Sunday, November 30, 2014

Mystifying the Personality

One concept I've borrowed from Thomas Newkirk's excellent "Speaking Back to the Common Core" is the idea of mystification.

We are already seeing at work a process I call “mystification”—taking a practice that was once viewed as within the normal competence of a teacher and making it seem so technical and advanced that a new commercial product (or form of consultation) is necessary.

He called that one in 2013, and we've seen it ramp up steadily since. We've seen it used for consulting (you need to hire somebody to come in and show your teachers how to "unpack" the standards) and for testing (parents and teachers have no clue how the student is doing until they see standardized test results). We even see it as a textbook marketing strategy (you'd better have somebody from the publisher come train your teachers in how to use the new textbook series because, you know, textbooks are hard, and they're only teachers).

But all of that was mystification of the curriculum and content. Reformsters are inching across a bold new boundary when it comes to mystification. They are mystifying the personality of children.

The Rise of Non-Cognitive Skills

We've been playing with NCS for a while, most notably with the new science of Grittology. Our basic premise is that there are non-content skills or abilities or traits that determine a child's future success just as well or better than the child's ability to perform like a well-trained monkey on a standardized test. Sometimes we fall back on old words like "character," but most of the discussion has been in the vein of the Brookings report that asserts that A) character is important and B) poor people don't have it so C) that's why they're poor.

But these discussions of NCS have generally been about blame. Students fail because they lack character and grit, so it's pretty much their own fault (well, theirs and their teachers') and society has no obligation to provide support or resources or any of those things that require money.

The things is, though, there's plenty of real research that NCS are actually important (plus anecdotal evidence from every single human being who ever worked with other human beings). The folks who are building that cradle-to-career pipeline are aware that NCS are are part of the grease that will keep the pipeline running smoothly, so we have got to talk about these non-cognitives as something other than an excuse not to help poor people.

New America Steps Up

So here comes one notable attempt to fill that gap. Working for the folks at New America, Melissa Tooley and Laura Bornfreund have authored "Skills for Success: Supporting and Assessing Key Habits, Mindsets, and Skills in PreK-12." What is New America?

New America is dedicated to the renewal of American politics, prosperity, and purpose in the Digital Age. We carry out our mission as a nonprofit civic enterprise: an intellectual venture capital fund, think tank, technology laboratory, public forum, and media platform. Our hallmarks are big ideas, impartial analysis, pragmatic policy solutions, technological innovation, next generation politics, and creative engagement with broad audiences.

Their education policy wing is funded by, among others, the Joyce Foundation, the Gates, Lumina Foundation,the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The latter footed the bill for this particular report.

Skills for Success: Why Care (or Assess)?

The authors start out by lumping all the non-cognitives, from grit through emotional intelligence, under the Skills For Success (SFS) brand (they have a nice pair of charts here, one of which was adapted from CA's waiver application). The authors make the case that prudence and grit (they don't use the words, but that's what they're talking about) are necessary for college success, and now that everybody is supposed to go to college, well... 

They note that SFS are often imparted in pre-K, but not so much in K-12, noting that some people would argue this makes sense because these can only be instilled early in life. No, say the authors-- people are malleable and we could totes develop these into young adulthood (the authors have done yeoman's work in avoiding the verb "teach" when it comes to SFS).

The Big Leap appears to be the hallmark of Tooley and Bornfreund. Right after saying that there are "some promising approaches available" for supporting SFS growth, they declare, "one thing is clear: school and classroom climate can either help promote or deter the development of SFS." So, from promising to proven in just a few sentences.

But the Biggest Leap is embedded so heavily that the authors don't address it directly. They go straight from "SFS should be supported by schools" to "SFS should be assessed by schools." There's a lot of this sort of thing in the paper:

To be effective, any SFS approach must be clearly aligned with local needs and goals and be implemented with fidelity. A system of assessments can help achieve these goals. Needs assessments can help inform decisions about strategies to reach SFS goals, while implementation assessments can provide feedback on the quality of strategy implementation and the level of progress associated with those strategies. Well-run schools are already using these types of assessments in other areas to ensure that they are helping move all students toward their full potential.

They allow that SFS assessment is an imperfect science at the moment and "it may not currently possible to assess certain skills at all." But that's no reason not to assess.

What do they propose doing with the assessment? Nothing that directly impacts the student-- for instance, no pass-fail a grade decisions based on the students' standardized Are You a Jerk or a Nice Person Test (Pearson pat. pending). However, "since schools and teachers can positively or negatively influence the development of students’ SFS, teacher observations and school environment ratings should—over time—be incorporated into educator and school accountability systems, Pre-K–12th grade."

The paper comes with recommendations. For the feds, they recommend 1) more money spent on experiments in fostering and assessing SFS, 2) promoting a more holistic approach to school evals, 3) encouraging shift in teacher focus, and 4) promote more holistic student evaluations that include formative information for teachers, parents, and students.

What Are We Really Talking About Here?

Let's go back to the chart and look at some of the specifics they include.

We have empathy, integrity, and compassion. Self-awareness, self-regulation, and responsible decision making. If you want to be sure to freak out your conservative friends, use this one: "Sense of belonging in one's community which contributes to one's willingness to adopt established norms."

We are really talking about character, personality. We are asking, "Is your kid a good kid?"

The Mystification of Personality

There are really two issues here. The first is an old one-- we'd like schools to teach children to be decent human beings. This is not new, nor are the controversies that go with it. The authors acknowledge that there's liable to be some pushback, that the same people who feel Common Core is some sort of indoctrination program are probably not going to be delighted to hear that the school is trying to teach their child "proper values." But this is an issue as old as the hills and generations of "values" education.

The second issue is the new one. Because what we're saying here is that parents and teachers need to see test results in order to know whether or not a child is kind or not. This report suggests that parents and teachers are sitting, twiddling their thumbs, thinking, "Well, I think Chris is a pleasant, kind, decent kid, but I guess I won't know till I get the Pearson SFS Test results back." It imagines a teachers lounge conversation that includes, "You know, I thought that Jenkins kid was all right, but I just got his test scores back and apparently he's kind of a dick."

It's true that adult evaluations of children are not always spot on. Mrs. Cleaver thought Eddie Haskell was a nice boy. Of course, if you don't think Eddie Haskell could totally game whatever SFS test was thrown at him, I have a unicorn farm I'd like to sell you.

This is one of those reformster ideas that is so stunningly dumb that it's hard to grasp. But let's say it again-- these folks are proposing that parents and teachers do not know what kind of people their children are unless some expertly produced standardized test tells them! Teachers will stumble through the first several weeks of class, and when someone asks them what kind of class they have, they'll just shrug and say, "I have no idea. I'm waiting to get their scores back." Parents will look at their three year old and say, "Boy, I can't wait to send this kid to school so he can take that test and we'll know what kind of person we're raising."

This is beyond mystifying the content and academics of school. This is mystifying the personality of children. This is saying that teachers and parents lack the qualifications to make judgments about the personality of a child, and that they must call in the experts to answer the question, "What kind of person is this?"

What's Really Going On?

The only thing that rescues this idea from total dumbosity is that, in the end, it's just a cover story.

Well, two things. The first thing is that they can't do it. Because if there were great SFS assessment tools, people would be using them. Somebody would be getting rich using it in an on-line matchmaking service. Employers would be using them to scan every potential employee.

And that's our big hint. Remember-- we agreed way up front that these skills really do matter for employment success.

The reformsters do not want to give these students a standardized Are You A Good Person test in order to share the data with parents or teachers. The main market for that information would be the employers waiting at the other end of the cradle to career pipeline. That pipeline will be working smoothly when "applying" for a job just means letting an HR department click on a link to your permanent on-line file that includes your math and English scores since you were three, side by side with the scores that indicate whether you're too nice, not nice at all, or just nice enough.

To get the cradle to career pipeline up and running and fully useful to corporate human resource departments, it needs to include a complete picture of each future drone, and that means all your SFS scores as well. My slightly paranoid, somewhat cranky and non-compliant side (at least, I think I have that side-- it's hard to know what kind of person I am without a professional standardized test analysis) thinks that THAT is the purpose of all this noise, and the reason we're going to hear how schools must foster and test-- but mostly test-- these very important skills.


Hello, I am a trainee teacher. I read the article. It was an interesting read. I have a question. How can a teacher attain a work life balance, given that she wants to do so much and that she is expected to do so much? 
                          --Meena Valli

Since it started running the Huffington Post, my piece about how teachers face the challenge of Not Enough has brought responses like this, asking if I know the secret to work-life balance for teachers. I've not responded to them for a while, mostly because I'm not sure that I have anything useful to say (and Meena-- you appear to be in India, so I'm really not sure how much of what I could say translates across cultural boundaries). So this post is personal, and may not be useful for anybody except me.

The short answer:

No, I don't know the secret. I'm not any smarter or wiser than the average shmoe.

The long answer:

I can pass along what experience and observation suggest works, or at least helps.

Don't Count on the Job To Fill You Up

It's okay to love your job. It's desirable and even necessary that a teacher love teaching. But you have to be careful, because as much as you love teaching, teaching will never love you back. Teacher lore is filled with tales of stirring moments-- the note from a student, the special recognition at a meeting, the stirring movie-style public honoring of a teacher at the end of his career. We all have these stories, and we treasure them precisely because they are as common as Sasquatch sightings.

My community is pretty supportive of teaching, but if I am counting on my school community to be so moved by my dedication that they devote themselves to giving me all the support, cover and assistance I could ever need to fill up my emotional tank, I are going to be running on empty. This is not because everyone is evil or stunted or awful. You're a lifeguard at a beach with a dozen other lifeguards and a hundred people floundering in the water. There's too much work for the lifeguards to do for them to be worrying about the other lifeguards.

The job is great, but it's only for a while. As beloved as I may be right now, three years after I leave my building, I will be "that guy who used to teach here." There may be a voice inside you that thinks, "I spend all my time at work nurturing other people. When is it going to be my turn to be nurtured?" The answer is the same for you as it is for every other working professional in the country-- you may have a place of nurturing, but it's not at work.

The Students Are Not There For You

How many teachers have I watched burn out because they viewed their students as their emotional support system? Too many. Almost as bad are the teachers who sacrifice their effectiveness-- once your students figure out that you need their approval or approbation to make it through the day, they know they're driving the bus (or they become uncomfortable knowing that nobody is driving the bus).

Have Other Passions

It doesn't matter what, but have something. I play in a town band, work with community theater, write for the newspaper, kayak, bike, read and other odds and ends. These have many good side effects, not the least of which is giving me a life outside of my classroom. How can I ever hope to teach my students about how to be in the world if I never spend any time there myself? How can I possibly relate to their struggle to acquire and perfect new skills when I haven't had the experience of developing new skills myself in the last twenty years? How can I bring anything into my classroom if I never really leave it?

Have Non-teacher Friends

Some things we deal with in teaching are unique to teaching. Some are not. Perspective is helpful. Some of the challenges we face come from being teachers, but some of them come from being human. Spend some time with your fellow humans to build your outside-the-classroom life. My relationships with people in other fields give me a useful understanding of what's going on in the working world my students want to enter as well as reminding me about the ways in which I have it pretty good. (Pro tip: don't ever, ever complain about going back to school after your twelve week summer break in front of your working friends who will only get ten vacation days all year.)

Work and Don't Work

Boy, was I terrible at this one when I started. I worked all the time, including the time that I was theoretically doing not-work. I knew that I needed to take some time to unwind, but I felt guilty about not working, so I would take work along for the not-working. Consequently, I wouldn't really get much work done and what was done was half-assed, but since I had been trying to work, I didn't really get the benefit of the unwinding time either. I managed to get the worst of both worlds. When you work, work. When you don't, don't.

Decide What Matters and Don't Waste Time on the Rest

When I started out, I thought I needed to say yes to everything, and so I acquired a lot of tasks that I just didn't care about. Your time is precious; use it for the things that matter to you. This is not always an easy call-- your friend Pat may love curling and you may not think that curling is important at all, but because you believe that Pat is important, you spend time on curling. You may want to earn some points with your principal, but do you really want to devote hours and hours to the Restroom Sink Cleaning Committee? If it's not important to you, don't throw away your time and effort on it.

And the primary relationships in your life? Take care of those. Teachers can become just as tunnel-visioned as any stereotypical work-obsessed executive in movies.

I'm often asked how I am able to blog so much. It's because the need to express what's in my head and gut in words is an itch I have to scratch (playing music is another must-scratch itch for me); working my thoughts out here literally clears my head. That matters, so I find the time for it.

Don't Buy Tickets for the Guilt Train

It will always be possible to compare yourself unfavorably with what you think you're supposed to be doing. Thirty-five years in, I can still list for you the areas where I am lacking as a teacher. I can give you a whole verse and chorus about what I ought to be doing that I am not. I could spend a lot of time feeling guilty about that. I could spend every single moment that I'm not doing classroom stuff (like this moment, for instance) feeling guilty about it, or I could just decide I won't ever do anything ever except teacher stuff, but neither stance is sustainable in the long run. This goes back to the original post-- I could give teaching everything 24/7 and it still wouldn't be enough. In fact, I'm pretty sure that trying to live without any life outside my classroom would actually move me backwards as a teacher. The trick is knowing how much I can sustain.

In fact, if I were going to boil everything down to just one line of advice, it would be

Know your limits and accept living within them.

But Also Stretch Them

I have to grow. So every year, I stretch something. I accomplish something or master something or change something or strengthen something. I believe that in life, in all things, there is only moving forward or moving backwards-- there is no standing still.And that's part of what insures that

Balance Is an Ongoing Process

Finding this balance is not like setting up one of those cool stacks of balanced stones. It's like walking a tightrope while juggling pumpkins while somebody keeps stacking bricks on your feet and head. I have to constantly self-evaluate and adjust and there are times still when I get that feeling that lets me know I've lost control. Plus there are times when some aspect of my life just blows up and I have no choice but to live an unbalanced life for a while. Getting a good work-life balance looks a lot different right now with grown children far away and a newish marriage here at home than it did when I was single dad of high school age kids, and it certainly looks different than when I was dealing with divorce.

In short, my balance is never something I get to just wrap up and say, "Okay, that's settled. I never have to think about it again." I can't balance on autopilot, and I don't think many people can.

Teaching is an awesome job, and I would never have been as happy doing something else. But teaching will take everything you have to give and then yell for more. You must have a well-built boundary between your self and the job, or it will simply consume you and spit you out. You are the goose that is laying the golden egg, and if you cut yourself open to get more eggs out faster, that will be the end of both you and the gold. Or you're a lifeguard and you can't save others if you're drowning yourself. Pick a metaphor you like, but like people in many human service work, you have to have a part of yourself that you keep safe and whole, or you'll be done. At least, that's how it looks to me.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Report Shows Huge $$ In Ed Testing

I know, I know. Later I'll do a post in which we learn that water is wet.

This report comes from the education division of the Software and Information Industry Association, "the principal trade association for the software and digital content industries." (h/t to Jim Horn at Schools Matter) It's an extension of their annual survey of their members, so this is how the education market looks to the people who hope to make money from it. This is not the hypothetical fretting of those of us in the education biz.

The survey covers a three-year span, and the findings are simple and stark. During a period marked by "difficult economic times during an overall PreK-12 budget and spending decline," the industry saw an increase in testing and assessment sales of 57%. And the three years in the survey are 2010-2011 through 2012-2013. Anybody want to place bets on how the trend continued in 2013-2014?

In dollar amounts, the 2012-2013 dollar figures is around $2,500,000,000. Two and a half billion. With a "b."

The executive summary is available on line (the full report seems to have been released only to member companies), and there's not a great deal to see there. It's not even very slick and pretty, kind of like it was an actual industry group report and not some sort of thinky tank advertising brochure masquerading as a report. At any rate, that means we can only see the broad outlines, and those simply confirm what common sense already told us.

Participants in the survey identified four factors contributing to the huge mountain of money they now find themselves perched atop.

1. The Common Core Standards are changing curricula
2. The rollout of Common Core Assessments are [sic] galvanizing activity
3. There is widespread demand for more and better formative assessment
4. Testing and assessment is [sic] leading the transition from print to digital

I'll subtract points for the subject-verb agreement problems, but they get some back for using "galvanizing." Nice word. In other words, Common Core has cracked open the market so that money can pour out. Note also that as far as these guys are concerned, Common Core Assessments are a thing, so those who insist that the standards and the tests are two discrete and unconnected issues are contradicted for the sixty gazzilionth time. The mandate that testing be done on line is having the expected effect of making huge money for the digital stuff industry. The widespread demand for more formative assessment? I'm not sure who out here is hollering for more tests, but these four factors were noted "almost universally" by respondents. Four less commonly noted factors were

1. School districts are requiring interoperability
2. Big Data and Analytics are driving infrastructure
3. Real-time digital assessments are actionable
4. Linking assessments to content holds the promise of personalization

The first two reinforce the idea that our Data Overlords and their government minions continue to holler "Feed me!" The third item reinforces that English is a second language to these guys; it means, I believe, that getting instant test results is a thing that could be done. Four is the unicorn hunt of personalization; the idea that a program can look at all of a student's answers on the computer-based assessment and then spit out just the right instructional plan for that student is exactly the sort of thing that people who don't have any real knowledge of teaching and education think would be really cool and actionable.

The report ranks various product lines in terms of revenue generation. Summative testing is most of the mountain, which serves as one more sign that the reformster baloney about how one purpose of the High Stakes Testing is to guide and tweak instruction is Just Not So. That would be formative testing, which is runner up in the Making Us Money contest, followed distantly by psychological testing and test prep products.

They also offer two cautions against irrational exuberance. First, people are starting to get seriously antsy about the massive threats to and violations of student privacy. Second, the market for summative testing seems to be slowing and perhaps close to filled.

The full report appears to address all ten of these points in greater detail. If anybody's got a copy lying around, I'd be glad to have a look. But it appears that this report offers less Shocking Surprise Revelation and more Confirmation of What You Already Were Pretty Sure Was True.

The New Butterfly Effect

Old Butterfly Effect: A butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil, and the result is a tornado in Oklahoma.

Now that US ED wants to link everything together, we need a revision. New Butterfly Effect:

A butterfly flaps its wings against the window of a school room where students are taking the High Stakes Test. Several of the students are so excited (they just had a unit about butterflies and grew some in their room that they then released into the wild at recess-- is this one of ours? does he remember us and want to come back? look! Look!!) that they actually get up to look. The test proctor scolds them and makes them sit down, but between the excitement of the butterfly and the hurt feelings for the scolding, they have lost their focus for the day. All of them do poorly on the test.

Because several of the students do poorly, their teacher's VAM score is low.

A phys ed teacher and a music teacher also get low evaluations. They don't teach these kids, but the convoluted evaluation formula causes the student scores to lower the teacher evaluation scores.

Because at least one of these teachers is on the second year of a low evaluation score, that teacher is fired.

Two of these teachers got their degree from a local college education department ten years ago. Because Arne Duncan's plan to evaluate colleges by the test scores of their former students' students, that local college ed department gets a lower evaluation.

Because of the lower test score, the department loses financial support from the feds. They also suffer a bout of negative publicity because they are on the fed's Naughty List. They have already been struggling with recruitment, and so they cut their program and raise tuition.

Without an affordable local program, several local high school seniors decide not to pursue a goal of a teaching degree after all. Instead they just go straight into the workforce.

And so by next summer, former teachers and high school graduates are all looking for a job.

And so, because a butterfly flaps its wings, Wal-mart has a large enough labor pool to continue hiring workers for 20-hours-a-week at minimum wage.

Feds Committed To Preserving Crappy Colleges

You may recall that the Corinthian College for-profit chain was in trouble. Specifically, they were in trouble for 1) running a massive scam and 2) not even running it successfully.

For-profit colleges are a great study in how a voucher system really works. The feds grant higher ed vouchers to a sector of potential students, and then various institutions compete to get those vouchers. Do they compete by being the most awesome providers of the most excellent education? Don't be ridiculous. Do Coke and Pepsi compete by trying to create the most excellent, healthful beverage, or by piling on the marketing and putting in just enough sugary sweetness to trigger the monkey pleasure centers in our brains?

So these for-profit colleges specialized in marketing techniques like Empty Promises and Lying About Previous Results.

And of course, there's one significant difference between this system of vouchers as compared to the usual-- these are vouchers that students have to pay back with interest (which turns out to be difficult when you've sunk all your money in an education that doesn't get you a good job).

Anyway, the full story is here. Short version: feds threatened to shut down predatory loan-sucking for-profit scam schools, but decided to bail them out instead. Kind of like finding people in a burning building and saying, "You guys just stay there inside. We're going to hire someone to paint the place."

Now we've arrived at Chapter 2. After bailing Corinthian out so that students could continue to stay warm and toasty inside the burning building, the feds are supporting a new deal. As reported in the Washington Post, a chunk of the chain has been bought up by----- a debt collection company!

“What we are seeing is an unprecedented attempt on the part of a regulator to prop up one of the very worst companies in the industry,” said Barmak Nassirian, director of federal relations and policy analysis for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. “You could debate which is better — allowing a predatory operation to collapse, or keeping it on life support so that it could victimize more people. That is what the federal government has done.”

Nassirian is being generous-- I'm not sure exactly what the argument for allowing predatory operations to collapse, other than it would be disruptive for the students sooner than letting them finish school and then finding out that they've been had.

Educational Credit Management Corporation is the buyer, and if you've heard horror stories about students being relentlessly pursued to pay up school debts, these guys were probably the monster under those stairs. They've been spanked a few times for overzealous pursuit of the money. They might seem to be, to say the least, an odd choice to own and operate a for-profit college chain.

ECMC is an odd choice to run chunks of Corinthian only if you think the purpose of these schools is to provide an education. If you understand that the whole for-profit college biz exists only to move school loan money around so that outfits can make money from the process every time the dollars change hands. For-profits exists in order to convince students to go into debt; the school collects the principal, and the owners of the loans collect the interest, and the students collect the debt. It is a great model for privatizing profit while sloughing the risk and debt off on citizens. So ECMC, as a debt collector, is simply getting into some vertical integration, making money from the loans both coming and going (earlier this year they also acquired College Abacus "the of college loans). They can hire somebody to maintain the illusion that there is an actual school at the center of this giant scam, and do it through their own Zenith Education Group subsidiary so that not a single delicious dollar leaks out of any of the seams.

How do federal authorities feel about these efforts to keep a shark in the educational waters? Are you kidding? They helped broker the deal. Because in all of this, it's far more important that the for-profits remain intact and viable than the futures of tens of thousands of students be safeguarded. This is as if Gerber laced a hundred thousand jars of baby food with arsenic and the fed's first priority was to make sure the company was okay while leaving the babies to just fend for themselves.

I'm sure that the obscene profits that the fed makes from student loans has nothing to do with this. It couldn't be that nobody called it a bad idea, because many, many people have spoken out at every step of this process. From the Huffington Post:

“While bailing out 56 schools, the sale treats the more than 30,000 students like financial assets,” said Maggie Thompson, manager of the Higher Ed, Not Debt campaign.

“If you’re supposedly a regulatory agency, and your mission is to protect students, why wouldn’t you want students to know that?” said Mark Huelsman, a senior policy analyst at policy organization Demos. The Education Department, in effect, allowed Corinthian to enroll as many students as it wanted, even as it teetered on insolvency -- ignoring the demands of a dozen Democratic senators.

From the Washington Post:

“Corinthian faced enrollment challenges and regulatory scrutiny common to other for-profits, but the thing that did them in at the end of the day was plain old mismanagement,” [Trace Urdan, a higher education analyst at Wells Fargo Securities] said. “They failed to cut costs like they needed to, operating under the assumption that next year would be better — and it never was.”

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) said he was “shocked” that the Education Department would support the deal and questioned whether keeping Corinthian open under any management was in the best interest of students or taxpayers.

“To prop up a school whose main purpose seems to be to get federal money is a misguided use of federal funds,” Cohen said. “When a school like [Corinthian] that has a checkered history is on the mat, throw in the towel. It’s over.”

But here's who liked it:

“We are glad that Corinthian has reached an agreement with ECMC Group and believe that this transition will allow students to maintain progress toward achieving their educational and career goals and protect taxpayers’ investment, while Corinthian moves out of the business,” Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell said in a statement.

The whole Corinthian mess is as clear an example as we've ever seen of the federal government putting corporate interests ahead of the interests of citizens. It's also a fine example of the federal policy of say one thing, do another. Just last month, Arne Duncan said

“Career colleges must be a stepping stone to the middle class. But too many hard-working students find themselves buried in debt with little to show for it. That is simply unacceptable.” 

It's unacceptable. But not so unacceptable that we're going to do anything about it.

It's not complicated. If you want an example of for-profit colleges that bury hard-working least-able-to-afford it students under debt while giving them nothing to show for it, you could not find a clearer example than Corinthian. If the feds couldn't bring themselves to intervene on behalf of students in this situation, they never will. The US ED can talk all it wants, but its actions show the truth, and the truth is that predatory for-profit schools get no punishment and plenty of profitable help from Arne Duncan's department.

Friday, November 28, 2014

PA Axes Reading Specialist Programs

Turns out there is more than one way to reduce the job requirements for teaching.

Pennsylvania's Department of Education has apparently announced its intention to cut Reading Specialists off at the knees. In an email dated November 5, the department apparently indicated that they would add the Reading Specialist Certificate to the Added By Test list. In other words, it will no longer be necessary to go out and do a Master's Degree's worth of college coursework to become a reading specialist. Instead, aspiring reading specialists would just take a test.

The Keystone State Reading Association is not delighted. Neither are the colleges and universities that make money by training reading specialists. And neither should the rest of us be.

I find the whole concept a little bizarre. I've been an English teacher for 35-ish years and while I know a thing or two about reading, I wouldn't call myself a specialist.

If I wanted to be a specialist, I would take some classes because reading is a highly technical and complicated field, and I would benefit from taking courses with other practitioners as well as having structured opportunities to work on my technique with actual live human beings. I don't think my quest to be a highly competent reading specialist would be improved by the alternative of grabbing a Praxis-style cram book and then hoping to correctly answer a brace of questions on an adult-aimed standardized test.

Why allow for such an approach to the readings specialist certificate? Certainly not to make life easier for teachers-- here in PA teachers have to do a Master's Degree's worth of work to keep our teaching credentials (plus more hours every several years), so why not pick something directed and useful? Is it for students and their families? Are parents calling Harrisburg to complain that their child's reading specialist knows too much as is too well-trained for the job? I'm going to bet the answer is "none of the above."

So who benefits? Could it be perhaps anybody who wanted to operate a school but wanted to cut back on the costs of things like, say, reading specialists? Is this one more move intended to make charter staffing easier and cheaper? Granted, it's less destructive than the Ohio plan for just doing away with the requirement for specialists entirely, but it still does nothing to elevate the profession, the teaching of reading, or the quality of instruction here in the Keystone State.

The KSRA has a nifty link to letters that you can fill in and send to anybody in Harrisburg who might conceivably help. It's true that this is probably one of the major battle fronts in the struggle to preserve public education, but it is one more thing to chip chip chip away at the level of professionalism and expertise required to work with students. It's one more way to create a world in which anybody can stand in a classroom and be a content delivery specialist, at least for a year or two, as long as they've gotten some clearances and some paperwork done.

Why not demand that reading specialists be trained, and trained well, in their field? Passing some test is not enough. Harrisburg is wrong on this one. Reading specialist should mean more than "passed a special test."

5 Governors in Search of a Talking Point

On November 19, at the GOP Governor's Gathering, a panel of five Republican state leaders joined with moderation by Chuck Todd from "Meet the Press" (motto: Yes, We're Still On) to discuss many things, but they threw in a good twelve minutes about every Republican politicians favorite sticky point-- the Common Core. Each auditioned his own version of How To Deal With This Ugly Stepchild. Let's see how each one did!

Todd establishes his lack of fitness for the task right up by trying to set up the question with, first, a prologue that Governor Kasich is "pretty funny" about this (yes, my teacher friends in Ohio think he's frickin' HI-larious), and then says,

It does seem to me-- everybody agrees we need to have nationa--some form of standards, but now Common Core's a four letter word, instead of what it is.

Bobby Jindal immediately calls Todd on the "national standards" part of his intro. But it's not his turn yet, and Todd wants to move on. So let's listen to each of the governors and see which can generate the best CCSS talking points. We'll rate them in elephant tusks for their degree of likely usefulness for any Republican who wants to grapple with the Core. Note: I'm not rating them for fairness or accuracy, but for how useful they'd be for a GOP candidate, which in turn tells us how likely it is we'll have to hear them again over the next two years. Forewarned is forearmed.

John Kasich

Kasich sticks with the classics, complete with self-contradictions. His bottom line is that we need national-oops-some sort of standards that shouldn't be set by the federal government, but somehow standards that ensure that students all over the country are learning the same thing at the same time. His understanding is that the governors got together, called up the state superintendents and principals in their states to come over for pizza, they all had a slumber party and wrote the Common Core.

We're not doing well in the world. "If we're not careful, the googles and the paypals are going to be invented somewhere else!" Which begs the question of why they were invented here if we are in so much trouble, but okay. Also, the Germans landed a thingy on a comet (which will comes as news to the other members of the European Space Agency, but his point remains). Kasich as "like-- woah--why wasn't that here." It's an interesting criticism, given Kasich's unwillingness to fund NASA funding in Ohio.

Local control! Ohio is loaded with it. It's local districts with parental advisors who design curriculum! So, not Obamacore at all! He has looked at it carefully. Kasich's concern is with the PARCC test. Is it a good test. "We have" delayed the impact of the test, and I'm sure who "we" are because reportedly PARCC itself has delayed test results. "If it's a goofy test, we'll throw it out."

But he's for the idea that kids in many states must all reach a higher level of achievement, but if the federal government starts driving education policy out of DC, well, now, bub, that's an issue. How many states would spontaneously achieve the same level with students without the feds, or how Kasich could not have noticed federal intrusion in the last decade of ed policy is a mystery for the ages. As long as parents are involved, particularly in match and English (Kasich offhandedly notes that they aren't going to so social studies in a tone of voice that suggests well, that would be stupid), he thinks this is great.

So apparently Kasich is a dope. His talking points are old, worn, and require a serious disconnect with reality. One tusk.

Bobby Jindal

As one of the cutting edge CCSS turncoats, Jindal has his shtick down cold. He thought Comon Core sounded great when it looked like it was going to be what Kasich described (this is a GOP gathering, so he is not going to observe that Kasich must have his head under a rock somewhere next to his brains). But once that Arne Duncan and the federal department of education (his tone of voice makes those names sound like "that puss-sucking weasel and his weaselly friends") started making curriculum decisions, which Jindal correctly notes is what you're doing when you fund giant national high stakes tests.

Jindal namechecks NAEP and says we could always check ourselves against other states even before there was Common Core. Jindal's concern is that Common Core has become "something that it was never intended to be." 1) A one size fits all federal approach developed with no transparency and 2) the federal government is not allowed constitutionally to make curriculum decisions. This is an effective spin on the "Common Core was great till the feds hi-jacked it" talking point, which plays really well despite the fact that it's unvarnished baloney. If you think CCSS has not turned out exactly the way it was designed to, I would like to sell you some magic watermelon seeds which, I promise, will grow into a lasagna bush.

Jindal then plays the "look at these stupid Common Core homework assignments" game. Mind you, if other states or schools want to do these wacky things, that's fine. But when the feds use RttT bribery and NCLB waiver extortion to force states, funding the big tests, and violating the 10th amendment, Jindal is going to oppose the Common Core.

Jindal's weakest link requires arguing history to refute, and this is America, so nobody cares about history. His anti-federalism argument is a proven winner, even if he connects it to anecdotal homework baloney. Three tusks.

Momentary Sidetrack

Todd weirdly interjects himself here to say something about everybody being politics too sensitive arble garble but eventually we all have to agree and BOOM-- we're on to

Scott Walker

who leaps in to say, no, no we don't all have to agree. We were leaders in getting off the Common Core train. And Todd jumps in to, I don't know-- display his complete lack of journalistic knowledge or objectivity-- by asking something about how do you have high standards? and the governor starts rattling off stats about SAT scores and third grade reading and graduation rates all going up.

Walker's theory is that schools are not failing because of a lack of high standards, but because schools aren't held to the standards we have, and if you've been paying attention to Wisconsin and Walker, you already know what the real problem is going to turn out to be-- those damn unions. Walker says that test scores have gone up in Wisconsin because they "unleashed that burden" on schools. "We didn't just go after collective bargaining to deal with pensions and health care," he says, and now local school boards totally run the schools. The biggest problem in urban school systems around the country is that the schools are filled with rotten teachers just taking it easy with their big tenure protections.

But in Wisconsin (new motto: A Great State To Live If You're Not a Serf), they're free to hire and fire at will, to pay for whatever merit they imagine is meritorious. Walker concludes that "that"-- the ability to completely rule your teaching staff, crush unions, hire and fire at will-- "is what we need more than a national standard."

Here's the thing about Walker. I know that he is absolutely full of shit. I know that we have numbers out the wazoo making it clear that student achievement goes hand in hand with strong job protections, and that the system he describes is guaranteed to hurt teaching and therefor hurt schools (just click on the "tenure" tab at the top of this page). But when I see him talk, I can see how he survives political challenges. He sells it, and sells it hard. Jindal sounds like a college professor. Kasich sounds like an Ohio-style Cliff Claven who has been at the bar too long. But Walker sounds like a governor; I can see how this baloney would play well for certain low-information audiences. My heart goes out to everyone trying to make a teaching career in Wisconsin. Two tusks.

Mike Pence

Todd observes that NCLB has to be re-authorized at some point, and the he asks Pence what Pence wants from the feds re: education.

Pence reminisces about being a first term opposing NCLB, and then hits his point-- "Resources, not red tape." He elaborates-- just send us bales of money and let us spend it however we wish.

He tells the stirring tale of how Indiana withdrew from CCSS and PARCC and how they undertook the "arduous task" or making some minor changes to CCSS so that they escape the political fall-out of an unpopular program without actually changing the program. Ha ha, just kidding. He talks about creating whole new Indiana standards.

But it's "who decides" that's important. The government that governs least governs best, partuicularly if it sends bales of money for local people to divide up in profitable ways. Ha. Kidding again. Pence is buttoned up and tightly controlled on his talking point (he is literally the most carefully dressed person on the podium-- everyone else is dressed to hang out and he is ready to speak at a church, probably Episcopalian). He brags about having the soon-to-be-largest voucher program in the country, with test scores, reading, and graduation rates up. I'm just going to recommend Doug Martin's Hoosier School Heist as a good one stop shop for how Indiana has perfected education as a path to illegitimate riches. And Pence finishes with, "Just send money; don't ask us what we did with it." Ha, no. It's "resources, not red tape" again.

And if Walker sounds like a governor, Pence sounds like a governor's chief accountant. Two tusks.

Rick Perry

I have to admit. I kind of like post-failed-Presidential-candidacy Rick Perry. He has this relaxed, screw-it-I've-got-nothing-riding-on-anything quality that I find, if not charming, at least a breezier kind of bullshit. Let's see how he does with his turn.

Todd opens again with "What do you want out of the new NCLB?" And Perry, who is tie-less, legs crossed (manly style) with his hands clasped around his knee, says we are on a return to federalism "like you've never seen it in this country before," in a earnest southern Fred Rogers tone. He says the solutions are in the states, not DC, and he sees no reason to re-authorize No Child Left Behind at all. See? Isn't this guy fun?

Texas blew off the Core and RttT because they believe that education decisions are best made, not by bureaucrats in the federal capital, but by bureaucrats in state capitals. The idea that Washington knows best in many different areas (name checking healthcare) is dopey. Tosses in Brandeis states as laboratories of democracy quote. "If you want to put programs in place, put them in place at the state level, and if they foul them up, they've only fouled up their state and not the entire country." And that is the one line that draws applause in the entire panel discussion, which is good because the applause covers the tortured extra clause that Perry tries to tack onto the end of the sentence. Seems to be the Rick Perry way-- good routine, but failure to stick the landing. Three tusks.

Bonus Round- John Kasich

After listening to four grown up governors indirectly suggest he's an idiot, Kasich can hold his water no longer, and jumps back in on the tail of Perry's applause.

He's really kind of worked up. "Dammit guys, but I know I was told that governors got together [he and Todd co-screw up the detail that it was all 45 CCSS governors who met] because they were worried that we were falling behind! That's what I was told, and dammit, Virginia, I believe it." He rants on, grasping at his own fingertips-- "In my state we've got choice and you know..evaluation [I would love to know what words he considered and rejected there] and third grade reading--" and he's looking at the other governors as if to say, "Hey, I did all that shit too, man!"

In his state-- he doesn't know, maybe it was different in these other states-- but in his state it's all local control. Local school board set control. If other things are happening, boy, dude, let him know because he hasn't seen anything like that. Kasich is really upset, like he's never heard of this stuff before! He is really, really flabbergasted by this federal control complaint, so flabbergasted that he's about to say something extraordinary. If anyone has any information about anybody out there who knows something about somebody setting curriculum, please let him know because-

I don't have any complaints from anybody in my state that they're not able to set their own curriculum to meet higher standards.

He's really upset, like he found out all the other governors went out and played pickup basketball last night when they told him they were just turning in early. "Maybe I didn't get the message from the forty-five governors," he says, and goes on to say that there was no Arne Duncan involved in writing these standards, no federal government involvement and you just want to pat him and say, "Oh, honey." There's some noise about PARCC and something else about how SAT and ACT are national tests already, you know. But this was governors writing this and that's what I thought we wanted, "but I'm going to look at what these guys say and mumble mumble sit back in confusion." Good God, man-- even Jeb Bush has a better handle on his love for the Core than Ohio's blustering man-child of a governor.

So there's your challenge, Ohio residents. Everyone else on stage may have been full of it, but at least they knew what they were talking (or being less than truthful) about. Your governor doesn't seem to understand how testing drives curriculum, and or where Common Core came from. Please go educate this guy before he blows a gasket. And while you're at it, empty Lake Erie with a spoon, blindfolded. Because, yes, it appears that Kasich has never listened to anybody on any side of this issue ever. He's clearly just not ready for a seat at the grownup table. Also, I'm downgrading him a half a tusk.

People of the Paperwork; Final Lessons of Rochester

It looks as if, at least for the time being, the saga of Ted Morris, Jr., the 22-year-old wunderkind and his charter school in Rochester seems to have reached, if not an end, at least an intermission, but there's still one big lesson to be learned.

Small Lessons and Predictions

There are also several smaller lessons, such "The internet is a thing that many people have." After Morris hit the news, a handful of bloggers used the magic of the internet to check his story, and once the reporter on the ground in Rochester started digging, everything fell apart. The Democrat and Chronicle was unimpressed enough to also give Morris an editorial spanking. Apparently Morris figured he could just say stuff and nobody would ever notice if much of the stuff was just a flat-out pile of lies.

It remains to see what the sequel to this tale might be. Morris's replacement is Peter Kozik, a college professor (who appears to have actual credentials) at Keuka College (previously at Syracuse) who has done some work for EngageNY in the business of packaging CCSS for students with special needs. In Syracuse he presented on the subject of Pre-K expansion. And he once published a poem entitled "Matryrdon Is For The Young." And he still intends to open the school in the fall.

There are two likely theories about what really comes next. Some folks are guessing that this is simply a strategic retreat and that Morris will quietly re-emerge to continue running his pet project charter. That's certainly highly likely, but for myself, I see one other possibility. I've known a young con man or two, and they tend to follow a pattern. At first their new friends find them charming, with a confidence that suggests they really know what they're doing. And then reality intrudes, the vision unravels, and the new friends back (or run) away (or to a lawyer). One detail in Morris's story sticks out for me-- even though he's supposedly been a fixture in Rochester his entire life, working in leadership roles since the age of 10, his board of trustees for the charter are new friends, people he dug up, literally, on the internet. Where are the people who have known him his whole life? Why are they not clamoring to help him out?  It's possible that his retreat is a dodge, but I think it's also possible that his new friends are just now realizing that they've been had by a confident young scam artist from whom they will now try to detach themselves with the haste.

Bigger Lesson

There's a more important lesson to be learned about the reformsters, and it appears in this D&C follow-up story (reporter Justin Murphy has been working his ass off on this thing) in which he tried to see if he could find somebody on the NY state level who would take responsibility for handing this young liar a school charter (spoiler alert: no). Here's Meryl Tisch on the subject:

"When it comes to the board, it comes with an endorsement from (NYSED) and the local regents," she said. "What we hear is whether ... they've put together a sound application. There's a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes, and I think people in (NYSED) need to address that with you."

Or this quote from the Rochester-based regents

"We rely on a considerable amount of data and information provided by applicants, along with conducting many in-person interviews before reaching a decision. If it were to turn out that we were deliberately provided misleading information by an applicant, that would of course call for further review of the issuance of the charter."

NYSED doesn't appear to have commented yet (blizzard + holiday = nobody in office). But the regents' defense is simple-- his paperwork looked fine.

Here's one of the core beliefs of reformsters-- it's all in the paperwork. The paperwork is king. The paperwork is god. In New York, we'll give you paperwork from EngageNY to make sure you do the right thing, and we'll make you submit paperwork in the form of tests to prove you've done what you're supposed to.

People who believe in the Great God Paperwork always make the same mistake-- believing that the paperwork is a true and faithful representation of reality. The paperwork is always reliable, and surely everybody everyone else takes the paperwork just as seriously as the Acolytes of Paperwork do. This is the great frustration of trying to earn almost any grant. Grants are not awarded for some need or merit in the actual world; grants are awarded for doing the best job of filling out the grant application form.

Business, government, even churches are laced with these People of the Paperwork, who believe that reality can only be seen and understood through paperwork, and not through looking at it directly. The People of the Paperwork love CCSS, and especially love high stakes testing, because it generates paperwork, and when we look at paperwork, golly bob howdy, then and only then do we see reality.

And that's why the People of the Paperwork are the easiest people in the world to lie to-- because they never lift their heads out of the paperwork to ask if the beloved charts and graphs and forms and charter school applications actually represent reality.

When the People of the Paperwork get their mitts into education reform, people in schools understand that our job is no longer to actually educate students-- it's to make sure that the paperwork looks good. Ted Morris may not know a damn thing about school (really-- not even how to graduate from it), but he clearly understood one thing-- if the paperwork is right, the bureaucrats in charge will go for it.

When Tisch says that she sees no reason that Morris's charter can't open right on schedule, she's behaving as a true Paperwork Acolyte. After all, Morris himself may turn out to be a fake and a fraud, but his school's paperwork still all looks good. What else matters?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Enjoy the Day

Thanksgiving is a quintessential American holiday, a combination of hucksterism and self-promotion, built on a foundation of tissue-thin fabrication used to paper over some dark misbehavior, soaked in a heady stew of consumerism. But this is America, and we can ignore whatever we want to ignore.

Holidays, particularly non-religious ones, highlight how we can absolutely make something out of nothing. That's not a complaint. I'm just struck by how we create castles out of air and move ourselves deeply by doing it.

I love parades. I've been marching in parades in the front row of a marching band for [counts on fingers-- holy crap] about 45 years. And a parade is very cool and yet, what is it, really? You line up some people and put them in costumes and stick some pieces of paper and plastic together in visually pleasing ways and then you walk down the street past a bunch of other people. The unique oddness of it is highlighted by the fact that television networks cannot cover parades well to save their lives-- watching a parade on tv is like watching a parade with the dumbest, most won't-shut-up distant relative you have. There's something moving and exciting about a parade, even if television doesn't know how to capture it.

And this afternoon, grown men will put on matching clothes with extra pieces of equipment and they will chase a carefully shaped bag of air up and down a field of manufactured green imitation-of-grass, and people will find that exciting, too. Tomorrow evening that same band I play in will have a concert, for which a big bunch of us will sit down and blow air through different configurations of shaped tubing to make sounds that create emotion and sensation in both us and in the audience. How does that even work? To me, it's nothing short of miraculous.

Human beings are such complicated, mysterious creatures, hell-bent on creating something out of nothing, striving endlessly to find a way to make our feelings and thoughts manifest in the world in some way that makes it possible for others to hear and see and understand us. And all of it is manufactured, created, invented, built out of nothing, and it requires a lifetime of learning to understand just to keep the lines open between ourselves and everybody else.

And so, schools.

I am thankful that I was born to teach, and that I continue to have the privilege and opportunity to do so. I am thankful that I have the privilege and opportunity to write and be read by others. I am thankful that my school still allows me to help students find a way to be more human, more themselves, more aware of how they can be in the world.

I am standing in a great spot. I am mindful of my responsibility to bring the best I can to that spot, but I am also mindful that much of what I can accomplish is about the spot where I stand, and not that I'm the one standing there. I am a fortunate and blessed person, and I'll spend the day remembering that and being amazed. I hope you have a good day, too.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Access Costs $500 Cheap!

Teach Plus, yet another arm of the Gates-funded reformy octopus, is a fan of several fictions. They believe that test scores measure teacher effectiveness, yet they fail to understand how that model of evaluation guarantees that students in high-poverty schools will always be taught be "ineffective" teachers (I explain it many places, but this one works pretty well).

Teach Plus also wants to be out there helping the feds with their initiative to somehow get great teachers to volunteer to have their test-based ratings gutted by moving to high-poverty schools. They are creating special teams of "turnaround" specialists (because some schools are just determined to drive the bus into the weeds, so they require wiser teachers to re-steer them? The term "turnaround" always puzzles me, suggesting as it does that some schools are actually doing every single thing wrong, which in turn suggests that some administrators must be stunningly incompetent, in which case how will it make a whit of difference to change the teachers?) Teach Plus is also one of many reformster groups to resolutely ignore that special cognitive dissonance involved in saying 1) teachers don't really start to get good till three years in and 2) TFA is just swell.

At any rate, as we enter the holiday season, Teach Plus wants your money.

Your donation will support our leadership programs, helping to ensure that every student gets the education he deserves.

Super! Like any good money-soliciting not-actually-a-charity, they offer levels of giving. $5K helps support one of their turnaround specialists. $2.5K sponsors a teaching fellow for 18 months of stuff. $1.5K helps train a teacher to indoctrinate his fellow teachers in Common Core whiz-bangery. And $500-- well, this is special.

$500 enables a teacher to meet with state or federal policymakers.

What? That's it. Access is that cheap? All of the millions of teachers who have been ignored by policymakers, and all we need was $500 for admission to an Important Office.

Now, at first I was offended that I needed to spend money to meet with one of my elected representatives, but then I realized that's not what it says. Policymakers are not necessarily actual elected officials. So maybe, I don't know, the money gets me a seat in the gallery at the next ALEC convocation? A meeting with David Coleman? Or maybe it really will give some lucky teacher a chance to meet with an actual elected official, which would be exciting since those are two sorts of people who almost never meet. The possibilities are endless.

Now, I caution against premature exuberance. It's possible that Teach Plus got some sort of deal by buying bulk, and $500 will not get access for ordinary civilian teacher persons. But if $500 is even ballpark, we could finally get teachers in some meetings with people who, you know, actually get listened to when laws are passed.

Let's all ask Teach Plus how this works. Is the admission fee handled by the policymaker's office, or is this something you buy at, like, Ticketron or Expedia? Do we have to book way in advance (like Price Is Right) or can we make an impulse buy when we have a chance to take a trip?

I realize it isn't a Seat at the Table, but we already know it takes a cool millions of dollars to buy in at that game. But still. Meeting with a policymaker-- it could be a start. My biggest question is this-- $500 is great to meet with a policymaker, but how much more do I have to pay to get him to actually listen to me?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

More on Rochester Charter Wunderkind (Or: How Hard Is It To Do Your Job, Anyway?)

It has only been a day since the story of Ted Morris, Jr., Rochester's 22-year-old charter school phenom and new holder of a NY State charter school authorization, began to unravel.

I did some quick research and wrote about it. Mercedes Schneider turned her research mojo loose. Leonie Haimson turned up some inconsistencies in his CV. And Diane Ravitch covered the story as well, drawing out a note from his alleged former principal shooting more holes in his story.

The Democrat & Chronicle has... well, "updated" would be an understatement and "finally did the legwork they should have done the first time" might be too mean. At any rate, a whole new version of the story appears here.

Turns out that young "Dr." Morris might have overstated his resume a bit.

Elaine Comarella, the [Hickock] center's CEO, said his title was actually administrative assistant, and that the responsibilities he listed in the resume were "a little overshot."

His high school administrators remember him as someone who was a great talker and very sociable, but not real big on attending classes. Morris allows as he just wasn't challenged enough. And at this point it's not really clear where he did or did not get his college degrees. It does seem that none of his diplomas involved interacting directly with humans.

My favorite new detail may be that he found his board of trustees mostly through LinkedIn, Craigslist and a website for nonprofits.

You can find even more here at Mercedes Schneider's update from today. The information just keeps rolling in. 

Justin Murphy, the reporter covering the story, clearly did some real legwork and talked to many of the parties involved (though some have yet to return his calls), and it's great that he did. But here's what I want to underline.

Twenty four hours.

It took a handful of bloggers and one reporter twenty-four hours to find the holes from which the fishlike smell emanates from this story. I don't know how much time Mercedes, Leonie and Diane spent following up on this, but I used the twenty-five minutes left over after I finished my cafeteria sub on Monday. A computer, some search terms, google, and twenty-five minutes.

The New York Board of Regents has had considerably more than that. The guy has been sending in letters of intent for this charter since January of 2010! Did nobody at the Board of Regents do even a cursory background check? If I take care of filling out the paperwork carefully for him, can my dog get authorization to run a charter school in New York?!!

I mean, I want to do a small tsk tsk to reporter Murphy, but I know that sometimes a nice press release lands on your desk and a quick seemingly harmless feel-good story writes itself without you having to exert much effort, and that's kind of irresistible. Also, it's becoming clear that Morris got a PhD in shmoozing from somewhere. But Murphy at least went back, did his job, and made things right.

Will the New York Board of Regents do the same?

[Update-- because this story just never stops-- My hat is off to Murphy-- I was hard on him above but he has been on this story like a boos all day--

What will that mean in terms of his total involvement with "his" school? Stay tuned, campers!

Still unrolling-- Dr. Kozik apparently has a specialty in adapting CCSS for students with disabilities. Here's his presentation-- from EngageNY.

And here's his LinkedIn recommendation for Dr. Ted

Ted has done an outstanding job as the Executive Director of the Greater Works Charter School where I serve on the Founding Board of Directors. He listens exceptionally well, is extremely detail oriented, and has balanced many complex tasks in developing an application for the charter school successfully. He is bright, gracious, and works well beyond what's required to ensure the success of the group. He is a talented team builder as well as a "team player." I recommend him unequivocally for any position for which he is qualified.

So the whole thing should be in great hands now. Holy smokes-- is this any way to run a school??

Is US ED Tightening Noose on Sp Ed ?

The local control and special needs wings of the Resistance are freaking out over this.

It's a proposed rule change for Title I, and I can copy the entirety of it for you right here

The Secretary will amend the regulations governing title I, part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended (ESEA), to phase out the authority of States to define modified academic achievement standards and develop alternate assessments based on those modified academic achievement standards in order to satisfy ESEA accountability requirements. These amendments will permit, as a transitional measure, States that meet certain criteria to continue to administer alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards and include the results in accountability determinations, subject to limitations on the number of proficient scores that may be counted, for a limited period of time.  

Emphasis mine.

 This is not a new proposal. It's been around for over a year, first surfacing in the summer of 2013. Its stated purpose was "to ensure that States can conduct a smooth and thoughtful transition from the alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards to the general assessments for certain students with disabilities."

There was even a comment period. You can read the 156 comments that were lodged between August 2013 and January 2014 over here. They are a mixed bag, wit varying degrees of support and opposition combined with varying degrees of Sounding Like Real People Wrote Them. Here's a sample.

To whom it may concern, As an advocate of Children with Special needs children from K-12 education, I am in full support of the changes. I already support inclusion education practices for students with disabilities. I have personally read many studies on its effectiveness in raising students learning skills through modeling, immersion and exposure. I think the premise is correct within the statute, that high expectations combined with appropriate support services can raise academic achievement. Of course this is assuming that every student is receiving adequate support, which I know varies on an individual schools budget and inclusion resources. I do not fully understand how it affects AYP scores, but I hope it is implemented in an equitable fashion that promotes schools to adequately support the individual students and not hide or move around students as to not negatively impact their overall AYP scores. My children are 3 and 4 years old with Autism and need support services through and IEP. I would support him being assessed at the same level as other students so that I may have a clear and accurate account of her development and be able to support her growth and development. Thank you.

Sounds totally legit, right?

At any rate, neither the proposal, nor the philosophy behind it are new, but it's listed for Final Action in January of 2015, so hang on, boys and girls.

The philosophy is one we have discussed before. Arne Duncan is pretty sure that special ed programs are used to drag children down, and that with proper expectations, testing, grit socked in rigor, and teachers who don't suck, disabilities will simply have no effect on anybody. DC has been pushing it, and most recently Washington state has done the same. Florida was a pioneer, insisting that even students with little brain function and busy dying from disease should take the FCATs just like everyone else.

Why do this? Why continue to make the insane assertion that students experience with no problems with disabilities except for the problems created by their teachers? Why take us down a road that can only end with cutting any kind of special education programs?

It can't be something as simple as a bizarrely over-inflated belief in the Power of Expectations. I believe in the Power of Expectations-- I have used it in my classroom for thirty-some years. There is no question that students do their best work when you expect they will because you believe they can. But these policy changes approach the level of cruelty involved in dumping a child out of a wheelchair and demanding that they run laps just like everyone else.

I'm afraid the explanation is more pedestrian. The reformster movement is all about standardization, about one size fits all, about stripping autonomy and maximizing cost control. Since day one, folks have complained that the Big Tests lack accommodations for students with special needs. Well, heck-- let's just write into policy that no accommodations other than grit and high expectations are necessary! Problem solved. Specifically, the big expensive problem of having to create costly specialized versions of The Test is solved! And if in the process it's necessary to strip a little more autonomy from states, that's perfectly okay, too. Not to mention, this helps fix that problem where so many charters cannot provide proper support for students with special needs. If we redefine "proper support" as "high expectations" well, hell, any school can do that. Another problem solved.

On this particular regulation, the sad fact is that there was a period of comment, and lots of us just missed it. But there's always time to write letters, email congresspersons, and just generally raise a stink. Be aware (read those 156 comments) that some parents of students with special needs like this idea just fine-- not everybody sees a problem here.  But go ahead and make some noise. Expose your representative to some high expectations of your own.

Shutting Up

On the day after the Ferguson grand jury brought back the expected but still gut-punching decision not to indict, followed by a wide range of reactions across the country, some of which were given press coverage and some of which were not, there is a tremendous temptation to pontificate-- particularly among those of us who are in the pontification business.

White folks feel various self-imposed combinations of guilt, pressure to show they're on the right side, pressure not to yield to that pressure. At the same time a million fault lines in our culture open up in sharp relief, from our uneasy relationship with our own justice system to our racial issues to the question of how well we can trust the media (and is that trust enough to conduct a trial in it of anyone) all the way to observations like this one

There's an impulse that people sometimes have in moments of trouble, an impulse to Say Something that will Make Things Better. At times, this impulse does not serve them well, particularly if they don't really know what they're talking about. At times like that, it's best to just shut up. At times like that, it's best to pay attention, to watch, and to listen.

There are a million ugly things crawling out from under the rock that is Ferguson right now, and while shooting from the hip is my usual stock in trade, now is not the time. The truth is I'm a white teacher in a rural school where the population holds at a pretty steady 98% white. For me to understand Ferguson and the places like it, I need to look and listen and shut up long enough to really hear what is happening.

On the topic of Ferguson, I have kept my mouth mostly shut and will continue to do so. I am sure that I'll shoot it off at some point, when I have been able to process enough to have something useful to say. I know the broad strokes-- when policing in a community is so effed up that a jay-walking stop turns into a shooting, there's something terribly wrong with how power is being exercised, and when you are telling people who have been punched repeatedly in the face that they should complain more politely, you're not getting it. This is not how policing is supposed to work. This is not how a community is supposed to work. But to learn more through the filter of highly selective reporting is a fool's errand, and social media at the moment simply makes me cringe with the number of people shooting off their mouths as if the tiny bits of information that has made it to them filtered through mainstream news is a full picture.

So invite other under-informed folks in far away places to join me in shutting up. Not forever. But long enough to watch and listen and learn and understand. Nobody else has a responsibility to explain things to us, but we do have a responsibility to try to understand before we make noise. As for blogging-- what's called for are conversations, and this is not the format for that. We'll have conversations in my classes today, I'm sure, but it won't be me providing The Answers. So, on this topic, for the moment, I am shutting up. I invite other under-informed people to do the same.

Monday, November 24, 2014

America's Sexiest Teacher

People, in a move designed to broaden their appeal, decided that this year they would expand the Sexiest Man title to include men who did things for a living other than work at being sexy. It's a noble effort, and in the sexy teacher department, it brought us this guy

Photo credit: John Arsenault

Meet Nicholas Ferroni. Actually, you may already know him. He has over 22,000 twitter followers, no doubt influenced by the Rays of Hunkness that he is able to transmit over the internet. Ferroni has also done some acting and has won some other notables (one of the Most Influential People and Fittest Men in the World). He has a degree from Rutgers, and he also writes. In fact HuffPo, which carries his stuff from time to time, invited him to ruminate of the State of Being Most Sexy, but he's too self-effacing to do it. He invited me to write about the honor for him, which tells you that on top of everything else, he has a sense of humor.

You can watch him charm all the ladies here with Meredith Viera

But now that you've seen that, let me invite you to watch this

Is it cringeworthy that Viera's audience applauds Ferroni as if he's a big sexy object? Maybe, but he's a big boy and says that as a performer, he's been there, done that: "It is always surreal, and, to be honest, once they heard 'sexiest,' they would have cheered for anyone who walked out that door."

No, I find it much more cringeworthy that in his brave and direct challenge to major sports figures, he says, more than once, that he is "just a teacher." But I get it. All too often teachers feel the urge to softpeddle our work. And the culture reinforces that reluctance to speak out. Particularly in these days of big-time teacher blaming, we aren't supposed to act like we're anything special.

Ferroni knows better. I asked him for his How I Became a Teacher story:

As a child, I wanted to be an adventurer, superhero, actor, comedian, philanthropist, philosopher and psychologist... So I became a teacher.

He teaches high school history, and if you work in a high school you know that there almost nothing that students like less. To be able to sell history to teenagers is a huge gift. But he does more than that. Ferroni is a voice for healthy lifestyles. He is an active voice for the rights of LGBT students, believing that it's important their teachers, particularly their straight teachers, stand up for them. He's been in front of the camera many times to speak out for these issues, and he has been in his classroom day after day trying to bridge history and modern media to educate his students (I want to see his lesson on the Declaration of Independence as one of history's great breakup letters.)

And what gets him national attention? Being freakishly well-built and handsome.

I've only had a couple of exchanges with him on this subject and he seems, well, a little embarrassed. This is not uncommon in teachers who have been given some sort of award, and I'm pretty sure that's because as a teacher you know many other teachers who are working just as hard (if not harder) and teaching just as well (if not better) as you are. It's reverse survivor's guilt. It could have happened to anyone-- why me?

But what can you do? If you believe (as most of us do) that teachers ought to get to be famous and recognized and nationally known as well as guys who chase bags of air across fields of plastic grass, and if it turns out you're being given the chance to be a Famous Teacher, even for fifteen minutes, then for all the rest of us, you have to say yes.

And then, while you have the spotlight, you use it. Ferroni's done that, saying repeatedly that "a thousand other educators are far more deserving" and using his small soapbox to advocate for the arts in education and to speak out against toxic testing.

It's a sad commentary on the culture that because Nicholas Ferroni has washboard abs and smoldering soap opera eyes, he gets the audience that some deserving schlubby middle-aged teacher does not. It's a further irony that if Ferroni were that schlubby guy, he would still deserve an audience, and he wouldn't get one. It is frankly frustrating that in the ongoing debate over the future of public education, teacher voices are so rarely allowed to join. In the last ten months, cable news booked 185 guests to talk about education-- only 17 of them were teachers.

But we live in a country where fame is one odd roll of the dice away, and if you win the jackpot you need to spend it wisely. If you're famous you can try to fix world hunger or you can bare your shiny butt.

So God bless you, Nicholas Ferroni, and your impossibly bright smile and your sculpted abs and your just-messy-enough hair. If you are willing to use the national platform to talk about things that actually matter in the teaching world, then I'm not that concerned about how you got there. America needs more famous teachers. I wish they could be famous for being good teachers, but if a good teacher can become famous for being America's sexiest, I guess that will have to be a start.

cross-posted from Huffington Post

Rochester Charter Proposal; More Than Meets the 22-Yr-Old Eye

This jolly PR release in the Democrat and Chronicle announces that Ted Morris, Jr., is one of the new proud owners of a charter school authorization in New York, specifically in Rochester. What everyone has been agog at today is the applicant's age-- he's twenty-two years old. After some poking around, I'm not entirely sure that's the entire real story of Greater Works Charter Schools.

Morris was apparently born and raised in Rochester and attended Schools Without Walls, a very respectable example of what a good magnet school can be. Upon graduating, [Update: This just gets better and better. Here's Diane Ravitch passing along a note from the principal of Schools Without Walls during the time period in question. Seems Dr. Morris only spent a year there before switching to home schooling]  he entered into a rigorous on-line bachelor's program. He snapped up a Masters and Doctorate from Concordia-- the piece says Concordia "near Chicago." There are several Concordia Universities about, ranging from a private Christian college to an on-line university.

Additionally FWIW, there's a Ted Morris of Rochester listed as an ordained minister at the Universal Life Church (on-line) who specializes in Youth Revivals and Conferences, Church Admin Consulting and Grant Writing. His favorite quote is "For whatsoever is born of God, overcometh the world, for this is the Victory that overcometh the world, even our faith" I John 5:4 So maybe while getting cyber degrees, he decided to get cyber-ordained, too.
Morris has already been running consulting firms, apparently, and takes credit (according to the article) for helping to start three non-profits, including the advocacy group associated with his new school. That group-- Greater Works Charter Network-- has only a ghost footprint on line, but another-- Victoty Living Christian Life Center-- appears to be a large, thriving organization. It also, however, appears to have been founded at least ten years ago, which makes Morris's work as a twelve-year-old consultant fairly impressive.

I don't mean to pick on Morris for his age. Michael Jackson, Mozart, Jackie Cooper-- all tremendous prodigies with great early success. So maybe Morris is simply that amazing.

But if I were the New York Regents, I'd want to be super-impressed by a guy who had no actual experience running, working in, or even being a student in a public-- oh, no, wait. If I were the New York Regents none of that would bother me at all, would it.

You can actually read Morris's letter of intent from last summer right here. But it seems that this prodigy found nine solid Rochester citizens to go in on the charter with him. They are

Ursula Burke; parent with 12 years at Child Care Council
Andrea Clarke; Community Health Advocate at Rochester Medical Center
Roberta Favitta; 30+ years experience in sales, branding, marketing and operations management
Dr. Peter L. Kozik; Ass. Prof of EDucation at Keuka College
Dr. Norman Meres; molecular environmental scientist who has taught a lot
Ted Morris himself
Emily Robbins; insurance agent, previous event coordinator, studied el and spec ed at SUNY 2000-2005
Asfa Sill; Ass. Director at Action for Better Community
Bonnier Thousand; Administrator at U of Rochester
Christie Weidenhamer; Counselor with credentials out the whazoo

All but Clarke will be on initial Board of Trustees. There are also several other individuals interested in serving on that board.

But here's the thing-- this is not their first rodeo. The letter notes that "the founding group has previously applied to the NYSED Charter School Office in the January 2010 Charter School Application Cycle." In fact, they've sent in a letter of intent in every cycle since 2010, but were not asked to submit an application in most cases. In two cases they did submit a full application, but withdrew it to strengthen it. They have since "worked with a number of consultants, strengthened our application, continued to develop our founding group/board of trustees and conducted additional community outreach."

They have clearly done their homework-- the target population to be served is "all the students in the City of Rochester (including students with disabilities, English language learners, and students who qualify for the free and reduced price lunch program)"

They've been doing their community outreach for years, including eleven public meetings, and they have a hefty list of community parents, stakeholders, and organizations that they have talked to. Their general website has received over 5,5090 visits and their facebook page has 184 followers.

That was last summer when they were looking forward to submitting a full application, which obviously happened.

But the big question is obviously this-- is Ted Morris such a prodigy that he started trying to launch his charter school at age 18, right after he got his online bachelor's degree? Is he a young man of incredible drive, or a budding young huckster? Is he on a mission from God? Or is he being used as a handy front man for this organization? And did the New York Board of Regents actually take a look at any of this before okaying this virgin charter? It will take someone more versed in Rochester ins and outs to unlock the next chapter of this amazing tale.

Update: Okay-- one question is answered, sort of. Here's a piece from December of 2010, complete with video clip (that you can't watch unless you have Time-Warner cable), about young Ted Morris, Jr., and his plan to start a charter high school in Rochester. The piece is coverage of his presentation to the community

"We don't have enough innovated schools that have a strategic plan in place, specifically high schools," said Morris.

Right now Morris is in the beginning stages of planning and applying for approval for the school but already has a detailed mission statement, and layout for how the school will be run.

"Greater Works Charter School will be a blended learning charter school, which will be integrated, hands on learning and teaching," said Morris.
- See more at:

So-- not a front? Just.... very precocious? This is what the Board of Regents thinks is an improvement over public schools?

[Update: It was just one thing after another for the young Dr. So much so that a follow-up post was called for.]