to back up this unfunded  mandate, and without a reason for students to care, the Keystones will always be a disaster. We can only hope that the state legislature stops kicking this can down the road and finally just throws it in the dumpster of history, where it belongs.


Friday, November 17, 2017

Data and Numbers and Audiences

During the last week, Pat has shown a 6.3 rate of response in class, with a score of 75 on the Hendrix Orientation Scale. Informal assessment yield a 82 (well within the "moderate" range) for response accuracy. In a forty-minute period Pat showed a 45 for Attentiveness Measure, but Pat's interactions with peers score a 21 on Hemmings Interaction Index. However, that places Pat's Optimal Utilization Index Score well under the minimum desired level of 55. 

That's one report I could fill out for Imaginary Student Pat. Or I could say:

Pat has some trouble paying attention, but Pat can still answer questions if I call on Pat. Pat's not really distracting any of the other students, but it's pretty clear that Pat isn't trying and is still managing to do just enough to get by. Pat's a good kid; just kind of bored.

In fact, the first one is composed entirely of fake data measures, but you weren't sure, were you. It sounds more official than the second one. Because it's data, with numbers.


The thing is-- the second explanation is also packed with data. In fact, it's the same data, but expressed in human terms rather than in numbers and technobabble. Reform-resistant teachers are often accused of being anti-data, but the problem with much of the data we're offered by education technicians is that it is flat and meager compared to what we are used to gathering on a daily basis. To reduce and aspect of a student's behavior, performance or existence to a single digit on some manufactured scale means I must actually flatten or simplify the data I have, throwing out plenty that is valuable.

It's like coming up with a digital rating for a kiss. It can be done, but what I end up with will be far less descriptive, rich or thorough than a poem or a song or a description.

Data Overlords don't like verbal packages of data because they are "messy," but the only way to make them less messy is to throw a bunch of "extra" data out. The resulting digit score actually contains less data than the messy version-- and the mess that we've thrown out can be hugely important. We complain a lot about what the Data Overlords decide to focus on, but what they choose to ignore is at least as large a part of the problem.

But Big Data requires digital data so that it can be crunched and spread-sheeted and used for big picture centralized measuring and planning (someday we will have to talk about Seeing Like a State, a somewhat wonky but also brilliant book about this phenomenon). And in the process, Big Data has also usurped the anser to the question, "What data are important, and which can be safely ignored."

In fact, the shift to digital data is about a shift in audience-- schools are no longer expected to be accountable to local taxpayers and parents, but to some larger government or corporate entity. If I give Pat's parents that digital data report, their first question will be some version of "What does that mean in plain English." And then I'll give them the second explanation, which will have far more data in a far more useful context.

Do not buy the idea that teachers do not gather data. We have never done anything except gather data. What we haven't done is gather bad flattened data selected according to the instructions of functionaries who are far away from the intersection of the rubber and the road. And just because it's a digit, that doesn't mean it's good data-- in fact, it may be exactly the opposite.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

FL: What?! A teacher shortage??!!

Shocking news in today's Sun-Sentinel:

Almost three months into the school year, thousands of public school students in South Florida still don't have a permanent teacher —a problem expected to get worse as more educators flee the classroom and the number of those seeking teaching degrees plummets.

Okay, not shocking. Utterly predictable, given Florida's unending efforts to create the worst atmosphere for public education in the country. Here are some of the things they've done, in no particular order:

* They have tried to make it possible for parents to stamp out the teaching of science.
* They have given charters the unchecked ability to steal local tax dollars.
* They have made an absolute disastrous amateur-hour hash out of their Big Standardized Test.
* They have made successful students repeat third grade for failing to love the BST
* They have declared-- in court-- that teacher-prepared report cards are meaningless
* They have demonstrated how badly teacher merit pay can fail
* They made a dying child take the Big Standardized Test 
* They turned recess into a political football.
* They based a strategic plan based on bad retail management.
* They abolished tenure, and fired teachers for advocating for students.
* They've allowed racist underfunding of schools to flourish.
* They have provided ample proof that an A-F school rating system doesn't work.
* They host experiments in computerized avatar classrooms.
* They have charter legislation hustled through the capital by lawmakers who profit from it
* They allow more charter misbehavior than you can shake a stick at
* They have created a charter money grab law so onerous and obnoxious they have actually moved public schools to sue the state government.

All of this over and above the continued drip, drip, drip of starving public schools of resources and finding new ways to treat public school teachers with disrespect. And the pay stinks.

There is no reason to be surprised that Florida teachers are "fleeing." And the article notes just how much fleeing is going on. Broward County lost 1,000 teachers last year-- and that's not counting retirees.


The Sun-Sentinel article is brutal, noting that the drain of teachers leads to economic problems for communities, as well as becoming a self-perpetuating problem-- as the teacher pool is drained in schools, schools become less effective, which means they turn out fewer and fewer grads well-prepared for or interested in teaching. The article piles on the anecdotal evidence. A teacher who left, tired of constant testing and lack of autonomy. A teacher who left because you can't afford to be a single mom on a Florida teacher salary. A teacher who handles over thirty kids in an honors class because the state class size law only applies to "core" classes.

And of course, Florida is "solving" the problem by opening up alternative paths, because the way to get better teachers and fill teaching jobs is by making it possible to slap any warm body into a classroom. My favorite bar-lowering idea-- Florida Atlantic University will give Palm Beach Schools a list of students who flunked out of medical and science programs so that those students can be recruited to teach. And meanwhile the remaining dedicated, qualified teachers of Florida wonder how much longer they can hold on.

Of course, somehow, these champions of free market, these lovers of the invisible hand, cannot figure out that if people won't sell you a good or service under the terms you set, free market competition demands that you offer better terms and conditions. It's as simple as that. If you can't buy a Porsche for $1.98, that doesn't mean there's an automobile shortage. Even convenience stores understand that if you can't get enough quality people to work for you, you have to offer better terms of employment. Florida's leaders simply insist on pretending not to understand this, even as they try to starve pubic education so that the unregulated world of Florida charter schools will look more appealing. This is like setting fire to an apartment building so that the tenants will "choose" to move into a shifty trailer park operation, while in the meantime you "try" to hire firefighters by offering $1.00 an hour wages and a punch-in-the-face benefits.

This-- all of this-- I have to remind you, is what USED Secretary Betsy DeVos thinks is the shining light that our nation should be following. This disastrous train wreck, this state that has worked hard to destroy its public education system-- this is what DeVos thinks the nation should be emulating. Run the public system into the ground, drive the teachers away, and sell the pieces to privatizers.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A TURN of the Screw

You may not have heard of the Teacher Union Reform Network (TURN). They have kept a lowish profile despite having been around for a couple of decades (founded 1995) (I hadn't really paid attention until writer Rachel Cohen contacted me for a piece she was writing). Mostly they've just kind of talked about stuff in an aspirational way, occasionally throwing their weight behind someone else's delightful idea as a way of putting a teacher and union stamp of approval on those ideas (more about that in a bit). But now they've decided to float an idea of their own, and we need to talk about that.

This is cold fusion, as far as you know

The group is a network of teachers affiliated with NEA and AFT, originally formed by a group of local union leaders. One of those leaders (Adam Urbanski) wrote a spirited defense of the idea of getting unions involved in reform and not seen as an obstacle. That piece appeared in the reformy journal Education Next in 2001, back before the reformy excrement really hit the fan. Their goal was basically “to promote progressive reforms in education and in teacher unions.” Nowadays their stated goals are a little fuzzy--

It brings local unions together to promote progressive reform in education and teacher unions, build relationships among key stakeholders and to cultivate the next generation of teacher leaders to influence education policymaking and improve teaching effectiveness and student learning

The idea of getting teachers involved and out in front of reform attempts in education has some obvious appeal (better, for some folks, than simply sitting and waiting for another batch of reformsters to drop another schoolhouse on us). I would be swell if more of us were "empowered." But collaborating and cooperating with people who mean you harm can be tricky business, and there are some red flags in TURN's history. There's the big chunk of money they took from Eli Broad. There's the time they apparently let TNTP come edu-splain to them about the damn widget effect (a made-up thing that TNTP never tires of using as "proof" that teacher pay and job security should be worse).

But let's leave it for the moment that we may or may not be able to trust these guys, and let's look at what they've come up with.

Our TURN: Revitalizing Public Education and Strengthening Our Democracy Through the Collective Wisdom of Teachers is a big title that makes big promises. And in the conclusion of the paper, they make a pretty clear statement about the broadest of goals:

The unprecedented threat to public schooling that we face requires us to think creatively about some basic questions: How can public education, once again, become “the great equalizer”  and the foundation for our democracy? And how could it be made to benefit all our students,  not just some?

Those are good questions, but they come at the end of a document that only sort of tries to answer them. They also come, it should be noted, at the end of a document that TURN thanks (in an endnote) Richard D. Kahlenberg for helping to write. Kahlenberg is a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a NYC-DC thinky tank. His involvement likely explains why a thinky tankish verbal fog seems to roll in and obscure plain English at many points of the document.

The document is organized around four "pillars" of educational swellness, which are then expanded into a four-part vision, which then is upped to policies and practice. And frankly, if you try to read the document too closely your head starts to hurt, due in no small part to a anesthetizing blend of repetition, self-contradiction, and billowy verbage. So I'm going to approach each pillar-policy once, rather than circling the track multiple times.

Pillar One: Learning Centered Schools

Many. many ideas have been dumped into the first pillar. The focus is not on "coverage" but on what is "actually learned" which s0omehow requires a "fundamental shift" (because none of us were paying attention to what our students learned?) from skills and facts to "preparing learners to understand ideas and processes" for applying "flexibly and autonomously." Somehow this means that teachers will need to understand student individual needs, learning styles, and cultural backgrounds. But in LCS, "students are rarely lectured to" but instead  "do most of the work themselves" through "well-crafted active learning opportunities."

And that's just the first three paragraphs.

This type of school connects learning to the real world, and "lessons often take place in real life settings, not just in classrooms," which betrays the belief here that a classroom is not a real life place.

But TURN believes this all has "enormous implications," including the idea that we must measure what we value, not the other way around. Which sounds correct, if not particularly new. Standards must be broad and assessments must be performance-based to "assess not only what students know but rather what students are able to do with what they know" which-- are you kidding me? This is outcome based education, with lesson plans built around TSWBAT ("the student will be able to...") So this is a thirty-year old idea that currently is stumping around as Performance-Based Learning aka Competency-Based Education, and now I'm suspecting that TURN has deployed all of this verbage as the biggest, lushest fig leaf that was ever grown to cover the naked naughty bits that are modern CBE.

It gets worse. We're also going to assess the students on "whether they are ethical human beings" and whether they can "get along with those how are different than them." Damn. Am I the only person who remembers that OBE was gutted and rejected over just this exact point-- the idea that schools would mold and judge the characters of tiny humans?

AND we are going to test all day every day, by integrating assessments into learning which is either A) exactly what every competent teacher has now and always done or B) a pitch for computerized CBE programs in a can.

Because TURN wants to see big exams "fully funded by the federal government" (like, you know, PARCC and SBA), I'm going to assume that TURN leans towards the big-brotherly CBE approach, though honestly, there is just so much raw jargon clogging this report, it's sometimes hard to tell. Big Standardized Tests have all sorts of problems, especially when norm-referenced, but we still want high-quality BSTs.

And finally, don't forget that having high standards and tests to go with them "can be powerful engines for equity," as the reformsters have been telling us since NCLB launched, without a shred of evidence or support for this notion.

It occurs to me that it's possible that TURN is trying to synthesize every education reform idea that has surfaced in the last forty years, somehow folding them into one gooey mass. It is not a good look.

Pillar Two: Recognizing Teaching as a Profession

This very pillar captures a feature that I alluded to in the previous pillar, a sense that TURN simultaneously remembers everything and nothing from the past several decades. Is teaching not already a profession? TURN (which, don't forget, is supposedly a union-spawned group) has some self-contradictory thoughts.

The United States today has a teacher shortage in part because educators are not paid enough and are tired of being micromanaged and  denigrated. The inability to consistently  attract the very strongest candidates to  teaching is deeply problematic, because  even the best redesigns will not be well  implemented without high-performing  professional teachers.

So on the one hand, as teachers have said,  teachers are poorly treated and paid. But on the other hand, as reformsters have charged, teachers are the bottom of the barrel.

TURN talks about what requirements would make teaching a profession, and they invoke Albert Shanker, which is almost always a bad sign because Shanker is usually brought up to say "This may seem like a terrible idea, but Saint Shanker of the Teacher Union endorsed it, so shut up." TURN says get a degree, get specialized training, pass an examination, be inducted and work your way up, collaborate with other teachers, keep learning, and be rewarded by autonomy and great pay. All of which sounds okay in the large, vague picture, but the details matter. Who creates the exam? Who measures the degree to which teachers do all these things?

The answer should be "teachers," but it isn't. TURN calls for "greater voice," but they cite the supremely unimpressive Teach To Lead token teacher project from USED. They think the Dewey lab school at University of Chicago is an exemplar, too. But once again they cannot make up their minds. Current teacher eval stinks, and good teaching is more than a student's score, but evaluation "can't ignore the importance of student learning" (aka test scores).

TURN wants a career ladder and differentiated pay and they have insisted elsewhere that they don't mean merit pay, but pay differentiated and certified by the National Board of Professional Teaching Standard. But while NBPTS has some thoughts about the career ladder part, I'm not aware of a differentiated pay plan. So they're just going to certify it? After it comes from... somewhere? But TURN is sure "the program rewards excellence" without creating any sort of zero sum game except that of course there's a zero sum game. Education funding can't be anything BUT a zero sum game because the pile of available money is always finite. "Just spend all the money you need and send us the bill," said no bunch of taxpayers ever. One of the reasons that districts like the lock-step salary scales (that this document quietly rejects) is because it makes rational budgeting possible.

TURN supports due process and job protections, likes peer review (actually, so do I) .

Pillar Three: Excellence with Equity

TURN would like to underscore that poverty makes a difference when it comes to education, and that although this has been established through plenty of research, modern ed policy continues to ignore it. True enough. They have some policy solutions to propose, like adopting policies "to increase wages and reduce poverty." Well, that seems like a simple fix. Surprised nobody's considered that before now. All right-- I don't mean to be a jerk, but if we're going to list grand policy wish lists that we have no practical ideas about implementing, let's also ask for cold fusion and a perpetual motion engine.

Also, TURN would like "high-quality" Pre-K as part of the public school system. And they would like more resources directed to high-poverty schools. "Students with the greatest needs deserve the greatest resources." How would this affect the student-centered school approach, or the differentiated pay of teachers? Shh-- we're not talking about those things now, because the TURN plan deals with much of its internal confusion by not trying to connect any of the pillars to each other.

TURN also calls for less segregation, somehow.

And teachers and parents should build stronger ties, including the idea of consulting parents during the collective bargaining process, apparently mainly for language items like class size. Though TURN says this has been done, it seems like a challenging choice. I'm imagining a negotiating team at the table as the administration team says, "Well, you've promised your parents smaller class sizes and your members better health insurance. We're only going to give you one. Pick."

But hey-- that takes us to the fourth pillar...

Pillar Four: Promote Collective Bargaining for Educational Quality

TURN calls for nationwide collective bargaining nationwide, and it's not absolutely clear whether they mean one nationwide contract for everyone or making all the right-to-work states that did away with teacher collective bargaining start doing it again. I think it's the latter, in which case maybe we should go back to discussing cold fusion feasability.

And if getting Scott Walker to give up all of his victories against the teachers union seems improbable, well, TURN would also like contract negotiation to include educational issues, basically negotiating teachers some say over issues previously considered management prerogatives. So double cold fusion.

TURN thinks the path to this is "education quality bargaining," in which bargaining is strictly focused on educational issues and contract decisions ultimately hinge on whether or not student achievement is aided, which strikes me as a way to tie everything in the contract to test scores, which seems like an epically awful idea. Also, higher teacher salaries can be financed by cutting administrative salaries, which strikes me as a hard sell and, in a district like mine where there aren't that many administrators (and my assistant principal makes less than I do and works in an office with a revolving door).

Even less helpfully, TURN advocates a "living contract," which seems to mean a contract that can be opened at any time because reasons. And a majority of the union could vote to change the contract. So basically an answer to the question, what would a contract be like if it weren't actually a binding contract.

My Pillar

So what have we got here? A policy wish list which A) dreams of huge things and doesn't offer much in the way of plans to achieve those things and therefor B) opens up all sorts of doors to reformy ideas that could easily fit under the broad tent that TURN has pitched. Common Core State [sic] Standards, test-based accountability, computer-centered personalized [sic] education, computer-driven competency-based education, merit pay-- these are all terrible ideas that would fit comfortably within TURN's four pillars. There are some grand ideas that would be achievable only after a massive culture change (like having Alabama welcome teachers unions) and others that would be achievable only with a breach of the physical law of the universe  (the school district budget can expand to handle any sort of expanded differentiated teacher pay).

It may be my cynical mistrust, but I suspect this is a bad bargain, like someone who says, "If you let me keep any change I can find in your house for the next ten years, I will give you all the fairies you can locate in my magic spaceship." If I turn off the cynical part of my brain, then this report looks like a spastic camel-- a horse built by a committee and then run through a xerox machine twenty times.

Whatever the case, I'm trying to imagine the audience for this paper, and I can't. Is some lawmaker to pick it up and start trying to make it real? Doubt it. Are a bunch of union members supposed to read it and say to their officers, "Get us this, now!" Also unlikely. Resume builder for TURN members? Possibly.

I can't tell for sure, but one thing I'm certain of-- this is no game changer.












Sunday, November 12, 2017

ICYMI: Baby It's Cold Edition (11/12)

You know the drill. Here are some pieces worth your while. If you really think they're great, post them, tweet them, or otherwise pass them along. That's how voices get amplified-- people listen and pass them on. Do that.

How Do You Keep an Iceberg Fresh?

From I Love You But You're Going To Hell, possibly the most perfectly-named blog out there. Addressing the problem of taking education ideas to scale, with a perfect analogy.

The Proselytizers and the Privatizers

If you haven't read Katherine Stewart's piece from American Prospect yet, do it today. A well-sourced keen analysis of how privatizers and religious conservatives have used each other in the school choice movement. And good news- this is from the magazine, which means you can buy a copy to share with your friends who don't do internet.

Times Editorial Hypes Charter Schools

Several of us wrote a reply to the NYT's editorial supporting the lowering of the professional bar for charter teachers. But Alan Singer wrote a response poking the editorial full of holes by citing the Times' own education coverage. Nicely done.

Starve the Beast, Hurt Our Schools

In US News, Lisette Partelow shows how the GOP's beast-starving budget is bad news for education, both in short and long terms.

Life Lessons from Eva Moskowitz

Rachel Cohen read Moskowitz's biography so none of us have to, which is good, because we'd probably be chucking the damned thing out the window anyway.

Texas Pastors Who Have Conservatives Quaking

Pastors for Texas Children is a group that's been successful in standing up for public education. Jennifer Berkshire talks to Pastor Charles Johnson about how they do it-- and why.

What Happens When School Districts Use VAM to Make Decisions?

21st century principal is wrapping up a dissertation about VAM and he's sharing some of the outcome.

What We Talk About When We Talk About the Corporate Education Agenda

A not-very-uplifting episode of the Have You Heard podcast, interviewing Gordon Lafer, author of the One Percent Solution.  Important but grim.

Big Education Ape

If you do not follow the Ape, you should. Not only does the site aggregate all of the best blogging about education, but it adds mighty entertaining artwork. If the site is not on your follow list, it should be. 


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Inside a Proficiency Based Classroom [updated]

Robbie Feinberg took a trip into a Maine classroom for NPR, trying to see what things look like in the state that has shifted to Proficiency-Based Education (aka Competency Based Education, aka some form of Personalized Learning aka in the 90s Outcome Based Education). You know that I have my doubts about this bold new not-so-new idea (see here, here, and here for starters). But the devilish proof is in the details of the pudding, so let's see what Feinberg found.


The piece opens with a "first thing you notice" anecdote. At Oak Hill, Feinberg first notices that there are sticky notes on desks, colored pink, green and blue depending on whether the students are on pace, a little ahead or a little behind. And the students have their seat for the day based on the color of their sticky note. And I'm already thinking, yes, that's cool, and we could spark it up by calling them the bluebirds and the green alligators and the cardinals, because this sure seems familiar to anyone who went to school a several decades ago. Did I mention that the school Feinberg is profiling is a high school, not an elementary school?

Once in their group, they get out a "personal learning plan," which is basically a checklist of the tasks they have to perform (aka the worksheets they have to finish) in order to complete this particular months worth of stuff. And I'm going to go ahead and jump in here to say, with all due respect to the teachers who are doing this stuff, that this is not personalized learning, because personalized learning is about each student pursuing her own path to achieve her own goals. This is personalized pacing (a fact underlined by the fact that it's marked on a Pace Chart)-- each student is following exactly the same path, just at his or her own speed.

The teacher? The teacher occasionally presents mini-lectures and leads discussions, but mostly he floats around the room and "checks in" with each student as the students slogs her way through the batch of tasks. How does this particular teacher feel about it?

“The reason why I like it is because I get to talk to every single student,” he says. “One-on-one. Which never used to happen 10 years ago. There would be months going by, and I wouldn’t have a conversation with a student. So at least this way, I’m able to talk with every student a little bit at a time each day.”

Yeah, if it never happened ten years ago, and you went months without talking to students, that is totally on you, not the educational system.

In this particular district, the advent of this new system coincided with the merger of three districts, so the schools were already wrestling with a loss of local control. But like the comment about conversations, some of what they are saying about the new system is hard for me to see sense in.

The old system of grading A-F "would have to go," and in its place is a system of grades marks 1-4. Yes, that's quite a game changer there. The school hired consultants to help them deal with the new system, and the school watched a whole bunch of teachers, including, apparently, "really good, popular" ones, head out the door over the shift (the superintendent says he was glad to see them go).

Some of what is mentioned in the article is more that just befuddling-- it's appalling. The school sends out a list of "behind" students to parents, so not only do students get to suffer the public embarrassment of having to sit in the front of the room with the bluebirds, but their behind-ness is published to the world. I can't think of a single educational justification for that action-- not one at all. If you are reading this, Oak Hill administration, you should stop that right now. [Update: Feinberg reached out to me to clarify that the failure notices are sent individually to parents of students who are behind, for their own student. So not quite as horrifying. I will also clarify however, that my "stop it right now" also applies to seating by current progress.]

[Update: Since many have asked-- the article does refer some student reaction. Students note that the teachers roles is basically to tell the to stop talking and get back to work.]

It is possible that Feinberg is belongs in the reporter bluebird group*, but the picture that emerges from his story is not of a school that's on the cutting edge of anything educational. Students have a pile of worksheets and other assigned tasks to work through, teachers don't so much teach as try to push them along through the stack, and students are ranked on whether they are ahead, behind, or on pace. Nothing in the article hints at true personalization, and nothing addresses the tricky issues (what happens when the year is over and the bluebirds are still behind by forty or fifty tasks-- what happens to them then, or the next fall?) And all of that is before we even get to the thorny pedagogical questions of whether or not these sort of tasks truly show that a student has mastered a skill or a chunk of knowledge. Can education really be reduced to a checklist of tasks (and that is what Oak Hill is described as having-- the teacher literally stops by the student to check off tasks on a list).

This could be a school from fifty or sixty years ago. There's certainly nothing admirable or inspiring here, certainly nothing cutting edge. I have always argued that PBL/CBE/Personalized Learning would end up delivering far less than it promised, but even I didn't imagine it would be this much less. As I said, it may be that Feinberg simply dropped the ball (and, I should note, this article is first in series). Maybe something magical is happening at Oak Hill that he didn't see. But if this piece is an accurate portrayal of what the PBL classrooms of Maine look like, the rest of us should run-- not walk-- in the opposite direction.

Oh, and this is the first article in a series. Stay tuned for more.

*Check the comments for more about Feinberg.


Friday, November 10, 2017

CA: A Silly Proposal

It should be said right up front that this measure has little chance of making it all the way to becoming an actual law, and the only big mystery here is why a local news station would bother to cover it at all. But it's an example, I guess, of just how silly and mouth-frothy some folks get about public education and their desire to do away with it. But this is an unvarnished look at how some folks feel about education issues.

This California ballot initiative is called the California No Taxes on Residents Without Students for Public Schools Initiative. This proposal to amend the state constitution comes courtesy of Lee Olson, chairman of the Committee to End Slavery, headquartered in Huntington Beach, CA. The committee seems to have no online presence, (there is a Lee Olson running a one-employee real estate company in Huntington Beach) but if you're thinking that Huntington Beach seems like an odd home for the fight against slavery, well, you may be thinking of the wrong kind of slavery. (Olson has been down this road, and others like it, before.)

Let's look at the bill. 

The formal title is the "California Tax Relief Act" and it's based on twelve findings  by the committee, each frothier than the last:

1) The NEA says California per-pupil costs are $11,329

2) Ed Week ranked California near the bottom among the fifty states

3) Common Core resulted in colleges flooded with unprepared students. And now it gets good...

4) Government school graduates "have not only been dumbed down they're afflicted with arrested emotional development (AED) requiring universities and colleges to provide safe spaces stocked with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and videos of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma."

5) Parents are taking their children elsewhere

6) These elsewheres are better and cheaper.

7) In particular, the committee recommends the Ron Paul Curriculum which emphasizes liberty and equips students to run businesses "without putting ideological indoctrination ahead of education, unlike government schools."

8) Parents who choose these better alternatives are penalized because they still have to pay for  government schools through taxes and "other schemes, which extract their financial resources at gun point."

9) All California residents are forced to pay for students, "whether or not they are financially responsible for those students." Also at gun point. Can't overemphasize the gun points.

10) The Committee supports parents' right to control the education of their children. "Our Creator never assigned the right and responsibility of a child's education to a government entity; the government has usurped that inviolable right and responsibility at gun point."

11) The Committee condemns the theft of property from Californians "euphemistically called taxation" to pay for government schools, particularly "when their purpose is to create a dumbed down populace easy to control and prepared only to service the (slave) labor needs of the oligarchy that rules over us."

12) "Any registered California voter who votes against this initiative is telling the whole world and their Creator that they support and endorse the theft of their neighbor's financial resources to finance government schools and,therefore, that they reject and are in full, open rebellion against the Creator's command, 'Thou shalt not steal.'"

So the purpose of the bill is to relieve the "unfair and immoral government imposed penalty on loving parents" who have to pay for school twice. At gun point.  Also to relive other CA residents who are being forced to pay for children who are not their responsibility, because why should we have to pay to send Those People's Children to school. At gun point.

That's just what the proposed bill would do-- if you don't have a kid in government school, you don't have to pay taxes.

The proposal would require over 500,000 signatures to make it onto a California ballot, and if you think they won't get at least partway there, you haven't been paying attention to the people opposed to public education and government schools. At gun point. In which case you should read the proposal again, because it may be silly, but it's an unveiled look at an attitude that is not too far removed from the belief system of our Secretary of Education.


What Is A Child Worth

If you are a regular reader, you know how I feel about the idea that education's main or sole aim is to prepare children to be the worker bees of tomorrow, to become a "product" to be consumed by the future corporate overlords.

Snacktime's over, you little slacker. Go get a job!


I've been tracking this baloney since I started blogging. Here's Allan Golston from the Gates Foundation website:

Businesses are the primary consumers of the output of our schools, so it’s a natural alliance.

Or then-corporate exec Rex Tillerson:

But Tillerson articulates his view in a fashion unlikely to resonate with the average parent. “I’m not sure public schools understand that we’re their customer—that we, the business community, are your customer,” said Tillerson during the panel discussion. “What they don’t understand is they are producing a product at the end of that high school graduation.”

Or members of the Florida legislature:

The purpose of the public education system of Florida is to develop the intellect of the state's citizens, to contribute to the economy, to create an effective workforce, and to prepare students for a job.

This is all alarming because it is such a narrow, cramped, tiny vision of education, a low bar to clear, an unworthy target at which to aim. All the depth and breadth of human experience, all the joy and heartfelt fulfillment to which humans can aspire, all the glorious discovery of one's best self, all the varied and beautiful experience of being a human in the world-- these folks would have us toss all of that away to better turn children into meat widgets who can serve not their own human aspirations and dreams and goals, but the corporate need for drones to fill jobs so that the rich can get richer.

This is all awful. But something else is rotten in this point of view.

In this view of the world, children are worthless.

In this view, children are lumps of raw material, useless and therefor worthless until they can be molded into job-ready drones. These are people who would look at my new twins and my beautiful grandbabies and say, "Well, they're pretty and all. But they're kind of worthless, aren't they."

These folks are impatient for children to be made into useful tools. "Hey," they bark at the kindergarten teachers. "Stop screwing around with all that playing and start teaching them to read and write-- you know, things that will make them useful to a future employer." Perhaps this is why some hard-right folks complain about child labor laws-- after all, a child who's not working is a child who has no value.

They have even inveigled their language into the language of school and teacher evaluation-- we look for "value added" which means value added to the children in our care who, by implication, lack value now.

It's a stumper of a world view. How exactly do we convince grown-ass human beings that children are valuable (and not just because they have "potential" to someday become useful tools). How can any human with a halfway healthy heart not look at a small child and think, "You are quite enough, a valuable being, deserving of love and protection and care. You are absolutely enough, just as you are, right now." How do you get through to anyone who looks at a child and feels anything but full and unconditional love (or who thinks the way to express that love is to try to convert that "worthless" child into a worthy drone)? And if we can't get to that person, how do we get them to stay the hell away from matters of educational policy?


Thursday, November 9, 2017

DeVos to Headline Bush's Charterpalooza

Has it been ten years already?

Jeb Bush's reformsteriffic organization Foundation for Excellence in Education (now in the process of morphing its name to ExcelinEd) just announced its tenth annual national summit. This time it's in Nashville, and the big news is that speakers will include Bush Buddy Betsy DeVos! Squeee!


This annual Big Wet Kiss to privatization has always brought out the shiniest stars in the reformster firmament, and Bush himself will be there (because, really, does he have any place else he needs to be) to provide the keynote kickoff to the "content-rich" agenda on November 30.

The National Summit will focus on reform topics of educational opportunity, innovation and quality in general sessions with nationally renowned speakers, targeted strategy sessions and hands-on workshops featuring policy experts, legislators and educators sharing proven and next generation policy solutions for improving learning for all students.

Why attend? Well, it will be "the education networking event of the year" and a "one-stop shop for the nuts and bolts of education reform" and provide "opportunities to connect with nationally renowned speakers and leaders." Here's a nice summary from the press release:

Each year, the National Summit on Education Reform serves as a strategic convening for leaders who want a timely, comprehensive overview of all elements of transformative education policy. The unique gathering equips them with the knowledge, know-how and a network of experts to champion students in every classroom across America. Last year’s National Summit convened 1,045 education leaders from 47 states, with 94 percent of attendees praising the event as “outstanding” or “above average.”

What other talking treats will appear? Clayton Christensen (Harvard Business School professor and "disruptive innovation expert"). Dr. Steve Perry (charter school boss and self-aggrandizing scrapper). Derrell Bradford, Andy Smarick, and Chad Alderman.(reliable thinky tank and advocacy guys). Antwon Wilson (Broadie, DC Public School Chancellor and Guy Who Blew a Giant Hoe in the Budget of His Previous District). Neerav Kingland (Helped hash up New Orleans schools).

Kate Walsh (NCTQ) and Elisa Vilanueva-Beard (CEO of TFA) will be part of an "expert panel" about the teacher shortage led by Daniel Weisberg (CEO of TNTP). Mike Petrilli (Fordham and every article ever written about education) will moderate a panel about "the truth behind private school choice."

Not a public education advocate anywhere in sight. The crowd seems tilted a bit more toward the "free market profiteering" wing of the reform movement than the "social justice" wing. And a whole session about how to use the proper term for your branding so that you can sell your reform.

Media folks, including bloggers, can register to cover the event "from the designated press areas." And you can still join the distinguished list of sponsors, including the Walton Familu, Exxon-Mobile, the College Board, McGraw-Hill, Pearson, Amplify, K12, NWEA, Charter Schools USA, and State Farm.


Ten years of this summiting, or roughly the same amount of time Bill Gates said we would have to wait until we knew whether or not "our education stuff worked." Of course, the education stuff hasn't worked and doesn't work, unless of course by "work" you mean "makes it possible for a lot of people to get their hands on a lot of money."  

I could say that it's not normal for a Secretary of Education to attend this celebration of the privatizing and dismantling of public education, but Arne Duncan and Rod Paige have both done Bush's Happy Reformster Retreat. But it certainly underlines how clearly DeVos is not on the side of public education in this country. At least her security detail will be able to relax while she spends the weekend surrounded by friendly faces.


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

WeWork: More Education Dilettantery

There's a new batch of rich dilettantes ready to put their disruptive fix on education. It's WeWork, and if you don't know who that is, it may be because you are over thirty and work in a school.

Neumann's IMDB picture

WeWork  is many things, not the least of which is a huge real estate empire (10 million square feet of office space). Stories about the "unicorn" company talk a lot about "communal" offices, the company repeatedly billed as "a company providing community, shared workspace and services to freelances, small businesses, startups and entrepreneurs." A New York Times article described the corporate goal as "to over5take any conceivable venue for entrepreneurial-minded up-and-comers who are drawn to a clubby sense of community and the turnkey ease (if impersonal feel) of communal spaces."  But it's not just that they have the space-- it's that they have a vision for how to use that space super-efficiently:

In the future, you’re going to love going to the office. Everything you need to do your job effectively will present itself without effort. You won’t have your own desk, because your employer will know you only use it for 63 percent of the day. But you won’t mind sharing it, because said employer will make sure you have a private room with green leafy plants, soundproof walls, and warm light between 2 and 2:20 p.m. so you can call your daughter. At 3:30 p.m., when you need a conference room for the product managers’ meeting, you won’t even have to book it. It’ll just be there. And everyone attending remotely will already be invited.

Now you're thinking, "But to do that, the company would have to know..." Everything. Correct. Co-founders Adam Neumann and Miguel McKelvey want to collect every piece of data possible about how people use offices, how they work, how work itself works. In other words, while the surface business is real estate and dreams, the core that supports it all is data collection on an epic scale. Not for nothing are they also called "the first physical social network."

All this matters because the young titans are branching out. They've already launched WeLive, extending their concept to living space. Now they would like a shot at education with WeGrow. 

Taking point on this seems to be Adam Neumann's wife, Rebekkah Paltrow Neumann. This filmmaker-actress-entrepreneur went to Cornell and majored in Business and Buddhism. She was accepted into the Smith Barney Sales and Trading program, but left to pursue her acting and film career, which now includes launching WeWork Studios. And she's Gwyneth Paltyrow's first cousin. And she's WeWork's branding officer.

So what kind of school would these folks like to launch. Well, Rebekah Neumann has dropped some hints.

“In my book, there’s no reason why children in elementary schools can’t be launching their own businesses,” said WeWork co-founder Rebekah Neumann, the company’s chief brand office...

WeGrow is already up and piloting, and Bloomberg took a look at some of what is going on there. The school has seven students and two teachers, and hopes for sixty-five students next fall. . The school likes project-based learning, but this may not be exactly the kind of project-based learning you're used to thinking of:

The kids have already gotten lessons from the Neumanns’ employees in creating a brand and using effective sales techniques, and from Adam Neumann on supply and demand. Mentorships with WeWork customer-entrepreneurs are available. “Basically, anything they might want to learn, we have people in the field that can teach it,” Rebekah Neumann said. When one of their students, an eight-year-old girl named Nia, made T-shirts to sell at the farm stand the kids run, “we noticed she has a strong aptitude and passion for design,” Neumann said. She is securing an apprenticeship with fashion designers who rent space from WeWork.

Yes, apparently it turns out that you are never too young to learn to think, "This is interesting and all, but how can I make a quick buck from it?" We've all been arguing about whether five year olds should be playing or learning academic materials-- turns out we'e over looked another possibility, which is learning how to monetize the world around you.

Neumann's own vision for life is, well....

In her own family, she said, “there are no lines” between work and life or home and office. “My kids are in the office. I’m doing what I love, he’s doing what he loves, they are observing that, and they are doing what they love.”

This is in keeping with the WeWork vision, which is rolling out of bed straight into your workspace. I love my job. I love it a lot. I still go home and do things that are not my job. But I don't find this boundaryless existence as troublesome as some of her other thoughts:

Neumann argues it’s conventional education that is “squashing out the entrepreneurial spirit and creativity that’s intrinsic to all young children.” Then, after college, she said, “somehow we’re asking them to be disruptive and recover that spirit.”

You know who really likes "disruption"? Rich people who are so well-insulated by their wealth that they never have to worry about "disruption" actually inconveniencing them or forcing them to change their lives in ways they wouldn't like. Rich people who know that no matter how bad the disruptions get, they will stay safe and dry (and wealthy) through it all. That's who loves disruption.

 Neumann does seem to have consulted an actual educator-- Lois Weiswasser. And WeGrow has dreams of sliding scale tuition so that even the Little People can let their toddlers learn how to be Captains of Industry, though at this point nobody seems to know how to pay for this highly expensive model for school (the Neumanns might want to give Max Ventilla a call). In the meantime, let's not forget that WeWork's whole model involves collecting a huge amount of data, because these are people who believe the naive notion that if you know everything, you can predict and prepare for anything.

Once again, if these people weren't rich-- if a failed actress with no education background at all said, "I think I'd like to start a school"-- we wouldn't be talking about this at all. But wealth gives you the chance to run any experiment you can afford to finance. It seems early to make a prediction, but I'm calling it anyway-- WeGrow is not the school of the future. Let's just hope it creates minimal disruption along the way. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

$250 for Stripping

Among the many attempts to "simplify" the tax code, the GOP included the removal of the ever-popular $250 teacher deduction that allows teachers to claim a tax advantage for some sliver of what they spend on their own classrooms.

There is some disagreement about how much some teachers spend. The $1,000 figure is tossed around a lot, but nobody seems to know what the actual basis for that number is. Others use a more conservative $500. Certainly the amount varies by teacher. I buy class sets of books (used) that I want to teach in my high school classroom; it's not terribly expensive. On the other hand, my wife, the elementary teacher, spends roughly sixty gazillion dollars on her classroom.

This has sparked a fair amount of debate and defense of the teacher deduction, and it may well survive the upcoming ongoing raging tax-related debate.

But the whole business has reminded me of stripping.

Back fifteen-or-so years ago, I was a local teacher union president and we were in the midst of contentious contract negotiations (so contentious they eventually resulted in a strike). And those negotiations introduced me to the negotiating tactic of stripping.

Here's how it works. My side is asking for extended lunch and better parking. The other side proposes that they chop off our arms and our legs. So we negotiate. We agree to lunch that's the same length, and we agree to buy parking permits from the main office, and they agree only to chop off one of our arms. See? It's a negotiation, a compromise. We give up something and -- hey, wait a minute! They actually gave up nothing! Dammit-- I hope they chop off my non-dominant arm so I can still write an angry letter.

That's how stripping works in a negotiation. The other side proposing to strip away things you already have, and you end up giving ground on your side and in return, they let you keep some of what you already had.

That is why, for instance, some states (like Pennsylvania) have been toying with removing state mandates for teacher sick day allowances. Teachers may well end up with the same amount of sick leave, but they'll have to give up something in local contract negotiations to get it.

So look for the moment in the tax debates when the GOP says, "Well, we would like to be nice guys and give that $250 deduction , or maybe half of it, back, but we'll have to get a concession from somewhere else." (Spoiler alert: "somewhere else" will not turn out to be "taxing rich people or corporations").We may well get that $250 back if for no other reason than it's a cheap bargaining chip for the GOP. But if we get it back, it will cost us.


Monday, November 6, 2017

FL: Training Drones

No state in the USA works any harder than Florida to degrade public education. Setting ridiculous third grade reading test requirements, undercutting the teaching profession, stripping resources from public schools to make charters more attractive and profitable (but holding those charters to no real educational standards)-- just type "Florida" into the little search window in the upper left and see how many times I've had to look at Floridian shenanigans.








But Florida has looked for an even more efficient way to cut education off at the knees-- check out the proposed revisions for the state constitution:


That's tiny print, so let me spell it out for you:

The purpose of the public education system of Florida is to develop the intellect of the state's citizens, to contribute to the economy, to create an effective workforce, and to prepare students for a job.

Yikes. Not even "prepare students for a career"-- just plunk those meat widgets in a job somewhere so that corporations can benefit and prosper on the backs of useful drones. After all, what else is education good for. Hell, what else is human life good for-- except to help state leaders prosper and to perform useful functions so that companies can boost stock values. Really, it might be best if schools could actually replace all the human parts of students with cyborg equipment, because really, a robot that could just be packed up in a trunk at the end of the shift would be more useful than humans, who will probably want to have actual lives of their own once they clock out of their corporate functions.

Lord knows this is not a new or unique point of view. It was Rex Tillerson (back before he was neutered and given a State Department shock collar) who tried to get schools to understand that they are producing a product for companies to consume. Or Allan Golston of the Gates foundation who called students the "output" of a school system, meant for companies' consumption. And don't forget Florida Chamber of Commerce president Mark Wilson who said the purpose of schools is economic development, "plain and simple."

But none of these biz-whiz geniuses was rewriting a state constitution to codify his belief that public schools are built to crank out compliant worker drones, and that education has no higher purpose-- certainly not to improve the lives of young humans, to help them better become themselves, to help them best understand how they want to be human in the world.

No, if you want the higher qualities that we used to associate with education, you'll need to be wealthy enough to send your kid to private school. Because you can bet that if any of these corporate yahoos, any of these feckless reckless legislators discovered that their own child had been greeted on the first day of school with, "Your only purpose here this year is to learn how to be a better employee for your future bosses," they would yank that kid out of school so fast they'd have to go back later to retrieve the child's shoes.

And yet Florida remains, for Betsy DeVos and other reformsters, an exemplar, the state that most typifies their imaginary dreamed-of future. We should all be worried about what happens in Florida.