Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Betsy DeVos Does Not Owe You a Damned Explanation

There are so many moments from the nearly four hours that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos spent chatting with some Congresspersons today, but as a dedicated DeVos watcher, this three minute clip is captivating:

God bless Bobby Scott for not actually throwing something at her.

But I think Splinter (the only place I could find this clip (if for some reason you can't play it, here's a good recap) has made a  critical mistake which perpetuates a mistake people keep making.

I'm having so much fun. It's like teasing a cat with a laser pointer.

It is easy to watch DeVos robotically repeat variations on "If follows the law" and imagine that she is just being obtuse or maybe trying to hide ignorance, but as I have said repeatedly, I do not believe DeVos is a dope.

So you may watch this and think the underlying message from DeVos is "I don't know what I'm doing" or "I haven't done my homework" or "I don't really understand what I'm being asked." But I think the underlying message is something else entirely--

"I don't owe you a damned word of explanation for anything."

"First of all, I'm anointed by God. I'm on a literal mission from the Creator of the Universe, so I answer to a much higher power than a bunch of suits stuffed with cheap-ass lobbyist pocket change.So I don't answer your question. So what? Are you going to scowl at me? Because my brother is Eric Frickin' Prince who kills guys like you-- literally kills guys like you-- before breakfast, and spends his afternoon torturing information out of dangerous men. You think he hasn't given me a few pointers over Thanksgiving dinner? You think I'm not geared up to resist questioning by guys whose most enhanced interrogation technique is Asking The Same Thing Repeatedly With an Annoyed Face?"

"See this smile? It's the smile of someone who has so much money that I don't need anybody else's help. It's the smile of someone who's such tight besties with Jesus that I don't need anybody else's approval."

"Don't know education? I know exactly what I want to do and I know exactly how much of an answer I plan to give you and if you don't like it-- tough. I'm within the letter of the law, and you can't touch me, and if you want to gaze disapprovingly, go right ahead. When I'm relaxing at the right hand of God the Father and you are roasting in Hell, this little chat isn't going to mean a damn thing."

Okay, I may be expanding and paraphrasing a bit. But look at the patented DeVos smirk. This woman knows exactly what she's doing, and she knows that she doesn't have to explain any of it to us plebes or our elected representatives.

Striking Local

While the big news in teacher strikes has been state-wide walkouts, elsewhere in the world, teachers are also dealing with strikes the old fashioned way-- one district at a time.

In fact, right now in my little corner of the world, two local unions are looking at teacher strikes-- one in the fall, and one tomorrow (I will note in the spirit of full disclosure that one of these school districts is the one where my wife works).

I've been through two strikes in my career (one as a new hire, and one as local president). It may seem as if there are many reasons that strikes happen, but there really aren't.

Strikes happen because there is a breakdown in negotiations. When a school board indicates that they are not wiling to negotiate any more, then teachers are out of options. This should not come as a shock to anyone-- if you are trying to buy a car, and the dealer says he will not lower the price that is two grand above what you're willing to pay, what do you do? You walk away. But school boards (or sometimes the administrator's behind them) sometimes fall in love with the notion that they should be able to dictate the terms of the teacher contract. In some states, that is now the law. But Pennsylvania is not one of those states. When you tell your teachers that you refuse to schedule any more sessions and they had better accept your last offer or else-- well, that's dumb, because the only "or else" that can follow is a strike.

Okay, I take it back. There is one other "or else"-- teachers can decide to stop working for you at all. The nationwide teacher shortage is simply a slow motion teacher walkout.

If you say to your staff, "We want to be the school district of last resort, so that you can work only with people who couldn't find any job anywhere else," you are being a dope. Nobody wants that.

The most important thing to understand about a teacher strike is that no teacher wants to strike. Not one. Not ever. Teachers do not suddenly decide they'd like to strike because a couple of rabble-rousers stirred them up. If your teachers are talking strike, it is because you have backed them into a corner. You have convinced them they have no other options short of quitting permanently.

If you're a school board looking at a strike-- well, you made this. You treated them like dopes who couldn't figure out that a $100 salary bump minus a $200 increase in insurance payments i actually a raise (or some similar mathematical baloney).You have convinced them that you are not interested in bargaining in good faith. You have convinced them that you view the contract as a battle to be won instead of a problem to be solved together. You have convinced them that they can't trust you to put the interests of education first. You may even have convinced them that you do not respect or value them.

Schools boards can send messages. In my strike, years ago, the board opened negotiations with "stripping," a move in which the board "offers" to strip dozens of items from the contract-- things they didn't remotely care about, but took as a bargaining position so that they could claim they were "giving something up" when they agreed to only take teachers' arms instead of teachers' arms and legs.  Last night, one board, knowing that the full contingent of teachers were coming to the meeting, moved the meeting to a larger venue, then moved it back to the classroom-sized location so that folks would have to squeeze in and sit on the floor and wait in the hall. This is what is technically known as "a dick move." And it send s a message-- We have the power and you don't. This is our space and you're not welcome.

There are plenty of other delightful things you can expect if you are a teacher on strike.

Fellow teachers who want to hide. "I don't want to wear the union t-shirt. I don't want to wear the color we picked out for that day. I don't want to walk on the picket line. I believe in what we're doing and I want to see this contract settled but couldn't I just stay home and watch Great British Baking and let someone else take care of all the hard stuff?"  I get it. It's scary to actually stand up publicly for something when some people disagree with you. But as with all sorts of negotiations, the principle is very simple. You want A. That's nice-- but how badly do you want it? How much difficulty and inconvenience are you willing to suffer to get it. If the answer I "Now very much," then you aren't going to get it.

Fellow teachers who are conflict averse. My union had several members who were just sure that it was all a big misunderstanding and if we could just explain to the board and the public, it would be okay, so let's just do that. As the strike becomes more real, some teachers will decide that maybe a 0.12% raise isn't that bad. This is normal and understandable and not unusual-- Patrick Henry's whole speech is about responding to the colonials who wanted to try anything else except revolution, and his whole point was that everything else had been tried and had failed.

The race to the bottom. People working in convenience stores make minimum wage and have no benefits. Why should teachers do any better? This would be an excellent argument if schools were competing with Wal-mart for personnel, but they aren't. Good teachers want to work side by side with good teachers. Good teachers want to feel that the school they're investing in is going to have a future. You don't recruit and retain the best by offering the worst; striking teachers are often depicted as greedy and selfish, but strikes are always in part about the teachers of the future-- will any of them want to work here.

Some people just don't like teachers. It not worth wondering why. Some people hate teachers like I hate bats in my house. They will tell you how the union is responsible for everything bad in the world, how teachers are overpaid slobs who think they're so special just because they went to teacher school, how teachers are just glorified babysitters who work two hour days three months a year. Uppity teachers on strike make these people really angry, and they will find all sorts of ways to tell you about it. Warning: do not read the comments to articles about the strike on social media. I'll bet someone will be along to the comments here to explain how I have it all backwards and teachers are just evil greedy terrorists.

The hostage children. This one always comes up. Teachers are just holding children hostage so they can make more money. Of course, saying that is just a way to hold children hostage so that teachers will accept being compensated poorly.

You will have your heart broken. The single most difficult part of being the president of a striking union was the number of people, including friends, neighbors, family, former students, who made it a point to make sure I understood just how little they value the work 've devoted my entire adult life to. Plus the people who indicate that same disregard without even realizing it ("Well, I mean, geeze-- you're only a teacher."). And all of this including families for whom I'd gone an extra mile, or who had made it a point to be friendly to my while Chris and Pat were in my class. As a teacher, you know somewhere in the back of your mind, that an awful large sector of our society does not value education or teachers or any of the rest of the work, but it's one thing to know you're standing on a tightrope and another thing to stare straight down into the abyss.

All that, and more. Did I mention that no teachers actually want to go on strike?

It's not hard to avert a strike. In fact, while I was typing this, word arrived that the school board facing a strike tomorrow has postponed that strike for the moment by reversing their previous position and agreeing to meet with an arbitrator. See? Was that so hard?

I'll let you know how things go.

Police State High School

Next year it's going to be super-awesome to study or work at Lockport High School in New York. It will be super safe. Super super safe.

Facial recognition and tracking software will add an unprecedented level of security at the schools. District officials have decided locked entrance doors, bullet-proof glass and sign-in registers at the front desk are not enough.

The company behind this monstrosity state-of-the-art system brags that this will be the first school in the world to use this system. That could be in part because the Aegis system will cost $1.4 million (part of a $2.75 million security system that will include 300 digital video cameras).

What will the system actually do?

What it can do is alert officials if someone whose photo has been programmed into the system – a registered sex offender, wanted criminal, non-custodial parent, expelled student or disgruntled former employee – comes into range of one of the 300 high-resolution digital cameras.

This database of naughty people will supposedly not include student photos. Well, "unless there's a reason." Then the Creepmaster 5000 goes to work:

“If we had a student who committed some type of offense against the code of conduct, we can follow that student throughout the day to see maybe who they interacted with, where they were prior to the incident, where they went after the incident, so forensically we could also use the software in that capacity as well,” [Depew superintendent] Rabey said.

Depew schools are also interested in this new advance in the surveillance state. How many ways are there to object to this?

One Lockport parents calls it a waste of money, no more effective than locking doors and requiring visitors to check in. And though the company swears their facial recognition software is New and Improved, such software has a bad track record with women, children, and people of color. 

In one of the most drastic examples, facial recognition software was tested last June on the crowd at a championship soccer game in Cardiff, Wales. The system triggered 2,470 alerts for matches with a police database – but 92 percent of the “matches” turned out to be false. The police blamed the poor quality of the photos in the database.

And the director of the Buffalo chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union checks in with an understatement:

Tracking every move of students and teachers is not the best way to make them feel safe at school and can expose them to new risks, especially for students of color who are already over-policed in the classroom

This is a terrible idea. If you want examples of how terrible it could be, consider the Chinese, who are using facial recognition software to monitor students for proper attitudes and attentiveness.Nor is there any reason to believe that it will actually save a single life (it would have been unlikely to help in any of the most recent school shootings). 

Big Brother has always claimed that he is watching you for your own good. Now the students of Lockport can feel his warm and protective embrace, everywhere they go, every day. 

Sad Girls and Angry Boys

I'm in my last two weeks of my 39-year career, and that involves a lot of file clearing. I came across this-- one of the pieces from my local weekly newspaper column-- and it seems oddly apropos at the moment. While it's not explicitly about school, watching my own students is where I observed all of this. The column garnered huge student response-- one at a time. Breaking the cycle of bad high school relationships seems like one of the ongoing challenges at my school.

When you want romantic tragedy, it’s hard to beat a teaming of a sad girl with an angry boy.

Most people know one of these couples. They are not only locally numerous, but they are usually kind of, well, noisy. People often find their partnership mysterious, marked mostly by abuse, meanness, and co-dependency.

Friends of Sad Girl wonder why she takes it. He’s neglectful, mean, and misbehaves badly.

Sad Girl cannot be swayed. “You just don’t understand him like I do,” she’ll say. She may acknowledge that he has a problem with drug abuse, general responsibility, or faithfulness—but those little issues don’t matter. They aren’t the real him. He’s really a wonderful, sweet guy.

Does he push her around, call her names, treat her with enormous disrespect? It’s his unhappy home life, or her fault for the way she behaves.

Sad Girl stays for two apparently contradictory reasons—1) she doesn’t believe she deserves anything better, and 2) the fact that she is the only human being who can see the golden part of this guy is proof of her own special qualities. There’s a certain cachet in being the beauty who can tame the beast.

It’s easier to see why angry boys stay with their sad girls. The world is not exactly filled with people who want to put up with their misbehavior. It’s an area in which the sad girls and angry boys are in perfect agreement—none of the Bad Things in his life are actually his fault.

Can’t hold a job? It’s the fault of his stupid bosses who get all upset just because he won’t show up for work every day, and on time. Got in a screaming match with a relative? It’s because that big stupid jerk disagreed with him.

Broke again? It’s not his fault that people keep taking his money for the things he wants. Stoned or drunk yet again? Hey, he’s entitled to an escape when everyone keeps pushing him and picking on him. Arrested for breaking a law? Again? It’s those darn police who just keep trying to push him around. They don’t like him. They’re out to get him. Just like his school teachers and the mailman and the checkout girl at Giant Eagle.

Angry Boy is angry so much of the time because he can’t quite get a handle on his life. He wants to be able to do what he feels like, when he feels like it, but he still wants things to turn out the way he wants them to.

Somehow, the whole cause and effect thing escapes him. If he feels like hitting himself in the head with a hammer, then by god nobody should be able to stop him—but afterwards why should his head hurt? It’s just not fair. It must be somebody’s fault. Just not his.

It is easy to imagine that Sad Girl and Angry Boy are, well, not the brightest bulbs in the chandelier. But this is often not the case. I’ve known lots of Sad Girls who were poised to graduate near the top of their classes who still worked hard to maintain their devotion to an Angry Boy.

Her friends tell her to get out. Even if she have started to think she should, she feels responsible for Angry Boy. “If I leave him,” she says, whiningly, “I don’t know what he’ll do.” In her mind, his fate is in her hands.

Which is part of the attraction, though she would never admit it—perhaps not even to herself. Sad Girl is usually sad because she has lived a lonely, powerless existence. But oddly enough, with Angry Boy, she has some real power over someone.

Still, as much as she hates to give up the power, she usually does. After all, the alternative is to eventually marry him so that he won’t be upset. Sometimes he stomps off; she always begs for him to come back, and he always does.

This is how Angry Boy wants it. Angry Boy never, ever breaks up with Sad Girl. He just keeps pushing her until she’s finally had enough and walks away. This suits him fine, because the end of their relationship, just like every other rotten thing in his life, is not his fault. She walked out on him. She’s just one more person who has dumped on him. In fact, her rotten betrayal will make a great story for softening up the next Sad Girl he meets.

She hurts him when she pulls away(or glances at other guys). He hurts her when he is thoughtless and mean. But don’t tell them to get away from each other. After all, it’s True Love.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Okay. Let's Not Talk About Guns

I know there are earlier examples, but it really starts for me with Jody Billingsley.

Jody was one of my former students, part of a class of students that I really enjoyed for their spark, their joy, their bravery, their curiosity. She was a star athlete, smart, kind-- the sort of decent human being you want your own children to grow up to be.

When she was only 38, she was murdered near Pittsburgh in an LA Fitness Center, gunned down by an angry white guy.

It was 2009, so nobody was talking about InCels yet, but this guy (I'm not printing the son of a bitch's name) fit the description. Angry that life had not delivered the money and female attention that he believed he deserved, he kept a journal of his grievances (because, of course, some day the world would listen to him and pay attention to what he had to say) and made several false starts at his little murder spree (four dead-- barely noteworthy by our current standards). All three of his victims were women; he then killed himself.

And now we have the most recent shooting in Santa Fe, where a student killed ten, despite the school's fully-rehearsed plan and fully-armed officers. The shooter was not a sad loner, but he had been rejected by one of the girls that he murdered, and had pursued her so relentlessly that she ultimately had to publicly embarrass him to get hi m to back off. Only, I guess, he maybe didn't.

So as we look at the long string of deaths and mass murders including the school shootings of the past two decades, we can draw-- and have drawn-- a line between all of these and the use, usually, of America's all-too-plentiful guns.

But this is America, and we don't want to talk about guns.


If we're not going to talk about guns, let's talk about the other pattern that is increasingly noticeable.

Let's talk about angry white guys.

Lots of folks have made the observation, usually after whatever the most recent shooting was. Here's Elle after the Las Vegas shooting:

Stephen Paddock was an angry white man with a gun. Robert Lewis Dear, who killed three people and injured nine at a Colorado Planned Parenthood, was an angry white man with a gun. Dylann Roof, who killed nine people and injured one at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, was an angry white man with a gun. Adam Lanza, who killed 28 people including 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary, was an angry white man with a gun. Hell, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who killed 15 people and injured 24 at Columbine High School, were two angry white boys with guns. The Columbine massacre, which sparked a national conversation about the need for better gun control, was in 1999. It’s been 18 years of angry white men with guns appearing next to ever-more-enormous body counts, every few weeks, ever since.

We've also had plenty of discussion of why these white guys are angry. And, in fairness, we have had the contrarian "maybe it's not that bad" takes as well. But even if we've got a proportionately appropriate number of angry white guys killing people, the sheer numbers seem to demand some attention.

At a minimum, we need to learn from the pattern. School shooters are usually guys with a specific grievance. Some folks argue that if we "harden the target" and make schools less easily shoot-uppable, shooters will go shoot up something else, something softer. But shooters like last week's murderer do not pick schools because schools are soft targets-- the pick schools because they want to shoot the people who are at the school. Hardening the target will not deter them into some other pursuit.

The Toronto attacker prompted a look into the InCel world, and that's pretty chilling all by itself. These are angry white guys who, like the SOB who gunned down Jody, believe they have been cheated out of what they deserve, as if the world is a vending machine into which they have pumped quarters only to get nothing in return. They are the terrifying realization of the line that men worry about women laughing at them and women worry about men killing them.

As a culture, we've asked for this. My students know that if they bring up the Twilight book series, they'll get a rant out of me, not because of the laughably bad writing, but because of the romanticizing of stalker behavior. Edward ticks off every single item on the "your boyfriend may be a future abuser" checklist. And that has been marketed as the Great Romance of the 21st century.

That's not a new thing-- from the Phantom of the Opera to Seven Brides for Seven Brothers to John Cusack standing in the rain with that damn boom box, the message is that men need to wear women down, be persistent. For young men, romance is supposed to be a simple formula-- make the correct moves, and it should unlock a girl's heart like a video-game achievement. And, at least in the halls of my school, girls buy into this-- I have lost count of how many girls I have heard explain that they "have to" go out with this guy they don't really want to go out with because he did X.

Are we in a new peak of angry guy-ness? I'm not sure; it may just seem worse because the pinnacle of angry white guyness is our President (seriously-- President of the United States of America and he is still perpetually pissed off and aggrieved). I'm sure it's not the whole picture, but I'm equally sure that angry white guyness is part of what got him elected. It's also why things like "p***y grabber" comments and stiffing subcontractors and barely-concealed racism help rather than hurt him-- he has been and is still living the angry white guy dream, where you say or do or grab what you want and people don't keep telling you no, people don't insist that you don't have the power to do that. Angry white guys hate feeling like someone has taken away their power. Hell, isn't that the root of the whole gun argument as forwarded by that army of angry white guys, the NRA-- you can't take our guns because then we lose the power to really hurt bad people who might want to take away our power.

Can we get rid of all the angry white guys? Of course not-- there will always be outliers. Could we do a better job raising young men? Yes. Yes, we could. We could teach them to respect women (and not just as a complex part of getting women to do what we want them to). We really could explain the whole "no" and "yes" thing better, because men have to own women with confusing signals because too many women have grown up in a world where a blunt, clear "no" dangerous. We could, as men, hold each other accountable

As schools, we could intervene more aggressively in abusive relationships. We can create an environment where toxic masculinity does not work-- and we can and must explicitly teach alternatives. And for the love of God, can we please teach our young men how to cope with their feelings by some means other than releasing them in occasional burst of maladptive rage and violence.

If we won't talk about guns, then let's talk about the rest of this. If we want to pitch Social and Emotional Learning for schools, let's talk about creating a more emotionally healthy environment for young men. Not only could we maybe save a few lives, but we could definitely make a whole lot of lives better. We would certainly make schools better environments for learning.

I know this wouldn't be magical, and it is damned hard to get a culture to shift direction. But it would certainly be a more useful conversation than talking about making schools more like prisons or locking students behind a single door (and praying for no fires, ever) or all the other foolish things that are proposed just so we won't talk about guns.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

ICYMI: Birthday Edition (5/20)

Yes, it's my birthday, and none of my tech is working, so I've borrowed my wife's machine-- but I still have some things for us to read. Remember to share-- also, be kind to each other.

The Truth about Yes Prep's 100% College Acceptance

Gary Rubinstein comes through again with solid debunking of not-entirely-truthful clains

Teaching Whiteness in Music Class

Some serious food for thought about how we approach the teaching of music history.

Care Is What Matters

A look at caring for students, and how assessment does or doesn't fit in the picture.

Bill Gates and More of His Damned Money

Okay, that's not the actual title of this AP piece looking at how Gates is trying to run the world of education these days 

He Loved Teaching Math; Now He Manages aa Chick-Fil-A

One more story about how the teaching profession loses good people. This time we're in Michigan.

Black Homeschooling

One of the great non-covered stories of education. Fascinating  stuff.

Who Needs Computers in the Classroom

Nobody, according to this article in PCMagazine of all places

On Creativity: A Classic Commencement Speech from Bill Watterson

Curtesy of Brain Pickings, a blog you really should be subscribing to.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

One More Sign of Substitute Apocalypse

So I'm reading a Slate article about robocalling-- why it's getting worse, why the FCC is only sort of helping-- when I come across this chart:

See #7? The seventh biggest robocaller in the USA is a robot looking for substitute teachers.

More than loan scams. More than AT&T. More than Citibank or Chase Bank. More, I guess, than my friend from card services who assures me that nothing is wrong with my account however-- well, I never get past "however."

Can anybody take a phys ed class today?
That's how bad the substitute crisis has become-- robocalling is somehow seen as a solution. Lots and lots of robocalling. Since my own area doesn't use any such system (we still post absences on a web-based service where substitutes can pick the ones the want to sign up for, like a kind of classroom Match.com) I have to assume some places use it very aggressively. I wonder-- in states where any warm body can be employed in a classroom, do they just cold robocall every person with a phone? Could such approaches be augmented with, say, one of those sign-twirling guys parked out in front of a school ("We'll pay you $100 to teach Algebra today!!!")

When I worked in the call center biz, one of the ways my bosses made money was to sell the contact info of customers, and as a blogger I'm actually offered lists of contact information for, say, left-handed iguana owners in Idaho. I wonder if the sub hunters are trying that ("We need a biology sub today-- have the robots call everyone on that Field and Stream subscribers list").

Contractors find day laborers waiting in the parking lot of stores like Home Depot. Could school districts go looking for substitute teachers in the parking lots of local Barnes & Nobles? I mean, if we've descended to robocalling, what could be any worse?

P.S. One other offensive caller that is a source of numerous complaints-- Navient, the student loan company.that has a record of being mighty aggressive in looking to get paid back.

Static Trump and Dynamic Hypocrisy

My opinions about Donald Trump have not changed in the last two years. In fact, they haven't changed in decades. To me, he's always been an archetype of the very worst kind of person. He's been my go-to example any time a discussion required a specific example of a horrible human being-- willfully ignorant, bullying, uninterested in honor and placing no value on honesty, yet oddly transparent in his complete narcissistic self-serving grabbiness.

Nothing in the last two years has made me exclaim, "Goodness! I can't believe that Donald Trump said/did/approved of that!!" He has always been what he's always been. Anyone who clutches their pearl and acts shocked-- shocked!!-- about something Trump has said/done/lied about has either failed to pay attention, or they're just faking it for effect.

It is Trump's very terrible consistency that makes him such a accurate marker of the hypocrisy of others.

In the study or literature, we talk about static and dynamic characters. Dynamic characters change, and their movement and growth usually defines the guts of a story. But static characters, like a solid door frame with growth hatches or telephone poles that appear to dart past the car window, are what growth and change are measured against. In Great Expectations, young Pip loves and respects his lower-class brother-in-law Joe, but older gentleman Pip is embarrassed and ashamed of his country relative. Joe has not changed a bit; Pip's change tells us nothing about Joe, but it tells us everything about Pip's growth into a snob.

Donald Trump is a telephone pole.

Why am I comfortable calling evangelical leaders and establishment GOP figures hypocrites? Simple. If the evangelical community really believed in Trump's godliness, they would have been championing it for years. Franklin Graham would have been standing up a revivals declaring, "If you want to see the face of God, turn on The Apprentice!" The man is in his seventies-- a GOP that truly believed he was a paragon of conservative virtue would have been trying to recruit him to run for office for decades (and we'd know about it, because he would have told us so, repeatedly). And all of them, all of this great army of Trump lovers, would have been there cheering him on through his previous Presidential runs.

So what changed? Well, it wasn't Trump. Or rather, only one thing changed about Trump-- he suddenly had real power and could grant favors, help fulfill dreams like a gutted social safety net or a radical-packed bench. And so some GOP stalwarts and a busload of evangelical leaders stand revealed as embracing no real values except the hunger for power, no principles except the principle of Gimme Stuff.

And, I'm sorry to say, they're not the only ones.

Suddenly folks are discovering racism in America. And they're discovering it because it's useful as a narrative for opposing Trump, which leads some to act as if racism has suddenly flared into existence because Trump is in the White House. Have racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia and all the other ugly ias's gotten worse? I have my doubts. More obvious and less sneaky, probably, but also more frequently noted, called out and reported. I'd love to believe that it's because we're suddenly all so woke and alert, but I don't-- I suspect a whole lot of people are suddenly concerned because these stories now reflect badly on Trump.

Consider, for instance, Kesha. The recording artist could easily have been the mother of #MeToo, suing her hugely abusive producer. But she filed the suit in 2014, and so she was left hanging in her suit mostly alone.

It's no surprise that some folks are not reacting to the newly woke with "Oh, you've uncovered abusive racist evil behavior! Thank you for coming to save us!" but more along the lines of, "Racism?! No shit, Sherlock. What took you so long?" All the ugly isms of America are longstanding static telephone poles by the side of our long national road, the door frame against which we can measure our own growth.

This phenomenon turns up in other places, too. It pains me to admit it, but some of us in the public school advocacy space didn't have much to say about segregation until it emerged as a charter school problem. And reformsters, hoping to revive their brand, periodically "discover" that certain reformy ideas are actually bad-- even though the ideas are no worse than when they were first pitched.

Of course, every one of the spaces described above is occupied by some people who have always been there. And there are people who come by their personal evolutions honestly, through hard-won personal growth and newly developed understanding. But when somebody suddenly adopts a whole new position on something that hasn't changed a whit, you have to ask-- is this an honest change in perspective, or does it just serve their purpose to stand on a different side of the pole.

Growth and change are critical; people who refuse to learn and grow tend to be less than awesome people. But there's a big difference between growth guided by principle and growth guided by expediency. It's one thing to grow as a way to give expression to principles and values, and quite another to shift position in order to cushion beliefs from impact with a hard reality. It's one thing to be guided by looking at your star, and another thing entirely to block that star from your vision so that it doesn't interfere with your chosen path. Because ultimately those second choices require you to lie to others, the world, even yourself. And once you do that, you start to turn into a really awful person.

Friday, May 18, 2018

More Data on Teacher Departures

The United States Census Bureau, dedicated crunchers of numbers, just issued some newly crunched data that adds just a touch of answer to the question, "Where are teachers going, and which ones are leaving?"

The bureau tracked where departing teachers went, and broke those destinations for leaving the profession into nineteen categories.

Least likely destinations for departing teachers? Agriculture, mining, and utilities. Surprisingly (at least to me) corporate management and real estate were also low on the list.

Most likely destinations? By far it's Healthcare and Social Assistance, followed by a curious category called "Administrative and Support and Waste Management and Remediation Services." In third place is retail, followed by "professional, scientific and technical services" and "accommodation and food services."

Who exactly is leaving the profession? This strikes me as more interesting data. It comes from 2013-2014, but I can't think of any reason that the trend would have shifted radically in the last four years.

Over all, men of all ages leave the profession at a higher rate than women. And the cohort by far most likely to leave teaching are those in the age 25-34 group. Each succeeding age group decreases a bit, but it's people still young enough to most easily switch careers that are looking at their first few years of teaching and saying, "I do not want to do this the rest of my life."

Of course, that coupled with other data about teachers leaving the profession and the noise about the ongoing teacher "shortage" (which is really just a slow-motion walkout) would lead people who believe in the free market to say, "Apparently we are not offering enough pay and benefits to make this job attractive; the invisible hand decrees we must make these jobs more appealing." With all the free market fans involving themselves in education, I'm sure we'll hear about this trend in increased teacher pay and benefits any day now.

Where they're going

Who's leaving

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Bill Bennett: Teachers, Know Your Place

EdWeek ruffled some feathers and reaped some clickbaity hate read traffic this week with a piece of concern trolling from Bill Bennett and Karen Nussle. Bennett was Reagan's USED secretary, and Nussle is the chairman of Conservative Leaders for Education, a group that Bennett launched two years ago and still serves as-- well, actually the website says that Nussle is president and Bennett is chairman. Nussle's actual background is running a "boutique" PR firm.

CL4E lives up to its name by favoring school choice and not being fans of unions, so nothing in the EdWeek piece is exactly surprising. But it is a fine example of the kind of baloney that gets served every time teachers strike.

There is a fundamental problem in education that has been on vivid display recently: confusion about whom our schools exist to serve. Our public school system exists to give our children a foundation in literacy and numeracy and to help them become informed citizens. It is not the purpose of the public schools to use children as leverage for the gains of others.

Yes, it's the old Think of the Children argument, which plays better than the real argument here, which is that teachers should know their roles and shut their holes. This paragraph also captures the belief in really low expectations for school (just teach 'em readin' and 'rithmetic). And the special hypocrisy of charter fans arguing that schools should not use children as a way to make money.

This guy has had it with uppity teachers.
But see-- only such confusion would "drive mass school closures and disruptions right in the midst of a critical time in a school year." One wonders when a better, unimportant time in the school year might come; one also enjoys the irony of choice fans decrying "disruption," which is usually one of their favorite things. I thought disruption was supposed to be a good way to break moribund institutions out of their terrible rut.

No concern trolling would be complete without a disclaimer:

We strongly believe in the importance and honor of great teaching and teachers. We believe policymakers should set budgets so that the best teachers are attracted and retained. Those decisions must be made at each state and district level.

Again, teachers-- know your place. These decisions should be made by people more important than you. But this point begs a question-- what are teachers supposed to do when policymakers don't make those decisions? What are teachers supposed to do if policymakers let schools decay and teacher pay drop so that nobody is attracted or retained?

This is a question that Bennett and his flak aren't going to answer, but consider this interview with Corey Robin, who is arguing that the central tenet of conservatism is the fight to make sure that the people who have the power keep it, and the people who don't never, ever take it. In Robin's view, Bennett's statement is its own answer-- decisions about teacher pay and school funding should be made at state and district level period end sentence. There is no what if. The policymakers decide and they are the ones with the deciding power and nothing is more important than preserving that power-- including crumbling buildings and evaporating teacher pools.

Bennett's point, of course, is that teachers shouldn't strike or walk out ever, and he offers several reasons.

First, abrupt school closures interrupt and damage student progress. "Teaching time does matter, and we should be very reluctant to interrupt it." Boy, that line makes great reading as I sit here in the middle of Pennsylvania's two-week testing window, during which my classes are suspended and interrupted so that we can give the BS Test. I might also direct Bennett to the problem of charters that close without warning during the year.

Bennett and Flak try to hit a quotable line here: "When coal miners strike they lay down their equipment. When teachers strike, they lay down their students' minds." So, in this analogy, my students have pickaxes for brains? My students are my tools? No, this is not a winner.

Second, the old "if you want to be treated like a professional, act like it." Which is a crappy argument, because you know what professionals do? They set a fee for their services, and if you want to hire them, you pay it. My plumber and my mechanic and my doctor and my lawyer do not charge me based on what I feel like paying them-- they set their fees, and if I want my pipes fixed, I fork over the money.

Bennett will add the old "teachers get summers off" argument for good measure. Fine. If you think we should have year-round school, do that. But don't diss me and my professional brethren because you're too cheap to pay for a full year's worth of services. Yes, teachers can use the summer to "pursue their financial goals or other endeavors," and I'm not sure what your point is. If you want more money, go get a job at the Tastee-Freeze?

And also (this second point turns out to be several points that seem to add up to "teachers are a bunch of lazy unprofessional money-grubbers anyway") Bennett wants to play blunt straight-shooter, saying "let's be honest" and admit these strikes have been about "pursuing financial ends." Which is unprofessional and unseemly.

There is a time, place and manner for these fiscal discussion. Strikes during the school year are not it.

Oh, bullshit. The teachers of Arizona and West Virginia and Oklahoma and Kentucky and Colorado and North Carolina have had all the discussions so very many times in a wide variety of places in every imaginable manner, and for their trouble they have gotten bupkus. Worse than bupkus-- they've gotten disrespect and abuse and in the meantime they've gone back to their moldy classrooms to do their professional best to work in a crumbling environment without enough resources. Bennett doesn't list the times and places and manners that would be more appropriate because he knows damn well whatever circumstances he describes, those teachers have already tried.

Third, Bennett argues that some of these strikes have been about misdirected anger or invalid complaints, but teachers just want to "maneuver a sweeter deal." Yes, those damn scam artists, striking on a lark just to make a buck.

I give Bennett credit for just one thing-- usually when folks start flinging these arguments around they try to cushion them by saying that teachers by themselves are just swell-- it's those damned unions. But no-- Bennett and Flak go straight for the classroom teacher jugular.

There are several things he either doesn't understand or finds it expedient to pretend he doesn't understand.

First, teachers hate to strike. Striking is their second favorite choice; their first favorite choice is anything and everything else.

That means to get teachers to strike, particular in large numbers, you have to convince them that nothing else will work. You have to convince them that there's no hope of negotiating with you, that you don't take any of their concerns seriously, that you don't value their work, that you have no sincere desire to safeguard the future of public education and their profession. You have to convince them that trying to talk to you is hopeless and pointless.

In short, you have to sound a lot like Bill Bennett in this piece.

Of course, Bennett tips his hand at the end:

Perhaps they should examine how their own actions are eroding public trust in an institution so vital to our nation and our future. In doing so, they are driving people to be against public schools.

Why not drive teachers to strike if, like Bill Bennett, you are invested in driving students out of public schools and into charter/choice schools?

Think of the children? Bennett is thinking of the children and all the money they can drive to charter/choice schools. And he is guilty of exactly what he accuses teachers of doing. He says that teachers are using students as leverage for financial purposes; those purposes are, of course, preserving public education and the teaching profession in their states. Bennett would also like to use the students as leverage against teachers, so that the financial interests of those who are invested in keeping teachers underpaid and schools underfinanced can be preserved.

Who's the guiltier party in that comparison? Well, I figure this way- students depend on schools for education. If we listen to the striking teachers, the schools get better and better, with current books, and a high quality teaching staff recruited and retained. If we listen to guys like Bennett, the slow-motion walkout of teachers from the profession continues, the buildings continue to lose resources, and the schools that those children depend on just get worse and worse. I know which side I plan to back.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

FL: Continuing the War on Littles

Of all the toxic effects of test-centered schooling-- here's some news from Florida:

Nearly half of the children who attended a state-funded voluntary pre-kindergarten program last year were not ready for kindergarten this year, according to the preliminary results of a new test administered last fall.

I was desperately hoping that the next line would read "and so Florida officials concluded that there was something definitely wrong with their test and probably with their expectations for kindergarten students as well."  But alas, I was doomed to disappointment.

The only tots that belong at a university
The test was a new one this year, administered in the first month of kindergarten, because it's never too soon to make children understand that they go to school in order to take standardized tests. Besides the newness of the test, there are other bad reasons for the result:

This set of scores is based on children who attended VPK during the 2016-17 school year. The state didn’t decide on STAR as the assessment tool until the summer of 2017, so the providers could not gear their instruction toward a specific test.

In other words, they weren't given a proper chance to teach to the test. Because when you send byour four-year-old to school, you want her to spend time learning how to take a standardized test. I mean, how better to foster a love of learning and school.

Several pre-K providers are quoted as being disappointed by the poor results and sad that they didn't have enough advance warning of what test the state would use. Because pre-K ought to be organized around a state test, rather than the needs and health and wonder and natural exploration of four year olds. Also, one pre-K provider is called Tiny Tots University. Florida-- what the hell is wrong with you?!

The TTU rep notes that the test does not in any way measure how far the student has come (because, you know, some of those three year olds are just big slackers), which speaks to one of the fatal flaws of test-centered schooling-- its complete disregard for what a child can be expected, developmentally, to accomplish in a certain time period. Instead we just keep moving the bar, so kindergarten is the new first grade, or maybe second grade, and pre-K is the new 1st grade, and fetuses had damn well better start drilling SAT vocabulary by the second trimester.

Oh, and did I mention that this test is administered on a computer. A five year old is supposed to navigate a standardized test. On a computer.

Florida provides funding for pre-K schools-- as long as they promise to emphasize test readiness. Some people (you know-- people who have actually met small human children) have an issue with this.

“There has been a propensity for the early learning educators to say the K-12 system is expecting too much from our children,” Beth Duda the executive director of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade Level Reading said. “K-12 pushes back and says there is a place for play-based learning, but it has to be grounded in benchmark standards.”

No! No it does not!! The play-based learning has to be grounded in play!

The continued pressure to force littles to be molded to suit the whims of a bunch of standards-wielding, test-selling numbskulls is just one of the worst things to come out of the reform movement. There is nothing quite so backward in all of education these days. I'm reminded of listening Yong Zhao speak a few years ago. We should not be trying to make sure that five year olds are ready for kindergarten, he said, but should be asking if kindergarten is ready for our five year olds. Betsy DeVos may consider Florida an educational exemplar, but asking all the wrong questions remains a hallmark of Floridian education. But the most important question that should be asked is simply, "Florida, what the hell is wrong with you?"

Monday, May 14, 2018

Spellings and Duncan Get It Wrong

Arne Duncan and Margaret Spellings, two ex-secretaries of education (Obama and Bush II), teamed up to write an op-ed for the Washington Post in which they got almost nothing right, starting with the headline: "What ails education? An absence of vision, a failure of will and politics."

The very first sentence puts Duncan and Spellings deep in the weeds:

We have long benefited from a broad coalition that has advanced bold action to improve America’s education system.
Evidence that Spellings and Duncan are two different people

"We"? Which "we" is that, exactly? Politicians who used education as a way to launch and relaunch their careers? Corporations like Pearson that have profited over the parade of flawed and failed policies? Folks who wanted to get into education-flavored business of charters? Who is this "we," because it's not teachers or students or communities or taxpayers. And how "long" is "long" supposed to be, and what exactly are these alleged benefits? And what was "bold" about any of it? I get that the new Duncan script casts reformsterism as a courageous act. 

But seriously-- what was "bold" about, for instance, enlisting Bill Gates and a shadow network of reformsters and political operatives to try to enforce Common Core as a top-down reform idea. What was bold about deliberately barring teachers from the plans for rewriting the US education system?

All of this is beside the point, which is that Duncan and Spellings are sad that the coalition has "waned," (which is the way wrong word here-- the moon wanes, but coalitions splinter or separate or fall apart of dump each other when they realize that in a Trump administration nobody needs the protective cover of faux progressives to legitimize the privatization of public ed... but I digress). But their sadness seems tied to so many things that even reformsters agree are not true.

Today, education is blessed with bipartisan agreement on what works, and cursed with bipartisan complacency at every level on taking action.

Nope. Not even sort of true. There is no widespread agreement on hat works. There never has been. Teachers have always spent their entire careers trying to find more Things That Work even as each new crop of students moves the target. And I honestly have no idea what the "complacency" things is about.

Both sides recognize the need to balance strong federal accountability with local innovation; to support high standards for teachers; and to encourage choice and diversity while keeping public schools as the core focus of national policy.

First of all, if Dunclings thinks that there are only two sides in the education debates, they have even less sense than I have given them discredit for. But they have to know that the DeVosian camp does not favor strong federal accountability at all, and that lots of folks are not at all fans of choice. Meanwhile, "high standards for teachers" is a meaningless phrase, and "encourage diversity" is pretty meaning-free as well. Nor is there widespread agreement about keeping the public schools as "core focus," unless you buy the fiction that charter schools are "public" schools.

Dunclings says that ESSA encourages states to implement those "principles," which is-- no, that's not how laws and regulations work. They don't encourage principles; they tell states what rules they have to follow. But Dunclings is unhappy with what states have proposed, labeling them "underwhelming and insufficient," and I can't fault Duncan in particular for not really grasping ESSA because the law was, after all, specifically designed to specifically slap him in his specific face. But since ESSA still keeps test-centered schooling at its core, along with being a set of regulations that will be enforced by someone who had no part in creating them and no interest in enforcing them, states can be forgiven for not exactly trying to jump the fence on these.

But Dunclings is an unrepentant top-downer:

In the absence of an aggressive national push, even the best ideas lack the momentum to create effective change on the ground.

In other words, if the feds aren't pushing from the top down, all you local yahoos just won't get the job done.

But now we're getting nostalgic again:

It wasn't always like this. While we didn't always agree about the best way to get there, for years we agreed on the destination.

Again with the "we." The rest of the graf suggests that maybe "we" is "far-sighted presidential and legislative leadership, and engaged business community and an enduring civil rights movement," which you'll note is a coalition that doesn't include parents, taxpayers, or professionals who have devoted their entire adult lives to working in the actual education field. Dunclings ability to Not Learn Anything remains impressive-- it's still not clear to them that teachers and parents and education professionals need to be part of any solution.

Now a history lesson:

That alliance [see above] allowed President Ronald Reagan to oversee "A Nation at Risk," a report that made education a priority in the national consciousness.

Some carefully chosen words there, since ANAR didn't involve any actual studies so much as an attempt to craft some support for a pre-chosen conclusion. ANAR was a lie, told to stampede citizens in the politically preferred direction. But once the ball was rolling, Dunclings notes how the play of Bush to Clinton to Bush II to Obama kept the federal top-down baloney wagon moving and nudged privatization into the Overton Window.

Dunclings takes one paragraph to thump the drum of magical high expectations and the belief that education overcomes all other socio-economic factors. And then we're on to What's Wrong Today. In keeping with the rest of the piece, they will denounce vagueries. "We lack the national leadership" to make the magic happen, and the consequence, somehow, is that state plans lack vision and ambition (again the idea that without the feds to whip them into shape, the states will screw everything up).

By far the best part of this lament is the submission of NAEP scores as proof of the lack of national leadership, which-- I mean, come on, Arne. You do realize that current NAEP scores come from students who got most of their education under your watch, right? That if current NAEP scores indict anything (an arguable point), they indict the rosy reformster past that you are trying to advocate for.

Students are suffering because of an absence of vision, a failure of will and politics that values opposition over progress. There is a moral imperative to act.

That "values opposition over progress" tips the hand here-- we are sad that Trump-DeVos is pursuing a policy of "undo everything they did when that black sumbitch was in the White House." I agree that is just one of the many saddening and sucky policies currently enshrined in DC, but I'm not so sure that DeVos is pursuing actual policies that are all that removed from the policies of Dunclings et. el. Charters, privatizing, move federal money to private hands, use tests to measure everything because real accountability is hard-- other than the DeVosian desire to let any kind of bias and discrimination run rampant, I just don't see much air between current policies and previous ones. If Dunclings want to argue that the Trump-DeVos embrace of racism and discrimination to a degree never tolerated even in previous GOP administrations-- that would be a point to make. But Dunclings wants to pretend that DeVosian charter love is somehow qualitatively different that Spellings and Duncan charter love, that DeVosian hostility toward public education is somehow much different than Spellings and Duncan disregard for public education. That's a tough sell.

Now Dunclings wants to flash back to the 35th anniversary soiree for ANAR and pretend that the report reached some sort of legitimate conclusion (not to mention the problem with pretending that for 35 years, we've been told to expect an educational apocalypse "any day now" and at some point, that just gets silly). Dunclings choice of pull quote is the "unilateral disarmament" one which always puzzles me-- what arms did we put down, and what enemy were we supposed to be shooting?

Dunclings calls federal education policy "rudderless and adrift," and I wish that were true, but the fact is, DeVos has been pretty clear about her priorities even as she has also been clear that one of them is to not ty to strong-arm her priorities from DC.

At a moment when students are marching in the streets for their right to a safe, quality education; when teachers across the country are demanding attention and investment from their political leaders; when every economic indicator confirms the growing importance of a sound education in forging a full, productive life, what is our shared national vision for our children?

As was always true, Dunclings has skipped right over the question of whether a shared national vision, especially a highly specific one like, say, Common Core, is in any way useful. They're also asserting without proof-- "every economic indicator" supports the importance of education? Really? Every single one? Supports it how, exactly? And as for angry teachers and students-- again, guys, the harvest may be coming in now, but this is a crop that was sown and grown under your watch. It's not something new; it's just something you're noticing now that DC is occupied by people who don't belong to the same country club as you. Look, I will gladly agree that Trump is probably the worst President in the history of Presidents-- but to pretend that what's happening in education right this minute somehow sprang into being the day he took office is foolish.

What else does Dunclings want? High standards and high expectations. Oh, and "respect for teaching," as if they had not been instrumental in eroding that same respect with policies that assumed that teachers will suck unless threatened and punished by "accountability measures." Also, could we please have more federal oversight for colleges and universities? And just generally get national policy makers better seats at the policymaking table. Yeah, boy, it really sucks when you think you have important insights to share on what you consider important work and the people setting the table refuse to include you. Does that feel bad, Arne? Does it sting, Margaret? Because it's exactly what actual working professional educators felt for years under your administrations.

I swear we're almost done, but there's still this gem:

Education is what makes America the country it is. An educated populace, versed in civics, trained to reason and empowered to act is what safeguards our democracy. Equitable access to education — our greatest force for economic mobility, economic growth and a level playing field for all — is what underwrites the American meritocracy.

Lordy- this is a child's conception of how the country works. Everyone goes to school, and the people who do best in school are rewarded with the best jobs and the most money, because this is a meritocracy where people are rewarded for being the very best in a field and not for, say, being a President's basketball bro. Systemic racism, generational poverty, massive inequity in wealth distribution-- all of that will be wiped out if students just get high scores on the PARCC. Yet at the same time, we only need "access" to good education-- not actual good education for every single child. What else do we need?

We urgently need a new generation of business leaders who see the alignment between their corporate priorities and the national interest.

Well, I don't disagree, but I mean we need business leaders who are willing to pay their taxes and share the fruits of productivity with their workers, who occasionally put national and community interest ahead of the bottom line. I'm afraid Dunclings is speaking in the context of education, to which I say, no, we need more educational amateurs to back the hell up and let the professionals work instead of deciding that their wealth qualifies to appoint themselves education policy writers.

We also need teachers unions that want to help set standards. For what? They don't say. We need civil rights leaders to blah blah blah pretty sure they mean "get back to supporting charter schools." And we need "political leaders who know that a fair, prosperous country in forged in classrooms, not at campaign rallies" thereby absolving government of doing anything that might address these issues, especially if that government would ask corporations to pay their fair share or help make the country more prosperous and fair. No, the fact the business leaders didn't use their tax cuts to make workers more prosperous is clearly the fault of Mrs. Bilwiggen, the third grade teacher.

For the big finish, a call for the "coalition" to get back in line before we are a nation at risk again.

What a pair. Overseers of years of failed educational policies who still have nothing to offer remotely like "With the benefit of time, I can see we got A, B and C wrong." Instead they're still arguing that if they had just failed harder, and people had implemented their bad policies better, then the world would be a better place and Trump wouldn't be making them weep into their leather upholstery at their cushy new jobs. God, it's bad enough that we have to wait for Trump and DeVos to go away, but the previous failed occupants that were supposed to have gone away just keep coming back. Dear Dunclings, please just go away.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

ICYMI: Teacher Appreciation Is Now Over Edition (5/13)

Hope you enjoyed your treats and pleasant e-mails. Now it's time to get back to it.

If you're new to the blog, every Sunday I pass along some links from the week that I think are worth a look. Here are some things to read this week. But if you can, maybe you should just get off the internet and give your mother a call.

LeBon James and the Narrative About Bad Teachers

Another must-read from Jose Luis Vilson

Free Concealed Carry Class Offered to Teachers

Turnout was a little low. There is a level of cluelessness in this news item that is almost charming.

America's Digital Divide

What if the divide is not between haves and have-nots, but between those who carefully monitor their child's use of screens and those who don't?

Important New Study

Jan Ressenger takes a look at a new study that shows how charters have an impact on public schools financially.

Don't Punish Schools Because Johnny Can't Read   

Nancy Flanagan on those damned 3rd grade reading policies.

Teacher Un-Appreciation Day

If the whole teacher appreciation thing makes you a little cranky, here's a piece for you.

The State Penalized My School For Trying to Integrate

Steve Singer's school attempted to fix a systemic problem; now they're on the failing list

Cotton Ropes in a Bag

Nobody captures the small moments and details that reveal Life among the Littles like Teacher Tom. How one day at the playground is affected by some pieces of rope.

WV GOP Teacher-Mocker Loses Re-Election

Here's a fun news item. This guy was an asshat about the WV teacher strike, so the teachers took him to school.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Arguing with Scissors

Some days it seems to me that all of our education problems come down to just one problem-- as a country, we're cheap.

We want an educational system that's a shiny new Lexus, but we want to pay used Yugo prices for it.

Our first educational priority is Do It Cheaply.

The major effect of this priority is the cutting of corners. We can't get the Lexus for what we're willing to pay, and so we have to decide what features to give up, what bits to do without.

All of our education debates can be understood as arguments about where to cut corners. Like this:

The push to keep teacher costs down, either by breaking unions or stagnating salaries or finding ways to turn it into a low skills job (just open the curriculum guide from Pearson and follow the instructions) are all about saying, well, let's spend less on staff. Let's cut that corner.

The test-centered accountability movement is about figuring out which corners deserve to be cut. Let's come up with a hard data number-based judgment that say, "These folks over ere are clearly not up to the task, so let's cut their corner, because clearly they aren't getting the job done. They are the Used Yugo of education, so we should only have to pay used Yugo prices for them."

The free market competition boosters believe that competition-- beautiful, magical, competition-- will goad the Used Yugo to perform like a Lexus in order to keep its own corners from being cut. Wave those scissors at people, say the free marketeers, and they will give you way more for at less.

The privatizers want to claim that they can do more for less, that government run schools are loaded with fat, sloppy corners just begging to be cut, and savvy businessmen can do it (especially if you let them keep some of whatever they trim off).

Charter school fans combine many of these arguments. We'll be more efficient. We'll do more with less. And by allowing strivers to escape from schools loaded with slack and waste, we'll free those schools to have their corners cut to the bone without hurting these deserving children we've put in the charter lifeboat. Because creating more schools, more capacity, more school systems means, as current zero-sum laws stand, that a bunch of corners must be cut.

In fact, too many corner cutting arguments are about which children shouldn't have to ride in the used Yugo. My children, of course, should not. I'm not sure about those children next door, but the children of Those People (you know-- the non-wealthy, non-white ones) definitely don't need to ride in a Lexus. Cut their corner. Cut it good. And if we're going to give resources to the children of Those People-- well, there are a bunch of corners that can be cut, a bunch of corners that Those People don't deserve. Because at the end of the day, it's hard to allocate scarce resources without ending up with racist results.

Do we have to cut all these corners at all? Refomsters have long said, Yes," backing it up with the old "We spend a gazillion dollars on education and yet scores haven't gone up," which is a bizarre argument. It's like saying, "Well, I have offered the dealer $100 for this new Lexus, and he still won't give it to me, so obviously we shouldn't offer him more." The cost of a thing is not based on what you prefer to pay for it.

Most of our education debates in this country are simply arguing with the scissors-- "That guy over there-- that's the guy whose corners should be cut." We could end most of the charter and choice debate tomorrow simply by fully funding all systems instead of making charter and choice and public schools fight over the scraps.

I am not arguing in favor of unregulated profligate spending (though I do wish the reformsters who argued that education is a matter of national defense had followed that thought with "and therefor education must get the kind of unrestrained spending.") But let's face it-- in the USA in 2018, there is zero danger of unrestrained overspending on education. I am arguing for more honest discussions. Let's talk about what it would take to "rescue" all-- not just a select few-- students in struggling schools. If we want choice, let's talk about what it would take to honestly fund all choices. Even if, as I suspect it might, it comes down to saying out loud "Letting rich folks keep their money is more important to us than giving each child a great education," at least saying it out loud will let us argue about the real issue.

As it is, every education discussion starts with an unspoken premise: Since we don't want to spend what it would really take to have a better education system, we're going to have to cut some corners.

It would be great to challenge that premise. Heck, it would be great to acknowledge it so that we could talk about what we're really talking about instead of the topics that we use to mask that premise. Then we could talk about education instead of scissors and corners.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Happy Charter Week

At first glance, putting Charter School Celebration Week O'Self Congratulations on the same week as Teacher Appreciation Week may seem a bit obnoxious, but I've come to see it as sort of appropriate, a symbol of how the charter business competes with public school teachers for resources and attention. Kind of like putting Fight Cancer Week and Celebration of Tobacco on the same calendar dates, it encourages people to see that there's a fundamental conflict here.

Not that there needs to be. The irony for me is that even though I write extensively about the many ways in which modern charters are detrimental to public education and just plain bad policy, it doesn't actually have to be that way. Charters could work. Charters could be a great addition to the education landscape. But instead, charter fans have chosen to pursue them in the most destructive, counter-productive manner possible. It's like a landscaper says, "Your yard would look so much better with some azalea bushes," and you think that, yeah, they would, but then  the landscaper puts the bushes in by ripping holes in the front wall of the house and planting the bushes directly into the water and sewage lines for your home.

So I'm going to celebrate charter week with a little reader of posts that have run here, laying out the ways in which the charter industry has gotten it wrong.

Charter schools are an inefficient use of taxpayer dollars. If your complaint about public school is that too few tax dollars make it into actual classrooms, well, charters are generally worse, paying teachers less and administrators more, as well as piling on additional expenses like advertising budgets. Charter marketing has its own set of problems, including a heavy reliance on assertions that just aren't true.

Charters appear to be making segregation worse. Not saying it wasn't already getting bad on its own-- but charters are exacerbating the problem.

Oversight of charters (and the public tax dollars they spend) is rather a mess, with even reformsters arguing about how authorizers could provide decent oversight,  even as they argue for few restraints and requirements for charters.

Oversight is needed because so many people have entered the charter biz simply to make a buck. There are so many ways to use charters to fleece the public, including self-dealing real estate entities, plain old real estate operators, get in the authorizing biz, just commit fraud-- the list goes on and on. The bottom line is that every abuse people imagine of for-profits is equally possible, probable and present in non-profits.

Virtually all modern charters are businesses. They may bill themselves as non-profits, but that is a distinction without a difference.  They are looking to make money, and that means their own businesses interests are in direct conflict with the interests of students (every dollar spent on a student is a dollar the operators don't get to keep).

Some states, like Ohio and Florida, do charters so very poorly that families often find themselves abandoned by a failed charter. Some are simply trying to give private operators access to public dollars.

Reports repeatedly find that charters have a negative financial impact on public schools. How could they not? A fundamental flaw with the modern charter approach is that it must increase the total educational cost for a community. Until someone discovers a magical way to run ten schools for the same money used to run one, charters will hurt everyone financially. On top of that, some states have tried to make charters more appealing by deliberately gutting their public system.

Oh, and cyber-charters continue to exist even though nobody believes they actually do any good at all (except for investors and lobbyists).

Charters insist on pretending to be public schools. They are not. Really not. Not even if they manage to change the meaning of "public."

Charter operators are good at rattling off the list of public school problems, and much of the time they are not wrong. Systemic racism, lack of resources, serving populations that bring extra baggage to school-- these are all clearly real issues. What is not clear is how charters solve any of these problems.

I'll repeat-- I can imagine circumstances under which I would love and welcome charter schools-- but those aren't thew circumstances we have right now. Right now charters bleed public schools dry, proudly announcing that they have "saved" one child even though they had to poke holes in the boat that still carries ten other children. They are aggressively unaccountable to the public, lacking transparency, serving only a select few, and consuming resources that could be better focused on making the public system better serve all students.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Gates and Zuckerberg Never Learn

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative are going to attempt-- once again-- to change the whole world of education.

Their newly-released Request For Information is looking for "all promising ideas for how to use existing and new knowledge and tools to achieve dramatic results against the challenges we describe." The list of challenges sadly does not include "the repeated failure of rich amateurs to impose their unproven ideas on the US public school system." Instead, the RIF looks at three particular areas. Let's look.


The problem? College and career success (because we're still flogging that expired equine) are "highly dependent" on "effective" writing skills, which include "evaluation of arguments and evidence, critical and creative thinking about solutions and sources, identifying support for a key idea or process, plus clear and evocative argument making."

Gates-Zuck are going to ignore all of those qualities by basing their argument on NAEP writing test results to argue a lack of proficiency. Mind you, I agree that we have a writing proficiency problem, however, I blame it mostly on the test-driven school movement of the past 18 years. That doesn't make their list of obstacles, which includes a lack of time for sufficient practice and feedback because teachers are overloaded, and while computer scoring of essays "holds promise" (it doesn't), it can't help yet (and it never will). They also blame a lack of "high-quality writing assignments," whatever that is supposed to mean.

Here are the areas they believe "require more exploration"

Evidence-based solutions for writing instruction, including mastery of the "spectrum of skills encompassing narrative, descriptive, expository and/or persuasive writing models," a "spectrum" that I'll argue endlessly is not an actual thing, but is a fake construct created as a crutch for folks who don't know how to teach or assess writing.

New proficiency metrics. Can we have "consistent measures of student progress and proficiency"? I'm saying "probably not."  "Can we use technology to support new, valid, efficient, and reliable writing performance measures that are helpful for writing coaching?" No, we can't.

Educator tools and support. Gates-Zuck correctly notes that "effective" writing instruction requires time and resources, so the hope here is, I don't know-- the invention of a time machine? Hiring administrative assistants for all teachers? Of course not-- they want to create "tools" aka more technology trying to accomplish what it's not very good at accomplishing.

Peer-to-peer collaboration and feedback. I'm a little st8umped here, because this is both old hat and widely done. My best guess is the real question is "can we develop some software to get involved in this process."

Non-academic correlates. Gates-Zuck wants to attach the whole range of soft-skill SEL to writing instruction. "Can we develop evidence-based interventions" that help everything across the board "while protecting student privacy." Can we create some software that will teach students to be more human?

And the whole business should include continuous improvement. Always looking for ways to get better. Kind of like every decent teacher on the planet. I swear-- so much of this rich amateur hour baloney could be helped by having these guys shadow an actual teacher all day every day for a full year. At the very least, it would save these endless versions of "I imagine we could move things more easily if we used round discs attached to an axel. I call it... The Wheeble!"

But after listing all the fine print, we cut to the chase:

The goal is ​not​ to replace the classroom teacher, but rather to provide teachers  with new integrated tools (including those involving peers working collaboratively) and supports (including well-designed professional development) to improve their ability to assess student performance and provide rapid and targeted feedback and remediation.

In other words, we're looking to build some software to teach writing (and How To Be Human).

Mathy Stuff 

More test results stand in for evidence that math understanding and mindsets are in trouble right here in River City. There's a lot of math-related jargon here, but if we skip down a couple of pages, we get to the heart of the matter. First on the list of areas requiring exploration:

Tools and resources that support teachers to personalize the learning experience for all type of student learning needs:​

Once again, this personalized [sic] learning platform should also incorporate cognitive and affective state, continuous improvement, and be not boring. The list also calls for "informing, not automating," which is basically a call for a bigger, better data dashboard. Possible products of this research could be intelligent tutoring systems, technology-enhanced content, and artificial intelligence.

Yes, Gates-Zuck are ready to go all-in on personalized [sic] learning.

Which brings us to the third area:

Are you creeped out yet? Well, here's the first paragraph of this section:

Student success in academics and in future careers is associated with their ability to wrestle with multiple ideas at once, think flexibly, and regulate their actions and thoughts. These skills describe the basic executive functions (EFs) of working memory, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control. Strong childhood EFs predict higher socio-economic status, better physical health, and fewer drug-related problems and criminal convictions in adulthood. 

EFs have been shown to be measurable, malleable, and robustly associated with success across the lifespan.

Gates-Zuck are going to fix all the poor and deprived students of the country by putting them in front of some executive function software, so that we can get their cognitive skills and self-control to work the way the authors of the software think they should. They are going to track EF abilities, and they are going to mold them to what they "should" be. And these will involve "technology-enhanced programs in and outside of school."

The program will also measure EF qualities of the educator and environment, and take a look at the early "precursors" of these skills as well as looking at "neural underpinnings." 

This is all extraordinarily creepy as all get-out. And the longer you look at it, the creepier it gets-- follow the links if you dare.

Reasons To Maybe Not Be Completely Creeped Out

This is personalized [sic] learning at its worst-- a kind of Big Brother on Steroids attempt to take over the minds, hearts, and lives of children for God-knows-what nefarious schemes. Only two things make me feel just the slightest bit better about this.

First of all, I'm not sure that Gates-Zuck are evil mad scientist types, cackling wickedly in their darkened laboratory. I'm more inclined to see them as feckless-but-rich-and-powerful computer nerds, who still believe that education is just an engineering problem that can be solved by properly designed sufficiently powered software. They're technocrats who think a bigger, better machine is the best way to fix human beings. 

Second of all-- well, wait a minute. The two guys who have bombarded education with enough money to make a small island and who do not have a single clear-cut success to point to-- these guys think they've got it figured out this time? They have never yet figured out how to better educate the full range of ordinary students (nor ever figured out what "better educate" means) now think they can unlock the formula for better educating students with larger challenges? 

This is like going to a circus and the announcer hollers that Evel Von Wheeble is going to jump his motorcycle over fifty buses, and you get very excited until you read the program and see that Von Wheeble previously attempted to jump over ten, twenty and twenty-five buses-- and he failed every time. 

I suppose that we can also take some comfort in knowing that at this point, Gates-Zuck is just trying to round up people who think they can help them get over just one bus, and maybe everyone will just say, "I don't care how much money you have, this is patently ridicu--" No, who am I kidding. People will line up around the block to work on this. When you have Gates-Zuck type of money, nobody ever tells you to take a hike because you've failed too many times.

On top of that, while the edu-amateurs have no real successes to point at, they have done prodigious damage in their attempts. Gates became convinced that national standards would be awesome, and now we're all stuck with the shambling ghost of Common Core and the tests welded to it. Instead of jumping over the buses, they may well just drive a tank through all fifty of them, leaving twisted burned rubble in their wake.

Never mind. I don't feel any better about this. Gates and Zuckerberg continue to learn nothing about education, but it's the rest of us who keep having to pay their tuition.