Friday, November 24, 2017

CCSSO Has Some Thoughts on Teacher Pipeline

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the same fine group of state-level ed bosses that brought us all the Common Core State [sic] Standards, have noticed that the teacher pipeline is looking a little busticated, and helpful folks that they are, they are offering six swell ideas about how to get that pipeline buzzing again. What could they be/ And are they as awesome as that CCSsS idea?

Let's take a look.

1) Elevate the Teacher Profession.

Hmm. This seems a bit ironic from the folks who brought us a whole standards system premised on the idea that teachers in this country don't know what the hell they're doing, so someone had better lay out standards for them. Oh, and to write the standards, let's hire a bunch of people who aren't teachers. The Common Core remains Exhibit A in how to use political policy to devalue the teaching profession.

Ah-- but we can cancel the irony alert, because CCSSO isn't actually proposing that we elevate the teaching profession at all:

State chiefs can change this narrative by making it a priority to share positive examples of the teaching profession, including through social media channels and public speaking engagements. In addition, states can conduct marketing and communications campaigns, highlighting how the state is creating new roles for teachers and innovative methods of teaching, such as personalized learning, 
blended learning or career education.

In other words, don't actually elevate the teaching profession-- just start cranking out more effective PR releases.

2) Make Teaching a Financially Appealing Career

Teaching is rewarding and all, but having to take a second job to feed your family is a huge pain. "States and local school districts can take action to alleviate financial pressures on teachers." This is not a bad thought. I'm just wondering-- you guys are all chief school officers in your home states, so I'm wondering how hard you're working on this one with your own legislators.

3) Expand Pathways To Enter Teaching

Dammit, guys-- you forgot Strategy 1 already. Only three strategies are mentioned here-- recruit students and aids, recruit ex-military, and make licenses good across state lines. They don't mention the states where Any Warm Body laws are in effect. But if you treat teaching as a job just anybody can do, that deprofessionalizes and devalues the profession and utimately makes it far less appealing to people who would be good at it. Of course, if your goal is to do for teaching what fast food did for cheffing, then this is all perfect.

4) Bring More Diversity to the Teaching Workforce

Absolutely a valuable goal, though many studies suggest that the retention problem is greater than the recruitment problem. The suggestions here aren't terrible, but they don't seem to include ideas like "talk to actual teachers of color." There are plenty of teachers of color out there talking about the issues, but the education establishment seems to want to focus on any solution other than, "deal with issues of systemic racism within the school system and the teacher pipeline."

Bring more diversity is a great goal, but like "raise all student test scores" or "make my wardrobe better looking," it's meaningless until you start talking details.

5) Set Reasonable Expectations for Retaining Teachers

One in five Americans born between 1980 and 1996—“the Millennial generation”—said in a Gallup survey that they had quit their jobs in the past year to do something else. That rate was three times higher than for other generations. Millennials are also much more likely to say that opportunities to learn, grow and advance on the job are important to them. Given these trends, states are assessing how long they can reasonably expect teachers to stay in the classroom and are rethinking policies to align with the career expectations of today’s workforce.

Or, in shorter terms, give up.

I don't know how accurate this information is-- there are plenty of millennials in my family and this doesn't sound like any of them. Or rather, many of them quit their jobs because their jobs sucked-- low pay, low autonomy, low respect, low support. The picture of millennials as flighty job-hopping wanderers feels, frankly, like an excuse that the older generation tells itself to excuse the shitty condition in which it has left the working world for the younger generation.

The rest of this is just some combination of wishful thinking and lying. Yes, there are lots of folks who are trying to fix it so that McTeachers come and go quickly, leaving before they require raises or pensions-- in other words, turn teaching into the same kind crappy job that millennials are unhappy about in other sectors. But folks who are into the profiteering side of the ed biz would like very much to cut their labor costs, to replace skilled lifelong professionals with churn-and-burn low-skill low-cost workers. Saying, "Well, that's just how those darn millennials want it to be" is disingenuous at best and weaselly at worst.

6) Use Data To Target Strategies Where Shortages Exist

Teacher shortages can be statewide, or more often, they are specific to particular districts, regions, subject areas or grade levels. States must analyze data to determine where the need is most critical, examining subjects and grades taught, expertise with specific student populations such as special education and English learners, and geographic regions.

Seriously? You mean that schools were currently using ouija boards and casting runes?  Or just guessing blindly and assuming that teachers are interchangeable widgets? Okay, now that I type it, that second one does seem possible. So sure-- "use less stupid ways to identify your problem" is good advice on any day.

This whole things is an odd exercise to begin with. It is presented as "advice to the states" but CCSSO is composed of all the top education people in each state, so why exactly is that conversation, which they could have amongst themselves, being expanded to include all the people who aren't chief education officers of states?

It doesn't really matter. As pipeline-fixing advice, this is exceptionally uninspiring. Perhaps we all need to look at how to repair the pipeline advice pipeline.

Thursday, November 23, 2017


Thanksgiving is a problematic holiday, like virtually all holidays aimed at celebrating versions of our nation's history. But it is also centered on the subject of gratitude, and for that reason, I honor the holiday every year. Because gratitude is hugely important.

Whether it's a busy moment with family

Or a quiet moment with family

We Americans are not great at gratitude. When we do attempt it, it comes out as some stranger version of "I'm grateful that I deserve all the good things in my life" or "I'm grateful that I'm just naturally better than everyone else." When Barack Obama suggested that successful people owed a debt to all the other folks that helped make that success possible, you would have thought he had suggested that successful people ate puppies in Satanic rituals.

My life is good. Really good. But my parents, my genetic gifts, my emergence from the womb in this particular place and time, the government that has kept my country of residence relatively stable, the diseases that I have never contracted, the catastrophic accidents that never happened to me, the consequences I haven't suffered for my more awful life choices-- I'm not responsible for any of that. I can't take credit for any of it. In fact, all of that represents a debt I owe the universe or God or fate or whatever Larger Power you prefer. Sure, I placed some good bets with the chips I was given, but that initial stake didn't come from me.

The only rational response to that is gratitude.

And that's important, because an absence of gratitude leads to a hardness of heart.

If I look at whatever success I have and declare, "I earned all of this. I am a success because I deserve to be a success," my sense of entitlement must lead me to condemn people who struggle for success. "If they're poor," I can confidently 'splain, "it's because they made bad choices, or are bad people. They deserve what they've gotten, and if they want something better, it's on them to make better choices. And none of that is my problem." This foolish self-importance is what leads people to say, "I shouldn't have to buy insurance because I am a righteous person who makes good choices and will never need insurance. People who need insurance are bad people-- why should I pay for their bad choices?"

The absence of gratitude flows from a false sense of indestructible rightness. I have it all figured out, therefor nothing bad will ever happen to me. This is the reasoning of a child, and not a very smart child at that, and lots of people have been taught a hard lesson in the school of life. Others, when something bad does happen to them, learn nothing, but blame it on the universe, or on a bunch of damned liberals in the gummint who have upended nature's law by mandating rewards for people who should be reaping punishment for their awful choices.

This hardened lack of gratitude is as old as the Pharisees saying, "I thank God I am not like [aka "better"] other men." And it remains toxic.

You can't have gratitude without humility. Sure, you can feel pride in good work done well, and you should. But doing good work is part of our responsibility. Humility is not self-flagellation, declaring we are but unworthy worms. If you've been given a gift, you have a responsibility to take good care of it, to use it well and to the benefit of others, who may well be just as deserving as you are, but for whatever reason didn't receive the same gifts-- or are supposed to receive those gifts via you.

Lack of gratitude ends in selfishness-- this is mine, I earned it, I don't owe anyone anything, and so I can use it for my own childish, selfish purposes, even destroying it in the process.

The sense of gratitude and obligation applies to gifts we didn't ask for and may have never wanted. It also and especially applies to gifts that have come down to us through less than honorable means.

So I'd argue that Thanksgiving may be one of the most important holidays we celebrate as a nation-- or would be, if we celebrated properly.

It has been a great day for me, celebrating with family, sharing some quiet quality time together. And it wouldn't have felt complete if I didn't check in with you folks as well. I hope it has been a great holiday and that you have had the chance to really feel thankfulness and gratitude. For my part, I continue to be grateful to be able to talk to you here and have you follow me as an audience. May the rest of this holiday weekend be a great one for you and yours.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Stop Asking Kids "What Do You Want for Christmas"

My daughter is a pretty terrific green mom blogger, but one of her recent pieces has, I think, a lot to say to those of us who spend a lot of our time with other peoples' children. I'm going to start the piece here, and encourage you to follow the link over to her blog for the rest:

My grandsons in a quieter moment

This week at the store, the person checking us out asked my son what he wanted for Christmas. I think that he said something about Santa coming.  It bugged me, but I couldn't figure out why.

The most annoying part of this question is how often we hear it. It comes up all the time, from family, from neighbors, and even from people we don't know. Santa is a scapegoat, but people cannot stop asking.

 It is used as an ice breaker with little kids all the time, even if they don't have much answer to the question (he just told everyone at checkout about lightning mcqueen wrapping paper).

Honestly, it's a terrible question. 

Why do people think this is an interesting thing to ask?

I don't want my kids to build a deep mental link between celebrating and getting stuff. I don't think getting things or having things is an accomplishment. In fact, I think our society of debt is based on this pressure to look like we have things, because that is what success means. I don't think these are useful values for my kids. My goal as a parent is that they have less and do more.

Even if you aren't out to live a more minimalist lifestyle, you still have to see there is something screwed up by constantly asking kids what they want to receive. As if they are passive vessels to pour toys into instead of interesting people who are already doing activities, thinking about the world (not just the toys in it), and planning adventures. They have more interesting things to tell you, and the constant question just minimizes them.

So just stop. Please stop. Stop. Seriously, it's so easy. Just stop.

Click here to continue reading...

DC: Should Charters Be Paid More?

Spoiler alert:

When Monday comes, however, the city stops treating its children — and the public schools they attend — equally. 

Sigh. That is, I'm sure, the view of some DC public parks. But let's consider what we would see if we went to a DC charter park. The charter park would be surrounded by a fence, and only some children would be allowed in through the gate. Mind you, it wouldn't always be explicit. It might turn out, for instance, that the gate is narrow and you can't fit a wheelchair through it. Or the playground monitors might keep yelling at certain children every two minutes until those children gave up and left. And of course every child would have to go through an application process first.

That's what happens to the children of DC on Monday morning-- the charter and choice schools of DC stop treating the children of DC equally.

The complaint from charters is predictable. Once upon a time part of the charter brag was that they could accomplish more with less. Inevitably, they decided that "less" wasn't enough. You might blame that on greed, but I'm more inclined to believe that they learned that their claim about being able to do more with less was.... excessively hopeful? Aspirational? Flat out wrong? Take your pick.

So now they find themselves up against one of the basic lies of charter and voucher systems, the lie that we can fund multiple school systems for the same money we spent to fund (or in DC[s case, underfund) a single system.

Until that lie is addressed by legislators, the problem will remain-- tax dollars may leave public schools, but many costs stay behind. It's a zero sum game and somebody will have to lose.

Charters don't want to lose, and that's understandable. But the plea here is that the multiple systems all have equal standing, so they should get equal funding.

That's incorrect, and to see why, I refer you back to the opening of this piece. Charters and voucher schools do not do equal work, and do not make an equal commitment to educate any and all students. Charter and voucher schools do not make an equal commitment to stay open and operating even if "business reasons" argue otherwise. Charters in fact enjoy one tool that public schools do not have-- charters can control their expenses by controlling their staffing (just keep churning cheap entry level teachers) and by controlling their student body (keep those high-cost students with special needs out of here).

In short, charter schools are not public schools (and the voucher schools of DC are certainly not public schools). The field is not level, the playground is not open to everyone, and not everyone has made a commitment to keep the playground open and operating for all students, no matter what. When charters decide they want to behave like real public schools, then and only then will they have earned the same funding that public schools receive from taxpayers.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

AltSchool -- Just Another Business

For several years, we've been following the fortunes of the Silicon Valley Wunderskool, AltSchool, created by a Google whiz master and funded by Zuckerberg and all the other tech whiz masters, this was supposed to be the Next Great Big Thing-- Personalized Learning Done Right. 

Alas, it is looking as if AltSchool is about to follow Rocketship Academies and Summit School-in-a-Box into the land of Snake Oil Education. Skoolmeister Max Ventilla has announced that he's shuttering several of the school sites and focusing on the market end of the biz, with AltSchool to be reduced to a brand name for one more school-in-software biz. This is perhaps not as sudden a decision as it might seem; in a BBC interview, Ventllla was already referring his schools as "lab schools."

One reporter I spoke to said that parents are upset at being left in the lurch. And Melia Robinson at Business Insider has found a few other parents who are not exactly beamful of high tech testimonials for the school.

Before we take a closer look into the Department of Toldyaso, the final quote from Robinson's article needs to be plastered in 100 point font across every article touting charter schools--

"We're not the constituency of the school," a parent of a former AltSchool student told Business Insider. "We were not the ones [Ventilla] had to be accountable to." 

Exactly. AltSchool, for all its benevolent trappings, is a business. And businesses make decisions for business reasons. This (as I often say) does not make them evil, but it does make them uniquely unsuited to run public education. Businesses are accountable to investors first. Not students. Not families. Investors. Every parent who enrolls their child in a charter school needs to understand that the school will only exist as long as it makes business sense to do so, will only educate their child as long as it makes business sense to do so, will only provide their child with a full range of educational services as long as it makes business sense to do so.

And parents have apparently been learning that at AltSchool for a while.

Personalized learning?

Parents told Business Insider they expected their children to be engaged in activities handpicked for them but that assignments were more or less the same for the class.

Learning with a human touch assisted by technology?

A parent told Business Insider that she figured the startup — which has poached talent from Google, Uber, Airbnb, and Zynga — would provide "cutting-edge" technology as a supplement to human instruction. Instead, she and others said, technology replaced it at the cost of learning. 

 Flexibility to meet all student needs, no matter how challenging?

A different mother, whose children no longer attend AltSchool, told Business Insider that her second-grader listened to audio books on a tablet in class, instead of being taught to read. The parent said she had taken her concerns to AltSchool several times and was repeatedly told to be patient as her daughter fell behind in reading. She was later diagnosed with a learning disability. 

Though it turns out that parents can pay extra for extra instructional help if their child needs it.

Some parents are upset that their children were used as guinea pigs or beta testers, but if they had been paying attention at all they had to know that's what they were signing up for-- a school-sized tech-based experiment performed by educational amateurs. These parents can be excused for discovering that Ventilla decided to ditch the money-losing school for the "far more profitable" software biz, but still-- it's a business making business decisions, not a school making educational decisions, and that's what you get with a charter school-- particularly one with investors. Savvy parents will have to learn to ask exactly what business their child's prospective charter operator is in.

There is one other issue that parents need to start paying attention to. In that same BBC interview from last summer, Judah asks one of the teachers about the great amount of data collected and stored by the school. Is she concerned about what might be done with that data, where it's stored, for how long? "I don't know," she says. "I just have trust." The AltSchool story, as it spins on to its business flavored next chapter, is a reminder that maybe a little less trust is called for. What will become of all the student data that AltSchool has already collected and stored, and just how much data mining will the new branded software be doing? Parents had better ask-- and remember that decisions will be made on business terms.

Schools Should Belong To Corporations

Corey DeAngelis is a scholar (I know because he says so) who has had a busy couple of years suckling off various Libertarian teats. He's a Fellow for the Cato Institute, policy adviser for the Heartland Institute, and a Distinguished Working-on-his-PhD Fellow at the University of Arkansas, all of this built on a foundation of a BBA (2012) and MA (2015) in economics from the University of Texas in San Antonio (because nobody understands education like economists). And while plugging away on that Masters, he worked first as the Risk Management Operations Coordinator and then the Fraud Coordinator for Kohl's. So yet another education experts with no education background.

He also hangs out with the fine folks at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE, not to be confused with the Jeb Bush FEE), where he writes pieces with catchy titles like "Legalizing Discrimination Would Improve the Education System" and "Governments Shouldn't Even Certify Schools, Much Less Run Them." So we should not be surprised to find his name attached to an article arguing that schools should belong to businesses.

"Government Is Not The Solution to Educational Inequality"  shows off DeAngelis's ability for gross overstatement (it's like he thinks he's a blogger or something) with statements like "it is almost impossible for one to imagine an aspect of society with greater inequities than those existing in the U.S. education system." He might want to look at justice or housing or economics. But no-- DeAngelis has a particular destination in mind, and he will not be distracted on the journey.

He's going to lead with the idea that schools, linked to zip codes, are racially and socioeconomically segregated. A useful question to consider here might be to ask how those zip codes end up segregated in the first place-- after all, if we made them that way, maybe we could unsegregate them. But that's not where we're going. But we're not taking that exit from this highway. Instead, he wants to forge straight ahead to peer effects-- in other words, poor minority kids do poorly because they have to go to school with a bunch of poor minority kids. 

Linking funding to real estate means that schools in poor areas are poorly funded. Is DeAngelis going to talk about how to change funding in order to solve that problem? No, he's not going there, either. 

Teachers? Well...

Teacher quality varies from one individual to the next. And teachers are paid based on years of experience rather than actual levels of quality. The result? Since the best teachers are not rewarded with pay, they are rewarded with an easier job. The highest quality teachers move to the schools with advantaged students that are relatively easy to educate. 

That's a bit of a mischaracterization. However, even if we accept it, a solution immediately presents itself-- make the jobs at the high needs schools more appealing or "easier." (And really, that word selection is a cheap shot, as if teachers are motivated by laziness rather than a desire to work in an environment in which they can better achieve the goals they set for themselves as professionals). But that's not on this journey. 

Instead, DeAngelis sets up a pair of straw men-- pay high-quality teachers more to move to high needs schools, or give teachers bonuses for raising test scores. Neither solution is the same as making the job at a high needs school more appealing, and as DeAngelis already knows, neither solution is actually a solution. As he correctly notes, we don't have a reliable measure of teacher quality (as he does not note, it would be impossible to divorce such a measure from the context in which the teacher teaches, which creates problems for a move-teachers-around plan). And tests are not strong predictors of future success, anyway. 

Part of what DeAngelis says as we breeze past these exits is kind of astonishing:

Rewarding teachers based on test scores could actually harm students that need character development. Disadvantaged children coming from single-parent families, or households that do not have the time to focus on behavioral development, would be harmed the most by such policies. 

In other words, those poor minority kids need help with the character deficiencies they have on account of their terrible poor minority background. Those Peoples' Children need a special kind of education over and above what wealthy white kids need, because rich white kids never suffer from character deficiencies because of a lousy family life. 

But DeAnglis has only begin the revolution, because we have been sailing down this highway to Oligarchy Town.

The best way to solve the educational inequality issue is to remove pieces of the education system from the democratic process. Over and over again, democracy has proven to work wonders for politically powerful groups, but not for minorities with less social capital.

Yes, once again, a reformster has decided that democracy is a bug, not a feature, and that we'd be better off without the damn thing.  Because nothing builds social capital like having no formal voice in the process? It's true that US democracy has often worked out poorly for minority voices-- but on what basis would DeAngelis like to argue that oligarchy would be better, that businesses have been, or would be, huge protectors of minority rights? But DeAngelis wants you to know he's in good company here:

As Milton Friedman and other education scholars – including myself – have pointed out, while governments may have an incentive to fund schools, it does not necessarily follow that governments should operate them.

Yes, this scholar imagines  a world of universal private school choice, and claims that it "would benefit the last advantaged children more than anyone," which is our sign that we have actually driven all the way down the highway to Baloneyville. You already know the full drill of his claims-- driven by unleashed demand, entrepreneurs would open up super-duper schools, and competitive pressures would drive down costs and drive up quality, and also erase the black-white achievement gap.

I have one question. Well, I have lots of questions, but I'll only ask one.

In what economic sector has this ever worked?

Did the economic pressures of serving many poor folks (including those who depend upon the government vouchers we call welfare) lead to an explosion of unparalleled quality in retailers like Wal-Mart? Or Kohls? What economic sector has been driven to provide top quality products for every single person in the country? What business has ever put meeting the needs of every single potential customer ahead of their own financial interests?

For businesses to own and operate schools while those schools are funded by the government-- that provides an obvious advantage to the businesses. But businesses are not philanthropies, and they serve their own interests-- not the interests of every single family in their community. This does not make them evil, but it makes them poor candidates for operating the public school system. Businesses sort-- it's fundamental to their nature. They sort human beings into "customers who are worth the business's time" and "customers who aren't." They deliver not what customers deserve, but what customers can afford (in fact,business folks have a hard time distinguishing between the two). To suggest that a business will say, "Well, helping these particular students get up from behind will be costly and challenging and probably lose us money, but we'll do it because we're just that committed to closing the achievement gap" is just-- well, come on. Even a fresh-faced twenty-something scholar with a couple of business degrees knows better than that. 

DeAngelis has sailed past all the better solutions-- invest in schools, invest in faculty, improve conditions, embrace democracy-- to somehow arrive at the conclusion that we should erase democracy, privatize public schools, and change the fundamental mission of public education in this country.He's going to have to propose a better vehicle for his journey than the one he offered here.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Singular Objectives

In the classroom, objectives are important. I remember my own painful experience as a student teacher (replicated by several of my own student teachers), imagining that we would simply read a book and the magical educationny things would just sort of happen, somehow. I had to learn to answer the question "Why are we studying thing?" I had to know what I wanted students to get out of the unit, and once I understood that, then teaching and instructional strategies and assessments all just kind of fell into place.

So do not imagine for a moment that I don't see the value of objectives. No teacher can function well in a classroom if she can't answer the question, "What is the point of any of this?"

But the modern reform era has given us objectives that hamper teaching rather than enhance it.

The standards movement has given us objectives that are strikingly narrow and literal, as well as completely blind to the content of the material that we teach.

ELA objectives (standards) are strictly skills based, so we approach a work like Hamlet focused strictly on items like this:

Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful.

Nowhere in the standards will you find any reference to grappling with the major topics and themes of Hamlet, like mortality and coming to grips with death and the search for meaning in existence. Nope. Find some words and figure out what they mean.

And the Big Standardized Tests double down on this objective myopia. There will be no questions about the content of Hamlet-- not even simple recall of plot and character, let alone the kind of deeply considered ideas that could only be examined in lengthy writing produced over a thoughtful period of time. No, the BST will say, "Remember how you figured out what some strange words meant in that one thing you read? Here are some strange words-- do that figure-them-out trick again."

In fact, many of us have been ordered to put up posters in our room reminding our students about their singular objectives. And many of us are now required to do the same with each and every lesson-- to focus our students on the one-and-only objective of the day's teaching. "This is our goal, our only goal, and our all-consuming goal."

This is education as a ride on a train, with only one destination, one purpose, one target. This is standardization at its very worst. This is a prospector who sets up his equipment to drill for oil on his property and declares himself a failure because all he found was silver, gold, and diamonds.

This is bad teaching. This is the kindergarten teacher who flunks Pat for coloring outside the lines. This is the English teacher who teaches that there is one-- and only one-- correct interpretation for every work of literature. In fact, this is not just bad teaching, but bad living-- the people who think there is only one correct way to be in the world, only one True system of belief, only one correct way to react to a given situation. This is rigid fundamentalism at its worst.

Should we have objectives? Absolutely. Should we be open to the possibilities of many objectives? Should we be open to the possibility of opportunities arising in the classroom? Also absolutely. We certainly shouldn't suggest to our students that there is only one goal and then tell them what it is in such a way as to suggest that all other possible discoveries should be ignored. We should never throw away diamonds because we were searching only for oil.