Monday, March 31, 2014

Re: Building the Machine

I have just watched the Home School Legal Defense association's documentary, Building the Machine.

I must tell you that I approached this with some reservations. In my mind, there is an important distinction between different sorts of Common Core Testy Regime opponents. On one hand, we have people who are fighting the high stakes test-driven corporate agenda because they want to rescue the heart and soul of American public education. On the other hand, we have people who are fighting because they believe that all this reformy mess actually reveals the heart and soul of American public education. Where one group says, "We have to stop the corporate-federal takeover of schools," the other says, "See! I knew it! This is just what they've always been planning to do."

So when I saw the trailer, and that the film is produced by the Home School Legal Defense Association (not fans of public school) my first reaction was extreme caution. Every time a colleague posted the trailer, I popped up to say, "Let's not get too excited here." I believe my quotable line was "Sometimes the enemy of my enemy is still my enemy, too."

But tonight I watched, because I try to watch and read everything I can. Because I want to know. Because we have to judge truth and untruth and half-truth based on its own character, and not its source. I wanted you to know all my biases going into this review of the film. Okay? Let's begin.

The film is slick-- Hollywood documentary slick, with well-filmed interviews and music cues that stir whatever emotions the film-makers want to stir. Here an ominous humming, like the deadly gas is in the basement. There a anxious pulse, like the clutch in your gut that somethings not right in your home.

The film depends on a wide assortment of filmed interviews. Michael McShane, Wayne Brasler, Andrew Hacker, Ze'ev Wurman, Paul Horton, to name just a few. Mike Petrilli and Chester Finn are there to speak on the Core's behalf, and given a fair chance to present their usual assortment of lies and marketing spin. Sandra Stotsky and Jim Milgram are given ample room to tell their stories of their fall from grace as CCSS validators. Several CCSS crafters were given a chance to speak, but declined, and so David Coleman appears only by film clip. This is not the highly progressive crowd, but nobody is wearing his Tea Party Tin Hat, either. It's a well-rounded roster of knowledgeable grown-ups.

The films pace is slow and deliberate. The interviewed experts are given more than tiny sound bites. There is plenty of chance to hear the arguments, to let them make their points. The film is slick, but not used-car-salesman dazzling. It's a glossy magazine with long, serious articles.

It covers the genesis of the Core, the broad outlines of its placement in power (though curiously fails to connect the dots between NCLB and the pressure to buy a waiver with CCSS compliance). It fully notes the stealth and speed involved in CCSS adoption. Its experts are all highly articulate, and while they make points that many opponents of Reformy Stuff make with regularity, they make them with passion and clarity. This is a film that assembles some evidence, but also depends heavily on crafting convincing arguments aimed at least as much at your brains as at your heart.

I listened for the dog whistle of "This is why you must tear your kids out of public school and never look back." I never heard it. The film does fire some arrows straight at homeschool hearts. In particular, it notes that this reform agenda is reshaping colleges, and so homeschooling your K-12 child won't save you. It noted that we know after decades of research that the biggest single affect on a child's education is the parents. And it asked the question of whether it's the government's right to teach your child what it wants your child to know. Does the child belong to her family, or is her education to serve the needs of the government?

Yes, that's all pretty standard homeschool rhetoric, but I have just typed every single instance of those arguments in a forty-minute movie. In fact, the film seems at moments to acknowledge that homeschoolers and supporters of traditional public ed are allies in this fight.

There are many great moments in this film. An articulate explanation of why "college and career ready" is guaranteed to produce unsatisfactory standards. An impassioned chapter about how children are humans and not assembly line machines. It even addresses the usual reformy complaint-- if you don't want CCSS, what do you want? What are you for? And it has this quote by Wayne Brasler in response to the idea of a race in education:

What race? The race is to keep the Democracy alive and vibrant and safe, and to have thinking, caring, intelligent students.

The film includes many highly quotable moments. It is passionate and scary, but not angry or mean. It goes out of its way not to attack anybody's character or motives. It portrays this battle not as a crusade against evil-doers, but a fight against well-meaning but misguided men who believe in a centrally planned one-size-fits-all system. They are dead wrong, but they are not Satan incarnate.

This is a film you should watch, and this is a film that you should get others to watch-- particularly those who are still learning about the issues. It has some darkly "All the President's Men" moments, but it's not overwrought or crazy-sounding. It explains some of the facts and explains most of the issues clearly and directly. People who have been in this fight for a while will nod their heads, but civilians new to the field will understand easily, and they'll know better than they did what is going, who the players are, and what they've done.

So, as someone who was prepared to keep this film at arm's length, I'll be passing it on to colleagues, to friends, to family. I suggest you watch it and then do the same.

P.S. I've already heard from folks who want to let me know that there's a point stated somewhere in this film that they disagree with. All I can say is, if you're waiting for the film that says exactly what you want to say exactly the way you want it said, there's only one filmmaker who could create that film, and you'll find that person in your mirror. In the meantime, be a critical viewer and sift through what you see with your intellect and conscience.

More Poll-Based Marketing

Want to see how pollsters can keep finding widespread support for the Common Core? Today we've got a perfect example to look at.

I am not a statistics or polling guy. I cannot, with any shred of authority, discuss n-curves and sampling error and any of those fancy statsy stuff. But I am a language guy, and I know when language is being used to game a system. And when it comes to polling, asking the right questions means it's not even necessary to game the statistics.

This particular poll was released last week by the Collaborative for Student Success, a CCSS promotion group that is tied directly to The Hunt Institute, which is in turn "an affiliate center" of  the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and lists the usual suspects as collaborators-- Gates Foundation, Achieve, NEA, The Broad Foundation, et al. (You can find Hunt on the Osborne/Schneider Big Chart of Gates Beneficiaries-- they're one of the Core's godparents).

The pollsters gathering the numbers were The Tarrance Group and David Binder Research, and the big headline that went with their research when it appeared in USNews, among other CCSS-loving news outlets, was "Poll: Most Voters Would Support a Common Core Candidate." USNews had a quote to underline the results.

"When Americans hear accurate, straightforward information about the Common Core standards, they overwhelmingly support them because they recognize higher standards are an important part of helping kids succeed in college and in their careers," Karen Nussle, executive director of the Collaborative for Student Success, said in a statement.

The press release from March 21 is available on line (h/t to juliannnc for the link). So let's take a look at the "accurate, straightforward information" that the pollsters used to collect this data.

After hearing the following sentence, respondents were asked if they support or oppose the Common Core Standard.
"To ensure that all students are prepared for success after graduation, the Common Core Standards establish a set of clear, consistent guidelines for what students should know and be able to do at each grade level across subjects."

Following that statement, the poll found total support of 64%, total opposition of 24%. And you know what? If that's what the CCSS actually were, I'd probably support them myself. Hell, like many current opponents, back when I thought that this was all that CCSS were, I did support them. But back then it didn't occur to me that the absence of phrases like "research based" or "teacher tested" might mean that the standards, while clear and consistent, were also created by non-teachers without a basis in research or best practices. And as has been noted elsewhere, these standards do not meet the standards of standard standard standards.

Again-- no manipulation of statistics needed. If I wanted fewer people to express support for the Core, I might have them hear this statement:

The federal government has forced states to accept the Common Core Standards, which were written in secret by people with no educational experience, in order to create large, profitable testing programs.

If the pollsters wanted to get even better numbers, they might have had their respondents hear this statement:

The Common Core Standards will guarantee that every small child will get a free pony.

The poll also exposed the responders to three specific statements:

The standards emphasize real understanding of mathematical concepts-- not just memorization.

The standards focus on fewer topics and allow teachers to cover them all in greater depth.

The English Language Arts standards focus on critical analysis and thoughtful complicated ideas.

These also resulted in large CCSS support. "The more information that the public has about the Common Core State State Standards, the better off those standards are viewed," Brian Tringali, a partner at The Tarrance Group, said. I'm pretty sure he meant to say, "The more carefully selected hand-picked scrubbed and filtered information that the public has..." The only miracle here is that a percentage were still opposed to the CCSS. Pure conjecture on my part, but I'm going to guess that those numbers represent "People Who Believed That The Pollster's Statements Were Not The Whole Truth."

But why construct a poll like this? Why ask questions that are so completely guaranteed to draw a particular response? I'm betting the answer is in the last question:

Respondents were also asked if they would be more likely or less likely “to support a candidate for public office that supported the use of Common Core Standards in your area?”

There are polls that are meant to gain insight and understanding of what is actually happening, to glean some clearer picture of the truth. But sometimes polls are set up to send one message, "Hey! Our side is winning!!" These are meant to swing momentum, rally the faithful, encourage the pack. These types of polls can be dangerous-- just ask any GOP stalwart who was certain that Romney was going to win the White House.

This poll appears to be a focused version of the latter. The message here? Politicians who want to win should back our brand! The poll made particular note of Ohio, Florida, Colorado, Michigan or Illinois, states that need all the CCSS rallying they can get.

This is not polling. This is not even remotely an attempt to discover what the truth on the ground is. This is, once again, CCSS well-financed salespersons attempting to build momentum by buying the illusion of public support. People tend to have a magical belief in polls (kind of like their magical belief in standardized tests) and will assume that even if someone has monkeyed around with the statistical analysis, the poll itself was sound. This poll is a reminder that if you take the truth out of your questions, you don't have to lie about the answers at all.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Results! Right!! Now!!!

There has been a great deal written about the content of the current testing regime, concentrating on what The Test covers, and how little depth of complexity can be measured. But there's another dimension of The Test that deserves the same sort of attention and criticism.


The obvious issue is the time spent on the test itself. The weakness of writing components is often noted and the clearest example of what's wrong here. Best practices in writing instruction involves a process-- pre-writing, rough drafting, editing, and re-writing. We spend years in school trying to drive home the idea that writing is not a process of joy down something quickly then hand it in as if it's a polished final product. In my own class I usually put a day's time between pre-writing and rough drafting so that students can have time to discuss, ruminate, reflect and otherwise prepare themselves to express what they have to say. Likewise, proofreading right after drafting is rarely productive-- that soon after writing, one tends to see what one meant to say instead of what one actually said.

Test writing, of course, requires students to approach the process exactly wrong. Don't think about what you have to say, and don't rewrite, because you don't have time. Just dash it off and hand it in. This is not a test of writing skill.

Likewise, seeing short questions for the first time and then trying to spit out or select answers quickly, without time for thought or reflection, is not how we humans generally do our best work. And when it comes to reading, we find one of the huge disconnects between The Test and CCSS. The Core at least nods its head to the notion that reading is best done with time to read, re-read, reflect, think, discuss, rinse, repeat. The Test once again insists that you must read and comprehend and answer Right! Now!!

But these are not the only ways in which we're mangling time management for testing's sake.

The other assumption behind testing is that education bears fruit Right! Now!! If I taught a kid something yesterday, then that kid should be a measurably different person today!!!! We are approaching education as if it were instant coffee and not the planting of a tree.

Standardized testing says, "We planted an apple tree here last week. I want to see the apple pie today! Now!!" It's true that we already frame some testing this way, but that's a short-term look at certain skills. When I give my students a quiz on this week's preposition unit, I do not pretend that the results tell me if they're college and career ready.

It's on that list of Things They Never Tell You In Teacher School-- many of the results of our labors will finally bear fruit long after we're in a position to see it happen. We all treasure those moments when an old student tells us how a lesson from years ago in our class suddenly made a difference long after that student left our school.

I'm not saying that testing is a waste or that if Chris appears to have learned nothing we should just ignore that deficiency on the theory that Chris's education will just kick in in a decade or two. I am saying that assuming everything important about education will show its effects immediately is a bad idea, a foolish assumption.

Like a tree, an educated person takes years to reach full form. We can examine the early sprout to see if it's off to a healthy start, but we shouldn't imagine we know exactly how the apples will taste.

A Message from Andrea Rediske

It's a tough contest these days to determine which state legislature is most hostile to public education, but Florida legislators (motto "Finding New Ways To Make Things Worse") has been giving it the old college and career ready try.

Nobody knows that better than the family of Ethan Rediske. His mother Andrea has been working tirelessly to insure that extraordinarily challenged children and their families will not in the future be subjected to the kind of abuse and bureaucratic harassment that her family went through, all in the name of The Almighty Test.

At a time when she could excused for simply staying home and mourning her recently-deceased child, Andrea has been standing up to all manner of indignities, from a bullying letter penned by the state education head, to stripping her son's name from the legislation proposed in his memory. In retrospect, the latter is predictable-- while legislators usually like to name bills after the victims of abuse, it seems less likely they'd do it when they themselves were the victimizers. The "We Used To Torture Sick and Dying Children As a Matter of Policy, But Now We're Going To Knock It Off" Bill is not one lawmakers would like to sign off on.

So things are ugly, messy, and stalled. I'm passing on Andrea Rediske's message here to you. Read it all the way through, please, and then note the call for help.

Early in February 2014, Orange County Public Schools and the Florida Department of Education harassed our family by requiring documentation that my son was dying and in hospice care to prove that he was unable to take state-mandated standardized tests.  In order to receive the waiver for testing the previous year, I had to submit a mountain of paperwork, including details of his medical history, and a letter from his doctor.  We were assured at his IEP meeting this school year that the waiver would be granted without problems.  Obviously, this wasn’t the case.  Shortly after I came forward with our story, State Representative Karen Castor-Dentel proposed HB 895 entitled the Ethan Rediske Act, that would make it easier for severely disabled and medically fragile children to receive waivers for standardized testing.  According to the language of HB 895, the process to receive a waiver for standardized testing would go through the local district superintendent rather than requiring approval from the State Commissioner of Education.  I felt so humbled, grateful, and delighted to see that my son’s struggles with standardized testing were not in vain and that he would leave a legacy for other students like him in Florida.  I was so hopeful that families like ours would be relieved of a very small part of the burden that they carry every day.  I felt at the time that the Florida legislature would see the need for this type of legislation, and that its passage would sail through the House and the Senate.  Ethan passed away on February 7, 2014.  We were overwhelmed with the love and support of so many in the wake of our son’s death, and Ethan’s story has been broadcast around the country. 

Sadly, the Ethan Rediske Act has become the center of an ugly political battle, and HB 895 as it was written will not be passed.  Shortly after Ethan’s funeral, I addressed the Florida Department of Education and the Commissioner of Education at a local meeting here in Orlando, explaining what we had been through and urging them to support this legislation.  A few days after I spoke to the FLDOE, Pam Stewart, the Commissioner of Education wrote a letter that was sent to every teacher in the state of Florida, tacitly accusing me of using our personal tragedy to fulfill my “political agenda.”  She also stated in her letter that she approved 16 out of only 30 requests for waivers that had been requested – a little more than a 50% approval rate.

Senator Andy Gardiner submitted a competing bill (SB 1512), which, in addition to providing legislation supporting vouchers for charter schools, provides permanent waivers for all standardized testing of disabled children, but which requires the approval of the Commissioner of Education, who has a track record of only approving 50% of these requests.  He has a child with Down Syndrome who has been mainstreamed into public school – I completely understand why he is invested in seeing this legislation pass.  However, Senator Gardiner is completely against the Ethan Rediske act, and was instrumental in stopping the bill from ever making it onto the K-12 subcommittee agenda for discussion.  Representative Karen Castor-Dental had to negotiate verbiage of the Ethan’s Act being attached to another bill – HB 7117 that includes legislation for school accountability – most of which does not receive support from parents, teachers, or schools.  Sadly, because Ethan’s Act has so much support, the other parts of this bill will get passed along with it.  Ethan’s name has been removed from the bill entirely – many legislators do not want his name associated with the legislation because it shows that there were measures in place in the legislature that hurt disabled children.

Even if HB 7117 passes the Florida House, it is in danger of being gutted or stopped by Senator Gardiner.  Without being completely privy to all of the political machinations at play right now, it seems that both Senator Andy Gardiner and Commissioner Pam Stewart are holding all the cards.  They have powerful allies and are protected on many fronts and have the power to stop this legislation.  Pam Stewart is an appointee of Governor Rick Scott and was not elected to her position.  Senator Andy Gardiner, according to his Wikipedia entry has been voted by Orlando Magazine as one of the 50 most powerful people in Florida for 5 years.  These two individuals hold tremendous political power and seem to be very determined to stop this legislation from passing.

I can’t fully convey the depth of my anguish over this.  I had such high hopes that Florida legislators would see what my sweet son has been through, they would understand the need to protect children like him and support families like ours, and do the right thing by passing the Ethan Rediske Act.  My only hope now is that the immense support we have received over the original bill can be channeled into influencing these individuals in positions of incredible political power to somehow change their minds and their hearts and support this legislation. 

If you feel moved to write to them, please be articulate and civil.  Anything that they perceive as an attack will likely be met with more resistance.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your help and support.

Senator Andy Gardiner:

Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart:

An online petition against SB 1512 that includes a boilerplate message that will be sent to all Florida legislators on the Education Committee considering this bill:

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Camp Philos! Take Me Away!!

You may have seen the ad for this. Maybe you even received an invitation (but I bet you didn't). It's Camp Philos, "a philosopher's camp on education reform," the first ever, and it looks absolutely awesome!!

Embark on three spring days of fun, fellowship and strategy with the nation's thought leaders on education reform. The exquisite and secluded Whiteface Lodge, which ranks among North America's top luxury destinations, is nestled in the majestic woods of our country's largest wilderness park.

I have got to go to this thing! It says right here that it's just like in 1858, when Ralph Waldo Emerson and James Russell Lowes retreated to the mountains "for respite in kindred company." Okay, they probably meant James Russell Lowell, but these are big important people and they can't be troubled with picky details like spelling. That's not how their kindred company rolls.

These are thought leaders. Thought leaders!!

Who are these thought leaders? Well, Andy Cuomo is the honorary chairman big cheese of these philosophical thought leaders, and you know he's going to be pumped because he just scored a major philosophical victory by getting the NY legislators to vote to make NYC Mayor DeBlasio kiss Eva's charter school ring and hand her the keys to whatever she wants. So Cuomo is seeing first hand what a few million dollars' worth of philosophy can buy you!

And Joe Williams-- the big guy from DERP (see-- I can spell philosophically, too). And Senator Mary Landrieu and Mayor Michael Hancock and Mayor Kevin Johnson and Russlynn Ali and--- OMGZ!! that great and awesomely wise educational philosopher M. Night Shyamalan! I hear he's proposing a new school program where at the end of the year the students discover their teacher was actually dead and they've been instructed by angry trees all year, or something.

The Whiteface Lodge is-- wait. Really??!! White face?? Could they not book the Wealthy Patricians Spa, or Camp Ogliarch? Boys, you have really got to think this stuff through. Thank goodness you invited Shyamalan. Do you suppose they have special screens to keep out black flies? Anyway, the Lake Placid lodge is uber-fancy. You can check it out here. And it's not just a lodge-- it's a spa, too. Get yourself a philosophical education thought leader hot towel while you're there. 

The schedule of the conference looks promising. On the first day (Sunday, May 4) there will be a three-hour opening dinner followed by two-and-a-half hours of "open networking." This sounds more fun than when I chaperone Prom!

On Monday, the heavy-duty philosophizing day, we have "Up, Down and Sideway: Building an Effective School Reform Coalition." Cool. I always wanted to build a school reform coalition, but don't seem to be able to do it with simple objects I can find around the house. And there's also "Tight-Loose Models for Ensuring All Kids Have Access to a Great Education." Here I could make about being a crack about being tight with your own money and loose with tax dollars, but I recognize the tight-loose thing as a favorite line of The Fordham Institution Thinky Tank crowd. So there's one more hint about what sorts of philosophizing will be discussed. (Although if Mike Petrilli is going to dance for the assembled philosophers, that would be an extra treat.)

Later on Monday (well, 3:30-- a day of philosophy is apparently not quite as jam-packed as a teacher professional development day), we have "break and optional outdoor activities" which seems wise as the outdoors is always more appealing when it's optional.

Tuesday wraps it up with breakfast and a closing session. The scheduling is fortuitous as Sunday evening the weekenders will be clearing out and by Tuesday the long-weekers will only just be showing up. So the resort should be clear of the plebes for the conference. And of course running it on Monday insures that no actual teachers will actually attend. Nothing messes up a reformy stuff philosophy session than actual teachers. 

Unfortunately, there is more keeping me away than just the scheduling. Attendance is $1,000 a head. Unless you have a VIP head, in which case it will cost you $2,500. That's just the event fee; I suppose I could cut corners by sleeping in my car for those two nights. My head is not really important enough to wrap itself around either of those numbers for any sleepover situation not involving my wife, some champagne, and a hot tub made of gold.

Still, I believe that in the interests of pursuing educational reform philosophy, I could round up some of the kindred company to attend this. I'm thinking of putting together a kickstarter to send a couple of the edublogoverse's finest journalists. I would particularly like to take a female colleague, because I think it would go over like the mouse in the circus elephant tent in Dumbo. (I'm thinking that between the two of us, Edushyster and I could cover this with all the seriousness it deserves).

But I don't want you to think that I am only mocking this ridiculous exercise in self-important over-inflated language-based bloviation weakly masking the venal money grabbing corporate destruction of public education. In fact, right on the front of the promotional site is a bold, three word slogan that I rather fancy.




I totally support reform, although these guys probably don't realize that at this point they are the champions of the status quo, and those fighting to reclaim the promise of American public education are the real reformers. Still, thumbs up on reform. Then if these guys would actually relax they might be better people. And I'm sure if they would just call a collective retreat, US public education would be all the better for it.

Van Roekel/NEA CCSS Update

It's been almost six whole weeks since Dennis Van Roekel stepped up to make the announcement that CCSS implementation has been botched, and to suggest some startling ideas for correcting course. It' a month and two days since he took to the US News debate club to issue a rewritten version of his statement about the botch that walked back most of the exciting parts.

DVR called for all sorts of change. Some of it, like teacher involvement in a standards review process, he backed away from almost immediately. But some of it he actually said twice (and given how rarely DVR issues words to members or the public, twice is a veritable torrent). He was particularly direct on the misalignment of current teaching tools. There are teachers, he noted, who are working with old materials that aren't connected to the Core at all. And as we wade through Testing Season, we want to remember this:

Even more disturbing is that most states are requiring teachers to administer old tests that don’t line up with what is being taught.

That was a month ago. Now that teachers are dealing with these very tests, I thought I'd check to see what DVR has been up to since making these two public statements. Has he been traveling the country to talk to teachers and buck them up? Has he been delivering speeches calling for politicians to make the necessary changes? Has he thrown his weight behind the current petition to have government call a halt to inappropriate high stakes testing? Having scoured the NEA websites and driven the googlemobile around the internet block a few times, I'm ready to let you know what else DVR has said or done about these issues. Here it comes:

Yeah, that's pretty much it.

I don't know. Maybe he saw his shadow and went back to sleep for six weeks. Or maybe NEA is still being run by people who think that talking to their members is beneath them. At least teachers know that in difficult and discouraging times, we can all absolutely count on our national leadership to be silent, disengaged, and unhelpful.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Jeb Bush's Shiny Campaign

If you wanted to find all of the bullshit talking points about the CCSS Reformy Complex, you'd be hard pressed to do better than clicking on over to Learn More. Go Further.

It takes a little clicking to learn that LMGF is brought to you by the Foundation for Excellence in Education (and I'm sure I'll be neither the first nor last person to point out how appropriate it is that these champions of privatization have chosen FEE as their acronym), and FEE is founded and led by that champion of reformy stuff, Jeb Bush. And FEE is here to sell you all the wonders that are the Common Core.

One gets the impression that this is a work in progress. In some corners of the site one finds the name "Learn More. Go Further Florida." And there is a definite Florida-centric nature to some portions, while other portions take a more nation-spanning view. It's almost as if somebody connected to the site had a strategy to take a local story and upscale it as a sort of national platform for some sort of major nation-wide undertaking, an undertaking so large that it might not come to full flower for another two years, a project that could stretch all the way from Florida to New Hampshire and Iowa. Though in fairness, I'll note that Jeb's mug is absent from this shiny shiny ad campaign.

The site is slick. And if nothing else, it is an interesting study in what research and focus groups must be telling the folks who want to market a Presidential candidate an educational vision, and the corporate sponsors that back them (more about that at the bottom).

For one thing, we can deduce that they have totally gotten the memo that lots of folks don't think that teachers like Common Core very much. They have lined up four freshly scrubbed teachers, all women, none with a mention of TFA in sight, and all four with branny new twitter accounts that made their first noise on March 15. All four have tweeted since then with a string of advertising copy for the core, some of which are nearly identical for each of the women. You may well have seen them; this morning their accounts are appearing as promoted "Who To Follows" on my twitter page.

Were I supremely cynical, I might conclude that these women were a magical combination of stock photography and an ed department intern, but I'm a cynic with a computer, so I dug just a bit. Here are our four teacher voices for FEE (see what I did there? Jeb, you should not make it so easy).

Rian Meadows is a teacher ambassador at the Florida Dept of Ed. It appears that at least in 2011, she was an economics instructor at Florida Virtual School (FLVS) — the nation's first-ever statewide virtual public high school. Faye Adams is a charter school teacher in Pasco County. Angela Anchors is a charter school teacher. And Beth Smith seems to actually work at an honest-to-God public school, where she has only just been promoted to Assistant Principal from her previous job as reading specialist. 

There's a whole other point to be made about exactly how these women are being used as props-- their twitter accounts are @USteacher[firstname]. So we've picked women who teach elementary school and reduced them to first names, like Miss Mary on Romper Room. They appear in ads in classrooms, with children.

You can click on an ask-a-teacher link, and cut-out pop-up clips of these women will appear to read answers in a manner that will do nothing to dispel the impression that they are Stepford Educators. Ask "Are teachers excited about Florida Core Standards" and one (I think it's Beth) pops up to say earnestly, "We sure are." And then we get the usual line about how the Core will free teachers to teach creatively because, gosh darn it, there's already just too much teaching to the test, and under the Core, those testing days are over.

I offer that as a representative sample of the site's content, because taking us through all of it would be like repeatedly punching you in the heart. The site depends heavily on spin, equivocation, and just plain flat out lying. As I said at the top-- every piece of bullshit you've ever heard about the CCSS regime of reform is here, in slickly well-designed webullar glory. 

Teachers totally helped write the Core. It totally leaves local school boards in complete control. It is not a curriculum. Critical thinking out the wazoo. Competitive in a global market. The only time the site deviates from the standard baloney is when it goes for even bigger piles of baloney-- in reply to the "myth" that the states' tests weren't broken site asserts "Many states had reading proficiency standards that would qualify their students as functionally illiterate by international standards."

And there is copy devoted to promoting the Florida miracle, because claiming that the state has achieved miraculous advances in education has been a proven winner for members of the Bush family in the past. These claims are similar to what we used to call the "Texas miracle" in that they are not really based on what we used to call "facts." Head over to Integrity in Education to read the breakdown of how reality-impaired these claims are.

There is along page of supportive quotes from all the usual subjects: Petrelli and Brickman from the Fordham, Kramer and Villaneuva from TFA, and (ex-)Mayor Bloomberg all check in with words of support for the Core.

There are slick ads that I'm sure some of you are seeing already; these assure us that what's at stake is everything. Those are paid for by the Higher States Standards Partnership, a group with their own website; the HSSP brings together a coalition of the Business Roundtable, the US Chamber of Commerce and a whole long list of individual corporate sponsors. So if we know one thing from this campaign, it's that corporate interests are willing to spend even more money to buy their access to great public ed money pile. [Update: Erin Osborne has done the research and broken down the folks behind HSSP and put it all in a chart. It's amazing, and there's not an actual teacher in sight.]

There is good news for disruptive types. The site includes both a place to "tell your story" and the opportunity to ask questions of these four educational spokemavens. Knock yourselves out, folks.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Students First presents a Tragedy in 4 Acts

Students First, an advocacy group that believes passionately in the power of educational advocacy to make some people more wealthy, recently released a video aimed at Pennsylvania and entitled "Protect Excellent Teachers in Pennsylvania." Clocking in at just under two minutes, it's a gripping and compelling tale. Seriously. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll kiss common sense goodbye. Let's enjoy each moving chapter together, shall we?

What Is the Value of an Excellent Teacher?

Ohhh! It's a cartoon, with an animated chart!! I love cartoons.

Oh, but this is a sad story. If a child has an ineffective first grade teacher, she will learn less. She will be behind for the rest of her life! "Probably." Oh, but if she has an effective teacher, she will learn more! Oh, no, sorry. She "can" learn more. She will be ahead!! Forever!! All the way through college!

There's some math in this part. Students of Slowpants McBadteacher will probably learn half as much, and the student of Mr. Hilee F. Ective can be "moved through" twice as much . Therefor, we know that an effective teacher can "produce" three times as much learning. And it is possible that I don't understand that math only because I have not received CCSS math training.

But I don't care about the mathy part because I am excited about this quantifying of learning. Yes, we can talk about how much learning, just like how much bread did you get at the store or how much money did Students First spend to produce this. Unfortunately, the video does not reveal what the Unit O' Learning might be, so I'm going to go ahead and name it Smarty. Apparently an ineffective teacher gives students too few smarties while highly effective teachers have smarties flying around the room like those little twitchy fairy things in Harry Potter.

This is exciting, because here I was thinking that trying to compare, say, learning in math class to learning in band to learning in science to learning in wood shop might be hard, seeing as how those kind of look like completely different things. But no-- we can measure "learning" by weight.

This could have real implications for, say, colleges. Do English majors acquire the same load of smarties as Business majors? And can a college start charging by the Smarty weight instead of credits? Will students start saying things like, "You should sign up for that twenty-smarty course"? This is interesting stuff. But on with our story.

Are You Aware That Pennsylvania Does Not Protect Excellent Teachers?!

It's true. In the "unfortunate case of layoffs," the excellent teachers might be out of a job! Despite the fact that they would have made these little cartoon children have happiness and success later in life!?

There's a thing called "First In, Last Out" and it is bad. Declining enrollment or a budget deficit (both of which are causes of layoffs that have nothing to do with actions of the state or federal government) might force layoffs, and that means schools will be forced to let some of their best teachers go. Because the young inexpensive teachers are awesome and the old costly ones suck.

Seniority based layoffs don't make sense, and they are bad for our students. (And at this point our narratress's voice takes on a kind of snarky tone that makes me expect her at any moment to excleim, "Omigod! like, that is totes gnarly!")

And you know, when I was struggling to get and hold a job, FILO annoyed me a bit, too, except for the part about knowing that when I finally landed a job, I would have job security and not have to worry about sneezing wrong or voting wrong or having to choice between getting a raise or keeping my job or any other things that might otherwise have led me to lose that job, so I guess maybe that's why FILO didn't bother me all that much. But you know that brings up the curtain on our next act--

In Pennsylvania, Teachers Get Tenure After Three Years in the Classroom

Which is a little confusing to me, because if the young teachers are mostly awesome and effective, shouldn't we simplify the tenure process to the following:

Superintendent: Are you under 27?

Teacher: Yes

Superintendent: Congratulations. You have tenure!

But no, our heroes want to extend the process so that more data can be collected over time to know their true excellence. I can think of two reasons this might make sense:

1) People who need three-to-twelve hours to tell whether or not an eight-year-old can read probably do need five-to-ten years to tell whether a teacher can teach.

2) Any year more than three is a year closer to "never" for granting tenure, so it's a win.

Act Now!!!!!!!

Get ahold of your policymakers. Tell them that tenure should only be awarded for a proven record of student test scores, because the only excellent teacher is one who can get students to bubble in the right letters on standardized tests. Now that's excellence, baby. In fact, I would not be surprised if, once teachers are tagged for their standardized test prepping capabilities, private schools started snapping them up. Yessirreebob-- I hear Philips Exeter is absolutely looking for teachers who are tops in standardized test prep. And they will probably recruit them by saying, "Come work for us! We will provide no job security and fire you if you ever become expensive," because that's the best recruiting pitch ever!!

Also, we must protect excellent teachers from seniority based layoffs. You can learn more by visiting

I would encourage you to go watch this video (I include a link only so doubters can check my work) and tell them how much you appreciate all their hard work, but tragically, the comments are turned off for this particular clip. Go figure.

Personalized Learning

One of the benefits promised repeatedly by our Data Overlords and Standards Bearers is the personalization of education.

We will collect the data and crunch the numbers and analyze the results and cross check the strengths and weaknesses against a thousand points of light and lo and behold, the System will spit out a personalized Pearson-produced educational program on the Pearson software loaded on the student's personal computer.

This is one of those reformy things that has real appeal for some folks, but it does raise the question of how one has individualized instruction in a standardized system. Let me lay it out for you.

Here's Chris. Chris has a personal chef. When Chris is feeling hungry for seafood, he asks his personal chef to whip something up. The chef knows Chris's moods and preferences, knows what's been going on in Chris's life, knows how hungry Chris is likely to be that day. The chef also knows Chris's tolerance for new and experimental. So factoring all that in, Chris's chef whips up a personal meal for Chris.

Here's Pat. Pat is standing in McDonalds, looking at the menu. He's thinking he'd rather have a burger than McNuggets, and he'd rather have Diet Coke than Full Fat Coke, but he's not in the mood for a large, so he'll take a medium. So that's what Pat orders.

We can say that both Pat and Chris have had a personalized, individualized dining experience. But it's fundamentally different.

Now let's go to school.

Chris is a bright ten year old who turns out to have a love for dinosaurs and fashion design. Chris is a little ahead of the class on reading skills, so the teacher finds Chris some books about dinosaurs and fashion. The teacher also gives Chris the job of mentoring one of the shyer low-skills readers in class, and puts Chris together with a student who's very interested in computers to create a presentation software project about dresses. Chris has some issues with writing, so the teacher develops some materials that harnesses Chris's love of dinosaurs to help remediate the organizational issues that Chris experiences with writing.

Pat's teacher has a list of 100 items that all students must master. Pat's pre-test indicates that Pat succeeds in fifty-seven of those. Therefor, Pat's instruction will focus on the remaining forty-three. Pat's teaching kit includes a video, a manipulative and a practice worksheet for each item. Pat's data indicates which of the three Pat should use.

We can say that both Chris and Pat have personalized, individualized educational experiences. But Chris has a teacher who is responding in a personal way with a wildly broad range of possibilities, selecting choices based on Chris's strengths, weaknesses, interests, and passions. Pat's teacher has a checklist. Chris's teacher may never teach another student in exactly the same way ever again. Pat's teacher can make no such claim.

The program from Pat's teacher looks individualized, but it's not. In that classroom, every student is traveling the exact same path-- the only difference is how fast or slow or which parts they just skip past. Chris's teacher allows all students to travel their own individual path. To use another metaphor, Pat is traveling on a train on a track driven by a conductor; he might walk around on the cars on the train, but he's on a train going to exactly the same station as every other passenger. Chris has been handed the keys to a four-wheeler and a few hundred acres to explore.

So personalized learning systems, like many other treats in Reformy Stuff World, sound like they could hold promise. But as with all the treats, we need to pay close attention to what is actually attached to the label.

Poop Sandwich

If you wanted to trick someone into eating poop, you would not just hand them a bowl of poop unless you also had a gun to point at the person's head.

No, it would be easier to trick them by hiding the poop inside something yummy like soup or a casserole. Or you could make a poop sandwich. Just hide the poop between two perfectly good slices of tasty bread (white, rye, pumpernickel-- for purposes of this metaphor you can use whatever bread you like, as I have no idea which bread would go best with poop).

Recently I wrote about (and by "wrote about," I mean "made fun of") the burgeoning science of grittology. In that piece, I used a quote from Dr. Robert A. Martinez, a guy who seems to be trying to make a go out of something he calls "transformational resiliency." Dr. Martinez dropped by my comments section to convey that he's a sincere guy (actually, he appears online as "resiliencyguy") who wants to make the world and education a little better for people. And I'm inclined to believe him; I've seen his three-minute video which has an earnest shot-in-his-office production value combined with reading-from-a-script-setting-next-to-the-camera delivery. I believe Dr. Martinez is sincere.

Because here's the thing-- grit is not entirely a bad concept. I think many of my students could use a little more toughness, a little more faith in their own strength, a little more willingness to bounce back from disappointments and failures.

But grit as it is being presented these days is a big poop sandwich. The perfectly good bread of personal toughness and resiliency is being used to hide a bunch of poop about how schools and employers and corporations and government don't have to show any sensitivity or support to human beings-- if people can't handle being abused and mistreated, then it's their fault for not being gritty enough. Grit as it is currently being presented in the world of Reformy Stuff is just a big poop sandwich.

Standards are not an innately bad thing. But the CCSS are using the value of standards to mask some terrible one-size-fits-all badly-framed poorly-written poop. Having high standards? Also a good thing, but that value is used to hide the crazypants untested wrongheaded standards of CCSS. Having smart young people spend some time helping strengthen schools is not a terrible thought and teaching really is a noble profession, but TFA is using those values to hide an agenda of destroying the profession and aiding profiteering. Assessment is a necessary part of teaching students, but the values of assessment are being used to justify the most wretchedly awful program of high-stakes testing ever seen in human history. Teachers should be accountable to the taxpayers who pay our salaries, but that value is being used to mask an abusive anti-teacher evaluation program that is about destroying teaching as a career.

Those of us who argue against Reformy Stuff often find ourselves in some variation of the same conversation; we are pointing out the evils of some aspect of the whole wretched mess to someone who keeps saying, "But this part of it right here is totally okay!" It's just a variation on this conversation:

Pro-public school advocate: Do not eat that poop sandwich! It's a poop sandwich!!"

Other guy: But the bread looks totally okay.

People are coming around, slowly. They are lifting up the bread and declaring, "Hey! This is poop in here!" And reformers, getting greedy and sloppy, keep putting less and less bread with more and more poop, making their poopiness more and more obvious.

Of course, the next hard part comes later, because when you make a poop sandwich, you end up ruining a lot of perfectly good bread.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How Much Does the Florida House Suck? This Much!

[Update: Damn. This is why I don't ordinarily try to do the work of an actual journalist-- this story has been zigging and zagging all day. I have updated accordingly. I suppose I could rewrite the earlier version and pretend that I haven't had to revise, but that seems cheaty.]

This morning I updated you on the progress of Ethan's Act, the bill in the Florida capitol that was proposing the incredibly radical notion that maybe children suffering through extraordinary difficulties should be easily released from their mandate to take the states Big Test. If you've forgotten the backstory, go read. I'll wait.

The news this morning was that the language Ethan's Act had been attached to an accountability measure, HB 7117. Ethan's name was erased, but perhaps the bill itself would still serve as a legacy.

Comes word this afternoon that HB 7117 is a huge smelly manurefest of a bill that nobody likes, and that its backers were simply trying to absorb Ethan's Law as a piece of political protective covering. State Rep. Karen Castor Dentel has been played, and Andrea Pratt Rediske has to absorb yet another insult in her pursuit of what should be common sense.

[Update: Some folks have taken to e-mail to assure me that this bill is not all that terrible. I'm not a Floridian-- I don't know what passes for non-terrible in Florida education. But at the very least, I need to acknowledge that not all Floridians hate the bill.]

[Update: One other interpretation of events is that this was maneuvering to get the language of the original bill into law without allowing anyone to score political points from it. Can't have a pesky anti-test activist mom getting credit for anything, nor would we want to memorialize a reminder of just how screwed-up the Florida laws have been. Remember-- we only memorialize child victims if they weren't a victim of the actual government.

It has also been noted-- correctly, as I read the language-- that the new language is actually stronger than the original version of Ethan's Law]

The people who have been vocally supporting this crusade now find themselves having to oppose a bill that would have brought Rediske's dream to fruition, while the very people who blocked the advance of Ethan's Law (like Rep. Adkins) try to use the story of this grieving parent to further their own agenda. I know politics are politics, but exactly how low do you have to stoop in order to make opportunistic use of the death of an 11-year-old boy? 

The bill involves, among other things, a trade-off of a three year delay for a one-year pause. Florida parents don't believe one year is sufficient to wait on implementing full on "accountability measures" (the usual crap soup of testing etc), and that aspect has been a sticking point. The bill sticks with the grading of schools as well, which people are unhappy about in FL. And it attempts to create a "smooth transition" for Florida education.

In this video, you can find Rep. Adkins making her impassioned plea (at the 1:36:00 mark). She manages to use Ethan Rediske as a political prop without even naming him or the bill that she has co-opted, and she invokes her own motherhood and speaks with oh-so-much-deep feelings. She has allllll the feelings. Schools need to be graded so that schools feel urgency to do a good job (because schools never work well unless they're threatened). But let's not talk about that. Let's remind you all how much you want to do something rational and right for special needs students.

I am as sad and angry as I have ever been at politicians. This is so cynical and nasty and just wrong. Make no mistake-- HB 7117 is a bill that completely deserves to die. But today the Florida House Appropriations subcommittee voted it out of committee, and so it will next make its way toward a vote. It deserves to die. Ethan's Law does not. Can anybody, somebody, somewhere, find at least one Florida legislator with the guts, the brains, the savvy, and the conscience to do the right thing here?

[Update: The good-ish news is that FEA, FSBA and Sup't Association are all now reportedly recommending passage of HB 7117.  Likewise, word comes that there is work going on to fix some of the problem areas of the bill-- most notably the one year pause. So it is possible that things may work out well in the end.]

Ethan's Act Update

UPDATE: This story has taken an ugly political turn, and the note of hope that I struck here was severely pre-mature. Please read this update to the update.

Andrea Pratt Rediske is disappointed and frustrated, but as I'm "talking" to her on facebook this morning before school, she has finally received word about the current fate of the Florida bill that carries her son's name.

You will recognize Andrea Rediske as the mother of Ethan Rediske, who made news as the victim of Florida's bizarrely Kafka-esque testing rules. Ethan was born with cerebral palsy, brain damage, and blindness. Taking the FCAT was both hugely, insanely useless given the level of his cognitive capabilities, but worse than that, the challenge of taking the test was literally physical torture for him. And yet Florida required an annual pile of fresh paperwork to issue Ethan a waiver from the test.

This last year, the state required a note from Ethan's hospice to prove that the child was, in fact, dying.

Andrea Rediske is not a wimp. She is a professor of microbiology, and about the challenges of raising a child with extraordinary needs she once wrote

"My faith teaches me that motherhood is a sacred responsibility, and I am the mother of a severely disabled 10-year-old who has the cognitive ability of a 6-month-old. My son is ‘invisible’ to society—he is too medically fragile to attend school, church, or even go to the grocery store. He has no voice except mine, and I continually battle profit-driven insurance companies to meet his medical needs."

I can only imagine the stress and strain of caring for a comatose, dying child while fending off the state bureaucracy that demands documentation of the weight your family is carrying. But Rediske had the additional strength to bring her son's case before the world as an example of just how badly out of whack the testing culture has become. And her struggles weren't done.

Ethan passed away in February. Rediske continued the fight to protect students with extraordinary needs from the testing juggernaut. FL Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart issued a stunningly tone deaf letter to all teachers that seemed to suggest that taking the FCAT is a wonderful privilege of which special needs students must not be deprived.

Examples of test abuse piled up (how about making a blind student answer picture-based items). State Rep. Karen Castor Dentel, D-Maitland, filed a bill to streamline the process of exempting students with extraordinary needs from testing. She named the bill House Bill 895 "The Ethan Rediske Act."

That was almost a month ago. And then, as the wheels of politics do, the wheels stopped. Rediske could not get word back from the state capitol. She could not find out what was happening with Ethan's bill.

As of this morning, March 26, she knows. The Ethan Rediske Act has been folded into FL HB 7117, a larger bill about school accountability. The bill is 47 pages long, but back on page 38 she found this language:


(a) As used in this subsection, the term "child with medical complexity" means a child who is medically fragile and needs intensive care due to a condition such as a congenital or acquired multisystem disease or who has a severe neurologic condition with marked functional impairment.

(b) Effective July 1, 2014, a student may not participate in statewide, standardized assessments, including taking the Florida Alternate Assessment, if the student's IEP team, with parental consent, determines that it is inappropriate for the student to participate. The IEP team's determination must be based upon compelling medical documentation froma physician licensed under chapter 458 stating that the student is a child with medical complexity and lacks the capacity to take or perform on an assessment. The district school superintendent must review and approve the IEP team's recommendation. 

(c) The district school superintendent shall report annually to the district school board and the Department of Education the number of students who are identified as a child with medical complexity who are not participating in the assessment program

So the news this morning is that Ethan's Act is still alive after a fashion. Protection for children like him is now included in a larger bill, tucked away in the back pages just as students like Ethan used to be tucked away in a back room. But if HB 7117 finally becomes law, the intent of Ethan's Act will become law with it, if not the name.

Meanwhile, it does not appear that Andrea Rediske is learning to love politics. One wonders why it is necessary to work the machinery and feed the agendas and manage the process when it seems so simple to just look at the way standardized tests become devices of torture for special needs students, simple to look at that and say, "Holy smokes! That is messed up! Let's fix that right now."

I know nobody wants to see the political sausages made, but it's nice to imagine that our politicians can see the right thing to do, and then just do it. Thanks goodness we have parents with the kind of strength and devotion displayed by Andrea Rediske. She may not have the comfort of seeing her son's name take its place on an important Florida law, but she can at least see that reaction to his story is on its way to ending a troubling injustice.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Rhee Scores Perfect 0%

Michelle Rhee turned up on LinkedIn as an expert"influencer" (no, not influenza) to analyze "the state and future" of her industry.

In general, I try not to give any space in my head to Ms. Rhee, but she remains such a perfect example of everything that's wrong with the Masters of Reforming Our nation's Schools, and this post is such a perfect example of how badly she gets everything wrong, that it seems worthwhile to spend some time and attention explaining why Rhee doesn't deserve any of our time and attention. It's a short article, with only a few points to make, and yet Rhee doesn't get a single thing right. Not a thing.

To open, she notes that putting "education" and "industry" together might strike some as odd. She explains that away:

However, putting those words next to each other is a reminder that the American public education system does have an end-goal: to deliver the “product” of well-educated young people and thereby a well-educated country.

Yes, the woman whose favorite current talking point is that all this kerfluffle about schools is caused by adults failing to put students first, just called students a "product," like a toaster or a cheese roll or anything else that might come of a factory assembly line for someone to buy and use. I wonder if it's too late to change her organization's name to "ProductsFirst."

She follows up with familiar statistics-- context-free international test rankings, lots of African-American kids who read below level, a projection about the workforce of 2018. And then she announces five takeaways from the current state of education factories across the US.

We aren't focused enough on students

What she means is, we don't have enough ball busting teacher evaluations in place. "Studies show that robust evaluations improve teacher quality and benefit kids," she says, but if you're hoping to see an indication of what studies those are or how exactly they reached that conclusion or even what "benefit" we're talking about that the products would receive-- well, you hope in vain.

But when we try to have that public conversation, the focus somehow turns to educators’ challenges – things like managing classroom time and administering standardized tests – rather than what’s best for student achievement.

Wrong again. The sentence imagines that having a well-managed classroom or having less teaching time sucked away by pointless testing would not be best for student achievement. No, teachers want more time and resources because we are all dreaming of handing out worksheets, propping up our feet and drinking pina coladas.

Just kidding. As many have pointed out, teachers' working conditions are students' learning conditions. We are lifeguards trying to reach our floundering students while Rhee and her cronies want to strap us to cement blocks. Then, when we complain about how hard this makes to reach our students, they sneer, "Oh, yes, it's all about you, isn't it."

We get caught up in crazy debates that distract

She's pretty close to not-wrong here, but she fails to grasp that the debates are crazy because one side of the table is occupied by crazy people. Her specific point here is that we keep having this crazy debate about poverty being a problem, and it's just out of control.

But it’s a distraction to use poverty as a scapegoat and, until it’s solved, refuse to discuss how to improve failing schools and refuse to address the low achievement levels among poor and minority students. Just because a solution won’t fix every single problem our kids face doesn’t mean we should give up trying. 

This is a Rhee specialty-- hard-hitting debate against a straw man. Once again, Rhee has successfully struck down an argument that nobody has made. Find me a teacher anywhere in a high poverty area who says, "Because my students are poor, I will just never try to teach them." Until that day comes, Rhe is in fact having a debate that is crazy because she is debating voices in her own head.

Adult-Focused Political Lobbying Organizations Have a Stranglehold on Education

Man, I wish. But in Rhee-land, these groups-- okay, actually, we're only talking about teachers' unions-- have hijacked cool reformy stuff, including battling back that swell Common Core. No mention of all the political lobbying by, say, StudentsFirst et al. Although, for whatever reason, she does not raise the usual specter of Tea Party crazies. Nope-- just teachers who are devoting all their time and energy to screwing up schools because, hey, that's why I got into teaching as my lifetime (longer-than-two-years) work-- because I was motivated by a powerful desire to interfere with the education of young people. I mean, young products. I just could not wait to throw my big wooden sabos into the big school assembly line.

Reform is Working

And now I am beginning to suspect that Rhee is actually high as she writes this, because if she's seeing any signs of reformy success, she is operating on some separate plane of existence. We should all send her a copy of Reign of Error. She cites DC and Tennessee as states that are making awesometastic gains, while the rest of the nation stays flat. That would be the same flat that, in her intro, was a death-spiral in desperate need of reforming.

This is one of the most threadbare tunes that the MoRONS sing, because they have had their way for at least a decade. Anything that's desperately wrong these days is their own damn fault, but they need to do this bizarre dance where 1) we are failing and need rescuing and 2) the rescue is totally succeeding.

Change is Happening Far Too Slowly

Too slowly for whom? Because the emerging national consensus is that everything in the CCSS regime has been rolled out so fast that they may have left the wheels behind. Did Rhee miss the "It's the implementation" memo that CCSS fans have been reading from? You know-- the one where all this reformy stuff is truly great and all these hiccups are just the result of being too quick and doing wacky things like testing on standards that aren't being taught yet.

No more handwringing or fretting over election-year cycles (damn democracy, anyway). Let's just get this done. It's the oldest sales shtick in the book-- we must act RIGHT NOW or the opportunity will be lost forever. Rhee mentions results-driven improvements, and I wished she had mentioned a specific one, because, again, reformy stuff has been failing hard all across the country. Also, she would like mean Mayor deBlasio to give Eva back the rest of her schools.

Those of us who care about American public schools have a responsibility to focus on delivering a great education for all students. But right now, we’re distracted.

You know what? I have to upgrade her to a 10%. Still below basic, but at the end, she finally gets something right, mostly by accident. Because I'm pretty sure that sentence doesn't mean the same thing it does to her that it does to me.

We are distracted. We're distracted by people who don't know what they're talking about trying to dismantle US public education so that corporate vultures can pick at the bones. We're distracted by policies that bleed public schools of resources so that corporate interests can gain a bigger ROI. We're distracted by policies that mandate educational malpractice and attempt to turn our students into products and data generation devices and cogs in a giant soulless machine.

Michelle Rhee might actually be a nice person. I don't know. But what I know is that she didn't succeed as a teacher, didn't succeed as a school leader, hasn't succeeded in anything in education except earning big bucks talking about all the things she doesn't know. She is the Kim Kardashian of education, a celebrity spokesmodel who is just one more shiny distraction from the serious work of education that needs our attention. I swear this is the last time I'm going to spend some of my attention on her.

Can Hillary Be Trusted?

The twitterverse erupted briefly yesterday when Hillary Clinton, appearing at the Globalization of Higher Education conference in Irving, Texas, dropped a few bricks of praise upon the head of co-host Jeb Bush. Specifically, she lauded him for his dedication to and passion for education and the reform thereof. Upon hearing those words, many Democratic fans of public education dropped their jaws upon the most conveniently located floor.

As HRC jockeys for position re: 2016, the question is arising-- is she good for public education?

I'm nominally a Democrat. I voted for Obama in 2008 (oops) and again in 2012 (would you rather have a pointy stick in the eye or a knee in the groin). I am neither a member of the Cult of Hillary's Awesomeness nor of the Stop That Evil Bitch Club. But I can't say that her supportive words for Jebby don't surprise me.

Look, all politicians love to play with education. If religion is the third rail of politics, education is its plush fluffy stuffed unicorn-- you can always pick it up without any danger of getting hurt.

But Hillary's record is not promising.

The big smoking gun in her education past is the infamous "Dear Hillary" letter from Marc Tucker, sent in 1992 as what appears to be part of a larger policy discussion. In the letter, Tucker proposes a reinvention of American public ed into a european-style job training program that prepares workers to meet the needs of society, even as it tracks their every move into a giant database to be used by government "job counselors" and prospective employers. Any of this sound familiar?

Righty critics point to several moves of the Clinton administration to set this new educational order into motion, including directing fed $$ to governors (not, say, elected school boards) and the building up of national testing initiatives. And Hillary has generally shown herself to be a big fan of big government solutions.

HRC has been pretty quiet about CCSS and has confined most of her edu-activity to relatively harmless fluff like her new "Too Small To Fail" program to encourage parents to engage in their children's education. But her friends, her connections, and her praise for a governor whose record on public education is one of the most destructive in the country-- these are not good signs.

Advocates for the US public education must stop stop stop stop STOP assuming that Democrats have our backs or that Republicans are our enemies. We need to start demanding that our leaders take a stand, and we need to hold them accountable no matter what their affiliation.

The status quo of high stakes test-driven education is a bipartisan monstrosity. It's a trick where liberals are co-opted with "Government will make sure this need is met" and traditional conservatives are co-opted with "The need will be met by private corporations." The driving principle is money. Pay attention to the money.

Do I think Hillary is a friend of pubic ed? I do not. I believe she is part of the sad decades-long history of our descent into the current state of corporate vulturedom and deliberate dismantling of public education. Unless and until she makes a clear and deliberate break with the status quo, I am going to assume she is just one more politician angling to destroy the institution to which so many of us have dedicated our lives.